(Jack Gaughan’s cover for the 1970 edition)
3.75/5 (collated rating: Good)
Philip K. Dick. Roger Zelazny. Bob Shaw. Michael Moorcock. R. A. Lafferty. Seldom do I say that a “best of” anthology includes a large number of the best stories of the year. From PKD’s artificial memories to Bob Shaw’s slow glass, World’s Best Science Fiction: 1967 (1967) contains both fascinating technological marvels and serious character-centered storytelling. While not all the stories are successful, I highly recommend this collection for fans of 60s SF.
Note: I reviewed both Roger Zelazny stories elsewhere—I have linked and quoted my original reviews.
Brief Analysis/Plot Summary
“We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” (1966), novelette by Philip K. Dick, 4.5/5 (Very Good): Made First Ballot for the 1967 Nebula for Best Short Story. The vast majority of my PKD consumption—I own all his short fiction and a large number of his novels—occurred before I started my website in 2010. I’ve reviewed a few of his lesser known works—Dr. Futurity (1960), The Man Who Japed (1956), and The Penultimate Truth (1964)—since then. And “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” remained vivid in my memory. My recent reread reinforces both my youthful fascination with PKD’s surreal paranoia but also my continued frustration with his bad to vaguely average prose.
The plot will be familiar to fans of Total Recall (1990) as the story served as the source material. Douglas Quail dreams of Mars: “he could almost feel the enveloping presence of the other world” (9). Taking drastic action, he signs up for the memory implementation services provided by Rekal, Incorporated who promise that he will believe he went on a trip to Mars (which is far beyond his means). The technicians at the facility discover that Douglas, under the influence of various truth serums, most likely has already gone to Mars! Levels of paranoia, confusion over the nature of reality, and PKD’s adept use of minor details create a compelling admixture that ultimately rises above the corny “truth” behind his experience.
First appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, April 1966, ed. Edward L. Ferman.
“Light of Other Days” (1966), short story by Bob Shaw, 5/5 (Masterpiece): Nominated for the 1967 Nebula and Hugo for Best Short Story. My second favorite story in the anthology forces me to reassess my views on Bob Shaw’s SF.
Part of his Slow Glass sequence of stories gathered together six years later in the fix-up novel Other Days, Other Eyes (1972), “Light of Other Days” places a SF technology—glass that slows down the passage of light—into a richly moving story about the power of memory. The narrator and his wife arrive at a slow glass store in remote Scotland and decide to buy panes for their own house. The windows of the store, installed with the glass, suggest a bucolic and peaceful existence as they slowly play forth images from the store owner’s past. But they learn that behind the glass a different existence transpires, an existence shrouded with sadness and loss. And this glimpse allows the narrator and his wife, potentially, to navigate their own strife—or at the very least reinforce the possibility of rekindling their connection.
Affective without being saccharine and the imagery is beautiful….
First appeared in Analog Science Fiction, August 1966, ed. John W. Campbell, Jr.
“The Keys of December” (1966), novelette by Roger Zelazny, 4/5 (Good): Reviewed previously here. Nominated for the 1968 Nebula for best Novelette. The death of a world parallels the creation of another. Within this poetic cyclicality, Zelazny weaves a poignant love story between two individuals desperate to create a life for both themselves and their people with cataclysmic ramifications. Jarry Dark was born of “man and woman” (23) but genetically modified (“Catform Y7” + “Coldworld Class”) for life on a cold planet that no longer exists after an encounter with a nova. Wards of General Mining, Jarry grows up alone in a tank connected via interlink to others of his kind—and he falls in love with Sanza. They decide to acquire and transform a new world… Terraforming devices are purchased, cold sleep pods deployed, and wake intervals decided upon. As their new world slowly dies thus creating an environment the Catforms can live in, they trigger sentience in beings beyond the walls of their enclosure that holds their cold sleep pods. Jarry, remembering his own suffering, proclaims their actions a crime!
Zelazny’s story is possessed by poeticism and beauty as the cat forms observe the death (transformation) of the world around them… Their plight, trapped in their tanks, generates palpable emotion, as does the slow transformation of their new world.
“Nine Hundred Grandmothers” (1966), short story by R.A. Lafferty 5/5 (Masterpiece): My favorite story in the collection—and the most resonate Lafferty SF work I’ve read yet.
Take a serious theme, the creation of the world, and reduce the vastness of the question (“How Did It All Begin?”) into a metaphoric scenario to tease out some greater meaning…. Arthur C. Clarke did it to great effect in “The Nine Billion Names of God” (1953) and Lafferty does it here.
Ceran Swicegood, a “promising young Special Aspects Man” (65), arrives on the inhabited asteroid Proavitus (66). The people on the asteroid seem to be all rather young, the old nowhere in sight. Ceran discovers that no one seems to die but rather grow smaller and smaller, and sleepier and sleepier. And the ancestors are placed within the houses of the young. And the ancestors claim to know the answer to “How Did It All Begin” (67). Ceran, youthful and desperate for answers, journeys backward in time (metaphorically) waking the sleeping ancestors and asking each the question. But as with Borges and his library, this physical manifestation of eternity and infinity is no more forthcoming and transparent than our own.
First appeared in If, February 1966, ed. Frederik Pohl
“Bircher” (1966), novelette by A.A. Walde, 3/5 (Average): Walde’s only short story show promise but fails to deliver on its tantalizing murder investigation premise. A people-hating homicide investigator works in a far future metropolis (stretching across the Atlantic coast) where murder is almost non-existent due to technology that helps facilitate investigations: “Robots were handy: they could pick up a specimen without contaminating it with their own life processes” (83). And a murder transpires—“Violent murder. Abdominal stab wound, marks of beating. Precise cause of death undetermined. Found by robot in warehouse area” (82)—and advanced technology doesn’t seem to be able to figure out the culprit.
Fantastic premise. I won’t ruin the ending but the explanation pains and diminishes what could have been a riveting SF take on the crime genre.
First appeared in If, July 1966, ed. Frederik Pohl
(Gray Morrow’s cover for If, July 1966)
“Behold the Man” (1966), novella by Michael Moorcock. Won the 1968 Nebula for Best Novella: 4.5/5 (Very Good): A mature and thought-provoking work by Moorcock that entwines flashbacks and SF time travel (to the era of Christ) with a focus on character. The novella was extended to novel length in 1969.
The theological underpinnings propelling Moorcock’s story center on the position that “the idea [of Christ] preceded actuality of Christ” as opposed to the more historicist proposition that “the actuality of Jesus preceded the idea of Christ” (128). Via time travel Moorcock’s creates a narrative fleshing out the former notion. Karl, a Jew and proponent of Jung, argues incessantly with his partner Monica. Karl, like Jung, attempts to rationalize his own mystical tendencies while Monica firmly touts science and “rationalism” over any suggestion of religion. For her, Jesus might have existed but Christianity was applied to him rather than embodied within the man.
At any moment Moorcock’s increasingly obvious parallels between Karl’s intellectual (and physical) suffering and Christ’s could have been overdone and preposterous. Rather, the intellectually rigorous (if simplified for storytelling reasons) questions tie everything together in a compelling manner.
Count me pleasantly surprised!
How does it compare to the novel?
First appeared in New Worlds SF, September 1966, ed. Michael Moorcock
(Keith Roberts’ cover for New Worlds SF, September 1966)
“Bumberboom” (1966), novelette by Avram Davidson, 3.25/5 (Vaguely Good): Davidson subverts standard concepts of “dark ages” in far future “medieval” worlds where technology becomes an arcane and forgotten skill. At first glance nothing about the story suggested anything other than a young male discovers technology and transforms society tale à la Poul Anderson’s Vault of the Ages (1952). Mallian, son of the “High Man to the Hereditor of Land Qanaras” (164), discovers that operators of the large cannon named Bumberboom have forgotten how the device—whose mere name strikes terror—even operates. After he subdues Bumberboom’s attendants with his superior intellect, Mallian, with the assistance of an apothecary, figures out how to create gunpowder. But will an arcane piece of technology really be able to resurrect the centralized state?
A twist ending suggests far more than what is laid out—a moment of potential that recedes as a historical footnote into the past? Or a society so decayed that “resurrection” is not possible?
First appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, December 1966, ed. Edward L. Ferman
(Howard Purcell’s cover for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, December 1966)
“Day Million” (1966), short story by Frederik Pohl, 4/5 (Good): Here’s a story that would have shocked readers back in 1966—and although you won’t be shocked now it’s hard to escape Pohl’s fascinating intentions. Told with fabulist touches that place the reader as the narrator: “On this day I want to tell you about, which will be about ten thousand years from now, there were a boy, a girl and a love story” (198). And the love story isn’t between a genetically male boy and a girl but a genetically male person (Dora) who undergoes a sex change and a boy (Don). It’s a far future awash with physical modifications. Dora decides to have the sex change because “sex had long been dissociated from reproduction” (200). And in Day Million people “did it often, on purpose, because they wanted to” (200).
I am not a scholar of gender in SF but “Day Million” should be included in any class on the topic. And Pohl’s views seem remarkably progressive (the story still feels like it was written in the 60s): “Wouldn’t we? If we find a child with an aptitude for music we give him a scholarship to Julliard. If they found a child whose attitudes were for being a woman, they made him one” (199-200). Pohl firmly argues that gender is fluid and socially constructed.
First appeared in Rogue, Feb/March 1966 and SF Impulse, October 1966
“The Wings of a Bat” (1966), novelette by Pauline Ashwell (as Paul Ash), 3/5 (Bad): I find it slightly confusing why Pauline Ashwell’s story made the 1967 Nebula First ballot for best Novelette—this collection certainly includes many examples of more deserving short fictions.
Time Displacement (time travel) allows companies like the Mining and Processing Branch of Cretaceous Minerals, Inc. to exist. Little people, to save energy, are sent into the distant past to harvest important minerals. The narrator, a doctor who spends most of their time putting together a weekly newspaper (The Chalk Age Gazette), tells the story of a co-worker who brings in a sick baby pterodactyl for treatment. And it’s up the doctor, who proclaims to hate them, to attempt to feed and treat it—lengthy scenes of often hilarious attempts to impersonate a pterodactyl mother follow.
For fans of dinosaur SF only.
(John Schoenherr’s cover for Analog Science Fiction, May 1966)
“The Man from When” (1966), short story by Dannie Plachta, 2/5 (Bad): Dannie Plachta published twelve stories in various SF magazine venues between 1965 and 1970. Unfortunately “The man from When” is two page flash story that fails to make any impression. Mr. Smith, about to mix a drink, is interrupted by a thunderous explosion. Engaging in conversation with the time traveler that appears, Mr. Smith learns the ramifications of the journey. There’s a simple brittleness to the story but there’s nothing remarkable or moving to grab onto.
First appeared in If, July 1966, ed. Frederik Pohl
“Amen and Out” (1966), short story by Brian W. Aldiss, 4/5 (Good): Aldiss’ satires are more often than not worthy reads. “Amen and Out” jabs, without malice (but lots of laughs), at religion and science and morality… In the far future everyone has access to the words of the Almighty Gods in the form of talking altars. Altars that are only too happy to point out humanity’s flaws: “But try to remember how you offered the same prayer yesterday, and then spent your day pleasing yourself” (232). In addition to the fabulous technology of the “Gods” the “Immortality Investigation Project” allows humans to survive, ensconced in the womb-like Wethouse, far beyond normal lifespans. The reason: keeping a handful of humans alive might result in their ability to generate technological ideas. But the ancient humans are more interested in sleeping. And one of the ancient humans confesses they did come of up with one good idea—the Almighty Gods. The immortal are lazy too!
As with the PKD’s story, Aldiss puts an ingenious and witty spin on standard SF tropes (in this case immortality and religion).
First appeared in New Worlds, August 1966
“For a Breath I Tarry” (1966), novelette by Roger Zelazny, 4/5 (Good): Nominated for the 1967 Hugo and Made First Ballot for the Nebula for Best Novelette. Reviewed previously here.
Zelazny’s ability to mythologize SF premises strikes gold again. Mankind is gone, artifacts remain scattered across a globe controlled by two computers (Solcom in orbit and Divcom deep within). The computers order their mechanical agents to create humankind’s cities (and destroy each other’s creations in a continuous contest over who is to “preserve” humankind). Solcom’s agent Frost (created in a moment of abnormal solar flares), who controls the northern reaches, desires to become man. He makes a deal to switch sides to “You-Who-Never-Should-Have-Been-Activated” (Divcom) if his circuits indicate “he” has lost hope in becoming man. Zelazny weaves a poetic and archetype-heavy tale on what it means to be human.
(Uncredited cover for New Worlds, March 1966)
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