July 31st, 2018


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Slow Sculpture, by Theodore Sturgeon

Second paragraph of third section (depending how you count the sections):
Early sun gold-frosted the horizontal upper foliage of the old tree and brought its gnarled limbs into sharp re-lief, tough brown-gray creviced in velvet. Only the companion of a bonsai (there are owners of bonsai but they are a lesser breed) fully understands the relationship. There is an exclusive and individual treeness to the tree because it is a living thing and living things change—and there are definite ways in which the tree desires to change. A man sees the tree and in his mind makes certain extensions and extrapolations of what he sees and sets about making them happen. The tree in turn will do only what a tree can do, will resist to the death any attempt to do what it cannot do or to do in less time than it needs. The shaping of a bonsai is therefore always a com-promise and always a cooperation. A man cannot create bonsai, nor can a tree. It takes both and they must understand one another. It takes a long time to do that. One memorizes one’s bonsai, every twig, the angle of every crevice and needle and, lying awake at night or in a pause a thousand miles away, one recalls this or that line or mass, one makes one’s plans. With wire and water and light, with tilting and with the planting of water-robbing weeds or heavy, root-shading ground cover, one explains to the tree what one wants. And if the explanation is well enough made and there is great enough understanding the tree will respond and obey—almost.
Next in my sequence of joint Hugo and Nebula winners. When I first read this in 2000, I wrote:
The brilliant young scientist who is embittered because the world will not accept his work cures and falls in love with the girl who will help him learn once again what it is to be human. The rather magical tone of the story lifts it above the cliche - just.
If anything I liked it rather less on this reading. The protagonist is a wizard rather than a scientist, operating courageously without peer review or external funding. The love interest comes out of nowhere and exists only to be cured and fall in love with him. The tone is indeed well executed (see above), but strikes me as rather less special now than it did eighteen years ago. I guess it may be better written than most of the stories it was competing with; as far as I can remember I have read only one (see below) which I liked rather better.

This was the one and only year when all of the Hugo winners in the written categories also won Nebulas and vice versa. "Slow Sculpture" won the 1970 Nebula for Best Novelette, and the 1971 Hugo for Best Short Story; there was no 1971 Hugo for Best Novelette, and the 1970 Nebula for Best Short Story was No-Awarded (the first of only two No Awards in the history of the Nebulas; the only other occasion was the 1977 Nebula for Best Dramatic Presentation).

The only other story on the final ballot for both Hugo and Nebula against "Slow Sculpture" was "Continued on Next Rock", by R.A. Lafferty. On the Hugo ballot for Best Short Story, and also on the No-Awarded Nebula ballot for Best Short Story, was "In the Queue", by Keith Laumer. The other nominated stories in the shortest fiction categories that year were:

Hugo for Best Short Story:
  • "Jean Duprès", by Gordon R. Dickson
  • "Brillo", by Ben Bova and Harlan Ellison
Nebula for Best Novelette:
  • "The Asian Shore", by Thomas M. Disch
  • "The Shaker Revival", by Gerald Jonas
  • "The Second Inquisition", by Joanna Russ
  • "Dear Aunt Annie", by Gordon Eklund
Nebula for Best Short Story (winner was No Award):
  • "The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories", by Gene Wolfe
  • "Entire and Perfect Chrysolite", by R. A. Lafferty
  • "By the Falls", by Harry Harrison
  • "The Creation of Bennie Good", by James Sallis
  • "A Dream at Noonday", by Gardner Dozois
  • "A Cold Dark Night with Snow", by Kate Wilhelm
The only two of these that I am sure I have read are "The Second Inquisition", by Joanna Russ, which is the narratively subversive final chapter of Alyx, and the early Gene Wolfe classic "The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories". I liked both better than “Slow Sculpture”.

Next up, Fritz Leiber's "Ill Met in Lankhmar", which won both that year's awards for Best Novella; and after that, Larry Niven’s Ringworld, which won both the year’s awards for Best Novel.

July books

Non-fiction: 3 (YTD 30)
The Complete Ice Age, by Brian M. Fagan
The Man Within My Head, by Pico Iyer
The Time Traveller's Guide to Elizabethan England, by Ian Mortimer

Fiction non-sf): 3 (YTD 19)
The Way By Swann's, by Marcel Proust
Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters
Maigret Loses His Temper, by Georges Simenon

Poetry: 3 (YTD 3)
The Æneid, by Virgil, translated by John Dryden
The Æneid, by Virgil, translated by Robert Fagles
The Æneid Book VI, by Virgil, translated by Seamus Heaney

sf (non-Who): 15 (YTD 76)
Robot Visions, by Isaac Asimov
Discount Armageddon, by Seanan McGuire
Your Code Name is Jonah, by Edward Packard
Newry Bridge, or Ireland in 1887 (Anonymous)
The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden
Anno Mortis, by Rebecca Levene
“Slow Sculpture”, by Theodore Sturgeon
A Natural History of Dragons, by Marie Brennan
An Unkindness of Ghosts, by Rivers Solomon
Under the Pendulum Sun, by Jeannette Ng (extract)
Up Jim River, by Michael Flynn (did not finish)
Wounded Heart, by S.W. Baird
Aztec Century, by Christopher Evans
The Supernatural Enhancements, by Edgar Cantero
The Martian Inca, by Ian Watson

Doctor Who, etc: 3 (YTD 21)
Doctor Who Quiz Book of Dinosaurs, by Michael Holt
Wit, Wisdom and Timey-Wimey Stuff, by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright
The Two Jasons, by Dave Stone

Comics: 4 (YTD 20)
Weapons of Mass Diplomacy, by Abel Lanzac and Christophe Blain
Aliénor, la Légende noire, tome 5, by Arnaud Delalande, Simona Mogavino and Carlos Gomez
Aliénor, la Légende noire, tome 6, by Arnaud Delalande, Simona Mogavino and Carlos Gomez
The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia, by Bryan Talbot and Mary Talbot

~7,900 pages (YTD ~47,100)
11/31 (YTD 73/172) by non-male writers (Waters, McGuire, Arden, Levene, Brennan, Solomon, Ng, Baird, Mogavino x2, Talbot)
3/31 (YTD 21/172) by PoC (Iyer, Ng, Solomon)
2/31 (YTD 8/172) reread (The Way by Swann’s, “Slow Sculpture”)

Reading now
The Politics of Climate Change, by Anthony Giddens
High-Rise, by J. G. Ballard

Coming soon (perhaps):
The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson
The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters
Pioneers: Huawei Stories, ed. Tian Tao
Anno Dracula - Dracula Cha Cha Cha, by Kim Newman
Doctor Who: The Flood, by Gareth Roberts and Scott Gray
Welcome to Night Vale, by Joseph Fink
Byzantium, by Judith Herrin
Missile Gap, by Charles Stross
Rare Unsigned Copy, by Simon Petrie
“Ill Met in Lankhmar”, by Fritz Leiber
The Laertian Gamble, by Robert Sheckley
The Deer Hunter, by Eric Corner
Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson
Vurt, by Jeff Noon
Krimson, by Marc Legendre
Dark Satanic Mills, by Marcus Sedgwick
Who I Am, by Peter Townshend
Putting Up Roots, by Charles Sheffield
Brewing Justice, by Daniel Jaffee
Comet in Moominland, by Tove Jansson
Nobody's Children, by Kate Orman, Jonathan Blum and Philip Purser-Hallard