I know these guidelines will make me miss some really good and important books in the realm of science fiction. Honestly, as I’ve begun reading, I have been tempted to read several works of a single author. But I’ve realized that reading these books is like taking a journey through a new country: you don’t have time to stop everywhere, see everything, and get to know everyone.
Brian Aldiss is a good example. He’s 80 in 2005, he’s been writing since the forties, and there are at least six books of his that are considered seminal science fiction. They are Non-Stop, Greybeard, and the Hellonica Trilogy. Non-Stop is touted as the first real generation-ship story, and Hellonica was recommended as better than Dune.
Better than Dune?
I chose Non-Stop. Generation star-ships are standard fodder for science fiction, and this was a formative story for the genre. That makes it important. My other top choice is a trilogy, and there are a lot more books to read on this year’s list. I will visit Hellonica on my next reading journey, I think.
After reading Non-Stop on a whirlwind honeymoon to England, Wales, and Paris, I have this to say: it’s my favorite, so far. Wow. It has what the others had – concepts, bringing science forward and making it real, wonderful set-ups and spikes – and more. It has world-building (or in this case, ship-building) that informs and affects every aspect of the story, and is so integral to the story that it provides cohesive glue for everything that happens. This lent directly to what I loved best about this story: as the story went on, the plot twists and revelations came faster and faster. But Aldiss didn’t tap out his source, he ended the book on a new cliff-hanger, a new “what-if,” and it was perfect. It’s a really fabulous technique that I would love to emulate, because it solves the “weak ending” problems that I and so many others have.
Aldiss’s writing demonstrates that knowing the intimate mechanics of your written world can allow it to become an overarching character in your story. It makes it easier to write mystery, plot twists, and surprise elements that are not contrived. Pacing can make a good story great. In this story, the pace continuously picks up, and toward the end, becomes a dead out race. It is brilliance to suggest the next leg of the journey, too, and then just end the story there.