Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CLXXVI (Wolfe + Mendelson + Stableford + Tennant)

1) Brian M. Stableford has not faired particularly well on this site: I’ve reviewed The Florians (1976) and Journey to the Center (1982) (I apologize in advance for the rather slight reviews—they are years old). But I found a copy of the second volume of The Daedalus Mission series in a clearance bin, and depending on my mood, I have a soft spot for conflict-less “solve the biological mission” Star Trek-type SF. But The Florians (1976) was forgettable…

Jesse reviewed Stableford’s Man in a Cage (1975) and calls it an intelligent psychological exploration. I am more likely to read my copy before Critical Threshold (1977). Check out his review if you are interested in Stableford’s most mature work!

2) Emma Tennant’s The Crack (variant title: The Time of the Crack) (1973) was a compelling satire of the cozy apocalypse…. And I cannot resist snagging a copy of Hotel De Dream (1976), where residents of a seedy hotel start dreaming each other’s dreams.

3) A lesser known novel by Gene Wolfe… I don’t know when I’m going to get to his novel length work as I’m perfectly content exploring his short fiction in various anthologies at the present: “The Changeling” (1968), “Silhouette” (1975), “Sonya, Crane Wessleman, and Kittee” (1970), etc.

4) I now own one of the worst SF covers of all time! I purchased Pilgrimage (1981), Drew Mendelson’s only SF novel, due to SF Encyclopedia’s positive assessment and the fact I’m a sucker for futuristic cities, even if they’re heavily indebted to Christopher Priest’s Inverted World (1974): “[it] grippingly presents a vision of a bleak Ruined Earth environment, long abandoned by most humans except for those who inhabit the planet’s one remaining artefact, a vast City that moves slowly across the devastated land.” For more on the novel consult the entry here.

But the cover… Cringe!

As always thoughts/comments are welcome!

1. Critical Threshold, Brian M. Stableford (1977)

(Douglas Beekman’s cover for the 1977 edition)

From the back cover: “The Daedalus Mission: 2.

The planet called Dendra seemed too good to be true. One vast forest world, marvelous climate, few dangerous beasts, a balanced hospitable ecology—all should have spelled out a good place for a human colony.

But the original survey team had registered doubts, listed it as borderline without further explanation. Nevertheless the politicians had okayed it and a colony had been landed there… and a hundred and fifty Earthly years had passed without anyone hearing from it.

Now the recontact vessel Daedalus was coming to check up—and they found the climate as marvelous as before, the forest green and friendly, and the colony an inexplicable disaster. There was a biological and psychological puzzle that had to be solved for the sake of all human worlds—and for the crew of the Daedalus it was either crack it or crack up.”

2. Hotel De Dream, Emma Tennant (1976)

(Leo Duff’s cover for the 1986 edition)

From the back cover: “It is barely surprising that the lodgers at the Westringham, Mrs Routledge’s seedy boarding house, have busy dream lives: it is a place from which anyone would want to escape. But the kaleidoscope begins to turn: the dreams begin to defy their dreamers. They start to merge…”

3. Peace, Gene Wolfe (1975)

(Gahan Wilson’s cover for the 1982 edition)

From the back cover of a later edition: “Originally published in 1975, Peace is a spellbinding, brilliant tour de force of the imagination. The melancholy memoir of Alden Dennis Weer, an embittered old man living out his last days in a small midwestern town, the novel reveals a miraculous dimension as the narrative unfolds. For Weer’s imagination has the power to obliterate time and reshape reality, transcending even death itself. Powerful, moving, and uncompromisingly honest, Peace ranks alongside the finest literary works of our time.

Hailed as “one of the literary giants of SF” by The Denver Post, Gene Wolfe has repeatedly won the field’s highest honors, including the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy awards. Peace is Gene Wolfe’s first full-length novel, a work that show the genius that later flourished in such acclaimed works as Home Fires and The Book of the New Sun.”

4. Pilgrimage, Drew Mendelson (1981)

(John Pound’s cover for the 1981 edition)

From the back cover: “As far as anyone knew, all mankind lived in The City. The CIty, a self-enclosed towering single building, had always moved generation by generation across the vast empty landscape.

Brann Adelbran met destiny when his family sector found itself at Tailend. Already the Structors were planning to dismantle his ancestral apartment high on an upper floor of the colossal metropolis. Brann would have to make his pilgrimage to Frontend to re-establish his family there for the generations to come.

But when the tradition was suddenly shattered, Brann was forced to flee, not on the established routes and hallways, but down the forbidden shafts into the lost chambers, corridors, and basements which even legend had forgotten.

His pilgrimage became an odyssey of terrors, mysteries, and scientific marvels—leading to the end of the world.”

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32 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CLXXVI (Wolfe + Mendelson + Stableford + Tennant)”

  1. Well there you go. I read Critical Threshold years and years ago and never realised that it was part of a series. Thanks. I’ll have to read the others now. 🙂 Greg

    1. Thanks for the comment!

      Yup. Each book in the series are different missions of the Daedalus spaceship and its crew. I don’t know how much the stories build on each other. It might feel sort of like TOS: Star Trek or some episodes of TNG where individual stories work perfectly well on their own.

      Here’s the listing for the series: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pe.cgi?3738

  2. I used to enjoy all the DAW Stablefords as they came out; first the Hooded Swan books, then the Daedelus Mission ones, together with most of what he had published earlier, and some later. More than 25 and less than 30 in total. Then I stopped and have hardly read him since! So I haven’t read Critical Threshold for around 40 years. Less, actually, because I’m sure I reread it before deciding to pas it on…

    Peace is still on the shelves at home, waiting for me to finally settle in to read it. I’ve started 3 times, I think and never got very far. One day, though!
    I don’t know the Tennant and I passed on the Mendelson first time around and doubt I would take a chance to reconsider…

    1. Have you read Man in a Cage (1975)? It appears to be Stableford’s attempt to write a New Wave SF-esque exploration of our interiors… Unsuprisingly, not picked up by DAW — hah.

      I was swayed to procure the Tennant due to the notion of communal dreams — which seem disturbing and fantastic.

      1. Never did read it; it didn’t really appeal at the time alhtough it does sound a bit more interesting now..

        The list you link to further down for cozy catastrophes seems quite odd to me, with several books there I just wouldn’t think to include. But, as the compiler said, she used her own definition…

    2. I’ve only read Peace once, over ten years ago now. Wolfe’s novels are generally challenging, but most of them have entertaining adventure or war or detective or horror elements and heart wrenching emotional scenes for the reader to latch on to and enjoy even if he doesn’t grasp the finer points. Peace is closer to “pure” literary fiction, with stuff bubbling under the surface or perhaps flitting about in the hazy distance that can be hard to get. I know I missed much or even most of what was going on when I read it.

  3. I’ve always rather liked Critical Threshold, and it’s easily my favourite of that series. It’s stronger than the first certainly, but whether it’ll convert you to Stableford I can’t say.

    The series does build a bit, but I first read Critical on its own and it was fine. I wouldn’t read the final one out of sequence but the others it’s not so important the order you take them in.

      1. Definitely. But anything is happier and lighter in tone/implication than what I just read — Doctor Rat. And Stableford doesn’t have the chops, or at least what I’ve read so far, to involve me emotionally in what he writes…

      2. I hope you like “The Passion of New Eve”,but like her other later novel, “Nights at the Circus”,I didn’t think much of it.I preferred her earlier books,”Heroes and Villians” and “The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman”,the latter of which I know you liked,so you might find this one disappointing,I don’t know.Your tastes are sometimes very much like mine,but sometimes very different.

  4. I read Tennant’s Hotel de Dream about 20 yeas ago, and was decidedly unimpressed. it really put me off reading her other novels, which are probably better – at some point I will try her again.

    I don’t remember anything about the plot, but distinctly remember thinking that I was wasting my time, reading it. I found it to be incredibly fey, quite twee, and far too ‘cosy’ (as you allude to). It isn’t really science fiction, more magical realism-type fantasy, of a very flimsy kind. It was also an example of what I term ‘faux surrealism’, where everything except the kitchen sink is thrown into parts of the narrative, to make it seem slightly ‘surreal’ or ‘weird’ or ‘zany’, but with no real impetus behind it – more like surrealism as colourful decoration. It is a type of watered down, light-hearted, shallow surrealism which has none of the deeper, darker, or more uncanny resonance of what the original Surrealists (and their subsequent, ‘authentic’ followers in fiction) had, or at least attempted to achieve.

    The novel was also prone to an immature, childish sensibility, as well as a sense of cloying sentimentality, sometimes. But, as I say, I will give her another chance, one day, as some of her other novels sound much better,and somehow ‘deeper’ – I think I chose one of her lesser works, as my first taste of her, unfortunately…

    1. Yup yup, I remember your similar comment on my post about Tennant’s fiction from a few months ago (and I bought the book anyway! haha): https://sciencefictionruminations.wordpress.com/2017/02/17/fragment-emma-tennant-on-the-importance-of-the-70s-british-sf-scene/

      Oh, I alluded to The Crack as being a satire of the “cozy” catastrophe not that the novel itself was “cozy” in anyway — i.e. the predominately UK trend in post-apocalyptical SF at the time. In the words of Brian Aldiss, who apparently coined the term, “The essence of cosy catastrophe is that the hero should have a pretty good time (a girl, free suites at the Savoy, automobiles for the taking) while everyone else is dying off.”

      Here’s a list of the types of books that Tennant in The Crack was poking fun at — https://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/jul/05/jane-rogers-top-10-cosy-catastrophes

  5. To a fourteen year-old boy I’m sure that pseudo S&S cover for the Mendleson book was just great, but I’m not fourteen anymore. Not sure that this cover would get any women to read it, at least in public. Still, it’s not nearly as bad as this one:

    The rest of the covers look fairly bland to me. I know that none of them would have caught my attention on any of the bookshelves at the book stores at the time. Even the usually entertaining Gahan Wilson is fairly workmanlike.

    1. I can safely say that none of the above books were purchased for their covers — haha. I actually have a later edition of Wolfe’s Peace — and it is equally bland. For some reason I felt compelled to put the earlier one….

  6. Sorry if I repeated myself. I couldn’t quite remember if I had already talked about Tennant, or not. I WILL give her another chance, at some point! Thanks for the interesting link…

    1. No worries — I wanted to indicate that I remembered your earlier comment 🙂 You expanded on the point!

      But yes, I see her The Crack joking and jesting with books such as Ballard’s The Drowned World or Christopher’s No Blade of Grass. Also, she’s obsessed with nostalgia, but it’s an almost condemnatory nostalgia, or an embarrassed nostalgia for what England could have been without WWII. Perhaps that’s what’s permeating Hotel de Dream? I’ll still give it a go!

  7. I think I recognize another ‘Good Show Sir’ contribution with that ‘Pilgrimage’ cover!

    Hmmm… I don’t know, it’s a close race with a number of covers for Spinrad’s
    ”Iron Dream”, with Hitler on a motorcycle.

      1. Emma Tennant was involved with Ballard around this time in some magazine…Martin Amis said that there were the cutting edge of experimentation (too much for him anyway).

      2. I tend to prefer Ballard’s earlier work — the stories collected in The Terminal Beach, The Voice of Time and Other Stories, and Billenium. And novels such as The Drowned World, The Drought, etc. Still exploring his fiction.

  8. First, thanks for the shout out. I haven’t read much of Stableford, but it seems by avoiding his space opera material, one can find stories with a bit more depth. His novellas “Mortimer Gray’s History of Death” and “Le Fleurs du mal”, while not setting the world on fire, remain at least worth a read – which is more than my adult self can say about Halcyon Drift…

    1. No problem!

      I definitely get the same impression. I’ve made a resolution (but resolutions when it comes to me and what I must read are very un-resolute) to fit Man in a Cage (1975) in sometime this year!

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