My Recommendations for Future Gollancz SF Masterworks Selections

sfmasterworks wwendThanks 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:

  1. It must tell an interesting story.
  2. It must be either solid and well-written, or experimental in some way.
  3. It must do something special: have rich subtext, influence subsequent genre works, comment on previous genre works, or break new ground.
  4. It must be memorable, in that I still think about it sometimes.
  5. It must be at least 15 years old (pre-2000).
  6. 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.

Neuromancer1Neuromancer (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_1st_ed_pbFahrenheit 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.

 

redmarsgreenmarsbluemars1

The Mars trilogy: Red Mars (1993), Green Mars (1994), Blue Mars (1996) by Kim Stanley Robinson

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!

Themanwhofoldedhimself(1stEDinGB)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!

TheBigTimeThe 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!

BeggarsInSpain(1stEd)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.

darkuniverse1Dark 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.)

Science Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations, hosted by Joachim Boaz

Battered, Tattered, Yellowed, & Creased, hosted by Chris (a.k.a. admiral.ironbombs)

Potpourri of Science Fiction Literature (emphasis on post-1980 SF), hosted by 2theD

Tongues of Speculation (emphasis on translated SF), also hosted by 2thD

Speculiction… (also an emphasis on post-1980 SF), hosted by Jesse

It Doesn’t Have To Be Right…, hosted by Ian Sales, author of the BSFA-winning Adrift on the Sea of Rains, and who also runs the excellent SF Mistressworks blog.

 

Did we forget anything?

 

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31 thoughts on “My Recommendations for Future Gollancz SF Masterworks Selections

  1. I started reading your choices and was all “Woah this looks familiar.” I definitely agree on those titles we…. ahem… didn’t already agree on. The Big Time was very, very close to making my list. Beggers in Spain and Dark Universe are both on my buy-list thanks to your reviews. I read the Mars trilogy years ago and loved them, may re-read them for the blog in another few years. I must have missed your Gerrold review but I’ll go rectify that now.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Joachim Boaz says:

    I have no clue why The Big Time hasn’t been picked up! I assumed it had! I might have been tempted to include some of Leiber’s SF short stories if I had known…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. 2theD says:

    Well, well… I see we’ve both chosen Red Mars!

    Liked by 1 person

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      What is it they say about great minds…? 🙂 Although, I’m one of those weird people who favors Blue Mars over the other two. But the trilogy as a whole has no equal.

      Like

  4. Jason Lawrence says:

    To your scattered bodies go. by Philip Jose Farmer, and the Foundation trilogy by Isaac Asimov, as well as The Naked Sun and The Caves of Steel, also by Asimov. Lord Valentine’s Castle by Robert Silverberg.

    Like

    • Joachim Boaz says:

      It’s ironic that you included TYSBG. She just SLAMED that book on this site…. 😉

      Jason, I suspect all of those will included in due time. Eh, personally I’m more interested is lesser known authors than this group of famous stalwarts. Give me Daniel Galouye’s Dark Universe (1961) over anything Asimov produced ANY day.

      Do love Silverberg…

      Like

      • Joachim Boaz says:

        *will be included
        *personally more interested in

        Alas. I type too fast.

        Like

      • fromcouchtomoon says:

        I would be surprised if To Your Scattered Bodies Go and Foundation/Robot trilogies are ever included on the list. It seems they would already be included if Gollancz considered them important enough, but instead, they went with other Asimov’s works, and completely ignored Farmer. And rightly so. The Foundation trilogy is influential but awful, The Robot books are fun but trifling, and well, let’s just say part of my faith in the SF Masterworks series is that it lacks To Your Scattered Bodies Go. And the list already has plenty of Silverberg.

        Given the more recent SF Masterwork additions, I expect that Gollancz is going the way of being more equitable and diverse, and I think future inclusions on the list will look more like the authors on Joachim’s list.

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  5. Jesse says:

    I gotta believe the Gibson, Bradbury, and Robinson titles are not Masterworks for no other reason than contractual/copyright obligations. I mean, Fahrenheit 451, not on the list yet taught in many, many American high schools, really?

    The Leiber title I also really like, but I gotta blink when I see Beggars in Spain. Have you read Olaf Stapledon’s Odd John or Sirius? Both do an exceptionally better job of portraying hyper-intelligence in a mundane world. Granted I only read Kress’ novella, and perhaps the novel develops the idea with more integrity, but I could never get over how her idea seemed forced. I kept asking myself: what about the lack of dreams? Why when normal humans have free time do most decide to laze in the sun instead of better themselves? But again, perhaps she explains this in the novel…

    Dark Universe, Dark Universe, Dark Universe, gotta get it…

    Like

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      I was kind of expecting more flack for including Kress, and maybe the silence about it is flack enough 🙂 But yeah, Kress does address the dreaming issue, and even the second generation (who are basically these genetically-modified mutants living on a space station– the story grows quite a bit from where you stopped reading) starts to rebel by seeking out ways to dream. From that, they discover creativity and unconscious problem solving, which causes them to turn against their creche, blah, blah, blah.

      Yeah, Kress isn’t literary, or meta, or subtextual, or any of that, but she packed in a lot of intellectual social ideas, and she used the novel to wrestle with the concepts of utopia and selfishness. Plus,she really toyed with my imagination. I probably just want to be a Sleepless myself. And I’m happy to celebrate a modern female author who doesn’t draw on the supposed feminine tendencies of emotionality and interrelationships and pregnancy and nurturing and worrying about the husband while she’s in space, etc. Kress is a cold writer, and her protagonist models that. (And I do need to read more female authors like the kind Joachim reads.)

      You are probably the third or fourth person to recommend Stapledon, so I need to get on that.

      Like

  6. […] ETA: The other four 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 and From Couch to Moon at, er, From Couch to Moon. […]

    Like

  7. Simon says:

    Cool suggestions. Some of your choices run foul of that ‘bringing books back into print stipulation – we’d LOVE to have Neuromancer, Farenheit 451 and the Mars trilogy on the Masterworks list but Harper Collins own the rights and we’d be in breach of those rights if we tried to include them. Which we’d never do to our friends at Harper Collins who are doing a very good job of keeping the books available for all.

    Like

    • Joachim Boaz says:

      It’s often hard for us to know exactly what the rights contracts are when coming up with these lists 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      Hi Simon, thanks for commenting! I think we all expected copyright issues, but this post would not be complete without addressing those glaring omissions, especially given how much I rave about those particular authors.

      But, that basically means that Gollancz will add ALL of the other books we suggested, right? ;-P

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Hestia says:

    I put Beggars on my list, too, before I read yours. (Don’t have a blog, it’s in the comment section of SF Ruminations). I like the Mars trilogy, too. And honestly, I didn’t even look for Neuromancer — assumed it was on their list already.

    Like

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      I saw your list on SF Ruminations and I took notes! I was surprised that I haven’t seen Tanith Lee show up on anybody’s list yet, so I was glad to see you include her. I haven’t read her yet, but she is someone I want to read soon.

      I love that you included Beggars. I had to defend that one 😛

      Like

      • Hestia says:

        I really don’t know if that’s Tanith Lee’s best SF — I’ve heard good things about “Don’t Bite the Sun” too — but she’s operating in a pretty unique space, particularly for the ’70s and ’80s. And I’m a sucker for gothic science fiction.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. […] Couch to Moon: Truly MASTERworks and the endangered species […]

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  10. Joseph Nebus says:

    I’m honestly surprised that Fahrenheit 451, Neuromancer, and The Big Time haven’t already been in the Masterworks catalogue.

    I’d need to be coaxed a little more to seeing The Man Who Folded Himself and Beggars In Spain as Masterworks but I could see it.

    Like

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      I don’t know if you saw the comment from Simon above. I believe he’s a Gollancz rep and he states the Neuromancer and Fahrenheit 451 are still in the clutches of Harper Collins, and not in any danger of going out of print. As for The Big Time, it seems like it might be available, so maybe we’ll see it added soon.

      I expect most people would disagree with my picks for The Man Who Folded Himself and Beggars in Spain, but given some of the more recent additions on that list, I don’t see why Beggars wouldn’t fit. And The Man Who Folded HImself is so outrageous, I just had to include it.

      Like

  11. sjhigbee says:

    Reblogged this on Brainfluff and commented:
    This is a great article! A wishlist for past SF gems to be given a wider circulation… I can thoroughly endorse the first 3 choices – and am now going to be looking out ‘Beggars in Spain’ and ‘Dark Universe’. What would you want to add to the list?

    Liked by 1 person

  12. […] and long-deserving female science fiction writers who were passed over in that decision. (Which, as I learned last year, has more to do with the copyright obstacles than anything […]

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