Updates: 2016 in Review (best novels + best short stories + best anthologies + notable posts)

Dear readers, thank you all profusely for your comments, words of thanks, and emails over the year. It is my overarching goal to inspire you all to read more SF from the 50s-70s, dust off the boxes of your parents’ books in some forgotten closet, browse the shelves at your local used book store (or favorite online store), reflect on the often fascinating cover art…

2016 was not the most productive reading/reviewing year as my PhD dissertation defense date rapidly approaches. For the purposes of maintaining my sanity, reading and writing about SF remains my primary relaxation hobby—surprising perhaps as I read a lot of depressing SF that wouldn’t be “relaxing” for most people. According to Megan at From Couch to Moon I like my fiction “moody, broody, meta, and twisted.”

And other than a few satires here and there, my favorite SF reads of 2016 fit firmly within Megan’s descriptors.

Thanks again!

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Best novels

  1. The Affirmation, Christopher Priest (1981)
  2. The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (variant title: The War of Dreams), Angela Carter (1972). Review forthcoming 
  3. The Dream Millennium, James White (serialized 1973, novel 1974)
  4. The Committed Men, M. John Harrison (1971)

Continue reading “Updates: 2016 in Review (best novels + best short stories + best anthologies + notable posts)”

Book Review: The Dream Millennium, James White (serialized 1973, novel 1974)

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(John Berkley’s cover for the 1974 edition)

4.75/5 (Very Good)

“The thought of the vast, utterly silent ship stretching away on all sides of his cubicle, guarded and guided by silent computers, was paralyzing his own ability to make sounds […]” (3)

The crew of a seed ship sent to find a new habitable planet dream the same dreams, dreams of unnatural clarity plagued by pain and death.  As a young woman lies dying in her cold cubicle, her final meal at her lips and unaware of her predicament, she whispers to our reluctant hero (Devlin), “All I seem to dream about is being a lady dinosaur” (32).  Devlin’s dreams follow some pseudo-evolutionary schema, first he dreams he’s a trilobite in some Silurian sea crushed by the tentacles of a cephalopod, “he went on feeding while the hot, constant flame of hunger was punctuated by explosions of pain as his appendages were twisted and crushed and torn away […]” (10).  Then he dreams he’s a brontosaurus, and then an early primate…

Periodically, the automated machines that tend the colonists in cold storage awake their charges, “BASIC INSTRUCTIONS. SPEAK. EXERCISE. REMEMBER” (2).  The Continue reading “Book Review: The Dream Millennium, James White (serialized 1973, novel 1974)”

Short SF Book Reviews: If All Else Fails…., Craig Strete (1980), My Petition for More Space, John Hersey (1974), and All Judgement Fled, James White (serialized 1967)

[Preliminary Note: This year saw a massive drop off in the number of reviews I’ve managed to put together due to professional pressures etc.  I wish I had been able to write fuller reviews–especially as much of the SF I read is lesser known and deserves a wider audience.  In some cases, I waited too long to write and thus loss the necessary momentum.  I have ten or so more waiting in the wings–hopefully they will allow me “to catch up” so to speak.]

1. If All Else Fails…, Craig Strete (1980)

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(Margo Herr’s cover for the 1980 edition)

4.75/5 (collated rating: Very Good)

Craig Strete, one of the few Native American SF authors, picked up three Nebula Award nominations for short SF over the 70s and early 80s (“The Bleeding Man” in 1976, “Time Deer” in 1976, and “A Sunday Visit With Great-Grandfather” in 1981 although it was withdrawn).  The first two are in If All Else Fails… (1980).   They are both far from the best of the collection.

Favorites: “All My Statues Have Stone Wings” (1980), “To See the City Sitting on Its Buildings” (1975), and “A Horse of a Different Technicolor” (1975).

The pages reek with despair at the loss of Native American culture ….  The narrator of the “All My Statues” is reminded of his “grandfather who died humming all the songs he had kept silent because there was no one left to sing them” (11).  In “To See the City” the dead try to escape the concrete prisons of the cities that desecrate the holy places: “Buried animal and ground Continue reading “Short SF Book Reviews: If All Else Fails…., Craig Strete (1980), My Petition for More Space, John Hersey (1974), and All Judgement Fled, James White (serialized 1967)”

Adventures in Science Fiction Art: Tentacles and Other Strange Appendages

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(John Schoenherr’s cover for the 1964 edition of Alien Worlds (1964), ed. Roger Elwood)

Michael Whelan’s cover for the 1979 Dutch edition of Greybeard (1964) by Brian W. Aldiss appeared in a collection of SF art Space Wars, Worlds & Weapons (1977).  I remember encountering the collection at a used bookstore, perhaps in Philadelphia when I went to visit my grandparents…  It terrified me for years.  The bizarre metal construct looming over the destroyed world—and most of all, the strange tentacled hands…

…hence, today’s themed art post!

Tentacles and Other Strange Appendages.

 I have a confession:  I am warming to the art of Charles Moll—1974 edition of New Dimensions 3 ed. Continue reading “Adventures in Science Fiction Art: Tentacles and Other Strange Appendages”

Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CXXIII (Zelazny + Sheckley + White + St. Clair)

Here are the rest of the books my fiancé purchased for me while on her vacation from my “to acquire” master list.  I’m having a lot of fun reading White’s All Judgement Fled (1969) so I can’t wait to read The Dream Millennium (1973)—and, who can resist overpopulation themed SF? More Sheckley stories…. always good.  A St. Clair novel and short story collection + more Zelazny.

Have you read any of them? Thoughts?

1. The Dream Millennium, James White (1973)

(John Berkley’s cover for the 1974 edition)

From the back cover: “Earth was a polluted, dying planet.  Violence was rampant and civilization was doomed.  If Man was to survive, John Devlin had to find him a new home somewhere in the galaxy.  He had 1,000 years to look—and 1,000 Continue reading “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CXXIII (Zelazny + Sheckley + White + St. Clair)”

Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CXXI (Zelazny + White + Daventry + Gerrold)

A nice grab bag of used book store finds…  I’m nearing completion of my collection of Zelazny’s pre-1980 novels (I do not own nor really want to read any of his purely fantasy works).  Also, I couldn’t help but pick up David Gerrold’s 1974 Hugo and Nebula Award nominated novel The Man Who Folded Himself (1973) although I have been utterly underwhelmed with his work in the past—for example, Space Skimmer (1972) and Yesterday’s Children (1972).

I also found the first volume of a trilogy by Leonard Daventry—owned only the third one for some reason.  And, who can resist another James White novel.  I desperately want to recreate the joy that was White’s The Watch Below (1966).

Thoughts?

1. Damnation Alley, Roger Zelazny (1969)

(Alan Gutierrez’s cover for the 1984 edition) Continue reading “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CXXI (Zelazny + White + Daventry + Gerrold)”

Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. LXXXI (Vinge + Gerrold + Zelazny + White)

Part 1 of many: Half Price Books in Dallas, TX (the second best bookstore, after Dawn Treader Books in Ann Arbor, MI for SF I have ever come across).  Gift card courtesy of fiancé’s mother = LOTS OF SCIENCE FICTION.  There could not be a better gift….

Everyone reads Robert Zelazny’s This Immortal (1966) and Lord of Light (1967), but who has read Isle of the Dead (1969)?  Thematically it seems similar to Lord of Light…  I have high hopes.  James White’s SF is always above average — and a fund cover from Dean Ellis makes that an auto-buy.  Although I disliked David Gerrold’s Space Skimmer (1972) my father swears Yesterday’s Children (1972) is somewhat readable.

I enjoyed Joan D. Vinge’s The Summer Queen (1980), tolerated her first novel The Outcasts of Heaven Belt (1978), so I suspect her two novella collection Fireship (1978) will be worthwhile…

Thoughts?

1. Isle of the Dead, Robert Zelazny (1969)

(Leo and Dianne Dillon’s cover for the 1969 edition) Continue reading “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. LXXXI (Vinge + Gerrold + Zelazny + White)”

Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. LXVII (Simak, Clement, Bradley, White)

I just came back from more than a month in Paris where I was rather sci-fi deprived so I headed immediately (well, not literally) to the local used bookstore.  A nice collection of novels from some of the genre’s greats — Hal Clement, James White, Clifford D. Simak, and Marion Zimmer Bradley.  I’ve not read any of Bradley’s novels and I’ve heard that Darkover Landfall (1972) is probably the place to start.

And I’ve enjoyed James White’s work so far.  Clement isn’t exactly my cup of tea but it might be good to read another one of his novels before I come to a conclusion.

And some fun Paul Lehr covers…

1. Lifeboat (variant title: Inferno), James White (1972)

(John Berkey’s cover for the 1972 edition) Continue reading “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. LXVII (Simak, Clement, Bradley, White)”

Book Review: The Watch Below, James White (1966)

(Uncredited cover for 1966 Ballantine edition)

4/5 (Good)

James White, famous for his Sector General series, spins a disturbing tale of two isolated and decaying societies — one alien, one human.  Without doubt the work demands a certain suspension of disbelief.  The isolated human society half of the premise comes off as highly artificial/improbably/impossible (and, well, bluntly put, hokey).  I found the alien half of the story line a more “realistic” situation but less emotionally involving as the human half.  White has difficultly meshing the trans-generational nature of both story lines — and the inevitable intersection at the end is predictable, anti-climactic, and dents the great appeal of the central portion of the work.

Lest this dissuade you, White’s dark vision is a transfixing take on the generation ship (literally) — how would a society descended from five individuals evolve for a hundred years trapped Continue reading “Book Review: The Watch Below, James White (1966)”