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Nebula Award Stories: 1 [Paperback]

Damon Knight

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Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Decent Collection of 8 sci-fi short stories 15 Feb 2011
By . - Published on Amazon.com
This anthology represents the FIRST set of Nebula award winners (from 1965) and features that year's winners as well as honorable mentions in the areas of short story, novella, and novellete. This particular collection features some very well known sci-fi authors such as Gordon Dickson, Harlen Ellison, J.G. Ballard, Brian Aldis, Larry Niven and 2 stories by Roger Zelanzy. It's overall a decently enjoyable collection but with that list of authors I hoped for a little more classic stuff, whereas I felt most of the stories were a bit better than average. (Granted, the collection is all from a single year, and it can be hard to come up with a lot of stories from a single year that remain classics).

As I said the collection contains 2 of Zelanzy's works - "The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth" & "He Who Shapes." Though I've liked some of Zelanzy's short stories, neither of these ended up totally working for me.... (further they take up over 100+ of the books 250 pages). It doesn't mean either were bad, and I know Zelanzy uses a variety of different themes and some of his stuff may not be as accesible to those not familiar with his style. And Further "He who Shapes" was later developed into a short novel called "The Dream Master" that seems to have had popularity - at least amongst Zelanzy's fans ("The Dream Master" apparently was then later dveloped into the screenplay "Dreamscape").

Perhaps it's a matter of taste...or based mainly on writing style...but I ended up enjoying Brian Aldiss' "The Saliva Tree" probably the most in the collection. Set in late 1800's England, it's very much an obvious ode to H.G. Wells (and Wells is even loosly featured in it), and it also clearly has similarities to H.P. Lovecraft, but it is an interesting variation on the "visitors-come-to-Earth" theme. Niven's "Becalmed in Hell," might have been my second favorite - a 10-page or so piece of "hard sci-fi." J.G. Ballard's story ("The Drowned Giant") should be given credit for leaving the reader with rather wierd, dark feeling, which may be exactly what the author set out to do! Harlen Ellison's contribution ("Repent Harrlequin, said the Ticktockman"), Gordon Dickson's ("Computers Don't Argue") and James Schmitz ("Balanced Ecology") round out the collection - all 3 enjoyable and well-written.

In summary, though perhaps this collection is not a "must-read" anthology, it's an overall enjoyable collection and I could come close to giving it another star - or at lease half a star. Further, for sci-fi gurus (or those who wish to read as much on the Nebula or Hugo awards as possible) this may be an interesting read simply because it the first set of "Nebula Award" winners to be given. It personally did leave me interested in continuing to find and read more from the series... However, for a bit better anthology from the 60's I recommend "The Mammoth Book of New World Sci-fi..short novels of the 60's." Nearly every story in it is quite good, and it is an overall a stronger offering.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars some good stories in this early New Wave compilation 15 Sep 2010
By J. Higgins - Published on Amazon.com
It could be argued that the New Wave movement in SF in the US started up in 1965, with the publication of quintessential New Wave stories like Ellison's `"Repent, Harlequin ! Said the Ticktockman"' and Zelazny's `The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth'.

Damon Knight, President of the newly formed Science Fiction Writers of America, possessed a quasi-religious devotion to the New Wave prose style. Knight fervently believed that by promoting a sub-group of authors who crafted `speculative fiction', the Literary World would be forced to admit that, far from consisting of frivolous stories about rocket ships and slide rules, SF was a maturing art form whose foremost practitioners were as deserving of praise as Pynchon, Barth, and Vonnegut.

Accordingly, in 1966 the first Nebula Awards were primarily handed out to New Wave authors; those stories (all seeing print in 1965) are represented in this collection.

`The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth' deals superficially with a deep-sea fishing expedition on Venus; the emphasis is on the psychology of the lead character, a `baitman', and his tumultuous relationship with his former wife. `Ticktockman' is a fable about a regimented society and a rebellious Everyman.

While at the time these stories were considered daring and witty expansions of the boundaries of the genre, I suspect that most modern readers will find them contrived and unremarkable.

James H. Schmitz provides `Balanced Ecology', a more conventional SF story in terms of plotting and setting. On a planet that features trees made of a diamond-like substance, two children must defend their farm from a rapacious corporation. The ecology theme was certainly a prominent one for the New Wave era, and Schmitz's accessible writing style makes this one of the better stories in the collection.

Zelazny appears again with the novelette `He Who Shapes', about a psychiatrist named Render who uses a high-tech gadget to enter the subconscious mind of his patients. Contemporary readers will recognize this trope from `Inception', the big Summer blockbuster of 2010, as well as any number of Philip K. Dick's novels and short stories. But for this audience, `Shapes' is going to seem lengthy and dull. There are too many belabored passages where Zelazny is intent on demonstrating his ability to write meaningful dialogue. As well, the author can't resist stuffing the narrative with sections of overly figurative prose designed to showcase his ability to relate the visions inherent in the dream-world; such quasi-psychedelic chunks of text were bearable in the `Amber' novels, but work poorly here.

Gordon Dickson's entry, `Computers Don't Argue', is a half-humorous look at how the increased use of computers and automated systems can entrap the unwary consumer. While contemporary readers may raise an quizzical eyebrow over the use of the term `punch cards', the underlying theme of the story is still relevant.

Larry Niven provides `Becalmed in Hell', a hard science-oriented short story. The fact that this tale was considered for a Nebula is an indication that not all the SFWA members were as besotted with the New Wave form as Damon Knight. The pilot of the first spaceship to Venus must deal with an equipment malfunction; complicating things is his suspicion that the ship's brain-in-a-jar AI may be the source of the trouble.

During the 60s and 70s Brian Aldiss was regularly churning out New Wave stories in imitation of his hero, J. G. Ballard; most of Aldiss's entries in this area were unremarkable. Fortunately, when he set his mind on putting together a straightforward SF adventure rather than a Work of Art, Aldiss could write very well. `The Saliva Tree' is a proto-steampunk novelette set in England at the end of the 19th century. A spacecraft submerges itself in the depths of a rural pond, and strange mutations arise in the flora and fauna of the surrounding farm. A Victorian gentlemen must come up with a plan to combat the invaders even as he struggles to convince the eccentric farmer that the visitors from the stars have unpleasant intentions. This story should be very appealing to present-day steampunk fans.

The final story in the anthology comes from the era's foremost practitioner of the New Wave approach, J. G. Ballard. Ballard's New Wave tales could be hit-or-miss, either pretentious efforts at `experimental' writing (`The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race'), or well-composed stories dealing with traditional SF topics (`Billenium').

`The Drowned Giant', which lost to `Ticktockman' for the short story Nebula, is one of his better efforts at mingling a cleanly written narrative with an offbeat, imaginative theme. Here, it is the corpse of an enormous man that washes up on a beach on the English coast. With its existential, melancholy tone, a focus on mood and setting rather than plot machinations, `Giant' has aged as well as, or better than, many of the other New Wave pieces seeing print in the 60s.

To sum it all up, some of the pieces in this anthology have aged better than others. Readers looking for examples of early New Wave SF, before it collapsed under its own excessive artiness, may want to pick up this volume.
5.0 out of 5 stars The Way It Was 'Spozed to Be 8 Aug 2013
By Paul Camp - Published on Amazon.com
The Nebula Awards were first presented in 1965 as an alternative to the Hugo Awards for the best science fiction novels and short fiction of the year. I am going to talk about how the Nebulas were 'spozed to be-- not always exactly the way they turned out in practice, but how they must have seemed in that early, golden year.

Unlike the Hugos, which are chosen by popular ballot, the Nebulas are chosen by professional ballot by members of the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA). In theory, professional writers would be more alert to quality stories that were less popular with the general public. They would be more prone to be receptive to experimental science fiction. They would be less influenced by political wrangling. Well, that was the way it was 'spozed to be.

This brings us to _Nebula Award Stories_, edited by Damon Knight, the first of the annual Nebuala Awards anthologies, with the Award Winners and several runners-up for best stories of 1965. It was an auspicious start. All of the selections were top-drawer stories.

Let us start with the winners. The award for best novella was a tie between Roger Zelazny's "He Who Shapes" (_Amazing_) and Brian W. Aldiss's "The Saliva Tree" (_Fantasy and Science Fiction_)-- two stories with absolutely nothing in common except general excellence of writing. The best novelette award also went to Roger Zelazny for his "The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth" (_F&SF_). And the best short story award went to Harlan Ellison's "'Repent Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman" (_Galaxy_). I believe that readers and SFWA writers were sending a message that they were looking for good _short_ stories that year; the Ellison tale also won the Hugo.

"He Who Shapes" is a tragedy. It tells the story of Render, a psychiatrist who shapes or manipulates the dreams of his patients to lead them to constructive therapeutic ends. But one day, he takes a blind woman for a patient. And step by step, we watch the godlike Render prepare his own downfall.

"The Saliva Tree" is a pastiche of H.G. Wells. It is set in a rural nineteenth century England, where many Wellsian scientific adventures occur-- though in a somewhat distorted manner than that eventually told by Wells himself in his novels. It's a marvelous comic adventure, a somewhat distant relative to steampunk.

"The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth," is a pull-out-all-stops action thriller about deep-sea fishing for the Leviathon on the seas of Venus. It could be considered a companion piece to his Martian story, "A Rose for Ecclesiastes". It demonstrated that the old planetary romance was not dead yet.

Harlan Ellison, like the Harlequin in his short story, is a man who is _always_ late. "'Repent, Harlequin!'..." is a neat blend of comedy and dystopian satire, and I suspect that this struck a chord with readers. I like the tale myself, but I don't feel that it represents Ellison at his most original.

There were four "honorable mentions," all of short story length: James H. Schmitz's "Balanced Ecology" (_Analog_), Gordon R. Dickson's "Computers Don't Argue" (_Analog_), Larry Niven's "Becalmed in Hell" (_F&SF_), and J.G. Ballard's "The Drowned Giant" (as "Souvenir," _Playboy_).

The Schmitz is a model of how to tell a biological hard science fiction story well. It is about a single day on a diamondwood farm that is momentarily interrupted by a band of scoundrels. But only momentarily.

The Niven is another Venusian story. But not the romantic Venus of Zelazny's tale. It is the "scientific" Venus revealed by current-day space probes. Even so, as Knight points out in his introduction, fishing imagery still occurs.

The Ballard is a kind of Kafkaesque fable. A dead giant is washed up on a beach and is then stripped to pieces by humans and other carrion eaters. Simple, but somehow powerful and disturbing.

The Dickson is perhaps the most conventional story of the lot-- one of those epistlary satires of bureauccracy that _Analog_ would frequently run. Here, a man tries to return an unwanted copy of _Kidnapped_ to a book club... and is eventually executed for the murder of Robert Louis Stevenson by humorless comuputers.

Perhaps this would be a good place to make it clear that these nominees were only the tip of the iceberg. My trusty _Book of Lists_ (1983) states that there were thirty nominations in 1965 for short story alone and eighteen nominations for novelette. The editor of a Nebula anthology cannot possibly include all of the nominees in the anthology. He or she must exercise "editor's choice" and pick only a handful of tales out of the total crop. I believe that Knight picked a good selection of runners-up.

The Best Novel Award in 1965 went to Frank Herbert's epic novel, _Dune_. There were other strong contenders in the runners-up slot. But the Herbert novel was really a hard novel to beat. It was hard to quibble with this choice.

The selections of 1965 were a signal that the Nebulas were off to a great start. Knight's _Nebula Awards Stories_ was a small classic of its kind... a sign of promising things to come. And if some of the later anthologies weren't _quite_ as good as the first... well, they usually came mighty close.
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