Relaunching remastered masterworks. A ramble.

You’d think that companies would work hard to make information available. That a great big publishing house like Orion, home of the SF imprint Gollancz, would be the obvious place to go to find a decent page promoting their relaunch of the classic SF Masterworks series… but no. Apparently not.

There’s a few amazon lists someone’s made of the original series here.

EDIT: There’s a really good list (with the original covers) on Worlds Without End.

And here’s a simple search on Waterstones.com, too. The book at the top is actually not part of the original series, but when it comes out in June it’s actually a good excuse for me to read an Arthur C. Clarke that I haven’t read before (Childhood’s End). But just scan down the page and you’ll see titles truly deserving of the term ‘masterworks’. I think the series got a little tired as it went on, but the early selections were real gems. Often markedly of their era, but still outstanding reads.

I discovered one of my all time favorite books by reading through this list – Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny. A book I often describe as “too good not to lend, but too good to not buy again when it inevitably doesn’t come back”. It’s one of the few books I’ve read more than once as an adult, and one of the few I’ve bought again and again because I have to have a copy. I was planning on using this blog as an excuse to read it again for review… From memory, it is pretty pulpy, but it was one of my first encounters with re-purposing old stories and it does it well.

I was going to blather on about a few of the other titles – pointing out the obvious like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (very different from Bladerunner, both are brilliant in their own ways though) and I am Legend (don’t be put off by the movie), and passing comment on a few of the less obvious too – but it got late here quicker than I expected and, well, I need the sleep.

I wanted to talk about the covers too. The relaunched covers are basically just spectrum-shifted re-colours of the old covers. And some of the old covers weren’t all that great. Done in what I presume was meant to be a retro style fitting of the elder books beneath them. But the problem there is that retro is often a niche market, different people like different aspects of the past, so trying to just do a cover in an old style is tantamount to shooting yourself in the foot. Covers have changed to appeal to a more modern market (in theory), so using an old style cover is taking a step backwards. What you need is a retro style with modern sensibilities, far easier said than done in a market where sometimes modern covers, trying to do nothing but appeal to a modern market, seem to fall far short of the mark.

What I do like are the additions to the series that Gollancz are producing in these sweet little hardbacks. There are some really good covers there. Take a look at Childhood’s End, the cover alone makes me want this book, I saw it months ago and it made me check out the blurb, and every time I see it it keeps reminding me I want to read the book. That’s how hard a cover should be working. The hardback Masterworks are no more expensive than a paperback too. Hunt them down, check them out.

I was just going to briefly mention the Masterworks as a preamble to a couple of reviews, but I guess the reviews will have to wait for another night. The SF Masterworks series is a good one, it’s as good a list as any if you want to check out some early SF (although I don’t think there’s any Asimov in there, I presume due to licensing, and in which case you can be sure there are others missing too). Start at the beginning and work through a few, or just grab one or two which appeal to you, but I really urge you to check the list out in some fashion.

2 Responses to “Relaunching remastered masterworks. A ramble.”

  1. I totally agree with you on Orion’s lack of support for the Masterworks lines. I recently added all the books to my website and they were no help at all. Their listing was incomplete, inaccurate and they didn’t even have good images of the covers. Had to rely on Wikipedia and some other fan sites to get all the books sorted out.

    Can’t understand why they don’t push that series more. SF/F fans are suckers for series and the Masterworks are hugely collectible. They should have a whole page devoted to them at least with tons of high quality cover pics. The books look really great on the shelf with the numbered spines all lined up. Show us that for crying out loud. It’s like they don’t want to sell them at all. My display looks way better than what they have or should I say had. Their new site design left them out completely it seems. Hope that’s a transition thing.

    I haven’t seen many of the new covers but re-colored old covers does not sound very encouraging. The Childhood’s End cover is fantastic though so there is still hope. I wish they’d be more forthcoming with the details.

  2. Hi John, Dave

    Completely in accord with both of you. I blogged (and tweeted) that I considered this to be a further ‘two-fingered salute’ from Orion to their readers. Their marketing department clearly has fundament-joint discrimination issues ;)

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