This collection contains the third post in a loose series on SF short stories that are critical in some capacity of space agencies, astronauts, and the culture which produced them. After reading today’s installment, I decided to review the entire collection!
Today: William Tenn’s “Down Among the Dead Men” (1954), 5/5 (Masterpiece). First appeared in the June 1954 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction, ed. H. L. Gold. You can read it online here.
Previously: Edmond Hamilton’s “What’s It Like Out There?” (1952), 5/5 (Masterpiece). First appeared in the December 1952 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories, ed. Samuel Hines. You can read the story online here.
Up next: Katherine MacLean’s “Echo” (1970) in Infinity One, ed. Robert Hoskins.
Richard Powers’ cover for the 1955 edition
3.25/5 (collated rating: Vaguely Good)
In the early days of my website, I reviewed two volumes by William Tenn–his sole novel Of Men and Monsters (1968) and his collection The Human Angle (1956). Of All Possible Worlds (1955) is his first published collection. The presence of “Down Among the Dead Men” (1954), “The Liberation of Earth” (1953), and “The Custodian” (1953) make this a must purchase (despite the handful of duds that drag down the overall rating) for fans of polished 50s satires in wrecked future worlds. Tenn’s narrators Continue reading
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 Continue reading
As always, which books/covers/authors intrigue you? Which have you read? Disliked? Enjoyed?
1. Some Will Not Die, Algis Budrys (1961, rev. 1978)
Frank Kelly Freas’ cover for the 1978 edition
My 1978 revised edition contains no inside flap or back cover blurb. Instead, here’s the brief description of the novel and its complex publication history from SF Encyclopedia: “Budrys’ first novel has a complex history. As False Night (March 1954 Galaxy as “Ironclad”; much exp. 1954) it was published in a form abridged from the manuscript version; this manuscript served as the basis for a reinstated text which, with additional new material, was published as Some Will Not Die (1961; rev 1978). In both versions a Post-Holocaust story is set in a plague-decimated Continue reading
Al Nagy’s cover for the 1st edition
4.25/5 (Very Good)
Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s Hyacinths (1983) 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 Continue reading
As always which books/covers/authors intrigue you? Which have you read? Disliked? Enjoyed?
1. Blakely’s Ark, Ian MacMillan (1981)
Tom Hallman’s cover for the 1st edition
From the back cover: THE CEPH… A parasitic virus. Invariably lethal. In two generations, it had reduced the population of America to 10 million people.
New Jersey is populated by roving gangs of children, savage and insane. New York City is a sealed-off Dome.
America is a wasteland. And Dave Blakely just may be the last whole man in the world.”
Initial Thoughts: I’ve been in a post-apocalyptic mood for the last year or more. I’ve started (and much to my surprise, enjoyed) my watch through of Survivors (1975-1977). And devoured Leigh Brackett’s The Long Tomorrow (1955).
This is Ian MacMillan’s only SF novel. And SF Encyclopedia describes rather than appraises it… As I often Continue reading
Preliminary Note: I’ve decided to try Terry Nation’s post-apocalyptic drama Survivors (1975-1977). For the background and history of the show check out the Wikipedia entry. Terry Nation might be best known as the creator of the Daleks in Dr. Who and Blake’s 7 (1978-1981).
You are welcome to watch along with me (episode 2 is on YouTube). I cannot promise how many episodes I’ll get through or at what rate I’ll watch the show.
This will not be a formal review but rather an informal/brief collection of ruminations.
Previously on Survivors (episode 1)…
In the first episode “The Fourth Horseman” (full review), the narrative followed the flight of two women, Abby and Jenny, in the immediate aftermath of “The Death.” This disease wipes out 4,999 out of every 5,000 humans on the planet within a few weeks. Abby, who lives a normal upper middle-class life outside London, contracts the disease and miraculously survives. Her husband is less fortunate. She sets off to find her son Peter, who might have survived the pandemic at his boarding school. When she arrives, the school is empty but for one elderly teacher, Dr. Bronson, who warns her of the horror to come. Abby resolves to find new survivors and sever herself from her previous life: she cuts her hair, burns the her house with her husband’s body, and sets off to find her son. Jenny, a working class London dweller, flees the city after the death of her roommate and the warnings of a kindly doctor. She encounters a range of fellow survivors—from street hooligans to money hoarders waiting for it all to end.
Take-away line/thematic thread:
Dr. Bronson: “The real survivors will be those who will come through what will follow.”
Jenny, Grant, and Abby
Season 1, Episode 2: “Genesis”
Greg Preston, an engineer, arrives from mainland Europe (also devastated by “The Death”) to discover his wife dead. He encounters Anne, an upper class Continue reading
(David A. Hardy’s cover art detail from the September 1974 issue of Galaxy)
I am not a collector. “But Joachim Boaz you post recent purchases all the time!” Let me revise: I am a reader who procures a lot of science fiction novels, collections, and anthologies that I may never read. As a general rule, I only buy science fiction that I want to read. There’s a logic behind the handful of duplicate copies I own—for example, both the 1952 and the 1969 editions of Wilson Tucker’s fantastic The Long Loud Silence (1952) grace my shelf. Editors sliced and diced the 1st edition and Tucker Continue reading
(Uncredited cover for the 1969 edition)
4.5/5 (Very Good)
“[He] maintained that it was in fact essential to conceal what could be concealed; indeed, an inspired lie could be preferred to a malignant truth” (24).
Sven Holm’s Termush (1967, trans. 1969) depicts, with stark minimalism, the psychological state of wealthy survivors holed up in a hotel shelter after an apocalyptic nuclear event. This brief work, a mere 110 pages, is not an adventure story. It is not an exercise in nightmarish brutality like The Road (2006) or an account of humanity’s turn towards evil as the gauze of “civilization” falls away like The Death of Grass(1956).
Rather, Sven Holm (1940-2019) (SF Encyclopedia entry), a Danish author of mainstream literature, delves into the psyche of the survivors, their isolation and inability to grasp the immensity of the changes beyond their walls, and their Continue reading
(Detail from Bob Haberfield’s cover for the 1973 edition)
4.25/5 (Very Good)
In the Star Trek: Voyager episode “One” (1998), Seven of Nine, unaffected by a nebula’s subatomic radiation, must care for the crew while they’re placed in stasis. Alone on the ship, Seven experiences the prolonged effects of isolation including disturbing dreams and hallucinations. Ever since I saw “One” as a child, I’ve become fascinated with the strategies that humans might use in space to cope with isolation and the rituals they might enact to preserve sanity. Michael Moorcock and Hilary Bailey’s The Black Corridor (1969) (see note below), explores Continue reading