Had a long interesting conversation with Gary Wolfe today. We touched on what, if any, influence Robert Heinlein continues to have on the science fiction field today. My own thought is that his last influential novel (not good, just influential) was Starship Troopers. That puppy smacked the field around, and the amount of stuff written because of it is phenomenal. I also think the reason that he looks like he isn’t influential any longer is that his influence has been absorbed into the very fabric of the field itself.
That lead on to thinking about writers who are proving to be surprisingly influential today, like Jack Vance and Philip Jose Farmer. I think you can readily and increasingly see their influence on the field, but I wonder if that’s because their influence is sufficiently smaller that you can actually detect it against the backdrop of other SF being written. And, as a follow-on, is Steven Erikson the new Phil Farmer? I wonder.
From there we wandered on to discussing what has influenced the field, what hasn’t, and who is likely to have a long term impact. I think I surprised Gary by suggesting that Vernor Vinge may be forgotten, but we agreed about a lot of other stuff. One thing we went around about for a while was whether there had been any really defining or influential novel since Neuromancer, one that the whole field had responded to. I can’t think of one. Can you guys? There have been a lot of fine novels, and many that deserve a lot of respect, but none that grabbed the zeitgeist the same way.