Retrospeculative View, 1974

Some of the memorable short speculative fiction:

The Day Before the Revolution, by Ursula K. Le Guin, which won the Nebula Award for best short story. The story is a prelude for Le Guin’s exceptional novel, The Dispossessed, also published in 1974 (see below)

Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos Sticks, by Karl Edward Wagner, a story which belongs within the Cthulhu Mythos of H.P Lovecraft

Born with the Dead, by Robert Silverberg, which won the Nebula Award for best novella

If the Stars are Gods, by Gregory Benford and Gordon Eklund, which won the Nebula Award for best novelette

The Hole Man, by Larry Niven, which won the Hugo Award for best short story (1975)

A Song for Lya,  by George R. R. Martin, which won the Hugo Award for best novella (1975)

Adrift Just Off the Islets of Langerhans, by Harlan Ellison, which won the Hugo Award for best novelette (1975)

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Some of the movies & TV of 1974:

Young_Frankenstein_movie_posterYoung Frankenstein, Mel Brook’s black & white comedy, inspired by Mary Shelley’s classic Frankenstein (or The Modern Prometheus)

Flesh Gordon, a bizarre, erotic science fiction-adventure-comedy loosely based on the Flash Gordon character (originally, a comic strip by Alex Raymond; later, adapted for film, television and animated series).

Zardoz, a forgettable  science fiction-fantasy that starred Sean Connery (of James Bond movie fame).

Phantom of the Paradise, a cult musical written and directed by Brian De Palma; a very loose adaption/combination of The Phantom of the Opera, The Picture of Dorian Gray and Faust.

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Some of the notable novels of 1974:

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, by Patricia McKillip, which won the World Fantasy Award. A story of magical beasts and remarkable people; a short book, but delightful, romantic, and well-developed. A young adult read that even older adults might enjoy.

Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, by Philip K. Dick, which won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award (1975) for best science fiction novel. I haven’t read this PKD book, but I’ve heard it’s one of his better novels.

 A Midsummer Tempest, by Poul Anderson, which won the Mythopoeic Award. I haven’t read the novel, but I looked it up on Wikipedia and it sounds interesting. It is an alternate history novel in which Shakespeare was a Great Historian and all the actions from his plays are, instead, historical accounts. There are other differences: the English Civil War (1642 – 1651 in our history) and the Industrial Revolution (1760 – 1830 in our history) occur at the same time in the alternate world of A Midnight Tempest, and the technological level is notably higher in Anderson’s novel than it was in our history. As hinted in the title, the story, for the most part, represents two Shakespeare plays; A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest.

 The Mote in God’s Eye, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. The title is a Biblical reference (Luke 6:41–42 and Matthew 7:3–5), but it also describes the view of a star from a recently colonized planet in the story. The book is a first-contact scenario with an alien civilization, the Moties, who are fundamentally different from humans; the scope of the differences becomes more obvious as the novel proceeds.  There are intriguing ideas, but I found the characters too cookie-cutter, and the dialog hackneyed. I enjoyed it when I was younger, but it hasn’t aged well.

 334, by Thomas M. Disch, which is a dystopian view of New York City in 2025. The book’s title refers to a housing project at 334 East 11th Street Manhattan, and the year 334 AD; an association between the United States of the novel and the decline of the Roman Empire. Technological development has stagnated, with the exception of advances in medicine, which spawns a proliferation of enhanced, recreational drugs. Overpopulation is a problem (a recurring theme in 70s Science fiction), resolved by enforced birth control, eugenics, and a welfare state, which creates a class stratum between workers and welfare recipients (the haves and the have-nots). The novel was ‘patched’ together by combining five of Disch’s novellas that share the same setting, but involve a different sets of characters (The Death of Socrates, Bodies, Everyday Life in the Later Roman Empire, Emancipation, and Angouleme) and a new work, 334, which consists of short segments that follows  characters a family through the years 2021 to 2025.

The Inverted World, by Christopher Priest, which won the BSFA Award. The novel began life as a short story, but Priest decided it required more territory so he expanded it into a novel, which includes a prologue and five parts. The first, third and fifth parts are first-person narration from the point of view of the protagonist , Helward Mann, an apprentice Future Surveyor for the City Earth. In the second part, Helward is the focal character, but the story is presented in third person. In the prologue and the fourth part, Elizabeth Khan (who comes from somewhere else) is the focal character, and these sections are written in third person. Earth is being slowly pulled along a set of four railway tracks, but most of the inhabitants know nothing of the tracks, or what ‘chases’ the city from behind. The tracks are removed from the city’s wake and freshly laid ahead of the city, which is travelling through a wasted landscape filled with savage tribes. The land ahead must be surveyed to ascertain the best route; the city must move toward the ‘optimum’, and stay ahead of the devastating, slowly moving gravitational field that distorts life and causes certain death. It is an unusual novel; a hallucinogenic puzzle that twists and turns along the curves of the city’s tracks.

And my choice for Retrospeculative novel of 1974 is…

The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. Le Guin, which won the Nebula Award, the Hugo Award (1975) and the Locus Award (1975). The Left Hand of Darkness is arguably Ursula K. Le Guin’s best novel, but The Dispossessed is the one I’ve always enjoyed the most. The novel is subtitled An Ambiguous Utopia, and the book garnered respect in literary circles for its erudition and range of themes (and there is an interesting non-fiction collection The New Utopian Politics of Ursula K. Le Guin — that examines concepts introduced in the novel).

The Dispossessed; Avon (2003) coverThe structure of the novel is unusual: the book’s chapters do not follow a chronological order; if placed in time sequence, the chapters would form an even-odd series: 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13.

In The Dispossessed, Ms. Le Guin has designed an interesting social system and contrasted it against one that bears more than a slight resemblance to the society of the United States. The novel is within her Hainish Cycle; chronologically, it is the first of the Hainish novels. The protagonist, Shevek, is a mathematical genius who lives on Anarres, Urras’ habitable moon, the home of a revolutionary, socialist society. Shevek worries that the government on Anarres is eroding, and he travels to Urras — against sturdy opposition — to attempt to unite the societies of moon and planet and share his General Temporal Theory, which is a combination of mathematics, physics, philosophy, and ethics. The novel investigates the problems he encounters on Anarres (in even-numbered chapters) and Urras (in odd-numbered chapters).

The Dispossessed is an intriguing novel, and I suddenly want to re-read it; after all, “…true journey is return.” Highly recommended.

I would be remise if I didn’t mention Samuel R. Delany’s excellent criticism of the novel, To Read The Dispossessed (it can be found in a collection of essays in The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction). I disagree with quite a bit of what Delany writes in his essay (in fact, I think some of his criticisms could equally be directed at himself), but the way he structures and manages the criticism is impressive.  .

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Retrospeculative View, 1971

Before I dive into my usual Retrospeculative post, a quick note on Robert Silverberg …

Many authors have amazing periods of productivity, but Robert Silverberg’s quality and output from 1967 to 1972 is noteworthy. For example (and I’m not listing all his works, just a few memorable novels): Thorns (1967), Hawksbill Station (1968), Downward to the Earth (1969), cover_son_of_manNightwings (1969), Tower of Glass (1970), Son of Man (1971), The World Inside (1971),  A Time of Changes (1971), The Book of Skulls (1972), and Dying Inside (1972). For the works he wrote and edited from 1967 to 1972 he was nominated for twenty-four Locus Awards, winning once (Anthology editor: The Science fiction Hall of Fame, volume 1, 197o), twelve Hugo Awards, winning once (Nightwings, 1969) and thirteen Nebula Awards, winning three times (Passengers, A Time of Changes, and Good News from the Vatican). 1971 was a busy year for Silverberg; he had three novels published (A Time of Changes, Son of Man, and The Book of Skulls), a significant short work (Good News from the Vatican), and several non-fiction works (Clockworks for the Ages: How Scientists Date the Past, To the Western Shore: growth of the United States 1776-1853, Before the Sphinx: Early Egypt, and Into space: A Young Person’s Guide to Space (with Arthur C. Clarke)). I believe he began to suffer from burnout, which precipitated his excellent, literate novel Dying Inside (1972), and his retirement from writing in 1975 (his retirement became more of a hiatus; he began writing again, and Lord Valentine’s Castle was  published in 1980).

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Some of the excellent short fiction of 1971:

Robert Silverberg’s Good News from the Vatican, which won the Nebula Award for best short story.

Larry Niven’s Inconstant Moon, which won the Hugo Award (1972) for best short story

Poul Anderson’s The Queen of Air and Darkness, which won the Nebula Award for best novelette, the Locus Award for best short fiction (1972), and the Hugo Award for best novella (1972)

moment of eclipse cover imagePhilip Jose Farmer’s The Sliced-Crosswise Only-On-Tuesday World

J.G. Ballard’s Venus Smiles (originally Mobile, a 1967 short-story, rewritten in 1971)

Arthur C. Clarke’s A Meeting With Medusa, which won the Nebula Award for best novella (1972)

Katherine MacLean’s The Missing Man, which won the Nebula Award for best novella

Brian W. Aldiss won the BSFA Award (1972) for his short story collection The Moment of Eclipse

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Some of the movies of 1971:

A Clockwork Orange, directed by Stanley Kubrick, based on Anthony Burgess’ novel (1962). I found this movie very disturbing; perhaps I watched it when I too young…

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, a musical adaption of Roald Dahl’s novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964). A second movie adaption was released in 2005 (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).

The Andromeda Strain, based on Michael Crichton’s novel (1969): a techno-thriller that follows the struggles of scientists as they attempt to stop the spread of an extraterrestrial microorganism that causes insanity.

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And some of the novels of 1971:

Philip Jose Farmer’s To Your Scattered Bodies Go, which won the Hugo Award for best novel (1972). In the novel, Sir Richard Francis Burton awakes, after death, on a world that consists of a river that seems to stretch forever. He is among billions of resurrected individuals from Earth’s history; from the Neolithic age, to 2008 (beyond the time he lived. Burton is a real historical figure, as are many others in the novel)  Burton decides to discover the rivers origin; he becomes enslaved, is partnered with Hermann Göring, and is eventually recruited to help destroy the plans of the organization behind the resurrections. I enjoyed this when I was younger, but it hasn’t aged well.

Michael Murphy’s Golf in the Kingdom, which relates a spiritual (and, I assume, fictional) tale of the author, a young traveller in Scotland, who plays a round of golf with Shivas Irons, an enigmatic, mystical golf professional. The golf course named in the novel is ‘Burningbush,’ but is probably a veiled reference to the links course at St. Andrews, considered by many to be the spiritual home of golf. The book is an unusual blend of philosophy, myth, mysticism, whisky, and even a little bit of golf.

Robert Silverberg’s Son of Man, an unusual book, which contains some of his most eloquent and lyrical writing, but the setting, plot, characters and situations are an extravagant kaleidoscope of experimental writing. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but it was a bit of a chore to get through, I cannot recommend it, and I’ll probably never re-read it (though I’ll certainly sample some sections from time-to-time). The protagonist, Clay, is a man from the twentieth century who somehow travels billions of years into the future and encounters humanity in its future (and alternate-reality future?) forms. The themes are diverse, but include sexuality (there is quite a bit about sex), telepathy, differing physical and emotional states of being, and the (possibly) inherent hierarchy of beings. It is also also provocative: How can memory and wisdom be preserved? Why do we exist? What are we? What is time? Where do we come from? What is it all about? I’m fairly certain that Silverberg enjoyed the drug-culture of his age, and the book could arguably be labeled as trippy, rambling, pretentious drivel, but there are many intriguing sections within its pages; just don’t expect a typical Robert Silverberg novel (see A Time of Changes, below).

Stanislaw Lem’s Doskonała próżnia (A Perfect Vacuum), a collection of reviews of non-existent books and one authentic book, A Perfect Vacuum. Lem is always imaginative, and mentally stimulating; I particularly enjoyed the didactic review of Non Serviam, a sophisticated satire on the dilemma that artificial intelligence might create, including the concept of God in the minds of the AI constructs.

Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven, which won the Locus Award for Best Novel (1972). This is one of Le Guin’s better novels (which is saying a lot), and I was sorely tempted to designate it as my Retrospecualtive novel for 1971, but I decided to give the nod to another author (I chose The Left Hand of Darkness as my Retospeculative novel in 1969, and I know I’ll be ‘awarding’ another Le Guin novel in a few years, so her works will be well represented in this blog). In The Lathe of Heaven, George Orr’s dreams come true; reality changes, but nobody else notices. Orr’s reality-modifying dreams disturb him, and he turns to drugs, which block the dreams; unfortunately, Orr becomes erratic: rather than entering an asylum, he enters into therapy with William Haber, who gradually comes to the understanding that Orr is not unhinged and realizes that Orr is telling the truth. Haber begins to control Orr’s dreams in an attempt to create a better world, but things never turn out as planned. Orr also has a love interest, Heather, who  Orr continues to interact with as his  alternate realities are manifested, but circumstances are forever shifting. The book is similar to a P.K. Dick novel in some respects (perhaps Le Guin was giving homage to PKD?). The novel poses philosophical questions about, and explores the problems with, humanity’s propensity for exerting control. The book highlights Le Guin’s interest in Taoism, and the book’s title is taken from the writings of Chuang Tzu, the James Legg translation: “To let understanding stop at what cannot be understood is a high attainment. Those who cannot do it will be destroyed on the lathe of heaven” (Book XXIII, paragraph 7). Interestingly, Legge’s translation is faulty and Le Guin was informed by the renowned sinologist Joseph Needham that when Chuang Tzu wrote the book the lathe had yet to be invented. Ursula K. Le Guin continued to be fascinated with Taoism and she wrote her own ‘translation’ of the Tao Te Ching, The Book of the Way and Its Virtue by Lao Tzu (1998). If you enjoy Le Guin’s writing, and haven’t read The Lathe of Heaven, I heartily recommend it.

And my pick for Retrospeculative novel of 1971 is…

A Time of Changes, by Robert Silverberg, which won the Nebula Award. Imagine a human culture on another planet in which the first person singular is prohibited; words such as I or me are the worst obscenities imaginable; and, if uttered, are a A Time of Changes; cover (2009 Orb Trade edition)major social faux-pas, or worse (Silverberg insists he did not know of Ayn Rand’s novel Anthem (1938); regardless, Silverberg’s objective was markedly dissimilar to hers). In the novel, a selfbarer is a person who bares their soul to others; a disgusting act. Kinnall Darival, the protagonist, is an exiled prince, and the novel is presented as his autobiography, written while he waits for his pursuers to capture and incarcerate him for the crime of selfbaring, among others. It is a fairly straightforward plot; and, although the book is enjoyable and interesting, there is nothing extraordinarily striking about the novel, but the message is very spiritual and the ending left me with an uplifted sensation, a surge of spiritual hope; for that alone, the novel is memorable and worthy of my praise (this is not Silverberg’s best novel, but it has a special place in my heart). The novel concludes with an indefinite ending, and the reader is left to choose which story to believe: Kinnall Derival’s story requires a leap of faith. But no matter which story the reader chooses, I believe the final page conveys a message full of meaning for our society. In the novel, Kinnall’s spiritual awakening required a drug; a reference, I assume, to the LSD culture. I believe in a drug-free path to freedom of the soul; nevertheless, Silverberg’s message is meaningful, and he reaches out to everyone who reads his book:

If you have read this far, you must be with me in soul. So I say to you, my unknown reader, that I love you and reach my hand toward you, I who was Kinnall Derival, I who have opened the way, I who promised to tell you all about myself, and who now can say that the promise has been fulfilled. Go and seek. Go and touch. Go and love. Go and be open. Go and be healed (p. 300, Orb edition, 2009).

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Retrospeculative View, 1969

1969 was the first year the British Science Fiction Association (BSFA) Awards  were presented; like the Hugo, the award is presented for works published in the previous year, and the best novel award went to Stand on Zanzibar, by John Brunner, a fine choice (see Retospeculative view, 1968).

Some of the interesting short fiction of 1969:

The Electric Ant, Philip K. Dick

Passengers, by Robert Silverberg, which won the Nebula Award for best short story

cover: Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (July, 1969)Not Long Before the End, by Larry Niven

Ship of Shadows, by Fritz Leiber, which won the Hugo for best novella

A Boy and His Dog by Harlan Ellison, the Nebula Award winner for best novella

The Encounter (El encuentro) by Jorge Luis Borges

Winter’s King & Nine Lives, by Ursula K. Le Guin

Note: Samuel R. Delany’s Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones won the Nebula in 1969 (and the Hugo in 1970), but it was published in 1968 and therefore I included it in the Retrospeculative View for 1968.

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Some of the Speculative movies of 1969:

Captain Nemo and the Underwater City, inspired by Jules Verne’s novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (Vingt mille lieues sous les mers, 1870).

fellini_satyricon_a_lThe Computer Who Wore Tennis Shoes, a Disney movie in the mold of, and taking place at the same College (Medfield) as, The Absent-Minded Professor (1961, based on Samuel W. Taylor’s short story A Situation of Gravity).

Fellini Satyricon, an Italian fantasy written and directed by Federico Fellini. It is loosely based on Satyricon (the late 1st century AD), by Petronius (Gaius Petronius Arbiter). The film is set in Nero’s Imperial Rome and involves a succession of rather lewd, satirical incidences.

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And some of the notable speculative novels of 1969:

The Andromeda Strain, by Michael Crichton. A techno-thriller; not my cup of tea, but it spawned a popular movie (1971), was a New York Times bestseller, and paved the path for Mr. Crichton’s career. An extraterrestrial virus creates havoc and a group of scientists struggles to stop its spread and/or develop a vaccine.

The Jagged Orbit, by John Brunner, which won the BSFA Award (1970). The Jagged Orbit is somewhat similar to Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar: it employed experimental narrative techniques  to immerse the reader in a dystopian culture; however, it has not received the lasting attention as Stand on Zanzibar (which is generally considered to be his masterpiece) . Brunner’s experimental writing at this period in his career was intriguing, and The Jagged Orbit consists of various chapter lengths; most of them short and dense, with one chapter comprising only a portion of a word. The Sheep Look Up (1972, set in the late 1970s), Stand on Zanzibar (1968, set in 2010), and The Jagged Orbit (1969, set in 2014,) can be grouped as an unofficial trilogy of Brunner’s dystopian warnings (he was not predicting the future, he was explaining what he thought society was doing wrong. I think it would have behooved us to listen, he had some excellent points).

The House on the Strand, by Daphne du Maurier, who had three of her stories adapted for film by Alfred Hitchcock (two novels: Rebecca (which won the Best Picture Oscar) and Jamaica Inn; and her short story, The Birds). In The House on the Strand, the protagonist, Dick Young, becomes a test subject for his friend; a biophysicist, Magnus Lane. The drug enables Dick to travel backward in time to the 14th century: he can view the past and be immersed in the day-to-day life of the people of the time, but he cannot control events. His travel is a journey of the mind.

Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut, which is considered by many to be his best book. Billy Pilgrim is a soldier, has met aliens (Tralfamadorians), and is disconnected from what we consider the normal flow of time. The novel uses a plain, but dense, style to mull over war (in particular the fire-bombing of Dresden), bullies, revenge, the meaning of time, and the immense forces that can affect an individual.

And my pick for Retrospeculative Novel of 1969 is…

The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. Le Guin, which won the Hugo & Nebula Awards for the year. It is a extraordinary book, by a remarkable author: if Ms. Le Guin had only written this novel, and The Dispossessed, she would still rank among my favourite authors. Her body of literate work is considerable, and impressive (she has garnered numerous awards, but famously refused a Nebula award for the Diary of the Rose (a novelette) as a response to the SFWA’s conduct toward Stanislaw Lem). She has been cited as an influence by Salman Rushdie, David Mitchell, Neil Gaiman and Iain Banks, among others. But enough about the author, and on to her novel…

Cover: The Left Hand of DarknessThe Left Hand of Darkness is a book that I find eminently re-readable; I’ve journeyed through it three times and, after thinking about the novel, preparing this post, I’d like to read it again. It is set in Ms. Le Guin’s Hanish Cycle; Genly Ai is an envoy from the Ekumen and he is on Gethen attempting to ascertain whether or not the people on the planet are ready for, and will accept, membership in the Ekumen’s intergalactic community. Genly Ai is male, but the Gethians are hermaphroditic; they are neuters that morph into male or female, depending on circumstances. The novel explores many issues (including politics, spirituality and, of course, gender), misunderstandings arise, and tension builds as Genly Ai and Therem Estraven (the other main character in the book) escape pursuit by embarking on an unforgettable journey across a frozen mountain pass. The novel is easy to read (some may find it dry: please persevere), but it carries a remarkable depth of introspective complexity.

The book is about many things; above all, it is an enduring  tale of friendship and love.