Future Classics?

(Photo nicked from Paul, because it’s better than the ones I took. Other photos on Flickr here.)

I’ve mentioned these a couple of times in passing, but here are some links to other reactions, both to the covers and to the choice of books:

In passing, I should mention that the re-release of Fairyland was the nudge I needed to finally get around to reading it, and it is stunning — easily the best thing I’ve read by McAuley, and (as various people said last year, when I didn’t really believe them) quite possibly the Clarke of Clarkes.

There’s also a good interview with Simon Spanton at UKSF Book News, in which he summarises the impetus behind the promotion:

This year, aiming to do another promotion that would bring new readers to books on our list via innovative cover designs, we decided that we should look at the wealth of work we’ve built up from some of the contemporary writers on the Gollancz list. So we chose eight books that we hoped gave a good cross section of more recent SF but that would also be accessible to most readers. As with most ‘grand schemes’ dreamt up in the mighty engine rooms of publishing, the list was arrived at by a small group of people sitting around a table going ‘Oooh I love that book’ or ‘What about so-and-so?’ When it came to the covers we were, once again, able to take some of our cues from the SF4U promotion. Both times we were able to go to our art department and give them a pretty broad brief: ‘we want something that will make these books stand out, something different, something that will make SF fans take another look and which might provide people who don’t consider themselves readers of the genre but who have some sympathy with it and may have experimented in the past with an incentive to take a first look’.

I can’t help noting that this is not quite the same selection process that Jo Fletcher described at Eastercon.

See also: Gollancz’s new covers for Greg Egan’s books.

42 thoughts on “Future Classics?

  1. On the covers: yes they look great lined up like that, but unless those are the only books you own, they won’t look like that on your shelf.

  2. I have to say I like them a lot more in person as the initial photos didn’t get across the tactile nature of some of the covers like the fuzzy ape on Evolution. But still not as awesome as the SF4U stuff.

  3. So if they say “the vast majority of those readers will be new to each author”, then why aren’t there any female writers? If male writers sell more than female authors, then surely that means there’s an even bigger market for female writers as fewer people will have read them and more people will be new to them.

    I think.

    At least they should have a go.

  4. Dr A: Well, quite.

    Gav: I have to confess to only having read Evolution, The Separation, and Fairyland, but I think all three are excellent. For the others, the short story of “Blood Music” is a classic, but I bounced off the novel version last time I tried to read it; and Schild’s Ladder will have to be something special to displace Distress from the top of my personal ranking of Egan’s novels.

  5. Thanks for that. A bigger confession from me I’ve only read Revelation Space and I’ve got Altered Carbon somewhere in the TBR pile.

    But I don’t feel Revelation Space is a classic even though I really enjoyed it. There’s something strange about the mix here. The lack of women is one.
    I haven’t checked by don’t some of them have sequels as well?

    It’s just strange somehow.

  6. Three of them have sequels — Altered Carbon is followed by Broken Angels and Woken Furies, Hyperion by Fall of Hyperion (and the Endymion books), and Revelation Space by Redemption Ark and Absolution Gap (plus other novels and stories in the same universe). I hope I’ve got all that straight, anyway.

  7. I don’t think anyone in their right mind would consider Redemption Space a classic.

    And the sequel to Hyperion is more like the second half of Hyperion which is why Gollancz reprinted the Hyperion Cantos omnibus which brings the two together a couple of years ago. You should read it, by the way, Niall.

  8. Thanks Niall. Thanks for the clarification.

    Well they’ve raised my interest enough that I might have to read a couple more of books on the list.

    I think I know what I’m finding strange. As a new reader to some of the authors I would expect their Future Classic title to be the best one they’ve written. I’m probably wrong and that isn’t the intention but I’m just thinking like Joe Blogs book buyer.

    Are these the best of each author?

  9. So glad you agree re Fairyland. It really is a classic, and more people should know about it.
    I also agree that Distress is Egan’s best novel, and frankly I’m a bit puzzled by the choice of Schild’s Ladder, not that I didn’t enjoy it.

  10. I remain baffled by the love for Fairyland; it is one of the very few books I just couldn’t bear continuing to read. Does it get significantly better, then, after the first terribly dull section? What the hell am I missing? Why should I force myself to try reading it again?

  11. Ian, the first time I tried reading it, a couple of years ago, I had a similar reaction. This time what the book was doing just clicked with me from the start. Other than the shininess of the cover, I’m not sure what the difference was. I was planning to write something about it, but I am sufficiently intimidated by the number of very clever things the book was doing all at the same time that I know I wouldn’t do justice to my experience of it.

  12. Martin: The Clarke Award juries of 90/91 (?) decided to consider Hyperion/Fall Of Hyperion as one book and shortlisted it as The Hyperion Cantos. I agree it is well worth reading, and such a shame that what followed in Endymion was so poor.

    I have to say that I find Egan hard work, but I can see why some people would like his books. Must try Distress sometime.

  13. Re: “Well they’ve raised my interest enough that I might have to read a couple more of books on the list.”

    Think you’ve hit the nail on the head there, Gav. My initial reaction when the books arrived last week was: “These are lovely. But why???” – I was genuinely confused as to why anyone would consider picking up a second copy of a book they’d already either bought and read, or considered reading and decided against as being something they weren’t interested in.

    So I dropped Simon Spanton a line (“Why, Spanton, Why???”) and in the resulting email exchange he explained the thinking behind the promotion (he also gave me approximate sales figs. for the SF4U promotion and they were actually pretty impressive for reprints of reprints…) and convinced me that the idea was an interesting one – hence the interview on UKSFBN.

    And the essential point I gleaned was that the likes of you and I and Niall here are not the target audience for Future Classics, at all. Which is ironic, seeing as we’re the ones talking about it at the moment, but still… the promo really is aimed at ‘new’ readers; not necessarily readers new to just those authors either, but possibly new to the genre – people who have been put off by more genre-thematic cover designs in the past – as opposed to the sort of generally clued-up and genre-aware readers who read blogs like Torque Control and take part in discussions.

    So I think Simon will be secretly delighted if you do try a couple more of these titles – he’ll probably consider that sort of thing a bonus on top of the core objective of the range.

    Re: the lack of female writers in the promo. Well, yes, it’s a bit of a shame. But if anyone thinks it’s some sort of secret mysogynist plot then you haven’t met Gollancz’s other two editors – Jo Fletcher and Gillain Redfearn – neither of whom you could accuse of lacking appreciation for the work of female writers.

  14. I liked the SF4U promotion a lot but although the fact these covers are furry, glow in the dark, etc is awesome I don’t think they will do as good a job at enticing new readers. In fact their new Richard Morgan covers – such as this one for Altered Carbon – strike me as having better crossover, front-of-house appeal than the more abstract (and titleless) Future Classics.

    It’s definitely nice that Gollancz are taking a real interest in design though.

  15. Ariel: It may be true that Jo Fletcher doesn’t lack appreciation of female authors, but her defence of the all-male nature of this list when challenged at Eastercon failed to show this. It also contradicts Simon Spanton’s rationale behind the list too. Maybe thats the question you need him to answer. Why, if the list was compiled of the team’s favourites, are there no women on it? And if Jo was right and it was purely the top sellers that were selected for this push won’t that guarantee that they remain the top sellers and women will continually be excluded?

  16. Firstly thanks for all the thoughtful comments on this thread.

    My and Jo’s positions are not, I hope, contradictory though they may appear so. The trouble here has been invited by my slightly flip response to Ariel’s question. Taken as read in our discussions was some sort of commercial trackrecord for the authors involved. As, I’m afraid, it is in all discussions about publishing in these days of EPOS. This promotion is not about making bestsellers, its about getting certain established books in front of a new readership. If any of these reprints come even close to selling as many copies as we have sold of Justina Robson’s KEEPING IT REAL I will eat your hat.

    Gollancz have a solid commitment towards female SF writers. We’re very much in the business of making Justina Robson a bestseller, we had Mary Gentle’s ASH chosen as a WHS Thumping Good Read, we have published everything in the SF and fantasy field that Ursula le Guin has written in the last 20 years, one of our debuts for next year is SF writer Jaine Fenn, we publish most of Sheri S. Tepper’s SF output, we’re delighted to be the publishers of Steph Swainston’s novels and Gwyneth Jones has just delivered her latest novel to us. And its not just a case of Jo and Gillian labouring to keep the flame alight for female genre writers as I edit Justina and Steph and Jo edits the indutiably masculine Alastair Reynolds and Greg Egan amongst many others.

    To be accused of continuing the unjust treatment of female SF writers (or am I just being over-sensitive and reading between the lines) on the basis of one clearly defined backlist promotion which had a distinct purpose and a clear rationale required of it sticks in the throat rather.

    Even if we are talking about the place of female writers as part of the ‘classic canon’, looking back at the SF4U promotion Ursula le Guin’s THE DISPOSSESSED was part of that list and Hope Mirrlees will be part of an upcoming fantasy promotion. Whenever a limited promotion is put together there will always be deserving books left out. There are hard descisions to be made. But those decisions are never based on the gender of the author.

  17. Hi Simon, and thanks for the clarification.

    The other comment I didn’t post but I might add now was:

    ‘The other thing about the covers is that they are all very male to appeal I assume to a young male audience. Men mostly don’t read women. If you’re attracting a young male audience then putting a female writer into the mix she wouldn’t have sold as well as her male counterparts.’

    I don’t think that Gollancz or any other publisher of Sci-Fi for that matter has a male writer bias. I do think though that there is a lack of female sci-fi writers especially the high sellers.

    Now the reason for this lack is either a lack of an audience or a lack of great female sci-fi writers or something I’ve not thought of. And I’m sure you’re in a better position than most to have a clue why that is.

    Thanks for the food for thought.


  18. Hi Simon — thanks for the clarification. Per gav’s comment, I don’t think anyone thinks you or anyone else at Gollancz is prejudiced.

    I do think it’s a shame there wasn’t room for, say, a Gwyneth Jones novel in the promotion, though. Good to hear Mirrlees will be in next year’s promotion! More generally, though, I suppose I’d pick up on Kev’s point — if achieving a particular goal involves particular selection criteria that result in an all-male promotion (particularly when you do have a strong selection of women writers to draw from) then isn’t there something to be said for looking at whether the goal or the selection criteria can be tweaked? Otherwise it seems to me you do risk unintentionally reinforcing existing patterns.

    (I say this having drawn up as comprehensive a list as I can of books eligible for this year’s Clarke Award, and ending up with literally six times as many books by men as women…)

  19. Simon: I’m not calling you or anyone there sexist, just asking questions based on what has been made public. Thanks for the clarification.

    If I recall Jo correctly though, Gwyneth Jones only just missed out of the top sellers list, so even in an EPOS driven environment isnt there some flexibility there to break the mould. Gollancz has always been a brave, even radical publisher of SF, can that not continue?

    Gav: I keep hearing that men don’t read women authors, but this is so far from my own preferences that i find it hard to believe. Is this just popular fallacy, or is there basis for it?

  20. I was probably being a bit prickly . . .

    On reflection you and Kev do have a point re criteria and goals. I think though that a promotion of this sort plays a limited part in the defining a reader’s perception of how authors of differing gender or, say, race are represented in genre fiction (and how interesting that no-one has said ‘Hey! Where are the black writers in this promotion?’). Yes we’ve called this promotion Future Classics and that invites the reader to see it as a selection of the best that SF has to offer but it is also a limited promotion. The masterworks list is much much broader (yet still limited – limited by what rights were available etc ) and I would feel that Gollancz’s efforts to place female SF writers within the canon of great SF were being more fairly judged if that were the series under examination.

    But we should really be judged on our wider efforts, on our whole list and there I think we fare fairly well.

    The major deciding factor here though was alluded to by Gav in his most recent post. Men are less likely to read women (and, to a lesser extent, vice versa) and that is true across the board. The relative lack of female SF writers is the economic fall out of the fact that more men than women read SF. Look at fantasy where the gender split in readers is reversed and you see a correspondingly greater (though still not statistically equal) proportion of female writers.

    This is reinforced by a chat I just had with Jo. Referring back to the Eastercon panel in question Jo recalled, having made the point about how few men read female SF writers asking how many people in the room had read Clarke award winning and critically acclaimed Gwyneth Jones. Less than 10% of people in the room put their hands up. We publish Sheri Tepper in the face of real sales resistance, until we start reading more female SF writers there won’t be more female SF writers. And there are precious few unpublished female writers out there. For every one submission by a female hopeful we get twenty by a male one (twenty men that is not just twenty submissions from one very prolific or desperate man). We are most of us guilty of perpetuating the situation.

  21. I think it takes a fair stretch of paranoia to believe that there is any kind of plan to keep women out of science fiction, particularly with the people involved in this case, and their overwhelmingly cool track record! Also, if you want to be the most cynical about it, geez – there is money to be made in female authors. Why would they ever say no to that?

    The covers are excellent (almost enough to make me forget Dan Simmons’ crazy time traveler rants…) and a great idea. Just look at the difference between Matt Stover’s Heroes Die and its sequel Blade of Tyshalle to see how a bad cover can kick a great novel hard in the bollocks.

  22. Chris

    No one’s alleging here, so far as I can see, that there’s any kind of “plan” to keep women out of sf. What is being suggested is that there might be a bunch of un- or semi-conscious assumptions that are shared across society whose net result is that women get published to an unrepresentatively small degree. (Say, for instance, the assumption that “women aren’t as good at science as men“.) I’m sure, for my own part, that the folk in Gollancz are acting in good faith and doing as best they can on this; but when a series of eight sf classics – presumably representative and canon-forming – includes not a single woman, then eyebrows get raised. Which is what’s happening here.

  23. SImon: yes, well done you have a good list with some excellent women writers on it. That doesn’t mean you don’t make mistakes, could maybe do better in certain areas, such as the Future Classics selection for instance.

    I don’t recall the straw poll on who had read Gwyneth Jones but I would be shocked if 10% was the result. Amongst those males I know who read SF she is well read, along with the likes of Kelly Link, KAren Joy Fowler, CJ Cherryh, Elizabeth bear, Liz Williams, Karen Traviss, Ursula Le Guin, M Rickert, Storm Constantine, Leigh kennedy, Mary Gentle, Gill ALderman, Nancy Kress and Pat Cadigan (just off the top of my head.) So I really do wonder if this historical attitude that men don’t read women has become some kind of urban myth, self-perpetuating in part because of the lack of promotion women SF writers sometimes get?

  24. I remember Jo asking, though I thought it was who had read Bold as Love, specifically. But if it wasn’t 10%, it wasn’t 50%, either.

  25. Kev,
    It seemed to me that you were pointing to the selection of the 8 FC titles as being smptomatic of an attitude that was adversely affecting the chances of women SF writers, viz;

    “And if Jo was right and it was purely the top sellers that were selected for this push won’t that guarantee that they remain the top sellers and women will continually be excluded?”

    Did we make a mistake on the selection of titles for this promotion? Arguably.

    Does the selection of authors for promotions such as this one ‘guarantee that they remain top sellers’? Absolutely not. The purpose of this promotion was to bring a limited number of SF novels, reflective of the genre in so far as it was possible to do so with authors represented on the Gollancz list to some new readers. The bestselling status of authors relies, it goes without saying, on a cocktail of factors, some within the purvue of publishers, some not. Appearing as part of a backlist promotion is, I’m afraid, not one of them.

    Whether or not the FC promotion is deemed to be a part of the process or not, just what is this continual exclusion of female SF writers that you are alluding to? What’s the evidence you have for it? And who is doing the excluding? This isn’t asked to be atagonistic, but rather in a genuine spirit of enquiry.

    It seems to me that if we’re to have a conversation about the advancement of female SF then it doesn’t serve the subject particulary well to have Future Classics as the main term of reference.

  26. Simon, perhaps guarantee is the wrong word here but promoting only the bestsellers in this way will surely increase the likelihood that they remain higher sellers than the non-promoted titles/authors?

    This promotion is about boosting sales, so if you dont think it will have a greater effect on the FC titles than on non-FC titles then why bother?

    I’m not making FC the main term of reference here, it is one example of several I have been discussing lately.

  27. As with any themed promotion built around a list of backlist titles there is an element of self-fulfilling prophecy at work; you promote those titles that will have some sort of resonance for the potential buyer (ie the buyer who has been attracted by the theme of the promotion and may be tipped over into a buying decision on a particular book by at least having heard of the author or having seen their books around). There are other sorts of marketing much more suitable to raising the backlist sales of an author whose track record is less healthy. Repacking the backlist to co-incide with the launch of the latest book for example (as we did with Sheri Tepper). There is a certain amount you can do with re-invention but however you go about it the market imperitives are powerful: sometimes the rate of sale for an author just isn’t high enough and EPOS results in too low an order for a reprint (let alone the sizable investment of a repackaging exercise) to be viable.

    Yes in this instance we promoted ‘only the bestsellers in this way’ but we re-promote everyone’s backlist everytime we publish a new book by them. We’re not always able to justify a repackage but we always push the backlist alongside the author’s new title.

    The uncomfortable truth for any author is that keeping one’s backlist alive is done best by keeping your frontlist production up and running not by having odd titles picked out in themed promotions. Once you are unable to do that of course then you have to rely on posterity.

  28. Graham, I’m sorry but I just don’t agree. I’ve seen far too many good female authors around lately, and they all seem to be doing just fine if they are up to scratch!

    Still, I’m not going to argue about this – not on ‘teh interweb’, at least, so catch me in the bar at WFC maybe (!) – as there are obviously arguments on both sides.

    Besides, Simon can always slip in two female authors for the ninth and tenth books in the series! Come on Simon, you have to release ten to satisfy our collective OCD! :)

    (perhaps Matt Stover would put on a wig and some eye make-up for some signings, ‘cos God knows he deserves to be on the future classics list… err, he’ll probably hunt me down and kill me for that…)

  29. Oh dear, I’m late back into this. A word in defence of Gollancz: I get frequent visits from people doing PhDs on obituaries and their sociological importance and impact, the subtext of which is always that we’re dealing with the first draft of history.
    They’re always mildly surprised when, in response to their pointing out that I’ve written about, say, 23 women out of 180 obits in the last three months, I say I am constantly looking for opportunities to do more. But you cope with what’s around.
    Not just because I want to make up the numbers or seem right on. Because I think it is interesting. The most interesting new book out at the moment is the Mitford sisters’ correspondence, beacuse it offers a complete (and close-view) history of the 20th century from an all-female perspective.
    Several of my favourite writers are women. Indeed, I’d have to argue hard against Jane Austen, Ivy Compton-Burnett, Muriel Spark, Barbara Pym, Katherine Mansfield, Anne Tyler and Dorothy L Sayers not all being in the top 10.
    But not sf writers, on the whole. I don’t know why. I might be able to argue for something by Ursula Le Guin on the Future Classics list, if she weren’t already so well represented elsewhere. She’s already canonical, surely?
    Sherri Tepper’s Grass is in sf masterworks (as it ought to be). I wouldn’t have minded swapping Richard Morgan for Gwyneth Jones or Liz Williams, but I’d have had Ryman and Harrison in there a damn sight quicker. I think it’s not a bad list, for what it’s for. And if people like it, surely that’s good for all the women mentioned on this thread, as well as the men?
    In 30 years this won’t be an issue. Or I sincerely hope it won’t. If there are no women on the annual list in 2017, it will be a statistical oddity brought about by chance, not an assault on female writers, just as an absence of Black, Welsh, Jewish, American or Scottish writers would be.

  30. Andrew, I quite agree. Like you, I was surprised when I saw no women included on the list, but I wasn’t shocked. Like you, there are a number of women I could make a case for inclusion, but whether I could make a stronger case than I could for some of the men missing from the list I just don’t know.

    The problem is, I’m just not sure what we’re actually reacting to.

    Is it a statistical anomaly that more of the books by women on the sff shelves count as fantasy rather than science fiction? Or is it something to do with what women choose to write … or are encouraged to write … or are discouraged from writing?

    Is it a statistical anomaly that more of the books on those shelves are by men? Or does it reflect historic prejudices … or prejudices on the part of publishers … or prejudices on the part of readers … or prejudices on the part of writers?

    Is it just habit that more men than women choose to write sf? Or is it that what interests women writers tends not to fit into the sf mold? Or is it that agents and publishers tell them not to write sf? Or is it that sf is a dying genre attracting fewer new writers of either sex?

    Depending on where we choose to draw the lines, it’s as easy to say this whole thing is a massive conspiracy against women as it is to say it’s a meaningless statistical blip. All I do know is that there are some major works of sf that happen to have been written by women, and that sf would be considerably the poorer without certain female writers. But whether that means any of them should have been included in one relatively small publishing promotion …

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