Retrospeculative View, 1989

Some of the short fiction of 1989:

The Mountains of Mourning, by Lois McMaster Bujold (Hugo & Nebula for best Novella)

Time-Out, by Connie WillisTTTA

A Touch of Lavender, by Megan Lindholm (Margaret Astrid Lindholm Ogdenher; her other pseudonym is Robin Hobb)

Great Work of Time, by John Crowley (World Fantasy Award for best Novella)

The Price of Oranges, by Nancy Kress

Enter a Soldier. Later: Enter Another, by Robert Silverberg (Hugo Award for best Novelette)

At the Rialto, by Connie Willis (Nebula Award for best Novelette)

Boobs, by Suzy McKee Charnas (Hugo Award for best Short Story)

Ripples in the Dirac Sea, by Geoffrey Landis (Nebula Award for best Short Story)

Some of the ‘speculative’ movies from 1989Adventures_of_baron_munchausen

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the third in a franchise.

The Abyss, a James Cameron science-fiction thriller: pretty good, but a disappointing ending.

The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen, a Terry Gilliam (of Monty Python fame) movie: a bit slow & muddled, but ultimately fun

Batman, the first of a franchise

Field of Dreams, an adaption of W. P. Kinsella’s novel Shoeless Joe (the book is much better)

Books I haven’t read that created some buzz:

A Fire in the Sun, by George Alec Effinger, a sequel to When Gravity Fails. I did read When Gravity Fails, which was quite well-written, but it didn’t appeal to me so I skipped the sequels (in 1991 Effinger also published The Exile Kiss, a third novel in his Marîd Audran series).

The Boat of a Million Years, by Poul Anderson. The novel traces the lives of a group of immortal humans from their lives in the ancient past and into the distant future.the-childs-garden

The Child’s Garden, by Geoff Ryman (Arthur C. Clarke John W. Campbell Award winner). I’ve read good things about this novel and it is on my ‘to read’ list. It apparently triggers emotional and intellectual reactions, but is difficult to digest. I’ve enjoyed other novels by Ryman; in particular, Air.

Subterranean Gallery, by Richard Paul Russo (Philip K. Dick Award). The novel depicts an underground artistic community in a post-apocalyptic California.

The Healer’s War, by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough (Nebula Award winner). The author was a nurse during the Vietnam War and she apparently draws on her experiences to tell a mystical tale of the war. The main character is a nurse in the Vietnam War who is given a mystical amulet by an elderly patient before he dies. The amulet allows the nurse to perceive auras, and she embarks on a spiritual journey.

Some of the notable novels from 1989 that I have read:

Prentice Alvin, by Orson Scott Card, the third in the Alvin the Maker series. The series felt to me like it was leaking oil at about this point and I began to lose interest (I may finish reading the series for completeness, but I’m not particularly excited about the idea).

Grass, by Sherri Tepper. I’d heard wonderful things about this novel, but when I read it a couple of years ago I wasn’t particularly impressed. The initial set-up was good, but the story didn’t evolve in a way I appreciated and I wasn’t drawn to any of the characters (the main character, Marjorie, had potential, but I lost interest in her as the novel progressed). I probably won’t read another novel by this author, although I should point out that she has a large fan-base, so you might want to check elsewhere for differing opinions.

Madouc by Jack Vance (World Fantasy Award), the second book in the Lyonesse series. I loved this series when it first came out, but haven’t found the time to re-read it and cannot recall all the particulars. I do, however, remember being transported to an alternate realm because of exceptional world-building.

Eden, by Stanislaw Lem. A minor Lem classic that left a lasting impression on me. Eden starts slowly, but gains allegorical momentum. At first, the aliens on the planet seem very exotic; but, by the end of the novel, I felt they were not so very different from humans at all. Recommended, especially if you’re a fan of the author (note: the novel was first published in Polish is 1959; the English translation by Marc E. Heine was first published in 1989).

My pick for the Retrospeculative novel of 1989 is…

simmons-hyperionHyperion, by Dan Simmons (Hugo Award winner). This should be considered for any list of best science fiction novels of all time: it’s a classic of the genre (although, for some obscure reason, it wasn’t short-listed for a Nebula Award). Much has been written about Hyperion, and I’ll keep my synopsis brief (do a quick Google search for tons o’ information). There were sequels (Fall of Hyperion, Endymion, and Rise of Endymion); and, although all the sequels were good science fiction, none of them captured the brilliance of Hyperion (which was, I believe, initially written as a stand-alone novel).

Hyperion follows a structure similar to The Canterbury Tales (not that I’m an expert on that tome!): it is a framed story involving seven pilgrims journeying to the planet Hyperion. All but one of the pilgrims tells their tale, forming the major sections of the book, and each tale is steeped in a different sub-genre. One of the characters is a clone of the poet John Keats, who never managed to finish his epic poem Hyperion (Keats did complete The Fall of Hyperion and Endymion, which contains the famous first line: “A thing of beauty is a joy for ever”). Hyperion contains a depth not often encountered in the science fiction genre. Highly recommended!!!

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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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Retrospeculative View, 1986

Some of the short speculative fiction of 1986:

Robert Silverberg’s Gilgamesh in the Outback, the Hugo Award winner for best novella

Lucius Sherpard’s R&R, the Nebula Award winner for best novellaAsimovs_LShepard_R&R_illust_J_K_Potter

Roger Zelazny’s Permafrost, the Hugo Award winner for best novelette

Kate Wilhelm’s The Girl Who Fell into the Sky, the Nebula Award winner for best novelette

Orson Scott Card’s Hatrack River, the World Fantasy Award winner for best novella

Greg Bear’s Tangents, the Nebula Award winner for best short story

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Some of the movies/television shows of 1986

Alf: a TV show about an alien that crash-landed its spaceship into a family’s garage. The alien character, the only puppet in this live-action sitcom, was nicknamed Alf (Alien Life form).

Aliens, the first of a franchise. I have very few memories of this film, but the alien popping out of the crewman’s chest is seared into permanent memory.Little_Shop_of_Horrors_poster

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. A humorous, but hokey Star Trek movie, complete with humpback whales, a dangerous alien probe/artifact, and time travel.

The Fly, a remake of the 1958 film (which was based on George Langelaan’s 1957 short story). The movie was a critical and commercial success; personally, I’m not a big fan of this sub-genre.

Little Shop of Horrors:a musical-comedy that was based on an off-Broadway show (which was, in turn, based on a low-budget film). The movie was a critical success and enjoyed commercial success when it was released on home video (VHS & Beta).

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Some of the notable novels of 1986:

Stephen R. Donaldson’s The Mirror of Her Dreams, the first half of his fantasy diptych, Mordant’s Need. I recall enjoying the series, but not falling in love with it. I think that The Mirror of Her Dreams ended with a cliffhanger, so it would be best to have the second book (A Man Rides Through) handy if you plan to read the books.

speaker_graphic_novel_coverSpeaker for the Dead, by Orson Scott Card, which is the sequel to Ender’s Game. Speaker for the Dead, like its predecessor, won both the Hugo and Nebula awards. I loved this book when it was first published; I was a huge fan of Orson Scott Card, and this was probably my favourite book of his (I also had a special place for Songmaster and Hot Sleep (later amalgamated (to its detriment, I think)  into The Worthing Saga)). I have difficulties reading Card’s novels now; it is unfortunate, but they haven’t aged along with me as close friends.

This is the Way the World Ends, by James Morrow. An apocalyptic, post-nuclear war novel that is blessed with some fine writing, but I found it to be a bit of a mish-mash of science fiction and fantasy, and odd things happened without any depth of explanation.

When Gravity Fails, by George Alec Effinger. I’d heard a lot of good things about this novel, so I read it recently; unfortunately, it wasn’t really my kind of book. It is well written and there are some poignant sections, but it didn’t quite connect with me.

Ken Grimwood’s Replay, which won the World Fantasy Award (1988). I haven’t read this novel, but it is mentioned as inspiration for the movie Groundhog Day. The plot involves the re-birth of the main character in an earlier version of his physical body, but with his memories intact.

Marooned in Realtime, by Vernor Vinge. I’m not sure why, but I’m not a big fan of Vernor Vinge (he has the chops & plots that should engage me, but I’ve never connected with his stories). I haven’t read this novel, but it seems interesting and I may give it a try some day. Marooned… is a sequel to The Peace War, yet apparently can be read as a stand-alone story. The plot includes a murder mystery, time travel, and a technological singularity from which the characters in the novel appear to be the only humans who survived.

Joan Slonczewski’s A Door into Ocean, which won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. The novel is set in the far future on Shora, a fictitious moon that is covered with water. I haven’t read the novel, but it has been reviewed favourably. The inhabitants of the water-world of Shora are genetically engineered aquatic humans, and they are all female. The inhabitants are referred to as Sharers, and they manipulate (in a benign way) the world’s ecological environment through the use of biotechnology. Their society is based on egalitarian eco-feminism and they solve disputes using nonviolent resistance.

William Gibson’s Count Zero. I think I enjoyed reading this novel even more than Neuromancer, but it didn’t have the same impact that Gibson’s first novel had. Neuromancer was raw, exciting, and unique: Count Zero couldn’t possibly break as much new ground. William Gibson strikes me as an intelligent, well-read man: I haven’t read any of his recent works, but I attended an event a few years ago in which he read from a recent novel (Zero History) and participated in an interesting discussion with Douglas Coupland.

 

And my choice as the Retrospeculative novel of 1986 is …

Patrick Süskind’s Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, originally published in German as Das Parfum: Die Geschiechte eines Morders (translated into English by John E. Woods), which won the World Fantasy Award.

The novel’s principle character, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, is an ‘olfactory vampire.’ He was born with no body scent, but with a superb sense of smell. Perfume_coverAt the beginning of the novel he is a sympathetic character, but the reader quickly discovers that he is an amoral sociopath. Grenouille preys on innocence, and murders young women so that he can acquire their distinctive aromas.

The novel traces the life of Grenouille, whose murderous subsistence is revealed in an odd, matter-of-fact manner, casting an eerie mantle over the reader. Grenouille is obsessed and quite insane, but he progresses through life in a coherent manner and becomes a master perfumer.

The novel, a historical fantasy, is set in 18th-century France and is wonderfully researched and presented. This re-imagining of the Dracula story is steeped in a remarkably realistic, sensual wickedness. The descriptive prose pulled me in, somewhat reluctantly, because horror is not a genre I readily enjoy. The scenes, described with an unusually dense array of olfactory sensations, provide a disturbing, but rewarding experience.

Perfume is a wonderful mixture of horror, history, and mystery-suspense; the reader follows the criminally insane thoughts and actions of Grenouille, wondering if his twisted, inhuman soul will be brought to justice.

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