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1986 - Year in SF&F: October



THE WONDER TIMELINE: SF&F RETROSPECTIVE
1986: October

Read other issues here

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Bob Shaw
"The Ragged Astronauts" (nv)
"The Wooden Spaceships"
"Fugitive Worlds"

(Ragged Astronauts trilogy)
© 1986, Gollancz
--novel : 1987 Hugo
--runner-up : 1987 Clarke /2
--sf novel : 1987 Locus /25
--novel : 1987 British SF W

--/ fourth place sf novel
--/ wonder award
--/ idea award


Two planets are so close to each other that they share an atmosphere, which makes space travel even easier than a cannon shot from Jules Verne's "From the Earth to the Moon". Wooden spaceships (and ornate baloons) ply the spaceways, loaded with the ragged astronauts (and also Victorian scientists, salon dames and other unlikely filibusters). They sweep majestically over the book's cover artwork and across the reader's minds. One of the truly original SF ideas in decades, it tends to haunt the imagination (just like Larry Niven's amazing "Integral Trees" or Barrington Bayley's splendid anachronisms) The plot could feel a bit cartoonish and too operatic - it's hard to focus on a single character among the great panorama of migration to the other planet - but the trilogy would make excellent graphic novels in the style of Moebius, "Heavy Metal" magazine, or Metabarons. However, if the first book was extraodrinary and terrific fun, the sequels are much slower and more clunky, albeit still enjoyable. The idea of sailing the interstellar void, powered by nothing except raw natural power (what the Good Lord provided) seems very popular with human imagination... Remember Tolkien's elfin ships, which sailed right off the edge of the Middle-Earth, or the recent cartoon "Treasure Planet" - something tells me we are going to see such amazing sights in the future, one way or the other...
review: 19-Oct-06 (read in 2003)


(artwork copyright by Alan Gutierrez)

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Harry Harrison
"West of Eden" (nv)
(Eden #1)
© 1986, Bantam Books
--sf novel : 1985 Locus/7
--/ cool sf novel

Cute trilogy. Cute idea. Cute little dinosaurs (see the "avatar" icon above) Harry Harrison loves to write about monsters, reptile and otherwise (witness his "Deathworld" troligy). In this book dinosaurs evolved into a sentient beings together with humans, and then started to cause all kinds of cultural and military problems (no bigger problems than the West had with hardcore communists, I imagine. Nothing could be more irrational and wild than a communist in an ideological rut). The novel contains some pretty panoramas and epic quests, but it left me essentially cold. Maybe his dinosaurs were too cute, after all.
review: 19-Oct-06 (read in 1990)

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Mary Brown
"The Unlikely Ones" (nv)
© 1986, Baen Books
--/ fourth place f novel
--/ wonder award
--/ style award


Like a colorful blur, a fluid bubble, a russian "lubok" folk craft, or a dark porous chocolate with all kinds of microscopic "Kinder Surprise" toys in every delectable cavity, like a triple-calorie pudding eaten in a kaleidoscope flurry of roadtrip landscapes, this one disorients and delights at once. A very powerful fantasy, it maintains a dreamlike state throughout the whole narrative; a stand-out original work of fiction, which has been woefully underrated and sadly lost among other Baen Fantasy "paper-pointless fantasy-less clone-produced barely-alive" opuses. (Not that I have anything against this publisher, you notice...) However, this one rocks, and lucky is the reader who dips into the marvellous murk and swirling passages of this many-faceted book. Amazon readers are also at a loss how classify it. Beauty goes along with Ugliness in the magical quest to face and overcome the tainted side of each protagonist's heart, with a bittersweet ending... I repeat, "ending". Note that it's NOT a series, or a trilogy. Correct me if I'm wrong. But on the other hand it's like "A Series of Unfortunate Events" for adults, with amplified magic and weirdness.
review: 19-Oct-06 (read in 1991)

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Michael Shea
"Fill It With Regular"
© F&SF, Oct 1986
Axolotl Special # 1, 1989
--novelette : 1987 Locus award /16
--/ third place sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ idea award
--/ adventure award
--/ style award
--/ rare find


One of these stories that set you on fire, plunk you into the chair, grab you by the bollocks and swing you out of the window of boring and mundane, into the Arctic cold of an inbridled imagination. Stories that put up a billboard on your forehead with "I am GREATLY impressed" brightly lit up; stories that cause a hiccup of startled respect everytime somebody mentiones this writer; stories that swoon and croon you in the night, intermittedly producing a bad dream or a glorious vision... they do all that, and then - they fall through the publishing cracks, through critic's yellowed weary fingers, slip down Amazon's lazy behemoth's back into a total neglect and silence by editors and reviewers alike. If you want any more succinct endorsement for that story, you won't get any - go and find the old tattered issue of "Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction", read it, bring it to the editors' place and pound them over the head until they reprint it (apparently, somebody did just that in Seattle in 1989 - it got reprinted in "Axolotl Special #1, ed. by John Pelan, Pulphouse/Axolotl Press) What the story is about? An eclectic mix of urban (suburban and countryside) fantasy, Lovecraft's "read it and weep" horrors, ecologically unclean creatures (such as the living breathing cars, fuel-infused blobs, "hills with eyes" and other arboreal fauna). Add to it Spielberg quality thrills and storytelling, and you get pure unadulterated reading joy. It would've went up to the second place in my book if it'd be a bit longer (hint, hint: worthy to expand into a novel)
review: 21-Oct-06 (read in 2003)

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Lucius Shepard
"The Arcevoalo"
(Kalimantan series)
© F&SF, Oct 1986
Kalimantan, Tor 1993
--novelette : 1987 Locus award /9
--/ fourth place sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ style award


This story did not stay in my memory other than as a "trippy" and exotic blur. However, I completely agree with this review (from Mike Prattle) "The Arcevoalo" still demonstrates one of the aspects about Shepard's writings I really appreciate, a blurring of the fantastic/occult aspects with reality so that there's always some sort of ambiguity to the experience. Like most of his great work, it's about the characters and their experiences, often how the interaction in a relationship changes because of a certain event. Oh, and the other thing: complex morality issues. Rarely is anything clear cut or black and white in Shepard's worlds." Some fantastic passages in this jungle Goddess tale will certainly enhance your afternoon tea ritual.
review: 21-Oct-06 (read in 2003)

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Nancy Springer
"The Boy Who Plaited Manes"
© F&SF, Oct 1986
Chance & Oth. Gestures of the Hand of Fate, 1987
--short story : 1987 Hugo
--short story : 1987 Nebula
--short story : 1987 World Fantasy
--short story : 1987 Locus /5

--/ cool f story
--/ style award

Nancy Springer belongs to the same school of quiet, lyrical family-friendly fantasy as Jane Yolen, Ursula Le Guin, Esther Friesner and Tanith Lee (only when Tanith Lee is in a good mood, of course). This story is the modern literature's answer to a plethora of "horse/children interaction" movies, starting with Elizabeth Taylor's "National Velvet" and up to last year's "Dreamer". Something definitely magical attracts us to the belief some children put in their favourite animals. Perhaps it plays on our wish to trust our own friends with the same innocence and intensity. Nancy Springer has always been excellent in portraying horses and other animals, and in this enchanting story she does not disappoint.
review: 21-Oct-06 (read in 2003)

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Robert Holdstock
"Thorn"
© Birmingham SF Group, 1984
also in - F&SF, Oct 1986
The Bone Forest, 1991
--short story : 1987 Locus /8
--/ fourth place f story
--/ wonder award
--/ style award


Holdstock's blend of a wondrous walk in the forest with the wild fantasy soars to the new high in this enchanting novelette. When you think he can not possibly be more visual and fantastically intense, he does it again. His stuff is highly recommended, but it's not for the faint of heart. If you are looking for the modern fantasy equivalent of Tolkien's Fangorn Forest, then you picked the right book. Just be aware that it is an upgraded monster edition, with the darker and more psychologically disturbing elements.
review: 21-Oct-06 (read in 2003)


(Medieval art depicting "Venus and the Thorn")

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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
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Our PERSONAL AWARDS (ratings) are highlighted in RED and PURPLE:
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--/ cool : (equal to fifth place)
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These awards are given in the following categories:
- novel :
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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

--/ romance award
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