Which books/covers/authors intrigue you? Which have you read? Disliked? Enjoyed?
1. Japan Sinks!, Sakyo Komatsu (1973; trans. by Michael Gallagher, 1976)
From the back cover: “WORST DISASTER IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD!
A FISSURE in a wall–a land survey mysteriously out of true–a small island disappearing overnight–and one of the worst disaster in the history of the world is born. Only one man suspects the truth, but his theory is so unprecedented, his predications so horrifying that even his fellow scientists ignore him.
Then a series of devastating earthquakes strikes, and suddenly the authorities are prepared to listen. But time is short and as they frantically try to ward off the disaster the crust of the earth begins to shift…”
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.
It’s time for the fifth post in my series exploring Carol Emshwiller’s science fiction and fantasy–published between 1955-1979 in genre magazines–in chronological order. And if you missed earlier installments, check out Part I, II, III, and IV.
We have a beach vacation in the post-apocalypse, a gorgeous fable of a housewife struggling to chart her path, and the travails of a crashed astronaut and his cat on a planet of religious fanatics. In this installment, I wrap up her stories published in the 1950s and move into the 1960s. Emshwiller published only 12 stories in the 1960s with a publication gap between 1961-1966 while she managed 13 between 1955-1959. In the previous post, Rich Horton and Expendable Mudge speculated that it was due to the birth of her son in 1959.
I’ve listed by rating all of her 50s stories. If you’d like me to write up my thoughts overall on her 50s visions in a more analytical manner (a short essay?), let me know in the comments.
“Day at the Beach” in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (August 1959), ed. Robert P. Mills. 4.5/5 (Very Good). You can read it online here. Like “Pelt” (1958), this wonderful story has been frequently anthologized. I read it in The Year’s Best S-F: 5th Annual edition (1960), ed. Judith Merril. At first glance “Day at the Beach” reaffirms the power of family in the face of a cataclysmic event as a mother and father slowly accept changes brought on by atomic mutation. Or, there’s a more sinister reading where the family unit creates a delusional bubble that obfuscates the real horror outside (and inside) their home.
I’ve hit gold! Robotic nurses with adult “children.” A blind girl possessed by second sight. And a dog who cannot understand freedom. Here’s the fourth post in my series exploring Carol Emshwiller’s science fiction and fantasy–published between 1955-1979 in genre magazines–in chronological order. And if you missed earlier installments, check out Part I, II, and III.
In this installment, I have the first that I can confidently declare a 1950s masterpiece–“Pelt” (1958). If you want to participate in my explorations, links to the stories can be found below.
“Baby” in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (February 1958), ed. Anthony Boucher. 4/5 (Good). You can read it online here.
Raised by a robotic nurse, Baby, “six feet tall, lean, [with] the look of a hungry hunting animal,” encounters a slowly decaying world unable to provide his needs (115). Baby’s simulacra parent, and to a lesser degree Rob the repair robot, parrot the language, actions, and intentions of humans. He detects an emptiness to the space behind their words and increasing inability to explain the mechanical breakdowns that are never fixed. Saying “please” no longer works (116) but rather makes him angry. Nurse, with her “soft mother-arms” and “specially built place at her breast,” continues to follow her programming and treat Baby as if he were a child (118).
Here is another post in my series exploring Carol Emshwiller’s science fiction and fantasy–published between 1955-1979 in genre magazines–in chronological order. And if you missed earlier installments, check out Part I and II.
I found Emshwiller’s next three science fiction stories, including the first in her new long-term home The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, polished fables utilizing standard genre tropes (alien mating rituals, a mysterious stranger, etc.) to highlight humanity’s encounter with itself in idiosyncratic and grim ways.
However, this batch presents a bit of a lull in overall quality. These are probably only recommended for Emshwiller completists like myself or fans of off-kilter 50s parables. The next post will contain one of her best known works of the 50s–“Pelt” (1958). I look forward to Part IV.
For those curious why I am conducting this series, check out my review of the intense power that is “Animal” (1968) (the best story of hers I’ve read so far).
“The Coming” in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (May 1957), ed. Anthony Boucher. 3.5/5 (Good). You can read it online here.
A mysterious stranger, “stick thin, and he walked as as scarecrow might walk” (102), comes into town like someone in a trance, his “lips parted, eyes half closed, head thrown back” (102). On cue, a young girl named Nina with her homework spread before her, slips into the same trance-like state. Her mom threatens “if you don’t keep your mind on your work you’ll be set back again this year” (103). But something about the stranger, the unknown, and the other world in which he seems to inhabit free from all care or obligation beckons.
Here are the next three stories of my series exploring Carol Emshwiller’s short stories (published between 1955-1979) in chronological order. And if you missed it, Part I contained her first three stories.
Emshwiller’s next three science fiction stories, all published by Robert A. E. Lowndes, are polished fables utilizing standard genre tropes (alien possession, humans abducted by aliens, etc.) to highlight humanity’s encounter with itself in idiosyncratic and grim ways. I am particularly entranced by the stories told from a non-human perspective. This distancing effect allows Emshwiller to play with tone (“Bingo and Bongo”) and spin macabre horror (“Nightmare Call”).
While lacking the intense power of “Animal” (1968) (the best story of hers I’ve read so far), all three are worth the read for fans of clever weirdness.
“Bingo and Bongo” (1956), 3.5/5 (Good): First appeared in Future Science Fiction, #31 (Winter 1956-1957), ed. Robert W. Lowndes. You can read it online here. In William Tenn’s Of Men and Monsters(1968) and F. M. Busby’s Cage a Man(1973), humans are imprisoned like lab rats by distant and truly alien aliens. The captives learn just enough about their world and captors in order to escape. Emshwiller brilliantly inverts the perspective. “Bingo and Bongo” is told from the perspective of an alien, a “Mother-Father-Aunt” entity with children, who believes humans are little more than non-sentient pets. The Mother-Father-Aunt’s progeny want new humans after the unfortunate death of their last in an escape attempt (they didn’t want to pay the money to have him professionally healed).
I have decided to do something I have never done before–read a contiguous chunk of an author’s work in chronological order. “Philip K. Dick? Robert A. Heinlein?” you might ask. “No! You know me….” I respond [in jest]. I have chosen to chart Carol Emshwiller’s short stories published in genre magazines and anthologies between 1955 and 1979. SF Encyclopedia conveys my fascination best: “In her hands, sf conventions became models of our deep estrangement from ourselves.” Of the two short stories of hers I’ve read–“Animal” (1968) and “Lib” (1968)–the former, an unnerving fable of the sexualized “Other” whose exclusion reinforces a community’s self-identity and cohesion, resides in my mind like a luminescent beacon. And I have finally latched on to its ever-present light.
If you are interested in all of Emshwiller’s short stories, check out Nonstop Press’ 2011 (vol. 1) and 2016 (vol. 2) omnibus release which includes those in non-SFF genre magazines. Here’s an example of what I am cutting: while her first published short story “Built for Pleasure” was SF, it only appeared in Long Island Suburban (November 1954) before the omnibus. Instead, I will start with 1955’s “This Thing Called Love” in Future Science Fiction,#28, ed. Robert A. W. Lowndes.
As I’ve only scratched the surface of Emshwiller’s output and can’t adequately summarize her work (I hope to by the end of this project), here’s the blurb from the Nonstop edition:
“Crossing the boundaries between fabulist literature, science fiction, and magical realism, the stories in this collection offer a valuable glimpse into the evolution of Carol Emshwiller’s ideas and style during her more than 50-year career. Influenced by J. G. Ballard, Steven Millhauser, Philip K. Dick, and Lydia Davis, Emshwiller has a range of works that is impressive and demonstrates her refusal to be labeled or to stick to one genre. This exhilarating new collection marks the first time many of the early stories have been published in book form and is evidence of the genius of Emshwiller, one of America’s most versatile and imaginative authors.”
This series will happen concurrently with the other short story reading exploration I am conducting and other reviews I have planned. Caveat: like my attempt to watch and reviewSurvivors (1975-1977), this series could stop after three posts or take five years. I am a reader of whim.
Her next three published short stories can be found in Part II.
“This Thing Called Love” (1955), 3.5/5 (Good). First appeared in Future Science Fiction,#28 (1955), ed. Robert A. W. Lowndes. You can read the story online here.
Welcome to a postmodern museum of disordered landscapes. J. G. Ballard paints a cratered England as a new Vietnam. Langdon Jones reduces the operation of the world to a series of sculptural machines. Hilary Bailey weaves a dystopic England changed beyond recognition in mere years. M. John Harrison’s characters interact with cardboard cutouts on an imaginary set. And Michael Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius flits between India and Pakistan’s present and past.
1. Few themes make me as excited as dystopic urbanism: the city or suburbia as an arena of all the malignancies of societal decay. The progressive SF symbol of progress, a lake of uplifting spires, tossed into anarchy and chaos….
John Shirley’s City Come A-Walking (1980) takes this premise to its extremes—the city of San Francisco, the “pulsing heart of urbanized madness” gains sentience. Definitely the Shirley novel I’ll read first (recently nabbed Shirley’s 1985 novel Eclipse).
Tarbandu read it and didn’t care for it over at The PorPor Books Blog. I hope my experience is different!
2. Back in 2017, I read and reviewed Carol Emshwiller’s masterful short story “Animal” (1968). It’s about time I read more of her short fictions.
3. I recently read and enjoyed Jacques Sternberg’s collectionFuture Without Future(1971, trans. 1973). He was a Belgian author who wrote in French. Unfortunately, the only other one of his SF works available in English is Sexualis ’95 (1965, trans. 1967). I’m not sure this erotic SF novel has any merit. We shall see.
Too bad his first SF novel La sortie est au fond de l’espace (1956) remains untranslated. Its premise seems like SF I could get behind: “a black comedy set in space and featuring the last human survivors of a bacterial Holocaust” (SF Encyclopedia).
4. Daniel Walther, a French SF author, positions The Book of Shai (1982, trans. C. J. Cherryh, 1984) as a deliberate anti-Ayn Rand novel. Considering the one man saves everything nature of so many post-apocalyptical and sword-and-sorcery adventures, I’m intrigued how it plays out! I don’t have high hopes.
Translated by fellow author C. J. Cherryh, who appeared to translate a bunch of the DAW French editions…. lists of translations should be a feature of her isfdb.org listing — alas.
I also find it humorous that Cherryh gives the sequel, which she also translated, 1 star on Goodreads! The third volume of the trilogy remains untranslated.
1. City Come A-Walking, John Shirley (1980) (MY REVIEW)