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The Wonder Spyglass - 2




THE WONDER SPYGLASS.
Part 2 - July

Read other issues here

Retrospective Fiction Reviews
This month in the fantastic literature:
going back by 10-year jumps.

Only includes the stories I've read personally. Click on the thumbnails to enlarge cover images.

By now you would've figured out the idea of these "time trips" - to highlight the particular stories throughout SF&F history (all 100 years of it). Each month I will publish (time permitting) SPYGLASS issues, giving selective reviews to stories, collections, original anthologies and novels, choosing out of literally thousands of stories I've read - for example only stories which appeared in a particular month in SF magazines, and taking jumps of 10 years in SF history. This is a way for me to gradually go through stories and fill out the reviews, and a way to get a fun perspective on the genre. It's almost akin to fishing. Here is what came "out of the deeps" for this edition, picking up from 1966 and fishing ever deeper...

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FORTY YEARS AGO: July 1966

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The wonderful age of psychedelia and New Age SF... lets see some groovy fish surface...



J. G. Ballard
"Coming of the Unconscious"

© New Worlds, Jul 1966
The Overloaded Man, 1967 UK
--/ cool article
--/ rare find

O, I loved this article. This discourse on surrealism struck a cord in my heart, made me nostalgic of the avant-garde museums I visited overseas, affirmed my sensibilities of what's "proper and wild" in the self-delusional art of the surrealistic...Many thanks to Good Master.
review: 10-Jul-06 (read in 2006)

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Brian Aldiss
"The O in Jose"
© Cad, Mar 1966
Impulse, Jul 1966

Seasons In Flight, 1984

Sixties era little ditty published first in a men's magazine. Harmless fun, reflective of the era, when SF writers broke into the mainstream...in the form of men's magazines.
review: 10-Jul-06 (read in 1988)

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Robert Bloch
"The Plot Is the Thing"

© F&SF, Jul 1966
The Living Demons, 1967
--short story: 1966 Nebula

Robert Bloch already wrote about the psychedelic music-business scene (see "Groovyland"), and now he tackles the Hollywood scene. That's gotta be one ripe ground for "celluloid people" nightmare story. This one, however, failed to give me the lasting impression.
review: 10-Jul-06 (read in 2006)

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Brian Aldiss
"The Saliva Tree
& Other Strange Growths" (coll)

© Faber & Faber, 1966
--/ fourth place sf collection
--/ wonder award
--/ style award

Of course the lead novella is absolutely gorgeous. Other stories round up the collection, but do not approach it in quality. This collection is worth seeking out for that Lovecraftian-Wellsian "spaced-out" gem that "The Saliva Tree" novella is (a detailed review is forthcoming). If Aldiss have written nothing else but this novella, he'd secure his place in the genre. Respect.
review: 10-Jul-06 (read in 2006)

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Roger Zelazny
"Divine Madness"
© Magazine Of Horror, Sum 1966
The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth, 1971
--/ cool f story

Interesting tale about a man suffering from a condition in which time seems to be moving backwards.
review: 10-Jul-06 (read in 2001)

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Philip Jose Farmer
"The Gate Of Time" (nv)
(also as "Two Hawks From Earth")
© 1966, Belmont Books
Two Hawks From Earth, 1979

An alternative timeline novel. A pilot shot over Romania, discovers that the world in which he landed.. does not have America. The ancestors of the various Native American tribes did not cross the non-existent Bering Strait but wandered westward into Europe, taking place of Slavs. Hmm... makes for an interesting history. The novel is very fast-paced in action but did not leave a lasting impression.
review: 10-Jul-06 (read in 2004)

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Ursula K. Le Guin
"Planet Of Exile" (nv)
(Hainish Series)
© 1966, Ace Books
--/ cool sf novel
--/ style award

Planet of the harsh conditions as a background to the softly-told love story. This novel has charm, even though it is definitely a lesser work. Le Guin's prose in the sixties possessed this warm glow, and sort of fragile beauty that would disintegrate on a critic's close examination of the plot, etc. I would not do it, just hold a nice memory.
review: 11-Jul-06 (read in 1989)

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Samuel R. Delany
"Babel-17" (nv)

© 1966, Ace Books
--novel : 1967 Hugo
--novel : 1967 Nebula W (tie)
--all time novel : 1975 Locus /36 (tie)
--Tiptree short list : 1996 Tiptree
--/ cool sf novel
--/ wonder award
--/ idea award: linguistic weapons


Quite colorful adventure from Delany based on a cool idea (reading it was like enjoying a sweet "pulp story" candy-coating only to discover a hard, unyieding filling inside - what's more, the bitter filling of disputed and - last I heard - discredited linguistics theory). The theory in question is Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (read a good article about it here ) postulating that the language we speak determines our whole psychological and mental layout, and certain thoughts just would not be able to occur to us in certain languages. The novel is centered on a fictional language that denies its speakers independent thought, forcing them to think purely logical thoughts. Such "linguistic weapon" is used in a space war to produce perfect "servants of empire", walking computer programs. Speaking of novel's style, I enjoyed the ground-breaking presentation, but found it a bit emotionally uninvolving, and ultimately (if not for idea) forgettable.
review: 11-Jul-06 (read in 1988)

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Ted White
"Phoenix Prime" (nv)
(based on the story "Phoenix")
(with Marion Zimmer Bradley)
(Qanar series)
© Amazing Stories, Feb 1963
novel: 1966, Lancer Books

A man of super-powers on earth is stripped of all his abilities on an alien planet, and has to negotiate the world by different means. Borderline pulp, but very average - an example of the flood of paperbacks which were meant to replace the pulps, but failed, and still fail (sigh). The book has great cover by Frank Frazetta.
review: 11-Jul-06 (read in 1988)



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FIFTY YEARS AGO: July 1956

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in 1956 the world saw the appearance of "The City and the Stars" - a masterpiece of SF. This story first came out in shorter form -





Arthur C. Clarke
"Against the Fall of Night"
(exp. into "The City And The Stars")
(Against the Fall of Night)
© Startling Stories, Nov 1948
novel: Gnome Press, 1953
--/ FIRST place sf novella
--/ idea award
--/ wonder award
--/ adventure award
--/ awesome scale

This book had the most profound effect on my life. Hardly any other reader would've had such circumstances in which I read it, so my opinion of this book may be biased. This was the FIRST (!) Science Fiction English-language book available to general public in the stores of communist-crazed Russia (in Pan Books edition), this was also the first SF book I read while learning English, so I translated it word-by-word. I have not re-read it since 1984, so my impressions are clouded by the Fog of Time. However, I want it to stay that way - the mystique and glamour of this book is going to recede into eternity, passing the occasional black holes of critique and publishing oblivion, and finally coming to rest in the center of the Galaxy, enigmatic and unbearably bright. (hmm... did I pick up the cosmological language from that novella somewhere along the way?) Getting back to the review: Arthur Clarke's youthful enthusiasm spills over the pages with the most tastefully appointed "coming-of-age" / "end-of-times revelation" kind of story in the history of pulps. Hardly anything approached the intensity of this novella and sheer audacity of scale ever since in the literature, mostly because the pulp constraints dictated the length to be very minimal, and Clarke' concepts had to be concetrated in ... not even a novel! Granted, its been expanded into a novel, and not just once (I have not read Gregory Benford's version as yet) - but as my review of "The City and the Stars" testifies, this singular chunk of "wide-eyed adventure" reads better, perhaps, in a novella form. Brevity is certainly a virtue. Your mind's imagination can expand upon the vista, if you so desire. The IMAX-large narrative consists of "escaping the closed, stagnated" world of the last City, getting on the quest for Universal meaning and uncovering of stupendous artifacts, "urban/pastoral way of life" conflict, and many hints of Something Larger than yourself or your world. Edmond Hamilton might've written it. Brackett might've written it (with less optimism in tone, perhaps). Clarke however did it, with grace and a surprisingly "non-stuffy" style. So read it and weep for the modern sarcastic, skeptical, cynical and cold "masterpieces" littering the shelves in Chapters. Old school still rules.
review: 12-Jul-06 (read in 1984)



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Arthur C. Clarke
"The City and the Stars" (nv)
(exp. of "Against the Fall of Night")
(Against the Fall of Night)
© 1956, Ballantine Books
--all time novel : 1975 Locus /17 (tie)
--all time sf novel : 1987 Locus /32
--sf novel : 1998 Locus /34
--book : 1956 Astounding/Analog All-Time Poll /22 (tie)
--book : 1966 Astounding/Analog All-Time Poll /7
--/ second place sf novel
--/ idea award
--/ wonder award
--/ adventure award
--/ awesome scale

"In this universe the night was falling,the shadows were lengthening towards an east that would not know another dawn. But elsewhere the stars were still young and the light of morning lingered: and along the path he once had followed, man would one day go again." - quote from the book. Here is more: "Like a glowing jewel, the city lay upon the breast of the desert. Once it had known change and alteration, but now Time passed it by. Night and day fled across the desert's face, but in the streets of Diaspar it was always afternoon, and darkness never came." Or this is the blurb from Amazon: "Men had built cities before, but never such a city as Diaspar; for millennia its protective dome shut out the creeping decay and danger of the world outside. Once, it held powers that rules the stars. But then, as legend had it, the invaders came, driving humanity into this last refuge. It takes one man. A Unique to break through Diaspar's stifling inertia, to smash the legend and discover the true nature of the Invaders." Somewhere in the future there is a director, who will make a movie out of this book, but he will fail miserably. You can not render the images that sweep the reader's mind. This novel could perhaps benefit from more fluid style of writing and more polished prose - but it remains the splendid canvas on which your imagination can fly, short, of course, of some Stapledon, Dante, or Tolkien's world-building. Solid second place for Classic SF.
review: 12-Jul-06 (read in 1984)



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Murray Leinster
"Critical Difference"
(also as "Solar Constant")
© Astounding, Jul 1956
Colonial Survey, 1956
The Planet Explorer, 1957
--/ cool sf story

Has an interesting landing grid technology and a very clever solution to the problem facing the colony planet. Generally a good story, competently written, but does not linger long in memory.
review: 12-Jul-06 (read in 1996)

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James Blish
"Tomb Tapper"
© Astounding, Jul 1956
Galactic Cluster, 1959
--/ second place apocalyptic sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ idea award
--/ style award
--/ emotion award
--/ shock value
--/ rare find

A blistering, furious apocalyptic story that is going to haunt you all your life, if you really let it into your brain. Possibly the most frightening, and ingenious Cold War creation about "limited" nuclear conflict and its wild consequences, especially for the roles of children. Needless to say, I did not expect this from Blish, who is usually a very reserved and "proper" writer, happy to explore scholarly possibilities and conventional venues. But, my goodness, does he ever let loose here. Do yourself a favour and put your hair on end with this one.
review: 12-Jul-06 (read in 2002)

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James Blish
"Art-Work"
(also as "A Work of Art")
©  Science Fiction Stories, Jul 1956
Galactic Cluster, 1959
--/ cool sf story

Richard Strauss finds himself "resurrected" in a different body in 2161 and is asked to write a new opera. He tries his best, but can not escape his own creative conundrums and basically repeats his old works. The people in the future still appreciate what he's done, only because... they most pathetically do not have a clue - and do not much care either way. In some respect this is a sad tale.
review: 10-Jul-06 (read in 1983)

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Isaac Asimov
"The Dying Night"
(Wendell Urth series)
© F&SF, Jul 1956
Nine Tomorrows, 1959
--/ cool sf story

Typical "scientific mystery" story by Asimov, which editors like to reprint, notwithstanding the fact that its main premise (non-rotation of Mercury) is obsolete, or the fact that (to my taste) it is quite boring and flat. But it will be probably fine to strict mystery lovers.
review: 10-Jul-06 (read in 1984)

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Arthur Clarke
"No Morning After"
© Time to Come, ed. A. Derleth, 1954
also in - F&SF, Jul 1956
The Other Side of the Sky, 1958
--/ fourth place sf story
--/ humour award

Quite funny story, actually. It has the sun going nova in a week and powerful aliens who discovered that they can only contact one person on Earth -- and he is drunk.
review: 10-Jul-06 (read in 1983)

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Robert Silverberg
"Absolutely Inflexible"
© Fantastic Universe, Jul 1956
Needle in a Timestack, 1966
--/ cool time sf story

Time travel nicely done. The head of the instituion responsible for locking up time travellers finds himself left in his office with the kit of a recently arrived time traveller and he thinks he'll just try it himself, so he leaps back in time a few hours and is promptly locked up, leaving the kit in the head's office where...
review: 10-Jul-06 (read in 1985)

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Brian Aldiss
"Psyclops"
© New Worlds, Jul 1956
Space, Time and Nathaniel, 1957
No Time Like Tomorrow, 1959
--/ fourth place sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ idea award

Very cool story about a man communicating with his unborn son. Written with intensity and style. Recommended. The six-month old child telepathically sends a saving message to a spacebase light-years away, when the father gets trapped on an ice planet.
review: 10-Jul-06 (read in 1999)

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Henry Slesar
"The Monument"
© Amazing Stories, Jul 1956
Fantastic, Oct 1968
--/ cool space sf story
--/ rare find

A drifting body of a dead astronaut - as a space photo opportunity for the occasional tourist spaceships... a commentary on our vanity, our values and on omnivorous nature of organized tours - any attraction will do. Quite a good story, actually.
review: 10-Jul-06 (read in 2004)

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Edmond Hamilton
"Thunder World" (nv)
© Imaginative Tales, July 1956
--/ fourth place space sf novella
--/ wonder award
--/ adventure award
--/ rare find

Nothing better for me than a rare and non-reprinted novel of Edmond Hamilton - and a good quality one at that, not the same as some less inspired efforts he submitted to pulps at the end of the Fifties. This one rocks, moves along nicely and gives you the good jolt of space vistas, and planetary locales. Vintage and very tasty. The plot is part treasure-hunt, part labour-dispute of space miners, but the characters are wholesome and gutsy, the good fight is a good fight, and the backdrop is - the stars, as bright and alluring as only Hamilton describes them. In fact, this may be the last "pulp-proper" space adventure published.
review: 10-Jul-06 (read in 2002)

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NEXT "SPYGLASS REVIEWS" ISSUE WILL COVER JULY 1946

Read other issues here

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