Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. LXII (Amis + Cummings + Van Vogt)

A strange conglomeration of novels….

If there’s any era I’m lacking knowledge in it’s late 20s-early 40s (well, I’ve read some Van Vogt + Edgar Rice Burroughs) pulp science fiction — so I decided to brush up on some of the greats.  With that in mind I acquired five Ray Cummings novels (the rest will be in a later acquisition post) and Van Vogt’s Slan (1940)…..  I don’t have high hopes.  But now I own my first Alex Schomburg cover!

I generally do not accept review copies due to the fact that most offers are for self-published works rather than republished novels from the period I’m most familiar with (and prefer to read) — 1950-1985.  So, when New York Review of Books offered me a copy of Kingsley Amis’ well-known alt-history/sci-fi (depending on whose definition you’re reading) novel The Alteration (1976) I happily agreed….

1. The Exile of Time, Ray Cummings (magazine publication 1931)

XLTIME1965

(Alex Schomburg’s cover for the 1964 edition)

From the back cover:  “THE EXILE OF TIME.  When a girl who said she had been kidnapped from the year 1777 appeared in modern New York, she was either deluded or the victim of an incredible time-spanning plot.  And when it turned out the strange man with a mechanical servant who had kidnapped her had been seen in other centuries, it became clear that a super-scientific plot was afoot that must reach far into the unknown cities of the future.”

2. Slan, A. E. Van Vogt (magazine publication 1940)

SLNTKSVBQL1968

(Uncredited cover for the 1968 edition)

From the back cover: “Superior beings.  Years ago, Mankind fought against the hated slan race in the fierce Slan Wars.  The result was the extermination of almost all slans, and the establishment of a world-wide police state.  But slan Jommy Cross had escaped extermination and was now living in constant fear in the world of cruel humans.  Jommy was determined to avoid detection, tract down other surviving slans, and with them, solve the mystery of the slans’ strange existence and superiority.”

3. Beyond the Stars, Ray Cummings (magazine publication 1928)

BYNDTSTRS1963

(Jack Gaughan’s cover for the 1963 edition)

From the back cover: “TRANS-COSMIC: Is the entire universe just one of the atoms of some even greater cosmos?  Such was the conception of one scientist — and his effort to prove this theory was to take a part of Americans on an expedition to a place that was literally BEYOND THE STARS.”

4. The Alteration, Kingsley Amis (1976)

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(Uncredited cover for the 2013 edition)

From the back cover: “In Kingsley Amis’s virtuoso foray into virtual history it is 1976 but the modern world is a medieval relic, frozen in intellectual and spiritual time ever since Martin Luther was promoted to pope back in the sixteenth century, Stephen the Third, the king of England, has just died, and Mass (Mozart’s second requiem) is about to be sung to lay him to rest.  In the choir is our hero, Hubert Anvil, an extremely ordinary ten-year-old boy with a faultless voice.  In the audience is a select group of experts whose job is to determine whether the faultless voice should be preserved by performing a certain operation.  Art, after all, is worth any sacrifice.  How Hubert realize what lies in store for him and how he deals with the whirlpool of piety, menace, terror, and passion that he soon finds himself in are the subject of a classic piece of counterfactual fiction equal to Philip K. Dick’s The Man in a High Castle.  The Alteration won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best science-fiction in 1976.”

16 Replies to “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. LXII (Amis + Cummings + Van Vogt)”

  1. I thought Ray Cummings’s Brigands of the Moon was fun, but I can’t deny it was just one long fire fight with ray guns; a Hollywood producer might pitch it as “It’s like ‘Die Hard,’ but in a rocket ship!” Cummings had some interesting technological ideas; in Brigands one of the devices the pirates and their foes employ can bend or curve light; this way they can see around corners and shoot lasers around corners at each other.

  2. Slan is deservedly a classic. A lot of old school fans – I am told – read it and pictured themselves as Slans.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slan#.22Fans_are_slans.22

    Perhaps back then SF fans were of hardier stock because most of my fannish friends would not pass for Slans. The novel does have a streak of elitism in it which is both fun and annoying at the same time. Still, a good book. I’d definitely recommend it.

      1. The premise didn’t do much for me. I read it out of a sense of grim resignation. Perhaps because my expectations were so low, I ended up enjoying it.

  3. Nice snatch on the Kingsley Amis, his New Maps of Hell has been on my list for a while, and I’m also interested in his non-SF as well (obviously).

    With van Vogt, I have a love-hate relationship. I’d never call him a good writer—his prose is godawful at times, and his ideas lean towards nonsense—but I have enjoyed reading his work, so I keep buying it even though it can be downright aggravating.

    Ray Cummings is very much in the vein of Burroughs and A. Merritt, though I’d say the lesser of the three. Pleasant pulp adventure; I enjoy it, but I may be alone on that front. I don’t have the two you picked up so I can’t comment on them, though I do have The Shadow Girl and A Brand New World on my TBR pile, with some more via Project Gutenberg on my tablet.

    1. Yeah, I think I would have eventually procured a copy — but a free one is even better! I’ll read it soon…. Yeah, nothing about van Vogt has impressed me yet. I find his worlds can be quite interesting but the endlessly laborious prose, pacing, and continuous nonsensical plot twists really bother me…. But, I guess I need to keep reminding myself that he’s better than a lot of the crud from the 40s….

      I have three Cummings novels I haven’t posted yet are A Brand New World, Tamara of the Light Country, and Tamara Princess of Mercury…. But yes, I expect them to be poor, but fun, ripoffs of Burroughs.

  4. I remember reading somewhere that van Vogt’s writing method was to think about his story before bedtime so he’d dream about it. Then he’d wake at all hours of the night, get up, and write his dreams down. Which would explain the illogicality of his stories. That and his attraction to nonsense like psi powers and Scientology (making him one more writer influenced by Astounding/Analog editor John W. Campbell’s nuttier side). Still, he must have been quite self-disciplined as a man, and one of the few SF writers to practice a Surrealist method. I think he ought to be judged accordingly – as an experimentalist (long before the New Wave came along) who worked with pulp/genre elements.

    1. Perhaps the issue is his experimentation comes off simply as bad writing…. And I do love experimentation in sci-fi. But as I mentioned, I do find myself drawn into some of his works.

  5. I read Cummings’ Tamara novels a decade ago, and remember thinking that the eugenics movement must have influenced him (putting him in company with a lot of other Americans of the early 20th century). Maybe I was wrong. But you might want to keep an eye out for hints of that possible influence as you read.

    1. I was thinking the same thing after I peeked at the mini-summary on the first page — “One midnight in August, the raids began. The White Summer Camp for Girls was struck first […]” Yes, it’s a guy’s last name, but I definitely think he wants his audience to have a different set of connotations to “heighten their dread and fear.” Just think of all the covers where the villains (often preying on white women) have distinctly African American facial features — https://sciencefictionruminations.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/fut1_00122.jpeg

      I’ll just have to see when I get around to reading how racism and potentially eugenics inspired philosophies (if any) manifest themselves…

      1. That Future cover really prefigures the escape craft scene at the end of Alien. Nearly naked white woman. Dark-skinned humanoid creature in doorway.

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