Retrospeculative View, 1978

Some of the short fiction from 1978:

C. J. Cherryh’s Cassandra, which won the Hugo Award for best short story (1979)

John Varley’s The Persistence of Vision,which won the Nebula Award and the Hugo Award (1979) for best novella

Charles L. Grant’s A Glow of Candles, a Unicorn’s Eye, which won the Nebula Award for best novelette

Ramsey Campbell’s MacIntosh Willy, which won the Workld Fantasy Award for best short story (1980)

Edward Bryant’s Stone, which won the Nebula Award for best short story.Analog_cover_Nov_1978

Avram Davidson’s Naples, which won the World Fantasy Award for best short story (1979)

Brian W. Aldiss’ Enemies of the System

Gene Wolfe’s Seven American Nights

Christopher Priest’s The Watched

Orson Scott Card’s Mikal’s Songbird, later adapted as a portion of the novel Songmaster (1980)

Poul Anderson’s Hunter’s Moon, which won the Hugo Award (1979) for best novelette

Ian Watson’s The Very Slow Time Machine

 

cylonSome of the movies and TV shows from 1978:

Battlestar Galactica (TV series, 1978-1979), the short-run initial television story of the last major Colonial Battlestar that “leads a makeshift fleet of human refugees on a desperate search for the legendary planet Earth.”

The Incredible Hulk (TV series, 1978-1982), with Bill Bixby as Dr. Banner and Lou Ferrigno as The Hulk. I was surprised that this series ran so long…

Superman, the first of the movies starring Christopher Reeves. The movie received a Special Achievement Academy Award for visual effects.

The Boys from Brazil, based on Ira Levin’s novel. Gregory Peck won a Golden Globe Award (best actor) for his portrayal of Dr. Josef Mengele

Dawn of the Dead, a zombie-apocalypse movie that spawned four sequels, parodies, and helped create a ton of pop culture…

Invasion of the Body Snatchers, based on Jack Finney’s novel, and is a remake of the 1956 movie of the same name.

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Some of the notable novels of 1978:

Gore Vidal’s Kalki, an apocalyptic novel that included the subjects of overpopulation (a big theme in 1970s fiction), birth control, sexuality, feminism, religious cults, and world politics (particularly concerning military non-intelligence). The Soviet and American governments are both planning to test a new type of weapon that is capable of wiping out all life on Earth and leaving it sterile for centuries. These plans are discovered by James J. Kelly, a chemical engineer and former American soldier, and he hatches an ill-advised plan to ‘save’ the human race. First, he founds a religious cult, calling himself Kalki, proclaiming himself to be the embodiment of Lord Vishnu, and advising the world that he will exterminate the human race on April 3, thereby ushering in a new Golden Age. Kalki’s undisclosed plan is to kill everyone in the world, leaving only himself and his wife — as a new Adam and Eve — and three sterile scientists who will act as instructors for his progeny, the future of humanity. The protagonist, Teddy Ottinger, is a flyer (winner of the prestigious Harmon Trophy), mother, ‘would-be-know-it-all,’ and a frustration to many conceited men’s self-respect. Gore Vidal seems to possess a chronic cynicism toward humanity and Teddy Ottinger is his foil; pessimistic, asexual, bitchy, and steeped in melancholia. She becomes Kalki’s pilot in an attempt to save the world and she is a prerequisite for the novel’s conclusion. It is a well written novel and it garnered some respect in science fiction circles (it was nominated for the Nebula Award), but it has the aura of a disparaging discourse.

Gardner Dozois’ Strangers, his only ‘solo’ authored novel (he is much better known as an editor). The novel began life as a novella, but the longer form fleshes out the ideas to a more satisfying extent (although it is still quite a short book). It is a story of cultural differences. The protagonist, Joseph Farber, is an artist who is interpreting an alien world — Weinunnach — for humanity; as he works, he falls in love with Liaraun, one of the Cian, the indigenous, sentient species. Farber must undergo a complete modification of his DNA in order to consummate his relationship. The book explores some of the issues that arose from the transformative society of the 1970s, with particular focus on interracial (inter-species) marriage, the shifting relationships between men and women, feminism, and the miscommunication inherent in a society that cannot exchange ideologies in an open manner.  The novel is interesting, but the mood is quite dark.

dreamsnake_coverDreamsnake, by Vonda McIntyre, which won the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, and the Locus Award. The novel is set in a post-apocalyptic, radioactive Earth. It won the Hugo Award (1979), the Locus Award (1979) and the Nebula Award. The novel is an expansion of the author’s novelette Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand (the 1974 Nebula Award winner). Snake is a healer who is searching for a replacement for her dreamsnake. She heals using the venom of three snakes, and the venom of the dreamsnake is a morphine-like modality.  I really enjoyed this novel when I first read it thirty-odd years ago, but it doesn’t appeal to me now; it is still an enjoyable, inventive genre novel, but it hasn’t matured along with me (some would argue that I’m no more mature than I was in the 1970s, but I’ll let my statement stand): novels don’t have the opportunity to grow with age and, sadly,  some of my old friends have been left behind.

Michael Moorcock Gloriana (or The Unfulfill’d Queen), which won the World Fantasy Award, and the John W. Campbell Award. Gloriana is a fantasy that has the sensibility of a Renaissance period literary romance (on second thought, anti-romance might be a more appropriate term). The book was inspired by Edmund Spenser’s epic poem The Faerie Queene (circa 1590), and is steeped in the mood of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy. Moorcock imagines an alternate realm, set a hundred years after Queen Elizabeth I, but revamping her as Queen Glorianna I of Albion, with an empire that includes Hindustan, Cathay, Virginia and Kansas. The action gyres about three main characters; Glorianna, her Lord Chancellor Perion Montfallcon, and Captain Arturo Quire, who is an assassin-spy. Lord Montfallcon and Captain Quire compete for power, and Glorianna is the wedge between them. Sex is used a weapon; Glorianna was abused by her father and has become wanton and melancholy, and the bisexual Captain Quire is not beyond seduction as a means to power. Lord Montfallcon holds the power behind the throne and he has maintained a peaceful kingdom, but his methods are odious. The secondary characters are varied and fleshed-out, and there is a preponderance of descriptive prose; some may find the protracted descriptions of materials, textures, and fanciful ornamentation tedious. The novel is divided into four sections, one for each season of the year, and each section includes a social event as the hub of activity. It is not a novel for those with delicate sensibilities: there are some highly questionable scenes, but I didn’t find them gratuitous; they succeed within the context of the story, though I could have done without them. Not quite my cup of tea (I prefer the Gormenghast trilogy), but not too bad.

C.J. Cherryh’s Kesrith, book one in The Faded Sun trilogy, an early series by the now-famous author; perhaps not one her acknowledged major works, but I found the entire series to be an agreeable diversion (the other two books in the series are: Shon’jir and Kutath, but the series can now be purchased in an omnibus package, The Faded Sun trilogy). The series is set in Cherryh’s Alliance-Union universe, with a focus on the Mri Wars. There are two protagonists; one is a human, Sten Duncan, the other is Niun, a warrior, one of the few Mri who survived their contract as mercenaries for the regul, who have just finished a violent, forty-two year war with humanity, but are about to betray the Mri. The last of the Mri spiritual caste forms a tenuous partnership with Sten Duncan, who is to protect a valuable Mri artifact. The alien races that C.J. Cherryh has created — the Mri and, in particular, the regul — make this an interesting book. The Mri are a tall, slender, humanoid species with golden skin, golden-brown hair, and yellow eyes with epicanthic folds and nictitating membranes, presumably because their home world is a desert planet. The regul have eidetic memories and are cannibalistic beings that chase and feed on their young; the mature regul become ponderously large and use hover-chairs for mobility.

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I had a difficult time deciding which novel to highlight as the ‘best’ speculative novel of the year; there wasn’t really a standout, nothing that left me with a strong, lasting impression. I finally settled on one that may not be on many people’s lists, mainly because it was the author’s only novel; unfortunately, he passed from this realm before it was published. .

Without further ado, my choice for the Retrospeculative novel of 1978 is…

Blind Voices, by Tom Reamy, which is reminiscent of — but not quite as polished as — Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine, with a mellow portion of Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love stirred in. The story captures the mood of Midwestern America. TOM_REAMY_Blind_VoicesA magical carnival is prominent, there are strange creatures in the carnival, and the carnival is not as harmless as it seems. Haversham, the carnival master, is possibly quite evil.

This was Tom Reamy’s only novel and it was published after his death at the age of forty-two (he also wrote some interesting short fiction, collected in San Diego Lightfoot Sue: the title story won the 1976 Nebula for best novelette). The setting of Blind Voice is depression-era Kansas, and the novel contains a charming love story, but also includes some elements of violence and revenge. The story focuses on three girls — Evelyn, Francine, and Rose— who are seduced by the carnival, and enter into precarious liaisons: Rose falls for a roustabout, and Francine favours the immodest Minotaur, but the significant relationship is between Evelyn and the mute albino boy, Angel.

The novel could have used some loving editorialization: the writing has some rough edges, and the ending is a bit rushed and derivative, but there are some wonderful sections; particularly in the heart of the story, in the middle. An enjoyable genre novel.

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