Science fiction writers have fantastical powers. They can peer into the future, invent strange new gadgets and alien races, and make us lose hours between their pages. And some writers can even speak to us from beyond the grave, publishing new works months — and even years — after they’ve died. Here are just some of the works that made their way to the presses after their authors passed the real final frontier.Forward the Foundation by Isaac Asimov (1993): A continuation of Prelude to Foundation, it continues the life of psychohistorian Hari Seldon as he develops his theory to create a society to replace the crumbling Galactic Empire. Like the original Foundation, it consists of a series of interconnected stories. Why wasn’t it published while he was alive? The first three stories in Forward the Foundation were published in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine prior to his death in 1992. By the time Asimov succumbed to kidney and heart failure, he had a complete, albeit unedited, draft of the book. Asimov’s third memoir, I, Asimov was also published after his death, as was a final collection of short stories and It’s Been a Good Life, a compilation of Asimov’s diaries and personal correspondences collected by his wife Janet, which for the first time revealed that he had contracted HIV from a blood transfusion a decade before his death.
Radio Free Albemuth by Philip K. Dick (1976): Nixon stand-in Ferris F. Fremont occupies the White House and has turned the United States into a police state, by inventing a fictitious group of home-grown terrorists. Science fiction writer Phil Dick finds himself the target of this new paranoia while his friend, record executive Nick Brady, starts hearing voices from an alien entity that may be God. And the entity, Valis, is prodding Brady to overthrow the corrupt commander-in-chief. Why wasn’t it published while he was alive? Dick submitted the manuscript (under the title Valisystem A) to his editor, Mark Hurst, who sent the novel back for minor revisions. But rather than make the changes, Dick reworked the concepts into an entirely new novel, VALIS. Dick gave the Valisystem A manuscript to fellow science fiction writer Tim Powers, and eventually Arbor House acquired the rights to publish it, but retitled it to avoid confusion with VALIS. Dick’s early rejected non-science fiction works, Gather Yourselves Together and Voice from the Street also enjoyed posthumous life.
For Us, The Living: A Comedy of Customs (1939) by Robert Heinlein: Heinlein’s first novel outlines a roadmap from America’s Great Depression to a futuristic utopia. Engineer Perry Nelson experiences a bad car accident in 1939, and wakes up in the year 2086. He meets and falls in love with a beautiful woman, is reprogrammed to remove his outdated sexual mores and jealousy, and learns about the technological and social advances that have passed him by. Why wasn’t it published while he was alive? The book was rejected by several publishers, possibly due to its depictions of nudity and sexual liberalism. Although the ideas in For Us, The Living fed some of Heinlein’s later works, he was not eager to see this early effort come to life. He attempted to destroy every copy of the book. But Heinlein did give the manuscript to at least one friend, and Robert James, a Heinlein scholar, eventually found it stashed away in a garage. And so, despite the author’s best efforts, it found its way into print.
The Salmon of Doubt by Douglas Adams (2002): The unfinished novel, collected with other Adams works in a volume of the same name, promised to be the third volume of the Dirk Gently series, but Adams was considering remaking it as another volume of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Why wasn’t it published while he was alive? While Adams was still deciding what to do about Salmon, he suffered a fatal heart attack, and now we’re left with Eoin Colfer to give us a new Hitchhiker’s Guide.
The Last Theorem by Arthur C. Clarke and Frederik Pohl (2008): In Clarke’s final novel, 15 year-old Ranjit Subramanian achieves fame when he publishes the solution to Fermat’s Last Theorem. Meanwhile, an alien empire realizes that humans have developed nuclear weapons and decides the planet must be wiped out. Why wasn’t it published while Clarke was alive? As Clarke was working on The Last Theorem, his health began to deteriorate. So he tapped his longtime friend, Frederik Pohl, as his collaborator. Clarke sent Pohl 100 pages of notes, only 40 to 50 pages of which contained fully written text. Even Clarke had difficulty deciphering the notes, but Pohl wrote out the manuscript, the final version of which Clarke reviewed just days before his death this past March. But Clarke offered a more direct farewell to fans in the form of his 90th birthday video: Click to view