Short Book Reviews: Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation (2014), John Sladek’s The Müller-Fokker Effect (1970), Robert Sheckley’s Options (1975)

Yes (I see inquisitive phantom stares), I listened to an audiobook written in this decade. And it was good. Very good. Brilliant actually. As it was an audiobook, I’m unable to write an in-depth review. However there are plenty online for the curious–in part because it won the 2015 Nebula Award. I added two additional novels that have been waiting patiently in a “to review” pile that are more my standard territory…

Think of these short reviews as tantalizing fragments rather than my normal analysis. The books that reside in these short review posts often defeated my reviewing capabilities.

1. The Müller-Fokker Effect, John Sladek (1970)

(McInnery’s cover for the 1972 edition)

4.25/5 (Very Good)

In my 2016 in review I promised to read more of Sladek’s work, and for once I’m holding true to my reading goals.

That said, I find Sladek’s novels notoriously difficult to parse into cohesive reviews—his SF (and my reviews by extension) stretch satirically in all directions, unfolding in fascinating experiments that jest with layered wordplay and (often) diagrammatic dalliances (see example below). There’s a humorous Continue reading Short Book Reviews: Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation (2014), John Sladek’s The Müller-Fokker Effect (1970), Robert Sheckley’s Options (1975)

Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: The 50s/60s Surrealistic Stylings of Art Sussman

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(Cover for the 1960 edition of Out of Silent Planet (1938), C. S. Lewis)

Art Sussman produced a remarkable corpus of SF and other pulp covers (mysteries, crime, etc). He could easily shift gears between Richard Powers-esque surrealism—although distinctly his own take—to covers that suited an Agatha Christie mystery (browse the range here). I would be wary comparing him to Powers until you skim through the latter’s late 50s early 60s art (definitely an enjoyable activity!). Although Powers is still far superior, both were part of the SF art movement increasingly experimented with surreal/metaphoric and experimental art (there are still spaceships lurking around the edges, and futuristic cities, and other pulpy moments).

There is a precision of vision with Sussman’s art—his cover for the 1960 edition of Out of Silent Planet (1938), C. S. Lewis places the astronauts in an outline of a vessel with strange hints at alien planets and experiences scattered gem-like in the distance. Sussman’s focus on the human form — often surrounded by surreal forms and humanlike membranes — showcases agony and despair. A great example (and my favorite of the bunch) pairs jagged black fields with a bloodied man, the 1960 Continue reading Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: The 50s/60s Surrealistic Stylings of Art Sussman

Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CLXXIV (Hoban + Roberts + Piercy + Baker)

1) Two SF/F reads inspired my pseudonym “Joachim Boaz.” The first, a novel from my dad’s shelf by Russell Hoban–The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz (1973) in which a mapmaker designs a map charting the places of inspiration. This resonated with what I wanted my site to be (and hopefully, is)! I finally have a personal copy. I remember little from the book other than the before mentioned map.

The second, Barrington J. Bayley’s vaguely solid (but influential as I was new SF reader at the time) novel Pillars of Eternity (1982) about a man who decides to name his new self “Joachim Boaz.” Be warned, it’s one of the first, and rather shoddy, reviews on my site. I wrote the review sometime before 2010 (the date Science Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations began).

2) Marge Piercy’s a new author to me and I look forward to her work. That said, the premise of Dance the Eagle to Sleep (1970) seems more miss than hit. I suspect I should find a copy of Woman on the Edge of Time (1976) instead.

3) Keith Roberts’  The Inner Wheel (1970) takes the form of a fix-up novel (although often listed as a collection). As I have been impressed with his SF so far, this will move towards the top of my ever-changing read to list. And it’s graced with an evocative cover despite the Playboy Press SF edition!

Related Keith Roberts reviews: “The Deep” (1966), “High Eight” (1965), “Sub-Lim” (1965), “Molly Zero” (1977), and “Coranda” (1967).

4) Scott Baker’s Symbiote’s Crown (1978) seems to be his best known work. I know little about the book other than it won the 1984 Prix Apollo.

Scans are from my own collection. Click to enlarge!

As always, thoughts and comments are welcome.

1. The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz, Russell Hoban (1973)

(Alan Magee’s cover for the 1974 edition) Continue reading Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CLXXIV (Hoban + Roberts + Piercy + Baker)

Book Review: New Writings in SF 9, ed. John Carnell (1972) (Harrison + Coney + Sellings + King + et al.)

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(Gene Szafran’s cover for the 1972 edition)

3/5 (collated rating: Average)

An imaginary question I received: “Why do you read anthologies cover to cover?” I love discovering new authors and those I was aware existed but haven’t read—with New Writings in SF 9 (1972) the following fall into this bipartite category: Joseph Green, Paul Corey, Arthur Sellings, Vincent King, R. W. Mackelworth, and Eddy C. Bertin.

Of the bunch, I will probably only remember Vincent King’s vision of the angst as the exploration of the entire galaxy nears completion… Both authors whom I know far better produce the best of the collection.  Michael G. Coney’s haunting tale of evolutionary dependency and M. John Harrison account of paranoia and guilt over the massacre of mysterious aliens are worth the read. Too bad the three above were never anthologized outside of John Carnell’s New Writings series!

Overall New Writings in SF 9 is superior to New Writings in SF 4 (1965) but probably only satisfying for Coney and Harrison completists….

Note: this title refers to the 1972 US publication which was a best of earlier volumes. Another volume by the same name was published in 1966 in the Continue reading Book Review: New Writings in SF 9, ed. John Carnell (1972) (Harrison + Coney + Sellings + King + et al.)

Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CLXXIII (Priest + Davidson + Scott + Tate)

1) Barry N. Malzberg’s back cover blurb for Jody Scott’s 1977 novel suggests a worthwhile, or at least intriguing (and satirical), read: “What Paganini did to four strings and three-and-a-half octaves, Jody Scott does for our dear, undead genre.”

My first The Women’s Press edition!

2) My Christopher Priest collection nears completion. Has anyone read his early novel Fugue for A Darkening Island (1972)? Although I adore the short fiction and novels of his I’ve read so far, this premise has the potential to be deeply problematic (racist, etc). That said, I discovered my copy is signed! Purchased it for $4 with shipping off of Abebooks — it’s a $50+ book with signature.

christopher priest_Page_2.jpg

For more on his work: The Affirmation (1981), Real-Time World (1974), An Infinite Summer (1979), and Indoctrinaire (1970).

3) A collection of Avram Davidson stories. The title story “Or All the Seas with Oysters” won the 1958 Hugo for Best Short Story. The two works of his I’ve read so far disappointed: The Enemy of My Enemy (1966) and “Rife of Spring” (1970).

4) Peter Tate’s stories mostly appeared in various New Worlds publications. Although hailing from the UK, his novels were almost entirely published by Doubleday Press in the US. In the past I read “The Post-Mortem People” (1966) and found it a functional New Wave experiment. As is my wont, I tracked down a collection of his short fictions.

As on all posts, thoughts and comments are welcome!

~

1. Passing for Human, Jody Scott (1977)

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(Miss Moss’ cover for the 1986 edition) Continue reading Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CLXXIII (Priest + Davidson + Scott + Tate)

Book Review: Budrys’ Inferno (variant title: The Furious Future), Algis Budrys (1963)

bdrysnfrn081963

(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1963 edition)

3.5/5 (Collated rating: Good)

Algis Budrys has not fared particularly well on this site. Back in 2012 I read The Falling Torch (1959) and found it a functional military SF novel with some social commentary about the “inhumanity” of the Soviets. More recently I tackled his so-called “masterpiece” Michaelmas (serialized 1976) (short review) that despite all its pretensions to say something relevant about technology and media, slips into SF thriller mode, abandoning the most compelling elements of the narrative (it’s hard to write a convincing character study). At least Michaelmas makes the motions towards SF that moves behind the mechanical blueprints of a potential future mindset and tries to say something substantive about the psyche and society of the people who might live there. As you know, Continue reading Book Review: Budrys’ Inferno (variant title: The Furious Future), Algis Budrys (1963)

Book Review: The Time of the Crack (variant title: The Crack), Emma Tennant (1973)

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(Candy Amsden’s disturbing cover for the 1978 edition)

4/5 (Good)

Emma Tennant’s The Time of the Crack (variant title: The Crack) (1973) takes the form of a series of character vignettes in a transmogrified London. Despite Tennant’s wide-ranging societal critiques,  it’s a brief book–my 1978 Penguin edition clocks in at 112 pages–threaded loosely together by the occasional presence of Baba, a Playboy bunny. The cataclysm in question, the appearance of an expanding crack under the Thames, although causing devastation, doubles as a metaphoric birth moment. The landscape modified, buildings contorted by the severance… And in the wreckage of what remains the survivors make postures towards all manners of “New” English societies Continue reading Book Review: The Time of the Crack (variant title: The Crack), Emma Tennant (1973)