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Gollancz

Entry updated 20 June 2022. Tagged: Publisher.

UK publishing house, for many years properly styled Victor Gollancz Ltd, famous (until its sale to the US company Houghton Mifflin in 1990) as one of the last family companies in UK publishing; in 1992 Houghton Mifflin sold the firm to the Cassell group of companies, where it became an imprint; in December 1998 it was acquired by Orion, itself newly purchased by Hachette, and Victor Gollancz soon became Orion's imprint for all sf, fantasy and horror, excepting only some children's genre titles published as by Orion Children's Books.

Gollancz's early strength was in political polemic; its main postwar strengths were detective fiction and sf: from the early 1960s to the late 1980s it was the premier UK publisher of sf books in hardcover, both native and US. In the past half decade it has faced greater competition, but it is still one of the market leaders. Its earlier history as a publisher, with some gripping stuff from the files, is told in Gollancz: The Story of a Publishing House: 1929-1978 (1978) by Sheila Hodges.

Victor Gollancz (1893-1967), the firm's founder in 1928, had always been interested in the fantastic; though he was never to publish any sf by H G Wells, one of his inaugural books was Wells's The Open Conspiracy (1928), and within a year he was publishing reissues of several works by M P Shiel and a new novel by E H Visiak. In the 1930s came Charles Fort's Lo! (1931), which flopped badly, the first translation of Franz Kafka's Der Prozess (written 1914-1915; 1925; trans Willa and Edwin Muir as The Trial 1937), sf novels by Murray Constantine (Katharine Burdekin), Andrew Marvell, Joseph O'Neill, R C Sherriff, Francis Stuart and others, and five novels by Charles Williams. One of Gollancz's most valued authors was George Orwell, but in 1944 Victor Gollancz turned down Animal Farm (1945 chap), seeing its anti-Stalinism as inappropriate at a time when Russia, the UK's ally, was suffering during the war. Later he also rejected Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949).

Though this was an unpromising beginning to the postwar period, Gollancz did publish a number of good sf titles in the 1950s, both non-genre and Genre SF, the latter including a 1954 edition of Theodore Sturgeon's More Than Human (fixup 1953); none, however, was labelled as "science fiction". This term and the sf list proper (20 or so books a year) were introduced by Hilary Rubinstein, Victor Gollancz's nephew, after Gollancz had in 1961 published the first UK edition of Kingsley Amis's study of sf, New Maps of Hell (1960). Most of the early big names were US: Hal Clement, Harry Harrison, Robert A Heinlein, Larry Niven, Frederik Pohl, Robert Sheckley, Clifford D Simak and others. The first important UK writer to be added was J G Ballard, with The Drowned World (January 1962 Science Fiction Adventures; exp 1962), though he soon moved to Jonathan Cape. For the next two decades Gollancz's plain yellow jackets with black typography came to seem almost synonymous with UK-published hardcover sf. (In the mid-1980s pictorial jackets were phased in for most of the major sf and fantasy authors.) Other important UK writers joining Gollancz were Arthur C Clarke, Richard Cowper, Keith Roberts, Bob Shaw, Peter Van Greenaway and Ian Watson, with later additions including Robert P Holdstock, Paul J McAuley, Phillip Mann and Terry Pratchett, several of whom made their debuts with Gollancz. Subsequent US authors included Philip K Dick, William Gibson, Ursula K Le Guin and Robert Silverberg. The children's list included Peter Dickinson and, again, Ursula K Le Guin. After Rubinstein left in 1963, John Bush took over the list until (as chair of the company) he retired in 1982, whereupon Malcolm Edwards took over (spending larger sums on books than Gollancz had previously allowed), being followed by Richard Evans in 1989. Gollancz sf editors normally held very senior positions in the company, sf providing a major contribution to the company's profit.

Since the Orion takeover of 1998 and the establishment of Gollancz as this large company's genre imprint, Gollancz continued to occupy a privileged position owing to the interest of Malcolm Edwards in various high-level roles including Deputy CEO at Orion, under whose guidance the imprint continued to be a major player in sf publishing – authors introduced in the twenty-first century include Alastair Reynolds and Adam Roberts – and also expanded its fantasy output with such authors as Ben Aaronovitch (whom see) and Joe Abercrombie. Many classic titles have been reissued in two Gollancz reprint series, SF Masterworks (from 1999) and Fantasy Masterworks, plus midlist work in trade paperbacks with a version of the old yellow-jacket livery. Until 2001 the publisher byline on title pages under the ownership of Houghton Mifflin, Cassell and Orion continued to be "Victor Gollancz"; from 2001 under the continuing aegis of Orion, the byline is "Gollancz" alone. The SF Gateway operation, launched in 2011 along with Gollancz's hosting of this encyclopedia and again fostered by Malcolm Edwards, extended the scope of classic, midlist and even minor sf reissues (including the reviled Badger Books) into the realm of Ebooks. New Gateway titles continue to be added, but there is a sense that enthusiasm for the project (as formerly expressed in promotional blog posts on the Gateway site) has waned since Edwards moved on from Orion in 2019. Gollancz announced in early 2021 that its hosting of this encyclopedia would cease in October of that year. The current Fourth Edition retains no connection with the firm. [PN/DRL]

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