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


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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