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Part 4 - August

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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.

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.

This issue will highlight stories from August of 2005, 1996 and 1986


ONE YEAR AGO: August 2005


Marc Laidlaw
© Sci Fiction, Feb 2005
--/ fourth place sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ adventure award
--/ style award
--/ shock value

Solid story from a great writer. I always enjoy Laidlaw's creations, as he subtly sinks a screwdriver into your head and then pulls it out with a gleeful twist, when the cumulative mass of the story's details explodes like green jelly all over your mind, spiking your life functions and sinking a wicked olive of an idea into your long-term memory. :) Well, maybe this is an exaggeration, but... This is a wolf-in-a-sheep's-clothing type of a story. It only hints of atrocities in a strange and post-apocalyptic (perhaps) world, where our troubled protagonist girl roams and runs, but then brings them home with a familiar "I am your father, Luke, like-it-or-not" feel of some hidden family horror and oppression. Themes of blindness and "returning falcons" are prominent, and it all sinks in a murky, lush, deliciously crazy and paranoid narrative, which is a joy in itself. Recommended.
review: 18-Jul-06 (read in 2006)

(image credit: Lothaleng)


Tom Piccirilli
"Ice On Heated Steel Script"
© Chiaroscuro # 19, 2004
--/ fourth place dark f story
--/ shock value
--/ rare find

Tom Piccirilli went on to win bigger battles in the literary world (he is a best-selling novelist right now), leaving behind this wretched, miserable, and yet strangely adorable hunchback of a tale, almost like a "your favorite idiot you love to hate": a nuclear tooth-paste to pollute your literary sensibilities, to warn you what to sink your teeth into and what to avoid. Certainly, like ungainly swamp-roots poetry, this lunatic tale shimmers with unexpected brilliance in the murky waters, revealing nuggets of style, however well concealed by bizarre violence. Recommended.
review: 18-Jul-06 (read in 2006)


TEN YEARS AGO: August 1996


Terry Bisson
"The Edge Of The Universe"
(Brooklyn/ Wilson Wu series)
© IASFM, Aug 1996
In The Upper Room, 2000
Numbers Don't Lie, 2004
--novelette : 1997 Locus /2
--novelette : 1997 Asimov's Reader Poll /7
--/ fourth place sf novella
--/ wonder award
--/ style award
--/ humour award

New addition to the honorable list of science-fictional nutty geniuses (remember Henry Kuttner's drunk professor, or some truly weird Ray Cummings "haunts of the laboratory" ?) - car mechanic / mathematician extraordinaire Wilson Wu saves the expanding universe from shrinking in this hilarious novella (complete with multi-level mathematical formulas). Add to it a "kosher" Brooklyn environment, wacky physics that just might be true, cosmological cataclysms that threaten the very fabric of our existence - and drink this soup slowly (it's hot) and perhaps with a pint of Guinness. I never expected the good old pulp humor to be resurrected with such vitality and aplomb - and enjoyed every sip of it.
review: 18-Jul-06 (read in 2005)


Gene Wolfe
"Counting Cats in Zanzibar"
© IASFM, Aug 1996
--short story : 1997 Locus /2

"...Giving a synopsis of a Gene Wolfe short ruins their effect on the reader. The pleasure of Gene Wolfe is the gradual unfolding of the setting and the discovery of what is going on. At the risk of giving away too much, this poignant tale of a young man's pursuit of an older woman manages to incorporate an homage to Asimov's three laws of robotics, and a meditation on travel and identity, all while tackling the big issue of mankind's passing on". (M. Stackpole)
review: 18-Jul-06 (read in 2005)


Brian Stableford
"The House of Mourning"
© Off-Limits, ed. E. Datlow, 1996
--short story : 1997 Stocker

A respectable treatment of the mutant virus theme, this one adds another reason why one should not go to prostitutes. Stableford writes a little "low-key" here; it did not hook me.
review: 18-Jul-06 (read in 2005)




Tim Sullivan
"Stop Motion"

© IASFM, Aug 1986
--Asimov's Reader's Poll 1987, Short Story
--/ cool sf story

Animation, dinosaurs, special effects, a little bit of murder mystery - not bad a combination, solid story in the pulp tradition.
review: 18-Jul-06 (read in 2004)


Orson Scott Card
"Hatrack River"
(Alvin Maker series)
© IASFM, Aug 1986
Hatrack River, 1988
--novelette : 1987 Hugo
--novelette : 1987 Nebula
--novella : 1987 World Fantasy W
--novelette : 1987 Locus /2
--novelette : 1987 Asimov's Reader Poll /3
--novelette : 1987 SF Chronicle /2 (tie)

Rural 19th century America, with homesteaders helped by Little Peggy's second sight, telling the story of the birth of Alvin Maker. Some other readers even classify it as "faintly annoying", although for me it just sunk into oblivion, not making any connection. A lot of people might like his folksy style, though, judging by the amount of awards. Some magical happenings in historical America... admittedly emotional passages and relationships... failed to spark my interest.
review: 17-Jul-06 (read in 1992)


Lucius Shepard
© IASFM, Aug 1986
The Ends of the Earth, 1991
--novelette : 1987 Nebula
--novelette : 1987 Locus /7
--novelette : 1987 SF Chronicle W
--/ cool sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ style award

"Experimentation in time travel conducted in war-torn Central America, resolve all political perplexities through a quantum exhalation of love..." This also happens to summarize Shepard's fiction tendencies: original SF idea, presented on a war-torn background or other canvas of angst, leading to the final revelation of "goodness" and love, inherent even to the most hopeless characters. Which is why I like to read Shepard - the hope in his writing is not obvious, but still comes through, even after you finish reading, like a faint echo of a refracted ray.
review: 17-Jul-06 (read in 1992)


THIRTY YEARS AGO: August 1976 - coming soon...

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Collecting Pulp Magazines

Ephemera Interview with Avi Abrams

Enchanting Victorian Fairy Tale Art

"Then world behind and home ahead..."

Exceptional British Scifi Artwork from the 1950s

Space Pulp Art by Ron Turner and other British artists

Pulp Pleasures: Eando Binder

Great space adventure fiction from the 1930s
"Where Eternity Ends" and other rare gems

Epic Fantasy: the Start of the Journey

Part 2 of our "Best Classic Fantasy" series
incl. works by Henry Kuttner, Tolkien, etc.

Strange Shadows: Best Classic Fantasy

Fantasy "glitches in the matrix",
...lovely baroque magical lands, and more

Classic Cyberpunk SF Novels: Reviews

Neal Stephenson, William Gibson, K. W. Jeter, et al
(awesome must-reads)

10 Possible Sources of "Avatar" in Classic Science Fiction

Going beyond the obvious "Dances with Smurfs"...
(many stories worth reading)

"Steampunk" Anthology: Full Review

some truly crazed stories in there...
(plus artwork by John Coulthart)

"Dune", Plus Often-Neglected
Other Novels by Frank Herbert

"Dune", plus some overlooked gems:
"The Santaroga Barrier" and "The Green Brain"

Universe at Play:
Two Must-Read Novels of the Fantastic

"The Yiddish Policemen's Union" by Michael Chabon...
and David Mitchell's "Cloud Atlas"

Two of the Most Entertaining SF Novels from the 1980s

"Vacuum Flowers" by Michael Swanwick...
and Tim Power's "The Anubis Gates", of course!

"The Body Snatchers" and Other Alien Pods

Fiction by Jack Finney, Vance, Simak and Bloch
mind impostors and emotion imitators

Exploring the Noir and the Grotesque

Jack O'Connell "The Resurrectionist"
and other newest examples of the bizarre

Overpopulation, Sex and Sensibility

Robert Silverberg's "The World Inside"
and other classic sf blasts

H. P. Lovecraft "At the Mountains of Madness"

and other masterpieces of terror
including original illustrations

"Constellations", edited by Peter Crowther

original anthology, 2005
full review: mind-bending stories

The Ultimate Guide to New Writers of SF&F

more than 2,000 writers, 1990-2009
Ratings, awards, web links

The Surreal Office

"The Situation", "The Cookie Monster"
Weird fiction by Jeff VanderMeer and Vernor Vinge

Mind-shattering Novels of Philip K. Dick

"UBIK", "Now Wait for Last Year", etc.

Theodore Sturgeon's "More Than Human"

There’s a problem with this new gestalt being: needs a conscience.

Jack Williamson's "Legion of Space" Series

Classic Space Opera
The ultimate weapon, controlled by a gorgeous woman

Astounding Stories, August 1934

Jack Williamson, Nat Schachner, "Doc" Smith
Epic space opera gems and horror surprises

Rare Pulp SF&F, Issue 3

Leigh Brackett, Fritz Leiber, Vic Phillips
Rediscovered gems of wonder & adventure

William Gibson's Novels

"Pattern Recognition", "Neuromancer"
A Fractured Delight...

Alfred Bester "The Computer Connection"

"Bester was the mountain, all the rest of us..."
Pyrokinetic writing in one neat package

Two Novels by Samuel R. Delany

"Nova" and "Babel-17"
New Wave Milestones, and then some.

Theodore Sturgeon's "The Cosmic Rape"

(and more reviews of his fiction)
Classic SF at its best and most humane

Travel Distant Worlds!

Vintage Space Travel Posters, and more.
Part 3 of Pulp Sf art series...

Alastair Reynolds' Epic Novels

"Chasm City" and "Revelation Space"
And it's only the beginning...

Rare Fantasy Gems by C. L. Moore and Henry Kuttner

Hidden Gems of Pulp Fiction
When two star writers become husband and wife

Grand Old Times... in the Future

Overview of Pulp Art
A Loudly Lurid Universe of Sci-Fi Illustration

Exclusive: Interview with Nancy Kress

From High Fantasy to Hard Science Fiction
A Spectrum of Wonder

Jack Vance

"To Live Forever"
and other Vance extravaganzas

Alastair Reynolds

"Pushing Ice"
Cosmological "noir" chase across space

Charles Stross

"Missile Gap"
Mind-bending Cold War world-building

Hidden Gems of Pulp SF, Part 2

Rare stories from the "Age of Wonder"
incl. David Keller, Horace Gold etc.

Ultra-Rare Serials from "Fantasy Magazine"

"Cosmos" + "Challenge From Beyond"
incredible line-up of writers

Hidden Gems of Pulp SF, Part 1

Neat & Rare Stories
incl. the mad rally story "The Racer"

Astounding Stories, June 1935

Full Issue Review
incl. Gallun, Schachner, Campbell

Astounding Stories, May 1941

Full Issue Review
incl. Heinlein, Asimov, Eric Frank Russell

Horace Gold; P. Schuyler Miller

"Apocalyptic Blockbusters"
"Inflexure" and "Spawn": guilty pleasure

Interview with John C. Wright

Plus his advice to new writers
Adventures in Space & Magic

Frank Belknap Long

"The Horror from the Hills"
Great Lovecraftian Weird Novella

Interview with Jeff VanderMeer

Plus his Recommended Reading List
A Triumph of the Bizarre

Alastair Reynolds, Part 2

More "Galactic North" Stories
A Mixture of Hard Sf, James Bond & Jaws...

Alastair Reynolds Review

"Galactic North"
staring down infinity...

Most Shocking Article

"Holey Fools" by M. Christian
Warning: Gross Subject Matter

Alfred Bester Review

"The Stars My Destination"
"...nail it to the Retro Hugo voting board..."

Larry Niven Review

"Neutron Star"
"better get GP alien ship hull"

Poul Anderson Review

"Ensign Flandry"
"or how to start a sub-genre..."

Thomas M. Disch Review

"The Squirrel Cage"
"...seriously mind-bending stuff..."

Henry Kuttner Review

"Mimsy Were the Borogoves" (The Last Mimzy)
"...great storyline for a pretty average movie..."

Robert A. Heinlein Review

"The Moon is the Harsh Mistress"
" caused a tooth ache, and put my brain on freeze..."

Frank Herbert Review

"Destination: Void"
"...a layered cake of ideas and a scientific extrapolation on a genius level..."

Harlan Ellison Review

"The Abnormals"
"...editors slapped the most outrageous titles on his stories..."

James White Review

"All Judgement Fled"
"...the tension is palpable, soon to grow almost unbearable..."

Grand Adventure Strikes Again

Space Opera Article, by Avi Abrams
Based on Arthur Clarke's "Against the Fall of Night"

William Gibson Review

"Burning Chrome"
"...sheer pyrotechnics and exuberance of style..."

Ace Double: Murray Leinster

"The Pirates of Ersatz /The Mutant Weapon"
"...the characters might as well be cats or hamsters..."

Astounding Stories, May 1935

Pulp SF Magazine Review
with many original illustrations

Also read recent posts:
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The Wonder Timeline: SF&F Restrospective
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"SF&F Reading Experience" is part of "Dark Roasted Blend / Thrilling Wonder" family of sites. We try to highlight the most entertaining and rewarding science fiction and fantasy, with emphasis on memorable reader experience, not necessarily general acceptance by the critics. Have fun, and delve into our extensive ratings and reviews!

Most reviews are written by Avi Abrams, unless otherwise noted. Reviews also appear on our unique historical retrospective page Wonder Timeline of Science Fiction. Feel free to submit your own review, if a particular story is not listed here.

All major OFFICIAL AWARDS are highlighted in BLUE
("winner" has a letter "W" by it, otherwise it is a runner-up only)

Our PERSONAL AWARDS (ratings) are highlighted in RED and PURPLE:
--/ first place :
--/ second place :
--/ third place :

--/ fourth place :

--/ cool : (equal to fifth place)

These awards are given in the following categories:
- novel :
- series :
- novella :
- story :
- collection :

Also, there are our personal STYLE / GENRE SPECIFIC AWARDS. These reflect the story's content and the lasting impression on the reader:

--/ wonder award
sense-of-wonder, "visual intensity" and inventiveness

--/ idea award
originality of idea / concept

--/ adventure award
exhilarating plot, excitement / action

--/ style award
outstanding literary qualities, inimitable style

--/ romance award
intense and beautiful love / relationships

--/ humour award
funny and cool

--/ emotion award
touching, lasting impression, sensitivity

--/ shock value
altogether wild

--/ awesome scale
mind-boggling; further enhances sense-of-wonder

--/ rare find
very hard to locate, mostly from old pulps, never reprinted, etc.

Again, please feel free to leave your own review or comment under every writer's entry; also recommend us other stories you liked.