Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. XCVI (Varley + Wilhelm + Blish + Effinger)

With the sole novel of his I’ve read, What Entropy Means to Me (1972), George Alec Effinger has entered the pantheon of my favorite authors—the novel is that brilliant.  So, with a birthday gift card from my sister I procured a copy of Irrational Numbers (1975), a collection of short fiction.  Will read soon….

I know very little about John Varley’s work.  I have a copy of his collection The Persistence of Vision (1978)  but had no idea that his first novel, The Ophiuchi Hotline (1977) was as well known as the Goodreads ratings make it out to be (1,476 votes!).  I am positive that Boris Vallejo’s horrid cover prevented me from even considering the novel in the past.

More Wilhelm! (Juniper Time)

More Blish! (Midsummer Century)

All first edition hardbacks for a mere $1-2 each.

Thoughts?

1. The Ophiuchi Hotline, John Varley (1977)

(Boris Vallejo’s cover for the 1977 edition)

From the inside flap: “Lilo was dead—tried, condemned, and a suicide—but she was also alive… in fact, there were several of her….  In the years of Humanity’s dispersal among the planets of the Solar System after the Invaders took Earth, cloning—reproduction of a human being complete with personality and memories—was common insurance against accidents.  Like most of the technical advances that made life of off Earth possible—and often bizarre, with genetic engineering and a whole new range of strange pursuits and pleasures—the technique had been supplied by mysterious transmission from space, the “Ophiuchi Hotline.”  No one knew the origin or the motives of the transmissions, but the technique was enthusiastically accepted and applied.  But cloning a condemned felon—of multiple cloning of anyone—was a capital crime, and the Lilos created by Boss Tweed, ex-President of Luna, were outlaws from “birth.”  That was what Treed needed—-agents who had no one to turn to but him—in his obsessive plotting to rid Earth of the Invaders, amorphous but powerful beings from a gas-giant planet.  One Lilo rebelled, and found a fate stranger than death, but another was caught up in a sudden emergency that threatened all human civilization.  For another a message, badly garbled but its passage through the vastness of space, came through the Ophiuchi Hotline.  Not instruction or information this time—it seemed to be a phone bill… with no indication of what had to be paid, or to whom…”

2. Juniper Time, Kate Wilhelm (1979) (MY REVIEW)

(Bob Aulicino’s cover for the 1979 edition)

From the inside flap: “Juniper Time is a panoramic and haunting beautiful novel of the survival of humankind and nature.  Drought has devastated the western United States and the people migrate eastward to settle in squalid concentration camps called “Newtowns.”  One woman, Jean Brighton, flees in the opposite direction.  A linguist who can decode secret messages and make sense of alien languages, Jean has found governmental pressure on her university work untenable, and she heads for the only place she knows she will be sage—her grandfather’s now-deserted house in the Pacific Northwest.  Yet her survival does not come from her own devices alone, for she receives the help of Indians who have stayed to reclaim the land that was once theirs.  Through them and the mysteries of their world, Jean masters the art of survival, not only in the desolate Northwest but also in the white man’s world she must return to someday.”

3. Irrational Numbers, George Alec Effinger (1976)

(Michael Flanagan’s cover for the 1976 edition)

From the inside flap: “Eight magnificent stories of fiction and fantasy by a young author acclaimed as a “new, major talent.”  Planting his feet firmly on the earth, Mr. Effinger lets his mind wander with stories as near as the Cleveland Football Stadium (“25 Crunch Split Right on Tow”) or as distant as Wolf 359, mere light years away (“Lydectes: On the Nature of Sport”); others as significant as war (“Curtains”) or as seemingly insignificant as the death of a pet fish (“And Us, Too, I Guess”); and all as witty, original, and challenging as the best of the genre.  Complete with an Introduction by Robert Silverberg.”

4. Midsummer Century, James Blish (1972)

(Emanuel Schongut’s cover for the 1972 edition)

From the inside flap: “A novel of chilling visionary perception in which the future and the present meet with startling results.  The year is 25,000 A.D. when the earth is in a tropical phase.  Its inhabitants are atavistic tribesmen who have become mystical, ritualistic and death-oriented—too obsessed with the afterlife, in fact, to defend themselves against their very real enemies, the Birds.  And the Birds have evolved dangerously into sentient, intelligent creatures whose chief aim is to exterminate man, and it looks as if they’ll succeed before very long.  Into this troubled world comes John Martels, a twentieth century scientist projected into the future by a freak accident.  There he finds that it requires all of his twentieth century wits merely to survive in this strange new environment.  But Martel’s most frightening discovery comes when his desperate attempt to rally mankind against the Birds leaves the way open for his destruction.”

21 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. XCVI (Varley + Wilhelm + Blish + Effinger)”

      1. Varley was huge during the 1970s. In fact, the inaugural issue of Asimov’s had two stories by him in it (one under a pseudonym) – and one of those stories remains one of my favourite sf stories to this day.

      2. Do you remember which story was your favorite? I wonder if it is in the collection The Persistence of Vision.

        (I’d check but isfdb is momentarily down for some reason — happens every now and then)

  1. Like jeffro I read Ophiuchi Hotline and liked it, but can’t recall much about it now, years later. I read Titan last year and thought it wasn’t bad, and I enjoyed the short “Overdrawn at the Memory Bank.”

    Ophiuchi Hotline and “Overdrawn at the Memory Bank” felt fresh, like Varley was doing something new and different. Titan felt traditional, like he was doing Rendezvous with Rama but with lots of strange sex and psychology, but doing it competently.

  2. I’ve read Titan and Memory Bank, but don’t recall too much from either except for the odd space sex scenes from Titan! In comparison I clearly remember books by Delany or Brunner from the same time period.

  3. I remember checking out “Midsummer Century” from the library when I was in high school and enjoying it. I’ve been reading a lot of Blish lately, I should try to find a copy and reread it. (Working on his hard-to-find “Dr. Mirabilis” right now)

      1. I’ll be happy to post a mini-review when I’m done (I have the bad habit of reading 5 or 6 books at once), but it’s not technically science fiction (although it is fiction about science). It’s an historical novel about the medieval Franciscan scientist, Roger Bacon. It’s part of a thematic trilogy with two other Blish novels, the Hugo-winning SF “A Case of Conscience,” and the hard fantasy two part novel “Black Easter / The Day After Judgement Day.”

      2. Yup yup, I know my Bacon (I’m a medievalist) — just attended a conference with a nice paper about his theory of optics combined with his geographic (and astrological) conceptions of the world.

      3. Bobby, do you have a site?

        (if you don’t I obviously want you to have one considering how erudite your comments are. If you desperately don’t want to start one I’d do a guest post with your review. Something I’ve never done before but would for frequent contributors. And, well, to get you to make your own site!)

  4. Wow, seems a particularly strong haul of books this week. I just finished Varley’s Millennium and was not really impressed. The writing was strong, but the story was just a mediocre thriller. The Effinger book could prove to be interesting. Obviously more well known for his other books, Irrational Numbers might be a hidden gem. And Blish, well, Blish is a crap shoot. You never know what you’re going to get…

    Can’t wait to read the reviews.

    1. I will probably read the Effinger and Varley in the coming months. I’ve read quite a few more SF works this year but haven’t reviewed them… Bishop’s Stolen Faces, Brunner’s The Jagged Orbit, and Strete’s If All Else Fails.

      But yes, Blish is hit or miss. Mostly missing…. Why people adore the Cities in Flight sequence is beyond me (the first one is fine but all the more juvenile installments are dull).

  5. Midsummer Century is another of those bits where Blish has some pretty good ideas — here, the guy from our age tossed forward in time who feels the need to save degenerate humanity, only, he’s in the body of the computer-god overlord — and then after developing much of it in interesting ways cheaps out on the ending. It’s from the era when Blish was badly burned out, not even able to write the Star Trek novelizations he was doing, and was kind of plundering and rewriting older stuff, although I don’t believe this is an expansion of anything particular he’d done before.

    I wonder if he found someone else’s story and thought he could make it more sensible; his …And All The Stars A Stage from about the same era is, I believe, a reworking of (Jerry Sohl’s ?) One In Three Hundred, and Blish was never one to do a trick just once when he could do it many times over.

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