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1966 - Year in SF&F: October



THE WONDER TIMELINE: SF&F RETROSPECTIVE

The idea of "The Wonder Timeline" is to highlight selected stories throughout SF&F history (all 100 years of it). Every "Year in SF&F" page contains reviews of stories, collections, original anthologies and novels published in that year in the certain month. This way we'll gradually fill out reviews for thousands of stories listed on our site, as well as enjoy a fun perspective on the genre.
Read other issues here

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Artwork copyright: Alan Gutierrez

Mostly known for his "Ringworld" series of novels and a tireless world-building, Larry Niven has a penchant for cool-looking aliens, cool-looking planetary landscapes and cool-looking spaceships. In fact his whole body of fiction is so cool-looking that I am surprised that none of his adventures have made it to the big screen yet. Visuals and a solid science grounding are always supplemented with a lively plot and constant flow of ideas. One of the best "hard science fiction" writers of the 70s-80s school, if not THE best.




Larry Niven
"Neutron Star"
(Beowulf Shaeffer series)
© IF, Oct 1966
Neutron Star, 1968
--short story : 1967 Hugo W
--novelette : 1999 Locus All-Time Poll /30 (tie)

--/ third place space sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ adventure award
--/ idea award


Talking about an offer you can't refuse... Beowulf Shaeffer, who is a bit of a space tourist, a bit of an adventurous Han Solo-type, is pressured by aliens to get inside the perihelion of a neutron star and live to tell the tale (never mind the huge tidal forces that would stretch your body into one infinite spaghetti).

To the best of my knowledge this is the only story that describes in a scientifically plausible way what happens to a ship inside a neutron star's Schwarzschild radius. Alastair Reynolds attempted to describe what happens on the surface of an inconceivably dense neutron star, but his vision was rather more surrealistic and contrived.

"Neutron Star" sticks to hard science, justly winning many top awards. Clearly a "thought-experiment" kind of story, it competes with the best of Hal Clement, Robert L. Forward and even Stanislaw Lem (who put his Pilot Pirx through relativistic loops once with incredibly inventive results). And if you are skeptical about chances of Beowulf Shaeffer coming out alive after being turned into a cosmological spaghetti, read the story to find out how he spooled himself back together again.
review by Avi Abrams: 04-Sep-07 (read in 1988)


(image credit: Jeroen Lapre)

"Neutron Star" (coll)
© 1968, Ballantine Books
--/ second place space sf collection
--/ wonder award
--/ adventure award
--/ idea award
--/ awesome scale


SIMPLY THE BEST COLLECTION OF HARD SCIENCE FICTION SPACE STORIES I HAVE READ. Miles above the competition, "Tales of Known Space" and "Flatlander" series are even more entertaining in a collection, where each story adds to a kaleidoscope of splendid space outings. This is your best bet for getting a taste of what Larry Niven is all about. When published in sf magazines in the late 60s, these stories burst like a supernova among the glut of tame & predictable offerings of the time - and I'm sure you'll still get an almost relativistic "kick" out of reading them today.

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Thomas M. Disch
"The Squirrel Cage"
© New Worlds, Oct 1966
Under Compulsion, 1968
--foreign short story : 1970 Seiun W
--/ fourth place f story
--/ idea award
--/ style award


That story is so full of neat technical tricks and swell ideas that it feels more like a Japanese crazed robotics-produced steampunk-enhanced Victorian Faberge egg. OK, so maybe it's a bit less colorful, but once you read it, you'll see why it's just as memorable as these utterly unique Faberge creations. If you ever felt like you were in the proverbial "squirrel cage" of life, caught in a daily grind, this story will deeply affect your heart. You will become a better man, liberated, freshly-ground with an exhilarating smell, just like the Maxwell House coffee. You will have that extra spring in your step and a satisfied grin: "Oh my, that was quite a story I just read... almost as good as (fill the blank with whatever your kick is)". So, this is what the story is about:

The writer sits at the keyboard and types away words... that he himself does not understand, unable to read, and not even sure if the machine registers what he types. His body is a slave to "tyranny of routine". His mind though is liberated in a very special, hilarious way, as he invents a zoo of characters specifically designed to combat futility. Who is this master which keeps the free-wheeling spirit in a squirrel cage? Could it be the same impersonal arrangement that Disch described in "Descending" (another awesomely morbid atmospheric piece), where a hero is caught in a succession of endless escalators - treadmill that extends so far that becomes the world itself? Only a poet could envision fiction like this.

But let one other fantasy critic speak. Connor Cochran (of Peter S. Beagle's Fund) thought that "this little story is... phenomenal stuff. Kafka, Beckett, or Duchamp — all of whom "The Squirrel Cage" owes a debt... Serious existential brain-bending. So I was all charged up for something modern, bright, and shiny, something that would put chrome on my eyeballs and neon in my hair." Yeah, and for me it just neatly took me out of the "squirrel cage", if only for a couple of days.
review by Avi Abrams: 01-Sep-07 (read in 1999)

(art copyright: Vladimir Kush)

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Poul Anderson
"Ensign Flandry" (nv)
(Dominic Flandry series)
© Amazing, Oct 1966
book: Berkley, 1966
--/ fourth place space sf novel
--/ wonder award
--/ adventure award
--/ awesome scale


This is one of the better Flandry novels, setting the stage not only for the series but for the endless imitations and the whole sub-genre of "naive space cadets coming of age among gritty interstellar war". Most of diplomacy and "cloak-and-dagger" plot is well thought-through and will be appreciated by those who like their Cold War-style politics suitably sophisticated and cold. For me the biggest "bang" came when Anderson unleashed the climactic space battles: told from the point of view of being inside the embattled ship, it has loads of Industrial Light & Magic special effects.

Enjoyable book, one of the better efforts among "diplomatic space warfare" novels, so popular in the 60s and 70s. It's also a part of the Polesotechnic League future history; the next story in continuity of the cycle is "A Circus of Hells". Check out another enthusiastic review of this book at SF Reviews.
review by Avi Abrams: 02-Sep-07 (read in 2003)


(original unknown)

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Gordon R. Dickson
"In The Bone"
© IF, Oct 1966
Ancient, My Enemy, 1974
--/ cool sf story

As you can see, Gordon R. Dickson does not rate very high in my books, except for one awesome masterpiece: "Time Storm", which has enough scale and drama for a dozen of "Dune"-like novels. Otherwise, his stories are often witty and competent, but remain very standard fare, easily forgotten. This story is not bad, actually: "a supposedly civilized and sophisticated man is easily defeated in a space battle by a technologically superior alien, but later defeats the alien through brute force and ferocity in hand to hand combat." (Peter Meilinger)

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Harry Harrison
"The Greatest Car in the World"

© New Worlds, Oct 1966
--/ cool car sf story

A satire on American dependency on cars, and namely their strange attraction to large cars, written in (sort of uncanny) anticipation of the coming oil crisis. Very cute story, friends.
review: 06-Sep-07 (read in 1988)

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Ray Bradbury
"The Man in the Rorschach Shirt"
© Playboy, Oct 1966
I Sing the Body Electric, 1969

This is very self-indulgent Bradbury. It's good as a mainstream "musing", but a little too fanciful for my taste. A psychiatrist wears a shirt that shows people what they need to see. (good idea, btw)
review: 24-Sep-06 (read in 2002)

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Isaac Asimov
"The Key"
(Wendell Urth)
© F&SF, Oct 1966
Asimov's Mysteries, 1968

"The Key" is one of the best of the Wendell Urth stories, and Asimov really knows how to write competent mysteries. Dr. Urth is the extraterrologist who (just like Isaac Asimov himself) refuses to set his foot on any space transportation device. The stately paced and not very exciting mystery is about finding a hidden alien artifact that gives people psi powers. Not as good as "The Billiard Ball"
review: 24-Sep-06 (read in 2002)

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Jon DeCles
"The Picture Window"

© F&SF, Oct 1966
--/ cool sf story
--/ idea award

Very quaint & stylish story - true connoisseurs of art will have experienced the power that an extraordinary painting can hold over the sense of space and time; it's possible to spend hours in Hermitage, taken captive by only a few old Dutch masters' landscapes... Typical high-class F&SF story.
review: 30-Jan-08 (read in 1988)

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Arthur C. Clarke
"A Recursion in Metastories"

(also as "The Longest SF Story Ever Told")
© Galaxy, Oct 1966
--/ cool sf story

Short-short about recursion in fiction. Great idea. It's a pity that spammers already applied it to some blogs. They take one post and unleash their robots, which make it curl up on itself, endlessly re-iterate and never die. Endless (Nigerian) recursion seems to end up in my email account, too.

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Carol Emshwiller
"A Dream Of Flying"

(also as "Chicken Icarus")
© Cavalier, Oct 1966
--story: Best SF 1968 list

I get conflicting impressions from Carol Emshwiller's fiction. Some of it is polished, even poetic. But there are also stories that seem to be written entirely to please Judith Merrill's (then leading literary BEST SF editor) tastes. As such, they are often pretentious and easily forgettable.

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EXPLANATION OF THE RATING SYSTEM:

"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 :
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--/ fourth place :

--/ cool : (equal to fifth place)
ALL "BEST OF" LISTS ARE LOCATED HERE

These awards are given in the following categories:
- novel :
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- novella :
- story :
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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
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--/ adventure award
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--/ style award
outstanding literary qualities, inimitable style

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--/ awesome scale
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