Retrospeculative View, 1968

Some of the excellent Short fiction of 1968:

Harlan Ellison’s The Beast that Shouted Love at the Heart of the World, which won the Hugo Award for Best Short Story in 1969.

Robert Silverberg’s Nightwings, which won the Hugo Award for best novella in 1969.

Robert Silverberg’s Passengers, which won the Nebula Award for best short story in 1969

Poul Anderson’s The Sharing of Flesh, which won the Hugo Award for best novelette in 1969

Samuel R. Delany’s Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones, which won the Nebula Award for best novelette in 1969, and the Hugo Award for best short story in 1970

Gabriel Garcia Márquez’ A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings (Un señor muy viejo con unas alas enormes).

Kurt Vonnegut’s Welcome to the Monkeyhouse.

Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonrider, which won the Nebula Award for best novella

Richard Wilson’s Mother to the World, which won the Nebula Award for best novelette.

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A few of the speculative movies released in 1968:

The Planet of the Apes, based on Pierre Boulle’s 1963 novel La Planète des singes

2001: A Space Odyssey, directed by Stanley Kubrick, and written by Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke (the story was, in part, inspired by Clarke’s short story The Sentinel). Clarke wrote the novel 2001: A Space Odyssey in parallel with the movie version and the novel was published after the film’s released.

Night of the Living Dead, a classic, independent horror (zombie) movie.

Rosemary’s Baby, a classic, psychological horror film directed by Roman Polanski. The story was adapted by Polanski from Ira Levin’s 1967 novel.

Barbarella, a cult-classic starring a very young Jane Fonda (I assume she isn’t too proud of the movie at this stage of her life). It was a French-Italian film based on Jean-Claude Forest’s Barbarella comics.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, loosely based on Ian Fleming’s novel Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang: The Magical Car. The film’s script was written by Roald Dahl and Ken Hughes, directed by Hughes and produced by Albert R. Broccoli, who also produced many James Bond films, also based on works by Ian Fleming (though these novels were intended for a different readership).

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And some of the best speculative novels of the year:

2001, A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke. This book has odd beginnings; it was written at the same time the movie was produced. It was a good novel, but I prefer some of his other books.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick. This novel is perhaps PKD’s most famous, presumably because of the film adaption, Blade Runner. If you’ve been following my posts you probably know that I’m not a big PKD fan, although I did thoroughly enjoy two of his novels, The Man in the High Castle, and A Scanner Darkly. I actually enjoyed the movie blade Runner, more than the novel (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?). I think Dick’s ideas in the novel are superb (many of which never made it into the movie adaption), but I find his writing to be pulpy and uneven. I do, however, like the title of the novel better than the film.

The Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K. Le Guin. I never read this when I was young, and it didn’t capture me when I was older (my loss); this is the first book in Ursula K. Le Guin’s classic YA fantasy series.

Pavane by Keith Roberts: an alternate history novel that I haven’t read, but it is usually compared favorably to PKD’s The Man in the High Castle. Robert’s novel spins out a tale that assumes the Spanish Armada was not defeated by England, and the Protestant religion did not weaken Catholicism’s power. Pavane is a classic of the genre.

Report on Probability A, by Brian Aldiss: written in 1962, but rejected by multiple publishers. It was first published in 1967, but an expanded/revised edition was published in 1968. The novel is an extrapolation of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle and the premise that observation transforms what is observed, thereby resulting in the impossibility of a definitive point of reference (the novel also included other theoretical, quantum physics theories). Report on Probability A has been described as an anti-novel, but was influential in the experimental, ‘New Wave’ of British fiction. There is a schism around the novel; some believe it is a masterpiece, while others would toss it out with the morning’s trash. I must admit, I didn’t care for it when I attempted to read it years ago: perhaps I’ll give it another try…

The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle. A book that should be read while young, or young at heart.

Hawksbill Station, by Robert Silverberg, which is an expanded version of his short story. I don’t recall reading the book (or short story): Hawksbill Station is a penal colony that uses time travel to send political prisoners into the past as a ‘humane’ substitute for capital punishment. It is an effective method for a repressive government to control its dissidents.

Picnic on Paradise, by Joanna Russ. Another novel I haven’t read, but Ms. Russ’s novel The Female Man is excellent, and I would have guessed that Picnic on Paradise examines gender issues; I’ve read that it also examines issues of technology, maturity, and bravery.

His Master’s Voice (Głos Pana), by Stanisław Lem. This novel explores many of Lem’s usual themes; it is an excellent philosophical science fiction novel, and is unsympathetic in regards to human intellect and ethics, and some may find it too cynical. An extraterrestrial message is received and a team of brilliant scientists is assembled to translate it. The novel shares some premises with Solaris (which I think is an even better Lem novel): in particular, if/when we meet up with a truly alien intelligence will we be able to comprehend it; indeed, will we be capable of deciding whether or not it is intelligent? His Master’s Voice is an exceptional, dense novel, and is readily available in English translation.

Rite of Passage by Alexei Panshin, which won the Nebula Award. It is a coming-of-age-story propelled by a moral dilemma. The Earth was being destroyed by war, and spaceships were built to transport people to new worlds. The spaceships contained the accumulated knowledge of Earth, but the crews decide to maintain their own colonies on the ships and parcel out tidbits of knowledge to the different worlds in exchange for goods. The colonies are technologically backward compared to the lives of the spaceship occupants, an inequality inherent in the system. It is a novel about morals, politics, and the maturation process a child experiences after absorbing viewpoints from outside the confines of the parental umbrella.

Nova, by Samuel R. Delany. Most descriptions of Nova probably indicate a standard space opera, but it is more than that. The protagonist fights the good fight against intergalactic evil: Captain Lorq van Ray is attempting to discover an economical energy-source so he can overthrow the Red family; unfortunately, to collect the energy, the only known process would involve a journey into the core of an exploding sun. Nova is a redemption tale, set against a backdrop of unfortunate choices. Delany was (and still is) an interesting author; within the plot of the novel he includes the Tarot, the physics of interstellar masses, cyborgs, the attempts of an outsider to integrate, investigations into the structure of narrative, drugs, and intriguing parallels to the search for the Holy Grail (the original, serious one, not the Monty Python version). In my mind, Nova was the Delany book that turned a literate corner, and a couple of novels he wrote after Nova (Dhalgren in 1975 and Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand in 1984) blew my mind. I enjoyed his earlier works, but this was — to me — the beginning of his maturity as a writer, and I really wanted to give this novel the nod as Retrospeculative Novel of the year, but I (reluctantly) chose another …

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Stand on Zanzibar coverJohn Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar is, as he himself admits, a ‘non-novel,’ yet I’m choosing it as The Retrospeculative novel of 1968. The book is constructed with four distinctive chapter-types: Continuity, containing the plot (these sections form a ‘normal’ narrative as found in most novels); Tracking with Close-Ups, fleeting glimpses of Brunner’s future vision; Context, presenting Brunner’s world via media quotations (several by Chad C. Mulligan, a character in the book), and The Happening World, featuring snippets of information and news stories about characters. The book is written in a way that demands immersion and the style is apparently similar to John Dos Passos in his USA Trilogy.

Brunner has also sprinkled an urban slang throughout the book, some of which require some thought to sort out, but most are quite obvious. For example, Los Angeles has become Ellay (for L.A.), children are prodigies, men are codders, women are shiggies, a.m. is anti matter, and p.m. is poppa-momma.

The book was written in 1968, and the events take place in 2010. In reviews, many people obsess about what Brunner got right, and what he got wrong about the future in 2010; although this can be interesting, prediction isn’t the point. The book is an examination of society and its faults. Brunner is preaching as he explains what ails human society, and he is very critical, although he includes hope for humanity, attached to the criticisms via a thin tendril. The book fits the mood of a manifesto rather than a novel; it is an inspired work, but a little less proselytizing/pontificating, and more investment in fascinating main characters and plot would have made for a better ‘novel’. The world Brunner has imagined is interesting, vibrant, and quite frightening, but the two main characters he has the reader follow — Norman House and Donald Hogan —are rather dull in comparison: the story gets somewhat lost in the message. Some of the secondary characters are actually more interesting than the protagonists.

I have misgivings about the classification of this novel as a novel (although what else can one call it?), but it is a landmark in the development of science fiction as literature, and the depth of Brunner’s world-vision is awe-inspiring.  Every fan of science fiction should, at the least, peruse the book to acquire the mood of the story, the important messages within the chapters, and the richness of John Brunner’s imagination.

Stand on Zanzibar won the Hugo Award, The British Science Fiction Association (BSFA) Award and the Prix Tour-Apollo Award.

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One thought on “Retrospeculative View, 1968

  1. Pingback: Retrospeculative View, 1969 | Retrospeculative

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