1969


Across a Billion Years: An optimistic story about humanity

Across a Billion Years by Robert Silverberg

In Across a Billion Years (1969), Robert Silverberg introduces us to Tom Rice, a young archaeologist in training, who is writing to his twin sister on their 22nd birthday in 2375. While Tom feels some guilt that he is on the most exciting field trip in the history of Earth while his paralyzed sister is confined to a hospital bed, he is still eager to tell her about his work and he knows that she is just as eager to hear about it.

Tom’s diverse team, which includes some non-human specialists, is visiting a site where they hope to uncover artifacts of the High Ones, an ancient race of superior beings who were travelling in space before humans existed. They haven’t been seen in a long time and are presumed to be extinct. Tom’s team hopes to get clues about the High Ones’ physiology and culture as well as to find out what happened to them. When they dig up a... Read More

The Face in the Frost: A short, charming, classic fantasy

The Face in the Frost by John Bellairs

Thanks to Tantor Media for giving us a wonderful audio edition of The Face in the Frost, John Bellairs’ short classic fantasy novel which was first published in 1969. It’s performed by Eric Michael Summerer and is 5 hours long.

Prospero is a small-time wizard who lives in a small kingdom. Lately he’s been noticing some odd occurrences around his house and starts to suspect that something sinister is going on.

When his studious and adventurous friend Roger Bacon (also a wizard) arrives for a visit, the two friends decide to investigate. They suspect that an evil wizard may be stalking them. To get off Prospero’s property without being seen by the evil wizard’s minions, they shrink themselves and escape down the stream on a toy boat.


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Jirel of Joiry: A truly marvelous fantasy collection from C.L. Moore

Jirel of Joiry by C.L. Moore

Just recently, I had some words to say regarding the stories that Golden Age sci-fi/fantasy author C.L. Moore placed in Weird Tales magazine, during the 1930s, that dealt with the futuristic smuggler/spaceman Northwest Smith. But as most fans of Catherine Lucille Moore will readily tell you, Smith was not the only character from this beloved writer who made semiregular appearances in the legendary pulp that decade. From October ’34 until April ’39, Moore also regaled readers with a wholly different character: Jirel of Joiry. Whereas the Smith series runs to a total of 11 stories, starting in November ’33 and winding up with a belated coda in June ’57, the Jirel series consists of a mere half dozen tales. The Smith series is an amalgam of sci-fi, fantasy and horror, set in a futuristic, space-age setting, whereas the ... Read More

The Book of Imaginary Beings: Would make a great gift

The Book of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges

Jorge Luis Borges’s The Book of Imaginary Beings (1969) introduces readers to the origins and characteristics of creatures like the Chimera, the Chinese Dragon, the Jinn, and the Western Dragon. Although I am hardly a scholar when it comes to monsters and imaginary beings, I was still impressed by how many of 155 creatures included here were entirely new to me.

This book might seem limited to some twenty-first century readers, so let’s acknowledge these concerns (if only to get them out of the way). First of all, there is no entry on the demogorgan because this book was published decades ago. Second, many of the creatures listed here have longer entries on Wikipedia. Wikipedia’s article about the Read More

The Jagged Orbit: A dark, unsettling read

The Jagged Orbit by John Brunner

The 1950s and 60s was a time in the US rife with social tension and conflict. With unpopular wars being fought on foreign soil, blood was also being shed on American streets as ethnic, gender, and counter-culture concerns often turned to violence. Partially a reaction to these social issues, the New Wave science fiction movement, spearheaded by such writers as Ursula Le GuinSamuel DelanyRobert Silverberg, Barry Malzberg, Joanna Russ, and others shifted the genre’s gears, moving away from a hard science, extra-terrestrial focus toward Earth-side concerns. John Brunner is an author who made the shift — highly succ... Read More

Ubik: Use only as directed

Ubik by Philip K. Dick

Warning: Use only as directed. And with caution.

Written in 1969, Ubik is one of Philip K. Dick’s most popular science fiction novels. It’s set in a future 1992 where some humans have develop psi and anti-psi powers which they are willing to hire out to individuals or companies who want to spy (or block spying) on others. Also in this alternate 1992, if you’ve got the money, you can put your beloved recently-deceased relatives into “coldpac” where they can be stored in half-life and you can visit with them for years after their death.

As Ubik begins, Glen Runciter, the head of one of New York City’s top anti-psi organizations, discovers that all the operatives of the top psi organization (whose telepathic fields they like to keep track of) have disappeared. This means less work for Runciter’s employees ... Read More

Up the Line: Fornicating in ancient Byzantium — shameless time travel porn

Up the Line by Robert Silverberg

Robert Silverberg was clearly a big fan of sex back in the late 1960s, and I’m sure he wasn’t the only one. But in Up the Line, he absolutely revels in it. He doesn’t miss a chance for his (all male) characters to fornicate with women at every possible opportunity both in the future and the past, in dozens of exotic time periods in Byzantium, Constantinople, Rome, etc. The act may be as old as time, but that doesn’t stop Time Courier Judd Elliot from trying to bed his great-great-great grandmother Pulcharia with a lusty enthusiasm and complete disregard for all social taboos that have existed for millennia. Sure, it’s generally a serious no-no in society to screw your ancestors, but when she is as saucy a sex-kitten as Pulcharia, well who can blame Judd? At least that is the irreverent... Read More

Fourth Mansions: Thanks, Jen!

Fourth Mansions by R.A. Lafferty

Despite it having been given pride of place in Scottish critic David Pringle’s Modern Fantasy: The 100 Best Novels, and despite the fact that it has been sitting on my bookshelf for many years, it was only last week that I finally got around to reading R.A. Lafferty’s 1969 cult item Fourth Mansions. The author’s reputation for eccentricity, both in terms of subject matter as well as writing style, had long intimidated me, I suppose. But just recently, Jen, one of the managers of NYC sci-fi bookstore extraordinaire Singularity, was enthusing to me about her recent acquisition of a first edition of Lafferty’s 1970 short story collection Nine Hundred Grandmothers for only $40, and I suppose that her enthusiasm proved contagious in my case, as I manfully dove into Fourth Mansions Read More

The Philosopher’s Stone: A great book by an evolutionary “throw forward”

The Philosopher’s Stone by Colin Wilson

In her article on Colin Wilson in the May 30, 2004 Observer, reporter Lynn Barber mentioned that the author, then 73, had seemingly read "every book ever written." She also noted that Wilson claimed never to have thrown a book away, and that his home library in Cornwall contained approximately 30,000 volumes. Well, any reader who delves into the author's 1969 offering, The Philosopher's Stone, is not likely to dispute those statements. Though chosen for inclusion in Cawthorn & Moorcock's Fantasy: The 100 Best Books, the novel could just as easily have been placed on a Top 100 Horror or Science Fiction list, and its range of literary, cultural, historical and anthropological reference is immense. In his 1961 book ... Read More

To Live Again: Silverberg in the full flush of his considerable power

To Live Again by Robert Silverberg

By the time Robert Silverberg released To Live Again in 1969, he had already come out with no less than three dozen science-fiction novels and several hundred short stories, all in a period of only 15 years! The amazingly prolific author had entered a more mature and literate phase in his writing career in 1967, starting with his remarkable novel Thorns, and by 1969 was on some kind of a genuine roll. Just one of six sci-fi novels that Silverberg came out with that year (including the Nebula-winning Nightwings and my personal favorite of this author so far, Downward to the Earth), To Live Again initially appeared as a Doubleday hardcover and, surprisingly, was NOT nominated for a Hugo or Nebula award. To this... Read More

The Compleat Werewolf: 10 horror stories

The Compleat Werewolf  by Anthony Boucher

The Compleat Werewolf and Other Stories of Fantasy and Science Fiction gathers together 10 short stories and novellas from the pen of Anthony Boucher, all of which originally appeared in various pulp magazines (such as Unknown Worlds, Adventure Magazine, Astounding Science Fiction, Weird Tales and Thrilling Wonder Stories) from 1941-'45. Boucher, whose real name was William Anthony Parker White, was a man of many talents, and during his career, which lasted from the early '40s to the late '50s, he worked as a magazine editor, a book reviewer (for The New York Times and New York Herald Tribune) and an author of science fiction, horror and mystery.

I initially learned of this Compleat Werewolf collection of 1969 f... Read More

Emphyrio: One of Vance’s more ideological pieces

Emphyrio by Jack Vance

After establishing himself as a writer of short fiction, Jack Vance began to shift toward novels in the 1960s. Given more space (ha!) to create, his unique voice rounded into form and imagination, and the decade can be marked as the upswing of his career — particularly given the exclamation point the TSCHAI: PLANET OF ADVENTURE series places on the end. Tucked neatly in the middle of the publishing of these four novels, however, is a stand-alone novel: Emphyrio. Interestingly, the title is not taken from the name of a locale or culture, as is usual with Vance, but from a legend innate to the tale. Singling it out further, the book is one of Vance’s more ideological pieces; there are ominous elements of socialism and the value of historical knowledge is expanded. The capricious storytelling, vivid setting, and resourceful hero remain classic Vance, however.

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Creatures of Light and Darkness: Not Zelazny’s best

Creatures of Light and Darkness by Roger Zelazny

In the early part of his career, and in an indirect sense throughout it, Roger Zelazny combed Earth’s cultures, religions, and legends for story material. His brilliant Lord of Light and This Immortal riffing off Hindu/Buddhist and Greek mythology respectively, he established himself as a writer who combined the classic themes of myth and legend with more modern, imaginative tropes of science fiction and fantasy. His 1969 Creatures of Light and Darkness is no exception.

Egyptian myth and cosmology is the source material for Creatures of Light and Darkness, an epic tale of warring gods where space and time have little meaning — or all the meaning, if the story is viewed as a whole. Stakeholders in universal power, Osiris, Set, Anubis, Isis, and a variety of other deities from E... Read More

Nightwings: One of Silverberg’s more charming creations

Nightwings by Robert Silverberg

Originally appearing as three separate but linked novellas in the pages of Galaxy magazine, Robert Silverberg's Nightwings was, remarkably, the author's 35th science fiction novel in 15 years; just one of six that he came out with in 1969 alone (the others being Across a Billion Years, the remarkable Downward to the Earth, Three Survived, To Live Again, and Up the Line). Released during one of Silverberg's most prolific and highly creative phases, during which he pushed back the para... Read More

Galactic Pot-Healer: Unpredictable and fascinating from beginning to end

Galactic Pot-Healer by Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick's 24th published science fiction novel, the whimsically titled Galactic Pot-Healer, first saw the light of day as a Berkley Medallion paperback in June 1969, with a cover price of 60 cents. It both followed up and preceded two of its author's finest and most beloved works, 1968's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and 1969's Ubik, and if not in the same rarefied league as those two, remains a fine yet mystifying addition to the Dickian canon nevertheless.

In Galactic Pot-Healer, in the dystopian Cleveland of 2046, we meet a depressed individual named Joe Fernwright. A ceramics repairman in a world now largely gone plastic, Joe spends his useless days sitting in a cubicle, waiting for work that never comes and playing retranslated word games via computer with "friends" around the globe (a la the Internet games of today!). Joe's lot is... Read More

The Green Man: Genuinely creepy

The Green Man by Kingsley Amis

Kingsley Amis's sole horror novel, The Green Man, had long been on my list of "must read" books, for the simple reason that it has been highly recommended by three sources that I trust. British critic David Pringle chose it for inclusion in his overview volume Modern Fantasy: The 100 Best Novels, as did Michael Moorcock in Fantasy: The 100 Best Books AND Brian Aldiss in Horror: 100 Best Books. As it turns out, all of this praise is not misplaced, and Amis's 1969 novel of modern-day satire and the supernatural is as entertaining as can be.

The tale concerns a middle-aged man named Maurice Allington, who owns an inn called The Green Man in rural Hertfordshire, not far from Cambridge. Alli... Read More

Slaughterhouse-Five: Seems pointless, but that’s the point

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

[In our Edge of the Universe column, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.]

Kurt Vonnegut was a POW in Dresden during World War II. He only survived the allies’ bombing of Dresden because the Germans housed the American prisoners in a meat-locker in a building they called Slaughterhouse-Five. For years afterward, Vonnegut attempted to write a book about his experiences, and in 1969 he eventually produced Slaughterhouse-Five, a fictional biography of one of his fellow soldiers who he calls Billy Pilgrim. In the first chapter of Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut explains that his nov... Read More

Flame Winds: Entertaining, but doesn’t hold up to REH

Flame Winds by Norvell W. Page

The mighty Prester John, aka Hurricane John, whom the Mongols call Wan Tengri, is a red-bearded champion from the Roman gladiatorial arenas. He seeks fortune and glory in the lands of the East, while also spreading Christianity by way of conquest. His wanderings bring him to the edge of the Karakorum Desert where lies the mysterious city of Turghol. Turghol is said to have many riches and a beautiful princess, but is controlled by seven evil Wizards of Khasimer who are the masters of the Flame Winds, a deadly storm that burns any who challenge them to cinder.

As is stated on the beautifully illustrated cover, Flame Winds is a heroic fantasy in the CONAN tradition. Norvell Page’s author’s note explains that he was fascinated by the medieval tales of the heroic Catholic priest Prester John who may have actually been a famous gladiator. Read More

The Andromeda Strain: A mediocre novel about extra-terrestrial bacteria

The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton

[In our Edge of the Universe column, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.]

When Michael Crichton wrote The Andromeda Strain, he was not just writing a mediocre novel about extra-terrestrial bacteria. He was founding a (sub) genre of SFF that found a massive mainstream audience.

The techno-thriller has all of the pacing and suspense that we might expect of a John Grisham novel, but it also contains the encyclopedic detail that readers expect to find in “hard science fiction.”

To be honest, I’ve always been skeptical of the “techno-thriller... Read More