Tag Archives: book reviews

Update: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CXLV (Platt + Cowper + Gawron + Pfeil)

An eclectic collection of 70s SF…. Two virtually unknown authors (Gawron + Pfeil) and two authors slightly better known by SF fans (Platt + Cowper).

I’ve not been impressed with Platt in the past—for example, maybe you all remember my review for Garbage World (1966) or Planet of the Voles (1971)?  But, nothing peeks my interest more than future urbanization gone amok… [2theD’s review: here].

Richard Cowper’s work intrigues but I often find it on the slight side. See my reviews of The Custodian and Other Stories (1976) and Profundus (1979).  The book I procured below is considered his most famous although the premise does little to inspire….

Donald J. Pfeil wrote three novels (SF encyclopedia is somewhat dismissive of all three) and remains best known for editing the short-lived Vertex magazine: according to SF encyclopedia, “in quality [Vertex] was the strongest of the new sf magazines from the first half of the 1970s.”  Unfortunately, it ran into financial problems and folded after only a few years…. Might be worth collecting!

Thoughts? Comments?

1. An Apology for Rain, Jean Mark Gawron (1974)

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 7.59.14 AM

(Margo Herr’s cover for the 1974 edition) Continue reading Update: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CXLV (Platt + Cowper + Gawron + Pfeil)

Book Review: The Alley God, Philip José Farmer (1962)

TLLYGD19XX

(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1962 edition)

3.5/5 (Collated rating: Good)

The 1950s stories in Philip José Farmer’s collection Strange Relations (1960) rekindled my interest in in his earlier work.  Yes, I want odd stories about hard-shelled, hilltop living, female-only womb aliens who fertilize themselves via roving mobile “male” objects whom they capture and thrust into their womb-spaces. But, there is not an author whom I have more polarizing relationship with….  Outside of the 50s stories I’ve had no success with his work—readers of the site will know my views on Traitor to the Living (1972)To Your Scattered Bodies Go (1971), and the latter novel’s endlessly bland and bloated sequels.  I recently read the novel version of Night of Light (1966), based on the 1957 story by the same name, Continue reading Book Review: The Alley God, Philip José Farmer (1962)

Book Review: The Dream Millennium, James White (serialized 1973, novel 1974)

THDRMMLLNN1974

(John Berkley’s cover for the 1974 edition)

4.75/5 (Very Good)

“The thought of the vast, utterly silent ship stretching away on all sides of his cubicle, guarded and guided by silent computers, was paralyzing his own ability to make sounds […]” (3)

The crew of a seed ship sent to find a new habitable planet dream the same dreams, dreams of unnatural clarity plagued by pain and death.  As a young woman lies dying in her cold cubicle, her final meal at her lips and unaware of her predicament, she whispers to our reluctant hero (Devlin), “All I seem to dream about is being a lady dinosaur” (32).  Devlin’s dreams follow some pseudo-evolutionary schema, first he dreams he’s a trilobite in some Silurian sea crushed by the tentacles of a cephalopod, “he went on feeding while the hot, constant flame of hunger was punctuated by explosions of pain as his appendages were tweisted and crushed and torn away […]” (10).  Then he dreams he’s a brontosaurus, and then an early primate…

Periodically, the automated machines that tend the colonists in cold storage awake their charges, “BASIC INSTRUCTIONS. SPEAK. EXERCISE. REMEMBER” (2).  The Continue reading Book Review: The Dream Millennium, James White (serialized 1973, novel 1974)

Book Review: Orbit 3, ed. Damon Knight (1968)

RBTFBJNLFG1968

(Paul Lehr’s cover for the 1968 edition)

3.5/5 (collated rating: Good)

Orbit 3 contains both masterpieces (by Gene Wolfe and Kate Wilhelm) and complete duds (by Doris Pitkin Buck and Philip José Farmer).  Damon Knight’s willingness to select a range of known and lesser known authors creates an enjoyable and unpredictable reading experience—but, most of the greats are on their game in this collection, other than Farmer who puts in a lazy shift…  Contains two Nebula award winners: Wilson’s problematic “Mother to the World” (novelette) and Kate Wilhem’s “The Planners” (short story).  The former was also nominated for a Hugo.

Recommended for fans of 60s SF of the experimental bent.  Do not let the collated rating sway you—there are some great stories behind the Paul Lehr Continue reading Book Review: Orbit 3, ed. Damon Knight (1968)

Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CXLIII (Two themed anthologies: Election Day 2084 and TV: 2000 + Harrison + Gary)

Two themed anthologies—one in “honor” of the election [*cough* I mean, well, I won’t go all political] year cycle…  Another on one of my favorite SF themes, television of the future!

That said, both Asimov edited collections (from the 80s but with stories from only earlier decades) have a serious fault: out of the combined 35 stories there is not a single story by a woman author.  I’ve read a vast number of 60s/70s collections which do not fall into this trap…. Orbit 1 (1966) almost manages gender parity!  I can think of numerous stories by women authors that fit both themes.  For example, Kit Reed’s wonderful “At Central” (1967) fits the TV anthology!

A hard to find for cheap early M. John Harrison novel…. Unfortunately I only found a much uglier edition that the one I show below as the rest were out of my price range….

And, a complete shot in the dark—a SF novel by the mainstream French/Lithuanian novelist/screenwriter Romain Gary, the author of White Dog (1970)..

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts + comments.

1. The Committed Men, M. John Harrison (1971)

THCMMTTDMB1971-1

(Chris Yates’ cover for the 1971 edition) Continue reading Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CXLIII (Two themed anthologies: Election Day 2084 and TV: 2000 + Harrison + Gary)

Book Review: Three Worlds of Futurity, Margaret St. Clair (1964)

P1080582

(Jack Gaughan’s cover for the 1964 edition)

3/5 (collated rating: Average)

Margaret St. Clair (1911-1995) was a mainstay of the major pulp magazines and maintained a prolific career from 1946 to the late 60s (between the 70s and early 80s she  produced only one novel and a handful of stories).  Previously, I found myself disenchanted with her work as I struggled through the Wicca-inspired ramblings of Sign of the Labrys (1963).  However, I thought I would give her short fiction a try and snagged a copy of the 1964 Ace Double #M-105 that contained her collection Three Worlds of Futurity (1964) and her best known novel Message from the Eocene (1964) (which I might read sometime in the future).

Three Worlds of Futurity contains five stories from her most prolific period—the late 40s-early 60s.  Although the majority do not rise above their fellow pulp ilk, “The Rages” (variant title “The Rations of Tantalus” 1954, revised 1964) shows a measured and incisive feminist inspired vision and the unusual subject matter of “Roberta” (1962) suggests St. Clair’s willingness to tackle controversial subjects.  Most of the stories contain evocative imagery although the delivery rarely transfixes.  Also, although most of the main characters in St. Clair’s stories are men, women scientists and pilots (etc) populate the pages.  I suspect Continue reading Book Review: Three Worlds of Futurity, Margaret St. Clair (1964)

Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CXLII (The Soviet SF special: Strugatsky + Shefner + Bilenkin +Savchenko)

In the late 70s and early 80s a wide range of Soviet SF—from the famous Strugatsky brothers to lesser known authors—was translated and introduced to the American market.  As I have decided to start collecting the Best of Soviet Science Fiction Collier Books series of paperbacks (hardbacks were published by Macmillan), my dad gave me three for my birthday.  My first collecting experiment!  I want to read more SF from outside of the USA and the UK…  This batch is in addition to the only other one I have acquired so far: Half a Life, Kirill Bulychev (USSR 1975, USA 1977).  Unfortunately, the vast majority of the series fetch hefty prices (especially those by the two Strugatsky brothers) online.  And, other than The Ugly Swans (below), I have never encountered them in used book stores… and The Ugly Swans was not cheap (I have my wife to thank!).

The back cover of The Unman/Kovrigin’s Chronicles provides a blurb about the series that I thought I would reproduce: “In the Soviet Union, as in the U.S.A., the fascination with the possibilities of science and technology has led to a rich and long tradition of science fiction.  Macmillan’s BEST OF SOVIET SCIENCE FICTION is now presenting the major works in lively, readable translations, allowing the American reader to explore—for the first time—the wide range of visions of space, time and man’s future in the other major SF tradition.”

As always, thoughts?

1. The Ugly Swans, Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (USSR 1972, USA 1979)

The Ugly Swans

(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1979 edition) Continue reading Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CXLII (The Soviet SF special: Strugatsky + Shefner + Bilenkin +Savchenko)