Forgotten 1920s sci-fi novel by Scots author reawakened by students

IT is a little-known Scottish science fiction novel which nearly sank without trace when it was published almost a century ago.

Saturday, 14th May 2016, 9:15 am
Updated Saturday, 14th May 2016, 10:57 am
Team members Ruth Grindley, Julia Brown,  Isobel Urwin,  Margot Reverdiau, Sophie Pinkoski, Rachel Sharp and Ruth Norval Nicols. PIcture: Contributed
Team members Ruth Grindley, Julia Brown, Isobel Urwin, Margot Reverdiau, Sophie Pinkoski, Rachel Sharp and Ruth Norval Nicols. PIcture: Contributed

Its troubled author found it increasingly difficult to get published and would go on to die a virtual recluse, his last novel unfinished.

Now the debut work by David Lindsay, which follows the adventures of a man from Earth after he awakens in a desert on a distant planet, is set for a surprise revival – thanks to a student project.

A Voyage to Arcturus, which is said to have influenced CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien, is to be relaunched by a group of publishing postgraduates. The 1920 novel sold fewer than 600 copies on its release despite now being revered for its combination of fantasy, philosophy and science fiction elements and rated one of the 12 most essential Scottish sci-fi novels of all-time by the Scottish Book Trust.

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The cover of the book. Picture: Contributed

It has been snapped up for publication after recently falling out of copyright and will be repackaged and promoted to the modern-day generation of sci-fi fans by the all-female team from Edinburgh Napier University.

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The nine-strong group of masters students – who will be launch print and e-book versions of the novel in the next few weeks – have been promoting it at publishing fairs, to science fiction groups and via social media campaigns.

They have also secured new tributes from leading science-fiction writers Alan Moore and Gary Gibson.

The cover of the book. Picture: Contributed

Ruth Grindley, one of the project managers, said: “None of us had heard of A Voyage To Arcturus when we started out on the project. One of the other students on the course found it when he was working on another project. When we did our market research most sci-fi fans hadn’t heard of it.

“It wasn’t very popular at all when it was published in 1920 and David Lindsay wasn’t a well-appreciated writer when he was alive, but the book is 
cited by so many other sci-fi writers as an inspiration.

“We’re trying to repackage it and reintroduce it to the market in a much more contemporary way, to hopefully reach out to the current sci-fi community and hopefully get it the recognition it deserves.”

The Scottish Book Trust rates A Voyage to Arcturus alongside Alasdair Gray’s A History Maker, From Glasgow to Saturn by Edwin Morgan, Use of Weapons by Iain M Banks and The Night Sessions by Ken MacLeod.

Its website says of Lindsay’s book: “It is simultaneously an epic quest across one of the most unusual and brilliantly depicted alien worlds ever conceived, a profoundly moving journey of discovery into the metaphysical heart of the universe, and a shockingly intimate excursion into what makes us human and unique.”

Amina Shah, programme director at the Scottish Book Trust, said: “It’s really exciting that this project has chosen to focus on A Voyage to Arcturus. Its republication gives a unique opportunity to shine a light on this classic sci-fi novel for a new generation.”

Avril Gray, programme leader for postgraduate publishing at Edinburgh Napier, said: “We were the first publishing programme to ask our students to perform as professionals in an academic environment. Every year we’re impressed by their aspirations. The quality of their work can stand alongside the best in the industry.”