I was enormously pleased to read on Mastodon that not only is that classic SF work The Fortunate Fall returning to print, but The Fortunate Fall’s author Cameron Reed is working on a new novel. Huzzah! This is ever so much better than the other model, in which an author produces a promising body of work, then goes silent, apparently forever.
Herewith, five authors from whom we would like, or would have liked, to hear more.
Back in the 1950s, Walter M. Miller, Jr. was a prolific author with more than two dozen published stories to his credit. While he was a frequent contributor to Astounding, he was not a one-editor author: in addition to appearing in Astounding and the other two members of the Big Three, Galaxy and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Miller works were featured in Amazing, Fantastic, If, Other Worlds Science Stories, Startling Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories, and Venture Science Fiction. Miller was frequently anthologized by editors such as Everett F. Bleiler, T. E. Dikty, and Judith Merril. He won one of the first Hugo Awards, for 1955’s The Darfsteller.
All of the above built up to his 1959 novel A Canticle For Liebowitz. After Canticle, nearly forty years of silence, save for a posthumous novel finished by a collaborator. The explanation appears to be crushing depression. Given Canticle’s stellar quality—if a modern reader has heard of Miller at all, it is almost certain the only Miller of which they are aware is Canticle—one has to wonder what Miller might have achieved in a better world.
Between her debut in 1966 and her exit from the field in 1983, Doris Piserchia published thirteen novels and at least sixteen short stories. Although her efforts were not rewarded with awards, editors deemed her work of sufficient quality to justify inclusion in such notable anthologies as Orbit 16 and The Last Dangerous Visions. Her novels were always memorable.
In many cases, it’s not clear why an author goes silent. In Piserchia’s case, an appalling sequence of personal tragedies forced her from writing. When she was ready to return, her market had evaporated. Consequently, although she only recently died, her most recent published work is decades old. One has to wonder what she might have accomplished if her career had not been kneecapped as it was.
It is hard to describe to younger readers the impact of Alexei Panshin’s early novels. 1968 saw the publication of Rite of Passage, perhaps the best Heinlein juvenile not by Heinlein, as well as Star Well and The Thurb Revolution, the first two volumes in the Anthony Villiers series, Panshin’s notable SF comedy of manners. 1969 saw the third Villiers novel, Masque World. Quality and quantity: what more could readers want?
The straightforward extrapolation that suggests we should by now have in hand something like eighty Panshin novels was, alas, flawed. There was one more Panshin novel, Earth Magic, co-authored by Cory Panshin. There were two collections, Farewell to Yesterday’s Tomorrow (1975), Transmutations: A Book of Personal Alchemy (1982). Otherwise, as far as fiction was concerned, a long, loud silence. Math, how can you betray me so?
Alison Tellure’s body of work is small, four short stories (“Yes, Virginia”, “Lord of All It Surveys”, “Skysinger”, “Low Midnight”) and one novelette (“Green-Eyed Lady, Laughing Lady”), all published in Analog between 1977 and 1984. While “Yes, Virginia” is unmemorable, the other four works are memorable forays into alien psychology, unusually presented without the crutch of human observers to hold the reader’s hand.
Tellure is also an edge case, in that I cannot be certain that she stopped getting published, only that she stopped getting published under that name. Tellure was a pen name and information about the person behind the pen name is surprisingly hard to come by. Sources assert she was married to Rob Chilson, but somehow those sources, even Chilson, never get around mentioning what her actual name was. This has all the earmarks of a situation about which others are better informed than I am: feel free to illuminate me in comments.
Between 1981 and 1992, Alexis A. Gilliland published seven novels, starting with the three books in the Rosinante Trilogy—The Revolution from Rosinante (1981), Long Shot for Rosinante (1981), The Pirates of Rosinante (1982)—in which a hard-working businessman/engineer manages to parlay a stock market correction into a nation-ending crisis. These were followed by the three books in the Wizenbeak trilogy—Wizenbeak (1986), The Shadow Shaia (1990) and Lord of the Troll-Bats (1992)—in which civil engineer/wizard Wizenbeak does his best to survive increasingly dangerous political maneuvering.
He also wrote 1983’s The End of the Empire, in which the remnants of a collapsed empire stumble into a solar system on the verge of civil war. All of these novels offer a combination of snark and cynicism, as well as energetic plots working at cross-purposes.
Unfortunately, if I recall comments made by Gilliland correctly, he was a victim of midlist death spiral, in which each subsequent printing of a book from a non-best seller is reduced slightly, with the result the next books sales are less than the previous book, which is used as justification to reduce print runs even more. Rinse and repeat until you reach print runs of zero. Additionally, his publisher, Del Rey, carried out a brutal purge of their midlist following the deaths of Judy-Lynn and Lester del Rey. Gilliland was one of the authors who were shoved off the back of the sleigh (perhaps in hope that this would slow the pursuing wolves). Some of his books are back in print as ebooks, but it would be nice to have some new Gilliland in the world.
Still, where there is life, there is hope or so I am told. I can name a number of authors who exited SF, only to reappear decades later: Dean Ing and Donald Kingsbury come to mind, as does (obviously) Cameron Reed. Gilliland is (at time of writing) still with us, and there are other authors long silent who might unexpectedly reappear. Some authors long dead may have left unpublished works still awaiting discovery.
You may well have your own favourite authors from whom you’d like a new work. Feel free to muse wistfully about them in comments.
In the words of fanfiction author Musty181, four-time Hugo finalist, prolific book reviewer, and perennial Darwin Award nominee James Davis Nicoll “looks like a default mii with glasses.” His work has appeared in Interzone, Publishers Weekly and Romantic Times as well as on his own websites, James Nicoll Reviews (where he is assisted by editor Karen Lofstrom and web person Adrienne L. Travis) and the 2021 and 2022 Aurora Award finalist Young People Read Old SFF (where he is assisted by web person Adrienne L. Travis). His Patreon can be found here.