Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions N. XVIII (Disch + Silverberg + Pohl + Dickson + et. al.)

Half-Price Books in Dallas, Texas (its first location!) = bliss.

9 books = only 12 dollars. (curtesy of my girlfriend’s parents’ pre-Christmas gift)

What an amazing haul — and if I had known they were only going to be twelve dollars I would have picked up nine more.  Lots of Silverberg from his glory years…  Generation ships… City building machines… Weird psychic forcefields out beyond Pluto… Vietnam army camps experimenting with intelligence enhancing (and death inducing) syphilis strains…

1. Camp Concentration, Thomas M. Disch (1972)

(Uncredited cover for the 1971 edition)

One of the greats whom I haven’t read.  Sadly, no back cover flap summary.  The novel’s about a Vietnam era army base where unusual research is conducted with a strain of syphilis to increase intelligence.  Told in diary format by an obese individual who dreams of obese historical figures. Dark, disturbing….

2. The Man in the Maze, Robert Silverberg (1969) (MY REVIEW)

(Don Punchatz’s cover for the 1969 edition)

More Silverberg from his glory years!

From the back cover, “At the dawn of man’s galactic journeys, he was Earth’s first ambassador to Beta Hydri IV.  But something about his brain emanations so repulsed the Hydrans they altered his mind to radiate an aura that would soothe them — and make him anathema to human beings.  Embittered, he fled to a distant planet to live out his days in utter isolation in an abandoned city of terrifying labyrinths.  Then, Earth launched an expedition to penetrate his maze-like citadel, and convince him to undertake a vital mission — for precisely that thing which made him an outcast, nor made him a savior.

3. Rite of Passage, Alexei Panshin (1968)

(Uncredited cover for the 1975 edition)

Nebula Winner, Hugo Nominee — generations ships, well-rounded female protagonist!  Alas, no back cover summary…. More of a juvenile work — so perhaps not my cup of tea.

4. A Plague of Pythons, Frederik Pohl (1965)

(Ralph Brillhart’s (?)  cover for the 1965 edition)

From the back cover (different edition), “The world was possessed.  Rapists, killers, and mass-murderers were everywhere.  Once ordinary people, they were suddenly possessed by some inexplicable force that controlled them, enslaved them, and made them commit the most horrible crimes imaginable.  Chandler had already raped and brutally assaulted a helpless creature and the town had put him on trial for his life.  No way did they believe his story that he couldn’t have stopped himself, that he was merely a prisoner in his own body, a slave of whatever force was turning the world upside down and making criminals out of common men.  Desperate for freedom and hungry for revenge, Chandler knew he would travel to the ends of the Earth to find his tormenters and destroy their power forever.”

5. The City Machine, Louis Trimble (1972) (MY REVIEW)

(Kelly Freas’ cover for the 1972 edition)

I picked up a copy of this relatively unknown title due to a favorable amazon review by 2theD.  Anything to do with allegorical multi-leveled cities is worth reading….

“The machine that could build cities.  The entire population of that colonized planet was crowded into one all-enclosed self-functioning city construction.  For the majority the situation was like living forever in the steerage of an immigrant freighter.  For a few there were some privileges, and for the Highs, power and luxury had been secured by a change of language and the destruction of the old books.  Which was where the man Ryne came in.  For he was the last who could read the original language — and if they could ever locate the machine that could build new cities he’d be the only one to read the instructions.  The story of the City Machine, the linguistics and logistics problems presented, and the fight for Ryne’s very life is a science fiction novel of edge-of-the-seat excitement.”

6. The Pritcher Mass, Gordon R. Dickson (1972)

(Kelly Freas’ cover for the 1973 edition)

Probable VERY middling Gordon R. Dickson… but, it was 50 cents…

From the back cover, “The only hope for mankind’s survival after the contamination of the Earth lay in the Pritcher Mass, a psychic forcefield construction out beyond the orbit of Pluto.  Created by the efforts of individuals with extraordinary paranormal powers, the mass was designed to search the universe for a new habitable planet.  Chaz Sant knew he had the kind of special ability to contribute effectively to the building of the Mass, but somehow the qualifying tests were stacked against him.  Then he he learned that he had become the special target of an insidious organization that fattened on the fears of the last cities of the world.  His confrontation with this organization, their real motives and his unexpected reactions, were to touch off the final showdown for mankind’s last enterprise.”

7. The Second Trip, Robert Silverberg (serialized: 1971) (MY REVIEW)

(Uncredited cover for the 1973 edition)

Lesser known Silverberg from his glory years…  From the back cover, “Was it a case of mistaken identity of demonic possession?  Hamlin, get out of my mind!  Whose mind?  You heard me!  You for forfeited the right to his body when you became the mad rapist for suburbia four years ago.  ou were condemned to Rehabilitation.  You’re dead, Hamil — deconstructed — why can’t you stay that way?  I’m more alive than you are, Macy.  You’re just the imaginary creation of some second-rate doctor’s mind.  You have no reality, but I have.  I’m the world’s greatest psycho-sculptor, and you’re nothing.  I’m the one with the right to this body.  SO get out!  Never!  This life is mine.  We’ll see about that!… And then there was pain…”

8. Three For Tomorrow, three novellas: Robert Silverberg, Roger Zelazny, James Blish (1969) (MY REVIEW)

(Uncredited cover for the 1970 edition)

(see above for back cover blurb)

9. Slave Ship, Frederick Pohl (1957)

(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1957 edition)

50s Pohl…  Silliest premise ever!

From the back cover (later edition), “Lieutenant Logan Miller didn’t ask questions when the Navy pulled him off combat duty and assigned him to an ultra-secret research project.  After all, the Navy knew best.  But when he was dropped in the middle of a farm in Florida — a farm stocked with the strangest assortment of animals — Logan began to wonder.  Then Logan got his orders.  Invade the enemy’s stronghold with a landing part of three dogs, two apes and a seal!  Little did Logan know, they were were after the wrong enemy!”

18 Replies to “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions N. XVIII (Disch + Silverberg + Pohl + Dickson + et. al.)”

  1. You’ve got some real winners here.

    Disch’s Camp Concentration: Probably my favorite of his novels; the other contender is 334, but 334 is a fixup and some of the component stories are not as good as others. Camp Concentration is a solid literary novel, and contains some words I had to look up in the dictionary. The only SF book to send me to the dictionary more often than Camp Concentration was Book of the New Sun.

    Silverberg’s Man In the Maze: I love the idea of a death maze, and Silverberg uses the idea well here, better than Budrys in the overrated Rogue Moon. The human story in Man In the Maze is also better than the tedious characters and relationship elements of Rogue Moon.

    Panshin’s Rite of Passage: This novel is a conscious response to Heinlein’s juveniles, an adventure story about a young girl coming of age in a space ship, learning about life and facing moral dilemmas, etc. I really like the Heinlein juveniles (in the last few years I reread Tunnel in the Sky and Time for the Stars and liked them a lot, and Space Cadet and Citizen of the Galaxy and liked them quite a bit) and Rite of Passage is approximately as good as they are.

    Silverberg’s The Second Trip: This is one of my favorite Silverbergs. If it really is lesser-known, that is too bad, as Silverberg here very successfully marries a tense adventure story with interesting philosophical issues.

    I am curious to hear what you think of these four (in my opinion) superior novels. I am also curious about the Pohls. In Gateway Fred Pohl produced a masterpiece, but the other Pohls I have read have been mediocre or weak.

    Congrats on the fine haul!

    1. Thanks! I was shocked by the quality of the bookstore. I could have picked up fifteen more…

      I enjoy some of the Heinlein juveniles — Orphans in the Sky and Starman Jones in particular. I would like to see one “re-conceptualized” with a female main character!

      I haven’t picked up Rogue Moon — I’m half way through his Falling Torch but it’s pretty dismal and I’ve moved on to other things…

      Pohl, hmm — disliked Gateway — I did read it 6 or so years ago so perhaps I should pick it up again. I read the next two sequels which were fine since much of the original mystery still remained. But yes, I’m expecting Slave Ship to be downright silly and Plague of Pythons to be a slog — but that cover!

  2. We both know Pohl is one of the most over-rated sci-fi authors (would make a good forum thread) out there, but I think I have Plague of Pythons on its way. I’ve been keeping my eye out for some Disch for years but I never seem to cross paths with any of his work. Excellent purchase with Trimble. I also have his novel The Wandering Variables and I think I have another called The Bodlean Way on its way over, too.

    Gotta love old paperbacks for under a dollar! I’d buy nearly anything without a dragon, swordsman, or “Wrong End of Time” on the cover.

    1. I don’t ever remember seeing a Disch novel in a used book store before… So, when I saw I copy I snatched it up without hesitation!

      I agree — didn’t enjoy Gateway. But I read it when I was 14…. If I remember correctly the complete inactivity of the main character bugged me — but, I really should pick it up again. The sequel, The Blue Event Horizon, was middling as well.

      1. Interesting about the lack of Disch in the stores in your experience; I have five Disch paperbacks, and I got them all at used bookstores. Maybe a regional thing; I think I got all the Dischs in the North East.

  3. I don’t recall Plague of Pythons well. The two Silverbergs though are both good. The Man in the Maze is one of my personal favourites of his. When I had my big book clearout a couple of years back that one was one of the few that survived (actually, more gold era Silverberg survived than probably any other sf author now I think about it).

    I’ve not read Camp Concentration, but I understand it’s an absolute classic.

    That Panshin cover is gorgeous.

    Slave Ship sounds incredibly silly. Hopefully fun silly though.

    1. Gold era Silverberg is worth saving, that’s for sure. I’ve decided to read all of his works from 1966 (when he was still bad) – 1976 (when he quit writing for a while).

      I wish the Panshin cover was credited. I’d track down more works of the artist.

      Yeah, I don’t have high hopes for that particular Pohl 🙂

  4. A thought about the Gateway series. What made it cool in part was the capturing of the sense of mystery and wonder. The sheer alienness of it all.

    Then later books explained it, and it stopped being cool.

    Clarke was terrible for this. Rendevous with Rama is better with Rama an inexplicable gift signposting a universe larger and stranger than we had imagined. Explaining it in the later books is lame. 2001 is a wonder, by the time we’re in 3001 it’s tame and dull. Some books are better without sequels. Some mysteries, in fiction anyway, are best left unexplained.

    1. You are totally right about the Gateway and Rendezvous with Rama; that mystery is part of their appeal, and answering too many of the questions in the sequels ruined the whole experience.

      Another thing about Gateway is that the main character’s psychological state is central to the story, and because he is living in this claustrophobic space station with all these brave and/or desperate adventurers who are likely to die, his psychological state is interesting. But in the second Heechee book, Beyond the Blue Event Horizon, the main character is cured of his psychological problems, and living in luxury back on Earth. Boring.

      1. I applaud you, sir! I couldn’t agree more. Gateway was great for me as it had compound exploration of the great external (space) and the cavernous internal (the mind). Beyond the Blue was terrible. Perhaps the worst sequel ever. Even the later books lost the sense of exploration. Every book was labeled with “the conclusion to the Heechee saga” even though there were two or three books remaining int he series. I think I stopped at four.

      2. I agree with all three of you completely. Gateway had its merits (definitely the unorthodox main character) which were ruined by the sequels which claimed (and attempted) to explain everything. I quit the second Rama book for this reason…. I loved the first one and didn’t want things to be explained 😉

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