You like the music of your time
Nowadays, I enjoy songs like Dean Martin’s That’s Amore, and Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire, yet as a kid, I didn’t like them.
Growing up, my parents loved the Dean Martin show. I didn’t. I was a puritanical little thing, with no sense of (adult) humour at all and to me Martin was a drunk, and he wasn’t even funny. (The drunkenness was an act; he drank apple juice stage.) Worst of all, he sang old-fashioned songs.
My parents also loved Johnny Cash. Not for me. He was so old.
I was into pop songs.
None of us—parents or me or anyone else in my family, I think—ever got into the Beatles. Our parents were too old for them, we were too young.
Yet all through the 70s, 80s, and even into the 90s, we were told “the Beatles are the greatest band ever”. Nowadays, ask anyone under about the age of 30 who the greatest bands is and you’ll more likely get U2 or Coldplay than you will the Beatles.
Classic science fiction
Back when my parents were younger, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra featured on almost everyone’s list of greatest musicians. You don’t find them on many lists now, yet if people are reminded about them, they will admit they were good for their time.
I was thinking of this when I popped over to the Worlds without End and started reading James Wallace Harris blog, Falling Off the Classics of Science Fiction List. He was talking about books that had been removed from the Classics of Science Fiction list.
When books fall of the list, it doesn’t mean those books are unworthy of reading anymore, but that readers are forgetting them.
What makes a classic a classic?
I have read most of the books on the Classics of Science Fiction list. I enjoyed (some of) them at the time, but few of them make my own personal classic list.
Really, what makes a classic a classic?
Sometimes I feel there’s no such thing as a great book, at least not in a measurable sense. The books we think are great are merely the ones that reflect our strongest desires. They don’t need to be well written, brilliant, or literary. They just need to trigger emotions.
Yes, and so much yes. This.
Recommending science fiction to new readers
When people start reading science fiction, they’re often told to go read the classics.
I think that’s the worst thing you can do to a budding science fiction reader. It’s like telling them, “You must listen to Dean Martin and the Beatles. They’re the only real singers,” when the reader’s taste runs to Lin Manuel Miranda or Taylor Swift.
Harris again (from Why do you love the science fiction you love):
I do love modern science fiction, and often think it better written and more sophisticated than my favorites here. And I do prefer the diversity of modern SF.
Later, he says:
My favorite science fiction is 50 years or older… these are the stories burned in my memory. I read most of these stories before I turned 20. It might be our life-time favorites are the books we read in youth. First impressions are often the lasting impressions.
I’m the same. I love the modern stuff, but some of my favorite stories are old ones. And many of my favorites don’t make the classics list. These stories don’t always age well. They struck a chord at the time, but for someone reading them for the first time in this day and age, they won’t have the same impact.
So next time someone says, “I haven’t read science fiction before, where should I start?” don’t recommend the classics to them.
Recommend something modern. Something written in the last couple of years. Something you think they might like.
The time to read the classics is afterwards, when the new reader is enjoying the genre, and they’re interested in what came before.