I just saw a list of the “Twenty Core SF Books Every True SF Fan Should Have On Their Shelves.” I have no problem with people publishing such lists, and I have no problem with this list in particular, particularly with the fact that all of the listed works are by women.* It’s one person’s opinion, and we all know such lists are not meant to be taken seriously, but as a springboard for discussion–the kind of intellectual discussion which seems all to lacking these days, both in SF and in the world in general.
The problem with such lists, actually, is that they appear to stand for the proposition that you can make up a definitive list of must-read books of any stripe. Let’s disregard that literature is far too wide and deep for any real short catalog–there are so many classic novels out there; I submit that if you were to list the 500 books any “real” fan must have in his library, you would still get vigorous pushback about the books you left out. I guarantee it, in fact.
And the reason is that reading is a matter of taste. I’m not talking “literature” vs. “beach reads,” I’m talking about personal preferences. I have read a good portion of the books on that list, most I’ve heard of, and a couple were completely new to me. I can tell you that the books I’d heard of but not read, I will probably never read. Yet I’ve been an SF fan for decades, and I’ll bet I’ve read good books that someone else who sees that list has not, and never will. (Again, we’re not talking about how you define “worthy” literature.)
So if I love Asimov and you won’t touch it, and you adore Lem and I can’t get through one book, which is us is the true fan? All things being equal, we both are. We just enjoy different parts of the same fandom. It’s true that things evolve, and certainly, as N. K. Jamison said recently, SF has evolved.
But nobody ever said we had to evolve the same way. That’s a very science-fictional concept, by the way –in fact, I would say it’s true science fiction.
*I do have a problem with the grammar, but that’s an argument I don’t want to get into here.