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.
Which books/covers/authors intrigue you? Which have you read? Disliked? Enjoyed?
1. Barefoot In the Head, Brian W. Adliss (1969)
From the back cover: “AFTER THE ACID WAR…. Rising from the dust and ashes of a Europe still reeling from the effects of the great Acid War comes Colin Charteris, a futuristic Don Quixote riding the mechanized brontosaurus of the times.
Charteris tries desperately to make sense of the drugged, chaotic world he lives in, and finds himself hailed as the new Messiah. Stranger still, Charteris himself comes to believe this.
His adventures as he tries to save the world from its insanity are brilliantly told, a satiric science fiction comment on the future of mankind.”
Ever since I read Judith Merril’s “Daughters of Earth” (1952), I’ve been fascinated by her subversive takes 1950s-60s gender roles and classic SF tropes. Survival Ship and Other Stories (1974) contains twelve short stories and a never-before-published poem selected by the author.
In addition to the merits of the tales within, I found Merril’s brief reflections on her early work fascinating. For example, she ruminates on the failure of her planned novel based on the generation ship launched by The Matriarchy in “Survival Ship” (1951), “Wish Upon a Star” (1958), and “The Lonely” (1963). She also describes a magazine “cover story” commission. The author would be provided with the cover art and asked to write a story containing its elements! The following three in this Continue reading →
1. I have yet to read any of Jack Dann’s SF — this surreal (?) post-apocalyptical novel looks promising! And a strange Jim Burns cover to boot…
2. I recently reviewed Judith Merril’s “Wish Upon a Star” (1958) for my generation ship short story read-through (i’ll have a new installment soon). I decided to track down another one of her short fiction collections….
3. The title of Anne McCaffrey’s collection Get Off the Unicorn (1977) was derived from a humorous misprint. According to the collection’s introduction: “The title was derived by accident: McCaffrey’s working title had been “Get of the Unicorn” but this was misprinted as “Get Off the Unicorn” in Ballantine’s roster of unfilled contracts. After McCaffrey’s editor, Judy-Lynn del Rey, was repeatedly asked what “Get Off the Unicorn” was, del Rey asked McCaffrey what she could do about that theme.”
The collection itself contains a wide-range of her short fictions—from the Pern sequence (a childhood favorite) to the earliest story in the Catteni Sequence. I DEVOURED Freedom’s Landing (1995), Freedom’s Choice (1997), Freedom’s Challenge (1998), and Freedom’s Randsom (2002) as a kid! How to survive and thrive on an alien planet was my “go-to” SF device.
4. I’ve only read a handful of John Shirley’s short stories. It’s time for a novel. Eclipse (1985), set in a future a cyberpunk dystopia, tells the tale of anti-fascist resistance. We shall see!
Let me know what you think of the books and covers in the comments!
Preliminary note: This is the third post in a series of vintage generation ship short fiction reviews. All of the stories I’ll review are available online. 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!
(Ed Emshwiller’s cover for the December 1958 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, ed. Robert P. Mills)
In Judith Merril’s “Daughters of Earth” (1952), she refashions the classic pulp SF tale of male exploration of the galaxy by tracing, in biblical fashion, one family of female explorers. In “Wish Upon A Star” (1958), Merril reworks another trope—the male hero on a generation ship who discovers the true Continue reading →
I must confess, I generally skip the introductions to anthologies—even if they are written by my favorite authors who happen to be notable anthologists (Judith Merril, Robert Silverberg, Barry N. Malzberg, etc.). While paging through various collections hunting for stories, I encountered Judith Merril’s micro-introduction to her famous New Wave anthology England Swings SF (1968). Here’s a list of the contents.
Although it is spread across three pages, it is only a few lines of text–a poetic beckoning, itself a condensed version of what the New Wave embodied. Merril’s intro as poem demonstrates literary invention, the blend of old (“scout ship”) and new (“heading out of sight into the multiplex mystery of inner/outer space”) images, and references to both high (“surrealism) and pop culture (“Beatles”). Continue reading →
1) What a bonkers cover from Carol Inouye (her only credited piece according to The Internet Speculative Fiction Database)! I do not have high hopes for the novel. T. L. Sherred published little SF in his career–he was a technical writer for the Detroit auto industry. Clute over at SF Encyclopediadescribes Alien Island (1970) as “comic but fundamentally melancholy.”
2) Another SF novel from Aldous Huxley. I’ve wanted a copy of Ape and Essence (1948) for a long time. I’ve always preferred Brave New World (1931) to both Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) and Yvengy Zamyatin’s We (1921). Excited! Thoughts?
3) A wide-ranging SF anthology from Judith Merril. I am especially interested in reading her intro… and Ward Moore’s “The Fellow Who Married the Maxill Girl” (1960) as Admiral.Ironbombs has been reviewing and enjoying a lot of his work as of late: Bring the Jubilee (1953), “Lot” (1953), and “Lot’s Daughter” (1954).
4) A Jack Vance fix-up novel/short story collection containing seven additional stories in the Dying Earth sequence. Confession time: I read half of the stories in The Dying Earth (1950) recently and could not finish it. There was a certain half-hearted attempt to create a future mythology that slips all too easily into bland fantasy mode. Conflicted.
As always, thoughts and comments are welcome.
Note: I’ve finally settled on a new look for my site. There are a few minor issues (not showing comment numbers at the top of the post etc.) but I think the look is more professional and focuses on showcasing content.
1. Alien Island, T. L. Sherred (1970)
(Carol Inouye’s cover for the 1970 edition of Alien Island (1970), T. L. Sherred) Continue reading →
(Cover for the 1960 edition of Out of Silent Planet (1938), C. S. Lewis)
Art Sussman produced a remarkable corpus of SF and other pulp covers (mysteries, crime, etc). He could easily shift gears between Richard Powers-esque surrealism—although distinctly his own take—to covers that suited an Agatha Christie mystery (browse the range here). I would be wary comparing him to Powers until you skim through the latter’s late 50s early 60s art (definitely an enjoyable activity!). Although Powers is still far superior, both were part of the SF art movement increasingly experimented with surreal/metaphoric and experimental art (there are still spaceships lurking around the edges, and futuristic cities, and other pulpy moments).
There is a precision of vision with Sussman’s art—his cover for the 1960 edition of Out of Silent Planet (1938), C. S. Lewis places the astronauts in an outline of a vessel with strange hints at alien planets and experiences scattered gem-like in the distance. Sussman’s focus on the human form — often surrounded by surreal forms and humanlike membranes — showcases agony and despair. A great example (and my favorite of the bunch) pairs jagged black fields with a bloodied man, the 1960 Continue reading →
1) Lafferty collections are notoriously hard to find and tend to be on the expensive side—at least for 60s/70s paperbacks. I’ve already read two or three stories in the one below in different anthologies over the years—I remember “Continued on Next Rock” (1970) most clearly. The Jack Gaughan cover evokes the sheer oddness of Lafferty’s visions. Does it illustrate a story in the collection?
2) Readers have spoken highly of this particular Leiber novel. So I found a copy… not cheap. Alas. See, I sometimes listen to suggestions!
3) I always buy Soviet SF collections. The editor is uncredited but Judith Merril provides a five page introduction I’m eager to read. Maybe she’s the editor? EDIT: According to The Internet Speculative Fiction Database, Judith Merril holds the copyright — indicating that she is the uncredited editor.
4) My first Olaf Stapledon. Someone whose influence I’ve read widely about and been aware of for years. It’s about time I added a few of his works to my collection. I love Paul Klee, but not the art used for the Penguin cover! (In the Land of the Precious Stone, 1929).
All images are scans from my own collection (click image to zoom).