Tag Archives: 1970s

Universe 4 – Edited by Terry Carr 1974

519QW9-HHhL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_Like our last post this too is a collection of rather random sci-fi goodness but this one is from the 70s. I give a brief reflection on my thoughts after reading each story below.

Assault on a City – Jack Vance
At 48 pages this one is a full-blown novella. At its heart, it is a story of class struggles in a future that has taken fashion to an amusing extreme. It’s a solid story and an easy read in an hour.

A Sea of Faces – Robert Silverberg
At under 20 pages this brief foray into the genre is primarily psychological. In it a woman with a mental disorder is treated and we see the situation from inside the mind of the patient. The trip back to consciousness is illustrated as a journey on a mysterious floating island that has to be steered back to the mainland so the patient can rejoin the rest of society.

And Read the Flesh Between the Lines – R. A. Lafferty
In this brief story we have what I would categorize as an alternative history of sorts. Our protagonist, if he can be called such, has an Australopithecus as a servant and lectures his guests that a full third of history has been intentionally wiped from the collective recollection of society. This is a bizarre and rather surreal tale and one would not go amiss in noting that what it lacks in plot it makes up for in setting of the scene.

My Sweet Lady Jo – Howard Waldrop
Weighing in at under 20 pages this one reads like a twilight zone script. I will attempt not to spoil but know merely that it has a wry twist at the end. I cannot claim that it’s a terribly original twist but a twist none the less. In the story, man has bridged the gap between the stars but is still in the early, clumsy phase that requires him to sleep away the decades waiting. One such intrepid group has made the journey to Terra Nova and back again. How will they get on with the people of Earth who have passed decades while they slumbered?

Stungun Slim – Ron Goulart
This is a story of a stark but fairly realistic future. Interestingly, I find that of all the stories in this collection, this one stuck with me the least. The only lasting impressions I have is of public executions and insane personal debt with the most notable item being a $4,000 personal computer from the J.C. Penney catalog.

Desert Places – Pamela Sargent
Like a previous story, this one reads like a Twilight Zone episode. In it, we follow a family as they move from house to house attempting to stay ahead of some destructive force that’s gobbling up their world. At the end we find that the destructive force…. well, now I wouldn’t tell you that, now would I? That would be obvious spoilage. Suffice to say that it’s a keen allegory that has played out a million times on a million worlds including our own

If the Stars Are Gods – Gordon Eklund and Gregory Benford
Of all the stories in this collection, this is probably my favorite. In a nutshell, aliens visit the Earth and they want to talk to the entity in charge. Which, it turns out, they believe to be the sun. The story goes into a fair amount of detail about how the aliens came to believe in the sentient nature of stars and points out effectively how our physical environment shapes our long-term mental framework about how the universe works. At the risk of somewhat of a spoiler I will reveal that the aliens evolved on a planet with an extremely elliptical orbit and large axial tilt so their seasons were acutely variable in temperature. At certain points when proximity to the sun coincided with the proper angle of inclination to the sun entire populations had to pick up and move to the other side of the planet. One wonders how early life could possibly evolve in such conditions but it does make one ponder the ramifications of such an arrangement. At any rate, as has been amply illustrated by my prolonged babbling, this one made an impression.

When the Vertical World Becomes Horizontal – Alexei Panshin
In direct opposition to my feelings about the previous story, this one left me flat. Clearly some huge mental shift is taking place in humanity during the course of the story but it is intentionally kept vague and impenetrable to the point that I cannot muster any emotion from this story at all.

And there you have it. Well, there I have it. I don’t honestly expect anyone to read these but some future version of me that’s trying to remember what that weird book was that had the story of the aliens that looked like the Apple logo. So hello, Future me! How’s it going? Did we ever figure out what that weird growth was in the corner of the back yard or did it take over the universe?

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Books: The 1977 Annual World’s Best Science Fiction

1977 World's Best SF

1977 World’s Best SF. Click to buy your own copy

Rather intermittently I’ve written about sci-fi and I find that if I don’t take the time to slow down and write something out then I promptly forget whatever it is that I just read.  This post is not only an attempt to share but also one of self-preservation for my own recollection.

Appearance of Life – Brian W. Aldiss

The introductory paragraph for this story says, and I quote, that Brian has been writing stories that “baffle the comprehension.”  I don’t find personally that this story is completely beyond my comprehension but I will say that such a statement does little to recommend such a narrative.  The bits that stand out for me, many days after reading this story, center around a planet-wide museum constructed by an ancient and extinct race.  Our narrator visits the locale and spends many months seeking out some greater truth about our history as a species.  Eventually, he comes to a conclusion which his mind cannot accept, that drives him mad, that causes him to extract himself from humanity entirely lest he loose this knowledge upon the universe and create havoc.

Overdrawn at the Memory Bank – John Varley

If this book were a pop song, this story would be “the hook.”  Our narrator, in a far distant time is visiting the equivalent of Disney World.  He’s having his consciousness implanted into an African lion for a few weeks to relax and disconnect from the world around him.  Unfortunately, when he returns from his excursion he finds that his real body has been misplaced.  In the months and months which follow while Uncle Walt looks for his body, he discovers a few key truths about himself and about mankind in general.

Those Good Old Days of Liquid Fuel – Michael G. Coney

The Wonder Years meets Trainspotting.  ’nuff said.

The Hertford Manuscript – Richard Cowper

In this short tale Cowper does a fairly reasonable job of filling in some of the narrative holes left in H.G. Wells “The Time Machine”.  Cowper’s protagonist doesn’t come to anything approaching a happy ending but it is good nonetheless to have an answer, even if it isn’t the most uplifting one.

Natural Advantage – Lester Del Rey

Aliens are nice enough to visit Earth, but sadly, it’s with nothing but bad news.  A solar flare is coming to wipe us off the face of the planet within the decade.  This particular race has trinocular vision and that allows them to not only perceive depth of field but depth of time and thus they can see that our puny race is about to snuff it.  At least they’re nice enough to tell us though, right?  After delivering their news they agree to an exchange of technology with our sadly doomed race and go on their way.  When they return to their homeworld years later they find that humanity had a little more ingenuity than they bargained for.

The Bicentennial Man – Isaac Asimov

In this old and familiar story we find a robot with an ambition.  Before the story of this robot there was a wooden marionette with the same ambition.  So many are the articles of furniture which yearn to be human.  Why do we write of such things?  Is it possibly because we want to make our finite and human frailties seem somehow valuable?  The Bicentennial Man yearns to be human, to expire, to pass on from a mortal existence.  How many of us would give everything to NOT be human?

The Cabinet of Oliver Naylor – Barrington Bayley

Mankind’s technology has outpaced his morality.  He can travel not only faster than light but exponentially faster.  He can cruise about the cosmos and watch every possible sitcom produced mechanically by a simple box.  (Not that there are all that many possible combinations mind you).  So what WOULD happen if the entirety of the omniverse became the equivalent of the wild west?

My Boat – Joanna Russ

A young black girl close on the heels of the civil rights movement proves to be more than she might seem.  In fact she might be downright alien…

Houston, Houston, Do You Read? – James Tiptree Jr.

Our protagonists were on a mission.  All they had to do was loop around the sun and come back to Earth.  Unfortunately for them, the Earth has changed since they left, especially since 300 years passed when they approached perihelion.  Pesky temporal distortions.  Plague has ravaged the planet they’re returning to and they’re the last three human males in the universe.  What greater paradise could there be?  Or perhaps it’s really hell in disguise….

I See You – Damon Knight

Television has come a long way.  Now you can dial in the time and location of whatever you want to view, even your next door neighbor.  What exactly WOULD happen if all of history both distant and recent was wide open to scrutiny from a hoard of people with a $7 gadget from Radio Shack?


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