Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions N. XXIV (Simak + Henderson + Pangborn + Coney)

Returning to my old haunt (Texas) conjures the normal quality science fiction haul….  Not the range of Dallas’ spectacular Half Price Books but still a nice selection.

As always, I took a few risks.  I know very little about Zenna Henderson’s short stories — and the cover for the 72 edition of Holding Wonder (1971) (below) is atrocious!  But she’s generally considered a worthwhile author despite the rather hokey premise of her The People series.  I’m most interested in Edgar Pangborn’s A Mirror for Observers (1954) — and I promise not only because of the Richard Powers’ cover.  My father disliked Simak’s Our Children’s Children (magazine 1973) so I don’t have high hopes…  I’m rather ambivalent towards Simak.  I enjoyed City (1954) but would never call it a masterpiece.  Cemetery World (1973) was an interesting read but more in concept than delivery.  Way Station (1963) didn’t deserve the Hugo award but had its moments… etc.

Michael G. Coney’s The Hero of the Downway (1973) was an impulsive buy.  I know very little about the quality of his writing but was persuaded by Josh Kirby’s cover!  And underground societies usually hold my interest — even if they don’t achieve the heights of David F. Galouye’s wonderful Dark Universe (1961).

Enjoy the covers!  And the back cover blurbs!

1. A Mirror for Observers (1954), Edgar Pangborn

(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1958 edition)

From the back cover, “In their attitude towards the Planet Earth, the Martians had long been divided into two camps: the observers, the benevolent ‘meddles’ in human affairs; and the rebellious Abdicators, who sought the Earth’s collapse.  But it wasn’t until the extraordinary matter of the Earth-boy, Angelo Pontevecchio, that the enmity between these two factions came to a definite head.  It started as a contest of wills, waged between two opposing Martians for the soul of a single human child.  And before the end, it threatened all life on both Earth and Mars.”

2. Our Children’s Children (1974), Christopher Simak

(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1975 edition)

From the back cover, “They came from 2498… They were our children’s children, and they came one day from nowhere — walking through holes in the air into our world.  By means of one-way time tunnels, they fled the ravening beasts with teeth, claws, and tentacles, that reproduced like bacteria and were intelligent.  They fled to escape the uncontrollable horror of their own far future, and we, their distant ancestors, housed and fed and comforted them, content in their assurance that the tunnel was securely guarded from the beasts, whatever and whoever they were.  And then somebody slipped up and the beasts were abroad…”

3. Holding Wonder (1971), Zenna Henderson

(Uncredited cover for the 1972 edition)

From the back cover, “The believing kind.  Here are children who “believe” — but what they believe and how they can realize their beliefs is only half the story… Dismey, for example, believes she’s a magician.  Two little boys who teased her can prove it.  But they can’t tell — she’s turned them into rocks!  And how do you explain an amazing child who believes in attending school — but is hundreds of years old?  The explanation is simple… If you believe!”

4. The Hero of the Downways (1973), Michael G. Coney

(Josh Kirby’s cover for the 1973 edition)

From the back cover, “Clone me courage!  Once there was a Hero who confronted the dreaded Daggertooth and slew it.  Unfortunately he was also slain by it — but the legend persisted.  If it could be done once, then another Hero could be raised to do it again.  Because the Daggertooth was dangerous and to hibernating humanity.  All people — all that anyone knew of — lived far underground in tunnels built for saftey and hibernation.  The Daggertooth was a mass killer — more so than the hideous Oddlies, the outcasts of the darker tunnels.  So this is the story of John-A, the “vatkid” who was trained to be the second Hero.  And the story of the “trukid” Shirl who taught John-A what to do.  And Threesum, the Oddlies leader, who scoffed at heroes.  And the Elders who frowned at all the risky going-on.  This is the story of a mighty strange word and a mighty strange future…”

15 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions N. XXIV (Simak + Henderson + Pangborn + Coney)

  1. I have a great fondness for Simak, and disagree about Way Station (though less so about Cemetery World, which I enjoyed but isn’t in his first rank).

    I’ve read Our Children’s Children, but don’t remember much of it. Again not I think his first rank. More one for Simak completists. Quite like the cover though.

    The Coney blurb really doesn’t sell it (not sure any of these blurbs sell their books in fact), the cover though I agree is quite tempting.

    • Hehe, cover blurbs rarely if ever sell books — unfortunately, they often make the story sensationalized, overblown, plot driven when it might be restrained, minimalistic, and character driven. Why did you like Way Station? I read it 9 years ago… I don’t remember that much.

  2. Mirror – awesome cover! To bad the Powers cover for the Simak book isn’t as good. (I really liked City, but the rest of Simak I could take or leave.)

    Holding Water – eh… creepy children and smeared ripple effects don’t sell me. The cover looks like a bad Village of the Damned knockoff.

    Downways – yeah, that back cover blurb is unconvincing, but at least the Kirby cover’s great.

    • I still like the Powers cover for the Simak book — but yes, I’ve found that his covers go downhill in the 70s.

      I must confess, I really just bought the Downways novel because of the Kirby cover. I might not read it for years 😉

  3. Ooooh, Pangborn…. I adored both Mirror for Observers and Davy back in the day to the point that they were among my favourite Science Fiction novels, and those were among the first I grabbed as e-books from SF Gateway. Howevery (my usual caveat that I’m sure you are bored of by now) it has been a long time since I last read them (and really should do so again soon…), so I am not sure how they would hold up today. Still, I would like to think that at least in this case my teenage self got things right because I really loved those books very, very much.

    Michael Coney is of course the author of Hello Summer, Goodbye which is an undisputed classic (one of those rare novels with no humas at all in it) and well worth reading. As far as I remember, I never read anything else by him, though, and admit to some curiosity whether the one you acquired is any good. Going a bit againsst the grain here, I find the back cover blurb rather intriguing – am I the only one to hear echoes of Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” in it?

  4. Great Richard Powers covers! I would have snagged both books just for those irregardless of who the author was.

    Is it just me or does the ship on Our Children’s Children look like a Powers envisioning of the Millenium Falcon?

  5. Davy is Pangborn’s best. He has been forgotten and hard to find, but still a wonderful stylist and able to put together a great story. “Mirror” I believe is one of his early novels. Well worth the read.

    At one time Simak was very popular. He had a story in every magazine and took up a foot or more of the SF section in book stores. His fiction did not age well and most of his stories are just bland by current standards. City, his most famous book, was good, but when I reread it recently, I did not like it.

    Henderson is good, although a little sweet. I think all of her stories were about “The People”. I liked her stories, but I never read “Holding Wonder”.

    I have never read anything by Cony. The book sounds more like High Fantasy than the cover would indicate. I am interested in reading your review.

    • I’ve definitely heard of Davy before and it features on many best sci-fi lists…. Thankfully, it was reprinted in 2004 and I suspect is Pangborn’s most read novel. Of the bunch, Mirror is the one I’ll get to the fastest….

      Simak is without doubt original, intriguing, and highly readable…. But yes, I find his plots/characters somewhat bland. That said, the ambiance of his stories is a pro as are the ideas — again, I return to Cemetery World with its interesting art production machine….

      It might take me a while to get to the Kirby — cover seduction is well, cover seduction, not content seduction 😉 Alas…

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