Sunday, June 26, 2022

Hugo Nomination Recommendations, 1953

Potential Hugo nominees from 1952 (1953 Worldcon)

Continuing my project of suggesting potential Hugo nominees (and winners) for the early years of the Hugo -- basically, pre-1958. Here's a look at 1952. This is the year covered by the very first Hugos, from the 11th Worldcon, Philcon II, in Philadelphia, in September 1953. The only Fiction Hugo actually awarded went to Alfred Bester's novel The Demolished Man. Apparently there were plans to name a Short Fiction winner, but there were insufficient votes. The Best Magazine award was a tie between Astounding and Galaxy (that, plus the fact that The Demolished Man appeared in Galaxy, apparently enraged a segment of fans who preferred Astounding.) Best Cover Artist was also a tie, between Hannes Bok and Ed Emshwiller, and Best Interior Artist went to Virgil Finlay. All three of those artist awards make me happy, especially the one to Finlay, my favorite interior illustrator of all time. Philip José Farmer was named Best New Discovery (Writer or Artist), and Forrest J. Ackerman Favorite Fan Personality, while Willy Ley (another Galaxy contributor) won for Best Fact Articles. 

Philcon II provided a brief look at the state of the voting in their Progress Report IV, published a month or two ahead of the convention, I believe. Noting that these were early returns, only representing a subset of the members' votes, there are some fascinating details to glean. The second place novel in the voting at that time was The Long Loud Silence, by Wilson Tucker. Second place for Favorite Fan Personality was Harlan Ellison (!). Robert Madle was competing for Best Fact Articles, and Robert Sheckley was vying for Best New Discovery.

Jo Walton's Informal History of the Hugos discusses the novels, and mentions the International Fantasy Award nominees: Clifford D. Simak's City (the winner), Kurt Vonnegut's Player Piano, and C. M. Kornbluth's Takeoff. She also suggested Foundation and Empire as a potential alternative. For myself, I'm disqualifying City and Foundation and Empire because they were published some years previously, in Astounding (in multiple parts of course.) Richard A. Lupoff, in What If, Volume 1, chose William Tenn's "Firewater!" as a potential Short Fiction winner. 

I also counted, as best I could (and my count is full of likely errors) the number of short fiction pieces written by women, versus the total number. I came up with 98 stories by women out of some 1100. (I tried to eliminate duplicates, translations from earlier years, and non-genre stories, and I tried to identify pseudonyms, but all these processes are potentially error-ridden.) That comes to about 9%, which is consistent with similar counts by other people using different means for the early 1950s, which generally suggest that about 10% of the SF writers in the early 1950s were women. 

Novels

The Demolished Man, by Alfred Bester

Star Man's Son aka Daybreak 2230 A.D., by Andre Norton

The Space Merchants aka "Gravy Planet", by Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth

The Sound of His Horn, by "Sarban" (John William Wall)

The Long Loud Silence, by Wilson Tucker

Player Piano, by Kurt Vonnegut

Other possibilities:

The Currents of Space, by Isaac Asimov

Jack of Eagles, by James Blish

Takeoff, by C. M. Kornbluth

Ballroom of the Skies, by John D. MacDonald

Ullr Uprising, by H. Beam Piper

The Blue Star, by Fletcher Pratt

Big Planet, by Jack Vance

Limbo, by Bernard Wolfe

Young Adult:

Vault of the Ages, by Poul Anderson

The Rolling Stones, aka "Space Family Stone", by Robert A. Heinlein

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C. S. Lewis

The Borrowers, by Mary Norton

I think my vote would stay with The Demolished Man, but that is pending reading The Sound of His Horn and The Long Loud Silence, both of which are highly praised by people I trust, and which I haven't yet read. (The Long Loud Silence, at any rate, is on the way!) Certainly "Gravy Planet" would have been a good choice, and so would Player Piano. Star Man's Son is a favorite early Norton of mine and many others.

The mainstream produced one major candidate: Bernard Wolfe's Limbo. (Vonnegut was still being marketed, at least to a degree, as an SF writer.) And that set of what were then called "Juveniles" is interesting. Note that the Heinlein was serialized in Boys' Life. On my latest rereading of the Chronicles of Narnia, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader became my favorite.

Novellas

"Shannach -- the Last", by Leigh Brackett (Planet Stories, November)

"The Specter General", by Theodore Cogswell (Astounding, June)

"The Lovers", by Philip José Farmer (Startling, October)

"Daughters of Earth", by Judith Merrill (The Petrified Planet)

"Baby is Three", by Theodore Sturgeon (Galaxy, October)

"Firewater!", by William Tenn (Astounding, February)

Other possibilities

"War-Maid of Mars", by Poul Anderson (Planet Stories, May)

"Sargasso of Lost Starships", Poul Anderson (Planet Stories, January)

"Tonight the Sky Will Fall!", by Daniel F. Galouye (Imagination, May)

"Blood's a Rover", by Chad Oliver (Astounding, May)

"Abercrombie Station", by Jack Vance (Thrilling Wonder, February)

"Chulwell's Chickens", by Jack Vance (Thrilling Wonder, August)

I will confess now that I've never warmed to "The Lovers" much, and I include it on the nomination list above for its historical importance, and also to acknowledge that contemporary readers likely would have nominated it as it was something of a sensation. "The Specter General" is in the SF Hall of Fame, Volume II, and it's a fun story, but it's another story I've long thought overrated (especially after a recent reread.) The best story on the list is probably "Baby is Three" (also in the SF Hall of Fame, Volume II), but as an alternate choice for the 1953 Hugo (and noting that "Baby is Three" is also part of the novel More Than Human) I'm tempted to suggest "Daughters of Earth". I think this story -- an account of six generations of women central to the human colonization of extraterrestrial planets -- has been underrated from the very start. In part this may be because it was first published in an anthology that, while somewhat famous, didn't seem to sell well; and was never reprinted until Merril's 1968 collection also called Daughters of Earth. Also, it's fair to say that a significant subplot involving communication with silicon-based aliens stretched my sense of plausibility a bit. But the character stuff, the portrayal of the women, really works. 

Actually all the "other possibilities" are personal indulgences, not serious Hugo candidates, except maybe for Chad Oliver's story. The Anderson stories are early work, and very "pulpy" (though fun), and anyway I couldn't resist mentioning "Sargasso of Lost Spaceships" having listed James Blish's "Sargasso of Lost Cities" among the candidates from 1953. The Vance stories are linked, and were published as a fixup "novel" under the title Monsters in Orbit, an Ace Double half.

Novelettes

"The Year of the Jackpot", by Robert A. Heinlein (Galaxy, March)

"The Martian Way", by Isaac Asimov (Galaxy, December)

"Bridge", by James Blish (Astounding, February)

"Surface Tension", by James Blish (Galaxy, August)

"The Birds, by Daphne Du Maurier" (Good Housekeeping, October)

"Ararat", by Zenna Henderson (F&SF, October)

Other possibilities:

"The Deep", by Isaac Asimov (Galaxy, December)

"Youth", by Isaac Asimov (Space Science Fiction, May)

"The Last Days of Shandakor", by Leigh Brackett (Startling, April)

"Star, Bright", by Mark Clifton (Astounding, July)

"Steel Brother", by Gordon R. Dickson (Astounding, February)

"That Share of Glory", by C. M. Kornbluth (Astounding, January)

"Lover When You're Near Me", by Richard Matheson (Galaxy, May)

"Noise Level", by Raymond F. Jones (Astounding, December)

"Conditionally Human", by Walter M. Miller, Jr. (Galaxy, February)

"Delay in Transit", by F. L. Wallace (Galaxy, September)


In this category I think I have to choose "Surface Tension" as the winner. But Blish's other candidate, "Bridge", the first story chronologically in Cities in Flight (and thus the first part of They Shall Have Stars) is also excellent. "The Martian Way" is one of my favorite Asimov stories. "Ararat", the first of Zenna Henderson's People stories, is very good as well; and the Heinlein and Du Maurier stories are also excellent. Still, "Surface Tension" remains the best and most significant story of this bunch. 

From the other possibilities -- a pretty good list in itself -- I'll mention in particular Raymond F. Jones' "Noise Level", a pure quill Campbellian crank story, but one which I found very effective on a recent reread. Indeed, Jones is a writer worth a look, sort of in the Daniel F. Galouye or J. T. MacIntosh realm -- an uneven and sometimes irritating writer who could still be intriguing. And "Conditionally Human" is generally remembered as a novella, but the 1952 Galaxy version was a novelette, expanded for its reprinting in the T. E. Dikty anthology Year's Best Science Fiction Novels: 1953.)

Short Stories

"A Sound of Thunder", by Ray Bradbury (Collier's, June 28)

"Hobson's Choice", by Alfred Bester (F&SF, August)

"What Have I Done?", by Mark Clifton (Astounding, May)

"The Analogues", by Damon Knight (Astounding, January)

"The Snowball Effect", by Katherine MacLean (Galaxy, September)

"An Egg a Month from All Over", by "Idris Seabright" (Margaret St. Clair) (F&SF, October)

Other possibilities:

"Beyond Lies the Wub", by Philip K. Dick (Planet Stories, July)

"Faq'", by George P. Elliott (The Hudson Review, Spring)

"The Altar at Midnight", by C. M. Kornbluth (Galaxy, November)

"The Luckiest Man in Denv", by C. M. Kornbluth (Galaxy, June)

"The Fly", by Arthur Porges (F&SF, September)

"I Am Nothing", by Eric Frank Russell (Astounding, July)

Another set of pretty strong stories. I'm torn between "An Egg a Month from All Over", which is clever and mounts to a delightfully nasty ending; and "The Analogues", a brilliant and scary piece that became part of a less effective novel, Hell's Pavement. The George Elliott piece, which has been called Borgesian, is worth a look, from a writer who often touched on the fantastic.



Monday, June 20, 2022

Old Bestseller Review: The Happy Harvest, by Jeffery Farnol

Old Bestseller Review: The Happy Harvest, by Jeffery Farnol

by Rich Horton

Very early in my "Old Bestseller" project I reviewed Jeffery Farnol's Guyfford of Weare. It's an enjoyable novel, and so are the two that made Farnol's reputation, The Broad Highway and The Amateur Gentleman. Over time I've picked up a couple further Farnol novels, and I've just read a later one, from 1939, The Happy Harvest. Sad to say, it doesn't really work as well as those other novels.

John Jeffery Farnol (1878-1952) was born in England to a metal worker, and trained as an artist. He married an American girl in 1900 and they lived in the US for a while. Farnol worked as a scene painter at first, then turned to writing. His first novel appeared in 1907, and his first big success was The Broad Highway in 1910. He moved back to England around this time. He was a very popular writer (and indeed The Broad Highway was the bestselling book in the US in 1910), best known for romances, often set during the Regency (though some novels were contemporary and some set in other historical periods.) Farnol was a significant influence on the supreme writer of Regency romances, Georgette Heyer, who was a generation younger. 

The Happy Harvest fits into two separate sequences of novels. It is the middle book in a loose trilogy, with The Crooked Furrow (1937) and his last finished novel, Waif of the River (1952). (One more novel was substantially written by his wife from his notes following his death.) It is also one of a number of novels featuring the character Jasper Shrig, a Bow Street Runner who solves murder mysteries in many of these books. 

The events of The Happy Harvest take place about a decade after The Crooked Furrow. That book concerns two cousins, Roland Verinder and Oliver Dale. Their uncle proposes that they each live on their own means for a year to prove their worth, and they fall in love with the same girl, and have adventures, and Oliver ends up rescuing two young children from a life in the streets, while Roland wins the girl. As The Happy Harvest opens, Oliver, in his late 30s by now, is looking forward to the two children he rescued, Clia and Robin, who are now about 20, marrying each other. Clia, however, has other ideas. She has long planned to marry Oliver (shades of Heinlein's The Door Into Summer.) For that matter Robin, if basically a good sort, is rather rackety and undisciplined.

Complications ensue when a particularly nasty local man turns up murdered. This man had gotten another girl pregnant and abandoned her, leading to her suicide. He tried to rape Clia, though she escaped. Soon after he is found dead, and Robin is immediately the chief suspect. He escapes to London, and to Oliver's Aunt Rosamund, who runs a home with the object of helping the poor. Oliver, after some waffling, realizes that Robin must be innocent, and he asks his old friend Jasper Shrig to investigate. Meanwhile, Clia, already rattled by the realization that she wanted her potential rapist killed, is devastated to learn from a blackmailer that her father was also a murderer and her mother a suicide. 

There's not a ton of suspense, really. We know from the beginning that Oliver truly loves Clia and will submit to her desire that he marry her; and that Jasper Shrig will learn that she is not actually the daughter of a murderer; and that Jasper will also learn who really killed the bad guy. The solution to the latter mystery is pretty guessable. And to be honest I was really bothered by the book's tacit endorsement of Clia's belief that if her father (whom she never knew) was a murderer, so she must be as well. (To be fair, Aunt Rosamund opposes this belief, but no one else seems to.) Oliver and Clia are enjoyable characters I suppose, but not as interesting as say Sir Richard and Helen D'Arcy in Guyfford of Weare. And Robin, as well as cousin Roland, are rather tiresome and implausible. In his best books, Farnol's dialogue is pretty sparkling, but that's not really true here. Finally, the structure of the novel is partly built on a conceit -- that Oliver is writing it as the events unfold. This doesn't really hurt the novel too much, but it does seem strained. 

So, this seems a minor part of Farnol's oeuvre. It's not terrible, but it's far from great. I'll still likely try a few more of his books, though. 

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Hugo Nomination Recommendations, 1954

Potential Hugo nominess from 1953 (1954 Worldcon -- SFCon, in San Francisco)

Continuing my project of suggesting potential Hugo nominees (and winners) for the early years of the Hugos -- basically, pre-1958. The 1959 Worldcon was the first to settle on a year of eligibility (the calendar year prior to the year of the Worldcon) and on a nomination process. The nomination process, voting rules, and categories changed quite often over the next 10 to 15 years, before largely settling down, in the fiction categories, anyway. But at least to some extent, things were more comparable to present day rules beginning with the 1959 Hugos, for 1958 stories.

I've done 1954 through 1957 -- here's a look at 1953. There were no Hugos awarded at the 1954 Worldcon -- and perhaps as a result, there has been some attention paid to potential Hugos from that year! And, indeed, there were Retro Hugos awarded at the 2004 Worldcon. 

Jo Walton's Informal History of the Hugos didn't really cover 1954, as there were no Hugos that year, though she suggested that Theodore Sturgeon's More Than Human would have been a good novel winner. Richard A. Lupoff, in What If, Volume 1, chose Damon Knight's "Four in One" as a potential Short Fiction winner. And Noreascon 4, the 2004 World SF Cconvention, did award Retro Hugos, and there was a quite a plausible set of five nominees in each of the fiction categories. I've marked the nominees (and winner) with a bolded RH (not to be confused with my initials!) in the lists below. And, finally, I wrote an article for Locus Online back in 2004, suggesting potential nominees in the fiction categories. I've changed my mind some since then, and I also messed up some of the story lengths, but I still like what I wrote, which is here: The Best Science Fiction of 1953: A Look a Potential Retro Hugos.

Novels

The Caves of Steel, by Isaac Asimov RH

Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury RH winner

Childhood's End, by Arthur C. Clarke RH

Mission of Gravity, by Hal Clement RH

More Than Human, by Theodore Sturgeon RH

Other possibilities

The Big Jump, by Leigh Brackett

Revolt in 2100, by Robert A. Heinlein

Starman Jones, by Robert A. Heinlein

The Sinful Ones, by Fritz Leiber

The Green Millennium, by Fritz Leiber

Bring the Jubilee, by Ward Moore

Children of the Atom, by Wilmar Shiras

The Kraken Wakes aka Out of the Deeps, by John Wyndham

This was a remarkable year for SF novels, and the five that I list as nominees -- the same list the Retro Hugo nominators picked -- are all certified classics in the field. There some impressive alternate choices too -- among those I list, Leiber's The Sinful Ones (an expansion and in my opinion an improvement on his 1950 short novel "You're All Alone") is a personal favorite. In my Locus article I picked The Caves of Steel as the winner, but I'm really torn. Nowadays I might lean to either More Than Human, or to the Retro Hugo winner, Fahrenheit 451.

Novellas

"A Case of Conscience", by James Blish (If, September) RH winner

"The Rose", by Charles Harness (Authentic, March) RH

"Double Meaning", by Damon Knight (Startling, January)

"The Diploids", by Katherine MacLean (Thrilling Wonder, April)

"... And My Fear is Great", by Theodore Sturgeon (Beyond, July) RH

Other possibilities

"Three Hearts and Three Lions", by Poul Anderson (F&SF, September and October) RH

"Un-Man", by Poul Anderson (Astounding, January) RH

"Sargasso of Lost Cities", by James Blish (Two Complete Science-Adventure Books, Spring)

"The Wanton of Argus", by John Brunner (as "Kilian Houston Brunner") (Two Complete Science-Adventure Books, September)

"Cue for Quiet", by T. L. Sherred (Space Science Fiction, May and July)

In this category my choice for the winner is still Charles Harness's "The Rose", an extremely strange, dreamlike, story of science vs. art. The rest of the ones I list as possible nominees are all strong, though, and any one would have been a good winner.

The "other possibilities" include two solid Poul Anderson stories ("Three Hearts and Three Lions" being a shorter version of the 1961 novel), one of several interesting T. L. Sherred stories from this time frame, an enjoyable but slight very early Brunner story (later reprinted as half of an Ace Double and also as part of his collection Interstellar Empire as "The Space-Time Juggler"), and an important Blish story that I had missed (thanks to Gregory Feeley for reminding me of it) that became part of Cities in Flight. Note the two novellas from the somewhat obscure (but often interesting) Two Complete Science-Adventure Books.

Novelettes

"The Wall Around the World", by Theodore Cogswell (Beyond, September) RH

"Second Variety", by Philip K. Dick (Space Science Fiction, May) RH

"Four in One", by Damon Knight (Galaxy, February)

"Lot", by Ward Moore (F&SF, May)

"Mr. Costello, Hero", by Theodore Sturgeon (Galaxy, December)

Other possibilities

"Earthman Come Home", by James Blish (Astounding, November) RH Winner

"Belief", by Isaac Asimov (Astounding, October)

"Sam Hall", by Poul Anderson (Astounding, August) RH

"The Adventure of the Misplaced Hound", by Poul Anderson and Gordon R. Dickson (Universe, December) RH

"Time is the Traitor", by Alfred Bester (F&SF, September)

"A Way of Thinking", by Theodore Sturgeon (E Pluribus Unicorn; Amazing, October-November)

"What Thin Partitions", by Mark Clifton and Alex Apostolides (Astounding, September)

"Hide! Hide! Witch", by Mark Clifton and Alex Apostolides (Astounding, December)

"A Little Knowledge", by Judith Merril (Science Fiction Quarterly, November)

"The Third Guest" aka "Macario", by B. Traven (Fantastic, March-April)

"Eye for Iniquity", by T. L. Sherred (Beyond, July)

This is one of those categories  where I had a hard time narrowing down to five nominees. "Earthman, Come Home", "Sam Hall", and "Time is the Traitor" could easily have made my list. I should add that it's a reasonable guess that back in 1954, at least one of those Clifton/Apostolides stories would have been nominated. In my Locus article, I chose "Four in One" as the winner -- and so did Richard A. Lupoff in his What If? anthology. My second choice would probably be the Cogswell story, "The Wall Around the World". 

Short Stories

"It's a Good Life", by Jerome Bixby (Star Science Fiction Stories No. 2) RH

"Common Time", by James Blish (Shadow of Tomorrow; Science Fiction Quarterly, August)

"The Nine Billion Names of God", by Arthur C. Clarke (Star Science Fiction Stories) RH winner

"Specialist", by Robert Sheckley (Galaxy, May)

"A Saucer of Loneliness", by Theodore Sturgeon (Galaxy, February; E Pluribus Unicorn) RH

"The Liberation of Earth", by "William Tenn" (Philip Klass) (Future, May)

Other possibilities:

"The Hypnoglyph", by "John Anthony" (John Ciardi) (F&SF, July)

"Disappearing Act", by Alfred Bester (Star Science Fiction Stories No. 2)

"Star Light, Star Bright", by Alfred Bester (F&SF, July) RH

"Testament of Andros", by James Blish (Future, January)

"Encounter in the Dawn" aka "Expedition to Earth" aka "Encounter at Dawn", by Arthur C. Clarke (Amazing, June-July)

"Impostor", by Philip K. Dick (Astounding, June)

"The Man With English", by H. L. Gold (Star Science Fiction Stories)

"A Bad Day for Sales", by Fritz Leiber (Galaxy, July; Shadow of Tomorrow)

"The Night He Cried", by Fritz Leiber (Star Science Fiction Stories)

"Crucifixus Etiam", by Walter M. Miller, Jr. (Astounding, February)

"All Cats are Gray", by "Andrew North" (Andre Norton) (Fantastic Universe, August-September)

"As Holy and Enchanted", by "Henderson Starke" (Kris Neville) (Avon Science Fiction and Fantasy Reader, April)

"The Ruum", by Arthur Porge (F&SF, October)

"Seventh Victim", by Robert Sheckley (Galaxy, April) RH

"Warm", by Robert Sheckley (Galaxy, June)

"The Altruists", by "Idris Seabright" (Margaret St. Clair) (F&SF, November)

"The World Well Lost", by Theodore Sturgeon (Galaxy, June; E Pluribus Unicorn)

"DP!", by Jack Vance (Avon Science Fiction and Fantasy Reader, April)

"Unready to Wear", by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (Galaxy, April)

Long list of stories in this category! I included some more for secondary reasons -- I remain intrigued that the great poet and Dante translator John Ciardi was also an SF enthusiast (and a friend of Asimov's) who appeared in F&SF several times over the years. The Clarke story is the first iteration of the idea behind 2001. Robert Sheckley had an astonishing year, and probably three or four more stories could have been listed. I note that the three stories I do list come from consecutive issues of Galaxy

Note too the influence of Frederik Pohl as an editor. He published the first two volumes of his Star Science Fiction series of original anthologies, and also a excellent standalone original anthology (Shadow of Tomorrow). Also note that Sturgeon's collection E Pluribus Unicorn featured more or less simultaneous printings of three stories that also appeared in magazines. (I suspect perhaps Sturgeon had sold the stories to the magazines some time before, and publication was delayed enough that the book caught up!)

My choice for a winner in my Locus article was James Blish's "Common Time". I still think that's a good choice, though "A Saucer of Loneliness" is one of my very favorite Sturgeon stories and it would have been a good winner too. 

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Hugo Nomination Recommendations, 1957

Here I continue my look at potential Hugo nominees for the early years of the Hugos (let's say, 1952 through 1957, given that for the 1959 Hugos the eligibility rules were codified to cover the previous calendar year (1958, in that case) and also a formal nomination process was established.) I will probably go ahead and cover 1950 and 1951. I am not sure I have the knowledge to do anything similar back in the 1940s -- in particular, my magazine collection includes quite a few 1950s magazines but many fewer from earlier.

This post will discuss potential Hugo nominees, and winners, published in 1956. According to present day rules, stories published in 1956 would have been eligible for the 1957 Hugos. However, there were no fiction Hugos in 1957. According to the rules in place for the 1956 Hugos, stories from June 1955 through June 1956 were eligible, and in fact the 1956 winners included two stories from 1956 (the novel winner, Double Star, and the novelette winner, "Exploration Team".) In the lists below, I've marked 1956 Hugo nominees with a *.

As ever, I'll mention Richard Lupoff's Hugo choice for 1956, from his anthology What If? Volume 1: "The Man Who Came Early", by Poul Anderson.

Novels

My proposed nomination list:

The Naked Sun, by Isaac Asimov

The Stars My Destination aka Tiger! Tiger!, by Alfred Bester

They Shall Have Stars, by James Blish

The City and the Stars, by Arthur C. Clarke

Double Star, by Robart A. Heinlein*

Under Pressure, by Frank Herbert

Other options:

Star Ways, by Poul Anderson

The Death of Grass aka No Blade of Grass, by John Christopher

Nerves, by Lester Del Rey

The Man Who Japed, by Philip K. Dick

Pincher Martin, by William Golding

The Door Into Summer, by Robert A. Heinlein

The Last Battle, by C. S. Lewis

Plague Ship, by Andre Norton

The One Hundred and One Dalmatians, by Dodie Smith

To Live Forever aka Clarges, by Jack Vance

Actually this is quite a decent set of novels, and I stretched the nomination list to six, and actually the John Christopher and Jack Vance novels, and even The Door Into Summer, could have displaced a couple of my nominations. I list Pincher Martin, a novel I like a great deal, because it's technically fantasy (I won't say in what way because that might be a spoiler) but I think it's more usefully regarded as contemporary fiction. Dodie Smith's children's book is great fun, but only peripherally fantastical, though the sequel, The Starlight Barking, is explicitly SF. (Alas, I greatly dislike The Starlight Barking.) The City and the Stars, of course, is an extensively rewritten version of Clarke's first novel, Against the Fall of Night, but I sometimes prefer the earlier version. (And one might as well read both -- the differences are quite significant.)

Double Star won the Hugo in 1956, and I like it a lot; but -- and I don't think this will surprise anyone -- my easy, slam dunk, choice for the 1957 Hugo (had I had a chance to vote two years before I was born!) would be The Stars My Destination. (In reality, its eligibility rests on the technicality that the UK edition, Tiger! Tiger!, appeared in 1956. The US serialization, in Galaxy, didn't conclude until the January 1957 issue (which of course could be read in 1956) and the book appeared a couple of months later.)

Novella:

"Bodyguard", by "Christopher Grimm" (H. L. Gold) (Galaxy, February)

"Envoy Extraordinary", by William Golding (Sometime, Never)

"Boy in Darkness", by Mervyn Peake (Sometime, Never)

"Plus X", by Eric Frank Russell (Astounding, June)

"The Ties of Earth", by James H. Schmitz (Galaxy, November 1955, January 1956)

"The Shores of Night", by Thomas N. Scortia (The Best Science-Fiction Stories and Novels: 1956)

"Consider Her Ways", by John Wyndham (Sometime, Never)

This list of potential novella winners is interesting to me. I list three from a single, quite remarkable, volume, Something, Never, which featured striking works by three British writers. The Scortia story seems to have appeared first in Ted Dikty's Best of the Year volume! 

If there was a separate novella category at that time, I suspect "Plus X" would have won. My choice would have been ... I don't know! Maybe "Consider Her Ways"? Maybe "Bodyguard", a now obscure story that I quite liked. Maybe "The Ties of Earth", a very unusual departure for James Schmitz -- not really a great story, kind of a mess, but -- interesting.

Novelette:

Nomination list:

"The Man Who Came Early", by Poul Anderson (F&SF, June)

"The Dead Past", by Isaac Asimov (Astounding, April)

"A Time to Survive" aka "Seeding Program", by James Blish (F&SF, February)

"Brightside Crossing", by Alan E. Nourse (Galaxy, January)*

"And Now the News ...", by Theodore Sturgeon (F&SF, September)

Others:

"Non-Stop", by Brian W. Aldiss (Science Fantasy, February)

"A Gun for Dinosaur", by L. Sprague de Camp (Galaxy, March)*

"The Minority Report", by Philip K. Dick (Fantastic Universe, January)

"Volpla", by Wyman Guin (Galaxy, May)

"Exploration Team", by Murray Leinster (Astounding, March)*

"Stranger Station", by Damon Knight (F&SF, September)

"The Man Who Ate the World", by Frederik Pohl (Galaxy, November)

"Legwork", by Eric Frank Russell (Astounding, April)*

"So Bright the Vision", by Clifford D. Simak (Fantastic Universe, August)

"The Skills of Xanadu", by Theodore Sturgeon (Galaxy, July)

The nomination list I give has to be one of the greatest possible sets of five novelettes in a single year. How to choose even one? Especially between the three best, three of the truly best stories in SF history: "The Man Who Came Early", "The Dead Past", and "And Now the News ...". In 1956 "Exploration Team" won -- and it's a nice enough story, and something in me is glad Murray Leinster (Will Jenkins) won a Hugo -- but how in the world could the voters have picked it over "The Dead Past"? (I would guess "The Man Who Came Early" was considered a short story, and "And Now the News ..." was too late in the year. Of the others listed, at least "Stranger Station" and "The Minority Report" could easily have made my nomination list.

My winner? ... Gosh, any of those top three would be good. I'll go with "And Now the News ..." today -- might choose either "The Dead Past" or "The Man Who Came Early" tomorrow.

Short Story:

Nomination list:

"The Last Question", by Isaac Asimov (Science Fiction Quarterly, November)

"A Work of Art" aka "Art-Work", by James Blish (Science Fiction Stories, July)

"Prima Belladonna", by J. G. Ballard (Science Fantasy, December)

"The Anything Box", by Zenna Henderson (F&SF, October)

"The Country of the Kind", by Damon Knight (F&SF. February)

"Honorable Opponent", by Clifford D. Simak (Galaxy, August)

Others:

"Junior", by Robert Abernathy (Galaxy, January)*

"Tomb Tapper", by James Blish (Astounding, July)

"Escapement", by J. G. Ballard (New Worlds, December)

"Silent Brother", by Algis Budrys (Astounding, February)

I think the clear winner here is "The Country of the Kind". "The Last Question" is a story lots of people love, but for me it's just a gimmick story. "The Anything Box" might be number 2 on my list.

In 1957, with just two categories, "The Man Who Came Early" might have been a short story, and it would get my vote -- and if I cop out and claim "And Now the News ..." isn't really SF, then I can give the Novelette (in those days, typically, "story over 10,000 words") award to "The Dead Past". How's that for waffling?



Saturday, June 4, 2022

Hugo Nomination Recommendations, 1956

 Potential Hugo Awards for 1955 Stories (1956 Hugos)

I admit now -- this has become a project for me, to go through most years of the 1950s and figure out what my choices for potential Hugo nominations for fiction might be. I think the years from 1952 to 1957 are interesting years to study, because for a variety of reasons, the Hugo nominations for those years are either unknown, nonexistent, or inconsistent. This is due to three factors -- the Hugos were just getting started, and so in some years there were no Hugos, or no fiction Hugos. The Hugo rules were wildly inconsistent, especially as to time of eligibility, so the Hugos (and the nomination list, in the one year it is known) might have first appeared in the year of the Worldcon, the year prior (as is now standard) or even before then. That all adds up to some years with no Hugos, and some with multiple. 1959 was the first year in which the rules were codified as to year of elibigility (the calendar year before the Worldcon) and as to beginning with a list of nominees for the voter to choose from.

Of course I'm interested in stories from all years ... which do I think are the best? Which do I think were missed, and which were maybe ahead of their time? One project that explored this question pretty well through the year 2000 was Jo Walton's An Informal History of the Hugos. This began as a series of posts for Tor.com, and a number of us contributed further suggestions in the comments. For myself, I began rigorously commenting on my choices for the best short fiction (and often also novels) of each year -- beginning with 1958! So this latter day effort is sort of filling in what I missed back then! (I do very much recommend that anyone interested in SF history, and Hugo Awards history, should buy Jo's book!) I note, by the way, that I am not second-guessing the voters from that period -- they voted for the stories they liked best. My choices are a) idiosyncratically mine; and b) reflect both cultural changes in the ensuing decades, and also increased visibility to certain stories (typically from other countries, or from non-SF sources) that likely were simply not noticed by voters in that period.

I should emphasize that I am standing on the shoulders of giants here -- not just Jo Walton, but also Richard A. Lupoff, who published three excellent anthologies called What If?, selecting a single Hugo-winning story from each "Hugo year" (including the "missing years" such as 1954) between 1952 and 1973 (that is, Worldcons from 1953 through 1974) that in his view should have won a Hugo. I read those anthologies with delight, and I agree with almost all of Lupoff's suggestions for alternate Hugos, even if in some cases I'd slightly prefer another choice. His choice from 1955 is "One Ordinary Day, with Peanuts", by Shirley Jackson, a choice I certainly endorse (as noted below), even as I acknowledge that the actual short story winner, "The Star", is one of the really good Hugo winners.

So, here is my selection of potential nominees for the 1956 Hugo Awards, had they been done according to present day rules! There actually was a set of potential nominees presented by the convention committee that year -- it's not clear whether the committee made those suggestions, or whether they were a result of some sort of poll. Even so, the eligibility period was explicitly stated to be from June 1955 through June 1956 ... but the nominees in the end included a story from 1954 (and that an outstanding one, Algis Budrys' "The End of Summer"), and several from 1956 -- the novel winner (Robert A. Heinlein's Double Star); the novelette winner ("Exploration Team", by Murray Leinster, plus novelettes "Legwork", by Eric Frank Russell, "Brightside Crossing", by Alan E. Nourse, "A Gun for Dinosaur", by L. Sprague de Camp, and "The Assistant Self", by F. L. Wallace; and one short story, "The Dragon", by Ray Bradbury. My list will consist only of stories from 1955 (those on the 1956 Hugos nomination list will be indicated with an asterisk.) 

I'll note as well that two of the 1955 Hugo winners actually were published in 1955 ("The Darfsteller" and "Allamagoosa") so in that sense short fiction from 1955 (at least the first half) did get a fair shake at the Hugos!

Novels

I have to think that if I'd been a Hugo voter in 1956 and I was presented with the nomination list below, 1955 only (that is, no Double Star, an awfully worthy winner except it's from 1956), I'd have voted for The End of Eternity, which has long been my favorite Asimov novel. That said, from a certain historical viewpoint, it's easy to see now that the best (or at least most significant) SF/Fantasy novel from 1956 was The Return of the King.

The End of Eternity, by Isaac Asimov*

Earthman, Come Home, James Blish

The Long Tomorrow, by Leigh Brackett*

Tunnel in the Sky, by Robert A. Heinlein

The Return of the King, by J. R. R. Tolkien

Other candidates:

No World of Their Own aka The Long Way Home, by Poul Anderson

Solar Lottery, by Philip K. Dick

Earthlight, Arthur C. Clarke

A World of Difference, Robert Conquest

Hell's Pavement, Damon Knight

Not This August, by C. M. Kornbluth*

The Magician's Nephew, by C. S. Lewis

Preferred Risk, by "Edson McCann" (Lester Del Rey and Frederik Pohl)

Star Guard, by Andre Norton

Call Him Dead aka Three to Conquer, by Eric Frank Russell*

The Green Queen aka Mistress of Viridis, by Margaret St. Clair

Revolt on Alpha C, by Robert Silverberg (listed only because it was one of the first SF books I read, in the Scholastic edition, borrowed from my library back when I was 10 or so. It's not actually very good, and it's also only novella length.)

The Chrysalids aka Re-Birth, by John Wyndham

Novellas

Part of me wants to vote for "The [Widget], the [Wadget], and Boff", which is heartbreaking, and for the first half bids fair to be one of the greatest SF stories of all time, but which unfortunately can't quite find its way to a great ending. Instead, I think I'd go with the story that actually won the 1955 Hugo (instead of 1956, that is) ... "The Darfsteller".

"The Snows of Ganymede", by Poul Anderson (Startling, Winter)

"Father", by Philip Jose Farmer (F&SF, July)

"The Darfsteller", by Walter M. Miller, Jr. (Astounding, January)

"Time Crime", by H. Beam Piper (Astounding, February and March)

"The [Widget], the [Wadget], and Boff", by Theodore Sturgeon (F&SF, November and December)

"The Gift of Gab", by Jack Vance (Astounding, September)

Novelettes

For me, the choice here is pretty easy: "The Earth Quarter", by Damon Knight. It's close to novella length, and was later expanded as an Ace Double called The Sun Saboteurs, which is actually a long novella, and which seems to be the version later reprinted in Knight's collections (under the much better original title.) But I prefer the original version, one of the best of Damon Knight's stories. The Miller and Pohl stories are both very strong, mind you, and indeed this whole list is excellent.

"The Earth Quarter", by Damon Knight (If, January)

"Home There's No Returning", by Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore (No Boundaries)*

"Two Handed Engine", by Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore (F&SF, August)

"A Canticle for Leibowitz", by Walter M. Miller, Jr. (F&SF, April)

"The Tunnel Under the World", by Frederik Pohl (Galaxy, January)

"Who?" aka "Bulkhead", by Theodore Sturgeon (Galaxy, March)*

Other candidates:

"Delenda Est", by Poul Anderson (F&SF, December)

"Sense from Thought Divide", by Mark Clifton (Astounding, March)

"The Cave of Night", by James Gunn (Galaxy, February)

"Pottage", by Zenna Henderson (F&SF, September)

"Stream of Consciousness", by Roy Hutchins (Beyond #10)

"Grandpa", by James H. Schmitz (Astounding, February)

Short Stories

I love this six story nomination list, and a big part of me would like to vote for either "Watershed" or "One Ordinary Day, with Peanuts", two really great stories. But it's hard to argue with "The Star", a profoundly affecting Hugo winner.

"Dreaming is a Private Thing", by Isaac Asimov (F&SF, December)

"The Star", by Arthur C. Clarke (Infinity, November)*

"Watershed", by James Blish (If, May)

"One Ordinary Day, with Peanuts", by Shirley Jackson (F&SF, January)

"The Game of Rat and Dragon", by "Cordwainer Smith" (Paul A. Linebarger) (Galaxy, October)*

"The Discovery of Morniel Mathaway", by "William Tenn" (Philip Klass) (Galaxy, October)

Other candidates:

"Junior", by Robert Abernathy (Galaxy, January)

"The Bone That Seeks", by "John Anthony" (John Ciardi) (F&SF, March)

"King of the Hill", by James Blish (Infinity, November)*

"Nobody Bothers Gus", by Algis Budrys (Astounding, November)*

"The Golem", by Avram Davidson (F&SF, March)

"Judgment Day", by L. Sprague de Camp (Astounding, August)

"The Strange Children", by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding (F&SF, August)

"The Hoofer", by Walter M. Miller, Jr. (Fantastic Universe, September)

"Allamagoosa", by Eric Frank Russell (Astounding, May)

"Spy Story" aka "Citizen in Space", by Robert Sheckley (Playboy, September)*

"A Ticket to Tranai", by Robert Sheckley (Galaxy, October)

"The Vilbar Party", by Evelyn E. Smith (Fantastic Universe, July)

"Bright Segment", by Theodore Sturgeon (Caviar)

"Twink", by Theodore Sturgeon (Galaxy, September)*

"End as a World", by F. L. Wallace (Galaxy, September)*


Monday, May 16, 2022

Hugo Nomination Recommendations, 1955

Hugo nomination recommendations, 1955 (1954 Stories)

Recently I did a piece on potential Hugo winners from 1957, having noticed that no stories from 1957 won Hugos: the 1958 Hugos went to stories from 1958 -- a result of the rules at that time extending eligibility up until a couple of months before Worldcon, and also that the 1957 Hugos didn't have any fiction awards. 1954 is in a similar state -- the short fiction awards from 1955 went to Walter M. Miller's "The Darfsteller" (Astounding, January 1955) and Eric Frank Russell's "Allamagoosa" (Astounding, May 1955). Mind you, the novel winner, "They'd Rather be Right", by Mark Clifton and Frank Riley, is from 1954 (Astounding, August through November), but it is also widely regarded as the worst Hugo-winning novel in history, so there's no harm looking at potential alternate winners in that category either!

I'll note for the record that the novelette "The Darfsteller" is an excellent story, and a very worthy Hugo winner (though I'd probably choose Damon Knight's "The Earth Quarter" (If, January 1955) instead) and the short story winner, "Allamagoosa", is good fun, though I'd have chosen one of several other candidates. ("Watershed", by James Blish, for example, or "One Ordinary Day, with Peanuts", by Shirley Jackson.) "Allamagoosa", by the way, is the first Hugo winner by a non-American (unless you count the German-born Willy Ley, who won for his science articles in 1953 -- but I'm pretty sure he'd become an American citizen by then.) I note as well that Richard A. Lupoff's excellent anthology What If?, Volume 1, selected "alternate Hugos" for the years 1952 through 1958, and his choice from 1954 was "The Golden Helix", by Theodore Sturgeon.

Incidentally, you might notice that all three fiction winners in the 1955 Hugos are from Astounding. In addition, the Best Editor award went to John W. Campbell, Jr., and the Best Artist went to Frank Kelly Freas, then as throughout his career a regular contributor to Astounding/Analog. Perhaps not surprising -- Astounding certainly retained a position as one of the leading SF magazines. But the story I've heard is that fans of Astounding were somewhat annoyed that Galaxy outdid Astounding in the first Hugos (1953), tying Astounding for Best Magazine, and having the Best Novel winner (The Demolished Man, by Alfred Bester) be a Galaxy serial, plus Excellence in Fact Articles going to Galaxy columnist Willy Ley. Thus, in 1955, they (in how organized a fashion I couldn't say) strongly supported Astounding contributors.

[Note -- I'm revising this to mention a couple more stories that I overlooked! Thanks to Joachim Boaz and Kris Vyas-Myall for the prods!]

Novels

Here's a possible nomination list (though in reality we can assume "They'd Rather Be Right" would have been on the list too.) I would list The Fellowship of the Ring at the top, and then A Mirror for Observers. And honestly, had either A Mirror for Observers or I Am Legend won (assuming The Fellowship of the Ring might not have got the requisite notice as a UK hardcover only), the reputation of the 1954 novel award would be much higher!

The Broken Sword, by Poul Anderson

The Syndic, by C. M. Kornbluth

I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson

A Mirror for Observers, by Edgar Pangborn

The Fellowship of the Ring, by J. R. R. Tolkien

Other possibilities:

Brain Wave, by Poul Anderson

One in Three Hundred, by J. T. McIntosh

Search the Sky, by Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth

Gladiator-at-Law, by Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth

Undersea Quest, by Frederik Pohl and Jack Williamson

There were also a couple possibilities from the  so-called "mainstream". Of these three novels, I don't personally consider Lord of the Flies SF (though I can see the argument), and I haven't read the other two.

Lord of the Flies, by William Golding

Messiah, by Gore Vidal

The Magicians, by J. B. Priestley

And of course there were some from the category then called "Juvenile" (now YA or Middle Grade):

The Star Beast, by Robert A. Heinlein

The Horse and His Boy, by C. S. Lewis

The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet, by Eleanor Cameron


Novellas

I only found six novellas particularly worth mentioning, so I list them all. Of these, my pretty clear-cut choice is "Rule Golden".

"Sucker Bait", by Isaac Asimov (Astounding, February and March)

"Sine of the Magus", by James Gunn (Beyond, May)

"Rule Golden", by Damon Knight (Science Fiction Adventures, May)

"Natural State", by Damon Knight (Galaxy, January)

"No More Stars", by "Charles Satterthwaite" (Frederik Pohl and Lester Del Rey) (Beyond, July)

"The Golden Helix", by Theodore Sturgeon (Thrilling Wonder, Summer)


Novelettes

Now this is interesting! I found 14 (at least) potential nominees among the novelettes. By sheer coincidence, my five favorites are the first five alphabetically. And the first two are clearly not just the best two stories of 1954, but two of the very greatest SF stories of all time. I don't think it's shocking, but it is disappointing, that none of these stories won an award. I'd also like to highlight once again Budrys' "The End of Summer", which is a wonderful and wonderfully strange story, marred just slightly by a slightly disappointing resolution. (Had he landed that, this story would rank with the two Bester stories.) 

"Fondly Fahrenheit", by Alfred Bester (F&SF, August)

"5,271,009", by Alfred Bester (F&SF, March)

"Beep", by James Blish (Galaxy, February)

"The End of Summer", by Algis Budrys (Astounding, November)

"The Golden Man", by Philip K. Dick (If, April)

Other possibilities:

"The Cold Equations", by Tom Godwin (Astounding, August)

"Miss Tarmity's Profession", by Roy Hutchins (Beyond, July)

"Gomez", by C. M. Kornbluth (The Explorers)

"Lot's Daughter", by Ward Moore (F&SF, October)

"The Music Master of Babylon", by Edgar Pangborn (Galaxy, November)

"The Midas Plague", by Frederik Pohl (Galaxy, April)

"Dusty Zebra", by Clifford Simak (Galaxy, September)

"How-2", by Clifford Simak (Galaxy, November)

"Down Among the Dead Men", by "William Tenn" (Philip Klass) (Galaxy, June)

"Party of Two Parts", by "William Tenn" (Philip Klass) (Galaxy, August)

"Big Ancestor", by F. L. Wallace (Galaxy, November)

Short Stories

Oddly, I'd didn't find as many short stories that stuck out. For me, either Bradbury's "All Summer in a Day" or Seabright's "Short in the Chest" would have been strong winners.

"The Immortal Game", by Poul Anderson (F&SF, February)

"All Summer in a Day", by Ray Bradbury (F&SF, March)

"The Father-Thing", by Philip K. Dick (F&SF, December)

"Adjustment Team", by Philip K. Dick (Orbit, September-October)

"Daughter", by Philip Jose Farmer (Thrilling Wonder, Winter)

"The Nostalgia Gene", by Roy Hutchins (Galaxy, November)

"Short in the Chest", by "Idris Seabright" (Margaret St. Clair) (Fantastic Universe, July)

"BAXBR/DAXBR", by Evelyn E. Smith (Time to Come)


Friday, May 13, 2022

Review: Od Magic, by Patricia A. McKillip, plus some short story capsules

The wonderful writer Patricia A. McKillip has died, at 74. She was a leap day birth, so back when I was doing "birthday reviews" it was a while before I had a chance to do one for her, and when I did it was a reprint of a review I did of The Bell of Sealey Head.

Sadly, before another of her quadrennial birthdays came up, she died. And in her memory, I have compiled a few other things I wrote about her work. Alas, I didn't really write a great deal about her best work -- a few short reviews of short fiction for Locus, or for my blog, and the shortish piece below about Od Magic, a nice novel but not her best. 

I read The Forgotten Beasts of Eld and the Riddle-Master books in the early '80s with enjoyment, but it was her glorious Winter Rose, from 1996, that turned me into a true fan, and from that point I read each of her nicely sized novels, one every year or two for about 15 years, always with a lovely Kinuko Craft cover, until she slowed down in the past decade or so. But the way things worked out Od Magic (a minor novel) and The Bell of Sealey Head (which I like rather better) are the only two I wrote about. So this is my tribute!



Review of Od Magic

Patricia A. McKillip's latest novel, Od Magic, is not part of a series. But it is one of a consistent set of novels that she puts out, pretty much one per year, tidily sized (about 90,000 words in this case), tidily shaped. In Od Magic there are no bad guys, just temporarily misled people. Which isn't a bad or dishonest thing, really. But in this particular case it does sort of dull the edge of the book.

Od is a legendary female wizard, very long lived but hardly ever seen. Centuries earlier she founded a school of wizardry in Kelior, the capital city of the Kingdom of Numis. Now she appears to a young man in the North named Brenden Vetch, and asks him to go to her school to be the gardener, and to look for the door under the shoe.

I confess I expected a story about Brenden, but this isn't what McKillip was after. Instead she follows a variety of people: Brenden of course, but also the influential wizard of Od's school, Yar; his politically connected lover Ceta; the High Warden's son, another Warden (that is to say, policeman), Arneth Pyt; the King's daughter, Princess Sulys, who is about to be married to a man she doesn't know, a priggish but powerful wizard; and the small-time wizard (small-time? perhaps!) Tyramin and his enigmatic daughter. The story revolves about the King's concern about the potential abilities of Tyramin, who is not under his control, and about Sulys's desire to actually have a chance to know her husband, and moreover her desire to use certain small powers she possesses, and about Yar's concern that his school -- Od's school -- may have become hidebound, too much a tool of the King (even though the King seems for the most part a pretty good King). And also about Brenden Vetch, and his quite remarkable powers, and his connection with certain beings that have long secretly inhabited the kingdom.

It's all a very nice novel, and always readable, and full of characters you like and root for -- but at the same time it seems a bit inconsequential -- or perhaps the term is "easy". In a way I found this refreshing -- the people really are all trying to do their best, they are just often misguided -- and in all honesty that seems truer than the common evil/good divide. But that said there really isn't much tension in the novel -- or much risk. I enjoyed it, and I think most readers will. But it didn't stay with me.

Locus, September 2004

Another Romance genre anthology has appeared with a fantasy/SF theme: To Weave a Web of Magic. As with the earlier Irresistible Forces, an equal mix of SF writers and Romance writers contribute stories. The best in this book is by Patricia McKillip, "The Gorgon in the Cupboard", about a young painter who unwittingly calls forth the spirit of Medusa. Medusa helps the young man, just a bit, as he rediscovers a formal model of his, fallen on very hard times, and as he learns to see her as a woman, not just a painting to be.

Locus, February 2021

Two more stories in The Book of Dragons, I think, are the very best. “Camouflage”, by Patricia A. McKillip, features a Magical Arts student taking his final exam, and ending up mysteriously in a completely different place and time, where he encounters two women, and sees their dragons, who can rarely be seen, because of their magical camouflage. He has a role here too – which may have something to do with his exam. I’m not telling where and when this test occurs, because it’s part of the fun – but the mix here of magic, time travel, war, and dragons is delicious.

[Some people may remember that when I revealed my Best of the Year TOC a couple of weeks ago I mentioned we reserving a place for one more story -- this was "Camouflage". We had queried McKillip about including it, and hadn't received a response -- it is now only too clear why.]

Review of The Fair Folk

Patricia A. McKillip's "The Kelpie" is set in the same milieu as her fine 2004 novella "The Gorgon in the Cupboard": a group of painters resembling the Pre-Raphaelites. Ned Bonham is a moderately successful young painter. He meets Emma Slade at her brother's party. Emma is an aspiring painter just up from the country. The two fall in love on the instant. But Emma attracts the attention of the very successful Bram Wilding, who arranges for her to model for him, in exchange for his support of an exhibition of women's art – and he pressures her for a different sort of relationship. So far this is a straightforward romance plot – no fantasy – but on a visit to Ned's country home she encounters a quite different creature, and this dangerous encounter leads to a resolution of the central triangle.

Review of Firebirds

Patricia McKillip contributes "Byndley", a striking tale of a wizard who unwisely stole something from the Queen of Faerie, and who comes to the title town to try to find his way back to return it.  But Faerie is not so easy to enter -- or to recognize. 

Review of Firebirds Rising

Patricia A. McKillip contributes another of her stories about a group of painters resembling the Pre-Raphaelites. “Jack O’Lantern” is about a girl struggling with her parents’ conventional views of the role of women, particularly upper class women, as her older sister prepares to be married. During the painting of a wedding party portrait she meets a curious local lad, and hears a story about the Jack O’Lantern.

Review of A Book of Wizards

Patricia A. McKillip, with “Knight of the Well”, a nicely romantic tale of a the Minister of Water and a Knight of the Well and a water wizard trying to understand why the spirits of water seem angry. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Hugo Nomination Recommendations: 1958

Potential Hugo nominations for the 1958 Hugos (stories from 1957)

I made a post on Facebook about possible Hugo nominations for stories published in 1957 -- a year that was not well represented in Hugo history, due to the vagaries of changing Hugo eligibility rules, radically different Hugo categories from year to year, including no fiction Hugos in 1957, and a generally cavalier attitude towards the whole process. That post engendered a lot of productive comments, and I figured I'd make an updated version to preserve it on my blog. Thanks to Andrew Breitenbach, David Merrill, Gary Farber, Piet Nel, and Paul Fraser (among others) for suggestions for further stories, and for productive suggestions for more details about Hugo history.

Wandering through the history of the Hugos in the 1950s -- a chaotic time, with no well established rules, with constantly changing award categories, with a con committee, in one case, refusing to give fiction awards at all ... I realized that no stories from 1957 won a Hugo. (The 1958 Hugo for short story went to "Or All the Seas With Oysters", by Avram Davidson (Galaxy, May 1958) and the Hugo for -- get this -- "Novel or Novelette" went to "The Big Time", by Fritz Leiber, a novel (albeit very short) that was serialized in Galaxy, March and April 1958. In 1957, no Hugos for fiction were given.

I note as well that Richard A. Lupoff's excellent anthology What If?, Volume 1, selected "alternate Hugos" for the years 1952 through 1958, and his choice from 1957 was "The Mile-Long Spaceship", by Kate Wilhelm.

So, what the heck -- here's my list of proposed fiction nominees from 1957. I use the categories Novel, Novelette, and Short Story.

Novel:

Citizen of the Galaxy, by Robert A. Heinlein

The Black Cloud, by Fred Hoyle

Wasp, by Eric Frank Russell

On the Beach, by Nevil Shute

The Midwich Cuckoos, by John Wyndham

and you know what -- in many ways the most significant -- and commercially successful -- SF novel of 1957 was:

Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand

(By the way, The Naked Sun, by Isaac Asimov, is often cited as a 1957 novel, but its serialization in Astounding ended in December 1956. The same is true of Heinlein's The Door Into Summer, serialized in F&SF.)

Note that four of my suggested novel nominees (all except Heinlein) were born and raised in the UK (Shute moved to Australia in 1950.) Had this nomination list been real (unlikely) and had the Heinlein been replaced by Atlas Shrugged (even more unlikely) all five nominees would have been born and raised outside the US. (Rand immigrated from the Soviet Union at the age of 21.)

Novelette:

"Call Me Joe", by Poul Anderson (Astounding, April)

"The Queer Ones", by Leigh Brackett (Venture, March)

"The Dying Man" aka "Dio", by Damon Knight (Infinity, September)

"Omnilingual", by H. Beam Piper (Astounding, February)

"It Opens the Sky", by Theodore Sturgeon (Venture, November)

("The Last Canticle", by Walter M. Miller, Jr. (F&SF, February) would also have been a worthy nominee, but I left it off because I think of the novel (A Canticle for Leibowitz) first.)

Short Story:

"Hunting Machine", by Carol Emshwiller (Science Fiction Stories, May)

"Journeys End", by Poul Anderson (F&SF, February)

"The Men Return", by Jack Vance (Infinity, July)

"The Man Who Traveled in Elephants", by Robert A. Heinlein (Saturn, October)

"Manhole 69", by J. G. Ballard (New Worlds, November)

"Affair with a Green Monkey", by Theodore Sturgeon (Venture, May)

(I could also have mentioned Kate Wilhelm's second sale, "The Mile-Long Spaceship" (Astounding, April), a strong early story that, as noted above, was Richard A. Lupoff's choice for an alternate Hugo this year.)

My votes? Citizen of the Galaxy, "The Queer Ones", "The Men Return". In no case are those votes easy choices, mind you.

I note, too, that the "Big Three" (Astounding, Galaxy, F&SF) are represented only by two novelettes and one short story. (And, to be fair, one novel.)

Other notes about 1958: it was the only year of the Hugos in which the winners did not get a rocket ship -- the award this year was a plaque. Also, 1958 was the last year in which there was not a codified process by which a fan vote selected a set of nominees, followed by a general vote for the Hugo. 

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Old Bestseller Review: The Chequer Board, by Nevil Shute

Old Bestseller Review: The Chequer Board, by Nevil Shute

by Rich Horton


This book was not a bestseller, but Shute, a fairly popular writer for much of his career, had a major bestseller with On the Beach, 7th bestselling book in the US in 1957, and with his last novel, Trustee from the Toolroom (1960). So I think Shute fits that subcategory.

Nevil Shute Norway was born in England in 1899, His father became head of the Post Office in Ireland (shades of Trollope!), and Shute spent a few years there, and tended the wounded during the Easter Rising in 1916. He served in the First World War in its late months. He graduated from Oxford with an Engineering degree (Mechanical Engineering, we'd say now) and worked on airplanes and airships -- notably leading the development of the R-100, a promising British dirigible project that was scrapped after a test airship from a parallel government project crashed. Shute later formed his own company, which developed the Envoy, a trainer for the UK air force. Aeronautical details show up in several of his novels (including the one at hand) -- most famously No Highway, which concerned the failure of an airplane due to metal fatigue -- which happened just a few years later to the DeHavilland Comet. Shute served in Burma during the Second World War (an experience that strongly influences The Chequer Board.) He moved to Australia in 1950, and died of a stroke in 1960.

His first novel was published in 1926, and he published about 20 novels in his life, with a few more appearing posthumously. He signed his books Nevil Shute in order to separate his writing persona from his engineering persona. The Chequer Board was published in 1947, about when it is set. The UK edition was from Heinemann, the American from William Morrow. Apparently there was some concern about its reception in the US, as it is very critical of the treatment of black people at that time, but it seems to have been very successful. It was a Literary Guild selection. My edition is the 1968 Ballantine paperback. 

I will begin with a caution for sensitive readers. The Chequer Board is overtly and honestly a book taking a stand against racism, dealing with both America's dismal treatment of our black citizens, and England's dismal treatment of its colonies; and with the demeaning attitudes most white people adopted towards blacks and Asians. Its heart is clearly -- and movingly -- in the right place; but it was written by a white British man in the 1940s, and as such it can't claim to truly understand the viewpoints of black Americans and of Burmans. (I use here the name for Myanmar that was then current, and the curious demonym Shute uses -- Burmans instead of Burmese.) In addition, Shute regularly -- very regularly -- uses the N-word -- surely accurately reflecting the way his characters would have spoken (and he does not regard the term as neutral -- he's clear that it is offensive, and that his black characters perceive it as offensive.) I think it would have a been false for him not to do so -- but I have been socially conditioned to find it offputting (and, to be clear, this is normal social conditioning, and a good thing.) Others might mind it even hard to take. The women characters are given agency and come off as real -- but the sexual attitudes of the day are accepted quite straightforwardly by the author -- he is fiercely anti-racist (in 1940s terms) but not feminist at all, seems to me.

The Chequer Board is framed by the report of a medical specialist who is asked to take a look at John Turner, who has been experiencing fits, and having difficulty with his coordination. Turner had been injured in a plane crash during the war (the book is set a year or two after the end of the war) and some shrapnel injured his head -- and some of it could not be removed safely. The doctor's diagnosis is that a piece of metal is causing brain issues for Turner, and that it remains inoperable -- Turner will die in a year or so. 

Turner is a cereal salesman. He and his wife Mollie have no children, and their marriage is troubled. Turner, we quickly learn, is none too moral -- he seems to embezzle from his company in a minor way, keeping that money from Mollie, and in fact he was caught committing a similar crime in the Army -- the plane crash occurred while he was being transported back to England to be court-martialed. He ended up serving six months. Now, facing death, he realizes there are a few things he wants desperately to do in his last year -- primarily, to look up the three men who were in hospital with him after the crash. The hospital is connected with the prison, and two of these men are also awaiting trial: Duggie Brent, a commando, had killed a man in a bar brawl; and Dave Lesurier, a black American soldier, has been accused of attempted rape of a girl in the village of Trenarth, where his unit was stationed. The other man is Philip Morgan, the pilot of the crashed plane -- he'd been kept in the same hospital for convenience. Turner tells Mollie what he knows of these three men, and Mollie -- who is feeling oddly better about her husband, partly sympathy for his plight, and partly because he seems to have opened up to her more than ever -- agrees that he should try to find out what happened to them after they got out of the hospital. 

Turner tracks down Philip Morgan's mother first -- and finds that Morgan served in Burma after getting out of the hospital, and stayed there, abandoning his wife. The mother is bitter -- but Turner knows Morgan's wife was unfaithful, and figures he left for good reason, and is probably living miserably in Burma. And he goes out there, hoping to help him out, and finds something quite different -- an extended, and quite exciting, section shows, essentially, Burma making a man of Philip Morgan -- and Morgan learning to respect and understand the people -- including his eventual wife. Turner learns something too ... and on returning to England finds his relationship with his wife much improved. He learns a bit about Duggie Brent -- a good lawyer got him off the murder charge, and Brent spent some time as a circus act, but the trail runs cold there. And he figures he'll never learn what happened to Dave Lesurier, who is surely back in the US. So Turner and Mollie decide on one last vacation, as Turner's health declines. But the canny Turner maneuvers them to Trenarth, where he figures he can ask the locals about Lesurier's case -- and we learn his whole story too, and about the villagers' relationship with the black soldiers, and how the arrival of a white unit messes things up -- and about the shy Lesurier's interest in a young local girl, which ends up leading to a trumped up rape charge.

All is resolved quite neatly -- maybe a bit too neatly, maybe there's a bit of implausible good fortune in the stories of all three men. But Shute's writing is immensely involving -- he truly had the mysterious skill of making the reader want to keep reading. And the message is inspiring and hopeful, with all the characters treated with respect and sympathy. It's a very involving, very moving novel. It is popular fiction, yes ... there is a bit of contrivance. But it's very good popular fiction. I'll be reading more from Nevil Shute.

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Old Bestseller Review: Barchester Towers, by Anthony Trollope

Old Bestseller Review: Barchester Towers, by Anthony Trollope

by Rich Horton


Many decades ago, when I was a teen, I read The Warden, the first of Anthony Trollope's Chronicles of Barsetshire. If I am to be honest, I remember nothing of that novel except that I enjoyed it -- but never went on to read any more. But in recent years it has become clear to me that I have an affinity for Victorian novels, and it certainly seemed that returning to Trollope was something I ought to do (particularly as several friends recommended him.) And not long ago at a charity book sale I bought an ex-lib copy of Barchester Towers, the direct sequel to The Warden, so I decided that would be my next Trollope. (I have always pronounced his name tra-LOPE, but I read a quip from some English writer, can't remember who, about a friend who would greet him in all innocence saying "I was just up in my room with a Trollope", suggesting a different pronunciation.) 

I've given this review an "Old Bestseller Review" heading, reflecting the original focus of my blog. Was Barchester Towers initially a bestseller? As far as I can determine, probably not, but it sold reasonably well, and, with The Warden, essentially established him as a significant writer. I believe many of his subsequent novels sold very well indeed. I also note that this review is quite long -- probably too long. Perhaps I have been influenced by Trollope's own prolixity! (Barchester Towers is long but not terribly so -- perhaps about 200,000 words, maybe a bit less -- but later novels were often very long indeed.)

Anthony Trollope (1815-1882) was the son of a barrister, and more distantly descended from landed gentry, and a baronet. (The baronetcy eventually was inherited by Anthony's son Frederic, presumably after the death of some cousins.) His mother was a successful writer (a profession she turned to in part because of her husband's business failures.) Much of the family, but not Anthony, moved to the US for a time, and later (including Anthony) to Belgium. Anthony was educated at "public schools" (Harrow and Winchester) which he hated. He got a position at the Post Office, which eventually led to travel all around Ireland and later England. He began writing shortly before his marriage (to Rose Heseltine, in 1844.) His early novels included a few set in Ireland, and met with little success. (I have read that sales of these books were in the low hundreds.) But The Warden (1855) achieved good notice, and Trollope eventually became very popular. He published some 40 novels, with two main series, the Barchester books and the Palliser books (and the two series are apparently connected) as well as many standalones, perhaps most notably The Way We Live Now (based in part on his unsuccessful run for Parliament.)

Barchester Towers opens with the death of the Bishop of Barchester, Dr. Grantly. His son, the Archdeacon, is widely expected to be named the next Bishop, but there are political reasons that may not occur: the Whigs are now in power, and the Grantlys are Tories, a secular difference which seems also connected to differences within the Church of England, with the Grantlys being more "high church" (or "bells and smells") and the other side more low church, nearly "evangelical". And, indeed, the new Government selects a Dr. Proudie instead of Dr. Grantly. And Dr. Proudie has a formidable -- and very evangelical -- wife. And his wife insists that a certain Obadiah Slope be chosen as the new chaplain. Slope is, besides his somewhat fanatical low church leanings, a very ambitious man, and quite a schemer.

Also involved is Mr. Harding, formerly the Warden of Hiram Hospital -- he was unfairly forced to resign in The Warden. Mr. Harding has two daughter -- Mrs. Grantly, the Archdeacon's wife, and Mrs. Eleanor Bold, who has recently been widowed, and who has a young son. Mr. Harding has some hopes of being restored to his position at the hospital.

All this is presented not just in personal terms, nor in political terms, but in financial terms. In this book, there is a great deal of attention paid to how much money a clergyman is paid (especially inasmuch as the Church of England has recently reformed its payment practices,) and to how much a woman might have inherited (which in practical terms means how much a man will take control of upon marriage.) And the plot of the novel turns not just on the maneuverings surrounding the various potentially open livings for the clergy, but on the presumed possible marriage of Eleanor Bold, who, as a young and beautiful widow with a rather decent portion is eligible indeed. 

To summarize very briefly (I hope) we witness the struggle over the Wardenship of the Hospital -- the main claimants being the former Warden Mr. Harding, and the rather needy Mr. Quiverful, who is worthy enough but whose main claim is his need to support his fourteen children -- and the issues here revolve more about Mrs. Proudie and Mr. Slope desiring to have a Sunday School attached to the Hospital, but more significantly Mr. Slope's decision to shift his support to Mr. Harding in the hopes that that will make him a more attractive suitor to Mr. Harding's daughter Eleanor Bold. But beyond that living there is the small church of St. Ewold's, to which the Archdeacon attracts the respected Cambridge scholar Mr. Arabin. And finally the Dean of Barchester dies, and immediately it seems Mr. Slope is the leading candidate to replace him.

On the romantic front, the return to Barchester of the prebendary Dr. Vesey Stanhope from Italy muddles the waters. Dr. Stanhope had been drawing a clerical salary but performing no duties while living in Italy. The new Bishop insists he return (or so does Mr. Slope -- and in this instance Mr. Slope is surely in the right). The Stanhope children include a feckless young man, an artist of no renown, who is a thorough spendthrift, and his older sister begins to scheme to marry him to Eleanor. But Mr. Slope also has designs on her. The late entry in the field is Mr. Arabin, who doesn't have the same financial motives (though Trollope reminds us that no matter Mr. Arabin's concerns, a nice fortune will do him no harm) but who clearly begins to form an attachment. The fly in all this ointment is the other Stanhope, Signora Madeline Neroni, a very beautiful but not terribly moral woman, who made a disastrous marriage to an Italian man, and who lost the use of her legs in an accident. She takes an interest in pretty much any man, in this case including Mr. Slope and Mr. Arabin ...

The climax of these events occurs in great part at a party thrown by an aging and rather out of date brother and sister, the Thornes, ostensibly to welcome Mr. Arabin to his new post at St. Ewold's. This takes up several delicious chapters, and we see the entire spectrum of Barchester society, from a Countess down to laborers -- it's a gentle comic masterpiece, and it forms a well constructed resolution to the questions of the plot. I won't detail how that works out (though Trollope on occasion fairly openly tells his readers what to expect) -- but it's quite satisfying. And, indeed, though some people's specific hopes are dashed, it has to be said that all the characters more or less land on their feet.

I found this novel supremely pleasurable to read. Trollope is a very funny writer (in a very quiet way) for one thing. He is quite acute in his depiction of the social order of his time. He is (mostly quite affectionately) observant of the weakness and folly of his characters -- "good" and "bad"; and he loves to present the careful machinations of all the characters leading to unexpected consequences. The only real villain is Mr. Slope, and even he, though oily and unpleasant, is presented as fairly intelligent, and sometimes in the right. (Well, perhaps Vesey Stanhope is a bit of a villain in a less active way -- at any rate, he is morally profoundly negligent.) The prose is Victorian prose at its fullest -- many contemporary readers lose patience with such prose -- the long sentences, the fairly obtrusive narrator, the overt means of characterization (telling instead of showing.) But I love it -- and if you have the taste for that prose, Trollope is a master. Perhaps one of the elements that is the hardest for present day readers is the complete acceptance of the Victorian English view of women's proper place -- in the home, as nurturers. Trollope's women have a great deal of agency, and also intelligence, but they do accept that their role is to be wives and mothers. (To be sure, a woman like Mrs. Proudie uses her position as the Bishop's wife to wield a great deal of power, most certainly over Dr. Proudie as well as more widely in the diocese.)

Finally -- a note, maybe a question. The novel has very many characters who are clergymen, and they have a dizzying array of titles. Many I know well: Archbishop, Bishop, Vicar, chaplain, curate. Others I recognize but can't quite place in the hierarchy: Archdeacon, Warden, Canon, Dean. Some I really don't know at all, like precentor and prebendary. Does anyone know more detail about this?

And one small additional note -- the previous Victorian novel I read is Vanity Fair, from one decade earlier. It's a very different novel in tone, of course -- but I did detect some parallels between the virtuous (but very foolish) Amelia Sedley and the virtuous (and actually fairly intelligent) Eleanor Bold. (Mostly their perhaps excessive devotion to their less than perfect -- and dead -- husbands, and their deep love for the sons. Also, more trivially, they are both widows who eventually remarry.)

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Review: The Kaiju Preservation Society, by John Scalzi

The Kaiju Preservation Society, by John Scalzi

a review by Rich Horton


Here is a novel that wears its time of writing on its sleeve.The Kaiju Preservation Society opens in early 2020, just as the pandemic is staring. Jamie Gray is working for a food delivery service, and sees a great opportunity for his company -- perceiving that the market for delivered meals is about to explode, Jame is eager to present this dea to the CEO -- only to be fired ... 

Let's pull back a bit. John Scalzi needs little introduction -- he's been writing vary enjoyable SF novels for nearly two decades. He's won a Campbell, a Locus, a Dragon, and a couple of Hugos. And somehow he became a lightning rod for the Sad Puppies despite, as far as I can tell, writing EXACTLY the sort of old-fashioned, plot and adventure and cool SF idea-centered stuff they claimed to want! Well, to use an appropriate word, whatever! I like his stuff, and I read it regularly, and so I was happy when our book club chose his brand new novel for our next read. (In this case, I bought the novel through Audible, so I listened to it rather than reading it. The reader, who did a fine job, is Wil Wheaton.)

To continue -- Jamie is humiliatingly forced to accept a gig job workiing for the same company, delivering meals. And in the process Jamie meets a guy from college, a guy who is impressed with Jamie's knowledge of SF (knowledge that almost led to a Ph. D.) And when it becomes clear that Jamie is facing impossible financial pressures due to a) not having his old job; and b) the pandemic; this guy, Tom, offers Jamie a job, for a group called the KPS. A really really well-paying job, but with a catch -- it's in a remote area, out of reach of connection to cell networks, and potentially living a little rough. But, hey, what's the alternative? And the job seems perhaps to have some connection to Jamie's SF knowledge?

Soon Jamie is in Greenland, still wondering what's going on. We can guess, of course, given the title of the novel. And, indeed, KPS stands for Kaiju Preservation Society, and once in Greenland they travel to a secret base, and go through a portal into an alternate Earth. An Earth with conditions that allow for the existence of 100 meter tall monsters. (They are powered by biological nuclear reactors!) Jamie's job is to "lift things" (and the novel has a lot of fun with that.) Everyone else is a Ph. D., including the other newbies, with whom Jamie soon becomes very friendly. 

The first large chunk of the novel is all about explaining what's going on, which is pretty fun -- wildly improbable but clever rationalizations of the Kaiju biology, amusing training sequences, references to a certain famous Kaiju which crossed over to our Earth near Japan thanks to a nuclear explosion (nuclear explosions thin the barrier between worlds ...) There's a lot of camaradie between the various KPS members -- they are a genuninely nice bunch. The eventual plot concerns first an effort to get a pair of Kaiju to breed, and second, a job Jamie is given to shepherd various visitors -- government official, military, scientific higher ups, and, of course, corporate sponsors -- around the base -- it seems that a chance to see real Kaiju is quite the lure. The actual conflict comes fairly late, involving an attempt to bring a Kaiju to our Earth to harvest some genetic material ... which turns out to be a really bad idea.

The novel is very light (though some terrible things happen) and it's very enjoyable. Scalzi's narrative voice is as usual delightful. A lot of it doesn't make a ton of sense, but it really doesn't have to -- the attempts to have it make SF sense are entertaining anyway, and we're not really expected to believe it. An afterword explains the genesis of the novel -- the stress of the pandemic, not to mention a maybe Covid maybe not illness, made it impossible for Scalzi to finish the more serious novel he had planned. He needed relief -- and the idea for this novel came to him, and he finished it in record time (by my lights -- maybe it's normal for Scalzi.) He described it as a "pop song", which seems entirely correct.

I liked it -- it's short and swift and fun. I do have one quibble, and it's a quibble I have about a lot of recent fiction -- the villain is a maximally, cartoonishly, evil corporation. Evil corporations are the lazy default villains these days, and certainly you can find a lot to complain about in corporate actions. But what this corporation gets up to is pretty extreme. And -- the novel takes on the stresses of the pandemic and such nicely enough. But in 2022 we have additional stresses, and a reminder that for real maximal evil a consciousless autocrat of a nation state is a much better candidate than a mere profit hungry corporation. 

[Note -- I've modified my original review, thanks to a hint from John Scalzi's editor, Patrick Nielsen Hayden. I had assumed Jamie Gray was male -- but the the novel carefully does not specifiy. Indeed, the other characters are referred to as he, she, and in one case they -- but we never learn Jamie's pronouns. This is, I suspect, easier to do in a first person narrative! It was a bit tricky for me to work around all the "he"s in my original draft without using "they".

I will offer a couple of defenses. The first is simple -- I did not read the novel, I listened to it. And the narrator, Will Wheaton, is male. And for a first person narrative, it's pretty natural to assign the narrator's gender to the first person character. Beyond that I'll suggest that there is one ambiguous marker that the Jamie might be male -- his job is to "lift things", and lifting things implies upper body strength, which is unevenly distributed between males and females. That said, the other person in the novel whose job is to "lift things" is explicitly female. The novel features no romantic subplots, and indeed I spent a tiny amount of time wondering whether or not Jamie is gay or straight -- there is no evidence either way (that I detected.)]

My Black Gate Essay Series

Over the past couple of years I've written several essays -- six for far -- for Black Gate, in each case taking a fairly close look at a story (or a few stories, or a poem) that I either particularly like or find particularly interesting. I'm quite proud of these posts, so I'm putting a link to them here in my blog.


"The Star Pit", by Samuel R. Delany;

Three Stories by Idris Seabright;

"Winter Solstice, Camelot Station", by John M. Ford;

"It Opens the Sky", by Theodore Sturgeon;

"Winter's King", by Ursula K. Le Guin;

"The Last Flight of Dr. Ain", by James Tiptree, Jr.;


I note that above my links just mention the title of the stories under consideration, but Black Gate editor John O'Neill add more interesting titles to the essays, and I particularly liked his title for the most recent one, about Tiptree: Still Not Telling Us

Monday, April 18, 2022

Table of Contents: Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, 2021 edition (stories from 2020)

Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, 2021 edition

edited by Rich Horton

(stories from 2020)

My best of the year anthology for 2021 has been much delayed, for reasons mostly linked to the pandemic, including difficulty getting a slot at printers. (And other issues!) But at last I have a TOC nearly ready. We're holding open one slot for one more potential story ... hoping to hear from the author soon. But I figured it was time to post the list. It's been fun going through these stories again, and realizing how good they are, and how worthy of whatever exposure they can get.

This list is in alphabetical order by author.

Nadia Afifi, "The Bahrain Underground Bazaar", (F&SF, 11-12/20)

Rebecca Campbell, "An Important Failure", (Clarkesworld, 8/20)

Leah Cypess, "Stepsister", (F&SF, 5-6/20)

Andy Dudak, "Songs of Activation", (Clarkesworld, 12/20)

Bishop Garrison, "Silver Door Diner", (FIYAH, Autumn/20)

A. T. Greenblatt, "Burn or the Episodic Life of Sam Wells as a Super", (Uncanny, 5-6/20)

Amanda Hollander, "A Feast of Butterflies", (F&SF, 3-3/20)

T. L. Huchu, "Egoli", (Africanfuturism)

John Kessel, "Spirit Level", (F&SF, 7-8/20)

Naomi Kritzer, "Little Free Library", (Tor.com, 4/8/20)

Sarah Langan, "You Have the Prettiest Mask", (LCRW, 8/20)

P. H. Lee, "The Garden Where No One Ever Goes", (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, 12/3/20)

Yoon Ha Lee, "Beyond the Dragon's Gate" (Tor.com, 5/20/20)

Marissa Lingen, "The Past, Like a River in Flood", (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, 8/27/20)

Ken Liu, "50 Things Every AI Working With Humans Should Know", (Uncanny, 11-12/20)

Rati Mehrotra, "Magnificent Maurice or the Flowers of Immortality", (Lightspeed, 11/20)

Annalee Newitz, "The Monogamy Hormone", (Entanglements)

Alec Nevala-Lee, "Retention", (Analog, 7-8/20)

Sarah Pinsker, "Two Truths and a Lie", (Tor.com, 6-17/20)

Vina Jie-Min Prasad, "A Guide for Working Breeds", (Made to Order)

Mercurio D. Rivera, "Beyond the Tattered Veil of Stars", (Asimov’s, 7-8/20)

Benjamin Rosenbaum, "Bereft, I Come to a Nameless World", (Asimov’s, 3-4/20)

Sofia Samatar, "The Moon Fairy", (Conjunctions #74)

Ken Schneyer, "Laws of Impermanence", (Uncanny, 9-10/20)

Alexandra Seidel, "Lovers on a Bridge, (Past Tense)

Michael Swanwick, "The Dragon Slayer", (The Book of Dragons)

Tade Thompson, "Thirty-Three", (Avatars, Inc.)

Ian Tregillis, "When God Sits in Your Lap". (Asimov’s, 9-10/20)

Eugenia Triantafyllou, "Those We Serve", (Interzone, 5-6/20)

Tlotlo Tsamaase,"Behind Our Irises", (Africanfuturism)

James Van Pelt, "Minerva Girls", (Analog, 9-10/20)

Aliya Whiteley, "Fog and Pearls at the King's Cross Junction", (London Centric)

Jessica P. Wick, "An Unkindness", (The Sinister Quartet)

John Wiswell, "Open House on Haunted Hill", (Diabolical Plots, 6/20)

Saturday, April 9, 2022

Review: The Exile Waiting, by Vonda N. McIntyre

Review: The Exile Waiting, by Vonda N. McIntyre

a review by Rich Horton


Vonda N. McIntyre was born in 1948 in Louisville, and died, only 70 years old, in 2019. She began publishing in 1970 with "Breaking Point", in Venture (the second iteration of a short-lived (both times) companion to F&SF), and in 1973 published "Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand" in Analog -- which won the Nebula for Best Novelette. It became her second novel, Dreamsnake, and that won both the Nebula and Hugo. She published several more generally well-received novels through 1997, when The Moon and the Sun appeared, and won her another Nebula. But that was her last novel, and she published only about a half-dozen further short stories in the couple of decades before her death. (I reprinted her last story, "Little Sisters", in The Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, 2016 Edition.) I don't know wny she mostly stopped writing (or selling) -- she was a first rate writer. (A good portion of her output was media tie-ins, also, and her Star Trek novels are quite well regarded.)

So, I mentioned her second novel, and some later ones, but what of her first novel? This was The Exile Waiting, from 1975. Its first appearance was actually the Science Fiction Book Club edition. I bought the paperback when it appeared -- my notes in the book say I got it from Waldenbooks in Fox Valley Mall (a couple of miles from my house) in April 1976. I read it and liked it a good deal. And so I was happy to be pressed to reread it when we chose it for the book club that Mark Tiedemann runs ...


And, you know, it holds up. On rereading I felt it very clearly a first novel, with some of the problems of many first novels, but lots of the exuberance too. Like many first novels there is a sense that the author threw in a few too many ideas, and that the structure (perhaps especially at the beginning) is a bit loose ... but in the end it's very enjoyable and quite moving.

The book is set on earth (uncapitalized, oddly, though it is clearly meant to be our Earth) a long time in the future, after a nuclear war. As such, it's a post-Holocaust novel -- Mark Tiedemann pointed out that this was rather late for the at one time extremely common trope of setting a story in the distant aftermath of a nuclear war. Mischa is an adolescent girl (probably about 14 ... but her age doesn't come through very well) living in a place called Center, almost a hive for the people living in the blasted wasteland. She is a thief, as was her now drug-addicted and dying older brother Chris. She also has a power, as with the other in her family -- sort of an empathic/near telepathic ability to sense others' minds. This is a decidedly mixed blessing, especially as her much less mentally functional younger sister Gemmi has such a strong ability that she can compel Mischa to come to her -- which she does when their abusive uncle forces her to summon Mischa -- mainly to get money. Mischa's dream is to escape to the "Sphere" -- that is, the relatively near star systems that humans have colonized; and to bring Chris with her in hope of a cure for his addiction (presumably, he started using the drugs to ecape Gemmi's pull.) And it becomes clear to her that her only shot is to find a way to get to the Palace, and to convince the aristocrats there to give her a job on a spaceship.

There are two other central characters. Jan Hiraku is a young man who has promised to bring his blind old friend back to earth for burial, and he has gotten passage on a starship. The starship is crewed by what seem a group of raiders, led by two curiously linked men who call themselves Subone and Subtwo. They were raised together as part of an experiment intended to make them mentally linked, and having escaped that situation they are beginning to establish independent personalities. (Their backstory is detailed in McIntyre's short story from the Delany/Hacker anthology Quark/4, "Cages", which I understand is included in the recent rerelease of The Exile Waiting (from Handheld Press in 2019).)

So -- Jan, unconnected with the raiders, serves as sort of an outside observer/narrator, though eventually he becomes a friend and mentor to Mischa. Mischa's attempt to infiltrate the Palace fails and she is whipped for it. But more or less simultaneously, the raiders' ship lands nearby, in storm season when no ships come -- the combined abilities of Subone and Subtwo make this possible. They arrive at the Palace, evidently intending to take over -- but are suborned, more or less, by the decadence and indifference of the ruling group. Meanwhile Subtwo is trying to separate from the more brutish and immoral Subone, so while Subone appears to enjoy being assimilated into the decadent life of the Place, Subtwo is disgusted by the slave culture revealed to him. He falls for Madame, the slave who serves as housekeeper to the ruler, and tries to arrange her freedom, while planning to leave with his ship as soon as possible. Jan and he rescue Mischa, and somewhat fortuitously begin to train her, and discover that she is a mathematical genius. (This is a bit of tired cliche, one of the "first novel" faults.) Plans for Jan, Subtwo, Madame, Mischa, and Chris to escape back to the Sphere seem well on the way, until Mischa's unseverable connections to her family intervene -- and Subone's cruel reaction to the presence of Chris in their quarters drives a crisis.

Jan and Mischa are forced to escape underground after attacking Subone in trying to rescue Chris. They encounter a group of mutated humans, cast out because of the old tradition of post nuclear societies trying to control mutations. Meanwhile Subone and Subtwo are chasing them -- Subone compelling his "pseudosib" to help get revenge on Mischa for attacking him. Mischa -- again quite coincidentally -- meets one of her highly mutated brothers ... Well, the natural result ensues -- with the mutants' help they escape back to Central, and in the process foment a rebellion that should lead to better treatment for the mutants, and also freedom for the slaves. And Subtwo finally manages to escape Subone's influence and their escape to the Sphere becomes a reality.


Told as baldly as I've stated it this final development seems a contrived and only too familiar (and too easy) resolution -- and it is, I suupose, except McIntyre's writing is very effective, and it's exciting, and quite moving. It's really a case of a first novelist's talent winning over her inexperience, I think. I liked the characters, and I wanted them to win. I'd actually have liked to see more stories in that future -- in the Sphere, mainly, and perhaps following Mischa's life. Apparently Dreamsnake is set on the same future ruined earth -- but we don't really see the Sphere in that book. (It's not clear to me whether the action of Dreamsnake is set prior to The Exile Waiting, after it, or at a roughly parallel time but different place on earth.) 

It is nice, I think, to return to a novel you remember enjoying 45+ years ago, and to find that it pretty much holds up! That doesn't always happen, but it did in this case.