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.
Richard McKenna (1913-1964) spent the majority of his adult career (1931-1953) “not very happily” in the US Navy. He was forced to leave college and join the service due to his lack of opportunities in rural Idaho during the Great Depression. Many of his science fiction stories explore the homosocial world of the military–the comradery through shared trauma and battle, the corrosive effect on those who struggle to fit in, and the destructive culture of machoism. After his military service, he enrolled at the University of North Carolina in English. Only a handful of SF short stories appeared during his lifetime, the majority were published posthumously. McKenna considered SF to be his “training ground” before a planned career in mainstream literature. Right before his early death in 1964, he hit it big with the non-SF novel The Sand Pebbles (1962), which was turned into a famous 1966 movie by the same name.
Recently reminded of Fritz Leiber’s beautiful story “A Pail of Air” (1951) which I reviewed a few years ago in the eponymous collection, I was delighted to come across another one of his short story collections. Thankfully, no Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories are in sight. And of course, another Richard Powers cover…
On twitter I mentioned my ignorance regarding the work of Isidore Haiblum, the author of the “the first Yiddish SF novel” according to the blurb on The Tsaddik of the Seven Wonders (1971). I have not come across a copy of that particular novel yet, but, another even lesser known quantity joins the books arrayed in piles across my library.
Orbit 3 contains both masterpieces (by Gene Wolfe and Kate Wilhelm) and complete duds (by Doris Pitkin Buck and Philip José Farmer). Damon Knight’s willingness to select a range of known and lesser known authors creates an enjoyable and unpredictable reading experience—but, most of the greats are on their game in this collection, other than Farmer who puts in a lazy shift… Contains two Nebula award winners: Wilson’s problematic “Mother to the World” (novelette) and Kate Wilhem’s “The Planners” (short story). The former was also nominated for a Hugo.
Recommended for fans of 60s SF of the experimental bent. Do not let the collated rating sway you—there are some great stories behind the Paul Lehr Continue reading →
While in Scotland a few weeks ago I could not help but peek into a few used book stores! As an American, I am intimately acquainted with the common US publishers (Ballantine + Signet + Avon + et al) but do not own very many 70s/80s UK editions (Pan + Grenada + Panther, etc). Thus, there was something special about snatching a copy of Best SF Stories from New Worlds 8 (1974) as it was one of the few in the series never published in the US…
Enjoy the cover art!
[I am not sure what to make of the Jim Burns’ cover… I have the feeling that it appeared on Good Show Sir a while back]
[If you are in Edinburgh and want new SF/F stop by Transreal Fiction—and talk to the owner Mike!]
Damon Knight’s Orbit anthology series ran from 1966-1976. A while back I reviewed Orbit 8 (1970)–which contained the brilliant Gardner Dozois “Horse of Air” (1970 and a selection of intriguing Wolfe and Lafferty short stories—and was impressed enough to snatch up a copy of Orbit 1 (1966). And it is graced with a Richard Powers cover I had not seen…
Orbit 1 contains nine short works (with four by women authors) and maintains solid quality throughout. None of the stories—other than Sonya Dorman’s dark and terrifying “Slice of Life”—are masterpieces but Keith Roberts, Kate Wilhelm, Richard McKenna, James Blish, and Thomas M. Disch Continue reading →