Category Archives: Science Fiction Book Reviews

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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THKLLNGTHN1972

(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)

STRSWRMPSJ1964

(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)

Guest Post: Margaret and I, Kate Wilhelm (1971)

 The fifth in my Kate Wilhelm’s SF Guest Post Series (original announcement and post list) comes via Max Cairnduff (twitter)—who reviews literature and occasionally SF over at Pechorin’s Journal.  In the past he has contributed to my Michael Bishop series. He is responsible for introducing me to one of my favorite works of all time, Anna Kavan’s phenomenal hallucination of a novel Ice (1967)—so check out his site.

Although he does not seem to have enjoyed Margaret and I (1971) as much as I did, his review does touch on the novel’s extreme psychological power and ingenious set-up.

Thank you so much for contributing!

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MRGRTNDI1978

(Uncredited cover for the 1978 edition)

Nominated for the 1972 Nebula Award for Best Novel

The only Kate Wilhelm I’d read before Joachim invited me to take part in this Guest Post series was her novel Welcome, Chaos. I’ve not even read Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang (though I always thought I had, which ironically is probably what stopped me reading it).

Beyond those two titles I knew very little about her work. Joachim though knows his vintage SF, so when he invited me Continue reading Guest Post: Margaret and I, Kate Wilhelm (1971)

Book Review: The Far Call, Gordon R. Dickson (serialized 1973, book form 1978)

THFRCLLXXXX(Robert Adragna’s cover for the 1978 edition)

2.5/5 (Bad)

Gordon R. Dickson introduces a medieval tapestry (perhaps The Lady and the Unicorn in Paris’ Musée national du Moyen Âge)—filled with symbolic representations that make up the sum of the world—as the central framing metaphor for The Far Call (1978).  Our idealistic young politician main character sees himself and everyone else as “caught up in its pattern” where “countless threads like his own make up the background.”  The brighter threads “would be the movers and shakers among the people” yet no one would be more than a single thread (35).   Continue reading Book Review: The Far Call, Gordon R. Dickson (serialized 1973, book form 1978)

Guest Post: Welcome, Chaos, Kate Wilhelm (1983)

The fourth in my Kate Wilhelm’s SF Guest Post Series (original announcement and post list) comes via Megan (twitter)—who blogs on both vintage classics and lesser known work to the recent BSFA-nominated SF novels at From Couch to Moon.  This is her second contribution to one of my guest post series and is definitely worth the read.  Her first guest post review was for my Michael Bishop series: check it out!  Thanks Megan!

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WLCMCHSMKZ1983

(Jane Mackenzie’s cover for the 1983 edition)

Two parts mainstream Cold War espionage thriller to one part bio-social science fiction, Welcome, Chaos is a departure from Wilhelm’s reflective, elegiac vision of seven years prior: the captivating, multiple award-winning Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang (1976). In many ways common with one another, both novels contain themes of pre- to post-apocalypse, survival via artificial biological advancements, ethics of scientific Continue reading Guest Post: Welcome, Chaos, Kate Wilhelm (1983)

Book Review: Bettyann, Kris Neville (1970)

BTTNNWXZBT1970

(W. Thut’s cover for the 1970 edition)

4/5 (Good)

So the Amio were deficient, from the very beginning, and were born weaklings, untested, and had gone their own solitary way. […] [Bettyann] would reinfuse in them the vitality that their own development had ultimately denied them and contravene the defeat that was foreshadowed in the limited dreams and ambitions of their father’s father’s father’s father’s father, backward to the time when myth told little that one might truly believe, except that the Amio were always, from the beginning, one” (78).

Since the beginning of the year MPorcius, who presides over MPorcius’ Fiction Log, has reviewed a handful of Kris Neville’s short stories (here and here).  Because the name was on my mind and I had not read any of his work in the past, I eagerly picked up a copy of his fix-up novel Bettyann (1970)— which contains contains two previously published stories “Bettyann” (1951), which appeared in New Tales of Space and Time, and “Ouverture” (1954) which appeared in 9 Tales of Space and Time, both edited by Raymond J. Healey.  The novel is hard to find as it was only published by Tower Books.

Neville is praised by Barry N. Malzberg as an author, if he had not abandoned the field for the sciences, who could have been among the “ten most honored science fiction writers of his generation” (Malzburg’s intro to Neville’s “Ballenger’s People” in the 1979 Doubleday collection Neglected Visions). Continue reading Book Review: Bettyann, Kris Neville (1970)

Guest Post: Year of the Cloud, Kate Wilhelm and Theodore L. Thomas (1970)

The third in my Kate Wilhelm’s SF Guest Post Series (original announcement and post list) comes via Mike White (twitter)—a research biologist at Washington University in St. Louis, MO—who blogs on mostly early SF (pre-1920) and a variety of science topics with a whole cast of other writers at The Finch and the Pea (a “public house for science”).  This is his first contribution to one of my guest post series and it is greatly appreciated (and won’t be his last).

He selected, on purpose (in very Joachim Boaz fashion I might add), what might be Kate Wilhelm’s least known SF novel.  Early in her career she wrote two novels with Theodore L. Thomas: the Nebula-nominated The Clone (1965) and Year of the Cloud (1970).

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RFTHCLDXVQ1971

(Francois Colos’ cover for the 1970 edition)

Post-apocalyptic stories do many things, one of which is to question our mastery of nature. We’re used to relying on technology to bend the world to our will — science stands between us and the brute forces of nature. Extinction is for lesser species. But post-apocalyptic stories remind us of all the ways that nature could wipe us out: the Earth could collide with a comet or pass through a toxic cloud of space gas, the sun could fade or go nova, or some pandemic plague could arise that kills us directly, wipes out our food supply, or turns us into the walking dead.

As horrifying as these events would be in real life, there is a strain of post-apocalyptic fiction that doesn’t see these disasters as all bad. Killing off most of humanity offers, in fiction anyway, a chance to wipe the slate clean and start over. With the post-holocaust world much less crowded, noisy, and Continue reading Guest Post: Year of the Cloud, Kate Wilhelm and Theodore L. Thomas (1970)