A Year In Books – May

A busy month hasn’t left much time for reading, just the one novel and a classic collection, so I thought I’d take the chance to mention a few favourite short stories this time around as well (a sort of imaginary anthology, if you will).

The Palace of Eternity – Bob Shaw.

The Palace of Eternity is an early novel from the Northern Irish science fiction writer Bob Shaw (1931 – 1996). In some ways it could be described as ‘light space opera’ and certainly has all the trappings of old school science fiction. A long and genocidal war between humanity and an alien race rages across the galaxy with only one planet – Mnemosyne – remaining relatively untouched by the conflict and, as a result, home to a free-thinking artistic class.

But when Mnemosyne becomes the lynch-pin in humanity’s last efforts for victory, things change and the artists find themselves as rebellious dissidents and the main character – Mack Travenor – undergoes a strange transformation and rebirth in order to save the sentient universe from the ravages of war.

What at first might appear as fairly standard late 60s SF (The Palace of Eternity was first published in 1969 and was Shaw’s third novel) soon changes into something quite unexpected, with meditations on the nature of the afterlife, of loss and heartbreak and even shows us what might be a prototype for George Lucas’ notion of the Force some eight years before Star Wars.

As with much of the best SF of the period, the more philosophical aspects of the novel are balanced out with colourful backdrops and imaginative future technology. The characters are briskly drawn and reasonably well rounded, although this is principally a novel of ideas rather than character.

Bob Shaw would go on to write some minor SF classics (the Orbitsville, and the Land and Overland series among others) but as an example of his early work, The Palace of Eternity is well worth checking out.
In A Glass Darkly by J Sheridan Le Fanu

Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu was an Irish writer who’s work in the field of supernatural fiction was and continues to be influential, principally down to the collection In A Glass Darkly, first published in 1872, and, more specifically, to the vampire story Carmilla contained in the collection.

Carmilla is a classic by any definition, but the other stories in the collection – Green Tea, The Familiar, Mr Justice Harbottle and The Room in the Dragon Volant are equally as good.

A huge influence on both Bram Stoker and M.R James, if you love classic horror then you will love J Sheridan Le Fanu.
An Imaginary Anthology
An exercise in ‘what if’ as much as anything else, I recently got to thinking about the short stories that I love. . . so here is a list of them with the odd comment thrown in for good measure.

The Doctor by Ted Thomas
Stranded in the past a doctor tries to forge a bond with the cave-dwellers with whom he now shares the world.

Petra by Greg Bear
The ultimate God Is Dead story, told with verve and panache.

I Am The Burning Bush by Gregg Keizer
Returning astronauts find themselves cursed with immortality.

Juliette by Claude F. Cheinisse
A man falls in love with his intelligent car only to find that built in obsolescence can be heartbreaking.

The Garden of Time by J.G Ballard
A rare example of fantasy by Ballard, a touching story of love and imminent disaster.

A Thing of Beauty by Norman Spinrad
A salesman in an economically devastated America tries for a big sale to a visiting Japanese businessman.

The New Prehistory by Rene Rebetez-Cortes
Human beings find themselves linking together to create new and strange lifeforms.

The Public Hating by Steve Allen
Crime and punishment in a future USA where the power of the mass mind can be deadly.

The Streets of Ashkelon by Harry Harrison
Religion versus Rationality with a sacrificial twist.

The Astronaut by Valentina Zhuravlyova
Another story of sacrifice from a Soviet era writer which explores the notion of heroism.

Who Can Replace a Man? By Brian Aldiss
When mankind faces extinction, what will his robotic servants do next?

Ghost V by Robert Sheckley
A rare example of genuinely funny sf from a master of the short story.

Descending by Thomas M Disch
A creepy story of consumerism and the perils of credit-card fraud.

The Man Who Loved the Faioli by Roger Zelazny
On a depopulated earth a man falls in love with a beautiful alien.

The Liberation of Earth by William Tenn
Blistering satire about the perils of war and choosing the wrong side.

The Turning Wheel by Philip K Dick
When the oppressed become the masters, what will life be like?

Lot by Ward Moore
A pre-apocalypse tale of survival of the fittest and smartest.

The Country of the Kind by Damon Knight
Cruel and unusual punishment in the future.

It’s A Good Life by Jerome Bixby
A classic tale of psi-power gone unchecked.

The Graveyard Reader by Theodore Sturgeon
A touching and tender portrait of loss and forgiveness.

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