Over the last year, I acquired three near-future SF novels exploring issues of race conflict in New York City written by authors of different racial backgrounds (White, African American, and Chicano): Warren Miller’s The Siege of Harlem (1964); John A. Williams’ Sons of Darkness, Sons of Light: A Novel of Some Probability (1969); and Enrique Hank Lopez’s Afro-6 (1969). I’ve decided to review them in chronological order.
Warren Miller (1921-1966), best known for The Cool World (1959) and Looking for The General (1964), wrote fiction that often dealt with issues of race. The Cool Worldattempted to “capture the argot of the streets of Harlem in the late 50s” and give a sympathetic look at the realities of black urban life. Considering his output, I was excited to track down a copy of The Siege of Harlem (1964), his final novel before his premature death.
While travelling to visit my family in Texas, I stopped at the original Half Price Books location in Dallas. I procured a giant pile of vintage SF that I’ll feature in the upcoming year in my acquisition posts, including a signed copy (for $3) of Lee Killough’s A Voice Out of Ramah (1979). I realized that I’ve only read Killough’s “Bête et Noir” (1980) and, as is my wont, decided to start with her first three published pieces of short fiction before diving into a novel. As these are her first published works, I suspect she has not found her best form.
“Caveat Emptor” (1970), 2.5/5 (Bad): First appeared in Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, ed. John Campbell, Jr. (May 1970). You can read it online here. Equine Andvarian aliens pilot a trading vessel across the Commonwealth. Soon after first contact, a young human woman named Danae learns their language and customs on board their vessel. Danae sets up a trade meeting with the business conglomerate Galiol, a member of the Federation, whom she represents (109). Killough posits that megacompanies, driven by profit, will drive humanity’s expansion outward. The climax of the story features economic gamesmanship as the head of Galiol attempts to take advantage of the newly contacted alien species. But both get what they want in the end. Business is business for humans and aliens…
Which books/covers/authors intrigue you? Which have you read? Disliked? Enjoyed?
1. Where is the Bird of Fire?, Thomas Burnett Swann (1970)
From the back cover: “Were the mythical monsters our ancestors spoke of so often more than fantasy? Is it not probable that these semi-human races existed–and that only human vanity has blurred their memory?
This is the 13th post in my series of vintage generation ship short fiction reviews. Today I have a story that I’ve not seen described as generation ship take yet firmly fits the theme. That standard plot points are transposed to an alien society with captivating effect.
As a reminder for anyone stopping by, all of the stories I’ll review in the series are available online via the link below in the review.
You are welcome to read and discuss along with me as I explore humanity’s visions of generational voyage. And thanks go out to all who have joined already. I also have compiled an extensive index of generation ship SF if you wish to track down my earlier reviews on the topic and any that you might want to read on your own.
Previously: Michael G. Coney’s “The Mind Prison” in New Writings in SF 19, ed. John Carnell (1971). You can read it online here
Next Up: TBD
Vonda N. McIntyre’s “The Mountains of Sunset, the Mountains of Dawn” first appeared in the February 1974 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (February 1974), ed. Edward L. Ferman. 4/5 (Good). You can read it online here. I read it in Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year: Fourth Annual Collection (1974), ed. Lester del Rey.
2021 was the best year in the history of my site for visits and unique viewers! I suspect this increasingly has to do with my twitter account where I actively promote my site vs. a growing interest in vintage SF. I also hit my 1000th post–on Melisa Michaels’ first three published SF short stories–in December.
As I mention year after year, I find reading and writing for the site—and participating in all the SF discussions it’s generated over the year—a necessary and greatly appreciated salve. Thank you everyone!
I read very few novels this year. Instead, I devoted my attention to various science short story reviews series and anthologies. Without further ado, here are my favorite novels and short stories I read in 2021 (with bonus categories).
Tempted to track any of them down?
And feel free to list your favorite vintage (or non-vintage) SF reads of the year. I look forward to reading your comments.
My Top 7 Science Fiction Novels of 2021 (click titles for my review)
1. Where Time Winds Blow (1981), Robert Holdstock, 5/5 (Masterpiece): Holdstock’s vision is a well-wrought cavalcade of my favorite SF themes–the shifting sands of time, the pernicious maw of trauma that threatens to bite down, unreliable narrators trying to trek their own paths, a profoundly alien planet that compels humanity to construct an entirely distinct society… It’s a slow novel that initially masquerades as something entirely different. Just like the planet itself.
Note: My read but “waiting to be reviewed pile” is growing. Short rumination/tangents are a way to get through the stack before the new year and my memory/will fades. Unfortunately, I left two of my favorite reads of the year for last. Stay tuned for more detailed and analytical reviews.
1. Where Time Winds Blow, Robert Holdstock (1981)
I cannot properly review Where Time Winds Blow (1981). Sometimes, while perambulating the interwebs, I encounter a singular encapsulation of a text’s brilliance that defeats all my own attempts to write constructively about a book. I blame Andrew Darlington’s brilliant review/article on Robert Holdstock contextualizing the novel within his early oeuvre. The short paragraph below–an attempt to convince you to procure a copy–is indebted to his review. Please read his review! There are fan writers and then there are fan writers. Darlington should receive a Hugo nod.
Roger Zelazny described To Die in Italbar (1973) as the one novel he would “kill off” if he could! Here’s a bit of context for his condemnatory statement. In early 1969, Zelazny quit his U.S. Social Security Administration job to become a full-time writer. Yes, he wrote Lord of Light (1967) and This Immortal (1966) among many others after work! He quickly wrote To Die in Italbar in May 1969 to complete a contract but the novel was rejected by the press. Years later Zelazny added new material and finally published the novel in 1973 (citation). Haste and filler characterize the final product. That said, if action-packed SF adventure with bizarre ideas is something you are looking for and you already enjoy Zelazny, pick this one up.
The French novelist Jean-Louis Curtis (1917-1995), best known for his Prix Goncourt-winning The Forests of the Night (1947), crafts a linked series of short stories in The Neon Halo (1956, trans. 1958) that chart the evolution of modern society between 1995-circa 2100. While the thematic influence of George Orwell’s 1984 (1949) and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) permeates the pages (permanent warfare, reproductive technology, psychological and pharmaceutical conditioning, etc.), The Neon Halo contains genuine vibrancy and intriguing ruminations on persecution and martyrdom. Despite the frequent references to the French literary environment of Curtis’ day, The Neon Halo pulses with wit and levity despite the dour subject matter.
From the back cover: “THIS IS NO STORY OF SPACE SHIPS AND MARTIANS. THIS IS A STORY ABOUT OUR WORLD RIGHT NOW.
‘In 1942, three years before the general public had ever heard of nuclear fission. Lester del Rey wrote a brilliantly detailed novella of disaster in an atomics plant, which now appears, skillfully expanded to book length, as NERVES. A wholly admirable blend of prophetic thinking (in medicine as well as atomics), warm human values and powerful narrative suspense, this novel is strongly recommended…’ –N.Y. Herald Tribune.”