Sunday, 11 May 2008

Overlooked Classics?

Inspired by this post, I decided to have a go at producing my own list of ten sf novels which don't really deserve to be forgotten. They're hardly lost classics - in fact, most of the following I bought remaindered. But that doesn't necessarily mean they're bad. Good books get remaindered too. Nor does it mean, as a friend once insisted, that they're faulty because they're full of spelling mistakes. Books get remaindered because they didn't sell.

The science fiction novels below were never going to win awards or redefine the genre. But they are entertaining reads, by no means ordinary, and certainly worth picking up if you see them in some second-hand or charity shop.

The Broken Worlds (1986)
Raymond Harris
Harris had three books published, and then vanished. This is his first. It's a space opera, set after the fall of a galactic empire. The Martians, immortal warriors, are trying to recreate the empire. Caught up in this are cabaret artist Attanio Hwin and the mysterious woman Sringlë. As space
operas go, The Broken Worlds is more colourful than most. While Harris doesn't try to give his universe depth by slapping on some pseudo-historical patina, he still manages to present a series of worlds which are unique and interesting. EC Tubb did something similar with his Dumarest series, but that was unremittingly grim. The Broken Worlds is fun - The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction even calls it "an attractive picaresque adventure". Harris' other two novels are Shadows of the White Sun, which is better than The Broken Worlds but not as much fun, and The Schizogenic Man, which is perhaps the least interesting of the three.

The Children of Anthi (1985)
Jay D Blakeney

Blakeney is a pseudonym of romance writer Deborah A Chester, who is also known under the name Sean Dalton for her YA sf series Operation StarHawks.
The Children of Anthi is a richly-detailed space opera, in which scout Omari crashes on the world of Ruantl and is taken hostage by the world's inhabitants. The story takes place on a single planet, but Blakeney has clearly spent a lot of time mapping out its society and customs. In places, it's almost Herbert-esque, and fans of Dune will probably find something to enjoy in this novel. There is a sequel, Requiem for Anthi (1990), which is also worth tracking down.

Dancer of the Sixth (1993)
Michelle Shirey Crean

As far as I'm aware, Crean has never had another novel published. Which is a shame, because
Dancer of the Sixth is a pretty good read. It's military sf, but it's from that strange sub-set which feature female heroines, usually pilots. In this instance, the pilot is called Dancer, and she's not a pilot anymore. Now she's a member of the Sixth Service, military intelligence, and her past has been wiped and she conditioned to forget it. Until one day a fighter crash-lands on the planet where Dancer is stationed, and the pilot proves to be... someone masquerading as Dancer. So the real Dancer takes her place to find out what's going on.

Cageworld (1982 - 1984)
Colin Kapp
This is a cheat as it's a series of four books:
Search for the Sun!, The Lost Worlds of Cronus, The Tyrant of Hades and Star-Search. The series features one of the most impressive Big Dumb Objects in sf - the entire Solar system has been encased in a concentric series of Dyson Spheres. Embedded in each Sphere are holes, and in these holes are Earth-like planets. People live both on these planets and the outer surface of the spheres. It's all completely implausible of course, but that doesn't matter. The series opens on the Mars-shell. The fabulously wealthy and mysterious Land-a has recruited Master of Assassins Maq Ancor, Space Illusionist Cherry, and Sine Anura, Mistress of the Erotic, to travel in towards the Sun in a specially built space-ship, Shellback. Contact with the shells' controlling AI, Zeus, has been lost and they must discover why. In the subsequent novels, the same three travel outwards from Mars-shell, seeking to determine why emigration outwards has halted. Baroque and a great deal of fun.

Frostworld and Dreamfire (1977)
John Morressy
Morressy wrote a series of sf novels set in a future interstellar federation called the Sternverein. This is the best of them. (The worst,
The Mansions of Space, should be avoided.) Unusually for such space operas - and it's the only one of Morressy's series that is like this - Frostworld and Dreamfire is told from the viewpoint of an alien. Hult is the last of the Onhla, a race of primitive humanoid hunters who live on the frozen face of the planet Hragellon. He sets out on a quest to discover the world where legend claims other Onhla settled ages past. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction describes the novel as "a strongly constructed and occasionally rousing epic of a metamorphic humanoid's search". Also worth seeking out is Morressy's Del Whitby trilogy, also set in the Sternverein - Starbrat, Nail Down the Stars and Under A Calculating Star.

Part two of this post - another five "overlooked classics" - to follow soon.

5 comments:

Pipedreamer said...

I would like to add that, while Isaac Asimov is still widely revered as one of the holy trinity of sci-fi (along with Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein), E.E. "Doc" Smith's works, which were written in roughly the same period and in the same spirit, frequently go overlooked, despite the fact that his two major series, the Lensmen and Skylark series, remain the bedrock of most of today's science fiction.

Babylon 5, in particular, pays homage to the Lensman series repeatedly, but there are a lot of other series that can trace their roots to the Doc's work, including The Green Lantern Corps, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Star Wars. Yet, his works go largely unacknowledged, largely undiscussed, and frequently out of print.

His stuff definitely belongs on your list!

If anyone out there hasn't read his stuff, the audiobooks are sitting on The Pirate Bay now. Get them while you can!

P.S. (Shameless self-promotion) Check out the latest sci-fi and fantasy related links at The Great Geek Manual (http://thegreatgeekmanual.com).

Ian Sales said...

I wouldn't say that EE 'Doc' Smith was "overlooked". His contributions to the genre are well known, and his novels were ubiquitous in British book shops up until the late 1980s. He's been in and out print by small presses ever since.

Cliff Burns said...

Oh, great, Mr. Sales, more books that I have to add to my list of titles to seek out. I would need three lifetimes to get through the stacks I've accumulated already. You are a cruel, cruel man...

Ian Sales said...

Don't forget there's still part 2 to come...

dr rick said...

Well, the only one of your classics I've read is "Frostworld and Dreamfire", which I absolutely agree with you about (and the only other book of Morressy's I've got is frankly poor, so you're right there too). I may have to seek out your others.

I really like Colin Kapp's "Unorthodox Engineers" shorts.