Retrospeculative View, 1987

Some of the notable short fiction of 1987:

Orson Scott Card’s Eye for Eye, which won the Hugo for best novella

Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Blind Geometer, which won the Nebula Award for best novella


Asimov’s Magazine; July, 1987

Robert Silverberg’s The Secret Sharer

Pat Murphy’s Rachel in Love, which won the Nebula Award for best novelette

Ursula K. Le Guin’s Buffalo Gals, Won’t You Come Out Tonight, which won the Hugo Award for best novelette

Kate Wilhelm’s Forever Yours, Anna, which won the Nebula Award for best short story

Lawrence Watt-Evans’ Why I Left Harry’s All-Night Hamburgers, which won the Hugo Award for best short story


TV/Movies of 1987:

Star Trek The Next Generation (1987 – 1994), a re-boot of the franchise. I wanted to like this TV series, and I gave it a good try, but it didn’t break much new ground, and even replayed many of the same themes supplied in the original series. There were a few moments that I found interesting, but I was never fully engaged in the series.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987 – 1998). I’ve never been able to sit through an entire episode, but this cartoon became part of pop-culture.


Hamilton & Pearlman

Beauty and the Beast (1987 – 1990). My wife watched this TV drama, and I managed to sit through several episodes, and it seemed like a fairly well-designed show, but I’ve never been able to enjoy a series that relied on an ongoing story-line. The series starred Linda Hamilton (of Terminator fame) as ‘beauty’ and Ron Pearlman (of Hellboy fame) as the beast.

The Princess Bride, a wonderful movie adaption of William Golding’s 1973 fantasy-romance.

Predator: Arnold Schwarzenegger battles an alien warrior.

Robocop, the first of a franchise.

Notable novels of 1987:

David Brin’s The Uplift War, which won the Hugo Award. I haven’t read this novel, but I read its predecessor, Startide Rising, which I really wanted to like, but didn’t care for it: it is a good genre novel, but I found it a bit unsophisticated (my snobbishness is showing through once more). If you enjoyed Startide Rising I’m sure you’d enjoy the Uplift War.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, by Douglas Adams, who described his book as a “…thumping good detective-ghost-horror-who dunnit-time travel-romantic-musical-comedy-epic.” It was enjoyable, but not as clever as the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Stanisław Lem’s Pokój na Ziemi (English Trans, Peace on Earth, by Elinor Ford with Michael Kandel, 1994). I haven’t read this novel, but I’ve read many other stories involving Ijon Tichy, and they are generally excellent.

Pat Murphy’s The Falling Woman, which won the Nebula Award. The protagonist, Elizabeth Butler, attempted suicide when she was a young woman; after her recovery, she was able to observe ancient Mayan spirits. As the story begins, Elizabeth is studying an archeological dig-site in Mexico. When her ex-husband passes away, Elizabeth’s estranged daughter travels to the site and the two women endeavor to reconnect. Elizabeth soon finds that a Mayan priestess is able to see and talk with her; the connection has the potential to provide Elizabeth with extremely valuable information, but the information Elizabeth desires will only be given to her if a sacrifice is made. Elizabeth must choose between the living and the dead. A very interesting, unusual novel.Card_Seventh_Son_cover

Orson Scott Card’s Seventh Son, the first book in The Tales of Alvin Maker series, which is an early 19th century American alternate-history fantasy that uses superstition and folklore as the basis for magic elements. I enjoyed Seventh Son but, as the series progressed (six books so far), I thought the story ran out of steam: the plot seemed to progress very slowly and I became indifferent (note: OSC has also written two short-stories and a poem that tie into the story). There is one more book in the series that has not been published, Master Alvin, and I’ll probably read it for completeness, but I’m not clamoring for its release.

Octavia E. Butler’s Dawn, which is the first book in her Lilith’s Brood trilogy (Dawn, Adulthood Rites, and Imago). After a group of fanatics precipitate a nuclear war, humanity is all but wiped out. The only human survivors are saved by the oankali, an alien species with sensory tentacles covering their bodies. The oankali consist of three separate sexes (male, female, and ooloi), and they have mastered genetic manipulation. The novel — the entire trilogy — investigates sexuality, gender, visual prejudice, genetic engineering, and survival instincts.

Pat Cadigan’s Mindplayers, a cyberpunk novel that meanders with a dream-like quality. The novel depicts a society in which an individual’s personality can be modified; reworked, like software code. The ambling plot includes the use of drugs, computer-brain interfaces and telepathy-technology, to examine possible avenues of the human mind. Pat Cadigan has been labelled as The Queen of Cyberpunk, which is probably the easiest sub-genre to pigeon-hole her oeuvre into, but I think the bulk of her work could better be described as transhuman fiction. Her work explores the possible liaison of the human mind and technology, the effects that technological-enhancement could have on society for the pioneers that embrace modification, and for those who resist change.

Michael Swanwick’s Vacuum Flowers, a cyberpunk novel that was one of the first to use the term wetware. The protagonist, Rebel Elizabeth Mudlark, is a dead woman who escapes a ‘personality entertainment consortium’ by absconding with the body of another woman, Eucrasia Walsh. Eucracia rents out her body for wetware assessment and, although her mind is not in her body, dormant personality attributes awaken as Rebel escapes. Vacuum flowers are bio-engineered weeds that are able to live in space: Rebel finds work removing these weeds from the outer ports of canister worlds, artificial constructs that orbit the sun. Other intriguing ideas are the hive mind, The Comprise (which controls the Earth), and genetically engineered Dyson trees that grow in comets. The beginning of the book was a bit absurd, but the story grows into something quite grand. I’ve only read one other book by Swanwick (Stations of the Tide), but I think I’ll have to search for some of his other gems.

Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint. This novel created a sub-genre, the fantasy of manners (I read somewhere that the author referred to the novel as a “…melodrama of manners.”). I read the novel years ago (possibly shortly after it was published) and, although I didn’t love the story, it has stuck with me, probably because it was so different from the norm, the characterizations were excellent, and the descriptive prose painted an interesting and lucid picture. The novel was quite a departure from the archetypal fantasy I’d read previously: there are no magical elements (the action is set on a different world, or an alternate reality), and there is no ‘quest’ or other plot-point that is necessary to save the realm, empire, monarchy, or world. It is a story steeped in swordplay and passion; in particular, it is the tale of a swordsman’s love for another man: an unusual and interesting decision for a novelist of the time.

I’ve decided to roam outside my usual box to pick my Retrospeculative novel of 1987, which is…

Watchmen, by Alan Moore (writer), Dave Gibbons (artist), and John Higgins (colorist). So far, this is the only graphic novel that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. Watchmen depicts an alternate reality, a representation of America in the 1980s that included the existence of superheroes who significantly altered the outcome of the Vietnam War and the political landscape of the United States (hence, the entire world). Although called ‘superheroes’, there is only one watchmen-covercharacter — Doctor Manhattan — with superhuman abilities (his powers are a result of an Intrinsic Field Subtractor experiment gone horribly wrong). The other characters have no superpowers: The Comedian, who is murdered in the first chapter; Rorschach, a vigilante who attempts to discover who murdered The Comedian (to hide his true identity, Rorschach wears a white mask with a shifting black pattern); Nite Owl, who utilizes owl-inspired machinery; Ozymandias, a genius who retired from the superhero trade to become a very successful entrepreneur; and Silk Spectre, Doctor Manhattan’s lover as the novel opens but Silk Spectre becomes involved with Nite Owl as the novel proceeds. The book is also peppered with chapters of back-story that contain more written word than graphic representation, including back-story on the previous generation of ‘superheroes,’ some insight into the interrelations between the characters, and the social and political atmosphere of the alternate reality.

As the story unfolds, America is progressing steadily closer to nuclear war with the Soviet Union (each chapter’s cover page includes a doomsday clock that represents how close the world is to nuclear annihilation: the first chapter shows the clock set at twelve minutes to midnight and each subsequent chapter shows the clock one minute closer to midnight. There are twelve chapters). The story is revealed in a non-linear narrative and the plot revolves around the relationships between the superheroes, the political climate, and the attempts to discover who murdered the Comedian.

There are countless visual symbols within the book; in particular, a blood-stained smiley face and many other shapes that mirror it (the bloody smiley face can also be seen as a representation of the doomsday clock). An interesting story-within-the-story portrays a comic book, Tales of the Black Freighter, one of the pirate comic books that became popular after the advent of superheroes within the social scene.

The art and the depth of story make this a fascinating foray into the realm of the graphic novel.

Watchmen has garnered acclaim both in the comic world and the mainstream press, and has possibly gained a higher degree of praise in mainstream circles. Watchmen was among Times list of the 100 Best English Language Novels published since 1923, and in 2009 Entertainment Weekly recognized it as # 13 on their list of the 50 best novels printed in the last 25 years, and Watchmen won a Hugo Award in the Other Forms category; interestingly, The Comics Journal ranked Watchmen quite far down the list (number 91) of best English-language comics of the 20th century.

Watchmen expanded the possibilities of the graphic novel and created serious interest from readers who wouldn’t ordinarily peruse a comic book.





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