May/June 1999 | Volume 50, Issue 3
Isaac Asimov. Not that the books that established his name are notably more callow and formulaic than those by a dozen other writers of the bygone pulp era but that a quirk of fate has turned Asimov into a figurehead for the whole genre. The field’s most successful magazine is named for him, and in many Third World countries, his books are virtually the only SF vailable. His professional persona, that of a complacent forever-eleven egoist, is not uncommon in the SF frog pond, but Asimov’s version was purer even than that of Harlan Ellison, who has inherited his mantle as most beloved curmudgeon. Ellison, however, is a much superior writer.
Twenty years ago that would have been an easy call: Philip K. Dick. However, Dick’s stock has rocketed since his death in 1983 and now stands at something like his true deserving, a step shy of the summit but above surviving rival claimants.
Among some dozen mid- to late-career candidates for this least coveted of honors, all too many have already gone into a decline after carrying home some trophies. The one exception is Gene Wolfe, whose first, serpent-wise novel, The Fifth Head of Cerberus , came out in 1972. Between 1980 and 1982 he published The Book of the New Sun , a tetralogy of couth, intelligence, and suavity that is also written in Vista Vision with Dolby sound. Imagine a Star Wars -style space opera penned by G. K. Chesterton in the throes of a religious conversion. Wolfe has continued in full diapason ever since, and a crossover success is long overdue.