Visiting with the Classics – a reading project

My reading preferences have always gravitated toward science fiction and fantasy. One of the earliest books I can remember loving – though not quite well enough to remember its name or author – was an illustrated book about the ancient Greek myths [1]. I practically taught myself to read devouring every Doctor Who novelisation and Star Wars spinoff I could lay my hands on.

At some point I discovered the rest of the genre, waiting patiently on the library shelves. I never looked back.

I read a lot, much of it forgotten and probably forgettable. I thought I read as widely as circumstances would allow. Looking back on it with adult eyes, the happenstance of access, reputation and the inscrutable appeals of cover art, back cover blurbs and opening lines circumscribed my reading boundaries to a startling extent.

To be frank, the SFF shelf of my personal library has some notable gaps in it. Remember that great bit from The Simpsons where Martin Prince, running for class president, promises a library of the classics of science fiction: “Asimov, Bester, Clarke”? Well, I was *barely* aware of their work. I didn’t even read The Lord of the Rings until I was 27.

So, this year I will attempt to fill some of those weird omissions in my knowledge of the “classics”. I am going to read and review at least one notable work of science fiction or fantasy every month, with following limits: every works must be an acknowledged “classic” [2], nothing I’ve read before, nothing published after 1980, no author represented more than once on the reading list, and parity between men and women. I will also do my best to read with diversity in mind – Samuel Delaney and Octavia Butler are on the list – but I expect that to prove more difficult as I go.

My first review, its pole position based solely on what arrived first out of the batch of library orders, is Frederick Pohl’s Gateway.


1: I can only presume the text glossed over some of the more dubious elements, though as I distinctly remember it included pictures of satyrs dancing with Dionysus and Zeus as a very energetic swan, maybe that was not the case. But whatever, because it also featured memorable images of Pegasus, the Minotaur and Herakles killing the hell out of the Lernaean Hydra. When I was six years of age, that stuff was almost as awesome as dinosaurs.

2: How do I define a work as a “classic”? Hmm, let me get back to you on that.

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