Updates: My 2021 in Review (Best SF Novels, Best SF Short Fiction, and Bonus Categories)

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.

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Short Story Review: Theodore Sturgeon’s “Memorial” (1946)

I recently finished David Dowling’s Fictions of Nuclear Disaster (1987) and thought I’d review a handful of the short stories discussed in the monograph. The first on my list is Theodore Sturgeon’s haunting “Memorial” which first appeared in the April 1946 issue of Astounding Science Fiction, ed. John W. Campbell, Jr. You can read it online here.


“Memorial” (1946), Theodore Sturgeon, 4/5 (Good): Grenfell has a plan to create a war memorial to end all memorials—The Pit. It will writhe with lava. It will shine forth with a ghastly glow. Created by nuclear explosion a thousand times as powerful as the Hiroshima bomb (161). Like some grotesque manifestation of the Darvaza gas crater, it will be a “living reminder of the devastation mankind has prepared for itself” (161). And the message will be the most “useful thing in the history of the race—a never-ending sermon, a warning, an example of the dreadful” possibilities of nuclear war (161).

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Book Review: First Step Outward, ed. Robert Hoskins (1969) (Asimov, Silverberg, Sturgeon, Heinlein, et al.)

3.25/5 (collated rating: Vaguely Good)

Published a few months before the Apollo 11 mission to the moon, Robert Hoskins’ anthology First Step Outward (1969) charts an imagined future history of humanity’s exploration of the galaxy. The stories, gathered from some of the big names of the day (Robert Heinlein, Robert Silverberg, Theodore Sturgeon, Isaac Asimov, Poul Anderson, etc.), are grouped as if part of the same future with headings such as “To the Planets” and “To the Stars.” As with most anthologies, this contains a range of gems (such as Sturgeon’s “The Man Who Lost the Sea”) and duds (Ross Rocklynne’s “Jaywalker”).

I’ve previously reviewed five of the thirteen stories in their own posts–linked for easy consultation.

Brief Plot Summary/Analysis

“Cold War” (1949), Kris Neville, 3/5 (Average): Previously reviewed in its own post here.

“Third Stage” (1963), Poul Anderson, 3.5/5 (Good): Previously reviewed in its own post here.

“Gentlemen, Be Seated!” (1948), Robert A. Heinlein, 2.75/5 (Vaguely Average): My first return to Robert A. Heinlein in around a decade is exactly like I thought it would be–thoroughly disappointing. Yes, yes, yes, I know this is far from what he was capable of. The number of reprints this misfire of a story receives mystifies (it appeared in the regularly reprinted The Green Hills of Earth and The Past Through Tomorrow).

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Short Story Review: Theodore Sturgeon’s “The Man Who Lost the Sea” (1959)

The following review was originally conceived as the fifth post in my series on “SF short stories that are critical in some capacity of space agencies, astronauts, and the culture which produced them.” However, it does not fit. It is a spectacular evocation of memory and triumph and worth the read.

Thank you Mark Pontin, “Friend of the Site,” for bringing it to my attention.

Today: Theodore Sturgeon’s “The Man Who Lost the Sea” (1959) in the October 1959 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, ed. Robert P. Mills. You can read the story online here.

Previously: Katherine MacLean’s “Echo,” in Infinity One (1970), ed. Robert Hoskins. Available online here.

Up next: Theodore L. Thomas’ “Broken Tool” (1959) in the July 1959 issue of Astounding Science Fiction, ed. John W. Campbell, Jr. You can read the story online here.

Uncredited cover for the 1st edition of Alpha 8 (1977)

5/5 (Masterpiece)

Theodore Sturgeon’s “The Man Who Lost the Sea” (1959), nominated for the 1960 Hugo Award for Best Short Story, thrusts the reader into a seemingly delusional landscape, generated by extreme trauma, of narrative fragments. One thread follows a child as he presents increasingly complex toy Continue reading

Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CXCVIII “Christmas Edition” (An Atlas of Fantasy + Sturgeon + Jeter + Berriault)

1. One of two SF/F gifts (not specifically for Christmas — but let’s pretend!) I’ve included in this post…. Due to my recent series on Maps and Diagrams in Science Fiction, a reader and fan of the site sent me his extra copy of J.B. Post’s An Atlas of Fantasy (1973)–which includes some SF maps as well. Thank you!

2. The second gift—I’ve been spacing a giant pile of vintage SF I received from a family friend out over many months! Sturgeon sometimes intrigues, and sometimes infuriates—hopefully there will be more of the former in this collection. No stories in the vein of “The Hurkle Is a Happy Beast” (1949) please.

3. Dr. Adder, K. W. Jeter’s infamous “couldn’t be published when it was written” novel that might have defined “cyberpunk” long before Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984). I have the Bluejay Books 1st edition with lots of evocative (and disturbing) interior art.

4. And finally, a completely unknown quantity from an author I’d never heard of–Gina Berriault. Promises to be a Cold War satire of impending nuclear destruction. And it has a History professor as a main character! (i.e. maybe a 1960s version of me? we shall see).

Enjoy!

Happy Holidays!

And let me know in the comments if you receive any SF/fantasy Christmas gifts.

~

1. An Atlas of Fantasy, J. B. Post (1973)

(Uncredited cover for the 1979 edition) Continue reading

Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CXCII (Sturgeon + Turner + Schenck + Best of 1973 Anthology)

1. I seldom buy duplicate editions. I originally read Sturgeon’s masterpiece as a teen and I’m unsure where my original 70s edition with a Bob Pepper cover ran off to…. And this perfect condition 1960 edition has glorious Richard Powers art!

2. George Turner—an author I know next to nothing about. I’ve already read 75 pages of his first novel and am absolutely entranced.

3. Hilbert Schenck—another author who is new to me. He published primarily in the early 80s and snagged a few Nebula nominations for his short fiction. His second novel proved to be a dud (I’ll have a review up soon).

4. Why are you buying another Donald A. Wollheim Best Of collection when you’re firmly in the Terry Carr camp of Best Of anthologies? Good question.

That said, I recently reviewed The 1972 Annual World’s Best SF (1972) and it was solid.

Note 1: All images are hi-res scans of my personal copies — click to expand.

Note 2: A diligent Twitter follower indicated that the 1984 edition cover of the Turner novel is Tony Roberts’ work.

Thoughts? Comments? Tangents? All are welcome.

_

1. More than Human, Theodore Sturgeon (1953)

(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1960 edition) Continue reading

Book Review: The 1972 Annual World’s Best SF, ed. Donald A. Wollheim (1972)

(John Schoenherr’s cover for the 1972 edition)

3.5/5 (collated rating: Good)

The 1972 Annual World’s Best SF, ed. Donald A. Wollheim (1972) doesn’t feel like a “best of” collection. The majority of the contents are unspectacular space operas and hard SF in the Analog vein. Amongst the chaff, a few more inventive visions shined through—in particular, Joanna Russ’ mysteriously gauzy and stylized experiment replete with twins and dream machines; Michael G. Coney’s evocative overpopulation story about tourist robots; Christopher Priest’s “factual” recounting of human experimental subjects that isn’t factual at all; and Barry Malzberg’s brief almost flash piece about differing perspectives all tied together by the New York metro.

On the whole, I give it a solid recommendation although the best can be found in single-author collections.

Brief Analysis/Summary

“The Fourth Profession” (1971), novelette by Larry Niven, 3/5 (Average): Nominated for the 1972 Continue reading

Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CLXXXII (The Anthology Edition) (Best SF Stories from New Worlds 5, Orbit 6, Alpha 3, Best SF 1972)

Little pleases me more than reading the fascinating cross-section of the genre presented by anthologies from my favorite era of SF (1960s/70s). After the success that was World’s Best Science Fiction: 1967 (variant title: World’s Best Science Fiction: Third Series) (1967), ed. Donald A. Wollheim and Terry Carr, I decided to browse my “to post” pile of recent acquisitions and share a handful with you all. As is often the case, the collections are peppered with stories I’ve already read—I’ve linked the relevant reviews.

Filled with authors I haven’t read yet—Stephen Tall, Robin Scott, Roderick Thorp, Jean Cox, Christopher Finch, etc.

…and of course, many of my favorites including Gene Wolfe, Ursula Le Guin, Barry N. Malzberg, and Kate Wilhelm (among many many others).

Scans are from my collection.

1. The 1972 Annual World’s Best SF, ed. Donald A. Wollheim (1972)

(John Schoenherr’s cover for the 1972 edition) Continue reading

Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CLXXXI (Harrison + Sturgeon + Moorcock + Buzzati)

1) Early Elric stories from Michael Moorcock’s pen. Confession: I bought it in Scotland due to the disquieting cover rather than any love of heroic fantasy—albeit M. John Harrison’s The Pastel City (1971) was pretty darn good.

The fantastic cover is uncredited: thoughts regarding the artist?

2) I adored Dino Buzzati’s magical realist novel The Tartar Steppe (1940). And the movie adaptation The Desert of the Tartars, dir. Valerio Zurlini (1976) inspired by the aesthetics of Giorgio de Chirico —I even wrote a half-baked and cursory review of the movie many years ago. While browsing I discovered that Buzzati wrote what is considered the first serious Italian SF novel—Larger than Life (1960). I can’t wait to read it!

3) More Theodore Sturgeon short stories….

Relevant reviews: A Way Home (1956), The Cosmic Rape (1958) and Venus Plus X (1960).

4) A while back I watched, and struggled to enjoy, the 1975 film adaptation of William Harrison’s short story “Roller Ball Murder” (1973). Time to read the source material. Copy snagged in Edinburgh, Scotland.

As always, I look forward to your thoughts.

1. The Stealer of Souls, Michael Moorcock (1963)

(Uncredited cover for the 1968 edition) Continue reading