Guest Post: Brittle Innings, Michael Bishop (1994)

April 23, 2014 § Leave a comment

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(Paul Swenson’s cover for the 2012 edition)

The second installment of my guest post series on Michael Bishop’s SF is the critically acclaimed Brittle Innings (1994) (Nominated for the 1994 Hugo + Won the 1995 Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel)—his last published genre novel.  In the words of the wonderful James Harris—over at Auxiliary Memory—who wrote the following review, “Brittle Innings is Flannery O’Connor mashed up with Mary Shelley, and a dash of A League of Their Own.”  Make sure to check out his site [here] where he discusses writing, science fiction, movies, and definitely track down his best SF novels of the each decade lists!

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Brittle Innings by Michael Bishop:  Literary v. Genre Fiction

Stories about minor league baseball always have to deal the ambition of making it big, of going to the show, and playing for the majors.  Brittle Innings by Michael Bishop is a baseball novel by a science fiction writer, and I can’t help but wonder if this novel isn’t about writing in the minor leagues hoping to make it big in the literary majors « Read the rest of this entry »

Guest Post: “Death and Designation Among the Asadi,” Michael Bishop (1973)

April 22, 2014 § 5 Comments

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The first installment in my Guest Post Series on The Science Fiction of Michael Bishop was written by Jesse over at the remarkable SF review site Speculiction… Not only is he incredibly prolific (and has a large back catalog of reviews to browse) but his reviews are also a joy to read.  If you are interested in both classic and contemporary SF, and the occasional post on Chinese poetry, make sure to check out his site.

Jesse has previously posted on his site about Bishop’s  “The Samurai in the Willows” (1976) and “Cri de Coeur” (1994).  Both reviews are worth reading.  

“Death and Designation Among the Asadi” (1973) is one of Michael Bishop’s more well known novellas that was nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula in 1974.  It was first published in the magazine Worlds of If January-February 1973, ed. Ejler Jakobsson.  If you are interested in finding a copy the story can be found in multiple later collections and forms the first part of his novel Transfigurations (1979) [listing here].

Enjoy!

~

“Death and Designation Among the Asadi,” Michael Bishop (1973)

The alien is perhaps the most recognized, if not the most used trope of « Read the rest of this entry »

Book Review: The Dream Master, Roger Zelazny (1966)

April 19, 2014 § 31 Comments

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(Kelly Freas’ cover for the 1966 edition)

4/5 (Good)

Roger Zelazny’s The Dream Master (1966)—expanded from the Nebula Award winning novella “He Who Shapes” (1965)—revolves around the Freudian notion of the centrality of dreams and importance of decoding dreams for psychoanalytical treatment.  Susan Parman, in Dream and Culture (1990), points out that Freud was initially focused on “treating ‘abnormal’ patients” but soon “expanded his theory of psychoanalysis to explain puzzling events in ‘normal’ behavior” including dreams.  Freud’s influential work The Interpretation of Dreams (1899) argued that the “dream expresses the secret wishes of the soul” where the dreamscape is the “arena” in which good and bad forces are engaged in a struggle.  Thus, the dream is a message that must be deciphered by an “allegorical « Read the rest of this entry »

Book Review: Juniper Time, Kate Wilhelm (1979)

April 11, 2014 § 45 Comments

(Bob Aulicino’s cover for the hideous 1979 edition)

3.5/5 (Good)

Nominated for the 1980 Nebula Award

“Everything that is, Robert had said, must be.  Every cycle must be completed, must lead to the next cycle.  He had talked about times when the desert had been drier than it now was, times when it had been lush and wet, and there had been no questions in his mind that this too must be” (170-171).

At the heart of Kate Wilhelm’s Nebula-nominated novel Juniper Time (1979) is the notion of historical cyclicality at both the macro- (earth cycles) and the micro- (human historical time) levels.  The near future mysteriously drought stricken world where Wilhelm is an important juncture of two such cycles.  The macrocycle concerns devastating world-wide desertification, which is most caused by a natural cycle but the precise nature of which is unknown.  The microcycle concerns a shift in human populations in the drought stricken countries: mass migrations towards coasts as the springs and rivers of the hinterlands turn to mud.  In this world the farmer, in the past linked tightly to his fields, abandons his traditional position in American society and moves to a cluttered and violent state « Read the rest of this entry »

Book Review: The Crystal Ship (three novellas by Vonda N. McIntyre + Marta Randall + Joan D. Vinge), ed. Robert Silverberg (1976)

April 6, 2014 § 8 Comments

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(Norman Adams’ cover for the 1977 edition)

3.25/5 (collated rating: Good)

According to a list compiled by Ian Sales [here] only a handful of SF anthologies have hit print solely featuring women authors—none were published before 1972 and, surprisingly, few after 1980 (there seems to be a resurgence in the last few years).  The Crystal Ship (1976) ed. Robert Silverberg, is one of these.  It contains the three novellas by three important SF authors who got their start in the 70s: Marta Randall, Joan D. Vinge, Vondra McIntyre.  The latter two achieved critical success: Joan D. Vinge won the Hugo for her novel The Snow Queen (1980) and Vonda N. McIntyre won the Hugo for her novel Dreamsnake (1978).  Marta Randall, on the other hand, despite her Nebula nomination for the intriguing Islands (1976) remains to this day lesser known.

All three of the novellas feature impressive female protagonists and narratives that subvert many of SF’s traditional « Read the rest of this entry »

Book Review: Stolen Faces, Michael Bishop (1977)

March 26, 2014 § 12 Comments

(Steve Hickman’s cover for the 1978 edition)

4.75/5 (Near Masterpiece)

“The growths beside her mouth moved like living tumors when she spoke.” (19)

There is nothing superfluous in Michael Bishop’s Stolen Faces (1977).  Like some nightmarish condensate that gathers into waiting cups, it induces hellish visions.  Metaphors and images of bodily decay, societal decadence, and strange rituals abound.  I suspect that the Bishop’s profoundly uncomfortable themes, deliberate plotting, and metaphorical/literary way of telling have prevented the novel from gaining a wider audience.

« Read the rest of this entry »

Book Review: Ancient, My Enemy, Gordon R. Dickson (1974)

March 15, 2014 § 14 Comments

(Peter Rauch’s cover for the 1974 edition)

2.75/5 (collated rating: Vaguely Average)

Between 1974 and 1990 Gordon R. Dickson’s collection Ancient, My Enemy (1974) was reprinted eleven times.  The reason for this “popularity” is beyond me considering I found that a grand total of three of the nine stories were solid while the rest were poorly written cliché-ridden magazine filler…  Dickson had the ability to write some great short SF—for example, Mike at Potpourri of SF Literature adores his collection In the Bone (1987).  But Ancient, My Enemy gives little indication of his talent and generally lacks the insight that his novels such as The Alien Way (1965) possess.

Recommended only for Gordon R. Dickson completists.  I suggest acquiring later more discerning collections of his 50s/60s SF such as « Read the rest of this entry »

Book Review: Billenium, J. G. Ballard (1962)

March 10, 2014 § 22 Comments

(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1962 edition)

4.25/5 (collated rating: Very Good)

Billenium (1962), J. G. Ballard’s first collection of short stories, contains three masterpieces of the 50s/60s: “Billenium” (1961), “Build-Up” (variant title: The Concentration City) (1957), and “Chronopolis” (1960).  The first is a deadpan satire on overpopulation, the second a fantastic Borgesian depiction of an endless city that stretches (literally) in all directions, and the third a vision of a city that had enough and revolted against time.  I preferred these three ruminations, that unfolded in evocative and decaying urban spaces, to the three decadent and baroque stories—”Studio 5, The Stars” (1961), “Mobile” (variant title: “Venus Smiles”) (1957), and “Prima Belladonna” (1956)—from his famous Vermillion Sands sequence.  The remaining four are all readable.

As with J. G. Ballard’s first novel masterpiece, The Drowned World (1962), the sense of decay and malaise that permeate majority of the stories in Billenium is gorgeously « Read the rest of this entry »

Book Review: Margaret and I, Kate Wilhelm (1971)

March 2, 2014 § 16 Comments

(Uncredited cover for the 1978 edition)

3.5/5 (Good)

Nominated for the 1972 Nebula Award for Best Novel

The grayness swirled and became solid, a plain that was featureless at first, then with grotesque shapes emerging from it, obviously things growing, but things that shouldn’t have been.  They looked like monstrous scabs, like leprous fingers curled obscenely in an attitude of prayer, like parts of bodies covered with a fungus or mold, misshapen and horrible” (73).

Margaret and I (1971) is a profoundly unsettling and hallucinatory exploration of a woman’s sexual and emotional self-realization.  Or, to use the Jungian terms deployed by Wilhelm in her preliminary quotation, the novel charts the process of individuation where the conscious and unconscious “learn to know, respect and accommodate « Read the rest of this entry »

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