Radio Free Albemuth (1976, pub. 1985) by Philip K. Dick

Radio Free Albemuth

I’m of two minds with Radio Free Albemuth (1976/1985), Dick’s posthumously published novel that precipitated his more famous VALIS trilogy. I pity the Phil (sorry) for the publication of this book, which, in his right mind, he never would have wanted the public to read in this condition. It reads like the shell of a story. He’s not the best writer, but he writes clean prose, and I’ve never seen him reliant on so much bad, awkward, abrupt, and pointless dialogue. It reads like something a CIA shill ghostwrote in order to make PKD look like a joke. (Which is actually something that happens in the book.) Continue reading

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Despatches from the Frontiers of the Female Mind (1985) ed. by Jen Green and Sarah Lefanu

DespatchesFromTheFrontiersoftheFemaleMind

Feather earring, or sparks flying out of her ear?

From the cheesy cover to the confining title, it’s no wonder few have read Despatches from the Frontiers of the Female Mind, edited by Jen Green and Sarah Lefanu. The 1985 anthology of feminist SF welds together a wide variety of feminist SF stories from veteran and budding SF writers of the period who contribute tales that lean on some aspect of womanhood, exploring potential utopias to dreadful dystopias, while sparking reflection on the present.  Continue reading

The knights who say ‘Neap’: Viriconium (1971-1984) by M. John Harrison

Viriconium1

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.

It becomes …the first infection of the human reality… (225) Continue reading

Grass (1989) by Sheri S. Tepper

Grass1A planet of rainbow meadows! Rippling grass plains of psychedelia! It’s a setting ripped straight from my ‘80s cartoon-fueled childhood fantasies. With a one-word, exclamatory opening (“Grass!”), followed by rhythmic, semantically-repetitive exaltations of unworldly beauty of this agro-fantasy landscape, it brings to mind the overzealous theme chorus of Hair, the musical, (am I the only one?)

…and a very contrary feeling of eerie disquiet that never goes away… Continue reading

Cuckoo’s Egg (1985) by C. J. Cherryh

CuckoosEgg1I was familiar with C. J. Cherryh before I became familiar with THE C. J. Cherryh, thanks to the time, way back when, I googled something ubiquitous– though, I thought it was pretty unique– “female science fiction writer.” A strict fantasy reader at the time, I wasn’t interested in the harsh realities of space, but I was looking for something different because fantasy was starting to wear on me. I kept Cherryh’s name in mind and eventually stumbled across the first of her Foreigner series in a messy little secondhand bookstore near Rice University. I thought the diplomacy plot would appeal to my poli-sci sensibilities and it did. I liked it okay. And it felt exactly the way I expected space opera fiction to feel.

Nowadays, I’m a little more informed about THE C. J. Cherryh, and her place in sci-fi history, and since reading Foreigner, I’ve noticed that Cherry’s style is almost always described as cold, distant, and dry. Sometimes, mechanical. These descriptors are always loaded as a caveat, as if her writing should be warm, inviting, nurturing—just like all the other warm and fuzzy space opera authors clogging the bookshelves. Well, let’s just come out and say what those well-intentioned reviewers really mean: She is a woman, so where is her writerly womb? Continue reading

Tales of the Dying Earth (2000 omnibus) by Jack Vance

TalesoftheDyingEarth2000Examining an author’s work over the course of four decades often takes time and some degree of commitment, but the 2000 omnibus of Jack Vance’s stories set in his most popular and influential fictional world, Tales of the Dying Earth (2000), provides us with an array of textures from a long and varied career.

And array, it is. For each one of the four Dying Earth books does something different, and the differences in quality are vast. Among these four installments of fix-ups and restarts, we encounter three versions of Vance.

Vance #1: Vance? Continue reading

Back to the Hugos: 1985!

The Hugo Awards are this weekend! But time-travel Hugos are much more fun! So, let’s go back to the Hugos: 1985!

The member vote for Best Novel:

Neuromancer1emergence1ThePeaceWar2JobAComedyofJusticeTheIntegralTrees1
The Winner: Just a little book called Neuromancer. 

 

My pretend, retro Hugo ballot for Best Novel:

Neuromancer1emergence1TheIntegralTrees1ThePeaceWar2JobAComedyofJustice

Hugo voters, we actually almost agree! Neuromancer is tops, now that I’m accustomed to the wacked out, cyber megatext, and Gibson’s shifty show-don’t-tell-wait-don’t-even-show style. And Emergence became an instant favorite of mine, thanks to the insane plot twists, and despite the Russian-commies-are-evil gag. (Eh, it’s the eighties.)

As for the bottom of the ballot, all three books were just okay. I enjoyed The Integral Trees for those sexy sex scenes– haha, just kidding, those sex scenes were awkward as hell, but the weird physics and flying whales were pretty cool. The Peace War is a story I could easily picture on FX or USA or Lifetime television networks, and you can interpret that however you like.

I would probably No Award Heinlein. If I had grown up reading him, I’d be ready to tell him to fuck off by ’85. Probably sooner. (Definitely sooner.)

*****

According to some Schmuck Fuppy commentary I’ve seen around, 1985 was the death knell of the Hugo Awards– the final year that Hugo voters recognized deserving fiction, and just before the bleeding-heart libs Affirmative Actioned the fun out of science fiction, while the snooty lit-crits meta’d themselves. ‘Twas the year that Pew-Pew-Space-Cadet died… so many sadz…

But so many wrongz.

Pew-Pew-Space-Cadet died decades before 1985, and if anything is dead in the eighties, it’s the (liberal) (wild) (metatastic) New Wave movement, which left behind a great, big stink of drab, commercial fiction, and a regular rotation of reliably conservative authors (and some equally drab, commercial, liberal authors, let’s be honest). 1985 is certainly a conservative-heavy list, but that is more likely to repeat after 1985, rather than before.

So what are the Schmucks actually mourning after 1985? Is it an arbitrary, made up date, or, perhaps, is this misdirected sadness because they just happen to miss Neuromancer‘s “particular flavor”?

WARNING: Conservative enjoyment of Neuromancer may indicate latent liberal tendencies. Side effects include being sad, manufacturing controversy, and avoiding space opera throwbacks because feminine pronouns are scary.