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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: The Persistence of Vision, by John Varley

Monday, October 21st, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Jim Burns

Cover by Jim Burns

Cover by Selinas Blanch

Cover by Selinas Blanch

Cover by Stéphane Dumont

Cover by Stéphane Dumont

The Prix Apollo was founded in 1972 and presented in France for the best book published in French during the preceding year. The first winner was Roger Zelazny’s Isle of the Dead. The award was suspended following the presentation of the 1991 award. Only five times in the awards nineteen year history did it go to works originally published in French, including 1988, when it was presented to an entire series of 36 books written by Georges-Jean Arnaud. Although technically an award for a novel, in 1980, the award was given to John Varley’s collection The Persistence of Vision.

It isn’t entirely clear what the Prix Apollo was presented for. Varley’s debut collection, The Persistence of Vision was published by The Dial Press/James Wade in 1978 and contained nine short stories, published between 1975 and 1978. The collection wasn’t translated into French until 1979, which is why it was eligible for the Prix Apollo in 1980. However, the nine stories were published in two separate volumes in French. One volume, Dans le palais des rois martiens, contained five stories, including French translations of “The Phantom of Kansas,” “Air Raid,” “Retrograde Summer,” “The Black Hole Passes,” and the titular story, “In the Hall of the Martian Kings.” The second volume, Persistance de la vision, contained the remaining four stories, translations of “In the Bowl,” “Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance,” “Overdrawn at the Memory Bank,” and “the titular story, “The Persistence of Vision.” It is possible that the Prix Apollo was given for the complete text of the original anthology, but also conceivable that it was only given to the volume which bears the name in French.

By the time the collection was published, Varley had published his first novel, The Ophiuchi Hotline, as well as twenty stories of various length and had fully established his “Eight World” milieu, which provides the background for his first novel and several of the stories included in the collection, as well as some which he did not select for reprint.

Many of the stories in the collection allow Varley to play around with some of his ongoing themes, including having characters swapping aspects of their identity, whether it be body swapping, mind swapping, or gender swapping. Varley not only explores the way these changes impact the individuals making them, as well as those around them. In many cases, the impact is negligible to the person who is engaged in the swap. Varley stories often have characters for whom changing their bodies is as commonplace as changing clothes, which, in and of itself, is a statement about where the identity actually lies.

The stories in The Persistence of Vision form a snapshop of an author near the beginning of his career, but also one who was already mature. As noted in previous entries in this series, his novel Titan won the Locus Award this same year and was also nominated for the Hugo and Nebula Awards. The previous year, he won three Locus Awards as well as a Hugo Award, and in every year of his writing career he had a healthy number of award nominations.

The other nominees for the 1980 Prix Apollo were not announced.

Steven H Silver-largeSteven H Silver is a sixteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW, NESFA Press, and ZNB. He began publishing short fiction in 2008 and his most recently published story is “Webinar: Web Sites” in The Tangled Web. His most recent anthology, Alternate Peace was published in June. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 6 times, as well as serving as the Event Coordinator for SFWA. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7.

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