The Short: My online short speculative fiction reading group decided to do a group read for SF from a specific year for the first time. After considering and voting, we chose 1976. We had a great time doing it. I suspect we’ll do this again.
The Full Story: The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction group on Facebook regularly selects short speculative fiction to read and discuss. The four Administrators (I am one) typically select the category of read, with nominations and voting by the group members on the selection.
We often select “Best SF of XXXX” anthologies to read.
We read The Year’s Best SF 6, edited by David G. Hartwell (Eos/HarperCollins, 1996) almost two years ago, covering 14 stories from 1995. In spring 2021, we followed that up with a group of 20 other notable stories from 1995 that were not part of the Hartwell anthology. These were certainly connected, but I’m not remembering that we planned the second part when we started this.
Earlier this year, we decided to return to the idea of science fiction from a specific year for a group read. We thought this would be rewarding and fun. Nominations included the years of 1953, 1965, 1966, 1976 and 1981. 1976 was selected.
I especially enjoyed this because I had started college in 1975. While I was still reading SF in college, I was mostly reading novels, was very busy, and missed a lot of short SF from that era.
One major source of science fiction from 1976 were the “Year’s Bests” anthologies that were specific to that year. There were three that I am aware of, more than some eras but less than others. “The 1977 Annual World’s Best SF” edited by Donald A. Wollheim and Arthur W. Saha (DAW, 1977) included 10 stories. “The Best Science Fiction of the Year #6” edited by Terry Carr (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Del Rey/Ballantine, 1977) included 11 stories. “Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year: Sixth Annual Collection” edited by Gardner Dozois (E. P. Dutton, 1977) included 8 stories.
29 stories were included in those three anthologies. After duplicates were removed and a 1977 story omitted (“Air Raid” by John Varley, which was published in early 1977), we read 25 stories from them. They were:
- “Appearance of Life“, Brian W. Aldiss (Locus nomination), short story
- “Overdrawn at the Memory Bank“, John Varley (Locus nomination), novelette
- “Those Good Old Days of Liquid Fuel“, Michael G. Coney, short story
- “The Hertford Manuscript“, Richard Cowper (Locus nomination), novelette
- “Natural Advantage“, Lester del Rey, short story
- “The Bicentennial Man“, Isaac Asimov (Hugo, Nebula & Locus winner), novelette
- “The Cabinet of Oliver Naylor“, Barrington J. Bayley, novelette
- “My Boat“, Joanna Russ, short story
- “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?”, James Tiptree, Jr. (Hugo winner – tie, Nebula winner, Locus nomination), novella
- “I See You“, Damon Knight (Hugo finalist, Locus runner-up), short story
- “The Phantom of Kansas“, John Varley (Hugo finalist, Locus nomination), novelette
- “Seeing“, Harlan Ellison (Locus nomination), novelette
- “The Death of Princes“, Fritz Leiber (Locus nomination), short story
- “The Psychologist Who Wouldn’t Do Awful Things to Rats“, James Tiptree, Jr. (Locus nomination), novelette
- “The Eyeflash Miracles“, Gene Wolfe (Nebula finalist, Locus nomination), novella
- “An Infinite Summer“, Christopher Priest (Locus nomination), novelette
- “The Highest Dive“, Jack Williamson, short story
- “Meathouse Man“, George R. R. Martin (Locus nomination), novelette
- “Custer’s Last Jump“, Steven Utley & Howard Waldrop (Nebula finalist, Locus nomination), novelette
- “The Diary of the Rose“, Ursula K. Le Guin (Hugo finalist, Nebula finalist (withdrawn), Locus runner-up), novelette
- “Ladies and Gentlemen, This Is Your Crisis“, Kate Wilhelm, short story
- “Back to the Stone Age“, Jake Saunders (Nebula finalist), short story
- “Armaja Das“, Joe Haldeman, short story
- “Mary Margaret Road-Grader“, Howard Waldrop (Nebula finalist, Locus nomination), short story
- “The Samurai and the Willows“, Michael Bishop (Hugo and Nebula finalist, Locus winner), novella
There was not much duplication in these three “Best of” anthologies. “The Bicentennial Man” by Isaac Asimov and “I See You” by Damon Knight show up in both the Wollheim/Saha and Carr anthologies. “Custer’s Last Jump” by Steven Utley and Howard Waldrop appear in both the Carr and Dozois anthologies.
I could be wrong, but I think these “Best Of” anthologies from 1977 were a little shorter than we are used to today, on average. The Dozois especially is shorter than later in his career, at 185 pages, with 8 stories. The Carr has 388 pages, with 11 stories. The Saha/Wollheim has 280 pages, with 10 stories.
The Administrators included 5 more stories that were award winners or finalists. We also added another 8 stories from 1976 that one or more of us felt were worth reading. These were:
- “By Any Other Name“, Spider Robinson (Hugo winner – tie, Locus nomination), novella
- “Tricentennial“, Joe Haldeman (Hugo and Locus winner, Nebula finalist), short story
- “A Crowd of Shadows“, Charles L. Grant (Nebula winner, Hugo finalist, Locus nomination), short story
- “There’s a Long, Long Trail A-Winding“, Russell Kirk (World Fantasy winner), novelette
- “Piper at the Gates of Dawn“, Richard Cowper (Hugo & Nebula finalist, Locus runner-up, and on Richard Lupoff’s list of stories he felt should have won the Hugo, partially published in three volumes as “What If?“), novella
- “The Burning Man“, Ray Bradbury (added by Admins, first published in 1975 in Spanish), short story
- “The Lonely Songs of Laren Dorr“, George R. R. Martin (added by Admins), short story
- “Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance“, John Varley (added by Admins, Hugo finalist, Locus nomination), novelette
- “Stone Circle“, Lisa Tuttle (added by Admins, Nebula finalist, Locus nomination), short story
- “Strange Wine“, Harlan Ellison (added by Admins), short story
- “The Giaconda Caper“, Bob Shaw (added by Admins), novelette
- “The Cinderella Machine“, Michael G. Coney (added by Admins), novelette
- “Bloody Man“, Avram Davidson (added by Admins), novelette
That took us to 38 stories from 1976 for the group read. I looked at several other sources for supplemental 1976 reads for me.
I added 5 stories from Rich Horton’s comments on the Jo Walton “Hugo Nominees: 1977” blog post. These were not his 1977 Hugo recommendations, but stories that he liked.
- “When I was Ming the Merciless“, a short story by Gene Wolfe
- “Beneath the Hills of Azlaroc“, a novelette by Fred Saberhagen
- “In Pierson’s Orchestra“, a short story by Kim Stanley Robinson (this and the next KSR story are the first ones published by him)
- “Coming Back to Dixieland“, a novelette by Kim Stanley Robinson
- “Your Faces, O My Sisters! Your Faces Filled of Light!“, a short story by James Tiptree, Jr.
Finally, I added several other award nominated stories from 1976:
- “Breath’s a Ware that Will Not Keep“, a short story by Thomas F. Monteleone (Nebula finalist and a great story, but published in 1975!)
- “Custom Fitting“, a short story by James White (Hugo finalist, Locus nomination)
- “His Hour Upon The Stage“, a novelette by Grant Carrington (Nebula finalist)
- “The Anvil of Jove“, a novella by Gregory Benford & Gordon Eklund (Locus nomination)
I also read the short short “Mistake” by Larry Niven, as it was in Stellar #2 that I was reading other stories from and it was short and I often like Larry Niven. I also read the novelette “Men of Greywater Station” by George R.R. Martin & Howard Waldrop, as a suggestion.
After reading these stories, I felt that a number were more horror or fantasy than SF. This did not impact my reading pleasure. These stories were:
- From the Saha/Wollheim, “My Boat”, Joanna Russ
- From the Dozois, “Armaja Das”, Joe Haldeman
- “There’s a Long, Long Trail A-Winding”, Russell Kirk
- “The Burning Man”, Ray Bradbury
- “The Lonely Songs of Larren Dorr”, George R. R. Martin
- “Bloody Man”, Avram Davidson
We were not inherently looking for fantasy/horror stories from 1976, but we were not against them either. There was at least one fantasy “Best Of” that we could have included, “The Year’s Best Fantasy: 3“, edited by Lin Carter. I don’t think we discussed this, and I don’t regret the omission. This read was more focused on SF. Also, when I looked at the TOC for that Best Of, I did not find it that interesting. My personal opinion here could be unfair.
We took about 2-1/2 months to read these stories. The number of people reading them varied.
Among the 38 group read stories, the group favorites (ranked in descending order, with “1” being the favorite) for SF stories from 1976 were:
(1) “Piper at the Gates of Dawn“, by Richard Cowper, and “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?“, James Tiptree, Jr. (tied at first)
(3) “The Samurai and the Willows“, Michael Bishop
(4) “The Phantom of Kansas“, John Varley
(5) “The Bicentennial Man“, Isaac Asimov, and “An Infinite Summer“, Christopher Priest (tied at 5th)
(7) “The Hertford Manuscript“, Richard Cowper
(8) “Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance“, John Varley
My first reaction to this group read is that it was a lot of fun reading 1976 SF without attempting a Retro Hugo read of every single story, as I have done for Retro Hugo nominations especially. I’m sure we missed some stories that might have been good, but the percentage of chaff to wheat was way lower.
Reading speculative fiction for a year like this in retrospect is very different than a real-time, reading new stories as they come out during the year experience at the time. We lack the day by day and month by month experiences that accompany the stories we read during the year. For better or for worse, there is also substantial historical perspective on the speculative fiction published in a year when we look back 26 years. This edges into some of the philosophical issues that emerge when we consider whether doing a Retro Hugo Award is really a good or valid idea. Upon balance, this was still a good idea that worked for me.
7 out of 8 of our favorites were from the three “Best Of” anthologies, with one favorite that we (the Admins) selected. My personal overall rating for the 25 unique stories from the 3 “Best Of” anthologies was a 3.8/5, or “Great”. My personal conclusions is that these three anthologies were great overall, and they were fun to read.
For the 13 stories that we (the Admins) added to the 1976 group read, my personal overall average rating was 3.83/5, also “Great”. I feel pretty good about the 13 stories we added.
Out of those 38 stories, I had two that I could not finish, “The Cabinet of Oliver Naylor” by Barrington J. Bayley, and “Bloody Man” by Avram Davidson.
One of these (“The Cabinet of Oliver Naylor”) was selected by Wollheim/Saha, who clearly liked it. Our group readers were skeptical. I have liked some Barrington J. Bayley stories, but not this one. I felt that Bayley just got a little too clever with the story and lost track of the narrative.
Avram Davidson’s “Bloody Man” was selected by us Admins. Gardner Dozois listed it in his “Honorable Mentions”, so the Admins were not the only ones who liked the story. We varied on this, but the majority of us thought it was a good ghost story. I am the outlier, and I can live with that. I had heard of the “Jack Limekiller” stories by Davidson, and I was looking forward to this one. I might revisit them in the future.
For the 5 stories recommended by Rich Horton, my average rating was 3.7/5, or “Very good.” For the four other award nominees that I read, my average rating was also 3.7/5. It is worth noting that the two Kim Stanley Robinson stories recommended by Rich Horton were his first published stories, both published in Damon Knight’s “Orbit 18” (Harper & Row). I liked them both, with a very impressive 3.8/5 (“Great) rating for “In Pierson’s Orchestra“.
I am done with reading 1976 SF stories for now. Looking at the Terry Carr “Recommended Reads” and the Gardner Dozois “Honorable Mentions”, I do see a few stories appearing on both that I have not read that I’ve added to my TBR list for future reading. These are:
- “Journey to the Heartland“, by Brian Aldiss, Universe 6
- “Media Man“, by Joan D. Vinge, Analog October 1976 (I own this, but don’t remember the story)
- “The Never-Ending Western Movie” by Robert Sheckley, Science Fiction Discoveries
I’m not ready to compare the SF of 1976 to that of other years. Suffice it to say that I enjoyed this read and that I am open to doing it again.
As mentioned above, I was not paying much attention to short SF in 1976. It was a lot of fun to read stories new to me and to get reacquainted with some stories I had read then but not since then. My count here is 12 stories that I had read before, and 37 that I had not read before (or did not remember reading and had no reason to think I had read them).
Favorite stories of mine here that I had read before included:
- “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?“, a novella by James Tiptree, Jr., rated 4.3/5, or “Superlative” for me
- “The Bicentennial Man“, a novelette by Isaac Asimov, rated 4/5, or “Great”
- “The Samurai and the Willows“, a novella by Michael Bishop, rated 4/5
- “Overdrawn at the Memory Bank“, a novelette by John Varley, rated 4/5
- “The Diary of the Rose“, a novelette by Ursula K. Le Guin, rated 4/5
- “Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance“, a novelette by John Varley, rated 4/5.
- “The Psychologist Who Wouldn’t Do Awful Things to Rats“, a novelette by James Tiptree, Jr., rated 3.9/5, or “Great”
- “The Phantom of Kansas“, a novelette by John Varley, rated 3.9/5
- “By Any Other Name“, a novella by Spider Robinson, rated 3.9/95
- “Strange Wine“, a novelette by Harlan Ellison, rated 3.9/5
- “Your Faces, O My Sisters! Your Faces Filled of Light!“, a short story by James Tiptree, Jr., rated 3.9/5
- “Tricentennial“, a short story by Joe Haldeman, rated 3.8/5
Favorite stories of mine here that I had not read before included:
- “Breath’s a Ware that Will Not Keep“, a short story by Thomas F. Monteleone, rated 4/5 (not from 1976, but a great story!)
- “The Eyeflash Miracles“, a novella by Gene Wolfe, rated 4/5
- “My Boat“, a short story by Joanna Russ, rated 4/5
- “Piper at the Gates of Dawn“, a novella by Richard Cowper, rated 4/5
- “There’s a Long, Long Trail A-Winding“, a novelette by Russell Kirk, rated 4/5
- “Appearance of Life“, a short story by Brian W. Aldiss, rated 3.9/5
- “I See You“, a short story by Damon Knight, rated 3.9/5
- “An Infinite Summer“, a novelette by Christopher Priest, rated 3.9/5
- “Meathouse Man“, a novelette by George R. R. Martin, rated 3.9/5
- “Custer’s Last Jump“, a novelette by Steven Utley and Howard Waldrop, rated 3.95/5
- “Seeing” a novelette by Harlan Ellison, rated 3.9/5
- “A Crowd of Shadows“, a short story by Charles L. Grant, rated 3.9/5
- “Custom Fitting“, a short story by James White, rated 3.8/5
- “Mary Margaret Road-Grader“, a short story by Howard Waldrop, rated 3.8/5
- “Ladies and Gentlemen, This Is Your Crisis“, a short story by Kate Wilhelm, rated 3.8/5
- “The Hertford Manuscript“, a novelette by Richard Cowper, rated 3.8/5
- “The Death of Princes“, a short story by Fritz Leiber, rated 3.8/5
- “In Pierson’s Orchestra“, a short story by Kim Stanley Robinson, rated 3.8/5
- “The Burning Man“, a short story by Ray Bradbury, rated 3.8/5 (first published in Spanish in 1975)
- “The Giaconda Caper” a novelette by Bob Shaw, rated 3.8/5
Finally, I was curious about the leading sources of great SF in 1976, based upon these stories, including those recommended by Terry Carr and Gardner Dozois but not included in their anthologies. Being an engineer with some familiarity with spreadsheets, I decided to do a weighted factor exercise populated by the stories from 1976 that either I had read or that had been recommended by Terry Carr or Gardner Dozois if not included in their Best Of volumes.
In a very arbitrary fashion, I assigned weighting of various factors that I thought indicated story popularity and/or “goodness” in some way, goodness itself being both intangible and subjective. My weighting factors were:
|1. Major SFF Award Winner (Hugo, Nebula, Locus & World Fantasy Award)||10|
|2. Major SFF award finalist or nominee (Hugo, Nebula, Locus and World Fantasy)||5|
|3. Best of the Year inclusion||5|
|4. Honorable Mention or Recommended Reading inclusion in Best Of the Year||2|
As you can see, I gave the highest weighting to a story being a major SFF award winner. I gave less but equal weighting to a story being a finalist/nominee for a major SFF award or for inclusion in one of these “Best Of” anthologies. Finally, I gave modest weighting for inclusion in the Honorable Mention list from the Gardner Dozois “Best Of” and the Recommended Reading List from the Terry Carr “Best Of”. We could argue all day and all night as to whether these factors and their weighting are appropriate, but this works for me and I did not feel like overthinking it.
I did not bother doing any sensitivity analysis on these weighting factors. The detailed results are in my Google Sheet “1976 SF Story File“. Feel free to open it, copy it and have fun with the weighting and such.
Here is a summary of the detailed results for the top 10 sources, which is one way of looking at the leading sources of SF in 1976. Although sorted by the weighted total for the source, I also included the number of stories that were either read or included in the Honorable Mention/Recommended Reading.
|Source (Magazine, anthology, collection, sorted by weighted total)||# of stories||Weighted total (weighting x # of awards, nominations, Best of appearances, Best of Honorable Mention/Recommended Reading)|
|Future Power (Anthology)||7||49|
|Orbit 18 (Anthology)||8||35|
|Andromeda 1 (Anthology)||4||30|
|Universe 6 (Anthology)||4||28|
Looking at this summary, “The Magazine of Science Fiction & Fantasy” (F&SF) might be considered to have been the best source of SF in 1976, both from the weighted total and number of entries. I found this interesting and yet counterintuitive to me. I own 155 issues of F&SF, from 1957 to 1975, and I believe I have read them all. This works out to about 70% of the issues from that period, so clearly I was not a completist here on F&SF. I would never have considered getting a subscription, as I find both stories that I love and many stories that I dislike or would rather not read. Clearly, editor Edward L. Ferman did a very good job choosing stories that were popular with award voters and with Donald A. Wollheim, Arthur W. Saha, Terry Carr and Gardner Dozois.
The top 10 entries were split equally between SFF magazines and anthologies. The top 4 sources were all SF, followed by 3 anthologies. If I had not just read all of this 1976 SF, I might have wanted to go and read several of these anthologies. I certainly need to consider reading more of the Damon Knight Orbit and the Terry Carr Universe series of original (non-reprint) anthologies for other years.
Following are my detailed comments/reviews of the stories read. SPOILER WARNING!! These are ordered to match the order of the stories in the “Best Of” and then in a somewhat arbitrary fashion that probably matches the order I read them in.
First are the stories in the Arthur W. Saha/Donald A Wollheim The 1977 Annual World’s Best SF.
- “Appearance of Life“, a short story by Brian W. Aldiss, from Andromeda 1 (Peter Weston editor, Orbit/Futura). Wow. This is a great story, one new to me by Aldiss. A man is a far future Seeker, one who makes unexpected connections. He travels to a world with a gigantic, equator straddling structure that has become a museum for man. In reviewing the contents of the museum, he concludes that Man is but an echo of the ancient race that once ruled the universe. He decides this is so depressing that he hides the information and flees to an isolated world to hide the information from the human race. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.
- “Overdrawn at the Memory Bank“, an Eight Worlds novelette by John Varley, Galaxy May 1976. Great story of a mishap during a imaginary expedition, and an attempt to restore the protagonist to his body. Very good characters, very well executed. Rated 4/5, or “Great”.
- “Those Good Old Days of Liquid Fuel“, a short story by Michael G. Coney, F&SF January 1976. A very good story of a man visiting his teenage stomping grounds, where he and his friends were space ship spotters at the landing field. We get a long flashback about his best friend, who had the same interest although very different motives. He revisits the abandoned landing field after he finds out the obsolete ships will be wrecked and recycled. His old, no longer friend has the contract. He observes the old friend, but they do not meet. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”. This is from “The Peninsula” universe.
- “The Hertford Manuscript“, a novelette by Richard Cowper, first published in his collection The Custodians and Other Stories (Gollancz). A great follow-up to “The Time Machine”, very well done, about the fate of the protagonist. Hint: he dies in 1665 in London, of the plague, having secured a replacement part for his time machine. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.
- “Natural Advantage“, a short story by Lester del Rey, Analog June 1976. A fun story in conversation with Arthur C. Clarke’s “Rescue Party“. An alien space ship has been sent to Earth to warn the possible inhabitants of an anti-matter cloud that will hit the Sun in ten years, which will cause Solar upset and extinction. They find radio waves and an inhabited satellite. They and humans exchange info, and they warn the humans. They trade libraries. The captain is very surprised when to they encounter humans near their home in planet. The humans refined the alien space drive; among other things, they moved Earth to a safe location. Rated 3.7/5.
- “The Bicentennial Man“, a novelette by Isaac Asimov, Stellar #2 (Judy-Lynn del Rey, Ballantine Books). A great story by Asimov, with better than typical characters. A positronic robot is manufactured with some slop or uncertainties in the brain pathways. The robot, Andrew, is artistic, and gradually earns it’s freedom. Time goes on, and it dies at 200 as human. Hugo, Nebula and Locus winner. Rated 4/5.
- “The Cabinet of Oliver Naylor“, a novelette by Barrington J. Bayley, New Worlds 10 (Hilary Bailey editor, Corgi). I wanted to like this story; I have not read that much by Bayley, but I have really liked some of them (for instance, “Sporting With the Chid” and “A Crab Must Try“, which were both great stories). Here, the characters were blah and the plot went nowhere and it just dragged on. I can see that it is some kind of a riff on very English characters and culture. I’m sure it is smart and super in some way, but I lost interest. Rated 2/5, for “Did Not Finish”. I do wonder why the editors included this.
- “My Boat, a short story by Joanna Russ, F&SF January 1976. Very different for Joanna Russ, a Cthulhu story. Great characters, high schoolers, or not? I can’t tell. Rated 4/5.
- “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?“, a novella by James Tiptree, Jr., Aurora: Beyond Equality (Susan Janice Anderson, Vonda N. McIntyre editors, Fawcett Gold Medal). Hugo and Nebula winner, Locus finalist. I know I’ve read this before, as I own and have read the Tiptree collection that includes it, Star Songs of an Old Primate. I always find it interesting to read a story I know I have read, but remember nothing of, and see if I do recognize anything. It felt vaguely familiar, but not much remembered. A 20th century US space missions loses communications on the back side of the sun. They cannot contact Houston, but they are contacted by 24th century women in space. After their rescue, Dr. Lorimer figures out that they are only a historical curiosity, as there are no men left after a plague and all 2 million people are female clones. There is no place for three men in to the world. This is a classic. Some similarity to the Joanna Russ story “When It Changed” in terms of themes. Rated 4.3/5, or “Superlative”.
- “I See You“, a short story by Damon Knight, F&SF November 1976. A really great story of the development and use of a time viewer, with a lot of societal impacts. Not the first such story, but one of the best. Rated 3.9/5.
Next are the stories from the Gardner Dozois anthology, Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year: Sixth Annual Collection (E. P. Dutton).
- “The Diary of the Rose“, a novelette by Ursula K. Le Guin, Future Power (edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois, Random House). Wow. A great story by Le Guin that I don’t remember having read before. The protagonist is a psychoscopist, one trained for therapy by looking at the Con (conscious) and Uncon (unconscious) and other parts of the brain of the subjects. She encounters a subject who proves to be rational and probably a subject of governmental persecution, in a country where private thoughts are really a fiction. He is sent to electroshock therapy to burn away parts of his brain, despite her efforts. She quits the practice and transfers to the Children’s Hospital, where perhaps she will not encounter this. Great characters, Hugo finalist, Nebula finalist (withdrawn by Le Guin due to her ire over the SFWA revocation of Stanislaw Lem’s membership), Locus runner-up. It is noted as “Orsinia” in ISFDB, but Le Guin wrote, “I don’t think ‘The Diary of the Rose’ takes place in Orsinia, it seems more like South America to me, but the protagonist has an Orsinian name.” Rated 4/5.
- “Custer’s Last Jump“, a novelette by Steven Utley and Howard Waldrop, Universe 6 (Terry Carr editor, Doubleday). Nebula nominee. A great alternate history of the air war in the West in a world where Ben Franklin invented an engine that could propel an airplane. Crazy Horse and others are taught flying and fly with the Confederate aerial forces in the West. At the end, Custer is killed by Crazy Horse and his forces using their airplanes. A great story, told in an epistolary form. Rated 3.9/5.
- “Air Raid“, a short story by John Varley, Asimov’s Spring 1977. Not included in the read, as it was published in 1977; clearly, Dozois did what he felt like doing, which I understand. A great story!
- “Ladies and Gentlemen, This Is Your Crisis“, a short story by Kate Wilhelm, Orbit 18 (Damon Knight editor, Harper & Row). Not the first story of a riveting TV show in the future, but a very good one. People with big issues are sent to Crisis Therapy, which is broadcast as “This Is Your Crisis”, kind of like an individual “Survivor”. Rated 3.8/5.
- “Back to the Stone Age“, a short story by Jake Saunders, Lone Star Universe (Geo. W. Proctor, Steven Utley editors, Heidelberg Publishers). A very strong alternate history story of a world where Oak Ridge blows up, the US does not have any atomic bombs to drop, and Japan does not surrender. The US decides to “bomb Japan back to the Stone Age” instead of invading. The US opens up bombing Japan to all the Allies. 10 years later, there is not much left, but some bombing is still going on. A Bolivian Air Force B-29 commanded by Dick Bong has a load of bombs and a bunch of tourists. The narrator is a newspaper man on board. After bombing a very remote village, they hear via radio that Japan has finally surrendered. Shortly after that, they are shot down by a kludged together airplane. The narrator survives, with one of the biggest stories of the year. Rated 3.7/5.
- “Armaja Das“, a short story by Joe Haldeman, Frights, (Kirby McCauley editor, St. Martin’s Press). The son of murdered gypsies is a computer genius cursed by a gypsy. His computer with empathy circuits helps him find a cure, which ends up transferring the curse to the computer, which leads to the end of civilization. Rated 3.6/5, or “Very good”.
- “Mary Margaret Road-Grader“, a short story by Howard Waldrop, also from Orbit 18. This is quite a great story from Waldrop, one I don’t think I have ever read. Some kind of post-apocalyptic civilization, perhaps American Indian, has tractor pulls as a contest of manly worth. A woman enters, and the world is changed. Rated 3.8/5.
- “The Samurai and the Willows“, an Urban Nucleus novella by Michael Bishop, F&SF February 1976. Read in The Door Gunner and Other Perilous Flights of Fancy, a wonderful Michael Bishop collection. Locus winner, Nebula and Hugo nominee. Great story of two roommates in a future Atlanta Dome after most flee indoors due to climate/perhaps pollution. She marries and he leaves, leaving her a bonsai. Great characters, interesting setting and plot. I did see at ISFDB that this story was extensively revised for this collection, but I have not compared the versions. Rated 4/5.
The third anthology is The Best Science Fiction of the Year #6 (Terry Carr editor, Del Rey/Ballantine).
- “I See You“, a short story by Damon Knight, see above.
- “The Phantom of Kansas“, an Eight Worlds novelette by John Varley, Galaxy February 1976. A great story, and one I’m sure I’ve read before but not for a long time, probably first in Varley’s collection The Persistence of Vision. A weather artist wakes up after a memory recording on the moon, and finds out she has died 3 times, probably by murder. Her weather symphony, “Cyclone” at the Kansas Disneyland, is a success, but she realizes someone else is tampering with the symphony’s weather. She finds out the killer is an illegal clone of her, created by criminals by accident, and driven to desperation by the death sentence of the population laws. They escape to Pluto together, which has no clone population laws. Not the very best Varley, but in the burst of fiction when you knew Varley was really important. A Hugo and Locus finalist. Rated 3.9/5.
- “Seeing“, a novelette by Harlan Ellison, Andromeda 1. A great story of a young woman with mutant eyes who hates them and has sex with aliens to be able to forget what she sees, and an insanely powerful old woman who wants such eyes. It happens, the old woman goes crazy with what the mutant eyes see, and the now blind young woman leaves Worldsend with her payoff, happy, on a star ship to elsewhere. This is great Ellison. Rated 3.9/5.
- “The Death of Princes“, a short story by Fritz Leiber, Amazing June 1976. A lovely story about a group of brilliant friends, all born about 9 months after Halley’s Comet arrived in 1910. One of them, Francois, answers certain questions for a living, with a response time to the questions in what turns out to be the time for electromagnetic waves to travel to and from Halley’s Comet. Francois has an obsession with Halley’s Comet, and believes in the ghosts of elder race computers. Before Francois disappears, they hear Francois’s son ends up a spaceman in a probe to the next arrival of Halley’s Comet. Reprinted in The Leiber Chronicles. Rated 3.8/5.
- “The Psychologist Who Wouldn’t Do Awful Things to Rats“, a novelette by James Tiptree, from New Dimensions 6 (Robert Silverberg editor, Harper & Row). A wonderful story of an experimental psychologist at a university who does not to do terrible things to rats. After orders to cull his rats and get with the program, he ingests a lot of absinthe and hallucinates a King Rat and a desirable woman. He quits and decides to work for the Mafia by fixing races with science. Rated 3.9/5.
- “The Eyeflash Miracles“, a novella by Gene Wolfe, from Future Power. This is one hell of an interesting story. A little boy is blind and on the road. He meets Nitty and Mr. Parker. Miracles occur around him at times, and sometimes he is somewhere else and can see. His father reappears, and he hears that he may be the result of genetic modification. Very interesting style and content, with great characters. I can see why both Rich Horton and Gardner Dozois loved this story. Nebula finalist, Locus nomination. Rated 4/5.
- “An Infinite Summer“, a Dream Archipelago novelette by Christopher Priest, from Andromeda 1. This great story of time travel and freezers has moved towards the upper echelon of my favorite time travel stories. We find the narrative variously in 1903, 1935 and 1940. Thomas James Lloyd is a victim of freezers, people apparently out of time who most cannot see and who “freeze” people singly in tableaux for varying periods of time and for unknown reasons. Thomas and his love Sarah were frozen in 1903; he erodes or comes out of freeze in 1935, and she in 1940. They are reunited when she comes out of freeze, and then they are both refrozen. The freezing here reminds me of bobbling in Vernor Vinge’s The Peace War; it does make me wonder if Vinge had read or heard of this story. Rated 3.9/5.
- “The Highest Dive“, a short story by Jack Williamson, Science Fiction Monthly January 1976. A very good story of a young man’s decision to leave Earth. Aliens need help exploring Atlas, an inexplicably giant planet with miniscule gravity. He finds out important information about the planet, which ends up being an artificial creation. He survives a 100 mile drop into a pond. Rated 3.7/5.
- “Meathouse Man“, a Corpse Handlers novelette by George R. R. Martin, from Orbit 18. I had the feeling I might have read this story, but not sure where. A young man is a corpse handler, able to control multiple synthabrains in corpse brains. He gets better at it, but he never finds a lasting love. At the end, he gives up any connection with others. A very sad story. Rated 3.9/5.
- “Custer’s Last Jump“, a novelette by Steven Utley and Howard Waldrop. See comments above.
- “The Bicentennial Man“, a novelette by Isaac Asimov. See comments above.
Here are my comments on the 13 stories added by us Administrators from 1976.
- “By Any Other Name“, a novella by Spider Robinson, Analog November 1976. A Hugo winner, in a tie, with “Houston, Houston, Do You Read Me,?” by James Tiptree, Jr. I read this when I had a subscription, but did not remember much. Two academics, together, work on and release a viral agent that makes human olfactory sense immensely sensitive, destroying human cities and industrial civilization. With this sensitivity, they also discover new enemies, the Muskees, previously not detectible by humans. A young man is raised to assassinate the “evil” Nobel prize winner, Carlson, who released the agent. He tries and fails to kill Carlson, but finds out his father is the one who released the agent. At the end, he leaves a trap for his father which his father would not fall for unless he was lying and guilty of what Carlson was accused of. He reunites with Carlson for a better world, including working with the Muskees. Rated 3.9/5.
- “Tricentennial“, a short story by Joe Haldeman, Analog July 1976. Hugo winner. I read this when I had an Analog subscription, but I don’t remember it. A very good story of a expedition to a pair of distant partners of the Sun, one antimatter and one matter. There is a real anti-science mood on Earth, and the L-5 colonists bootleg the expedition goal. The ship is damaged in transit and cannot repair and slow down for a long time, returning a signal to a now dead Earth in 3,000 years. Rated 3.8/5.
- “A Crowd of Shadows“, a short story by Charles L. Grant, F&SF June 1976. Nebula winner, Hugo finalist, Locus nominee. A great story of a man on vacation. Several people are murdered at his hotel, including a boy who is suspected of being an android. The protagonist suspects he could have been the murderer if circumstances were different. Rated 3.9/5.
- “There’s a Long, Long Trail A-Winding“, a novelette by Russell Kirk, Frights (Kirby McCauley editor, St. Martin’s Press). World Fantasy Award winner. As noted by the editor, Frank Sarsfield is a singular man. A lovely fantasy/horror story, a tale of a giant of a man who has the personality for nothing but being a hobo. He comes to the deserted Tamarack House, and he or his spirit save a number of little girls decades ago after a break out from the nearby prison. Rated 4/5.
- “Piper at the Gates of Dawn“, a novella by Richard Cowper, F&SF, March 1976 NA. Hugo & Nebula finalist. As the year approaches 3,000, it is almost 1,000 years after the Drowning. Life is feudal, with some memories of technology and science. A young piper Tom comes to York for the coming of the White Bird of Kinship. He dies, but life is changing. Whether this be SF or fantasy, it’s a great story with memorable characters. Set in epistolary fashion as a future report. Rated 4/5.
- “The Burning Man“, a short story by Ray Bradbury, in a Spanish original (1975), and in English in the Bradbury collection Long After Midnight (Alfred A. Knopf). Not SF, but most Bradbury is somewhere on the speculative fiction spectrum. A boy and his aunt are on the way to the lake in a damnably hit day. They pick up a stranger who scares them. The aunt demands he get out of the car. On the way back from swimming at the lake, they pick it up a boy in a white suit who might be the same stranger and also Satan. Rated 3.8/5.
- “The Lonely Songs of Laren Dorr“, a short story by George R. R. Martin, Fantastic, May 1976. A fantasy, somewhat in the style of Roger Zelazny. Sharra comes through a gate, on a quest to find and free her love Kaydar. She meets Laren Dorr, who sings to her of his lonely world. She leaves, and in leaving finds him to be the guardian of the gate, set to keep her from leaving. A good story, but not great. I liked the Steven Fabian illustration in Fantastic. Rated 3.5/5, or “Good”.
- “Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance“, a novelette by John Varley, Galaxy July 1976. Hugo finalist, locus #3, read previously in either Galaxy or Varley’s The Persistence of Vision collection. This is a great story of music composers from the Saturn Rings. They are composite beings, a human/modified plant that can exist in outer space. The dual entity of Barnum and Bailey come to a moon to get trace elements and to try to sell a piece of music. It’s quite a ride, with great characters. Rated 4/5.
- “Stone Circle“, a short story by Lisa Tuttle, Amazing March 1976. Nebula nominee. A woman lives in a very corrupt, very controlling society. She gets by with contacts and favors, including sex. She rescues a younger woman from being run over while on be drugs. They become involved. Finally she betrays her girlfriend when she finds out that the girlfriend is involved with another man. Rated 3.6/5.
- “Strange Wine” a short story by Harlan Ellison, Amazing June 1976. A great short short story, and one by Ellison I did not remember reading. A man suffers through a fairly horrible life, thinking he is an alien who has been sent to Earth to live as human as a punishment. He finally commits suicide. After that, he wakes up on his home planet as an alien, and finds out that Earth is the best of all possible worlds, and that he was blessed to have been sent there. Yes, it’s a twist ending, but Ellison nails it. Rated 3.9/5.
- “The Giaconda Caper“, a novelette by Bob Shaw, from his Cosmic Kaleidoscope collection (Gollancz). A very entertaining story of many Mona Lisa’s, and Leonardo da Vinci as both the inventor of moving pictures and a pornographer. Rated 3.8/5.
- “The Cinderella Machine“, a novelette by Michael G. Coney, F&SF August 1976. An interesting story of Coney’s “Peninsula”; I don’t think I have read any of these before this group read. An aging actress wants to do a revival of her films. She arranges to have access to a machine that can temporarily remake parts of your body, wanting to look young again. Things do not go well for her or her pet moray eel. Rated 3.7/5.
- “Bloody Man”, a novelette by Avram Davidson, Fantastic August 1976. A “Jack Limekiller” story; I don’t think I have read any of them. It might be a good story, but it is just too slow getting there. I like the characters, but this is just dragging! I am open on whether this is genre or not. There is a brief talk of a “bloody man”, but nothing concrete yet. I’m not going to get there. Rated 2/5, or “Did Not Finish”. Checking in with my compatriots, the ghost showed up soon after I quit reading. Oh well.
Here are my comments on the 5 stories from Rich Horton’s comments on the Jo Walton “Hugo Nominees: 1977” blog post.
- “When I was Ming the Merciless“, a short story Gene Wolfe, from The Ides of Tomorrow: Original Science Fiction Tales of Horror (Terry Carr editor, Little, Brown). A fairly horrific but matter of fact story of a psychological experiment in created group identity. This is clearly based on a real Stanford University behavioral experiment from 1971. Rated 3.5/5.
- “Beneath the Hills of Azlaroc“, a novelette by Fred Saberhagen, Odyssey Spring 1976. I suspect this is the first Azlaroc story, but it’s not completely clear. It’s noted as “Spring 1976”, so I assume it was out before the August 1976 “To Mark the Year on Azlaroc” story in Science Fiction Discoveries. Text from these two stories was incorporated into Saberhagen’s novel The Veils of Azlaroc. I remember seeing the paperback version of The Veils of Azlaroc, but I never read it. There are three suns for Azlaroc, and they do strange things with time and space. Azlaroc is also a very strange body, with great density yet modest gravity. At approximately yearly spacing, a veil of space-time is generated and acts as a barrier to passage from anyone wishing to leave Azlaroc. Sorokin finds a recording device that has been sent through a subduction zone that appears to connect via the veils with a nearby neutron star. He and a very rich man attempt to use folded space and the subduction zone to leave Azlaroc. It does not work. This is a darn interesting story. It was never reprinted, except as part of The Veils of Azlaroc. Rated 3.7/5.
- “In Pierson’s Orchestra“, a short story by Kim Stanley Robinson, from Orbit 18. A piano prodigy has been learning to play Pierson’s Orchestra, a future instrument that can imitate an orchestra. He will be the 9th Master of the Orchestra, but becomes addicted to a very serious, terminal drug. He tells the 8th Master and proceeds to go cold turkey. He hallucinates, vomits, and survives, playing brilliantly. He is blind at the end. For one of his two first stories published, this is a great Kim Stabley Robinson story. Rated 3.8/5.
- “Coming Back to Dixieland“, a novelette by Kim Stanley Robinson, also from Orbit 18. An asteroid/whatever miner band from Pallas Metals, playing Dixieland blues, win a big contest. With the second story about music, I do have to assume Kim Stanley Robinson knows something about or has a real interest in music. A pretty good story. Rated 3.6/5.
- “Your Faces, O My Sisters! Your Faces Filled of Light!“, a short story by James Tiptree, Jr., from Aurora: Beyond Equality. I’m not sure if I first read this in the 1981 Tiptree collection Out of the Everywhere and Other Extraordinary Visions (Del Rey/Ballantine) or the 1990 Tiptree career retrospective collection Her Smoke Rise Up Forever (Arkham House). A great story of a woman escaping her life into delusion, or one in a post-man world where she is a courier on foot. Rated 3.9/5.
I read several other award nominated stories from 1976, and two that was just serendipity:
- “Breath’s a Ware that Will Not Keep“, a short story by Thomas F. Monteleone, from Dystopian Visions (Roger Elwood editor, Prentice-Hall. Read in Philosophy and Science Fiction (1984, Michael Phillips editor, Prometheus Books), from Part 6, Technology and Human Self-Transformation. This superb story is of a man who works in Central Breeding for Chicago, where all required human types are envisioned, planned, and created. He is a Breeder Supervisor for a breeder who has mild psi powers and who has been implanted with 30 fetuses. Unfortunately, monitoring shows they are wild, random fetuses, not those planned. The breeder resists having the aberrant, unplanned fetuses aborted, killing several staff with her psi powers. She is finally killed. He is very unhappy about this, and knows his life is wrong, but the system and his partner overwhelm his feelings. This story does connect with “The Machine Stops“, the E. M. Forster classic which follows it in the anthology. Published in 1975, so not eligible in theory for our group read. Rated 4/5.
- “Custom Fitting“, a short story by James White, Stellar #2. Hugo finalist & Locus #3. This is a great story, in the same issue of Stellar #2 as Isaac Asimov’s “The Bicentennial Man”. An old fashioned, hide bound and very traditional tailor in England is recruited to cloth an alien of centaur-like characteristics for Court presentation as a Federation representative to Earth. His qualities and determination allow him to succeed. Rated 3.8/5.
- “His Hour Upon The Stage“, a novelette by Grant Carrington, Amazing March 1976. Nebula nominee. A good story of the end of live theatre, and perhaps a new beginning. Reminded me of but not as good as Walter M. Miller’s “The Darfstellar“, which won a 1955 Hugo. Rated 3.6/5.
- “The Anvil of Jove“, a novella by Gregory Benford & Gordon Eklund, F&SF July 1976. Locus nominee. Noted as part of their novel If The Stars are Gods, perhaps a fix-up novel that I don’t remember if I have read. A story of manipulated, augmented intelligences in a station orbiting Jupiter, perhaps alien intelligences, and a very, very old astronaut. I give this a middle of the road 3.3/5 rating, or “Good”.
- “Men of Greywater Station“, a novelette by George R.R. Martin & Howard Waldrop, Amazing March 1976. A reasonably good story of researchers on a hostile alien planet, where the dominant lifeform is an intelligent fungus. In the end, everyone dies, perhaps due to their human qualities. Rated 3.6/5.
- “Mistake“, a short story by Larry Niven, Stellar #2. A funny short short of an alien who attempts to invade Earth, only to discover he is a hallucination. Previously read in Niven’s Convergent Series collection (1979, Del Rey/Ballantine). Rated 3.5/5.
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