Retrospeculative View, 1972

Some of the excellent short fiction from 1972:

The Word for World is Forest, by Ursula K. Le Guin, which won the Hugo Award for best novella. Le Guin re-worked this novella into the novel FHOCpublished in 1976.

El otro (English translation as The Other, in The Book of Sand, 1977), by Jorge Luis Borges

The Gold at the Starbow’s End, by Frederick Pohl

The Meeting, by Frederick Pohl, with C.M. Kornbluth

The Fifth Head of Cerberus, by Gene Wolfe

Goat Song, by Poul Anderson , which won the Nebula Award and the Hugo Award (1973) for best novelette.

Eurema’s Dam, by R.A. Lafferty, which won the Hugo Award for best short story (1973)

When it Changed, by Joanna Russ , which won the Nebula Award for best short story.


Some of the movies of 1972:

The Last House on the Left, an Americanized version of Ingmar Bergman’s Swedish film Jungfrukällan (The Virgin Spring, 1960, based on a thirteenth century Swedish ballad, Töres döttrar i Wänge). The Last House on the Left is an ‘exploitation-horror’ movie (not my cup of tea, but they appeal to many); there was a remake of the film in 2009

Frenzy PosterFrenzy, an Alfred Hitchcock film, based on Arthur La Bern’s novel Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square. The film’s focus is a serial killer in London. Raymond Foery wrote a book about the movie: Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy: The Last Masterpiece (2012).

Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes (Aguirre, the Wrath of God), a German movie directed by Werner Herzog. The film became a cult classic in many countries around the world; and, as the years have passed, the film’s reputation has grown, and now many believe it is a work of genius. It is an account of a historical figure in a completely fictionalized story. Aguirre leads a group of conquistadores down the Amazon River, searching for El Dorado, the city of gold. As they enter further into the verdant, untamed jungle, the mood transforms into madness (apparently, Aguirre influenced Francis Ford Coppola’s vision of Apocalypse Now).


Some of the novels of 1972:

Watership Down, by Richard Adams. A classic work (it won the  Carnegie Medal and the Guardian Prize); a perfect book to read to your children. It is somewhat lacking in strong female characters, but my daughter fully enjoyed it, and the novel has a special place in my heart, as do many of the characters; in particular, Fiver, Bigwig, and Hazel. The stories about El-ahrairah are wonderful.

The Book of Skulls, by Robert Silverberg. I’ve often heard good things about this novel, but haven’t read it, so I had to search the web for information. Eli, a college student, finds a document called The Book of Skulls, which is about a sect of monks from a monastery in Arizona’s wasteland. According to the document, the monks will bestow immortality to an acolyte if an initiation rite is successfully completed. Eli, and three of his friends (Ned, Timothy, and Oliver), travel to the monastery, are accepted as acolytes (Receptacles), and the young men face their inner-demons as they progresses through a set of bizarre initiation rites.

The Gods Themselves, by Isaac Asimov, which won the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award, though I disagree with the choice: there was a far better choice this year (see my selection for Retrospeculative novel below). The Gods Themselves has three parts; Against Stupidity, which takes place on Earth and presents some questionable physics, contains a lot of typically poor character writing by Asimov, but isn’t too bad; The Gods Themselves, which takes place in an alien’s para-universe and is outstanding, some of Asimov’s best writing; and Contend in Vain, which takes place on the moon, makes the first part seem good in comparison, and is a disappointingly poor ending after the wonderful second section.

The Sheep Look Up, an excellent dystopian science fiction novel by John Brunner. His Jagged Orbit is concerned with interracial tensions, Stand on Zanzibar examines the effects of overpopulation, and The Sheep Look Up portrays a disturbing, polluted future: all three novels are excellent, but if you only have time to read one, I’d recommend Stand on Zanzibar, his masterwork.

The Farthest Shore, by Ursula K. Le Guin; the third novel in her Earthsea series. I didn’t read these when I was younger, and I’ve been unsuccessful in my attempts to enjoy the series as an adult; my loss, because Ursula K. Le Guin is one of my favourite authors, and I’m sure this series is magnificent.

Piknik na obochine (English translation (1977); Roadside Picnic), by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. The novel is set in a time after extraterrestrials had visited Earth (the event is called the Visitation); they had landed at six different locations referred to as  Zones (a few square kilometers in area), stayed for two days, and left without attempting to contact, perhaps not even noticing, humanity. The aliens left items behind (whether by accident (garbage?), or purposely, is unknown) and the alien artifacts are beyond humanity’s understanding: some can be useful, while others are deadly. The Zones are protected areas, but there are some who journey into the Zones illegally; the stalkers, who sometimes become rich from the items they discover, but often end up dead or transformed by poorly understood phenomena. The sections describing the Zone evoke a believable otherworldly mood, and the protagonist, Redrick “Red” Schuhart, is a complex character (he reminded me of Martin Cruz Smith’s Russian detective Arkady Renko). The novel was adapted into a movie, Stalker (1979), directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. A new (2012) edition of the novel is readily available, translated by Olena Bormashenko, with a forward by Ursula K. Le Guin and an afterward by Boris Strugatsky.


And my choice for Retrospeculative novel of 1972 is…

cover dying insideDying Inside, by Robert Silverberg, which was inexplicably shut out at the Hugo and Nebula awards (both went to The Gods Themselves, a flawed novel: see above), but won a special John W. Campbell award for excellence in writing (at least somebody was paying attention!). Dying Inside is Silverberg’s masterwork, a novel ostensibly about a telepath who’s ability is beginning to fade, but the novel can be read as a metaphor for middle-age and/or writer burn-out, which I think Silverberg was facing (he retired from writing in 1975, but eventually began to write again, publishing Lord Valentine’s Castle in 1980). Dying Inside is one of the more literate science fiction books of its time and is considered a classic. I’ve written a review elsewhere, and I have nothing further to say here. This is the second year in a row that I’ve highlighted Robert Silverberg (Dying Inside is a much more literate work than last year’s choice, A Time of Changes): I think this period was the pinnacle of his output.




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