Retrospeculative View, 1981

Some of the short fiction of 1981:

The Bone Flute, which won the Nebula Award for best short story. The author, Lisa Tuttle,refused the award because she objected to the bone_flute_covercampaigning of another author who was nominated for the award (she had attempted to refuse the nomination, but her refusal was not received in time).

John Varley’s Blue Champagne.

John Varley’s The Pusher, which won the Hugo Award for best short story (1982)

Michael Bishop’s The Quickening, which won the Nebula Award for best novelette

Poul Anderson’s The Saturn Game, which won the Nebula Award for Best Novella and the Hugo Award for Best Novella (1982)

William Gibson’s Johnny Mnemonic

Vernor Vinge’s True Names, which was awarded the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award (2007). This is one of the innovative works that stimulated the evolution of the cyberpunk genre.

Roger Zelazny’s Unicorn Variation, which won the Hugo Award for best novelette


Some of the movies of 1981:

Excalibur.jpgRaiders of the Lost Ark, the first in the franchise; the climactic scene brings a definite speculative element to the movie.

Excalibur, an adaption of Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, the legend of King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table. The movie had the texture of reality, but I found it rather dull…

Outland, set on Io, a moon of Jupiter. A space-western.

Time Bandits, a Terry Gilliam (of Monty Python fame) film. The first of Gilliam’s trilogy of Imagination films. Time Bandits is a boy’s perspective, Brazil (1985) is a man’s perspective, and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988) is an old man’s perspective.


Some of the notable novels of 1981:

Philip K Dick’s VALIS, which I haven’t read, but it is usually listed among the best of his ouvre. VALIS is an acronym for Vast Active Living Intelligence System, and the book apparently reflects PKD’s gnostic vision of an aspect of God. I read many PKD novels when I was younger, but really only enjoyed two (The Man in the High Castle and A Scanner Darkly); I’ve tried PKD books recently and, although I enjoy his ideas, I find the stories a bit too scattered and pulpy: it’s probably my loss, but I’ve given up on him.

C.J. Cherryh’s Downbelow Station, which won the Hugo Award (1982). I found this novel difficult going, but it is usually listed as one of her best (note: space operas are not my favorite sub-genre, so take my opinion with a grain of salt). If memory serves me, Downbelow Station starts well, but bogs-down in the middle third of the story before it gets back on track; the plot is well constructed, and the story ties in quite nicely with other Cherryh novels (Cyteen is prominent). Not my favourite by Cherryh, but it’s a good genre novel.

C.J. Cherryh’s The Pride of Chanur, the first of five novles in the Chanur series (published from 1981 – 1992) set in the same Alliance-Union foundation as Downbelow Station (see above). The expanse of space in the novel includes many civilizations that are regulated by the Compact, a trading agreement. The novel has four main characters, each from a different species; a human, a hani, a kif, and a mahe (plural: mahendo’sat). Cherryh does an admirable job of creating aliens with understandable motivations, although they seem a little too comprehensible and human (for the incomprehensible alien, try Stanislaw Lem): the hani are feline-like; the kif are rat-like, bipedal predators; and the mahendo’sat are a primate-like, politically motivated species. The Pride of Chanur is a hani spaceship. An enjoyable novel that builds tension through miscommunication and political manipulation.

The Claw of the Conciliator, by Gene Wolfe, which won the Nebula Award. This is the second offering in The Book of the New Sun, an exceptional work. I’ve written about this series in a previous post (see The Shadow of the Torturer, the Retrospeculative novel of 1980).

Little, Big (or, The Fairies Parliament) by John Crowley, which won the World Fantasy Award (1982). The novel relates the lives of the Drinkwaters and the hidden society of fairies. The setting is Edgewater, the Drinkwater’s peculiar, pastoral home, a house that apparently exists on the edge of multiple possibilities. The novel is presented in a surreal fashion, following four generations of the Drinkwaters, starting with the union of Smoky Barnable and Daily Alice Drinkwater at the beginning of the twentieth century, and concluding in a future, dystopian America. The fairies are seldom front-and-center, though the novel is saturated with their essence. There is a poignant atmosphere of restrained magic throughout the story.


And my choice for Retrospeculative novel for 1981 is…

Russell Hoban‘s Riddley Walker, an apocalyptic tale that won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. Within the novel, echoes of humanity’s former technological heights are common: Riddley doesn’t ‘make plans’, he programs his actions; Riddley WalkerPirntout (printout) means conclude; and don’t glitch my cool (my personal favourite) means don’t upset me. Riddley often mentions the Puter Leat (computer elite) who existed before the Bad Time. He also mentions a girt box of knowin (computer) that people hooked-up to via an iron hat, and they could programmit pas the sarvering gallack seas (past the sovereign galaxies). He talks about the many cools of the Addom (molecules of the atom, and an allusion to the biblical Adam), which they are the party cool of stone (particles of stone), he mentions the strong and the weak inner acting (the strong and weak forces interacting), and much more. Riddley bemoans what the human civilization once was and how far it has fallen: O what we ben!

The book is written in a manner that forces the reader to slow down in order to demystify the story, just as Riddley Walker must slowly puzzle things out for himself (by the way, the names of characters in the book are representations of their personalities: Riddley Walker, Fister Crunchman, Abel Goodparley, et cetera). The book was purposely written so that the reader is forced to sound-out some sections in order to comprehend the meaning; in Riddley’s world, information is shared orally, and Riddley’s writings form the possibility of a re-invented media.

Riddley’s world is slowly revealed through the mists of confusion: there are struggles between agricultural groups and hunter-gatherers, wild dog-packs terrorize the countryside, and the government distributes its politico-mythic messages using portable puppet theatres (politically revamped Punch and Judy shows). The plot is interesting, but much of the enjoyment comes from untangling the language; it immerses the reader, who must demystify as s/he travels through the pages.




House of Leaves , by Mark Z. Danielewski

Mark Danielewski’s novel House of Leaves is a strange beast. My copy is sub-titled The Remastered Full-Color Edition (I have no idea what others editions look like, but this edition is large, colorful, and contains an abundance of appendices); the word house (in all languages) is always blue, and the house_of_leaves-covertype is arranged in atypical configurations, often reflecting action within the book. I think it is worth the price for the typographical presentation alone; it is an interesting example of  ergodic literature.

The story is constructed around a fictional documentary — The Navidson Record— by Will Navidson (a character partially based on Kevin Carter and the consequences of his Pulitzer winning photo of a hooded vulture and a starving toddler). Navidson moves, with his wife and two children, to a new home; his marriage is going through difficulties and he is attempting to save it. Navidson soon discovers something odd about the house; its interior is slightly larger than the exterior. Navidson installs cameras in the home and the resulting film evolves into a horror story as Navidson and friends explore areas of the house that shift and expand into immense, horrifying, pitch-black spaces. The house-expansions are accompanied by unnerving growls.

The House of Leaves is a nested story built around the documentary of the house that may contain an alternate reality, a black hole, or something else, something sinister. An elderly man, Zampanò, became obsessed with  The Navidson Record and created a manuscript about it. Zampanò’s manuscript is discovered by Johnny Truant, who moved into Zampanò’s apartment after the old man died. Johnny admits he is an unreliable narrator and, although Zampanò’s narrative is replete with intellectual and critical information and references, there is no corroborating evidence of the story to be found outside of the manuscript (I should point out that there are several instances in Zampanò’s footnotes that include bonefide references in the ‘real world’). Johnny Truant’s story is included in the copious footnotes as he slowly succumbs to paranoid delusions, which may have been the result of insanity, drugs, or a consequence of reading Zampanò’s manuscript (readers beware!). There is also a thread provided by Truant’s mother, for the most part  revealed in The Whalestoe Letters (Danielewski has published an expanded edition of The Whalestoe Letters (2000); I haven’t read it, but it apparently reveals more of the relationship between Johnny Truant and his mother, Pelafina H. Lièvre). Fortunately, House of Leaves includes a different font for each narrator, which helped me to keep track of the labyrinthine stoyline…  

The book has been labelled as a horror story, a love story, and a satire of academic criticism.

The House of Leaves is a fascinating puzzle and the reader is taken on a dizzying odyssey through its pages (there are even codes to unlock; discovering and unlocking the codes doesn’t really edify, but it does add to the reading experience). The book is, in essence, its own House of Leaves.

The novel is over 700 pages long and I found that a patient, analytic approach, with a healthy dose of suspended disbelief, benefited my reading enjoyment.





Retrospeculative View, 1980

Some of the short fiction of 1980:

The Cloak and the Staff, by Gordon R. Dickson, which won the Hugo Award for best novelette (1981)

Lost Dorsai, by Gordon R. Dickson, which won the Hugo Award for best novella (1981)

Nightflyers, by George R. R. Martin

The Ugly Chickens, by Howard Waldrop, which won the Nebula Award for best novelette

The Lordly Ones, by Keith RobertsBrave_Little_Toaster_cover

Thomas M. Disch’s The Brave Little Toaster, which won a Locus Award, a Seiun Award (1982) and a BSFA Award. The story was adapted into a Disney movie (1987).

All the Lies that Are My Life, by Harlan Ellison

Grotto of the Dancing Deer, by Clifford D. Simak, which won the Hugo Award (1981) and the Nebula Award for best short story

Beatnick Bayou, by John Varley

Unicorn Tapestry, by Susie Mckee Charnas, which won the Nebula Award for best novella


 Some of the ‘speculative’ movies and television shows of 1980:

Galactica 1980, a spin-off from the original television series (1978-1979;)

The Shinning, a movie based on the Stephen King novel (1977)fog-1980

The Fog, a John Carpenter film about a haunted ship and glowing mist. A remake was released in 2005.

The Empire Strikes Back (Star Wars, Episode V); the second in the popular franchise…

Friday the 13th, the first in a franchise of horror movies (I believe the count is at twelve movies).

Flash Gordon, a cult classic, although Sam J. Jones received a Golden Raspberry Award as worst lead actor for his portrayal of Flash Gordon.

Superman II, the second in the franchise starring Christopher Reeve.


 Some of the notable novels of 1980:

The Snow Queen, by Joan D. Vinge, which was not only inspired by the famous Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale, but also Robert Grave’s The White Goddess, in which Grave endevoured to reveal the historical origins of goddesses from differing cultures.  It seems like the basis for a fantasy novel, but The Snow Queen is space-opera science fiction. The setting is Tiamat, a planet of mostly water, which orbits about two suns, one of which is a black hole. With a mathematical precision, the black hole becomes a star-gate for one hundred and fifty years, which allows members of the Hegemony to visit and trade technology for the mer-blood of the native life-form of Tiamat, which grants extended life —possibly immortality — to humans when injected (the blood is amassed during gruesome hunting episodes). The members of the Hegemony control the development of the humans on Tiamat, ensuring that when the gate opens the next time they will be able to trade for more mer-blood. A Winter Queen rules while the gate is open, but is sacrificed and replaced by a Summer Queen when the gate is about to close. This is a decent genre novel (it won the 1981 Hugo Award), and I enjoyed it when it was first published; however, like many novels I read years ago, this one hasn’t aged along with me and I find it difficult to enjoy now.

 The Wounded Land, by Stephen R. Donaldson, the first book in his Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever trilogy. Ten years have passed for Thomas Covenant but, when he is returned to the Land, four-thousand years have passed there and another person from his reality, Linden Avery, travels with him. The Land is in disarray because of the Sunbane, which initiates drought, pestilence, and other phenomena that inflict chaos on the inhabitants. The Clave have taken control of the Land and use human sacrifices to exploit the power of the Sunbane. Covenant, Linden Avery, and characters from the Land set out to undo the corruption of Earthpower, unseat the Clave and, eventually, defeat Lord Foul. The novel (in fact, the entire trilogy) provides some interesting world-building, but is filled with the usual Donaldson overindulgence of angst; apparently, Covenant’s angst wasn’t enough, so he created Linden Avery to ratchet-up the angst to new, unparalleled levels.

Lord_Valentine_hardback_coverLord Valentine’s Castle, by Robert Silverberg, which won the Locus Fantasy Award. This was a welcomed novel, Silverberg’s reentry into the world of writing after a hiatus of five years. The novel has elements of science fiction, fantasy, and adventure. The setting is the vast planet Majipoor, which is inhabited by a miscellany of creatures; humans (those odd, bipedal things, alien to the planet, but now the primary political and economic force), Vroons (small, octopus-like; many are wizards), Hjorts (squat, bipedal, grey, lumpy skin and bulgy eyes), Skandars (tall, shaggy, four arms, strong), Iimens (three eyes, not very intelligent), Su-Suhersis (tall, two small heads on one neck, some have psychic powers), Gharogs (bipedal, reptilian), and the Piuruvar (Metamorphs, shapeshifters, the original inhabitants of the planet). Valentine is a travelling man who has lost his memory, but he slowly regains it as the novel proceeds. This is the first of a series of books set on Majipoor, but it is a self-contained novel; popular and enjoyable, but not Silverberg’s most literate work.

Songmaster, by Orson Scott Card. The novel is an expansion of Card’s novelette, Mikal’s Songbird (1978), which forms the second section of the novel. The Empire is a technologically advanced, interstellar ‘community,’ filled with treachery. It is ruled by Emperor Mikal and controlled by Riktors Ashen. Mikal is gifted a songbird, a child whose singing is extraordinary; a songbird’s voice, it is said, can rule one’s emotions. Mikal’s songbird is Ansset, whose singing is beautiful beyond words. Songmaster is the story of Ansset, the Songhouse where he was trained, Mikal, Ricktors Ashen, and others; the interplay of the characters, love (non-sexual, hetero, homo, and bisexual), friendship, betrayal, and conflicting morals are all at play.  Like most of Card’s novels, this is an interesting genre story, but it strikes me as a young person’s book.

Molly Zero, by Keith Roberts: a dystopian novel, set in a future England, written in the uncommon second person present tense; an unusual perspective, but it works in this book as an abnormal perspective. The narrator is a young girl who has been raised in an institutional environment for a potential career within society’s elite; the rules that govern society are difficult to comprehend and the individuals are likewise strange. It is a character-driven novel and at first the style feels awkward (“You’re shivering inside your coat.…” “…You drive your fists deeper into the pockets and hunch your shoulders…” “…You’re Molly Zero and you’re scared to death.”), but the style helps the reader identify with the protagonist, Molly, who knows very little about the world around her; she has been raised in an authoritarian crèche, but she escapes and learns a little about the world outside the insulated, controlled confines of ‘the Blocks.’ The reader experiences the world as Molly does; it is a grim novel, but I sensed a ray of hope at the end.

Timescape, by  Gregory Benford, which won the Nebula Award and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. The setting is Earth in two periods of time; 1998 and 1962-1963. In the ‘future’1998 of the novel, the Earth is an ecological disaster and scientists hatch a plan to send a tachyon message backward in time — to 1962 — to avoid the disaster. The message is received by scientists in 1962. I won’t divulge much more — it would probably spoil the story — but the character development is interesting, and the science fiction elements (the message’s time travel and the ecological disaster) are believable within the framework of the novel. An interesting bit of trivia: Simon & Schuster’s Pocket Books division used the title of the book as their science fiction imprint from 1981 to 1885.

Midnight’s Children, by Salman Rushdie, an Urban Fantasy that won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the prestigious Booker Prize; further, it won the Booker of Bookers Prize. Any respectable blogger would pick this as the speculative novel of the year, but I’m not always respectable, and I haven’t even read the book. Perhaps I’ll change my mind if/when I do read it (it sounds intriguing). From Wikipedia: “Midnight’s Children is a loose allegory for events in India both before and, primarily, after the independence and partition of India. The protagonist and narrator of the story is Saleem Sinai, born at the exact moment when India became an independent country. He was born with telepathic powers, as well as an enormous and constantly dripping nose with an extremely sensitive sense of smell. The novel is divided into three books.”

Without further ado, my choice for Retrospeculative novel of 1980 is…

The Shadow of the Torturer, by Gene Wolfe, which won the World Fantasy Award, but the novel is allegorical science fiction disguised as fantasy, so I’m surprised that it won a fantasy award. This book is really the first part of a lengthy novel, The Book of Shadow & Clawthe New Sun, which consists of four parts (The Shadow of the Torturer, The Claw of the Conciliator (Locus Fantasy Award, Nebula Award), The Sword of the Lictor (British Fantasy Award, Locus Fantasy Award), and The Citadel of the Autarch (John W. Campbell Memorial Award)). For anybody who enjoys a literate challenge, a novel that alludes to classic works, and a book sprinkled with seldom used words, this is a treasure. The novel made me feel smarter as I travelled through it.

The protagonist, Severen, is an apprentice torturer (don’t let that put you off); an unreliable narrator who not only offers valuable information, but often misleads, or relates half-truths. Wolfe creates a depth unusual in genre fiction, and the novel provides an uncommonly rich reading experience.  I enjoyed the first half of the series the most, but that was likely due to brain fatigue. I will definitely re-visit the series at some point; my books are now littered with margin-notes and the series is rich enough to enjoy at least twice. Don’t let gaudy covers dissuade you; this is literate science fiction at its finest. The series is currently available in two manageable tomes; Shadow & Claw, and Sword & Citadel.

Highly recommended.




Blueprints of the Afterlife, by Ryan Boudinot

Blueprints of the Afterlife is a strange beast; after finishing, I was left with a confused sense of what had happened. The author takes the reader on a journey back and forth in the time-line of the plot and I was left with a certainty that much of the action that takes place does not reside in what we would commonly term ‘reality.’ Portions of the novel are set in a time before an apocalyptic event, and other sections occur in the confines of a quantum computer network.

“We’ve been trying to wire the frontal lobes into the Internet so everyone can eventually become their own Wikipedia or, rather, share Wikipedia with others who are logged in.” [p. 115]

BlueprintsoftheAfterlife_frontcover.inddThere are good reasons why this novel was shortlisted for the Philip K. Dick Award (“…for distinguished science fiction published in paperback original form in the United States”); in particular, what is reality? One character is caught in superposition within a quantum computer, another character is an Olympic champion dishwasher who is writing a novel on empty pizza boxes, there is a sentient glacier that runs amok, there is a violent war with cyborgs (newmen), a woman’s body is used to harvest organs (e.g.: penises are grown on her breasts), the internet has developed into a bionet that can be beneficial (diseases can be cured as they occur) and detrimental (DJs are able to control people remotely), and Manhattan — which was destroyed in the apocalypse — is being reconstructed on an island in Puget Sound, thanks to the blueprints created by a hippy before the apocalypse (oh… I almost forgot about the dwarf monk IT techs, the giant head in the sky, and the Last Dude who has a magic refrigerator…). There is a lot happening, much of which only becomes clear as the reader travels further into the quagmire, and some of which remains murky even after the final word is read.

 I found the story to be a bit choppy: I assume it would be smoother if read a second time, but I didn’t quite enjoy it enough to warrant a re-read (perhaps in a few years I might think about it…). There are too many calculated, surreal scenes and, although the characters were initially constructed quite nicely and appeared to be on the threshold of dovetailing together in a momentous finale, they were all, ultimately, somewhat hollow and ineffective (although this is, I assume, deliberate).

Very close to the end there is a conversation between an editor and her boyfriend, Sylvia and Rocco. Rocco is curious about a book she is currently involved with…

“So, tell me more about this guy’s novel.”

Sylvie sighed. “It’s about the beginning of a new world. There’s a rampaging glacier in it. Clones. Giant heads that appear in the sky.”

One of those.” [p. 405]

It’s not really ‘one of those’ (it is shelved in the fiction/literature section of the bookstore); it is a fascinating novel, but it fell a bit short of excellent.  There are clearly computer game elements within the novel and, as an outsider, this may have been responsible for the disenchantment I experienced with some sections.

Recommended, but be prepared for an eccentric ride…




Retrospeculative View, 1979

Some of the significant short fiction of 1979:  

Barry B. Longyear’s Enemy Mine, by, which won the Nebula Award and the Hugo Award (1980) for best novella. The story was adapted for a movie that was released in 1985.

omni_cover_aug_1979George R. R. Martin’s Sandkings, which won the Nebula Award and the Hugo Award (1980) for best novelette

George R. R. Martin’s The Way of Cross and Dragon, which won the Hugo Award for best short story (1980)

Orson Scott Card’s Unaccompanied Sonata

Roger Zelazny’s The Last Defender of Camelot, which won the (ironically referred to as coveted) Balrog Award for short fiction (1980)

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

Ted Reynolds’ Can These Bones Live?

Connie Willis’ Daisy, In the Sun


Buck_Rogers_TV1979Some of the Movies/TV shows of 1979:

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. A short-lived, cheesy TV show (2 seasons: 1979-1981)

Salem’s Lot, a TV miniseries based on Stephen King’s novel.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I have to disagree with the prevailing opinion; as science fiction, this is a much better film than The Wrath of Khan, which has some embarrassingly bad ham acting (in particular, from William Shatner and Ricardo Montalban).

Alien, the first of a movie franchise. Not my favourite sub-genre, but fairly well done for a movie with a science fiction premise.

Mad Max, a movie that spawned two additional apocalyptic ‘Mad Max’ features.


Some of the notable novels of 1979:

Arthur C. Clarke’s The Fountains of Paradise, which won the Hugo Award (1980) and the Nebula Award. This story describes the construction of an orbital tower (a space elevator) from ground level to a satellite in geosynchronous orbit. I enjoyed the novel when I was younger, but couldn’t manage to re-read it recently. One of my biggest disappointments in life is re-reading some of the authors I loved when I was young and discovering that their writing no longer appeals to me…

Orson Scott Card’s A Planet Called Treason; I re-read this recently and was amazed at what a mishmash it is. There are some fascinating concepts (which is what I remember from reading it years ago), but I found it difficult to battle through the muddled story.

John Varley’s Titan, which won the Locus Award, and was the first book in his Gaea Trilogy (followed by Wizard and Demon, neither of which I’ve read). I enjoyed the beginning of Titan, but I thought it ended up as a mess. The story concerns a human expedition to Saturn, where sentient life is discovered: the Titanides, a centaur-like species, and the Angels, a humanoid-bird-like species. The Titanides and the Angels war against each other for no apparent reason (although this is explained later in the novel). Eventually, a higher intelligence, Gaea, is discovered and the plot becomes very strange. I give Varley marks for creativity, but I think the novel stretched beyond his ability to control the story (maybe the other two books in the trilogy helped define the story, but I’ll probably never read them. Perhaps it is my loss…).

John Crowley’s Engine Summer. There are some beautifully written passages in the novel, but it didn’t pull me in and, ultimately, left me empty. It is set in a post-apocalyptic future as narrated by a young man called Rush that Speaks. The novel is an intriguing coming-of-age story, but there is much that remains unclear. I enjoy challenging books, but this one lost me. riddlemaster

Patricia McKillip’s Harpist in the Wind, the final book in her Riddle-Master trilogy (which also includes The Riddle-Master of Hed and Heir of Sea and Fire. The series is currently available in a single volume: Riddle-Master: The Complete Trilogy). I read this trilogy several years ago and I thought it was a pretty darned good series, a few levels above the standard fantasy schlock.

Thomas M. Disch’s On Wing’s of Song, which won the Campbell Memorial Award (1980). It is a dystopian novel set in a fractured and economically unstable USA. The book is a bildungsroman, following the protagonist, Daniel Weinreb, from the age of five, until the end of his days. The book reveals an unusual, multifaceted society. An apparatus has been invented that people connect to and sing; if a person sings earnestly and perfectly, they experience an out-of-body experience that is referred to as flying. Flying is similar to the drugs of our day; prohibited (by the undergodders), but readily accessible. It is an unusual book and cannot be easily described without excessive explanations and plot spoilers. I didn’t fully appreciate the novel, but Disch’s stories are usually interesting, and this is no exception.

Watchtower, by Elizabeth Lynn, which won the World Fantasy Award. Watchtower is the first book in The Chronicles of Tornor. I haven’t read any of the books, but they are well-respected. The author is an openly lesbian writer and this novel was one of the first fantasy books to highlight gay relationships sympathetically and as commonplace cultural phenomena.Hitchhiker_cover

Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, which is now a classic. I was introduced to this series through the TV episodes, but enjoyed the books even more; in fact, I often chortled out-loud while reading them. My only wish is that he had stopped after the fourth book (So Long and Thanks for All the Fish); the fifth book (Mostly Harmless) was entertaining, but I think the fourth one ended ‘just right’ (and I have no intention of reading Eoin Colfer’s And Another Thing). The first book in the series, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, introduced my favourtie character in the series, Slartibartfast.

Octavia Butler’s Kindred, which is possibly her most notable novel, but I haven’t read it (shame on me) and cannot provide an interpretation; however, in an interview, Ms. Butler said, “I was trying to get people to feel slavery. I was trying to get across the kind of emotional and psychological stones that slavery threw at people.”


And my choice for the Retrospeculative novel of 1979 is…


Tales of Nevèrÿon, by Samuel R. Delany. This is the first book in a four book series, Return to Nevèrÿon, which is best considered as a single work. The entire series is getting my Retrospeculative nod…

The first book in the series, Tales of Nevèrÿon,consists of five parts, the first two of which are long stories, and the remaining three are short pieces.

The Tale of Gorgik introduces the reader to Gorgik; as a boy, he is taken into slavery, but eventually freed. The story has a circular resonance, as does the entire series. The Tale of Old Venn is mainly a discourse between an old woman, Venn, and a young girl, Norem. Venn explains the influence that money and language have on culture; as Norem listens, she is influenced by the language of Venn’s discourses. The Tale of Small Sarg relates the story of a prince who is taken as a slave and eventually bought by Gorgik. The Tale of Potters and Dragons relates the story of two young people who set out on a quest for wealth. In The Tale of Dragons and Dreamers, Sarg battles slave owners.

tales_of_neveryon_coverIf you enjoy Tales of Nevèrÿon, you will enjoy the series, as a whole, even more.

The Nevèrÿon books contain adventure and magic, but the series is not plot driven; it is about the power and influence of language, sex, social behavior and money. Delany wields words like a master as he regales us with postmodern sword and sorcery involving slavery, sex, and symbolism. The Nevèrÿon series is metafiction, requiring careful attention (in certain respects, I found it similar to Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun). I don’t think I’m giving anything away if I point out that the last tale in the series is The Tale of Gorgik, the same story that begins the series, completing the cyclic nature of the tales. After finishing the series, The Tale of Gorgik reveals much more than it did upon the first reading.

Highly recommended for anybody who enjoys a challenging, intellectual reading experience (and the books are now available with adult-friendly covers from Wesleyan University Press).

I couldn’t possibly end this post without mentioning Delany’s Informal Remarks Toward the Modular Calculus (hereafter referred to as IRTMC). If you’re interested, I suggest you research G. Spenser-Brown’s Laws of Form; I claim no degree of knowledge regarding G. Spenser-Brown’s works, but for anyone interested, I’ve provided some links at the bottom of this post.

In an essay (The Jewel Hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science fiction, p. 65) Delany writes: “…sword and sorcery represents what can still be imagined about the transition between a barter economy and a money economy,” and “…science fiction represents what can be most safely imagined about the transition from a money economy to a credit economy.” Delany also associates these representations with a note from G. Spencer-Brown’s Laws of Form (part mathematics, part epistemology, which Delany calls “…a manifestation of the abstract calculus he is creating…”), which asserts (again, from Delany’s essay) “…that the value of content is reversed by its image; but to go on to an image of an image gives us a new image to deal with.” G. Spencer-Brown’s Laws of Form surely form the foundation for Delany’s Informal Remarks Toward the Modular Calculus (IRTMC)

Delany’s Trouble on Triton, a science fiction novel, apparently functions as a prologue for the Nevèrÿon series and contains the first two parts of the IRTMC: the novel is Part One and the novel’s second appendix is Part Two. Part Three of the IRTMC is Tales of Nevèrÿon’s first appendix (purportedly written by ‘S.L. Kermit’). Part Four of the IRTMC is the novel Neveryóna (the second book in the series). Part Five of IRTMC is the novella The Tale of Plagues and Carnivals, the ninth tale in the Nevèrÿon series, in which a fatal STD breaks out in Nevèrÿon (very similar to AIDS, and there are echoes and crossovers with scenes in New York near the beginning of the AIDS epidemic).

For more on G. Spencer-Brown’s ideas:

Laws of Form

An Exploration in Mathematics and Foundations

For more from Samuel R. Delany:

I highly recommend Stars in My Pocket, Like Grains of Sand, and cautiously recommend Dhalgren; both are excellent, but Dhalgren is quite a different beast. I also recommend his book of essays, The Jewel Hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction, an exceptional, literate book of criticism.

An interview with Samuel R. Delany




Aldous Huxley’s book cover art juxtaposition…

I’m quite persnickety about the appearance of books and I thought it would be an entertaining exercise to compare two book covers from the same author.

From time-to-time I’ll dedicate a post to an author who has had a book published with a cover that I admire, but has also had a book published with cover art that I find objectionable. Of course, this is a purely subjective exercise…

The first author I thought of — for no particular reason — was Aldous Huxley, and I was delighted with the artwork I discovered:  

I really appreciate this cover of Island; it is interesting and unusual, and it suits the book’s contents:   


But this cover of Brave New World is incredibly pulpy and I’d be a bit embarrassed to read it in public:



More to come in future posts…