Retrospeculative View, 1974

Some of the memorable short speculative fiction:

The Day Before the Revolution, by Ursula K. Le Guin, which won the Nebula Award for best short story. The story is a prelude for Le Guin’s exceptional novel, The Dispossessed, also published in 1974 (see below)

Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos Sticks, by Karl Edward Wagner, a story which belongs within the Cthulhu Mythos of H.P Lovecraft

Born with the Dead, by Robert Silverberg, which won the Nebula Award for best novella

If the Stars are Gods, by Gregory Benford and Gordon Eklund, which won the Nebula Award for best novelette

The Hole Man, by Larry Niven, which won the Hugo Award for best short story (1975)

A Song for Lya,  by George R. R. Martin, which won the Hugo Award for best novella (1975)

Adrift Just Off the Islets of Langerhans, by Harlan Ellison, which won the Hugo Award for best novelette (1975)

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Some of the movies & TV of 1974:

Young_Frankenstein_movie_posterYoung Frankenstein, Mel Brook’s black & white comedy, inspired by Mary Shelley’s classic Frankenstein (or The Modern Prometheus)

Flesh Gordon, a bizarre, erotic science fiction-adventure-comedy loosely based on the Flash Gordon character (originally, a comic strip by Alex Raymond; later, adapted for film, television and animated series).

Zardoz, a forgettable  science fiction-fantasy that starred Sean Connery (of James Bond movie fame).

Phantom of the Paradise, a cult musical written and directed by Brian De Palma; a very loose adaption/combination of The Phantom of the Opera, The Picture of Dorian Gray and Faust.

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Some of the notable novels of 1974:

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, by Patricia McKillip, which won the World Fantasy Award. A story of magical beasts and remarkable people; a short book, but delightful, romantic, and well-developed. A young adult read that even older adults might enjoy.

Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, by Philip K. Dick, which won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award (1975) for best science fiction novel. I haven’t read this PKD book, but I’ve heard it’s one of his better novels.

 A Midsummer Tempest, by Poul Anderson, which won the Mythopoeic Award. I haven’t read the novel, but I looked it up on Wikipedia and it sounds interesting. It is an alternate history novel in which Shakespeare was a Great Historian and all the actions from his plays are, instead, historical accounts. There are other differences: the English Civil War (1642 – 1651 in our history) and the Industrial Revolution (1760 – 1830 in our history) occur at the same time in the alternate world of A Midnight Tempest, and the technological level is notably higher in Anderson’s novel than it was in our history. As hinted in the title, the story, for the most part, represents two Shakespeare plays; A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest.

 The Mote in God’s Eye, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. The title is a Biblical reference (Luke 6:41–42 and Matthew 7:3–5), but it also describes the view of a star from a recently colonized planet in the story. The book is a first-contact scenario with an alien civilization, the Moties, who are fundamentally different from humans; the scope of the differences becomes more obvious as the novel proceeds.  There are intriguing ideas, but I found the characters too cookie-cutter, and the dialog hackneyed. I enjoyed it when I was younger, but it hasn’t aged well.

 334, by Thomas M. Disch, which is a dystopian view of New York City in 2025. The book’s title refers to a housing project at 334 East 11th Street Manhattan, and the year 334 AD; an association between the United States of the novel and the decline of the Roman Empire. Technological development has stagnated, with the exception of advances in medicine, which spawns a proliferation of enhanced, recreational drugs. Overpopulation is a problem (a recurring theme in 70s Science fiction), resolved by enforced birth control, eugenics, and a welfare state, which creates a class stratum between workers and welfare recipients (the haves and the have-nots). The novel was ‘patched’ together by combining five of Disch’s novellas that share the same setting, but involve a different sets of characters (The Death of Socrates, Bodies, Everyday Life in the Later Roman Empire, Emancipation, and Angouleme) and a new work, 334, which consists of short segments that follows  characters a family through the years 2021 to 2025.

The Inverted World, by Christopher Priest, which won the BSFA Award. The novel began life as a short story, but Priest decided it required more territory so he expanded it into a novel, which includes a prologue and five parts. The first, third and fifth parts are first-person narration from the point of view of the protagonist , Helward Mann, an apprentice Future Surveyor for the City Earth. In the second part, Helward is the focal character, but the story is presented in third person. In the prologue and the fourth part, Elizabeth Khan (who comes from somewhere else) is the focal character, and these sections are written in third person. Earth is being slowly pulled along a set of four railway tracks, but most of the inhabitants know nothing of the tracks, or what ‘chases’ the city from behind. The tracks are removed from the city’s wake and freshly laid ahead of the city, which is travelling through a wasted landscape filled with savage tribes. The land ahead must be surveyed to ascertain the best route; the city must move toward the ‘optimum’, and stay ahead of the devastating, slowly moving gravitational field that distorts life and causes certain death. It is an unusual novel; a hallucinogenic puzzle that twists and turns along the curves of the city’s tracks.

And my choice for Retrospeculative novel of 1974 is…

The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. Le Guin, which won the Nebula Award, the Hugo Award (1975) and the Locus Award (1975). The Left Hand of Darkness is arguably Ursula K. Le Guin’s best novel, but The Dispossessed is the one I’ve always enjoyed the most. The novel is subtitled An Ambiguous Utopia, and the book garnered respect in literary circles for its erudition and range of themes (and there is an interesting non-fiction collection The New Utopian Politics of Ursula K. Le Guin — that examines concepts introduced in the novel).

The Dispossessed; Avon (2003) coverThe structure of the novel is unusual: the book’s chapters do not follow a chronological order; if placed in time sequence, the chapters would form an even-odd series: 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13.

In The Dispossessed, Ms. Le Guin has designed an interesting social system and contrasted it against one that bears more than a slight resemblance to the society of the United States. The novel is within her Hainish Cycle; chronologically, it is the first of the Hainish novels. The protagonist, Shevek, is a mathematical genius who lives on Anarres, Urras’ habitable moon, the home of a revolutionary, socialist society. Shevek worries that the government on Anarres is eroding, and he travels to Urras — against sturdy opposition — to attempt to unite the societies of moon and planet and share his General Temporal Theory, which is a combination of mathematics, physics, philosophy, and ethics. The novel investigates the problems he encounters on Anarres (in even-numbered chapters) and Urras (in odd-numbered chapters).

The Dispossessed is an intriguing novel, and I suddenly want to re-read it; after all, “…true journey is return.” Highly recommended.

I would be remise if I didn’t mention Samuel R. Delany’s excellent criticism of the novel, To Read The Dispossessed (it can be found in a collection of essays in The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction). I disagree with quite a bit of what Delany writes in his essay (in fact, I think some of his criticisms could equally be directed at himself), but the way he structures and manages the criticism is impressive.  .

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2 thoughts on “Retrospeculative View, 1974

  1. Wow, someone else has read The New Utopian Politics of the Dispossessed. Really great collection of essays exploring the ideas of one of my favourite novels 🙂

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