Was by Geoff Ryman

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Dotty, old and maybe crazy, sees The Wizard of Oz on TV, and recognizes it as her own story.

Was is a haunting novel which explores the lives of characters intertwined with The Wizard of Oz: the "real" Dorothy Gale; Judy Garland's unhappy fame; and Jonathan, a dying actor, and his therapist, whose work at an asylum unwittingly intersects with the Yellow Brick Road.

"A mythic meditation on the enduring power of fantasy and art and on the loss of innocence, both the innocence of childhood lost to the cruel realities of the grown-up world and the innocence of a nation lost to the cruelties of history. . . . A moving lament for lost childhoods and an eloquent tribute to the enduring power of art."
—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

"A startling, stimulating book filled with angels and scarecrows, gargoyles and garlands, vaudeville and violence. Pynchon goes Munchkin, you might say."
Washington Post Book World

"The Scarecrow of Oz dying of AIDS in Santa Monica? Uncle Henry a child abuser? Dorothy, grown old and crazy, wearing out her last days in a Kansas nursing home? It's all here, in this magically revisionist fantasy on the themes from The Wizard of Oz."
Kirkus Reviews

"Ryman's darkly imaginative, almost surreal improvisation on L. Frank Baum's Oz books combines a stunning portrayal of child abuse, Wizard of Oz film lore and a polyphonic meditation on the psychological burden of the past."
Publishers Weekly

"A mediation on art, lies and human pain. None of Ryman's books is quite like any of the others—this is one of his most straightforward and best"
—Roz Kaveneny, Time Out


Geoff Ryman is the author of the novels The King’s Last Song, The Child Garden, Air (a Clarke and Tiptree Award winner), 253, Lust, and The Unconquered Country (a World Fantasy Award winner). Canadian by birth, he has lived in Brasil, resides in the UK and is a frequent visitor to Cambodia.

Trafalgar, a novel-in-stories, was originally published in Argentina in 1979. It starts off light and refreshing right from the very first short Who’s Who in Rosario listing for Trafalgar, although there are occasional clouds that pass through Trafalgar Medrano's bright and happy stories.

"This understated and impressive story cycle, written in 1979 by Argentinean author and World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award winner Gorodischer (Kalpa Imperial), relates the adventures of intergalactic trader and coffee addict Trafalgar Medrano. When he meets with the unnamed narrators, he tells of his attempts to raise money by selling goods and services on other planets; most of his efforts end in improbable, hilarious disaster, such as being mistaken for Mandrake the Magician or finding a world that looks exactly like Earth—in 1492. The tropes are well-worn, but Gorodischer takes them in entertaining directions that both evoke their golden age roots and transcend them with a layer of absurdism. Gladhart’s translation spotlights Trafalgar’s dryly comic statements, like “I changed the course of history; nothing more than that.” Trafalgar’s adventures build on each other nicely, creating a collection that’s a joy to read."
Publishers Weekly

Table of Contents

By the Light of the Chaste Electronic Moon

The Sense of the Circle

Of Navigators

The Best Day of the Year

The González Family's Fight for a Better World

--Interval with my Aunts

Trafalgar and Josefina

--End of the Interval

Mr. Chaos


Strelitzias, Lagerstroemias, and Gypsophila

Trafalgar and I


About Geoff Ryman

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Geoff Ryman is the author of the novels Air (Clarke and Tiptree Award winner) and The Unconquered Country (World Fantasy Award winner). Canadian by birth, he has lilved in Cambodia and Brazil and now teaches creative writing at the University of Manchester in England.
Published September 9, 2014 by Small Beer Press. 386 pages
Genres: Science Fiction & Fantasy, Literature & Fiction, History, Gay & Lesbian. Fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Was

Kirkus Reviews

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This tale of homes lost and sought, potentially so sentimental, gets a powerful charge from Ryman's patient use of homely detail in establishing Dorothy's and Jonathan's childhood perspectives, and from the shocking effects of transforming cultural icons, especially in detailing Dorothy's sexual ...

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The New York Times

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As Mr. Maguire tells us, the Wicked Witch of the West was once a little girl named Elphaba (or Elphie, for short), who was born to a priest's promiscuous wife in a ramshackle hamlet in Munchkinland.

Oct 24 1995 | Read Full Review of Was

Publishers Weekly

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Rewriting the Oz story as a somber gothic fantasy rich in period detail, Ryman ( The Child Garden ) casts Baum as a substitute teacher who rescues Dorothy from life as a prostitute on the 1880s Kansas frontier.

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Publishers Weekly

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Frank Baum's Oz books combines a stunning portrayal of child abuse, Wizard of Oz film lore and a polyphonic meditation on the psychological burden of the past.

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SF Site

Geoff Ryman's 1992 novel Was has now been re-released as part of Gollancz's Fantasy Masterworks series, even though it is neither a fantasy nor a masterwork, although, depending on how you look at it, it could come close to being either.

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London Review of Books

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