Thursday, September 17, 2015

There Can Only Be Three...

Okay, guys.  Question Time!

The two greatest science fiction writers of the Twentieth Century were H. G. Wells and Jules Verne.

Who was the third greatest?



HANNAH'S DAD said...


I don't think I can give anything like one name. And I'm not dead certain about Wells and Verne in the top three. And I'm also painfully aware of how dated my list is, apart from Ted Chiang.

TheOFloinn said...

Define "great."

Does it mean impact on the field?
Does it mean fine literary style?
Does it mean 'wrote stuff I really like'?

If we mean the first, then possibly Gernsback; but if we mean the second, ol' Hugo can't even suit up in the game. I might suggest Campbell for his seminal influence in turning the genre toward writing better prose and developing the top-tier writers of the formative period.

Wells and Verne are usually mentioned because they defined the two great streams of speculative fiction: the social commentary and the gadget adventure. Is there a third such?

Iconic and influential writers... it would have to be Heinlein or Asimov and forced to choose, I'll go with Heinlein.

As for more recent writers, it's too early to say.

Richard Mason said...

I agree that the candidate should ideally have founded an entire new stream or subgenre of the field, on par with the Wells social speculation and the Verne techno-thriller.

...And so I think the answer must be Tolkien, for the detailed world-building novel.

It seems to me most of the other possible candidates could be described as Wellsian or Vernian or Tolkienesque in their various admixtures.

Unknown said...

So hard to pick one. Going to go with Phillip K. Dick. Or maybe Walter Miller. Or Theodore Sturgeon.

You get the idea. I can't pick just one.

AndyHat said...

I'd probably have to go with Ray Bradbury.

Unknown said...


Theophylact said...

Verne barely makes it; he died in 1905, and (with the possible exception of Master of the World) I bet you've never read or heard of any of his 20th-Century works.

I'd go with Sturgeon.

David Stone said...

Does the Sherlock Holmes fiction count as Science Fiction? If these stories count, maybe Doyle gets the third spot. From what I understand, Holmes actually introduced things to forensic science that were perhaps already invented, but not yet common practice. I cannot think of a collection of genre fiction that has had greater influence on more people in more different language groups than the Holmes stories.

I think it's important to point out that Mr. Swanwick did not qualify this with English language writers, so there is probably someone who wrote in another language that I know nothing about who deserves the spot. Maybe Stanislaw Lem, Karel Capek...

rastronomicals said...

Umm, Heinlein because he got published in mainstream magazines, The Saturday Evening Post and the like? That wouldn't necessarily make him greatest, but it would make him influential

Kevin Cheek said...

I have to go with R. A. Lafferty. I admit I'm biased--I do publish a semiannual Lafferty fanzine Feast of Laughter (submissions welcome, everyone:

To be completely honest, I can give no one name for the Greatest SF Writer slot. I'd have to include: Sturgeon and Bester for their vast influence, Lafferty and Waldrop and Kurt Vonnegut (and perhaps Mark Twain) for their development of a truly American voice in SF and in Literature as a whole, Bradbury for sheer beautiful prose and humanist themes, Le Guin for adding intellect to SF, and of course Swanwick for asking the question, giving us this place to discuss it, and for generally brilliant writing.