Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. XCII (Ellison + Ballard + Davidson + St. Clair)

First, a painful example of early 60s marketing for a SF novel written by a women: “WOMEN ARE WRITING SCIENCE-FICTION!  ORIGINAL! BRILLIANT!! DAZZLING!!! Women are closer to the primitive than men.  They are conscious of the moon-pulls, the earth-tides.  They posses a buried memory of humankind’s obscure and ancient past which can emerge to unique color and flavor a novel.”

Uh huh.

I wish I possessed a buried memory of humankind’s obscure and ancient past…

A wonderful batch.  My first Avram Davidson collection although the blurb and cover are utterly unappealing.  More Ballard, my first Margaret St. Clair novel, more Ellison…


1. Vermillion Sands, J. G. Ballard (1971)

(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1971 edition)

From the back cover: “VERMILLION SANDS embodies the languid decay of a tawdry dream.  A desert resort designed to fulfill the most exotic whims of the sate rich, it now molders in sleazy dilapidation, a haven for the remittance men of the artistic and literary world, and for the human lampreys that prey on them.  It is a lair for malice and hate an envy — and the more cancerous forms of madness; a place where sensitive pigments paint portraits for their masters in a grotesque parody of art; where poets press the buttons of mechanical versifiers; where sculptures grow like funguses, and plants respond to music; where pyschosensitive houses are driven mad by their owners’ neuroses; where love and affection, and even lust, are effete madrigals played in a minor and discordant key.  From the dark recesses of a superb imagination, J. G. Ballard has conjured up an elegant nightmare of decadence, a portrait of a future Gomorrah where a Nero might play an automated violin.”

2. Sign of the Labrys, Margaret St. Clair (1963)

(William George’s cover for the 1963 edition)

From the back cover: “WOMEN ARE WRITING SCIENCE-FICTION!  ORIGINAL! BRILLIANT!! DAZZLING!!! Women are closer to the primitive than men.  THey are conscious of the moon-pulls, the earth-tides.  They posses a buried memory of humankind’s obscure and ancient past which can emerge to unique color and flavor a novel.  Such a woman is Margaret St. Clair, author of this novel.  Such a novel is this, SIGN OF THE LABRYS, the story of a doomed world of the future, saved by recourse to ageless, immemorial rites… FRESH!  IMAGINATIVE!! INVENTIVE!!!”

From the inside flap: “EARTH was a weird and dire place after the plagues.  The few humans who survived could not bear the touch of each other; they lived in the enormous, endless caverns hacked out of the bowels of the earth for the bombs that never came.  And on one man rested the hopes of the world, though he did not know it.  Sam Sewell only knew he had to journey, despite forbidding perils from the darkness of the past, into the ultimate fastness of the unknown to rescue the timeless wisdom of the witch Despoina…”

3.  Strange Seas and Shores, Avram Davidson (1971)

(Uncredited cover for the 1981 edition)

From the back cover: “From the pen of Avram Davidson one comes to expect the unexpected: an Armenian rug-peddling merchant in a chinese snuffbox, a phantom subway station on the upper east side of Manhattan, and aliens entangled with a Texas millionaire and the American Dental Association.”

4. Ellison Wonderland, Harlan Ellison (1962)

(Bob Pepper’s cover for the 1974 edition)

From the back cover: “Buckle your safety belts for a journey to the wildest wonderland that never existed!  COMMUTER’S PROBLEM—Or what happens when you catch the morning express to somehere out of this world?  NOTHING FOR MY NOON MEAL—Trapped on Hell, survival was a choice between the impossible and the unbelievable.  ALL THE SOUNDS OF FEAR—He was a man of many faces but the master of none.  THE SKY IS BURNING—Why was Earth good enough for dying? RAIN, RAIN, GO AWAY—But look out for that “other day”!”

26 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. XCII (Ellison + Ballard + Davidson + St. Clair)

  1. Harlan Ellison…always a favorite! Been a fan ever since watching his SHATTERDAY story from the Twilight Zone redux in the mid-eighties. Once I found out it was originally written by Ellison, I inhaled everything I could find from the author. Very original stuff (at the time).

    Now I’m off to find my copy of Ellison Wonderland!

  2. That’s so great that Ellison made an appearance on this blog! I could not resist – I had to go back and see what he had to say!

    I deeply appreciate Harlan Ellison’s work. Ellison’s voice and imagination are truly special.That said, Ellison Wonderland strikes me as one of his weaker collections. Fortunately, the Bob Pepper cover helps to make up for any disappointment!

    • It was an honor!

      Let’s just say, there was dissenting opinion on Ellison’s outspoken nature (among other things) and he responded both to my review and to his critics in the comments….

      What’s your favorite of his collections?

  3. The 1974 edition was the first book by Ellison I bought, off the spinner rack at the local drugstore. I enjoyed the introductions Ellison wrote for each story, and began buying the Pyramid reissue series (with the wonderful Dillon art) that began appearing shortly thereafter.

  4. “Women are closer to the primitive…”

    Sexism aside, what a weird marketing angle.

    And sexism considered, the past really is more unbelievable than any fiction we read. So glad I wasn’t around for that.

    • …sometimes it doesn’t feel like it has changed much (it obviously has, but some loonies are still out there!). This is almost less ridiculous than the Japanese politician who is running for office who said that women should not be at the highest level of politics because they menstruate.

  5. Avram Davidson is such a unique writer that, paradoxically, it is nearly impossible to describe his stories in a way that makes them sound interesting. But he is very much of the new wave generation of SF writers that you enjoy so much, so I have a hard time imagining that you wouldn’t like him.

    Your posting about this particular book made me realize something: I had always assumed I had read it when it turns out I haven’t. I have gotten it confused with the similarly titled What Strange Stars and Skies. (Which, by the way, has a nice Jack Gaughan cover.) But even though I haven’t read the whole thing, I have read a number of its stories and liked them all. (I particularly like “The House The Blakeleys Built”.) I should give you one warning though: the story “Dr. Goldpepper Returns” is actually a sequel to the story “Help! I am Dr. Morris Goldpepper”. I don’t know how intelligible or enjoyable the sequel will be without having read the first story. But you shouldn’t let that stop you from reading the rest of the book.

    • I do plan on reading it soon. Although, my reading has slowed recently as I’ve been feverishly working on a dissertation chapter. He definitely sounds interesting from the SF encyclopedia entry etc.

  6. I read Vermillion Sands about 15 years ago, and Peter is right – it is definitely one of his best ever (similarly-themed) collections. From his brilliant, unique, radical 60’s/70’s period. I look forward to your review of that fabulous book…

    • I’ve read one of two of the stories in the collection and enjoyed them (I have the complete short works of Ballard in a single volume but couldn’t resist owning the original paperbacks as well).

  7. By the by, Joachim, if you’re ever in the Phoenix, AZ area around Valentine’s Day weekend, check out the annual Visiting Nurses Service (VNSA) Auxiliary Used Book Sale at the State Fairgrounds – enormous 2-day annual event, I just got back and bought a couple hundred used SF books from the 50s, 60s, and 70s – PBs about $1, HBs about $3, and everything drops to half-price on Sunday. I got a huge stack of Gene Wolfe (incl. some first edition HBs), some Laffertys, plus a bunch of titles that have been on my want-to-read list for a long time. I probably won’t be able to read everything I bought before I pass on! Well worth a weekend trip.

    Anyone know of any other similar big used book sales in the west/southwest?

    • Sounds like great fun! Bet you got some real gems.

      I don’t really know about large sales in the West/Southwest. I no longer live in that region… But I sometimes travel to Texas, hence my posts about Dallas’ Half-Price Books.

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