The Golden Age of Science Fiction is Twelve: 1983-4, in genre, for me and the field

By Paul Weimer:

“The Golden Age of science fiction is twelve” – Peter Graham, 1957 (and requoted many times since)

Pete Graham at the 1965 Worldcon in London.

With the anniversary of File 770, I thought I would revisit that quote from Peter Graham, that the Golden Age of science fiction is the age of 12, by looking back at what the field was doing, and what I was reading at the age of 12. I turned 12 in October 1983, having already been a reader and consumer of science fiction for a number of years, thanks to an older brother already immersed in the genre.

1983 from a book perspective for me was about year 4 of getting really into SF. Getting handed copies of I, Robot and The Martian Chronicles had led to a still-ongoing era of raiding my brother’s SF books for stuff to read. Given that he’s 7 years older, this meant that my formative early SF reading was always a bit out of sync with what was going on at the time. It took me a while to start reading “currently” in the genre, rather than backfilling. So out of the hundreds and hundreds of books publishes when I was 12, I had read very few of them.

But what was in books published in 1983 and 1984, you ask?  Let’s look at the Hugo and Nebula nominees for an idea of what was out there:

1984 Hugo Nominees (for books in 1983)

  • Startide Rising by David Brin
  • Tea with the Black Dragon by R. A. MacAvoy
  • Millennium by John Varley
  • Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern by Anne McCaffrey
  • The Robots of Dawn by Isaac Asimov

I had read Robots of Dawn that year, since Asimov had been a formative author for me. I read none of thee at the time, although in a few years I would discover Brin, MacAvoy, Varley and McCaffrey. (I was about a year away from discovering Pern at this point).

File 770 (Best Fanzine) and Mike Glyer (Best Fan Writer) would both get Hugo nominations and wins in 1984.

How about the Nebulas that year?

  • Startide Rising by David Brin
  • Against Infinity by Gregory Benford, published by Timescape
  • Tea with the Black Dragon by R. A. MacAvoy
  • The Void Captain’s Tale by Norman Spinrad
  • Lyonesse by Jack Vance
  • The Citadel of the Autarch by Gene Wolfe

I had not yet quite discovered Benford, so his novel was still in my future at the time. Too, for Norman Spinrad. I had an intense Spinrad phase toward the end of the 80’s, but I was not there yet. I had already read a chunk of Jack Vance, but Lyonesse was still in my future. Gene Wolfe, too, was more than a decade in my future. I don’t think I’d really have grokked Book of the New Sun at age 12 anyway.

Let’s move onto the year 1984.  Again, a lot of my genre reading was idiosyncratically behind some years, as I was for the most part still working through my brother’s back collection. And yes, I did read 1984 in the year 1984, so there’s that.

1985 Hugo Nominees (for books in 1984)

  • Neuromancer by William Gibson
  • Emergence by David R. Palmer
  • The Peace War by Vernor Vinge
  • Job: A Comedy of Justice by Robert A. Heinlein
  • The Integral Trees by Larry Niven

Out of this set, I had read none of them that year, although in a couple of years I would read Heinlein, Niven and Gibson, and when it came back in print years later, the Vinge. I have not ever read the Palmer.

In the 1985 Hugo nominees for Novelette, the winner for Best Novelette was Octavia Butler’s “Bloodchild”, with that oh so memorable Asimov’s SF magazine cover. As I detailed in my essay in the collection Letters To Butler, this story had a profound impact on me and my subsequent Science Fiction reading. I had just started dipping a bit into current short fiction by 1984, mainly by reading issues of Asimov’s.

File 770 won for best Fanzine again in 1985. Mr. Glyer himself was nominated again for Best Fan Writer but did not win.

The Nebula award lineup that year for novels:

  • The Man Who Melted by Jack Dann
  • Neuromancer by William Gibson
  • Job: A Comedy of Justice by Robert A. Heinlein
  • The Integral Trees by Larry Niven
  • The Wild Shore by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • Frontera by Lewis Shiner

I have never read the Shiner or the Dann, and as far Kim Stanley Robinson, I didn’t discover him, really until the Mars books, whereupon I went back and read books like The Wild Shore and enjoyed them highly.

Oh, and the aforementioned Octavia Butler Novelette “Bloodchild” won the Nebula, too.

As far as movies, 1983 and 1984 marked the first years I actually got to see movies in a movie theater. My family was not big on movie watching, so it took my older brother again to take me and my younger brother to the movies for the first time. The second ever movie I saw in a movie theater, in the summer of 1983, was Return of the Jedi. I had not seen the previous Star Wars films, and only had the vaguest idea of what was in them, even though I did have many toys from a young age. Finally, in 1983, I was able to see Star Wars as it was meant to be, on a wide screen in a theater, being immersed into SF in a visual way that really only some television properties and television-broadcast movies had provided for me.  I did watch the Ewok Adventure: Caravan of Courage that fall, and was rather disappointed in it.

But back to movies and my season of going to movies for the first time. As it so happens, the first movie I saw in a movie theater was also genre, as it so happens — Metalstorm 3d: The Destruction of Jared Syn. I recently rewatched it to try and see how it matched up to my hazy memories of a desert planet that looked out of a Doctor Who rock quarry…it does not hold up to the memories I am afraid.

Other movies I saw in 1983 and then 1984 in genre included Superman III (a huge disappointment), The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, which was enormous fun, the original Ghostbusters and The Last Starfighter. I remember seeing Star Trek III: The Search for Spock after months and years of seeing articles which had spoiled the as-yet-unseen-to-me Star Trek II, and the debate on “How are we going to get Spock back, because they have to”. So when I saw Star Trek III, I already knew that Spock was dead and wondered just how he was going to be resurrected. I highly enjoyed Night of the Comet, although even at the time I realized that the denouement really is a downer despite its outwardly upbeat ending. All that infrastructure is doomed to fail!

I did not manage to see Dune at the time, although I remember Starlog magazine articles on it, because it disappeared from local theaters too soon. I also missed at the time Krull, 2010, Brainstorm, The Philadelphia Experiment, The Terminator, Wargames, The Right Stuff, Nausicaa, 1984, Ice Pirates, Repo Man, Videodrome, and  Firestarter.  I would see all of these in future years with the rise of VHS cassettes, however.

In terms of Television, 1983-4 was a pretty formative year, too. I watched the original V, avidly. It took a rewatch for me to really glom onto the anti-fascist theme. I was hopeful for Manimal, but the show died relatively quickly. 1983 also marked the end of Voyagers!, which married ideas of alternate history, history and time travel in a tasty genre package. 1983 and 1984 also were part of the early portion of another beloved show at the time for me, Knight Rider. The anthology show Tales from the Darkside also came out in Fall 1983. Although not really terribly to my taste (I felt really uncomfortable parallels to Brainy Smurf and how he was a butt monkey of the show), The Smurfs were also big at this time.

And of course, there is Doctor Who. People in the UK were watching Peter Davison in Season 20 (which included the 20th Anniversary special, The Five Doctors) Season 21 (which would be Davison’s final season), and Colin Baker’s first serial, The Twin Dilemma, I lived here in America, which meant watching old episodes of Doctor Who on PBS. This was still mostly 4th Doctor (Tom Baker) episodes at this point. It would not be until the later 80’s that I would get to see the Davison episodes and beyond.

On a roleplaying game front, 1983-4 marked for Dungeons and Dragons the start of the seminal Dragonlance modules, which would eventually be turned into novels by Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis. At this point, I was playing Dungeons and Dragons, but mostly homebrewed adventures. In a couple of years, I would move from being a player to being a GM, a role that I’ve usually taken more of ever since for many roleplaying games. Other roleplaying games at that type that emerged included Skyrealms of Journe (which is science fantasy cracking goodness), Twilight 2000, Toon, and the Ringworld RPG.

The 1983-1984 season of my 12th birthday, overall, was indeed, for me, a golden age, both at the time, and thereafter.

44 thoughts on “The Golden Age of Science Fiction is Twelve: 1983-4, in genre, for me and the field

  1. Which raises a question about where we’re headed now.

    When I was twelve I was reading ‘adult’ SF. I’d read the Lord of the Rings at least twice, I’d read most of the Asimov ‘Robot’ stories, most of Clarke’s short fiction. Wasn’t (fx: checks what won the Hugo that year) especially plugged into what was nominated those years at the time, I’ve read at least some of the shortlists.

    I seem to have recently acquired an eleven year old not quite step-son. He’s bright, if lazy, but it doesn’t even occur to him to work at reading that kind of fiction. YA seems to present a comfortable zone in which there’s less expectation on getting onto the meaty stuff.

    It would be idiotic to suggest that he’s somehow ‘wrong’ to read fiction that he enjoys, but I do wonder whether this will have any kind of lingering impact on how things are read.

  2. @NickPheas YA seems to present a comfortable zone in which there’s less expectation on getting onto the meaty stuff.

    I read an awful lot of Andre Norton, John Christopher, and Nicholas Fisk(*) at that age, all of whom would be classed as YA in modern terms. And if anything, most of Asimov and Clarke’s work is less sophisticated in terms of character and story than a lot of modern YA.

    (*) I didn’t particularly like Christopher or Fisk, but they were most of the SF you could find in an average school library.

  3. Well this is kind of embarrassing. My “12 years” would have been 1977 and 1978. I read nothing from 1977 that I can recall and only read Lucifer’s hammer from 1988. I was a pretty dedicated customer of the Science Fiction Book Club at the time, FWIW. And the local library, of course.

    I’ve got to ask what voters were thinking in 1977. They “no-awarded” the field for best dramatic presentation. That includes Futureworld and Logan’s Run; two tremendous sci-fi films, IMHO.

  4. I was reading “adult” sf at 12 and I know I’ve read some classic fiction from that year (1968/69), but I can’t say for sure what I was actually reading at the time, with a few exceptions. I didn’t get my fiirst sf magazine (November 1969 Analog) til a few months later. I do know that I ordered the Ballantine paperbacks of Lord of the Rings from Scholastic Book Services at school and read them for the first time, starting with The Two Towers because the first volume was delayed for some reason. It may have been that year that I joined the SFBC, but I’m not sure. I had a miscellaneous bunch of contemporaneous paperbacks that I bought new at the Kmart or the “variety store” downtown, including Sheckley’s Dimension of Miracles and one of the three paperback volumes that Berkley split Dangerous Visions into, and I probably read them when I bought them, but that’s just going by approximate publication dates. For me the “golden age” may have been a year or two later, when I was checking the stands each week for new paperbacks delivered by the local distributor and reading every issue of Amazing and Fantastic.

  5. @Dann, I have heard that the voters were so wowed by Star Wars that everything they were voting on from the year before paled in comparison, and they couldn’t bear to award any of it. I wasn’t involved at the time, so can’t speak from experience.

  6. When I was twelve (1962/1963) – I was reading Astounding (my father had a subscription). So, adult-level fiction. (Dune! Christopher Anvil!)
    The running joke was that I’d get home from school around 4 pm, and my father would get home by 5 pm – so I had time to slide the magazine out of the wrapper, do a fast skim of the letters and reviews, and slide it back into the wrapper. When my father slid it out, he’d make remarks about it having eyetracks all over it.

  7. My “Year 12” would have been 1982-1983.

    Of the Hugo nominees in 1982, I have read Claw of the Conciliator, which was also nominated for the Nebula.

    Of the Nebula nominees in 1982, I have also read Riddley Walker.

    Of the Hugo nominees in 1982, I have read Foundation’s Edge, 2010: Odyssey Two, Friday, and The Sword of the Lictor (all of which except 2010 were also nominated for the Nebula), as well as The Postman and Aquila.

    Of the 1982 Nebula nominees, I have also read Moon of Ice.

  8. I think it will be a bit different for me. 12 was absolutely an important age, but maybe more so 16-17, because at that age I was good enough at english to have so much more to read.

    But I think 12 was the best year for horror. I think I was that age when I found Edgar Allan Poe and Roald Dahl the first time. Possibly Bradbury too, but I saw him as a horror writer too then (The Crowd, The Small Assassin, The Veldt…).

    I have read Foundation’s Edge, 2010: Odyssey Two and Friday from 1982. Didn’t find any of them rememberable.

  9. I read an awful lot of Andre Norton, John Christopher, and Nicholas Fisk(*) at that age, all of whom would be classed as YA in modern terms.

    Well, yes, but ‘YA’ now includes both the top end of the old children’s range, and the ‘definitely for teenagers and not for children’ range – which was already becoming a thing in the 80’s, but hadn’t expanded into SFF in a big way. So while in the olden days you went straight on from older children’s fiction to adult fiction, now there is this whole big sector standing between them.

  10. Hmmm. 1973 for me. I read all the Hugo nominated novels and novellas and most of the novelettes but I fall short on the short stories.

    I do significantly less well on the Nebulas. Read all the novels but after that it’s a crap-shoot.

  11. Agree that a lot of what I was reading as ‘adult’ sci-fi in the 80s would be more like YA now. Nick, perhaps you’d just want to sneak a few more non-YA as time passes? Don’t jump directly to something like Blindsight.

    Also- I had no idea Dragonlance were scenarios first! (Or maybe I’ve just forgotten) Thought that they were the other way around.

  12. I turned 12 within days of the Star Trek season 3 premiere – I hadn’t seen it before because of piano lessons. By then I’d already experienced (by dint of luck, and 60 miles from my home town) 2001 in Cinerama. At the same time I started buying paperbacks such as Clarke’s 2001 and Childhood’s End and discovered Andre Norton, Robert Silverberg (a collection that included “MUgwump 4”), and Heinlein in my school library – the latter represented not only by the “juveniles” (not then available in paperback) but also an omnibus consisting of The Puppet Masters, Waldo, and Magic Inc. Definitely not YA at the time.

    Before I was 13 I had joined the Science Fiction Book Club; my first ‘main selection’ was The Beast that Shouted Love at the Heart of the World. (I had never heard of Ellison before.) Soon after, SFBC sent me the invaluable two-volume Anthony Boucher-edited Treasury of Great Science Fiction (1959).

  13. Who can remember 1966? When I look at lists of books, I’m pretty sure “Moon is a Harsh Mistress” was not on my list. Or any Delaney or PKD. My memory tells me that I was heavy into comics (Superman, Action, World’s Finest) and others like “Famous Monsters of Filmland” or “Vampirella”; “Creepy” and “Eerie”.
    I do remember seeing “Fantastic Voyage” ; “Way, Way Out” (with Jerry Lewis) and “Island of Terror” (a Hammer film where these creatures survived by latching onto people and animals and sucking all the calcium out of them, IIRC; which left a way cool body with no bones) in an actual theater. If you add 1967 into that, “The Reluctant Astronaut” with Don Knotts. And, of course, the Saturday night Creature Feature where such classics as “The Giant Gila Monster” and “Black Scorpion”.

  14. For me it was 1974, and I distinctly remember becoming obsessed with the reprint series of the The Shadow from Pyramid, with those Jim Steranko covers!

    I also remember getting a used copy of Again Dangerous Visions, which hit me like a ton of bricks. And though the sense of wonder of the “golden age” space operas was great (E.E. Smith, Edmond Hamilton), somehow those stories in ADV (for example Le Guin’s ‘World for the World is Forest,’ Tiptree’s ‘Milk of Paradise’ — the last story in the book– and ‘When It Changed,’ by Joanna Russ, along with Effinger’s ‘The 10:00 O’clock Report Brought to You By’) they just wrenched my perspective rather drastically.
    Somewhere I got my hands on ‘Lathe of Heaven’ which blew my mind, but it would be several years before I caught up with other works by Russ, Effinger, and Tiptree.
    I recall the punk tone of Ellison’s introductions to each story. It had an upbeat, casual tone, but at the same time a darker edge, a real attitude! Somehow this got me to thinking that all these authors were real people, who walked up and down the street with me.
    So that got me on to the idea that I should try to meet these people, like at a convention! The first one held locally around that time was a quasi Star Trek con, where I met A. E. Van Vogt and Jack Williamson, and they both interested me enough to send me off reading stacks of their books.
    I remember asking my father if he had any science fiction he recommended. Since he read books 24 hours a day and the house was stacked with them floor to ceiling, I thought for sure there would be a stash someplace. After much digging, he found copies of Peake’s Gormenghast and Blish’s The Demolished Man. I thought the former was like chewing wood, but the latter went down like candy.
    So this was a crucial year for me, that “golden age” year! Shortly after this, Leslie Hall introduced me to J. G. Ballard, Max Ernst, and Boris Vian. Then I met Harry O. Morris, and found out about this other “thing” called fanzines (his was Nyctalops).
    What great year!

  15. 1980 here. A fine year to be reading Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s X-Men: the year started with the end of the Proteus storyline, then saw the debuts of the Hellfire Club, Kitty Pryde, and Dazzler, and that of course led right into Dark Phoenix.

    Of the Hugo and Nebula award nominees:
    the 1981 Hugo novel nominees were The Snow Queen, Lord Valentine’s Castle, The Ringworld Engineers,Beyond the Blue Event Horizon, and Wizard. Man: a great year for sequels, and ones not as good as the first volume. I know I’ve read them all, but most of them I don’t remember much.

    the 1980 Nebula novel nominees didn’t have a huge amount of overlap: only the Vinge and the Pohl. There was also Timescape (which I read and found a bit dull) The Orphan by Robert Stallman (haven’t read), Mockingbird by Walter Tevis (haven’t read), and The Shadow of the Torturer (have read, should re-read The Book of the New Sun one of these days).

  16. I was about to say I couldn’t be sure of anything I specifically read when I was 12 — but I remember retelling The Stars My Destination at the summer camp where I turned 13 (1966), so I’d probably read it in the previous months. I’d been reading SF steadily since age 8 — presents for that birthday were Tom Swift Jr. #’s 1 (Flying Lab) and I think #6 (Outpost in Space — all I can remember is that they went to space because they couldn’t safely draw enough power for an energy-to-matter converter on Earth) — and had read a scattering of titles off adult bookstands (Earthlight, No Future in It, a Galaxy anthology that included “Granny Won’t Knit”), but the big event when I was 12 was the closing of the county library I’d been going to since starting to read. This might seem like a catastrophe — but it was an old small building with a separate floor for non-adult fiction (although I occasionally went into the adult non-fiction because I was pursuing stage magic (Dewey 793.6 IIRC)); the replacement (that I started going to just after turning 13) was one floor with one checkout desk, so drifting to the adult side was less conspicuous. I remember Agent of the Terran Empire (Flandry collection) being one of the first books from the new library; there was also Glory Road, which did not please my parents.

    @Dann: opinions on Logan’s Run vary; I’m still with Cinefantastique Quarterly, which headlined its review “The SF Boom Starts with a Bomb”. I’ve never seen enough approving words about Futureworld to make me even vaguely curious. I have seen Carrie, which gets props for asking why the horror happened (although the answer is not as sympathetic as the book’s), and would like to see The Man Who Fell to Earth sometime to see whether it was ahead of its time or just clunky. But @Lenore is probably correct about Star Wars (cf the special award to Lucas (picked up by Kurtz, IIRC) at that year’s Worldcon), which came out right when people would have been seriously thinking about how to rank the final-ballot choices. Oddly, I don’t remember much talk about it at Disclave, a couple of weeks after it opened; possibly memories are eclipsed by the way Alien (which was playing just uptown from the convention site 2 years later) took over con-suite conversation that year. But I remember how it ran and ran in Boston. I wonder what happened to the idea of blockbusters coming out in May, rather than December or mid-summer as now?

  17. @Chip

    Well sure. You said much the same thing three years ago over at Making Light. (I was looking for an archived copy of Cinefantastique to read their review and it popped up in the search results.)

    I didn’t get to see either movie in the theaters. But a couple years later they invented this newfangled HBO thing that presented both movies. Given the time in which they were made, I thought they were technologically OK. The handling of various social and technological themes were pretty interesting.

    My only point is that at least two of the nominated movies were better than “No Award” IMHO. Noting that one recently released movie is better should disqualify the nominees. If 2018 ends up being a mind blowing year in the genre, should we No Award the nominees published in 2017? Or should we judge the 2017 nominees against the rest of 2017 (as well as our subjective ideas as to what represents superior writing)? Given other movies near 1977 that cleared the Noah bar, I can’t see putting these two below it. Just my perspective.

    I wonder what happened to the idea of blockbusters coming out in May, rather than December or mid-summer as now?

    If you enjoy podcasts, then I recommend the SinCast by CinemaSins. They have talked quite a bit about the changes in movie release tactics and how technology has influenced things. From their perspective, there are a lot of factors that have driven the changes. The elimination of hard “film” makes it easier to distribute. It also makes it easier to decide to pull a movie if it is doing poorly. The development of mega-theaters makes it easier to spread out openings. Culturally, we appear to be less likely to see a movie over and over again. They have also noted some changes in the ways/times that Oscar contenders are being released.

    I wish I could point you to a single episode where they discuss the changes in movie release tactics. But I can’t. It is a facet of the industry that they discuss from time to time.


  18. Well sure. You said much the same thing three years ago over at Making Light.

    So? It was no less true 38 years after the film came out than it is 41 years after — and IIRC it was the opinion of the group of fans who saw the movie in its first week. Sometimes there’s something good that becomes obvious after the stench disippates; more commonly there isn’t.

    The development of mega-theaters makes it easier to spread out openings.

    Well, yes — but there are still prime times; it’s just that the prime times have changed. E.g. the first 6 SW all came out in ~later May, while the last 3 came out in December; Wonder Woman came out (in the US) in the first week of June, on the leading edge of what critics around here call the summer blockbuster season. MCU movies are more scattered — but a lot opened early-May or mid-summer.

    The handling of various social and technological themes were pretty interesting.

    Again, that’s a matter of opinion; when Logan’s Run came out it seemed like a stale, implausible reaction to the 1960s’ youth-is-everything thread, with generally wooden acting.

    If 2018 ends up being a mind blowing year in the genre, should we No Award the nominees published in 2017? Or should we judge the 2017 nominees against the rest of 2017 (as well as our subjective ideas as to what represents superior writing)? Given other movies near 1977 that cleared the Noah bar, I can’t see putting these two below it. Just my perspective.

    From my perspective, the movies that won after 1977 were a serious improvement on the ones that came before; Star Wars, clunky as it now seems, showed them up as having flaws similar to those commonly seen today when mundanes decide to try SF (e.g., tangibly overrating their own imagination, and valuing Message over story). I don’t see written fiction taking a step of such size without becoming so abstruse most of us won’t be able to follow it.

  19. 12, the Golden Age: The elementary school library allowed full-summer checkouts, so at the end of fifth grade I checked out the two-volume “A Treasury of Great Science Fiction” (1959) edited by Anthony Boucher. Mostly stories from the 1950’s, including the novels “Re-Birth,” “Weapon Shops of Isher,” “Brain Wave,” and “Stars My Destination.” I’d read some Arthur C. Clarke novels before that, and some Heinlein juveniles, and other books mostly forgotten, but that Boucher collection was the big turn-on for me.

    No Award movies: I saw “Logan’s Run” first run; it reeked. I’m confident this was a widespread view among the fans who voted that year. I was stunned when a “Logan’s Run” costume fandom showed up at conventions some time later.
    As for “The Man Who Fell To Earth:” it was the only movie I’ve attended where the theater handed out flyers to the departing audience to explain what they had just seen. 🙂 Later years may have improved its stature, but first-run moviegoers weren’t happy. (I’m repeating myself here…)

  20. ISTR (from here in 7023, and no, it isn’t 3:15pm right now) seeing Star Wars in 1977, the Sunday (or maybe the Monday) after it opened. There was a line nearly two showings long in the parking lot, just to get tickets, at the Century theaters just north of Mrs Winchester’s house. Buzz was already very loud; I’d heard about it Friday morning, from my physics professor, who’d seen it the previous night and was still in orbit.

  21. @Ken –

    I saw “Logan’s Run” first run; it reeked. I’m confident this was a widespread view among the fans who voted that year.

    I absolutely loved the TV series, though I didn’t see the movie. I suspect that the Logan’s Run fandom was made up of people closer to my age than yours (I was 4 when the TV series started). I recently saw the movie and was surprised at all the nudity – I hadn’t realized there was both a movie and a TV series. It’s a fun piece of schlock according to 40+ year old me.

  22. @Chip Hitchcock:

    From my perspective, the movies that won after 1977 were a serious improvement on the ones that came before;

    The way I relate that experience: Between the year 1968 (2001 and Planet of the Apes) and Star Wars, nearly every SF movie released was bad. One approached the movie theater from a sense of obligation to see the genre movie but one didn’t expect to enjoy it.

    (I’m sure lots of counterexamples will be thrown up — mine is Silent Running — but it’s pretty slim pickings for almost a decade, for the field which is now Hollywood’s gold mine.)

    I suspect the change was the arrival of Spielberg, Lucas and others in their generation who loved and respected 1950s SF, the stuff from when they were 12.

    (And now in 7232 the SF movie craze has run its course, and the studios churn out series of 3-D cop-thriller musicals.)

  23. I saw the Logan’s Run movie after i had read the book and found it ridiculous. It won an Oscar for special effects, but they were on the level of childrens fireworks.

    But Carrie was a good movie, did people no award it because they thought of it as horror? I think The Man Who Fell To Earth has gotten a lot better reputation since the Director’s Cut which was 20 minutes longer and filled some of the plot holes.

  24. (( what happens when I have too much Diet Pepsi at dinner: dawn postings on File 770… “Old man yells at clouds…”))

    @Hampus: I believe that is what happened, that the 1977 Hugo voters declined to honor “Carrie” as a best work because it was horror. I have not seen it, but there is nothing in the reputation of the film or its principals which would otherwise explain the vote.

    This brings me to a side point I was going to make to @kathodus. Much of the Hugo Awards voting pool of 1977 saw itself as fans of *LITERARY* *SCIENCE FICTION*, and in voting they felt inclined to defend both parts of that description. <— this is an assertion, like they teach in Strunk and White, based on my memories as an active fan of three years' standing.

    1) Up until the end of the 1970s, there just weren't a lot of fantasy novels being nominated for Hugos. (On a quick scan I count MZBradley in 1963; Garrett and Swann for two titles in 1967; Vonnegut and Anne McCaffrey's genres could be debatable; I'm sure there are titles I am not familiar with.) The reluctance to nominate fantasy novels in that era, I suggest, is in parallel with a reluctance to award a horror film.

    To borrow the local college football metaphor: in the mid-1970s, science fiction was very much the big brother and fantasy was the little brother. 🙂
    (And, as in college football, the roles are now reversed, with Michigan State having taken 8 of the last 10 from Michigan…)

    (( Counterargument: Ken is using novel nominations to represent the whole field in years when magazines were still important because he's too bleeping tired to scan the short fiction noms and wouldn't recognize most of the titles. There was no meaningful market for fantasy novels until the Ballantine Adult Fantasy line in the late 1960s-early 1970s. On the third hand, "no meaningful market" means…))

    This brings me to the *LITERARY* part. My guess is that the voting fans of 1977 (and earlier eras) were generally judging dramatic works by literary (story?) standards, because that's what most of them (i.e., us, including me) were used to.

    That was going to be my comment to @kathodus. There was no generic "media fandom" in 1977, so there were not lots of Hugo voters who had "media" standards to apply in evaluating Dramatic Presentation nominees; instead the voters would have fallen back on their literary standards.

    There was Trek fandom, of lengthy and distinguished lineage (yes, I snarked at ST fans in the 1970s, but ST:TOS the show was considerably honored by Hugo during its run), but I don't remember any other identifiable media fandom until Star Wars hit.

    – – – – –

    I have something else to write about fandom 40 years ago compared to fandom today, but it probably belongs in a different one of the anniversary items. And since it’s only year 1541, I should probably wait until 2018 to publish those remarks. The New Orleans Worldcon hasn’t even happened yet, and there isn’t a lot of SF available in the early years of movable type printing.

  25. Above I mentioned what I was reading when I was 12. What I was watching: for my 12th birthday, my parents took me to see 2001 in Cinerama at Washington D.C.’s Uptown theater, before it had moved out to the little suburban box theaters. The six track sound, the giant curved screen… Talk about imprinting at age 12… I spent the next decade trying to explain the movie to my beloved mother, whenever she would ask what had happened, because she knew it was such an important movie to me. (I’d already read Clarke’s 2001 novel, a Christmas gift three weeks earlier from my best friend.) After the movie, Mom and Dad took me out to Zayre’s and bought me the soundtrack LP.

    (Digression — decades later, I would drag a friend, who saved money by watching movies on home video, to a 70mm revival screening of 2001. He was gobsmacked and had to admit that, at least for some movies, the big screen is worth the spend.)

    What was published when I was 12: I didn’t read it until the junior high school library, which puts my reading age maybe up to 14, but The Left Hand of Darkness made a colossal stamp on my tastes. (Cheating a bit, but of the novels HONORED when I was 12, I adored Stand on Zanzibar at some point in my teen years, and R.A. Lafferty’s Past Master would figure into my college years. ) I usually cite those LeGuin and Brunner novels as the most important young-person SF for me.

    (And here in the year 3788, Diet Pepsi has eliminated all need for sleep. Let me grab another…)

  26. My departed friend Rich Moorman saw LOGAN’S RUN in its original run, and the thing he found worthy of comment was a scene (I hope I have the right movie) where bored jet-setters of the future day go out and shoot trees, burning them to the ground and chuckling at their cleverness. He found this solution to short-term boredom somewhat chilling, and I’ve always agreed with his assessment.

    (Was that the movie? Not SOYLENT GREEN, not ROLLERBALL? I’ve seen bits and pieces of all of these, and may be conflating.)

  27. (I hope I have the right movie) where bored jet-setters of the future day go out and shoot trees, burning them to the ground and chuckling at their cleverness.

    Is that not Rollerball?

  28. Entirely aside from discussions about casting her writing into the outer darkness as coming from an Evil Person, MZB as fantasy or SF will probably be debated forever. I come down squarely on the SF side, with fantasy labels put on some SF tropes (psi powers, weapons) by people who’d stumbled into said tropes; note that even The Sword of Aldones does not suggest that the spaceships are powered by magic ala Five Twelfths of Heaven. But if you’re including her in fantasy and going through the 1970’s, you need to add The Forbidden Tower (3 (4?) generations before Sword, fairly early in recontact), not to mention McKillip’s Harpist in the WInd (also I think the first example of the end of a set being nominated as a stand-in for the whole set). However, you’re definitely missing by not looking at short works; “That Hell-Bound Train” won outright (i.e., not just nominated) in 1959, as did “Gonna Roll the Bones” in 1968. (And who am I to talk — those are just from memory, without trying to recognize titles, although a side effect of a title search tells me that Burn, Witch, Burn (based on Leiber’s Conjure Wife) was nominated for 1963 — another year when DP was NA’d.) “Train” is my example against people arguing that the Hugos are just for science fiction; they’ve been wrong on the rules for decades (and on the suggestions since the beginning, per a thread here recently), but wrong on practice for over half a century.

    I remember the Boucher anthology very fondly; that was where I got the Bester from, although I didn’t see volume 1 until I joined SFBC (where it was a steady seller for how many decades? and a selling point for much of that). Unfortunately the SFBC version wasn’t well made; mine fell apart some time ago, so my current copy comes from some library whose patrons have an insufficient sense of history.

  29. Thanks, NickPheas, for answering my question.

    (added: Note how I right away assume you’re right!)

    Next question: Was it one of that particular trio that had a side bit, quite fleeting, where an embarrassed computer custodian admits, “We’ve lost the sixteenth century.”?

  30. Ah, well. Thanks anyway. There’s nothing for it: If I want to know, I’ll probably have to watch the movies until it turns up (and hope I don’t miss it going by).

    (The context it was presented to me in was that someone had just goofed, and there was nothing much to do for it, but nobody really cared that much anyway.)

  31. The scene with the partiers blowing up trees is definitely from Rollerball.

    I’m not sure how to interpret the information over at But it seems to me that there are a number of other dramatic presentations that are not substantially better than Logan’s Run or Futureworld that managed to make it above the No Award bar in their respective years.

    From 1974 – Westworld and The Six Million Dollar Man.

    From 1975 – Zardoz. (Now that was a steaming pile of whatthewhat?)

    Also from 1975 – Flesh Gordon took second! (Really?????)

    From 1976 – Rollerball (which was a very enjoyable movie, IMHO)

    From 1978 – Both The Hobbit and Wizards cleared the bar despite being judged against Star Wars.

    From 1979 – Superman won.

    Using those other properties as a scale, I would argue that both Logan’s Run and Futureworld are in the same ballpark. I’m not suggesting that either movie should have won outright. Only that they are good enough to have avoided being below No Award. I can’t comment on the other movies as I haven’t seen them.

    As Star Wars was not eligible to win in 1977, it shouldn’t have influenced the evaluation of those nominees that were eligible that year.


  32. From 1979 – Superman won.

    Wait, are you actually arguing that Superman is in the “same ballpark” as a movie as Rollerball and Flesh Gordon? If so, I really have to question your judgment.

  33. @Aaron

    From a special effects stand-point, yup…same ballpark. (and perhaps set design….)

    There are other obvious differences where normal people might disagree. But, IMHO, the differences are not significant enough to drop those movies below No Award.


  34. From a special effects stand-point, yup…same ballpark. (and perhaps set design….)

    Nope. Now I have to question whether you actually watched any of these movies.

    Also, the award isn’t for “best special effects”. It is for best dramatic presentation. On that standard, Superman is light years ahead of many of the other movies you cited.

  35. @ I’ve never seen Flesh Gordon. It has been a long time since I’ve seen Westworld and would like to see it again. I saw Zardoz once and have no desire to do that again. I wouldn’t go out of my way to watch The Six Million Dollar Man.

    I enjoyed the rest of them a great deal and have watched them several times.

  36. I’m generally suspicious of theories that draw a clear bright line and declare it to be between different eras, but the idea that SF movies changed dramatically pre- and post-SW is one of the more solid ones IMO.
    That difference wasn’t just in the FX, although it certainly was a step-change in quality, but in the attitude. Post SW you really see an improved sense of confidence in making SF, that the makers know that if they do it well they’ll be rewarded by an audience with high expectations, where even if that expectation was for only for popcorn fun it had to have decent FX and some respect for its material.
    There was good stuff before and bad stuff after, of course, but I look at a lot of 70s stuff and ask myself if they’d have dared make it with the same attitude in 1980.

  37. Well, I’ve seen FLESH GORDON (which exists in X-rated form and an R-rated cut), and they succeed at their secondary goal of campy evocations of cheesy classic adventure movies. It’s got quite a line-up of behind-the-scenes talent, as well. From Wikipedia:

    Flesh Gordon employed special effects artists who would later gain Hollywood fame, including Mike Minor, Greg Jein and Rick Baker. Established effects artists Jim Danforth (listed backward in the film credits as Mij Htrofnad) and Dave Allen also worked on the film. The film’s low-budget special effects were achieved using old-fashioned techniques: For example, the model of Wang’s palace was created using everyday objects, such as drinking glasses, and was designed to resemble Griffith Observatory so actual footage shot at the base of the observatory could be integrated in the film.

    Los Angeles-area Star Trek fan and writer Bjo Trimble was a makeup artist on Flesh Gordon; she described these experiences in her book On the Good Ship Enterprise: My 15 Years with Star Trek. Other Los Angeles-area science fiction fans worked, at times, in various capacities on the film, including science fiction and fantasy artist George Barr who designed and illustrated the film’s one-sheet movie poster, and Cornelius Cole III, who animated the film’s opening title credits sequence. Longtime fan and science fiction and fantasy writer Tom Reamy served in the film’s Art Department as the production’s Property Master. He tracked down many of the screen-used props in the film, including authentic, full-sized Ford Tri-Motor wicker passenger seats (matching the film’s Tri-Motor aircraft miniature) used in an early scene in the film.

    I’m not saying you should run out and see it, but when it’s not actually doing smut, it has its endearing moments.

  38. Coincidentally, this article on 80s movies just passed across my screen. It makes the very interesting point that VHS came out in late 1977, and the first Blockbuster video store opened in 1985 demonstrating how quickly the home video boom had come on. Could the extra income into the industry plus the expectations caused by easy repeat viewing have been a factor that intensified the SW effect?

  39. Flesh Gordon is a brilliant movie and not bad at all on special effects. It is on the level of Jason and The Argonauts. It is still fun to show at fan meetings. Flesh Gordon 2 is not on the same level, but it is still a fun film – if you have that kind of humour. Pehaps a bit more juvenile.

    Both are X-rated, but they are very tame. IMore for fun than for excitement.

  40. @Chip Hitchcock: The Forbidden Tower is only one generation before The Sword of Aldones, at most two. In The Bloody Sun we learn that Jeff Kerwin is the child of the Forbidden Tower group; in Exile’s Song he’s still around to meet the grown daughter of Lew Alton. So Jeff and Lew are of an age, or at most one generation apart.

  41. @Kip W: I’m not saying you should run out and see [Flesh Gordon], but when it’s not actually doing smut, it has its endearing moments.. Oh yes. The rocket takeoff (circling from wires — I saw that demo’d somewhere, possibly in the Universal tour when I took it in 1982), Dr Jerkov sticking his immense proboscis out the door, sniffing, and saying “Gut. There’s oxygen here. We can breathe.”, …

    @David Goldfarb: The Wikipedia summary of The Bloody Sun places “Jeff Kerwin Jr.” as the grandchild of the original Forbidden Tower group; he’s the child of Cleindori, who was born several years after the events of The Forbidden Tower (because when her parents meet at the end of Thendara House, her father has gone from just-married to having children old enough to be independent), and was himself born (per W’s read of the revised version) several years after Cleindori was old enough to become a Keeper. That’s two long generations — and Sun features (again per W) Lew’s father Kennard but not Lew, suggesting that Lew is younger than “Jeff”.
    Note that both our arguments assume that it’s possible to make sense of MZB’s chronology, which several of the sources I dug up for the above assert is next to impossible.

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