I'm inclined to agree with them - Tolkein's brand of endless minutiae does not a good novel make. His is a world of casually racist undertones and completely shallow characters. The good and bad guys in Tolkein are good and bad for no particular discernible reason, and I think fantasy has yet to dig its way out of Tolkein's shadow.
However, I think new wave (and an emphasis on stylism in general) has done a lot to rehabilitate sci-fi. Personally, I think Gene Wolfe and M John Harrison deserve a lot of praise for pushing the genre along. Harrison's "Light" comes to mind as a modern incarnation of a new wave novel that still manages to earn its sciency stripes.
I also highly recommend M. John Harrison's 'Light'
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