Retrospeculative View, 1977

Some of the short speculative fiction of 1977:

Tigres azules (Blue Tiger), by Jorge Luis Borges

Children of the Corn, by Stephen King

Ramsey Campbell’s The Chimney, which won the World Fantasy Award for best short story (1978)

Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card, which he later expanded (and altered) into a novel (1985), and a franchise…

Jeffty Is Five, by Harlan Ellison, which won the Nebula Award and the Hugo Award (1978) for best short story

The Screwfly Solution, by Raccoona Sheldon (Alice Sheldon, aka James Tiptree, Jr.), which won the Nebula Award for Best Novelette

Stardance, by Spider Robinson & Jeanne Robinson, which won the Hugo Award for best novella

Analog_Science_Fiction_Magazine_June1977In the Hall of the Martian Kings, by John Varley

Eyes of Amber, by Joan D. Vinge, which won the Hugo Award for best Novelette

Air Raid, by Herb Boehm (John Varley)

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Some of the movies:

Star Wars (later retitled Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope); the birth of a movie franchise. Many people call these films science fiction, but I think they have more elements of fantasy with a space-western twist. I adored this movie when it first came out, but each sequel, and prequel, has left me less and less enchanted. I don’t think the original Star Wars film has aged very well; it was a special effects blockbuster that had its day.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind, a Spielberg epic that I thought was a bit dull. The ending was somewhat spectacular; but, as was often the case with his movies, overblown.

The Hobbit, Rankin/Bass fashioned this animated musical adaption for TV (animation by Topcraft, the ancestor of Studio Ghibli. Topcraft’s most notable work was Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, often considered to be the beginning of the Studio Ghibli enterprise). WizardsThe lyrics for songs were taken from the book. I’ve never seen this adaption, but it sounds a bit too commercial for my tastes.

Wizards, an animated, post-apocalyptic fantasy movie relating the battle between two wizards; one represents the power of magic, and the other represents technology. The movie, which is a cult classic, was written and directed by Ralph Bakshi.

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Notable novels of 1977:

The Shining, by Stephen King. I’m not a fan of horror (or of Stephen King) and I haven’t read this particular novel, but this book was apparently truly scary and the movie is a joke in comparison.

Dying of the Light, by George R.R. Martin, A novel set on Worlorn, a planet with an irregular pathway through the cosmos; cities from fourteen different planets were developed on Worlorn during the time it was within a habitable distance from a red giant star; but the planet is now heading into the cold sterility of interstellar space where Worlorn will be uninhabitable, so the cities are mostly forsaken, decaying, and war-torn. The protagonist, Dirk t’Larian, has been disenchanted with life since his girlfriend, Gwen Delvano, left him, but now she has sent for him, and he travels to Worlorn, where she has been claimed by another man, Arkin Ruark. All is not as it seems and Dirk stumbles through a quagmire of secrecy, toward an ultimate, tragic encounter.

Our Lady of Darkness, by Fritz Leiber is often described as an urban fantasy novel, but it also captures the characteristics of an H.P. Lovecraft supernatural horror story (not my favourite sub-genre, but enjoyable nonetheless). The novel uses elements of Jungian psychology (the female self, Anima, and the hidden self, Shadow), creates a fictional occult science (megapolisomancy , the art of predicting and manipulating the future using the physical, psychological, and para-mental infrastructure of a large city), and  autobiographical elements (the protagonist, Franz Western, like Fritz Leiber, lost his wife, became an alcoholic, and is an amateur astronomer). I’ve read that the geography described evokes the San Francisco Bay area very well, especially Corona Heights Park. Our Lady of Darkness won the World Fantasy Award (1978)

The Ophiuchi Hotline, by John Varley, a novel set in his Eight World series, approximately one-hundred and fifty years after the Invaders destroyed all technology on Earth (in the year 2500), leaving humanity at a stone-age level. Some humans do not live on Earth, but survive on other planetary bodies in the solar system (the moon, Mars, Pluto, Mercury, Venus, etc.), using technology adapted from the Ophiuchi Hotline radio signal that originates from the star 70 Ophiuchi (and there is a small population of humans surviving in Symbiotic spacesuits (symbs), piloting through Saturn’s rings). The Invaders are stationed in the atmosphere of Jupiter; they consider humans to be vermin and have decimated humanity to protect Earth’s whales and dolphins, intelligent life that is familiar and acceptable to the Invaders, who only condone intelligent species if they have evolved in the atmosphere of a gas giant or in a great ocean. There is a great deal going on in the novel; a wonderful kaleidoscope of science fiction concepts are sprayed out of the pages, but I would have enjoyed a more focused book: it could have been a very impressive work.

Lord Foul’s Bane, by Stephen R. Donaldson, the first book in his lengthy Chronicles of Thomas Covenant series (The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, The Second Chronicles …, and The Final Chronicles…). This first offering was weak (the second in the series, The Illearth War, was much better), but the world and characters he created formed a solid foundation for a long-running series that spanned thirty-six years; beginning in 1977, and ending in 2013. This seems to be a series that is either loved or loathed and I belong to the former camp, although only via reminiscences: the writing is flawed and emo-angst ridden, but there is something about the books that drew me in when I was a young man. Lord Foul’s Bane won the British Fantasy Society award and the John W. Campbell award for best new writer.

The Book of Merlyn, by T. H. White; the sequel to the exceptional fantasy The Once and Future King. I haven’t read The Book of Merlyn, but if it is anything like The Once and Future King, it is well worth the time invested in reading it. Silmarillion_cover_artI look forward to reading it some day…

The Silmarillion, by J. R. R. Tolkien. Another mammoth undertaking by Tolkien. The year it was published, my sister gave me the hardcover as a Christmas present, and I still have it. It is a lovely book to dip into, particularly if you’re reading The Lord of the Rings and are geeky enough to require excessive background material. This book is a must for the serious Tolkien fan. I think I’ll try to find a trade paperback for a reading copy…

A Scanner Darkly, by Philip K. Dick, which won the BSFA AwardA Scanner Darkly is PK Dick’s most autobiographical novel, depicting his experiences with the drug culture; in an interview, Dick stated that, “Everything in A Scanner Darkly I actually saw.” In the novel, the protagonist, Bob Arctor, is a drug user, but he is also Agent Fred, an undercover cop whose true identity is known to no one: he uses a scramble suit when he assumes his role as Agent Fred. The scramble suit ensures that he remains anonymous, even to other officers (the scramble suit was added to create a science fiction element; PKD didn’t think publishers would purchase a mainstream novel of his). Agent Fred was meant to only act as a drug user, but he was forced to fully assume the persona and he became addicted to Substance D, a highly psychoactive drug. Arctor falls in love with a big-time drug dealer, Donna, who may be the one to lead Agent Fred to higher levels of the drug ring. Arctor/Fred’s use of Substance D begins to affect his cognitive abilities; the two hemispheres of his brain begin to operate independently, and he becomes increasingly confused. As with any PK Dick novel, all is not as it seems. I’ve read many of his books, but I’ve only really enjoyed two; The Man in the High Castle (1962) and A Scanner Darkly.

.And my choice for Retrospeculative novel of 1977 is…

Gateway, by Frederik Pohl, which won the Nebula Award, the Hugo Award (1978), the Locus Award (1978), and the John W. Campbell Award (1978). The set-up for the novel is superb: while exploring the solar system, humanity stumbles upon a hollow asteroid containing a hidden space station that was built by the Heechee, an advanced, star travelling species that vanished from existence before humans began to Gateway_coverexplore space. There are many signs of Heechee in the solar system, but the space station is the most impressive. Within the asteroid are hundreds of starships, many of which humans have managed to activate, but their knowledge is limited and it is a gamblers proposition to ‘pilot’ a ship to its unknown destination. The adventurous, the disenchanted, and the poor all become volunteers and journey out on the ships: many never return, but it is possible to become wealthy if the ship’s destination yields important Heechee artifacts or habitable planets. There are three sizes of ship: single occupancy, three-person, and five-person. The protagonist, Rob (Robin, Robbie, Robinette, Bob) Broadhead, has returned from a very successful mission (he became an extremely wealthy man) in which two five-person ships were used, but he was the only one to return: something happened to the others, including his love-interest, Gell-Klara Moynlin. The details of what transpired during the trip are revealed in flashbacks while Broadhead seeks treatment from a computer-program-psychologist. The psychology is dated, and I have some issues with the writing style, but it is a wonderful genre novel; highly imaginative, and worthy of the awards it garnered.

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