Electric Forest: Interesting, but not one of Lee’s best

Electric Forest by Tanith Lee

Magdala Cled is an unattractive disabled woman living in a world where genetic engineering has ensured that everyone around her is beautiful and healthy. She’s a genetic misfit who has no family, friends, or social support of any type.

When a handsome rich man offers to make her beautiful, she goes along with his plan. What Magda doesn’t know is that her new body is the clone of a scientist/entrepreneur that her benefactor is competing with and for whom he has some evil plans.

I greatly admire Tanith Lee’s style, so I was pleased to have a chance to read Brilliance Audio’s new edition of Electric Forest (1979).

This stand-alone novel, however, is not one of her better titles. None of the characters are likeable and their focus on beauty, luxury, and dec... Read More

Roadmarks: The Road must roll

Roadmarks by Roger Zelazny

Roadmarks (1979) is a fragmented, experimental type of novel, tied together by a Road (with a capital R) that leads to all times and places and alternative timestreams in our world’s history, for those who know how to navigate it (a certain German named Adolph briefly pops up in an early chapter, eternally searching for the timeline where he won). The other constant is the character of Red Dorakeen, who has been traveling the Road for years, trying to find something, or somewhen. Sometimes he's in company with Leila, a woman with precognitive talents. He’s also generally accompanied by one of two sentient AIs in the form of books, called Leaves (of Grass) and Flowers (of Evil... Read More

Transfigurations: A classic

Transfigurations by Michael Bishop

Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris is one of science fiction’s landmark works. A philosophical and psychological study of a man confronting the inherently unknowable, the imagery, events, and overall experience of the novel lodge in the mind, begging questions for which one uncomfortably has no immediate answer. So strange and haunting, a person can only think of the main character’s experiences as the most figurative representation of ‘alien’ possible.

Bringing the idea closer to home corporeally but no less existentially is Michael Bishop’s “Death and Designation among the Asadi” (1973). The premise so fertile, he revisited the novella years later, extendi... Read More

The Devils of D-Day: Extraordinary concept; disappointingly delivered

The Devils of D-Day by Graham Masterton

All the devils and demons that appear in this book are legendary creatures of hell, and there is substantial recorded evidence for their existence. For that reason, it is probably inadvisable to attempt to conjure up any of them by repeating out loud the summons used in the text, which are also genuine. I would like to point out that the Pentagon and the British Ministry of Defense strenuously deny the events described here, but I leave it to you to draw your own conclusions. - from the Author’s Note

I had high hopes for Graham Masterton’s The Devils of D-Day. The U.S. Army knew it had to end World War II quickly, and was going all-in at Normandy, France. During the battles following D-Day, the American’s worked with a number of priests to employ 13 de... Read More

The Unlimited Dream Company: More art than story

The Unlimited Dream Company by J.G. Ballard

Looking at the spread of colors, shapes, and lines smeared across the canvas that is J.G. Ballard’s 1979 The Unlimited Dream Company, it’s easy to get lost in the details, the view to the whole submerged. Superficially disorienting to say the least, the narrative packs a bewildering visual punch while beneath the surface lurk the powers of nature, myth, and beast — the book is certainly art more than story. Surreal is only the beginning of the description. For those uninitiated to Ballard, strap yourselves in and prepare for a ride — on erotic wings.

The Unlimited Dream Company, if it were the work of a visual artist, would be part of Dali, Paalen, or Ernst’s portfolio. With imagery jumbled and intense in semi-recognizable fashion, Ballard twists the story... Read More

Juniper Time: A 1970s “problem story” novel with an iconic feminist protagonist

Juniper Time by Kate Wilhelm

Juniper Time, by Kate Wilhelm, was published in 1979, her first novel after her Hugo-Award winning book Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang. Once again, Wilhelm was interested in ecological collapse. This time, the disaster is a growing drought and the desertification of large parts of world, specifically the US, throwing the country into economic depression and political chaos. Against this backdrop, two people who share a common past struggle to change the present, with surprising results.

Jean Brighton’s father was a famous astronaut and the “face” of the first international space station, Alpha. Sadly, when Jean was still a child, cost-overruns and accidents — or perhaps sabotage — brought the project to a halt before it was completed. Arthur Cluny’s f... Read More

Jem: A cynical speculation about humanity’s future

Jem by Frederik Pohl

Like Man Plus (1976) and Gateway (1977), books which Frederik Pohl a number of awards, Jem (1979) is another book from this highly successful period in Pohl's career. It was nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula awards but didn't win. It did win a National Book Award.

Jem is set in the near future (as seen from the late 1970s). The world is divided in three large blocs of nations: the food-exporting nations, the oil-exporting nations and the people nations. Membership of these blocs is somewhat fluid but they do contribute to a certain balance of power that has kept the world more or less peaceful. With a steadily rising population, though, competition for the world's resources has become fierce. The nations are looking to the stars to fuel humanity's growth. Although the problem of crossing light years in ... Read More

Kindred: A complex exploration of the slave/slaver relationship

Kindred by Octavia Butler

(1979) is Octavia Butler’s earliest stand-alone novel, and though it features time travel, it’s not really science fiction or fantasy. It’s an exploration of American slavery and its painful legacy from the eyes of a contemporary (well, circa 1976) young black woman named Dana. So don’t expect to learn why she keeps being pulled back in time to a pre-Civil War slave plantation in Maryland every time her ancestor, a white slave owner named Rufus Weylin, finds his life in danger. It’s a plot device that allows the reader to experience all the horrors of being a powerless black female slave in 1815 while retaining a modern perspective. So this book is firmly in the tradition of Alex Haley’s Roots (1976), Alice Walker’s The Color Purple... Read More

The Bloody Chamber: A darkly seductive collection of not-so-traditional tales

The Bloody Chamber: And Other Stories by Angela Carter

Angela Carter’s style is rich and dense. Her short stories are the most sumptuous of literary feasts. In The Bloody Chamber Carter reworks a number of fairy stories and folk tales, from “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Beauty and the Beast” to “Puss-in-Boots”. But Carter never intended to do “versions”. She created brand new stories using the basic premise of the originals as her starting point. In her formidable hands the familiar elements of the tales are moulded into an altogether different beast.

The Bloody Chamber shocked when it was first published in 1979, and is certainly capable of shocking now. At their heart the stories are about sex, violence, and the reclamation of power. Carter’s beasts are disturbingly handsome in their murderous intentions. Her women are at the heart of the s... Read More

The Best Short Stories of J.G. Ballard: A broad spectrum of Ballard’s capabilities

The Best Short Stories of J.G. Ballard by J.G. Ballard

The Best Short Stories of J.G. Ballard (1979) was published in 1977 in the UK and 1978 in the US. It contains a few stories from J.G. Ballard’s earlier, more conventional SF phase in the late 1950s, his most productive and lyrical phase in the early and mid 1960s, and a small sampling of his experimental ‘condensed novel’ phase of the late 1960s/early 1970s. The stories are taken from these collections: The Voices of Time (1962), Billennium (1962), Passport to Eternity (1963), The Terminal Beach (1964), The Atrocity Exhibition (1970), and Vermilion Sands (1971).

The stories themselves are: “Concentration ... Read More

The Long Walk: A novel about exhaustion

The Long Walk by Stephen King

Ray Garraty, Maine’s own, lives in a near-future dystopian America where boys enter an annual game, the Long Walk, in which the winner is given anything he wants. The winning boy must walk at four miles per hour longer than any other boy in the competition. Boys whose pace drops below four miles per hour are given a warning, which they can lose after an hour of at-pace walking. Boys that collect three warnings, however, receive their “ticket,” a bullet.

The Long Walk was originally published under Stephen King’s pseudonym, Richard Bachman, in 1979. Bachman’s true identity was exposed in 1985, and King has since rereleased the novel with an introductory essay “The Importance of Being Bachman.” King explains that Bachman was a voice that he hoped could articulate the “place in most of us where the rain is pretty much constant, the shadows are always long, and th... Read More

Morlock Night: The first steampunk novel

Morlock Night by K.W. Jeter

K.W. Jeter’s Morlock Night (1979) is often cited as the first novel to be categorized at “steampunk.” In a 1987 letter to Locus magazine, Jeter coined the term in an effort to describe the types of stories that he and his friends Tim Powers and James P. Blaylock were writing:

Personally, I think Victorian fantasies are going to be the next big thing, as long as we can come up with a fitting collective term for Powers, Blaylock and myself. Something based on the appropriate technology of that era; like ‘steam-punks’, perhaps.

As Tim Powers explains in his introduction to Morlock Night, Jeter wrote this book in 1976 for a British publisher who requested ten novels about King Arthur being reincarnated to come to ... Read More

Engine Summer​: Fey, muted, beautiful

Engine Summer by John Crowley

Fey, muted, beautiful. The story of Rush-that-speaks is a bildungsroman that will haunt you long after you have read the last page. Engine Summer follows the charming and inquisitive Rush as he grows up in his enclave of 'True Speakers,' one of the few groups of humanity left after an apocalypse has destroyed most of civilization. It then follows him as he ventures out into the world to see what strangeness it may offer, and in the hopes of finding his lost love.

Don't expect to find the mutant zombies or flesh-eating reavers of many other post-apocalyptic stories. Instead prepare to see with Rush the melancholy remnants of our society which are given new strangeness and wonder when viewed through his eyes. Tied to this are the strange people we meet; those who survived the cataclysm and continued to live their lives, forever changed by the harsh reality of the end of civiliz... Read More

The Fountains of Paradise: A visionary classic now on audio

The Fountains of Paradise by Arthur C. Clarke

The latest scheme dreamed up by Dr. Vannevar Morgan, a materials engineer, is either pure genius or pure crackpot: He wants to build an elevator to space. He’s discovered a new material that he thinks is strong enough to withstand the gravitational and climatic forces that would act on such a structure and he’s found the only place on Earth where it’s possible to achieve his dream: the top of the mountain Sri Kanda on the equatorial island of Taprobane (pronounced “top-ROB-oh-knee”). Unfortunately, this mountain is the sacred home of a sect of Buddhist monks who are not willing to budge unless one of their prophecies is fulfilled.

Dr. Morgan is not the first ambitious man to have grandiose plans for this particular summit. Hundreds of years before, King Kalidasa struggled with the same sect of monks when he built his pleasure gardens. His crowning achievement was the construc... Read More

Which Witch?: Very funny with unexpected depth

Which Witch? by Eva Ibbotson

Arriman Canker (better known as Arriman the Awful, Loather of Light and Wizard of the North) is a dark wizard in search of an heir after a gypsy fortune teller prophesies the coming of another wizard to Darkington Hall. Arriman is excited about the prospect of a pupil in the dark arts, but it takes his long-suffering castle staff to point out to him that the only way to beget a child is to take a wife. The village of Todcaster is full of witches, and surely one of them would make a suitable bride. But Arriman is picky — he only wants to marry the darkest witch there is. So a competition is declared: the witch who performs the blackest magic is the one that will become the future Mrs Canker and mistress of Darkington Hall.

The competition is declared, and the witches of Todcaster are beside themselves with excitement — except one. Belladonna, the youngest member of the coven, has fallen in love with... Read More

A Touch of Chill: Characters teeter on the edge of reality

A Touch of Chill by Joan Aiken

Joan Aiken is one of my favourite authors, best known among children as the writer of the alternative-history series The Wolves Chronicles. She is also a writer for adults, and the same sense of imagination, wit and mystery found in her earlier books are found in this collected anthology of creepy and twisted short stories. Although the title claims that these are stories of "horror, suspense and fantasy," this is a little misleading. It's not that these stories aren't any of these things, it's just that Aiken does not write typical short stories in this genre — these tales are seldom wrapped up in a neat little bow, and often Aiken is more interested in crafting an unsettling atmosphere than answering questions that her stories raise. As such, many of the stories do not seem particularly creepy , and those who are used to their hor... Read More

Gloriana, or The Unfulfill’d Queen: Reader Unfulfill’d

Gloriana, or The Unfulfill'd Queen: Being a Romance by Michael Moorcock

Gloriana (1979) is Moorcock's homage to Mervyn Peake (author of the Gormenghast saga), and fittingly, is a lush tale of intrigue told in thoroughly British prose. At times brilliant (especially in the descriptions of the seasonal festivities), often captivating and humorous, often sluggish and overly subtle, ultimately unfulfilling, it's a book I recommend borrowing from the library before buying. Not everyone will enjoy such decadence.

Speaking of decadence, the tale takes place in Renaissance-era Albion, the England of another world. Queen Gloriana presides, with the assistance of her counselors, over an empire of remarkable peace and prosperity: a romantic Golden ... Read More

The Neverending Story: A must-read

The Neverending Story by Michael Ende

The Neverending Story is probably best known to the general public through Wolfgang Peterson's movie, whereas the original novel by Michael Ende is less well known. Despite the horrid sequels and the even worse television series that Michael Ende desperately tried to prevent in the last years of his life, Wolfgang Peterson's first attempt at bringing the book to the big screen was successful and popular. However, fans of the book will know that it only records the first part of the story — though Peterson compensates by telling us in the final segment of the film "Bastian had many more adventures before finally returning to the ordinary world. But that's another story..."

Since it's likely that you've seen the movie but not read the book, I highly recommend that you track down the original story — the movie stands on its own, but the book takes Ba... Read More