Category Archives: Science Fiction Book Reviews

Book Review: Walk to the End of the World, Suzy McKee Charnas (1974)

(Gene Szafran’s atrocious cover for the 1974 edition)

5/5 (Masterpiece)

“The men heard, and they rejoiced to find an enemy they could conquer at last.  One night, as planned, they pulled all the women from sleep, herded them together, and harangued them, saying, remember, you caused the Wasting” (3).

Suzy McKee Charnas’ Walk to the End of the World (1974) is the first of four novels in her Holdfast Chronicles sequence (1974-1999) that charts the slow forces of change in a post-apocalyptical future where women (“fems”) are chattel.  Kate MacDonald, in her wonderful review of Ammonite (1993) characterized Nicola Griffith’s novel as “instantly […] feminist: not stealth, or muted, or sub-conscious.”  Walk to the End of the World falls squarely, and powerfully into this category.  Told with intensity and vigor, Charnas brands the reader with her vision, a searing and festering landscape where white men have either exterminated the remaining “unmen” (the “Dirties”) or subjugated them (the “fems”) after a manmade cataclysm.  Complex societal institutions maintain control Continue reading Book Review: Walk to the End of the World, Suzy McKee Charnas (1974)

Book Review: The Custodians and Other Stories, Richard Cowper (1976)

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(Geoff Taylor’s cover for the 1978 edition)

3.25/5 (collated rating: Vaguely Good)

The Custodians and Other Stories contains Richard Cowper’s most famous short SF (both received Nebula nods): “The Custodians” (1975) and “Piper at the Gates of Dawn” (1976), later published side-by-side with his Nebula-nominated novel in the same sequence The Road to Corlay (1978).

My limited exposure to Cowper’s work so far—i.e. the hilarious post-apocalyptical black comedy on the British class system replete with intelligent dolphins and giant submarines,  Profundis (1979)—suggests an author who  can weave a solid story in a range of SF sub-genres from time travel Continue reading Book Review: The Custodians and Other Stories, Richard Cowper (1976)

Book Review: Out of Bounds, Judith Merril (1960)

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(Art Sussman’s cover for the 1960 edition)

3.25/5 (collated rating: Vaguely Good)

I have long been a fan of both Judith Merril’s fiction and edited volumes.   The eponymous novella in the collection Daughters of Earth (1968) is one of more delightful visions from the 1950s I have encountered. Merril reframes biblical patrilineal genealogy as matrilineal–i.e. humankind’s conquest of space is traced via the female descendants of an august progenitor.  The story is brilliant in part due to a remarkable metafictional twist, the story itself is compiled from historical documents to serve as an instructional template for future generations of women.  Despite substantial editorial control that forced Merril to include a rather hokey plot on two hokey planets, the story remains memorable for the well crafted feminist Continue reading Book Review: Out of Bounds, Judith Merril (1960)

Book Review: Orbit 1 (James Blish, Sonya Dorman, Kate Wilhelm, Thomas M. Disch, Richard McKenna, Poul Anderson, Allison Rice, Keith Roberts, Virginia Kidd), ed. Damon Knight (1966)

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(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1966 edition)

3.25/5 (collated rating: Good)

Damon Knight’s Orbit anthology series ran from 1966-1976.  A while back I reviewed Orbit 8 (1970)–which contained the brilliant Gardner Dozois “Horse of Air” (1970 and a selection of intriguing Wolfe and Lafferty short stories—and was impressed enough to snatch up a copy of Orbit 1 (1966).  And it is graced with a Richard Powers cover I had not seen…

Orbit 1 contains nine short works (with four by women authors) and maintains solid quality throughout.  None of the stories—other than Sonya Dorman’s dark and terrifying “Slice of Life”—are masterpieces but Keith Roberts, Kate Wilhelm, Richard McKenna, James Blish, and Thomas M. Disch Continue reading Book Review: Orbit 1 (James Blish, Sonya Dorman, Kate Wilhelm, Thomas M. Disch, Richard McKenna, Poul Anderson, Allison Rice, Keith Roberts, Virginia Kidd), ed. Damon Knight (1966)

Book Review: We All Died at Breakaway Station, Richard C. Meredith (1969)

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(John Berkey’s cover for the 1969 edition)

3/5 (Average)

Automated machines rummage through the wreckage of a spaceship—after a battle with the Jillies—gathering the human dead and placing them into cold storage, to be stitched together again for another fight.   Absolom Bracer is one of the casualties of Earth and its colonies’ war with the a vaguely known alien foe (the before mentioned Jillies) doing their “damnedest” to “eat up every crumb” of the “apple pie” (as sophisticated as a Richard C. Meredith gets)  (192).  Captain (eventually Admiral) Bracer of the warship Iwo Jima after his death becomes one the resurrected—“a shiny meter-tall cylinder of metal supporting what was left of the upper torso of a man” (9).  What remains are a “few bones, a little living flesh and muscle” and most importantly, “a collection of tangled Continue reading Book Review: We All Died at Breakaway Station, Richard C. Meredith (1969)

Guest Post: The Killer Thing, Kate Wilhelm (1967)

The sixth in my Kate Wilhelm’s SF Guest Post Series (original announcement and post list) comes via 2theD (twitter) over at Potpourri of Science Fiction Literature and Tongues of Speculation. He is a prolific blogger of vintage, translated, and newer science fiction.  Unfortunately, and much to my frustration (he knows!), he is on something of a hiatus (other than short story summaries and ratings).  Thus, when I approached him about participating in this series he volunteered one of his older reviews.  As I remembered it fondly, I agreed.

Thanks so much for contributing!

~

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(Patrick Goodfellow’s (?) cover for the 1972 edition)

Kate Wilhelm is among a handful of female science fiction writers who need no introduction. She’s authored scores of short stories, about thirty-six genre novels, and eleven collections. She’s probably more prolific than many common and respectable male authors, yet she receives very little of the limelight that’s due to her (outside of SFMistress’s occasional posting on her work). Of her novels, I read her most popular work Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang (1976) and the much lesser popular Let the Fire Fall (1969), their respective popularity very much reflecting their quality. The two-story collection in Abyss (1971) had some Continue reading Guest Post: The Killer Thing, Kate Wilhelm (1967)

Book Review: Starswarm, Brian W. Aldiss (1964)

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(William Hofmann’s cover for the 1964 edition)

4/5 (collated rating: Good)

Filth.  Decay.  Mud.  Transmutation.  Brian W. Aldiss’ SF is filled with such images:  Men—with limbs removed—who are slowly (and artificially) transmuted into fish, writhe around in the mud of their tanks grasping at the last shards of their humanity;  A powerful matriarch lords over a planet where her pets transform at will;  A tall tale about a planet filled with strange life and a human hero who cannot get over the fact that everything smells like garbage…. Aldiss’ novel The Dark Light-Years (1964), despite its poor delivery, is the best example of these themes—humans encounter sentient aliens who spend their days copulating, laying around, and eating in their own fifth.  And they are happy with their lot.

Starswarm (1964) is comprised of three novelettes and five short stories with conjoining explanatory material that links the previously published short fiction into a cohesive collection.  The modus operandi of such a conjoining concerns the “Theory of Multigrade Superannuation” where “the universe is similar to the cosmic clock; the civilizations of man are not mere cogs but infinitely smaller clocks, ticking in their own right” (7).  Thus, the inhabited solar systems of Starswarm—our galaxy—will exhibit all the characteristics through which a civilization can Continue reading Book Review: Starswarm, Brian W. Aldiss (1964)