Thursday, August 14, 2014

Big Sky Publishes In-Depth Compilation of SF Masterworks Reviews

If there is anything that binds the science fiction community together (in love and hate, and in sickness and in health), it is discussion of what is the best of the genre.  There are numerous 'Top 100' or 'Best SF of All Time' lists populating the web, Locus surveys the community every decade or so, various websites feature ongoing polls, NPR had a vote a few years ago, there is an online list quantifying assigned texts, etc.. But there is no master list the community can agree on in majority.  What we do have, however, is Gollancz's ongoing SF Masterworks series. The closest thing sf fandom has to a genre canon, what started as a few dozen titles in 1999 has expanded into more than a hundred as of 2014.  Individuals may whinge about certain titles being described as ‘masterwork’, but the fact remains the selections at least meet the definition of ‘classic’, and do in some form or other represent the evolution of the field, for better and worse.

As many of the titles were out of print, the main service of the SF Masterwork Collection is to put back on shelves books on the edge of extinction.  Philip K. Dick, Ursula Le Guin, Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke H.G. Wells, J.G. Ballard, and others are well known in (and often outside) the genre, and are in little danger of going out of print.  But writers like Joanna Russ, John Crowley, Cordwainer Smith, Michael Bishop, and many others have written books that may have received some recognition when they initially appeared, but have faded over time—and undeservingly so.  SF Masterworks is doing the community a service by keeping their visions alive in print.

Enter Pete Young’s Big Sky fanzine.  Devoting its third and fourth issues to the SF Masterworks series, together they are a carefully crafted compilation of reviews taken from some of the more considered blogs, websites, and columns featuring science fiction online.  Beyond the gush of Amazon five-star reviews, Young scoured the web looking for material which better balanced opinion with commentary and light analysis.  The result is more than 430 pages of informed perspectives on many of the genre’s greatest works—a real treasure for the science fiction reader who seeks to engage a text.  The two fanzines are available for free at Big Sky, here.

Lastly, I should be open that reviews I have written for SF Masterworks are included in issues #3 and #4 of Big Sky.  But this post, I hope, is not to recognize that.  What I hope to accomplish is twofold: to acknowledge and make people of the wonderful compilation Young has put so much of his personal time and effort into creating (Young reviewed more than 1,000 reviews in making his selections), and also to promote the more considered side of the genre.  Dozens and dozens and dozens of reviewers from around the community are included in the compilation, most from obscure niches not viewed often enough by the mainstream side of the community, and as a result possesses the potential to make readers aware of a wider variety of perspectives on science fiction.  I will slowly but surely be going through the reviews, finding interesting voices, and becoming aware of books and places online I never knew existed.  Along with creating another layer, a layer that cements the SF Masterworks in place as science fiction’s canon, I believe that is the true value of Young’s Big Sky SF Masterworks project.


  1. I thoroughly enjoyed your reviews in the fanzine :)

    1. Thank you. I would say the same about your review of Transfigurations, but I already enjoyed it when it appeared just a few weeks ago! :)