REVIEW SUMMARY: Another must-have for anybody who likes short sf.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A collection of the short story, novelette and novella winners of the Nebula Award between the years 1965 – 1969.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Mostly top-notch tales.

CONS: Some stinkers. (These were award winners?)

BOTTOM LINE: A very good collection of classic short sf.


The Science Fiction Hall of Fame anthology series holds a special place in my sf heart. Volume I is, hands down, the best sf anthology in existence. (It has recently been republished – I already own 3 copies of the mmpb [one for home, one for the office, one I passed on to a friend] and still bought the re-released hardback for my “vanity” shelf.) Volume II, split into two mmpbs because of the huge content, was almost, but not quite, as enjoyable. I will definitely be reading Volume IV, but until then, here are my thoughts on Volume III.

The theme of this collection is to gather all of the short fiction winners (in the short story, novelette and novella categories) of the Nebula Award between the years 1965 and 1969. That’s a total of 16 stories (there was a tie for novella in 1965). Most of the stories were top-notch. There were a few stinkers, though. Fortunately, they were stories of shorter length. This is still a must-have for anyone who likes short sf.

What follows are the review-lettes for each of the stories in this very good collection?

STORIES IN THIS ANTHOLOGY:

  1. “Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman by Harlan Ellison [1965 Short Story] (Rating: )

    • A schedule-enslaved society, enforced by the Master Timekeeper (a.k.a. The Ticktock Man), is disrupted by the mischievous shenanigans of a rebellious man dressed as a harlequin.

    • Excellent story that makes it plain why Harlan Ellison is considered the pioneer of the well-done short story. His verbiage is quick, concise and full of memorable imagery like $150,000′ worth of jelly beans being dropped on people in an automated walkway, gumming up the gears and delaying everyone by, horror of horrors, seven minutes.

  2. The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth by Roger Zelazny [1965 Novelette] (Rating: )

    • A quest for catching a huge creature in the seas of Venus. Can you say Moby Dick?

    • I liked the writing style, but this tale was ultimately disappointing. The drama played out between the main characters (the loser bait man trying to make up for past failures and his tough ex-wife) just didn’t add any value to this story. This is not science fiction strictly speaking; locating the story on Venus does not make sf.

  3. The Saliva Tree by Brian Aldiss [1965 Novella] (Rating: ) [Read 12/5/03]

    • Gregory Rolles witnesses a meteor landing on a nearby farm near the turn of the 19th century. Investigation reveals the presence of a strange invisible creature living in the farm’s pond. Soon, the farm’s livestock and crops begin to grow?as does the farmer and his family. It soon becomes apparent that the amphibious creatures are fattening up the farmer and his livestock for consumption, which it does by biting victims and secreting venom that dissolves their insides.

    • This story had a classic feel to it; like you are reading a story by H. G. Wells. It’s obvious in the language, the tone, the tale and the pacing, which is somewhat slow by today’s standards, but lent to the slow buildup of suspense. H. G. Wells even plays a small role in the story, being a friend of Rolles. Also reminded me of John Wyndham’s cozy-catastrophe Day of the Triffids. Excellent story.

  4. He Who Shapes by Roger Zelazny [1965 Novella] (Rating: ) [Read 12/31/03 - 01/01/04]

    • Charles Render is a Shaper – one who can enter and control another person’s dreams. He does this to cure them of some mental affliction or condition. A woman born blind wishes to learn his abilities and Render helps her “see” in her dreams. But she has ambitions of her own.

    • Review: A good story that was later released as The Dream Master. The idea of shaping someone’s dreams was cool (and predates the movie Dreamscape by about 20 years). The girlfriend/son sidelines felt like filler though.

  5. The Secret Place by Richard McKenna [1966 Short Story] (Rating: ) [Read 01/01/04]

    • A veteran ruminates on his days as a science student when he was assigned to collect geological data of a town where a dead boy was discovered next to a uranium oxide crystal. No ore is found, but the dead boy’s sister, now older and silent since here brother’s death, begins to talk. She repeatedly slips into a fantasy world whose topology turns out to be identical to the area’s underlying geological structure.

    • This very well-told story takes place in a small town and the surrounding desert in the 1940′s. It’s reminiscent of the original Twilight Zone series and just as enjoyable.

  6. Call Him Lord by Gordon R. Dickson [1966 Novelette] (Rating: ) [Read 01/02/04]

    • A spoiled prince and his bodyguard travel the countryside of a far future Earth, where most of society chooses to live as if in medieval times.

    • Cool story. There was definitely a fantasy quality to this story since it was set on an Earth that mostly shunned the technology that allowed man to settle other planets. People traveled on horseback and much of the action was in the form of bar brawls over beer waitresses. The main characters, the dutiful bodyguard and the unlikable brat of a prince who deplored the backwards society of his ancestral planet, were well portrayed.

  7. The Last Castle by Jack Vance [1966 Novella] (Rating: ) [Finished 01/03/04]

    • A handful of people have returned to a long-abandoned Earth and live in 9 great castles – each housing several clans which are further made up made up of families. The Meks, an alien race of bronze, human-like creatures, were brought to Earth to be used as servants to the men in the castles. Apparently having enough of that, they revolt against mankind and begin killing the inhabitants of the castles. Castle Hegedorn is the last castle standing against the onslaught of the Mek creatures.

    • A good science-fantasy story. (Because of heavy castle settings, it felt like 4 parts fantasy and 1 part science fiction.) The structure of society was very interesting to read. Castle-dwellers are the upper class and use their “subjects” (Meks and Peasants) for menial labor. Most interesting were the traveling adventures of Xanten who sought help from the castle outcasts. I liked the writing style, the attention to detail and the story idea, but I just didn’t seem to get into this story that much.

  8. Aye, and Gomorrah… by Samuel R. Delany [1967 Short Story] (Rating: ) [Read 01/10/04]

    • A group of “spacers” (space workers who have been modified to be asexual) are on Earth for shore leave and looking cash in?thanks to the sexual perversions of the “frelks” (spacer-lovers).

    • Interesting tale. The low social status of the spacers, and the whole spacer-frelk relationship, is well portrayed.

  9. Gonna Roll the Bones by Fritz Leiber [1967 Novelette] (Rating: [Read 01/11/04]

    • A down-and-out man, Joe Slattermill, possesses an uncanny throwing ability and unwittingly, at first, plays craps with the devil.

    • A mediocre story that was slow to start and had an unsatisfying ending. The middle was a bit captivating though. Heavy on description and low on dialogue.

  10. Behold the Man by Michael Moorcock [1967 Novella] (Rating: ) [Read 01/12/04-01/14/04]

    • Karl Glogauer travels back in time to become Jesus Christ.

    • No, the synopsis is not a spoiler?that ending is given away on the first page. But the story was still an excellent one. The reader follows Karl in Jesus’ footsteps to the inevitable conclusion. I really liked Moorcock’s writing style (this is my first exposure to him). It was well written and thought provoking. I’m not big on religion in sf, but still I found the story captivating.

    • There is an expanded version of this story available which, at first glance, seems to fill in more back story. Also, it doesn’t mention that Glogauer becomes Christ. Perhaps the novel version is supposed to hold a surprise ending? I intend on reading the novel length version soon.

  11. The Planners by Kate Wilhelm [1968 Short Story] (Rating: ) [Read 01/15/04]

    • Explores futuristic lab experimentation with super-intelligent monkeys.

    • Incoherent babble. The story perspective kept jumping all over the place. Mercifully short.

  12. Mother to the World by Richard Wilson [1968 Novelette] (Rating: ) [Read 01/19/04]

    • Post-apocalyptic tale about the last man and woman on Earth. A virus, unleashed as retaliation against a bomb attack, has killed off all the people of Earth (as near as the survivors can tell) except for a 40 year old man and a 28 year old mentally challenged woman.

    • Excellent, moody story about surviving and repopulation. The images were memorable and some of the events were interesting – what would you do if there were only you and one other person left? The ending was creepy, in an incestuous sort of way.

  13. Dragonrider by Anne McCaffrey [1968 Novella] (Rating: ) [Read 01/20/04 - 01/22/04]

    • The technologically archaic world of Pern is inundated by silvery threads (space spores that devour all organic material) every 250 “turns” when the Red Star orbits near. The planet’s only defenses against the rain of spores are the dragonriders. The human riders are bred to be telepathically linked to their benevolent dragons and together they destroy the thread, hopefully before it touches the ground. Realizing the value of their service, the population of Pern has held the dragonriders in high esteem for thousands of turns. But now, threads have not fallen on Pern in over 400 turns and the people are becoming overly complacent. Few dragonriders are left when it is learned that there is an impending threads attack. F’lar, the leader of the last weyr (house) of dragonriders must figure out ways to convince the naysayers, find a weyrwoman who can be impressed (telepathically linked) with a new queen dragon, and eliminate the thread threat.

    • There is a lot of backdrop provided in this blend of fantasy and science fiction. The plot moves quickly and is augmented with several sub-plots. In one sub-plot, Lessa, weyrwoman-in-training who is destined to be telepathically linked with the queen dragon, learns how to travel between (always in italics, please). Traveling between is an ability of the dragons to instantly teleport elsewhere on Pern. It is newbie Lessa, though, who learns that the dragons can also teleport through time as well. This adds some nifty time travel aspects to the story. These are all good things, yet somehow I failed to be overly impressed with this tale. It was good, but it seemed that it was missing something I couldn’t quite put my finger on (reading this 115 page, small-type novella in the wee hours of the morning probably didn’t help). Maybe the writing style was not perfectly tuned to my tastes. Oh well. I do like it enough to maybe try some other Pern stories in the future.
    • The 1968 novella Dragonriders was later expanded into the novel Dragonflight, the first novel in the extensive Pern series.

  14. Passengers by Robert Silverberg [1969 Short Story] (Rating: ) [Read 01/26/04]

    • People are routinely possessed by thrill-seeking alien “passengers”. One of the “ridden” seeks his mate from his previous possession.

    • Cool premise and a neat portrayal of how society copes with the Passengers.

    • Rumors are this has been opted for a movie.

  15. Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones by Samuel Delany [1969 Novelette] (Rating: ) [Read 01/29/04]

    • The life of a thief on the run where an occupational code word changes to a different precious stone every month.

    • Yikes! I was looking for a science fiction story and instead got a longwinded literary description of a costume-and-name-changing Brooklyn street thug and how he unloaded a big score while evading the cops. Very disappointing. The writing style made it tough to read. Or at least, it required more time than I wanted to spend on this snoozer.

  16. A Boy and His Dog by Harlan Ellison [1969 Novella] (Rating: ) [Read 01/30/04]

    • War has decimated most of the Earth. Civilized people have moved underground. Gangs of “rovers” and solitary “solos” roam the ruins of the above-ground cities with their genetically-engineered talking dogs, looking for ways to survive.

    • Excellent, excellent story. Ellison knows his stuff. Cool premise delivered in his unique style. Lots of action, too.

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