Retrospeculative View, 1975

When I started planning this post, I was hoping that there was something of interest beyond Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War; well, there was more excellent prose than I could imagine: it was an exceptional year for speculative fiction. It was also the year I graduated from high school…

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TheBookOfSand (English trans. 1977) Before diving in with my usual Retrospeculative View post, I’d like to mention an excellent collection by Argentinean writer Jorges Luis Borges that was published in 1975: El libro de arena (The Book of Sand). I can’t read Spanish, so I was happy when the English translation became available because there are several standout stories; for example, the title story, Ulrica (Ulrikke), El Congreso (The Congress) and, in particular, El otro (The Other), my favourite story in the collection, first published in 1972 (the others were published in 1975).

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Some of the short fiction of 1975:

Croatoan, by Harlan Ellison, which won the Locus Award for short fiction.

The Borderland of Sol, by Larry Niven, which won the Hugo Award for best novelette

And Seven Times Never Kill Man, by George R. R. Martin

The Companion, by Ramsey Campbell

Belsen Express, by Fritz Leiber, which won the World Fantasy Award for best short story (1976)

Catch That Zeppelin!, by Fritz Leiber, which won the Nebula Award and the Hugo Award for best short story

San Diego Lightfoot Sue, by Tom Reamy, which won the Nebula Award for best novelette

The Custodians, by Richard Cowper

The Private Life of Genghis Khan, by Douglas Adams and Graham Chapman

Home Is the Hangman, by Roger Zelazny, which won the Nebula Award and the Hugo Award for best novella

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Some of the movies from 1975:

A Boy and His Dog, a post-apocalyptic society in which a boy survives with the aid of his telepathic dog. Based on Harlan Ellison’s novella.

rollerballRollerball, a dystopian movie based on a short story (Roller Ball Murder) by William Harrison

The Stepford Wives, set in a suburb in which the women are unusually submissive: something strange and disturbing is happening. Based on Ira Levin’s novel (1972). There was a remake in 2004.

Death Race 2000, the brutally homicidal, transcontinental road race in a dystopian America. The movie was based on a short story; the Racer, by Ib Melchior

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Some of the memorable novels of 1975:

Bid Time Return, by Richard Matheson, which won the World Fantasy Award. The novel’s protagonist, Richard Collier, lives in the 1970s, but is obsessed when he sees a photograph of Elise McKenna, a stage actress from the 1890s. He researches the woman and discovers that she had an affair with a mysterious, unknown man. Richard becomes convinced that he was that man and, using a mind concentration technique, he travels into the past to meet the woman. The bittersweet story was made into a movie, Somewhere in Time (1980), and the movie’s title was used in subsequent editions of the novel.

 The Shockwave Rider, by John Brunner, an early example of cyberpunk (before the term was coined), set in a dystopian future. The novel depicts computer hacking skills, and the concept of a viral worm is used (for the first time, I believe) to describe a program that proliferates within a computer network. The book’s title was inspired by Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock. The protagonist, Nick Haflinger, is a programmer who is on the run from a government organization, Tarnover, a genetic engineering project that is secretly run by organized crime.

The Female Man, by Joanna Russ. The four main characters in the novel are the embodiment of each other in parallel worlds. They cross over to the other worlds, and any preconceived conception of gender and womanhood is inextricably altered.  Janet Evason Belin is from a futuristic world in which all men died in a plague; Jeannie Dadier is from a world in which the Great Depression never ended;  Joanna is from our Earth (or one just like it), circa 1970s; and Alice Jael Reasoner (Jael) is an assassin from a world in which men and women are at war. While reading, it is sometimes difficult to know which woman is the focus, adding to the intense milieu of feminism that drives the plot.

The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman, which won the Nebula Award, the Hugo Award (1976), and the Locus Award (1976).The novel is a lightly disguised depiction of Joe Haldeman’s experience of service during the Vietnam War and his return to an America he no longer understood (in the novel, the time dilation effect that leads to an unrecognizable society on Earth upon the soldier’s return is akin to the culture shock the soldiers encountered when they returned to America from service in Vietnam). This is one of the few military science fiction novels I’ve enjoyed, probably because it includes sections that detail the brutal bureaucracy of Warfare. The protagonist, William Mandella, suffers psychologically; he is a pacifist at heart, but he is an excellent soldier because he has the necessary skills and aptitude.

Le città invisibili (Invisible Cities), by Italo Calvino, a brilliant writer. In this book, Calvino sets up an intriguing dialogue between Kublai Khan and Marko Polo; the two create stories as they discuss the cities that Marko Polo has visited. But the two men speak different languages, which makes communication difficult, so Polo decides to use artifacts from each city to express his thoughts, and the reader must use imagination to build a mental image. Between each story of a city, there are interludes in which merchants provide Khan with information regarding his empire. Polo’s descriptions are lyrical, and the interludes are fascinating; apparently, the book is used by architects to aid their visualization of unique urban centers, and by artists as a source of inspiration.

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And my pick as Retrospecualtive Novel of 1975 is…

Dhalgren, by Samuel R. Delany. I was afraid of this book for many years because it is renowned for being difficult to read. It is quite a monster, but I’ve read some challenging books in the past decade, and I finally bit-the-bullet last year and immersed myself in Dhalgren’s Dhalgren_vintagepages. The book is very polarizing; some call it a masterpiece, while others shun it and would rather use the pages to light a fire than read the tome. I doubt that I’ll ever reread it (I will certainly re-sample many of my favourite sections), but it was a rewarding experience to follow the tortuosities of thought that Delany strung together. As I stated in my review, as a novel, Dhalgren doesn’t fit the mold: there isn’t a linear plot, events re-occur as echoes and distortions, it is unclear what the story is about, and the mind cannot easily detect a natural reading rhythm: it is classified as a novel, I suppose, because there is no other word to describe it (there is even hearty debate as to whether or not it is science fiction, but it is surely speculative fiction). Dhalgren makes the mind work (unless the reader gives up, throws the book into the fireplace, and picks up something else). As I read it, I became — in no particular order — confused, bored, angry, light-headed, disgusted, and enlightened (these states — in various permutations — were repeated throughout the reading experience). It is a brilliant piece of work, but it is not for everyone.

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