Per Douglas Adams’ famous observation “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they fly by,” I have predictably failed to type THE END on the A Flash of Black Wings manuscript before my self-imposed target date of the end of July. C’est la vie. To be fair to myself, I did pass the 75,000 word mark with a day or two to spare. It’s just that the story isn’t quite done yet. I estimate it will probably be closer to 90 to 95 K to get to the planned conclusion. So I am not as bad at keeping to a writing schedule as I am of estimating a project’s scope (or controlling scope creep, which I think is the likeliest culprit in this case).
So I will continue to plug away with a revised estimated completion date of the end of August. That’s a pretty good target to aim for, since I will be travelling overseas for work (briefly) at the start of September. I’d like that to be a nice clean transition point between this writing project and the next .
Forget about that, I’m going to talk about what I’m reading:
I have a stack of physical books next to my bed and a (much larger) stack of ebooks which is, um, also next to my bed, on the kindle. Feeling the tremendous shame of having a tendency for impulse purchasing that far exceeds my reading time, I have decided to concentrate on at least knocking off all the books by Australian writers in the TBR pile before the end of the year. I also have a vague plan to review all or most of them, but that will definitely have to wait until after I’m done with the novel. (My traditional Month of Relentless Positivity daily blogging project in October may well be a succession of book reviews and not much else).
So far I’ve knocked off works by Andrea Höst, Andrew Macrae and Alis Franklin, as well as a couple of issues of Aurealis and some anthologies.
(No, I’m not working through the list in alphabetical order).
I expect to be done with that before summer, after which I’m planning to embark on a Reading Project.
The next reading project (help wanted)
Paying attention to various podcasts and other discussions on the history of science fiction and fantasy, it has become appearent to me just how wide the gaps are in my reading of “the classics”. I’ve read, for example, bugger-all Heinlein (probably because the Heinlein I have read is from his baffling later years). I’ve not read Bester. I’ve not read Samuel Delaney or Octavia Butler or Joanna Russ or Poul Anderson or Frederick Pohl or James Tiptree – well, you name someone outside the biggest names in genre, and I probably haven’t read much of their stuff.
I plan to fix that by going back and investigating some of the great classic works of science fiction. Twelve of them to start with – perhaps one a month, but more likely I will binge – and exclusively skiffy for the first round (I’m better read in fantasy, although I’ll probably undertake an equivalent project there as well). But because I am a proud desktop social justice warrior, I have no intention of allowing the content of my reading to be dominated by dead white guys, so I am going to attempt (to the greatest extent possible) to include non-white and non-male authors in the mix. Since I have to cherry-pick what constitutes a classic anyway (because it’s impossible to read everything) I figure I might as well read as broadly as possible.
Thus far I have determined that I will include Dhalgren by Chip Delaney (which I tried to read in high school but gave up on for whatever reason), at least one of the C J Cherryh Alliance-Union books (probably Downbelow Station, but I’ll see what I can find), The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin, something by Joanna Russ (probably The Female Man), something by Octavia Butler (not sure what yet), something by James Tiptree Jr aka Alice Sheldon (son’t know what yet), something by Alfred Bester (probably The Stars My Destination, but maybe The Demolished Man, and no, I haven’t read either of those) and something by Robert Heinlein that isn’t Stranger in a Strange Land or The Number of the Beast (because fuck The Number of the Beast sideways; what a shitty book that was).
I’ve set some rules for this project:
- I can’t have read it before (I’ll give a pass to Dhalgren because I know I didn’t finish it, and because it was the book that prompted this line of thinking)
- Only one book by any given author
- Novels only (I do read a lot of short stories, but for this particular project I am shoring up my novel background)
- Science fiction only – I’ll do fantasy classics later
- Only books published pre-1985 (arbitrarily picking the publication of Neuromancer as the point at which I started reading science fiction semi-widely, and 30 years seems like a reasonable period to establish a work’s classic-ness)
- I am seeking parity between male and female authors (counting Tiptree as female for the binary purposes of this exercise)
- I am seeking parity between white and POC authors.
I have a feeling that last criteria will be hard to live up to but I will do my best.
So, I’m after suggestions: given the criteria above, what do you recommend I add to my reading pile of the classics of science fiction? What do you think are the landmark works of great science fiction that I should have absorbed into my brain-meats before now?
(Doctor Clam, I feel quite sure you have something to contribute here!)
Here’s the list as I settle on it (not yet in a particular order):
- Samuel R Delaney – Dhalgren
- Ursula K Le Guin – The Left Hand of Darkness
- Alfred Bester – The Stars My Destination
- C J Cherryh – Downbelow Station
- Frederick Pohl – Gateway
 The next writing project will be the small to medium-sized stack of short story ideas that have accumulated in my notebooks since I started the novel manuscript. It will be at least three new stories, plus two revisions, before I go back to revise the novel.