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.

5 thoughts on “Calling…”

  1. It’s a great shame you weren’t at Readercon for the discussion that Gary, John, CHARLES and I did re Heinlein. I think you could make a case that either of Heinlein’s two subsequent Hugo winners (Stranger and Moon) had substantial influence on the field, and indeed that Stranger did on society at large. But, yeah, as I said at the end of the piece I did for Locus, Heinlein gave us the language for sf; lots of people use it to say very different things from what he would have.

    In a sense, I think the lack of a single defining novel reflects the fact that there hasn’t really been a centre to the sf field, a default way of doing things, for a couple of decades. (Not, in fact, since that period of, say, 1985-1993 when so many first-generation sf writers died.) Since then, we’ve had a bunch of different discourses running in parallel in sf (and cross-fertilising a lot) but no single one which everyone diverges from/agrees with.

  2. Alternatively you could have been at Finncon where we also had a “Heinlein Legacy” panel. Clute held forth excellently as usual, and so did Joe Haldeman and Jonathan Clements. The latter reminded us that Starship Troopers was largely responsible for Japan’s fascination with giant fighting robots.

  3. Really? Joe said that. I’m not questioning his accuracy, but it *sounds* like a helluva reach. A 1959 Heinlein novel had that much impact in Japan? Given that giant fighting robots in Japan precede the existence of the Heinlein novel by at least three or four years (and allowing for translation delays etc, probably even longer in practical terms), that is a surprising claim.

  4. No, Jonathan said that, and Jonathan is to anime what Clute is to SF, so if he says it I tend to believe it. I can put you in touch if you want to talk, but he’s getting married in the next week or so which might slow down communication.

  5. It suddenly occurs to me, that perhaps Starship Troopers “smacked the field around” not because of its style or content but because it was written by Robert A. Heinlein. If it had been written by Joe Schmoe it would have appeared on the book racks and quietly vanished, no one would have raised a ruckus. But Heinlein was so influential at that point that he made Starship Troopers influential. You had to pay attention, you had to react, it was written by Heinlein!

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