Category Archives: Science Fiction Book Reviews

Book Review: False Dawn, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (1978)

(Gary Friedman’s cover for the 1978 edition)

3.25/5 (Vaguely Good)

“One of the women wasn’t dead yet.  Her ravaged body hung naked from a broken billboard.  Her legs were splayed wide and anchored with ropes; legs and belly were bloody, there were heavy bruises on her face and breasts, and she had been branded with a large “M” for mutant” (1).

Before there was Mad Max (1979) dir. George Miller there was Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s False Dawn (1978)… In 1972 she published her brutal and terrifying short story “False Dawn” in Thomas N. Scortia’s anthology Strange Bedfellows  (1972).  A few years later the work was deemed important enough to be included in Pamela Sargent’s famous anthology Women of Wonder (1975).  This story forms the first chapter of her post-apocalyptical novel False Dawn (1978).

In the 60s highly inventive post-apocalyptical stories flourished: for example, J. G. Ballard’s masterpiece The Drowned World (1962) filled with images of uterine spaces Continue reading

Book Review: The Worlds of Frank Herbert, Frank Herbert (1970)

(Paul Alexander’s cover for the 1977 edition)

3.25/5 (Collated rating: Vaguely Good)

I have long been a fan of Frank Herbert.   In my youth I scarfed down Dune (1965) and all its sequels and cried (metaphorically) when his son Brian Herbert made  a mockery of his vision.  I even read the more dubious novels in Herbert’s canon: from The Green Brain (1966) to the co-written (with Bill-Ransom)  novels of the Pandora sequence i.e. The Jesus Incident (1979), The Lazarus Effect (1983), and The Ascension Factor (1988).  I have found many of his non-Dune novels worth reading (Destination: Void (1966) and The Dosadi Experiment (1977), etc).

More recently I have started to read/review the handful of his novels I missed as a child—so far the solid and unexpectedly complex The Eyes of Heisenberg (1966) and the lesser Continue reading

Book Review: The Gamesman, Barry N. Malzberg (1975)

(Ed Soyka’s cover for the 1975 edition)

4.5/5 (Very Good)

“The Game is not a metaphor. The Game is not a closed system which represents something larger; but the choices made within its pathways are exactly that, choices which have to do with the immediate outcome. It would be a mistake to think of the success or failure in the Game having anything to do with the world. There are not metaphors. There are no outer significances. There is merely the Game itself and what it accomplishes upon its participants” (37).

In Jorge Luis Borges’ 1941 short story, “The Library of Babel” the universe is conceived of as a vast library stretching in all directions.  In this spectacular environment—an endless series of hexagonal rooms, each one with the same number of shelves with the same number of books with the same number of letters inscribed on each page, etc. Borges brings into sharp, and unsettling relief, complex metaphysical speculations.

In The Gamesman (1975) Barry N. Malzberg creates a similarly sculpted world with two bifurcated Continue reading

Book Review: Indoctrinaire, Christopher Priest (1970)

(Bruce Pennington’s cover for the 1971 edition)

3.25/5 (Slightly Above Average)

“There is an element of terror in any natural object that does not exist in its proper place. Wentik experienced the full force of this as he stood in the dark. A hand grows from a table, and an ear from a wall. A maze is constructed to sophisticated mathematical formula, yet is housed in a tumbledown shack. A minor official terrorizes me, and a man tries to fly a helicopter without vanes. Land exist in future time, through I feel and believe instinctively that I am in the present. What else will this place do to me? (83)”

Christopher Priest’s first novel Indoctrinaire (1970) explores the mystery of a vast perfectly round plain with a series of strange buildings that appears in the middle of the Amazonian jungle.  Seemingly displaced in time, the transformed landscape is not only a visible sign of the ecological transformation the world will undergo but also, less visibly, the unseen but pernicious scars Continue reading

Book Review: Three Novels (variant title: Natural State and Other Short Stories), Damon Knight (1967)

(Alan Peckolick’s cover for the 1967 edition)

3/5 (Collated Rating: Average)

Damon Knight’s Beyond the Barrier (1964) was so egregious that I have stayed away from his work until recently.  Around a year ago I acquired Three Novels (1969)—containing the two novellas “Rule Golden” (1954) and “Natural State” (1951) and one novelette “The Dying Man” (variant title: Dio”) (1951)—in order to start my reappraisal of the supposed Grand Master of the genre.  I have his collection Far Out (1961) and his novel A For Anything (variant title: The People Maker) (1959) on my shelf.

Although this selection of his 50s short fiction is far superior to Beyond the Barrier only one of the stories made any lasting impression: the philosophical and ruminative immortality themed tale, “The Dying Man.”  With that in mind it might be worth tracking it down in another place of publication, for example the thematic multi-author collection Immortals (1998) ed. Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois.   There is a chance that the other two novellas in Three Novels will satisfy fans of Knight’s Continue reading

Book Review: The Centauri Device, M. John Harrison (1974)

(Paul Lehr’s cover for the 1980 edition)

4/5 (Good)

I can only imagine the shock that readers received and still receive (according to amazon reviews) after diving into M. John Harrison’s The Centauri Device (1974) expecting a standard space opera.  This is a subgenre where the anti-hero still has not found a firm place to roost…  You know the rubric: Empathizing with the hero.  Positivism.  Saving the world.  The good guys win.

I suspect the shock to the system that Stephen R. Donaldson’s leprous and bitter (and reluctant) savior Thomas Covenant in Lord Foul’s Bane (1977) and subsequent novels had on high fantasy was something akin to impact The Centauri Device‘s drug-addled, inarticulate, and passive spacer Continue reading

Book Review: The Very Slow Time Machine, Ian Watson (1979)

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(Paul Alexander’s cover for the 1979 edition)

4.5/5 (Very Good)

My first exposure to Ian Watson’s extensive SF catalog could not have been more impressive.  The Very Slow Time Machine (1979) is up there with Robert Sheckley’s Store of Infinity (1960) and J. G. Ballard’s Billenium (1962) as the best overall collection of stories that I have encountered in the history of this site.

The collection is filled with narrative experimentation (“Programmed Loved Story,” “Agoraphobia, A.D. 2000,” etc), some awe inspiring ideas (“The Very Slow Time Machine,” “The Girl Who Was Art” etc.), a few delightful allegories (“Our Loves So Truly Meridional,” “My Soul Swims in a Goldfish Bowl”), and a handful of more traditional SF stories that hint at anthropological Continue reading

Guest Post: “Allegiances,” Michael Bishop (1975)

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(Jack Guaghan’s cover for the February 1975 issue of Galaxy, where “Allegiances” was first published)

The tenth and final (at least for now) installment in my guest post series on the science fiction of Michael Bishop comes via Peter S. a longtime commentator on my site.  He should start his own SF review site….  His comments (and this review) are greatly appreciated!

He selected the novella “Allegiances” (1975) from the anthology The 1976 Annual World’s Best SF (1976), ed. Donald A. Wollheim he owned (image below)–DOMED CITIES!

The novella was included in Catacomb Years (1979) reviewed by 2thD recently.

Thanks everyone for a successful series.  All the comments and contributions are greatly appreciated.  I have more plans along these lines for the future!

~

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“Allegiances” (1975) — Michael Bishop

Jack Gaughan’s cover for the 1976 edition of The 1976 Annual World’s Best SF (1976), ed. Donald A. Wollheim

When I come across a Science Fiction anthology, I first check the contents to see if there is anything unusual such as a story by a favorite author that I have not seen before, or maybe a lost gem from an author I was not previously aware of. I also check to see who the editor is, since each editor has their own distinctive way of putting together a collection.

My impression of the many anthologies that Donald Wollheim (1914 – 1990) worked on is that they are always of interest. I expect the majority of the stories in any given collection to be very good, most will be mainstream Hard Science Fiction Continue reading

Guest Post: “The Quickening,” Michael Bishop (1981)

(Roger Zimmerman’s cover for Universe 11 (1981), first place of publication for “The Quickening”)

My ninth installment of my guest post series on The Science Fiction of Michael Bishop comes via Max (twitter: @MaxCarnduff) at the fiction (and occasionally SF/F) review site Pechorin’s Journal.  His incredibly erudite review of  Anna Kavan’s Ice (1967) is the reason I have not tried to review the work myself….  Follow him on twitter and check out his site!

For this series he selected the novelette “The Quickening” (1981) which won the Nebula for Best Novelette (1982) (one of the two Nebula wins Bishop has under his belt) and was nominated for the Hugo for best novelette that same year.  The novelette appears in Bishop’s most recent retrospective collection put out by Subterranean Press, The Door Gunner and Other Flights of Fancy (2012) that desperately needs an eBook/Kindle version!

Enjoy!

~

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“The Quickening” (1981)

When Joachim approached me about participating in his series of guest reviews of works by Michael Bishop I was delighted, but worried I wouldn’t be able to get a review to him on time (work, life, that sort of thing).

Well, I was right on both counts. I was right to be delighted because Michael Bishop’s a writer with real talent Continue reading