I’m over at Galactic Journey again today, reviewing the 1965 science fiction novel The Escape Orbit a.k.a. Open Prison by James White as part of the February Galactoscope review round-up. Furthermore, Rosemary Benton reviews another 1965 science fiction novel, Space Opera by – no, not Catherynne M. Valente, but Jack Vance. But then “Space Opera” is such a good title, it’s no surprise that it’s been used at least twice in 55 years.
Between Galactic Journey and Retro Science Fiction Reviews, I’ve spent a lot of time reviewing older science fiction lately. And as a result, I have encountered a lot of good stories I might otherwise never have read, whether it’s “Morgue Ship”, a forgotten Ray Bradbury story from 1944, or The Escape Orbit a.k.a. Open Prison, which – while not exactly forgotten, since it was a finalist for the first ever Nebula Award and promptly lost out to Dune* – is nonetheless fairly obscure compared to James White’s better known Sector General stories about a hospital space station.
Of course, my recent trips to the Golden Age and the Silver Age/New Wave** respectively don’t mean that I’ve foregone contemporary SFF entirely. Have no fear, I still read contemporary SFF, though I’m focussing my reviewing efforts on older works for now, if only because the world doesn’t really need the umpteenth hot take on A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine or The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley or The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie, whereas “Morgue Ship” or The Escape Orbit could use some rediscovery.
There is a bit of a prejudice against those who read and review older SFF at the moment, probably inspired by the puppies and other traditionalist fans who keep complaining that speculative fiction has been going downhill since 2010/1998/1985/1965/1950/1937/insert arbitrary cut-off date here. But sometimes, it’s important to take a look back at where we’re coming from to appreciate where we’re going. Also, if you actually look at older SFF, you’ll find that it was not nearly as monolithically straight, white and male as many believe.
*Not really a surprise, though personally I prefer The Escape Orbit these days, because Dune hasn’t aged all that well IMO.
**Open Prison/The Escape Orbit is a bit of an edge case. Stylistically, it’s more a Silver Age story, but it was serialised in New Worlds, which – along with the pacifist/anti-war message – makes it New Wave. But then, science fiction eras and movements are not nearly as monolithic, as latter day chroniclers make them seem.