Things Beyond: September 2022

(Cover by Larry Elmore. Amazing Stories, March 1985.)

Picking material to review for this month has been way more agonizing than I expected. Whereas I had August’s lineup nailed down fairly early on, I kept switching things around for September until just a couple days ago. I’m posting every few days, and I’m all but guaranteed to cover at least one whole serial each month, but consider how much SFF has been published in the past century. I started this blog with magazine publication as the main criterion for selecting stories because I thought it’d be a useful enough funnel, but as it turns out, there’s too much to go around! So many stories worth checking out by so many authors across such a long span of time, and I can only review this many per month?

Yet I’m nothing if not persistent, and also dumb.

We have a serial to finish this month, plus a whole new one. I try to find stuff from other magazines, but the truth is that Astounding was the king of serials from the mid-’30s until around the time its name was changed to Analog, and even then it tended to run the most noteworthy serials in a given year. To compensate, we have short fiction which is very much not from Astounding/Analog, and with one exception (you’ll soon see), I’ve not read any of these before. These are totally new experiences to me. There’s the possibility that I won’t like them, which I hope won’t be the case. The point of this blog is to dive into works by the notable minds of SFF, some famous, many forgotten, and see if maybe we can get at the heart of these things, be they from half a century ago or just last week.

Now, time for the serials:

  1. If This Goes On— by Robert Heinlein. Published in two parts in Astounding Science Fiction, February to March 1940. We read Part 1 last month, and now we’re finally finishing this. Will I ultimately think Heinlein’s early novella was worthy of its Retro Hugo win, or will I think it’s merely decent? Stay tuned.
  2. The Legion of Time by Jack Williamson. Published in three parts in Astounding Science Fiction, May to July 1938. Despite what its title might tell you this is not part of Williamson’s Legion of Space series, but is a standalone short novel. I really like Williamson’s “With Folded Hands…” as well as his werewolf novella “Darker Than You Think,” so I wanna see how he does in a longer mode.

Now for the novellas. We have two this month, like in August (only being able to review two novellas makes me weep inside), and one is a certified classic while the other is looking to become a modern classic:

  1. “And Then There (N-One)” by Sarah Pinsker. First published in the March/April 2017 issue of Uncanny Magazine. The SFF novella has, in recent years, mostly been banished from the ‘zines, as online magazines aren’t keen on printing novellas, but Uncanny is an exception. Sarah Pinsker is very much alive and well, though sadly I’ve not read anything by her before. I hope she doesn’t mind if I stumble into this one blindly, but if what I’ve been hearing about her award-nominated novella is accurate at all then I have nothing to fear!
  2. “The Star-Pit” by Samuel R. Delany. First published in the February 1967 issue of Worlds of Tomorrow. I try not to gush about authors I love from the outset, but I think Delany is one of the best to ever do it. Babel-17? Classic. Nova? Classic. Dhalgren? One of my all-time favorites. And Delany could be as vigorous a short fiction writer as he is a novelist, as short stories like “Driftglass” and “Corona” prove. I’ve read “The Star-Pit” before and I’ll gladly read it again. Delany is an artist of alarming brilliance, and his work demands close attention.

Finally, the short stories:

  1. “The Blind Minotaur” by Michael Swanwick. Published in the March 1985 issue of Amazing Stories. Yes, Amazing Stories was still around in the ’80s, and was still releasing some damn good stuff. Swanwick himself debuted in 1980, so he could be considered a bit of an old-timer, but there’s nothing old-hat about this man, for his fiction is often vigorous, intellectual, entertaining, and even mystical at times. His 1991 novel Stations of the Tide recently became one of my favorites, and yet I look forward to reading more of his many short stories.
  2. “Shoggoths in Bloom” by Elizabeth Bear. Published in the March 2008 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction. Elizabeth Bear is one of the great practitioners of SFF to have come about in the past two decades, showing herself to be equally adept at both long and short form, as well as fantasy and science fiction (with a touch of horror mayhaps). She won back-to-back Hugos for her short stories “Tideline” (which I’ve read before) and the story that I’ve selected to cover this month (which I have not). Her graciousness knows no bounds.

I’ve decided to stick more with contemporary voices for September; of the six authors mentioned, four are still with us and active in the field to some extent. Delany has not written SFF with regularity in many years now, his work in academia has been immense, and recent lectures and interviews have show that his great mind has not withered even one bit. I must confess that part of my wants to always dig myself a hole and barracade myself with works by authors I already like, with authors I’m already familiar with, but we have one author here (Pinsker) whom I’ve not read anything by before, and I gotta say, I’m excited. Few things are more invigorating than potentially discovering a new favorite author, especially one who’s still currently making their way through the field.

Now you might be thinking, do I have anything special in mind for October? Why yes, I do. Halloween is my favorite holiday by a country mile and I intend to go all-out with it, but we’ll just have to wait for that.

Won’t you read with me?


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