The Gollancz Masterwork series [list] ranges from famous novels such as Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) to lesser known short story collections such as The Caltraps of Time (1968) by David I. Masson. The Masterwork series has the power to introduce readers to the canonical “best of SF” and works that should be considered classics. Many of the second group have not seen print for decades. Although I have some qualms about certain inclusions, I was genuinely blown away that they recently chose one of my favorite novels The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe (variant title: The Unsleeping Eye) (1973) by D. G. Compton—an underread and unjustly forgotten author.
Over the course of the next week or so a handful of my fellow SF bloggers (most of whom have a focus on earlier SF) will release lists on their sites of SF they would like to see featured by Gollancz. I have not given them any guidelines so the lists should be varied and hopefully will generate some discussion. I highly recommend you head over to their sites (I will post the links as they come in) and comment.
Thoughts + comments are always welcome (as well as your own lists!).
More “What to Include in the Gollancz Masterwork Series” Lists (blog friends)
Chris over at Battered, Tattered, Yellowed, and Creased
Megan over at From Couch to Moon
2theD over at Potpourri of Science Fiction Literature
Ian Sales over at It Doesn’t Have to be Right…
Jesse over at Speculiction…
2theD over at Tongues of Speculation (his votes regarding translated SF)
Martin over at Martin’s Booklog
My guidelines for inclusion
1. My frequent readers know that I prefer (passionately) SF from the 50s-70s—1972 might be the single best year for my type of SF. Thus, the picks will all be from that range. That is not to say that great SF that deserves to be included does not exist outside of those years! My fellow bloggers will certainly provide some later works.
2. I have only included works by authors who have not yet been featured in the Gollancz masterwork series. Yes, I think Michael Bishop’s Stolen Faces (1976) and A Funeral for the Eyes of Fire (1975) deserve a spot but both Transfigurations (1979) (a rather lesser Bishop novel) and No Enemy But Time (1982) have already been included.
3. I have only included one work for each author. As a compulsive consumer of Barry N. Malzberg’s nihilistic fever visions I made the hard choice to include only one of his novels—I have selected the one that might have the widest appeal and serves as a good introduction to his favorite themes. And, it will definitely give people an indication of what he is routinely capable of and whether or not his brand of metafictional Freudian delusions will appeal.
4. In the past my biggest concern about the Gollancz list was the distinct lack of SF by women (this was a bigger deal a while back that prompted SF bloggers/authors such as Ian Sales to put together relevant resources to introduce readers to SF by women such as SF Mistressworks). At one point the disparity was egregious—In the original 1999-2009 sequence of Masterworks published Gollancz included a grand total of five SF works by women, all post 1969: Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed (1974) and The Lathe of Heaven (1971), Sherry S. Tepper’s Grass (1989), Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), and Kate Wilhelm’s Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang (1976). Five out of 77 novels….
The Masterworks released since 2010 have shown a serious and welcomed attempt to broaden the range of authors featured: Joanna Russ’ The Female Man (1975), M. J. Engh’s Arslan (1976), Cecelia Holland’s The Floating Worlds (1976), Pat Cardigan’s Synners (1991), among others. But a concern remains, other than Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) and Leigh Brackett’s The Long Tomorrow (1955), no SF by women is included pre-Le Guin.
There is a persistent myth that SF lacked quality contributions by women before Le Guin’s late masterful 60s novels. I want Gollancz to remedy this imbalance.
My List (with links to my reviews)
(Gene Szafan’s cover for the 1974 edition)
Reason for inclusion: Ice, caused by some manmade disaster, is slowly creeping over the world. The unnamed narrator is torn between two forces: returning to his earlier research on jungle dwelling singing lemurs in the southern regions vs. tracking down a young woman about whom he has the most disturbing, and often violent, hallucinations. Anna Kavan’s vision, often read as a surreal SF manifestation/representation of her heroin usage, is, as Aldiss proclaims, “unique” in “its incantatory powers.” Powerful, surreal, remorseless, literary.
(Fernando Fernandez’s cover for the 1973 edition)
Reason for inclusion: Geo. Alec Effinger channels the best the New Wave movement—with its literary aspirations, metafictional explorations, and experimental storytelling—has to offer. The result is a multi-layered/complex homage to the the act of literary creation. What Entropy Means to Me weaves a fantastic web that gloriously subverts the genre of the fantasy/SF quest. The power of myth/history, fabrication, memory…
(Charles Moll’s cover for the 1973 edition)
Reason for inclusion: Beyond Apollo is a multi-faceted rumination on repression; a virulent critique of the space program and America’s obsession with space; a metafictional labyrinth that can, at times, be infuriatingly undefined. Malzberg’s fiction is heavily inspired by the rise of postmodernism in the mid to late 1960s that eschewed traditional plots: only a vague outline can be gathered by the ultimately cyclical 67 short chapters recounting memories, events, tellings/re-tellings/and re-tellings of re-tellings of said memories and events. Not for the fainthearted.
(R. S. Lonati’s cover for the 1964 edition)
Reason for inclusion: Naomi Mitchison’s first science fiction novel, Memoirs of a Spacewoman (1962), is a brilliant episodic exploration of the nature of non-violent interaction with alien species that challenge (and transform) conceptions of ourselves and others. Radical in its depiction of the transformations the family will undergo due to the pressures of women exploring the reaches of the galaxy away from their lovers and partners + time dilation (“blackout”), Mitchison posits a fantastic range societal transformations as humankind contacts bizarre new lifeforms, attempts radical communication experiments, and interacts with neighboring aliens for prolonged periods of time. Social science fiction at its best…
(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1975 edition)
Reason for inclusion: Intellectual disability is a rare SF theme. Fragmentation, both mental and political, dominates this future world. Missing Man is a finely wrought vision of a future post-disaster Balkanized New York City comprised of innumerable communes, often at war with each other, inhabited by a small number of slightly telepathic people who are able to detect the emotions of others. Katherine MacLean’s prose is admirable. Beautiful sentences populate the pages. The result is an vibrant and organic world—replete with dystopic threads— which exudes realism. The original novella version won a Nebula in 1971.
(Uncredited cover for the 1972 edition)
Reason for inclusion: Norman Spinrad’s The Iron Dream (1972) is a fantastic alternate history novel. However, unlike a standard “what if this happened instead and now let’s write a traditional narrative” alternate history, The Iron Dream is organized around a powerful metafictional conceit which explicitly serves to satirize pulp science fiction and fantasy and condemn its lurid nature and Spinrad would argue, racist inclinations. As with Nabokov’s Pale Fire (1962) where both an invented text and commentary on the text comprises the novel, The Iron Dream is composed of a pseudo-scholarly commentary on Hitler’s SF novel. Of course, if Hitler never came to power in Germany and wrote SF in the US instead.
One of many Spinrad novels that deserves inclusion (I suspect Bug Jack Barron (1969) would be their first pick).
(Uncredited cover for the 1959 edition)
Reason for inclusion: Roshwald’s novel should be considered along with Walter Miller, Jr.’s A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959, published 1960) as one of the best nuclear disaster sci-fi novels of the late 50s (and all time). Our protagonists are not explicitly Communist or anti-Communist. All references to government and politics are purposefully general in order to create a more universal message about the dehumanization of nuclear war. In its rigid “realism” the novel, because it is populated by unusual people who could survive underground for such a length of time, enters the realm of the surreal.
([left]Richard Powers’ cover for the 1969 edition of Xenogenesis and [right] Robert Fosters’ cover for the 1970 edition of Daughters of Earth)
Reason for inclusion: Judith Merril was not only an important SF author of the 50s/60s but also was instrumental as an editor in popularizing the New Wave. Most of her work was in the short story format and as a result has faded in popularity as the novel took. Her novella “Daughters of the Earth” (1952) remains one of the most radical feminist visions of the future I have encountered from the 50s. It traces humanity’s exploration and colonization of the galaxy over multiple generations through the women of one family. Merril adeptly inverts the Old Testament Biblical trope of tracing generations through the fathers. Miriam Allen deFord was another prolific late 40s/50s/60s short story author whose visions are long forgotten in part because she never made the transition to writing novels. I propose a collection of both deFord and Merril stories (or a reprint of an existing Merril and/or deFord collection).
(Jack Faragasso’s cover for the 1970 edition)
Reason for inclusion: Josephine Saxton deftly utilizes the coming of age narrative, the quest (more character related than goal oriented), and a fabulist’s eye towards metaphor to weave together a touching and alluring tale. It is set in a world which, at least on the surface, is very much like our own. The buildings remain, food dispensers still dispense food, and undisturbed store shelves are fully stocked. However, the majority of the animals have disappeared and people are almost all gone. Cannibalism is hinted at. A few other individuals flit on the outskirts of the narrative, phantom-like, unsubstantial in their physicality. Are they hallucinations, or external viewers of the spectacle who intrude when needed before vanishing with no evidence of their arrival?
10. Moderan, David R. Bunch (1971) [review forthcoming]
(Norman Adams’ cover for the 1971 edition)
Reason for inclusion: Moderan is comprised of 46 short stories, previously published in a vast number of SF publications (such as Dangerous Visions) and small literary journals. Set in a far future world where men are “made mostly of metal” yet retain strips of human flesh, Bunch satirizes technology with often absurdist strokes. Filled with gorgeous prose, “flesh seemed doomed that years; death’s harpies were riding down” (21), Bunch conjures a vast and profoundly appealing tapestry of daily life, surreal warfare, and philosophical rumination.