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Of course, Frankenstein the mad scientist isn't really the main point of Frankenstein the book at all. He's a facilitator for a pretty profound inquiry into what makes a human.

It took a LONG time for the genre of SF to get to the point of making profound inquiries about anything. Now it does all the time, and it is well worth finding and reading the ones that go beyond zap and zing around the galaxy.

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author

well...idk. I'd say SF has always had a range of quality, like anything. H.G. Wells' novels are pretty profound and thoughtful I think; so is work by Charlotte Perkins Gillman, George Orwell, Joe Haldeman, Ursula Le Guin, Joanna Russ, Stanislaw Lem, Samuel Delany, Octavia Butler, Philip K. Dick, and on and on. and then there's also a lot of dreck! (*cough* Piers Anthony *cough*.)

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Feb 29·edited Feb 29Liked by Noah Berlatsky

by a "long time" I meant in works that THOUGHT of themselves as a genre--all that pulp fiction on the 30s and 40s. I agree with your listing (including Piers Anthony!!) I was just making a list of things I've read that I think fit my "better go look for them books" and what I've come up with so far (with overlap from yours)

Left Hand of Darkness

The Martian Chronicles

A Canticle for Liebowitz

Hitchhiker's Guide

The Stand

The Children of Men

Long Way to a Small Angry Planet

IQ84

The Handmaids Tale

Annihilation

Slaughterhouse Five

Childhood's End

1984

Brave New World

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep

Station Eleven

Never let me go

The Fifth Season

Some of these might be seen as "crossover" books, but I think the mainstream authors penning them, by and large, were thinking in terms of working in the genre, not just accidentally arriving there.

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there's often vacillation because sometimes "serious" authors in the past were leery of the SF label (I think Atwood at various points tried to distance herself from SF.) SF's kind of more respected now, so there's less of that.

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I grew up when SF was strictly "boy stuff." I got hooked early on Heinlein's juveniles (I've grown to really dislike his adult books). But I vividly remember buying SF off the rack at our local drugstore and hiding it inside a copy of Photoplay to get it to the counter without people seeing me take it. Childhood's end and Debbie Reynolds/Eddie Fisher. It was easier at the library because the books didn't have the obvious covers.

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Handmaiden's Tale doesn't fall into SF.

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author

Well, that’s what Atwood said at first! Like I said though, she seems to have changed her mind.

(The plots based on a future mysterious plague…which looks like af to me!)

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Mar 1·edited Mar 1

Hmm. She has written SF type works, I agree that much.

Thematically, Handmaiden's is dystopian, rather than SF. I say supposedly, because 'gestational carriers' is a term used with absolute sincerity and gratitude in this century. No SF or dystopia needed. Always surprises me that people who are fans of that work don't see any straight line link to the real world. (In other regards, it's an extended glorified rape fantasy.) As you'd gather, I'm not in awe of her fiction. It has a lot of problems. That particular novel is deeply traditional and conservative.

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author

Oh sure; I have pretty mixed feeling about the Handmaid's Tale. But a lot of SF isn't very good!

I think dystopian fiction (and utopian fiction!) are subsets or overlapping with SF. I guess Atwood insists her book is "speculative fiction" not "science fiction" which seems to me like a way to distance herself from a less prestigious genre.

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Feb 29Liked by Noah Berlatsky

When I grew up I read a lot of Jules Vernes. I would say he was an early SF writer. I would also posit that Star Trek is important.

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author

Jules Verne is very important...and I think probably moreso in France than in the anglophone world (though still pretty important in the anglophone world.)

Star Trek is a big successful franchise, but not as much so as star trek, I don't think.

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Feb 29Liked by Noah Berlatsky

I read The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon because I loved Gentlemen of the Road. Great book too, but I was surprised to learn that it won a Hugo Award. This was not because Yiddish Policemen’s Union isn’t award worthy, but because I never thought of it as science fiction. SciFi really covers a lot of territory.

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Feb 29Liked by Noah Berlatsky

Good point. Do alternate history novels count as science-fiction? Is Harry turtledove a science-fiction writer?

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author

the answers there are yes and yes. Turtledove is generally shelved in SF and is widely considered an SF writer.

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Feb 29Liked by Noah Berlatsky

I've never read any of the alt history books. But now that I think of it, where ELSE would they be shelved at the local Barnes and Noble...

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Feb 29Liked by Noah Berlatsky

One of the best memories of my dad as a kid was he is fully responsible for my love of the sci/fi and fantasy genres, in book and movie form.

When the first Star Wars, Star Trek, Indiana Jones movies came out, along with Close Encounters, my dad and I got dressed up to the nines, go out to eat at one of the super fancy places in the French Quarter and then go see a movie.

The last few rounds of SW movies haven't been the best, but I know my dad would have LOVED them anyway, so I've actually seen most of them in the theater.

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Fun essay, but wouldn't this be true of almost any genre? Is there one iconic Romance story? One iconic comedy of manners?

Side note, I remember that John Holbo has written some interesting posts exploring the limits of and weird influences on science fiction. For example:

https://crookedtimber.org/2015/10/17/mill-as-science-fiction-author/

https://crookedtimber.org/2022/11/25/christmas-and-time-travel-and-possible-worlds-into-the-scroogiverse/

https://crookedtimber.org/2011/01/26/sf-film-regressivism-and-progressivism-and-revisionism/

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author

yes! it's every genre.

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That seems reasonable-- I've always thought Wittgenstein had a good point about games.

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I still find it interesting that most people think the name of the monster was Frankenstein, rather than the doctor being the monster, Dr Victor Frankenstein. I think this reflects that a lot of people aren't familiar with the primary novel, or completely misunderstood the point.

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