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.
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.
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
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.