Retrospeculative View, 1985

Some of the notable short fiction of 1985:

Frederik Pohl’s Fermi and Frost, which won the Hugo Award for best short story (1986)

Nancy Kress’s Out of All Them Bright Stars, which won the Nebula Award for the best short story

James Tiptree, Jr.’s The Only Neat Thing to DoFantasy_and_Science_Fiction_March1985

Kim Stanley Robinson’s Green Mars

John Crowley’s Snow

Harlan Ellison’s Paladin of the Lost Hour, which won the Hugo Award for best novelette

Robert Silverberg’s Sailing to Byzantium, which won the Nebula Award for best novella

William Gibson’s The Winter Market

Roger Zelazny’s 24 Views of Mt. Fuji, by Hokusai, which won the Hugo Award for best novella

George R. R. Martin’s Portraits of His Children, which won the Nebula Award for best novelette


Some of the films/Television from 1985:Brazil_DVDcover

Amazing Stories, a Steven Spielberg television show, similar in scope to The Twilight Zone.

Back to the Future, a lighthearted time-travel movie that became an integral part of pop culture and spawned two sequels.

Brazil, Terry Gilliam’s bizarre, but exceptional movie: a bureaucratic satire that is part slapstick, part totalitarian dystopia, part fantasy-daydream, and part love story.

Enemy Mine, a movie adaption of Barry B. Longyear’s 1979 novella.


Some of the notable novels of 1985:

Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, which won the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award. I enjoyed the novel when it was published but, as I’ve aged, it has lost its charm (my daughter enjoyed it immensely, so perhaps it is best read when young). A movie version was released in 2013; it followed the story fairly well, but I think it worked much better as a novel.

Greg Bear’s Blood Music, a story dealing with transhumanism and the nature of consciousness. The protagonist, Vergil Ulam, is a brilliant scientist who injects himself with intelligent nano-organisms, which evolve within his body and are eventually capable of transferring to other humans. The end of humanity is certain, but the novel portrays an optimistic future with a new, improved species. This is a classic novel, and it is a foundation work for ‘wet’ nanotech fiction.

The Postman, by David Brin, expanded from his excellent novella, which had a tighter focus and didn’t require lengthening in my opinion. The story was adapted into a tedious movie (1997).

R. A. MacAvoy’s The Book of Kells, Based on the sublimely illustrated Book of Kells. The novel blends Celtic history, time travel and magic.

James Tiptree, Jr’s Brightness Falls from the Air. James Triptree Jr. was a pseudonym for Alice Bradley Sheldon (she also wrote stories under the pen name Raccoona Sheldon). It was not generally known that her stories were written by a woman until many years after her first published stories, and she was instrumental in breaking sexist publishing barriers. Brightness Falls from the Air is well-written, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as her short fiction. The set-up was exceptional, and the plot was interesting, but I found some parts a bit manipulative, and the ending was disappointing. It is a work that has much to recommend, but I would more heartily recommend her short-story collection, Her Smoke Rose Up Forever.

Schismatrix_Plus_coverSchismatrix, a Bruce Sterling novel featuring his Shaper/Mechanist vision (he also wrote five short-stories using the same concepts). There are four intelligent species in the novel: Humanity, which has evolved due to genetic and technological alteration; the Gasbags, space-roaming beings; the Swarm, a consortium of species that are constantly altering their hive-like composition to better adapt to the rigors of deep space; and the Investors, huge, interstellar-travelling reptoids. The complete Shaper/Mechanist stories (the novel and the short-stories) are now available in a single volume, Schismatrix Plus.

Brian W. Aldiss’ Helliconia Winter, which is the final volume in the Helliconia trilogy ( Helliconia Spring (1982), Helliconia Summer (1983) and Helliconia Winter). Helliconia is a planet inhabited by two intelligent species; a species similar to humanity, and the phagor, a sentient bovine species. The real protagonist is the planet itself, and the trilogy is a fictional model based on the Gaia hypothesis.

Dan Simmons’ Song of Kali, which won the World Fantasy Award. I haven’t read this novel; it is a horror story, which is not my preferred genre (I do read an occasional horror story, but I tend to skip them unless something about it really intrigues me). In the Song of Kali, a journalist travels to Calcutta and becomes inextricably drawn in to strange, terrifying cult proceedings; the cult venerates Kali, Hindu Goddess of death and destruction.

Always Coming Home, by Ursula K. Le Guin, who is one of my favorite authors, but I haven’t read this book! From the University of California Press: Ursula Le Guin’s Always Coming Home is a major work of the imagination from one of America’s most respected writers of science fiction. More than five years in the making, it is a novel unlike any other. A rich and complex interweaving of story and fable, poem, artwork, and music, it totally immerses the reader in the culture of the Kesh, a peaceful people of the far future who inhabit a place called the Valley on the Northern Pacific Coast”.

Sekai no Owari to Hādo-Boirudo Wandārando by Haruki Murakami (Eng. Trans. 1991 by Alfred Birnbalm: Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World). I think this is one of Murakami’s best (almost on-par with Kafka on the Shore and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle). This excellent novel is divided into two alternating views: the Hard-Boiled Wonderland, set in past-tense and in the ‘real’ world, and the End of the World, set in the present tense and possibly in a world that only exists deep within the protagonist’s mind.

And my pick for the Retrospeculative novel of 1985 is…

The Handmaiden’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and won the 1985 Governor General’s Award (Canada), and the Handmaid's_Tale_coverfirst Arthur C. Clarke Award (1987). As a Canadian, I find it a bit risky to admit this to the world, but this was the first of Ms. Atwood’s novels that I truly enjoyed. Her prose is consistently excellent; unfortunately, I rarely get drawn into her stories and find them a bit tedious (surely a lack in my intellectual maturation). The Handmaiden’s Tale is set in a dystopian, near-future America, which has been taken over by a racist, homophobic, moral-majority, the Sons of Jacob, who rename their claimed land the Republic of Gilead. Birth rates have declined due to sterility and the protagonist, Offred, is a concubine, a ‘handmaiden’, who is used by Fred (The Commander) as brood-stock. The novel is narrated by Offred (Of Fred), who has recorded events from her life as a handmaiden, as well as flashbacks to a time before the revolution that was launched by the Sons of Jacob. The story flows effortlessly, the character development is excellent, and the story is filled with tension. There are several disturbing sections, but a ribbon of hope runs through the plot.




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