home : news : reviews : features : fiction : podcast : blogs : t-shirts : wtf?

Blindfolds and Cigarettes: Reliving the Golden Age
© Ian Banks
May 13, 2002

There's been a lot of talk about the lack of classic novels and short stories available on the market today. In the US many of these books are now resurfacing due to the excellent work being done by a lot of small press outfits. In Britain there are books under the Millennium Fantasy / Science Fiction Masterworks and Voyager Classics labels. These are fairly cheap editions of novels packaged to reintroduce classics of the genre to a new audience.

However, these classics are by authors who have a following still in existence today. That's part of how we define a classic. Let's make a couple of examples: Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft are still read today; aside from F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway—and possibly Camus and Kafka—are there many "mainstream" or "literary" writers from the same period still in print, with as loyal a fanbase?

The problem arises from the ignorance that many people have of writers who were popular in the thirties and forties, but who are unknown today. As an example: the work of John W. Campbell as an editor is well-known, but the existence of a significant body of work as a writer remains largely unknown to the wider community. Many other writers have disappeared from the public arena because their work has not stood the test of time, but many more have been neglected simply through bad luck.

I think that perhaps the market for modern classics is healthier than most people realise. Good writing does not date, and lots of old stories are still excellent reading today. With the popularity of space opera these days, why can't we see some old classics back in print? Edmond Hamilton wrote a whole stack of adventures that predate E. E. Smith in content by about ten years. Given the level of interest in "intergalactic patrol"-type stories (for example, Star Trek), why can't we read some of the influential works again? Sure, some of the science has dated, but accuracy isn't exactly a problem for some elements of the genre today.

Compare this to the state of the recording and film industries: in the past few years we have remakes of classics like Get Carter, Shaft, The Thomas Crown Affair, Sabrina and Psycho. Hollywood loves a remake: there's a built-in audience for these films. The music industry is the same: the popularity of the "boy band" in the last few years is a retread of the late-fifties and early sixties. Compilation packages from that era sell enough to warrant there being more of them inflicted upon us. Has publishing chosen not to take this path of slavish ancestor worship? The tie-in departments of big publishing houses produce lavish books to accompany these releases: so where is the equivalent in SF?

It's a fact—Oprah and Harry Potter not withstanding—that books don't sell as well as films and CDs. We have to face the fact that publishers are bringing forth less new books every year. Why can't they follow the lead of the music and film industries and wallow in the past?

The growing acceptance of SF in the mainstream has shown that the "old stuff" may be worth looking at again. There may also be a way around the problem of "too many books to choose from" that publishers frequently offer up as an excuse.

Widely derided as being the Walkman of the new millennium, e-books are significantly cheaper than bound books. The readers for them are still beyond the reach of most people—I can't afford one yet—but they are growing more practical and inexpensive with every passing model. I dislike reading off a computer screen but a reader that I can carry about and read like a book sounds good to me. Particularly if they get as cheap as the Walkman did after a few years. Some people say that it isn't the same as a "real" book, but I would purchase a reader if it meant cheaper books. And you could include all the features on an e-book that you find on a DVD: I would love an author's commentary for some of my favourite books or footnotes and annotations or maybe some original artwork from the first publication.

With some creative marketing we could potentially have a marketplace that satisfies the wants of all parties. Then we could leave the judging of what makes a classic to posterity, where it belongs.

Recommend Us
  • Send to a Friend
  • Digg This
  • Reddit It
  • Add to del.ic.ious
  • Share at Facebook
  • Discuss!
  • Send Feedback
  • AussieCon4 / 68th World Science Fiction Convention
  • ICFA-31
  • Solomon Kane
  • Book Forum
  • Related Pages
  • Print This Page
  • Blindfolds and Cigarettes : Confessions of a General Bookseller
  • Book Probe: Ecko Rising, Rock Band Fights Evil, Nancy Kress, Lovecraft Bio
  • RevolutionSF Watercooler : HP Lovecraft and Racism
  • Search RevSF
  • New on RevSF
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  • Book Probe: BattleMaster, Wade of Aquitaine, Kriendria of Amorium
  • RevSF Podcast: Drowning in Moonlight: Remembering Carrie Fisher
  • Logan
  • RevSF Home


    Things From Our Brains
    Get even more out of RevSF.

    James Bond:
    The History of the Illustrated 007
    RevolutionSF RSS Feed
    Search RevSF

    Random RevSF
    Ravenor Trilogy

    contact : advertising : submissions : legal : privacy
    RevolutionSF is ™ and © Revolution Web Development, Inc., except as noted.
    Intended for readers age 18 and above.