Thanks to Joachim at Science Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations for asking me to participate in his Gollancz SF Masterworks recommendation efforts!
I’ve spent the past couple of years reading more vintage SF, with an especially concentrated effort since last December. Dabbling with a few awards lists here and there, I’ve had more consistent pleasure sampling from the Gollancz SF Masterworks list, so I was thrilled when Joachim asked me to post some of my own recommendations for future SF Masterworks. Some of my suggestions might be obvious if you follow this blog regularly, but I surprised myself a few times!
I am of two minds when it comes to SF Masterworks potential, so I’ve divided my selections into two categories. For both categories, I made up the following criteria:
- It must tell an interesting story.
- It must be either solid and well-written, or experimental in some way.
- It must do something special: have rich subtext, influence subsequent genre works, comment on previous genre works, or break new ground.
- It must be memorable, in that I still think about it sometimes.
- It must be at least 15 years old (pre-2000).
- The author cannot already be on the list for another work.
Most of the books I have read do not meet all of these criteria, but here are a few that do:
Category 1: MASTERwork
I understand that the Gollancz SF Masterwork series is primarily an effort to “bring important books back into print,” but the label “Masterwork” suggests something more important than just being out-of-print. The following selections are books that will likely never go out of print, but are noticeably absent from the SF Masterwork series.
Neuromancer (1984) by William Gibson
Gibson appears on the SF Masterworks list for the 1990 seminal steampunk classic The Difference Engine, co-written with Bruce Sterling, but his own individual works are not listed. Although many Gibson fans might argue that his more recent works are better written, nothing compares to the influential value of this pivotal cyberpunk majesty.
Fahrenheit 451 (1953) Ray Bradbury
Although Something Wicked This Way Comes is on the Fantasy Masterworks list, Bradbury is yet to appear on the SF Masterworks list. Considering the eerie prescience of Bradbury’s nightmare warning about the rise of media and its potential to decay society, with giant TVs and earbuds and reality TV families, the absence of this novel on the list of classics among the classics is glaringly obvious. Move over Bear and Willis, make way for the guy who influenced us all.
What other scifi effort has embedded such grandiose storytelling and epic, literal world building into a tale of such grounded realism? We are sitting on the precipice of a new future history, and KSR’s epic serves as both guide and warning. It’s time for Mr. Robinson to take his place among his masterwork peers. And yes, I want all three included on the list. (I’m picturing a massive hardback omnibus edition, at least 12 inches thick, replete with a pop-out space elevator.)
Category 2: Endangered Species Alert! Please help keep these works alive!
The Man Who Folded Himself (1973) by David Gerrold
David Gerrold will be a guest of honor at this year’s Worldcon in Spokane, so this is the perfect time to put the guy who gave us Tribbles on the list. This little known, oft-forgotten epistolary tale about time travel driven by a neurotic existential crisis is rapid, silly, wild, insightful, and cringe-worthy. Some might have written it off as a throwaway novel, but the frank, albeit squirmy, portrait of personality and sexuality is psychologically daring, and quite progressive, even by today’s standards. The recent ebook format has been updated to include modern events (like 9-11), which ruins the vintage mood, and I would love for Gollancz to reissue the original format of this little gem!
The Big Time (1958) by Fritz Leiber
The fourth novel to ever win a Hugo, this surreal, disorienting tale about a bar in the Void during the Time War between the cryptic Snakes and Spiders brings us a cast of characters so strange and diverse that it feels uniquely timeless, despite its classically vintage hallmarks. Simple, yet cosmic, the experience of reading this novel is hard to describe, yet it’s unforgettable, and I often see its fingerprints on later SF works. And I’ll be the first in line if someone would adapt this for a one-room play!
Beggars in Spain (1993) by Nancy Kress
Kress draws a rich, fully realized, nearish-future world where people can be genetically modified to never need sleep. Never needing sleep is my ultimate genie wish number one, so of course this story clings to my imagination. It’s no lie that I think about this novel at least weekly. Maybe that says more about me than the actual novel, but Beggars is also packed full of speculative concepts like genetics, space stations, and cognitive powers, as well as earnest pontifications on economic philosophy and social injustice. Some may say the novel has less impact than the original novella, but Kress gives us a lot to chew on in this expanded format.
Dark Universe (1961) by Daniel Galouye
Another somewhat forgotten tale, which pulls off a rather fantastic and daring feat: repackage an ancient Greek allegory as a post-apocalyptic fable that warns of religious dogma, as well as illustrates the potential to cloud language when the truth is censored. It totally feels like a pulpy serial, but the tale is well done and deserves a renaissance.
I would be pleased as a Martian colonist eating a fresh peach to see any of these novels added to the Gollancz SF Masterworks list. And I’m new to this whole classic SF thing (and I definitely need to read more women), so please check out more recommendations from the following excellent bloggers below, who have deeper and more eclectic recommendations, with more female authors! (Not everyone has posted yet, but I’ll add them and tweet them as they come.)
Tongues of Speculation (emphasis on translated SF), also hosted by 2thD
Speculiction… (also an emphasis on post-1980 SF), hosted by Jesse
Did we forget anything?