2022 was the single best year in the history of my site for visits and unique viewers!
As I mention year after year, I find reading and writing for the site—and participating in all the SF discussions generated over the year—a necessary and greatly appreciated salve. Whether you are a lurker, occasional visitor, or a regular commenter, thank you for your continued support.
Continuing a trend from 2021, I read only a handful of novels this year. Instead, I devoted my obsessive attention to various science short story review initiatives (listed below), anthologies, and histories of the science fiction genre. Without further ado, here are my favorite novels and short stories I read in 2022 with bonus categories. Descriptions are derived from my linked reviews.
My Top 5 Science Fiction Novels of 2022 (click titles for my full review)
1. Vonda N. McIntyre’s Dreamsnake (1978), 4.75/5 (Near Masterpiece): Won the 1979 Hugo, Locus, and Nebula Award for Best Novel. Snake journeys across the post-apocalyptic wastes of a future Earth with three serpents healing the sick and caring for the dying. She is a member of the healers, who adopt orphans and rescue the oppressed and train them how to use the serpents. Mist and Sand are genetically modified vipers of terrestrial origin. But Grass comes from another alien world. Snake uses Mist and Sand’s venom to create vaccines, treat diseases, and cure tumors. Grass, the rare dreamsnake, with its alien DNA is the most important of them all–it provides therapeutic pleasure and dreams that facilitate conquering one’s fear and healing in the ill. In Snake’s voyages, she encounters prejudice and violence. A joyous sense of sexual freedom permeates the proceedings. A powerful and different take on a post-apocalyptic worldscape in every possible way.
2. P. C. Jersild’s After the Flood (1982), 4.75/5 (Near Masterpiece): Swedish SF in translation! After the Flood is a relentlessly bleak and incisive analysis of humanity’s death drive after a nuclear event that hits harder than Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006). Possessed by a deceptively powerful prose, Jersild maps out the apocalyptic bodyscapes of this new and dying world with merciless strokes. The author’s medical background provides a disquieting tapestry of post-apocalyptic horror–the decay and ailments of the body. I suspect the character of Edvin, formed by the trauma and abuse he’s experienced and the nature of the world he lives in, will not appeal to all readers. He is a product of his world. He resorts to violence when needed. He tries to love. He tries to care for those around him.
3. Walter Tevis’ Mockingbird (1980), 4.5/5 (Very Good) is a paean to the power of reading. Possessed by an encyclopedic adoration for silent films and books of all genres, Tevis creates a rich textual substate in which his characters pin together the true nature of their world. In a rapidly depopulating world, the last humans live a medicated life. Robots have taken increasingly taken over the roles previously held by humans. Most humans spend their days in a pharmaceutical haze while robots, increasingly broken and malfunctioning, attempt to cater to their needs. When the sad reality peers through, humans commit suicide by self-immolation.
Paul encounters Mary Lou in the zoo. He immediately realizes that she possesses an intelligence far greater than his own. Paul decides to teach Mary Lou to read. But the robot Spofforth has other ideas and interrupts their peaceful existence. He’s the last Detector around and they’re guilty of co-habitation and reading. Paul is sent off to prison and Spofforth forces her to reenact a sad charade of married life.
4. Angela Carter’s Heroes & Villains (1969), 4.5/5 (Very Good): Marianne, the precocious and severe daughter of a “Professor of History,” lives in a white tower made of steel and concrete. In this post-nuclear war future, humanity has split into three distinct groups–the villagers, Barbarians, and the Out People. The village in which Marianne dwells, whose inhabitants survived the blast in fallout shelters, adheres to a strict social structure with tripartite Professors (those who preserve knowledge), Workers (who farm the fields), and Soldiers (tasked with defending knowledge from the Barbarians). The Barbarians live outside the village fences, a world as “unknown and mysterious to Marianne as the depths of the sea,” and survive by raiding and hunting. The Out People somehow survived the holocaust outside the shelters and acquired fantastic shapes as a result of their exposure. The stringent roles and expectations and the relentless allure of the Barbarians threaten to tear everything asunder. And Marianne makes her first cataclysmic choice–she chooses to leave with Jewel, a Barbarian man.
Recommended for fans of experimental, feminist, and well-written 60s New Wave science fiction.
5. Brian W. Aldiss’ Hothouse (1962), 4.5/5 (Very Good) imagines an oppressive, violent, and alien Earth transformed by “the long age of the vegetable.” The surviving humans live–“more by instinct than intelligence”– in a continent-encompassing banyan tree in constant fear of killer flora and fauna. Aldiss succeeds in constructing a profoundly unsettling worldscape encyclopedic in its details with unusual rituals of survival. There’s the existential sense throughout that the humans, detached from any memory of their past, who attempt to survive are but frantic movements of an apocalyptic paroxysm. Inventive, relentless, hallucinogenic. Note: Hothouse is a fix-up of previously published short stories. The abridged US edition won the 1962 Hugo Award for Best Short Fiction rather than Best Novel.
My Top 20 Science Fiction Short Stories Reads of 2022 (click titles for my full review)
1. Alice Eleanor Jones’ “Created He Them” (1955), 5/5 (Masterpiece): In a nameless city with crumbling streets and a people that retreat further and further within, Ann patches up her home, fends off the endless cruelties of her brutish husband, and cares for her two young children. Like some archaic code that cannot be followed precisely enough, her husband’s malcontent maps out the fault in her every action. While Henry is at the laboratory, Ann takes her children out in the stroller. A strange exchange transpires in the decayed urban expanse. Women rush from the dark interiors of their homes and hold the children. They pass Ann food and cigarettes, sleeping pills and chocolate bars. This is a future beset with an encroaching wasteland caused by a nuclear war. The co-op has less and less supplies. The radio proclaims that all is well and that all that is bad is but the machinations of the rumormongers. Looming above all else is the fact that Ann and Henry number among a few couples able to have children. In the moment the neighboring women hold the children a bit of sadness retreats. An underrated classic!
2. Keith Roberts’ “The White Boat” (1966), 5/5 (Masterpiece) forms part of the Pavane sequence of linked short stories. This sequence imagines an alternate past in which Queen Elizabeth is assassinated as the Spanish Armada approaches. Protestants are rooted out and a militant Catholic Church creates a theocratic rural dystopia redolent with oppressive ersatz-medieval stylings. Roberts’ keeps the details of the new state in the background and focuses instead on a disenchanted young fisher girl named Becky and her obsession with the White Boat that appears off the rocky shore. She dreams of joining its crew–leaving her loneliness, dying mother, and the oppression of the small horizons of her rural community.
3. James Tiptree, Jr.’s “Love Is the Plan the Plan Is Death” (1973), 5/5 (Masterpiece): Moggadeet, imagine an alien spider-like creature, shifts between conscious and primal states depending on the time of year. The forces that shape his existence are heralded as “The Plan.” Moggadeet starts to horde food in an effort to avoid shifting back to a primal state where he is not conscious of his actions. Possessed by his deep love of Lilliloo, whom he keeps wrapped in silk (the reason soon becomes harrowingly clear), and scarring memories of his mother evicting her children from her fur and eating his brother, Moggadeet appears to have bested the natural forces that set his biological clock…. But… read and find out!
4. Keith Roberts’ “Weihnachtsabend” (1972), 5/5 (Masterpiece): Unlike many Hitler-wins stories, Roberts imagines an alternate past in which the British do not enter WWII and instead enter an increasingly close détente with Nazi Germany. Within this terrifying past, Roberts spins a disquieting tale of a decadent party of British elite on Christmas Eve. Richard Mainwaring and Diane Hunter arrive at a mansion in the countryside. Unease permeates everything. Richard discovers a banned book on his shelf that tells a revisionist history. Among the best alternate histories I’ve encountered.
5. Vonda. N. McIntyre’s “Wings” (1973, 4.75/5 (Near Masterpiece): “Wings” tells the story of those left behind on their dying planet. Clearly set in the same timeline with the same aliens (androgenous youth become a particular gender after ritualized intergenerational “eldermating”), “Wings” follows the arrival of a injured youth at a temple overseen by an aged keeper. The keeper remembers his own traumatic past and cannot help but become attached to the youth. The youth, filled with despair at the abandonment of the planet, cannot escape the cycles of devastation that transfix them.
6. Lino Aldani’s “Good Night, Sophie” (1963), 4.75/5 (Near Masterpiece) proves a nightmarish dissection of the media’s ability–in this case immersive and erotic Orwellian feelies–to script human experience. The story follows Sophie Barlow, a pornographic star à la Sophia Loren of the dystopic future, who makes love to Adam, “a mannequin packed with electronic devices” who becomes the viewer when the Oneirofilm flicks on, for a living. Her films set in every exotic local sell millions. Her body is desired and possessed by millions. But something writhes inside her despite the power and adoration–the feeling that the world is but artifice, an unhappy simulacrum, a catatonic swirl of isolation and darkness. Is there truth in the rantings of the Anti-Dream league who attempt to seduce those who pass by to the reality of the flesh vs. the realty of the dream?
7. Sonya Dorman’s “Go, Go, Go, Said the Bird” (1967), 4.75/5 (Near Masterpiece): After an unknown apocalyptic event, a nameless woman runs down an abandoned concrete highway–“seizing the shriek in her stained teeth”–beset on all sides by denizens (old and young) of hovels and burrows (fallout shelters?) who want to sink their teeth into her “succulent” thirty-year-old flesh. She runs to both physically and mentally survive the oblivion the world finds itself hurtling towards.
8. Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s “The Hoofer” (1955), 4.5/5 (Very Good): “The Hoofer” inhabits a future where space travel is a dangerous blue-collar occupation and coming home from the “Big Bottomless” parallels the traumas of a wartime veteran. With deceptive and powerful simplicity, “The Hoofer” follows Big Hogey Parker, with bottle of gin in hand that aggravates the physical symptoms of space travel–“glare-blindness, gravity-legs, and agoraphobia,” on his bus journey home a “week late.” He has a secret he fears to share with his wife. And the effects of space travel only explain some of his deep sadness within.
9. Fritz Leiber’s “The Girl with the Hungry Eyes” (1949), 4.5/5 (Very Good): A tale of erotic obsession and terror, “The Girl with the Hungry Eyes” imagines a fantastical conjuration of the archetypal advertising Girl selling every conceivable product. Her face appears on billboards across the urban expanse. Her torso or limb holds the object to be marveled at. And her eyes, “the hungriest eyes in the world,” tear into the soul and take something away with their gaze.
10. John Brunner’s “Fair” (1956), 4.5/5 (Very Good): The antihero Alec Jevons, “ex-test pilot […], ex-husband,” feels responsible for the growing tidal waves of fear that galvanize the UK. The fair draws in all who desire “temporary nirvana” to escape it all. Its interior contains the future of movies and TV–“total sensory identification was what they called it.” And Jevons, after immersing himself in the suffering of a Malay pearl diver, the joyous love of an African couple, the joy of flying without a nuclear payload, and speaking Russian without fear of reprisal, becomes the emissary of the strange new machine.
11. Fritz Leiber’s “A Bad Day for Sales” (1953), 4.5/5 (Very Good): “A Bad Day for Sales” pairs a future consumerist media landscape–massive animated billboards and the first automated perambulating robotic vending machines (Robie the Robot) with his pre-recorded advertising soundbites in the voice of a famous actor–with the rapidly disintegrating geopolitical relationship between the US and the USSR. With hilarious (and horrifying) results, Leiber’s deadpan humor collides with a nightmarish danse macabre as nuclear war descends leaving Robie trying to sell his wares to the dead and dying. Demanding money from the victims, the new manifestation of commercial progress trudges on, oblivious to the world around him.
12. Eleanor Arnason’s “The Warlord of Saturn’s Moons” (1974), 4.5/5 (Very Good): “The Warlord of Saturn’s Moons” is a powerful conjuration of the allure of writing and reading science fiction. Imaginary worlds where life can be simpler. Imaginary worlds to be destroyed and resurrected and destroyed and resurrected at will while the world writhes outside. All the rituals are here–the writer makes tea, smokes her cigar, turns on her radio, turns off her radio, makes tea, starts to write, makes tea. And the pulp adventure becomes a tapestry where every thread intersects with the writer’s being. Pulp as a manifestation of her desires, a manifestation of her agency in a world slipping from grasp.
13. Nancy Kress’ “Talp Hunt” (1982), 4.5/5 (Very Good): A sister, a brother, and a mother (with a Colonizer machine) live in a hut on an alien island. The sister hunts for Talp, with its “boneless tail” and “green fur,” and if it’s not the right one she bashes the carcass against a tree. At some points the mother is one woman, at other points another, and the sister attempts to avoid her schizophrenic shifts. The brother tries to care for the mother as she slips into her “bad times” huddled on the floor of the hut. Soon visitors arrive and tell a fantastic story and give the sister a name she does not believe is even hers…
14. Theodore Sturgeon’s “And Now the News…” (1956), 4.5/5 (Very Good): From the morning newspapers that wait at his door consumed at breakfast, continuous daily radio broadcasts, and the TV news programs in the evening, MacLyle’s waking hours are completely inundated with the news. After years of suffering, his wife attempts to take matters into her own hands by sabotaging their suburban home’s TVs and radios. After MacLyle makes sure his wife and children will be financially set for life, he heads off for a deserted cabin in the woods in which he had once spent the night. Slowly his ability to read, write, and speak fall by the wayside and other compulsions take over. A fascinating early take on information overload!
15. Kathleen Sky’s “Lament of the Keeku Bird” (1973), 4.5/5 (Very Good): A visceral account of a female alien dragging herself, at the instigation of the Old Ones, across a sandy expanse towards a place that might not even exist–Long Rock. The reason? Her previous pregnancy resulted in twins–twins impaled on stakes that lined the entrance to her village. This is a deeply affective (and effective) story of the ties that control an alien society.
16. Fritz Leiber’s “The Moon Is Green” (1952), 4.5/5 (Very Good): Effie lives with her abusive husband Hank in an apartment on the upper level–with lead-protected walls and window shutters–of a vast fallout shelter. Hank spends his days ridiculing Effie’s desperate attempt to grasp on to something beautiful in the dying world. His abuse threatens to chip away at her last hope that there is something beautiful in the wreckage of the world outside. And while Hank is away at a governmental function, a man named Patrick appears at her window–deformed cat in tow–with a delusion far more destructive.
17. C. M. Kornbluth’s “The Advent on Channel Twelve” (1958), 4.5/5 (Very Good), the final story published before his early death, takes the form of an unhinged gospel of the origins and ascendancy of the Poopy Panda cult. The story parallels the Poopy Panda TV show with the rituals of religious faith. Kornbluth lays out all the disturbing strategies of consumerism: the creation of characters that fulfill adolescent desires, products that advertise other products, merchandizing, spinoffs, and a good dose of loveable cute to appeal to children. Soon Poopy Panda takes on a life of its own.
18. James Blish’s “Testament of Andros” (1953), 4.25/5 (Very Good):“Testament” is comprised of five short sections from distinct viewpoints–the names are similar, characters seem to flit in and out under new guises. They might be delusions of the same character. The first four delusions (?) appear to satirize a theme or mentality of science fiction–the pulp hero in his spaceship, the brilliant scientist alone in his temple of science, a new religious creed as the end approaches, the man who survive a nuclear blast. All four of these delusions appear to revolve around the figure of T. V. Andros, the son of an immigrant doomed to spend his days in a coal mine. A wonderful pre-New Wave modernist SF experiment that’s bound to polarize!
19. Vonda N. McIntyre’s “The Mountains of Sunset, the Mountains of Dawn” (1974), 4/5 (Good): “The Mountains of Sunset, the Mountains of Dawn” adeptly transposes the common tropes of generation ship stories–strife between those born on the ship and those who remember an earlier world and societal crises at arrival–into a profoundly alien milieu. Instead of humans trekking to a new world, McIntyre imagines winged denizens of the skies leaving their planet. On the ship, the bird-like predators experience societal evolution and some no longer even fly. The story follows the old one, the only survivor of the first generation, and her interactions with a young member of the third generation who feels drawn to her. By imaging aliens–whose wings represent ultimate freedom to soar from place to place–giving up that physical freedom for their offspring to arrive on new world somehow more starkly defines the immensity of the undertaking.
20. F. M. Busby’s “If This Is Winnetka, You Must Be Judy” (1974), 4/5 (Good): Busby spins an ingenious time-travel tale about a man who lives his live in non-sequential sections. Larry Garth awakes and must place himself at the correct time in his life. He has lived fragments of varying lengths before. Some near his death. Some near his birth. Has his marriage collapsed yet? The turbulent chaos of the 70s allows himself to place himself in a timeline. his premise allows Busby to explore fears experienced by the passing of time–of the choices we make, of the decisions we didn’t take, of the projects never started, and the loves we lost. A deeply moving tale, and one of only a handful of time-travel stories to resonate with me.
I have continued, resurrected, and created new science fiction short story reading series over the course of the year. All the stories I’ve picked for the series are available in some fashion online via links to Internet Archive in each review. I’ve included installments from 2022 in each series below. Feel free to read along with me! And thanks for all the great conversation.
The First Three Published Short Fictions by Female Authors (started in 2021)
The Media Landscape of the Future (started this year)
- Lino Aldani’s “Good Night, Sophie” (1963), 4.75/5 (Near Masterpiece)
- Ray Bradbury’s “The Pedestrian” (1951), 4/5 (Good)
- Avram Davidson and Sidney Klein’s “The Teeth of Despair” (1961), 2/5 (Bad)
- Brian W. Aldiss’ “Panel Game” (1955), 3.75/5 (Good)
- Fritz Leiber’s “The Girl with the Hungry Eyes” (1949), 4.5/5 (Very Good)
- Fritz Leiber’s “A Bad Day for Sales” (1953), 4.5/5 (Very Good)
- Four stories in Tomorrow’s TV, ed. Isaac Asimov, Martin Harry Greenberg, and Charles Waugh (1982)
- Isaac Asimov’s “The Fun They Had” (1951), 3/5 (Average)
- Jack C. Haldeman II’s “A Scientific Fact” (1979), 3/5 (Average)
- Robert Bloch’s “Crime Machine” (1961), 2.5/5 (Bad)
- Ray Nelson’s “Eight O’Clock in the Morning” (1963), 3.25/5 (Above Average)
- Ann Warren Griffiths’ “Captive Audience” (1953), 3.75/5 (Good)
- Pat Cadigan’s “Rock On” (1984), 3.75/5 (Good)
- Barry N. Malzberg’s “The Idea” (1971), 3.5/5 (Good)
- Walter F. Moudy’s “The Survivor” (1965), 3.5/5 (Good)
- John D. MacDonald’s “Spectator Sport” (1950), 3.5/5 (Good)
- John Brunner’s “Fair” (1956), 4.5/5 (Very Good)
- C. M. Kornbluth’s “The Advent on Channel Twelve” (1958), 4.5/5 (Very Good)
- Alice Eleanor Jones’ “The Happy Clown” (1955), 3.5/5 (Good)
- Frederik Pohl’s “The Wizards of Pung’s Corners” (1958), 3/5 (Average)
- Ray Bradbury’s “Almost the End of the World” (1957), 3.5/5 (Good)
The Search for the Depressed Astronaut (continued from 2020)
- Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s “The Hoofer” (1955), 4.5/5 (Very Good)
- Bruce McAllister’s “When the Fathers Go” (1982), 4/4 (Good)
- John D. MacDonald’s “Flaw” (1949), 3.75/5 (Good)
- Alfred Coppel’s “The Hunters” (1952), 3.5/5 (Good)
- Alfred Coppel’s “The Dreamer” (1952), 4/5 (Good)
- Alfred Coppel’s “Double Standard” (1952), 3/5 (Average)
- Harlan Ellison’s “Psycho at Mid-Point” (1956), 3.25/5 (Above Average)
- Harlan Ellison’s “The Discarded” (variant title: “The Abnormals”) (1959), 4/5 (Good)
Generation Ship Short Stories (continued from 2019)
- Vonda N. McInture’s “The Mountains of Sunset, the Mountains of Dawn” (1974), 4/5 (Good)
- Don Wilcox’s “The Voyage That Lasted 600 Years” (1940), 3.5/5 (Good)
- Fred Saberhagen’s “The Long Way Home” (1961), 3/5 (Average)
Radical 1950s Stories on Sex and Sexuality (started this year)
- Philip José Farmer’s “The Lovers” (1952), 3.5/5 (Good)
- Sherwood Springer’s “No Land of Nod” (1952), 3/5 (Average)
- Wallace West’s “Eddie For Short” (1953), 2.75/5 (Below Average)
- Fritz Leiber’s “The Ship Sails at Midnight” (1950), 3/5 (Average)
- Theodore Sturgeon’s “The Sex Opposite” (1952), 3.25/5 (Above Average)
Exploration Logs (started this year)
- Sonja Fritzsche’s “Publishing Ursula K. Le Guin in East Germany” (2006)
- Al Thomas’ “Sex in Space: A Brief Survey of Gay Themes in Science Fiction” (1976)
My Top 5 Academic Science Fiction History Reads of 2022
In a given year, I tend to read far more history than science fiction. And this year I made a serious effort to read more scholarship on science fiction. A brief caveat worth repeating: I’m a PhD-wielding historian and have a high tolerance for academic texts. Dry writing, theory, constant references to other scholars, lots and lots of evidence, etc. does not bother me. I love footnotes, endnotes, lengthy bibliographies, charts, appendices… I find more stuff to read and see how all the arguments work. Slipping into a dense monograph is like returning to a comforting home. I’m not judging them on lay “readability.”
1. John Brunner, Jad Smith (2012): I wanted this one to be longer! Brunner has long been a favorite author of mine and Smith’s analysis of his fiction and integration of bibliographical information rekindled my adoration for both his short fiction and late 60s and early 70s novels. I plan on re-reading The Shockwave Rider (1975) in the near future. Smith examines how Brunner was viewed, and criticized (Moorcock burned his books), by authors on both sides of the Atlantic. In addition, Smith details the financial realities of publishing in both markets and how Brunner had to fanatically write schlock and rewrite earlier novels for publication in order save enough funds to devote more time to his more serious projects which inevitably lost him money despite critical success. It puts the bifurcated feel of Brunner’s output into context.
2. Transformations: The Story of the Science Fiction Magazines from 1950-1970, Mike Ashley (2005): This is a wonderful survey of a boom and bust period of the SF magazine. While large sections revert to descriptions of the magazines, their editorial practices, and sections on their primary authors, Ashley does attempt to analyze the main changes in the SF publishing field over this period and identify worthwhile stories. Most of the stories I’ve added to my various lists came from this book…. Ashley can’t help but snark at the quantity of “nuclear doom” stories in the 50s and often dodges talking about them. I can’t help but see that as a sign of a much larger historical terror that could be examined rather than dismissed! Which is why I immediately turned to Bartter’s monograph next in this list.
3. The Way to Ground Zero: The Atomic Bomb in American Science Fiction, Martha A. Bartter (1988): I’ve already featured stories explored in this older but still wonderful analysis of “atomic weapons” in science fiction before and immediately after WWII. She uses (like me) SF as her way into the “sociocultural matrix” of the day and thus covers both gems and miserably didactic trash. I must confess, the post-WWII stories when nuclear fears became a more distinct reality was the most interesting section due to my personal taste for the fiction covered. You’ll be hearing more from her in the near future!
4. Galactic Suburbia: Recovering Women’s Science Fiction, Lisa Yaszek (2008): One of the notable issues of focus in the Ashley survey of the magazines, was the lack of space given to the profusion of women authors who emerged in the 1950s. Yaszek examines that space masterfully. She claims that the post-WWII landscape was a “literary frontier that was home to nearly 300 women writers” who explored “how women’s lives, loves, and work were being transformed by new sciences and technologies.” Even if you’re interested in 50s science fiction or the overarching history of the genre more generally, this is a must read.
5 Frederik Pohl, Michael R. Page (2015): As with Smith’s John Brunner, Page’s monograph on Pohl is part of the wonderful Modern Masters of Science Fiction series out of U. Illinois Press. I could have added the Aldiss, Russ, or Ballard volumes (that I also read this year) to this list but settled on the Pohl. Why? While I find Pohl’s fiction hit-or-miss (I am a huge fan of Gateway), I knew little about his editorial influence. Page’s book thus also gives a fascinating insight into the small world of early SF publishing.
Goals for 2023
1. Keep reading and writing.
2. Spend less time on the hellscape that is Twitter and more time writing.
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