Retrospeculative View: 1958


I seem to have skipped 1958 and did 1959 first; well, better late than never…

Some of the short stories:

The Big Front Yard, by Clifford D. Simak (Hugo: novelette 1959)

The Men Who Murdered Mohammed, by Alfred Bester

Or All the Seas with Oysters, by Avram Davidson (Hugo: short story 1958)

That Hell-Bound Train, by Robert Block (Hugo Award: short story 1959)

Track 12, by J.G. Ballard

The Edge of the Sea, by Algis Budrys

Nine Yards of Other Cloth, Manly Wade Wellmann

Some of the movies:

The Blob, starring Steve McQueen. Released as a double feature with I Married a Monster from Outer Space

The Fly, based on the 1957 short story by George Langelaan

The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad: the first of Columbia’s Sinbad movies, featuring Ray Harryhausen’s Dynamation stop-motion technique

Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. Possibly  a message to The Amazing Colossal Man (1957): “Anything you can do I can do better; I can do anything better than you.”

And the speculative novels of 1958:

The Songs of Distant Earth, Arthur C. Clarke. I read somewhere that this was Clarke’s favourite of all his novels. The story takes place on a planet — Thalassa — that was populated by humans via an embryonic seed-ship that was sent (with others) when scientists discovered that Sol would go Nova (i.e.: the seed-ships were sent to preserve humanity). Centuries later, a colonizing ship filled with refugees from Earth reaches Thalassa, but it is only there for a stop-over on its way to a further destination. The novel is about the interaction of cultures, and a major subplot develops when some of the people in the spaceship would rather stay on Thalassa than continue on to their original destination. To thicken the plot slightly, there is another sentient species living in Thalassa’s ocean. I really wanted to like this book: the novel has some interesting ideas, but it didn’t hook me, partially because Clarke’s diatribes against religion are forced, awkward, and unnecessary.

The Big Time, Fritz Leiber (the Hugo winner for best novel, 1958). I haven’t read this novel, and must rectify that at some point. The story involves a time travel war that uses soldiers from various periods in humanity’s past. The soldiers and support personnel have no knowledge of how or why the war began, or what the two sides represent.

The Languages of Pao, by Jack Vance. I don’t recall reading this novel, which examines the ramifications of language and mind training on a society. To infiltrate a planet, three castes are created (Valiant (warrior), Technicant (technical), and Cogitant (mercantile); each cast uses a different language and receives independent, specialized training. As an entertaining exercise (which has wider ramifications), a separate group creates a Pastiche language that includes words from all three cast languages. The languages are critical to the plot. Jack Vance could write beautifully, but his novels are sometimes uneven (as I mentioned, I don’t recall this book, so I cannot comment further. If I see it in a bookstore I’ll pick it up and update this post).

A Case of Conscience, by James Blish (Hugo Award winner, 1959). This is the third notable novel of 1958 that I have not read! (It sounds interesting, and I very much enjoyed Blish’s Cities in Flight and some of his his short stories, including Surface Tension). From Wikipedia: “It is the story of a Jesuit who investigates an alien race that has no religion yet has a perfect, innate sense of morality, a situation which conflicts with Catholic teaching.”

My pick for Retrospeculative novel of 1958 is…

cover The Once and Future KingThe Once and Future King, by T.H. White: a reinterpretation of Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. White’s version was meant to provide more significance to a post-World War II society. If it wasn’t for The Lord of the Rings, this book would get my nod as the best fantasy I’ve ever read. Arthur’s story is related in four parts; The Sword in the Stone, The Queen of Air and Darkness, The Ill-Made Knight, and The Candle in the Wind. The tone of the story matures as Arthur does, beginning with frivolous immaturity, moving through the meditative stages of middle age, and finally ending with Arthur’s ominous thoughts regarding death, how he will be remembered, and what mark he has made in history. Absolutely brilliant.