Retrospeculative View, 1971

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), cover_son_of_manNightwings (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).

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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)

moment of eclipse cover imagePhilip Jose Farmer’s The Sliced-Crosswise Only-On-Tuesday World

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

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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.

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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 A Time of Changes; cover (2009 Orb Trade edition)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).

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Air (or Have Not Have), by Geoff Ryman

Air (or, Have Not Have) is a science fiction novel that I think non-science fiction readers might enjoy.  It won the British Science Fiction Association Award, the James Tiptree, Jr. Award, and the Arthur C. Clarke Award. The opening chapter of the novel is a short story (Have Not Have) that Ryman Geoff_Ryman_Air_coverexpanded into the novel.

The novel tackles many subjects, among them: political power struggles, resistance and/or adaption to technological change, technological based evolution, metaphysics, the ‘haves’ versus the ‘have-nots’ of our world, the role and acceptance of prophets, and the sociological issues encountered in any population of humans.

The basic plot involves a near-future when the internet is tested as a direct connection to the mind via Air. The results of an Air test are followed through the lives of a fictional Asian village; and, in particular, through Chung Mae, who acquires profound insights and visions through Air.

It’s all so precious, thought Mae-in-Air, it’s all so beautiful, we have to ignore it all, to get on with the laundry.” (p. 379)

It’s a wonderfully imagined novel: themes are revealed gradually, but effectively. I had some problems getting through the third-quarter of the book and found it difficult to withhold disbelief in a couple of circumstances, particularly Mae’s unusual pregnancy, though her baby is a metaphor for the village, and the end justifies the means; as a whole, it is an exceptional novel.

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Retrospeculative view, 1970

In 1971, Locus: The magazine of the science fiction & fantasy field, began distributing their Locus Awards, for works published in 1970 (when I began this blog, I found the stated year of awards a tad confusing: both the Hugo Awards and the Locus Awards are a year out-of-synch with the published dates (e.g.: published in 1970, award dated 1971), but the Nebula Award year is the same as the year published). The winning authors are presented with a plaque, and the publishers of  the winning works are presented with a certificate. The original intent of the Locus Award was to influence the Hugo Award selections, and the Locus Awards have become regarded for the quality of their selections.

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Some of the short fiction of 1970:

Button, Button, by Richard Matheson. When this story was adapted for a Twilight Zone episode (1986) the story’s modifications (in particular, the ending) left Matheson less than impressed.

Galaxy_cover_Feb1970The Region Between, by Harlan Ellison, which won the Locus Award for short fiction

Ill Met in Lankhmar, by Fritz Leiber, which won the Nebula Award for Best Novella (1970) and the Hugo Award for Best Novella (1971).

The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories, by Gene Wolfe

Le Dépeupleur (The Lost Ones), by Samuel Beckett.

Slow Sculpture, by Theodore Sturgeon, which won the Nebula Award for Best Novelette (1970) and the Hugo Award for Best Short Story (1971)

A Locus Award was also presented for the best anthology, and the first winner is a collection that contains many classics: The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume 1, edited by Robert Silverberg. It is an excellent collection of short stories published from 1929 through 1964.

A few of the movies/new TV shows of 1970:

Beneath the Planet of the Apes, the second of five films based on La Planète des singes (Planet of the Apes) by Pierre Boulle

Colossus: The Forbin Project, adapted from Dennis Feltham Jones’ novel Colossus (1966), in which a computer attains sentience and takes Rod_Serlingcontrol of the world.

UFO, a British television show about an alien invasion (the show was only broadcasted for one year).

Night Gallery, a new series hosted by Rod Serling, of The Twighlight Zone fame. Night Gallery presented tales of horror, with a generous helping of the macabre, and a touch of humour.

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Some of the notable novels of 1970:

The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart, which won the Mythopoeic Award, and is the first in a five-book series that spans the Arthurian legend. The Crystal Cave is a first-person account of Merlin’s life, from a boy to a young adult. In the book, his name is Myrddin Emrys, also known as Merlin, Welsh for falcon. The novel was adapted by the BBC and broadcast as Merlin of the Crystal Cave (1991).

Downward to the Earth, by Robert Silverberg, which is a favourite of many Silverberg fans, but didn’t work for me (I much preferred some of his other novels, for example, Son of Man (a strange, but well-written book), A Time of Changes, and Dying Inside). There are some interesting sections, but I thought the writing was often one-dimensional and the depiction of some characters (one female character in particular) was quite adolescent. As has been pointed out by many reviewers, there are echoes of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, but Downward to the Earth is not in the same league. It is considered by many to be classic Silverberg and my opinion certainly doesn’t alter the fact.

And Chaos Died, by Joanna Russ. I’ve only read one novel by Ms. Russ (The Female Man), which I enjoyed, but for some reason I haven’t been eager to read another (perhaps it is her overt feminism, but I hope not). Anyway, And Chaos Died is a book of its time; one of many that imagined a dystopia mired in overpopulation. In Ms. Russ’s imagined society, the social elite are protected by a bureaucratic state that watches over citizens of a grossly overpopulated Earth in which very little of the natural world has survived. The novel also describes another planet that has been populated by humanity: on this planet, population is limited, individualism is encouraged, and the natural world is treasured. The novel is a projection of fundamental societal difficulties present at the time the novel was written (and which persist to this day): the plot unveils the instinctive conflict between two opposing socio-philosophical principles (and I think I know which one the author favours, and I think I agree).

The Steel Crocodile, by D.G. Compton. Compton’s writing focuses on characters more than story; and, although there is some fine writing in this novel, I felt little suspense because the plot’s conclusion was telegraphed. The Steel Crocodile is, in part, a thoughtful dialogue about the crossroads of science and religion.  I enjoy Compton’s writing (he writes characters very well), but I sometimes find his plots a little bland. If you haven’t read any of his novels, I would recommend The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe (alternate title: The Unsleeping Eye).

Fourth Mansion, by R.A. Lafferty. The novel was inspired by the Interior Castle (El Castillo Interior) by the Spanish Carmelite nun Teresa of Ávila, who’s book was a manual for spiritual growth (an allegorical work that imagined the soul as a crystal globe, shaped like a castle that includes seven mansions: each mansion is a stage on the spiritual path toward heaven). Lafferty uses quotes from the nun’s book as chapter headings. The Illuminatus Trilogy (by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson, 1975) apparently replicated many of The Forth Mansions’ themes. I haven’t read Fourth Mansion, but it is now on my list.

Tau Zero, by Poul Anderson, which was derived from his short story To Outlive Eternity (1967). The novel’s title is based on Einstein’s theory of relativity; in particular, time-dilation and the time contraction factor, tau, which approaches zero as an object’s velocity approaches the speed of light. The space ship in the novel (the Leonora Christine) journeys at a tau of 0.0015, with the goal to colonize a distant planet. It should take the passengers/crew five years (thirty-three years outside the ship), but they have difficulties with the deceleration phase of their mission; they cannot stop, and they bypass their destination, leaving it far behind. In hopes of finding a habitable world, they decide to increase the ship’s velocity, ever closer to the speed of light, and the relative time outside the ship passes quicker and quicker than time inside the ship. As the speed of light is approached, tau approaches zero, and the relative time outside the ship approaches infinity. This novel is hard science fiction: within the storyline there are sections explaining relativity, time-dilation, and the technology of the space ship, including the theoretical Bussard ramjet (Note: some theories have altered since the publication of the novel, but the ideas work within the framework of the book).

Nine Princes in Amber, by Roger Zelazny, the first book in the rather large Chronicles of Amber (currently available in a single tome). The protagonist, Carl Corey, becomes conscious in a hospital in New York, but awakes with amnesia. He escapes, and slowly comes to the realization that he is one of the nine Princes of Amber and that the Earth is one of the parallel, shadow worlds that exist only in the conflict between the true worlds of Amber and the Courts. The plot is too tangled to reveal in a short space; if you enjoy Zelazny, the Chronicles of Amber is a must-read.

And my choice as Retrospeculative novel of 1970 is…

Ringworld, by Larry Niven, which won the Hugo Award (1971), the Locus Award (1971), and the Nebula Award (1970). The novel boggled my imagination when I first read it as a young teenager, but I re-read it recently and its effects have Ringworld_1st_ Ed_coverdiminished, mainly because the writing and characterizations are a bit simplistic for my tastes now (I’m not sure when I became such a snob, but it is firmly established and unshakable). Ringworld is classic of science fiction, and it is possibly the best example of an early Big Dumb Object (BDO) novel; it is the BDO that takes center stage and makes the novel memorable.

For the unfamiliar, the Ringworld of the title is an artificial, one-million mile wide ring that rotates around a star very similar to our own. The ring’s diameter is approximately equal to the average diameter of earth’s orbit about the sun. The ring’s rotation provides gravity similar to Earth, and its inner surface (the surface facing the star) provides the equivalent habitable land of about three billion Earth-sized planets. There is also an ‘inner ring’ (between the ‘Ringworld’ and the star) composed of ‘shadow squares’ that provide the differentiation of day and night.

The four characters in the novel are Louis Wu and Teela Brown (humans), a two-headed alien named Nessus (a Puppeteer), and a giant, muscular, orange cat-like being called Speaker-to-Animals (a Kzin). Nessus has gathered the crew together to journey to the Ringworld and explore it.

As I’ve noted, the writing isn’t very sophisticated, but the Ringworld is an imaginative construct.

There were sequels, but the first was the best.

The Last Dark, by Stephen R. Donaldson

The first book in Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant series was published in 1977 and my youngest daughter is older now than I was then: the series has spanned thirty-six years. My tastes have changed, but I enjoyed reading the final  book in The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.

TheLastDark_CoverThe final series consisted of four books; I found the first three uneven, but the final book — The Last Dark — contained fairly consistent, sustained action; almost too much (a climax near the middle of the book was exhausting!). I began to weary of desolation, characters out-doing themselves, the hacking and slashing of foes and friends, and dipping into the conflicted minds of the main characters. The story bogged down in a few sections, but I thought it was by far the best book in the Last Chronicle‘s series.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, Donaldson’s worst propensities continue in this book: too much despair, hair pulling and teeth gnashing, over writing, and metaphors ad nauseam; nevertheless, I enjoyed it and the ending was satisfactory.

There is some unexplained, deus-ex-machina hand-waving, but I thought Donaldson finished off the series well: his main characters came through with resounding sacrifices, the giants performed admirably, and the Haruchai exceeded themselves.

If you’re a fan of the first two Covenant series, but became bogged down in the final series, I recommend that you read this final tome (five hundred and thirty-five pages, not including the nineteen page introduction and the lengthy glossary).

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