(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
A grab bag of risk (Cecelia Holland + Guy Snyder) and great reward (Barry N. Malzberg)! I would love to know what you think. I know Holland’s Floating Worlds (1976) was picked up by the SF Masterwork series put out by Gollancz but I know next to nothing about the novel.
And, well, Malzberg is my favorite SF author (metafiction + experimentation + Freud + recursive elements) so I know what I’m getting with his stuff!
1. Floating Worlds, Cecelia Holland (1976)
(Melvyn Grant’s cover for the 1978 edition) Continue reading
(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
(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
(William George’s cover for the 1963 edition)
2.75/5 (Vaguely Average)
Margaret St. Clair was one of a handful of prolific women SF authors who started publishing short fiction in the late 40s—her first SF story was “Rocket to Limbo” for the November 1946 issue of Fantastic Adventures. From the late 50s to the early 70s she published eight slim novels, mostly Ace Doubles (paired with authors such as Philip K. Dick and Kenneth Blulmer). Regardless of her earlier publishing prowess—by the publication date of Sign of the Labrys (1963) she had four novels in print and somewhere around 125 short stories—Bantam Books felt the need to include the following back cover:
“WOMEN ARE WRITING SCIENCE-FICTION!
ORIGINAL! BRILLIANT!! DAZZLING!!!
Women are closer to the primitive than men. They are conscious of the moon-pulls, the earth-tides. They possess a buried memory of humankind’s obscure and ancient past which can emerge to uniquely color and flavor a novel. Such a woman is Margaret St. Clair, author of this novel. Such a novel is this, SIGN OF THE LABRYS, the story of a doomed world of the future, saved by recourse to ageless, immemorial rites…
FRESH! IMAGINATIVE!! INVENTIVE!!!”
Unfortunately, Sign of the Labrys is a disappointing read. The post-plague world is dark and creepy and for the first half an uncanny (palpable) tension permeates. But, ultimately the fantastic setting, revisionist stance on the normal pulp gender dynamics, are weakened by a disjointed (verging on amateur) narrative filled with Wiccan “craft” practices and references. As other reviewers have pointed out, one could easily substitute the Wicca magic with the pulp SF staple “psi-power” and I agree Continue reading
(Howard Winters’ cover for the 1969 edition)
“Inspecting a few she found that they were about what she had expected: the science-fiction books seemed to be full of nonsense about extraterrestrials or flights into space, the damnedest silliest stuff imaginable, and the sex part was sheer filth. There was no question about it; there was no other way to describe those books” (12).
Science fiction as delusion. More specifically, chapters replete with SF plots with evil aliens with interchangeable names and megalomaniacal claims to power culled straight from the pulps are delusions. Imagined (perhaps?) by an average American man with “metastases” (14) growing in his brain while a concerned, albeit cheating, normal American housewife waits at his bedside. The Empty People (1969) is considered Barry N. Malzberg’s (writing at K. M. O’Donnell) first SF novel. However in the vein of his more famous Herovit’s World (1973), the most convincing interpretation of the novel suggests that the SF elements (purposefully clichéd and vaguely explained) are mere manifestations and torments of a diseased mind.
Originally Malzberg had aspirations to become a playwright and was even awarded multiple university playwright fellowships but was unable to break into the literary market. Thus, he tried his hand at science fiction in the late 60s with some success (his most famous work would be published in the early 70s). I would suggest that Malzberg’s palpable frustration writing SF can be found throughout the novel. In The Empty People pulp science fiction plots, in their most general formulations, serve as instruments of repression Continue reading
My fiancé picked these up for me as she perambulated through Dallas, TX—the birthplace of Half Price Books. And, easily the best one in the country.
Two more Disch novels to add to my collection (I only owned Camp Concentration). The cover and cover blurb for On Wings of Song (1979) is terrifyingly bad—the contents are supposedly magisterial.
I have no idea if Rachel Pollack’s Golden Vanity (1980) will be any good—looks like average space opera.
And, who can resist Poul Anderson?
1. Echo Round His Bones, Thomas M. Disch (1966)
(Uncredited cover for the 1967 edition) Continue reading
My first in a new series of reviews that aim to bring to your attention short stories that appeared in magazines (I have substantially more due to Chris’ generosity—go visit him at Battered, Tattered, Yellowed & Creased) but where never collected in later English language volumes. I’ve decided to pair a known author (in this case Joe Haldeman) with a lesser known author (in this case A. G. Moran) published in Amazing Science Fiction.
(Mike Hinge’s cover for the March 1973 issue of Amazing Science Fiction, ed. Ted White)
“Two Men and a Rock” by Joe Haldeman (1973) 3/5 (Vaguely Average): Joe Haldeman, of The Forever War (1975) fame, tells a straight-laced Hard SF tale of two “fools who would rather die breathing space then never see the stars” (87). The place in space is a station in an asteroid rich region. Four prospectors, sixteen sappers, seven pilots, and a variety of secretaries live on the station—the job, ride out to an asteroid on a rickety sled, carrying a pile of nukes, without its own Continue reading
I do not own many SF magazines from the 40s-70s. The reasons are as follows: 1) Novels tended to be serialized which means I have to track down multiple magazines to read an entire novel. 2) The novels were often radically altered for their first book form publication (think, Herbert’s “Dune World” (1963) that later became Dune (1965). Thus, I rather own the later novel form that wasn’t as constrained by the strictures of magazine form. 3) I love short story collections and would rather own the entire collection than read a singleton story.