Retrospeculative View, 1969

1969 was the first year the British Science Fiction Association (BSFA) Awards  were presented; like the Hugo, the award is presented for works published in the previous year, and the best novel award went to Stand on Zanzibar, by John Brunner, a fine choice (see Retospeculative view, 1968).

Some of the interesting short fiction of 1969:

The Electric Ant, Philip K. Dick

Passengers, by Robert Silverberg, which won the Nebula Award for best short story

cover: Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (July, 1969)Not Long Before the End, by Larry Niven

Ship of Shadows, by Fritz Leiber, which won the Hugo for best novella

A Boy and His Dog by Harlan Ellison, the Nebula Award winner for best novella

The Encounter (El encuentro) by Jorge Luis Borges

Winter’s King & Nine Lives, by Ursula K. Le Guin

Note: Samuel R. Delany’s Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones won the Nebula in 1969 (and the Hugo in 1970), but it was published in 1968 and therefore I included it in the Retrospeculative View for 1968.

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Some of the Speculative movies of 1969:

Captain Nemo and the Underwater City, inspired by Jules Verne’s novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (Vingt mille lieues sous les mers, 1870).

fellini_satyricon_a_lThe Computer Who Wore Tennis Shoes, a Disney movie in the mold of, and taking place at the same College (Medfield) as, The Absent-Minded Professor (1961, based on Samuel W. Taylor’s short story A Situation of Gravity).

Fellini Satyricon, an Italian fantasy written and directed by Federico Fellini. It is loosely based on Satyricon (the late 1st century AD), by Petronius (Gaius Petronius Arbiter). The film is set in Nero’s Imperial Rome and involves a succession of rather lewd, satirical incidences.

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And some of the notable speculative novels of 1969:

The Andromeda Strain, by Michael Crichton. A techno-thriller; not my cup of tea, but it spawned a popular movie (1971), was a New York Times bestseller, and paved the path for Mr. Crichton’s career. An extraterrestrial virus creates havoc and a group of scientists struggles to stop its spread and/or develop a vaccine.

The Jagged Orbit, by John Brunner, which won the BSFA Award (1970). The Jagged Orbit is somewhat similar to Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar: it employed experimental narrative techniques  to immerse the reader in a dystopian culture; however, it has not received the lasting attention as Stand on Zanzibar (which is generally considered to be his masterpiece) . Brunner’s experimental writing at this period in his career was intriguing, and The Jagged Orbit consists of various chapter lengths; most of them short and dense, with one chapter comprising only a portion of a word. The Sheep Look Up (1972, set in the late 1970s), Stand on Zanzibar (1968, set in 2010), and The Jagged Orbit (1969, set in 2014,) can be grouped as an unofficial trilogy of Brunner’s dystopian warnings (he was not predicting the future, he was explaining what he thought society was doing wrong. I think it would have behooved us to listen, he had some excellent points).

The House on the Strand, by Daphne du Maurier, who had three of her stories adapted for film by Alfred Hitchcock (two novels: Rebecca (which won the Best Picture Oscar) and Jamaica Inn; and her short story, The Birds). In The House on the Strand, the protagonist, Dick Young, becomes a test subject for his friend; a biophysicist, Magnus Lane. The drug enables Dick to travel backward in time to the 14th century: he can view the past and be immersed in the day-to-day life of the people of the time, but he cannot control events. His travel is a journey of the mind.

Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut, which is considered by many to be his best book. Billy Pilgrim is a soldier, has met aliens (Tralfamadorians), and is disconnected from what we consider the normal flow of time. The novel uses a plain, but dense, style to mull over war (in particular the fire-bombing of Dresden), bullies, revenge, the meaning of time, and the immense forces that can affect an individual.

And my pick for Retrospeculative Novel of 1969 is…

The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. Le Guin, which won the Hugo & Nebula Awards for the year. It is a extraordinary book, by a remarkable author: if Ms. Le Guin had only written this novel, and The Dispossessed, she would still rank among my favourite authors. Her body of literate work is considerable, and impressive (she has garnered numerous awards, but famously refused a Nebula award for the Diary of the Rose (a novelette) as a response to the SFWA’s conduct toward Stanislaw Lem). She has been cited as an influence by Salman Rushdie, David Mitchell, Neil Gaiman and Iain Banks, among others. But enough about the author, and on to her novel…

Cover: The Left Hand of DarknessThe Left Hand of Darkness is a book that I find eminently re-readable; I’ve journeyed through it three times and, after thinking about the novel, preparing this post, I’d like to read it again. It is set in Ms. Le Guin’s Hanish Cycle; Genly Ai is an envoy from the Ekumen and he is on Gethen attempting to ascertain whether or not the people on the planet are ready for, and will accept, membership in the Ekumen’s intergalactic community. Genly Ai is male, but the Gethians are hermaphroditic; they are neuters that morph into male or female, depending on circumstances. The novel explores many issues (including politics, spirituality and, of course, gender), misunderstandings arise, and tension builds as Genly Ai and Therem Estraven (the other main character in the book) escape pursuit by embarking on an unforgettable journey across a frozen mountain pass. The novel is easy to read (some may find it dry: please persevere), but it carries a remarkable depth of introspective complexity.

The book is about many things; above all, it is an enduring  tale of friendship and love.

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