the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for the ‘Frederik Pohl’ Category

I told my guest posters they could write about anything they wanted for Vintage Science Fiction month, so long as it was speculative fiction related and happened before 1979. I didn’t give anyone any specific direction, on anything.  Ladies and gentlemen, today you are in for a treat. Brittain didn’t just write about one book, or one author. He went all out and read through the nominated and winning novels of the Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards of 1977.

1977: The Award Winners

by Brittain Barber

Brittain Barber is the o-owner of and main writer for the blog Two Dudes in an Attic, where we read Gary Gygax novels so you don’t have to. Scribblings on Two Dudes emanate from the Pacific Northwest and sit at the nexus of science fiction, fantasy, political science, Japan, music, and soccer. (This makes for a killer Venn diagram.)

When the invitation came to do a guest post during Vintage SF Month, I tried to come up with
something more entertaining than a simple book review of some cobwebby relic. Many of my posts tend towards aimless, politico-economic rambling,  I quickly shot that down as requiring far too much research. Finally, I settled on the idea of looking at the award winners and nominees from a particular year; in this case, my birth year of 1977. (Does this make me vintage as well? I prefer to think otherwise.) (Also, I realize that the books here were all published in 1976, but we’ll just talk about them in terms of 1977, for simplicity’s sake.) The topic thus decided, I set about to read as many of the major books from the year as I could, in hopes of providing capsule reviews here. It is fortunate that 1977 was still a year of thin, concise volumes. I wouldn’t have been able to pull this off in an age when the average page count ticks up over four or five hundred.

My focus for this piece is what I consider to be the three big prizes of Western SF: The Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards. I read the winner of each and as many of the nominees as I could get my hands on. I skipped World Fantasy, Campbell, and a couple of others, but there may be time for a follow up later on. I also passed on short fiction in a bid to prevent this project from spiraling out of control. Fortunately, the nominee listings (and awards!) had considerable overlap. Starting with the winning books, below is a selection of the best and brightest of 1977. I may still ramble.

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm – Wilhelm took home the Hugo and Locus with this book, a mix of elegy, apocalypse, and clones. The writing is lyrical and hypnotic, as Wilhelm manages to make her clones both sympathetic and wholly alien. I was disappointed in the end with the conflict she decided to make unavoidable and the results she made inevitable, but that is a matter of opinion rather than technique. I’m a little surprised that this book has faded from the SF consciousness a bit, as it appeared to make a splash at the time. It has also aged well, with little inside to date it. In fact, it may be even more relevant now, with cloning back in the public eye. Recommended reading and a worthy winner, I think. At the very least, I haven’t read anything else from 1977 that is clearly better.

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SAM_2429The Case Against Tomorrow (collection) by Frederik Pohl

Printed in 1957, stories originally published between 1954 – 1956

Where I got it: bought used

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America in the 1950s – WWII had ended but Korea and the Cold War were ramping up, the American economy was booming, with more production, more consumerism, more home ownership, more children entering school, and a new concept called “suburbia”. Public schools became integrated, racial tensions and national anxieties soared, McCarthyism was born.  It was a time of changes. Frederick Pohl observed and satirized everything around him – society, consumerism, politics, hubris,  and conservative views on race and class.  His matter of fact writing style feels like Vonnegut at times, and chillingly like Shirley Jackson at other times. Not every story in The Case Against Tomorrow is satire, but in my opinion most of them are.

Here are my thoughts on the 6 stories included in this thin little volume.

The Midas Plague (1954) –  Morey Fry has just married his beautiful bride, and at first everything is blissful, as is often the case with young love. They certainly aren’t rich, but they work as hard as they can and dutifully get their quota book stamped and inspected for their clothing and food and furniture.  But how much veal and expensive liquor and fancy clothes and opera tickets can two people possibly go through?  As the robots tirelessly work to efficiently build and manufacture as many consumer goods as they can, the consumers must work just as tirelessly to use all these consumer goods. It’s a closed system, after all. Wealth means escape from the system, thus a poorer family is required to eat more three course meals, use up more luxury goods,  go through more pairs of shoes, have a larger house that’s filled with yet more furniture.  And when Morey accidentally comes up with a solution, will he be labeled traitor or hero? A highly entertaining and eye opening satire of consumerism and an unchecked manufacturing industry.  The longest and best story in the collection.

The Census Takers  (1955) – this is one way to solve an overpopulation issue.  Cities can only handle so many people, so when a count is taken the overage must be handled.  And there is no escaping the census. Told through the eyes of our narrator, who passes judgement on large families (and everybody else), and convinces one patriarch to make the ultimate sacrifice to save his children. So obsessed with counting, overing, and handling, the supervisors and enumerators are blinded to what’s happening right under their eyes. Satirical and creepy!

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.