Taking another break from award winners, here’s a look at novels published in 1979 that did not win any awards.
C.J. Cherryh published Hestia, a stand-alone about an engineer, Sam Merrit, who travels to the title planet to build a damn to help the human colonists. Upon arrival, Merrit realizes that the dam will not only prove to be the panacea that is sought, but would also destroy the local indigenous species. Cherryh uses the novel to explore personal and ecological responsibility and the sense of entitlement the colonists have.
Jerry Pournelle’s novel Janissearies is the first of the similarly titled trilogy, although it is also set in the wider world of his Co-Dominium universe that began with his novel King David’s Starship. The novel follows a group of American soldiers who have been rescued from an ambush in Africa and given the chance to put their talents to use in a medieval level society among the stars. Although Pournelle’s main character faced mutiny, he wins through in the end, establishing himself as the undisputed leader of the force.
Kindred, Octavia E. Butler’s time travel novel that shuffles Dana, a twentieth century African-American author, between her own time and the antebellum South was published in 1979. The novel offers a look at the sort of compromises Dana must make to survive as a slave as be able to continue to exist in her own time. Butler offers a complex view of slavery and race relations in the novel, partly because of the way she has caused Dana’s own existence and fate to be entwined with that of Rufus, the plantation owner. …
Octavia E. Butler was born on June 22, 1947 and died February 24, 2006.
Butler earned a Hugo Award in 1984 for her short story “Speech Sounds.” In 1985 her novelette “Bloodchild” received both the Hugo and the Nebula Award. She received a second Nebula Award in 2000 for the novel Parable of the Talents. In 2010 she was posthumously inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. She received the SFWA’s Solstice Award in 2012. Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation, based on her 1979 novel Kindred, earned her and Damian Duffy a Bram Stoker Award in 2018. She had several other award nominations as well.
Butler’s sold “The Book of Martha” to Ellen Datlow for publication in SciFiction on May 21, 2003. David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer picked the story up for Year’s Best Fantasy 4 the following year and in 2005, Butler included it in the second edition of her story collection Bloodchild and Other Stories. It was reprinted by Marleen S. Barr in Afro-Future Females: Black Writers Chart Science Fiction’s Newest New Wave Trajectory, published by Ohio State University Press and finally in Peter S. Beagle’s anthology The Secret History of Fantasy.
One of the questions theologians argue with regard to God’s nature is why an omnipotent and benevolent God would permit evil in the world. In “The Book of Martha,” Octavia E. Butler explores that question in a dialogue between Martha, an African-American writer, and God, who has summoned her to allow Martha to make a single change to humanity in an attempt to improve it.
Among the givens of Butler’s world is that God is insistent that humans have free will. Because of this, God’s omniscience doesn’t exist. When Martha asks God to help her model behavior based on her change, he can advise based on experience (and possibly earlier similar experiments), but God claims not to know the consequences for sure.
The discussion not only explores the law of unintended consequences, but also takes on what qualities a leader should have. Martha was chosen for the job not only because of her life experiences, but also because she cares about people and is worried that she might inadvertently cause harm. When Martha raised the question of creating a Utopiean society, the conversation turns to deconstructing what a Utopia would actually entail.