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.





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