Visitors to the store will already know how fond I am of the GollanczSF Masterworks range, given that they’ve got their own dedicated section. A section that performs very well I might add. This month I’ve received the first of a new series that takes the Masterworks idea in a slightly different direction. The new range is called The Golden Age Masterworks and, based on the books slated for release, appears to take its name from the idea of the ‘Golden Age’ of science fiction that is sometimes used to describe work written in the 1930’s, 1940’s and 1950’s. There are a variety of opinions on when it actually begins or finishes, but you get the general idea. I’ve glanced ahead at the next few months and there’s some really interesting stuff on the way, including some titles I never thought I’d see in print again.
Galactic Patrol & Grey Lensman by E E ‘Doc’ Smith
Both from his Lensman series, these are about as classic as space-adventure gets. The officers of the Galactic Patrol constantly have to thwart the plans of the Boskone, a planet spanning criminal cartel any way they can. Sometimes its ship-to-ship in-space battles and sometimes undercover on some frontier world. Either way, the brave men of the Galactic Patrol are fighting to keep the galaxy safe. This isn’t your modern nuanced space opera, in fact it’s cheesy as hell, but it’s also a lot of fun if you’re in the right kind of mood.
The Sands of Mars & Earthlight by Arthur C Clarke
No Golden Age collection would be complete without Arthur C Clarke, so we’ve got two of his early books. Both of them are about people living off Earth, but with two very different approaches. Sands of Mars is primarily about colonisation and terraforming and the dangers, both physical and psychological, that those undertaking such a task might face. Earthlight on the other hand is set further into the future and there are large populations on the Moon, Mars and Venus. The problem of this is one of politics and identity, as those born far from Earth chafe at the idea of being ruled from a world they have no feeling of connection to. They’re pretty common ideas in science fiction now but sixty years ago they weren’t, so even if you think you’ve seen it all before it’s interesting to go back to when these ideas were being developed and see what’s changed and stayed the same.
Fury by Henry Kuttner & Doomsday Morning by C L Moore
The last two books are from science fiction power couple Catherine Lucille Moore and Henry Kuttner. This husband and wife team wrote novels and short stories both together and separately. Henry Kuttner died unexpectedly in 1958 at the age of 44. After his death, Catherine eventually remarried and lived for another thirty years but never published again.
In Fury, the Earth is long dead and the human survivors who settled on Venus live in huge citadels beneath the Venusian seas in an atrophying, class-ridden society ruled by the Immortals – genetic mutations who live a thousand years or more. Sam Reed was born an immortal, born to rule those with a normal life-span, but his deranged father had him mutilated as a baby so that he wouldn’t know of his heritage. And Sam grew up on the wrong side of the tracks and the law, thinking of the Immortals as his enemies. Then he reaches the age of eighty, begins to understand what has happened to him and goes looking for revenge – and changes his decaying world forever. Fury is a powerful, dark and compelling novel that explores the sensual, bloody and urgent nature of humankind’s striving.
Written in 1957, Doomsday Morning is one of Catherine Moore‘s last works and is set in a future America where a totalitarian alliance of communications networks and the police, called Comus control the nation in the aftermath of a small scale nuclear war. The President for life is dying and there are rumbles of discontent and whispers of something called ‘Anticom’ that could supposedly bring Comus down. In response Comus sends a group of actors into the community to travel and perform a specially written play as part of a ‘hearts and minds’ campaign. The story is told from their perspective and is a mix of action and rumination as the characters ponder their lives and reassess their pasts and role in the present. It’s an interesting book, and despite being sixty years old. There’s a lot here that will resonate with modern readers.