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Great Science-Fiction & Fantasy Works

  Science-fiction & fantasy literature: a critical list with discussions.

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Overlooked Gems

Quick page jumps:

“He went to a high glazed bookcase full of vellum-backed volumes; from where he stood Prospero could read titles like Aristotelis Opera and Mysterium Cosmographicum. Standing on a cane-bottomed chair, the man lifted down from the top of the case a huge untitled volume with the Seal of Solomon stamped on the side.”

– The Face in the Frost,
John Bellairs

What Is “Overlooked”?

This page gives me more conceptual trouble than most of the rest of this site put together. I have changed its content, and—more important—its guiding principles more than once or twice, and I am still unsatisfied. The problem, when compared to that of selecting for the other specialty-list pages here, is obvious: to decide if a book is light-hearted, or concerned with religion, or suited for young readers, all one needs to hand is the book itself; but to decide if a book is “overlooked” requires outside information of a sort not readily available.

(I went so far, at one point, as to gather and cross-survey various lists, from lengths of a hundred up to several thousand, of “greatest hits” of science fiction and fantasy, trying to determine what might be considered “known” titles, but was generally dissatisfied with the results, in part because the process, in the end, was only pushing the question of “what is known” back a stage—does appearance on a list make a book “known”?)

Another issue is the sad fact that of the books, and even just the authors, listed on this site, but a few are likely to be known to the general public—even the literate, book-reading public; and not so many more will be known even to those who regularly ingest science fiction and fantasy books. So, in a sense, almost all of this site is a list of “overlooked gems”; and it is hard in many ways to rationally select a subset of the master list as “overlooked”. But I have here tried to limit myself to books likely to be “overlooked” by those who most often move within these fields, so that some authors who may be reasonably well known to the general literate public can appear here as possibly unknown to those who focus tightly on speculative fiction (Paul Auster comes at once to mind as an example.)

How and why does a book of merit come to be overlooked? As I said in the introduction to my contribution to the SF Site’s laudable collection of lists of Ten Overlooked Odd Speculative Fiction Classics, Sometimes it’s because its author has produced some other work or works whose fame shadows it…. Sometimes it’s because the author is not commonly thought of as a “speculative-fiction” writer…. And sometimes it’s just a matter of the book or the author never having been noticed as it or he or she ought to be….

So here is my latest attempt at this list. In it, I have abandoned any attempt to be objective: this is a purely subjective list, both as to “overlooked” and as to “gem”. That last deserves comment: I have tried here to stick to books not simply of enough merit to make this site’s lists at all, but of merit above even that level. While my “stars” system I normally apply only at the author level, as a rough sort of overall-average measure of that author’s work, I often mentally apply it to individual books as well, in the sense that a “three-star book” is one such that if all that author’s work were about equally meritorious, I’d class him or her as a “three-star author”. Not every book on this particular page is a three-star or better book; there are some others whose quirkiness or some like characteristic said to me “I belong here”; and when one is making a subjective list, that suffices.

We are fortunate today that the advent of “print on demand” publishing is starting to make some of these wonderful books again available in forms other than tattered and often rare (and correspondingly expensive) old out-of-print editions. (John Betancourt at Wildside Press was one of the early movers in that process, and deserves plaudits.) But, sad to say, many of these delights remain, for now at least, hard to come by, though a pleasant number are findable through used-book searches.

Anyway, so long as you do not take this to be some definitive selection of “overlooked gems”—even just relative to this site’s overall lists—I think you will find it interesting and possibly illuminating.

(Inasmuch as this is a list of particular works, I have omitted collections of stories, unless the collected tales share a focus.)

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