The past few months have been a time of soul-searching for me. Did I want to keep being just the Steampunk Scholar? Steampunk has been very good to me: I've never had to want for an academic publishing opportunity as a result of the visibility the blog provided, haven't had to purchase much of my primary sources since 2010, and have been invited to many lovely events and met a lot of great people. Nevertheless, I was feeling a bit tired of being confined to reading steampunk. Every book I received for review was another book I had to read that kept me from reading something in speculative literature in general. Last year, the blog suffered for posting because I had vowed to get through Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series in a year. I had abandoned that series during my PhD. research, but since I'd started it the year the first book was released, I wanted to finish it in the year the final book was released.
It's not that I've grown to dislike steampunk. But after reading so much steampunk, my taste for it is very refined. I don't enjoy all steampunk, and I have no wish to be reading books I don't enjoy. Last year, I found myself increasingly abandoning the review books I'd been sent. They couldn't hold my attention. Only a handful of steampunk in 2014 enticed me to read to the end. It had become a chore to read much of the review copies I was being sent. It was clearly time for a change.
So after much speculation, I settled on changing the blog to The Speculative Scholar, to allow wider play for my reading and research interests. Now I had a new problem. Like my students who often choose topics for their papers that are too general, I was suddenly faced with the question of how to refine my attention so as not to be looking at everything. I decided I would use the speculative literature awards to focus the blog. While I've read science fiction, fantasy, and horror since I was a wee lad, I haven't always paid attention to the award winners. I chose by browsing, mostly, and while that served me well as a younger man, it has become a dissatisfying crap-shoot as an academic adult. The Hugo, The John W. Campbell Memorial, the World Fantasy, Nebula, Bram Stoker, Arthur C. Clarke, and Locus awards provide me with a filter, like panning for gold. Someone else has waded through the dross, and we are left with the gems.
Now I'll readily admit there are gems that are overlooked by these awards. I hope I'll be paying enough attention to my Twitter feed and sites like Tor.com and i09 to catch the gems that slipped through the filter. But I only have so much time, and I want to read the best. I want to catch up on the classics I overlooked when The Savage Sword of Conan was my preferred reading material. I will also be choosing from each year's nominees from here forward, to read some of the books that are "in the running," and perhaps give my own choices for who should have won. I'll focus on novels and films, with occasional diversions into novellas, novelettes and short stories. For years where there is no consensus, I will choose based upon my own interests - I've already noticed how many LeGuin novels are winners, and since I'm interested in expanding my scholarly interests regarding LeGuin, I choose her whenever I can, in this list at the expense of reading Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga. While I recognize Bujold's contributions, I am more interested in how LeGuin is recognized in both her fantasy and science fiction. This same choice process occurs for the writing of Dan Simmons (I focus on Simmons' horror, not his SF) and Connie Willis (If Willis and LeGuin are in the same year, I choose both). I tried to keep my selections down to two per year, but some years, such as 1993 were chock-full of books I'm interested in, and see as being important.
I also want to compile my reading/viewing list somewhere both my readers and I can see it. I'll be announcing what I'm reading on my Twitter feed, and also in the sidebars at the blog. So here is my first draft of the reading list, considering the various award winners from 1961 forward. Since the list is quite long, I'll say here how excited I am to have created this opportunity for myself, to read the great works of speculative literature and share my thoughts with you, my readers. I look forward to finding the classic ones in used bookstores, a pleasure I've not indulged in much these past few years. I look forward to finally knowing for myself what I've often had to simply take others' word for. There are 112 titles on the list. My goal is to complete the list in a decade.
The list consists of a mix of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. It is, to some degree, a work in progress and you can find that work-in-progress HERE.
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