It’s notable how many of us niche SF writers cite “the big three” as influences — meaning Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke. Wikipedia even lists them as one commonly referred-to trio.
Count me as among those who’ve been influenced. I would have cited those three together long before I had heard the grouping. Back then, I’d soon broaden my horizons to include Ray Bradbury, Mack Reynolds, Ben Bova and others (pausing here, both because there are too many to list and because there are too many to remember), but the same big three were always The Big Three. The school and public libraries contributed greatly to my SF re-education.
Who were the big three’s big three? I don’t know, but I’m guessing that H. G. Wells would surely be one. Wells was a highly influential public figure even in the 1940s.
I mention H. G. Wells twice in One Thousand Years. For example, when my character Sam McHenry cites “The martian invaders of H. G. Wells.”
The more interesting reference (to me), was when McHenry says, “Atomic weapons are real, although different than H. G. Wells described.” It’s a bit of an obscure reference, but it wouldn’t have been quite so obscure back in 1944. McHenry was referring to The World Set Free.
That book depicted atomic weapons as having the blast of a conventional explosive, but continuing its explosion for a long period with a half-life of 17 days. Okay, so Wells was wrong about that. But keep in mind that this was published in 1914. It was the first novel about nuclear war, making it well worth a read if you’re fascinated by early science fiction.
H. G. Wells almost made a third reference in my book. The starship Göring was almost named Vaterland, for the Germans’ dirigible flagship in The War in the Air.
There is so much more to say about Wells, but I should save that for another day.
Jules Verne must be another one of the early Big Three. Nobody should be surprised that I might say that. I’ll leave it there for now.
Who’s the third? (There’s no reason there has to be a third, other than that we have the phrase “the big three.”)
It’s hard to single out a third author with enough science fiction to put them on the same pedestal. Not Edward Bellamy (although Heinlein must surely have read Looking Backward); not Jack London, who’s better known for other things; and not Edgar Rice Burroughs, who some would argue went too far into the fantasy side of things. As important to me as Barsoom was, that’s an important point. (I’m well capable of arguing against that point, but that’s also for another time.)
Stanley G. Weinbaum is close, but he came too late to qualify, having published in the 1930s. It’s likely that our big three read his work, and it’s certain that he influenced the field of science fiction before they could take up the plow. I would take him out of the running only because of the date, if reluctantly so. Much of his work would have coincided with theirs if he hadn’t died so early.
Not everything comes in threes. But if you haven’t read Weinbaum — and if you are interested in early science fiction — then you should start here.