November 26, 2013 § 4 Comments
(George Barr’s cover for the 1972 edition)
At the Seventh Level (1972) is part of a loose sequence of novels that feature Trigalactic Intelligence Service agent Coyote Jones and his voyages to various worlds. Although this sequence ostensibly has the trappings of SF space opera, Suzette Haden Elgin subverts the genre conventions so that the premise functions as a polemical feminist text with satirical underpinnings. At the Seventh Level is an important installment in a long line of “women as slaves trapped in vast repressive patriarchy propped up by appeals to tradition and brute force” type novels which, some might argue, culminated in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985). It is important to note that there were many novels on similar themes before Atwood’s acknowledged masterpiece hit « Read the rest of this entry »
November 24, 2013 § 21 Comments
(Mel Hunter’s cover for the 1956 edition)
3/5 (collated rating: Average)
Although Theodore Sturgeon is generally considered a master of the SF short form, his collection A Way Home (1956) contains only two worthwhile stories – ”Thunder and Roses” (1947) and ”Bulkhead” (1955). The rest I was either unable to finish or struggled to muddle through over the course of the last two or so weeks. Fortunately, the near masterpiece ”Bulkhead” was almost worth the pain induced by the intelligent dog related subgenre of SF manifest in “Tiny and the Monster” (1947) or the cute accidentally destructive hurkle kittens of ”The Hurkle Is a Happy Beast” (1949).
At this stage in my recent endeavor to brush up on the best of the 50s short story wordsmiths, I place Sturgeon below Robert Sheckley, Brian Aldiss, Philip K. Dick, Fritz Leiber, Miriam Allen deFord, Lester del Rey, Walter M. Miller, Jr., C. M. Kornbluth, and Frederik Pohl. (shocking to some, I know!).
However, before I make a more definitive conclusion I call on my readers to list what you consider his best short work « Read the rest of this entry »
Book Review: And Strange at Ecbatan the Trees (variant title: Beneath the Shattered Moons), Michael Bishop (1976)
November 19, 2013 § 6 Comments
(Jonathan Weld’s cover for the 1976 edition)
Michael Bishop’s And Strange at Ecbatan the Trees (variant title: Beneath the Shattered Moons) (1976) is a melancholic and allegorically inclined parable about a coming cataclysm that threatens a programmed and hierarchically rigid society (accomplished via genetic modification). Bishop’s voice is an intensely humanistic once, futuristic technology is present but not a central concern…. The simple but effective plot is the perfect vehicle for his moralistic ruminations: a man forced into action, a world compelled — despite the external forces at play — to adapt.
And Strange at Ecbatan the Trees is the first of Michael Bishop’s works I have read and I am definitely intrigued enough to place his supposedly superior Nebula-nominated first novel, Funeral for the « Read the rest of this entry »
November 17, 2013 § 18 Comments
(Chris Foss’ cover for the 1973 edition)
If one were to distill 70s space opera in a decanter filled with SF pulp the result would be Singularity Station (1973). Combined with the dynamic Chris Foss cover — I’ve never enjoyed his work but it does embody the vigor and explosiveness of the novel — Brian N. Ball’s vision is an veritable adolescent SF wet dream filled with robots, cutting edge science (in this case, 60s speculation on the nature of black holes), a love interest (not the 30s/40s pulp versions) in distress, a mad scientist, and inventive spaceships and space stations.
70s pulp at its « Read the rest of this entry »
November 12, 2013 § 9 Comments
(Josh Kirby’s cover for the 1975 edition)
4.5/5 (Very Good)
Michael G. Coney’s Hello Summer, Goodbye (variant title: Rax) (1975) — often considered a minor classic of the genre — is a lyrical paean to young love arrayed against a backdrop of a world filled with increasingly sinister undercurrents, unusual (and fantastic) fauna and flora, and characters we connect with in deeply emotional ways. I am the first to admit that I am intensely suspicious of SF labeled thusly: “This is a love story, and a way story, and a science fiction store, and more besides” (authors note). However, the “love story” elements are so delicately wrought and unfold naturally without undue melodramatic flair that I was smitten with the characters and felt for their struggles.
Welcome to an alien world where anomie trees « Read the rest of this entry »
November 5, 2013 § 12 Comments
(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1974 edition)
Dan Morgan’s output appears to have been mostly forgotten even by the most dedicated fans of the genre. And unfortunately, no collections of his short stories (he published around 40) were released in his lifetime. John Clute’s assessment of his work — “Though he was not a powerful writer, and though he never transcended the US action-tale conventions to which he was so clearly indebted, it is all the same surprising that Morgan has been ignored” — rings true in regards to the sole novel of his I have read, Inside (1971).
Inside is a tightly-plotted action tale that plays out layered (almost painfully entropic) levels of delusion. The neatly packaged premise never goes beyond the strictures « Read the rest of this entry »
October 23, 2013 § 2 Comments
(Uncredited cover for the 1968 edition)
Alan E. Nourse’s The Mercy Men (1955) contains all the necessary parts for a riveting 1950s SF thriller: a disturbing future America where the destitute sell their bodies for medical experimentation, a world wrecked by increasing waves of mental illness, and a hero with a manic obsession with finding the man who killed his father. However, Nourse’s strategic dousing of the characters and scenes with Extra Sensory Perception (ESP) hoopla muddles the wonder of the world and rigor of the action and leaves the reader imagining all the lost opportunities.
And of course in the best pulp tradition which Nourse so fervently adheres to, science wins out in the end and provides nicely packaged easy « Read the rest of this entry »
October 17, 2013 § 8 Comments
(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1958 edition)
C. L. Moore’s Doomsday Morning (1957) — she’s best known for her revolutionary 1930s works including “Shambleau” (1934) and the “Jirel of Joiry” sequence — is perhaps her most ruminative and traditional SF novel (she tended to write more fantastical SF and fantasy). Unfortunately, she quit writing around the time of the death of her husband and frequent collaborator Henry Kuttner (they often published under the pseudonym Lewis Padgett). And her second husband forbid her to write altogether…
Moore creates a finely wrought dystopic vision where an oppressive future government utilizes communication networks to spread its tentacles across the United States. Against this backdrop intriguing characters come to life. Her descriptions of the political backdrop remain minimalistic which is surprising for SF of the 50s which often resorts to lengthy descriptive lectures. Instead, the true extent of the government’s « Read the rest of this entry »
October 10, 2013 § 6 Comments
(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1964 edition)
3.75/5 (collated rating: Good)
I’ve been in a 50s SF short story craze of late, devouring collections by Robert Silverberg (Godling, Go Home!), Walter M. Miller, Jr. (The View From the Stars), Fritz Leiber (A Pail of Air), Lester Del Rey (Mortals and Monsters), and a few Robert Sheckley volumes a few months before. Fresh off of William Tenn’s solid novel Of Men and Monsters (1968) I went into The Human Angle (1956) (containing three novelettes and five short stories predominately from the 50s) with high expectations. Despite the handful of duds – ”The Human Angle” (1948), “Project Hush” (1954) and ”The Discovery of Morniel Mathaway” (1955) – that tend to creep into most collections of shorts, the majority were characterized by sardonic brilliance.
Although not as biting as his august contemporaries Robert Sheckley and C. M. Kornbluth, Tenn’s visions are delightfully humorous and ironic. It’s worth getting your « Read the rest of this entry »