Predict future SFF classics

Back a couple of years ago, Smithsonian Magazine reminded its readers of a 1936 poll that asked which contemporary authors would endure the slings and arrows of critics, such that their works would be considered “classics” in the year 2000 (the poll was conducted by The Colophon — a magazine for book collectors that sadly did not itself “endure”). These are the authors their readers came up with:SFF Classics

  1. Sinclair Lewis
  2. Willa Cather
  3. Eugene O’Neill
  4. Edna St. Vincent Millay
  5. Robert Frost
  6. Theodore Dreiser
  7. James Truslow Adams
  8. George Santayana
  9. Stephen Vincent Benet
  10. James Branch Cabell

Well, seeing as how I have eight of those on my shelves and recognized one of them (I confess I did have to look up James Truslow Adams), they didn’t do so bad.

So, FanLit readers (you can, ahem, “predict” where this is going, can’t you?), what names would you place on a list of fantasy/science fiction authors writing today whose work is destined to be labeled a “classic”? Give us an author or two, or feel free to give us a whole list of ten, along with some accompanying explanation as to why you feel these writers deserve a spot on such a rarefied list. Just to make things a bit harder, we’re going to knock out the already-lauded greybeards of the field, and say your authors have to had been first published in 1990 or later (so no J.R.R. Tolkiens, C.S. Lewises, Margaret Atwoods or Gene Wolfes).

Note: This column was inspired by a column at Open Culture.

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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  1. Michael Healy /

    J.K. Rowling – Harry Potter changed the game in a way few books ever have.

  2. Very difficult question. I suspect that Ann Leckie will definitely be remembered for her Imperial Radch because of the gender neutrality as well as the AI themes. Whether her books will continue to be discussed many years from now, hard to say. I’d think so but I’m not a good judge – usually anything that has won a major award (outside of children’s book awards) is normally not my cup of tea.

    Probably Neil Gaiman’s books, both the younger ones and the adult ones because he seems to span all the themes and whatnot that pushes the ‘classic’ buttons – with serious subjects, overarching appeal and enduring themes of friendship and loss.

    I have no idea what translates into staying power though so don’t bet on my choices!

  3. Conal O'Neill /

    I think that the authors who are able to transition their novels to television or movies will be the most remembered in the future. Current examples include J K Rowling, George R.R. Martin, Diana Gabaldon, James S.A. Corey, John Scalzi and probably several others.

  4. Rowling, as a couple others above, is an obvious choice for fantasy: she’s immensely popular and writes for a younger audience, which has seemed to be important for enduring fantasies of the last 120 years (Baum, Carroll, Barrie, Lewis, Tolkien, etc.) Names I’d love to be remembered: China Mieville and Susanna Clarke.

    Science fiction is harder to predict since the bestselling sci-fi books of all time were almost all written prior to 1990 (and have sold far far less than the best selling fantasies.) The Hunger Games is probably the best selling sci-fi series of all time, and it’s for a younger audience, but that’s seemed less important for sci-fi. Nevertheless, I predict that Collins’s dystopian tale will continue to have relevance through the coming decades. Name I want to be remembered: Jeff Vandermeer (The Southern Reach is so so good.)

  5. And it’s also interesting to see what the survey left out. The best selling novel of 1936 was Gone With the Wind. Aldous Huxley is not mentioned, nor are Erich Maria Remarque, Pearl S. Buck, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner John Steinbeck, and Thornton Wilder, all of whom were near the peak of their popularity and had all published substantial works that are still widely read.

  6. Conal O’Neill, if you live in the USA, you win a book of your choice from our stacks.
    Please contact me (Marion) with your choice and a US address. Happy reading!

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