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1976 - Year in SF&F: October

1976: October

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John Varley
(Anna-Louise Bach series)
© Galaxy, Oct 1976
The Barbie Murders, 1980
--novelette : 1977 Locus /9
--/ third place sf story
--/ idea award
--/ adventure award
--/ emotion award
--/ shock value

"I am rated at fifty kilotons,-the bomb said with a trace of pride" This is how this story starts - not with a whimper, but with a bang. Not just one thrilling bang, but many (you are going to get a lot of bang for your buck, said the cheesy metaphor expert). You also are going to get vintage Varley at the top of his form, which is a lean mean concept car form, not your average soccer wagon blob. When Varley's good, he is very, very good (and maddeningly controversial). When he is bad, you get such rambling and conceited stuff as the "Steel Beach", for example. Here, he has a ball... a bagatelle (a game akin to billiards, with 9 balls) with a nuclear terrorism threat. Nothing funny about that, except a lot of black, chocolaty-dark humour, which receds into an ultraviolet "mad scientist" laugh, resonating over a classic terrorist thriller plot - prepare thyself, for this is going to happen sooner or later. Almost as mad as doctrine of "assured mutual destruction" is the story's concept of "getting rid of conventional armaments and replacing them with reasonably priced hydrogen bombs that would be distributed equally thoughtout the world." You can not even trust the world with candy, not to mention sentient bombs who boast about their megatonne load. "Luckily there are enough humans that losing a few hundred thousand of them to little nukes now and then had no net effect and apparently about the same social effect as the annual tobacco related death rate" or - on other words - "it doesn't bother the anthill much, no matter how many ants get killed..." You have to agree, it's "a conversation starter" story, even today, 30 years later.
review: 25-Oct-06 (read in 2003)


Barrington J. Bayley
"The Cabinet of Oliver Naylor"

© New Worlds # 10, 1976
The Knights of the Limits, 1979
--/ third place space sf story
--/ idea award
--/ wonder award
--/ style award
--/ awesome scale

This story is a sudden revelation among the average contents of the "New Worlds" collection (this was already a book, not a magazine). Barrington Bayley is not only better, he is lethally good. After reading his stories, the joy of reading any other writer's honest effort pales in comparison and does not hook you any more. He will spoil you and show you what really inventive and cool writing is. In this off-beat (and seriously GRAND) tale we have Victorian design and culture, spaceships travelling with untinkable speeds and the metaphysical ramifications worthy of the late PKD theories. Witness these words from the "Cheap Truth": "His best work has an eerie sense of dark complexity. To read a work like "The Cabinet of Oliver Naylor" is to be simultaneously enlightened and bewildered, to receive a Zen knock on the head; it is the literary equivalent of psilocybin. It is, in fact, why science fiction was invented."
review: 25-Oct-06 (read in 2001)


James Tiptree, Jr.
"Houston, Houston, Do You Read?"

© Aurora: Beyond Equality, ed. V. McIntyre, 1976
Star Songs Of An Old Primate, 1978
--novella : 1977 Hugo W (tie)
--novella : 1977 Nebula W
--novella : 1977 Locus /3
--novella : 1977 Jupiter W
--novella : 1999 Locus All-Time Poll /6 (tie)

--/ fourth place sf novella
--/ wonder award
--/ style award
--/ emotion award

"The Battle of the Sexes" has a predictable winner in this brilliant novella (predictable, because we know that James Tiptree is the male pseudonym of a woman writer). Surprisingly, the science fiction community did not guess the author's true identity even after this tounge-in-cheek feminist tale. (You can read a great summary on Wikipedia here) The story initially deals with the fate of a crew of three male astronauts falling toward the Sun. Then it develops a familiar feminine domination sub-plot ("I woke up in the future, the only male left in a society of women") I seem to remember there was a popular Polish movie along these lines (IMDB lists is as "Seksmisja" (engl. as "Sexmission"), shown in some countries as "The New Amazons". It was quite an engrossing movie - recommended) The female space-travellers in this story turn out to be wacky clones of a remnant human population from the freshly nuked Earth. They decide to keep astronauts as male specimens, which could spell a bliss or a curse for them, depending on how you look at it.
review: 26-Oct-06 (read in 1998)


Harlan Ellison
"From A to Z, In the Chocolate Alphabet"

© F&SF, Oct 1976
Strange Wine, 1978
--short story : 1977 Locus /11
--/ cool sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ style award

One of the stories Harlan Ellison wrote in a bookstore's window, sitting with a typewriter under the obligation to write a story an hour, or something like that. It is definitely a quick fix, light entertainment - but the idea of using short alphabetized entries is cool, and has been used many times after that. Michael Swanwick used a similar approach in his "Periodic Table of SF Elements". By the way, successful bloggers use the same technique to maximize the profit from their blogs: they split long entries into short "bursts" and keep you coming back for more, all the time counting the AdSense revenue. Ellison did not have a blog in the Seventies, but this story shows he could've made a fortune having one...
review: 26-Oct-06 (read in 1989)


Robert Bloch
"A Case Of The Stubborns"
© F&SF, Oct 1976
Such Stuff As Screams Are Made Of, 1979
--/ cool f story
--/ humour award

"Cantankerous grandpa won't believe he is dead, but gets up the following morning, as if it never happened - causing consternation (to say the least!) for the family. He keeps coming to meals and demands service. Even the Reverend can't convince him and finally his family resorts to voodoo." Fun and whimsical story, it was made into a TV Episode in "Tales from the Dark Side".
review: 26-Oct-06 (read in 2001)


Richard Cowper
"The Hertford Manuscript"
© F&SF, Oct 1976
The Custodians and Other Stories, 1976
--short story : 1977 Locus /7

Some readers call it a loose sequel to "The Time Machine" by H. G. Wells. That's probably a long stretch, but it's still an excellent time-travel story, written in a smooth respectable British style. It deals with the Dark Ages and Black Plague period in history.
review: 26-Oct-06 (read in 1994)


Ian Watson
"The Girl Who Was Art"

© Ambit # 65, 1976
The Very Slow Time Machine, 1979
--/ cool sf story
--/ style award

This is a highly unusual story, both in subject matter and in masterful narrative technique. A testimony to Ian Watson's skill as a stylist, it has been posted recently in a "Poetry Magazine" online (link here), which marks it as a "poetry in prose" perhaps (at least some passages read like this). It is by no means a masterpiece, but a refreshing occasion in SF genre. An avangardistic take on one photo model's uber-stylish experiences.
review: 26-Oct-06 (read in 1994)


Philip K. Dick
"Deus Irae" (nv)
(with Roger Zelazny)
(based on story "The Great C")
© Cosmos # 1, Sep 1953
also in - SF Monthly, Jul 1953 (Austr.)
book: Doubleday, 1976
--/ fourth place apocalyptic sf novel
--/ wonder award
--/ style award

When I read this book in my youth, I was bewildered by many passages. There is a lot of angst there, there are no answers, and a general depressing feeling. Sulky automatic car repair robots, and a general post-apocalyptic inventiveness are fine, but a lot of times too much is said about too little. Harder to read in general, but worth it for the moments of beauty among the dystopia. The disillusioned man's quest to paint a picture of a higher being in a post-nuclear-war world. Some call it "the flip-side to "Canticle for Leibowitz".
review: 04-Jul-06 (read in 1986)


This is only a short sample of October 1976 stories, many more have been published in the original anthologies (1974-1977 were the prime years for themed anthologies).


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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!

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