Time erodes. Time erodes author reputations. When new books stop appearing, old readers forget a once favorite author and new readers may never encounter writers who were once well known.
It’s fortunate that we live in something of a golden age of reprints, whether physical books or ebooks. This is also the golden age of finding long-out-of-print books via online used book services. Now authors perhaps unjustly forgotten can reach new readers. I’ve been reminded of a few such authors; let me share a few of them with you.
Katherine MacLean, who I regret to report died earlier this month, had a long career. Most of her short pieces were published in the 1950s; most of her novels were published in the 1970s. She was publishing occasional pieces late in the 1990s, but by then, many fans had forgotten her or never heard of her work. (An exception: SFWA gave her a special Author Emeritus Nebula in 2003.) In her day, she published in Galaxy and Astounding alike. Classic stories by MacLean include “Pictures Don’t Lie” (a tale of first contact gone horribly wrong), “Incommunicado” (in which human-machine communication is complicated by unforeseen factors), and of course “The Snowball Effect” (in which a bold sociological experiment goes horribly right.). All can be found in her collection, The Diploids and Other Flights of Fancy, currently available from Wildside Press.
In her day, Mildred Clingerman was one of the star authors for Anthony Boucher’s The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy, but she published most of her stories in the 1950s. A collection of her best, A Cupful of Space, was published in 1961. That’s close to sixty years ago. Compelling stories like the comically horrific “Stickney and the Critic,” the haunting “A Day for Waving,” or the unsettling “The Wild Wood” were hard to find for some time. Good news for readers: all of them can be found in 2017’s The Clingerman Files, which not only includes all the stories published during her life but two dozen or so tales previously unpublished.
Both C. L. Moore and her husband Henry Kuttner were big-name authors before they even met. After a meet-cute facilitated by H. P. Lovecraft, Catherine Moore and Henry Kuttner fell in love and married. As collaborators, they were even more high-profile. But the way they worked (collaborating on stories, assigning bylines as made for higher sales) meant that a later sorting-out of who wrote what was very difficult. Centipede Press cut the Gordian knot by publishing a 2004 collection, Two-Handed Engine, which published most of their collaborations. The collection includes comic tales like “The Proud Robot,” horror stories like “Vintage Season,” and a surprising number of stories whose moral seems to be that children are half-mad and often monstrous (a popular sub-genre in the 1940s and 1950s, for some reason). Two-Handed Engine is, I regret to report, out of print. However, it’s recent enough that you should be able to find copies through your favourite used-book purveyor.
Margaret St. Clair was a prolific author; she published eight novels under her own name and many short stories, some under pen names (Idris Seabright, Wilton Hazzard). St. Clair excelled at creating vivid worlds with economic prose. She wrote cautionary tales (“The Gardener”), horror stories (“The Little Red Hen”), and quirky tales that are harder to classify. Seventeen of these are available in 2014’s Hole in the Moon and Other Tales, which is still in print.
Single-author collections are a fine way to discover new authors, but sometimes a selection is even better. One cannot know if one enjoys something until one samples it. If variety is your desire, track down Gideon Marcus’ Rediscovery Vol 1: SF by Women (1958–1963). Not only will you find fourteen classic tales of science fiction by fourteen different authors, but each story is accompanied by commentary by a modern luminary. Best of all, Marcus sidesteps the usual trap of reprinting stories already often published. Even if you are familiar with Judith Merril, Rosel George Brown, Kit Reed, and the other classic authors, the odds are very good you have not read these particular works.
There might be some recent collections of classic SF that would deserve mention here. Feel free to name them in comments.
Originally published in September 2019
In the words of Wikipedia editor TexasAndroid, prolific book reviewer and perennial Darwin Award nominee James Davis Nicoll is of “questionable notability.” His work has appeared in Publishers Weekly and Romantic Times as well as on his own websites, James Nicoll Reviews and Young People Read Old SFF (where he is assisted by editor Karen Lofstrom and web person Adrienne L. Travis). He was a finalist for the 2019 Best Fan Writer Hugo Award, and is surprisingly flammable.