Wednesday, July 11, 2007


10 Overlooked Classics

I was poking around in an old archive folder this afternoon, looking for some old sources, when I stumbled upon the following. Six years ago this week (if the time stamp on the document can be trusted) I was asked to write a list of "10 overlooked classics" for some website or other. I came up with the following, and sent it off, but I don't remember if it ever appeared online. More than likely not, or if it did the website isn't there anymore.

In any case, here it is, six years later. The list, of course, begs the question, "overlooked by whom," since in retrospect a few of these were noticed by quite a few folks (but they're still classics, every one). And in the six years since, a few of these which had then been long out of print have since been reissued, in several editions in one or two instances. Be that as it may, here was the shape of my head, six years ago...

10 Overlooked Classics

The Quorum
Kim Newman
To say even a little about the plot of this passed-over gem would be to say too much, the magic hanging on the process of discovery. In short, though, it reminds us that when one makes a deal, with the Devil or otherwise, the bill eventually comes due. Newman will one day be recognized as one of the more talented writers of the age, and this will no doubt be listed at the top of his canon of works.

Michael Moorcock
Tragically out of print, this novel and its two sequels are the products of a master of the craft at the height of his powers. Shifting realities and loyalties, fantasy blending into autobiography and history and back into fantasy, Blood is in many ways the story of a world coming apart at the seams, and of the power of fiction to make it whole again.

Jack of Eagles
James Blish
Decades ahead of its time, this is the story of a man who discovers a) that psionic abilities are real, b) he possesses them, and c) that his world is much stranger than he ever imagined. Built on a solid basis of pseudo-science, Jack of Eagles was M. Night Shyamalan before M. Night Shyamalan was cool.

Philip Wylie
Before Clark Kent, before Clark Savage, Jr. even, there was Hugo Danner. An early look at what kind of life would be in store for a superhuman man in a strictly human world, Gladiator planted the seed that grew into the “superhero” genre.

A Feast Unknown
Philip Jose Farmer
Thinly veiled Tarzan and Doc Savage fighting, biting, and cavorting in Africa, exploring the text and subtext of pulp fiction, A Feast Unknown peers light into the dark corners of adventure fiction, exposing the sexual meat beneath the sexless skin of macho heroics. It opens closet doors that can never be closed again.

Tales of Neveryon
Samuel R. Delany
Swords, semiotics, and sexual confusion. What else do you need? Delany deconstructs the heroic fantasy genre in his Neveryon stories, and then puts it back together again inside out. Part adventure story and part literary criticism, Tales of Neveryon is a high-water mark in intelligent fantasy that has seldom been approached in the decades since.

Fritz Leiber
Along with the better-known related novel The Big Time, the Changewar sequence of stories show Leiber at his best. Clever, touching, brilliant structured, in a couple of hundred pages Leiber builds a better machine for telling stories than most authors manage in a lifetime. That this is only one minor star in his brilliant constellation of works makes it shine no dimmer.

Jorge Luis Borges
Borges should be required reading for anyone claiming to be a writer, and should be at the top of the list for readers as well. In a scant few lines, Borges was able to tell a better story than most can do in a few hundred thousand words. This collection of stories, none more than a few pages in length, displays Borges’ knack for invention and innovation, and is best sipped like a fine wine, a story at a time.

Voice of the Fire
Alan Moore
Best known for his work in comics, with his first (and to date, only) novel Alan Moore proved beyond any doubt that his talents were not bound by the panels of a comics page. The biography of a place as a character in and of itself, ranging over the course of thousands of years but never moving more than a few miles in any direction, Voice of the Fire is a sadly under appreciated work by one of the most talented writers working in the English language today. Magic, myth, and Alan Moore. How can you go wrong?

Robert Mayer
Anticipating by years the revisionist superhero craze that swept the comics industry in the 80s and 90s, Superfolks is a look at a world with the superheroes of childhood have all grown up. Struggling with midlife crises, family squabbles, and a loss of innocence, the character in Mayer’s novel in many ways present the end of the story begun by Wylie’s Gladiator decades before.

Moore wrote a novel? That I didn't know.

I thikn The Quorum is pretty ordinary, and I do like Newman. Not read Borges, but won't argue with the rest. :)

Calling A Feast Unknown a classic may be stretching it a tad. ;-)
Moore's novel is more at the From Hell end of his spectrum than something like Miracleman or Tom Strong, quite similar in a lot of respects to the work of Iain Sinclair (who was also an influence on From Hell). If you try it, I recommend not forming an opinion until you get to the second chapter, as the first can be somewhat hard going (but well worth the effort). In fact, I always recommend reading the first chapter aloud, which helped me get the voice established in my head. (The first chapter is narrated by a mentally challenged caveman, essentially, with a very limited vocabulary.)

If you've not tried Borges, I can't recommend him highly enough, though! Start with Labyrinths and, once you've put the pieces of your head back together again afterwords, move on from there.
What a great list. I'm surprised that I've never read The Quorum by
Kim Newman or Blood by Michael Moorcock since I've otherwise enjoyed their works. Jack of Eagles by James Blish is great and I've always enjoyed it. In some ways, Randall Garrett & Larry Janifer, when they did their "Queen's Own FBI" series (as by "Mark Phillips": originally appearing in John W. Campbell's Astounding, the three books appeared in paperback as "The Impossibles", "Brain Twister", and
"Supermind")used Jack of Eagles and Gulf by Heinlein as their touchstone. Plenty of psionic powers like ESP and teleportation.

I've also never read the Alan Moore novel... might be worth tracking down.
Sounds like I may have to hunt down those "Mark Phillips" books, Stu. From your description I think they might just be up my alley!
Yeah, I haven't heard of those Phillips ones either. Maybe more for the list.
Certainly sounds like they'd fit, that's for sure.
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