Tag Archives: book reviews

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

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.)

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

emma-tennant

(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)

Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CLXXII (Moorcock + Tennant + Sladek + White)

1) I made a “resolution” to read more John Sladek — miserable covers aside. Now what is that spaceman doing standing next the elephant? Although Sladek is rather on the surreal/comical end of things, Peter Goodfellow took the surreal title literally. Not his finest artistic moment. Now if only I could convince myself to put together my disperate thoughts on The Müller-Fokker Effect (1970) into something cohesive.

2) Although New Worlds editor supreme” Michael Moorcock’s novels haven’t not received the warmest reception on my site, I am determined to get a better sense of his fiction by exploring his short work. And this collection seems fantastic! It’s illustrated, there’s a comic strip (image below), and the Savoy Books publication includes tons of fascinating blurbs about other books both speculative and non-genre.

See my reviews of An Alien Heat (1972) and The Ice Schooner (1969).

The title page of the Jerry Cornelius comic.

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3) A lesser known James White novel… Only printed in the UK.

James White is one of THE finds of the last few years. Best known for simple but earnest (and pacifistic) 50s stories about doctors solving alien medical problems, his novels demonstrate surprising power. A reader and frequent commentator (see I listen!) suggested I procure one of his late 70s novels unknown to me. I cannot wait to read it.

See my reviews of The Dream Millennium (1973), All Judgement Fled (1968), and The Watch Below (1966).

4) I recently discussed Emma Tennant’s work and how she was influenced by the UK SF scene (Ballard et al) here. Yes, I showed my inner academic by citing a few articles — many fans don’t realize that there’s serious and fascinating academic study of the genre. And, as literary historians are wont to do, they provide (often) relevant and erudite analysis of development of genre etc. I would pull more in if time allowed.  I am currently reading Tennant’s novel and it’s intriguing so far!

Scans are from my own collection (in order to zoom in on the zany madness, click on the image).

I look forward to your comments/thoughts!

Continue reading Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CLXXII (Moorcock + Tennant + Sladek + White)

Book Review: The Resurrectionist, Gary K. Wolf (1979)

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(Margo Herr’s cover for the 1979 edition)

2.75/5 (Vaguely Average)

“Corporate authorities referred to him instead as the Resurrectionist, the man who dragged the living back from electrical purgatory” (5)

Gary K. Wolf, best known for Who Censored Roger Rabbit? (1981), started his writing career with three SF novels for Doubleday—Killerbowl (1975), A Generation Removed (1977), and The Resurrectionist (1979). Doubleday’s art director, Margo Herr, provided The Resurrectionist‘s captivating cover, which suggests the corruption of pattern, the subversion of delicate movement. A few reflective, but altogether too fleeting, moments suggest Wolf might have had similar ideas at the back Continue reading Book Review: The Resurrectionist, Gary K. Wolf (1979)

Career Highlights + Reminisce + Review: SF short story author Edward Bryant (1945-2017)

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(Gray Morrow’s cover for the 1973 edition of Among the Dead and Other Events Leading Up to the Apocalypse (1973), Edward Bryant)

On February 10th SF author and two-time Nebula Award winner Edward Bryant (1945-2017) passed away after a long illness. As the number of authors from my favorite era of SF is sadly dwindling as the years go by, I decided to briefly highlight his career and the stories of his I’ve read so far (too few!). Although primarily a short story author, Bryant co-wrote Phoenix in Ashes (1975) with Harlan Ellison. For more on his life and genre impact see the write-up posted after his death on Locus and his entry on SF Encyclopedia. I’ve decided to review two stories from his disturbing and powerful collection Among the Dead and Other Events Leading Up to the Apocalypse (1973).

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“The Hanged Man” (1972), short story, 4/5 (Good): “Shrikes were my playmates when I was about ten” (2). Two friends reminisce. But there’s a dark and sinister twist, one named Rockaway dangles, head downward tied by his feet to a tree branch and his friend refuses to cut him down…. Fragments of the world interjects into their unnerving conversion: family members have died, they survived by eating birds. Their conversation reflects Continue reading Career Highlights + Reminisce + Review: SF short story author Edward Bryant (1945-2017)