Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. XCVIII (Lafferty + Zelazny + Zebrowski)

…a wonderful haul from Half Price Books.

More Lafftery (I will read Past Master soon, I promise)!

Two more Zelazny novels!

And a Zebrowski collection…

I love hearing your thoughts/comments.

1. Past Master, R. L. Lafferty (1968)

(Diane and Leo Dillon’s cover for the 1968 edition)

From the inside flap: “The golden planet of Astrobe, made in the image of Utopia now faced a crisis which could destroy it forever.  Yet no one could understand it: in a world where wealth and comfort were free to everyone, why did so many desert the golden cities for the slums of Cathead and Bario?   Why did they turn away from the Astrobe dream and seek lives in bone-crushing work, squalor and disease?  The rulers of Astrobe didn’t know, so they sought in mankind’s past for a leader who could give them answers… and they brought to life the one man out of history who would most want to destroy Astrobe.”

2. Today We Choose Faces, Roger Zelazny (1973)

(Dean Ellis’ cover for 1973 edition)

From the back cover of a later edition: “TODAY WE CHOOSE FACES.  Pull pin seven and loose the demon within.  Why did the voice keep jabbering inside his head?  Lange, the current “nexus” of the family, the telepathic keeper of the House, the mind which controlled the destiny of mankind, was not about to pull the pin to find out.  And yet the voice haunted him.  You don’t know how to deal with our attacker and I do.  Lange, you must pull pin seven!  But still Lange would not listen.  He knew he could defeat the mysterious enemy who sought to kill of the Family and wreck the house.  Or so he though until—Nexus!—he woke with the death explosion still in his mind…”

3. Bridge of Ashes, Roger Zelazny (1976)

(Gene Szafran)

From the back cover: “He was the greatest telepath the world had ever known.  He was Archimedes, Leonardo da Vinci, Jean Jacques Rousseau, and a Children of Earth terrorists all rolled into one… He was Dennis Guise, idiot child, whose mind had been suffocated and nearly obliterated by a universe of other people’s thoughts.  And he was Earth’s last hope against an enemy that had created the human race but would destroy it all again if Dennis Archimedes Leonardo Jean Jacques Humanity Guise could not meet them on their own terms and win…”

4. The Monadic Universe, George Zebrowski (1977)

(Paul Alexander’s cover for the 1977 edition)

No summation of the contents on back cover or inside flap of the 12 story collection.

36 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. XCVIII (Lafferty + Zelazny + Zebrowski)

  1. I don’t know how old you are, Joachim, but you keep showing off books I bought and read back when I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s. R. A. Lafferty was one weird dude who wrote some very far out books. I loved Zelazny in the 1960s, but once the 1970s got going, he seemed to crank out way too much pot boiling escapism. Do you like these old SF books because of nostalgia, or are you a young person that just discovered this particular time of science fiction that you like?

    • Ah, the mystery! I’m a child of the late 80s. I’m also a historian (of a completely different period) and rather compulsive (this is a secondary or even tertiary obsession after my historical area of interest). I also enjoy Jazz/movies/SF/lit from the 40s-70s… I dislike most pulp + space opera, so I’m inclined to focus on more social/experimental SF, hence the 60s and 70s.

      But, I do have some grounding in SF written between 1980-2000 (or at least the award winners when I was more confined to award lists), this focus of mine is a product of the last 5 or so years.

      • That’s interesting Joachim. I think every decade SF is different. The self-importance of the sixties also affected science fiction. The New Age self-explorations of the 1970s affected science fiction. I grew up in the 1960s, so I read the 1960s SF, but also the 1940s and 1950s. Then it all seemed alike, but now 1950s SF seems so much different from 1960s SF, or the 1940s SF. I need to go back and reread many of the 1960s and 1970s books you are reviewing.

        I’m like you and have other interests. As I get old I’m more fascinated by the 19th century. But I love 1930s movies, 1950s jazz, 1960s pop music, 1970s country music, etc.

        • James, have you read any of Michael Bishop’s novels (I have another review I’ll post today)? I’m trying to put together a series of guest posts but few seem to read his stuff anymore. I think he is one of the underrated greats, especially in regards to anthropologically inclined SF.

          • I’ve read No Enemy But Time and Philip K. Dick is Dead, Alas, and I’ve bought Brittle Innings, a nice hardback copy, but haven’t read it yet. The first two I read years ago and barely remember.

            • Let me know if you are interested in writing a review of any Bishop novel that I could post as a series — at the moment I’m trying to gauge interest.

              My email

              ciceroplatobooks [at] gmail [dot] com

  2. I loved “Today We Choose Faces”, which I think is one of Zelazny’s more New Wave-style books. I deals with some very interesting questions of memory and identity, without getting too bogged down in introspection, there’s enough action to keep things moving quickly.

    Interestingly enough, I have also been assuming that you’re my age (I’m 50) based on the books that you review.

    • The bubble of illusion has burst!

      I look forward to Today We Choose Faces. I’ve read This Immortal + Lord of Light.

      Have you read Creatures of Light and Darkness (1969)? It’s considered his most radical/experimental novel.

      • I love Creatures Of Light And Darkness. It is very lyrical, almost a prose poem, while still being a very engaging story. Wonderful characters, The Prince Who Was A Thousand, The Steel General, Anubis and Osiris. One of my favorites.

  3. Looking forward to the Lafferty review. He was truly one of a kind. I just finished his novel “The Reefs of Earth,” which was amazing but crossed so many genres it was ultimately unclassifiable. Bill Hader (formerly on Saturday Night Live) turns out to be a Lafferty fan and did an article for the New York Times on Lafferty and his other SF faves a while back: http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/01/31/its-so-incredibly-tulsa-bill-haders-book-picks/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0

  4. I keep telling myself I will one day read Zelazny ( I read a book he co-authored called “Wilderness” but that hardly counts ). “The Chronicles of Amber” looks fantastic, but I’ve yet to pull the trigger and purchase it.

    • Well, start with his classics — Lord of Light and This Immortal — both won the Hugo award for best novel.

      As for The Chronicles of Amber, I haven’t been in a fantasy mood for years but I suspect I’ll eventually read them.

        • I loved Lord of Light in the 1960s, but not so much when I listened to it a few years ago. As a kid it was a dazzling idea. As an old guy, it seemed like an early draft that needed a lot of polishing.

      • I’ve had people rave to me about Lord of Light. Will definitely be reading it. Haven’t heard of This Immortal but I’ll keep an eye out.

        I read an article on NPR about Amber where the author was gushing about the world he creates. I’m big into fantasy so that’s why it piqued my interest.

      • Odd bit of Zelazny trivia – if you’ve seen the movie “Argo” with Ben Affleck, it was based on the real CIA operation to covertly remove the Iranian Embassy hostages in the 1970s by using the production of a Hollywood SF movie (called “Argo” in the movie) as a cover. The CIA actually optioned the rights to Zelazny’s “Lord of Light” for this operation (and even hired Jack Kirby to do the storyboards – he’s played by Michael Parks in the movie), which may be why the film rights are still tied up.

      • Since you mentioned the Amber books and not being in a fantasy mood, you might be interested in knowing that the series starts out in more of a mystery mode, almost hardboiled, as the protagonist has amnesia. We discover the fantastic elements along with him. It really grabbed me and became a favorite of mine. I have read the original five books multiple times. They make for very fast and engaging reading.

  5. I’m actually jealous. I’ve been wanting to read some R.A. Lafferty for months now but I’ve nothing to show for it. None of his books are actually in print. I live in Beirut, so I’m unable to procure myself with any used books without putting my hide out for sale. There’s nothing remotely close to a genre store in the whole country, and chain booksellers only sell a selection of Star Wars novelizations, and the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (huh?). The only stories I read of his were “The Six Fingers of Time” and “Sodom and Gomorrah, Texas”: quirky, unique, in a dense and earnest prose. I’m very curious to see how he reads in novel-length.

    In conclusion: As someone who’s bought something I want, I’m required to hate you until I can smell the same dusty, yellowed pages.

    • All the rights to Lafferty’s literary estate were sold a while back (he had such a large extended family that each royalty check had to be divided between numerous aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, etc.), and now his work is being republished in collections (one just out and one forthcoming) but they’re collector’s editions and quite expensive. Your best chance is to look for any 1960s and 1970s anthologies and SF magazines you can find in the used market overseas, as Lafferty was frequently published in those. I’ve bought some of his novels through Ray Bowman, who runs a used SF book mail order business, and sells old books at very reasonable prices (although it takes a while for the orders to be filled – I don’t think Ray uses the Internet to fulfill orders, you have to send him an order form by mail.) Lafferty’s PBs are starting to get quite expensive on Amazon.

      • I actually tried to order the Centipede Press R.A. Lafferty Collection via local bookstores, but the distributors they’re in business with don’t deal with Centipede Press or related reseller. So that avenue is done for. Ordering it myself from Amazon with all the overseas delivery cost, tariffs and local mailing would have me sell heart and kidney. My best hope is to actually be patient, and go to used bookstores and relevant sellers when I’m next overseas. Although I’d gladly pay a fair amount for an R.A. Lafferty book, I’d rather wait, and read something else in the mean time. Thanks for the help either way.

    • Miky, if you check the links at the end of the Wikipedia entry on Lafferty (under “Works Available Online), they have some links (archived on the Internet Archive) to some more out-of-copyright short stories than the two you named. Not all the links are still good, but some are.

      • Thanks for that. But I’m kind of a purist that way (Annoying right?). I only feel like I’m truly reading something when I’m holding it in my hands, so I’ll hold off until I reach the end of my rope.

  6. From a popularity perspective, you picked up perhaps two of the most esoteric Zelazny novels possible. Popularity of course no indication of quality, it will interesting to see what you think of them…

    • Well, I’ve already read the most popular Zelazny (besides the Amber series).

      (the real reason I selected those two was their publication as a double in the late 70s — so two novels for a grand total of 1 dollar — hehe)

  7. I just picked up Past Master last week. They say it is his most accessible book. If you ever get a chance to scoop up East of Laughter by Lafferty, get it.

    One of the things I love about Lafferty (besides his complete wackiness) is, as opposed to C.S. Lewis and Tolkien, you can be up to your eyes in Christian allegory or symbolism and not know it. You are not slapped across the jowls with it.

    I read his The Reefs of Earth last week. I enjoyed it but I didn’t really know what the heck I had read at the end.

    • I know what you mean, Thoyd. There was a Reader’s Guide to SF published back in the 1970s (I still have a copy somewhere) which would discuss an author, then at the end offer suggestions for readers who want to find more writers like him or her (i.e., “If you like Heinlein, you might want to try the works of Poul Anderson or Gordon Dickson”) When you came to the entry on Lafferty, the author basically threw up his hands and said, Lafferty’s one of a kind. Grab everything you can by him, I can’t suggest anyone else.

      “The Reefs of Earth” has cheerfully bloodthirsty, near-feral children (which pop up a lot in his stories) one of whom is a ghost, connections to the Puka myths of Ireland, backwoods politics and over-the-top rural characters, bizarre walk-ons by characters who are never heard from again (like the Puka One-Man-Band guy), extraterrestrial illegal immigrants, theology, backwoods feuds, Native American ghosts living in Oklahoma burial mounds, doggerel rhyming curses and charms, a sort of Huck Finn riverboat story (with piratic gunbattles between children), epic fistfights like something out of “The Quiet Man,” chapter titles that form a poem, and a murder mystery, all told in the combined rhythms of the Beats (I wonder if Lafferty ever read Kerouac), an old duffer telling a shaggy-dog joke in an Irish pub, and a bunch of guys in an Oklahoma dry goods store swapping tall tales.

      It’s a fun ride, but you’re right – you have no idea at the end what you just read. Lafferty was one of a kind. Not to everyone’s taste, certainly, but I really like him.

  8. Some great thoughts on Lafferty, whose books I own, but haven’t read yet (I must read him asap!). I only ever read a UK collection of Zelazny, under the title A Rose for Ecclesiastes and wasn’t that impressed – though that was around 30 years ago in my teens, so maybe I should try again. I have been meaning to read his This Immortal and Lord of Light for yonks too. No-one mentioned The Dream Master, which always sounded good?

    Just a quick aside, Joachim – you mentioned ‘guest reviews’ earlier, in relation to Michael Bishop. Does that mean you might be up for guest reviews on other books, at all? I have just finished George R Stewart’s Earth Abides, and will be starting Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451 soon. If you like, as I go through all the classics I’ve been meaning to read, in the next year or so, I could offer up reviews of them, for you? If not, no worries, of course – I always enjoy your fantastic blog!

    • James, the guest post series (on Michael Bishop specifically) might be a one off thing. I want the site primarily guided by my own reading—with this in mind, due to my exploration of Bishop’s oeuvre I’ve found him to be criminally underread/underrated so I thought I’d put together some interested people to submit material. I’m not sure I’ll have a series on classics—in part because people read them all the time and they don’t really need exposure—in the near future.

      But, if you’re interested in contributing to the Michael Bishop series let me know!

  9. Thanks Joachim. No worries – if I get around to reading Bishop soon, I will let you know! (I do have one or two of his books, but I think they are deep in storage somewhere). I am reading the classics, but also more obscure SF, inbetween. Ultimately, it’s all relative as to what is good or bad, isn’t it. Sometimes one man’s classic is another man’s trash – or vice versa!

    • Sorry about that. “Sometimes one man’s classic is another man’s trash” — sometimes, sometimes… But, I would suggest that it isn’t entirely subjective — some authors simply write better 😉

  10. Yes, I immediately felt I should have – paradoxically – said that, too, afterwards! There IS a collective, objective yardstick by which one can judge quality, but, in our Post-Postmodern world, such definitive pronouncements are often subsumed by the vagaries of insular subjectivity. I think, ultimately, both apply, simultaneously, to lesser, or greater degrees…

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