The Little Broomstick: A strange and mysterious little story

The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart

Having recently watched Mary and the Witch's Flower, I was curious about how it measured up to its source material, particularly since I usually read the book before watching its filmic adaptation.

And The Little Broomstick (1971) is a strange little book in so many ways: beautifully written, with plenty of haunting passages, but with a story and setting that would have been served well with a lot more detail and background. Imagine Hogwarts School without any sense of its history — though Endor College predates Harry Potter by over two decades, there are so many unanswered questions about why it exists and who attends.

Mary Smith is a ten year old girl who's thoroughly unhappy with her current situation: bundled off to the Shropshire countryside, separa... Read More

A Meeting with Medusa: A vivid Silver Age imagining of Jupiter

A Meeting with Medusa by Arthur C. Clarke

If speculative fiction has any stranglehold on literature, it’s the lack of limitations to the question: what if? Fantasy is a complete expression of this facet, while science fiction tugs lightly on the reins lest the imagination escape reality entirely. In Arthur C. Clarke’s 1971 novella A Meeting with Medusa, Jupiter is that reality. Clarke penned the novella for anyone who ever wondered what being in the gas giant’s atmosphere might be like. It is awash with vivid visuals, but the fantastic elements threaten to run away with the story.

Howard Falcon is a top dirigible pilot, and at the outset of the story is found captaining the world’s largest dirigible, Queen Elizabeth IV, above the Grand Canyon. Piloting this 1,500-foot-long, multi-chambere... Read More

The Lathe of Heaven: Dreaming of Utopia

The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. LeGuin

When George Orr sleeps, he sometimes has “effective” dreams that alter reality. Believing that he has no right to effect such changes, George begins taking drugs to suppress the dreams. As the drugs lose their efficacy, George ups the dosage, exceeding legal limits. George is caught and ordered to choose between therapy and asylum. He chooses therapy and is sent to Dr. William Haber. When Haber realizes that George is not crazy and that these “effective” dreams indeed change reality, the psychiatrist decides to make the world a better place.

And why not? Overpopulated, polluted, radioactive, and starving – humanity’s near future is an age of terrible consequences. The world could use a dreamer, figures Haber, so he hypnotizes George to shape the future.

By the end of the first week, the weather is warm and sunny, George wakes up to discover that he owns a cottage, ... Read More

The Traveler in Black: Short stories by Brunner

The Traveler in Black by John Brunner

Breaking into the business with Silver Age space opera but putting himself on the map by writing intelligent dystopia with a social conscience, for a brief moment John Brunner put aside science fiction and dabbled in fantasy. After the success of Stand on ZanzibarThe Jagged Orbit, and The Sheep Look Up, he wrote the four novelettes starring the other-wordly traveler in black. Unconventional to say the least, the eponymous collection is fantasy without being fantasy. A wizard (of sorts) may be the common thread binding the stories together, but humanity is at stake. The novelettes thus embrace the general idea of genre, but eschew its epic-ness in favor of parables.
He h... Read More

The Futurological Congress: An endlessly imaginative novel

The Futurological Congress by Stanislaw Lem

Numerous are the stories in science fiction in which populations have been brainwashed to believe an ideal, most often the opposite of what we hold dear. A sub-genre in itself, advertisements have been used (The Space Merchants), narcotics (The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch), propaganda (We), technology (Brave New World), emotions (The Giver), totalitarian control (... Read More

Hell House: A short, enjoyable read

Hell House by Richard Matheson

Richard Matheson’s short novel Hell House (1971) follows a group of four experts with various supernatural-related backgrounds who seek to prove or disprove the existence of ghosts in a super-creepy home that’s become known as Hell House. And a hellish house it is indeed.

The roots of the story are built on a foundation of gothic horror, and I couldn’t help but be reminded of H.P. Lovecraft’s very heavy and mythic language throughout Matheson’s story.
They all stared through the windows at the curling fog. It was as though they rode inside a submarine, slowly navigating downward through a sea of curdled milk.
The following exposition describes what the group sees as they approach the house for the... Read More

Vermilion Sands: A desert resort for artists, former film stars, and wealthy eccentrics

Vermilion Sands by J.G. Ballard

J.G. Ballard’s Vermilion Sands (1971) was first published as a U.S. paperback by Berkley in 1971, and was then published by Cape in the U.K. as a hardback in 1973. It contained the following stories:

"Prima Belladonna" (1956), "The Thousand Dreams of Stellavista " (1962), "Cry Hope, Cry Fury!" (1966), "Venus Smiles" (1957), "Studio 5, The Stars" (1961), "The Cloud-Sculptors of Coral D" (1967), "Say Goodbye to the Wind" (1970), "The Screen Game" (1962), "The Singing Statues" (1962)

Sometimes you encounter a book that is intelligent, brilliantly-written, wryly-humorous, hypnotic, and almost completely resistant to description without reducing it to triviality. The stories here showcase artists of different mediums, faded film stars now dwelling in obscurity... Read More

A Time of Changes: Silverberg finally wins the Nebula Award

A Time of Changes by Robert Silverberg

After four years of successive losses, sci-fi great Robert Silverberg finally picked up his first Nebula Award in 1972. His 1967 novel Thorns had lost to Samuel R. Delany's The Einstein Intersection, his brilliant 1968 novel The Masks of Time had been bested by Alexei Panshin's equally brilliant Rite of Passage, 1969's time travel tale Read More

The Queen of Air and Darkness and Other Stories: Well-written but overstuffed

The Queen of Air and Darkness and Other Stories by Poul Anderson

Short story anthologies tend to be difficult to review, mostly because it’s hard to come up with a cohesive theme to discuss when the stories can be so diverse in quality and in tone. Fortunately for me, Poul Anderson seems to have gone out of his way in this little collection to ensure that any reviewer had no such problems here. The stories are actually remarkably similar in setting, tone, and theme. They also share much the same flaws. So while I will deal with the stories individually, I can also discuss them in general.

Each story in the collection is planetary romance of some description. Anderson apparently doesn’t buy into warp drives or wormholes, so voyages across the stars are always slow and expensive. In each story, humans establish colonies on some ali... Read More

Son of Man: A stoner book

Son of Man by Robert Silverberg

Back in the 1970s, there was a certain type of film that, whether by chance or design, became highly favored by the cannibis-stimulated and lysergically enhanced audience members of the day. These so-called "stoner pictures" — such as Performance, El Topo, Pink Flamingos and Eraserhead — played for years as "midnight movies" and remain hugely popular to this day. Well, just as there is a genre of cinema geared for stoners, it seems to me that there could equally well be a breed of literature with a genuine appeal for those with an "altered consciousness." That we don't hear of such books is perhaps due to the fact that reading requires more in the way of active mental work than does film gazing; reading is not as passive an activity, generally speaking, as watching a film, and entails more of an exercise of the imagination.

But if there ever WERE such a genre of literature as the... Read More

Jack of Shadows: A forgotten classic that cries out to be remembered

Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny

In 1971, Roger Zelazny penned a wonderful mix of fantasy and science fiction that I think rivals his AMBER books for sheer imagination and exciting action. Jack of Shadows is set on an imaginary world, similar in some respects to our Earth, vastly different in others. One side of the planet (which does not rotate) is always in light, while the other is constantly at night. The “dayside” is much like 20th century Earth, with science ruling and the inhabitants enjoying the fruits of modern industry and technology. The “darkside” is similar to the medieval fantasy tropes of many fantasy stories, with magic in the ascendance and different supernatural lords ruling over their fiefs or domains, each with special localized powers.

Jack of Shadows, or “Shadowjack” as he is sometimes called, is a unique individual in that his magical po... Read More

The World Inside: Could humans be happy living this way?

The World Inside by Robert Silverberg

In the year 2381, the Earth contains 75 billion people. Despite the dire warnings of 20th century prophets, humans have not exhausted the Earth’s resources. There is plenty of food for everyone, but because 90% of the land must be covered in farms, most of the people live in Urban Monads — 1,000-story skyscrapers housing 800,000 people each. Citizens aren’t allowed out of their building, and many aspects of society are rigidly monitored. Everyone is married at age 12 and each couple is encouraged to have as many children as they can because fertility and children are blessings from god.

In such a close community, it’s dangerous for people to be protective of private property or possessive of their mate, so sharing is actively encouraged. Thus, everyone has sexual access to everyone else and men are expected to go “night walking” to find other partners while their wives stay home an... Read More

The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth: Of interest for Zelazny fans

The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth: And Other Stories  by Roger Zelazny

My experience with Roger Zelazny has been hit or miss, and while I consider The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Moutha miss, it’s not terrible. The main fault of these fifteen stories is that characterization remains uniform throughout. The same cigarette-smoking, coffee-drinking, detective noir Joe Cool hero populates the main character role of seemingly every story. Though the type is likeable, this lack of variety gets monotonous. Secondly, the outcome of every story has the hero victorious and triumphant, albeit in occasionally surprising ways, and this general predictability likewise undermines the integrity of the collection. Smoking butts, throwing never-miss left hooks, and having the suave line for the ladies are par for the course of this short story collection.

There are strong points, how... Read More