Of all the alternate worlds we're dying to visit, the greatest is that mythical room containing every book that was never written. Here are the dozen unfinished novels by science fiction's greatest authors, that we wish we could read.
The Masks by Ray Bradbury
Masks, myths and metaphors" play an important part in much of Bradbury's work, claim Jonathan Eller and William F. Touponce in their Bradbury study, The Life Of Fiction, and they believe Bradbury gets to the bottom of this obsession in his never-finished novel called The Masks. Filled with images of carnivals, this 1940s novel would have been the purest distillation of Bradbury's obsession with magicians and magic.
The Owl In Daylight by Philip K. Dick
When Dick died in 1982, he was busy with The Owl in Daylight, which is reputed to be concerned with deaf aliens abducting a B-movie composer, artistic genius, new forms of sensory input, an amusement park, or a sci-fi reboot of The Divine Comedy, depending whom you ask. Dick never outlined the plot, so it's hard to say. His wife Tessa published her interpretation of his concept in 2009, but her version is largely her own work, and draws inspiration from Mozart's The Magic Flute.
Irontown Blues by John Varley
We interviewed Varley back in March 2008, and he told us:
One of these days I hope to write a third novel in the Steel Beach, Golden Globe trilogy, entitled Irontown Blues. The reason I haven't written it is that I don't yet know what's going to happen.
People have been waiting for this novel forever, and little is known about Varley's ideas so far. Back in February, he said it's "third in line," after two other novels he's working on. "If I write it, it would be about a cop," he told Xero magazine.
The Pressure of Time by Thomas M. Disch
A sequel to Camp Concentration, about the pursuits of a society of humans become immortal through genetic alterations caused by a plague that swept through the world. A few regular mortals also survive, hiding out in enclaves. Disch explained:
For various reasons, personal and impersonal, I never got back to work on "Pressure", and now I see I won't, alas. Since Camp Concentration (which took 8 months to write) I realise I can't afford to spend such a lot of time on a book that earns only a standards sf advance". The personal reasons included an intense affair with the poet Lee Harwood that lasted about six weeks. After Harwood left him, Disch suffered several months of unrequited love. Disch confessed that much of The Pressure of Time was "inspired by the pangs of despised loved". Disch travelled around, visiting Ireland and Turkey, but suffered writers block. Unable to continue with his own work, he wrote novelisations of The Prisoner and Alfred the Great.
The other books in Octavia Butler's Fledgling series.
Butler died after Fledgling came out, but the book's ending left most people believing she intended to write at least one sequel, if not many. I've heard rumors she'd made notes on a sequel, but can't find any confirmation of that online. Butler also had started a third novel in her Parable series, called Parable Of The Trickster, but was unable to finish it due to a seven-year bout of writers' block. (Octavia Butler's advice on dealing with writers' block? "Fall in love. Why not? You're already miserable.")
Voyages D'Etudes by Jules Verne
Verne wrote 50 pages, and never finished the rest. The book was rewritten by his son Michel as L'etonnante aventure de la mission Barsac, along with several other works inspired to greater or lesser degree by his father's manuscripts. Esperanto enthusiasts are particularly saddened that in so doing, Michel expunged all references to support for the nascent language, of which Jules was a proponent.
Azathoth by H.P. Lovecraft.
Ia! Ia! Lovecraft started this novel in June 1922, but only wrote a small fragment, which was published afterh is death in the journal Leaves. According to Wikipedia, he described it as "a weird Eastern tale in the 18th century manner" and as a "weird Vathek-like novel." (Vathek being an 18th century novel about Arabia.) You can read the fragment that he actually wrote here. It starts quite stirringly, bemoaning our gray, citified, un-magical existence.
A Sense Of Time by Henry James
Yes, that Henry James. The "Turn Of The Screw" guy. He started writing this romance, about a young man who discovers he can walk through portals into the past, in 1900, but all the time-travel mechanics got too convoluted and gave him a headache. He abandoned it, only to return to work on it in 1914, writing another huge section. In the novel, Ralph Pendrel travels back and takes the place of his own ancestor, but then the woman he loves realizes he's a time-traveler and makes a great sacrifice to help him return to the present.
The Plant by Stephen King
This was King's famous experiment, where he serialized a novel online, and you were supposed to pay him $1 every time you downloaded a chapter. If the percentage of downloaders who paid $1 dropped below 75 percent, King threatened to stop posting the chapters. And eventually, that's what happened. The already-posted chapters have been removed from King's site. The novel is about a paperback editor who receives weird letters (and odd photographs) from a magical weirdo. The editor sics the cops on the magician, who sends him a strange plant in revenge.
The Dark Tower by C. S. Lewis
A story of interdimensional travel including the titular tower (which turns out to be a far-future replica of the the bog-ugly Cambridge University Library), this was supposed to be the original sequel to Out of the Silent Planet. It ends abruptly and some people have accused it of being a forgery.
The Splendor And Misery Of Bodies, Of Cities by Samuel R. Delany
This sequel to Stars In My Pocket Like Grains Of Sand may never actually see the light of day. We asked Delany about it a while back and he explained:
I did write about 150 pages of it at some point. But a number of things had come up to undercut it. I've explained it many, many times, and don't mind explaining it again. I was in a major relationship at that time, that kind of fueled the first volume, Stars In My Pocket Like Grains Of Sand. And that relationship broke up, and that was the beginning of the Eighties, at the same time the AIDS situation came in.
And after that, Delany's view of the gay community changed somewhat drastically.
The Salmon Of Doubt by Douglas Adams
Adams was working on this book, a Dirk Gently novel, when he died, but he'd decided his ideas for it didn't work for Gently. So he tried first turning it into a standalone novel, and then reworking it into a sixth Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy installment. The version which appears in the book of the same name does star Gently, and involves a client who wants to hire him to find the back half of her cat. According to Don't Panic, the book about Adams by Neil Gaiman (with revisions and updates by Guy Adams), the fragment which appears in the book is actually from several different versions of Salmon which were on Adams' various hard drives. What we have is pieced together from three files — Chapters 2, 8, 10 and 11 are from one file, Chapter 1 is from an earlier draft, and Chapter 9 is Adams' last known piece of writing. It's basically a mish-mash, and an assembly of working notes and fragmentary stuff.
Like the novels we're discussing, this list is decidedly unfinished — what are the books that were never completed, for whatever reason, which you would dearly love to read?
Additional reporting by Josh Snyder, Mary Ratliff and Cyriaque Lamar.