As I’ve said before, SF is valuable for its freedom to conduct thought-experiments, which often illuminate our present by showing us futures which may arise from it. Utopias beckon us along a particular path, while dystopias hold up warning signs saying, “Wrong way – go back.”
Huxley’s Island, which I discussed a few days ago, is one of many books from the fifties and sixties which are reappearing on the shelves of our bookshops and libraries, possibly in response to the fact that their original readers, baby-boomers, are now retiring and have time to re-read books they loved when younger.
Whatever the reason, I enjoy seeing them. Many of them bring back good memories and, more importantly, many of them are still very good, relevant books. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land and Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, for instance, were transformative for me in my late teens and I have been recommending them ever since to anyone who (similarly) needed shaking loose from conventional morality or unthinking sexism.
Gollancz has two parallel ‘Masterworks’ series, science fiction and fantasy, both conveniently listed and described on The SF Site (although this list on the publisher’s site may be more up to date). They are not all briliant but the overall quality is high enough that the series logo is a recommendation, i.e. anything in either collection is worth a second look. Having seen the Harper Perennial Modern Classics listing on Amazon (and no, I don’t know why the publishers don’t have such a list on their own site) I am inclined to treat that branding the same way. If I had to make recommendations, inevitably personal and from an incomplete knowledge of the offerings, I might begin with …
Jeanette Winterson is a fiercely intelligent writer and this is her response to climate change, much as The Word for World is Forest wasUrsula Le Guin’s response to the Vietnam war.
The cover may be restrained but The Stone Gods is as zany, in part, as anything Douglas Adams ever wrote. It is also sweetly romantic, raunchy and searingly polemical – The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy meets Rubyfruit Jungle and Collapse.
Superficially it is a love story replayed against our remote past and our near future but lurking just beneath the surface is a savage attack on the myopic corporatism which insists on business as usual while the global environment goes into toxic shock.
It’s a wild ride. The protagonist, Billie Crusoe, is female in two of her incarnations and a sailor marooned on Easter Island in the third, and her beloved is sometimes a robot. In one incident in the post-apocalyptic near future, bikie vigilantes rescue Billie from corporate thugs disguised as Japanese tourists. The confrontation escalates, and a few hours later members of the lesbian vegan rock band are handing out assault rifles.
Review by Malcolm Tattersall, 2007, revised and extended for Green Path 2016.