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)
(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)
(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)
(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)
(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.”