Note: A slightly shorter version of this review will appear in Big Sky, # 4 (a fanzine put together by Pete Young).
On the surface, Michael Bishop’s anthropologically inclined science fiction appears deceptively simple. In his first novel and unacknowledged masterpiece A Funeral for the Eyes of Fire (1975), the premise (moving an alien people from a planet) evolves into a vast and complex anthropological tapestry filled with stories within stories creating an almost claustrophobic doubling of characters. In Stolen Faces (1977) the biological mystery of a virulent disease grows, tumor-like, into a brilliantly nightmarish exploration of bodily and societal decay and the gravimetric forces
Snatched all but one of these up at a 1$ SF hardback clearance sale at my local bookstore. The other, Watson’s The Jonah Kit (1976) came via The Dawn Treader Bookstore in Ann Arbor, MI.
I am not usually interested in Galactic Empires but the collection seems to have some intriguing short authors—for example, Lafferty, Davidson, Shaara, etc whose works I have no been that exposed to. I look forward to slowly working my way through both volumes.
I also acquired my first Robert Holdstock novel, Where Time Winds Blow (1981). Seems intriguing.
My schedule has finally calmed down a little so expect a slew of book reviews in the coming days/weeks…
1. Galactic Empires, Volume I, ed. Brian Aldiss (1976)
“[Michael Bishop's] early stories and novels display considerable intellectual complexity, and do not shirk the downbeat implications of their anthropological treatment of aliens and alienating milieux” — John Clute, SF Encyclopedia
Michael Bishop (b. 1945) [official website] is no stranger to critical success for both his novels and short SF: he has won the Nebula Award twice (“The Quickening” and No Enemy But Time) and picked up nine Hugo nominations and an additional thirteen Nebula Nominations. Two of his more famous novels, the above mentioned No Enemy But Time (1982) and Transfigurations (1979), were selected for inclusion and republication in the Gollancz Masterwork List. Although Bishop has not published a novel since the Hugo-nominated Brittle Innings in 1994, he received a Nebula nomination for his novelette “Vinegar Peace, or, The Wrong-Way Used-Adult Orphanage” (2008) as recently as 2010!
With this in mind it is surprising that his extraordinary talent is not better known within the SF community. John Clute in his article for SF Encyclopedia argues that “the earnest ardour and rigorousness of Bishop’s fiction has made Continue reading →
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 Continue reading →
The rest are fun but not high on my list of must reads. I’ve never been a fan of A. E. Van Vogt (could not tolerate the inarticulate labyrinth of a novel The World of Null-A) but the Powers cover on The War Against the Rull (1959) was fun.
I’ve heard good things about Edgar Pangborn, although people seldom discuss West of Eden (1953), perhaps with good reason.
Fletcher Pratt’s Invaders from Rigel (1932) is one of those AMAZING covers but incredibly dubious reads. Even the back cover is rather non-sensical.
1. Transfigurations, Michael Bishop (1979) (MY REVIEW)
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 Continue reading →
Everyone likes lists! And I do too…. This is an opportunity to collate some of my favorite (and least favorite) novels and shorter SF works I read this year. Last year I discovered Barry N. Malzberg and this year I was seduced by…. Well, read and find out.
Top Ten Novels
1. We Who Are About To…, Joanna Russ (1976): A scathing, and underread, literary SF novel by one of the more important feminist SF writers of the 70s (of The Female Man fame).
2. A Funeral for the Eyes of Fire, Michael Bishop (1975): A well-written anthropological clash of cultures novel. Slow, gorgeous, emotionally engaging….
A nice haul from the local used book store and various internet sources…. After Effinger’s masterpiece What Entropy Means to Me (1972) I was desperate to get my hands on another one of his novels (or short story collections — Relatives is not supposed to be as good but, perhaps it will prove the critics (well, namely John Clute) wrong.
Miriam Allen deFord was a prolific 50s short story writer. Xenogenesis (1969) is the only published collection solely of her stories — thankfully it’s graced with a wonderful Richard Powers cover.
Despite the hideous cover, Michael Bishop’s first novel A Funeral for the Eyes of Fire (1975) is generally considered quite good. I’ve already read and reviewed Dan Morgan’s average but inventive SF thriller Inside (1971) but included it in this post anyway because I had yet to reach my four new acquisitions for a post.
Have you read any of these novels? If so, what did you think?
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 Continue reading →