Thought Bubbles; a generational exchange…

FYI: this post has little to do with speculative fiction per se; nonetheless, this is where I’ve decided to post it…

Several years ago I doodled a ‘thought-bubble’ image; I was trying to write, but I was having difficulty, so I started doodling and the image flowed out of my pencil unbidden. Looking at it never fails to remind me that ideas are constantly burbling up from the subconscious; it requires little effort to grasp onto a thought as it meanders toward the surface.

The thought-bubble doodle should be visible on the top, left-hand corner of this blog screen; in case it doesn’t show on your screen (please let me know), I’ve included it below:

thoughtbubbles.jpg

dbj2005; thought_bubbles

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My youngest daughter, Brynne, is just finishing her third year at the Emily Carr University of Art + Design, and the students in one of her classes are having a gallery showing starting today (for more information on the showing, see my post at almostfalling.com).

Brynne created many pieces, and the one below (not part of the show; just a random creation) reminded me of my thought-bubble dude. I consider it an answering salvo: I’m pretty sure my dude is yelling at her dude, telling it to not go too deep; of course, her dude is mostly ignoring my dude…

ThoughtBubbleBrynne 001

baj2014; untitled

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Retrospeculative View, 1978

Some of the short fiction from 1978:

C. J. Cherryh’s Cassandra, which won the Hugo Award for best short story (1979)

John Varley’s The Persistence of Vision,which won the Nebula Award and the Hugo Award (1979) for best novella

Charles L. Grant’s A Glow of Candles, a Unicorn’s Eye, which won the Nebula Award for best novelette

Ramsey Campbell’s MacIntosh Willy, which won the Workld Fantasy Award for best short story (1980)

Edward Bryant’s Stone, which won the Nebula Award for best short story.Analog_cover_Nov_1978

Avram Davidson’s Naples, which won the World Fantasy Award for best short story (1979)

Brian W. Aldiss’ Enemies of the System

Gene Wolfe’s Seven American Nights

Christopher Priest’s The Watched

Orson Scott Card’s Mikal’s Songbird, later adapted as a portion of the novel Songmaster (1980)

Poul Anderson’s Hunter’s Moon, which won the Hugo Award (1979) for best novelette

Ian Watson’s The Very Slow Time Machine

 

cylonSome of the movies and TV shows from 1978:

Battlestar Galactica (TV series, 1978-1979), the short-run initial television story of the last major Colonial Battlestar that “leads a makeshift fleet of human refugees on a desperate search for the legendary planet Earth.”

The Incredible Hulk (TV series, 1978-1982), with Bill Bixby as Dr. Banner and Lou Ferrigno as The Hulk. I was surprised that this series ran so long…

Superman, the first of the movies starring Christopher Reeves. The movie received a Special Achievement Academy Award for visual effects.

The Boys from Brazil, based on Ira Levin’s novel. Gregory Peck won a Golden Globe Award (best actor) for his portrayal of Dr. Josef Mengele

Dawn of the Dead, a zombie-apocalypse movie that spawned four sequels, parodies, and helped create a ton of pop culture…

Invasion of the Body Snatchers, based on Jack Finney’s novel, and is a remake of the 1956 movie of the same name.

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Some of the notable novels of 1978:

Gore Vidal’s Kalki, an apocalyptic novel that included the subjects of overpopulation (a big theme in 1970s fiction), birth control, sexuality, feminism, religious cults, and world politics (particularly concerning military non-intelligence). The Soviet and American governments are both planning to test a new type of weapon that is capable of wiping out all life on Earth and leaving it sterile for centuries. These plans are discovered by James J. Kelly, a chemical engineer and former American soldier, and he hatches an ill-advised plan to ‘save’ the human race. First, he founds a religious cult, calling himself Kalki, proclaiming himself to be the embodiment of Lord Vishnu, and advising the world that he will exterminate the human race on April 3, thereby ushering in a new Golden Age. Kalki’s undisclosed plan is to kill everyone in the world, leaving only himself and his wife — as a new Adam and Eve — and three sterile scientists who will act as instructors for his progeny, the future of humanity. The protagonist, Teddy Ottinger, is a flyer (winner of the prestigious Harmon Trophy), mother, ‘would-be-know-it-all,’ and a frustration to many conceited men’s self-respect. Gore Vidal seems to possess a chronic cynicism toward humanity and Teddy Ottinger is his foil; pessimistic, asexual, bitchy, and steeped in melancholia. She becomes Kalki’s pilot in an attempt to save the world and she is a prerequisite for the novel’s conclusion. It is a well written novel and it garnered some respect in science fiction circles (it was nominated for the Nebula Award), but it has the aura of a disparaging discourse.

Gardner Dozois’ Strangers, his only ‘solo’ authored novel (he is much better known as an editor). The novel began life as a novella, but the longer form fleshes out the ideas to a more satisfying extent (although it is still quite a short book). It is a story of cultural differences. The protagonist, Joseph Farber, is an artist who is interpreting an alien world — Weinunnach — for humanity; as he works, he falls in love with Liaraun, one of the Cian, the indigenous, sentient species. Farber must undergo a complete modification of his DNA in order to consummate his relationship. The book explores some of the issues that arose from the transformative society of the 1970s, with particular focus on interracial (inter-species) marriage, the shifting relationships between men and women, feminism, and the miscommunication inherent in a society that cannot exchange ideologies in an open manner.  The novel is interesting, but the mood is quite dark.

dreamsnake_coverDreamsnake, by Vonda McIntyre, which won the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, and the Locus Award. The novel is set in a post-apocalyptic, radioactive Earth. It won the Hugo Award (1979), the Locus Award (1979) and the Nebula Award. The novel is an expansion of the author’s novelette Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand (the 1974 Nebula Award winner). Snake is a healer who is searching for a replacement for her dreamsnake. She heals using the venom of three snakes, and the venom of the dreamsnake is a morphine-like modality.  I really enjoyed this novel when I first read it thirty-odd years ago, but it doesn’t appeal to me now; it is still an enjoyable, inventive genre novel, but it hasn’t matured along with me (some would argue that I’m no more mature than I was in the 1970s, but I’ll let my statement stand): novels don’t have the opportunity to grow with age and, sadly,  some of my old friends have been left behind.

Michael Moorcock Gloriana (or The Unfulfill’d Queen), which won the World Fantasy Award, and the John W. Campbell Award. Gloriana is a fantasy that has the sensibility of a Renaissance period literary romance (on second thought, anti-romance might be a more appropriate term). The book was inspired by Edmund Spenser’s epic poem The Faerie Queene (circa 1590), and is steeped in the mood of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy. Moorcock imagines an alternate realm, set a hundred years after Queen Elizabeth I, but revamping her as Queen Glorianna I of Albion, with an empire that includes Hindustan, Cathay, Virginia and Kansas. The action gyres about three main characters; Glorianna, her Lord Chancellor Perion Montfallcon, and Captain Arturo Quire, who is an assassin-spy. Lord Montfallcon and Captain Quire compete for power, and Glorianna is the wedge between them. Sex is used a weapon; Glorianna was abused by her father and has become wanton and melancholy, and the bisexual Captain Quire is not beyond seduction as a means to power. Lord Montfallcon holds the power behind the throne and he has maintained a peaceful kingdom, but his methods are odious. The secondary characters are varied and fleshed-out, and there is a preponderance of descriptive prose; some may find the protracted descriptions of materials, textures, and fanciful ornamentation tedious. The novel is divided into four sections, one for each season of the year, and each section includes a social event as the hub of activity. It is not a novel for those with delicate sensibilities: there are some highly questionable scenes, but I didn’t find them gratuitous; they succeed within the context of the story, though I could have done without them. Not quite my cup of tea (I prefer the Gormenghast trilogy), but not too bad.

C.J. Cherryh’s Kesrith, book one in The Faded Sun trilogy, an early series by the now-famous author; perhaps not one of her acknowledged major works, but I found the entire series to be an agreeable diversion (the other two books in the series are: Shon’jir and Kutath, but the series can now be purchased in an omnibus package, The Faded Sun trilogy). The series is set in Cherryh’s Alliance-Union universe, with a focus on the Mri Wars. There are two protagonists; one is a human, Sten Duncan, the other is Niun, a warrior, one of the few Mri who survived their contract as mercenaries for the regul, who have just finished a violent, forty-two year war with humanity, but are about to betray the Mri. The last of the Mri spiritual caste forms a tenuous partnership with Sten Duncan, who is to protect a valuable Mri artifact. The alien races that C.J. Cherryh has created — the Mri and, in particular, the regul — make this an interesting book. The Mri are a tall, slender, humanoid species with golden skin, golden-brown hair, and yellow eyes with epicanthic folds and nictitating membranes, presumably because their home world is a desert planet. The regul have eidetic memories and are cannibalistic beings that chase and feed on their young; the mature regul become ponderously large and use hover-chairs for mobility.

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I had a difficult time deciding which novel to highlight as the ‘best’ speculative novel of the year; there wasn’t really a standout, nothing that left me with a strong, lasting impression. I finally settled on one that may not be on many people’s lists, mainly because it was the author’s only novel; unfortunately, he passed from this realm before it was published. .

Without further ado, my choice for the Retrospeculative novel of 1978 is…

Blind Voices, by Tom Reamy, which is reminiscent of — but not quite as polished as — Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine, with a mellow portion of Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love stirred in. The story captures the mood of Midwestern America. TOM_REAMY_Blind_VoicesA magical carnival is prominent, there are strange creatures in the carnival, and the carnival is not as harmless as it seems. Haversham, the carnival master, is possibly quite evil.

This was Tom Reamy’s only novel and it was published after his death at the age of forty-two (he also wrote some interesting short fiction, collected in San Diego Lightfoot Sue: the title story won the 1976 Nebula for best novelette). The setting of Blind Voice is depression-era Kansas, and the novel contains a charming love story, but also includes some elements of violence and revenge. The story focuses on three girls — Evelyn, Francine, and Rose— who are seduced by the carnival, and enter into precarious liaisons: Rose falls for a roustabout, and Francine favours the immodest Minotaur, but the significant relationship is between Evelyn and the mute albino boy, Angel.

The novel could have used some loving editorialization: the writing has some rough edges, and the ending is a bit rushed and derivative, but there are some wonderful sections; particularly in the heart of the story, in the middle. An enjoyable genre novel.

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The Manual of Detection, by Jedediah Berry

Jedediah Berry’s The Manual of Detection contains a plethora of interesting characters: intimidating formerly-conjoined twins, a psychic giantess, an infamous biloquist, enough sleepwalkers to fill a small city, a missing detective whose name is a palindrome (Travis Sivart), and three women straight out of noir fiction (a detective’s assistant, a mellifluous-voiced femme-fatal, and a mysterious woman in a plaid coat). manual_of_detection_paperbackThe novel combines psychological mystery, fantasy, humour, and elements of steampunk, all weaved together to form a unique, charming atmosphere.

The novel won the IAFA Crawford Award and the Hammett Prize.

The writing has been compared to such luminaries as Jorges Luis Borges and Franz Kafka, but I think that there are too many answers neatly revealed by the end of the novel to associate closely with these authors; a more apt comparison would be the novels of Philip Kindred Dick, though Jedediah Berry’s prose is more engaging and literate than PKD’s oeuvre.

There were many entertaining lines in the book, and some of my favourites appeared as quotes from the eponymous ‘The Manual of Detection’ at the beginning of each chapter:

Objects have memory too. The doorknob remembers who turned it, the telephone who answered it. The gun remembers when it was last fired, and by whom. It is for the detective to learn the language of these things, so that he might hear them when they have something to say. [On Evidence, Chapter Two]

If you are not setting a trap, then you are probably walking into one. It is the mark of the master to do both at once. [On Skullduggery, Chapter Fifteen]

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There are some muddled portions in the middle of the story that almost lost me, but the novel is interesting, readable, and tied up neatly at the end.

Recommended.

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Retrospeculative View, 1977

Some of the short speculative fiction of 1977:

Tigres azules (Blue Tiger), by Jorge Luis Borges

Children of the Corn, by Stephen King

Ramsey Campbell’s The Chimney, which won the World Fantasy Award for best short story (1978)

Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card, which he later expanded (and altered) into a novel (1985), and a franchise…

Jeffty Is Five, by Harlan Ellison, which won the Nebula Award and the Hugo Award (1978) for best short story

The Screwfly Solution, by Raccoona Sheldon (Alice Sheldon, aka James Tiptree, Jr.), which won the Nebula Award for Best Novelette

Stardance, by Spider Robinson & Jeanne Robinson, which won the Hugo Award for best novella

Analog_Science_Fiction_Magazine_June1977In the Hall of the Martian Kings, by John Varley

Eyes of Amber, by Joan D. Vinge, which won the Hugo Award for best Novelette

Air Raid, by Herb Boehm (John Varley)

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Some of the movies:

Star Wars (later retitled Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope); the birth of a movie franchise. Many people call these films science fiction, but I think they have more elements of fantasy with a space-western twist. I adored this movie when it first came out, but each sequel, and prequel, has left me less and less enchanted. I don’t think the original Star Wars film has aged very well; it was a special effects blockbuster that had its day.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind, a Spielberg epic that I thought was a bit dull. The ending was somewhat spectacular; but, as was often the case with his movies, overblown.

The Hobbit, Rankin/Bass fashioned this animated musical adaption for TV (animation by Topcraft, the ancestor of Studio Ghibli. Topcraft’s most notable work was Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, often considered to be the beginning of the Studio Ghibli enterprise). WizardsThe lyrics for songs were taken from the book. I’ve never seen this adaption, but it sounds a bit too commercial for my tastes.

Wizards, an animated, post-apocalyptic fantasy movie relating the battle between two wizards; one represents the power of magic, and the other represents technology. The movie, which is a cult classic, was written and directed by Ralph Bakshi.

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Notable novels of 1977:

The Shining, by Stephen King. I’m not a fan of horror (or of Stephen King) and I haven’t read this particular novel, but this book was apparently truly scary and the movie is a joke in comparison.

Dying of the Light, by George R.R. Martin, A novel set on Worlorn, a planet with an irregular pathway through the cosmos; cities from fourteen different planets were developed on Worlorn during the time it was within a habitable distance from a red giant star; but the planet is now heading into the cold sterility of interstellar space where Worlorn will be uninhabitable, so the cities are mostly forsaken, decaying, and war-torn. The protagonist, Dirk t’Larian, has been disenchanted with life since his girlfriend, Gwen Delvano, left him, but now she has sent for him, and he travels to Worlorn, where she has been claimed by another man, Arkin Ruark. All is not as it seems and Dirk stumbles through a quagmire of secrecy, toward an ultimate, tragic encounter.

Our Lady of Darkness, by Fritz Leiber is often described as an urban fantasy novel, but it also captures the characteristics of an H.P. Lovecraft supernatural horror story (not my favourite sub-genre, but enjoyable nonetheless). The novel uses elements of Jungian psychology (the female self, Anima, and the hidden self, Shadow), creates a fictional occult science (megapolisomancy , the art of predicting and manipulating the future using the physical, psychological, and para-mental infrastructure of a large city), and  autobiographical elements (the protagonist, Franz Western, like Fritz Leiber, lost his wife, became an alcoholic, and is an amateur astronomer). I’ve read that the geography described evokes the San Francisco Bay area very well, especially Corona Heights Park. Our Lady of Darkness won the World Fantasy Award (1978)

The Ophiuchi Hotline, by John Varley, a novel set in his Eight World series, approximately one-hundred and fifty years after the Invaders destroyed all technology on Earth (in the year 2500), leaving humanity at a stone-age level. Some humans do not live on Earth, but survive on other planetary bodies in the solar system (the moon, Mars, Pluto, Mercury, Venus, etc.), using technology adapted from the Ophiuchi Hotline radio signal that originates from the star 70 Ophiuchi (and there is a small population of humans surviving in Symbiotic spacesuits (symbs), piloting through Saturn’s rings). The Invaders are stationed in the atmosphere of Jupiter; they consider humans to be vermin and have decimated humanity to protect Earth’s whales and dolphins, intelligent life that is familiar and acceptable to the Invaders, who only condone intelligent species if they have evolved in the atmosphere of a gas giant or in a great ocean. There is a great deal going on in the novel; a wonderful kaleidoscope of science fiction concepts are sprayed out of the pages, but I would have enjoyed a more focused book: it could have been a very impressive work.

Lord Foul’s Bane, by Stephen R. Donaldson, the first book in his lengthy Chronicles of Thomas Covenant series (The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, The Second Chronicles …, and The Final Chronicles…). This first offering was weak (the second in the series, The Illearth War, was much better), but the world and characters he created formed a solid foundation for a long-running series that spanned thirty-six years; beginning in 1977, and ending in 2013. This seems to be a series that is either loved or loathed and I belong to the former camp, although only via reminiscences: the writing is flawed and emo-angst ridden, but there is something about the books that drew me in when I was a young man. Lord Foul’s Bane won the British Fantasy Society award and the John W. Campbell award for best new writer.

The Book of Merlyn, by T. H. White; the sequel to the exceptional fantasy The Once and Future King. I haven’t read The Book of Merlyn, but if it is anything like The Once and Future King, it is well worth the time invested in reading it. Silmarillion_cover_artI look forward to reading it some day…

The Silmarillion, by J. R. R. Tolkien. Another mammoth undertaking by Tolkien. The year it was published, my sister gave me the hardcover as a Christmas present, and I still have it. It is a lovely book to dip into, particularly if you’re reading The Lord of the Rings and are geeky enough to require excessive background material. This book is a must for the serious Tolkien fan. I think I’ll try to find a trade paperback for a reading copy…

A Scanner Darkly, by Philip K. Dick, which won the BSFA AwardA Scanner Darkly is PK Dick’s most autobiographical novel, depicting his experiences with the drug culture; in an interview, Dick stated that, “Everything in A Scanner Darkly I actually saw.” In the novel, the protagonist, Bob Arctor, is a drug user, but he is also Agent Fred, an undercover cop whose true identity is known to no one: he uses a scramble suit when he assumes his role as Agent Fred. The scramble suit ensures that he remains anonymous, even to other officers (the scramble suit was added to create a science fiction element; PKD didn’t think publishers would purchase a mainstream novel of his). Agent Fred was meant to only act as a drug user, but he was forced to fully assume the persona and he became addicted to Substance D, a highly psychoactive drug. Arctor falls in love with a big-time drug dealer, Donna, who may be the one to lead Agent Fred to higher levels of the drug ring. Arctor/Fred’s use of Substance D begins to affect his cognitive abilities; the two hemispheres of his brain begin to operate independently, and he becomes increasingly confused. As with any PK Dick novel, all is not as it seems. I’ve read many of his books, but I’ve only really enjoyed two; The Man in the High Castle (1962) and A Scanner Darkly.

.And my choice for Retrospeculative novel of 1977 is…

Gateway, by Frederik Pohl, which won the Nebula Award, the Hugo Award (1978), the Locus Award (1978), and the John W. Campbell Award (1978). The set-up for the novel is superb: while exploring the solar system, humanity stumbles upon a hollow asteroid containing a hidden space station that was built by the Heechee, an advanced, star travelling species that vanished from existence before humans began to Gateway_coverexplore space. There are many signs of Heechee in the solar system, but the space station is the most impressive. Within the asteroid are hundreds of starships, many of which humans have managed to activate, but their knowledge is limited and it is a gamblers proposition to ‘pilot’ a ship to its unknown destination. The adventurous, the disenchanted, and the poor all become volunteers and journey out on the ships: many never return, but it is possible to become wealthy if the ship’s destination yields important Heechee artifacts or habitable planets. There are three sizes of ship: single occupancy, three-person, and five-person. The protagonist, Rob (Robin, Robbie, Robinette, Bob) Broadhead, has returned from a very successful mission (he became an extremely wealthy man) in which two five-person ships were used, but he was the only one to return: something happened to the others, including his love-interest, Gell-Klara Moynlin. The details of what transpired during the trip are revealed in flashbacks while Broadhead seeks treatment from a computer-program-psychologist. The psychology is dated, and I have some issues with the writing style, but it is a wonderful genre novel; highly imaginative, and worthy of the awards it garnered.

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Nekropolis, by Maureen F. McHugh

Nekropolis is a quick read, but there is depth to the tale, which examines several different types of relationship by shifting the point of view in each new section: the first chapter is told by the focal character, Hariba; the second chapter is revealed by her love-interest, Akhmim (who provides an interesting glimpse into a different psyche); the third chapter is related by Hariba’s mother; the penultimate chapter is from the point of view of Hariba’s best friend, Ayesha; and the final chapter returns to the story from Hariba’s point of view. The reader gains insight into the relationships, loyalties, and sacrifices made, from several viewpoints.Nekropolis_McHugh_cover

Hariba’s family lives in the Nekropolis, a poor-area of Morocco in which mausoleums have been converted into tenement-apartments. At the age of twenty-one, Hariba becomes ‘jessed’; an injection biologically imprints loyalty for her owner, Mbarek, a wealthy man (jessing appears to be a kind of nano-biotechnology). Hariba is Mbarek’s housekeeper; she is fortunate, Mbarek is a decent man. He also owns a harni, an artificially manufactured man called Akhmim. Harni are considered sub-human and, at first, Hariba treats Akhmim with derision, but she eventually becomes infatuated with him, and Akhmim becomes ‘impressed’ on Hariba: Akhmim was designed as a male concubine and he wants to please Hariba. An intriguing non-sexual relationship evolves.

Mbarek’s wife becomes disenchanted with Hariba, who is sold to a different household; she misses Akhmim, and they run away together. Hariba becomes sick with jessing-withdrawal and she uses family and friends to help her and Akhmim hide and escape from the authorities.

The story triggers several questions: How can the boundary between obligation and imposition be defined? What are the many faces of love and how strong are its attachments? What are the possible consequences of sudden freedom? Is the idea of freedom a universal concept? What is it in the make-up of humanity that allows hierarchical inequities to develop? Can the search for happiness blind one to the enjoyment possible in the present moment?

I enjoyed Nekropolis, but I would have appreciated a longer work with more depth: the novel felt like a work of short fiction; a handful of short pieces stitched together into a novella.

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