We're going to get hammered on this one. Nothing divides science fiction (SF) fans like the best authors. Nevertheless, Shaun and I have put on our thickest skins and decided to give it a shot. Buckle in, because this is going to be our longest Top 10 ever.
SF writers have played a key role in inspiring research and eventual technological development. There have been numerous devices that existed in the mind of an SF writer before they even made it into the engineering departments, but more importantly a good story can inspire something entirely new. This is why if you find a computer geek you've almost inevitably got an SF fan on your hands.
One thing you won't find on the list is anything from the realms of fantasy. Fantasy books often get lumped in with SF and it's more than a little irritating. SF deals with the possible and sets specific constraints on the writer. Fantasy, to my mind, is just an excuse to develop alternative realities with no reference to the real world.
There were a lot of names that didn't make it onto the list. As I'll mention later, I would have liked to see Rob Grant and Doug Naylor for their creation of Red Dwarf. Roger Zelazny would also be on my list, as would Olaf Stapledon, Harry Harrison, Orson Scott Card and Jerry Pournell. Shaun too had a list as long as his arm, but we had to make the cuts somewhere and it was very hard.
[Update - 12 hours later] OK, before you write in we did make one glaring error: no Philip K Dick. Neither Shaun and I are particular fans of his work but the man's contribution is undeniable. I'd put him in around number five - Shaun may disagree - so we'll publish a video next week to apologise and discuss.]
All Top 10 lists will be subjective by nature, but this is one that will no doubt stir up a lot of feeling about who is and isn't on the list, mostly angry feelings, I imagine. As always, we welcome comments about who we missed and what it says about our mental capacity. Just try to leave our mums out of it this time (Mother's Day is coming up, after all).
Mention: Gene Roddenberry
Shaun Nichols: I had a long and contentious battle with Iain over whether to include television and movie writers on the list. Among the names to get axed were Joss Whedon, the Wachowski siblings and the team of Rob Grant and Doug Naylor.
One name that I stood fast on, however, was Gene Roddenberry. Faced with my own compelling arguments (and the threat of an army of angry Trekkies laying siege to the site) Iain relented and Roddenberry was made an Honourable Mention.
A former Los Angeles police officer, Roddenberry wrote the original Star Trek series and played a key role in the development of its many movie adaptations and spin-offs.
The result was the establishment of a sub-culture devoted to the Star Trek universe and Roddenberry's establishment as a geek icon.
Iain Thomson: I still think this should have gone to the boys from Red Dwarf. Star Trek wasn't that good, after all. The first series was more of a western in space that displayed some of the worst of Hollywood's costume designs while giving William Shatner an excuse to snog aliens, so long as they were humanoid enough.
Don't even get me started on the endless Next Generation spin-offs, which were yet another flaw in the space/time continuum episodes that repeat endlessly today.
Nevertheless, Roddenberry deserves kudos for his gift to the genre of SF. Star Trek has inspired millions to the ideas behind good SF, even if some of the show's followers are a few flying buttresses short of a cathedral.
You only have to look at the way an entire subculture has built up around the show to see its power. There are now more speakers of Klingon than some native American languages, and university courses are devoted to the study of the show's themes, although one suspects that the graduates of such a course can be seen asking if you want fries with that.
Roddenberry also scripted, and fought to retain, the first black female actor in a serious prime time role (even if the women's costumes were about as practical as a chocolate teapot) and also came up with, or at least popularised, some ideas that have inspired the real world.
I suspect that the inventors of automatic doors, clamshell mobile phones and wearable microphones all have a debt to pay to the show.
Mention: Charles Stross
Iain Thomson: I was handed a copy of Charles Stross's Glasshouse after a particularly good dinner in Putney, and picked it up the next day to distract me from my crushing hangover.
By page 50 the headache was forgotten and I was getting the same 'hairs up on the back of the neck' feeling I'd had when Neuromancer first seared its way into my consciousness.
Stross is one of those new writers who really gives me hope for the field of SF. He takes concepts and stretches them in new and unusual ways to make you really think about what you're reading.
What would be the effect of a worm on a society based on online personae? How much would an imprisoned society give, wittingly or otherwise, for material paradise, and what would it cost? Stross even takes on the hallowed world of Roger Zelazny's Amber epic and gives it a tech fix.
He also has that great writer's talent of the opening line that sucks you in whether you like it or not. Iain Banks set the bar high with It was the day my grandmother exploded and I'm still fond of George Orwell's It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
But for a SF novel The day war was declared, a rain of telephones fell clattering to the cobblestones from the skies above Novy Petrograd takes some beating.
If he doesn't work himself into an early grave, I suspect Stross will become one of the greats of the genre. He understands the hard and soft aspects of technology, has a swarm of interesting ideas and is mature enough to sort out the fads from the fictionally realistic. British SF has a bright future with people like this at the helm.
Shaun Nichols: One of the reasons I was secretly dreading this list was that I knew that, by the end of it, I would have a huge list of books to hunt down and purchase. We are not even out of the honourable mentions and I've already got a sizeable list going just from the works of Stross.
Not every SF author has a great love for technology. I suspect this is in part why we have so many works in the genre that deal with the horrors that we will bring upon ourselves through perceived scientific progress.
Stross, however, has a great interest in technology and the chops to back it up. He has a degree in computer science and for a time wrote a column on Linux, while maintaining an excellent blog and releasing some work under Creative Commons.
As Iain noted, Stross is a relative newcomer to the genre, but his ability to craft a story, coupled with a prodigious knack for churning out copy, leaves me optimistic that great works of SF will be coming for some time.
So far, Stross has shown incredible promise as an author and I hope to be shelling out cash for his books for some time.
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