Disorienting and blurry, the subterranean world of Vonda McIntyre’s The Exile Waiting (1975) hosts a confusion of social structures that aren’t easily deciphered. The first few chapters are especially complicated as the first act winds its way through a series of tunnels and bends and broken thoughts as Mischa resists Gemmi’s empathic tugs, rescues a self-destructive Chris, and observes the so-called normalcy of this alien place called Center. Disjointed journal excerpts by an outsider named Jan intensify the narrative haze.
Center is a strange place. Unfamiliar in the ways it defies present-world logic (hired beggars; dormant political and mechanical power systems in some places, active in others; nuclear-crystal alchemy) and familiar in the ways it employs standard sci-fi tropes (telepathic communication, dog-eat-dog dystopia, pernicious underboob cleavage), but all of those odd details add up to a cohesive and thought-provoking framework from which McIntyre hangs her complex and many-tendriled tale. The claustrophobic and oppressive atmosphere is intertwined in each theme, where a potent mix of ageism, lookism, ableism, and toxic family systems has the potential to drag each character down into a self-hating pit of inaction. Some succumb; some overcome.Continue reading →
It’s Hugo Week! And it’s not that big of a deal! So you know what that means… it’s time to go… Back to the Hugos!
Hugo Year: 1976
1976 saw the beginning of the end of Apartheid, the Viking probes landed on Mars, and Nadia Comeneci stole the hearts of Olympics viewers worldwide.
Meanwhile, the FIRST MidAmeriCon was held in Kansas City, hosted by Wilson Tucker.
The Winner: THE FOREVER WAR by Joe Haldeman, followed by: DOORWAYS IN THE SAND by Roger Zelazny, INFERNO by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle, THE STOCHASTIC MAN by Robert Silverberg, and THE COMPUTER CONNECTION by Alfred Bester
Bester. If you’ve had any experience with his short fiction, or even his most famous novel, the first ever Hugo-winning novel, The Demolished Man (1952), you know he unleashes his prose at a gallop, with punchy, dynamic lingo that jabs, cuts, and bruises with unrelenting speed. The Demolished Man is special because that signature bold style is razor-sharp perfect for the unlikeable sociopathic protagonist and his foul point-of-view shaped by Freudian theory and old-fashioned mores. It’s a novel that’s powered by grating absurdity and ugly humanity, and could potentially put off modern readers not expecting such strong, repugnant flavors (and the taint of the poorly aged). Yet it’s a clever and transcendent way of telling a story about a guy attempting to literally get away with murder, in a telepathic world, no less. Continue reading →
I originally had all these great ideas for making fun of reviewing my latest Niven-Pournelle Hugo-nominated disaster read, the main one being that I was going to list every single character intro in this 100-and-some-odd number cast, a la Ross Putman @femscriptintros, just to demonstrate how ridiculous and sexist these guys are at character descriptions.
She was about Jeanette’s age, and she would have been pretty if she’d washed her face and put on some lipstick. She was frowning heavily as she drank coffee. (loc. 415).
It would’ve made for a long post, as some of those character descriptions get, er, lingering, but I was up for it.
“In 1975,” Marion Zimmer Bradley recalls in the middle preface of her Heritage and Exile omnibus edition, “I made a landmark decision; that in writing The Heritage of Hastur, I would not be locked into the basically immature concepts set forth in Sword, even at the sacrifice of consistency in the series” (401). This is promising, though not promising much, given the puerile nature of the 1962 Hugo-nominated science-fantasy novel The Sword of Aldones, which reads like a preteen’s self-insert fanfic that unself-consciously acts out sentimental scenes with her crush. (Here is my own version of this torture. Enjoy.)Continue reading →
A mathematical and political twist to the predictable oracular tale, the 1976 Hugo- and Nebula-nominated The Stochastic Man at first sight appears to be Robert Silverberg’s effort to legitimize one of SF’s favorite tropes, though he’s certainly not the first to try. Portraying telepathy as random probability forecasting in a political setting explains away many of the fanciful notions that might hinder the believability of yet-another SF work about preknowledge and predestination, but, considering earlier SF writers explored the same ideas with a similar conceit of logic, Null-A, and psychohistory, which, as Max Cairnduff cleverly reminds us in his review, is now called consulting, the attempt to blend superpowers with real-world reasoning is neither new nor fresh. What makes The Stochastic Man different from its pseudoscience ilk, aside from a gritty ‘70s essence, is that Silverberg draws from far older inspirations, adding a decidedly Faustian framework to this tale.Continue reading →
There’s going to be a lot of defensive denial from readers who look upon my copy of Walk to the End of the World (1974) by Suzy McKee Charnas with “The terrifying science fantasy about a world ruled by men” blurbed on the cover. Knee-jerk responses will vary from “pshh, that’s not fantasy, that’s reality” to “that would never happen this author is a man-hater.” The cover image of an enslaved woman kneeling before two stern-faced men is equally contentious. (cover below, for I could not bear to make it the lead image for this post. this red one over here isn’t much better.)
Rescue Squad regular crews go into fire and gas to rescue people. I go into their heads. Sometimes fire is better. (31)
Katherine MacLean’s telepathic cop tale set in a future New York is as technologically inventive as it is futuristically imaginative, where every page brims with a fresh take on the futuristic police procedural, along with plenty of nods to classic SF influences. It’s rare to find a forty-year-old SF novel that feels so buoyant, especially considering the depths she chooses to explore. MacLean is a resourceful writer, loyal to the genre style, but she adds a layer of psychological and sociological depth, relevant to the social discourse of her day. Much like Bester and Brunner before her, it’s an exciting, critical read, with her own blend of individualism and progressivism, though misguided at times. Continue reading →
When the Young Queen Jane of Viriconium gives hero Lord tegeus-Cromis the Tenth Ring of Neap from her glittering fingers as proof of authorization for his quest, the signaling of Tolkien motif is established. When Cromis promptly loses the Tenth Ring of Neap on his battled-scarred trek, and continues without it, ending the tale with the Queen’s fingers glittering with only nine Rings of Neap, the subversion of Arthurian myth is solidified. The loss of the Ring of Neap is the loss of the escape, and a promise of things to come: an attack on the senselessness of fantasy, of the imaginary, of the romantic, of the things I loved. In my youth.