Updates: Year in Review (Top Ten SF Novels + Top Ten Short Stories/Novelettes/Novellas + other categories)

Everyone likes lists!  And I do too….  This is an opportunity to collate some of my favorite (and least favorite) novels and shorter SF works I read this year.  Last year I discovered Barry N. Malzberg and this year I was seduced by…. Well, read and find out.


Top Ten Novels

1. We Who Are About To…, Joanna Russ (1976): A scathing, and underread, literary SF novel by one of the more important feminist SF writers of the 70s (of The Female Man fame).

2. A Funeral for the Eyes of Fire, Michael Bishop (1975): A well-written anthropological clash of cultures novel.  Slow, gorgeous, emotionally engaging….

3. Level 7, Mordecai Roshwald (1959): A strange satire of the bomb shelter…  Everyday surrealism.

4. The Iron Dream, Norman Spinrad (1972): If Hitler were to write SF.

5.  The Deep, John Crowley (1975): In a constructed landscape, the game is played (and has been, forever?).

6. Why Call Them Back From Heaven?, Clifford Simak (1967): If everyone thought immortality treatments would come any day how would society change?

7. Beasts, John Crowley (1976):  A lion/man hybrid might be the answer to rectify society’s decline.  But there’s another beast behind the scenes.

8. The Second Trip, Robert Silverberg (1971): Laboratory constructed reality, fragmented memories….

9. The Men Inside, Barry N. Malzberg (1973): A metafictional take on Fantastic Voyage. Dark, perverse, delightful.

10. Armed Camps, Kit Reed (1969): A literary anti-war SF novel by one of my new favorite authors.


Honorable Mentions

1. Hello Summer, Goodbye (variant title: Rax), Michael Coney (1975): An allegorical vision, a coming of age story mixed with elements so much more intriguing/sinister.

2. Doomsday Morning, C. L. Moore (1957): A dystopic future, a man is commissioned to perform a play in enemy territory.  The reason isn’t altogether clear.

3. The Immortals, James E. Gunn (1962): The immortals are hunted, for their blood.


Top Ten Short Stories (no more than 2 short stories for each author)


1.  “Baby, You Were Great (variant title: Baby You Were Great!)”, Kate Wilhelm (1968)

2. “Knox”, Harlan Ellison (1974)

3. “At Central”, Kit Reed (1967)

4.  “The Planners”, Kate Wilhelm (1968)

5. “The Prize of Peril”, Robert Sheckley (1958)

6. “The Store of the Worlds,” Robert Sheckley (1959)

7. “Dumb Show”, Brian Aldiss (1956)

8. “The Servant Problem”, William Tenn (1955)

9. “Old Hundredth”, Brian Aldiss (1960)

10. “Bulkhead”, Theodore Sturgeon (1955)


Worst Three Novels: Avoid, like the plague


1. The Sea is Boiling Hot, George Bamber (1971): Porn mixed with ecological disaster….  After reading I felt as if I had been dunked into a polluted boiling ocean.

2. Costigan’s Needle, Jerry Sohl (1953): The positive reviews baffle me!  A bunch of dudes and gals (who are running around in a parallel world trying to find makeup!), manage to conjure from NOTHING the materials necessary to construct a new portal.  Agony.

3. Beyond this Horizon, Robert Heinlein (1942): A monument to the American Temple of the Gun Fetish.  Fight over some food, it’s best to whip out your side arm!  Satire or not, its all that I dislike about Heinlein distilled into one slim book….  There’s probably nothing I can do to dissuade his most ardent followers so I will come out and say it — I do not find 90% of his work appealing!


New Favorite Authors 

Criteria: Authors whose work I had not read before (or read so little that I was unable to form an opinion) this year and are now amongst my favorites.

1. Kit Reed (b. 1932) (official website) (SF encyclopedia page)

2. Michael Bishop (b. 1945) (official website)  (SF encyclopedia page)

3. Robert Sheckley (1928-2005) (SF encyclopedia page)


Most Disappointing Books


1. Cloned Lives, Pamela Sargent (1976) — Sargent is known for editing some of the more important anthologies of the 70s, notably the Women of Wonder series.  I had high hopes for her first novel and they were dashed against the rocks.  Overly melodramatic, Cloned Lives attempts to be a slice of life novel (one gets the sense she was inspired by Silverberg’s masterpiece, Dying Inside (1972).  I still plan on tracking down some of her short stories.

2. A Way Home, Theodore Sturgeon (1956) — an average collection of early work by one of the greats.  Only one, “Bulkhead” (in my short story list) impressed.

3. Chronocules, D. G. Compton (1970) — I love Compton and I’ve reviewed quite a few of his underread novels.  With this in mind, for my summer stay in Paris (research) I made the room for Chronocules in my precious luggage space and read it every day on the Metro on the way to the archives.  I should have left it on the Metro…  But please read The Unsleeping Eye (variant title: The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe) (1974), Farewell, Earth’s Bliss (1966), Synthajoy (1968), etc.


Most Intriguing Films

b70-6165Screen shot 2013-12-29 at 2.16.47 PM the-cremator-spalovac_mrtvol-poster

At one point I wrote film reviews but have since abandoned that aspect of my site (time constraints, motivation, inspiration….).  However, over the course of this year I have watched a substantial number of fantastic films with my fiancé.

1. The Cremator (1969), dir. Juraj Herz [imdb link].  Perhaps the best known film of the Czech New Wave, Herz’s searing vision depicts (via some inventive and gorgeous cinematography) in allegorical fashion the life of a town cremator named Kopfrkingl.  He loves his job, believing that cremation ends suffering once and for all, and reads Westernized versions of Eastern philosophies of reincarnation.  Taking place in the 1930s, the plot follows Kopfrkingl’s increasing obsession with purity, with cleansing, i.e. elements of Nazi ideology.  A sinister masterpiece….  High recommended.

2. Seconds (1966), dir. John Frankenheimer [imdb link].  Why this film is not featured on best SF films ever made lists blows my mind.  I mean, here is a “literary” SF vision if their ever was one.  Wonderful acting (Rock Hudson’s best role), sinister cinematography,  brilliant premise (we will give you a new life!) and musical score….  I think I’m going to watch it again tonight.

3. Ace in the Hole (1951), dir. Billy Wilder [imdb link].  Easily the best film noir I have ever seen, hands down.  Wasn’t a fan of Kirk Douglas before but I certainly am now.  One of Wilder’s best (yes I know, Sunset Blvd., Double Indemnity, etc)…  Plays with one of my greatest fears—getting stuck in a cave.

25 thoughts on “Updates: Year in Review (Top Ten SF Novels + Top Ten Short Stories/Novelettes/Novellas + other categories)

  1. I’ve always thought “Seconds” was one of the best SF films, after reading about it in John Baxter’s excellent 1960s book “Science Fiction in the Cinema”. I saw it on a double bill with “The Parallax View,” which could also be considered SF and made for an interesting pair of paranoid films.

    • I have yet to see The Parallax View but I recently saw The Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate (part of his paranoia trilogy). I forgot the third in that thematic sequence of his…

      • Seven Days in May?

        The Parallax View should be seen, if nothing else, for the short film in the middle of it directed by Saul Bass, a psychological test designed to identify candidates to be political assassins. Very chilling and visually stunning.

        I looked up the source novel, and it wasn’t very good, as I recall. Maybe you should consider doing a post on SF films which were superior to the novels on which they were based….

      • Frankenheimer’s “99 and 44/100% Dead” could also claim to be borderline SF, in that it is a bizarre vision of a New York City that is completely run by the Mob – it reminded me of C.M. Kornbluth’s novel “The Syndic” a little.

      • The last time I saw it on the late show in the easily 1980s, I think. I remember it having a kind of savage, jokey tone with Chuck Connors as a hit man with scissors for a hand, and an underwater shot near a pier with hundreds of mob bodies with the feet in cement in the harbor. It had a little of the feel of a Robert Sheckley story adaptation, like the Tenth Victim. I’d like to see it again, and see what I think of it now (tastes change).

  2. I’m planning to really dig into some John Crowley this year — haven’t read him yet but I’ve always been intrigued. I just picked up his short story collection “Novelty” last week and will get to it soon. Good to see you liked his stuff.

    • I’ve not read her non-SF work. But yes, it’s a great book. And I had a lot of fun writing my full length review.

      I think it’s better than The Female Man although I this seems to be the minority opinion.

  3. So reading “We Who Are About to..” and “Beyond the Horizon” gives us the benchmarks of the year. This is a fun post to read through. Thanks for the year of updates and ideas!

  4. Thanks for the list, really. Perusing the ‘big name’ sf/f sites and their summaries of 2013, it’s quickly apparent how similar they all are. A breath of fresh air, your list provides esoteric titles that are perhaps undeserving of have fallen by the wayside. While I think Silverberg’s The Second Trip is an intriguing idea overlaid with porn, I can vouch for the Bishop, Crowley, and Russ recommendations, which means the remainder of the list is worth looking into.

    Looking forward to more great reviews in 2014!

    • Ah, we’ve argued about the Silverberg novel before 😉 I loved it. And I’m not sure the sexual content was any more extreme than run of the mill Silverberg either.

      Well, I have to admit, I disagree with many novels termed “classics” — I really think that if someone says it is a classic and it has been claimed as a classic by everyone for ever we automatically tend to proclaim the same thing. I’ve caught myself before doing this while reviewing books — saying it’s a classic without substantiating it with any evidence.

  5. Yes, we do indeed like lists!!! And yours is great, always like getting ideas of books to look for on my bookstore jaunts.

    I’ll be using your short story list too in order to track these down.

    I haven’t read that Heinlein, but I am a fan of his work…at least that which I’ve read which is mostly the juvenile work. I’m listening to an audio version of Moon is a Harsh Mistress right now and am enjoying the narrator.

  6. Some of my favorite SF of all time here–what a year of reading you had. Hope 2014 is equally impressive. We Who Are About To, Level 7 (two of my “You gotta read this!” books I try to press on others), and anything by Crowley. Not sure if you’ve read Engine Summer, but I loved it, and it has one of the great SF endings.

    I hated, hated HATED Ace in the Hole, but Seconds is another alltime favorite, with one of the most brutal of endings and one of Jerry Goldsmith’s best scores. No surprise that Frankenheimer reported that during a screening one of the film execs got up and walked out, saying, “That’s my life up there, I don’t want to see that.”

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