Does it seem like every few weeks there’s an announcement of a newly-recovered “lost” work by a famous author? This year alone, we’ve seen new books by Harper Lee and a new story from F. Scott Fitzgerald, and we recently learned that next year, we’ll be getting another heretofore unpublished book by J.R.R. Tolkien: The Story of Kullervo. The book pre-dates The Lord of the Rings, but does share Tolkien’s lyrical writing style and deep knowledge of myth; he described it as an early effort to write his own myths, the same urge that eventually led him to create to his classic work of epic fantasy. This discovery got us thinking: if a team of literary time travelers was formed, what other lost works of science fiction and fantasy might they recover for us?
Star Ways, by Poul Anderson
A legend of the Golden Age of science fiction, Anderson was incredibly prolific, but is probably best known for his novel Tau Zero, a book that still gets name-checked today. His third novel, Star Ways, appeared in 1956, but as the publisher had a predetermined page-count, it was savaged in editing, trimmed by more than 50,000 words—50,000 words now lost forever, as Anderson lamented in a later edition of the novel. Even the mangled version is hard to find these days, and doesn’t represent the caliber of book that Anderson came to produce later in his career—but we’d love to be able to judge it on the merits of what was originally intended, instead of the compromised work his publisher created.
You, Me, and the Continuum, by J.G. Ballard
There is a story in Ballard’s tough-to-find collection The Atrocity Exhibition titled You, Me, and the Continuum, but it’s almost certainly not the same-titled book Ballard described in 1956 as a book he hoped to publish later that year. In a 1981 interview, Ballard recalled working on an experimental novel with that title in his younger days, and confirmed it had nothing to do with the eventual story—he just always liked the title. The book it was originally attached to never appeared. Ballard is one of the most fascinating figures in literary history, dancing between genres and often seeming determined to shock his readers, and we would love for an intrepid time-traveler to recover the manuscript he was working on as a young, green writer just beginning to make his mark.
After the Play, by Stephen King
King wrote both a prologue and epilogue to his classic novel The Shining; both were cut from the book. The prologue, Before the Play, has appeared here and there over the years, but the epilogue, After the Play, is lost, save for a portion which appears as part of the final chapter of the published novel. Certainly we’re not hurting for King material, but Before the Play gives us crucial backstory on the novel’s setting, and we can only imagine now how much more we’d have to work with if only some mad scientist with a temporal displacement device would recover the epilogue for us.
Dark America, by Junot Diaz
Diaz seems to have given up on his science fiction novels, which he’s mentioned from time to time in interviews. After achieving incredible success with The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Diaz talked a lot about his goal of publishing SF, and as recently as 2008, released an excerpt from Dark America, which he described as “an Akira-inspired post-apocalyptic nightmare.” Diaz later described the book as “stupid” and it seems unlikely we’ll ever see it—but we’d love to read any genre-related work by a writer of Diaz’s caliber.
Isaac Asimov’s early stories
Asimov was one of the most prolific science fiction writers of all time, and worked effortlessly in all formats, from novels, to short stories, and even poetry. Several of his earliest short stories were irretrievably lost in the 1930s and 1940s, and that is a terrible thing, because Asimov at his worst is light years beyond most other writers. While stories written in that period are likely a bit zeerusty these days, it would be a fascinating glimpse at his developing imagination—and Asimov was a good enough writer to make even his most dated works worth reading.
What lost book would you pull through the temporal gate?