Category Archives: Science Fiction Book Reviews

Book Review: Triax, ed. Robert Silverberg (1977)

(Justin Todd’s cover for the 1979 edition)

3.75/5 (collated rating: Good)

Triax (1978) contains three original novellas written specifically for the volume.  I concur with Robert Silverberg’s defense of the novella form in the introduction, “it allows the leisurely development of an idea, the careful and elaborate exploration of the consequences of the fictional situation, while at the same time not requiring the intricate plot-and-counterplot scaffolding of a true novel” (vii).  Keith Roberts’ “Molly Zero” and James Gunn’s “If I Forget Thee” have not appeared in subsequent English-language collections. Unsurprisingly, the Jack Vance novella, “Freitzke’s Turn,” appeared in Galactic Effectuator (1980) Continue reading Book Review: Triax, ed. Robert Silverberg (1977)

Book Review: Best SF Stories from New Worlds 3, ed. Michael Moorcock (1968)

(Uncredited cover for the 1968 edition)

3.5/5 (Collated rating: Good)

New Worlds was one of the premier British SF magazines under the editorship of Michael Moorcock.  It features some of the most experimental works of the era and was important in the growth of the New Wave movement.  Many of the frequent contributors went on to make a name as premier SF authors (Ballard, Aldiss, etc).

This particular best of collection (1964-1967) is on the whole uneven.  Its big name authors—such as Keith Roberts and Moorcock himself under a pseudonym—disappoint.  The most evocative stories are by rather lesser known voices, Langdon Jones, Charles Platt, and Pamela Zoline.  Zoline’s brilliant entropic vision, “The Heat Death of the Universe” is not to be missed.  The second best work in the collection is (surprisingly) an early story by Barrington J. Bayley (as P. F. Woods) whose novels I have reviewed Continue reading Book Review: Best SF Stories from New Worlds 3, ed. Michael Moorcock (1968)

Updates: Recent Science Acquisitions No. XXVII (Vance + Neville + Fairbairns + Coney)

A fascinating collection (one of three acquisition posts incoming) via Dunaway’s Books in St. Louis, MO (on one of my numerous perambulations…).  And there were nearly one hundred more novels I would have snatched up if I had unlimited funds and unlimited room.

A hard to find feminist SF novel, and supposedly quite solid, by Zoe Fairbairns.

A Michael Coney novel I’ve been dying to get my hands on—the immortality concept delightfully satirical/hilarious.

A strange 70s fix-up novel of 50s material by an author championed by Barry N. Malzberg (and John Clute)—Kris Neville.

And Vance, one rarely goes wrong with Vance…

Thoughts?

1. Friends Come in Boxes, Michael G. Coney (1973)

(John Holmes’ cover for the 1973 edition) Continue reading Updates: Recent Science Acquisitions No. XXVII (Vance + Neville + Fairbairns + Coney)

Book Review: Ice, Anna Kavan (1967)

Ice

(Gene Szafran’s cover for the 1967 edition)

5/5 (Masterpiece)

“Despairingly she looked all around. She was completely encircled by the tremendous ice walls, which were made fluid by explosions of blinding light, so that they moved and changed with a continuous liquid motion, advancing in torrents of ice, avalanches as bid as oceans, flooding everywhere over the doomed world” (37)

Anna Kavan’s masterful post-apocalyptical novel Ice (1967) parallels the death throws of a relationship with the disintegration of the world.  As the unnamed narrator (N) and the girl (G) traverse an indistinct, interchangeable, world transformed by glacial encroachment, only the same movements are possible: flight, pursuit, flight, pursuit…  Repetition reinforces the profoundly unnerving feel of both physical and mental imprisonment: as movements are predicted, trauma is repeated.

Kavan described her own writings as “‘nocturnal, where dreams and reality merge” (Booth, 69).  In the Continue reading Book Review: Ice, Anna Kavan (1967)

Book Review: The Marching Morons and Other Famous Science Fiction Stories, C. M. Kornbluth (1959)

(Uncredited cover for the 1959 edition)

3.5/5 (collated rating: Good)

C. M. Kornbluth has long been one of my favorite short story authors of the 50s due to his first collection The Explorers (1954).  The Marching Morons (1959) contains two novelettes and seven short stories including some of his most famous works: namely, “The Marching Morons” (1951) and my personal favorite of his oeuvre so far, “MS. Found in a Chinese Fortune Cookie” (1957).

Ultimately, this is a more uneven collection than The Explorers (1954).  Despite duds such as “I Never Ast No Favors” (1954), I still recommend the collection to fans of 50s SF and satirical masterworks such as Kornbluth’s co-authored Continue reading Book Review: The Marching Morons and Other Famous Science Fiction Stories, C. M. Kornbluth (1959)

Book Review: The Hole in the Zero, M. K. Joseph (1967)

the hole in zero(Ed Soyka’s cover for the 1969 edition)

3.5/5 (Good)

I love finding a SF book on the used bookstore shelf by an author I have never heard of.  I am even more excited when a virtually unknown novel is endorsed by one of the great SF critics, in this case John Clute. According to Clute’s SF Encyclopedia entry [link] M. K. Joseph was a UK-born resident of New Zealand where he worked as a professor of English and writer.  His early novels and poetry were not SF—The Hole in the Zero (1967) is his first, and one of his only, SF works.

Brief Plot Summary/Analysis (*as always, some spoilers*)

The Hole in the Zero is primarily a character driven novel that takes a space opera premise, with (initially) very standard space opera characters, and contorts and Continue reading Book Review: The Hole in the Zero, M. K. Joseph (1967)

Book Review: Universe Day, Barry N. Malzberg (as K. M. O’Donnell) (1971)

(Uncredited—but looks like Paul Lehr—cover for the 1971 edition)

4.5/5 (Very Good)

“…I see no reason why we shouldn’t go to Mars in 1982…” Vice President of the U.S. July, 1969

Barry N. Malzberg’s fourth SF novel Universe Day (1971) is comprised of numerous previously published short stories as well as new material.* It might be best to think of the novel as a thematically linked sequence—in what might be termed a “future history” but unlike any you have ever read—of impressions and snippets of “what really happened” paired with what we want to happen or delude ourselves into thinking happened.  All his major themes are on display, the space program as a manifestation of humankind’s delusions of grandeur, the dehumanizing power of technology, space as playground of existential nightmares, etc.

One of Malzberg’s most appealing qualities is the sheer variety of existential situations he conjures.  Yes, many of the themes are repeated story to story (and novel to novel) but the black comedy elements are so often overlooked.  The chapter/short story “Touching Venus, 1999″ encapsulates Malzberg’s absurdist brilliance.  In moments of metafictional delight, he acknowledges the artifice of the array of scenarios he constructs, the Continue reading Book Review: Universe Day, Barry N. Malzberg (as K. M. O’Donnell) (1971)