English author Angela Carter (1940-1992) spun postmodern fabulations of decadent futures and decaying urban expanses replete with incisive deconstruction of genre conventions . Her dark, Freudian, and erotic masterpiece The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (1972) ranks amongst my favorite SF 70s visions. From a young age Carter read John Wyndham and, like so many others in the 60s, felt the relentless pull of Michael Moorcock’s New Worlds magazine and the larger New Wave movement: “this lode, this seam of intensely imaginative and exciting fiction” . And, as with her contemporary Emma Tennant, the work of J. G. Ballard–and/or his ability to fill the air with his entropic sadness–spurred her to write post-apocalyptic SF . Heroes & Villains (1969) is the product of her inspiration and “her first tale to engage in a recognizably sf displacement of reality” .
Today I’ve reviewed the seventeenth story in my series on the science fictional media landscape of the future. John Brunner explores how total immersion media, one organ in a vast futuristic fair designed to satiate the masses, can transform fear within the broken.
Previously: John D. MacDonald’s “Spectator Sport” in Thrilling Wonder Stories, ed. Sam Merwin, Jr. (February 1950). You can read it online here.
Alice Eleanor Jones’ “The Happy Clown” in If, ed. James L. Quinn (December 1955). You can read it online here.
4.5/5 (Very Good)
John Brunner’s “Fair” first appeared in New Worlds Science Fiction, ed. John Carnell (March 1956) under the pseudonym Keith Woodcott. You can read it online here. It also appeared in his first collection No Future In It (1962).
I recently devoured Jad Smith’s short monograph John Brunner(2012) in the Modern Masters of Science Fiction series for Illinois University Press. Not only did the book rekindle my desire to tackle more of Brunner’s short fiction but I also bought copies of The Squares of the City (1965) and Quicksand (1967). I might even reread The Shockwave Rider (1975) in the near future. If you are at all interested in John Brunner’s science fiction I recommend acquiring a copy.
Smith identifies “Fair” (1956) as Brunner’s “finest achievement during this [early] period” (Smith 28). I’d rank it right under his spectacular generation ship short story “Lungfish” (1957). As with many of Brunner’s best works, “Fair” had a contested publication history–in this instance John Carnell only accepted it under the pseudonym “Keith Woodcott” to “fill out an issue” (Smith 29). The identity of the consummate wordsmith didn’t last long as Carnell accidentally revealed his identity in next issue when the story came in second in the reader’s poll!
Which books/covers/authors intrigue you? Which have you read? Disliked? Enjoyed?
1. Courtship Rite, Donald Kingsbury (1982)
From the inside flap: “Gaet, Hoemei and Joesai are three clone brothers, survivors of the rigorous and deadly process of nurture and weeding that produces people of high kalothi, people worthy of surviving on the inhospitable planet of Geta. Geta was settled many thousands of years ago by human starships, but only legends of the people’s origins remain, memories that have become myths.
Keith Roberts (1935-2000) was an influential, if underread and underappreciated, English author (and cover artist) best known for his alternate history fix-up novel Pavane (1968) and powerful short fictions evocative of the English countryside. He won four BSFA awards in various categories (novel, short story, and artist) yet did not achieve the same critical success in the United States. According to his obituary, his difficult personality, like his common male main characters unable to form steady professional or personal relationships, and propensity to refuse to deal with major publishers impacted his popularity.
In 2021, I posted Part I of my Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art series on the Atelier Heinrichs & Bachmann. Between 1966 and 1971, they created a kaleidoscopic array of psychedelic visions for the German press Heyne Bücher. I described their art as follows: “Pop surrealism? Lowbrow art? The Andy Warhol effect? However you classify Atelier Heinrichs & Bachmann’s covers […] they’re gleeful and sarcastic.” And despite a few readers who disliked their exuberant/chaotic hilarity (someone described them as the “very nadir in SF cover art”), I stand by my positive assessment. And I bring you Part II of my series!
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)
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.
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!
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.
Along with Octavia E. Butler (1947-2005), Samuel R. Delany (1942-), John M. Faucette (1943-2003), John A. Williams (1925-2015), and Steven Barnes (1952-), Jesse Miller (1946/47-) was one of a handful of African American science fiction authors active in the 1970s (note). I do not have precise birthday information for Jesse Miller or know if he is still alive. I extrapolated the date from a quote in his author blurb in Orbit 16, ed. Damon Knight (1975): “I am black. I am twenty-nine, and I have a good sweet woman, whose name is Jean, and I am slowly going blind.”
Soon after his honorable discharge from the United States Airforce at 21 (after service in Vietnam?), he published four short stories between 1972 and 1979 and then left science fiction altogether. One of a legion of authors first published by the late Ben Bova, he was a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (renamed the Astounding Award) for his first published science fiction story “Pigeon City” (1972). He lost to Spider Robinson and Lisa Tuttle. He wrote his first story (published later in 1975) while in a VA hospital bed. For a bit about his life, his brief experience at SF conferences, reflections on losing the Campbell Award, and various humorous and serious interactions with other authors (he smoked a pernicious strain of weed with Joe Haldeman), check out his article “Obnoxia” (c. 2001). I’ve also included George R. R. Martin’s recollections, as recorded in his intro to “Twilight Lives” (1979), in the review of the story below.
Theodore Sturgeon penned the following about Miller in his intro to New Voices II, ed. George R. R. Martin (1979): “[Miller] has that rather rare gift of writing “there,” of giving the reader the feeling that the writer is on location and not operating on a built-up set. Jesse Miller will go flap-jappering up to a high place or he will disappear.” It’s a loss to the field that the latter happened. Three of the four short stories are worth the read! And “Pigeon City” is a near masterpiece that should be anthologized more widely.
If you happen to know any more about him, please let me know!
Note: I think this is complete but I could be missing someone. Steven Barnes published his first three short stories in the 70s. I know Charles R. Saunders’ early work appeared in 70s genre fanzines. Did he write any SF or was it all sword and sorcery? I considered leaving John A. Williams off this list as he’s known as a mainstream author. His wonderful novel Captain Blackman (1972) could be classified as a speculative fiction involving time-travel (whether or not its entirely metaphorical). Williams’ Sons of Darkness, Sons of Light (1969), which I purchased recently, tells of near-future race violence in New York City. I think he qualifies.
“Pigeon City” (1972), 4.5/5 (Very Good): First appeared in Analog Science Fiction (November 1972), ed. Ben Bova. You can read it online here.
In the 1950s and 1960s, white Americans propelled by racism and economic reasons fled the urban centers for the suburbs. According to Leah Boustan, for every “black arrival, two whites left the central city” in Northern and Western metropolitan areas. An insidious cultural iconography of middle-class white suburbia, replete with lawn and single-family houses, perpetuated inequality and excluded others from the American Dream. In this period, major race riots broke out across the United States–New York City (Harlem Riots, 1964), Los Angeles (Watts Riot, 1965), Newark (1967), and Detroit (1967)–in protest of poverty, racism, and unemployment exacerbated by the departure of businesses from the city centers.