MIND MELD: The Forgotten Books of SF/F/H
Some science fiction/fantasy/horror books seem to see reprint after reprint. Other worthwhile books have faded from the shelves. Who will remember these lost gems? We asked this week’s panel:
Clifford Simak’s The Goblin Reservation. Saber-tooth tigers, hive-mind aliens, ghosts and Shakespeare. What more can one possibly want? I read this one back in high school, and it remains an incredibly memorable reading experience, along with Sheckley’s Mindswap (which is still in print, I think.)
Without hesitation I have to nominate John Boyd’s The Last Starship from Earth as the forgotten classic that I would most like to see reprinted. First published in 1968 by Weybright and Talley, I found it through the Science Fiction Book Club. A first SF novel written as the New Wave was beginning to transform science fiction from Engineer fiction to Speculative fiction with a strong dose of characterization and emotion, it transformed my world. This was not a Heinlein novel or even Eric Frank Russell. This was an exciting novel about a theoretical and heretical mathematician who falls in love with a poet in violation of virtually every law in this dystopian state. It has one of my favorite opening paragraphs:
Rarely is it given man to know the day or the hour when fate intervenes in his destiny, but, because he had checked his watch just before he saw the girl with the hips, Haldane IV knew the day, the hour, and the minute. At Point Sur, California , on September 5 at two minutes past two, he took the wrong turn and went down a lane to hell.
They just don’t make them like that anymore. And the lane to hell, that’s literal. Others loved this book, too. It was nominated for a Nebula, losing to Alexi Panshin’s Rite Of Passage, a good work but it did not affect me the same way as Boyd’s novel. Boyd published 11 or 12 SF novels and a couple of historicals over the years. Several, notably The Pollinators of Eden, The Rakehells of Heaven, and Sex and the High Command, were satires with an intriguing sexual quality to them and are well worth your time. I buy every John Boyd book I find so I can pass his work along.
- Neal Barrett, Jr. – The Aldair series of 4 fantasy novels featuring a young heroic pig and his tiny alligator friend or The Hereafter Gang, the quintessential Texas Sonic Drive- In Car Hop fantasy.
- Samuel R. Delany – Nova (better than the two novels it followed Babel-17 and The Einstein Intersection, which both won Nebulas) this is Arthur and the Grail meet Moby Dick at a supernova.
- E. R. Eddison – The Worm Ouroboros – a fantasy that is as fascinating as Tolkien and much more brilliant.
- H. Rider Haggard – Eric Brighteyes – THE classic Norse fantasy novel.
- Sterling Lanier – The Peculiar Exploits of Brigadier Ffellowes – a fine example of the old boy’s club braggarts extraordinary tales.
- Fritz Leiber – A Spectre Is Haunting Texas – A future Texas unlike any you’ve ever seen or imagined from the early New Wave.
- Edgar Pangborn – A Mirror for Observers – Like City or The Lord of the Rings, a winner of the International Fantasy Award and well deserved. Martian controllers observe the development of a young boy over the years, nudging him in certain directions.
- Seabury Quinn – Roads – A classic short fantasy novel
- Tom Reamy – Blind Voices – Tom Reamy was set to become my generation’s Ray Bradbury but death took him just after the first draft of this, his first novel. I still buy every copy of this one too.
- Norman Spinrad – The Men in the Jungle – Too gonzo for words. One of the few SF novels with cannibalism as a major theme (try Donald Kingsbury’s Courtship Rites if this appeals)
- Thomas Burnett Swann – The Goat without Horns – Abandoning Greece and ancient time, Swann tackles a more modern Caribbean fantasy. Great stuff.
- Martha Wells – The Element of Fire – See, I read newer stuff too!
- Roger Zelazny – Isle of the Dead – His best work. Better than Lord of Light or Amber stuff.
There are some anthologies and single author collections that are important enough that they should be kept in print forever, so they can dazzle a new generation of readers. They’re part of the history of science fiction, fantasy, and horror and are as entertaining today as they were when first published.
My tops are:
- Night’s Black Agents and The Best of Fritz Leiber by Fritz Leiber. The first published in hardcover by Arkham House in 1947 and in mass market paperback by Ballantine in 1961. It has the classics “The Girl with the Hungry Eyes” and “Smoke Ghost.” The Best of Fritz Leiber, originally published in 1979 by Del Rey has the multi-award winning “Gonna Roll the Bones.” Leiber’s best stories never have dated.
- The Hunger and Other Stories and Night Ride and Other Journeys and The Selected Stories of Charles Beaumont by Charles Beaumont. Beaumont died tragically young (38) after a long, mentally debilitating illness (possibly early onset Alzheimer’s) but had a prodigious output of great short fiction during his most fertile period in the 1950s. Some of his best stories are “Night Ride” and “Black Country” both about the jazz world, “The Crooked Man” a dystopia where heterosexuality is outlawed (and amazingly, published in Playboy), “Miss Gentilbelle” about a monstrous mother, purportedly based on his own. He wrote ten scripts for the original Twilight Zone and a number of screenplays.
- The Playboy Book of Horror and the Supernatural introduced me to great horror stories by Ray Russell (“Sardonicus”), Ray Bradbury (“Heavy Set”), Fredric Brown (“Nasty”), Mack Reynolds (“Burnt Toast”), Charles Beaumont (“Black Country”) and almost two dozen other classics. The stories were all originally published in Playboy Magazine, and subsequently collected in hardcover by Playboy Press in 1967. As a child I picked up the mass market paperback (which I still own).
- Dangerous Visions edited by Harlan Ellison is not exactly forgotten, as Ellison tries to keep the book perpetually in print. But as far as I know it’s not in print right now. It is the touchstone for many writers and editors in the field of science fiction. It introduced a whole generation of sf readers to the “new wave” in one big gulp and to the notion that the fictional exploration of sexuality and gender is an important subset of science fiction (yes, there were stories about sexuality and gender before that). It marked the coming of age for the science fiction short story.
- Fun With Your New Head, Getting into Death, and Fundamental Disch by Thomas M. Disch among them showcases the early (and in my opinion the best) stories by the late writer. “Descending,” “Roaches,” “Casablanca,” “Getting into Death,” “The Squirrel Cage,” “The Asian Shore,” and “White Fang Goes Dingo.” It’s time for an affordable retrospective of his best early work.
- Dark Forces edited by Kirby McAuley was originally published by Viking in hardcover. Literary agent McCauley’s idea was to publish examples of the different types of horror and the supernatural possible and he included stories by writers already recognized within the field of horror such as Robert Bloch, Ramsey Campbell, Richard Matheson, Stephen King, Karl Edward Wagner, and Charles L. Grant, some writers better known at the time for their science fiction such as Joe Haldeman, Lisa Tuttle, and Edward Bryant, and mainstream writers such Isaac Bashevis Singer, Joyce Carol Oates (who has since become pretty famous for a dark fiction as well as her mainstream output), Edward Gorey. The book was reprinted a few years ago in a very limited, expensive edition but luckily can still be found used very cheaply.
- Eyes of Amber by Joan D. Vinge was published by Ace as a paperback in 1983 and contains some of her best short fiction. Unfortunately, once she wrote The Snow Queen, Vinge moved on to novels and rarely looked back. But if you can find this collection you might be surprised at the hard-edge of “Tin Soldier” (her first published story), “To Bell the Cat,” and “View From a Height.”
Some of the above you can find at reasonable prices used.
I spend most of my time worrying about which lost gems deserve audiobook editions. But, there are quite a lot of paperbooks I’d like to be able to lay my grubby mitts on too. Just lately I’d been thinking about the “Best of AUTHOR NAME” and “Book of AUTHOR NAME” books that I’ve collected and cherished over the last twenty years or so. There was a big wave of them in the 1970s, but most have been out of print forever. These are seriously in need of reprints. I’m a sucker for a carefully edited short story and novella collections with introduction by another SF author (and often an afterward by the author himself). Maybe it is a conservative streak in me. I don’t love these books because they’re old, though that doesn’t hurt. I love them because they’ve collected stories by authors who’ve had a chance to stand the test of time. It’s hard to judge the recent crop of SF authors and say exactly who’ll be the next grandmaster of SF, a grand old man of the genre – someone worth reading a “best of” collection without even having read a page of their work before. Innovation, style, a few solid hits is great, but to stand the burning acid of just a few years of history is by far a greater test. A good new book only wins you a second chance with me but a “best of” or “book of” book is the proof that you’ve stuck around long enough that you’ve been shown to be the genuine article – an author whose work is to be remembered.
If some publisher does pick up the idea of printing “best of/book of” collections again they can always throw in a “Best of Charlie Stross” and a “Book of Ted Chiang” into the mix too. In fact I’d love to read “The Book of Ted Chiang” with an introduction by Charlie Stross and a “Best of Charlie Stross” with an introduction by Ted Chiang.
Well, if I can remember them, then I guess they’re not… okay, never mind. But actually, no, the point is that I do remember them, even though they’re not dancing on the shelves of every bookstore I visit, and not peppering the front pages of online booksellers. These are books that I might not be able to give you a scholarly discourse on their plot mechanics. But they left me with a feeling-a pleasant yet hungering memory that, yes, this was more than a good read. They’re probably neither as old nor deemed as “classic” as many will suggest here. But they’ve hovered on the edge of my memory for years, and when the title is mentioned, there’s a satisfying and corresponding “ahhh!” that hasn’t faded over the years.
And that is my only qualification.
- Islandia by Austin Tappan Wright
- The Silent Tower & The Silicon Mage by Barbara Hambly
- Tales Of The Vulgar Unicorn/Thieves’ World anthologies by Abbey/Asprin
- Merovingen Nights series by CJ Cherryh
- Probe & Counterprobe by Carole Nelson Douglas
- Serpent’s Reach by CJ Cherryh
What these all have in common for me is the romantic element that wasn’t as much explored in speculative fiction twenty or more years ago. (Compare Nelson Douglas’ Probe with Catherine Asaro’s Alpha, for example.) Were they ahead of their time? Sure. I’ll drink to that. And the Thieves’ World and Merovingen Nights stories were just rip-roaring, damned good fun to boot. To me. IMHO, IMHE and your mileage may vary.
Well, my list is quite brief: any book by Stanislaw Lem and Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. In an ideal world, in which we are not privileged to live, the books by these authors would be always in print…
A few years ago I was looking for some inspiration for a horror book of my own, and I realized that I hadn’t read a good horror novel in years. So I decided to go back and start from first principles, from the beginnings of Gothic fiction up through Stephen King, to give myself sort of an self-directed primer in the field. Somewhere along the way I stumbled across what is surely and out-of-print anthology containing, among other gems, Arthur Machen’s, “The White People.” This is one utterly chilling little tale, sort of like Turn of the Screw on acid. But Machen’s work, which so influenced Lovecraft and his gang a few years later, is, in fact, in print. And for that, we should be grateful.
What sadly isn’t in print, however, is T.E.D. Klein’s novel The Ceremonies, which is an ode to horror fiction past (and to Machen’s “The White People” in particular) while at the same time being a starkly terrifying horror novel in and of itself. Take everything you like about Lovecraft and everything you like about Stephen King, ditch the parts you don’t like about both them, and you’re left T.E.D. Klein. The Ceremonies, unfortunately, is Klein’s only full-length novel to date; it was published in 1984, and that was twelve years after he published the novella from which it was expanded. Maybe if Klein had been more prolific, then The Ceremonies would still be with us and we’d have a lot more of his novels, to boot. But alas.
The Ceremonies is a strongly metafictional novel, and proudly so; its protagonist is a professor who’s taking time off from his life in New York to read horror fiction for Pete’s sake. But instead of being pretentious and cerebral, the novel is taut and frightening; the protagonist’s thoroughgoing knowledge of Gothic and horror fiction underscores and intensifies the narrative. I’d love to tell you more about the book, but I gave my copy away in an enthusiastic bout of sharing, not realizing that I couldn’t just go down to the corner store and pick up a new one.
What I’m trying to say is that it’s freakin’ scary, like The Shining scary. Like The Exorcist scary. And you might just learn a little something about the genre from it. And maybe it would give Klein just the little push he needs to sit down and write us another novel.
Increasingly it seems like the “Forgotten Books” are anything that doesn’t have Star Wars or Halo on the cover, anything lacking a sparkly vampire or a sex-crazed lipstick lesbian demon, or anything published prior to last week. Paizo Publishing’s Planet Stories line has been going for more than a year now, releasing a classic “forgotten” sf book every month for the last 18 months, and it’s extremely difficult going as far as sales are concerned. Book buyers for major chains don’t know a Henry Kuttner from an Otis Adelbert Kline from an Abraham Merritt. Whether or not the chains order a given book seems to be pure 100% chance, so in this environment there’s no telling what will be remembered and what will be forgotten.
There’s also no telling beforehand which books will be minor hits, and which will be economic bloodbaths for their publisher.
I’d love to see someone republish the better works of Leigh Brackett, A. Merritt, C. L. Moore, Henry Kuttner, Otis Adelbert Kline, and Robert E. Howard, but since I’m already doing that with Planet Stories I’ll get even greedier and list off some near-forgotten authors even I am not bold enough to publish in the current environment: Ray Cummings, Robert Moore Williams, Clifford Ball, Ralph Milne Farley, Charles B. Stilson, Neil R. Jones, and Alfred Coppel.
Prior to about ten years ago, when I started writing novels, I read very little speculative fiction – my tastes have always run more to general fiction and non-fiction. That makes it quite a challenge to think of any out-of-print gems that I believe deserve a new airing.
Some of the books I truly love and admire have come close to falling off the radar at certain points in their publishing history, but are still available thanks to the efforts of perceptive publishing houses. These include two of my all-time favourites, John Crowley’s classic folkloric fantasy novel, Little, Big (1981) and Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker (1980). Hoban’s novel is set in an England where a devastating nuclear event has left humanity scrabbling for survival. Lives are short; the landscape is ruined; what’s left of science, religion and culture has become formalised puppet show and nursery rhyme. The entire story is written in a simplified, phonetically rendered language such as might develop after most of the population has become illiterate. It’s a masterly piece of writing and a challenging read. My copy of Riddley Walker is the 2002 edition from Bloomsbury in the UK, with an introduction by Will Self, and my edition of Little, Big is in the series Fantasy Masterworks, published by Millennium, an imprint of Gollancz, in 2000.
Now I’ll stick my neck out and suggest a novel that will polarize readers: The Plague Dogs by Richard Adams (author of Watership Down). The Plague Dogs is a novel for adults and was first published in 1977. A 2006 edition from Ballantine seems to be still available. If animal characters who think rather like humans are not your cup of tea, you may not believe The Plague Dogs deserves a new edition, but Adams’s story of a pair of dogs on the run from an experimental laboratory somewhere in England is a wonderful piece of storytelling. Flawed, certainly – a writer can’t get away with that kind of archly self-conscious style these days, let alone the heavily didactic tone – but his dog characters, the stoical Rowf and the psychotic terrier Snitter, whose botched brain surgery has rendered him both mad and prophetic, are an unforgettable pair, and we share each nail-biting moment of their journey. It’s well worth a read, especially if you love both dogs and speculative fiction.
My vote for a “forgotten book” deserving a reprint is Leiji Matsumoto‘s Lightning Ozma (1961). Have your doubts about an obscure manga from Japan hailing from a half-century ago? Well, manga maestro Matsumoto also penned SF manga such as Sexaroid (1968) and Fourth Dimension World Series (1970). Oh yeah, reprint those, too! I’d love me some sweet down home Sexaroid, wouldn’t you?!
Why Lightning Ozma? Leiji Matsumoto is a renowned manga artist and writer in Japan. In one chapter of Lightning Ozma, he wrote and drew about the first appearance of a spaceship dubbed “Space Battleship Yamato.” Ah-ha! Rings a bell, doesn’t it?
As many of you may know, Matsumoto later became the “supervising director and conceptual designer” of Space Battleship Yamato (1974), a historic animated television show in Japan. This military SF/romance/fantasy juggernaut spawned four feature films, countless media tie-in products, and legions of fans across the globe.
When Matsumoto joined the production team circa 1973, the show already had its name which, coincidentally-or not-was the same as the ship in Lightning Ozma. Matsumoto incorporated some of the material from Lightning Ozma and his other manga into Space Battleship Yamato, much of which viewers can see in the first two episodes.
Lightning Ozma is a very, very small representation of an immense and spectacular body of work, but it’s a seminal manga that Yamato fans, especially those in countries other than Japan, would hold near and dear to their hearts if only they could read it. Or at least buy it.
Other nifty Matsumoto trivia:
- Long hair on his female characters-a clothing substitute he created when forbidden to draw nude women-became his signature style.
- In 1958, Matsumoto adapted Ray Bradbury’s and Leigh Brackett’s Lorelei of the Red Mist into manga form.
- There’s an utterly delicious rumor that Matsumoto’s work on Space Battleship Yamato (mainly character and ship design) influenced George Lucas, who publicly shared that he’s been visiting Japan since 1969. Allegedly, Lucas had viewed one or more episodes of Yamato during one of these visits. You can see an “early costume design for Princess Leia” (scroll down) alongside one of Matsumoto’s character sketches. There are also numerous other similarities between Star Wars and Yamato, more than can be explained away by mere coincidence. Scandalous, eh?
Even the title Lightning Ozma is eerily prescient of this artist’s great vision and influence. While I’m a fan of modern day space opera such as Star Wars and all of its incarnations, I can’t help but remember one undeniable truth: Leiji Matsumoto did it first, and it would be a pity to see his early work drift into obscurity.
If you’d asked me a year ago which SF books were out of print I would have naively assumed that you could get everything from Amazon. However last year I decided to read lots of apocalyptic fiction, based on John Joseph Adams excellent primer list, and discovered that a handful of the classics were indeed out of print. (I should clarify at this point that I assume that something is out of print if I can’t buy it new from Amazon, whether this is an accurate definition or not I’m open to discuss.)
The following books were out of print, surely not forgotten, regarded as classics even: The Death of Grass by John Christopher, The Long Loud Silence by Wilson Tucker, The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett and The Death of Sheep by John Brunner. I managed to borrow a copy of The Death of Grass, which has since achieved a new print edition courtesy of Penguin, but the others are available only on eBay for more than the price of a new paperback. I’ll let you know how good they are when I finally get to read them.
Next, I looked at my book shelves and wondered which of the books I love might not be in print still. The first I looked for were the fabulous Orange County trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson. There appears to be a compendium of the three books available in the US, but the UK versions seem to have dropped into the used or imported category. Crazy. I trumpet the awesomeness of Pacific Edge in particular at every given opportunity. Maybe these books have been overshadowed by their siblings in the Mars trilogy?
Also on my shelf and standing out as one of the freshest, craziest books I’ve ever read is Vurt by Jeff Noon, which won the Arthur C.Clarke award in 1994 (beating Snow Crash!). Amazon can’t get it new and PanMacMillan lists the book as “out of stock”. It’s not a book I hear mentioned very often, maybe because Jeff Noon has slid out of the genre spotlight, or that his last novel was a few years ago? I don’t know, but it needs to be in print and it needs to be read.
I’m sure that there are plenty of other great SF books that I have personally forgotten, and hence can’t tell you about. All those vague memories of SF books borrowed from the library that I can’t quite coalesce. If only I’d had a blog then, I could trawl the archives to remember.
Hopefully the term “out of print” will become something of the past when print on demand by major publishers finally takes off (surely it’s any year now?!), and at that point “forgotten” will be an asymptotic function unrelated to accessibility.
I’d like to see Andre Norton’s The Last Planet back in print. You can get old copies of it (I have an autographed one), but this book was very dear to me because it reconnected me with science fiction and saved me from the impression that SF was all about doom and gloom. Teenagers don’t need doom and gloom, they need uplifting “yes we can” literature that shows a diverse array of characters solving problems.
The book also reconnected me with my childhood muse and, along with the books of Ray Bradbury, made me really, really, really want to write.
If you’re looking for reprint-worthy classics, you have to look back to the golden age of science fiction: the 80′s and 90′s. Okay, that’s my golden age. Everybody gets their own. But those were my post-college and post-Clarion years, the years when I was trying to figure out what kind of fiction most excited me, and what kind I wanted to write.
Looking back, I can see trends and tendencies in my reading that I wasn’t aware of. A certain kind of book kept drawing me in. Maybe it started when I stumbled into Zelazny’s Lord of Light and the Chronicles of Amber (no need to demand reprints of those). Maybe it started when I found John Varley’s Gaea trilogy in the early 80′s. But by the late eighties there was a new, literary brand of SF that borrowed from the tropes of fantasy, and a type of fantasy that proceeded with science fictional rigor and realism. I was an absolute sucker for both.
A brief word about the Varley books, Titan (1979), Wizard (1980), and Demon (1984). Maybe these don’t count as forgotten or overlooked, since they’ve been reprinted a few times, but dammit, in a just world they would never be out of print. I read the series in my first year of college, and for years afterward I was able to hand the books to anyone, SF reader or not, and they’d thank me for it. (I’d still be doing that if I wasn’t worrying about losing my copies.) Varley was writing SF that felt like fantasy, with mad AI gods, bio-engineered centaurs, sentient blimps, and physics-plausible angels. I loved what he did, and perhaps that led me to the books on this list.
In 1989, the year after I went to Clarion, I borrowed a book from my Clarion-mate Andrew Tisbert, and I never gave it back. (Sorry, Andy. It’s right here on my shelf.) It was Rachel Pollack’s Unquenchable Fire (1988), a fantasy set in a Poughkeepsie, New York after gods and powers have returned to the world. Pollack’s characters don’t go mad like fragile-brained Lovecraft victims, they don’t reject the world they find themselves in (that would be mad), they just try to get by, even when the gods start messing with them personally. You Will Be Charmed.
In 1992 Patricia Anthony published her first book, Cold Allies, a beautifully written, if slightly unfocused, science fiction novel. But her second novel, 1993′s Brother Termite, accomplishes something stranger and much more difficult. Anthony takes the tropes of pop culture sci-fi-flying saucers, big-eyed alien “grays”-and makes us take them at face value. Then she keeps daring us to disbelieve, throwing in entertainers who can channel dead celebrities, JFK conspiracy plots, heaving alien worm mothers… By rights the book should collapse under the strain of suspending so much disbelief. Anthony somehow keeps the whole thing aloft through the power of her prose and her empathy for her characters.
Because of Varley, Pollack, and Anthony, by the mid-1990′s my guard was down and I was wide open for the knockout blow, or rather, one-two-three punch: Sean Stewart’s Resurrection Man (1995), followed by Night Watch (1997) and Galveston (2000). The books aren’t a trilogy, don’t share characters or plot, but they are linked by the conceit of magic returning to the modern world-like rain, like snow, like a raging flood-and I’ve always thought of them as a group.
Resurrection Man is the world most similar to our own. Night Watch takes place in 2074 after magic’s been in the world a hundred years. And in Galveston, which is set nearer to current day (I told you it wasn’t really a trilogy), nevertheless seems to thematically complete the series when the flood of magic finally starts to recede.
My favorite, though, is Night Watch. It’s the longest of the three, and is less tightly controlled, but it’s sprawling and generous and contains some of Stewart’s strongest writing. There are two set pieces that are the heart of the book, and remain some of those most riveting scenes I’ve ever read. In one, a forest that is also a god of this world wipes out a squad of soldiers one by one, but in the most creepy and subtle way imaginable. And in the other, a man who’s allowed himself to be stranded in a deserted, winter city in order to allow his friends to escape, tries to build a fire. It’s as simple as the Jack London story, but with ghosts, and better told. (That’s right, you heard me: Stewart is better than London.)
These books shouldn’t be out of print. Something weird was going on in the 80′s and 90′s, a weirdness that cleared the path for all the genre-bending, slipstreaming, science-fantasy mashups that have made it onto the shelves in the past few years. If you want to understand what’s happening now, you have to read these classics from the golden age of Daryl.
I can’t but help think of Jules Verne, and the huge amount of his work that is still unavailable despite his being the Grandpa of SF. There have been some valiant efforts in recent years to make amends for this by University of Nebraska Press, Wesleyan, and others, but there is still so much more out there that English-speaking readers either haven’t seen for years or have only been exposed to in very poor translations which themselves are long out of print. There is his Le Village Aérien (The Aerial Village) for starters; this is Verne trying to extrapolate on Darwinism, as Edgar Rice Burroughs (another of my childhood favorites I’d like to see more of on the shelves and not just online) and so many other pulp writers also went on to do. And how about Verne’s posthumous L’Étonnante Adventure de la Mission Barsac (published in English in two volumes by Ace Books under the titles Into the Niger Bend and The City in the Sahara in the handsome but generally wretchedly translated Fitzroy editions)? Although it’s now attributed to Michel Verne, I’d still like to read a decent translation.
Along similar lines, there is the wildly inventive French author J.-H. Rosny, a pseudonym of the brothers Joseph Boex and Séraphin Boex, writing jointly and individually. Critics consider Rosny to be a far more mature and innovative writer than Verne, but few now recognize the name. Most famous for the novel La Guerre du Feu (on which the movie Quest for Fire was based), Rosny pioneered biological science fiction and its moral implications in works like L’Enigme de Givreuse, a 1917 novel about human cloning. I’m looking forward to hopefully reading more of his work in English one day. Philip José Farmer, of course, translated and retold Rosny’s inventive take on Darwinism in Ironcastle (French title: L’Étonnante Voyage d’Hareton Ironcastle, first published 1922), a lost world tale that involved an alien spacecraft crash-landing in Africa in ancient days and going on to spawn a whole new ecosystem.
I think the publishing world is ready to see H. Warner Munn again, and his tales Merlin’s adventures in the New World (King of the World’s Edge, The Ship from Atlantis, and Merlin’s Ring), as well as Karl Edward Wagner’s Robert E. Howard-inspired Kane books. Frank Herbert’s Destination: Void, and the follow-up novels written with Bill Ransom-The Jesus Incident, The Lazarus Effect, and The Ascension Factor-like the Dune series opened my mind to new ways of thinking, and it’s a shame these books aren’t on the shelves. Actually, I’d love to see all of Herbert’s backlist back in print. Off the top of my head, Soul Catcher and The Godmakers were particularly good reads. Herbert’s anthropological approach was formative for me, and I can’t imagine growing up not having reading his non-Dune books. I was pleased to see Tor come out in recent years with reissues of novels like Hellstrom’s Hive, The Santaroga Barrier, and The Dosadi Experiment, and I would like to see them do more of this. As for more recent works that have slipped out of print but deserve to be read widely, I would point publishers to David Herter’s critically acclaimed debut novel Ceres Storm.
Of course, with Phil Farmer’s passing, I cannot not note the sad number of absolutely wonderful, classic Farmer books that have languished out of print for far too long. The Dayworld trilogy is ripe for the picking, as is the Lord Grandrith/Doc Caliban series (the shockingly graphic A Feast Unknown, and its non-explicit sequels, The Lord of the Trees and The Mad Goblin). I confess I have a vested interest in seeing Phil’s (pre)historical fantasy novels about the ancient African civilization of Khokarsa-Hadon of Ancient Opar and Flight to Opar-back in print, as with Phil’s permission I was honored to recently complete the third novel in the series about the hero Hadon’s giant, ax-swinging cousin Kwasin. Hopefully those two books will be back in the pipeline and with a publisher sometime soon. And though not sf/f/h, Phil’s hardboiled Peoria murder mystery, Nothing Burns in Hell, is an outrageously funny heck of a read (are you listening, Hard Case Crime?). I’ve long held a fondness for Dark Is the Sun, a novel set on earth fifteen billion years in the future, but I liked the mind-bending World of Tiers-related novel Red Orc’s Rage even more, in which adolescents in a psychiatric ward are given therapy based on Farmer’s own World of Tiers novels (the story is based on a real-life psychiatric treatment, by the way). The artful twists in Red Orc’s Rage are enough to give Philip K. Dick’s ghost a headache, and I consider the novel a lost-in-the-shuffle modern classic of the genre. Regarding the book, Phil once said to me something along the lines of: “People often ask me which of my books is my favorite. Well, this one’s up there.”
Princess Hynchatti and Some Other Surprises is a collection of twelve charming and humorous YA short stories that appears to have been overlooked by the industry. Each of the fractured fairy tale-esque stories is a delightful romp, fanciful and quirky, penned by the deft and lyrical hand of master storyteller Tanith Lee. First published in 1972 by Macmillan (London) and then in 1973 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (New York), this lovely book never received the accolades and attention it richly deserves. I discovered it as a little girl while perusing the University of Illinois stacks and laughed aloud at each story as I read them cross-legged on the floor. I never forgot it. How disappointed I was many years later when I set out to acquire my own copy to find that not only was it out of print, but no one had even heard of it. I eventually tracked down a used copy from a specialty book dealer, and these tales truly are as delightful as I remembered. More readers should have the opportunity to enjoy this forgotten collection.
has lived in six time zones on three continents, and hopes some day to collect the whole set. He was a finalist for the 2004 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer; his novelette, “Finisterra”, is a finalist for the 2008 Hugo Award. He currently lives in Switzerland.
Most anything by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. Places to start:
- Hard To Be A God and Prisoners of Power (a.k.a. The Inhabited Island, soon to be a major Russian motion picture ) are dieselpunk planetary romances that read like stories from the early days of Iain Banks’ Culture, or le Guin’s Ekumen — without the Culture’s overwhelming technological advantage or the Ekumen’s quiet moral certitude.
- Roadside Picnic (famously filmed by Tarkovsky as Stalker), about the aftereffects of an alien intrusion of a weirdness that could give a Kelly Link story a run for its money, is very different, but even more brilliant; like William Gibson’s “Hinterlands” it gives us a universe that in its fundamental and permanent incomprehensibility forces us to come face to face with ourselves.
Anglo-American science fiction lost its consensus future some time in the 70s, but thirty years later we still have this nagging feeling we ought to have one. The Strugatskys remind us how contingent, how historically and culturally specific that consensus future always was.
Filed under: Mind Meld
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