By Matthew Appleton
In his introduction to the 20th anniversary edition of Neuromancer, William Gibson discusses the challenges of reading classic sf when you start reading it in your teens. In particular, the very nature of the genre means that unforeseen technological innovations or the unanticipated consequences of correctly projected technological evolution will eventually rip away the referential moorings of a particular work as it progresses into its imagined future. Thus, a reader encountering for the first time a classic work of sf will need to compensate, thus “shouldering an additional share of the imaginative burden.”
When I recently finished reading Le Guin’s classic, The Dispossessed, it was the first time I read it. However, I don’t believe that merely knowing that I read a 40-year-old novel gives the proper context. To provide perspective by way of example, when I was a teenager, I read reprints of two Groff Conklin Golden Age anthologies: The Omnibus of Science Fiction and Treasury of Science Fiction. At that time, the majority of the stories were of the same relative vintage as The Dispossessed currently displays. Although the experience of reading a novel written when I was still a toddler required less of an imaginative burden than reading short fiction from the ‘40s whilst in my teens, at various times I contemplated whether, technological issues aside, my perspective must be far different than that of a contemporary reader when The Dispossessed first appeared in bookstores.