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.




2 thoughts on “Retrospeculative View, 1981

  1. Ridley Walker is an astounding achievement. A philosophical, mystical thriller that grips from first to last – when you want to start again. Thom

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