Gideon’s List: Recommendations of Vintage Science Fiction in Print

Written and Curated by Gideon Marcus

Introducing the new Journey Press Bookshop.org storefront!

Before I was big-time small press publisher, I was a book reviewer (in fact, I am still a book reviewer). Over at Galactic Journey, where I live 55 years time shifted from the modern day, I have been covering almost every science fiction and fantasy book release since 1959. According to staff mathematicians, that means I’ve got a body of reviews that covers a full six years.

As you can imagine, a lot of the stuff I’ve reviewed hasn’t been very good. After all, as Ted Sturgeon once put it: “Ninety percent of SF is crud, but then, ninety percent of everything is crud.”

But there is that spectacular 10% that makes it all worthwhile, some which we aim to curate at Bookshop.org. All these are amazing, hidden treasures that are very much worth your time. Of course, it’s not enough to find these books — they also have to be available.

That’s a real problem. When science fiction became a genre in the 1920s, copyright lasted 28 years with an option renew for another 28 years. Only 20% of these works were renewed, and thus went into the public domain between the 50s and the 80s. This has meant that, for a great many works of the Pulp, Golden, and Silver Ages of science fiction, they have been freely available. But because they are freely available, they aren’t often republished (since anyone can make money on them). On the other hand, they often end up in places like Project Gutenberg, so if you’re comfortable with e-books, there’s plenty to enjoy on there.

Starting in 1964, the copyright laws are different. For anything published that year or beyond, the copyright extends to 70 years after the death of the author. Virtually everything written from the New Wave era of science fiction and onward is still in copyright. Moreover, anything published before 1964 that had its copyright renewed is copyrighted for 95 years after first publication. Thus, only works published in 1925 or earlier are definitely in the public domain (as of 2021).

I’m not going to debate the merits of such a long period of copyright (for the record, I’m strongly against it). It is what it is. The problem that particularly affects you, the reader, is that publishing companies tend to only keep in print the very best of sellers. That means there are a lot of great books from the 1920s through the 2000s that are lying fallow, their copyrights protected, but that cannot be obtained legally anywhere. That’s one of the main reasons Journey Press exists: to rescue worthy works from copyright limbo and bring them back to the reading public.

Nevertheless, the intersection of the two sets “good vintage science fiction” and “vintage science fiction still in print” has still got quite a few titles in it. I’ve created a list of some of my favorites, all of which are conveniently linked at Journey Press’ bookshop.org storefront.

Brain Wave (1953)

By Poul Anderson

Every animal, every human — three times smarter!

Poul Anderson is a titan of science fiction, and this is one of his earliest classics. When every creature on Earth suddenly becomes three times smarter, the foundations of civilization are rocked. Follow the parallel stories of a scientist and a formerly mentally impaired farmer as they deal with a world gone mad.

A thoughtful book, which does a great job portraying super intelligence and conveying the dignity of all living things, it is one of my absolute favorites.

Starship Troopers (1959)

By Robert Heinlein

Citizen soldiers in powered suits fight an interstellar war to preserve humanity.

Robert Heinlein has had an indelible impact on the science fiction genre, and one of his most powerful and exciting books is this one. Bearing no resemblance to the 1997 movie, it is by turns a Boot Camp memoir, an interstellar adventure, and a paean to the linking of military service and the franchise.

Whether or not you agree with the politics, it is a riproarer of a story, and one of the first SF novels to feature a protagonist of color (Juan Rico is Filipino).

Deathworld (1960)

By Harry Harrison

On the hostile world of Pyrrus, is fighting the environment the only answer?

Jason DinAlt, interstellar raconteur and gambler, finds himself on Pyrrus, the most dangerous planet in the galaxy. Not only is the gravity twice that of Earth, the seasons more extreme, and volcanoes and earthquakes common, but the very ecology seems directed at destroying the lone human colony. Can DinAlt find the secret to its survival before its too late?

Harry Harrison was one of the first authors (and perhaps the first American author) of the New Wave. Deathworld is an interesting environmentalist tale as well as a great adventure. I also dig Meta, the space pilot and weapons expert who can take Jason apart seven ways to Sunday!

A Canticle for Leibowitz (1961)

By Walter M. Miller, Jr.

Is the post-apocalyptic Earth doomed to repeat its mistakes?

Told in three parts, this Hugo Award winner depicts the thousand years that ensue after the bombs fall, and how the Holy Order of Saint Leibowitz preserves the flicker of civilization through the ages.

Poignant, exciting, contemplative, and witty, Canticle is Miller’s magnum opus.

Dark Universe (1961)

By Daniel Galouye

In the dark, is blindness a handicap or an asset?

Another post-apocalyptic tale, Dark Universe is unique in that it takes place entirely underground in a world of complete lightnessness. A hundred years after the bombs fell, humanity has adapted to its new environs. The resulting tale is both exciting and an interesting commentary on disability.

Daniel Galouye is one of the genre’s lesser known lights. This is definitely a good introduction to his body of work!

Three Hearts and Three Lions (1961)

By Poul Anderson

Only a man from Earth can save the fantasy realm…

Of similar vintage to Brain Wave (though published in book form many years later) is this delightful fantasy adventure in which a Danish veteran ends up in a magical world.

Dungeons and Dragons fans will recognize the inspirations for the gnomes, swanmays, and trolls!

The Drowned World (1962)

By J. G. Ballard

The world and the consciousness of humanity are submerged.

The world is heating up, causing the oceans to flood the land, the continents to revert to primeval jungle, and to erase the accomplishments of humanity.

No action-adventure tale this, at least in the usual sense. Instead, we have one of the first blazing titles of the New Wave, examining the human condition and its fragility.

A Wrinkle in Time (1963)

By Madeleine L’Engle

Meg and little Charles Wallace brave the tesseract to fight Evil.

One of the most beloved books for children, L’Engle’s masterpiece features a brilliant cast of human and otherworldly characters who are catapulted into the cosmos to save a kidnapped scientist.

A story of love triumphing over all, there’s a reason this book has endured over the decades.

Rediscovery: Science Fiction by Women (1958 to 1963)

Edited by Gideon Marcus

Fourteen of the best science fiction stories of the Silver Age

The Silver Age of Science Fiction saw a wealth of compelling speculative tales — and women authors wrote some of the best of the best. Yet the stories of this era, especially those by women, have been largely unreprinted, unrepresented, and unremembered.

Until Now.

Journey Press’ flagship title is one we’re very proud of, and we’re certain you’ll love it as much as we do. Rediscover some of the best authors of the Silver Age!

Martian Time Slip (1964)

By Philip K. Dick

Intrigue and insanity on the Red Planet

Corporate maneuvers and time traveling aliens intersect in this almost soap opera-esque Martian tale.

Though The Man in the High Castle is perhaps Dick’s most famous book from this period, Martian Time Slip is my favorite. It is one of the first stories to discuss autism (though Dick’s conception of the condition was rather primitive; it was a fairly new discovery at the time) and it all has this great, murky New Wave vibe to it.

All the Colors of Darkness (1964)

By Lloyd Biggle, Jr.

Were the alien kidnappers amoral or just of incomprehensible morality?

Shortly after the inauguration of the first mass-transit teleportation booths, individuals start disappearing. A detective is dispatched…and soon becomes involved in a plot of interstellar proportions.

A tale of first contact, it’s one of the better portrayals of true aliens I’ve read. All the Colors of Darkness is another sleeper hit, one that really should be better known.

Sign of the Labrys (1964)

By Margaret St. Clair

With each descending level, the labyrinth becomes increasingly bizarre…

A global plague has decimated the world, and those who remain continue their lives in a dispirited haze (and isn’t that timely?) Lured into an underground shelter complex, our protagonist finds another world populated by the strangest people and creatures.

St. Clair’s creation definitely has roots in the New Wave of Ballard and Aldiss, but she adds an odd touch of mysticism to it all that makes for one of the strangest good books of the early 1960s. As with Three Hearts, it also inspired Dungeons and Dragons, in this case, the level structure of the maze.

I Want the Stars (1964)

By Tom Purdom

Was the aliens’ promise to bestow enlightenment sinister…or sincere?

Fleeing a utopian Earth, searching for meaning, Jenorden and his friends take to the stars to save a helpless race from merciless telepathic aliens. Salvation seems to arise when an extragalactic race of teachers is discovered, offering to end all conflicts.

Tom Purdom’s first novel is a stunning success, not only doing a great job of portraying interesting aliens, but also exploring the effects of a perfectly fulfilling society on the human spirit. I Want the Stars is also one of the most progressive stories of the age, featuring homosexuality, polyamory, and a person of color protagonist without especial comment. As fresh today as it was back then, Journey Press is happy to have brought this classic back to life!

American Science Fiction: Four Classic Novels 1960-1966: The High Crusade / Way Station / Flowers for Algernon / . . . and Call Me Conrad

By Poul Anderson, Clifford Simak, Daniel Keyes, Roger Zelazny

A cross-section of the better SF of the early 1960s.

If there’s a solid third place novel for Anderson, it’s the highly improbably but satisfying High Crusade pitting a 14th Century English barony against an interstellar empire. Simak’s Way Station, about a bucolic embassy hidden in the upper Midwest is not the author’s best work, but it’s pretty good. Flowers for Algernon is, of course, standard to the high school curriculum these days (though I prefer Keyes’ original short story). And Conrad is one of Zelazny’s first works and my favorite of his early stuff — Hemmingway meets the New Wave.

Worth picking up!

The Wind’s Twelve Quarters

By Ursula K. Le Guin

Seventeen stories from one of the genre’s greats.

Ursula K. Le Guin came onto the scene in 1962 and immediately made a splash with her excellent “April in Paris”. She continued to publish regularly and to deserved acclaim until she passed in 2018.

I am a big fan of her early work, which already possesses an engaging sense of wonder. The Wind’s Twelve Quarters republishes several of her first stories as well as great selections through the mid 1970s.

The Future is Female

Edited by Dr. Lisa Yaszek

A broad collection of women-penned science fiction treasures.

Dr. Yaszek’s weighty collection spans most of the 20th Century, offering a fine sampling of 25 of the best science fiction stories ever written. This work makes an excellent companion to Rediscovery (and indeed, sequels to both series will be coming out in March 2022!)

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