Retrospeculative View, 1983

Some of the notable short works of 1983:analog_june_1983

Greg Bear’s Blood Music, which won the Nebula Award  and the Hugo Award (1984) for best novelette (the story was expanded and published as a novel in 1985).

Octavia Butler’s Speech Sounds, which won the Hugo Award for best short story (1984)

Timothy Zahn’s Cascade Point, which won the Hugo Award for best novella (1984)

Gardner Dozois’ The Peacemaker, which won the Nebula Award for best short story

Greg Bear’s Hardfought, which won the Nebula Award for best novella

Jorge Luis Borges’ La memoria de Shakespeare (Shakespeare’s Memory)

William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s Red Star, Winter Orbit

 Return_Of_The_Jedi

Some of the movies of 1983:

Return of the Jedi, (now known as Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi), the third Star Wars film released. I thought this was the weakest of the original trilogy.

Brainstorm, in which a computer-brain interface is achieved and the military attempts to gain control of the project. The film starred Natalie Wood, who died during production, and the film nearly died along with her, but the vast majority of her parts had already been filmed, and money was raised to ensure the release of this over-budget movie.

The Right Stuff, based on Tom Wolfe’s excellent novel (1979) about the United States test pilots who became astronauts for Project Mercury.

Something Wicked This Way Comes, based on Ray Bradbury’s excellent novel (1962).

WarGames, in which a teenager hacks a military computer. The young man believes he is playing a computer game and almost initiates WWIII.

 

Some of the notable novels of 1983:

David Brinn’s Startide Rising, which won the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award. This book is considered a classic, but I didn’t really enjoy it. The novel has its charms, but to me it feels dated and reads like a movie that was written into novel format as an afterthought, complete with stilted dialogue. But this is a novel that often appears on ‘best of’ lists, so I may be in the minority.

Gregory Benford’s Against Infinity. An interesting setting (Ganymede), a coming-of-age story, and an intriguing alien artifact seem like the ingredients for an interesting story, but the novel didn’t fully engage me. The science is interesting and the attempts at political intrigue and morality are well-intentioned, but the prose is a bit flat and the characters are not very well fleshed-out. An interesting, if flawed, genre novel.

The Robots of Dawn, one of my favourite Isaac Asimov novels; IMHO, it’s more worthy of an award than his previous novel, Foundation and Earth, which won the Hugo. Asimov was never a great prose stylist, but I enjoyed this book, which is a must-read for anybody who enjoyed the first two Detective Elijah Baley & R. Daneel Olivaw novels.

R.A. MacAvoy’s Tea With the Black Dragon, which won the John W. Campbell Award for best new writer (1983). I think this was R.A. (Roberta Ann) MacAvoy’s first novel; it isn’t my favourite work of hers (that would probably be her 1990 novel Lens of the World, the first book in a trilogy), but the characters are delightful: Martha Macnamara, a petite, fifty year old woman who plays the violin/fiddle and practices zazen; and Mayland Long, a tall, thin oriental man who may have once been a dragon. The ad-hoc plot appears to be a foil to develop the two main characters.

Tim Powers’ The Anubis Gates, which won the Philip K. Dick Award. I was looking forward to reading this novel because I’d read many exuberant reviews. It is fast-paced and enjoyable, but I began to lose interest before the end. There are some well thought-out and interesting time travel twists, but it is a plot driven story with a main character that is mostly passive and isn’t fleshed-out enough for my tastes. I understand why this is a popular novel, and can even agree that it has withstood the test of time and can be referred to as a classic, but it’s not my type of book.

Citadel of the Autarch, by Gene Wolfe, which won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. This is the final section of Wolfe’s magnum opus, The Book of the New Sun: the series, or lengthy novel, won several awards: The BSFA and World Fantasy Awards for Shadow of the Torturer, the Locus Fantasy and Nebula Awards for Claw of the Conciliator, the British Fantasy Award for Sword of the Lictor, and the John W. Campbell for Citadel of the Autarch: a total of three science fiction awards and four fantasy awards (somebody should have told voters that this stuff is science fiction disguised as fantasy!). I’ve already given this series kudos in my 1980 RetrospeculativeView post: The Shadow of the Torturer was my Retrospeculative novel for 1980.

John M. Ford’s The Dragon Waiting, which won the World Fantasy Award. This is an interesting fantasy/alternate-history novel set during the political upheaval after the death of Edward IV and the ascension of Richard III. The story includes vampires (not sparkly), wizards, witches, dragons, the Medici family, and a possible solution to the fate of the Princes — Edward V and his younger brother Richard — in the Tower. Richard, Duke of Gloucester and brother of Edward IV, became king and the two Princes (only 12 and 9 years old) were kept in the Tower of London and eventually disappeared, never to be seen again.

And my pick for Retrospeculative novel of the year is…

Suldrun’s Garden, by Jack Vance, the first book in The Lyonesse Trilogy (the second book in the series, Madouc, won the World Fantasy Award). Vance does a marvelous job of transporting the reader into a fully realized land. There is no Suldru's_Garden_coversense of awe or splendor in the narration; rather, events are regarded as a matter-of-fact historical account, albeit filled with magic. There are a few details that seem to connect the Lyonesse trilogy to Vance’s Dying Earth series, but there are too few connective links to form a cohesive bond between the two works. Lyonesse is set on the ‘Elder Isles’ in a civilization that best conforms to the later-half of the Middle Ages. The Elder Isles are a fictional construct located southwest of Britain. I visualized the books as alternate history, which explains historical inaccuracies and the fact that there are islands where none exist in our world (although there is the specter of an Atlantis scenario within the story).

Jack Vance’s writing can be uneven, but I think he maintains his most even tread through the Lyonesse trilogy. Wonderful world building, and the characters, I was almost convinced, must live outside the bounds of the pages; they seem so real, warts and all.

This is a classic fantasy series, filled with political and magical maneuvering, and it should be more widely appreciated. For years, the books had been unavailable, but the series is now available in a single tome, The Complete Lyonesse.

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The Automatic Detective, by A. Lee Martinez

Automatic_Detective_coverThe Automatic Detective, by A. Lee Martinez, is part Isaac Asimov’s R. Daneel Olivaw, part Iron Giant, part Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, part mutant-alien invasion, and part tongue-in-cheek blast of fun.

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To say much more would either confuse or spoil plot-points, but I will point out that the action is narrated by a powerful but not quite indestructible robot and includes many characters, including an evil scientist, a kidnapped family, a beautiful blonde who also happens to be a rich genius, a talking gorilla who is a cab driver, countless mutants, aliens, and more…

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A good summer escape; some of the subtle, and not-so-subtle, humour educed chuckles while I read.

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This is the first novel I’ve read by this author (his covers have, until now, scared me off); it’s not a deep-book, but I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.

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Retrospeculative View, 1982

Some of the short fiction of 1982:

Fire Watch, by Connie Willis, which won the Hugo Award (1983) and the Nebula Award for best novelette.

A Letter from the Clearys, by Connie Willis, which won the Nebula Award for best short story

The Wife’s Story, by Ursula K. Le Guin

Burning Chrome, by William Gibsonanalog_june_1982

Another Orphan, by John Kessel, which won the Nebula Award for best novella

Souls, by Joanna Russ, which won the Hugo Award (1983) for best novella

Melancholy Elephants, by Spider Robinson, which won the Hugo Award (1983) for best short story

 

Movies and TV from 1982:

Blade Runner, a classic Science fiction moviebased on PK Dick’snovel Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep? Although I enjoyed PKD’s creativity (much of which did not appear in the film version), I thought the movie was more cohesive, and I enjoyed it more than the book.Blade_Runner_movie_poster

E.T. The Extraterrestrial. This had some wonderful scenes; a good movie for young viewers, although there is a bit too much Hollywood and Spielberg for my tastes.

The Road Warrior. Interesting, but a bit overblown.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Ham actors — Ricardo Montalban and William Shatner — trying to outdo each other.

Knight Rider, broadcast on NBC, staring David Hasselhoff as Michael Knight, a crime fighter with a car as a partner; the car, KITT (Knight Industries Two Thousand), is an AI machine, and pretty much indestructible. I never managed to watch more than a few minutes of an episode, but it lasted four years so it must have had a following…

 

Some of the notable novels of 1982:

Foundation’s Edge, by Isaac Asimov, which won the Hugo Award (1983). I would have preferred that the Foundation series ended with the completion of the original trilogy, but Foundation’s Edge is decent genre fiction.

Fevre Dream, by George R.R. Martin, a novel that has been described as a mixture of Bram Stoker and Mark Twain. It is a vampire story set in the 1850s on the Mississippi River. I’m not a fan of vampire books and I haven’t read Fevre Dream, but I’ve read many good reviews.Sword_and_Citadel

The Sword of the Lictor, by Gene Wolfe. This is the third part of The Book of the New Sun, Wolfe’s extraordinary four-part epic, which is now available in two books (Shadow & Claw and Sword & Citadel). See my comments within Restrospeculative View, 1980 for more (specifically the Retrospeculative novel of the year).

Rudy Rucker’s Software, which won the inaugural Philip K. Dick Award (for original paperback publication). Software is the first in a four-book cyberpunk series, the Ware Tetrology.

The Making of the Representative for Planet 8, by Doris Lessing, the fourth book in her Canopus in Argos series. The book recounts the plight of a planet incapacitated by an ice-age. I read the book years ago and I’ll have to revisit the novel someday soon so that I can provide a more in-depth review.

No Enemy But Time, by Michael Bishop, which won the Nebula Award. The premise was interesting, but a bit odd. A black man, John (aka Joshua), time-travels to the Pleistocene era and falls in love with a pre-historic woman, Helen, who bears his daughter. Helen dies, and John and his daughter are whisked back to the future in an incongruous deus ex machina story-thread. The novel is a bit dated and didn’t work for me.

The Transfiguration of Timothy Archer, by Philip K. Dick. I’ve read quite a few PKD novels, but this isn’t one of them, and I’ll probably never get around to it. I appreciate his imagination, but not necessarily his prose style. The Transfiguration of Timothy Archer is commonly cited as one of the best by his fans; if you enjoyed his other works, you’ll probably appreciate this novel too.

Helliconia Spring, by Brian Aldiss, which won the BSFA Award and the John W. Campbell Award. This is the first of a trilogy of books (the other two were Helliconia Summer (1983) and Helliconia Winter (1985)). The science of the planet during its different seasons is described at great length in the books; unfortunately, that is about all I recall (I don’t even remember if I read all three books).

Michael Shea’s Nifft the Lean, which won the World Fantasy Award, and consists of four stand-alone, but linked, novellas (Come Then Mortal We Will Seek Her Soul, Pearls of the Vampire Queen, Fishing on the Demon Sea, and The Goddess in Glass). Nifft the Lean is  interesting Sword & Sorcery: a couple of the tales have a tendency to drag if read for plot alone, but it is the mood of the tales, and the descriptions of the setting, that provide an enjoyable reading experience.

Donald Kingsbury’s Courtship Rite, which won the Compton Crook Award for Best First Novel. I haven’t read it, but I found a nice, short blurb at Jo Walton’s Revisiting the Hugos (1983): “It’s about a lost colony on a planet where there’s very little to eat except other people, and it’s a sweet love story about evolutionary fitness and cannibalism. It’s quite unforgettable, and exactly the kind of thing that should be nominated, and I’d have been quite happy for it to have won” (the Hugo). I’ll try to remember to read this sometime and come back to update this post.

And my choice for the Retrospeculative novel of 1982 is…

Hitsuji o Meguru Bōken, by Haruki Murakami, which won the Noma Literary Prize (Noma Bungei Shinjin Shō). I can’t read Japanese, but I’m assuming the novel was at least as good as the translation into English (A Wild Sheep Chase, trans.by Alfred Birnbaum, 1991). It may be a strange way of documenting things, but I like to acknowledge a novel when it was first published, no matter what language it was written in.A_Wild_Sheep_Chase_cover

As in many Murakami novels, the protagonist, who is never named, is thirty-something and is separated from a woman; in this case, he is newly divorced. He has formed a business partnership with a friend; together, they run a moderately successful advertising/public relations firm.

The protagonist is approached by an industrialist known as the Boss, a former war criminal who escaped justice and has the aura of a mob boss. The Boss uses an intimidating gentleman (who has a degree from Stanford) to convince people to help him. The Boss is dying and is attempting to gain spiritual powers: he ‘insists’ that the protagonist must find a legendary, spiritual sheep; a sheep with a black star on its back. The Boss saw a picture of the sheep in a corporate newsletter produced by the protagonist. The picture was taken on a snowy, rural mountain, and the protagonist sets off to locate the animal; a wild sheep chase.

Other characters in the novel include the Rat, the Sheep Professor, a manic-depressive man who wears a sheep costume, and the protagonist’s new girlfriend who has “…a pair of the most bewitching, perfectly formed ears.”

Among other things, the novel oozes modern Japan. It also manages to convey the atmosphere of the jazz-bar scene in California: it is dappled with the mood of a Raymond Chandler and/or Dashiell Hammett novel. Sherlock Holmes is mentioned (several times), as is Moby Dick and Frederick Nietzsche; the book is part mystery and part metaphysical-fantasy, stitched together with the warp and woof of postmodernism.

It is not my favourite Murakami novel, but it is excellent speculative fiction and not a bad place to begin perusing Murakami’s oeuvre. Murakami also wrote a sequel, Dansu Dansu Dansu in1988 (English trans., Dance Dance Dance, 1994), but I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much. I heartily recommend Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Kafka on the Shore, and Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World, which are all readily available in trade paperback.

The Fade, by Chris Wooding

The Fade combines elements of science fiction and fantasy and the story is constructed upon an intriguing foundation: the main storyline flows chronologically, but it is interspersed with reverse-order flashbacks that detail significant experiences in the protagonist’s past. The main storyline is a revenge-fueled adventure within a fantasy/science-fiction setting.

The title has several meanings and sets up a twist that, unfortunately, I found to be over-telegraphed, which took some of the fun out of the tale, but I still enjoyed the story more than I thought I would. The novel is presented in first-person narrative, a fascinating way of building a world in bits and pieces. The protagonist doesn’t spend a lot of time describing the wonders of her world (as she wouldn’t, being a native), yet the alien atmosphere is successfully transmitted to the reader (the image on the book’s front cover helped).the_fade_cover

Long before the action in the novel, humans had settled beneath the surface of Callepsa, a moon that orbits a gas giant, Beyl. The surface of Callepsa is uninhabitable, but the cavernous subterranean world consists of countries, seas, warriors, magicians, and intriguingly alien creatures and scenery. War is common, fought by highly proficient warriors and the thaumaturgy of adept magicians.

The protagonist, Massima Leithka Orna, is indentured; a Bondswoman, a servant of the Clan Caracassa. Orna is a warrior/spy/assassin of the clan’s Cadre, which also includes chthonomancers (wielders of magic). Near the beginning of the novel, Orna’s husband is killed in a particularly vicious battle, and she is taken prisoner. Orna is convinced a betrayal caused her husband’s death and her capture, and the rest of the story’s arc documents her escape and her act of vengeance.

I thought the ending was a bit weak; I expected a twist I hadn’t foreseen, but I did enjoy the story and I would read a sequel to this short, exciting novel that left room for more…

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