This is something Joachim Boaz (see here) and some other bloggers did yesterday, and I was then challenged by Joachim on Twitter to produce my own list. Ten books I think Gollancz should add to their SF Masterwork series. There are a number of “rules”, to be followed at your own discretion: one book per author; no books by an author currently in the series; and a goodly number of years between publication and 2014 – I chose twenty years, so a publication of date of 1994 or older. Of course, this list totally ignores any rights issues that might prevent Gollancz from including the books.
So, in chronological order of publication…
The House That Stood Still, AE van Vogt (1950) I’m surprised there’s no van Vogt in the SF Masterwork series – he was, after all, hugely popular for many decades. Admittedly, most of his books are complete tosh, and he was second only to Philip K Dick in making shit up as he went along (and there is, of course, at lot of Dick in the series). But I still rate The House That Stood Still (AKA The Undercover Aliens). I once described it as “if Philip Marlowe and Flash Gordon had a baby, it would look like this book”, and I stand by that description.
Judgment Night, CL Moore (1952) I will admit I wasn’t expecting much of this short novel when I read it – a typical piece of Planet Stories space opera nonsense, I thought. But it proved to be a lot more interesting than I’d expected. The plot is relatively straightforward, but the characterisation of the protagonist, the warlike Princess Juille, is clever, and there are some really interesting ideas in the world-building. It’s a very short novel, however, only 156 pages in its first paperback publication; so perhaps it ought to be bundled with another of Moore’s novels, or a Northwest Smith novella, or something. I reviewed Judgment Night on SF Mistressworks here.
Hello Summer, Goodbye, Michael G Coney (1975) There are few sf novels written from the viewpoint of the alien, and among them even fewer in which humans never appear. Hello Summer, Goodbye is an elegiac coming-of-age novel set on an alien world with an entirely alien cast and an alien culture. And it works really well. It’s also a lovely piece of writing. I’m actually surprised this hasn’t appeared in the series yet. There is a sequel, I Remember Pallahaxi, which I’ve not read.
The Ophiuchi Hotline, John Varley (1977) Varley’s Eight Worlds – in which the mysterious Invaders threw humanity off the Earth, so we now eke out an existence on various moons – is one of sf’s more memorable middle-distance futures, and while he explored it to better effect in numerous stories, The Ophiuchi Hotline is the first of three novels set in that universe. It’s also the best of them. The ending throws away an entire novel’s worth of ideas in a single paragraph, but the journey to that point is strange and wonderful.
The White Bird of Kinship, Richard Cowper (1978 – 1982) This one is a bit of a cheat as it’s an omnibus of three short novels – The Road to Corlay (1978), A Dream of Kinship (1981) and A Tapestry of Time (1982). There’s also a novella, ‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn’, which inspired the novels, so perhaps we should throw that in as well. The story is set in a UK after water levels have risen so the country now comprises many small islands. It is very British sf. The SF Gateway has published the four in an omnibus, but it belongs in the SF Masterwork series too.
Serpent’s Reach, CJ Cherryh (1980) I’m guessing rights issues have prevented Cherryh from appearing in the SF Masterwork series so far. Because given her stature in the genre during the 1980s, she certainly qualifies for inclusion. Of course, there is then the question of which book to include… My favourite is Angel with the Sword, but it’s not her best. Downbelow Station and Cyteen are worthy contenders, but I plumped for Serpent’s Reach because its plot is closer to heartland science fiction.
Queen of the States, Josephine Saxton (1986) There are lots of books in the SF Masterwork series which never got within sniffing distance of an award, so why ignore one that appeared on two shortlists during its year of publication? Queen of the States was shortlisted for both the BSFA Award and the Clarke Award in 1987 – it lost out to The Ragged Astronauts, Bob Shaw, and The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood, respectively. Queen of the States is also a great novel. I reviewed it for SF Mistressworks here.
The Wall Around Eden, Joan Slonczewski (1986) I picked up this book and read it just so I could review it on SF Mistressworks – see here. I knew very little about it or the author, so I was somewhat surprised to discover it was a masterclass example of accessible science fiction. It is one of the best-constructed sf novels I have come across, and I’m surprised it’s long out of print. It needs to be introduced to a new audience. As soon as possible.
Kairos, Gwyneth Jones (1988) This is one of my favourite sf novels and appears pretty much on every “top” or “classic” science fiction list I put together. It’s set in a Thatcherite near-future of its time of writing which, of course, now makes it alternate history – but it captures the fears and anxieties of that period with clinical precision. And it’s beautifully-written. In many ways, Kairos prefigures Jones’s Bold As Love sequence in that it remakes the political landscape of the UK using people outside mainstream culture as catalysts. Sf authors don’t write enough of this sort of science fiction.
Coelestis, Paul Park (1993) Another favourite science fiction novel and mainstay of the various “best” sf lists I put together on this blog every so often. An intelligent commentary on postcolonialism – a subject not often explored in sf, which seems to prefer rehashing First World colonialist imperatives of earlier, and less enlightened, centuries – Coelestis then goes on to deconstruct the colonial identity of one of its protagonists. An important book that deserves to be back in print.
There were a further two books I would have liked to include in my list of ten, but since both authors already had entries in the SF Masterwork series I ruled them ineligible. And one was a bit of a cheat, anyway. They were Synthajoy, DG Compton (1968), which I think is actually a better book than The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe (Compton’s only entry in the SF Masterwork series), though it reads a little more dated than that book; and The Collected Joanna Russ, because Russ is an author who deserves to have all her fiction collected together into big career-defining collection, and the SF Masterwork series is the perfect venue for that.
ETA: The other bloggers giving their own choices for inclusion in the SF Masterwork series are: the aforementioned Joachim Boaz at Science Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations, 2theD at Potpourri of Science Fiction, Admiral Ironbombs at Battered, Tattered, Yellowed & Creased, Jesse at Speculiction and From Couch to Moon at, er, From Couch to Moon.
December 19, 2014 at 12:00 pm
I read The House That Stood Still seven years ago and kept it in my library. Looks like I need to bump it up on the re-read list. Interesting pick of Cowper – one other blogger and I have given it a favorable review… curious to pick your brain about Cowper’s lack of continuation of the Michael Carver.
December 19, 2014 at 12:11 pm
To be honest, I’ve not read much Cowper – the trilogy mentioned above and a collection, although I do have Clone on the TBR. But certainly The White Bird of Kinship is considered a classic of British sf, which makes its absence from the SF Masterwork series puzzling.
December 19, 2014 at 12:13 pm
Clone is forgettable, but Profundis is a must!
December 19, 2014 at 12:16 pm
He’s an author whose books I keep an eye open for at cons 🙂
December 19, 2014 at 6:39 pm
I enjoyed Profundis as well — and Ian would get more of the British humor!
I think I have two of his works unread on the shelf — Phoenix (1968) and Time Out of Mind (1973). I have some issues with “comic” SF but still loved Profundis so I might make room for one of them soon…
December 19, 2014 at 8:34 pm
Except we call it “humour” over here 🙂
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December 19, 2014 at 12:47 pm
Is there a master list of the SF Masterworks somewhere, Ian? I’d play, if I knew what was already in bounds, as it were.
December 19, 2014 at 2:17 pm
Not that I’m aware of. I’ll email you my own list.
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December 19, 2014 at 5:36 pm
Great list! I almost included Hello Summer, Goodbye — I too really enjoyed the way of telling, the plot, the coming of age narrative, and the unusual turn at the end (and of course all the cool fauna etc) — but cut it in favor of Saxton’s The Hieros Gamos of Sam and An Smith (1969).
December 19, 2014 at 6:31 pm
Great list, Ian, my favorite so far. You shame me into integrating more female authors into my reading – Slonczewski seeming my biggest gap. The Michael Coney selection is intriguing. I follow the backlog of the BSFA Award as I consider it one of the top three or four out there, and I noticed his Brontomek! was once a winner, but could find very little about the novel.
December 19, 2014 at 8:12 pm
I remember Michael Coney as being consistently superb. I think I’ve got all his books. And Richard Cowper too. The Slonczewski and Saxton I’ll look out for.
December 19, 2014 at 9:31 pm
This is the most balanced list thus far—it’s like it was constructed by a professional or something 😛 Cowper and Coney made my long short-list… All of these are worthy additions. And now I realize I forgot to consider van Vogt. I’m surprised he is not yet represented in the Masterworks series, despite his writing’s flaws.
December 20, 2014 at 9:10 am
If it had been done by a professional, it would have been spread more evenly across the decades. There are no books from the 1960s, for example 🙂
December 20, 2014 at 8:18 am
I’ve read two and a bit of that list – the Coney and the Varley, the bit being The Road to Corlay from the Cowpers. Another of his I’d recommend would be The Twilight of Briaerius.
If Bob Shaw isn’t in the Masterworks list already, how about Orbitsville? (I’ve not read the sequels.)
Dreamsnake, by Vonda N. McIntyre? A Hugo and Nebula winner which I don’t think is in print in the UK at the moment.
Of course I haven’t read any of these since the late 70s/early 80s and there’s always the risk they don’t live up to my memory of them…
December 20, 2014 at 9:09 am
Shaw is a definite possibility, and if I remember right Gollancz republished Orbitsville in their yellowjacket Classics range (along with The Ophiuchi Hotline, in fact). Dreamsnake I’ve not read – only the novella – otherwise I might well have considered.
One book I thought about was Silverberg’s A Time of Changes, which was in the Gollancz SF Classics range in the 1980s. I remember being really impressed by the book at the time, but I’d have to reread to decide if I think it worthy of inclusion in the SF Masterworks series.
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