Finally! An Analog from the past (mostly) full of stories I enjoy reading! Both well-written and not laced with sexism/colonialism/racism! It’s a miracle!
First, Political Relevance Alert: This issue opens with a Ben Bova editorial against Nixon and his corruption and how the country must rise up to end the corruption and how did we even get to this state in the first place? Substitute Trump for Nixon and it still makes a great editorial today (and, again, makes me feel like we’ll survive the current regime people have survived such things in the past). I don’t read literature to escape, but if I did, this would be the equivalent of tunneling out of your prison cell to surface in the prison yard.
On to the stories, which are less politically-minded, but still relevant in how they address the way SFF is, and always has been, a political medium.
List Tuttle and George R. R. Martin’s “The Storms of Windhaven” is perhaps the first story I’ve read that fully engages me, and that I enjoyed pretty much without reservation. The story is about a group of messenger-fliers who use solar sails as wings on a stormy planet with islands as the only land mass. The culture is extremely well-realized, but what draws my in is the reality of the characters and their feelings. The main character is a girl who has been flying, but who is soon to lose her wings to her younger brother because of outdated tradition, and her tale is full of sadness, pride, and love, and is so well-done. I’m not surprised the story was expanded into a book years later.
Unlike many of the stories that are overtly sexist or classist, this story is also notable for the depth and care put into its female characters–and for the fact that, in this world, there is no difference between the sexes in terms of jobs or respect or ability. Which is a welcome, welcome change.
Michael Sutch’s “Nascent” is another good, enjoyable story, this one dealing with the creation of intelligent dogs by the military to provide cheap and able troops. Half of the story is told via the POV of the dog Charlie while the other half focuses on the men judging his performance. And the tale is really engaging and well-realized, despite its “fear of the UN World State” scare tactics which posit:
- The world is UN controlled, and if a country isn’t able to provide its share to the world economy, then the UN sanctions another country to invade the first to spur both economies onward.
- There is a surplus of everything, and so most people don’t have to work in order to live–there aren’t enough “necessary” jobs to go around. One gains citizenship via military service, and those who don’t are looked down upon.
Both are points which are more ill-thought symptoms of a half-baked dystopia than real world-building. But if you ignore those political aspects, Sutch comes up with a well-written story that’s easy to read.
So, I finally found a writer worse that Poul Anderson in terms of sexism. Oh, what a joy it is! Perhaps this is because W. Macfarlane’s story “Country of the Mind” is trotting out the War Between the Sexes as its major conflict, and there are so many established tropes there that anyone who is just using it as window dressing ends up lazily drawing cliche after cliche from the air.
I mean, to just imagine that this was written a year or two before James Tiptree, Jr.’s “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?” and be so different in its portrayal of women. This story could’ve been from the thirties or the fifties. And, really, that’s not a fault of the writer (the writing IS the fault of the writer), but of the editor choosing a story that’s just so, so bad in all sorts of ways. Even laying aside the sexism and crappy world-building, the writing is unimaginative and also, at times, simply incomprehensible.
Selections from “Country of the Mind”:
“The woman behind the desk was a different brand of cookie” (pg. 118)
“A freeze-dried witch sat at the center and nodded her head.” (pg. 122)
And there’s more. But I’ll say no more about it.
I haven’t read much Algis Budrys, but his story “A Scraping at the Bones” makes me think I need to read more. It’s a straightforward noir sci-fi detective story where there’s really no mystery. Instead, it’s a character piece about what it means to live in a particular future world where everyone is watched and everything is prescribed by computers, and how one person’s acceptance of that system is undermined. I’ll always take seductive writing of a standard plot over a complex plot with crappy writing (as you’ll know if you read my stories), and this story fits that definition nicely.
Lastly, we have a story from Spider Robinson in his Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon series, “Two Heads are Better than One.” I’ve never read any of Robinson’s work before, and if the rest of his stories are like this I’m not sure if I’m missing much. It’s well-written, and the characters are sketched out instantly with just a few key details. However, this story is just a joke. It’s a very well-dressed joke, but just a joke all the same. One of the Unpulped books is a Spider Robinson, so I’m sure I’ll have more to say on this in the future. Right now, I’m not looking forward to the reading I’ll have to do in order to say it.
p.s. Just a short note here about how Lester del Rey HATES Samuel R. Delany’s novel Dhalgren. Hates is not perhaps strong enough: del Rey loathes this book. And while I find Dhalgren hard to recommend for everyone, I think the book is fascinating and strange and amazing in so many ways, while del Rey thinks all copies should be unbound and used for toilet paper. It’s fascinating to read such a bile-filled review of something I enjoyed. Also, I learned that apparently the title is a reworking of Grendel, which casts new light on the novel for me.