Future Media Short Story Review: Lino Aldani’s “Good Night, Sophie” (1963, trans. 1973)

In the history of my website, I’ve reviewed and adored countless fictions that tackled future formations of the media landscape. Spurned in part by the explosion of television ownership in the 50s, pop art’s obsession with filmic iconography, and popular studies on advertising, science fiction compulsively explored futuristic formulations of media performance and manipulation, exploitation and paranoia (SF Encyclopedia). I’ve decided to put together a review series of short fiction that will continue my exploration of the theme.

It is devilishly difficult to organize all that I’ve reviewed so far but here are a few of the highlights that suggest different routes I might traverse. As I do not plan on rereading stories I’ve covered in the past, feel free to track down some of the gems below.

Christopher Priest’s “The Head and the Hand” (1972), John Brunner’s “Nobody Axed You” (1965), Robert Sheckley’s “The Prize of Peril” (1958), D. G. Compton’s The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe (variant title: The Unsleeping Eye) (1973), and Robert Silverberg’s “The Pain Peddlers” (1963) explore the intersection of media and the spectacle of suffering. Pain recorded. Deaths televised. Media as death blow.

Kate Wilhelm’s “Baby, You Were Great” (1967), Carol Emshwiller’s “This Thing Called Love” (1955), and James Tiptree, Jr.’s “The Girl Who Was Plugged In” (1973) scrutinize the emotional bifurcation between the audience and their love of the starlet or influencer as presented and constructed. And the ways in which the audience controls the construction…. and by extension the performer.

Lloyd Biggle, Jr.’s “Well of the Deep Wish” (1961), Keith Roberts’ “Sub-Lim” (1965), and Kit Reed’s “At Central” (1967) speculate on the methods media can be used as social control. Of course, in the both the Biggle and Reed, the real world outside has utterly transformed since the audience has slipped into new worlds.

And, of course, I have to include Barry N. Malzberg’s extensive oeuvre–such as Revelations (1972) and Screen (1968). His work often demonstrates the pernicious addiction and desperation audiences and participants project into the media landscape hoping for truth and real experience. The media landscape is yet another mechanized artifice pandering to our obsession with dark spectacle.

I hope you enjoy this series. Feel free to join in (I include a link to the first story below)!

And we have a doozy to start with!

4.75/5 (Near Masterpiece)

Lino Aldani’s short story “Good Night, Sophie” first appeared under the pseudonym N. L. Janda in Futuro, no. 1 (March/April 1963). Futuro, edited by Aldani along with Giulio Raiola and Massimo Lo Jacono, was the first entirely Italian science fiction magazine (it contained some translations of Polish SF) (contents). I read it in Franz Rottensteiner’s anthology of European science fiction in translation View from Another Shore (1973). You can read it online here.

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Book Review: The Siege of Harlem, Warren Miller (1964)

2/5 (Bad)

Over the last year, I acquired three near-future SF novels exploring issues of race conflict in New York City written by authors of different racial backgrounds (White, African American, and Chicano): Warren Miller’s The Siege of Harlem (1964); John A. Williams’ Sons of Darkness, Sons of Light: A Novel of Some Probability (1969); and Enrique Hank Lopez’s Afro-6 (1969). I’ve decided to review them in chronological order.

Warren Miller (1921-1966), best known for The Cool World (1959) and Looking for The General (1964), wrote fiction that often dealt with issues of race. The Cool World attempted to “capture the argot of the streets of Harlem in the late 50s” and give a sympathetic look at the realities of black urban life. Considering his output, I was excited to track down a copy of The Siege of Harlem (1964), his final novel before his premature death.

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Short Story Reviews: Lee Killough’s “Caveat Emptor” (1970), “Caravan” (1972), and “Sentience” (1973)

While travelling to visit my family in Texas, I stopped at the original Half Price Books location in Dallas. I procured a giant pile of vintage SF that I’ll feature in the upcoming year in my acquisition posts, including a signed copy (for $3) of Lee Killough’s A Voice Out of Ramah (1979). I realized that I’ve only read Killough’s “Bête et Noir” (1980) and, as is my wont, decided to start with her first three published pieces of short fiction before diving into a novel. As these are her first published works, I suspect she has not found her best form.

“Caveat Emptor” (1970), 2.5/5 (Bad): First appeared in Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, ed. John Campbell, Jr. (May 1970). You can read it online here. Equine Andvarian aliens pilot a trading vessel across the Commonwealth. Soon after first contact, a young human woman named Danae learns their language and customs on board their vessel. Danae sets up a trade meeting with the business conglomerate Galiol, a member of the Federation, whom she represents (109). Killough posits that megacompanies, driven by profit, will drive humanity’s expansion outward. The climax of the story features economic gamesmanship as the head of Galiol attempts to take advantage of the newly contacted alien species. But both get what they want in the end. Business is business for humans and aliens…

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Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLXXXVI (Vonda N. McIntyre, Thomas Burnett Swann, William Melvin Kelley, and a World’s Best Science Fiction Anthology)

Which books/covers/authors intrigue you? Which have you read? Disliked? Enjoyed?

1. Where is the Bird of Fire?, Thomas Burnett Swann (1970)

From the back cover: “Were the mythical monsters our ancestors spoke of so often more than fantasy? Is it not probable that these semi-human races existed–and that only human vanity has blurred their memory?

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Generation Ship Short Story Review: Vonda N. McIntyre’s “The Mountains of Sunset, The Mountains of Dawn” (1974)

This is the 13th post in my series of vintage generation ship short fiction reviews. Today I have a story that I’ve not seen described as generation ship take yet firmly fits the theme. That standard plot points are transposed to an alien society with captivating effect.

As a reminder for anyone stopping by, all of the stories I’ll review in the series are available online via the link below in the review.

You are welcome to read and discuss along with me as I explore humanity’s visions of generational voyage. And thanks go out to all who have joined already. I also have compiled an extensive index of generation ship SF if you wish to track down my earlier reviews on the topic and any that you might want to read on your own.

Previously: Michael G. Coney’s “The Mind Prison” in New Writings in SF 19, ed. John Carnell (1971). You can read it online here

Next Up: TBD

Vonda N. McIntyre’s “The Mountains of Sunset, the Mountains of Dawn” first appeared in the February 1974 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (February 1974), ed. Edward L. Ferman. 4/5 (Good). You can read it online here. I read it in Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year: Fourth Annual Collection (1974), ed. Lester del Rey.

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Updates: My 2021 in Review (Best SF Novels, Best SF Short Fiction, and Bonus Categories)

2021 was the best year in the history of my site for visits and unique viewers! I suspect this increasingly has to do with my twitter account where I actively promote my site vs. a growing interest in vintage SF. I also hit my 1000th post–on Melisa Michaels’ first three published SF short stories–in December.

As I mention year after year, I find reading and writing for the site—and participating in all the SF discussions it’s generated over the year—a necessary and greatly appreciated salve. Thank you everyone!

I read very few novels this year. Instead, I devoted my attention to various science short story reviews series and anthologies. Without further ado, here are my favorite novels and short stories I read in 2021 (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. I look forward to reading your comments.

My Top 7 Science Fiction Novels of 2021 (click titles for my review)

1. Where Time Winds Blow (1981), Robert Holdstock, 5/5 (Masterpiece): Holdstock’s vision is a well-wrought cavalcade of my favorite SF themes–the shifting sands of time, the pernicious maw of trauma that threatens to bite down, unreliable narrators trying to trek their own paths, a profoundly alien planet that compels humanity to construct an entirely distinct society… It’s a slow novel that initially masquerades as something entirely different. Just like the planet itself.

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Short Book Reviews: Octavia E. Butler’s Dawn (1987), Robert Holdstock’s Where Time Winds Blow (1981), and Philippe Curval’s Brave Old World (1976, trans. 1981)

Note: My read but “waiting to be reviewed pile” is growing. Short rumination/tangents are a way to get through the stack before the new year and my memory/will fades. Unfortunately, I left two of my favorite reads of the year for last. Stay tuned for more detailed and analytical reviews.

1. Where Time Winds Blow, Robert Holdstock (1981)

5/5 (Masterpiece)

I cannot properly review Where Time Winds Blow (1981). Sometimes, while perambulating the interwebs, I encounter a singular encapsulation of a text’s brilliance that defeats all my own attempts to write constructively about a book. I blame Andrew Darlington’s brilliant review/article on Robert Holdstock contextualizing the novel within his early oeuvre. The short paragraph below–an attempt to convince you to procure a copy–is indebted to his review. Please read his review! There are fan writers and then there are fan writers. Darlington should receive a Hugo nod.

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Book Review: To Die in Italbar, Roger Zelazny (1973)

3/5 (Average)

Roger Zelazny described To Die in Italbar (1973) as the one novel he would “kill off” if he could! Here’s a bit of context for his condemnatory statement. In early 1969, Zelazny quit his U.S. Social Security Administration job to become a full-time writer. Yes, he wrote Lord of Light (1967) and This Immortal (1966) among many others after work! He quickly wrote To Die in Italbar in May 1969 to complete a contract but the novel was rejected by the press. Years later Zelazny added new material and finally published the novel in 1973 (citation). Haste and filler characterize the final product. That said, if action-packed SF adventure with bizarre ideas is something you are looking for and you already enjoy Zelazny, pick this one up.

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Book Review: The Neon Halo, Jean-Louis Curtis (1956, trans. 1958)

3.5/5 (collated rating: Good)

The French novelist Jean-Louis Curtis (1917-1995), best known for his Prix Goncourt-winning The Forests of the Night (1947), crafts a linked series of short stories in The Neon Halo (1956, trans. 1958) that chart the evolution of modern society between 1995-circa 2100. While the thematic influence of George Orwell’s 1984 (1949) and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) permeates the pages (permanent warfare, reproductive technology, psychological and pharmaceutical conditioning, etc.), The Neon Halo contains genuine vibrancy and intriguing ruminations on persecution and martyrdom. Despite the frequent references to the French literary environment of Curtis’ day, The Neon Halo pulses with wit and levity despite the dour subject matter.

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