The Victor Gollancz legacy

I was genuinely shocked to see the comments about Gollancz in Livia Gollancz’s obituary published in The Bookseller. To describe a beloved publishing list as “merely a science fiction imprint” and its last two decades as a “tragedy” is offensive to my colleagues; our authors and fans; our reviewers and bloggers; fellow SFF publishers; and to the wider genre community. While everyone has a right to their personal opinion and literary preferences, to air such a definitive bias against genre fiction in the obituary of our former owner was troubling and frankly insulting.

It is easy to point out how many of the greatest works ever written are SF or Fantasy titles. From the Iliad to Jules Verne, to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, to The Handmaid’s Tale, right up to Naomi Alderman’s The Power, speculative fiction has been an unrivalled way of exploring our world and society. It is just as easy—as your publication has demonstrated—to dismiss that claim by saying those books are ”proper” literary novels not “merely SFF”.

That argument is nonsense. Worse, it is prejudiced and badly informed nonsense. Genre fiction—since the snobbery is not just against SFF, it’s levelled against crime, romance, women’s fiction, and other genres too—is a vital form of self-expression that delves into the nature of humanity both as it is, and as it could be. Political commentary, social critique, empowerment, standing up for others and freeing your imagination lie at the heart of SFF and—if you’ll forgive us for drawing on the genre here—aliens visiting our planet could learn everything there is to know about our race and society from perusing the pages of Terry Pratchett, George R R Martin, Joanne Harris, Ursula Le Guin, Stephen King and Iain M Banks.

The Gollancz imprint, which I am deeply fortunate to be part of, stands for the absolute best of what publishing should be: passionately advocating new writers; winning awards; preserving the greatest titles of the past through the Masterworks and SF Gateway lists; engaging directly with readers through its own festival; and putting more books into more hands than any other UK SFF publisher.

We strive every day to live up to the legacy that Victor and Livia Gollancz have bequeathed to us—actively honouring their ethos and approach to publishing in a way that is conscious and visible in our publishing, from preserving the logo and imprint name to continuing to use the iconic yellow jackets, building reader communities and publishing strong, challenging voices. Gollancz is the oldest SFF brand in the UK, and was one of the first in the world, and we and our authors are justly proud to be a part of it.

Over the past two decades Gollancz has evolved into a vibrant and exciting SFF publisher, built by an incredible publishing team and a powerhouse of authors, which will continue the Gollancz legacy for many decades to come. We may be SFF fans through and through— and we are not perfect—but nor, by any definition of the word, are we a “tragedy”.

Jon Wood is group publisher at Orion. Read Liz Thomson's obituary for Livia Gollancz, and her response to Wood's letter here.