Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CX (Kornbluth + Pohl + Cowper + Hersey + Asimov anthology of short SF)

A nice batch—some more from the $1 hardback sale at my local bookstore, one procured via abebooks, and one from a friend.  I grabbed Cowper’s The Road to Corlay (1978) after seeing two solid reviews from my friends at Speculiction… [review here] and Porpourri of Science Fiction Literature [review here].  I enjoyed Cowper’s later  novel Profundis (1979).

I had no idea the Pulitzer-winning writer and journalist John Hersey from dystopic SF allegories…

And, a collection of early work from the fruitful partnership of Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth…  With a gorgeous Richard Powers cover!

I’ve always enjoyed really short SF stories so I look forward to devouring Asimov and Conklin collection (perhaps in stages due to its length).

Enjoy the covers!


1. The Wonder Effect, C. M. Kornbluth and Frederik Pohl (1962)

(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1962 edition)

From the back cover: “The stories in this collection are representative of a long timespan of work as a team.  They range all the way from an episode on Mars in the classic science fiction adventure tradition to a satiric comment on the shelter madness which was written, however, long before America embarked on that particular idiocy.  In such a story of course, Pohl and Kornbluth fulfill yet another tradition—that of the truly prophetic role played by the dyed-in-the-wool s.f. author.  In recent years, reality has caught up with much that was written as s.f. adventure.  Now, it seems, the world is in danger of catching up with at least some of the best s.f. satire ever written.  Fortunately for their readers, and for the world, the wild and wonderful imaginations which produced the Pohl-Kornbluth stories are ingenious enough to still be well ahead in the race between s.f. hilarity and painful reality.”

2. The Road to Corlay, Richard Cowper (1978)

(Uncredited cover for the 1979 edition)

From the inside flap of a later edition: “The Boy, Tom, was an extraordinarily gifted piper, having learned the art from Morfedd the Wizard.  It was Morfedd who’d made his pipe, and twinned his tongue so that he’d be able to master the pipe’s two air ducts.  And it was Morfdd who’d instilled in him an unshakeable belief in the prophesied White Bird of Kinship—a belief which Tom’s music could evoke in any listener with an open heart.

Unfortunately, in those days, a thousand years after the Drowning, the Church Militant feared the growing influence of the White Bird heresy and sought to stamp it out.  So it was that one night, as the Boy piped to an entranced crowed gathered to celebrate the turn of the 30th century, there was… an accident.  The Boy was killed—martyred, to the chagrin of Church officials.  And with his death, the legend of the White Bird became a fierce, living hope for mankind.

Just after a storm at sea 18 years later, a ship’s captain found a man, or what was left of him, tied to a floating spar.  The man’s clothing and split tongue identified him as a Kinsman—a member of the White Bird cult, now proscribed by the Church—and there were many who would have turned him in for a bounty.  But this captain was not greedy; and when, by chance.  He detected a faint spark of life still burning, he smuggled the man ashore to the home of a potter, who was also Kin.

The arrival of a half-dead stranger did not take the potter completely by surprise.  For his daughter was huesh, and she had had a vision of a tempest and a drowned Kinsman.  What she had not foreseen was the man’s survival (it was the first time her sight had not been entirely accurate), and she was exhausting herself… pushing her gift to the limit in her attempts to keep him alive—

When suddenly, the probing fingers of her mind found the other!  Not the Kinsman, Jane hueshed, but a shadowy presence that seemed to be sharing the Kinsman’s existence.. a frail whisper—Carver—that would grow stronger in the perilous days ahead…

In the late 20th century, a scientist named Michael Carver was the subject of a revolutionary experiment.  He had been given certain neurocompound drugs believed to induce O.O.B.E’s—out-of-the-body experiences—now, unexpectedly, he was slipping into a coma.  His colleagues were at a loss; their instruments showed intense mental activity, yet Mike could not be roused.  A few of them speculated that Carver had succeeded in making O.O.B. contact.  But unless they found a way to break that contact, their guinea pig was going to die!”

3. Fifty Short Science Fiction Tales, ed. Asimov and Groff Conklin (1963)

(Don Ivan Punchatz’s cover for the 1966 edition)

From the back cover: FITY EXCITING EXPERIENCES.  You visit a world where Robots strain to remember the existence of the Men who created them; hear the tantalizing brief report of a man who returns from a trip to the future; see the snake-armed Thing that emerges from the minds of people who conjure it.  You meet a souvenir hunter in the Thirtieth Century and a schoolgirl who tries to cope with teaching methods of the Twenty-second Century.  You share the terror of an astronaut in a “haunted” space suit and the dilemma of a wife whose husband knows a common chemical formula for destroying the earth.  In short, you feel the impact, the originality, and the uncanny atmosphere created by these science fiction experts not once—but fifty times.”

4. My Petition for More Space: A Novel, John Hersey (1974)

(René Magritte’s cover for the 1974 edition)

From the inside flap: “A street in New Haven.  A line of people, blocks long, more closely packed than the rush-hour subways of the good old times.  Poynter has been on the line since before dawn, as are thousands of others, pressed together, waiting their turns at the window to present their individual petitions.  His is for more space—a notion so preposterous that when it is discovered it shocks, reverberates down the line, almost triggering violent reactions.  In front of Poynter, so tightly jammed against him that he can see no more than the side of her face, is a girl petitioning to change her job.  And, locked together in this fearful proximity, they talk, explore their predicaments, and perhaps fall in love.

My Petition for More Space chills by its glimpse of a world grown so crowded that dissent is a inconceivable crime and acquiescence the law of survival.  Feelings of hope and fear, desire, anger, frustration erupt sporadically, sparked by the friction of numbers.  Call it tonight’s disturbing dream or a coldly logical scenario of things to come, John Hersey’s taut novel stings the mind.”

7 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CX (Kornbluth + Pohl + Cowper + Hersey + Asimov anthology of short SF)

  1. How will you limit your synopsis length for each of the Fifty Short Science Fiction Tales? I limited each synopsis to five words. Pretty good stuff in there, but some of it clearly isn’t “science fiction”.

    • Batches of 10 or 15 or so? Not sure when I’ll get to it…. But, perhaps in the next year. Or, I’ll read a handful and slowly put together a review over multiple months. I’ve done that before for longer collections.

  2. Wow, a more varied collection of purchases than usual. A MASSIVE short story collection, a marginally genre work by a Pulitzer prize winner (Hersey), a collaboration, and a work of soft science fiction that may or may not be Christian apologetics. I’ve not read the two books which follow The Road to Corlay, and so can’t tell for certain, but it’s certainly one possible path Cowper could have taken. Perhaps 2theD has something to add on that account?

    • I think Cowper and religion might be an intriguing topic for closer analysis — both 2theD and I have read Profundis (1979) where the rather nutty leaders of a massive submarine at the orders of the computer that actually runs things con a youth into performing a strange version of the Passion Play. Cowper can be rather irreverent at moments…

      “marginally genre work”? Perhaps, no more so than an early Ballard allegory by the looks of it.

      • I oscillated between “marginally genre work” and “work on the margins of genre”… It seems I should have gone with the latter. 🙂

        What I meant was that John Hersey is not an author one commonly associates with core science fiction, or the New Wave. Like Orwell and Huxley, he was a writer probably more at home amongst non-genre readers – at least as far as I know, but i could be wrong…

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