I’m just starting to put together a list of the top literary science fiction for the main site (give me a little time, but it should be there soon enough). It occurred to me that there are at least three different ways of interpreting that title.
1) It could be works by mainstream authors deliberately writing science fiction. Famously, Henry James wanted to write a Mars novel in collaboration with H.G. Wells. If that had actually happened, that would probably have counted as literary science fiction by this definition. It might even have been worth reading, though I can’t honestly see James’s elaborate circumlocutions working with Wells’s plain, no-nonsense style.
But instead, when mainstream writers have deliberately tried to write science fiction we tend to get things like The Children of Men by P.D. James (pretty good film, but a truly lousy novel), or O-Zone by Paul Theroux (which makes The Children of Men look like the greatest work of literature ever).
OK, there have been some good things in this style: Doris Lessing’s Canopus in Argos sequence (even if she did insist it wasn’t science fiction but space fiction) or Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. But in the main, when mainstream authors stoop to writing science fiction, the result is nothing you’d want to celebrate.
2) Or we could have the reverse, where science fiction writers deliberately write mainstream fiction, like, erm … or then there’s, erm …
Yeah, not exactly a great field to draw on is it? Oh there’s a few pretty good books out there (I’m thinking of, say, Christopher Priest or possibly Michael Moorcock’s Mother London), but really we’d have difficulty filling a top 10, let alone the top 25 we do.
3) So we’ve settled for … Well, wait and see. But it’s 25 mind-stunningly good books, I can promise you.
From Nebula and Hugo Award–nominated Carolyn Ives Gilman comes Dark Orbit, a compelling novel featuring alien contact, mystery, and murder.
Reports of a strange, new habitable planet have reached the Twenty Planets of human civilization. When a team of scientists is assembled to investigate this world, exoethnologist Sara Callicot is recruited to keep an eye on an unstable crewmate.