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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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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Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLXXXV (Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Lester Del Rey, Peter George, and Adrien Stoutenburg)

1. Nerves, Lester Del Rey (1956)

From the back cover: “THIS IS NO STORY OF SPACE SHIPS AND MARTIANS. THIS IS A STORY ABOUT OUR WORLD RIGHT NOW.

‘In 1942, three years before the general public had ever heard of nuclear fission. Lester del Rey wrote a brilliantly detailed novella of disaster in an atomics plant, which now appears, skillfully expanded to book length, as NERVES. A wholly admirable blend of prophetic thinking (in medicine as well as atomics), warm human values and powerful narrative suspense, this novel is strongly recommended…’ –N.Y. Herald Tribune.”

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Updates: Recent Purchases No. CCLXXXIV (Ray Bradbury, H. R. F. Keating, Judith Moffett, New Dimensions anthology)

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

1. The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury (1950)

From the back cover: “A MAGNIFICANCTLY ILLUSTRATED EDITION OF THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES WHICH MASTERFULLY ENHANCES THE CLASSIC WONDER AND TERROR BY THE WORLD-RENOWNED AUTHOR OF THE ILLUSTRATED MAN RAY BRADBURY.

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Short Book Reviews: Jack Vance’s The Languages of Pao (1958), Kit Reed’s Fort Privilege (1985), and John Shirley’s Transmaniacon (1979)

Note: My read but “waiting to be reviewed pile” is growing. Short rumination/tangents are a way to get through the stack before my memory and will fades. Stay tuned for more detailed and analytical reviews.


1. The Languages of Pao, Jack Vance (1958)

3.25/5 (Vaguely Good)

Since I started my site in 2011, I’ve soured a bit on Jack Vance’s brand of planetary adventure in richly realized and exotic worlds. I doubt I’d currently rate novels like Showboat World (1975) or The Blue World (1966) as highly as I did back then. One of more appealing elements of having a single project for so long is my ability to track my evolving views on genre. That said, I’d classify Wyst: Alastor 1716 (1978) and The Languages of Pao (1958) amongst his most conceptually ambitious novels I’ve read so far and worth tracking down. For a full list consult my index. Note: I read but never reviewed Dying Earth (1950).

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The Introduction to Dangerous Visions and New Worlds: Radical Science Fiction, 1950-1985, ed. Andrew Nette and Iain McIntyre (2021)

I’ve recently conducted a binge read of my ARC of Dangerous Visions and New Worlds: Radical Science Fiction, 1950-1985, ed. Andrew Nette and Iain McIntyre (2021). It is a must buy for any SF fan of the era interested in exploring the larger world behind the texts. Considering the focus of my website and most of my reading adventures over the last decade, I can unabashedly proclaim myself a fan of the New Wave SF movement–and this edited volume is the perfect compliment to my collection and interests.

The editors and PM Press have graciously provided me with the introduction to the volume. Perhaps it’ll convince you to purchase your own copy!

Relevant links: Amazon USA, Amazon UK, and the publisher website.


Dangerous Visions and New Worlds

An Introduction

The “long sixties,” an era which began in the late 1950s and extended into the 1970s, has become shorthand for a period of trenchant social change, most explicitly demonstrated through a host of liberatory and resistance movements focused on class, racial, gender, sexual, and other inequalities. These were as much about cultural expression and social recognition as economic redistribution and formal politics. While the degree to which often youthful insurgents achieved their goals varied greatly, the global challenge they presented was a major shock to the status quo.

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Book Review: Casey Agonistes and Other Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories, Richard McKenna (1973)

4/5 (collated rating: Good)

Richard McKenna (1913-1964) spent the majority of his adult career (1931-1953) “not very happily” in the US Navy. He was forced to leave college and join the service due to his lack of opportunities in rural Idaho during the Great Depression. Many of his science fiction stories explore the homosocial world of the military–the comradery through shared trauma and battle, the corrosive effect on those who struggle to fit in, and the destructive culture of machoism. After his military service, he enrolled at the University of North Carolina in English. Only a handful of SF short stories appeared during his lifetime, the majority were published posthumously. McKenna considered SF to be his “training ground” before a planned career in mainstream literature. Right before his early death in 1964, he hit it big with the non-SF novel The Sand Pebbles (1962), which was turned into a famous 1966 movie by the same name.

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Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLXXXII  (Isaac Asimov, Mary Vigliante, Algis Budrys, and Vladimir Voinovich)

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

1. Earth Is Room Enough, Isaac Asimov (1957)

From the back cover: “ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN and probably will RIGHT HERE ON EARTH.

You don’t have to rent a spaceship or sign up for a singles cruise to Saturn or spend your weekends star-hopping along the Milky Way because EARTH IS ROOM ENOUGH.

Earth is where the action is and each tomorrow unleashes new discoveries.

Here are brilliant, witty, frightening, and fascinating stories of the future by the greatest science fiction master of them all. Just hitch your mind to these weird and wonderful tales for a spin around the world of tomorrow that will take you right to the center of your wildest dreams.”

Contents: “The Dead Past” (1956), “Franchise” (1955), “Gimmicks Three” (1956), “Kid Stuff” (1953), “The Watery Place” (1956), “Living Space” (1956), “The Message” (1956), “Satisfaction Guaranteed” (1951), “Hell-Fire” (1956), “The Last Trump” (1955), “The Fun They Had” (1951), “Jokester” (1956), “The Immortal Bard” (1954), “Someday” (1956), “The Author’s Ordeal” (1957), “Dreaming Is a Private Thing” (1955)

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Generation Ship Short Story Review: Arthur Sellings’ “A Start in Life” (1954)

This is the 11th post in my newly resurrected series of vintage generation ship short fiction reviews. I’m continuing my exploration of 50s visions.

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: Frank M. Robinson’s “The Oceans Are Wide” in Science Stories (April 1954), ed. Bea Mahaffey and Ray Palmer. You can read it online here

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

Arthur Sellings’ “A Start in Life” first appeared in Galaxy Science Fiction (September 1954), ed. H. L. Gold. 3/5 (Average). You can read it online here.

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