Tackling the 12 books of Terry Carr’s Third Ace Special Series

I enjoyed reading a recent Tor.com essay, “Maybe Read Goals Are Good, Actually” by Molly Templeton. I, too, keep track of my goals, on my own web page (goals to ensure that I review as many female authors as male authors and rate fiction by writers of color as well as works in translation). My goals work for me because they are well-defined and limited, which is what all achievable goals should be. Open goals can just as well be infinite, and it’s very hard to reach infinity no matter how many increments you add to the stack.

So while it’s good to know that I’ve read 393 works from my adolescence at the time of writing, because this effort is open-ended, it can never produce that little endorphin rush of completion that smaller, more focused reading projects can provide.

Which brings us to Terry Carr’s Third Ace Science Fiction Specials series.

As you might guess, the third Ace Science Fiction Specials was preceded by two Ace Science Fiction Special series (Ace Specials for short, to avoid repetition).

The quality of Carr’s selections can be judged by the fact that four of the six novels nominated for Nebula in 1970 were Ace Specials.

The second series was not directed by Carr, ran from 1975 to 1977 and offered eleven books. It was mostly not as remarkable as the first series, although it undoubtedly had its fans.

This time, he was looking for books that weren’t just great; they had to be first novels. The twelve books in the series are first novels.

However, beginnings are inherently risky. Even if the novelist has a long track record at shorter lengths, there is no guarantee that he will be able to master the novel; Harlan Ellison, you might say, is a perfect example of a short story ace who didn’t make it in the novels. and the length of the novel. Judging by the subsequent careers of some of the writers of the third Ace Special, Carr’s experience in this field has served him well, except for one aspect which I will return to later.

Here is a table summarizing the third series honors for awards, nominations and honorable mentions in English. The victories are in bold and italics. The meaning of the ticks can wait a bit.

Title/Year Author Awards, nominations and honorable mentions
The wild shore
1984
Kim Stanley Robinson Locus Best First Novel
Locus Best SF Novel
SF Chronicle Best Novel
nebula novel
Philip K. Dick Award
Green eyes
1984
Lucius Shepard Campbell Memorial Best Science Fiction Novel
Locus Best SF Novel
Locus Best First Novel
Philip K. Dick Award
Clarke Best Science Fiction Novel
neuromancer
1984
William Gibson BSFA Best Novel
Novel of the SF chronicle
Ditmar Best International Long Fiction
Hugo best novel
nebula novel
Philip K. Dick Award
Locus Best First Novel
Campbell Memorial Best Science Fiction Novel
Locus Best SF Novel
CSFFA Aurora Award
1998 Locus Best SF novel of all time before 1990
Palimpsests
1984
Carter Scholz and Glenn Harcourt Locus Best First Novel
Bones
1984
Howard Waldrop Locus Best SF Novel
Locus Best First Novel
Compton Crook Award for Best First Novel
Philip K. Dick Award
In the drift
1985
Michael Swanwick Locus Best First Novel
The text of Hercules
1986
Jack McDevitt Locus Best First Novel
Locus Best SF Novel
Philip K. Dick Award
The Internet
1987
Loren J. MacGregor Locus Best First Novel
Metrophage
1988
Richard Kadrey Locus Best First Novel
The Tides of God
1989
Ted Reynolds Locus Best First Novel
Black snow days
1990
Claudia O’Keefe Locus Best First Novel
The Oxygen Barons
1990
Gregory Feely Philip K. Dick Award

First of all, this is a very masculine and very white list. There is only one female author; his book was one of three edited by Knight, who completed the series after Carr’s death. Even Carr’s early Ace Specials series included more women, and this came to light at a time when female authors were rarer than they were in the 1980s. This blind spot seems inexplicable. The glaring absence of POC from the roster is, alas, more typical of the era.

While the bewildering lack of diversity must be acknowledged, the dozen or so individual titles listed above make for an impressive list overall. Not only were the Ace Specials Award magnets, but the breadth of subgenres on offer, from cyberpunk to meat and potatoes SF, post-apocalyptic to magical realism, was incredible. Young readers can rest assured that 1984 was a great year for reading science fiction. Most of Carr’s picks also had long careers.

There was just one small flaw, which was due to the uneven distribution of the day’s books, and the fact that you couldn’t just jump online to order books (the third set of specials was released after Internet was a thing, but before the World Wide Web was invented), not one in three Ace Specials showed up in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario. The Internet I acquired years ago but did not hang on Black snow days until January 2022. That’s what the little tick on the chart means: I have this book. Which means the goal of tackling the full streak is suddenly achievable.

I just have to read (or reread) them all…

Maybe my readers might be interested in taking up the challenge. How many have you read? Will you try for a full slate?

In the words of the TexasAndroid Wikipedia editor, prolific and vivacious literary critic Darwin Award Nominee James Davis Nicoll is of “questionable notability”. Her work has been published in Publishers Weekly and Romantic Times as well as on her own websites, Reviews of James Nicoll and Aurora finalist Young people read the old SFF (where he is assisted by the editor Karen Lofstrom and internet user Adrienne L. Travis). He’s a four-time finalist for the Hugo Best Fan Writer Award, is eligible to be nominated again this year, and is surprisingly fiery.

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