The three science fiction (sci-fi) writers on my list either have fewer fans and awards or more critics than Stephen King, William Gibson, or Jerry Pournelle.
While these sci-fi writers may not be at par with the big names of the genre, they were able to create an alternative history central to science fiction. This alternative history is a natural mode of expression rather than a marketing tool to create fandom. For that and the effort to align story narratives with the speculative and truncated epic tradition, they deserve some praise and recognition.
1.) James L. Halperin. Halperin is the author of the two popular speculative novels namely The Truth Machine (1996) and The First Immortal (1997). In 2001, newsletter subscribers of PC Magazine heralded the two novels among the top 17 sci-fi-technology novels in the past 20 years. That was the first and last recognition known for Halperin’s novels in 11 years. Aside from the claim in his website that the novels will be made into films, Halperin’s are another underrated imaginary creations denied of validation.
In The Truth Machine, Halperin cleverly and directly explored the nature of history in relation to technology and the much-desired peace and order vis-à-vis freedom and individual rights. He sustained the detailed approach to his imagined world until the end of his narrative and placed some memorable, if not believable, storyline within the matrix of American culture. Its political speculations cum satire made me think and laugh, from Gore’s inauguration, Korea’s unification, Fidel Castro’s death, to school choice programs.
Halperin is nonconformist in style. He utilized the “you” (second person) in The Truth Machine, footnotes all throughout the body text, endnotes/appendices as if the novel were a textbook, and lastly, a pretend historical timeline. While these peculiarities were considered his biggest literary weaknesses, I believe, they were his same strengths as a sci-fi writer. Halperin’s peculiar approach to writing is his own creative center that gives off a sense of irony and some flavor of vision in his literary works. Additionally, Halperin knew how to construct a real world where his characters could stand out in the bulk of details. This is, I believe, fundamental to science fiction. For that, he deserves some praise and recognition.
2.) Andrew Swann. Steven Swiniarski, also known as S. Andrew Swann, is the author of more than 20 novels built up on different genres like science fiction, fantasy, horror, and techno-thriller. He had an array of sci-fi novels critically welcomed by some science fiction review magazines and websites like the Science Fiction Chronicle, SF Site, Locus, The New York Review of Science Fiction, SF Revu, and SF Signal. Swiniarski, however, has yet to receive some recognition from either fan, professional, or scholarly organization.
Swiniarski’s strength lies in his ability to make the unbelievable seems believable, evident in his approach in Fearful Symmetries (1999) and Heretics (2010). In Fearful Symmetries, Swiniarski successfully humanized his lead character Nohar, a mutated tiger, while he capitalized on the infighting between Eridani Caliphate, the Roman Catholic Church, and Mosasa, the AI machine race, in Heretics. Keen to break in the laager of the genre, Swiniarski shapes his fantastic worlds and beings as heightened pictures of our own, telling deep meaning about our condition. For that, he deserves some praise and recognition.
3.) Barry N. Malzberg. To date, Barry N. Malzberg is perhaps the least active yet with the most recognition, fans, and critics of the three sci-fi writers on my list. Malzberg is the author of quite a number of sci-fi novels and collections including Beyond Apollo (1972), The Man Who Loved the Midnight Lady (1980), and Breakfast in the Ruins (2007). Aside from being a frequent nominee for the Hugo and Nebula Awards, Malzberg won the Locus and the John W. Campbell Memorial Awards. Central to Malzberg’s notoriety is his writing style, which earned flak and praise from critics and science fiction fans. He championed the present-tense narratives, long and elaborate sentence construction, and sometimes, under use of commas, capital letters in the beginning of a sentence, and quotation marks. Malzberg crossed many lines and engaged in taboo practices in science fiction including the anti-Campbell gist. As prolific as he is, he was rarely acknowledged for his brainchild because of critics’ disdain to his approach.
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