Gary K. Wolfe on Cecelia Holland’s Floating Worlds and Other Classics That Deserve Modern Attention
1977 Pocket Books paperback. Foil cover by Harry Bennett
On Episode 328 of The Coode Street Podcast, my recent audio addiction, Jonathan Strahan asked his co-host Gary K. Wolfe if there was some book of value, “or simply that you loved when you were a younger reader,” that he wished he could bring modern attention to.
If you know Jonathan and Gary, you appreciate that’s precisely the kind of question that could fill an hour-long episode all on its own. But Gary provided what I thought was a remarkably cogent and focused reply, all the more remarkable for its brevity. After noting that “When you get to be my age, a younger reader covers a span of decades,” and paying homage to Andre Norton’s Cat’s Eye and Star Man Son, Gary called out a long-forgotten SF novel from 1976.
One of the classic one-off science fiction novels, I think from maybe 40 some years ago now, was Cecelia Holland’s Floating Worlds, a historical novelist using her historical imagination to construct a pretty powerful solar system space opera. I’ve not re-read that in a long time. I’d like new people to look at that and see if, hey, was I right? Was this as good as I thought it was?
Although Floating Worlds is a neglected classic here in the US — its last paperback printing was in 1979 from Pocket Books — it has a much richer history in the UK, with eight print versions and an e-book edition between 1976 and 2014.
[Click the images for bigger versions.]
1979 Pocket Books paperback. Cover artist unknown
Floating Worlds is Cecelia Holland’s sole SF novel. However, she has written produced two notable works of fantasy, The Angel and the Sword (Forge, 2000) and Dragon Heart (Tor, 2015).
Gary also mentioned Michael Swanwick’s The Iron Dragon’s Daughter, which
Seemed odd, and even eccentric… with its mix of fantasy, classical worlds. science fiction, steampunk. Now that’s almost a convention, everybody’s doing that sort of thing.
Here’s a few of the UK editions of Floating Worlds.
1978 Sphere paperback (Melvyn Grant) and 2011 Gollancz SF Masterworks (Dominic Harman)
This is one of the many fascinating things about the Coode Street Podcast. The hosts are entertaining, opinionated, and highly knowledgeable, and they throw out a constant stream of fascinating recommendations and reminisces about major novels, both acknowledged classics and neglected masterworks. If you’re looking for something to stir your interest and get you excited about books, I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Check out Episode 328, “Re-reading, Reprinting and the Classics,” here, and the latest episode here.
I totally loved FLOATING WORLDS.
I believe one of the things that held it back from complete recognition in the SF world — though it’s pretty well known, I think — is the decision, apparently by the publisher, to withdraw its nomination for the Nebula “in favor of the paperback edition”. Not surprisingly, the paperback didn’t get nominated. (I imagine a lot of folks figured it had had its shot already.)
I’ve always wondered if the publisher was actually just being wary of SF cooties. Cecelia herself — who writes for LOCUS, after all — shows no concern about association with the field.
Back to FLOATING WORLDS — when I mentioned how much I liked it to my then girlfriend, she snickered and said “I bet you did, and I can bet which scene is your favorite!”. Anyone who read the book as a teenager can probably pinpoint which scene she meant! (“No, dammit! The worldbuilding! The intricate and toughminded plot! The characters!”)
I first read Floating Worlds in 1977, and thought it highly original and very compelling. Holland wrote a definitely unique and entertaining novel. A very mature and intelligent novel. I still have my original copy and it’s on my list of books to re-read sometime soon. I wish she had written more SF, but I have never read her two fantasy novels. I must correct that mistake.
I also remember loving Floating Worlds when I read it lo those many years ago in that first pb edition…I used to have a copy, sadly don’t anymore, and I’ve never seen a used copy for sale anywhere.
Amazon has a couple of different editions. Cheapest is 20 bucks. Most expensive, almost 4000 dollars!!!!