The “Big Three” of 20th Century Science Fiction.

The “Big Three” of 20th Century Science Fiction.

The “Big Three” of 20th Century Science Fiction.

Three of the best-selling science fiction novelists of the 20th century, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, and Arthur C. Clarke are commonly referred to as the “Big Three” of science fiction for their influential work in expanding the definition of the genre established by their predecessors Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and Hugo Gernsback. Moving beyond their forefathers’ approaches to speculative fiction, the “Big Three” established the subgenre of “hard science fiction”, characterized by a concern for scientific accuracy, logic, and adherence to the laws of physics.

 

First edition, first issue of the second book in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Series

 

A professor of biochemistry at Boston University, Isaac Asimov was a prolific writer. He wrote and edited more than 500 books, his most famous work being the Foundation series. Originally a series of eight short stories published in Astounding Magazine between May 1942 and January 1950 and based on the concepts set forth in Edward Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, the stories take place in the waning days of a future Galactic Empire where mathematician Hari Seldon develops a theory of psychohistory, a new and effective mathematical sociology that can predict the future of large populations. Seldon foresees the imminent fall of the Empire, which encompasses the entire Milky Way, and a dark age lasting 30,000 years before a second empire arises. The first three books in the series, now referred to as The Foundation Trilogy won the one-time Hugo Award for “Best All-Time Series” in 1966.

 

First edition of The Stars Like Dust; signed by Isaac Asimov

 

Asimov’s other major series include the Galactic empire and Robot series. The first book in the Galactic Empire Series, The Stars Like Dust was described by The New York Times as “…a rousing adventure story of the remote future, is the Galaxy, which, with its hundreds of inhabited planets, has been taken over by a dictatorial race called, appropriately enough, the Tyranni. A small group of rebels wage a determined battle against the dictators, giving Mr. Asimov plenty of opportunities to plot those involved and subtle twists for which he is known. Its clear writing and excellent suspense make this book a welcome addition to the science fiction lists.”

 

First edition of Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot; signed by Isaac Asimov

 

The first book in the Robot series, I, Robot includes a collection of short stories of robots gone mad, mind-reading robots, robots with a sense of humor, robot politicians, and robots who secretly run the world, all told with Asimov’s trademark dramatic blend of science fact and science fiction. It includes “The Evitable Conflict” in which machines that have made the world of the twenty-first century an economic utopia take control of Mankind’s future, moving it “toward an unknown and happy destiny” (Berger, Science Fiction and the New Dark Age).

 

First edition, first issue of Stranger in a Strange Land; inscribed by Robert A. Heinlein

 

Aeronautical engineer and retired Naval officer Robert A. Heinlein was one of the first writers of science fiction to emphasize the importance of scientific accuracy in the genre, and was thus a pioneer of the subgenre of hard science fiction. He was one of the first science fiction writers to break into mainstream magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post in the late 1940s and four of his novels won Hugo Awards. Named by the Library of Congress as one of the 88 “Books the Shaped America” and widely considered Heinlein’s masterpiece, Stranger In A Strange Land tells the story of Valentine Michael Smith, a human who comes to Earth in early adulthood after being born on the planet Mars and raised by Martians, and explores his interaction with and eventual transformation of Terran culture. “It reached large audiences farther away from his science fiction roots than anything else [Heinlein] wrote, and inspired insurgencies both right and left” (Anatomy of Wonder II-518).

 

First edition of The Man Who Sold the Moon: Harriman and the Escape from Earth to the Moon!; signed twice by Robert A. Heinlein

 

A part of Heinlein’s Future History and prequel to the short story Requiem, The Man Who Sold the Moon follows a series of events leading up to the fictional first Moon landing in 1978 and the schemes of Delos D. Harriman, a businessman who is determined to personally reach and control the Moon. Although the science fiction film Destination Moon is generally described as being based on Heinlein’s novel Rocket Ship Galileo, the story in fact bears a much closer resemblance to The Man Who Sold the Moon. The novella also inspired David Bowie’s song “The Man Who Sold the World”, in both its title and its central themes.

 

First edition of Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey; signed by Arthur C. Clarke

 

A lifelong proponent of space travel, English writer, futurist, inventor, undersea explorer, and television series host Arthur C. Clarke is best known for co-writing the screenplay for the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, one of the most influential films of all time. With the success of both film and book, Clarke “became perhaps the best-known science fiction writer in the world” (Clute & Nicholls, 231). His novel (the first in an eventual tetraology) is “about the two things Clarke seems to think we mortals would most like to know in a universe in which we can only hope that the odds are in favor of the race’s survival: that we are not alone and that we have not lived in vain” (John Hollow). Clarke wrote the novel while Stanley Kubrick created the film, the two collaborating on both projects. The novel is much more detailed and intimate, and perhaps easier to comprehend.

 

First British edition of Fahrenheit 451; inscribed by Ray Bradbury

 

In addition to the titles featured above, our collection currently includes a variety of signed first editions in the genre of science fiction, including several titles by Aldous Huxley, Frank Herbert, Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, Octavia E. Butler, Douglas Adams, and Larry Niven among many others.

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