Retrospeculative View: 1957

CallMeJoeBobEggeltonSome of the short fiction:

Hunting Machine, Carol Emshwiller
Omnilingual, H. Beam Piper
The Last Word, Damon Knight
I’m in Marsport Without Hilda, Isaac Asimov
Call Me Joe, Poul Anderson (surely a basis for the movie Avatar)
The Fly,  George Langelaan (a story that spawned five movies)

Some of the movies:

The Abominable Snowman (aka The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas)
The Incredible Shrinking Man (based on Richard Matheson’s 1956 novel The Shrinking Man)
The Amazing Colossal Man (purportedly based on a 1920s novel, The Nth Man, but I had a quick look and couldn’t find a mention of a book called the Nth Man (not to be confused with the comic book, Nth Man: The Ultimate Ninja)) . Update 2014-04-26: The Nth Man was written by Homer Eon Flint, published in 1928 (information thanks to Dutch; see comments).
The Curse of Frankenstein, the first colour movie by Hammer Horror (Hammer Films), famous for their Gothic cinema productions.

And some of the novels:

Wasp, Eric Frank Russell. Wasp and Next of Kin are his best known novels; unfortunately, although they are interesting and fun to read, I think they lack the depth to sustain them. I prefer Russell’s short fiction, and highly recommend Allamagoosa (1955).

The Door into Summer, Robert A. Heinlein. A highly readable story (albeit a bit light-weight) that I enjoyed when I was a young man, but it includes a disturbing time-travel romance angle (which was recycled in The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger).

Eye in the Sky, by Philip K. Dick, who was still tinkering at this stage: his best novels were yet to come.

Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand. Her fictional magnum opus on Objectivism. Very popular.

Big Planet, Jack Vance. Like his wonderful fantasy series (the Lyonesse Trilogy and The Dying Earth collection), Vance’s science fiction novel Big Planet displays a flair for world-building: through the course of the novel  he unveils the planet’s ecology, as well as the technological, economic, and political miasma created by the inhabitants, thereby setting the tone for writers such as Ursula K. Le Guin (with Gethen, in The Left Hand of Darkness) and Frank Herbert (with Arrakis, in Dune). Big Planet was also a precursor to the  planetary romance genre. Vance may not be well-known to the younger generation, but he was an influential writer in the speculative field.

Dandelion Wine, Ray Bradbury. Probably his most intimate writing; nostalgic and poetic. Dandelions are symbolic of summer, medicine, and magic. The ‘magic’ of creating a bottle of dandelion wine from the ingredients is like writing and packaging the novel, which is a compilation of  the magic moments of summer experienced by the protagonist, twelve-year-old Douglas Spaulding (who I suspect is a stand-in for Ray Bradbury).
On the Beach, Nevil Shute. A haunting, heartbreaking story of the slow, but inevitable end to human life on Earth due to radiation fallout after World War III.  Under Shutes’s name on the title page are two famous lines from T. S. Eliot’s poem The Hollow Men:

This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.


And my pick for the retrospeculative novel of the year is…voss-patrick-white-hardcover-cover-art

Voss, by Patrick White. An exceptional novel by the Nobel Prize winning author. The main character, Johann Ulrich Voss (loosely based on the life of Ludwig Leichhardt), organizes an expedition into the Australian outback. Before he sets out on his expedition, he meets Laura Trevelyan; and, even after the two are separated, they are somehow linked metaphysically and are able to communicate through visions. The powerful personality of Voss drives the plot, and his adventures — as well as events surrounding Laura in Sydney — are imbued with religious symbolism. I particularly enjoyed the sections that examined the spirituality of the indigenous societies of the outback. Highly recommended.

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