I see that in 2007 the famous British science-fiction author Brian Aldiss has updated his famous Penguin Science Fiction Omnibus (1973). The original book was one of the strongest surveys of what was then the best short science fiction published during the 1940s-1960s. Doubtless I read that book in the 1980s, when I read everything worth reading in science-fiction except for the novels of Heinlein and Rand. Regrettably I was gullible and thus easily put off those two great writers by socialist critics and commentators, who sought to dissuade the young from reading anything that might be ‘libertarian’.
Aldiss’s new 560-page edition of the book has added his choice of the very best science-fiction short works from the intervening 30 years, bringing the book to 31 stories. Newly added are works such as the novella “Great Work of Time” by John Crowley (whose Nabokovian Little, Big I still have on my shelves) which concludes the volume. Sadly I see that there’s no audiobook version, which I thought there might have been for such a major book from Penguin.
I occasionally nibbled at bits of literary science fiction after leaving it in the late 1980s, but only really returned to print science-fiction in 2008 with Stephenson’s superb door-stopper novel Anathem. As such I’m still winkling out the various nuggets I missed in the 20 year gap. It’s proven to be rather a useful time-saving strategy actually, as I can now bypass all the mediocre, leftist and politically-correct, ‘middle-age angst’ and ‘young adult’ books and can just go straight to the very best. Ideally in audiobook format, too.
I discovered Aldiss’s new expanded Penguin Science Fiction Omnibus via a roundabout route. I was reading a short interview with the curator of the London Barbican’s excellent new major exhibition on the history of science fiction (on until September 2017), and read that…
Gyger said his favourite science fiction book was John Crowley’s novella “Great Work of Time”, explaining: “Crowley did a lot of Science Fiction, and still does, and his Great Work of Time is a very small novel about time-travel, and is very nostalgic and very powerful about people trying to kind of perpetuate the British Empire forever.”
‘That sounds fun’, I thought, for a moment confusing Crowley with Cowper. ‘Where is it?’ I found that the late-1980s steampunk-ish novella is included in Aldiss’s 2007 edition of Science Fiction Omnibus, and I’m looking forward to dipping into it on the Kindle ereader. Apparently Crowley’s “Great Work of Time” is a little more than just ‘fun’, though, as you might expect on such a topic. It’s said to be a lyrical work on time-travel, about the dangers of civilisational stagnation and the ways in which one has to make harsh choices for the wider good.