[Preliminary Note: This year saw a massive drop off in the number of reviews I’ve managed to put together due to professional pressures etc. I wish I had been able to write fuller reviews–especially as much of the SF I read is lesser known and deserves a wider audience. In some cases, I waited too long to write and thus loss the necessary momentum. I have ten or so more waiting in the wings–hopefully they will allow me “to catch up” so to speak.]
1. If All Else Fails…, Craig Strete (1980)
(Margo Herr’s cover for the 1980 edition)
4.75/5 (collated rating: Very Good)
Craig Strete, one of the few Native American SF authors, picked up three Nebula Award nominations for short SF over the 70s and early 80s (“The Bleeding Man” in 1976, “Time Deer” in 1976, and “A Sunday Visit With Great-Grandfather” in 1981 although it was withdrawn). The first two are in If All Else Fails… (1980). They are both far from the best of the collection.
Favorites: “All My Statues Have Stone Wings” (1980), “To See the City Sitting on Its Buildings” (1975), and “A Horse of a Different Technicolor” (1975).
The pages reek with despair at the loss of Native American culture …. The narrator of the “All My Statues” is reminded of his “grandfather who died humming all the songs he had kept silent because there was no one left to sing them” (11). In “To See the City” the dead try to escape the concrete prisons of the cities that desecrate the holy places: “Buried animal and ground people were trying to reach out through the cracks in sidewalks. The ground people moved restlessly under the concrete” (36). The television, an embodiment of the white man’s control of mass culture, declares the Native American is a figment of the past, not of the present: “We make decisions for you. Take you hand of the silver screen. You are interfering with the projectionist. Yes, we listen, we tell you, you are a book, and having been written, you cannot cancel a line of it” (46).
Filled with gorgeous lines, evocative images, pain….
I have a feeling that I am going to reread the collection (something I almost never do) in the near future and write a full-length review… Fans of SF tackling tough themes (such as oppression, the effects of technology, and Native American myth) in a literary and experimental manner—track down this collection! Original authors such as Craig Strete, with distinct and diverse voices, are too often neglected in the grand narratives of SF’s past.
2. My Petition for More Space, John Hersey (1974)
(Uncredited cover for the 1976 edition)
John Hersey’s My Petition for More Space (1974) is a quiet novel where the horror of the overpopulated future world sends only occasional currents of dread to surface. My Petition is also a deceptively simple novel with a crystalline structure—the vast majority of the story takes place in dialogue form, with interior thoughts, between characters waiting shoulder-to-shoulder in a line waiting for a hearing for their petitions. There is something so incredibly polished about the scenario of waiting in a line, and in this case the thoughts and actions of a narrator whose outlandish petition will never be granted. The line as a manifestation of the travails and joys of life, brief transformative encounters, and the thoughts that might occur over the course of an afternoon… Beautiful.
Recommended for fans of literary + overpopulation themed SF. Who knew that John Hersey, who won the Pullitzer for his coverage of Hiroshima, wrote two SF novels? (the other is The Child Buyer, 1961).
For Keith Laumer’s equally wonderful take on the endless line see my review of “In the Queue” (1970).
3. All Judgement Fled, James White (1968)
(Lawrence Edwards’ cover for the 1968 edition)
James White’s All Judgement Fled (1967) is easily the most inventive 60s/70s “Big Dumb Object” novels I have encountered. Far more complex than Clarke’s straight-laced so-called masterpiece Rendezvous with Rama (1973) or the fascinating veneer (and nothing more) of Larry Niven’s bland Ringworld (1970). Notice that White’s novel predates both better known behemoths of this common subgenre.
Years ago I read and enjoyed James White’s The Watch Below (1966) but for whatever reason I did not read more of his novels. All Judgement Fled (1968) is even better. Unlike White’s most famous medical-themed SF, this novel psychologically dark and unsettling which often hints at themes that Malzberg would tackle a few years later (such as perpetuating the cult of the astronaut even in the face of incredible danger)…
“It was Walters who had the last word. Deafeningly, apologetically, with the volume of his transmitter turned right up he said, ‘It was set to rebroadcast your last words as the Ship carried you out of the solar system to some dire, extraterrestrial fate. This spirited exchange of ideas is being overheard by all the world.
‘I don’t think the general will approve of some of the language…'” (140)
The first third of the novel is claustrophobic and terrifying—the astronauts journey towards the strange Big Dumb Object in two tiny space capsules. One crewman is wrecked by some psychosomatic illness triggered by his psychological state…. And, all hell breaks loose as all semblance of a potential peaceful first contact breaks down. Wild theories proliferate, violence abounds, who is experimenting on who?
Recommended for all fans of dark first contact SF.
(Uncredited cover for the 1969 Corgi edition)
(Wayne Douglas Barlowe’s cover for the 1979 edition)
(John Harris’ cover for the 1987 edition)
For more book reviews consult the INDEX