Updates: My 2020 in Review (Best SF Novels, Best SF Short Fiction, and Bonus Categories)

I’m not sure what I can add about the general sentiment of 2020. It was awful in every way. Here’s to a better 2021.

Reading and writing for the site—and participating in all the SF discussions it’s generated over the year—was a necessary and greatly appreciated salve. Thank you everyone!

I also have one (hopefully more) review coming out in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (the Curiosities column) in the spring. I’ve not included my reviews of those esoteric SF novels in this particular post.

Without further ado, here are my favorite novels and short stories I read in 2020 (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. As always, I look forward to reading your comments.

My Top 10 Science Fiction Novels (click titles for my review)

Tim White’s cover for the 1983 edition

1. Electric Forest, Tanith Lee (1979), 5/5 (Masterpiece): Tanith Lee spins a gauzy, sinister, and terrifying tale of manipulative resurrection. A brilliant inventor projects the mind of a grotesque social outcast into a new transcendent body—but this isn’t an altruistic act. There’s a plot afoot. Electric Forest (1979), a shimmery nightmare of psycho-sexual manipulation,  enters my pantheon of favorite 70s SF visions.

Uncredited cover for the 1st edition

2. Dance the Eagle to Sleep, Marge Piercy (1970), 4.5/5 (Very Good): Piercy’s novel can be read as the rise and fall—intense, ecstatic, meaningful, tempestuous—of an Students for a Democratic Society-esque student-driven movement (The Indians) in a near-future totalitarian America. Piercy follows a cast of characters whose paths, visions, and routes to revolutionary activity differ. As the movement is beset by external and internal forces, what remains when the fragmentation sets in, and the end comes over all, is a resounding nostalgia of what could have been.

Michael Whelan’s cover for the 1982 edition

3. A Storm of Wings, M. John Harrison (1980), 4.5/5 (Very Good): Highly recommended for fans of convention-breaking fantasy/SF more focused on disquieting scene and metaphor. But be prepared for a moody inundation… let yourself sink in, float across its waters as the moon dims, and beware the severed insect heads!

Ed Emshwiller’s cover for the 1962 edition

4. The Long TomorrowLeigh Brackett (1955), 4.5/5 (Very Good) not only clocks in as the best of her work I’ve read so far but also joins my pantheon of favorite post-apocalyptical 50s SF visions.  At first glance Brackett’s novel appears to traverse standard SF juvenile territory where a teenage boy, in a religiously and socially oppressive society, encounters an object  and memories of the past that opens up a path to self-discovery. But memories are memories. And dreams are dreams. The world is a far more violent and rocky place.

Uncredited cover for the 1969 edition

5.Termush, Sven Holm (1967, trans. 1969), 4.5/5 (Very Good) depicts, with stark minimalism, the psychological state of wealthy survivors holed up in a hotel shelter after an apocalyptic nuclear event.  The novel delves into the psyche of the survivors, their isolation and inability to grasp the immensity of the changes beyond their walls, and their internal transformation as the rituals of “civilization” are maintained while the “reality” of external world infringes upon their oasis.

Uncredited cover for the 1993 edition

6. Twilight Country, Knut Faldbakken (1974, trans. 1993), 4.5/5 (Very Good): Note: I revised my rating to a 4.75/5 while writing my review. It should be the second on this list.

Norwegian SF in translation! A disturbing take of a family who finds meaning in a vast dump outside of a decayed metropolis. I am reminded of the lyrics of The Poppy Family’s “Of Cities and Escapes” — “I’m caught in the grip of the city, madness and smog.” Sampled by Dan the Automator and Del the Funky Homosapien in the song “Madness” on Deltron 3030 (2000).

Al Nagy’s cover for the 1st edition

7. Hyacinths, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (1983), 4.25/5 (Very Good) is an unsettling dystopian tale of a future where even the unregulated creative world of Dreams is harnessed and controlled. On another level, Hyacinths lays bare the dangers of unregulated industry and the ingrained sexism within western capitalism. There’s a deep sadness within these pages, a sadness at the lack of progress for equal rights in the workplace, a sadness at our collective inability to help those who need it most.

Bob Haberfield’s cover for the 1973 edition

8. The Black Corridor, Michael Moorcock and Hilary Bailey (1969), 4.25/5 (Very Good) explores the effects of physical (a spaceship with a lone awake crewman hurtling across space) and societal ( a near-future world plunging into fascism) isolation. Highly recommended for fans of New Wave SF for the crystalline rendering of the narrative, sustained and intense exploration of “inner space,” and its inventive typographical art.

Catherine Huerta’s cover for the 1st edition

9. City Come A-Walkin’, John Shirley (1980), 4/5 (Good), an early cyberpunk novel, succeeds as a surreal and earthy paean to  diverse urban community and punk rebellion. A club owner and angst rocker join forces with a physical manifestation of San Francisco to fight the forces of technological change. I wasn’t convinced by the plot but the images and tone transfixed.

The Brothers Hildebrandt’s cover for the 1976 edition

10. The Ship Who Sang, Anne McCaffrey (1969), 4/5 (Good): Cyborgs. Grand adventure. Space plagues. Theater performances for aliens. Trauma and recovery. The stories follow the space opera adventures and emotional development of the cyborg Helva, a “shell-person” implanted into a scout ship, and her various operators. I am not convinced by McCaffrey’s discussion of the moral implications of the world she’s created. That said, I was pulled into the individual adventures and felt deeply for Helva.

My Top 10 Science Fiction Short Stories

1. “Death of a Spaceman” (variant title: “Memento Homo”), Walter M. Miller, Jr. 5/5 (Masterpiece): Retired spacer Old Donegal (“Donny”) lies in his bed dying of cancer: his family “had all known it was coming, and they had watched it come” (7). In his rundown house with his long-suffering wife Martha at his side,  he waits for the inevitable release with his magnasoles on his shriveled feet propped up on his bedframe. A remarkably engaging story that unveils the complexities of thinking through death.

2. “What’s It Like Out There?” (1952) Edmond Hamilton, 5/5 (Masterpiece): Edmond Hamilton argues that returning spacemen will experience similar trauma to that of war veterans. And just like we glamorize war in media, the dangers of space travel (both physical and mental) are sanitized by gaudy pulp adventures. The story succeeds as a complex analysis of the tales we tell each other to obfuscate traumatic experiences and give comfort to those suffering loss.

3. “The Dead Astronaut” (1968), J. G. Ballard, 5/5 (Masterpiece): Ballard at the height of his powers… With NASA’s program long discontinued, Cape Kennedy is now a wasteland of swamps and stark “gantries rising from the deserted dunes” (11). In this decayed near future, Judith and Philip, married ex-NASA employees, await the descent of a dead astronaut.

4. “The Killing Ground” (1969), J. G. Ballard, 5/5 (Masterpiece) postulates a near future U.K. occupied by a technologically advanced America. Like the French holed up at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu (1954), a group of Americans are surrounded by British revolutionaries revolting against the English puppet government in London. Major Pearson interacts with three nameless American prisoners, a wounded African American soldier, a young soldier with a bag filled with books, and their captain who tries to clean the Kennedy Memorial near where the prisoners are held. Beautiful. Stark. Intense.

5. “Thus Love Betrays Us” (1972), Phyllis MacLennan, 4.5/5 (Very Good). Deirdre, a nightless and oppressive world filled with thick mists and layers of moss, had only just been charted and described. To finish the survey, the ship Magus leaves Alex Barthold behind to catalogue its biological features. At first Alex craves the freedom an empty planet promises after the personal friction, lack of privacy, and constant noise on an interstellar ship. Soon after its departure, an accident destroys the Magus leaving Barthold alone in his research tent…. and the nightmare that unfolds chills to the bone.

6. “Nine Lives” (1969), Ursula K. Le Guin, 4.5/5 (Very Good) explores mental ramifications of cloning. A group of ten clones are assigned to a remote mining planet, manned by a skeleton crew. Reflective and powerful. A disaster tale done right!

7. “And Read the Flesh Between the Lines” (1974), R. A. Lafferty, 4.5/5 (Very Good): First, imagine history as one would a memory–compressed, selective, porous, constantly rewiring itself. Now imagine a physical manifestation of memory—a throbbing room filled with ephemera of youth and the items of nostalgia and the language of comic books… This proximity of images collides with what could be an alternate-history, as a man ruminates out loud with his Australopithecus servant serving drinks. Memory as a passive myth-generating process? I want to reread this one and re-uncover its threads! Lafferty at his best (and most oblique).

8. “When They Find You” (1977), Craig Strete, 4.75/5 (Very Good): a disquieting allegory of colonization on an alien world. A deliberate and haunting story that explicitly parallels the effects of colonization on an alien world with the western encounter with Native Americans.

9. “Baa Baa Blocksheep” (1968), M. John Harrison, 4.5/5 (Very Good): I enjoyed this enigmatic early Harrison story! It contains the same oppressive melancholy as  his better known works. A urban manifestation, as “physically real” as cardboard cutouts on a set, plays out an oppressive emptiness in which our characters attempt to interact and parse out.

10. “The Statue” (1953), Mari Wolf, 4.5/5 (Very Good) is devilishly simple and deeply affective. Martha and Lewis Farewell, the last survivors of the first Mars colonization mission 65 years earlier, desire to return to Earth before they die. But the elderly cannot make the three-month trip due to medical risks without a special dispensation. On a Mars redolent with Ray Bradbury-esque frontier feel, Martha and Lewis ponder their pasts, their shared love, their accomplishments, their last desires, and the pull of home, wherever that might be.

Reading Initiatives

Ernest Schroeder’s interior art for the Amazing Stories, March 1954 (Illustrating “Death of the Spaceman”)

I’ve started a fun (mostly read-along) series on SF short stories that are critical in some capacity of space agencies, astronauts, and the culture which produced them. Stay tuned for future installments! And thanks for all the great conversation.

Short Stories Covered 

1. “Death of a Spaceman” (variant title: “Memento Homo”), Walter M. Miller, Jr. 5/5 (Masterpiece)

2. “What’s It Like Out There?” Edmond Hamilton, 5/5 (Masterpiece):

3. “The Dead Astronaut” (1968), J. G. Ballard, 5/5 (Masterpiece). I read this before I started my series but it fits! (see above for the brief rundown).

My Top 5 Academic History Reads

In a given year, I tend to read far more history than science fiction. Here are some gems worth tracking down.

1. A Generation Divided: The New Left, The New Right, and the 1960s, Rebecca E. Klatch (1999): A brilliant comparison of both liberal and conservative youth organizations in the 60s — SDS (Students for a Democratic Society)  and YAF (Young Americans for Freedom). Klatch suggests that we cannot view the 60s without looking at both. If anything, YAF had a greater impact by creating an entire generation of conservative politicians and leaders and set the stage for the 70s and 80s conservative backlash while SDS imploded.

2. Gods in Dwellings: Temples and Divine Presence in the Ancient Near East, Michael B. Hundley (2013): This is the first book devoted to perceptions of the divine presence within the temple in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Hittite Anatolia, and Syria-Palestine. What relationship between deity and image does a temple convey? How does this relate to the divine presence outside of the sacred environs?

3. The Early History of Heaven, J. Edward Wright (2000): I’m a sucker for comparative historical texts. Wright traces ideas of Heaven from the Mesopotamian and Egyptian ideas world where Heaven was a liminal netherworld to Jewish and early Christian conceptions of Heaven as an abode of God influenced heavily by Greek thought. Christianity was in a complex dialogue with its predecessors and contemporaries.

4. The Cults of the Roman Empire, Robert Turcan (1992, trans. 1996): The Roman World contained a marketplace of religions (of which Christianity was but one). Turcan’s monograph explores this religious landscape–from the cult of the Great Mother and her Eunuchs to Isis of the Many Names, or Our Lady of the Waves. Highly recommended.

5. The Ghaznavids: Their Empire in Afghanistan and Eastern India 994-1040, C. E. Bosworth (1963): Explores the origins and early history of a Turkish slave dynasty in Afghanistan and India in the political landscape of the disintegrating Abbasid Caliphate. Keep in mind the publication date on this one! But there are no other monographs on the topic… I also read the later companion volume.

Goals for 2020

These are the same as my goals for 2020.

1. Keep reading and writing.

2. Perhaps start a podcast? (there are plans brewing)

3. Perhaps start a Patreon? I have made an account but haven’t set it up. (Many conflicting thoughts here. We shall see).

For cover art posts consult the INDEX

For book reviews consult the INDEX

For TV and film reviews consult the INDEX

91 thoughts on “Updates: My 2020 in Review (Best SF Novels, Best SF Short Fiction, and Bonus Categories)

  1. Gods in Dwellings: Temples and Divine Presence in the Ancient Near East, Michael B. Hundley (2013)

    Book bullet! Directly onto my wishlist.
    HNY old sport

    • Thanks for all the discussion! Greatly appreciated.

      Despite my far more restrained history purchases, I end up spending just as much as I do on SF! But yes, a brilliant book, I need to figure out how to incorporate sections into my World History course.

      • It’s a tricky piece of territory, at least in schools w/firm policies about religion being taught and how it’s presented. But it’s also a central subject for a complete view of history (all of it from pre- to post-). (Fie of Francis Fukuyama, BTW)

        • I’ll probably use it in discussion of the first Mesopotamian cities and when we discuss Egyptian temple complexes near pyramids. But we shall see! But yeah, I fight constantly against modern conceptions of “belief” vs. ancient ideas of the importance of “ritual.”

            • “World Well Lost”, hands down. Very heartening to realize someone not-gay recognized the stupidity and uselessness of homophobia.

            • As I mentioned before, I need to read that one.

              Have you read Sturgeon’s Venus Plus X (1960)? I’m still trying to figure that one out…. I find it hard to pinpoint exactly what Sturgeon is trying to say re-gender neutral people. There’s a short review on my site but I struggle with pinpointing his message.

            • I think everyone overthinks this. What did he actually put on paper? An enby (Non-binary) person takes the stage and acts a part in it. What more needs be said? Such people exist, one of them is in the story and moves it in a particular direction like the MF binaries do, end of lesson.

            • If you read it you’ll see what I mean. It’s an experimental novel with two parallel narratives — one is a modern family where men are more like housewives. The second narrative follows a modern man who wakes up in a non-binary future. The implication is that conflict in modern Earth is often caused by gender strife. It’s a strange little parable.

            • So there you just answered your own question: What is he trying to say? “…conflict in modern Earth is…caused by gender strife. It’s a strange little parable.”

            • Okay, I got a more knurly and snarly problem — and one I’m struggling with for a review for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. I’ll message you in the next few days on Twitter.

  2. I just finished reading The Last by Hannah Jameson, and the description of Termush would nearly fit The Last. I might need to track down a copy to compare how an author from the 1960s thought we’d respond to a nuclear war compared to a modern author.

    • Unfortunately, you’ll probably not be able to find a copy. I purchased the only available volume online that I could find — and it wasn’t the cheapest.

      I wish you luck in tracking it down. It’s quite spectacular and its muted/brittle way.

      Have any favorite vintage SF reads from 2020?

  3. I read Leigh Brackett’s The Long Tomorrow in 2020. It’s a genuine underrated classic by a very underrated writer, a fine novel indeed. Some think her husband’s (Edmund Hamilton) writing improved after they were married perhaps due to her editing.

    • Speaking of Edmond Hamilton, I just reviewed “What’s It Like Out There?” (1952) (also on this list in the short story section) — she found an early 30s version rejected by the publisher for being too dark it in a file and he rewrote it (and I assume, she edited it).

  4. I need to check out the Tanith Lee. I recall reading a short story by her, perhaps in an issue of F&SF.
    Currently reading a Michael Bishop novel from way back I missed; Transfigurations

  5. I quite enjoyed the two of these I’ve read–“The Ship Who Sang” and “The Long Tomorrow.”

    “The Long Tomorrow” has stuck with me much more, though. It seems an almost quaint coming of age story, but then hits in unexpected ways, dancing at the edge of philosophical questions about human nature.

    [Sorry if repeat, it wouldn’t let me post the first time?]

    • I loved The Long Tomorrow, it’s a very good novel indeed, a genuine underrated classic. David Pringle includes it in his The100 Best SF Novels. I could tell two or three pages in that I was in the presence of a very talented writer. Perhaps unsurprisingly she also worked as a Hollywood screenwriter with some “big gun” directors, e.g. Howard Hawks.

  6. Joachim, an interesting post as ever, bursting with thoughts and suggestions. I feel like I’ve joined you on and off for some of the year just gone, and find that I’ve read a few of the works you’ve covered.

    In 2020 I read, and like you enjoyed immensely, Brackett’s The Long Tomorrow, Miller’s Death of a Spaceman, Hamilton’s What’s It Like Out There?, and Wolf’s The Statue. Many years back I read Harrison’s A Storm of Wings while on a Viriconium bender. It’s all a bit vague now, but I dimly recall it being a dense and often poetical affair. High on the to re-read list. Similarly with Ballard’s The Dead Astronauts, though I’m more likely to reread that soon—and I’m eager for more on your theme of “critical of space agencies” etc. I read the first of McCaffrey’s The Ship Who Sang stores two or three years ago and remember it fondly.

    Of those books & stories I haven’t read, the ones that most appeal are Electric Forest, Hyacinths, The Black Corridor, City Come A-Walkin’, Nine Lives, And Read the Flesh Between the Lines—particularly the short stories and the Yarbro and Shirley novels.

    Finally, on the question of 2020 itself. What a year! Though sadly, and despite the clock ticking over, I feel that it is far from over. Trump’s departure is, for me, the merest of surface phenomena unfortunately. We’re left with a growing fascist movement in the US and elsewhere, not to mention the ongoing crises of COVID, climate and that most miserable of all: economics. Certainly, here’s to better times, but I feel that we’ll be knee deep fighting for them for the foreseeable future. Hopefully, this time we’ll win.

    Happy New Year!


    • Hello Anthony,

      I have a bunch in my series planned. Up next (although it’ll in a review of a complete collection), is William Tenn’s “Down Among the Dead Men” (1954).

      If you read any Electric Forest, Hyacinths, The Black Corridor, City Come A-Walkin’, Nine Lives, or And Read the Flesh Between the Lines, let me know! I’d love to hear your thoughts.

      2020 was awful. I’ve been following the political landscape closely — I hope there’s a serious reckoning within the Republican party about presence of right-wing radicalism and terrorism (although I doubt it). We shall see.

      • I love Down Among the Dead Men. Very happy to have a look at this story again–what with shades of Cordwainer Smith’s Scanners Live in Vain.
        I’m not sure when I’ll get to those novels. I am in the midst of cooking up a project that will necessitate a reread of Harrison’s Viriconium stories. Thanks for the inspiration!
        I can’t see how that serious reckoning will happen within the context of mainstream politics. The Republicans appear to be in an advanced state of decomposition under the influence of populism/fascism. What’s more likely–to my mind–is the full blown emergence of fascism into the US mainstream, rather than its marginalisation or eclipse. But we will see I suppose…

        • I keep on trying to write my review of the Tenn collection and then rechecking the news…. Hopefully I manage to formulate my thoughts this week.

          Did you have a clear favorite 2020 SF read? I know you mentioned a few you enjoyed in the earlier comment.

          • I don’t read anywhere near as many sf novels as you. Last year I enjoyed ‘The Long Tomorrow’ at lot. A surprise fave was Richard Matheson’s ‘The Shrinking Man’ (1956). I was expecting to like it, but then found the novel an surprising exploration of the anxieties and insecurities of the white, middle-class, heterosexual male in the US of the 1950s. Highly recommended.

            A non-genre novel I liked immensely and read in 2020 was Patrick White’s ‘Voss’ (1957). White is the only Australian to have won the Nobel prize in literature. Voss is an excellent fictional examination of the empty heart of the European invasion and colonisation of Australia. It’s a depressing read, albeit beautifully done. Highly recommended.

            Of the man short stories I’ve read, I’ve already mentioned a few of my favourites: ‘A Man of the Renaissance’ by Wyman Guinn, ‘The Dowry of Angyar’ by Ursula Le Guin and ‘Hunter, Come Home’ by Richard McKenna. The McKenna in particular was a real stand out. I also read Ray Nelson’s ‘Turn Off The Sky’, and loved his attempt at rendering a near future bohemianism. Apparently, the published version is not the complete work, and as far as I can tell it’s never been published in full. I’d love to read the entire work.

            I reread Lautréamont’s ‘Maldoror’ (Fr. orig. ‘Les Chants de Maldoror’, 1868/69) at the beginning of the year, and found it even more beguiling on this reread. I truly believe this work is the pinnacle of the “anti-novel” and contains the entirety of the literature to come sketched out between its covers. Simply staggering.

            • Oh yes, I’ve read Voss, and it was good. The more fantastic parts of it (when Mr. Judd is kind of being absorbed into the land) remind me of some of Willa Cather’s work.

          • I almost forgot… I read Alec Nevala-Lee’s ‘Astounding’. It’s a fascinating story of John W. Campbell’s various pathologies, and the way his quasi-fascism shaped modern sf. I really liked the theoretical critique in the introductory chapter, and whereas I found the story of Campbell, Heinlein, Asimov, and Hubbard compelling (and horrifying at times), I felt that Nevala-Lee should have more clearly drawn out his theoretical critique throughout the narrative. But this is a minor quibble–it’s one of the best sf history-critical books I’ve read.

            • I need to read more SF scholarship. Still waiting for a monograph on the impact of the Vietnam War on SF! I can’t believe one doesn’t exist….

              I need to pick up a copy of Nevala-Lee’s Astounding. Thanks for the reminder!

              I have a McKenna collection lined up for the spring. I’ve read a bunch of his short stories over the years but none recently. It’s time to return to them.

            • The monograph sounds fascinating. Author, title?
              I’ve started reading M John Harrison’s critical writings—mostly review pieces from New Worlds. I’m disappearing down a rabbit hole over the question of “realism” and formal experimentation in SF. Hopefully i’ll return with some tales to tell!

            • “still waiting”—oh i get it! Yeah that is crazy. Surely there’s been the odd article in SFS that touches on the subject? Maybe we need to write it!

            • So, maybe I’m not looking in the right places as I’m no longer in academia and I’ve lost my research chops, but I can’t find an article that isn’t focused primarily on the best known SF novels that are Vietnam-inspired, like Haldeman’s The Forever War.

            • That is strange. But then i am not up to speed on the breadth of SF scholarship over the last 50+ years. Still putting my toes into the water. I will report back if i find anything along those lines.

            • Thanks. Was it written in French in the original? Maybe we need to scour French SF scholarship. A recent book that i am very excited about is by Jean-Clet Martin: ‘Logique de la science-fiction : de Hegel à Philip K. Dick’ (2017). The idea of Hegel as a reference for SF has been something i’ve been ruminating over for a few years now.

            • I don’t think so. I think it originally appeared in Science Fiction Studies in English.

              But PKD…. I want scholarship to move beyond Le Guin and PKD and the most standard authors. Argh…. haha. You know me.

            • Sure. It’s not PKD I’m interested in here so much as Hegel! Plus it seems to me that Martin missed the most obvious direct influence Hegel exerted: on Stapeldon.

            • Tangent: Here’s a fascinating article I found in my perambulations of Academia.edu looking for Vietnam War and SF articles: “Better Living Through Chemistry: Science Fiction and Consumerism in the Cold War” (2019).


              AND FINALLY, I found a relevant article in The Cambridge History of Science Fiction volume the above article appeared in: David M. Higgins’ “New Wave Science Fiction and the Vietnam War” (2019)

            • Speaking of the Vietnam War in speculative fiction — I’m going to take the plundge and finally read John A. Williams’ Captain Blackman (1972). A wounded black Vietnam War soldier hallucinates or time-travels to experience different periods of time when black soldiers fought in America’s conflicts…

              I have two of his speculative fiction novels — that one and Sons of Darkness, Sons of Light. I eventually wanted to put together a series on three accounts of racial violence in a near future NYC — by a black (Williams), Chicano (Hank Lopez), and white (Warren Miller) author.

            • sounds like an interesting project. as usual, coming up with the more obscure (to me) goods. hopefully they’re gems.

            • I’m not sure I’d recommend Hegel to anyone—that way lies madness! His lectures on history and art are probably the best entry for the nonspecialist.
              You haven’t read Stapeldon !!!! I think four exclamation marks are appropriate here. Get thee to a sfnal repository tout suite!

            • There are a bunch of famous/important SF things I haven’t read. And I’d like to think that I’ve read a bunch of SF that should be famous that isn’t read….

            • I’m certainly not calling into question the excellent work you’ve done plumbing the little crossed backstreets and byways of sf. Not to mention the many leads you’ve provided to me and others. Still, you’re in for a treat when you do get to Stapeldon.

            • I’ve got the followings book recently: ‘Parietal Games: Critical Writings by and on M. John Harrison’. It has collected all of his critical from New Worlds and elsewhere. He even has some intriguing things to say about Brunner’s Zanzibar in passing!

  7. Not surprised to see Tanith Lee and M John Harrison make your list. Termush sadly looks completely out of print, which is a shame as I’d have picked it up.

    The Long Tomorrow I have and haven’t read. I liked The Big Jump more than you did I think, but it wasn’t ever going to trouble an end of year list I don’t think. I’ll bump Tomorrow up the pile though.

    The Shirley I read years ago and have no real memory of. I suspect I’ll leave it that way. The Black Corridor I already bought to reread, quite likely due to your talking about it previously I suspect!

    • Thanks for stopping by Max! Did you have any great SF reads of 2020?

      The Long Tomorrow was my surprise of 2020. The first section felt like it would end up being like a bland juvenile post-apocalyptic tale — but the complex morality of it all made it worthwhile.

      The Black Corridor might be in the “Most Readable Yet Radically Structure”-type New Wave category… Worth reading to see what New Wave tried to do and how it often worked!

  8. I was sufficiently tempted by your reviews to track down both Electric Forest and Black Corridor in 2020. I haven’t got to the latter yet, but Electric Forest was brilliant. I’ll also get Termush, which is both cheap and easy to find in the original danish version.

    In addition to Electric Forest, my favorite SF reads of 2020 were:
    JG Ballard: Chronopolis – a superb collection
    Tatyana Tolstaya: The Slynx – a highly original and very russian take on post-apocalyptic bleakness, a fascinating surrealistic allegory.
    John Crowley: Engine Summer – even though I’m not usually a big fan of post apocalyptic settings, this is yet another surprsingly idiosyncratic take (and very different from Tolstayas), equal parts disturbing and sorrowful.
    DG Compton: The Unsleeping Eye – indeed as good as its reputation (I wasn’t quite as taken by The Silent Multitude I must say).
    Christopher Priest: A Dream of Wessex – not among his very best, but still pretty good.
    Stanislaw Lem: Eden – one of the few Lem books I hadn’t read. Some of his (and mine) favorite themes placed in a much more rudimentary frame than in later masterpieces like Solaris and His Masters Voice. More primitive, and with a pretty weak “resolution”, but still with plenty of the thrilling alien weirdness that Lem is so good at.

    Some that are only borderline SF, but still great:
    Josephine Saxton: Vector for Seven – not quite up there with Hieros Gamos but close (and definitely the second best of hers that I’ve read)
    Kobo Abe: Secret Rendezvous – much better than Inter Ice Age 4 (which I also read this year, and which is much more “proper” SF), really looking forward to getting to The Box Man at some point.
    Alfred Kubin: The Other Side – like Secret Rendesvouz an unreal, Bruno Schulz-esque nightmare; only vaguely SF.

    Finally, I read a couple that were somewhat hard – at times downright grating – to get through, but stil worth it for their sheer originality (extremely different as they are):
    William Hope Hodgson: The Night Land
    Brian Aldiss: Barefoot in the Head

    • I’m glad you enjoyed Electric Forest? What did you enjoy most about it?

      Termush was wonderful — it seemed like a top-notch translation. Ballard is a perpetual favorite of mine although I’ve not read that particular collection.

      Huge fan of Kobo Abe’s Secret Rendezvous (reviewed on the site). I have a copy of Inter Ice Age and want to give it a read — it’ll be interesting seeing the evolution of Abe as it was written quite a bit later. I’m, of course, a fan of his non-genre fiction as well, like Woman in the Dunes.

      I haven’t hear of the Kubin. I’ll track down a copy!

      So many great books in your list — The Unsleeping Eye, etc.
      And I have Vector for Seven but haven’t read it. Loved The Hieros Gamos.

      • I guess what I especially enjoyed in Electric Forest was the uncertain identity and reality of the main characters, we’re never really sure who or what they are, including Magdala after the transformation. Elements of the plot reminds me of James Morrows brilliant Continent of Lies – have you read that one?

        A lot of the early Ballard collections contain many of the same stories. Chronopolis is a pretty comprehensive one, with stories taken from Billennium, Voices of Time, Four Dimensional Nightmare, Terminal Beach etc., so you have probably read most of it already.

        I read Woman in the Dunes a long time ago, but only recently discovered that Abe had written many others, so I’m trying to catch up now. Inter Ice Age 4 had a lot of stuff liked, but it somehow didn’t hold together as well as Secret Rendezvous, despite being nowhere near as weird and illogic.

        In addition to Hieros Gamos and Vector for Seven, I’ve also read Queen of the States, Travails of Jane Saint and The Power of Time, all of which are highly idiosyncratic and with some amazing elements, but also somewhat marred by a very heavy handed “western science and rationality is cold and repressing”-proselytizing (in The Power of Time this is only some of the stories, others are probably my favorite Saxton of all). I’m very interested to see what your take on these (and on Vector) will be when you get to them.

  9. Thanks for the great list. Look forward to checking out some of those.

    Here are some vintage SF books I read and enjoyed, to various degrees, in 2020:

    Tower of Glass (Silverberg):
    Silverberg’s underrated and overlooked robot novel from 1970. Worth a read, although, as is often the case with Silverberg, it lacks strong female characters.

    Up the Line (Silverberg):
    Amusing time travel novel from 1969. Not as accomplished as most of Silverberg’s work during the 1967-1976 period, but entertaining nonetheless.

    Son of Man (Silverberg):
    Arguably Silverberg’s most experimental novel, from 1971. Liked it. Hard to describe. Takes place in the far, far future. Very cosmic. This is one of those books you may need to read twice to catch everything; I plan to read it again in a couple of years.

    Read 2 Delany books that I liked a lot: Babel-17 and Empire Star.

    A couple of short stories from Orbit that were interesting:

    Continued on Next Rock (Lafferty)
    Fiddler’s Green (Richard McKenna)


  10. With libraries in my area closed – well, you have to “order” your books online for curbside pickup; there’s no browsing of the stacks to find hidden gems – I’ve been downloading and reading e-books from the era before science fiction was its own genre.

    If you can deal with the extremely difficult style, William Hope Hodgson’s “The Night Land” is a fascinating adventure tale set on a dying Earth. “The Man who Ended War” is extremely dated in its science and military background – but I was pleasantly surprised at just how well it was written. I felt like I was following John Steed and Emma Peel across England in their pursuit of a mad scientist. And for short stories, there’s Edward Page Mitchell’s collection of “Sci-Fi and Fantasy Stories from The Sun”. Mitchell penned droll little tales of time travel, mutant supermen, androids, and other now-common SF tropes for the newspaper he edited.

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