A Deep Look by Dave Hook

About Me: I am a California native and a reader of speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy, and related genres) for most of my life. I love older material, including pulp magazine stories, but I am challenged by the racism, misogyny, colonialism, etc. often found there. I also love current SF/fantasy, and enjoy nominating/voting on the Hugo awards. Although I am a latecomer to active fandom, I love participating in Worldcon. I am a moderator for the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction Group on Facebook. In other worlds, I am a water resources civil engineer, bicyclist, Deadhead, radio programmer on 91.5 FM KKUP, comic book fan, and husband and dad.

Blog and website list:

Some of my favorite online resources are:

  • Fun with Epistolary Novels and Short Fiction at Chicon 8

    I was fortunate to be selected for a panel at Chicon 8 on epistolary novels in speculative fiction. We (author and moderator Meg Elison, author Caroline Stevermer, publisher and editor Sarah T. Guan of Erewhon Books, Professor Leigha McReynolds, and myself) had a wonderful and spirited discussion of many facets of epistolary writing and some of our favorite examples. Here is a link to my list of epistolary speculative fiction, updated by examples from the panel and audience. See below for more information and caveats.

    The Full Story. When I found out that I could be considered for Chicon 8 (Worldcon) panel participation and that one of the panels was on “The Resurgence of the Epistolary Novel”, I was quite excited. I have been a fan of this form of story telling for a long time, especially in speculative fiction. I immediately started to prepare for this panel, regardless of whether I was selected.

    One useful definition is that from Wikipedia, “An epistolary novel is a novel written as a series of letters.[1] The term is often extended to cover novels which intersperse documents of other kinds with the letters, most commonly diary entries and newspaper clippings, and sometimes considered to include novels composed of documents even if they don’t include letters at all.[2][3] More recently, epistolaries may include electronic documents such as recordings and radio, blog posts, and e-mails.”

    Epistolary fiction has a long tradition in speculative fiction, starting with “Gulliver’s Travels” (1726) and “Frankenstein” (1818, originally published anonymously!) among others. As was noted on the panel description, some think it is undergoing a resurgence. One aspect of this is clearly the new modes of communication which were envisioned in some ways and which are now actual, such as email, text messages, twitter, etc. We could have equally argued that epistolary fiction never went away.

    I am not going to try to summarize the panel discussion in any detail. I was too busy to take notes, but I certainly received a master-level education on the form and what it means to readers, writers, editors and others from the panel. My thanks to my fellow panel members for this, including:

    1. Moderator Meg Elison (on Twitter @megelison), author of “The Pill” (first published in the 2020 PM Press collection “Big Girl Plus The Pill Plus Such People in It and Much More”) and other great stories
    2. Caroline Stevermer, co-author with Patricia C. Wrede of the 1988 Ace Books novel “Sorcery and Cecelia: An Epistolary Fantasy” and two sequels
    3. Sarah T. Guan (on Twitter @Sarah_Guan), publisher and editor of Erewhon Books
    4. Leigha McReynolds (on Twitter @LeighaMcR), Assistant Clinical Professor at the University of Maryland

    I did learn from my fellow panel members that epistolary fiction can be a wonderful way to tell certain stories without some of the challenges and overhead of dealing with multiple points of view. I also learned that epistolary fiction can be a challenge for people who are used to “normal” narrative structure that most of us are used to in literature.

    Many of the novels and stories we discussed as being epistolary were speculative fiction, but many were not. I know I was quite enthusiastic about this as only a fan can be, and I sure hope I did not go over the line on the panel.

    I started out preparing for this by identifying stories and novels that I knew or thought were epistolary from my own reading. I received some great suggestions from the members of the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy – Short Fiction group on Facebook, which is a great resource and place for anyone interested in speculative fiction at less than novel length. I searched the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (www.isfdb.org) for works with an “epistolary” tag. I did read many of the ISFDB tagged works, which had quite a number I had not identified as epistolary. I found that a few are probably incorrectly tagged as “epistolary”. I’ll update ISFDB eventually after checking again.

    I read, or reread, as many of those as I could find, and summarized my very personal opinions of them in a Google Sheets file, “2022 Epistolary SFF“. I shared an earlier version of this file with the panel, and suggested to our moderator Meg Elison that we discuss short epistolary fiction as well.

    Some of my top Short Fiction epistolary stories are:

    1. “Flowers for Algernon”, a novelette by Daniel Keyes, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (F&SF) April 1959
    2. “This Is How You Lose The Time War”, a novella by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, 2019, released as a book by Saga.
    3. “That Only a Mother”, a short story by Judith Merril, Astounding June 1948
    4. “Asymmetrical warfare”, a short story by S.R Algernon, Nature, March 26, 2015
    5. “Little Free Library”, a short story by Naomi Kritzer, Tor.com, April 8, 2020
    6. “My Brother Leopold”, a novelette by Edgar Pangborn, 1973, from “An Exaltation of Stars: Transcendental Adventures in Science Fiction”, Terry Carr editor
    7. “Piper at the Gates of Dawn”, a novella by Richard Cowper, F&SF, March 1976
    8. “The Trap”, a novelette by Howard Fast (variant of The First Men), F&SF, February 1960

    It was interesting to see that 3 of my top 8 epistolary short fiction stories were from Fantasy & Science Fiction. I assume this is coincidence.

    Some of my favorite epistolary novels are:

    1. “Freedom & Necessity”, Steven Brust & Emma Bull, 1997, Tor
    2. “A Fire Upon the Deep”, Vernor Vinge, 1992, Tor/Millennium
    3. “Excession”, Iain M. Banks, 1996, Orbit
    4. “Parable of the Sower”, 1993, Four Walls Eight Windows & “Parable of the Talents”, 1998, Seven Stories Press, Octavia E. Butler (Earthseed)
    5. “The Book of the New Sun”, Gene Wolfe (“Shadow of the Torturer”, 1980, Simon and Schuster, and after)
    6. “The Knight” and “The Wizard”, 2004, Gene Wolfe, Tor
    7. “Ministry for the Future”, Kim Stanley Robinson, 2020, Orbit/Hachette B and Blackstone
    8. “Hard Landing” by Algis Budrys, 1993, Questar/Warner Books (after a 1992 novella release)

    This file includes two sheets, labeled “No Spoilers!” and “With Spoilers!”. “With Spoilers!” has my full comments/reviews/etc. in it, which is chock full of spoilers! Do not look at this sheet, or avoid that column, if you want to be surprised. The other sheet, “No Spoilers”, has that info excised.

    For my own purposes, I sorted the stories/novels by order of my personal ranking scale, from 5/5 (a perfect story, which “Flowers for Algernon” is for me) to either a 2/5 (Did Not Finish, for some reason), or no rating, which usually means I did not even attempt to read it for some reason. My not reading a story does not mean that it’s not good or that you should not give it a go. I might have decided I was too busy, ran out of time, just felt it was not for me, or felt that I had a good enough grasp on it without a read or reread. I assume that you could download/copy the sheets and re-sort them as you desire, but have not checked this.

    I also added a column in which I attempted to roughly categorize the entries. When I say “traditional”, it’s a classic epistolary form of letters to and from people, or something like that. I did not overthink this, so it’s possible I have not been completely consistent. These categories made sense to me, but I know there are innumerable ways of categorizing them.

    The sheets are organized into 3 sections, Short Fiction at the top, Novels in the middle, and Other examples of epistolary novels or short fiction, whether speculative fiction or not, from the panel and the audience. Below the bottom section, I’ve added a brief list of References for websites and posts I looked at for examples of epistolary speculative fiction.

    Maybe I was not paying attention, but I don’t think I heard Meg Elison mention that she has an epistolary novel, “The Book of the Unnamed Midwife”, 2014, Sybaratic Press. I’ve added that to the list.

    I had a great time on this. I’d love to get your thoughts, added suggestions for epistolary speculative fiction reading, or any corrections.

    I will be blogging on my other Chicon 8 panels, such as the Titus Groan panel and two other 1946 Project panels.

  • Comfort Reads and Guilty Pleasures

    Reading is an interesting human activity.

    It does not appear to be something that our brains have evolved for naturally, unlike various activities that involve seeing, muscle coordination, etc. It is not a skill that an infant can observe in a parent and pick up substantially, like speech.

    Rather, it is a skill that humans need to learn. Most humans require substantial teaching effort and practice to attain an adequate, adult level accomplishment in reading.

    Although this is hard to believe, I have learned that there are adults who exist and work in our basically literate society, but who have never learned to read.

    I heard from from a friend who told me, when the subject of literacy came up, that they had encountered the issue in the workplace. Apparently, there were people who had been hired and had been working but who had never learned to read. I can see this as being possible in some job classifications, that were more hands-on and less knowledge-worker. It was only when failure to perform certain duties or take required actions that had been communicated to them in writing had led them to the brink of serious disciplinary actions or termination that they admitted that they actually could not read.

    I can see this. On a personal level, I was not reading at grade level or particularly functional manner until age 9. Apparently, I had some kind of learning disability or problem with how I was attempting to read. No one alive remembers what it was.

    However, that summer my much loved paternal grandmother and librarian Ellen (Rogers) Hook and a teacher friend of her took several months of working with me to address the issue. Once the dam broke on really learning to read, you could not stop me. I remain eternally thankful to her for this and everything else.

    In hindsight, I don’t know exactly what my grandmother thought about speculative fiction. However, I do remember her offering to take me to visit a famous science fiction author who lived nearby her in the Ojai valley sometime in my childhood, so she was clearly paying attention and knew I was interested in SF. I wish I remembered who it was or if we went to see them or not.

    Both the level of difficulty and level of interest in reading vary dramatically among us. Discounting those who never learn how to read as noted above, there is a real spectrum of interest in reading, from those that read adequately but are just not interested in it to those who read insatiably.

    Many of us, myself included, see reading as both a required skill to acquire work or career knowledge and an entertainment or personal improvement activity that we do for enjoyment. My default hobby or pleasure activity is reading, encompassing a wide range of printed material including non-fiction, historical fiction, science fiction, fantasy and other speculative fiction.

    When I read fiction, most of the time I am reading works that are new to me that I hope will be interesting, that I will enjoy reading and that will challenge me, with characters and plots that will enthrall me while exposing me to things that I really need to think about. I read written works so that I can vote on the Hugo Awards, and so that I can have conversations with other speculative fiction aficionados about them. I anticipate that reading some of these things will be potentially difficult and possibly unpleasant, even for my pleasure reading.

    For those of you familiar with speculative fiction, Gene Wolfe is an interesting author. He was a great writer, perhaps one of the greatest writers in speculative fiction in the last 40 years. He wrote stories and books that I just love, and that I think are arguably classics of speculative fiction. Among my favorites for his short fiction are (presented in no special order):

    • “The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories”, 1970, Orbit 7 (Damon Knight editor).
    • “Seven American Nights”, 1978 novella, Orbit 20
    • “No Planets Strike”, a 1997 short story, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.
    • “Useful Phrases”, a 1993 short story, Tomorrow Speculative Fiction.
    • “The Lost Pilgrim”, a 2004 novelette, from “Innocents Abroad: New Fantasy Stories”.
    • “Against the Lafayette Escadrille”, a 1972 short story, from “Again, Dangerous Visions”, Harlan Ellison editor.
    • “War Beneath The Tree”, a 1979 short story, Omni.
    • “Counting Cats in Zanzibar”, a 1996 short story, Asimov’s Science Fiction
    • “Petting Zoo”, a 1997 short story, from “Return of the Dinosaurs”, , edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Mike Resnick.
    • “Dormanna”, a 2012 short story, from “The Palancar Project”, David G. Hartwell editor.
    • “The Eyeflash Miracles”, a 1976 novella, from “Future Power, Jack Dann & Gardner Dozois editors.
    • “V. R. T.”, a 1972 novella from “The Fifth Head of Cerberus”.

    At the same time, his works are often very challenging and sometimes take repeated readings for me to have a clue what is going on. Examples of this include:

    • “The Ziggurat”, a 1995 novella, from “Full Spectrum Five”, edited by Tom Dupree, Jennifer Hershey, Janna Silverstein.
    • “The Fifth Head of Cerberus”, a 1972 novella, from “Orbit 10”, Damon Knight editor

    I know people who think these two works are great classics, people with substantial expertise and knowledge of the field of speculative fiction, and they may be right. I am not really a fan of this kind of complexity and hard to follow and understand narrative. It’s also possible that Wolfe was just a lot smarter than I am, and that I really should have been able to figure out much of his work without that level of challenge. Some of his work verges on the post-modern, and he is definitely a fan of writing fiction with unreliable narrators and very, very opaque stories. Not all of his fiction was like that, but it was clearly something that he really liked doing.

    Looking backwards at my life and thinking of my reading habits and behaviors, two major categories for my reading have been:

    • Pleasure reading.
    • Work or task related reading, where I need knowledge that is best found in a written work.

    However, after thinking about it, I have two more occasionally overlapping categories of reading:

    • Comfort reading.
    • Guilty pleasures reading.

    Comfort reads, for me, are reading a book or story that you have read before, enjoyed, and that has a known and not really challenging outcome. Sometimes I just don’t have the energy or mental readiness for the real or potential challenges of an unknown written work.

    Sometimes I just need to read a book or story that is a pleasurable known quantity to me, that I love, will enjoy, and know that I won’t be challenged by especially. One of my favorites in this category is “The Witches of Karres” by James H. Schmitz. For me, it hits all of the categories of being fun, enjoyable, good characters, and known outcome. Another comfort read for me is the “Amber” series by Roger Zelazny.

    Your comfort reads might be considerably different. Here are some examples. Bookriot noted several comforting speculative fiction books reads, including:

    • “The Martian” by Andy Weir
    • “A Closed and Common Orbit” by Becky Chambers
    • “His Majesty’s Dragon” by Naomi Novik
    • “The Second Mango” by Shira Glassman (a fantasy I have not read but it looks worth checking out)

    Off The Shelf has “The Hobbit” by J. R. R. Tolkien, which is a great choice.

    We Are Bookish (presented by Netgallery) has some great comfort reads shared by authors, including speculative fiction:

    • “Good Omens” by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
    • “The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet” by Becky Chambers
    • “The Chronicles of Chrestomanci, Volume 1 by Diana Wynne Jones”
    • “Magic for Liars” by Sarah Gailey
    • “The Clan of the Cave Bear” by Jean Auel
    • “The Lives of Christopher Chant” by Diana Wynne Jones

    An occasionally overlapping category of reading for me is “guilty pleasures reading”. Guilty pleasures for me are books that I like or love and continue to revisit but that I am embarrassed about. These are often but not always books that I loved when I read them decades ago when I was a much younger person and perhaps a teenager, presumably able to skip past uncomfortable or objectionable material or just ignore parts of a book.

    For me, the “Lensman” series by E. E. “Doc” Smith is definitely a “guilty pleasure” read. It’s still a slam-bang space opera adventure series with a very clear and unnuanced battle of good versus evil. At the same time, it’s definitely a product of it’s time, originally appearing between 1937 to 1948. There are alien and female characters with agency. However, I am sure that a careful analysis of the work might reveal all kinds of objectionable elements. I have decided to not delve into any of that personally, just so I can continue to occasionally read this series that is both a “comfort read” and a “guilty pleasure” for me.

    There was a very interesting reddit thread on “guilty pleasure SF reads“. An obvious mention was the Edgar Rice Burroughs “Mars” books. The books mentioned there may be more controversial than “comfort reads”, as identifying something as a “guilty pleasure” does call out that we are embarrassed about it, perhaps for very good reason.

    Your comfort reads and guilty pleasures reads will doubtlessly be different than mine.

  • Cosmic Powers: The Saga Anthology of Far-Away Galaxies

    Cosmic Powers: The Saga Anthology of Far-Away Galaxies

    The Short: I read “Cosmic Powers: The Saga Anthology of Far-Away Galaxies” (John Joseph Adams editor, 2017, Saga) recently. I checked it out of the library as it was the best way for me to read a Becky Chambers story for my recent Chicon 8 panel on epistolary speculative fiction. I was a sucker for reading this anthology anyway (I’ll explain below), and I’m glad I read it. I rated it a “Very Good” 3.69/5. I recommend it, but you should read the TOC and consider.

    The Full Story: I did a lot of reading for the Chicon 8 panel on epistolary speculative fiction.

    One of the ways I used to find possibly epistolary stories was to search the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDB) for “epistolary” tags. I found out that there were 4 different tags with that term in them, and I searched using all 4 of those tags.

    One of the stories was the short story “The Deckhand, the Nova Blade, and the Thrice-Sung Texts”, by Becky Chambers from “Cosmic Powers: The Saga Anthology of Far-Away Galaxies” anthology (2017, Saga Press, John Joseph Adams editor. I am familiar with Becky Chambers, but had never heard of the story. I was able to check the book out from my regional library consortium.

    I started by reading that story, which I enjoyed. I confirmed it was epistolary. The percentage of ISFDB stories tagged as epistolary correctly, but there a few that were not that I’ll correct on ISFDB. There were also a number of epistolary stories that were not tagged in ISFDB that I’ll edit for that.

    After reading “The Deckhand, the Nova Blade, and the Thrice-Sung Texts”, I went back and read the Dedication and Introduction by John Joseph Adams. I usually read dedications, as it typically says something interesting about the author or book or both.

    The Dedication here read, “”For Jim Starlin, Ron Marz and Ron Lim, Heralds of Wonder”. Those are significant names, to me and others.

    In the Introduction John Joseph Adams wrote:

    “The foundation of science fiction and fantasy is sense of wonder. And nowhere is that sense of wonder more prevalent than in stories of larger-than-life heroes battling menacing forces, in far flung galaxies, with the fate of the universe at stake.

    My love for these kinds of stories began in the pages of comic books like Silver Surfer and other ‘cosmic tales’ of the Marvel Universe.”

    Jack Kirby and Stan Lee created Galactus in Marvel’s “Fantastic Four“. Jack Kirby created the Silver Surfer, who originally worked for Galactus. They were both very cosmic, with first appearances in Issue 48. Note that neither Galactus or the Silver Surfer appear on the cover of Issue 48. Galactus ate the energy of worlds to exist, and the Silver Surfer traveled the spaceways to find planets for Galactus to eat.

    After that, the other “cosmic tales” of the Marvel Universe are substantially the creation of Jim Starlin, one of my favorite comic book artists/writers. Starting with Issue 55 of Marvel Comics “The Invincible Iron Man” in October 1972, Jim Starlin introduced characters that were revealed to be minions of Thanos, one of the cosmos threatening uber-villains of the Marvel Universe.

    Although Starlin has had an occasionally rocky relationship with Marvel, he has gone on to create amazing comics with cosmic threats and heroes, including his version of Marvel’s “Adam Warlock” (first in Issue 178 of “Strange Tales featuring Warlock”) and “Captain Marvel” (first in Issue 32 of the Marvel “Captain Marvel”) who have both opposed Thanos. Also, and apparently not Starlin’s doing, Issue 179 of “Strange Tales Featuring Warlock” including a modified “Comics Code Authority” icon on the cover. As noted at the Grand Comics Database, “Per Tom Orzechowski, the change in the Code name was his idea and that he, as the letterer of the cover, did the revision”. Tom Orzechowski was the letterer for that issue. The Comics Code Authority Icon was changed to read, “Approved by the Cosmic Code Authority”, and no one at Marvel or the Comics Code Authority noticed.

    Some of these were with Ron Lim and Ron Marz, hence the dedication.

    Jim Starlin also created Dreadstar, another cosmic superhero, who is not part of the Marvel Universe.

    The cosmic that John Joseph Adams is talking about is far galaxies and perhaps other universes, and cosmic threats.

    I was and continue to be a fan of these “cosmic” stories by Jim Starlin and others in the comic books, so I was definitely interested in the stories here.

    The stories in “Cosmic Powers” do give a good shot at the stated goals of the anthology. There are 4 reprints, with the rest original. My average rating for the stories here are a “Very Good” 3.69/5. I enjoyed it. At the same time, there were a few stories down at 3.5/5, at “Good” but not “Very Good”, “Great” or above.

    My favorite stories included:

    1. “Zen and the Art of Starship Maintenance”, a short story by Tobias S. Buckell. This received a fair amount of recognition, Locus #3, Sturgeon finalist, and included in Best Of anthologies by Strahan, Clarke, Kaster, Dozois, and Jemisin/Adams. I had read this before, perhaps in a 2018 Hugo voter packet for best editor. I rated this a “Great” 3.9/5.
    2. “Wakening Ouroboros”, a short story by Jack Campbell. This was my favorite of the stories I had not previously read. I rated this a “Great” 3.9/5.
    3. “Golden Ring”, a novelette by Karl Schroeder. I rated this “Great” at 3.8/5.
    4. “The Dragon That Flew Out of the Sun”, a Universe of Xuya short story by Aliette de Bodard. I had read this before, not sure where. This was reprinted in the Dozois Best Of. I rated this 3.8/5.

    SPOILERS FOLLOW! My story reviews follow, in the TOC order.

    • “A Temporary Embarrassment in Spacetime”, a novelette by Charlie Jane Anders. Definitely a wild, humorous romp through some amazing stuff for a monster and a unicellular being created to look human for a pleasure planet. Rated 3.6/5, or “Good”.
    • “Zen and the Art of Starship Maintenance”, a short story by Tobias S. Buckell. Previously read, certainly in one of the Best Of anthologies. Locus #3, Sturgeon finalist, included in Best Of anthologies by Jonathan Strahan, Neil Clarke, Allan Kaster, Gardner Dozois, and N. K. Jemisin/John Joseph Adams, and perhaps in a 2018 Hugo Awards voter packet. A great story of how a being has indentured itself as a sentiment robot for several hundred years doing starship maintenance. One day, a high level human with CEO privileges on the run appears and demands to be taken to safety, overriding most other programming even if he is a bigoted shit of a man. The robot does end up figuring how to comply but not allow the asshole to escape. Great on reread. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.
    • “The Deckhand, the Nova Blade, and the Thrice-Sung Texts”, a short story by Becky Chambers. Definitely epistolary, a log, by a very reluctant hero with no friends and a diary being read by somebody who can cause disciplinary action. She ends up perhaps saving the human race from giant, almost invulnerable interdimensional aliens. I loved the “Not bad for a lowborn hick” sign at the victory parade, perhaps held by whoever was reading her diary. I rated this 3.7/5, not “Great” but “Very Good”.
    • The Sighted Watchmaker“, a 2011 short story by Vylar Kaftan and one of four reprints in the anthology. Included in Rich Horton‘s 2012 Best Of. A very good story by an author new to me. An artificial being, created by absent Makers, watches and guides the evolution of an intelligent and frightening species. In an the end, it decides it must not be found, and erases itself. Rated 3.7/5, “Very Good”.
    • “Infinite Love Engine”, a short story by Joseph Allen Hill. A cyborg type saves the universe while considering lots of deep thoughts. Rated 3.5/5, or “Good”.
    • “Unfamiliar Gods”, a short story by Adam-Troy Castro and Judi B. Castro. In a universe where humans depend upon many gods for interstellar travel and other aspects of civilization, humanity is losing and about to be eliminated by aliens with very powerful gods. A military vessel has been sent far out of human space by those gods, to search for help surviving. To survive and help the human race survive, the captain takes a bad deal from be a powerful god. Humans survive, but are dwindled. Rated 3.6/5, or “Very Good”.
    • “Seven Wonders of a Once and Future World”, a 2015 short story reprint by Caroline M. Yoachim. A very good story of a researcher who ends having an outside of time child with a far future AI. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very Good”.
    • “Our Specialty Is Xenogeology”, a short story by Alan Dean Foster. A good story of xenogeologists who discover a giant alien structure in space. There may be huge benefits, or devastation and death. They decide to leave, and defer the decision to others, but struggle with not knowing. Rated 3.6/5, or “Very Good.”
    • “Golden Ring”, a novelette by Karl Schroeder. A story of his lockstep worlds and a threatening truth about the universe, the News about the universe which causes many to lose hope, and then a new News which gives hope back. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.
    • “Tomorrow When We See the Sun”, a Sun Lords of the Principality 2015 short story reprint by A. Merc Rustad. A very good story, by an author I am not familiar. Far future conflict, and escape at the end, by a being that dies so others can live. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very Good”.
    • “Bring the Kids and Revisit the Past at the Traveling Retro Funfair!”, a short story by Seanan McGuire. A fun story of a clone sister who operates a traveling (spaceship) old time arcade. She is mistaken for her criminal clone sister, but things work out. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very Good”.
    • “The Dragon That Flew Out of the Sun” a Universe of Xuya short story by Aliette de Bodard. Previously read, perhaps in 2108 Hugo voter packet for editor or semiprozine. I really loved the challenging ways two people’s relate and don’t relate, especially over the loss of a solar system in a conflict with blame on both sides. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.
    • “Diamond and the World Breaker”, a novelette by Linda Nagata. A good story of an interesting network of orbitals. Society includes authorized Revolutionaries and Hunters, to ensure there is not too much harmony. Rated 3.6/5, or “Very Good”.
    • “The Chameleon’s Gloves”, a “The Machineries of Empire” novelette by Yoon Ha Lee. A very good story of an exile on the run, and working as a partner in theft as a lifestyle, from a very interesting culture, asked to go back and avert catastrophe. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very Good”.
    • “The Universe, Sung in Stars”, a 2015 short story reprint by Kat Howard. I really liked this short short of pocket universes and their guardians, and the music involved. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very Good”.
    • “Wakening Ouroboros”, a short story by Jack Campbell. Wow. Perhaps my favorite story here I had not read before . This kind of reminded me of what happened in the last volume of “The Cities in Flight” series by James Blish , “The Triumph of Time” albeit in a different way. The last man born lived in a Dyson sphere, unimaginably old, and encounters the oldest woman. We find out that they are the last people alive. She convinces him to help “fix” the world/universe. He does, and he is also opened up to real life and change, not just with simulated people. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.
    • “Warped Passages” “, a short story by Kameron Hurley. A good story of a marooned generation ship fleet and the attempt to escape from the gods that are changing the ships and people. Reprinted in Hurley’s 2019 collection “Meet Me In The Future“. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very Good”.
    • “The Frost Giant’s Data”, a short story by Dan Abnett. A good story of industrial espionage in outer space. In the end, starting a war is better than a bad peace. Rated 3.5/5, or “Good.”
  • Titus Groan and Chicon 8

    I was fortunate to be selected as a panel participant (and moderator!) at Chicon 8 on the first volume of Mervyn Peake‘s Gormenghast series, “Titus Groan“. We had a great time, the audience enjoyed it, and we all learned interesting things. It was great to revisit what is now recognized as a genre classic and confirm that the Suck Fairy has not visited.

    The Full Story. I have been a big fan of Mervyn Peake and the Gormenghast series for many decades.

    I purchased the first two volumes, used, in the early 1970s. These were from the 1968 Ballantine paperback editions, “Titus Groan” (Volume 1) and “Gormenghast” (Volume 2).

    “Titus Groan” and “Gormenghast” on my shelf

    I read them and loved them, reading them several times. I read “Titus Alone“, the last of the original 3 volumes, in the 1970s from the library and was underwhelmed (looking around, I was not the only one). I would guess I last read the trilogy while I was in college in the late 1970s.

    I found out that Chicon 8 (the 80th World Science Fiction Convention) would have a “Titus Groan” panel for their 1946 Project. The 1946 Project was their plan to celebrate 1946 and all things speculative fiction with panel discussions instead of doing a 1947 Retro Hugo.

    I applied to be on the panel, telling the Programming Team with substantial fannish enthusiasm how great “Titus Groan” was, how I was prepared to answer the question of whether it was genre or not, and what I was prepared to do to get ready for a panel.

    For unknown reasons, they selected me for the panel and made me the moderator. I did not have a problem with this; I thought I could do a great job. I had never been on any SF convention panels before. I thought I could do all of that, but I redoubled my preparations.

    I finished rereading “Titus Groan”. I was joyful that it was still a great book and that the Suck Fairy had not been to visit. We all have experience with that when rereading books we loved a long time ago as much younger people. I had suspected it would still be great, but I was quite relieved. I was expecting it would be grim, dark and horrific, and it was. I was surprised by how funny it was as well.

    Before I continue, I need to be clear that I have focused substantially on “Titus Groan”. I did not really focus on the author Mervyn Peake or the overall trilogy of Gormenghast books released during his lifetime, or “Titus Awakes” completed by his widow after he died, or the “Boy in Darkness” novella.

    Also, I have used the terms “Gormenghast series” and “Gormenghast trilogy” somewhat interchangeably. I know that there is really a fourth book, “Titus Awakes”, that was completed by his widow from his notes and fragments. I know there was also a novella, “Boy in Darkness”, which is part of it also. I know that “Gormenghast series” and “Gormenghast trilogy” are not the same thing. However, when I think of Gormenghast, I am mostly thinking of the trilogy of books released during his lifetime.

    I have not done substantial research into Mr. Peake or read any biographies if they exist. I do know he was a talented illustrator and painter, hence the great illustrations he did which are included in my 1968 “Titus Groan” (see below) and “Gormenghast” books. He was also known for being a poet. He certainly wrote more than the “Gormenghast” books.

    Some publication history and background: I researched and summarized the publication history of “Titus Groan”. I don’t really remember knowing any of this before. While I don’t think it is completely bizarre, there were some aspects of it that were somewhat unusual and which helped give insight on how it was received and how it’s popularity and stature changed over time.

    Eyre & Spottiswoode UK cover
    Reynal & Hitchcock US cover

    I took a look at Newspapers.com and was able to find a number of reviews of “Titus Groan” from 1946 for release in both the UK and the US. The first UK review I found was in March 1946, and I am guessing that it it was released in January or February by the UK publisher Eyre & Spottiswoode.

    The Guardian UK 03/26/1946
    The Observer UK 03/31/1946

    The first US review I found was in November 17 1946 (by August Derleth, in the Chicago Tribune!), so I similarly guess a US release in September or October by the US publisher Reynal & Hitchcock. These reviews were interesting and helpful, especially how the different reviewers talked about it. Certainly it was reviewed by more than one or two newspapers. It is also interesting that the US dustcover by Reynal & Hitchcock had the subtitle “A Gothic Novel” which was not present on the UK edition.

    The reviews varied. It is fun to see the different approaches and opinions. None of them were in the “This is the worst book ever. Run away.” category, but there were a lot of “If this suits your taste” or “This is a very unusual book and we’re not sure what to make of it”.

    The Daily Telegraph and Morning Post UK 04/22/1946
    The Sydney Morning Herald Australia 05/18/1946
    The Observer UK 07/7/1946
    Chicago Tribune 11/17/1946 – August Derleth
    The Philadelphia Inquirer 12/15/1946
    The Windsor Star Canada 02/22/1947

    There is a very helpful Book Poll by a rather young but very accomplished and busy SF fan named Joe Kennedy. This appeared in the 1946-47 Fantasy Review fanzine, dated January 1947. My thanks to David Ritter and Dan Ritter of the First Fandom Experience, fully involved in organizing 1946 Project programs, for bringing this excellent and informative resource to our attention.

    There is no mention of “Titus Groan” in the Book Poll (page 20) in that 1946-47 Fantasy Review, in the “Fantasy Books of the Year” discussion starting on page 21, or in the “New Fantasy Books from England” starting on page 34. This either meant that Joe Kennedy and those answering the poll did not know anything about “Titus Groan”, or that none of them thought it was genre. Given the breadth of books discussed especially in the two articles, I suspect that they just did not know about it.

    The US publisher, Reynal & Hitchcock, had published “Mary Poppins”, “The Little Prince”, and the like, but it’s not at all clear to me that there was any connection to the speculative fiction community in the US.

    Subsequent to Chicon 8, I spent some time looking in the fan publication website http://www.fanac.org. I found a Spring 1948 Fantasy Commentator advertisement that includes “Titus Groan” for sale from “House of Stone”. In the same year, the 1948 Fantasy Annual by Forrest J. Ackerman and others was meant to continue the now defunct Fantasy Annuals (Fantasy Review 1945-56 and 1946-47) by Joe Kennedy. There were extensive discussion of books including English books and a poll not strictly about 1948 or 1947, but still no mention of “Titus Groan”.

    I do find it rather telling that “Titus Groan” was not mentioned in either the Fantasy Review 1946-47 or the 1948 Fantasy Annual fan yearbooks, neither in the polls, the text or in any ads. While I saw a 1948 ad for “Titus Groan”, it clearly did not have substantial impact or penetration in the US in 1948.

    There is a January 1949 Shangri-LA fanzine (Los Angles Science Fantasy Society, AKA LASFS, perhaps?), with Forrest J. Ackerman recounting a humorous speech he gave shortly before where he referred to a Martian coming to Earth as “Titus Groan” several times. I doubt he was being literal, this was humorous, but clearly Ackerman and other fans were aware of the book.

    The first fan review I found, not in ISFDB but in Fanac, was in the August 1949 Leer with a David H. Keller MD (science fiction writer and fan) item on “Titus Groan”, almost 4 pages, which was very positive. There could have been earlier mentions in fanzines, but I did not find them, nor in any book reviews in speculative fiction magazines of the time.

    There was a statement by PBS online for their Gormenghast miniseries with the BBC, “Titus Groan was published in 1946 to ecstatic reviews.” From the structure of that webpage, this statement may have been from Michael Moorcock but it’s not clear when or from where. My best guess is perhaps it is from Moorcock’s introduction to the 1992 Folio Society edition of “Titus Groan”, which I have not seen. I respect Moorcock as a writer and love some of his work. It is clear that “Titus Groan” and Gormenghast had a substantial influence on Moorcock. However, I do think “ecstatic reviews” is delusional.

    Folio Society edition cover

    “Gormenghast” (Volume 2 of the trilogy) was issued in the UK by Eyre & Spottiswoode in 1950. “Titus Alone” (Volume 3 of the trilogy) was issued in the UK by Eyre & Spottiswoode in 1959.

    The 1956 novella “Boy in Darkness” by Mervyn Peake is commonly identified as part of the Gormenghast universe. This was issued as part of a very interesting anthology by Eyre & Spottiswoode in the UK, the 1956 “Sometimes, Never“, containing also “Envoy Extraordinary” by William Golding (“Lord of the Flies”, 1954) and “Consider Her Ways” by John Wyndham (a time travel and gender/identity role classic!). It was also released in the US by Ballantine in 1957. Interestingly enough, I see no genre reviews of “Sometime, Never” in ISFDB. There are reviews at Newspapers.com; in one of them a “boy Duke” is referenced, which makes sense, but none of the three I looked at make any reference to “Titus Groan”, “Gormenghast”, etc. I had borrowed “Sometime, Never” from the library to read the Wyndham, but returned it. I wish I had read and remembered what it said in the Introduction, if there was one. Regardless, I think we can conclude that no one at the time at Eyre & Spottiswoode or Ballantine thought it a good idea to associate “Boy in Darkness” with “Titus Groan” or Gormenghast.

    After the UK release of both “Gormenghast” and “Titus Alone”, I found the 1960 fanzine Xero #1 by fans and author Richard A. Lupoff and Pat Lupoff. Probably triggered by the recent 1959 UK release of “Titus Alone”, there is a very extensive discussion of “Titus Alone”, the Gormenghast trilogy, and “Boy in Darkness”. Lupoff also lists information on where you can obtain copies of the Eyre & Spottiswoode editions from the British Book Centre in NYC. Clearly the Gormenghast books were all available in the US if you knew where to look.

    I see all of this as a mixed bag. On the one hand, Eyre & Spottiswoode clearly had faith in Mervyn Peake and the Gormenghast books and “Boy in Darkness” to keep publishing them. At the same time, I see no need or hurry by them to reissue the books in the UK until 1968, and no one picked up publication of “Gormenghast” and “Titus Alone” in the US until 1967.

    Interestingly enough, there was a resurgence of interest in Mervyn Peake and the “Gormenghast” books in the mid 1960s. I found information relating to a Baird Searles dramatic reading of some of the Gormenghast material, and some kind of art show.

    Weybright & Talley issued all 3 volumes of the Gormenghast trilogy in 1967 in the US. This was the first reissue of “Titus Groan”, and the first US publication of either “Gormenghast” or “Titus Alone”. Interestingly enough, only “Titus Alone” from Weybright & Talley is in ISFDB. Please note that I did not discover the 1967 Weybright & Talley reissue of “Titus Groan” or “Gormenghast” until after Chicon 8, so that information was not part of the panel discussion. I do not think it really changes much.

    Ballantine issued the “Fellowship of the Ring”, “The Two Towers” and “Return of the King” (the Lord of the Rings trilogy) by J. R. R. Tolkien in a legal paperback edition in the US in late 1965, followed by many, many other editions. Ballantine clearly saw this epic fantasy was doing very well and was looking for other fantasy to market.

    In October 1968, Ballantine issued the Gormenghast trilogy both in the US as a paperback boxed set and as single volumes. In the UK in October 1968, Penguin Books issued “Titus Groan” in paperback and Eyre & Spottiswoode issued it in hardcover.

    From my perspective, the 1968 Ballantine editions were put out there and perhaps promoted/advertised/positioned as “fantasy adjacent”. The Ballantine covers were certainly trying do to that, with some stylistic resemblance to the Ballantine Lord of the Rings covers from 1965 on. My 1968 Ballantine copy of “Titus Groan” notes “Volume 1 of the Gormenghast Trilogy”. The rear cover notes “Volume 1 of an Epic Trilogy”. There are a number of quotes on both the cover and inside front which do not explicitly say “fantasy” but are kind of walking around it.

    I do see one quote on the back of the 1968 “Titus Groan” Ballantine edition that is from the 1946 (London) Observer review. There is also a quote on the back from Elizabeth Bowen that appears to be from a 1947 Tatler item I have not found. Finally, there is a quote on the back from Baird Searles, who produced dramatic readings from the Gormenghast trilogy in 1967.

    Mervyn Peake died in November 1968, after suffering the accelerating impacts of dementia since perhaps 1956.

    “Gormenghast” Penguin 1969
    “Titus Alone” Eyre & Spottiswoode 1970

    Penguin issued “Gormenghast” in paperback in the UK in 1969. I suspect that Eyre & Spottiswoode might have also issued “Gormenghast” in the UK in 1969, but have no proof. Penguin issued “Titus Alone” in UK paperback in 1970. Eyre & Spottiswoode issued “Titus Alone” in hardback in the UK in 1970, in a version edited by Langdon Jones that is claimed to be more coherent and true to the vision and intent of Mervyn Peake. (I need to find and read this revised version. I have always wondered if the version I read was the older, less coherent version).

    Once the 1968 editions were issued, with subsequent reissues and general success, “Titus Groan” and the other 2 volumes of the trilogy have generally remained in print and are quite well known to this day.

    I do need to mention that there is also fourth “Gormenghast” book, “Titus Awakes”. A version of the Mervyn Peake completed portion was issued in 1995 by Tusk Books/The Overlook Press. A version that was completed by Peake’s wife Maeve Gilmore was issued in 2011 by Vintage Books. I have not read this and don’t plan to.

    Also, thanks to Travis Creason for his help and information. Travis and I met because we were both possible panelists for Titus Groan, and we both commented on a Chicon 8 Titus Groan post on Facebook. Among other things, Travis introduced me to the 2000 BBC/PBS “Gormenghast” miniseries. I did not know anything about this; I still need to watch it. It sounds interesting, as the BBC decided that it should be influenced by Peake’s early life in China. This miniseries covered the first two books, “Titus Groan” and “Gormenghast”. I have also heard that Neil Giaman may be doing a new “Titus Groan” adaptation. I would welcome that. We’ll see.

    Finally, the panel: Our panel was titled “Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake (1946): Genre or Not?” and occurred at Friday, 4 PM, September 2, 2022. The panel members were:

    • Dave Hook, moderator, and a longtime SFF reader and recently active fan.
    • Brendan Detzner, Chicago area author in a variety of genres and formats, who also runs the Bad Grammar Theater reading series.
    • Rebecca Campbell, a Canadian writer of weird stories about climate change and ghosts. Sturgeon and Sunburst award winner.
    • Travis Creason, longtime SFF reader and somewhat more recent active fan.

    This was the first convention panel I had ever moderated. Chicon 8 was good enough to give us a Moderation Guide, which was very helpful. I knew that I needed to be organized and have my shit together for this to be fun and succeed for me.

    We shared thoughts and information before the panel via email, including ideas about how to structure the panel “agenda”. I appreciated the panel members helping me on that. I did not view this as anything rigid, but more of a general outline of things that I knew we wanted to discuss.

    I am going to shoehorn the summary of the panel into the subject outline. In reality our conversation was more fluid and wandered back and forth, although we did get to these things and more, and had fun discussing questions from the audience.

    I was pretty focused on moderating (doing something new for me here) well and also at being a good panel member. From my perspective, things went pretty well; I could have missed things. However, I was not even remotely thinking about taking notes. I moved onto my next thing right after, so I did not take any notes then. We’re now 10 days later, time has gone on. What I state below is a combination of a) what I wanted to have us discuss with b) what I remember we might have discussed.

    Panelists introduce themselves and state why they wanted to be on the panel.

    This happened and it was just fine.

    Questions for the audience
    1. How many of you have read Titus Groan? Almost all had; this was helpful.
    2. How many of you have seen the BBC/PBS miniseries? Perhaps 5 people had.

    Mervyn Peake and his influences

    We discussed his childhood in China, his time in WW2 serving in the British military (rather checkered per Wikipedia), his career as an illustrator and painter, and his poetry. Major influences mentioned were Charles Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson. He did start writing “Titus Groan” during WW2.

    Rebecca’s stuff

    Rebecca Campbell had a great discussion of the machine-like, unescapable society at Gormenghast Castle, where life is very set and ritualistic, and there is no escape or veering from one’s set path. This was perceived as being very much in keeping with British society in many ways. This provided a wonderful perspective on “Titus Groan”.

    Is “Titus Groan” genre or not? If so, what genre?

    There was broad agreement that it was genre. There was not agreement on which genre, and that it was probably not a critical question. It was still fun to discuss this.

    I don’t see any overtly fantastic or supernatural elements, so not fantasy. The brown man/brown father may or may not be a fantastic element; I can’t tell. There are elements not of our consensus reality, such as the giant, exorbitant castle with no apparent connection to the outside world, the Mud Dwellers sudden aging at the end of childhood, and a line of 77 Dukes. With features not of our reality but not overtly fantastic or supernatural, I conclude this is science fiction of a very odd and unique nature. Certainly sui generis.

    You could equally argue that it is fantasy because it’s not a highly technological society and yet not of our consensus reality.

    “Gothic romance” has also been used as a descriptor.

    How was “Titus Groan” received in 1946?

    As noted above, it was definitely a mixed bag. Eyre & Spottiswoode felt positive enough to keep publishing the next two volumes of the series in the UK, “Gormenghast” (1950) and “Titus Alone” (1959). His American publishers, Reynal & Hitchcock, did not (Reynal & Hitchcock were absorbed by Harcourt, Brace in 1948, but it’s impossible to know if that affected the decision or not). There were no American editions until 1967 for the next two volumes. There were reviews in both the UK and US in 1946, but they were mixed; not necessarily negative, but often a bit cautionary. The US fans in the 1946-47 Fantasy Review did not mention “Titus Groan”. I did not find any US fan writing about it until 1949. The 2000 PBS TV miniseries noted “ecstatic reviews”, but that seems delusional to me.

    What is your favorite feature/aspect of “Titus Groan”?

    This is another area where I really don’t remember everything that was discussed. One thing that really jumped out for me was the duality of the darkness and horrific nature of life at Gormenghast and the amazing humor. It was really funny at times, which I did not remember.

    I also thought the characters were extraordinary. They did have greater and lesser roles, with varying time in the narrative focus, but most of them had real depth and presence. Rottcodd, the curator of the Hall of Bright Carvings, appears solely in the first chapter, “The Hall of the Bright Carvings” and in the last chapter, “Mr Rottcodd Again”. He appears to live a somewhat pointless life, curating a carving gallery that no one ever visits, but he is fully wrought and part of the story in an interesting way and his gallery is part of the ritualistic life at Gormenghast Castle.

    Steerpike: Evil or not?

    I’d say that our consensus opinion was that Steerpike is an antihero and rebel who we admire for not accepting his place and role in life. He is really the only one who refuses to accept the massed weight of 77 Dukes and perhaps thousands of years of this social machine and his obvious place as a low status assistant in Swelter’s kitchen.

    At the same time, he does horrific things and is not able to even envision the idea of just escaping. He appears to be obsessed with winning and dominating when he certainly could have left, even though that is never presented as a choice he considers.

    Other characters or aspects of “Titus Groan” that need to be mentioned?

    I know that I found the dangerous and almost fatal journey by Steerpike across 1.5 miles of the Gormenghast Castle roof, to escape his fate as a lowlevel kitchen staffer, to be just amazing.

    What works or authors has “Titus Groan” and Gormenghast influenced?

    Some suggestions by the panel included J. G. Ballard, Michael Moorcock, China Mieville, “Piranesi” by Susanna Clarke, and Neil Gaiman.

    Rebecca Campbell had this to say about “The Executioner’s Beautiful Daughter” by Angela Carter, “Carter’s story takes place in a small, isolated village in a place that’s almost our world, but has more common with fairy tales. The insular villagers are utterly grotesque (like, parasites and bodily distortions), and driven by this obsession with incest. It’s genuinely gross, but it pushes the absurdity to such an extent that it becomes very darkly funny (in places— the ending is horror). That’s what made me think of Peake: the funny-dark satire of it, the absurdity, the way she borrowed from fairy tale conventions to tell a new kind of story. And I think just the inventiveness of it, too, maybe? That she’s skilled enough to tell a story I can’t imagine anyone else telling. That’s how I feel about Peake, too: only he could write Gormenghast.”

  • The Best of Connie Willis

    The Best of Connie Willis

    The Short Story: I recently read “The Best of Connie Willis: Award Winning Stories” (2013, Del Rey/Ballantine/Gollancz). It has 10 stories plus several major speeches, a wonderful introduction, and story afterwords that are worth the price of purchase on their own. I love Connie Willis, but I was very happy there were at least 4 great stories I had never read before. My average rating was a “great” 3.94/5. Strongly recommended.

    The Full Story: I’ve been a fan of Connie Willis for quite a long time. However, historically, I’ve read more novels than short fiction. I’ve never subscribed to Asimov’s, where a lot of her short fiction has appeared. I have read some but not even a majority of the Dozois “Best Of” or other such volumes since I started reading science fiction. I suspected that there was great short fiction by her that I had never read.

    I’ve been reading a lot of short fiction the last two years, since I joined first the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy – Short Fiction group and then the Science Fiction Book Club groups on Facebook. I have read some Connie Willis short fiction for those, but there is still more that I needed to read, such as “The Last of the Winnebagos”.

    When I was prepared for attending Chicon 8, I checked the catalog at my library for random SFF that was available in ebook. I really like not having to lug paper books around when I travel.

    My library had “The Best of Connie Willis” available in ebook for checkout. My ears perked up metaphorically; I love Connie Willis. I started reading it shortly after, and finishing it flying to Chicago.

    There are a number of really great stories here, including several that were so good I don’t know how I missed reading them before. Among these is “The Last of the Winnebagos” (Asimov’s, July 1988), an astounding, emotional story which just took me by surprise.

    There are great stories by Connie Willis that were not included here. For me, these include “Nonstop to Portales”, ” Miracle”, and possibly also the 1979 “Daisy, In The Sun” (recommended by others but not yet read). While I can whinge about why those were not included, I assume that both Connie Willis and Executive Editor Anne Lesley Groell had good reasons for including the stories they did and not including others.

    Although Connie did mention the challenges of writing an introduction to one’s own “Best of” collection, her Introduction is great. Also, she has an insightful and informative afterword for each story. These, and the three speeches (Worldcon 2006 GOH, Grandmaster Acceptance Speech, and Grandmaster Acceptance Speech (never delivered)), make the volume worthwhile for me.

    I have become unhappy with “Best of” collections with no author introduction or story introductions or afterwords or even copyright information (I’m looking at you, “The Best of Lucius Shepard” from Subterranean!). I’m glad that did not happen here.

    I did not reread every single story here that I had previously read, but I did reread and enjoy most of them. The introduction, afterwords and speeches were icing on the cake. My overall average rating for the stories here was 3.94/5, which is solidly into “Great” on my rating scale. I recommend it wholeheartedly.

    Gary K. Wolfe has a review of “The Best of Connie Willis” in the July 2013 Locus. I had not looked at it before writing this, but I generally agree with him.

    HERE THERE BE SPOILERS: Detailed Reviews of the stories follow, in the same order as the TOC.

    A Letter from the Clearys“, Asimov’s July 1982. Nebula winner, Locus nominee. Wollheim/Saha Year’s Best. Wow. Great story of a pair of families after a nuclear war, near Pike’s Peak. The issue of societal breakdown and a nuclear war dribbles out. The protagonist is a young woman who keeps looking for a letter from family friends, the Clearys, explaining why they did not come. On 2022 reread, still a great story. Reread was heartbreaking, as more of the desperation and dysfunction of people trying to make it in desperate circumstances comes out. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.

    At the Rialto“, Omni, October 1989. Nebula winner, Hugo & Locus finalist. Dozois Year’s Best. A great quantum mechanics romp in Hollywood, very much in the frenetic style of some mid-century (1930s-40s perhaps) comedies. Connie Willis does love Hollywood. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.

    Death on the Nile“, Asimov’s March 1993. Hugo winner, Locus runner-up, Nebula nomination. Dozois Year’s Best. I’m not sure where or if I’ve read this before. A very scary and inevitable story of death and the next steps on the Nile, with lovely overlap with Agatha Christie’s mystery. Rated 3.9/5 or “Great”.

    The Soul Selects Her Own Society: Invasion and Repulsion: A Chronological Reinterpretation of Two of Emily Dickinson’s Poems: A Wellsian Perspective“, Asimov’s April 1996 and the anthology “War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches“, Kevin J. Anderson editor, Bantam/Spectra 1996. Hugo winner, #5 Locus. Read somewhere before, but not noted. A wonderful academic, ironic comedy about Emily Dickinson, her poetry, the Martians, and H. G. and Orson Welles. And the extensive and hilarious footnotes make this epistolary! Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.

    Fire Watch“, Asimov’s February 1982. Hugo and Nebula winner, Locus #4. Terry Carr’s Year’s Best. A great time travel story, of a student in a future history department, where they send students back in time as their practicum. This student is sent to England during the Blitz, to serve as a fire warden at St. Paul’s Cathedral. He is especially emotionally attached to St. Paul’s, which he knows will be destroyed in a terrorist attack in his past. Connie Willis does people so well. A lovely story to reread, with a great afterword by Willis. Rated 4.2/5, or “Superlative”.

    “Inside Job”, Asimov’s January 2005. Hugo winner, Locus runner-up, Sturgeon finalist. Strahan’s Best Short Novels 2006. I’m not ready to call this one for the ages, but it’s a great romantic story about a scam debunker and an actress who is attracted to him but is afraid to be honest with him, and a scammer, and the spirit of H. L. Mencken. Definitely set in LA and Hollywood. I loved where it went and how it got there. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.

    Even The Queen“, Asimov’s April 1992. Hugo, Locus & Nebula winner. Dozois Year’s Best. A classic, as only Connie Willis could write. A drug has eliminated menstruation, in an event called “the Liberation”. A young woman is thinking of joining “the Cyclists” by skipping the drug. The family has a hysterical lunch meeting. A classic on reread, and the afterword is great. Rated 4.3/5, or “Superlative”.

    “The Winds of Marble Arch”, Asimov’s October-November 1999. Hugo winner, #3 Locus, World Fantasy nomination. A very good story of the Tube and London, and the winds of death and change. No mechanism for the winds are revealed, and we never find out what kind of a conference the protagonist is attending. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very Good”.

    “All Seated on the Ground”, Asimov’s December 2007. Hugo winner, Locus #3. I love this story of alien visitors, academics who don’t listen to people, and how choirs and proper manners are the key to communicating with them. Great characters, and funny too. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great.”

    “The Last of the Winnebagos”, Asimov’s July 1988. Hugo & Nebula winner, Locus runner-up. Dozois Year’s Best. Wow. An amazing story, how did I miss this before? About change and extinction, and the extinction of dogs, and what that does to people, and loss and guilt. And Winnebagos, or RVs at least. Rated 4.3/5, or “Superlative”.

  • Not The Retro Hugos at Chicon 8

    Summary: I was lucky enough to be chosen as a program participant for five Chicon 8 panels. “1946: A Vintage Season For SFF” and “The Likely Hugo Nominees from 1946” were both part of the 1946 Project programming for Chicon 8. I read a lot of 1946 speculative fiction for these panels. Following is a discussion of this whole process and the panels themselves. Here is a link to my 1946 Project Chicon 8 Lists, sorted in various ways. Although reading for something like this does involve wadding through a certain amount of dreck, it was fun to reread great stories and find hidden gems from 1946, and to speculate on what the fans might have nominated if there had been a Hugo for 1946 stories. It was also a load of fun to discuss this with panel members

    The Long Version: I’ve been reading speculative fiction from the 1940s for some time, most recently for the Retro Hugo nominations and votes for 1945 (1944 published) and 1944 (1943 published). My thanks to Paul Fraser and his SF Magazines site for the resources he published there, which really helped me with that reading.

    Chicon 8 stated in their April 2020 Progress Report One that “Chicon 8 has decided that we will not administer the Retro Hugos for 1947. We will, however, be doing a retrospective of the works and fandom of 1946, headed up by Cora Buhlert, 2020 Hugo Award Finalist for Best
    Fan Writer.”

    That had a number of good reasons for this, which I agree with:

    1. “First, the public feedback made on social media and sent to us in email after the last two Retro Hugos largely were not supportive of Retro Hugos at Chicon 8.”
    2. “Second, it has been increasingly difficult to get representatives from estates involved in the awards, leading us to question who we were actually honoring when the creators are deceased and the estates, for the most part, are uninterested.
    3. “Third, there is a financial cost factor — rockets and bases, tech for putting on a ceremony, etc.”
    4. “Fourth, the labor costs of administering the awards, the director and crew for a ceremony, hosts and acceptors, etc.”
    5. “Fifth, there tends to be much less interest in the Retro Hugos, based on lower nominations, lower voting, and lower attendance at Retro Hugos ceremonies.”

    The other factor which I observed for the 1944 and 1945 Retro Hugo nomination and voting was a substantial amount of voting based solely on the name of the author and not on the specific work on the ballot. Especially when I looked at the nominations in some categories, the only response I could offer was something like “WTF? I don’t believe they read this.” The 1944 and 1945 Retro Hugo Awards avoided major debacles in the works receiving awards, in my humble opinion, but this aspect of it was not confidence building. I get that we’ll always have some “Wow. I love that author, so I’m voting for them regardless of what they wrote here.”, but this is much more of an issue for the Retro Hugos.

    That retrospective of the works and fandom and discussion of speculative fiction in 1946 was organized as part of the Chicon 8 programming as the “1946 Project”. There were 15 panels in the 1946 Project. I was quite excited to find out that I was lucky enough to be selected as program participant for three of them, for my first convention panels ever!

    1. “1946: A Vintage Season For SFF”, Thursday, 9/1/2022
    2. “Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake (1946): Genre or Not?”, Friday, 9/2/2022 (as the moderator)
    3. “The Likely Hugo Nominees from 1946”, Sunday, 9/4/2022

    I’m going to blog about the Titus Groan panel separately. While it did overlap with these other two panels as it was published in 1946, it needs to be handled separately. However, the other two have enough overlap that I can blog about them together.

    I tend to experience and enjoy speculative fiction substantially as a written medium. I don’t discount other media, but reading resonates most for me. Accordingly, even before I knew I would be selected to any of these panels, I set out to do the reading assuming I would be selected. At worst, if I was not selected, I might have been the hopefully not too annoying guy in the audience asking those, “what about XXX?” questions about obscure 1946 stories and novels.

    Perhaps it was overly flippant, but I decided to call my reading the “1946 Not the Retro Hugo Project” to have fun with it.

    My approach to finding written works from 1946 that I thought were worthy of discussion involved a number of steps for short fiction:

    1. I checked my tracking spreadsheet for recently read short fiction for 1946. It was no surprise that bona fide classics like the Kuttner/Moore “Vintage Season” showed up there, among others.
    2. I read the Isaac Asimov/Martin H. Greenberg “The Great Science Fiction Stories Volume 8, 1946” (1982, DAW). Although this is 36 years after the fact, at least they were there. Not the same thing, but this was the closest there is for a “Best Of” 1946 SFF. I found these to be somewhat uneven, but that could just be my opinion. This included some great stories that I had forgotten or never read.
    3. I looked at stories listed in various anthologies, especially those by Groff Conklin and others who were there in 1946, such as Conklin’s 1948 “A Treasury of Science Fiction” (Crown) and the Edmund Crispin “Best SF” series. While being anthologized does not make a story good, it can help give a sense of what stories someone thought were worth remembering and reprinting. Multiple reprints in different anthologies, especially over time, can give some idea as to the importance of a story.
    4. I looked at the various giant anthologies that survey speculative fiction in the 20th century, such as Leigh Grossman’s “Sense of Wonder: A Century of Science Fiction” (2011, Wildside Press). I’ll do a comparison blog for these six works (that I know of) when I finish the last of the bunch, Heather Masri’s “Science Fiction: Stories and Contexts” (2008, Bedford Books of St. Martin’s Press).
    5. I looked at my Recommended Reading List for the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy – Short Fiction Reading Group on Facebook for 1946 stories. This includes stories that show up in the Locus 2012 List, Sci-Fi Short Fiction Lists by Peter Sykes, Classics of SF by James Wallace Harris and his team, and at the SFADB Lists by Mark R. Kelley.
    6. I looked at the Richard A. Lupoff list of stories that he felt should have won a Hugo, even for years where there were no Hugo Awards such as 1946. I found this information at “The Science Fiction Book of Lists” as summarized by Mark R. Kelley at his wonderful Speculative Fiction Awards Database.
    7. I looked at the “SF/F/H Timeline” at SFADB.
    8. I looked at the Classics of Science Fiction site (James Wallace Harris and his team) and ran a 1946 query for works with 1 or more citation. This produces a different, more extensive result than the one used above under 5 above.
    9. I asked for help and input from the members of the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy – Short Fiction Reading Group. I was not surprised that they had some great suggestions.
    10. I just started looking for and reading various authors that I knew or suspected published in 1946. For instance, Ray Bradbury published 17 stories in 1946, and I read most of them. ISFDB and Internet Archive were major resources here.
    11. Astounding was one of the major markets and SF publications in 1946. I took a look at the Analytical Laboratory (Anlab) results of fan voting on the stories of each issue, and read the higher ranking stories even if I had never heard of the author. I have heard a story that John W. Campbell, Jr., sometimes jiggered the results of these fan votes, but I have no idea if that is true. I should have asked Alec Nevala-Lee if he had any information on this.
    12. For short fiction, there were enough works published in 1946 that I did not feel it worthwhile to do a 1946 search in ISFDB and proceed to read all of them. That’s just too much chaff versus wheat for me.

    I read about 90 stories at short fiction (short story, novelette and novella length) from 1946 by following this approach. Not all encompassing, but it gave me a pretty good grasp on what there was and what might have been worth reading.

    For novels from 1946, my approach was definitely different.

    1. I did a “published in 1946” search in ISFDB. This was useful, as there were not that many conceivably genre novels published in 1946.
    2. I did some searching online for “1946 science fiction novels” and similar.

    I read or thought about reading 10 novels. I wanted to read “Mistress Masham’s Repose” by T. H. White, but was unable to find it at the library or online. I also read George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”, which was published in the UK in 1945 and the US in 1946, but is actually novella length and I’ve included it in the short fiction.

    There were several issues related to reading or rereading 1946 speculative fiction for this project. First, the quality of writing on average in a lot of speculative fiction, especially from the science fiction magazines of that era, has improved a lot since 1946. I’m not saying the best stories today are written better than the best from 1946, but SFF from 1946 can be a lot clunkier and harder to enjoy.

    Second, the level of explicit and implicit racism, colonialism, ableism, misogyny, and anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment can be quite jarring or offensive in some of the 1946 material. I was not actively looking for this, but I was sure ready for it. I accept that the world was different in 1946, but this can be off-putting at best. I don’t remember if I downgraded anything for this or not, although I noticed this in a few stories.

    As spring and then summer went by, I found out that I was going to be on the panels noted above on 1946. This coincided with my finishing most of the reading I had set out to do.

    I’m an organized, linear person in many ways, which probably relates to my being an engineer. I knew I would need some kind of written, organized “cheat sheet” to be able to coherently do these panels. My memory is not that bad, but not that good either.

    I summarized these approximately 100 works in a Google Sheets spreadsheet (“1946 Project Chicon 8 Reading“) and then organized them in different ways for my various purposes. The sheets in the spreadsheet are:

    1. “Sorted by DEH Rating”, where my ratings are per my personal rating scale of 5 (perfect) to 0 (horrendous).
    2. “Sorted by Anlab Rating” for stories from Astounding with an AnLab fan vote, where the best score possible would be a “1”, where all fans voting thought a story should be ranked at #1 of the stories in an issue.
    3. “Likely Hugo Winners”
    4. “1946: A Vintage Season for SFF”

    “Likely Hugo Winners” and “1946: A Vintage Season for SFF” both started from the basic spreadsheet, buffed up, cut down and organized to be helpful for the panels as I saw them. They worked out quite well for me.

    I do need to clearly state that these panel summaries are based upon my recollections and my sometimes very sparse or nonexistent notes. It may be that there are entries here which we never discussed but that I hoped we would. Also, for whatever reason, my level of notes was very different for the two panels.

    The “1946: A Vintage Season For SFF”, Thursday, 9/1/2022 panel: The panel consisted of:

    • John Hertz (moderator), longtime fan and fanwriter and Hugo finalist for fan writing
    • Alec Nevala-Lee, author of fiction and non-fiction, and Hugo finalist for “Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction” (2018, Del Rey Books/Harper Collins)
    • Trish E. Matson, journalist, podcaster and former Hugo finalist as part of “The Skiffy and Fanty Show” team
    • Me, a longtime SFF reader and recently active fan

    We had a great time, with all of the panelists bringing strength to the panel. I believe the audience enjoyed it as well. Areas of discussion included general themes of 1946 SFF, which 1946 works have withstood the test of time or are still “remembered”, and some discussion of “hidden gems”. Alec Nevala-Lee lead a great discussion of John W. Campbell, Jr., and his editorials in Astounding. We discussed the death of H. G. Wells, and noted that he was remembered and his death honored by SF fans. Some of the works we discussed included:

    1. Vintage Season” by Kuttner/Moore, a perfect story IMHO.
    2. Titus Groan” by Mervyn Peake (I’ll be blogging about the panel on “Titus Groan” separately, and I’ll add a link here when I do).
    3. Slan” by A. E. van Vogt, published in book form in 1946 after the earlier serial in Astounding which received a Retro Hugo.
    4. The Million Year Picnic” by Ray Bradbury, which I think might be the first great Bradbury story.
    5. A Logic Named Joe” by Will F. Jenkins (AKA Murray Leinster), a great early story about something very like the internet, and with some of the best characters by Jenkins.
    6. Rescue Party” by Arthur C. Clarke. Not the best story IMHO, but one that is still remembered and talked about.
    7. Animal Farm” by George Orwell, published in the UK in 1945 and US in 1946.
    8. Daemon” by C. L. Moore (my thanks to Trish E. Matson for bringing this one up).
    9. Hobbies” and “Paradise” by Clifford D. Simak were discussed, very good stories but IMHO not the best from Simak’s fix-up novel “City”. My personal favorites from “City” are “Desertion” and “Huddling Place“. I resolved to blog about fix-up novels some day.

    “The Likely Hugo Nominees from 1946”, Sunday, 9/4/202 Panel: The panel members were:

    • Rich Horton (moderator), editor, essayist and book reviewer, at Black Gate, late of Locus, and Hugo Award winner at Lightspeed
    • John E. Stith, author and Nebula finalist for “Redshift Rendezvous” (1990, Ace)
    • Trish E. Matson, journalist, podcaster and former Hugo finalist as part of “The Skiffy and Fanty Show” team
    • Me, a longtime SFF reader and recently active fan

    In approaching this panel, we flipped the script a bit. We started out by discussing the classic or most “remembered” stories and novels, we discussed movies and radio shows, we discussed “hidden gems” and we wrapped up by discussing what the fans might have nominated. We had a lot of fun with this, although we all agreed that it was very hard to tell what the fans might have nominated and voted for especially for things other than novels.

    Rich Horton’s thoughts on possible Hugo nominees from 1946 are at his blog post, “Hugo Nomination Recommendations, 1947“, at his Strange at Ecbatan blog. I recommend reading it as good complementary information and reading, as it’s both briefer than this and certainly has some choices I did not consider. Rich also read a lot of letter columns from 1946 speculative fiction magazines, which helped us think about what fans might have liked.

    For novels, “Titus Groan” by Mervyn Peake was my favorite from 1946. It did not make much of a splash in 1946, but it has become a genre classic with wide influences. I believe the other panelists liked it. Although not as good, “The Murder of the U.S.A.” by Will F. Jenkins was my #2 choice for novels published in 1946. It was mentioned positively in a quasi-editorial in Astounding by John W. Campbell, Jr. who seemed offended it was not being promoted as SF. It was reprinted twice, last in 1950, so I think this qualifies as almost a Hidden Gem.

    I was pleased to hear of several 1946 SFF novels I was not familiar with. John Stith mentioned “Mr. Adam” by Pat Frank (I am familiar with his “Alas, Babylon”). Rich Horton suggested “The Unfortunate Fursey” by Mervyn Wall, a fantasy about an 11th century monk and the devil which has been reissued recently. Rich also mentioned “The Angelic Avengers” by Pierre Andrézel (AKA Karen Blixen AKA Isak Dinesen). Although not from 1946, Rich also mentioned “Seven Gothic Tales” by Isak Dinesen (1934), and I’ll need to find that also. It was fun to hear of a number of 1946 novels I had not read.

    Although it’s hard to discern fan voting from 75 years later, “The Murder of the U.S.A.” by Will F. Jenkins was the highest ranked 1946 original novel in the early 1947 fan survey for 1946 published by Joe Kennedy (our thanks to Dave and Dan Ritter and their First Fandom Experience for the info on the 1946-1947 Fan Review with the Joe Kennedy Book Poll and much more). Other possibilities from fan preference could have been two serials in Astounding that were popular with fans in the AnLab, “Pattern for Conquest” by George O. Smith (I could not finish even the first part) and “Slaves of the Lamp” by Arthur Leo Zagat (“Okay” but no better for me).

    We discussed that in 1946 there were now reprints of various serialized stories in novel form, with “Slan” by A. E. van Vogt as the most well remembered. “The Skylark of Space” by E. E. “Doc” Smith was another, and one of my guilty pleasures also. These were popular with fans in the Joe Kennedy Book Poll.

    We discussed the two seminal SFF anthologies from 1946, “Adventures in Time & Space” by Raymond J. Healy and J. Francis McComas (Random House) and “The Best of Science Fiction” by Groff Conklin (Crown). These received a lot of attention, with “Adventures in Time & Space” perhaps getting a lot more because of the Random House publishing. “Adventures in Time & Space” received by far the most first place votes in the Joe Kennedy Book Poll, followed at some distance by “The Best of Science Fiction”.

    It was mentioned that 1946 saw the publication of several important collections, including the posthumous “Skull-Face and Others” by Robert E. Howard and “The House on the Borderland and Other Novels“, William Hope Hodgson, both Arkham House.

    Novella was an interesting category to discuss. “Animal Farm” by George Orwell was mentioned as an important work that is clearly still well remembered and known today. For me, the most interesting thing about rereading “Animal Farm” was finding out how hard it was to get it published, due to British government concerns about offending their Soviet Allies with a political satire that was very pointed about Stalin.

    I discussed my three novella top choices, which are not very well known today.

    My favorite 1946 novella is “The Last Objective” by Paul A. Carter, in Astounding. This was Paul Carter’s first published story, after his service on a submarine tender in WW2. I’m not going to include spoilers here, but it’s a great story and does address the futility of war. First reprinted in Conklin’s 1948 “A Treasury of Science Fiction” (Crown), in the Asimov/Greenberg “The Great Science Fiction Stories Volume 8, 1946” (1982, DAW), and finally in “Battlefields Beyond Tomorrow: Science Fiction War Stories” (Martin H. Greenberg/Charles G. Waugh, 1987, Crown/Bonanza). Paul A. Carter continued to occasionally write SF, but was better known as a professor of history who wrote “The Creation of Tomorrow: Fifty Years of Magazine Science Fiction” (1977).

    Almost as good is “The Blast” by Stuart A. Cloete. Published in Collier’s, it was reprinted in Groff Conklin’s “6 Great Short Novels of Science Fiction” (1954 Dell), the first anthology of SF short novels (5 novellas, 1 novelette). This was another great post-nuclear war story. Considering its obscurity, this is a Hidden Gem for me. Cloete has two other ISFDB entries that I am not familiar with.

    My final favorite novella from 1946 is “Man from Mars” by Stanislaw Lem. Published in Polish in 1946 in a teen magazine in serial format, the entire work has never been translated into English. First released in book form officially in 1994, an excerpt of the first chapter was translated by Lem scholar Peter Swirski and published in 2009 in Words Without Borders online. From my perspective, the excerpt I read suggests it could be better than any of the 1946 novels not named “Titus Groan” and perhaps better than my other two novella choices here. Of course, you can’t necessarily judge a book by part of the first chapter. This is probably a Hidden Gem, and it will probably remain that way unless it is ever translated in full.

    Finally there are two Astounding fan favorite novellas, “Metamorphosite“, Eric Frank Russell, and “Special Knowledge“, A. Bertram Chandler. Of the two, I’d say that “Metamorphosite” is a better story which I rated “Very good”. For “Special Knowledge”, the cover illustration is better than the story. It could have been better, but does not quite get there.

    Novelettes were stronger in 1946 than novellas.

    We started by discussing the Moore/Kuttner “Vintage Season” from Astounding, one of the perfect SFF stories for me. It’s a classic novelette, and one that is very well known and continues to be in print. It shows up in all 4 of the Big Lists noted above. It’s also very timely as a story of a disease, the “Blue Death”. It’s hard to believe, but the Raymond F. Jones “The Toymaker” novelette came in in the #1 rank in that issue of Astounding, with fans liking it better than “Vintage Season”. “Evidence” by Isaac Asimov tied “Vintage Season” in the rankings.

    We discussed Arthur C. Clarke’s “Rescue Party” from Astounding. This is a very well known, well remembered and very well reprinted novelette, about aliens coming to Earth to rescue humans from a sun going mad, and what they find. It was his second published story, and quite good for that. For me, this falls into the “Very Good” category. This was also in two of the Big Lists, Classics of SF and SFADB. The fans from 1946 clearly liked it. It was ranked #2 in AnLab the month it came out. The fans tended to rank the serials and longer pieces higher than the shorter, and here they ranked the execrable “Pattern for Conquest” by George O. Smith #1. Go figure.

    We discussed “Hobbies” by Clifford D. Simak, Astounding, still in print as part of his “City” fix-up novel. This was the most popular novelette for the fans as voted in AnLab, and I actually agree with them here. It’s a great story of the dogs and the humans, if not quite up with the best from “City”, and it’s still in print.

    The Chromium Helmet” by Theodore Sturgeon in Astounding is a great story, and one I did not remember reading before. The fans in the AnLab agreed with me on this, ranking it as #1 in it’s month. This story of brain/behavior manipulation has been been reprinted in the Murray Leinster anthology “Great Stories of Science Fiction” (1951, Random House), with a few reprints as recently as the “Killdozer!” anthology (2013, Gateway/Orion). As I don’t think I’ve ever read it before, it’s a Hidden Gem for me. I do have to admit that Sturgeon got a bit carried away with some of the technical diode and capacitor and whatnot circuit description; less would have been more on that.

    Dead City” (also titled “Malignant Marauders” in one reprint) by Murray Leinster, Thrilling Wonder Stories, is a great novelette, and another one I had never seen before. It involves anthropology and time traveling aliens who threaten today. There are aspects of this that remind me of Andre Norton’s “The Time Traders”. This has been reprinted a few times, most recently in 2019. I’m calling this another Hidden Gem.

    I really liked was “This Is The House“, Kuttner/Moore (as Lawrence O’Donnell), Astounding. I don’t think I was able to discuss this at the panel, but I do recommend this very good novelette of a rather different house. It is rather obscure, with no reprints from 1952 to 2010, so I am calling it another Hidden Gem.

    We discussed “Daemon“, a C.L. Moore novelette from Famous Fantastic Mysteries. It’s a very good story of a simple man with different abilities. It’s credited solely to her in ISFDB and other locations. At the same time, it’s hard to be sure of all of the stories that her and husband Henry Kuttner published after their marriage. I read this in “The Best of C. L. Moore“.

    Last for the novelettes, there are two Astounding stories that had #1 Anlab rankings for the months they appeared in, “The Toymaker” by Raymond F. Jones and “Cold Front” by Hal Clement. “The Toymaker” is good, but not even very good. “Cold Front” was just plain bad, not even one of the better Hal Clement stories from this era. Looking at the July 1946 AnLab in the October Astounding, the #2 to #5 stories were “Trouble” by George O. Smith (not great, but one of his better stories), “Rain Check” by Lewis Padgett (Kuttner/Moore), “The Blindness” by Philip Latham, and “Film Library” by A. E. van Vogt . I think these were all better than Clement’s “Cold Front”. Oh well.

    Short stories were strong as well.

    Ray Bradbury’s “The Million Year Picnic” from Planet Stories was probably the consensus best short story of the year. For me, this is probably the first great Bradbury story. It is the first written but the last entry in “The Martian Chronicles”. It shows up in all four of the Big Lists noted above and continues to be reprinted and talked about.

    Absalom” by Kuttner/Moore from Startling Stories is a great story of the mutant son of a mutant. It’s quite well known and remembered. First reprinted in the 1952 Robert E. Heinlein anthology “Tomorrow, the Stars” (Doubleday) and often after that.

    As mentioned on the other panel, “A Logic Named Joe” by Murray Leinster from Astounding is a great early story of something like the internet. It’s also a story where the fans in AnLab liked it as much as we do today. I think this is one of Leinster’s better stories, with great characters. First reprinted in the 1950 anthology “Sidewise In Time” (Murray Leinster editor, Shasta), with many more over time.

    “Placet Is A Crazy Place” by Fredric Brown from Astounding is a great story for me, of life on a very odd planet. First reprinted in the anthology “Travelers of Space” (Martin H. Greenberg, 1951, Gnome), I probably read it first in Brown’s “Angels and Spaceships” collection (1954, E. P. Dutton). It was not a fan favorite, at #4 in that month’s Anlab. Fredric Brown was a master of the short short; this is not quite that short, but it’s great.

    We discussed Miriam Allen deFord’s “The Last Generation?” from Harpers, a very good and rather chilling story of nuclear accident induced human sterility and the question of whether humans deserved another chance. I knew I had read this but I was surprised it was not in my spreadsheet. It was first reprinted in the Miriam Allen deFord collection “Xenogenesis” (1969, Ballantine Books). I need to read more Miriam Allen deFord, as she had a long career starting in middle age after this story and I don’t know enough about her ouevre.

    I don’t know if we discussed my other two favorite short stories from 1946, “Rain Check” by Kuttner/Moore, in Astounding, or “Technical Error” by Arthur C. Clarke, Fantasy No. 1. “Rain Check” is a Hidden Gem for me, as it is great but has only reprinted once in the 1950 Lewis Padgett “A Gnome There Was And Other Tales of Science Fiction and Fantasy” collection, Simon & Schuster.

    We also discussed Allison V. Harding, a mostly Weird Tales author (1943 to 1951) that I don’t think I have read. She had four 1946 stories per ISFDB, including two that have been reprinted in the 2020 collection, “Allison V. Harding: The Forgotten Queen of Horror” (Armchair Fiction). Most of her fiction had not been reprinted until then. I need to check some of her work out.

    My thanks to Trish E. Matson for leading the discussion on 1946 movies, radio shows, and the like. She had done the work here – thanks! “Stairway to Heaven” (AKA “A Matter of Life and Death” in original UK release) with David Niven was mentioned as one of the best speculative fiction films of the year. Characterized as a fantasy-romance, I hope that my wife will watch this with me.

    All in all, it was a lot of fun.

  • Dave’s Short Fiction Rating Scheme

    Summary: I have a personal rating scheme for short fiction, where I assign a numerical value from 1 to 5. This is in addition to any review or comment text I may note for short fiction. This was developed for my own personal use and convenience, and is both irrational in some ways yet hopefully internally consistent. I have written this post to make sharing my explanation of it easier when asked, as does happen occasionally.

    The Whole Story: I’ve been assigning ratings to books I read for decades in my Book Database. While this is subjective, it is both fun and useful to me in a number of ways. My book database book ratings range from zero, for “Execrable”, to 9, for “A Classic”. I include a brief text field for comments also for each book read.

    After I started reading a lot of short science fiction and fantasy (AKA “SFF”) several years ago, I discovered that I really needed to comment/review and rate each story for my own purposes. Among other things, this was really needed to be able to remember the stories from an anthology, discuss the stories, and to identify which were my favorites and least favorites.

    With that thinking and observing how others in the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction reading group on Facebook dealt with this issue, I developed a system that works for me. I am not ready to say that it completely rational, as it is not. However, it works for me and I attempt to apply it consistently.

    My rating scale for short speculative fiction is from 1 to 5, with 5 the best. This is admittedly a personal, subjective scale.

    My criteria for a good story involves quality of writing (grammar, spelling, sentence structure, coherence, etc.), style, interesting characters, interesting plot, and interesting or novel ideas, and that hard to define “sense of wonder”. I don’t go to the extent of assigning sub-values to these different factors or sub-criteria and then aggregating them. I was involved in a lot of that for engineering evaluations of alternatives as an engineer, but that seems excessive and pointless here.

    Another aspect that does enter into my ratings and willingness to finish the story are aspects of racism (see my post on this), colonialism, homophobia and related issues, ableism, misogyny, etc. Especially when one of these aspects is really obvious, my rating and enjoyment of a story may be affected. I know I am not as consistent on this as I would like.

    Needless to say, my ratings and comments can vary from day to day as my mood and how I interact with a story change. My best strategy for dealing with this is to occasionally defer rating and writing about a story until the next day, to give my thinking and emotions a chance to gel and become coherent.

    I attempt to make my ratings internally consistent in comparison to other stories I’ve read, but I don’t put a huge amount of conscious effort into this. This is probably more thoroughly considered when I am looking at what are the best stories from an anthology, collection or group read.

    I assign a “2” to a story I could not finish, or “Did Not Finish” or DNF. These are generally stories that I just loose interest in, typically due to crappy writing, uninteresting characters or uninteresting plot, a combination of all three, or where the story just does not speak to me. I have found that I am not generally a fan of post-modern, plotless stories, so these are more typically DNF for me. I do tend to “DNF” stories less than novels, as it’s not as much of an investment of my time and energy.

    I could assign values less than a “2” to stories that I think are horrifically bad, and probably should. I don’t encounter or rate many of these.

    Although it’s a novel, I think the late career Pellucidar novel “Land of Terror” by Edgar Rice Burroughs would be below a “2” for me if I were rating a similar short SFF story. I encountered this reading for the 1945 Retro Hugo Awards. It was astoundingly bad. I have read a fair amount of other ERB novels, including the first Pellucidar novel, “At The Earth’s Core”. They varied for various reasons, but were all a lot better than this. I tried reading it twice, and did not get farther than page 6. In hindsight, this could have been a “1.5” or lower.

    One example of a “2” for short SFF is Marion Zimmer Bradley’s “The Door Through Space” (Ace Double, 1961), read in Leigh Grossman’s great 2011 anthology “Sense of Wonder: A Century of Science Fiction”. My comment was “DNF, lost interest. Seems like a C.L. Moore knockoff.” At least for me, I really wonder why Grossman picked this story.

    My DNF (or “2”) may be your classic or favorite story by an author if my DNF is a result of just not having the patience to really attend to a story that is taking a long time to get going, that just does not grab me, or that I don’t find any characters I can be sympathetic to or identify with. “Wall, Stone, Craft”, a 1993 novella by Walter Jon Williams in chapbook and F&SF was one of these for me. My comment on this story, which Gardner Dozois loved in the Jo Walton “Revisiting the Hugos” post for the 1994 Hugo, was “A story about Mary Shelley that just did not keep my interest.” I really like Walter Jon Williams and his fiction, but this story was just not my cup of tea.

    Between 2 and 3 are stories that I finish but that I think are really pretty deficient in some way, whether it be crappy writing, uninteresting characters, boring plot, etc. These typically but not always occur together. These would fall somewhere in “Poor” or “Okay” for me. I have especially gotten some of these reading for the Retro Hugos for 1943 and 1944 stories and for the “1946 Not A Retro Hugo” (my name, not theirs) project for Chicon 8. For example, I read, “Final Victim“, a short story by Ray Bradbury & Henry Hasse, Amazing February 1946. With a 2.4/5 rating, my comment was “Very ordinary and overwrought tale of murder and revenge in the Asteroid Belt.”

    From about 3.1 to 3.5 are stories that I rate as “Good”. Not to pick on him, but Ray Bradbury’s 1946 short story in Thrilling Wonder Stories, “Rocket Skin“, fell into a “3.1” rating by me. My comments were, “Hitchhikers on space ships, like hobos, and a Patrol Man hitcher looking for a man with critical information hidden unknowing in his brain.”

    “Very Good” typically is from 3.6 to 3.7. I had Philip K. Dick’s first published SF story, “Beyond Lies the Wub” from Planet Stories in 1952, at “3.7” or “Very Good”.

    At 3.8 to 4.0, I get to “Great”. This could typically equate to something that might have been included in a “Best Of” XXXX anthology, but not a requirement. “The Veldt” by Ray Bradbury (published first in Saturday Evening Post, then in “The Illustrated Man” in 1951) is a “4.0” for me.

    At 4.1 to 4.3, I get to “Superlative”. “Out of All Them Bright Stars” by Nancy Kress (F&SF March 1985) had a 4.1 rating for me, at “Superlative”. I also had “When the Bough Breaks” by Kuttner and Moore (Astounding, November 1944) at 4.3 and “Superlative”.

    At 4.4 to 4.9, I rate stories as “A Classic”. One example of this for me is Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” (New Yorker, July 26, 1948), which I rated 4.5. “Light of Other Days” by Bob Shaw (Analog, August 1966) is a 4.9 for me.

    I do have a few stories that I rate a full “5”, or “Perfect”. These are “Vintage Season” (Astounding September 1946) and “Mimsy Were The Borogoves” (Astounding, February 1943) by Henry Kuttner/C. L. Moore, Roger Zelazny’s “A Rose for Ecclesiastes” (F&SF, November 1963), “Huddling Place” (Astounding, July 1944) by Clifford D. Simak, “Flowers for Algernon” (F&SF, April 1959) by Daniel Keyes, “Baby Is Three” (Galaxy, October 1952) by Theodore Sturgeon, and “Coming Attraction” (Galaxy, November 1950) by Fritz Leiber.

    Mimsy Were The Borogoves

    So, that is how my rating scheme works. It is arbitrary and subjective, and probably irrational in some ways, but it works for me. See table at the bottom for a summary. Although not directly applicable, I’ll close with the immortal words of Nigel Tufnel from the wonderful movie “This Is Spinal Tap” in 1984, “These go to eleven.”

    CategoryRating
    Horrific/execrableBelow 2
    Did Not Finish, or DNF2
    Poor2.1 to 2.5
    Okay2.6 to 3.0
    Good3.1 to 3.5
    Very Good3.6 to 3.7
    Great3.8 to 4.0
    Superlative4.1 to 4.3
    A Classic4.4 to 4.9
    Perfect5.0

  • The Arbor House Treasury of Modern Science Fiction

    The Arbor House Treasury of Modern Science Fiction

    Summary: This is a 1980 general anthology of science fiction from 1946 to 1976, edited by Robert Silverberg and Martin H. Greenberg. My overall, average rating for the stories was 3.93/5, which falls well into “great” on my scale. I’m glad I read it. It aspires to have the same stature and general mission as the two seminal 1946 anthologies, “The Best of Science Fiction” (Groff Conklin) and “Adventures in Time and Space“, (Healy & McComas). I don’t think it quite gets there, but I recommend it regardless.

    The Story: I think I decided to read this after my Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction group on Facebook added it as a Group Read. It sounded very promising and I was excited to read it.

    The Arbor House Treasury of Modern Science Fiction” was published in 1980 by Arbor House/Priam, with Martin H. Greenberg and Robert Silverberg as editors. The volume presents stories from 1946 to 1976. As noted in the Preface by Greenberg and Silverberg, “Nevertheless, the present volume is an attempt to provide, for the readers of the 1980s and beyond, the same kind of powerful impact that Adventures In Time & Space [Raymond J. Healy and J. Francis McComas, Random House, 1946] and The Best of Science Fiction [Groff Conklin, Crown, 1946] delivered 30 years back.”

    When I read an anthology of this kind (survey over an era), I look for these things:

    1. Authors and stories included that make sense for the anthology, and that meet the stated goals for the anthology.
    2. Being introduced to great stories that are new to me.
    3. A great introduction that makes clear what the editor(s) were trying to accomplish, what the focus for selection was, etc.
    4. Author and story background, reasons why it stories/authors included, with other essays bringing value as worthwhile also.
    5. How available is it, and where?

    I’ll touch on these points and more below.

    As you might expect for a volume that attempts to cover 30 years of SF, it’s rather hefty, with 39 stories and 754 pages of fiction. With 17 short stories, 20 novelettes and 2 novellas, I feel that Silverberg and Greenberg successfully balanced title and author inclusion with the length of book. Although not essential, the font size used was not too tiny, which is great as I get older.

    The acknowledgements/copyright information is pretty complete; my only niggle is that the name of the publisher and year is presented for story origin, but not the publication or month where it is a periodical. I can look this up, but I’d rather see it here. I am pleased that this information is presented in the same order as the stories presented.

    There is a helpful 4 page preface by Silverberg/Greenberg, which does a nice job of putting the anthology into perspective while laying out the goals of the editors. There are also helpful story introductions, which place the story/author into perspective and help us understand why the story was included. I view both of these features as essential for this kind of anthology, and for many others as well.

    I was not able to discern any explicit reason or scheme for the ordering of the stories in the anthology. Some anthologies of this sort will organize by chronology, or by thematic sections, etc. I believe that editors of anthologies generally have theories or aesthetic principles about how to order stories. I assume that Silverberg and Greenberg had such reasons for the order of the stories, but I was not able to discern any obvious organizational principles. This is not a defect, but it is interesting.

    My overall rating for the anthology was 3.93/5, the average of the ratings I gave for all 39 stories. This falls into the “great” category for me overall. There were stories that I loved, and stories that I did not like and wondered at their inclusion, but none that I just could not finish. Here is a graphic of how those 39 stories fall under my rating scheme. My thanks to Austin Beeman at Short SF for the inspiration for this.

    Another pertinent question for an anthology of this kind was posed by Jim Harris about some of the stories in this book. He wrote, “Vote for all the stories you believe should be in a retrospective anthology that remembers the best SF stories from 1946-1976.” Counting my ratings and how I looked at the stories, I come up with the “A Classic” (5), the “Superlative” (also 5), “Great” (16), and one of the “Very Good” stories (“Gift of Gab”), for a total of 27 stories from “Arbor House” that I feel meet that criteria. 27/39 means that I feel that 69% of the choices belonged in this anthology with this criteria. I am not strict on this, but it’s a useful thing to consider. I enjoyed reading most of the stories, but Silverberg and Greenberg could have done better.

    Stories that I loved that were new to me, or that I did not remember much about, included:

    1. “The Bicentennial Man” by Isaac Asimov
    2. “The Women Men Don’t See” by James Tiptree, Jr.
    3. “Winter’s King” by Ursula K. Le Guin
    4. “Angel’s Egg” by Edgar Pangborn
    5. “Common Time” by James Blish
    6. “Poor Little Warrior!” by Brian W. Aldiss
    7. “Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand” by Vonda N. McIntyre

    Although not mandatory, being introduced to great new stories, or reintroduced to great stories I have read but don’t remember, is a big plus for this kind of survey anthology. Arbor House succeeded for me here.

    There were a number of stories that were classics IMHO and that I love. Some of them were:

    1. “Light of Other Days” by Bob Shaw
    2. “The Queen of Air and Darkness” by Poul Anderson
    3. “Day Million” by Frederik Pohl
    4. “When You Care, When You Love” by Theodore Sturgeon
    5. “The Marching Morons” by C. M. Kornbluth
    6. “When It Changed” by Joanna Russ

    There were a number of stories that I thought were great and appropriate inclusions, but not quite in the “classic” category for me.

    Like most anthologies, there are some stories that I really wonder why they were included, usually more about the specific choice and less about the author. I do give editors a lot of latitude in this area, especially as there are story length limitations/tradeoffs, story availability Is not always obvious to us at this remove, etc. Some of the stories in the category for me included:

    1. “I’m Scared”, a short story by Jack Finney
    2. “Kaleidoscope”, a short story by Ray Bradbury, although many others disagree
    3. “Wall of Crystal, Eye of Night”, a novelette by Algis Budrys, which others may disagree about
    4. “The Man Who Never Grew Young”, a short story by Fritz Leiber
    5. “Stranger Station”, a novelette by Damon Knight

    I am not fond of these stories and question their inclusion. I probably would not have included a Jack Finney story in this anthology. I think the other authors were all great and appropriate choices, but I really feel other stories by those authors would have been better.

    Another area that this kind of anthology requires consideration of is authors/stories that were not included but should have been. Without overthinking this, my most obvious omission is Samuel R. Delany. I would have replaced Jack Finney’s “I’m Scared” with Delany’s “Driftglass” for a similar page count.

    As noted above, Silverberg and Greenberg hoped this volume would have a similar stature and impact to the seminal 1946 anthologies Adventures in Time and Space and The Best of Science Fiction. I think this is a great anthology that does a good job of covering the era targeted, but I don’t think it quite gets to the stature of those two anthologies. I think this is more to do with the ground-breaking, seminal nature of those two anthologies in 1946, and less about the contents here. I have not read those two 1946 anthologies recently so I cannot make a full comparison.

    For me, the most obvious comparison for this volume would be the “The Norton Book of Science Fiction: North American Science Fiction, 1960-1990” (1993, Ursula K. Le Guin, Brian Atterbery editors, refer to my blog post about it). I enjoyed a lot of that one, I agreed with the goals of the editors, and I’m glad I read it, but I did find the story selection stronger in Arbor House than Norton.

    I found out that there is “The Arbor House Treasury of Great Science Fiction Short Novels”, also edited by Silverberg & Greenberg, 1980, with novellas and novelettes from 1941 to 1977. After having read this volume, I need to read that one too. There is also “The Arbor House Treasury of Science Fiction Masterpieces” (1984, Silverberg & Greenberg), with a more historical focus with works from 1849 (Edgar Allan Poe) to 1980, tying it into today. The editors noted on that one, “What we have attempted to do in this book…is to trace the evolution of today’s science fiction by linking the earlier ‘mainstream’ s-f literature to the best of the pulp-magazine work of modern writers.” I have not made up my mind yet about reading that one.

    Jim Harris and I both noticed the fairly large percentage of stories from the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (F&SF), with 13 out of 39. I don’t have any real theory about why this would be so, other than perhaps Silverberg (or Greenberg) just liked the kinds of stories found there. F&SF is one of the surviving long-running science fiction and fantasy magazines today, still around since 1949.

    All in all, I’m glad I read “The Arbor House Treasury of Modern Science Fiction” and recommend it without reservation.

    Detailed Reviews/Comments, in same order as the anthology (SPOILERS FOLLOW!):

    1. Angel’s Egg, a novelette by Edgar Pangborn, Galaxy 6/1951. Wow. Another amazing first published story, in a variation of the epistolary story in letters as a case file with the FBI, featuring correspondence and a journal of Dr. Bannerman. The doctor has been found dead by a friend. The doctor’s journal recounts his experiences with an “angel”, a member of a very advanced alien race. He sacrifices his self/memories to help the aliens learn how to help humans. It appears the story is filed and forgotten. Rated 3.9/5.
    2. Rescue Party“, a novelette by Arthur C. Clarke, Astounding 6/1946. Noted by Clarke as his first published story; it appears “Loophole” was published one month earlier. Regardless, it is quite a good early story by him. I did not remember the details of the story, but I sure recognized it when I read it. I’m not sure where I first read it, as it has been very broadly anthologized. An advanced starship lead by an advanced elder species races to the Earth to attempt to rescue the human race that was about to die due to a nova. They arrive hours before the nova, and are frustrated they do not find anyone to rescue. They follow a mysterious TV signal into interstellar space, where they find a giant fleet of primitive rocket driven generation ships. The aliens are happy to help rescue them, saving centuries of travel. They are a little afraid of the humans due to the rapid and aggressive progress of the humans; their fear turns out to be well placed. I do think it is interesting how often this story was anthologized; perhaps it is partly the tenor of human achievement against the odds. Reprinted in Groff Conklin’s 1948 “A Treasury of Science Fiction” and many other places.  Rated 3.7/5. This is another interesting choice for inclusion; Clarke had many better story from this era.
    3. Shape” (AKA “Keep Your Shape”, a short story by Robert Sheckley, Galaxy 11/1953. A good story of shape changing aliens attempting to invade the Earth, for unclear reasons. Invasion expedition members keep disappearing (this is expedition/team 20). We find out that the Glom have a very traditional, hidebound culture, where your shape is the one your ancestors had. The protagonist, a very committed Glom and a pilot, is the last to desert as he understands he can take a shape on Earth he wants, a bird. Rated 3.7/5.
    4. Alpha Ralpha Boulevard“, a novelette by Cordwainer Smith (Paul M. A Linebarger), F&SF 6/1961. I’m guessing I first read this in the 1970 edition of his “You Will Never Be The Same” collection. As the intro states, ‘”Alpha Ralpha Boulevard” is a brilliant and typical part of Professor Linebarger’s vision.’ After 12,000 years of predictable lives, the Instrumentality has decided that humans need chaos, fear and danger in order for life to have meaning. The historical safety nets have relaxed, with consequences. A man meets and then loses his own true love, after visiting a strange and ancient machine. He survives due to a kindness to birds, and is rescued by C’mell (from Smith’s slightly later “The Ballad of Lost C’mell”). A great story, and unique as normal for the author, and one it was fun to get reacquainted with. Many, many reprints. I rated this 4.1/5.
    5. Winter’s King“, a novelette by Ursula K. Le Guin, Orbit 5, 1969. I could not figure out if I had read this before or not, or where if so. A Karhidish king is mindwarped. They abdicate, and travel off world for Ekumen therapy and education. They return 55 years later, cured. Their child has been an inadequate king, and they are asked to reign again. Rated 4/5.
    6. Or All the Seas with Oysters“, a short story by Avram Davidson, Galaxy 6/1958. Last read in Lev Grossman’s 2021 “Sense of Wonder: A Century of Science Fiction“. A Hugo winner. Great story of a pair of bike shop owners. One of them falls prey to a regenerative life form. Rated 4/5.
    7. Common Time“, a short story by James Blish, Science Fiction Quarterly 8/1953. Perhaps originally read in Blish’s collection “Galactic Cluster” in the 1970s. The pilot of a new faster than light ship almost dies with unexpected time issues during faster than light travel. He encounters incomprehensible aliens. This is a great story involving time and space. Rated 3.9/5.
    8. When You Care, When You Love“, a novelette by Theodore Sturgeon, F&SF 9/1962. Read in the “The Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction: A Special 25th Anniversary Anthology“. A great story of a very wealthy but un-ostentatious young woman who discovers what wealth can be used for, uses cancer, needs to match nurture by a version of the Truman show. Great writing. Best Short Fiction Hugo nominee 1963. Rated 4.4/5.
    9. The Shadow of Space“, a novelette by Philip José Farmer, If 11/1967. A really interesting story of an experimental ship diverted to answer an emergency call. Rescuing a woman who has been traumatized and is crazy after a meteor strike kills her husband and wrecks their ship, the experimental ship leaves the universe when she sabotages the controls. Outside the universe, the ship acts more like a particle than a ship. After harrowing adventures that leaves all of them scarred and changed, the captain figures out how to return to the universe. Rated 3.7/5.
    10. All You Zombies—“, a short story by Robert A. Heinlein, F&SF 3/1959. Last read in “The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction” (2010, Evans and others). A classic time travel story where a time traveler is all of the characters, in different stages of life, gender, etc., as time loops and whatnot. Rated 4.1/5. I’m open on this, but this is perhaps the last great short fiction from Heinlein.
    11. I’m Scared“, a short story by Jack Finney, Colliers 9/15/1951. A man is collecting stories of unusual occurrences, and gradually concludes they involve time dislocation. He notes that this appears to be accelerating, connects it to dissatisfaction with the present, and wonders if the world is about to go to hell? Seems rather weak for inclusion. Rated 3.3/5.
    12. Child’s Play“, a novelette by William Tenn (Philip Klass), Astounding 3/1947. I suspect I have read this but I don’t remember where; Groff Conklin’s “A Treasury of Science Fiction“, John W. Campbell, Jr.’s “The Astounding Science Fiction” Anthology” or Tenn’s “The Seven Sexes” collection are all possible. A good story of a child’s toy incorrectly delivered to a man today, 400 years before 2,350. “Bild-a-Man” proves to be a temptation and a challenge to a young lawyer. Losing his girl to competition, the lawyer decides to duplicate himself. It ends badly for him. Good but not as good as “Mimsy Were The Borogoves” by Kuttner/Moore, a 1943 classic which also deals with a children’s “toy” from the future. Rated 3.8/5.
    13. Grandpa“, a novelette by James H. Schmitz, Astounding 2/1955. Last read in the Vandermeer’s 2016 “The Big Book of Science Fiction: The Ultimate Collection“, I assume I first read this when I collected that issue of Astounding. A great story about new worlds, ecology, and not making assumptions about how they work, along with a sympathetic young protagonist that learns some lessons. Rated 3.9/5. It’s worth noting that this has been anthologized a lot.
    14. Private Eye“, a novelette by Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore, Astounding 1/1949. A fascinating story of detection and crime in a society where the “Eye” can reach back a specific time for crime investigations. A second rate wimp decides to kill someone, and acts in an innocent way to sow doubt as to his motivation for the killing. He gets off, but then kills the woman he once loved to show his ability and that he is not a “second-rater”. A very different treatment of a time viewer than T. L. Sherred’s 1947 “E for Effort“. Well thought of at the time, appearing in Bleiler & Dikty’s “The Best Science Fiction Stories: 1950“. Well remembered since then with a fairly large number of reprints, including the Asimov/Greenberg “The Great Science Fiction Stories Volume 11, 1949“. I rated this a strong 3.7/5. At the same time, I don’t see this as an obvious choice for Kuttner/Moore here. Their “Vintage Season“, a bonafide classic, was published 1946, and “Absalom“, a better story than this, was published in 1946 as well.
    15. Sundance“, a short story by Robert Silverberg, F&SF 6/1969. Last read in David Hartwell’s “The Science Fiction Century“, and previously read in Silverberg’s “Phases of the Moon”. A great story of an American Indian on a team preparing a planet for settlement.  He is either part of genocide against an intelligent native race with a culture or undergoing therapy. “Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction: Nineteenth Series“, Edward L. Ferman. Rated 4/5.
    16. In the Bowl“, a novelette by John Varley, F&SF 12/1975. I have probably read this before, perhaps in his “The Persistence of Vision” collection. A Martian man travels to Venus, and heads for the outback to search for blast jewels. He reluctantly teams up with a very young woman who is emancipated and who desperately wants to get off Venus. He barely survives, and heads back to civilization with this young woman who will either be his wife or adopted daughter. Although this is an imagined future and things can be different in this society, today many societies would find this kind of potential marriage/relationship with a very young person to be illegal and offensive. A good story, but not one of Varley’s best. Nebula finalist, reprinted in “The Best Science Fiction of the Year #5” by Terry Carr. Rated 3.7/5. I do find this an odd choice for Varley.
    17. Kaleidoscope“, a short story by Ray Bradbury, Thrilling Wonder Stories 10/1959. A spaceship is blasted to pieces, and the crew are spread all over the place, going their own way, living and dying. Another surprising choice for me; some loved this, but it was not one of his best stories of the period for me. Rated 3.5/5.
    18. Unready to Wear“, a short story by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Galaxy 4/1953. A fun story of how the human race came to have a “amphibious” offshoot, of people that mostly don’t live in bodies. There is a reserve of bodies for when they want them. The remaining warm body humans consider them deserters. A pretty good story, and somewhat humorous. I’m sure I read it in Vonnegut’s “Welcome to the Monkey House“, but I don’t remember it. I do wonder if this would have been included if not by Vonnegut, perhaps the 3rd choice in a row I wonder about. He did not write that much great short fiction, shifting most of his focus to novels in the 1960s, and the editors may have felt the best of his are over-reprinted. Rated 3.7/5.
    19. Wall of Crystal, Eye of Night“, a novelette by Algis Budrys, Galaxy 12/1961. Last read in “Galaxy: Thirty Years of Innovative SF” (ed. Martin H. Greenberg, Joseph D. Olander, Frederik Pohl). I’m not really sure what I’d like to say about this story. For me it falls into the vein of “industrial titans competing”. I did not find the characters to be well drawn. I see this story has been anthologized a number of times, but I don’t find it compelling. I have not read much short fiction by Algis Budrys, and perhaps I need more exposure there. Upon re-reading, it did have a somewhat unrelenting sense of pacing and plot, perhaps at the expense of the characters. And I did enjoy the Martians, perhaps my favorite part of the story. Still, I wonder at this choice. Rated 3/5, which for me would be “OK” but not “Good”.
    20. Day Million“, a short story by Frederik Pohl, Rogue Feb-March/1966. First read in “Worlds’ Best Science Fiction: 1967” by Carr/Wollheim. Great story, a classic, a future love story, in Day Million, by two lovers who exchange analogues but will never see each other again in person. The use of first person authorial voice helped this story for me. Love it. Reprinted many times. Rated 4.8/5.
    21. Hobson’s Choice“, a short story by Alfred Bester, F&SF 8/1952. A statistician in the US after a nuclear war discovers population growth when there should be population loss. He also dreams of living in another time, generally 100 years in the past. Finally, he discovers the source of the extra people; they are time travelers, looking for an ideal place to live. He is detained by the time travelers, and given a choice; he must go back or forward in time, and the result is a disappointment. Grim but wry humor. I am sure I read this in Bester’s “Starburst” collection in the 1970s, but I don’t remember it. Rated 3.8/5. Great to get to know this story again.
    22. The Gift of Gab“, a novella by Jack Vance, Astounding 9/1955. I’m sure I read this in Astounding decades ago. It has been well reprinted, in Crispin’s “Best SF Three: Science Fiction Stories“, Robert Silverberg’s “Alpha Three“, and “The Jack Vance Treasury ” in addition to “Arbor House”. Men are working on a barge on a new world. Crew members start to go missing. Then, it becomes apparent that an ex-employee, amoral and brilliant, hid information about the intelligence of an underwater species. The protagonist has to find a way to communicate with this intelligent but uncommunicative species. It all wraps up well. I am not prepared to say this is great Vance, but it is a very good story. Rated 3.7/5.
    23. “The Man Who Never Grew Young”, a short story by Fritz Leiber, Night’s Black Agents, 1947. Read most recently in “The Dark Side” by Damon Knight. Interesting story of a world in reverse, and a man who never grows young like everyone else. More of an idea than a story. I rated this 3.6/5. I love Fritz Leiber, but I really wonder about the inclusion of this story.
    24. Neutron Star“, a novelette by Larry Niven, If 10/1966. Read most recently in Grossman’s 2021 “Sense of Wonder”. A spendthrift spaceship pilot is hired by the puppeteers to find out what killed the two crew of a research ship that orbited a neutron star. The research ship is supposedly impenetrable, so this is a threat to the puppeteers’ ship business. He figures out it is the tides of the neutron star that killed the two researchers, barely survives, and figures out that the puppeteers planet does not have a moon, and blackmails them. Hugo winner. Rated 4.1/5.
    25. Impostor“, a short story by Philip K. Dick, Astounding 6/1953. The story combines the frightening idea of an alien, invading shapeshifter with 1950s Cold War, McCarthyite paranoia. Earth is in a death battle with Alpha Centauri, just hanging on. A researcher on a top secret project for an improved weapon is grabbed by the security forces and accused of being an alien impostor, about the detonate a U-bomb. He spends a lot of time and effort trying to clear himself. At the end, we discover he was the alien spy and he detonates the U-bomb, which is visible at Alpha Centauri. This is a great early Dick story for me, with headlong action and great paranoia. Rated 3.8/5.
    26. The Human Operators“, a novelette by Harlan Ellison and A. E. van Vogt, F&SF 1/1971, is a great story by two unlikely collaborators. A group of intelligent ships sent to fight a war in another galaxy have rebelled and escaped human control. They have retained human slaves to perform maintenance. A human female is brought to the ship to breed with the protagonist. They escape. “Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year“, 1982, Lester del Ray. Appeared in the Harlan Ellison anthology “Partners In Wonder“, which I need to read. Rated 3.8/5.
    27. Poor Little Warrior!“, a short story by Brian W. Aldiss, F&SF 4/1958. A great little time travel story, of a nebbish from 2181, who goes big game hunting with the dinosaurs. He makes his kill, but the dinosaurs parasites kill him. A great story! A lot of reprints, including “The Great SF stories #20 (1958)” by Asimov/Greenberg, “The Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction: Eighth Series” by Anthony Boucher, Robert Silverberg’s “Alpha One“, etc. Rated 3.9/5.
    28. When It Changed“, a short story by Joanna Russ, Again, Dangerous Visions, Harlan Ellison ed, 1972. Most recently read in the “The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction“, 2010, Evans and others. A classic tale of a colonized planet where all the Earth men died in a plague, and women lived on without them. Six centuries later, men return to Whileaway. Life will change. Nebula and Tiptee winner, Hugo and Locus nominee. Reprinted often, including Wesleyan, the Vandermeer’s “The Big Book of Science Fiction: The Ultimate Collection”, and “The Prentice Hall Anthology of Science Fiction and Fantasy” by Garyn G. Roberts. Rated 4.3/5.
    29. The Bicentennial Man“, a novelette by Isaac Asimov, Stellar #2 1976. 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. Reprints include Terry Carr’s “The Best Science Fiction of the Year #6” and “The 1977 Annual World’s Best SF” by Saha/Wollheim. Rated 4/5.
    30. Hunting Machine“, a short story by Carol Emshwiller, Science Fiction Stories 5/1957. I love Carol Emshwiller. Her fiction is always unpredictable. A couple go out hunting for a bear, with a robotic hound dog. They survive only thanks to the robot. It’s not clear they learn anything. Reprinted in T. E. Dikty’s “Best Science Fiction Stories and Novels: 9th Series“. Rated 3.8/5.
    31. Light of Other Days“, a short story by Bob Shaw, Analog 8/1966 Classic! Emotional impact and straightforward narrative. This is one of the stories where I know what it is about, and I remember the emotional impact issues when I read it. Regardless of that, it’s still a lovely story with one of the biggest emotional impacts of any short SF/fantasy story I have ever read. I do like the characters of the glass buyer and his wife – neither of them is very appealing in some ways, but they feel very real to me. It was a Hugo finalist. It should have won some awards that year, and I do think this would be up for SF Hall of Fame consideration if anyone were to revisit that. A lot of reprints. Rated 4.9/5.
    32. The Keys to December“, a novelette by Roger Zelazny, New Worlds 8/1966. Last read in the Carr/Wollheim “Worlds’ Best Science Fiction: 1967“. Good story, somewhat relentless, builds to a real emotional impact. Rated 3.9/5.
    33. Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand“, a novelette by Vonda N. McIntyre, Analog 10/1973. Originally read in Analog; I believe this was later incorporated into the novel of the same name. A great story of a young woman who uses poisonous snakes for healing on a harsh planet. She meets a challenge, but loses one of her snakes. Nebula winner, Hugo and Locus runner-up. Reprints include Terry Carr’s “The Best Science Fiction of the Year #3” and Pamela Sargent’s great “Women of Wonder“. A great story. Rated 3.9/5.
    34. A Galaxy Called Rome“, a novelette by Barry N. Malzberg, F&SF 7/1975. First seen in the Recommended Reading List for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction Facebook group. I was about to read “The Santa Claus Compromise” by Thomas M. Disch in the Harrison/Aldiss “The Year’s Best Science Fiction No. 9“, and I found this adjacent story. I really loved “A Galaxy Called rome” and it’s knowing deconstruction of SF themes and the writing of fiction. It is about a starship Captain’s 14,000 year struggle to escape a black galaxy (not unlike a black hole). I am not a fan of literary science fiction, but Malzberg did a wonderful job of pulling me in and keeping my attention. Certainly the title alludes to the saying that all roads lead to Rome, and here all paths lead into the black galaxy. The story subtitle is noted as “In Memory of John Campbell”. The first sentence reads, “This is not a novelette but a series of notes”. It was a Locus and Nebula finalist. I ranked it a very outstanding 4.1/5. Since I read this, I have read other Barry N. Malzberg short fiction; this is still my favorite.
    35. Stranger Station“, a novelette by Damon Knight, F&SF 12/1956. Interesting story of a spaceman recruited and selected to be the sole human who meets with an alien. This happens at a remote space station every 10-20 years. It’s not exactly a first contact story, but it is all about how the human and the alien get along, and what they each get out of it. It’s not pretty. I rated this 3.5/5. I did wonder at it’s inclusion, as Damon Knight has many better stories from this era. Clearly, some disagree, as it’s found in the Judith Merril 1957 “SF: The Year’s Greatest Science-Fiction and Fantasy Second Annual Volume“, and the Vandermeers’s “The Big Book of Science Fiction: The Ultimate Collection”.
    36. “The Time of His Life”, a short story by Larry Eisenberg, F&SF 4/1968. A very good story of scientists, father and son, poor relationships, jealously, technology that can accelerate or retard aging. Reprinted in Robert Silverberg’s “Alpha One“. Rated 3.7/5.
    37. “The Marching Morons”, a novelette by C. M. Kornbluth, Galaxy 4/1951. Most recently read in the “The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume Two A: The Greatest Science Fiction Novellas of All Time Chosen by the Science Fiction Writers of America“, Ben Bova ed, 1973. Although it’s very cynical, I loved this story as I reread it. I really liked the visit to the “freud”. Kornbluth’s related “The Black Bag” is even better. Rated 4.4/5.
    38. The Women Men Don’t See“, a novelette by James Tiptree, Jr., F&SF 12/1973. I probably first read this in the Tiptree collection “Warm Worlds and Otherwise.” A great story of women, existing in the cracks of the world and taking a chance to leave with aliens to be free of men. The narrator is probably some kind of spy or operative, who is stunned by what happens. I love the last sentence, “Two of our opossums are missing.” Reprinted in the Terry Carr “The Best Science Fiction of the Year #3” and the Aldiss/Harrison “Best SF: 1974” anthologies. Rated 4/5.
    39. The Queen of Air and Darkness“, a novella by Poul Anderson, F&SF 4/1971. Wow – great, great story. Deservedly won Hugo & Nebula. Good characters, fascinating story of fantasy vs. alien technology, great plot, etc. Reminded me of some of the same themes from the Gene Wolfe story “The Fifth Head of Cerberus“. Reprinted in the “The Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction: A Special 25th Anniversary Anthology” (Edward L. Ferman ed) among others. Rated 4.9/5. This is one of my favorite Poul Anderson stories.

  • Not A Book Review – My thoughts on “Hugo Award Hindsight” stories

    Bottom Line: I recently did a post on “Hugo Award Hindsight“, stories that I concluded should have won Hugo Awards but did not between 1953 and 2000. This started with consideration of Jo Walton’s 2018 “An Informal History of the Hugos: A Personal Look Back at the Hugo Awards, 1953–2000”, which started as posts and comments at Tor.com that led to the book. I just finished reading a few days ago the “Hugo Award Hindsight” stories that I had not read recently or ever. My overall, average rating for these 18 stories was a very good 4.12/5, which on my scale is definitely into “Superlative”. This was not a surprise to me, but it was fun to discover some great stories I had never read or heard of.

    The Story: As noted in “Hugo Awards Hindsight”, Jo Walton wrote a great book, “An Informal History of the Hugos: A Personal Look Back at the Hugo Awards, 1953–2000” (2018, Tor). This book was based upon posts that she made at the Tor.com website in 2010 and 2011, and upon expert comments by Gardner Dozois and Rich Horton.

    I looked at the book and the posts and decided that I could identify a group of stories that I thought should have won Hugo Awards but did not by using the information in the book and on the website including the comments.

    I grouped stories that a) were explicitly identified by Jo Walton, Gardner Dozois or Rich Horton as “should have won” or something like that, and b) had at least two out of three of them in agreement on that story.

    I came up with 18 stories, as noted in “Hugo Award Hindsight”:

    1. “A Rose for Ecclesiastes”, Roger Zelazny, SS (Walton, Horton & Dozois) 1964
    2. “Light of Other Days, Bob Shaw, SS (Horton, Dozois) 1966
    3. “The Star Pit”, Samuel R. Delany, SS (Dozois, Horton) 1967
    4. “The Fifth Head of Cerberus”, Gene Wolfe NA (Dozois, Horton) 1972
    5. “Nobody’s Home”, Joanna Russ, SS (Dozois, Horton) 1972
    6. “Strangers”, Gardner Dozois, NA (Walton, Horton) 1974
    7. “The Eyeflash Miracles”, Gene Wolfe NA (Horton, Dozois) 1976
    8. “In The Hall of the Martian Kings”, John Varley, NA (Walton, Dozois and maybe Horton) 1977
    9. “The Screwfly Solution”, James Tiptree, Jr., NV (Walton, Dozois) 1977
    10. “Air Raid”, John Varley, SS (Walton, Horton, Dozois) 1977
    11. “Seven American Nights”, Gene Wolfe NA (Horton, Dozois)
    12. “The Very Slow Time Machine”, Ian Watson, SS (Walton, Horton) 1978
    13. “Slow Music”, James Tiptree, Jr., NA (Dozois, Horton) 1980
    14. “Hardfought”, Greg Bear, NA (Horton, Dozois) 1983
    15. “The Unconquered County”, Geoff Ryman, NA (Dozois, Horton) 1984
    16. “The Blind Geometer”, Kim Stanley Robinson, NA (Walton, Dozois) 1987
    17. “Great Work of Time”, John Crowley, NA (Horton, Dozois) 1989
    18. “Forgiveness Day”, Ursula K. Le Guin, NA (Horton, Dozois) 1994

    Looking at these 18 stories, there were 9 that I had either never read, had not read recently or did not remember reading but had probably read. For stories that I had read recently (since I joined the Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction group on Facebook in summer 2020), I did not reread those 9 stories.

    Reading the other 9 was a lot of fun.

    There were 5 stories that I discovered I had read before, generally a long time ago, but did not remember, either at all or with no real detail. These were:

    1. “In The Hall of the Martian Kings”, John Varley
    2. “The Screwfly Solution”, James Tiptree, Jr.
    3. “Slow Music”, James Tiptree, Jr.
    4. “The Unconquered Country”, Geoff Ryman
    5. “Forgiveness Day”, Ursula K. Le Guin.

    Apparently, I had never read:

    1. “Strangers”, Gardner Dozois (It is not surprising I had never read this, with only one reprint since the original appearance in “New Dimensions IV”. My deepest thanks to NESFA and NESFA Press for the 2001 “Strange Days: Fabulous Journeys with Gardner Dozois” collection, it’s only the reprint. NESFA and their books are always worth a look see.)
    2. “The Eyeflash Miracles”, Gene Wolfe`
    3. “The Very Slow Time Machine”, Ian Watson
    4. “The Blind Geometer”, Kim Stanley Robinson.

    My overall rating for these 18 stories was a superlative 4.12/5. I am really glad I read the 9 stories that I had not read recently or ever. The next two stories brought this average down slightly for me:

    1. “The Star Pit”, by Samual R. Delany, which I rated a “good” 3.5/5.
    2. “The Fifth Head of Cerberus”, by Gene Wolfe, which I rated a “very good” 3.7/5.

    I realize that these are both considered to be classics by many people, but I was not as enthralled. I would not have voted for these two stories for Hugo Awards, but that is just personal taste.

    Detailed Reviews and Comments, in order of release (SPOILERS FOLLOW):

    1.  “A Rose for Ecclesiastes”, a short story by Roger Zelazny, F&SF 11/1963. A great story, HOF, a classic. Protagonist is an asshole, but does change. He goes to Mars as a poet and translator, and is used by the surviving Martian females to breed and revitalize the race. Rated 5/5.
    2. “Light of Other Days”, a short story by Bob Shaw, Analog, 8/1966. This is one of the stories where I know what it is about, and I remember the emotional impact issues when I read it. Regardless of that, it’s still a lovely story with one of the biggest emotional impacts of any short SF/fantasy story I have ever read. The key is slow glass – a made up glass that can display pictures from the past, with how many years of the past variable. I do like the characters of the glass buyer and his wife – neither of them is very appealing in some ways, but they feel very real to me. Yeah, it should have won some awards that year, but I do think this would be up for SF HOF consideration if anyone were to revisit that. Classic! Emotional impact and straightforward narrative. I rated this 4.9/5.
    3. “The Star Pit”, a short story by Samuel R. Delany, Worlds of Tomorrow, February 1967. Interesting story, and it makes a bit more sense the 2nd time through. An immature and damaged man flees/is kicked out of a group marriage, and ends up in the Star Pit, where he tries to help others in the end. Golden insane people that can leave the galaxy. Just not my favorite. Rated 3.5/5.
    4. “The Fifth Head of Cerberus”, a novella by Gene Wolfe, 1972, Orbit 10. This is where I show my shallowness as a reader of SF. For me, this leans rather more towards the literary end of SF. Great writing here, interesting characters and setting, and a very gradual (but hinted) reveal on the clones. I did enjoy “Mr. Million”. At the same time, I found the story dragging a bit. I found the drugged interviews rather opaque in terms of why they were happening, although I agree that the search for identity was in play. This is definitely where Wolfe first showed what a great writer he would be but the story is not among the best of all time for me. Rated 3.7/5.
    5. “Nobody’s Home”, a short story by Joanna Russ, New Dimensions II: Eleven Original Science Fiction Stories, 1972. I think I’m with Rich Horton on this one. I love this story. It certainly seems to be a much more New Age narrative and structure. I really liked the integration of the teleportation with a post-scarcity society, and also liked how the society was sketched out. The discussion of what to do with “Leslie Smith”, how she comes into the story, and why she does not fit is rather heart-breaking. Rated 4.1/5.
    6. “Strangers”, a novella by Gardner Dozois, New Dimensions IV, 1972. A story that is hard to find, with only a reprint in the NESFA retrospective “Strange Days.” I’m sure Dozois was too modest to say anything in the “Revisiting the Hugo” discussion for Jo Walton, but I agree with Horton and Walton that this story should have won a Hugo. A dense, engaging and horrific story of love, death and life on a distant planet. An Earth man marries a humanoid native from a very private culture. With help from the superior biosciences of that culture, she becomes pregnant. Things turn out badly. Hugo finalist. I rated this 4.2/5.
    7. “The Eyeflash Miracles”, a novella by Gene Wolfe, Future Power, 1976. 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 to 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 Horton and Dozois loved this story. Nebula finalist, Locus #5. I rated this 4/5.
    8. “In The Hall of the Martian Kings”, a novella by John Varley, F&SF 2/1977. I assume I had read this before in Varley’s “A Persistence of Vision” but don’t remember it. A great story of a crew of Mars explorers, accidental death and an inability to return home, survival, and Martians. A totally different take on the same subject as Andy Weir’s “The Martians”, with a smidge of Leiber”s “A Pail of Air.” Hugo runner-up. I rated this 3.9/5.
    9. “The Screwfly Solution”, a novelette by James Tiptree, Jr., Analog, 6/1977. I believe I own and had read this issue of Analog in 1977, but I remembered very little 45 years later. Wow. This is a scary, superlative story of the end of the human race by biological jiggering of the adjacency of sexual and violence urges in men by an alien species, leading to the killing of all women. Outstanding writing, voices and characters. A great and chilling last sentence in the book, regarding the aliens, “I think I saw a real estate agent” for those who will take the planet. Nebula winner, Locus runner-up, and #3 Hugo. I agree it should have won. I rated this 4.3/5.
    10. “Air Raid”, a short story by John Varley, Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, Spring 1977. Wow. A powerful story, still as good as ever. A dying, threatened future, with people mutated and degraded, uses time travel to extract people from the past who will die anyway (airplane crash, say). The extracted people will be put on a starship to hopefully help the human race survive on Alpha Centauri. The story is of one such raid/rescue. Hugo, Nebula, Locus nominee. Dozois Best Of. Rated 4.1/5.
    11. “Seven American Nights”, a novella by Gene Wolfe, Orbit 20, 1978. A great story of an Iranian visiting a ruined US, after it’s downfall. He has an affair with an American actress, but realizes she may be deformed or horrific as well. The story is framed as a partial diary of his visit to the US, delivered to his family who still hope he is alive. Nebula, Hugo, Locus nominee, Dozois and Carr Year’s Best. Rated 4/5.
    12. “The Very Slow Time Machine”, a short story by Ian Watson, Anticipations, 1978. An outstanding story of very slow time travel, perhaps. A man may be God, or crazy, as a time traveler. Definitely an unreliable narrator going backwards and forwards. This felt rather post-modern, although not as incoherent as some. Hugo finalist. I rated it 4.1/5.
    13. “Slow Music”, a novella by James Tiptree”, Jr., Interfaces, 1980. Wow. A very different Tiptree story, very gentle and ultimately sad. Some kind of interstellar “River” has been sweeping through Earth, allowing people to join the River and live forever in a different way. The last man on Earth is journeying to the River to say goodbye to his father. He meets perhaps the last woman on Earth who wants to stay and repopulate the Earth. I know I read this in “Her Smoke Rose Up Forever” about 30 years ago, but I don’t remember it. Rated 4/5.
    14. “Hardfought”, a novella by Greg Bear, Asimov’s, 2/1983. Wow. One hell of a story of far future conflict, with lovers who will always be together. Two races that become more alike as time passes. A phenomenal story, Nebula winner, Hugo runner-up, Locus #5, Dozois and Carr Best Of. I don’t think I’d ever read this before. Rated 4.1/5.
    15. “The Unconquered Country”, a novella by Geoff Ryman, Interzone, #7 Spring 1984. A great story, and one I did not remember previously read; looking around, I have the pb copy of the novel, which is very, very, very similar to this story, so I guess I have. A younger sister, Third, lived in a country which has never been conquered by others. That changes, and Third’s life improves (with a boyfriend/fiancée), and then gets worse (boyfriend dies). Finally, the rebels win, in some ways, and Third goes home. I love the writing and the characters. I am not sure if this is SF or fantasy, and maybe it does not matter. Rated 3.9/5.
    16. “The Blind Geometer”, a novella by Kim Stanley Robinson. An outstanding story of a blind from birth mathematician, involved in a plot against his will, who finds love. The plotters are hoping to use his geometric skills to draw power for a particle beam weapon. I assume Robinson did massive research on being blind and living blind. I see from the pb afterword by Robinson that this was set in an imaginary Cambodia, which was not obvious to me reading it. Nebula winner, Hugo #3,  Locus runner-up. I rated this 4/5.
    17. “Great Work of Time”, a novella by John Crowley, Novelty, 1989. This just became one of my favorite time travel stories. A secret brotherhood founded with funds from the estate of Cecil Rhodes is bent on world peace and the British Empire. They use a genius’s “orthogonal logic” for time travel in support of these goals. In the end, it all comes to naught as the future world is not one that should ever have existed and must be undone. Great plot and characters. Wow. I am not going to claim that the issues in play are novel, but the execution is astounding. World Fantasy Award, Nebula and Locus finalist. Dozois Year’s Best. Rated 4.3/5.
    18. “Forgiveness Day”, a novella by Ursula K. Le Guin, Asimov’s, 11/1994. I am sure I have read this great story before, either in the 1985 Le Guin collection “Four Ways to Forgiveness” or the Dozois 2007 “Best of the Best Vol 2…”. A young representative of the Ekumen and her Werel bodyguard are kidnapped by revolutionaries. He is a very conservative soldier who fought the Yeowe asset revolution and survived, while his wife died on Werel. They must figure out how to get along to survive. Great characters and plot. Gender roles are a challenge to both. Locus and Sturgeon winner, Hugo and Nebula finalist. I rated this 4/5.
  • Some of Dave Hook’s Thoughts on Racism and Speculative Fiction

    A few months ago, I reread “The Future Is Female!: 25 Classic Science Fiction Stories by Women, From Pulp Pioneers to Ursula K. Le Guin“, edited by Lisa Yaszek (2018, The Library of America). It’s a great anthology, which I strongly recommend.

    I checked it out of the library to research which version of “The Last Flight of Dr. Ain” by Ursula K. Le Guin was included in “The Future is Female!” I was not planning on rereading the anthology, but the stories are good enough that I could not resist.

    Two adjacent stories in ‘The Future is Female!” were “Mr. Sakrison’s Halt”, a 1956 short story by Mildred Clingerman, and “All the Colors of the Rainbow”, a 1957 novelette by Leigh Brackett. These were both very good stories that were new to me, although I am familiar with the authors.

    On “Mr. Sakrison’s Halt”, my thoughts were, “Another great story by Clingerman, told by a preteen who is friends with an aging and rather traumatized relative, Miss Mattie. Set in the South, decades ago, Miss Mattie’s Yankee intended husband got off the “Katy local” at a mystery station (“halt”) and disappeared from our world. We find out that this mystery station was a place where black and white could be friends in the South. Miss Mattie had hesitated, and missed being able to be with her intended. Finally, the Katy local stops there again, and Miss Mattie is reunited with her man. A fantasy, but a good one.”

    For “All the Colors of the Rainbow”, my comments were, “A very good, rather late career work in Leigh Brackett’s oeuvre. The Galactic Federation has found the Earth, and help and assistance is starting to come to a backward world. A journeyman weather technician and his new wife come to Earth. Encouraged by their chief Earth contact, they are driving around and find out they have stopped in a ‘no-black’ town (Grand Falls) where the very racist populace considers them ‘green niggers’. During a heated exchange, he tells the locals that there are whites out among the stars, but they are just one minor hue present among many. They barely survive the experience, but are traumatized. Before leaving Earth for advanced psychiatric treatment, the weather worker sets equipment in place to wipe Grand Falls off the face of the Earth with unprecedented local rainfall. The only weakness in the story is Brackett starting at the end and only flash backing most of the story, which telegraphs the ending.”

    These two adjacent stories really got me to thinking about racism and speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy, horror, and related genres, see my post on reading them, which will help with basic vocabulary and concepts if need). While letting the subject percolate a bit, I was further energized to write about this by a post shared by my friend Chris Barkley at the Science Fiction/ Fantasy Group (sans racism and misogyny) on Facebook, “Jim Crow, Science Fiction, and Worldcon” by greyirish.

    At the same time, to be honest, I am a white, straight, privileged male American who is rather daunted about writing about racism. I like to think I am a good person and that I am liberal and believe in equal rights and fair treatment of all, but I know my lived experience is very privileged and different from that of Black, Indigenous and persons of color (BIPOC). I know I have biases and assumptions; we all do. I would not be that surprised if writing about this exposes me to learning things that are true that I had not realized about myself and others and the United States of America. There might be things that make me uncomfortable or that I would rather not have learned. So, this makes me a bit uncomfortable, but at the same time I hope to learn things and be a better ally to those that need it, in speculative fiction fandom and outside.

    I am writing about a number of important aspects of racism in speculative fiction as I see them. I am not claiming that this essay is comprehensive or authoritative. That would take a book, by someone more qualified than me.

    I believe we encounter race and racism in fiction (and in speculative fiction) in a number of basic ways.

    First, external to the field of speculative fiction and the associated fandoms, we do (mostly) live in the real world. While I can write about race and racism within speculative fiction, we all encounter evidence of systemic racism in the United States. While those of us that are privileged white people can simply not see this or deny the fact, BIPOC are consistently faced with this on a daily basis that I cannot envision. So, the real world and the systemic racism there affects speculative fiction and it’s fandoms, even if we choose to deny it.

    Second, we encounter race and racism in speculative fiction through the actions or inactions of fans, authors, editors and others we encounter, whether in person or otherwise, at conventions, online, in other settings, etc. This has certainly been the case historically, as noted in the “Jim Crow, Science Fiction, and Worldcon” post above. Some things about this have gotten better since then, but this has not gone away. There has been several recent incidents in the speculative fiction world that touch this area, such as noted in this recent File770 post.

    Third, we encounter race and racism through the conscious or unconscious biases, worldviews and assumptions of authors and editors as they write, edit and publish fiction, and similarly with those involved in the production of movies, TV shows, radio shows, video games, and other media. These are all embedded in the works, whether the authors intended them to be there or not, or are even aware of their presence. Many authors attempt to be aware of these issues and deal with them today, to varying success. However, they can be much more jarring when we go back decades, especially in the 1950s and before. This and similar issues such as LGBTQ hating, misogyny, ableism, colonialism, etc. can impact our ability to enjoy certain works and authors, or even to continue to read or watch them. One aspect of this is that it’s not uncommon to see depictions of alien races in ways that are either direct copies of or analogies to ethnicities with embedded racism here on Earth, especially if we go back a few decades. This was kind of a lazy way of moving the action to outer space while keeping it accessible to people.

    Fourth, as found in the two stories discussed above, the authors can use science fiction (especially) and fantasy to discuss or illuminate points and thoughts on race and racism or other potentially challenging issues. It is not at all uncommon to read a story of SF (especially) or fantasy, and finish it while coming to the realization that the author is really talking about us today, and not some far off location on another planet some time in the future. In a similar vein, writers in the Soviet Union were able to use SF to discuss and comment on things that would have had them in the gulag or shot in less fantastic fiction. Two recent TV miniseries that utilized and dealt with this head on were the 2019 “Watchmen” and the 2020 “Lovecraft Country“. It’s worth noting that the “sun down” towns in “Lovecraft Country” are still with us, and I believe there is now a reborn “Green Book” out there to help BIPOC travelers. I guess I should not be surprised, but I am saddened this is still needed.

    Finally, over the last 20 years or so, fiction has become familiar with and often concerned about cultural appropriation. This is even more of an issue in speculative fiction, where different settings can be desirable. In my non-expert perspective, cultural appropriation is not the same thing as racism but the Venn diagrams do overlap a lot. I have read a number of works, and more not written within the last 20 years, where my reaction is that there is cultural appropriation going on and that it would have to be written differently today.

    I don’t have any big solutions or a master plan on how to deal with these weighty issues that keep us from being the best that we can be in the field of speculative fiction. I do feel that being aware of these issues, thinking about them, writing about them and discussing them is part of how we can work do better. I believe that being aware of these things will make me a better ally, and that is where I am starting.

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