I wish. Despite there being plenty of recommended reading lists from organizations, authors, and fans, there has yet to be an actual SF & F Canon. This is of course from my understanding. Perhaps someone has written their own canon, but from what I can tell and from what I know there is no official canon of SF & F works.
Well, I wonder if this is because people don’t care or because nobody has taken the time to make their ideas reality. I cannot no more say that I am qualified to create a legitimate canon, but I certainly know that I can be objective enough to be involved in deciding what novels make it into such a list. There are plenty of novels I have read that were fantastic, but I know do not deserve to be in a literary canon because they are not, generally speaking, a work of literary merit, or at least not necessarily a work that will greatly influence the genre. There’s nothing wrong with such books at all. You can read a book that you really enjoy and it is still literature, but you can see immediately that such a book just isn’t a book you would put on a list with some of the greatest works in the field. The same thing happens with regular and literary fiction too of course.
So, I was thinking hard on this subject while trying to find some sort of personal canon that someone had put up. Alas, I could find none. There were a few discussions on the subject, but it seems as if no real list has been made, or at least no list that could be considered to represent a significant portion of speculative literature. Why has an organization like SFWA not set out to make an official list? Certainly they have the authority, or at least seem to have the authority to do such a thing, and with an enormous list of members–all published authors–they should easily be able to get input. But from what I can tell they haven’t worked on creating a canon. Maybe they don’t see a point in it.
Well, I do! We need a legit canon–desperately. I propose creating one, but there have to be specific guidelines to how books are selected. Perhaps this will all flop, but there is a desperate need for a collaborative effort to create a literary canon of science fiction and fantasy. The guidelines might be as follows:
This is not what it sounds like. No books should be chosen purely on the fact that everyone out there bought it, read it, and loved. At the same time, though, the book has to have had a mark on the public to even be recognized and have influence. A book that is read by five people has just about no influence on the genre. But popularity should be taken with a grain of salt. There are plenty of books that are popular, but are at the same rather lax in literary merit (perhaps the Da Vinci Code would be an example).
The novel or even novella, since we should not exclude works that today would not be considered novels, should have stood the test of time. It has to have had a lasting influence.
- Critical Success
It has to be recognized in some way for its importance. This could mean it has won awards or simply has been analyzed or referenced. There may be many novels, particularly older novels, that would not have won awards but still have influence.
Pretty obvious since I’ve mentioned it already. It has to influence other writing. That influence has to be genre defining, powerful. Not simply that it made people buy books in that genre, but that it actually changed the direction of SF & F literature in some way.
Perhaps there is need for more criteria, but perhaps those four are good enough. In any case, i think it’s time to begin paving a way towards a literary canon for science fiction and fantasy.
So, who’s with me? Leave a comment! Add new criteria, edit my criteria and explain why, and let’s get this thing started!