Retrospeculative View: 1962

Two Tales And Eight Tomorrows, Harry Harrison (Sphere 1976): cover, Jim burns

Jim Burns cover art

Some of the short stories:

The Ballad of Lost C’Mell, Cordwainer Smith

Critical Mass, Frederik Pohl and Cyril M. Kornbluth

Kings in Darkness, Michael Moorcock

The Lonesome Place, August Derleth

The Streets of Ashkelon, Harry Harrison

The Switchman (El Guardagujas), Juan José Arreola

The Dragon Masters, Jack Vance (Hugo Award, short story, 1963)

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On Television:

Fireball XL5, a black and white British science fiction children’s show about the adventures of the spaceship Fireball XL5, which was commanded by Colonel Steve Zodiac of the World Space Patrol. The show used AP Film’s ‘Supermarionation’ puppetry technique. I don’t recall Fireball XL5, but I certainly remember its descendant, Thunderbirds (1965)

The Jetsons, the first program broadcast in color on ABC-TV, starting September 23rd: the show only lasted one season (24 episodes), but the original episodes have been in syndicated rerun mode ever since…

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Some of the movies:

The Day of the Triffids, based on the 1951 novel by John Wyndham

Dr. No, the first of the Bond films, based on the novel by Ian Fleming.

Gorath (Yosei Gorasu), a Japanese science fiction tokusatsu (‘special effects’) film

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And the speculative novels of 1962:

The Jewels of Aptor, Samuel R. Delany’s first novel. Delany will get more attention in future posts.

Little Fuzzy, H. Beam Piper. A popular YA novel (adults have enjoyed it too!) about an endearing ‘fuzzy’ species (the Ewoks in Star Wars may have been modeled after them). In the novel, the creatures are discovered on planet Zarathustra, and the plot revolves around whether or not the fuzzies are sentient. There is an unscrupulous company that would rather not admit the fuzzies’ sentience, and an age-old struggle between the haves and have-nots ensues. Henry Beam Piper was a mysterious man who appeared out of nowhere to become a successful writer. He was previously employed as a railroad yard night watchman; unfortunately, he took his own life in 1964, but his fiction lives on, and can be accessed through Project Guttenberg (http://www.gutenberg.org/).

A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle. I loved this novel when I was young, but when I read it to my daughters I was surprised with the religious references within the story (mainly Christian, but Buddha is mentioned at one point). I must admit, the novel didn’t impress me as an adult; nevertheless, many of the characters are locked in my permanent memory: Meg (of course, she is the protagonist), Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who, Mrs Which, IT (the terrifying, telepathic brain), and The Black Thing (pure evil). The novel won a Newbery Medal, the Sequoyah Book Award, and the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award.

Island, Aldous Huxley. I found this novel, which is full of idealistic proselytizing, rather unsophisticated. It is full of good intentions, but felt flat.

A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess. I haven’t read this novel yet, but someday I will. I watched the movie when I was too young and it haunts me.

The Drowned World, J.G. Ballard. A post-apocalyptic novel set in a flooded, future London. Extraordinary solar activity results in increased temperatures, which melt the polar caps and cause world-wide flooding. The Drowned World is unusual for a book of its genre; rather than the standard tropes, the novel examines the changes in the world and humanity in a scientific manner. The central character, Dr. Robert Kerans, is fascinated by the transformations that humanity is undergoing as a result of the rise in temperature and flooding of the planet. He develops a theory that humanity is undergoing metamorphosis (similar to that experienced by insects) due to the environmental pressures of increased isolation forced on individuals. It is a novel, and not a scientific treatise, so Ballard has provided an interesting plot filled with tension and conflict.

Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury. Just before Halloween a carnival rolls into Green Town, a sleepy Midwest city. Two teenage boys, Will and Jim, are ecstatic until they realize there is something truly ominous about the carnival; soon, the proprietors of the carnival turn their evil intentions toward Jim and Will. Ray Bradbury has a gift for evoking the smells, sounds, and textures of a Midwest town in autumn, and he creates an incredible mood in this novel.

The Woman in the Dunes (Suna no onna) Kōbō Abe. An allegorical, Japanese novel. An amateur entomologist, Niki Jumpei, heads out for a weekend bug-hunting expedition and encounters a  village in which the inhabitants homes are within deep sand pits. The entomologist is deceived and ultimately imprisoned with an unnamed woman in one of the pits, and he must shovel the constantly seeping sands that threaten to bury the entire village. This novel is written/translated in potent, sparse prose, and is a metaphor for the modern human condition.

And my pick for the Retrospeculative novel of 1962 is…

originalThe Man in the High Castle, by Philip K. Dick (Hugo Award, 1963). I’m not a big PKD fan, but I thought this novel was exceptional, and it was instrumental in defining the sub-genre of alternate history. Philip Kindred Dick was always able to conjure a novel overflowing with ideas, but he was fueled by amphetamines, which I think undermined his prose; however, in The Man in the High Castle, he managed to layer his story in a lucid, refined manner. The novel’s premise is that the Axis won WW II and America was divided between Germany, Japan, and Italy. The plot has odd shifts (as in all PKD books), but the transitions work in the context of the whole, and there is a mythology about the book that maintains that Dick ‘threw’ the I Ching to resolve plot-points (the I Ching is quite prominent in the story). There are several characters, either working for or against the authorities, but most characters are not as they appear. There is also the typical PK Dick theme that asks: how do we know what is real? (One character uses the example of faked antiques. If you put the real and the well-fashioned fake beside each other, how do you tell them apart? They may have different histories, but what makes them different to the perceiver?). Within the book, Dick has also embedded another alternate history novel, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, which is closer to the history of our world: the Allies won the war. But the history in The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is also different from that of our reality (only a few details are given about the contents of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, which is a proscribed book. Several people, for different reasons, are searching for the author). The novel ends abruptly, and some find it unsatisfactory, but I think it is apropos. In this novel, PKD was able to transfer the extraordinary ideas from his mind to the page with a coherent, concise, and graceful flair.

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2 thoughts on “Retrospeculative View: 1962

  1. Pingback: Retrospeculative Review: 1962 | ChristianBookBarn.com

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