British SF Masterworks?

Over on his blog a week or so ago Ian Sales has with some help come up with a list of fifty British SF Masterworks.

The list is below. It has only one book (or series) per author and a “completely arbitrary cut off date of 1995” I suppose on the grounds that anything younger can not yet be called a masterwork.

It’s an interesting set of choices.

The ones in bold I have read.

1 Frankenstein, Mary Shelley (1818)
2 The War of the Worlds, HG Wells (1897)
3 Last And First Men, Olaf Stapledon (1930)
4 Brave New World, Aldous Huxley (1932)
5 Nineteen Eighty-four, George Orwell (1949)
6 The Day of the Triffids, John Wyndham (1951)
7 The Death of Grass, John Christopher (1956)

8 No Man Friday, Rex Gordon (1956)
9 On The Beach, Nevil Shute (1957)
10 A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess (1962)
11 The Drowned World, JG Ballard (1962)
12 Memoirs of a Spacewoman, Naomi Mitchison (1962)

13 A Man of Double Deed, Leonard Daventry (1965)
14 The Time Before This, Nicholas Monsarrat (1966)
15 A Far Sunset, Edmund Cooper (1967)
16 The Revolt of Aphrodite [Tunc and Nunquam ], Lawrence Durrell (1968 – 1970)
17 Pavane, Keith Roberts (1968)
18 Stand On Zanzibar, John Brunner (1968)
19 Behold The Man, Michael Moorcock (1969)
20 Ninety-Eight Point Four, Christopher Hodder-Williams (1969)

21 Junk Day, Arthur Sellings (1970)
22 The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe, DG Compton (1973)
23 Rendezvous With Rama, Arthur C Clarke (1973)
24 Collision with Chronos, Barrington Bayley (1973)
25 Inverted World, Christopher Priest (1974)
26 The Centauri Device, M John Harrison (1974)

27 The Memoirs of a Survivor, Doris Lessing (1974)
28 Hello Summer, Goodbye, Michael G Coney (1975)
29 Orbitsville [Orbitsville, Orbitsville Departure, Orbitsville Judgement], Bob Shaw (1975 – 1990)
30 The Alteration, Kingsley Amis (1976)
31 The White Bird of Kinship [The Road to Corlay, A Dream of Kinship, A Tapestry of Time], Richard Cowper (1978 – 1982)
32 SS-GB, Len Deighton (1978)
33 Where Time Winds Blow, Robert Holdstock (1981)

34 The Silver Metal Lover, Tanith Lee (1981)
35 Helliconia, Brian W Aldiss (1982 – 1985)
35 Orthe, Mary Gentle (1983 – 1987)
36 Chekhov’s Journey, Ian Watson (1983)

37 A Maggot, John Fowles (1985)
38 Queen of the States, Josephine Saxton (1986)
39 Wraeththu Chronicles [The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit, The Bewitchments of Love and Hate, The Fulfilments of Fate and Desire], Storm Constantine (1987 – 1989)
40 Kairos, Gwyneth Jones (1988)
41 The Empire of Fear, Brian Stableford (1988)
42 Desolation Road, Ian McDonald (1988)
43 Take Back Plenty, Colin Greenland (1990)

44 Wulfsyarn, Phillip Mann (1990)
47 Use of Weapons, Iain M Banks (1990)
48 Vurt, Jeff Noon (1993)

49 Ammonite, Nicola Griffith (1993)
50 The Time Ships, Stephen Baxter (1995)

I’m sure I haven’t read Frankenstein in the original. I have however read Brian Aldiss’s Frankenstein Unbound but of course he’s in the list for the Helliconia trilogy.

I read Doris Lessing’s Shikasta soon after publication and could not get to grips with it at all. It seemed to me like the classic case of a mainstream writer attempting SF and not bringing it off. Among other things it was too didactic, too preachy, totally unengaging. As a consequence I did not persevere with her SF output; nor indeed the remainder of her oeuvre.

I’m not sure of A Man of Double Deed at no 13 nor A Far Sunset (15). I may have read these out of the library when I was a young thing.

One point of interest. The only two Scottish writers in the list seem to be Naomi Mitchison, for a book published in 1962, and Iain M Banks, 1990. (See my post on the dearth of Scottish SF till extremely recently.) Mitchison was of course more renowned for her non-SF.

Tags: , , , ,

2 comments

Comments RSS feed for this post

  1. Ian Sales

    I’m surprised you’ve not read A Clockwork Orange. I’m less surprised about the literary sf-ish such as A Maggot and The Revolt of Aphrodite because, well, that was my bias coming through on the list…

    On the subject of Scottish writers, who would you suggest? Ken MacLeod’s first novel was published in 1995, so he just misses out. Alasdair Gray belongs more on a fantasy list. I’ve never read any Chris Boyce, and the one Dan Morgan novel I’ve read was poor.

  2. jackdeighton

    For some reason I never fancied A Clockwork Orange.

    “On the subject of Scottish writers, who would you suggest?”

    Before 1995? No one.

    There was effectively no Scottish SF before “Consider Phlebas” – which was the thrust of my blog post about it on 2/2/2010 (link is in main post above) If there were, they were more or less invisible which is why I made my remark re Mitchison and why Banks’s decision to publish SF was extraordinary.

    Scottish writers have of course traditionally leant towards fantasy/supernatural: from Hogg through Stevenson, Conan Doyle and David Lindsay to Alasdair Gray.

    The present day mainstream Scottish writer James Robertson carries this on (The Fanatic, the testament of Gideon Mack.) There may be others.

Leave a Reply

free hit counter script