Short Story Review: Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s “Death of a Spaceman” (variant title: “Memento Homo”) (1954)

This is the first post in a loose series on SF short stories I’ll be reviewing that are critical in some capacity of space agencies, astronauts, and the culture which produced them.

If you know any stories that might fall into this category published before 1980, let me know in the comments! I have compiled an extensive list (from Barry N. Malzberg to John Sladek) but my encyclopedic tendencies are mere delusions of completeness…

Today: Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s “Death of a Spaceman” (variant title: “Memento Homo”) (1954), 5/5 (Masterpiece): First appeared in the March 1954 issue of Amazing Stories, ed. Howard Browne. You can read the story online here.

Up next: Barry N. Malzberg’s “Two Odysseys into the Center” (1972) in Nova 2, ed. Harry Harrison.


Amazing Stories, March 1954
Clarence Doore’s cover for the March 1954 issue

Walter M. Miller, Jr. (1923-1996), best known for his Hugo-winning fix-up novel A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959), wrote a fascinating range of short fictions between 1951-1957. I’ve previously reviewed a handful in The View From the Stars (1965). However, “Death of a Spaceman” (1954), a complex exploration of death and the delusions we tell ourselves and ones we love, might be the best of his I’ve Continue reading Short Story Review: Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s “Death of a Spaceman” (variant title: “Memento Homo”) (1954)

Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLXIII (Elizabeth A. Lynn, Romanian SF Anthology, Eastern European SF Anthology, and Barry N. Malzberg)

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

1. Other Worlds, Other Seas, ed. Darko Suvin (1970)

Paul Lehr’s cover for the 1972 edition

From the back cover: “Darko Suvin was born in Zagreb, Yugoslavia in 1930. An internationally known critic of literature and theater, he is the author of seven books of criticism including POSSIBLE WORLDS—An outline of Science-Fiction and Utopias.

Stanislaw Lem of Poland, author of SOLARIS, is only the most famous of a burgeoning group of Eastern European writers. His contribution to OTHER WORLDS, OTHER SEAS—four brilliant stories—is a treat to his hundreds of thousands of American admirers. But a whole body of first rate s-f is now being produced in the socialist countries by equally gifted writers such as Josef Nesvadba, Anatoliy Dneprov, and Anton Continue reading Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLXIII (Elizabeth A. Lynn, Romanian SF Anthology, Eastern European SF Anthology, and Barry N. Malzberg)

Book Review: S.O.S. From Three Worlds, Murray Leinster (1967)

Jack Gaughan’s cover for the 1st edition

4/5 (collated rating: Good)

In times of stress, positivist stories about spacemen devoted to selfless service solving medical crises with their friendly tormals (think furry mobile petri dishes) bring a bit of warmth to my bitter heart. While a medical mystery to be solved with logic and resolve forms the core of each story, Murray Leinster hints at the future history of this decentralized spacescape–a product of chaotic often business-driven expansion.  As limited contact exists between distant colonies, The Interstellar Continue reading Book Review: S.O.S. From Three Worlds, Murray Leinster (1967)

Short Story Reviews: Phyllis MacLennan’s “A Contract in Karasthan” (1963), “Thus Love Betrays Us” (1972), and “A Day in the Apotheosis of the Welfare State” (1975)

Between 1963 and 1980, American SFF author Phyllis MacLennan (1920-1912) published one novel and seven short stories (bibliography and obituary). She served as a translator and linguist in Military Intelligence during WWII.  As I can find little about her work online, I decided to review three of her SFF short fictions. Perhaps they’ll inspire me to pick up her sole novel Turned Loose on Idra (1970), which I bought in 2014.


Vincent Di Fate’s cover for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, September 1972

“Thus Love Betrays Us” (1972), 4.5/5 (Very Good): First appeared in the September 1972 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, ed. Edward L. Ferman. Read the story here.

Deirdre, a night-less and oppressive world filled with thick mists and layers of moss, had only just been Continue reading Short Story Reviews: Phyllis MacLennan’s “A Contract in Karasthan” (1963), “Thus Love Betrays Us” (1972), and “A Day in the Apotheosis of the Welfare State” (1975)

Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLXII (John Shirley, Sheila Finch, Hank Lopez, David Ohle)

As always, which books/covers/authors intrigue you? Which have you read? Disliked? Enjoyed?

1. Motorman, David Ohle (1972)

Matt Tracy’s cover for the 2008 edition

There is no cover or interior blurb for the 2008 reprint edition. From the back cover of the 1972 1st edition: “MOTORMAN is Moldenke, a man living in the City of one possible future—a man of little strength, few feelings, four implanted sheep’s hearts ticking away inside his chest, and a need to seek out the point where the square of existence becomes round. Of course it can’t be done, but his imagination sets out anyway on a Continue reading Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLXII (John Shirley, Sheila Finch, Hank Lopez, David Ohle)

Book Review: Universe 4, ed. Terry Carr (1974) (Robert Silverberg, Pamela Sargent, Jack Vance, R. A. Lafferty, Alexei Panshin, Ron Goulart, et al.)

Jack Faragasso’s cover for the 1975 edition

3.25/5 (collated rating: Vaguely Good)

Terry Carr’s original anthology Universe 4 (1974) contains a cross-section of early 70s science fiction–from oblique New Wave allegories to “hard SF” first contact stories with unusual aliens.

Despite clocking in last in the installments I’ve read so far– behind Universe 2 (1972), Universe 1 (1971), and Universe 10 (1980)—the best stories, R. A. Lafferty’s rumination on memory and nostalgia, Pamela Sargent’s bleak account of urban Continue reading Book Review: Universe 4, ed. Terry Carr (1974) (Robert Silverberg, Pamela Sargent, Jack Vance, R. A. Lafferty, Alexei Panshin, Ron Goulart, et al.)

Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLXI (Algis Budrys, Gwyneth Jones, Russell M. Griffin, Dino Buzzati)

As always, which books/covers/authors intrigue you? Which have you read? Disliked? Enjoyed?

1. Some Will Not Die, Algis Budrys (1961, rev. 1978)

Frank Kelly Freas’ cover for the 1978 edition

My 1978 revised edition contains no inside flap or back cover blurb. Instead, here’s the brief description of the novel and its complex publication history from SF Encyclopedia: “Budrys’ first novel has a complex history. As False Night (March 1954 Galaxy as “Ironclad”; much exp. 1954) it was published in a form abridged from the manuscript version; this manuscript served as the basis for a reinstated text which, with additional new material, was published as Some Will Not Die (1961; rev 1978). In both versions a Post-Holocaust story is set in a plague-decimated Continue reading Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLXI (Algis Budrys, Gwyneth Jones, Russell M. Griffin, Dino Buzzati)

Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: The Surrealism of Carlos Ochagavia, Part I

Canvas for the 1977 edition of Universe 7, ed. Terry Carr (1978)

The covers for Pocket Books and Popular Library tend not to scream “visual zeitgeist of the 70s” like the catalogs of DAW, Ace, and Del Rey/Ballantine Books (note 1). But amongst the former’s primarily forgettable stable of artists who are often uncredited (2), a few gems emerge–notably the work of Carlos Ochagavia (1913-2006) (3).

I cannot find more than a few sentences of biographical material on Ochagavia online. He was born in Spain and moved at a young age to Argentina. He arrived in the United States Continue reading Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: The Surrealism of Carlos Ochagavia, Part I

Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLX (Scott Russell Sanders, Charles G. Finney, Gail Kimberly, Anthology of the Best SF of 1980)

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

1. The Unholy City (1937) and The Magician Out of Manchuria (1968), Charles G. Finney

Jack Gaughan’s cover for the 1968 edition

From the back cover: “Long out of print, THE UNHOLY CITY is one of the most remarkable novels of fantastic adventures ever written. The nightmare City of Heilar-Wey, with its ghoulish pleasures, its zany riots, and a giant tiger ravening in its streets, is not a nice place to visit—but it’s a delight to read about!

THE MAGICIAN OUT OF MANCHURIA—a new short novel, published here for the first time Continue reading Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLX (Scott Russell Sanders, Charles G. Finney, Gail Kimberly, Anthology of the Best SF of 1980)