March 2, 2014 § 16 Comments
(Uncredited cover for the 1978 edition)
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 »
February 15, 2014 § 13 Comments
(Vincent Di Fate’s cover for the 1976 edition)
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 »
February 8, 2014 § 14 Comments
(Murray Tinkleman’s cover for the 1979 edition)
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 »
January 26, 2014 § 8 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 »
January 21, 2014 § 16 Comments
(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1967 edition)
“And there is light, before and beyond our vision, for which we give thanks. And there is heat, for which we are humble. And there is power, for which we count ourselves blessed. Blessed be Balmer, who gave us wavelengths. Blessed be Bohr, who brought us understanding. Blessed be Lyman, who saw beyond sight. Tell us now the stations of the spectrum [...]” (3).
Robert Silverberg’s To Open the Sky (1967) is an enjoyable pulp future history with a somewhat “different” premise–religion will be the main force that facilitates mankind’s exploration of the stars. In his intro of 1978 edition he discusses how the project came about. In the early 60s Frederik Pohl became his editor and allowed him to published, for the first time, SF “for love rather than money” (II). Up to this point Silverberg had never attempted, other than in the briefest sketch form, to extrapolate an entire future history à la Olaf Stapleton or Isaac Asimov. Silverberg’s vision is nowhere as complex « Read the rest of this entry »
January 8, 2014 § 12 Comments
(Gene Szafran’s cover for the 1975 edition)
Nominated for the 1976 Nebula Award for Best Novel
*First, a preliminary note on the publication history: I read the original, unabridged 1975 edition. However, Michael Bishop “completely rewrote” the novel in 1980 (according to ISFDB and his introduction to the later edition). The 1980 rewrite—initially titled Eyes of Fire but later confusingly released under the original title, A Funeral For the Eyes of Fire-–was the one republished and recently available as an eBook through SF Gateway according to Bishop’s wishes. I would prefer my readers, if they are interested in the volume, to not hesitate in snatching up the original. I suspect both are worth reading.
Fresh off Michael Bishop’s strangely wonderful And Strange at Ecbatan the Trees (variant title: Beneath the Shattered Moons) (1976) I eagerly devoured his first published novel, A Funeral for the Eyes of Fire (1975)—and with this work, bluntly put, he enters my pantheon of favorite SF authors. Bishop, completely in command of his narrative, weaves together a literary and anthropological tapestry filled with stories within stories and delicate interplay between these layers.
The deceptively simple premise unfurls into a complex and moving meditation on culture clash and the power of ritual, threatening at every moment to explode into violence. This is perhaps the most sophisticated rumination I « Read the rest of this entry »
January 5, 2014 § 18 Comments
(Paul Lehr’s cover for the 1972 edition)
*The 1980 edition, still under the title Yesterday’s Children, was substantially rewritten. In 1985 David Gerrold released it under a new title, Starhunt. This is a review for the original 1972 edition. I have not read the later rewrite so I am unsure how much was modified.
David Gerrold, best known for writing the famous Star Trek: The Original Series episode “The Trouble With Tribbles” (1967), has continuously produced SF novels since the early 70s. I had previously read the disappointing Space Skimmer (1972) which combined a fascinating premise with puff-puppies, annoying princes, and bad poetry. Yesterday’s Children (1972) (variant title: Starhunt) likewise combines a fascinating premise with a less than satisfactory delivery, numerous narrative hiccups, and uneven tone and characterization. I am not surprised that the novel was rewritten due to the slightly rough « Read the rest of this entry »
December 30, 2013 § Leave a comment
(Walter Rane’s cover for the 1976 edition)
There is a reason that Pamela Sargent’s Cloned Lives (1976) has been overshadowed by Kate Wilhelm’s clone-themed Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang (1976), which garnered a Hugo award and a Nebula nomination, released the same year. While Sargent’s vision is painfully melodramatic and descriptive to a fault where pages and pages and pages pass without a single metaphor or simile, Wilhelm’s was psychologically taut and beautiful. Cloned Lives is comprised of three previously published works, the short story “A Sense of Difference” (1972), the novella “Father” (1974), and the novelette “Clone Sister” (1973). Each section shifts perspective between each of the clones and their father (with a culminating “Interface” section).
Despite Cloned Lives’ manifold flaws there are a few moments of interest, notably amongst descriptive postulations about the nature of her futuristic society, that are prescient and thought-provoking. Likewise, Sargent’s conscious effort to integrate a vast assortment of races (Indians, Arabs, Africans, etc) and gender roles (homosexual couples who use cloning to have children, female scientists, etc) is admirable and appealing. However, these brief (yet intriguing) interludes and observations do not redeem the banal melodrama « Read the rest of this entry »
December 28, 2013 § 9 Comments
(Ron Walotsky’s cover for the 1973 edition)
4.5/5 (Very Good)
Caveat: If a perverse (and Freudian) metafictional (and literary) retelling of Otto Klement and Jerome Bixby’s Fantastic Voyage replete with filmic flashbacks does not intrigue you then stay away….
There are few SF authors who utilize metafictional elements as gleefully and effectively as Barry N. Malzberg. Beyond Apollo (1972), his masterpiece, is a labyrinthine sequence of 67 short chapters of a novel written by the main character who may or may not be recounting real (imagined?) events. While in In the Enclosure (1973) the excruciating paranoia that permeates the pages and the impossible escapes that transpire, recounted as if they were entries in a diary, could indeed be generated by an external force—the exact nature of which is unknowable—implanting memories. Revelations (1972) was entirely comprised of a sequence of documents (interview transcripts, diary fragments, epistolary fragments) « Read the rest of this entry »