Book Review: Juniper Time, Kate Wilhelm (1979)

April 11, 2014 § 24 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 »

Book Review: Islands, Marta Randall (1976)

February 15, 2014 § 13 Comments

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(Vincent Di Fate’s cover for the 1976 edition)

3.5/5 (Good)

Nominated for the 1977 Nebula Award for Best Novel

*Note: I read the 1980 Pocket edition which, according to Locus, was modified (to what extent I do not know) from the original 1976 first edition.

Marta Randall, the first female president of SFWA, is one of numerous female science fiction writers from the 70s that are seldom read today.  A while back Ian Sales alerted me to Randall’s work in his very positive review of A City in the North (1976) on SF Mistressworks.  Recently, while looking for unread works on my immortality-themed SF list (here), I came across the Nebula-nominated Islands (1976).

One of the more effective ways to write about the ennui « Read the rest of this entry »

Book Review: Double, Double, John Brunner (1969)

February 8, 2014 § 14 Comments

(Murray Tinkleman’s cover for the 1979 edition)

2/5 (Bad)

John Brunner has long been one of my favorite SF authors and it almost pains me to review dismal disasters like Double, Double (1969).  I find it mind-boggling that an author who produced the otherworldly Stand on Zanzibar (1968) can turn around and release Double, Double the very next year.  Yes, yes I know, even brilliant SF authors such as Robert Silverberg churned out a vast and bizarre variety of sex/smut books to make ends meet (and buy a mansion) under such names as L.T. Woodward MD (Virgin Wives, Sex in our Schools, etc) and Don Elliot (Cousin Lover, Gang Girl, Gay Girl, The Instructor, etc) so I really should not complain….

Double, Double contains the most rudimentary clichéd premise and a plot used in countless 50s B-movies.  At moments it feels like Brunner wanted to transform the plot into a vehicle for social commentary.  However, at these crucial junctures where Brunner could have used his profusion of strange disparate characters gathered together in the English countryside to comment on the state of English society « Read the rest of this entry »

Book Review: Strange Relations, Philip José Farmer (1960)

January 26, 2014 § 9 Comments

(Blanchard’s cover for the 1960 edition)

4/5 (collated rating: Good)

Blanchard’s abstract vaginal cover for the 1960 first edition of Philip José Farmer’s Strange Relations (1960) hints, just obliquely enough to avoid being explicit, at the collection’s radical and groundbreaking contents.  Nothing else existed like this from the 50s!  Having exploded onto the scene with the “transgressive” (SF encyclopedia) novella “The Lovers” (1953) (later expanded to novel length), Strange Relations (1960) collects a further five short works from the mid-50s and later on similar themes — theology, sex, xenobiology, Freud, and social satire.

Each work revolves around a particular Freudian scenario, a Freudian fantasy.  One can imagine that authors such as Barry N. Malzberg « Read the rest of this entry »

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