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.

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