Some of the greatest authors of science fiction and fantasy have put words on paper — only to see those words lost or destroyed. Before there were computers, manuscripts got burned or lost in the mail all the time. Here are the famous authors whose books were lost, destroyed, misplaced or erased.
Actually, some of these books were rediscovered, years or even decades later. But many of these are books you'll never be able to read.
Top image: Paris in the Twentieth Century, art by Gilles Roman.
L. Frank Baum was best known as a children's writer and the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, but he also wrote books for adults. Four of his adult novels have been lost, apparently by his publisher. The lost books include Our Married Life, Johnson, The Mystery of Bonita, and Molly Oodle. Baum's son claimed in his biography of his father that his mother, Maud Baum, burnt the unpublished manuscripts — but many people speculate that he lied, after being cut out of her will. In addition to the four lost novels, many of Baum's short stories and movie scripts have also been lost. Most of his early scripts were destroyed in a theater fire in 1880.
After the intended publisher failed to publish Star Ways (Later retitled The Peregrine), Poul Anderson's agent offered it to Avalon. Before publication — and much to Anderson's distress — they cut the novel down to 50,000 words. No copy of the original manuscript exists, so we'll never know just how much was changed, or what happened in the sections that were cut.
Philip K. Dick is one of the most beloved and prolific science fiction writers of the 20th Century — but even he has lost, unpublished manuscripts. Three of his early novels written during the 1950s were lost. All that remains of A Time for George Stravros, Pilgrim on the Hill, and Nicholas and the Higs are index card synopses from the publishers who originally rejected them and comments that Dick made later about the missing books. He reused some of the characters in later books, and he may have reused parts of Pilgrim on the Hill in 1965's Dr. Bloodmoney. Dick intended A Time of George Stravros and Pilgrim on the Hill not to be science fiction books, while Nicholas and the Higs was a blending of literary fiction and science fiction.
In 1972, Asimov listed 12 short stories that had been rejected by publishers and then lost during the 1930s and 40s. These stories include "Cosmic Corkscrew", his first short story, "This Irrational Planet", "Paths of Destiny", "Knossos in Its Glory", "The Decline and Fall"," Life Before Birth", "The Brothers", "The Oak", "Masks", and "Big Game". "Big Game" was later found and published in the Anthology Before the Golden Age. And Asimov later realized that "The Weapon" had actually been published under a pseudonym.
Thanks to Robert Louis Stevenson's wife, we will never know what the first draft of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was like. Stevenson wrote the first draft of the famous novel in less than a week, sometimes writing 10,000 words a day. His wife dismissed the book as "a quire full of nonsense" and destroyed the book in a fire. That didn't stop him from rewriting the book — reportedly in three days — and it went on to be a bestseller.
A few years after his death, Zelazny's agent was looking through boxes of papers in a warehouse when she came across an unpublished manuscript for a completed mainstream fiction novel, The Dead Man's Brother. He had written the book in 1971 and decided to publish it later, although he never returned to the story and it was found in a box marked "Save, no submissions at this time at Roger's request."
The novel Paris in the 20th Century was thought to have been destroyed during WWII, like so many other great works of art across Europe. Happily for us, Jean Verne found it in a trunk in his garage in 1991. This novel was written in 1863 and is set in Paris in the 1960s. His publisher refused to publish the book because he believed its claims about the future were too unbelievable, although to modern readers it seems eerily accurate.
One recently found incomplete short story was never intended to be finished. Dahl wrote the first half of "The Eyes of Mr. Croaker" for The Do-It-Yourself Children's Storybook. The book was never published, and it was long thought that the manuscript had been lost. In 2010, it reappeared on ebay.
In 1939, Robert Heinlein's For Us, the Living was considered too racy to publish. It was rejected, and then lost/destroyed by the family. After finding references to the work, Robert James tracked down a photocopy of a photocopy of the retyped original manuscript. The lost book was published at last in 2003.
There are dozens of lost, unpublished, or never completed Star Trek related books out there. This webpage lists them and tells the story for each of them. There's a lot of interesting material that has either been destroyed or will never see the light of day — including more books in the "Yesterday Saga" by A. C. Crispin. In a 2003 interview, Crispin said that she was putting finishing touches on a new trilogy, but in 2004 it was announced that the project had been canceled.