Before I dive into my usual Retrospeculative post, a quick note on Robert Silverberg …
Many authors have amazing periods of productivity, but Robert Silverberg’s quality and output from 1967 to 1972 is noteworthy. For example (and I’m not listing all his works, just a few memorable novels): Thorns (1967), Hawksbill Station (1968), Downward to the Earth (1969), Nightwings (1969), Tower of Glass (1970), Son of Man (1971), The World Inside (1971), A Time of Changes (1971), The Book of Skulls (1972), and Dying Inside (1972). For the works he wrote and edited from 1967 to 1972 he was nominated for twenty-four Locus Awards, winning once (Anthology editor: The Science fiction Hall of Fame, volume 1, 197o), twelve Hugo Awards, winning once (Nightwings, 1969) and thirteen Nebula Awards, winning three times (Passengers, A Time of Changes, and Good News from the Vatican). 1971 was a busy year for Silverberg; he had three novels published (A Time of Changes, Son of Man, and The Book of Skulls), a significant short work (Good News from the Vatican), and several non-fiction works (Clockworks for the Ages: How Scientists Date the Past, To the Western Shore: growth of the United States 1776-1853, Before the Sphinx: Early Egypt, and Into space: A Young Person’s Guide to Space (with Arthur C. Clarke)). I believe he began to suffer from burnout, which precipitated his excellent, literate novel Dying Inside (1972), and his retirement from writing in 1975 (his retirement became more of a hiatus; he began writing again, and Lord Valentine’s Castle was published in 1980).
Some of the excellent short fiction of 1971:
Robert Silverberg’s Good News from the Vatican, which won the Nebula Award for best short story.
Larry Niven’s Inconstant Moon, which won the Hugo Award (1972) for best short story
Poul Anderson’s The Queen of Air and Darkness, which won the Nebula Award for best novelette, the Locus Award for best short fiction (1972), and the Hugo Award for best novella (1972)
J.G. Ballard’s Venus Smiles (originally Mobile, a 1967 short-story, rewritten in 1971)
Arthur C. Clarke’s A Meeting With Medusa, which won the Nebula Award for best novella (1972)
Katherine MacLean’s The Missing Man, which won the Nebula Award for best novella
Brian W. Aldiss won the BSFA Award (1972) for his short story collection The Moment of Eclipse
Some of the movies of 1971:
A Clockwork Orange, directed by Stanley Kubrick, based on Anthony Burgess’ novel (1962). I found this movie very disturbing; perhaps I watched it when I too young…
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, a musical adaption of Roald Dahl’s novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964). A second movie adaption was released in 2005 (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).
The Andromeda Strain, based on Michael Crichton’s novel (1969): a techno-thriller that follows the struggles of scientists as they attempt to stop the spread of an extraterrestrial microorganism that causes insanity.
And some of the novels of 1971:
Philip Jose Farmer’s To Your Scattered Bodies Go, which won the Hugo Award for best novel (1972). In the novel, Sir Richard Francis Burton awakes, after death, on a world that consists of a river that seems to stretch forever. He is among billions of resurrected individuals from Earth’s history; from the Neolithic age, to 2008 (beyond the time he lived. Burton is a real historical figure, as are many others in the novel) Burton decides to discover the rivers origin; he becomes enslaved, is partnered with Hermann Göring, and is eventually recruited to help destroy the plans of the organization behind the resurrections. I enjoyed this when I was younger, but it hasn’t aged well.
Michael Murphy’s Golf in the Kingdom, which relates a spiritual (and, I assume, fictional) tale of the author, a young traveller in Scotland, who plays a round of golf with Shivas Irons, an enigmatic, mystical golf professional. The golf course named in the novel is ‘Burningbush,’ but is probably a veiled reference to the links course at St. Andrews, considered by many to be the spiritual home of golf. The book is an unusual blend of philosophy, myth, mysticism, whisky, and even a little bit of golf.
Robert Silverberg’s Son of Man, an unusual book, which contains some of his most eloquent and lyrical writing, but the setting, plot, characters and situations are an extravagant kaleidoscope of experimental writing. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but it was a bit of a chore to get through, I cannot recommend it, and I’ll probably never re-read it (though I’ll certainly sample some sections from time-to-time). The protagonist, Clay, is a man from the twentieth century who somehow travels billions of years into the future and encounters humanity in its future (and alternate-reality future?) forms. The themes are diverse, but include sexuality (there is quite a bit about sex), telepathy, differing physical and emotional states of being, and the (possibly) inherent hierarchy of beings. It is also also provocative: How can memory and wisdom be preserved? Why do we exist? What are we? What is time? Where do we come from? What is it all about? I’m fairly certain that Silverberg enjoyed the drug-culture of his age, and the book could arguably be labeled as trippy, rambling, pretentious drivel, but there are many intriguing sections within its pages; just don’t expect a typical Robert Silverberg novel (see A Time of Changes, below).
Stanislaw Lem’s Doskonała próżnia (A Perfect Vacuum), a collection of reviews of non-existent books and one authentic book, A Perfect Vacuum. Lem is always imaginative, and mentally stimulating; I particularly enjoyed the didactic review of Non Serviam, a sophisticated satire on the dilemma that artificial intelligence might create, including the concept of God in the minds of the AI constructs.
Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven, which won the Locus Award for Best Novel (1972). This is one of Le Guin’s better novels (which is saying a lot), and I was sorely tempted to designate it as my Retrospecualtive novel for 1971, but I decided to give the nod to another author (I chose The Left Hand of Darkness as my Retospeculative novel in 1969, and I know I’ll be ‘awarding’ another Le Guin novel in a few years, so her works will be well represented in this blog). In The Lathe of Heaven, George Orr’s dreams come true; reality changes, but nobody else notices. Orr’s reality-modifying dreams disturb him, and he turns to drugs, which block the dreams; unfortunately, Orr becomes erratic: rather than entering an asylum, he enters into therapy with William Haber, who gradually comes to the understanding that Orr is not unhinged and realizes that Orr is telling the truth. Haber begins to control Orr’s dreams in an attempt to create a better world, but things never turn out as planned. Orr also has a love interest, Heather, who Orr continues to interact with as his alternate realities are manifested, but circumstances are forever shifting. The book is similar to a P.K. Dick novel in some respects (perhaps Le Guin was giving homage to PKD?). The novel poses philosophical questions about, and explores the problems with, humanity’s propensity for exerting control. The book highlights Le Guin’s interest in Taoism, and the book’s title is taken from the writings of Chuang Tzu, the James Legg translation: “To let understanding stop at what cannot be understood is a high attainment. Those who cannot do it will be destroyed on the lathe of heaven” (Book XXIII, paragraph 7). Interestingly, Legge’s translation is faulty and Le Guin was informed by the renowned sinologist Joseph Needham that when Chuang Tzu wrote the book the lathe had yet to be invented. Ursula K. Le Guin continued to be fascinated with Taoism and she wrote her own ‘translation’ of the Tao Te Ching, The Book of the Way and Its Virtue by Lao Tzu (1998). If you enjoy Le Guin’s writing, and haven’t read The Lathe of Heaven, I heartily recommend it.
And my pick for Retrospeculative novel of 1971 is…
A Time of Changes, by Robert Silverberg, which won the Nebula Award. Imagine a human culture on another planet in which the first person singular is prohibited; words such as I or me are the worst obscenities imaginable; and, if uttered, are a major social faux-pas, or worse (Silverberg insists he did not know of Ayn Rand’s novel Anthem (1938); regardless, Silverberg’s objective was markedly dissimilar to hers). In the novel, a selfbarer is a person who bares their soul to others; a disgusting act. Kinnall Darival, the protagonist, is an exiled prince, and the novel is presented as his autobiography, written while he waits for his pursuers to capture and incarcerate him for the crime of selfbaring, among others. It is a fairly straightforward plot; and, although the book is enjoyable and interesting, there is nothing extraordinarily striking about the novel, but the message is very spiritual and the ending left me with an uplifted sensation, a surge of spiritual hope; for that alone, the novel is memorable and worthy of my praise (this is not Silverberg’s best novel, but it has a special place in my heart). The novel concludes with an indefinite ending, and the reader is left to choose which story to believe: Kinnall Derival’s story requires a leap of faith. But no matter which story the reader chooses, I believe the final page conveys a message full of meaning for our society. In the novel, Kinnall’s spiritual awakening required a drug; a reference, I assume, to the LSD culture. I believe in a drug-free path to freedom of the soul; nevertheless, Silverberg’s message is meaningful, and he reaches out to everyone who reads his book:
If you have read this far, you must be with me in soul. So I say to you, my unknown reader, that I love you and reach my hand toward you, I who was Kinnall Derival, I who have opened the way, I who promised to tell you all about myself, and who now can say that the promise has been fulfilled. Go and seek. Go and touch. Go and love. Go and be open. Go and be healed (p. 300, Orb edition, 2009).