Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCCXV (John Brunner, Connie Willis, Cynthia Felice, Philip Wylie, and a themed anthology)

Which books/covers/authors intrigue you? Which have you read? Disliked? Enjoyed?

1. The Shockwave Rider, John Brunner (1975)

From the back cover: “Future shock!

In the obsessively technological, paranoidally secretive and brutally competitive society depicted by John Brunner, even personal identities are under threat. But one man has made it his mission to liberate the mental prisoners, to restore their freedom in a world run mad.

Nickie Haflinger, the only person to escape from Tarnover–where they raise hyper-intelligent children to maintain the political dominance of the USA in the 21st century–is on the run, dodging from loophole to crevise to crack in the computerised datanet that binds the continent like chains. After years of flight and constant changes of identity, at the strange small town called Precipice he discovers he is not alone in his quest. But can his new allies save him when he falls again into the sinister grasp of Tarnover…?”

Initial Thoughts: I read John Brunner’s The Shockwave Rider (1972) before I started my site–along with his other masterpieces Stand on Zanzibar (1968), The Sheep Look Up (1972), The Jagged Orbit (1969), The Whole Man (196), etc. Of his best known novels, I remember the least about The Shockwave Rider. However, I cannot find my copy for a rare reread! For all I know I gave it to a friend or lost it in a move. I sought out this UK edition due to the intriguing urban arcology background of the cover.

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Short Fiction Reviews: Phyllis Gotlieb’s “A Grain of Manhood” (1959), “Phantom Foot” (1959), and “No End of Time” (1960)

Since 2021, I’ve put together a series on the first three published short fictions by female authors who are new(ish) to me and/or whose most famous SF novels fall mostly outside the post-WWII to mid-1980s focus of my reading adventures. So far I’ve featured Josephine Saxton (1935-), Carol Emshwiller (1921-2019), Wilmar H. Shiras (1908-1990), Nancy Kress (1948-), Melisa Michaels (1946-2019), Lee Killough (1942-), Betsy Curtis (1917-2002), and Eleanor Arnason (1942-).

I do not expect transformative or brilliant things from first stories. Rather, it’s a way to get a sense of subject matter and concerns that first motivated authors to put pen to paper and to further map the territories that fascinate me.

Phyllis Gotlieb (1926-2009) was one of a legion of authors who received a debut under the influential editorship of Cele Goldsmith (1933-2002). Goldsmith fostered the early careers of Ursula K. Le Guin, Keith Laumer, Thomas M. Disch, David R. Bunch, Roger Zelazny, among many others. For a fascinating look at her years at Amazing Stories, check this later reflection article. Goldsmith writes: “My greatest pleasure was developing and publishing new, talented writers. I was not a writer and never aspired to be. But I was an editor who loved to help writers adapt their ideas and copy for the audience. My requirements: credible (or incredible), well-plotted, care- fully developed stories. My criteria for acceptance: ‘goose flesh’ while reading a submission.” For more on her contribution to the field, check out “Friend of the Site” John Boston and Cora Buhlert’s article over on Galactic Journey. Barry N. Malzberg also interviewed her in 2003.

Gotlieb, also known for her poetry, was born in Canada and received an M. A. in English from the University of Toronto. Her first novel–which I acquired recentlySunburst appeared in 1964. Her novella “Son of the Morning” (1972) received a Nebula Award nomination. Here’s her complete bibliography. I have read none of her work until now!


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Book Review: The Genocides, Thomas M. Disch (1965)

5/5 (Masterpiece)

Thomas M. Disch’s The Genocides (1965) is an incendiary assault on our senses and expectations of trope and genre. In the face of apocalyptic annihilation at the hands of a vast alien Plant spread across the Earth, biblical stories of redemption and (re)birth are subversively recast as either delusions or decrepit meaningless patterns. Disch conjures a frontier landscapes inhabited by the sinful. Apocalypse cannot lead to rebirth.

The New Land of Milk and Honey

A billion spores, “invisible to all but the most powerful microscopes,” sown by an invisible sower over the entire Earth create a veritable carpet of greenery across even the most inhospitable geographies (15). Within seven years the alien trees or Plants, six-hundred feet tall with leaves the size of billboards, threaten to annihilate the last bastions of humanity. The narrative follows the inhabitants of a small town named Tassel–under the dictatorial sway of the preacher/mayor Anderson and his “Colt Python .357” (17)–and their attempts to survive on the new frontier.

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Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCCXIV (Harlan Ellison, Gillian Freeman, Mick Farren, Fritz Leiber)

A new year and new books!

Which books/covers/authors intrigue you? Which have you read? Disliked? Enjoyed?

1. From the Land of Fear, Harlan Ellison (1967)

From the back cover: “SCIENCE FICTION STORIES by Award Winning Author

WHERE DID HARLAN ELLISON COME FROM?

At 13 he ran away from home in Ohio and joined a carnival. At 15 he was driving a dynamite truck in North Carolina. At 19 he was thrown out of college and at 21 had sold his first novel. Today he is 33 and is considered one of the top screenwriters in Hollywood. Fairly ordinary background? True.

But somewhere along the way, Harlan Ellison made a strange detour. He vanished into a country of the mind where time and space ceased to exist, where strange ideas and wild adventures were commonplace. He came back from that dark world, carrying away with him its richest treasures: stories unlike any ever told before. In this unusual book you will sample these “stray dreams.”

FROM THE LAND OF FEAR!”

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Updates: My 2022 in Review (Best SF Novels, Best SF Short Fiction, and Bonus Categories)

2022 was the single best year in the history of my site for visits and unique viewers!

As I mention year after year, I find reading and writing for the site—and participating in all the SF discussions generated over the year—a necessary and greatly appreciated salve. Whether you are a lurker, occasional visitor, or a regular commenter, thank you for your continued support.

Continuing a trend from 2021, I read only a handful of novels this year. Instead, I devoted my obsessive attention to various science short story review initiatives (listed below), anthologies, and histories of the science fiction genre. Without further ado, here are my favorite novels and short stories I read in 2022 with bonus categories. Descriptions are derived from my linked reviews.

Check out last year’s rundown if you haven’t already for more spectacular reads. I have archived all my annual rundowns on my article index page if you wanted to peruse earlier years.


My Top 5 Science Fiction Novels of 2022 (click titles for my full review)

1. Vonda N. McIntyre’s Dreamsnake (1978), 4.75/5 (Near Masterpiece): Won the 1979 Hugo, Locus, and Nebula Award for Best Novel. Snake journeys across the post-apocalyptic wastes of a future Earth with three serpents healing the sick and caring for the dying. She is a member of the healers, who adopt orphans and rescue the oppressed and train them how to use the serpents. Mist and Sand are genetically modified vipers of terrestrial origin. But Grass comes from another alien world. Snake uses Mist and Sand’s venom to create vaccines, treat diseases, and cure tumors. Grass, the rare dreamsnake, with its alien DNA is the most important of them all–it provides therapeutic pleasure and dreams that facilitate conquering one’s fear and healing in the ill. In Snake’s voyages, she encounters prejudice and violence. A joyous sense of sexual freedom permeates the proceedings. A powerful and different take on a post-apocalyptic worldscape in every possible way.

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Short Story Reviews: Fritz Leiber’s “The Moon Is Green” (1952) and Sonya Dorman’s “Go, Go, Go, Said the Bird” (1967)

Today I have selected two radical post-apocalyptic visions to review. Fritz Leiber (1910-1992) writes a conscientious attempt to understand the plight of a housewife trapped in a fallout shelter with an abusive husband and a mysterious man outside who whispers her deepest fantasies. I am fascinated by subversive 50s stories–especially on sex, masculinity, colonization, suburbia–and Leiber’s tale ticks many of my favorite boxes. Sonya Dorman (1924-2005), a skilled American representative of New Wave movement, recounts a highly metaphoric flight of a woman attempting to maintain independent thought and experience in a world hurtling towards disaster.


4.5/5 (Very Good)

Fritz Leiber’s “The Moon Is Green” first appeared in Galaxy Science Fiction, ed. H. L. Gold (April 1952). You can read it online here.  

On January 3rd, 1950, in response to the successful 1949 Soviet test of atomic weapons, President Truman announced a crash program to develop the hydrogen bomb. It is within this moment of escalating terror after Truman’s announcement that Leiber wrote “The Moon is Green” (1952). While Leiber references hydrogen weapons, the story was published before the “Ivy Mike” Hydrogen bomb test (November 1st, 1952)–known to the public after a media blackout on January 7th, 1953–that revealed the devastating presence of fallout. The Soviets conducted their own test of a thermonuclear device–Joe-4–on August 12, 1953 (source).

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Book Review: So Close to Home, James Blish (1961)

3/5 (collated rating: Average)

It’s been more than a decade since I’ve read James Blish. I’ve long been a fan of his Hugo-winning novel A Case of Conscience (1958) and individual stories in collections like The Seedling Stars (1957) and Galactic Cluster (1959). Unfortunately, So Close to Home (1961) is an uneven collection with more duds than hits. The three worthwhile stories–“The Oath” (1960), “Testament of Andros” (1953), and “The Masks” (1959)–can be found online at the links below. Almost all the stories in the collection are set in the near future and chart humanity’s fear of the end and how one might navigate the strange new worlds that emerge.

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Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CCCXIII (John Wyndham, Keith Roberts, Fredric Brown, Naomi Mitchison)

Which books/covers/authors intrigue you? Which have you read? Disliked? Enjoyed?

1. The Day of the Triffids, John Wyndham (1951)

From the back cover: “WHAT WERE THEY–

THESE HIDEOUS TRIFFIDS ROAMING THE RUINS OF THE EARTH?

Until a few short hours ago–before the sky exploded into a shower of flaming green hell–triffids had been regarded as merely a curious and profitable form of plant life. Now these shadowy vegetable creatures became crawling, killing nightmare of pain and horror.

Madness hung in the air, fear lurked in every side street, death hovered in every doorway. Stripped of civilized veneer by terror and desperation, the handful of surviving humans began to turn on each other.

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Short Fiction Reviews: Norman Spinrad’s “The Weed of Time” (1970) and William Morrison’s “The Addicts” (1952)

Today I’ve decided to do something a bit different. Over the past year or so I’ve been compiling short stories on various themes and I put three of the themes to vote on the hellscape that is Twitter (I’m @SFRuminations). And science fictional drugs won out!

If this topic is interesting, let me know. My notebook contains a substantial list of stories I haven’t yet read on the topic. If you know of other short stories from the decades of my interest (1945-1985), leave a note in the comments.


4/5 (Good)

Norman Spinrad’s “The Weed of Time” first appeared in Alchemy and Academe, ed. Anne McCaffrey (1970). You can read it online here. I read it in his collection No Direction Home (1975) above with its striking Charles Moll cover.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m relentlessly drawn to New Wave movement because there was a serious and conscience attempt to tell stories in artful ways replete with “literary” prose, radical structure/politics, non-standard SF characters/perspectives. Sometimes it’s beautiful. Sometimes it doesn’t work. But it’s all fascinating. This one works.

Now let’s enter the landscape of a transformed mind… At birth, the nameless narrator emerges “an infant-child-youth-man-ancient, in a government cell in a mental hospital dying in clean white sheets” (1979). He sees immediately the “gestalt painting of [his] lifespan, a pattern of immutable events painted on the stationary and external canvas of time….” (78). He experiences all the actions of his life simultaneously (79). No knowledge can effect any “action performed in any particular time-locus” (79). He babbles incessantly about the effects of consuming tempis ceti, an alien plant accidentally released on earth before the astronauts had even returned from their journeys. Of course, all prophesized occurs… and all businesses want to exploit prophesy even if the oracle already knows the irrelevancy of it all.

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