James Wallace Harris maintains a website devoted to identifying the Classics of Science Fiction. He is fascinated by how books are remembered and forgotten, and often writes about science fiction at his blog, Auxiliary Memory.
Back in the late 1940s when Gnome Press and Fantasy Press began reprinting classic pulp science fiction, readers anxiously awaited to reread their favorite SF stories in hardback. That seemed to validate their genre. Many of those books are now considered the classics of science fiction. The population of science fiction readers exploded in the 1950s as the best stories from 1930s and 1940s pulps made their way to bookstores and libraries. Since the beginning of this new century, I’ve been anxiously awaiting audio book publishers to reprint all those classic science fiction books I read in the 20th century, and for the most part they have. However, there are some titles I still can’t get on audio.
Audible.com now has around nineteen thousand SF&F titles, include 1,700+ categorized as “Sci-Fi: Classic.” Unfortunately, there’s still some favorite science fiction books I’m waiting to hear. Listening to these old books makes them come alive again in a way I just don’t get from rereading them with my eyes. A great narrator can take words off a 2D page and make the story feel 3D. And since I have a nasty habit of speed reading, listening is a wonderful way to savor the narrative.
We live in an age where libraries are no longer archives of culture. If a book isn’t regularly read, it’s discarded. I’ve found that Audible.com has become a wonderful reservoir of science fiction cultural history. And, an audio edition is another validation of a book’s place in science fiction literature. In our era of smartphones, having these books on audio and ebook opens up the past to new generations. Not all of these books are great, but they are worthy of preserving. Reading science fiction has always told us more about the times the books were written, than the future they imagined.
I’ve found sixty-four titles that I can’t get on audio and I wonder why. Why can’t we listen to The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin when most of Le Guin’s other books are available? And why are Alfred Bester’s two great classics not on audio? When I started this essay, nothing by Samuel R. Delany was available, but I just discovered Babal-17 has been release this week, and Dhalgren will come out in January.
Audiobooks are expensive to produce. I can understand why authors who aren’t read today, like William Tenn, R. A. Lafferty and Wilson Tucker, don’t have audio book editions, but maybe they deserve a second chance. If A. Bertram Chandler, Mack Reynolds and Murray Leinster can get their books on audio, why not Tenn, Lafferty and Tucker? Last month a batch of old Clifford Simak novels showed up on Audible that I’m anxious to hear soon.
Every week when I see old titles reprinted at Audible.com it gives me hope I’ll eventually get to hear all these books. Some writers like William Tenn and Zenna Henderson have had their work reprinted by NESFA Press, in complete editions, and it would be fantastic if such omnibuses were available on audio. Audible did His Share of Glory: The Complete Short Stories of C. M. Kornbluth from NESFA Press, so that’s a good precedent.
The history of American literature is full of examples of books that flopped when they came out, but were rediscovered later, such as Moby Dick and Call It Sleep. I’m not claiming the books I want to hear will be great rediscoveries, but they have a nostalgic allure to my generation who grew up reading science fiction. And when these books are read by good narrators they come alive again in a way my teenage self never appreciated, because back then I mass consumed science fiction in a speed reading frenzy. Hearing them read by a wonderful reader showcases their true potential. When I listen to a book read by a skilled reader I feel I’m experiencing the story at its full potential.
The sixty-four books below are nearly all in print, either in ebook or paper, but not on audio. The ones with asterisks (*) are not in print at all, but Audible.com often has audio editions for books with no other editions.
[Codes: H=Hardback T=Trade P=Paperback E=Ebook]
- A Voyage to Arcturus (1920) by David Lindsay – HTPE
- The World of Null-A (1948) by A. E. Van Vogt – TE
- The Voyage of the Space Beagle (1950) by A. E. Van Vogt – TE
- Bring the Jubilee (1953) by Ward Moore – HT
- The Demolished Man (1953) by Alfred Bester – TE
- A Mirror for Observers (1954) by Edgar Pangborn *
- Mission of Gravity (1954) by Hal Clement – E
- Cities in Flight (1955) by James Blish – E
- Of All Possible Worlds (1955) by William Tenn *
- The Stars My Destination (1956) by Alfred Bester – TE
- Wasp (1957) by Eric Frank Russell – E
- The Lincoln Hunters (1958) by Wilson Tucker *
- Rogue Moon (1960) by Algis Budrys *
- The High Crusade (1960) by Poul Anderson TPE
- Pilgrimage (1961) by Zenna Henderson – collected H
- The Lovers (1961) by Philip Jose Farmer – M
- Hothouse (1962) by Brian W. Aldiss – E
- Davy (1964) by Edgar Pangborn – H
- Empire Star (1966) – T
- The Witches of Karres (1966) by James H. Schmitz – ME
- Dangerous Visions (1967) ed. Harlan Ellison – TE
- The Einstein Intersection (1967) by Samuel R. Delany – TE
- Camp Concentration (1968) by Thomas Disch – T
- Nova (1968) by Samuel R. Delany – TE
- Of Men and Monsters (1968) by William Tenn *
- Past Master (1968) by R. A. Lafferty *
- The Last Starship from Earth (1968) by John Boyd *
- Behold the Man (1969) by Michael Moorcock – T
- Bug Jack Barron (1969) by Norman Spinrad – TE
- Macroscope (1969) by Piers Anthony – HT
- The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) by Ursula K. Le Guin – TE
- And Chaos Died (1970) by Joanna Russ *
- Science Fiction Hall of Fame (1970) edit by Robert Silverberg – T
- The Year of the Quiet Sun (1970) by Wilson Tucker *
- Driftglass (1971) by Samuel R. Delany *
- The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth (1971) by Roger Zelanzy -E
- The Fifth Head of Cerberus (1972) by Gene Wolfe – T
- The Listeners (1972) by James Gunn – TE
- The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume 2 (1972) edited by Ben Bova – T
- The Sheep Look Up (1972) by John Brunner – E
- Ten Thousand Light-Years from Home (1973) by James Tiptree, Jr. *
- Before the Golden Age (1974) edited by Isaac Asimov *
- A Martian Odyssey and Other Science Fiction Tales (1974) by Stanley G. Weinbaum *
- The Centauri Device (1974) by M. John Harrison *
- The Female Man (1975) by Joanna Russ – T
- The Rediscovery of Man (1975) by Cordwainer Smith – H
- The Shockwave Rider (1975) by John Brunner – E
- Triton (1976) by Samuel R. Delany *
- On Wings of a Song by Thomas M. Disch *
- Ridley Walker (1980) by Russell Hoban – HTE
- No Enemy but Time (1982) by Michael Bishop – E
- Native Tongue (1984) by Suzette Haden Elgin – TE
- Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (1984) by Samuel R. Delany – TE
- Ancient of Days (1985) by Michael Bishop – TE
- Brightness Falls from The Air (1985) by James Tiptree, Jr. – E
- The Falling Woman (1986) by Pat Murphy – E
- Mindplayers (1988) by Pat Cadigan – TE
- Grass (1989) by Sheri S. Tepper – TE
- Her Smoke Rose Up Forever (1990) by James Tiptree, Jr. – T
- A Woman of the Iron People (1991) by Eleanor Arnason – E
- Synners (1991) by Pat Cadigan – TE
- China Mountain Zhang (1992) by Maureen F. McHugh – E
- Galatea 2.2 (1995) by Richard Powers – TE
- Holy Fire (1996) by Bruce Sterling – TE