Retrospeculative View, 1955

Some short fiction published in 1955:

The Darfsteller, by Walter M Miller (Hugo Award for best novelette, 1955)
The Star, by Arthur C. Clarke (Hugo Award for best short story, 1956)
Allamagoosa, by Eric Frank Russell (Hugo Award for best short story, 1955)
The Country of the Kind, by Damon Knight
Of Missing Persons, Jack Finney

Some movies from 1955 (and it’s no wonder my parents didn’t want me reading science fiction…)

This Island Earth an alienIt Came from Beneath the Sea: featuring stop-motion, model-monster effects
This Island Earth, in which aliens recruit Earth’s nuclear scientists to aid in an interstellar war
Panther Girl of the Kongo: a scantily clad woman and an evil scientist who breeds giant crayfish. Wow!
Timeslip (The Atomic Man in the USA): “This was the deadliest secret of all…the man with the radioactive brain”
Tarantula: Another in a long line of ‘big-bug’ horror movies.

And last, but not least, the speculative novels from 1955:

The Body Snatchers, by Jack Finney. A staple of B movie makers (1956, 1978, 1993, and 2007).

Martians go Home, by Frederic Brown. A humorous science fiction  novel (a blueprint for Douglas Adams?).

The Magician’s Nephew, another installment in the Narnia franchise. As I’ve noted before, the series never ‘hooked’ me; however, it has definitely garnered a cult following, and is certainly a classic of fantasy and speculative fiction.

The End of Eternity, by Isaac Asimov. I was excited when this novel was republished a couple of years ago: a classic Asimov time-travel story that I’d somehow missed when I was younger. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as good as I’d anticipated. The characters were wooden and the plot was somewhat telegraphed and gimmicky. Perhaps I was expecting too much.

The Chrysalids, by John Wyndham, a thoughtful, post-apocalyptic novel. This book came close to my choice for best of 1955, but suffers slightly in comparison. It was the only science fiction novel I remember reading within the school curriculum, and I can only recall three other speculative fiction works I was introduced to in public school: the second chapter from The Hobbit (Roast Mutton), which was read out loud by a nice lady in the mobile-library van when I was in grade two; All Summer in a Day, a poignant short story by Ray Bradbury that Miss Teeple read to us in grade three; and the time when Ms. Dover, bless her heart, noticed me reading The Moon is a Harsh Mistress in the school library and she introduced me to a collection that included The Machine Stops, a short story by E.M. Forrester (I’m sure this was a clever ruse on her part to introduce me to more ‘intellectual’ authors, but it only made me aware of the existence of science fiction and fantasy short story collections). The Chysalids takes place generations after a nuclear war (a real and constant fear when I was young): the elements of hard science fiction (mutations) and reactions to them are believable, but the telepathic elements don’t work as well for me, and some plot elements could have been refined. Nevertheless, it is a robust speculative fiction classic that can spark introspection; a light, enjoyable novel.

My choice for the best of the year is not a literary standout (I searched for a more ‘literate’ novel to quell my snobbish sensibilities; however,  I found nothing to supplant it. Perhaps this blog will highlight the development of more literate speculative fiction…): it was wonderful science fiction in the 1950s, but  it now seems like light entertainment. Regardless, my choice for the Retrospective Novel of 1955 is…

double_star_masterworks_coverDouble Star, by Robert A. Heinlein, which won the Hugo Award for best novel. I’m going to feel like an old fuddy-duddy, but here goes…it is a fun read, an excellent example of science fiction in the 1950s, but not a great novel. The story moves at a rapid clip (it is, after all, quite a short book), the main character is well drawn and provided with plausible motivation for his actions, and there is an abundance of humour to drive the narrative, but the story is improbable: too much of the plot hinges on luck and coincidence, and there are sections where the main character manages to acquire complex skills with ease. Nevertheless, I was somehow able to suspend disbelief and my heart was won over; after all, this is one of Heinlein’s best, and he deserves mention as a major player in the genre science fiction of his time (his two other noteworthy novels — IMHO — are The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1966) and Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), and these will get more attention in future posts).

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