(Tim White’s cover for the 1980 edition)
3.25/5 (Vaguely Good)
“Turn and look behind you, reader. Can you see the crater now? It is wide, round, magnificent; within it shimmers a sea of air above a sea of dust. Almost a million human beings live within this titanic hole, this incredible crater, this single staring eye in the face of an empty planet” (119).
In my youth naval history and fiction transfixed: from the capture of the Spanish Xebec El Gamo by Lord Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald to C. S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower sequence, inspired in part by Lord Cochrane’s career. I assessed each novel and memoir on whether or not I felt like I was on a sea-going vessel, holding the ropes in calloused hands, trapped belowdeck in a storm, yanking the lanyard on a cannon’s gunlock… With a dictionary of naval terms on my desk, I looked up each and every reference, memorized the cross-sections of frigates and the intricacies of the chain of command. I recoiled with grim fascination as Hornblower–fresh off the harrowing loss of the HMS Sutherland and desperate to escape the French countryside–peers at Lieutenant Bush’s amputated leg and checks the inserted cloth wads that soak up the leaking puss.
Bruce Sterling’s Involution Ocean (1977) draws on the naval tradition, transposed into a SF future, although it is more exploration à la Darwin and the HMS Beagle than combat à la Horatio Hornblower and the HMS Hotspur. Inspired by Melville’s Moby-Dick; or, The Whale (1851), Involution Ocean tells the tale of John Newhouse’s search for Nullaquan dustwales, the “only source of the drug syncophine” (23), across a vast Continue reading Book Review: Involution Ocean, Bruce Sterling (1977)
(John Berkley’s cover for the 1974 edition)
4.75/5 (Very Good)
“The thought of the vast, utterly silent ship stretching away on all sides of his cubicle, guarded and guided by silent computers, was paralyzing his own ability to make sounds […]” (3)
The crew of a seed ship sent to find a new habitable planet dream the same dreams, dreams of unnatural clarity plagued by pain and death. As a young woman lies dying in her cold cubicle, her final meal at her lips and unaware of her predicament, she whispers to our reluctant hero (Devlin), “All I seem to dream about is being a lady dinosaur” (32). Devlin’s dreams follow some pseudo-evolutionary schema, first he dreams he’s a trilobite in some Silurian sea crushed by the tentacles of a cephalopod, “he went on feeding while the hot, constant flame of hunger was punctuated by explosions of pain as his appendages were tweisted and crushed and torn away […]” (10). Then he dreams he’s a brontosaurus, and then an early primate…
Periodically, the automated machines that tend the colonists in cold storage awake their charges, “BASIC INSTRUCTIONS. SPEAK. EXERCISE. REMEMBER” (2). The Continue reading Book Review: The Dream Millennium, James White (serialized 1973, novel 1974)
[Preliminary Note: This year saw a massive drop off in the number of reviews I’ve managed to put together due to professional pressures etc. I wish I had been able to write fuller reviews–especially as much of the SF I read is lesser known and deserves a wider audience. In some cases, I waited too long to write and thus loss the necessary momentum. I have ten or so more waiting in the wings–hopefully they will allow me “to catch up” so to speak.]
1. If All Else Fails…, Craig Strete (1980)
(Margo Herr’s cover for the 1980 edition)
4.75/5 (collated rating: Very Good)
Craig Strete, one of the few Native American SF authors, picked up three Nebula Award nominations for short SF over the 70s and early 80s (“The Bleeding Man” in 1976, “Time Deer” in 1976, and “A Sunday Visit With Great-Grandfather” in 1981 although it was withdrawn). The first two are in If All Else Fails… (1980). They are both far from the best of the collection.
Favorites: “All My Statues Have Stone Wings” (1980), “To See the City Sitting on Its Buildings” (1975), and “A Horse of a Different Technicolor” (1975).
The pages reek with despair at the loss of Native American culture …. The narrator of the “All My Statues” is reminded of his “grandfather who died humming all the songs he had kept silent because there was no one left to sing them” (11). In “To See the City” the dead try to escape the concrete prisons of the cities that desecrate the holy places: “Buried animal and ground Continue reading Short SF Book Reviews: If All Else Fails…., Craig Strete (1980), My Petition for More Space, John Hersey (1974), and All Judgement Fled, James White (serialized 1967)
(Gene Szafran’s atrocious cover for the 1974 edition)
“The men heard, and they rejoiced to find an enemy they could conquer at last. One night, as planned, they pulled all the women from sleep, herded them together, and harangued them, saying, remember, you caused the Wasting” (3).
Suzy McKee Charnas’ Walk to the End of the World (1974) is the first of four novels in The Holdfast Chronicles sequence (1974-1999) that charts the slow forces of change in a post-apocalyptical future where women (“fems”) are chattel. Kate Macdonald, in her wonderful review of Ammonite (1993) characterized Nicola Griffith’s novel as “instantly […] feminist: not stealth, or muted, or sub-conscious.” Walk to the End of the World falls squarely, and powerfully into this category. Told with intensity and vigor, Charnas brands the reader with her vision, a searing and festering landscape where white men have either exterminated the remaining “unmen” (the “Dirties”) or subjugated them (the “fems”) after a manmade cataclysm. Complex societal institutions maintain control Continue reading Book Review: Walk to the End of the World, Suzy McKee Charnas (1974)
M. John Harrison’s collection The Machine in Shaft Tent (1975) contains one of the more humorous inside flap advertisements I have encountered:
Don’t worry, I certainly intend to “see tomorrow today!” I’ll be disappointed if I can’t!
The others are a strange blend… From Edmund Cooper’s apparently anti-Free Love/60s culture Kronk (1970) to a delightful collection of another one of my favorite years of SF.
Also, I seldom accept advanced reader copies due to my limited time/limited interest in newer SF/and incredible mental block when it comes to, how shall I say it, outside forces guiding my central hobby which tends to take me in a variety of directions solely on whim. But, Gollancz was nice enough to send me their new omnibus collection of 1970s Michael G. Coney novels (amazon link: US, UK). Not only did I enjoy Hello Summer, Goodbye (1975) but I recently reviewed and loved Coney’s bizarre and original Friends Come in Boxes (1973). With two out of two successes it’s hardly like I wouldn’t buy his work on sight anyway (another one of my requirements when accepting AVCs)…. I will review two or three of the novels in the omnibus one at a time over the next few months.
1. The Machine in Shaft Ten, M. John Harrison (1975)
(Chris Foss’ cover for the 1975 edition) Continue reading Updates: Recent Acquisitions No. CXXV (M. John Harrison + Coney 3x + Anthology + Cooper)
It has been so long since I have read Asimov… Currents of Space (1952)—or Bradbury’s 1953 masterpiece Fahrenheit 451)—was the very first SF novel I ever read. And I did not enjoy it. In my later teens I read quite a few of Asimov’s works including the average The Gods Themselves (1972) in a Hugo-winning novel marathon that really got me into SF. He has never blown me away. But, I have a soft spot for the robot stories!
Gotlieb’s novel has simply the worst back cover blurb ever. Suspicious.
I do like Philip José Farmer stories although I wish the inside blurb would not give away the entire plot of two of the seven stories. I have never read the original “Riverworld” (1966) short story—perhaps it’s much better than the later novel version.
1. Eight Stories from The Rest of the Robots, Isaac Asimov (1966)
(Paul Lehr’s cover for the 1969 edition) Continue reading Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CXXVI (Asimov + Farmer + Gotlieb + Morressy)
I like lists! I like reading lists! Here’s my rundown of the best and worst of what I read in 2014.
This year I have tried something new—my first guest post series. My ten post Michael Bishop review series—reviews written by SF bloggers interested in classic SF and frequent readers of my site—hopefully introduced a lot of my frequent readers to one of my favorite (and criminally underrated) authors. My second post series did not transpire solely on my site but stretched to others—what Gollancz Masterworks should include… Thanks for all the wonderful contributions!
Feel free to list your best reads of the year. Maybe I’ll add a few of them to my to read/to acquire list.
…and, if you tend to agree with at least some of my views on SF, read these!
Best SF novel
1. Ice, Anna Kavan (1967): Easily the best novel I have read this year, Kavan weaves a Kafka-esque landscape will touches of J. G. Ballard. Ice, caused by some manmade disaster, is slowly creeping over the world. The unnamed narrator is torn between two forces: returning to his earlier research on jungle dwelling singing lemurs in the southern regions vs. tracking down a young woman about whom he has Continue reading Updates: 2014 in Review (Top 10 SF novels + Top 10 Short SF works + Other Categories)