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Sunday, March 21, 2021

British Library SF Classics


The British Library's Classic SF series is a companion to their Classic Crime collection, curated for the most part by Mike Ashley.

Lost Mars. The Golden Age of the Red Planet, ed. Mike Ashley
British Library 978-0712-35240-6, 5 April 2018, 224pp, £8.99. Cover by Chesley Bonestell
These ten short stories from the golden age of science fiction feature classic SF writers including H.G. Wells, Ray Bradbury and J.G. Ballard, as well as lesser-known writers from the genre. An antique shop owner gets a glimpse of the red planet through an intriguing artefact. A Martian's wife contemplates the possibility of life on Earth. A resident of Venus describes his travels across the two alien planets. From an arid desert to an advanced society far superior to that of Earth, portrayals of Mars have differed radically in their attempt to uncover the truth about our neighbouring planet. Since the 1880s, writers of science fiction have delighted in speculating on what life on Mars might look like and what might happen should we make contact with the planet's inhabitants. In these stories, they reveal much about how we understand our place in the universe. Lost Mars: The Golden Age of the Red Planet is the first volume in the British Library Science Fiction Classics series.

Moonrise. The Golden age of Lunar Adventures, ed. Mike Ashley
British Library 978-0712-35275-8, 5 April 2018, 224pp, £8.99. Cover by Chesley Bonestell
Featuring twelve stories by a roster of classic SF authors including Arthur C. Clarke, H.G. Wells and John Wyndham. Before the Apollo 11 mission succeeded in landing on the Moon in 1969, writers and visionaries were fascinated by how we might get there and what we might find. The Greeks and Romans speculated about the Moon almost two thousand years before H.G. Wells or Jules Verne wrote about it, but interest peaked from the late 1800s when the prospect of lunar travel became more viable. This anthology presents twelve short stories from the most popular magazines of the golden age of SF including The Strand Magazine, Astounding Science Fiction and Amazing Stories and features classic SF writers as well as lesser-known writers for dedicated fans of the genre to discover. Moonrise: The Golden Age of Lunar Exploration is the second volume in the British Library Science Fiction Classics series.

Four-Sided Triangle by William F. Temple
British Library 978-0712-35231-4, 12 July 2018, 256pp, £8.99. Cover by Chesley Bonestell
''The idea was too big for the mind to grasp in all its implications at the first attempt. But when you did get a grip on it, just to let the imagination rove with the possibilities!'' Science is on the verge of a revolution. A cutting-edge new replication process is invented, and any matter can be reproduced-Shakespeare's signature, works of art, even . . . a human being? When a brilliant scientist believes that this perfect replication process offers the solution to an excruciating love triangle, the limits of the new technology are tested and impossible questions of identity and originality threaten to tear apart the best-laid plans of paradise.

Shoot at the Moon by William F. Temple
British Library 978-0712-35256-7, 6 September 2018, 240pp, £8.99. Cover by Chesley Bonestell
The Endeavour has made rocket ship history. With its automatic pilot and artificial gravity, anyone is qualified to fly to the moon. But the scientists who designed it did not envision the hidden dangers of lunar exploration. Nor did they foresee the kind of violence that could erupt among the five mismatched crew members in a lonely space capsule. The Endeavours captain, Franz Brunel of the British Space Service, has to contend with the many perils that await him on the surface of the moon. Soon a murderer is among them. This unjustly neglected novel from 1966 has not been reprinted in over fifty years. With its appearance as a British Library Science Fiction Classic, contemporary readers have the chance to enjoy Temples unusual blend of traditional SF with a darkly ironic tone. Featuring cover art by the legendary Science Fiction artist Chesley Bonestell.

The Tide Went Out by Charles Eric Maine
British Library 978-0712-35237-6, 26 January 2019, 256pp, £8.99.
When London journalist Philip Wade learns that his article on nuclear weapons testing has been censored by the British government, he is prompted to investigate the truth that lies behind it.
    Philip's search leads to a mysterious job offer in a newly-formed government department, and he soon realises the lasting damage that the nuclear tests have caused. The country is rife with uncertainty and distrust - then the water levels start to drop.
    This gripping apocalyptic novel, originally published in 1958, asks pertinent questions about censorship and the potential for violence in the face of disappearing resources. The Tide Went Out outlines the horrors that arise when we are forced to ask the question: `what happens when the water runs out?'

The Darkest of Nights by Charles Eric Maine
British Library 978-0712-35218-5, 14 February 2019, 256pp, £8.99.
A vicious plague has broken out in China and spread to Japan. The world governments look on callously, until the shadow of the Hueste virus begins to sweep across the rest of the globe. The pandemic draws nearer to Britain; shelters are hastily constructed across the country, but for whom? As the death toll booms and the populace finds themselves sacrificed for the sake of the elite, the cry for revolution rings out amidst the sirens.
    Maine's savage portrayal of society on the brink of ruin is a cruel forerunner of a more pessimistic science fiction of the 1960s.
    This subversive novel shows that even the heroes may succumb to brutality as the world descends into a desperate scramble for the last shred of what it means to be human: survival.

Menace of the Machine, ed. Mike Ashley
British Library ISBN 978-0712-35242-0, 11 April 2019, 312pp, £8.99.
Technological advance is never straightforward. A man is murdered by an automaton built for chess. A computer system designed to arbitrate justice develops a taste for iron-fisted, fatal rulings. An AI governing what we now know as an internet wreaks havoc on society after removing all forms of censorship.
    Assembled with parts from the late 19th century to the 1960s, this new collection of classic stories warns of the possible threats, both comic and severe, of a world in which human and machine live side by side.
    A delightfully, and worryingly, prescient selection for today's world in which robotic coexistence is passing with each day from speculation to reality.

The End of the World and Other Catastrophes, ed/ Mike Ashley
British Library ISBN 978-0712-35273-4, 16 May 2019, 256pp, £8.99.
Sound the sirens! The end is here, and it comes in many forms in this new collection of apocalyptic short stories from the classic age of science fiction. Join humanity on the brink of destruction in 13 doom-laden visions from the 1890s to the 1960s, featuring rare tales from the Library's vaults.
    Tales of plague seizing an over-polluted capital, a world engulfed in absolute darkness by some cosmic disaster, and of poignant dreams of a silent planet after the last echoes of humanity have died away.
    Extreme climate change, nuclear annihilation, comet strike; calamities self-inflicted and from beyond the steer of humankind vie to deal the last blow in this countdown from the first whisper of possible extinction to the Earth's final sunrise.

The Question Mark by Muriel Jaeger
British Library 978-0712-35298-7, 18 July 2019, 288pp, £8.99
In 1926 Muriel Jaeger, dissatisfied with the Utopian visions of H G Wells and Edward Bellamy, set out to explore 'The Question Mark' of what a future society might look like if human nature were properly represented.
    So, disgruntled London office worker Guy Martin is pitched 200 years into the future, where he encounters a seemingly ideal society in which each citizen has the luxury of every kind of freedom. But as Guy adjusts to the new world, the fractures of this supposed Utopia begin to show through, and it seems as if the inhabitants of this society might be just as susceptible to the promises of false messiahs as those of the twentieth century.
    Preceding the publication of Huxley's Brave New World by 5 years, The Question Mark is a significant cornerstone in the foundation of the Dystopia genre, and an impressive and unjustly neglected work of literary science fiction. This edition brings the novel back into print for the first time since its first publication.

Wild Harbour by Ian Macpherson
British Library 978-0712-35224-6, 15 August 2019, 256pp, £8.99
15 May 1944 - This morning I said to Terry, 'I thought I heard the guns through the night.'
'Were you awake too?' she asked.

    Something has happened in Europe. Fearing the approach of war to Britain, Terry and Hugh retreat from their home to the remote highlands of Scotland, prepared to live a simple existence together whilst the fighting resolves itself far away.
    Encouraged by Terry, Hugh begins a journal to note down the highs and lows of this return to nature, and to process their concerns of the oncoming danger. But as the sounds of guns by night grow louder, the grim prospect of encroaching war threatens to invade their cherish isolation and demolish any hope of future peace.
    Macpherson's only science fiction novel is a bleak and truly prescient novel of future war first published in 1936, just 3 years before the outbreak of conflict in Europe. A carefully drawn tale of survival in the wilderness and the value of our connection with others, Wild Harbour is both beautiful and heart-rending.

Menace of the Monster, ed. Mike Ashley
British Library 978-0712-35269-7, 12 September 2019, 304pp, £8.99.
The fact that humanity is not alone in the universe has long preoccupied our thoughts.
    In this compelling new collection of short stories from SF's classic age our visions of 'other' are shown in a myriad of forms - beings from other worlds, corrupted lifeforms from our own planet and entities from unimaginable dimensions.
    Amongst these tales, the humble ant becomes humanity's greatest foe, a sailor awakes in a hellish landscape terrified by a monstrous creature from the deep, an extra-terrestrial apocalypse devastates our world but also brings us together, and our race becomes the unwitting agent of another species' survival. Be prepared to face your greatest fears and relinquish your hold on reality as you confront the menace of the monster.

Beyond Time, ed. Mike Ashley
British Library 978-0712-35320-5, 17 October 2019, 272pp, £8.99.
Time travel has long been a staple of science fiction. Removing the bonds of time on a story allows for many interesting possibilities, but it also presents complicated problems and paradoxes.
    In this collection, featuring stories from the 1880s to the 1960s, we are taken to the remote future and back to the distant past. We are trapped in an eternal loop and met with visitors and objects from the future. We come face to face with our past selves, and experience the chaos of living out of sync with everyone else in the universe.
    These are just some of the thrilling narratives to discover as we unwind the constraints of time.

The Man With Six Senses by Muriel Jaeger
British Library 978-0712-35366-3, 21 February 2020, 240pp, £8.99.
Hilda is besotted with Michael, because Michael has a gift. Through some mutation, his mind is able to perceive 'lines of energy' and 'the vast ocean of movement' - things beyond the limits of the five senses and perhaps even common understanding. But the gift, as so often in life, comes with a price. There are those who, in their resentment, come to covet the gift, threatening the blissful period of learning and freedom of thought that seemed so possible a future for Hilda and Michael. And then there are the expectations of society, whose demands for the idealised normal spell danger and disarray for the pair.
    Muriel Jaegers second foray into science fiction sees her experimenting again with an impressive talent for blending genres. The Man with Six Senses is a sensitive depiction of how the different, or supernaturally able, could be treated in 1920s Britain, but also a sharp skewering of societal norms and the expectations of how women should behave - and how they should think. Thought-provoking and challenging, The Man with Six Senses still resonates today in a society whose expectations and structures still continue to trap those who fall outside the limits of acceptance.

Born of the Sun: Adventures in Our Solar System, ed. Mike Ashley
British Library 978-0712-35356-4, 6 August 2020, 320pp, £8.99.
Terror in the steamy jungles of Venus, encounters on the arid expanse of Jupiter; asteroids mysteriously bursting with vegetation whizz past and reveal worlds beyond imagination orbiting the giver of all known life - the Sun. Mike Ashley curates this literary tour through the space around this heavenly body, taking in the sights of Mercury, Venus, Mars, an alternate Earth, strange goings on on Saturn and tales from a bizarre civilization on Neptune. Pluto (still a planet in the Classic period of SF) becomes the site for a desperate tale of isolation, and a nameless point at the limits of the Suns orbital space gives rise to a final poetic vision of this spot in the universe we call home...
    Born of the Sun collects one story for each of the planets thought to be in our solar system during the Golden Age of SF, from some of the greatest, and from some of the most obscure, authors of the genre. Featuring the genius works of Larry Niven, Poul Andersen, Clifford D Simak, Clare Winger Harris and many more.


Nature's Warnings: Classic Stories of Eco-Science Fiction, ed. Mike Ashley
British Library 978-0712-35357-1, 27 August 2020, 352pp, £9.99
Stories of ecological disaster have been a long-term science fiction trend, but are finding new relevance in the current climate. The growing interest in ecological fiction connects to a readership increasingly interested in nature and the preservation of it, as its fragility becomes more obvious outside of the fictional world. Nature's Warning features stories from big names in science fiction such as Aldiss and Simak as well as newly rediscovered gems from writers such as Margaret St Clair and Elizabeth Sanxay Holding.
    “I don’t understand,” Mason muttered. “How could they wreck a whole planet?”
    “We wrecked Earth in thirty years.”
    Science fiction has always confronted the concerns of society, and its greatest writers have long been inspired by the weighty issue of humanity’s ecological impact on the planet. This volume explores a range of prescient and thoughtful stories from SF’s classic period, from accounts of exhausted resources and ecocatastrophe to pertinent warnings of ecosystems thrown off balance and puzzles of adaptation and responsibility as humanity ventures into the new environments of the future.
    Featuring stories crucial to the evolution of eco-science fiction from Philip K. Dick, Margaret St Clair, J. D. Beresford and more, this timely collection is a trove of essential reading.


Yesterday's Tomorrows: The Story of Classic Science Fiction in 100 Books by Mike Ashley
British Library 978-0712-35371-7, 22 October 2020, 336pp, £20.00.
A companion piece to the British Library’s Science Fiction Classics series, put together by expert and regular contributor, Mike Ashley, this title is an accessible exploration into new or unknown science fiction authors, as well as offering new perspectives on famous names in Science Fiction and classic space tales. It features plate sections showcasing some of the beautiful and wild cover design in the evolution of science fiction.
    From the enrapturing tales of H G Wells to the punishing dystopian visions of 1984 and beyond, the evolution of science fiction from the 1890s to the 1960s is a fascinating journey to undertake. Setting out this span of years as what we can now recognise as the ‘classic’ period of the genre, Mike Ashley takes us on a tour of the stars, utopian and post-apocalyptic futures, worlds of AI run amok and techno-thriller masterpieces asking piercing questions of the present.
    This book does not claim to be definitive; what it does offer is an accessible view of the impressive spectrum of imaginative writing which the genre’s classic period has to offer. Towering science fiction greats such as Asimov and Aldiss run alongside the, perhaps unexpected, likes of C S Lewis and J B Priestley and celebrate a side of science fiction beyond the stereotypes of space opera and bug-eyed monsters; the side of science fiction which proves why it must continue to be written and read, so long as any of us remain in uncertain times.


The Society of Time, the original trilogy, and Other Stories by John Brunner, ed. Mike Ashley
British Library 978-0712-35382-3, 12 November 2020, 288pp, £8.99.
A collection of classic novellas from 1960s-70s Science Fiction writer John Brunner, which have previously only been collected in abridged versions. Brunner's novellas focus on stories of alternate dimensions and different realities, an increasingly popular topic of television and film.
    A handful of John Brunner’s novels are still in print and remain popular, but these novellas – some of his finest work – have been confined to the pages of rare literary magazines: until now.
    ‘A picture was coming to him now. He could visualise the path of history in each of those innumerable potential worlds where man had gained the power of time-travel as a series of loops. Every loop was like a knife; it severed the chain of causation and created a new reality.’
    Drifting through a party celebrating 400 years since the Spanish Armada’s successful invasion of Britain, Don Miguel Navarro – Licentiate of the Society of Time – is shaken by the host’s possession of a flawless mask from an ancient Aztec festival. ‘Imported’ from the past, the discovery signals a breach in the Society’s policing of time-travel, and imminent danger to reality itself. Today, a relic out of time; tomorrow, the rewriting of the course of history? In three ground-breaking novellas, John Brunner weaves an ingenious tale of diverging timelines and a battle for dominance over the fourth dimension.
    The Society of Time stories were abridged when first collected. Here, the trilogy is reprinted in full with two mesmerising standalone novellas: ‘The Analysts’ and ‘Father of Lies’.


Spaceworlds: Stories of Life in the Void, ed. Mike Ashley
British Library 978-071235309-0, 25 March 2021, 336pp, £9.99.
Astronauts constructing a new space station must avert destruction from a missile sent by an unknown enemy; a generation starship is rocked by revelations of who their secret passengers in the hold truly are; a life or death struggle tests an operating surgeon - in orbit, with an alien patient never seen before.
    Since space flight was achieved, and long before, science fiction writers have been imagining a myriad of stories set in the depths of the great darkness beyond our atmosphere. From generation ships - which are in space so long that there will be generations aboard who know no planetary life - to orbiting satellites in the unforgiving reaches of the vacuum, there is a great range of these insular environments in which thrilling, innovative and deeply emotional stories may unfold. With the British Library's matchless collection of periodicals and magazines at his fingertips, Mike Ashley presents a stellar selection of tales from the infinite void above us.


Future Crimes: Mysteries and Detection Through Time and Space, ed. Mike Ashley
British Library 978-07123533422-0, May 2021, 320pp, £9.99.
Assignment 1: Find party responsible for murders by space virus.
Assignment 2: Investigate 'accidental' deaths on orbital solar shield.
Assignment 3: Apprehend criminal possessing short term time machine.

    Science fiction meets crime in this new anthology exploring one of the genre's most popular themes: mystery and detection. Pitching detectives against time paradoxes, alien intruders, AI gone bad and psychic mutation are ten stories embodying the exciting range of the sub-genre, rarely given the recognition it deserves in the literary sphere.
    With fascinating settings such as robot societies, asteroid belt space stations and worlds similar to our own but uncannily altered, these stories are masterpieces of satisfying setups, memorable mysteries and timeless twists.

(* Originally published 21 May 2018; updated 19 April 2019; updated 19 December 2019; updated 25 February 2021; updated 21 March 2021.)

1 comment:

  1. I think they missed one. "Optimism for the future: welcome to the world of tomorrow".

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