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The Wonder Spyglass - 5




THE WONDER SPYGLASS.
Part 5 - August 1976 and 1966

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.

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 1976, 1966


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THIRTY YEARS AGO: August 1976

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George R. R. Martin
"A Beast for Norn"
(Tuf series)
© Andromeda # 1, ed. P. Weston, 1976
Galaxy, Sep 1979
Tuf Voyaging, 1987
--/ fourth place space sf story
--/ wonder award

This is an exotic space opera ("animal blood sports") tale, which brings to memory certain prototypes in the pulps... Let's see, how about Jack Vance? Martin himself says: "The first Haviland Tuf story, "A Beast for Norn," was my attempt to capture some of Vance's effects, and Tuf is a very Vancean hero, a distant cousin to Magnus Ridolph, perhaps." It's colorful, has cool alien animals, although does not reach the heights of "Plague Star" in intensity.
review: 18-Jul-06 (read in 2001)



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Charles R. Saunders
"The Pool Of The Moon"

(Imaro series)
© Dragon, Aug 1976
--fantasy series : 1982 Aurora
--/ cool f novella

These were the years of the emergence of "sword & sorcery" into paperbacks and magazines, even many grass-roots 'zines (this story is from one such semi-pro magazine). Typical mindless tale, which I tasted in many forms in the eighties, not finding what I was looking for - the sense of exploration, wonder and real adventure. Most are macho outings to cave in the heads of enemies and little else.
review: 18-Jul-06 (read in 1989)

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Full review of the wonderful anthology "NEW DIMENSIONS #6", edited by Robert Silverberg, which was a highlight of 1976, you can read HERE

----------------------------------------------
in the ever-growing sea of SF paperbacks we observe F. M. Busby's monumental opus (sticking out):


F. M. Busby
"Young Rissa" (nv)
(also as "Rissa Kerguellen")
(Rissa Kerguellen series 1)
© 1976, Berkley / Putnam

It's definitely better than similar offerings from Piers Anthony, at least it has believable characters - still, only marginably readable for me. I try to stay away from the epic "bricks" or trilogies, although I can understand the hype around this one, and its singular place in the development of space opera sub-genre in the Seventies. Think of "Star Wars" with strong female protagonist - like Heinlein's passionate "Friday" - written with "Dumarest of Terra" E. C. Tubb sensibilities and a similar level of writing.

"The Long View" (nv)
(Rissa Kerguellen series 2)
© 1976, Berkley / Putnam

Some maintain that this is a fun space opera, but I say that it heralds the arrival of many overlong pointless mass-market epics, without the necessary sense of grandeur, true glory, or even the basic sense of wonder. This trilogy still has quality, and some signs of aforementioned "senses", but it still shows the coming decline of space adventure in paperbacks.

"Rissa Kerguellen"
(omnibus edition)
(also as "Young Rissa"
and "The Long View")
(Rissa Kerguellen series)
© 1976, Berkley / Putnam

This is undeniably "a cult series", as it even has a fan website specially dedicated to it. Just as "sword & sorcery" sub-genre dubiously reigned in the 70ties fantasy, so large-scale "BattleStar Galactica"-type paperbacks flooded the shelves of science fiction. I can understand all the rage around Rissa Kerguelen, though - just think, "at five, they slaughtered her parents and doomed her to slavery. At seventeen, she escaped from Earth as a million-dollar fugitive. At eighteen, she commanded an army in outer space." Perfect feminist vehicle, told with broad strokes on a big canvas (read - with tons of pages, unnecessarily added between gaudy front and back covers) I will suspend my judgment on this one, as it merits certainly more than just a place in a venerable (or vomitable?) "Battleship Earth" category.
review: 18-Jul-06 (read in 1986)

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Meanwhile, Robert Holdstock takes fantasy by storm in the U.K. -

Robert Holdstock
"The Graveyard Cross"
© Supernova # 1, 1976
In the Valley of the Statues and Others, 1982
--/ fourth place f story
--/ wonder award
--/ style award

With the title like that you would expect a "straight horror" story. But with Holdstock, who is a master of "dripping dark forest fantasy", it becomes something different... a glorious fungus growth of a story. ("The roots go deep, my lord...") It rather works on a reader like a mass of branching threadlike mushroom roots (a mycelium), which propagates the plot, ideas, emotions... You might not remember the details later, but rest assured, it'll keep you enthralled and amazed. Writing reviews to Holdstock's stories is akin to figuring out branch patterns in a dense rainforest: there is no obvious sense, but it does not really matter in the overall humid and cool effect.
review: 18-Jul-06 (read in 1991)


Image courtesy Geoff Taylor - Click to enlarge.

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Robert Holdstock
"The Time Beyond Age"
© Supernova # 1, 1976
The Bone Forest, 1991
--/ cool sf story

"a chilling story of the dehumanising potential of science, and of the obsession of a scientist who has lost his way." This is science fiction, not fantasy, but with the same tangled (complex) and wet-haired (spontaneous) feel to it.
review: 18-Jul-06 (read in 1991)

----------------------------------------------

Robert Holdstock
"Magic Man"
© Frighteners # 2, 1976
The Bone Forest, 1991
--/ cool f story

Pre-historic tale about a boy who secretly paints grotesque and gigantic beasts on a sacred wall. The beasts come alive on the plain, to the amazement and delight of his fellow hunters.
review: 18-Jul-06 (read in 1991)



----------------------------------------------



Andre Norton
"Perilous Dreams" (nv)
© 1976, DAW Books
--/ third place sf novel
--/ wonder award
--/ adventure award






There were paperbacks in the seventies approaching the color and enchantment of the best of pulps, after all. Granted, it was harder to find them in the ocean of mediocrity, but if a pulp editor of, say, "Fantastic Adventures" got a hold of this novel, he'd certainly feature Norton as a headliner. Her typical blend of science fiction and high fantasy adventure makes for very entertaining reading: I especially liked the atmosphere and the color of "Ship of Mist". The interconnected stories mix real and dream worlds, star-flung empires and medieval piracy, all told with lucid, vivid prose and pulp-style brevity. It's one of the best Norton books, as her standards slipped in the eighties, but this one is like a pearl in a seashell. Go find it.
review: 21-Jul-06 (read in 1987)



----------------------------------------------



Andre Norton
"The Toys of Tamisen"
(Perilous Dreams)
© IF, Apr 1969
High Sorcery, 1970
Perilous Dreams, 1976
--/ third place sf novella
--/ wonder award

"It takes place in a future where humanity had long ago reached the stars and scattered itself across thousands of planets. The heroine, Tamisan is a 'true action dreamer to the tenth power' and she can share her dreams (for a certain fee) with others. Lord Starrex is a former space voyager who now lies crippled in the midst of luxury. He can afford the very best Tamisan has to offer and she wants to create a unique fantasy world for him because she senses that he has been everywhere, seen everything, and will not be satisfied with her usual fare. She hits upon the idea of creating an alternate history of their world, where certain key events can be altered by Tamisan to yield a different present". One of the best ever treatments of "actualized dreams" idea. Also see review of "Perilous Dreams". I liked it immensely when I read it in college.
review: 21-Jul-06 (read in 1987)


Artwork courtesy Geoff Taylor (Click to enlarge)

============================

FORTY YEARS AGO: August 1966

----------------------------------------------






Philip K. Dick
"Now Wait For Last Year" (nv)
© 1966, Doubleday Books
--/ third place sf novel
--/ wonder award
--/ idea award

"When his wife takes a strange new narcotic and then maliciously slips some into his drink, the main character finds himself slipping back and forth through time. Against the backdrop of a pointless war being waged between planets (as a reason for a certain government to control population - typically Dickian stand-in for the Cold War), the main character?while unable to control his place in time?tries to maintain the balance of power by keeping Earth's eccentric and ailing leader in good health, (remember Brezhnev?) Plus there is the disturbing relationship between the submissive main character and his destructive, manipulative wife" (wikipedia). But wait, there is more: collecting rare artifacts from 1935 to furnish some tycoon's Mars-based recreation of his Washington childhood. A number of live copies of certain Government Leader - any, or none of which could be the real one. Small starship-control devices/creatures (mechanical hamsters?) manufactured by a large corporation become the centerpiece of an employee's secret obsession - to give them a kind of intelligence and send them scuttling off around the plant on tiny metal carts. A sort of "creation/ liberation" kick. Well, never mind - there are twelve different layers to this novel ("Nothing what you know is true") - in Dick's typical paranoid fashion. At the end of the book, the multiple past-lines and clones of main personalities will spiral out of control in a barely cohesive plot, but then even the plot itself, like a crazed centipede, will trip over its hallucinogenic legs, curl up in despair and die, unable to resolve the complexities of its existence.
review: 21-Jul-06 (read in 1987)

----------------------------------------------



Philip K. Dick
"Your Appointment Will Be Yesterday"
(exp. into "Counter-Clock World")
© Amazing Stories, Aug 1966
The Little Black Box, 1987
--/ third place time sf novella
--/ wonder award
--/ idea award
--/ adventure award

"The story to end all stories" - for the simple reason that it's based on the idea of time running backwards, therefore people doing everything backwards, including reading from finish to start. I can think of so many inherent problems and reasons that this can not work, in principle, but in Dick's story it does - with very entertaining effects. Mind you, Dick is even able to turn birth/death backwards (remember "UBIK", where his characters are stranded in time running backwards (deteriorating) after they died - in a death realm) Nothing I could mention here would approach the wild premise and intensity of its realization in this story, so go read it.
review: 21-Jul-06 (read in 1995)

----------------------------------------------



Brian Aldiss
"Heresies Of The Huge God"
© Galaxy, Aug 1966
Moment of Eclipse, 1970
--/ cool sf story
--/ idea award

The title is certainly worthy of the Sixties era... and the story is quite unusual in SF. Here is the summary I found on the web: "Really large alien craft or a being --we're talking continent-sized--lands on Earth. Massive seismic and climactic changes ensue. The ship just sits there--no one comes out, there's no attempt at communication, and so on. Every now and then it takes some arbitrary action such as moving a little or extending some new piece of itself. But that's about it. Decades go by. Humanity has to cope with the presence of this strange invader. Religious orders arise to explain it in spiritual terms. Eventually, the ship just leaves, still with no explanation or communication. The departure of the ship once more throws the world into climactic upheaval and threatens to end all life on Earth. The tale is written by a monk of some sort just after the ship has left, and relates all that has happened to date in almost allegorical terms."
review: 21-Jul-06 (read in 1995)

----------------------------------------------



Roger Zelazny
"The Keys to December"
© New Worlds, Aug 1966
The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth, 1971
--novelette : 1968 Nebula
--/ fourth place sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ style award

Wonderfully stylish and smoothly told story, with many poetic elements, generating images that stay with reader for a long time. Here is what happens: "some aliens terraforming a planet to make it cold enough for them to inhabit (and simultaneously freezing the monkey-people natives to death)" Roger Zelazny adds emotion to this tragic plot, and you can almost touch the ice of that planet. One of the best planetary ecology descriptions to grace the pages of SF magazine in the Sixties.
review: 21-Jul-06 (read in 1987)

----------------------------------------------

Brian Aldiss
"Amen and Out"

© New Worlds, Aug 1966
The Book of Brian Aldiss, 1972

I found this tale boring, with many recycled elements from other stories: men worship computers and keep immortal virtual minds in a kind of prison - to generate ideas... as you can see, very predictable.
review: 18-Jul-06 (read in 1986)

----------------------------------------------



Bob Shaw
"Light of Other Days"
(exp. into "Other Days, Other Eyes")
(Slow Glass)
© Analog, Aug 1966
also in - Amazing, May 1972
novel : Ace books, 1972
--short story : 1967 Hugo
--short story : 1967 Nebula
--short fiction : 1971 Astounding/Analog All-Time Poll /6
--short story : 1999 Locus All-Time Poll /14
--/ cool sf story
--/ idea award

Slow glass is one of the most original concepts to appear in sf in decades. Light travels through this glass so slowly that, looking through a pane of it, you might see what happened five minutes ago on the other side - or five years. It stopped being a toy. It became invasion of privacy. Many other moral and practical complications arise.
review: 21-Jul-06 (read in 1986)

----------------------------------------------



Keith Roberts
"The Scarlet Lady"
(as by Alistair Bevan)
© Impulse, Aug 1966
Winterwood & Other Hauntings, 1989
--/ fourth place f story
--/ wonder award
--/ style award
--/ idea award
--/ rare find

One of the best fantasies of the "car-come-alive" kind. Recommended for every car nut out there, and also as a rarity - hardly ever known and reprinted, yet very thrilling and of the highest stylistic quality. I did not expect such kind of "Weird Tales" performance from this usually subdued writer.
review: 21-Jul-06 (read in 2002)

----------------------------------------------



Hal Clement
"The Foundling Stars"
© IF, Aug 1966
Small Changes, 1969
--/ cool sf novella

Average quality hard-nosed "too much science" fiction, which I immediately forgot. It's a pity Hal Clement could not maintain the clarity and sheer thrill of his output in the fifties, when he created unique planetary environments routinely for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
review: 21-Jul-06 (read in 2002)

----------------------------------------------

Richard McKenna
"The Secret Place"
© Orbit # 1, 1966
Casey Agonistes, 1973
--short story : 1967 Hugo
--short story : 1967 Nebula W
--/ cool sf story
--/ style award

"a sensitive piece of writing, a perfect example of second generation science fiction, the retelling and reexamination of a theme that originated in the pulp years..." It left me cold, though. Geology, alternate pasts, some good emotion there, but it just did not click.
review: 21-Jul-06 (read in 1988)

----------------------------------------------

James Blish
"How Beautiful With Banners"
© Orbit # 1, 1966
Anywhen, 1970
--/ third place space sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ style award
--/ idea award

Total surprise! James Blish writing a sophisticated planetary adventure with all the color, action and ideas worthy of modern practitioners of the genre: Reynolds, Stephen Baxter, Swanwick's "Slow Life"... trust me, it's in the same category! As such, it is an incredible find, partly because Blish did not approach such classic planetary exploration themes again, to the best of my knowledge - and he can really write when he wants to. "Surface Tension" went to number one on my list, even though I read it in translation; now I can really appreciate his style: poetic allusions and hard science blended to one wild idea. A "living" space-suit made from an artificially engineered virus (!) nicely shields a visitor to Titan from its frozen environment - until rather serious trouble occurs when one of the local life forms decides to mate with it... A gem of a story, you can read it online here
review: 18-Jul-06 (read in 1986)

============================

FIFTY YEARS AGO and deeper: August 1956, 1946
- COMING SOON in "SPYGLASS" #6 !


Read other issues here

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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)
ALL "BEST OF" LISTS ARE LOCATED HERE

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.