18 January 2010

SF in 1990 and 2000

Now that we're living in our second Clarke Year (that is, second year Arthur C. Clarke used as a title for a novel), I thought it might be fun to glance back at the starts of previous decades.  With that in mind, over the coming weeks and perhaps months, I'll post here some thoughts particularly on SF short fiction from 1990 and 2000, since the stories from those years are what I have easiest access to.

To see all posts in the series, just click on the "1990/2000" label.

My motivations for this project are partly personal -- 1990 was the apex of my reading of genre fiction, 2000 was a year I read almost no genre fiction.  In 1990, I was 14 and 15 years old, I subscribed to Asimov's and also picked up various copies of F&SF and Science Fiction Age when I could find them, and any money I had with which to buy books went to SF books.  In 2000, I had recently returned to trying to write fiction after some years spent writing plays and screenplays, but the fiction I had in mind was the sort being published in literary journals, not SF magazines.  In the summer of 2000, I wrote "Getting a Date for Amelia" and attended the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, then that fall wrote the first draft of "Blood".  I expect the only SF magazine I bought was the June issue of Asimov's because it had a James Patrick Kelly story in it, and because Jim was such a huge influence on me, I always buy everything he writes.  But I paid no other attention to the genre world.

I'm curious, then, to look back at 1990 and see what remains strong in my memory and to see how some of what I remember holds up now.  From 2000, I'm curious to see what I missed.

Beyond the personal, though, I'm curious to see what sorts of developments are apparent between 1990 and 2000 and now.


My first step will be to read some stories from two 1990 best-of-the-year anthologies and from issues of Asimov's (contents here) and F&SF (contents here).  The anthologies are Dozois's eighth (contents here) and Datlow & Windling's fourth(contents here).  There were also two best-horror-stories-of-the-year anthologies covering 1990, one edited by Karl Edward Wagner (contents here) and one edited by Stephen Jones & Ramsey Campbell (contents here), and I hope to explore at least a few stories from those as well.  We'll see.  I don't want to neglect 2000...

Looking at the contents lists and honorable mentions lists in the books, these are the stories from 1990 that I remember reading and enjoying then:
  • "Dry Niger" by M. Shayne Bell
  • "Bears Discover Fire" by Terry Bisson
  • "Fool to Believe" by Pat Cadigan
  • "Lieserl" by Karen Joy Fowler
  • "The Hemingway Hoax" by Joe Haldeman
  • "Mr. Boy" by James Patrick Kelly
  • "The Propagation of Light in a Vacuum" by James Patrick Kelly
  • "Buddha Nostril Bird" by John Kessel
  • "Invaders" by John Kessel
  • "The Shobies' Story" by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • "The Last Feast of Harlequin" by Thomas Ligotti
  • "Green" by Ian R. MacLeod
  • "The Ragged Rock" by Judith Moffett
  • "Bones" by Pat Murphy
  • "A Short, Sharp Shock" by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • "The Sword of Damocles" by Bruce Sterling
  • "We See Things Differently" by Bruce Sterling
  • "Eternity, Baby" by Andrew Weiner
I don't plan to write about all of those, but I do intend to revisit a few of them, as well as to read stories I did not read when they first appeared.

Looking through the honorable mention lists, I'm amused to note that Dozois included one of his own stories (congratulations!) and that there are four stories by Jonathan Lethem (from Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine, Journal Wired, and Pulphouse) and two pieces by Jeff VanderMeer that were published in fairly obscure venues, "The Ministry of Butterflies" (still obscure) and "The Sea, Mendeho, and Moonlight" (available in the Bantam edition of Veniss Underground) -- two writers who will, in their own ways, over the next twenty years be at the forefront of challenging and expanding conceptions of genre boundaries (Lethem also has story in Dozois's anthology, "Walking the Moons" -- more about that later).

One of the things that's interesting to note about the contents of both Dozois's and Datlow & Windling's 1990 anthologies is that the vast majority of the writers included are still alive and most of them are still publishing stories and novels of note twenty years later.

Also interesting: the magazines Dozois lists as professional markets: Omni, F&SF, Asimov's, Analog, Amazing Stories, Interzone, Aboriginal SF, and Weird Tales.  (Omni, Amazing, and Aboriginal are long dead and buried, but the others survive in some form or another, though given their pay rates and publication schedules I'm not sure how Dozois would list them today.)  Dozois lists SF semiprozines Journal Wired, New Pathways, Nova Express, Strange Plasma, and "a slew of horror semiprozines": Midnight Graffiti, Grue, Fear, Cemetery Dance, Haunts, 2 A.M., Eldritch Tales, Deathrealm, and WeirdbookLocus, Science Fiction Chronicle, The New York Review of Science Fiction, and SF Eye were the leading sources of news and critical writing within the field at the time.  Locus and NYRSF are still going strong today.

A few books from 1990 stand out for me:
  • Ellen Datlow's Alien Sex was a book I read furtively and with mingled horror and confusion; it now seems to me a strong and provocative anthology, but at 14/15 I had no idea what to make of it. 
  • Carol Emshwiller's Carmen Dog and The Start of the End of It All both came out that year, and I bought both sometime in the early 1990s at the Avenue Victor Hugo Bookstore in Boston (where Kelly Link and Gavin Grant would later work).  I can't say I've ever really loved Carmen Dog, but were I to make a list of my ten or so favorite story collections, The Start of the End of It All would be on it.  It's not just a great collection, but one of the books that helped me toward a broader understanding of what short fiction of any sort could accomplish.
  • Some other notable collections from 1990: The Ends of the Earth by Lucius Shepard, Four Past Midnight by Stephen King, and Houses Without Doors by Peter Straub.  (Looking at those three titles, I think: 20 years ago?  Really?  Really?!?)
  • Of the SF novels published in 1990, the ones I am most familiar with are Pacific Edge by Kim Stanley Robinson, Queen of Angels by Greg Bear, Tehanu by Ursula Le Guin, The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, and The Child Garden by Geoff Ryman.  I thought of Queen of Angels this week, given that important sections of it take place in Haiti and it's easily among my favorite SF novels from the '90s.  Tehanu may be my favorite Le Guin novel.  The others I haven't read recently enough to know what I think about them at all.
  • SF Films in 1990 included Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Ghost, Total Recall, Back to the Future III, Dick Tracy, The Handmaid's Tale, RoboCop II, Gremlins II, The Jetsons, Ghost Dad, Edward Scissorhands, The Witches, Tremors, Jacob's Ladder, Jesus of Montreal, and Martians, Go Home.  I've seen most of those films at one time or another, though the only one I've seen recently (and the only one I own on DVD) is Edward Scissorhands.
  • On TV, Star Trek: The Next Generation and The Simpsons were still quite new, and Quantum Leap was also around.
  • A few 1990 events to note (more listed at the year's Wikipedia page), not entirely in chronological order: Time and Warner became Time Warner; Louis Althusser died; Nelson Mandela was released from prison and the ANC was unbanned; the Sandinistas lost the presidential election in Nicaragua to the U.S.-supported UNO; the year's Nobel Peace Prize winner, Mikhail Gorbachev, was elected as the first executive president of the USSR, and McDonalds opened its first restaurant in the country, ending the Cold War with lukewarm burgers; the Academy Awards were dominated by excruciatingly sentimental and well-intentioned movies; Emma Watson and Dev Patel were born; Barbara Stanwyck and Joel McCrea died; Ava Gardner, Greta Garbo, and Paulette Goddard died, making it a bad year for actresses with last names beginning with G; Jim Henson, Sammy Davis, Jr., Leonard Bernstein, and Rex Harrison died; Octavio Paz won the Nobel Prize for Literature; the WHO removed homosexuality from its list of diseases; Reinaldo Arenas died; President Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act; East Germany and West Germany reunited for a comeback tour; Mary Robinson became the first female president of Ireland; Mary Martin died; Margaret Thatcher resigned as UK Prime Minister, replaced by John Major; Slobodan Milošević became president of Serbia; Roald Dahl, Lawrence Durrell, Alberto Moravia, Lewis Mumford, Walker Percy, Manuel Puig, Irving Wallace, and Patrick White died; John Gotti was arrested; Aristide became president of Haiti; Lech Wałęsa became president of Poland; Friedrich Dürrenmatt died; Donald A. Wollheim died.
Oh, 1990, what a year you were!

3 comments:

  1. Google alerted me to this post. I was so surpised and pleased to see "The Ragged Rock" listed among the 1990 stories you had especially enjoyed. I like that story a lot--it appears as a chapter in The Ragged World, though written and published as a stand-alone--but it got almost no attention when it appeared in Asimov's. Thanks for brightening my day!

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  2. So happy to hear Alien Sex disturbed you, although it really wasn't meant for 14 year olds.


    For anyone interested, I've still got hardcover copies for sale :-)

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  3. Hi, I browsed your blog (I read it occasionally) and discovered this post. Seems like we're the same age, I was 15 then too, and 1990 was a peak SF year for me as well.
    Many of the stories and events you mentioned rang a bell, and many of the authors I read during that year are still my favorite. I still have Silverberg's Universe 1 anthology where Kelly's Propagation and Le Guin's Shobies' was published, and that Kelly story is still one of my most favorite ever.
    I also read all the 1990 novels you mentioned, except for The Child Garden. And yeah, I thought of Queen of Angles as well when I heard about Haiti.

    Since then of course there was a serious drop, although I still read a lot of genre fiction.

    So anyway, just wanted to say thanks for a post which left me remembering and smiling :)

    - Oren, from Israel

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