Updates: My 2020 in Review (Best SF Novels, Best SF Short Fiction, and Bonus Categories)

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

Short Book Reviews: M. John Harrison’s A Storm of Wings (1980), Algis Budrys’ Some Will Not Die (1961, rev. 1978), and William Greenleaf’s The Tartarus Incident (1983)

James Gurney’s cover art detail for the 1st edition of William Greanleef’s The Tartarus Incident (1983)

Note: My read but “waiting to be reviewed pile” is growing. Short rumination/tangents are a way to get through the stack. Stay tuned for more detailed and analytical reviews.

1. A Storm of Wings, M. John Harrison (1980)

Michael Whelan’s cover for the 1982 edition

4.5/5 (Very Good)

A Storm of Wings (1980) is the second volume, after The Pastel City (1971), of the Viriconium sequence. Far more dense and oblique than its predecessor, A Storm of Wings revels in the creation of a surreal urban tapestry–redolent with decay and decadent excess. Two Reborn Men (Fay Glass and Alstath Fulthor) attempt to animate the somnolent city of Viriconium Continue reading

Book Review: The Best SF Stories from New Worlds 6, ed. Michael Moorcock (1970) (stories by J. G. Ballard, Hilary Bailey, Carol Emshwiller, M. John Harrison, et al.)

Paul Lehr’s cover for the 1971 edition

3.75/5 (collated rating: Good)

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.

While there are a few duds, the cream Continue reading

Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CCXX (M. John Harrison + John Christopher + Ian Watson)

1 and 2. As a kid, I read and adored John Christopher’s Tripod Trilogy (1967-1968). Little did I know at the time the quantity of other SF novels—mostly of the post-apocalyptical sort—published over his long career. In 2012 I read,  reviewed, and enjoyed his post-apocalyptical satire The Long Winter (1962). And now, I have both his single most famous “cozy catastrophe” and a lesser known one… with a fantastic cover by Steve Crisp.

3. I now own three of the four volumes in M. John Harrison’s Viriconium sequence (1971-1984)! Here’s volume two. I reviewed and adored The Pastel City (1971).

My other M. John Harrison reviews (he’s a Joachim Boaz favorite):

The Committed Men (1971)

The Centauri Device (1974)

The Machine in Shaft Ten (1975)

4. Ian Watson is a fascinating author. The stories in The Very Slow Time Machine (1979) should be tracked down. I also recommend The Jonah Kit (1975), which I never got around to reviewing…. this acquisition is a lesser known novel in his extensive oeuvre.

Let me know what books/covers intrigue you. Which have you read? Enjoyed? Hated?

~

1. A Wrinkle in the Skin (variant title: The Ragged Edge), John Christopher (1965)

(Steve Crisp’s cover for the 1985 edition) Continue reading

Book Review: New Writings in SF 9, ed. John Carnell (1972) (Harrison + Coney + Sellings + King + et al.)

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(Gene Szafran’s cover for the 1972 edition)

3/5 (collated rating: Average)

An imaginary question I received: “Why do you read anthologies cover to cover?” I love discovering new authors and those I was aware existed but haven’t read—with New Writings in SF 9 (1972) the following fall into this bipartite category: Joseph Green, Paul Corey, Arthur Sellings, Vincent King, R. W. Mackelworth, and Eddy C. Bertin.

Of the bunch, I will probably only remember Vincent King’s vision of the angst as the exploration of the entire galaxy nears completion… Both authors whom I know far better produce the best of the collection.  Michael G. Coney’s haunting tale of evolutionary dependency and M. John Harrison account of paranoia and guilt over the massacre of mysterious aliens are worth the read. Too bad the three above were never anthologized outside of John Carnell’s New Writings series!

Overall New Writings in SF 9 is superior to New Writings in SF 4 (1965) but probably only satisfying for Coney and Harrison completists….

Note: this title refers to the 1972 US publication which was a best of earlier volumes. Another volume by the same name was published in 1966 in the Continue reading

Adventures in SF Cover Art: Collage and Mechanism: Anita Siegel’s Art for Doubleday Science Fiction

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(Cover for the 1975 edition of The Hellhound (1975), Ron Goulart)

Over the past year or so I’ve explored the artists behind Doubleday Science Fiction—from the early art of The Brothers Quay, who later became well-known directors of experimental short film, to an interview with artist Emanuel Schongut. I’ve included the links to other posts in the loose series below.

Anita Siegel (1939-2011) was a Brooklyn based artist best known for her “sardonic collages seamlessly combining pictures into biting satires” (from her obituary). Her work also featured in the New York Times Op-Ed page (especially during Continue reading

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: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CLXVI (Saxton + Harrison + Whiteley + New Worlds Anthology)

Procuring SF paperbacks never gets old! I have started scanning in the covers (two of the four below) in order to provide higher quality images (click to zoom)— especially if they are hard to find images online and/or I find them aesthetically pleasing (Powers + Lehr in this post).

Let me know if the change is worth it!

Book rundown:

Josephine Saxton: Despite reading The Hieros Gamos of Sam and An Smith (1969) years ago, my mind still traces the imprint of its strange ritualistic beauty . Her short fiction was published in a range of SF magazines and collections from 1965 to 1992.  I have tracked down a copy of her first collection. Despite its 1985 publication date, eight of the fourteen stories were published in the 60s/70s.

Harry Harrison: A “classic” author whose work I need to explore more: I’ve read Deathworld (1960), attempted to read Make Room! Make Room! (1966) and A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah (1972) at least three times, and Lifeship (1976), which he co-wrote with Gordon R. Dickson. I’ve encountered his short fiction here and there and found “By The Falls” (1970) a satisfying New Wave endeavor. Time for more short fiction!

New Worlds Anthology: I want all of them, end of story.

And finally, the selection bound to surprise and confuse my regular readers…. Aliya Whiteley: Despite my various protestations, I have not stopped reading new SF entirely.  And I couldn’t resist finding a copy of Whiteley’s well-received  fungal nightmare…. If you’re curious see Jesse’s review over at Speculiction.

1. Prime Number, Harry Harrison (1970)

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(Paul Lehr’s cover for the 1970 edition) Continue reading

Book Review: The Pastel City, M. John Harrison (1971)

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(Bruce Pennington’s cover for the 1971 edition)

4.25/5 (Very Good)

One of the previous owners of my copy of M. John Harrison’s The Pastel City (1971) must have harbored a pernicious grudge against corroded landscapes and nebulous morals.  So much in fact that they propped up the first volume of the Viriconium sequence against a tree and used it for BB gun target practice. I am still trying to identify the cause of the book’s other wounds… [pictorial evidence below].

As one can expect from Harrison, decadence and decay seeps from the quires of The Pastel City as characters try to create meaning, or grasp hold of half-formed Continue reading