Five 1970s Science Fiction Books You May Not Know

We’re addicted to old sci-fi, and thought we’d start trawling round for some lesser known reads from the golden age in this genre. Here’s five worth a look at from the 1970s:

  1. “Roadside Picnic” by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (1972) – This Soviet-era science fiction novel explores the aftermath of an alien visitation known as the Visitation Zone. It delves into themes of human nature, existentialism, and the consequences of contact with advanced civilizations.
  2. “The Stars My Destination” by Alfred Bester (1956) – Although not from the 1970s, this science fiction novel gained recognition during that era. It follows the story of Gully Foyle, a man seeking revenge in a future where individuals can teleport. The book delves into themes of transformation, identity, and human potential.
  3. “The Female Man” by Joanna Russ (1975) – Russ’s novel is a groundbreaking work of feminist science fiction. It explores parallel universes and features four women from different realities who meet and confront societal expectations, gender roles, and patriarchal structures.
  4. “Engine Summer” by John Crowley (1979) – Set in a post-apocalyptic world, “Engine Summer” tells the story of Rush That Speaks, a member of a nomadic society, as he embarks on a quest for knowledge and meaning. It explores themes of memory, storytelling, and the nature of truth.
  5. “The Iron Dream” by Norman Spinrad (1972) – In this alternative history novel, Spinrad presents a metafictional work that imagines Adolf Hitler as a science fiction author. Through Hitler’s imagined novel, “The Lord of the Swastika,” Spinrad critiques fascism, totalitarianism, and the power of propaganda.

These lesser-known science fiction books offer unique perspectives, exploring themes such as social commentary, gender, identity, post-apocalyptic settings, and alternative history. While they may not have achieved the same level of mainstream recognition as other works from the era, they are worth exploring for their distinct ideas and storytelling.

The Man in the Maze by Robert Silverberg: Synopsis

The Man in the Maze is set in a future where humanity has expanded its reach to other planets in the galaxy. Richard Muller, a brilliant scientist and former diplomat, has become a recluse on the planet Lemnos, which is known for its complex and impenetrable maze created by an advanced alien race called the Quill.

Muller’s seclusion stems from a tragic incident in his past. Haunted by guilt and remorse, he has withdrawn from society and lives a solitary existence within the maze. He is surrounded only by machines and automated systems that provide for his basic needs.

However, Muller’s expertise and knowledge are highly sought after by a consortium of scientists and diplomats who believe that he holds the key to understanding the mysteries of the alien maze and establishing contact with the enigmatic Quill. They recognize that his insights could potentially transform humanity’s understanding of the universe.

Reluctantly, Muller agrees to collaborate but sets his own conditions. He assembles a small team to accompany him into the maze, including a psychologist named Dr. Barris and a diplomat named Eason. Together, they embark on a perilous journey through the intricate corridors and shifting paths of the maze.

As they navigate the maze, Muller’s past is revealed through poignant flashbacks. These glimpses into his history shed light on the personal tragedies and traumatic events that led to his self-imposed isolation. Muller’s journey through the maze becomes an introspective exploration of his own guilt, redemption, and the complexities of human relationships.

Throughout their expedition, the team encounters various challenges, including dangerous traps, alien lifeforms, and enigmatic symbols left behind by the Quill. Muller’s encounters with the alien race force him to confront his own inner demons and the choices he has made, ultimately leading to a reckoning with his past and a quest for personal transformation.

The Man in the Maze combines elements of psychological introspection, mystery, and adventure within the context of a unique and enigmatic alien environment. Robert Silverberg’s evocative prose and masterful character development make the story an immersive exploration of human nature, the complexities of guilt and redemption, and the quest for understanding in the face of the unknown.

As Muller and his team venture deeper into the maze, they uncover secrets about the Quill and the purpose behind the creation of the labyrinthine structure. The novel poses thought-provoking questions about the nature of identity, the impact of past actions, and the potential for growth and change in the face of personal tragedy.

The Man in the Maze invites readers to reflect on the depths of human psychology, the transformative power of introspection, and the eternal search for meaning in a vast and mysterious universe.

Review: If Only Tonight We Could Sleep

Before the start of this review, I should state that I know Matthew R. Davis. We have met at  local writing events, and we do follow each other on social media.

The thirteen stories in his first anthology “If only tonight we could sleep”, showcases the broad range of Matthew’s imagination. In this book, there is a nightclub gone wild, sentient roses, weird sisters, a lovers play list, and strange goings on in the rail yards to name a few .  Whilst each story does contain original ideas, Matthew’s clear voice does come through – especially his feel of reality. This is what makes the stories even better, in that they all start in the same place. Reality. As the events transpire and get into the fantastic, they maintain their hold on reality. In the horror genre, spiralling out of control is something that is easy to do, but Matthew does not. He maintains the control on the words and the events. 

There are a few places where a cliché does sneak in, and in one story, there is a small case of author intrusion. But, overall, an enjoyable anthology, and a talent to keep an eye on. Given the nature of Matthew’s stories, two attentive eyes might be safer.

Review: Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee

After the ride that was Ninefox Gambit, a reader could be asked how to top that. It’s a question of sequels, and one that often has a disappointing answer. In Raven Stratagem, Yoon Ha Lee shows that they can work. Taking place shortly after the events of the previous volume – one I suggest people go to – the action moves as a ghost of infamous general, the fleet he hijacks, the empire that rules them all , and the belief that goes with the imperial calendar. Much of this universe seems based around the concept of the calendar, with conflict often based on the view of a calendar. 

That’s not to say this is a boring novel. It moves along at a cracking pace, and even after reading the first, still has surprises in it. With empires, large scale battles, military protocols, it ticks all the neccessary ticks for a classic space opera. The writing style is easy to read, yet the concepts are twisted enough to require very careful reading.

Review: The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

One of the tropes of modern science fiction is the large interplantary empire. From Asimov’s Foundation, to Lucas’s Star Wars, the Empire and its machinations is one of the cogs that have helped keep the genre going. It is also one of the reasons why the large Empire falling has become a bit of a cliche as well. With a name like The Collapsing Empire, you might be inclined to be a little disappointed with John Scalzi. After reading this novel, you won’t be.

The biggest problem that the large space empire always faces is distance. Scalzi puts forward the idea of the flow, which appear to be a one way worm hole. Power in the empire is at the nexus of these “Flows”. 

It is from here that Scalzi begins a fast paced story of unexpected leaders, disasterous events, and political intrigues. Each chapter is told from one character’s point of view, with all told with a distinctive voice and attitude.  This is clearly the open salvo in a series that promises many surprises, fast paced action, and a few laugh out loud moments. 

Review: Provenance by Ann Leckie

When your first book wins three major awards in the genre, you tend to set yourself a very high bar. Anne Leckie follows her Ancillary Trilogy with Provenance, a new novel that takes place in the same universe as her previous work.

This time, the story is more of children wanting parental acknowledgment, and what that can lead to. In this case, it results in a criminal busted out of a broken prison, a murder, and a political crisis. Taken at face value, Provenance looks like nothing new, but Leckie’s main character Ingray is a sympathetic one who must make their way through the events they set off.  Along the way, Leckie also looks at the importance of historical artefacts, and if the truth of them is more important that what they represent. 

The story moves with the slow burn that Leckie used in the past, and this is appears to the first of a multi volume story. It is one that I will certainly look to follow with interest. 

Review: New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson

In the near future, the ice caps are going to melt, sea levels will rise, and disaster will hit the planet. Unlike other apocalypses in fiction, Kim Stanley Robinson seems to suggest that we’ll do alright after all this. New York 2140 looks at the city of New York after the disaster. The world has adjusted, with New York becoming a city of canals, where keeping the water out is as important as getting around. Into this world, Robinson places the importance of the finance trader.

The story itself starts with the disappearance of two programmers and then becomes a history of the world, a travelogue of New York, and a treasure hunt. Once the necessary enviromental issues are taken care of, Robinson starts with what appears to be his real agenda. In order to make sure his readers understand everything, Robinson has information dumps along the way. We are presented with an author who is annoyed at how the GFC of 2008 was handled, and he puts forward a solution to it.

This is not a fast moving story, but it is not boring. The characters all get thier own chapters. They are what Robinson does well – regular people just trying to get through. The fact that his future seems possible, and is logically extrapolated from current events, make this novel seem like a warning for the future. Both enviromentally, and economically – ignore his ideas at your own peril. 

Overall, a good book, and one that should be a jump-off point for discussion

Review: Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory

When a family of psychics gets discredited in the 1970s, you would think that their story would end right there. 


It is just the start.

Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory picks up the story of the Telemachus family in 1995. At first glance, this could easy be a piece of nostalgia. But it goes beyond that. It tells the story of a family that is dysfunctional, committed, and more than the 1970s produced.

The story is told with a series of flashbacks that advance the story and add to the sense of loss the weaves through the story. That’s not to say that this is a depressing story. Far from it. With mob bosses and government agents, the family pulls together with the fighting, bitching, and humor that a family will do.

And when the chips are down, they all come together. The climax of the novel is one of the best endings of a story I’ve read. 

Overall, an enjoyable and gentle book.

Review: Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

In the future, corporations will rule everything and crafted drugs will help people achieve many things. Those on the fringe will fight against this same world. From this description, Autonomous by Annalee Newitz would seem like another rip off William Gibson’s Neuromancer, but it’s more than that.

Based in the year 2144, this story tells of a pirate drug maker,  who reverse engineers patented drugs and then sells on the cheap. When an issue is found with the drug, the race is on. With the help of other pharmaceutical patent pirates, an escaped indentured human, and a robot, she will try to find a cure. Hot on her heels is an Intellectual Property Police office, partnered by a brain encased in a robot’s carapace.

What I found interesting was the interaction between technologies. For those into computers, the concept that all machines identify both parties and start and end data is one that rings true. That’s where Autonomous is done very well. All the ideas put forward in this story appear to be extrapolated from current ideas. Given Newitz’s background in technology and science journalism, this is hardly surprising.

The only problem that I really felt was the development of the world itself. Granted the scenes are well written, but some locations felt that they were just names, without much difference to other locations. The locations in Africa felt much the same as those in Canada. But this is a minor qualm. 

This is a good book, from a writer whose fiction will certainly be worth watching in the future.

Review: The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss

In the lead up to the 2018 Nebula Awards, our sci-fi and fantasy guru Shaun Taylor reviews the nominees.

When read a story, we assume that what the author is telling us, is the truth. But what would happen if a number of classic stories were wrong ?

Theodora Goss plays with this premise really well in The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter. The adult daughter of Dr Henry Jekyll begins to investigate her father’s strange associate. Along the way, she teams us with a number of females who are the results of various experiments. Along the way, Goss brings into the question the narrative of four classic horror stories. She applies the approach to her own narrative as well, as the main characters interrupt the flow to bicker about what is being written about them and the events they experience.

The 1890s London in this novel is filled with the cabs, poverty and opulance that the modern reader has come to expect of stories from this time. Goss manages to bring this setting to life, both in terms of the physical descriptions, as well as the social and political aspects, with characters bickering about the issues of the day.

This is a pleasant romp of a story that covers familiar ground, with a wink and nod, and its intrusions add to the fun of the novel. For those interested in the genre, this will be an enjoyable novel. For those are are not familiar with the stories referenced, it maybe a little confusing. I did have to Google one of the stories myself, so don’t feel bad and stick with it – it’s a fun read.

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