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1986 - Year in SF&F: September

1986: September

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One of the most influential SF story collections was published in 1986:

"BURNING CHROME" by William Gibson,
heralding the advent of cyberpunk and setting new story-writing standards.
Read the full review of this book HERE


George R. R. Martin
"The Glass Flower"

© IASFM, Sep 1986
Portraits of His Children, 1988
--Asimov's Reader's Poll 1987, novelette
--Locus Poll Award 1987, novelette /7

--/ cool sf story
--/ wonder award

George Martin certainly can write space operas, with an intensely personal, lyrical, and yet grandiose sense. This is one of these rare stand-alone novellas, which are getting so hard to find these days when everybody seems to have jumped on "trilogies" and "series" bandwagon. Well, I liked it enough to give it a well-deserved "wonder award" (Martin let loose here on a particularly galaxy-shaking scale), but overall impression is muddy. Martin trades human characters (whom he can describe with depth and sympathy) with non-human and eternal super-beings, which we can hardly relate to. It is very adequate entertainment, but hardly anything more. Here is the blurb: "It's been a lifetime and more since Cyrain has been challenged in the game of mind. When the cyborg arrives, she senses a worthy and dangerous opponent - one that's been dead for 800 years..." Magazine publication has some cool artwork by Terry Lee, see below.
review: 27-Aug-06 (read in 2004)


Nancy Kress
"Down Behind Cuba Lake"

© IASFM, Sep 1986
The Aliens of Earth, 1993
--/ third place sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ idea award
--/ emotion award
--/ style award
--/ adventure award
--/ rare find

A gem of a story. So smoothly and beautifully written, that it gives you goose-bumps and a secret wish to write like that one day. This is an entry into "sentient terrain", "spooky earth" sub-genre (which can be traced back to the "Weird Tales" pulps and H. P. Lovecraft; see also my humble entry of a story "Subliminal Distances of the West" in writing section - also about getting lost in a landscape). Some kind of spacial/temporal hole swallows the unsuspecting female protagonist, who takes a wrong turn in a woody wilderness, bringing her to a malevolent, sentient (and very aggressive) lake - and causing her to reflect on her own lost and aimless lifestyle. It turns out to be so lost and aimless, that the story itself does not have an easily defined ending or direction, which is oddly appropriate in this case... This story is nothing like the wordy (and mostly uninvolving) novels of Nancy Kress. Go sample it, read it in a car on a prolonged roadtrip to Minnesota Lakes. See if this story will not stay with you for a lifetime...
review: 27-Aug-06 (read in 2004)

Artwork by Michael Whelan


Kim Stanley Robinson
"Escape From Kathmandu"
© IASFM, Sep 1986
Escape From Kathmandu, 1987
--novella : 1987 Hugo
--novella : 1987 Nebula
--novella : 1987 Locus /2
--novella : 1987 Asimov's Reader Poll /4 (tie)
--novella : 1987 SF Chronicle /2

I can not click with fiction by Robinson... some kind of an emotional connection is missing, which makes me disinterested in whatever's happening by reading the first couple of pages. This novella tells of adventures in Nepal and of Yeti, but I "clicked out" of it quite promptly, so can not tell you more.
review: 27-Aug-06 (read in 2004)


Rudy Rucker
"Soft Death"
© F&SF, Sep 1986
Gnarl!, 2000
--/ fourth place sf story
--/ idea award
--/ wonder award

"Soft Death " postulates immortality through software engineering". It is a surprisingly Robert Sheckley-like story, giving a half-serious treatment to a single idea, and extrapolating the results on a future society. It also features a "life-box" device which records a person's lifelong sensory impressions on a chip (hardly a new concept, but we are talking 1986 here, which is the blooming of cyber-punk genre, so it feels right at home). We do not have "life-box" devices yet, but we have ... blogs instead.
review: 27-Aug-06 (read in 2004)


Clive Barker
"The Inhuman Condition" (coll)

(also as "The Book of Blood IV")
© Simon & Schuster, 1984
--/ fourth place dark f collection
--/ wonder award
--/ shock value

A scary and sobering collection of dark fantasy tales. Barker has a wicked imagination and these offerings are not for the faint of heart. However no one can deny the intensity and sheer "pop-culture" brilliance of some of the stories, which have become essential reading for any modern-day pulp-terror fiction reader. Here is the blurb from Amazon: "A master storyteller and unrivaled visionary, Clive Barker has mixed the real and unreal with the horrible and wonderful in more than twenty years of fantastic fiction. The Inhuman Condition is a masterwork of surrealistic terror, recounting tragedy with pragmatism, inspiring panic more than dread and evoking equal parts revulsion and delight."
review: 31-Aug-06 (read in 1994)


Marina Fitch
"They That Go Down to the Sea in Ships"
© Writers of the Future # 2, 1986

L. Ron Hubbards' only worth-while contribution to the SF world ( note I am being facetious here) - establishing the competition for new writers - is actually a fun reading experience. Some great names came out of a couple of early issues, including Robert Reed and David Zindell. Marina Fitch submitted a lyrical, subdued story, a crowd-pleaser, but did not win anything. She proved that she is a name to watch, though.
review: 31-Aug-06 (read in 1991)


Clifford Simak
"Highway Of Eternity" (nv)
© 1986, Ballantine Del Rey
--/ third place sf novel
--/ wonder award
--/ style award
--/ adventure award
--/ emotion award
--/ awesome scale

Very enjoyable, "cozy" in Simak's inimitable way, a dazzling romp through space (meeting all kinds of aliens of the Galactic Cluster) and time (to eternity and ... beyond?). All these good-natured "beer and cheese" adventures start in a small mid-western town and quickly scale outwards. This is one of the best novels of sheer "sense-of-wonder", mirroring Simak's previous success formula of the "Way Station". A guy who can teleport into the gray void, aliens who try to make people into indestructible disembodied minds, a Restaurant at the End of the Universe (who was there first, Simak or Adams?) There is a huge interstellar highway that goes through the void. This void contains nothing but a small restaurant maintained by a robot. Inside this restaurant (and all over time and space) the great riddle of sentient existence is being solved. This novel is colourful, intense and large-scale. All kinds of kudos to the great master.
review: 31-Aug-06 (read in 1989)


Arkady & Boris Strugatskie
"Khromaya Sudba" (nv)
"Xромая судьба"
(also contains "Gadkie Lebedi")
© written in 1975
1986, Neva
Kromaya Sudba, 1990
--/ cool f novel
--/ emotion award

This is my first review of a russian SF book. I am fully aware that most of Russian science fiction is not translated into English and will not be known to the english reader; I am also aware of an incredible treasure of wonder and ideas contained in these works, completely different in their stylistic and philosophical approach. Languages are born to haunt us with their humbling diversity and an impossibility to learn all of them. We know that it serves to obstruct our wicked plans and to keep us humble, but it's a bit depressing to see cultural barriers grow as a result. Knowing more than one language immensely enriches a person when he reads (and digests) the best of a different culture. In this case, the strange and deeply introspective ventures into Russian fantastic literature may illuminate some forgotten and vast soul-realms that the american culture tends to overlook or simply bypass in haste. The Strugatskies have written both thrillers and psychological dramas, with an equally deft touch - but this novel is an experiment even by their own standards. They wrote it never intending to publish, or rather without a hope of it being published. It can hardly be classified as SF, as it has only minimal fantastic elements. It's a fascinating look into a life of a banished writer, its struggle with the government and other systems of the world. It is surreal and strange in composition (it contains a full, separate novel inside). A beautiful artistic achievement, though not perfect, of course. The title roughly translates as "An Impaired Destiny".
review: 31-Aug-06 (read in 1989)

Art by Elena Evtushenko


Arkady & Boris Strugatskie
"Gadkie Lebedi" (nv)
"Гадкие Лебеди"
(also as "Vremya Dozhdya"
"Время дождя")
© 1964
1987, Daugava
(as "Prekrasny Utenok")
© 1986, Izobretatel
NF # 34, 1990
--/ cool sf novel
--/ emotion award

A little bit of a masochistic pleasure: deep and deeply troubled, downbeat and depressing condemnation of a communist era, devoid of hope and gray in imagery. Somebody had to write such Russian novel of a "still life" (literally), and Strugatskie did it, imbuing it with a large dose of surrealism and allegory. I am still awed by the fact that these writers (among other dissident figures of that generation) had to write "into a drawer" for decades(!) fighting the silencing veto placed on all their activity. Certainly, this piece of fiction trashes communist powers, but as a work of art it is quite harmless. But I remember a time in the Soviet Union when sending a fax, or making a copy (any copy of anything) was unlawful and condemned, not to mention any speaking with foreigners (in some cases, for the period of 15 years or more). It was a truly crazy lifestyle, and knowing that fantastic literature is eager to pick and exaggerate such anomalies, we have a "theater of the absurd" in guise of a novel, as a result.
review: 31-Aug-06 (read in 1989)


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Strange Shadows: Best Classic Fantasy

Fantasy "glitches in the matrix",
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Going beyond the obvious "Dances with Smurfs"...
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"Steampunk" Anthology: Full Review

some truly crazed stories in there...
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"Dune", Plus Often-Neglected
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Universe at Play:
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Two of the Most Entertaining SF Novels from the 1980s

"Vacuum Flowers" by Michael Swanwick...
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"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"
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"Bester was the mountain, all the rest of us..."
Pyrokinetic writing in one neat package

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"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

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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

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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"
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Charles Stross

"Missile Gap"
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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"

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incredible line-up of writers

Hidden Gems of Pulp SF, Part 1

Neat & Rare Stories
incl. the mad rally story "The Racer"

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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

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Adventures in Space & Magic

Frank Belknap Long

"The Horror from the Hills"
Great Lovecraftian Weird Novella

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Plus his Recommended Reading List
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"Galactic North"
staring down infinity...

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Warning: Gross Subject Matter

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"The Stars My Destination"
"...nail it to the Retro Hugo voting board..."

Larry Niven Review

"Neutron Star"
"better get GP alien ship hull"

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"Ensign Flandry"
"or how to start a sub-genre..."

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"The Squirrel Cage"
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Space Opera Article, by Avi Abrams
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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 :
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--/ fourth place :

--/ cool : (equal to fifth place)

These awards are given in the following categories:
- novel :
- series :
- 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

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originality of idea / concept

--/ adventure award
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Again, please feel free to leave your own review or comment under every writer's entry; also recommend us other stories you liked.