Today sees the start of another wonderful week of Club reading – yes, it’s time to welcome you to the #1965Club! For one week we’ll be discovering, reading and discussing books from the mid-point of the 1960s, and for my part the hardest thing has been choosing what to read. 1965 seems to have been a varied and bumper year, and one from which I’ve already read many books. However, I wanted to read from the TBR as much as possible and so I’ve settled for a few titles, which I threw myself into with gusto after finishing “The Devils”. The first one I want to share with you is a science fiction short story – “The Doors of his Face, The Lamps of his Mouth” by Roger Zelazny.

Zelazny is a name I’ve always been aware of, in my various flirtations with sci-fi writing, but I’ve no idea how well-known he is in mainstream terms. He’s probably an author I’ve never read as I consider him more straight sci-fi, whereas I like my science fiction a little warped or off-kilter… However, he apparently also wrote poetry and fantasy, producing a massive body of work. This particular story was published in 1965 (of course!) and won the Nebula Award for Best Novelette in that year; it originally appeared in the March 1965 edition of “The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction”, and gave its name to the collection I have, which appeared in 1971. There is a story behind by obtaining of this particular edition, as I was in search of the cover art by one Dennis Leigh – the real name of musician John Foxx, who has a sideline in the arts! You can read about that here; that’s by the by, really as it’s the story we’re interested in, and I chose to just read the 1965 tale from the collection; although on the strength of it I plan to read more…

“Doors…” is set on the planet Venus at an unspecified time in the future when travel between planets seems routine; the planet is Earth-like and inhabitable, unlike the real Venus, and of course has been colonised by those voracious humans. The narrator is one Carlton Davits who describes himself as a baitman. As the story progresses it becomes clear that humans haven’t changed a lot; they still want to hunt, destroy and conquer, and the prey here is a Venusian creature called Icthysaurus elasmognathus – 300 feet long and known as Ikky. Davits has had a run-in with Ikky before, failing to capture the creature; however, an old flame, media celebrity Jean Luharich, is determined to capture an Ikky and recruits Davits to help. The dynamics are difficult, with tensions running beneath the surface and old wounds reappearing; will the search succeed and will Davits and Luharich survive the encounter?

Sci fi can be difficult, particularly when you’re dropped into a new world constructed by the author and with only hints of how it works. I always find it’s best to just go with it and see how the place develops; with a good author things will fall into place, and that certainly happens here. Zelazny’s Venus is a vivid and memorable place that really comes alive, despite his often spare narrative (I’ve seen it described as Hammett-like, which may be why I gelled with it). In 32 pages the characters and location develop, with their quirks and their baggage, so much so that you end up caring very strongly about their fate. Davits in particular has been affected by his surrounding, his encounters with Ikky, and the damage these encounters have caused; and Zelazny brilliantly captures the sense Davits has of meeting with something other, something different and unfathomable, on an alien planet.

However, as with all good sci-fi, I found myself pondering the deeper implications. Wikipedia reckons the story is a deliberately retro look at romantic pulp sci-fi which was apparently coming to an end. Yes, I can see that; however, I ended up considering what the story said about humanity and its selfishness and intransigence. Here is a brand new world, a planet humanity can travel to and inhabit; but what do we want to do? Hunt, catch and kill the indigenous creatures of the place. Plus ça change, as they say – colonialism of all sorts extends as far as rapacious humanity will take it and even crossing the final frontier will not change our species’ nature. It’s a thought-provoking story which raises all manner of issues – at least in my mind, anyway

So my first read for the #1965club turned out to be a good one; a new author, an intriguing and absorbing piece, plus perhaps an indication of 1965 works reflecting the changing times of that decade. I was pretty sure when we chose the year for April’s club that there would be some interesting reading turning up, and I can’t wait to see what bookish discoveries await… 😀