Retrospeculative View, 1973

Some of the short fiction of 1973:

L’incendio della casa abominevole (The Burning of the Abominable House), by Italo Calvino

Pages from a Young Girl’s Journal, by Robert Aikman, which won the World Fantasy Award for best short story (1975)

The Girl Who Was Plugged In, by James Tiptree, Jr. (Alice Sheldon), which won the Hugo Award for best novella (1974)

Collected Stories of James Tiptree, JrThe Deathbird, by Harlan Ellison, which won the Hugo for best novelette (1974)

Love Is the Plan the Plan Is Death, by James Tiptree, Jr. (Alice Sheldon), which won the Nebula Award for best short story

The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, by Ursula K. Le Guin, which won the Hugo for best short story (1974)

With Morning Comes Mistfall, by George R. R. Martin

The Death of Doctor Island, by Gene Wolfe, which won the Nebula Award for best novella

Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand, by Vonda N. MacIntyre, which won the Nebula Award for best novelette


Movies/new TV shows:

SleeperSleeper, a slapstick, science-fiction parody by Woody Allen.

Soylent Green, a dystopian movie that was loosely based on Harry Harrison’s 1966 novel Make Room! Make Room! The movie modified quite a bit of the novel, including the plot-point that spawned the infamous line  “Soylent Green is people!”

Westworld, a science fiction thriller written by Michael Crichton. Westworld is a part of a high-tech, robotic theme park for adults. Unfortunately, there is a glitch in the robotic software…

The Six Million Dollar Man, the TV show that made Lee Majors a pop icon.

Some of the speculative novels of 1973:

Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke, which won the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award. This is a big dumb object (BDO) novel that I loved when it first came out. An immense spaceship enters our solar system: a team of humans lands a spaceship on it, they manage to get inside the alien craft, which begins to ‘wake up,’ and the adventure expands into geek nirvana. The idea still fascinates me, but I’m not keen on the presentation; Clarke’s prose has not aged well.

The Hollow Hills, by Mary Stewart, the second in her Arthur series; it is a first-person account from Merlin’s perspective, and spans the time from Arthur’s birth to when he is crowned king.

Crash, by J.G. Ballard. A disturbing, controversial novel, narrated by James Ballard, but the pivotal character is Dr. Robert Vaughan, a man who has a car crash fetish (to my surprise, there is a word that identifies a disaster-induced sexual fetish; symphorophilia). Vaughan is the focal character in a cluster of post-traumatic crash victims who are devotees of his bizarre obsession to re-enact celebrity car accidents as an experiential, technologically-based sexuality. Vaughan’s ideal sexual scenario would be a head-on collision with Elizabeth Taylor.  The novel was made into an equally controversial movie by David Cronenberg in 1996.

The Princess Bride, by William Goldman: a fantasy, romance, comedy, adventure, satirical fairy tale. Much of the novel’s charm is Goldman’s tongue-in-cheek claim that the book is an abridged form of S. Morgenstern’s book (purportedly written during the Renaissance), as well as Goldman’s abundant remarks throughout the novel (there is a ‘reunion’ scene in the novel that was, according to Goldman, cut: Goldman added a note to the text that encouraged the reader to send a letter to the publisher asking for a copy of the cut scene, and I sent a letter and got a comical letter back, explaining why, for legal reasons, the scene could not be divulged. I don’t know if the publisher would still honour the commitment Goldman promised, but might be worth a try). The main story is the true love story involving Buttercup (a beautiful farm girl) and Westley (a farm hand), but many adventures and obstacles stand in the way of their ultimate happiness. There are odd  characters aplenty: the Dread Pirate Roberts, Prince Humperdinck, Vizzini (a Sicilian master-criminal), Inigo Montoya (a master swordsman), Fezzic (a giant Turkish wrestler), Count Tyrone Rugen (an evil, six-fingered man), Miracle Max (a magician), and others. Before Buttercup and Westley can have any hope of happiness, Westley dies; fortunately, he is only mostly dead, and the story continues. The novel was adapted to the big screen by Rob Reiner (Michael Stivic (meathead) from T.V.’s All in the Family); both the novel and the movie are well worth the time invested: light and enjoyable entertainment.

My pick for Retrospeculative novel of 1973 is…

Katherine MortenhoeThe Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe (aka The Unsleeping Eye), by D.G. Compton, which introduced a macabre reality T.V. show (way back in 1973!). In a future England, when medical science has cured almost all diseases, a woman — Katherine Mortenhoe has been told she has only a few weeks to live. Her final days will be recorded by Roderick (Rod), a man who  befriends her, but who has hidden cameras implanted in his eyes. The setting is the future, but Compton has written scenes that contain the texture of England of the 70s. This novel was just shy of brilliant in my opinion: some sections were too prosaic, and I would have enjoyed a little more depth and back-story; the novel felt too brief, but I’m nitpicking: it is well written, intriguing, and the characterizations of the two main personalities are excellent (Rod and Katherine are well-drawn, but some of the others could have been provided with more depth). There are a few twists, some of which I thought could have been explored in more depth; I would have appreciated a longer work, a complaint I have with many older science fiction works. D.G. Compton had other excellent novels (he was named the 2007 Author Emeritus by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America), but this is generally considered to be his ‘masterwork.’


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