Science Fiction Though the Decades

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

1987: The 1987 Annual World's Best SF (Wollheim, Donald A.)

Ride the wave of highs and lows from 1986 (3/5)

All of these stories were first published in 1986, in the middle of a decade which fellow blogger Joachim detests (hence his pre-1980s SF reviews). With the publication of this collection, his opinion is cemented in the many poor choices for this anthology. I don't think I've ever been so disappointed with an anthology, but this 1987 collection of 1986 stories had more lower lows than its highs. For the sake of academic reference I'll keep this on my shelves, but I'd prefer to find other collections that have the same great stories reviewed below.

Zelazny's "Permafrost" was nominated for the Nebula best novelette but won the Hugo award, Pat Cardigan's "Pretty Boy Crossover" was nominated for the Nebula best short story, and Lucius Shepard's "R&R" was nominated foe the Hugo best novella but ended up winning Nebula award instead.


Roger Zelazny: Permafrost (novelette) - 5/5 - On an adult entertainment planet experiencing a fifty year winter, Dorothy and Paul are the sole inhabitants acting as caretakers along with the human mind-based computer, Andrew Aldon. With ever-approaching glaciers and a frightening weather system, Aldon is the defender and supervisor for the town of Playpoint. When a particular weather system seems to be steering Paul to a specific destination, Aldon warns the man but the latent planetary prowess proves too manipulative for Aldon's protective circuits. 25 pages ----- This is the first Zelanzy I've liked. It's got a enticing detailed background with a cast that's interesting and headed into an odd peril. This is by far the best story in the collection, so from here onto page 303 it's bumpy ride.

Doris Egan: Timerider (novelette) - 3/5 - Brian Cornwall is being evaluated in 1957 by a team of time travelers. Their mission is to secure the Japanese swan sculpture at the museum Brian works for. Ceece is part of the team geared towards contact and influence. Due to the high cost of physical time travel, only holograms and likenesses are typically sent through, but Ceece's increasing interest in Brian peaks when the death they have planned for him tugs at her heart. The alien D'drendt overlords feign interest. 57 pages ----- This is fairly detailed, too, with the human race having been defeated by an avian alien race. The enticement lays in the mysterious motives of the aliens and the fate of the pawn of Brian.

Pat Cadigan: Pretty Boy Crossover (shortstory) - 3/5 - Allowed to bide one's time as one sees fit, the uploaded personality of Bobby relishes an existence spent in the narcissistic limelight of an eternity dancing in front of a crowded club. Referred to as a Pretty Boy, Bobby attracts a fellow Pretty Boy who adores his attention and gyrations. However, the small crowd gathered at the foot of the stairs and the mohawked bouncer aren't the people they appear to be. 12 pages ----- This had an odd, odd start. The initial flavor of cyberpunk was irksome, but the conclusion set it above the bar with the rest of the 80s sub-genre.

Lucius Shepard: R&R (novella) - 1/5 - Mingolla is stationed in Guatemala with his desertion daydreaming army friends Baylor and Gilby. Given their prolonged service with the surety of death in he Latin American war, escape to Panama becomes a reoccurring fantasy, a fantasy which becomes personified when Mingolla meets a fellow sixth-sensing lady who foresees his grisly death on the battlefield. Skirting the issue and her company, Mingolla sticks with the boys. 87 pages ----- There's a war in Latin America. That's about as far into science fiction this story gets. It's tediously long and really has no place in this collection. HOW this is one of the best SF stories of 1986 is beyond me.

Suzette Haden Elgin: Lo, How an Oak E'er Blooming (shortstory) - 4/5 - On a chilly February day in Madison, Wisconsin, a lecturer begs for a miracle, for the oak tree outside to burst into blossom. With more than fifty witnesses to the miracle, mob mentality regarding the sudden growth is nulled. All the sciences throw every test at the tree and yet it continues to regenerate its blossoms and stave off death by poisoning. Society embraces the miracles but the military, as always, feels threatened. 10 pages ----- The science isn't as paramount as the reaction to the impossible. The miracle isn't what shines, but it's the social impact of the certified mystery.

Jerry Meredith & D.E. Smirl: Dream in a Bottle (shortstory) - 4/5 - Approaching a nebulous cloud of interstellar hydrogen, a ramscoop ship opens its magnetic maw to accept the fuel while en route to Zeta Reticuli IV. Piloted by catatonic minds living in their own deceptive cerebral fantasies, a rotating crew monitors the ship's and pilot's progress. To bide their time en route, the crew, too, delve into their own personal fantasies. When one pilot awakens on the bridge, Michael slips into other's realities. 15 pages ----- The hardest science fiction in this collection, it's a little hard to grasp just exactly what's going on. A tad on the cyberpunk side, the immersion of the cast into virtual reality creates alternate realities, some of which overlap.

Tanith Lee: Into Gold (novelette) - 2/5 - From the East come the traveling caravan of a miller and his daughter. The prince of the village doing the trading wishes to marry the daughter, whose ability to render all things into gold makes believers of some and skeptics of others. Draco's captain Skorous takes a disliking to the witchcraft the woman performs but remains loyal to his prince even through the birth of the couple's son. When a neighboring village requests her healing gift, Skorous closely follows. 34 pages ----- Wollheim said it best in his introduction, "...if you want to dispute that this is science fiction, take it up with the world's most popular science writer [Asimov]" (206). This story was later published in a collection of fantasy. Verdict granted.

Howard Waldrop: The Lions are Asleep This Night (novelette) - 1/5 - Robert Oinenke is growing up in Niger with mere pennies to spend on printed books and plays. His mother sees the purchases as a waste of money and his headmaster sees the matter as a waste of time. Robert discovers that classic English playwrights sell for cheap and becomes inspired to write his own play. With no one to mentor his elemental growth as a playwright, Robert sees to it himself that his play is not only read, but also published for all to read. 23 pages ----- Something here about an alternative history and playwrights. Lost on me.

Robert Silverberg: Against Babylon (novelette) - 3/5 - Carmichael flies into southern California to pilot a DC-3 during a spat of wildfire. Having been out of touch for the last three days, Mike learns that the three wildfires were caused by the three UFOs that ignited the brush with their exhaust. Oddly less worrisome is not being able to contact his eccentric L.A.-loving wife Cindy. When news comes of her kidnapping, he seems happy for her new placement. 23 pages ----- This story has elements the reader will later find in Silverberg's novella "Hot Times in Magma City" (1995) and his novel The Alien Years (1998), neither of which I liked. But like The Alien Years, the ultimate reasons for the aliens' visit is left unknown.

Damon Knight: Stranger on Paradise (shortstory) - 4/5 - Biographer Howard Selby attains permission to visit the planet of Paradise only after an exhaustive physical examination, disinfection, and blood replacement. Paradise is the only inhabitable planet ever found, where all diseases are unknown and the native life prove ineffective with Earth life. The idyllic planet was once home to a famous poet, the same poet whose work Howard is trying to dive into. When he comes across a cryptic sonnet, his opinion of the planet plummets. 18 pages ----- A great start but a kind of sloppy ending, the sonnet separated a great shortstory from a decent short story. The motivation for the conclusion was weak but its effects were great. Good conclusion for the collection, in general.


  1. Aha, I've actually read this one.

    Most of these are spot-on, but I have to disagree on "R&R." I found it a layered and haunting criticism of a decadent society addicted to stimulants in order to exist within the brutal framework of war---pharmaceutical detachment to endure and overcome death, rape, decay, cowardice, entropy. Something of a cyberpunkian critique of America's post-Vietnam ennui and its contemporary support in Nicaragua, psychologically thrilling, some great character development, and stellar prose.

    (Its SF level is dependent on the reader's acceptance that psionics is SF, since PsiCorps plays a huge role in the second half, and moreso in the fixup novel Life During Wartime which "R&R" was folded into.)

  2. I assumed that the military portrayal was a 10-year post-dated backlash from Vietnam, but I neglected to account for the Nicaraguan situation. I love lush prose (e.g. Ballard, Updike, Wolfe, and Banks) but I found Shepard's prose to mainly focus on the colors of the tropics and little else.

  3. I'll get to the 80s eventually ;) hehe

    Zelazny's installment intrigues me -- I was disappointed with Jack of Shadoes but I've enjoyed everything else of his I've read.