Mistressworks?

The latest titles in the Gollancz SF Masterworks have been announced, taking the run up to 94 titles.  The current Gollancz list with recently announced titles includes 6 women.  Yes just six of these are by female authors, Ursula LeGuin twice, Sheri Tepper, Kate Wilhelm and in recent months MJ Engh and Joanna Russ.
Of course historically women ‘didn’t write SF’ we are told, though in fact they did, but then as now, it frequently got ignored.   Recent discussion on Torque Control saw a huge list of SF from the past decade written by women, but the SF Masterworks series is ostensibly about Classics, so let’s draw an arbitrary line at 1995.  What SF by women ought to be rescued from obscurity and reissued in the Masterworks series?

Obviously there will be rights issues, not every choice will be available.  I’m also aware that whilst I may wish to see certain books back in print, my tastes don’t always coincide with commercial needs.  Nevertheless this post aims to highlight some neglected SF by women in the hope that maybe Gollancz will take note.

Please offer your own suggestions, this is to be an evolving list. 

It’s not as though there weren’t popular SF novels by women in the 70s and 80s.  Look at the Hugo and Nebula winners.

Vonda McIntyre won a Hugo for Dreamsnake, which I confess I haven’t read, though I used to see it on secondhand stalls a lot.

CJ Cherryh won the Hugo twice and was shortlisted 3 more times in a remarkable decade.  Surely there’s a commercial case for Downbelow Station or Pride of Chanur being reprinted?

As already mentioned Joanna Russ has The Female Man in print now, but how about her other novels?  Picnic on Paradise (as part of The Adventures of Alyx) perhaps straddles SF and Fantasy too much, but ought to be on the Fantasy Masterworks list.  Personally I’d like to see And Chaos Died out there, for its very different view of telepathy.  It would sit well with Robert Silverberg’s Dying Inside which is, of course, already published in the series.  Leigh Kennedy offers a third perspective in her debut The Journal of Nicholas The American.

I’m not a fan of Lois McMaster Bujold but it does seem odd that her award winning books aren’t published in the UK and that a book like Memory is not a Masterworks title.

One of my reading resolutions for 2011 is to catch up with the novels of the late Octavia Butler of whom praise is far easier to find than her books.  Kindred has been recommended.

Some of these writers may be unavailable to Gollancz, but there is at least one woman they have no excuse for ignoring.  They published Gwyneth Jones for 20 years, including potential masterwork White Queen and more recently Bold As Love.

Similarly Mary Gentle is already a Gollancz author, so how about a Masterworks edition of her remarkable SF novel Golden Witchbreed, maybe combined with its sequel Ancient Light as in the 2002 omnibus Orthe? 

There was a yellow jacketed edition a few years back of Cecelia Holland‘s Floating Worlds but rumour says that line didn’t sell well.  Perhaps if that had been a Masterworks it would be better known?  The power of that label Masterworks must boost sales or it wouldn’t have reached 94 titles. 

I’m concentrating on the SF list for now, but there is a Fantasy Masterworks list with a slightly higher proportion of women, 7 out of 50.  At least a couple of authors better known perhaps for Fantasy have written neglected SF books in the past.  Tanith Lee is one.  Her The Silver Metal Lover is long unavailable.  
Lisa Goldstein has been without a UK publisher since Harper Collins took over Unwin in the early 90s I believe.  Her time travel novel The Dream Years deserves renewed attention.

All of these authors are neglected in comparison to male counterparts.  The Masterworks contains plenty of genuine classics, but also a few very minor works, some lesser Philip K Dick comes to mind for many.   I have tried not to dilute this argument by suggesting obscure writers I like but that may not be widely commercial for masterworks purposes.  I’d love to see Patricia Geary, Misha, Josephine Saxton and Gill Alderman in print, but they wouldn’t fit this line.   On the other hand, so many authors might. 

It’s said that men don’t read women, but most male readers I know do.  If it is true to a point, there are also men who buy series like Masterworks for completist purposes.  So a man who ignored Suzette Haden Elgin‘s Native Tongue from The Women’s Press might buy it from Masterworks.  Stupid I know, but it seems the way of things.

You know I could go on forever here, asking for Gollancz to put out more Kate Wilhelm or Sheri Tepper not just one title.  I could query the absence of James Tiptree or Marge Piercy or Naomi Mitchinson but I’ve made a start.  If Gollancz really can’t get rights to ANY of these I’ll be amazed.  If you readers come up with at least as many more I really won’t be surprised.  There are so many great SF works by women and yet the publishers can’t find them?

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About Kev McVeigh

Review of literary matters, mostly but not all SFF , and digressions into music and other arts. Engagement welcomed.
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8 Responses to Mistressworks?

  1. Gollancz are publishing Connie Willis’s new books, so I imagine that they should also be able to get hold of the rights for DOOMSDAY BOOK for the Masterworks list at the very least.

  2. Pingback: The Habitation of the Linked « Torque Control

  3. Richard says:

    It does seem odd that Gwyneth Jones has failed to make the list… especially, as you say, given that Gollancz spent so much time publishing her work.

    I’d quite like to see Kairos made available in the range; if only because it seems a little harder to get a hold of than, say, Bold As Love or White Queen. Ian Sales had some nice things to say about it.

    Couple of other things I was less well aware of (Cecelia Holland) which looks like it may be of some interest.

    Are you likely to do a post on SF/F by women that is perhaps a little more obscure/less commercial? I’d be interested in reading it… (no pressure :))

  4. Jessica says:

    How about Shikasta by Doris Lessing? With the added novelty value of a Nobel prize-winning author happy to admit she writes SF (“space fiction”, she calls it). And I just read The Snow Queen by Joan D Vinge: another classic, surely.

  5. Pingback: The Dream Years – Lisa Goldstein | Solar Bridge

  6. Murf61 says:

    I agree that Joan D Vinge’s The Snow Queen should be there alongside more Sheri S Tepper, the brilliant Octavia Butler and Gwynneth Jones. Women not only write SF but they read it and buy it too, something the Gollancz listmakers appear to have overlooked!

  7. manglar says:

    I would include Nicola Griffith. “Slow River” is an impressive exercise in minimalistic description of its urban setting. Also Justina Robson for “Natural History”.

  8. SpiralBone says:

    A mistressful idea. I’ll nominate the “Lens of the World” Fantasy trilogy by the excellent R.A McAvoy, now sadly out of print and really hard to get hold of in the UK. Dark, intelligent king-quest fantasy, with wry and strange undertones. Fans of George R R Martin would love her. http://www.amazon.co.uk/R.-A.-MacAvoy/e/B000APQFHW/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

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