Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. LXXII (Sturgeon, Harness, Sheckley, Duke)

Part 3 of 5 acquisition posts covering my haul from Dawn Treader books in Ann Arbor, Michigan…. The only Sturgeon novel I’ve read was the masterpiece (and rightly so) More Than Human (1953) so I was thrilled when I found not one but three copies of Venus Plus X (1960).  Unfortunately, I was not able to scour the shelves closely enough to find a first edition and thus am stuck with Gray Marrow’s cover for the 1968 Pyramid Science Fiction edition.  But, I went ahead and posted the first edition art instead because it’s without doubt Victor Kalin’s best cover…..

Sheckley is brilliant so I snatched up another collection of his short stories without hesitation.

The two other authors are ones I have heard about but never read — Charles L. Harness and Madelaine Duke.  Duke’s novel was a complete risk due to the ridiculous sounding premise but I love reading works by unknown authors.  Harness is claimed by some to be one of the great authors whose neglect, in the words of John Clute in the SF encyclopedia entry on Harness, “is difficult to understand.”  His work sounds like my cup of tea….

Thoughts?  Has anyone read Charles L. Harness?

1. Venus Plus X, Theodore Sturgeon (1960) (MY REVIEW)

(Victor Kalin’s cover for the 1960 edition)

From the back cover of a later edition: “Charlie Johns woke up… and nearly went mad.  He was in a world of strange inventions, unheard-of buildings, unfamiliar language, and creatures who were like men but not men… or women.  As the truth of what had happened dawned on him, he fought hard to keep his rip on sanity.  The one thing he could cling to was the knowledge of his identity.  I am Charlie Johns: he told himself fiercely, over and over again.  But he was wrong…”

2. Pilgrimage to Earth, Robert Sheckley (1957)

(Uncredited cover for the 1957 edition)

From the back cover for a later edition: “The science-fiction of one minute is the non-fiction of the next.  And Robert Sheckley lives that one illuminating minute ahead of the rest of us.  He knows the future intimately — from the trouble with a super-powered ship with its own moral views on proper destinations, to the low-down on the interplanetary mail-order-bride business.  Sheckley is an exciting young talent — an extrapolating philosopher let loose in time and the galaxy.  He is sometimes funny, sometimes bloodcurdling, always a little disquieting.”

3. The Ring of Ritornel, Charles L. Harness (1968)

(Paul Lehr’s cover for the 1968 edition)

From the back cover: “THE RING OF RITORNEL creates a future world of terror and beauty, peopled with remarkable characters such as Omere, poet laureate of the home planet, Goris-Kard, and his brother Jamie, who is trapped between the opposing forces of Ritornel and Alea, a reluctant pawn in the future of his universe.  It is a science fiction novel of the most imaginative, poetic and stimulating kind, and is at the same time an exciting allegory of birth and rebirth, life and death, creation and re-creation.”

4. Claret, Sandwiches and Sin, Mardelaine Duke (1964)

(Uncredited cover for the 1969 edition)

From the back cover: “The Doomsday Ladies.  Picture a refined group of ladies discussing their next international political assassination over sips of claret.  The garden club is a quiet oasis in a world where Africa has gone pre-fab; the new look is the ‘Optiman’ (radiation victims who have changed into Cyborgs) and men are still waging furious politics.”

29 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. LXXII (Sturgeon, Harness, Sheckley, Duke)

  1. I’ve enjoyed some Sturgeon short stories (“The Other Celia” and “Macrocosmic God,” for example) but Venus Plus X made me groan in pain. It will be interesting to hear what you think.

    • Did you like More than Human? For the time it was published, 1953, it’s remarkably philosophical and poignant…. Loved it (when I was a kid) — it’s been a while since I’ve read it.

      • I haven’t read More Than Human. I probably should give it a try.

        I read To Marry Medusa AKA The Cosmic Rape, which is also about achieving collective consciousness, and it was OK.

        I read Godbody when it was published, when I was 15 or 16, I guess, and vaguely recall it being a sort of pro-free love thing about a promiscuous alien who comes to earth and cheers everyone up by having sex with them. My memory is probably unforgivably distorting the thing.

  2. Cosmic Rape is an interesting title because, as I remember it, the alien being forces humans into its collective consciousness against their will, but Sturgeon still suggests its a good outcome for everybody.

  3. For an SF novel that argues collective consciousness would NOT be a good thing, read Mikhail Emtsev and Eremei Parnov’s World Soul (1964). The English translation was published in 1978 as part of Macmillan’s Best of Soviet SF series (hardcover and trade paperback). Of course, it’s a veiled critique of Soviet communalism. And the foreword is by Sturgeon.

  4. “Venus Plus X” was a little disappointing. Ideologies don’t make good plots, and the story suffers from this, despite the interesting sexual commentary in the wake of feminism, gay liberation and the sexual emancipation of the 1960s. I’ve read that Sturgeon labored intensely over this novel and anatomized its philosophies from William James, Erich Fromm and Margaret Read, and was more than a little hurt and overwrought by its lack of appeal.

    Despite the first quarter of the book doing a beautiful job with expressing the wonderful bewildering sense of true alienness (as good to great SF novels should do), which recalled my experience with the enigmatic “Solaris,” it tumbled from there into extensive descriptions, lean plotting and clunky sermons. I appreciate Sturgeon’s effort, but wanted Venus Plus X to be a lot more.

    I’m looking forward to your thoughts and sincerely hope my comment does not influence your reading experience too much.

  5. I love More Than Human! I read it when I was just starting to read SF (as opposed to mainly comic books) when I was around 17. It truly is one of the 50’s masterpieces. But, like you, Joachim, I haven’t ever got around to reading anything else by him (I have pretty much everything he did, including what is meant to be his other great novel, The Dreaming Jewels).

    I also have most of Harness’ stuff, but have only read The Rose collection, (UK edition, I think, from 1966) incorporating the eponymous novella and a couple of short stories, all of which blew my mind when I read them as a teenager – he is of the same lyrical and highly ingenious, proto-New Wave ilk of 50’s/60’s Bester, Dick and Delany, et al. Apparently his other seminal work is The Paradox Men; a bizarre and fabulous Space Opera, and which I own but have yet to read, too!

    Some great finds and reviews recently – keep up the good work!

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