1960


The Night of the Long Knives: Totally absorbing

The Night of the Long Knives by Fritz Leiber

Free on Kindle.

Murder, as you must know by now, I can understand and sympathize with deeply. But war? No.

After a nuclear holocaust, America is unrecognizable. There are a few cities left on the coasts, but most of America is now the Deathlands, where radioactive dust hazes the skies and radiation-scarred survivors try to stay alive another day. Besides devastating the land, the catastrophe has somehow warped the minds of the few remaining citizens of the Deathlands; they have all turned into murderers. They can’t help it — it’s a drive that can only be released by killing someone. Even when they band together for companionship, it always ends up in a bloodbath.

Ray has been on his own for a long time when he meets Alice, a woman who’s just as tough as he is. When the two ... Read More

Trouble with Lichen: Complications of eternal youth

Trouble with Lichen by John Wyndham

Published in 1960, John Wyndham’s Trouble with Lichen tells the story of Diana Brackley, a revolutionary, a feminist, and a scientist.

Diana is considered odd because although she is attractive, she does not want to marry. Instead, she is dedicated to her career in the lab, and it is there that she makes her amazing discovery: a type of lichen that slows the aging process. Diana decides to use the lichen to empower women, and she sets up a beauty clinic that caters to rich and influential women (more often, unfortunately, women who are married to rich and influential men). Her goal is to create a class of powerful women who will shield her project and her dreams against the ... Read More

Dr. Futurity: An underrated Dick outing

Dr. Futurity by Philip K. Dick

As I mentioned in my review of Philip K. Dick’s 1960 novel Vulcan’s Hammer, by 1959, the future Hugo winner was feeling decidedly disenchanted with science fiction in general, despite having had published some 85 short stories and half a dozen novels in that genre. The author, it seems, was still pinning his hopes on becoming a more “respectable,” mainstream writer, and had indeed already completed nine such novels: Return to Lilliput, Pilgrim on the Hill and A Time for George Stavros are considered lost, probably never to see the light of day, whereas Gather Yourselves Together, Voices Fr... Read More

Vulcan’s Hammer: Minor Dick, but still very entertaining

Vulcan’s Hammer by Philip K. Dick

According to Philip K. Dick authority Lawrence Sutin, in his well-researched biography Divine Invasions, by 1959, although Dick had already had some 85 short stories as well as half a dozen novels published, his interest in creating more sci-fi had reached a low point. The future Hugo winner was at this point hoping to become more of a mainstream author, having by this time already written nine such novels, none of which had been published … yet. Still, with bills to pay, a wife (his third of an eventual five) to support, and his first child on the way, economic necessities did, it seem, perforce drive him back, unenthusiastically, to the sci-fi realm. Two of the results from this period are Read More

A Fine and Private Place: A gentle tale of love, death, and lost souls

A Fine and Private Place by Peter S. Beagle

Peter S. Beagle is a well-known author of many fantasy novels, including the classic The Last Unicorn. However, I don’t often hear mention of his debut novel, A Fine and Private Place (1960), written when he was only 19 years old. Given his age it’s a phenomenal achievement — the prose is polished, filled with pathos and humor, and the characters’ relationships are deftly described. And yet I couldn’t get into the story at all, because there was almost no dramatic tension of any kind — just two central romantic relations, one between two people lonely and disconnected in the living world, and one between two recently deceased spirits not ready to let go of life.

The story bears remarkable similarities to Read More

The High Crusade: Science fantasy silliness

The High Crusade by Poul Anderson

In his wonderful breakdown of the genre in The Strategies of Fantasy, Brian Atterbery devotes an entire chapter to the sub-genre of science fantasy, stating that of the “works that mingle the rhetoric of science fiction with that of fantasy, nearly all can be classed as either humorous or mythological.” Though citing a scene from A Princess of Mars wherein love develops between a human male and an egg-laying Martian, what Atterbery is too coy to say directly is that humor and absurdity go hand-in-hand. But he does not mention Poul Anderson’s 1960 novel The High Crusade, which may, in fact, be the poster example of science fantasy silliness.

How does this look on a genre wall: medieval English kn... Read More

Unearthly Neighbors: A hugely satisfying novel of first contact

Unearthly Neighbors by Chad Oliver

The conventional wisdom for aspiring writers has long been “Write what you know,” a piece of advice that Cincinnati-born author Chad Oliver apparently took to heart. Greatly interested in the field of anthropology, Oliver, over the course of seven novels stretching from 1952 - ’76, as well as four collections of short stories, eventually carved out a place for himself as one of the leading lights in that curious subgenre known as anthropological science fiction. And the author was hardly a dabbler in his chosen scholarly field. In 1961, he wrote a doctoral thesis (under his real name, Symmes Chadwick Oliver) entitled Ecology and Cultural Continuity as Contributing Factors in the Social Organization of the Plains Indians (you can purchase it in book form on Amazon, if that title doesn’t intimidate you too much!); his textbook Read More

Planet of Death: Action-packed, light on theme

Planet of Death by Robert Silverberg

Planet of Death by Robert Silverberg is an enjoyable read, but it was the first story/novel I've read of his that was this light on theme, which for me is central to good literature. I know that exploring complex themes is also of primary concern for Silverberg because he emphasizes theme in almost all of the forty-plus stories he included in his short story collections covering the period of time before his writing Planet of Death in 1960. In fact, of all the early stories I've read by him, only a few were written as pure action with no thematic attempt on his part.

Silverberg discusses in several places in the introductions to his short stories in In the Beginning and Read More

Venus Plus X: The first hermaphroditic science fiction novel

Venus Plus X by Theodore Sturgeon

Charlie Johns has woken up in a strange place called Ledom (that’s “model” spelled backwards) in what appears to be a future where human beings have evolved. These future humans have some really amazing technology, there’s no night, they don’t require sleep, they’ve cured many diseases, and there’s no pollution, poverty, or war.

But what’s most significant is that they’ve abolished gender — humans are now hermaphrodites. Charlie sees men who are pregnant, taking care of babies, and wearing pink bikini underwear. As he lives among these people who have no differentiated gender roles, he considers where he came from and realizes how the little biological detail of sex has had such a powerful affect on human history, society and culture.

If one purpose of science fiction is to speculate about possible futures by anticipating how advances in technology and culture might affect t... Read More