Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CXII (Spinrad + Vonnegut, Jr. + Mitchison + Anthology)

I’m a proponent of book store traveling (travel where bookstores are the first target).  Two Half Price Books and a quality independent used books store yielded what will be the first of many acquisition posts of worthy SF.

Who could resist a $5 signed copy of Spinrad’s masterpiece Bug Jack Barron (1967)?  Or a normally pricey edition of Naomi Mitchison’s Memoirs of a Spacewoman (1962) for $2?  And some Vonnegut, Jr. and a quality anthology containing the best of New Worlds….

Thoughts?

1. Bug Jack Barron, Norman Spinrad (serialized 1967)

(Alex Gnidziejko’s cover for the 1969 edition)

From the back cover: “POWER PLAY.  The lines of power are tangled in a future America threatened by a conspiracy of evil.  Politics, communications, sex, love—all are sources of power, all are tools for the maniacal ambitions of one man of vast wealth, Benedict Howards.  Opposing Howards is Jack Barron, who has incalculable power of his own—but who first must learn how to use it…”

2. Best SF Stories from New Worlds 3, ed. Michael Moorcock (1968)

(Uncredited cover for the 1968 edition)

From the back cover of the 1970 edition: “Michael Moorcock’s New Worlds is recognized by many as the most dynamic SF magazine in the world today.  Here is a vigorous, trail-blazing magazine whose writers cary you on voyages into the unknown—voyages which are original, disturbing and above all different […].”

3.  Memoirs of a Spacewoman, Naomi Mitchison (1962) (MY REVIEW)

(Vincent Di Fate’s cover for the 1973 edition)

From the back cover: “SPACETALK.  Establishing communications with aliens has its extraordinary hazards.  Imagine negotiating with the intellectual super-centipedes who enjoy nothing so much as a feast of warm-blooded mammals!  Or mediating between sentient, innocent caterpillars being bullied telepathically by butterflies.  Naomi Mitchison has created a contemporary classic of imaginative fiction in this thoughtful and adventurous explorations of man’s future in a complex universe.”

4.  The Sirens of Titan, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (1959)

(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1959 edition)

From the back cover of a later edition: “Why should the richest, most depraved man in America blast off in his private spaceship for parts unknown with the one beautiful woman capable of resisting him?  What bizarre design lay behind the Martians’ strange invasion of Earth?  How can Salo, shipwrecked envoy from Tralfamador, complete his vital mission?  When does a novel shaped by the techniques of science fiction become a major literary breakthrough?  The Sirensof Titan provides the answers—in a dazzling display of the prophetic vision and audacious artistry of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.”

27 Replies to “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CXII (Spinrad + Vonnegut, Jr. + Mitchison + Anthology)”

  1. I could never finish “Bug Jack Barron”. There weren’t any characters in the book that I liked, and several that I really hated.

    I read “Sirens Of Titan” ages ago–I remember being amazed, but the details escape me now. I’ll have to see if I can find it again.

    1. Have you read any of Spinrad’s other stuff (The Iron Dream, etc)? But yeah, I can see how some of his characters rub the wrong way, that’s for sure.

      As for Vonnegut, I’ve previously read Cat’s Cradle and loved it. I haven’t read Slaughterhouse-Five… Shocking, I know.

      1. I do love most of Spinrad’s work, which is why I kept trying with “Bug Jack Barron”. “The Iron Dream” is just brilliant, I recommend it to people a lot. I also strongly recommend “The Mind Game” if you can find it–it is a thinly fictionalized account of the founding of Scientology and the Scientologists have done their best to bury it. And I enjoyed “The Void Captain’s Tale”.

        As for Vonnegut, I like pretty much everything he’s written, although he gets annoyingly preachy at times. Plus he’s the grandson of one of the guys who invented the panic bar.

        1. Yeah, The Iron Dream is easily one of the best alt-history novels ever written and the most brutal and convincing attack on pulp SF I’ve read… And the joys of the pseudo-scholarly afterword make me giddy.

          Hmm, I’ve never heard of The Mind Game.

  2. Haven’t read any of Spinrad’s novels,but two of his short stories including the one in “Dangerous Visions”.

    DV was the book that challenged the British “new wave” under “New Worlds”.It included pieces by English authors who regularly published there,such as the exponential J.G.Ballard,and Brian Aldiss.

    Think I’ve heard of the woman writer very vaguely.Unlike some,I regard the presence of women in sf very highly,and have read LeGuin,Tiptree and Butler among others,but I admit,not that many.Maybe I should keep this one in mind.

    “The Sirens of Titan” was an enjoyable and engaging novel,far greater than the earlier,more prolix and anodyne “Player Piano”.Like Philip K.Dick,he had no particular ambition to remain in sf,and also like him,can be seen to be working in the tradition of someone like Olaf Stapledon,who wrote outside of formula sf.Unlike Dick,he didn’t seem to have the same strength to fuse his mainstream inklings with sf tropes into a concrete structure.His stuff was more flimsy and merely satire

    His “Time Out of Joint” was written the same year as TSOT,and if you’ve read both,you’ll know what I meant by what I said above.See what you think.

    I haven’t read TSOT for a long time however,and have no particular want to return to it at present.A very nice cover though.

    1. Only the ignorant do not regard the contribution of women SF authors highly… But yes, I’ll be reading that one soon.

      I just acquired Dangerous Visions (and Again, Dangerous Visions) but I haven’t put it in an acquisition post yet!

      Cat’s Cradle was brilliant — I can feel his bite and frustration with the genre. But that perspective can produce brilliant SF (Malzberg is case in point).

      I have read Time Out of Joint but remember little.

      1. Yes thanks to good ol’ Ursula’s double award win for “The Left Hand of Darkness” forty-five years ago,women have been around in sf for a long time now.Those who don’t know it,are still living in the dung hills!

        I would like to read the sequel to DV.Who’s in it ?

        Yes I agree I think about “Cat’s Cradle”.That’s a better one I think to reread.Authors often work out the angst they feel about genre sf in their books I suppose,it makes passion and energy necessary for creative writing.

        “Time Out of Joint” was the first book of Dick’s that reached a hardcover publisher,and also combined sf with his mainstream ambitions.It was an extremely powerful combination of both.

        1. Thanks to Le Guin? (perhaps critical acclaim). Women were writing in the genre LONG before her. C. L. Moore/Miriam Allen deFord/Judith Merril/Brackett were cranking out stories since the 40s, along with Kit Reed/Wilhelm, etc etc in the late 50s… I’ve reviewed many of these early authors on my site.

          Here’s the Again, Dangerous Visions listing. Unfortunately, I seemed to have acquired one of the two volume editions of the single volume first edition. So, I still need the other half of it.

          http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?224813

          1. Don’t get me wrong,I know women were writing sf long before Ursula LeGuin come along,and were well represented in “Dangerous Visions”,but I think she paved the way for more female authors to enter the field,and established a stepping stone for their strong standing in a field formerly dominated by male authors.It was also happening outside the genre as I’ve said,with British authors such as Angela Carter.

            Not a bad list in the second volume of DV……I’ll keep it in mind.

        2. And it should be noted that Anne McCaffrey was actually the first woman to win a Hugo in 1968 — for her novella “Weyr Search”…

          And she was the first woman to win a Nebula in 1969 for her novella “Dragonrider”…

          So yeah, your comment leaves me doubly confused.

          1. Yes I haven’t read those.I’ll look out for them in anthologies.The trouble is I could never finish her novel “Dragonflight”.Ok then LeGuin and her were exponential in establishing a firm footing for women in sf.

            1. How is a “firm” footing related to receiving an award? What about the women (i.e. C. L. Moore etc who wrote BEFORE the Hugo/Nebula awards existed? I mean, the Nebulas started in 1968 and the Hugo in 1953. An award does not verify existence….

            2. Yes ok true enough,but harking back to those days,women authors didn’t stand a chance against the dominant world of men in the field.No woman could stand tall besides Heinlein for example,and come to think
              of it,not many men could either!

              Before 1965,how many women won a Hugo?The Nebula,that was instituted that year,allowed for a greater number of authors that would have previously been ignored,be nominated.This award given by the SFWA,allowed for a greater brevity of writers to be recognized,and Sam Delaney,who had been writing since 1962 and not nominated for a Hugo,was the first black author to win one.This included women authors of course,and with LeGuin the first author since Frank Herbert to achieve a double win.

              Yes ok both DeFord and Norton certainly were prolific,and in fact,I have read Norton’s “Spell of the Witch World”.I’m not saying that they weren’t a powerful presence,but were they respected by the male fraternity that held dominance back then?

              All I’m saying about LeGuin’s and McCaffrey’s award win is,that it showed the power that could wield within sf,and helped to gain a greater respect from the men.I think that’s right.

            3. No, I disagree completely. Winning “respect” from the men in the field is a bogus indication of ability…. And, I was in no way talking about quality either — most pulp SF was complete crap. Many of the early Hugo winners were cringeworthy.

              Why does it matter if they were “respected by the male fraternity”?!?

              Norton wrote pulp for her entire career. deFord’s pulp contains some fascinating social sf elements. There was a massive die-off of writers who couldn’t cut it in the 50s with the collapse of the magazines so this argument doesn’t make sense either because both continued to publish!

              Tons of men stopped writing because their markets collapsed and they couldn’t adapt. And, let’s be honest, Sturgeon’s rule holds true when it comes to pulp. The majority smells like an armpit.

              Ultimately, I don’t understand your argument. Before the awards even existed, when most everyone was writing pulp SF, women were a voice (yes, they were not as powerful of one by a long shot). But, you cannot deny that the power of the establishment did put up substantial roadblocks for women receiving awards. Awards are not some manifestation of meritocracy!

              And early Heinlein/Blish/etc juveniles have no more quality than Norton’s juveniles…. SF as a whole matures in the late 50s.

            4. Or an author such as Andre Norton who started publishing SF novels in 1951 and short fiction in 1948…

              http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/ea.cgi?209

              Or Margaret St. Clair who published short stories since the late 40s (!!!!) and novels in the mid 50s….

              Just because the male dominated establishment didn’t give women SF authors an award until the late 60s does not mean that they were not prolific and heavily involved in the genre.

  3. Great covers for Bug Jack Barron and The Sirens of Titan, you’re a lucky man having such bookstores within easy travelling distance Joachim.

  4. I don’t know…..I might be tying myself up in knots here,but I think you misunderstand,even if it’s my fault.There’s several sf good writers,male and female,who have rarely been nominated for awards,let alone won any.But I think that during the 1950s and before the Nebula awards,women weren’t granted the respect they deserved,and nor were several male authors of note.If your argument holds water then,they also held significant ground,but suffered a lack of recognition that meant their stuff wasn’t taken seriously enough,but was granted to more popular and far less talented[mostly male of course]authors.I don’t have to tell you that it didn’t do their mental health any good or bring them the literary success they deserve……same for female sf authors of course.

    I’ve already mentioned black sf writers.What was carried out within the genre,has matured and become the field it is,because of the sexual diversity and multi culture that has been accepted and recognized by a broad spectrum of publishers and readers.How strong,assuming any were accepted by the magazines,were black sf authors before and during the time Sam Delaney came along?He had published his first novel,”The Jewels of Aptor”,in 1962,before he see print in the magazines no less,but it was four years later,a year after the Nebulas were initiated,that he won his first award for “Babel-17”,and again the next year,with “The Einstein Intersection”.

    Was he holding a strong fort in a largely male,Caucasian field before this time that the Oscars of sf were showered upon him?Perhaps yes or no,and as you say,winning the awards doesn’t mean the’re any better than those that don’t,even if they aren’t nominated.I feel though that ethnic minorities were largely unacceptable,as were women,before the onset of the “psychedelic” age,and winning the Nebulas,which I think had more pedigree than the Hugo,proved the expanded,broad opinions of the SFWA,who were ready to recognize and award what they thought was good regardless of sex or ethnicity.That’s the point,not just to have a trophy to wave around!

    Later,Octavia Butler,of whom I have read “Wild Seed and “The Parable of the Sower”,a woman of black origin,broke into the field and made a large mark.What nominations and awards she has won,I don’t have a strong record,but she was one of the first within the sf genre,to have broken two barriers it seems and emerge as a leading exponent in the field.I think that’s to be admired,but would she have survived so well in a less enlightened time?

    James Tiptree Jr aka Alice Sheldon,held a strong position during the 1970s,regardless of award nomination or winning,but it was several years before her true gender was known.Would she have held such a powerful seat if the truth had been known from the onset?Of course,she would have still produced,but I don’t know the actual effect that literary scarcity would have had on her.I think it can have a devastating effect on anyone,as I’ve said.

    Ursula LeGuin produced books and magazine stories during most of the 1960s,at a steady rate before gaining awards for her justly famous novel in 1969.Whether the quality of most of her stuff was as good or worst than that book,I suppose doesn’t count,but I assume she continued to improve and mature,and the awards were proof of the heights she had reached,not of fanfare,regardless of her sex or ethnic group.

    So anyway,I agree,winning an award isn’t just so you can pin a medal on your chest,but there has undoubtedly been prejudice against women in the sf field,which of course is unacceptable,and if winning trophies can be used as weapons to dispel this odious tendency,then the practice should be recommended.The same is true for those men,who have had to stand in the shadow of some giant authors who are considerably less talented than them,and this holds true for the women.

    I hope I’ve cleared-up any misunderstanding now.I don’t think women who any better or worst in the old days than in more modern times and awards don’t make the man or woman,but their has been unfair treatment,and if winning awards can remedy this,then i can’t say it isn’t a good thing.

    1. This makes complete sense. I was rather confused before due to the emphasis you put on Le Guin/awards….

      My argument stated that there were many women voices in the genre before Le Guin (and yes, they were not critically acclaimed). But they set the groundwork for later women SF authors as they were widely published in magazines and were often influential editors (Merril for example). Le Guin’s award winning novel, in part because it is literary/brilliant/and proved influential, is often seen as this magical turning point but I think it has more to do the changes in SF which occurred in the late 60s (and obviously the accompanying social movements).

  5. I have to say that I totally agree with Joachim’s statements about the female authors not needing the ‘legitimacy’ of the male-dominated Hugo (etc) awards. Perhaps to the sexist-minded authors and readers back in the day, it seemed like female authors had ‘finally’ arrived, but, as Joachim says, this is in fact not the truth of the matter, in an objective sense.

    I have read The Sirens of Titan, and found it be an enjoyable, satirical, inventive novel. It certainly is a great book. However, I don’t think it is one of his best, and is a bit too farcical for my liking – he is better when his satire is a bit more serious, and deadly, as in some of his best books – Mother Night (non-SF) and Slaughterhouse Five. In that sense, I think he was a better ‘mainstream’ author, than a science fiction one, and that is in fact how he kind of felt, in terms of his relationship with SF, which – unlike others authors who used the SF tropes, but didn’t later bite the hand that had previously fed them (JG Ballard comes to mind) – he felt was, in general, an ‘immature’ form of fiction.

    Or perhaps he just alchemically mixed the SF genre tropes with the more ‘mainstream’ elements, more harmoniously in those novels.

    I haven’t yet read any of the other novels, but they are all waiting on my shelf, waiting to be read. I did read PKD’s Time Out of Joint, which was mentioned, and I would put it on the same kind of level as the Vonnegut – a great read, but definitely not one of the author’s best…

    1. I don’t know what to think about “Slaughterhouse Five”.I suppose it is an excellent novel,but the sf elements don’t seem to cohere perfectly with a very serious subject.Those that do make for the very best of speculative fiction,but here I think he just dubbed them on.

      Philip K. Dick is definitely a much better writer than Vonnegut I think,and this isn’t favouritism.The elements of sf blend perfectly with his serious,personal concerns in “Time Out of Joint”.

      He would write better books as his writing matured,but it was a groundbreaking book that was written outside the perimeters of sf,and still looks good many years later.It’s what his science/speculative fiction would and should have looked like if it had been successful.

      1. Anybody who watched the tv series and knows Vonnegut,will recognize that almost immediately.Sheckley and Dick are obvious ones too.Adams started on radio before going to tv and then to books,but I haven’t read them.

        I think Brian Aldiss is right when he said that Adams came along and got rich doing the Sheckleyian things that kept Sheckley poor.

  6. Oh, and I forgot to say that Douglas Adams must have read The Sirens of Titan, and most probably filched some of its great ideas, as he did with Robert Sheckley and Dick, et al, as there are quite a few ‘coincidental’ similarities to his Hitchhikers novels!

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