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1986 - Year in SF&F: October

1986: October

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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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


Robert Holdstock
© 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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Collecting Pulp Magazines

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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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"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
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--/ 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

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--/ 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.