Tackling All 12 Books in Terry Carr’s Third Ace Special Series

I enjoyed reading a recent Tor.com essay, Molly Templeton’s “Maybe Reading Goals Are Good, Actually.” I too keep track of my goals, on my own web page (goals to make sure that I review as many women authors as men and take note of 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 must be. Open-ended goals might as well be infinite and it is very difficult to reach infinity, no matter how many increments one adds to the stack.

Thus, while it’s nice to know I’ve read 393 works from my teen years at the time of writing, because that 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 spare the repetition).

The first series was helmed by Terry Carr, ran from 1967 to 1971, and offered over forty books, a mix of reprints and new science fiction.  The quality of Carr’s selections can be judged by the fact four of the six novels nominated for a Nebula in 1970 were Ace Specials.

The second series was not helmed by Carr, ran from 1975 to 1977, and offered eleven books. It was for the most part not as noteworthy as the first series, although no doubt it has its fans.

Carr returned for the third series, which ran from 1984 to 1990.  This time he was looking for books that weren’t just noteworthy; they had to be debut novels. All twelve books in the series are first novels.

Now, debuts are by their nature risky. Even if the novelist has a lengthy track record at shorter lengths, there is no guarantee they will be able to master the novel; Harlan Ellison, it can be argued, is a perfect example of a short-story ace who didn’t succeed at novels. Carr had edited works at both short and novel length. Judging by the subsequent careers of some of the third Ace Special authors, Carr’s experience in this matter served him well—save for one aspect I will get to later.

Here’s a chart summarizing the third series track record for English language award wins, nominations, and honorable mentions. Wins are bolded and italicized. The significance of the check marks can wait a bit.

 

Title/Year Author Awards, Nominations, & 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
SF Chronicle Novel
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
Aurora CSFFA Award
1998 Locus All-Time Best SF Novel before 1990
Palimpsests
1984
Carter Scholz and Glenn Harcourt Locus Best First Novel
Them Bones
1984
Howard Waldrop Locus Best SF Novel
Locus Best First Novel
Compton Crook Award Best 1st Novel
Philip K. Dick Award
In the Drift
1985
Michael Swanwick Locus Best First Novel
The Hercules Text
1986
Jack McDevitt Locus Best First Novel
Locus Best SF Novel
Philip K. Dick Award
The Net
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 Feeley Philip K. Dick Award

 

First things first: This is a very male, very white list. There is only a single woman author; her book was one of the three edited by Knight, who finished the series after Carr died. Even Carr’s first Ace Specials series included more women, and that appeared in the days when women authors were rarer than they were in the 1980s. This blind spot seems inexplicable. The glaring absence of POC on the list is, alas, more typical of the era.

While the baffling lack of diversity must be acknowledged, the dozen individual titles listed above make for an impressive list overall. Not only were the Ace Specials award magnets, but the breadth of the subgenres offered, from cyberpunk to meat-and-potatoes SF, from post-apocalyptic to magical realism, was amazing. Younger readers may be assured that 1984 was a fine year to be reading science fiction. Most of Carr’s picks went on to have long careers as well.

There was just one tiny flaw, which was that due to the spotty book distribution of the day, and the fact one could not just hop online to order books (the third series of specials were published after the internet was a thing, but before the World Wide Web was invented), not every third Ace Special showed up in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario. In particular, The Net and Black Snow Days were hard to acquire.  The Net I acquired years ago but I didn’t snag Black Snow Days until January 2022. That’s what the little ticky mark on the chart means: I have this book. Which means the goal of tackling the full series is suddenly achievable.

Now all I need to do is read (or reread) all of them…

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

In the words of Wikipedia editor TexasAndroid, prolific book reviewer and perennial Darwin Award nominee James Davis Nicoll is of “questionable notability.” His work has appeared in Publishers Weekly and Romantic Times as well as on his own websites, James Nicoll Reviews and the Aurora finalist Young People Read Old SFF (where he is assisted by editor Karen Lofstrom and web person Adrienne L. Travis). He is a four-time finalist for the Best Fan Writer Hugo Award, is eligible to be nominated again this year, and is surprisingly flammable.

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