Feb
19
2017

Who is the science fiction equivalent of Tolkien and Lovecraft?

As in: love or hate JRR Tolkien as you please, but you may not ignore him when it comes to the fantasy genre. Venerate or despise HP Lovecraft for any number of reasons, but when we talk about horror we are ultimately using concepts and conceits that he defined and developed.  But if there’s a single figure of the science fiction field that similarly towers over the landscape, I do not know his or her name.  Bob Heinlein comes close. So does John Campbell, although that would have been more true thirty years ago.  Maybe Gene Roddenberry and George Lucas, combined. Other than that, though, I’m stumped.

Thoughts?

34 Comments

  • Aruges says:

    Probably Asimov. The “3 Laws of Robotics” seems to have been incorporated into a lot of other material, but Science Fiction is a wider genre than High Fantasy, I think, so singular sources of inspiration are harder to identify.

    • Moe_Lane says:

      They suggested Asimov on Twitter, but I can’t think of a SF writer that has as much a polarizing influence on how we think of the genre itself as Tolkien and Lovecraft did.

      • Aruges says:

        I didn’t take from you post that “controversial” was a requirement. In that case, probably Roddenberry and/or Lucas as you suggested. As they kind of “dumbed down” the genre but also popularized it in a way it hadn’t been in a long time. A lot of hard sci-fi fans hated that (and still do).

        • Phil Smith says:

          I’m going to argue for ERB on polarizing perceptions of the genre. To be honest, his science was pure dreck, his social awareness was retrograde even for its time, and the plots were thin at best. He dumbed it down more than any other auteur (excepting Phantom Menace I guess) and popularized the hell out of it at the same time.

          I think part of the problem here is that sf has been around so long, at least as a type of plot device, that it’s really hard to point to one person and say “there’s the granddaddy of the all.”

          But it’s Heinlein 🙂

  • Phil Smith says:

    If “towers over the field” is what you’re looking for, and it ain’t Heinlein, it’s gotta be Bradbury. If you’re looking for pioneering (at least in terms of commercial success), Edgar Rice Burroughs.

    • Moe_Lane says:

      ERB might work for a couple of generations ago. Nobody’s ever really tried to bury Bradbury, which is one of the criteria for this thought, I guess.

  • BigGator5 says:

    H. G. Wells and Orson Scott Card are the first two off the top of my mind. I am a little trouble no one thought of those two.

    • Luke says:

      OSC is a hell of a writer. Nearly everything he’s ever written is top notch. That said, the field was pretty well defined long before he picked up his pen.
      .
      I could make a case for H.G. Wells.

  • nicklevi86 says:

    No Jules Verne?

    • Moe_Lane says:

      Verne would make sense as an answer in 1920. 🙂

      • Skip says:

        Well if the answer today is what you’re looking for, rather than the answer of our grandparents, I’d argue that for Horror it’s not Lovecraft, but King.
        .
        In any case, I’d say that for SF, you need to divide things a little bit. For Mil-SF? Heinlein. Space Opera? Doc Smith. Lit’rary SF? Bradbury. Hard SF? I can’t really think of any of the guys in the 50s that count, so probably Niven. Asimov’s in there somewhere, but I’m not sure, really, which category he really defined, because his writings were so broad.
        .
        Campbell pretty much drove all the pre-new wave SF, but it’s hard to think of any tropes that he was primarily responsible for, and all the guys above have SF tropes that they originated.

        • Luke says:

          For Hard Sci-fi, I’d have to go with Clarke or Asimov. Niven can and has written hard sci-fi, but most of his stuff isn’t significantly harder than Heinlien’s (and you’d have to give equal billing to Jerry).
          .
          But the answer is Jules Verne. You asked for the common touchstone. You won’t find a better example.

        • acat says:

          If one gives Campbell credit for writing the first usable definition of the monomyth, or the “hero’s journey”, then .. he’s had a larger influence than Tolkien, Lovecraft, Asimov, Vernor Vinge, etc. etc. – since the monomyth shows up in far more genres than just SciFi.
          .
          Mew

          • Skip says:

            I was actually talking about John Campbell, editor of Astounding/Analog from ’37-’71, rather than Joseph Campbell…

      • acat says:

        That depends on what the question is.
        .
        Is it “defined the genre”? Then .. it’s Wells and Verne.
        .
        If it’s “defined the genre for the modern age”, then .. you need to break the genre into mediums first.
        .
        For live-action, I’d argue Roddenberry over Lucas, because George wasn’t [excrement] without Spielberg and Leigh Brackett.
        .
        For written, Skip’s breakdown below works reasonably well.
        .
        I suggest that the answer of Tolkien is somewhat flawed as he was hardly the only one redefining fantasy, although he was the most successful … in part because he intended to create ‘a new mythos’ for England.
        .
        C.S. Lewis was clearly every bit as good a storyteller; had he sailed a .. less religious plotline .. it’d be interesting to see which was on your above list ..
        .
        Mew

  • Belcatar says:

    Harlan Ellison.

    • acat says:

      The guy who dismissed Star Wars as “a bunch of whiny farmboy-wannabes running around in their older siblings’ karate gear” ?
      .
      Yeah .. maybe.
      .
      Mew

  • bensdad00 says:

    This whole thread just reminds me how much more i still needed to read.

  • jeboyle says:

    I think you need to give us a time frame for this, Moe. You suggest that Verne and ERB are too out of date, and SF in the 20s and 30s included a great deal of what we now call fantasy and horror. So, how far back do you want to go? 1950? 1960? Later? Or do you want to start with WWII?

  • bensdad00 says:

    If you want outsized global influence with your science fiction, than that only possible answer is Al Gore.

  • JustDave says:

    How about Frank Herbert? Pretty much every multi-sequel epic background series can trace its heritage directly to Dune and its sequels.

    • RangerSG says:

      Except that I don’t hear a lot of ‘hate-it’ about Dune. At worst you hear, “It was just too long for me to get into.”
      **
      By the time you get into the ‘hate-it’ books of the Dune series, you’re well beyond what most people are aware even exists. And of course, the new ones aren’t even written by him.

      • acat says:

        The first book or two weren’t bad, but also weren’t great .. and I don’t know that I’d credit *every* multi-sequel epic to him either, since both Tolkien and Heinlein (and, of course, Zelazny) also did multi-book arcs.
        .
        Mew

  • Belcatar says:

    I think I have the answer! It’s Philip K. Dick. How many of that guy’s stories have ended up as movies? It has to be him.

  • Belcatar says:

    The only other name that makes sense is Hugo Gernsback. I mean, he’s the “Hugo” in the Hugo Award, so he must have done something important.

  • acat says:

    H. Beam Piper meets the “tried to bury” category .. and ended up tragically dead, so that mirrors Edgar Allen Poe. (you know, the one much of Lovecraft’s style was purloined from …)
    .
    Mew

    • UnmovingGreatLibrary says:

      Piper is an interesting case. His influence is probably far greater than most realize, but he can hardly be said to tower over the field. He goes beyond “tried to bury” into straight-up buried, and you have to be involved in the field one way or another to really know who he is.
      .
      Tolkien and Lovecraft, Heinlein and Bradbury, Roddenberry and Lucas? They don’t have that problem; the general public knows who they are and what they did. But Piper? Not only can SF fans not know who he is, but you can quote him and not even realize you’re doing it.

      • acat says:

        Oh, the general public knows ’em *now*, sure.
        .
        (and Bradbury’s direct influence seems to be on the wane ..)
        .
        I’d argue Piper parallels Poe rather well .. and without Poe, there could be no Lovecraft.
        .
        Mew

  • bensdad00 says:

    Has anyone here read
    The astounding, the amazing, and the unknown by Malmont, Paul?

    The blurb on my library site is “A sequel to “The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril” finds Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and their literary associates confronting a powerful adversary who threatens to tip the balance of power during World War II.”

  • Nathan says:

    Damon Knight

    Not because of any fiction he wrote, but because he set up SFWA and Clarion as well as contributing heavily to the first growing criticism of science fiction. Essentially, he set up the institutions that trained today’s writers. Look at pre- and non-Puppy Hugo picks. Best of SF anthologies, and the Nebulas; Clarion graduates are over-represented in each.

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