Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CXXXIII (Vance + Wolfe + Yarbro + Malzberg)

Two more novels via Carl V. Anderson over at Stainless Steel Droppings—thanks again!  … and two I’ve had laying around for a while.  My Malzberg solo SF novel (non-movie novelization) collection is complete!

Eventually I might read a select few works from the 80s, if I do Gene Wolfe will be at the top of the list. His short fiction from the 70s has wowed me so far (here and here).


1. Emphyrio, Jack Vance (1969)


(Gino D’Achille’s cover for the 1979 edition)

From the back cover: “Halma… where humans were ruled by a race of effete and arrogant Lords… where a feudalistic system banned all work by machines… where a “benevolent welfare state rewarded talented hand labor with only barely adequate sustaining doles.

Young Ghyl Tarvok, fascinated by the land of Emphyrio, became a rebel.  In a pirated space ship, he began his search through the civilizations of neighboring planets for the key to the origin of his home world’s culture and the secret that might change it.  Inexorably he moved toward the last desperate hope: the planet his ancestors had left many thousands of years before—the mysterious and terrifying place called Earth.”

2.  The Shadow of the Torturer, Gene Wolfe (1980)


(Don Maitz’s cover for the 1981 edition)

From the back cover: “Severian was born into the ancient guild sworn to torture and kill on command.  His is the story of a time so many millions of years hence, that all present time is forgotten.  It is a tale of a Torturer, fallen victim to love and made to wander through a world where magic and science are one.”

3. Time of the Fourth Horseman, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (1976)


(Davis Meltzer’s cover for the 1977 edition)

From the back cover: “Twenty-first century medical science has wiped out all the deadly diseases.  Yet in a large American city patients have begun to come in with smallpox, diphtheria and all the other enemies that were supposed to have been defeated forever.  No one but the highest government officials are aware that this American city has been chosen as a “moderate” experiment in population control…”

4.  Scop, Barry N. Malzberg (1976)


(Stephen Fabian’s cover for the 1976 edition)

From the back cover: “Bitterly, Bitterly, Scop Is A Failure!

Scop is doing his job…  He has spoken to President Kennedy, warning him to leave Dallas immediately… spoken to Zapruder, asking him not to take pictures… pleaded with Elaine Kozciouskos, begging her only to scream, he has even fornicated her—part of the job,  In spite of the pain, he has witnessed, on location, the last minutes of Jack Kennedy, King, Malcolm, Robert Kennedy—all for the fate of mankind.  But bitterly, bitterly, he knows he is a failure.  Scop, trying to alter, has merely reinforced the future…”

30 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CXXXIII (Vance + Wolfe + Yarbro + Malzberg)

  1. Emphyrio by Jack Vance was one of the very first SF books I ever read. (I think Vance’s Planet of Adventure was the actual first one, but it must have been close.) He was a unique author when it comes to style and imagery. If you even enjoy it half as much as I do, it’ll be one of your new favorites.

    And, coincidentally (or not) Gene Wolfe is in some ways the heir to Vance’s prose style and not-quite-neologisms. BotNS is a raging classic for the ages.

    • Hmm, I don’t see the similarity between Vance and Wolfe. Albeit, I’ve only read a handful of Wolfe’s short stories all pre-1980 — but, I have read four or five of Vance’s novels.

      • The Book of the New Sun in particular is pretty much a huge homage to Vance’s Dying Earth, though it’s still distinctly Wolfe’s… he pairs Vance’s baroque far-future decay and use of archaic language/themes with his own brand of metaphysical and literary allusion.

        I’d say that comparatively little of Wolfe’s short fiction has any similarities, but the lion’s share of his novels have distinct Vancian elements, even if Wolfe is taking them in his own direction.

      • Wow, Wolfe similar to Vance, couldn’t disagree more. Their writing styles are completely different. Vance uses a baroque, affected style that emphasizes over-formality for comedic effect whereas Wolfe uses a deceivingly quotidian style dotted with ancient words for esoteric effect. Book of the New Sun is set in a dying Earth scenario, but none of it resembles Vance’s imaginings; the similarity stops at the simple taxonomy “dying Earth.” And lastly, and perhaps most importantly, everything about Vance’s stories exists on the surface; sub-text is essentially non-existent. But with Wolfe sub-text is nearly everything. Sure, his lead has adventures in a fantasy land, but they are the opposite of accessible.

        Wolfe may enjoy Vance’s writings, but I wouldn’t put the two in the same file, let alone drawer of sf.

  2. I read Wolfe back in the 1980s and I wish I could remember anything about it…. (I think I did like it though!) Look forward to your thoughts on it!

  3. Bah! Emphyrio! I bought this book years ago when the SF Masterworks series first came out, but lost the book a long the way in my travels, re-purchased the same edition last year (cool cover), finally read it and boy was I disappointed! I like Vance, a little bit at least, but Emphyrio just felt like a draft for a better novel. This Amazon review I agree with as my comment beneath it supports: http://www.amazon.com/review/R27VS7IJCQ9HXX/ref=cm_cr_dp_title?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B0096D8DEW&channel=detail-glance&nodeID=283155&store=books

    Wolfe! The Book of the New Sun!! The number of years those books have been on my must-read list…

  4. I hope you read “The Shadow of the Torturer” soon.You will want to read all the other three volumes of “The Book of the New Sun” if you really like this one I think.

    Regarding the chronology of TSOTT,i think although published in the 1980,so early in the decade,it is technically a 1970s book.

    I can’t make comparisons with Vance,since I haven’t read “The Dying Earth”.I’ve read very few of his books,but “To Live Forever” was acceptable I thought,while “The Houses of Ism” was a simple but excellent novel.”Emphyrio” sounds good,and have it on my wish list,so I might give it a go one day.

    The Yarbro book sounds as if it might be intellectually exciting.I can’t say.I’ll probably wait for the day you read and review it I think.

    • I have the second volume already — it is what prompted me to buy the first as I snagged the former in a $1 clearance SF hardback sale.

      Eh, for simplicity’s sake I am using publication dates for best of lists etc. So, the date it was published will be my measure…

      I have reviews of a handful of Vance’s novels on the site. I find them well-plotted, some cool ideas, and overall very solid if unspectacular.

      As for Yarbro, I disliked False Dawn (1978) but I am always willing to give an author another shot.

      • I see,but I said it as I know you’re wary of 1980s stuff.Wolfe’s tetralogy,that includes “The Shadow of the Torturer”,is supposed to owe a debt to “Lord of the Rings”,but the resemblance to that tome,is only superficial I think,and is far superior as a literary work.

        Yarbro I once read,is supposed to be the feminine equivalent of Harlan Ellison.That sounds like a reccomendation difficult to resist!

        • I don’t understand Yarbro’s comparison to Ellison… but, I do have an unread short story collection by her “Cautionary Tales” — so, we shall see.

          Wolfe has long been on my “if I read 1980s SF/F list”… hehe.

          • I think it was referering to the vitriolic chemistry of her fiction.From what I’ve read of her and your reviews,it does sound pretty raw stuff,which of course would also eloquently describe what Ellison writes.

            As I’ve said,at least the first volume of “The Book of the New Sun” would surely have been written in the 1970s,and probably the entire work was conceived in the same decade,which had to be published in volumes because of it’s length.If this is the 1980s material you thought was the spiciest,it should make it all the more palatable to you.

  5. I have wondered why you haven’t bothered with The Book of the New Sun up until now, but I forgot about your timeline restrictions. You’ll love parsing that novel to bits- it completely baffled me and will require a reread in the near-ish future now that I have some context about it. And I’m reading Vance’s Dying Earth very soon specifically because Chris mentioned it as an influence on TBotNS.

    Also very curious what you think about the Yarbro. I’ve never read anything by her, but I see her name around a lot.

  6. [1] Emphyrio is arguably Vance’s best novel if you’re patient with it. Indeed — contrary to Jesse’s opinion that Vance is all “baroque, affected style that emphasizes over-formality for comedic effect … exist(ing) on the surface (with) sub-text essentially non-existent” — it has an ending that may even make your eyes moisten a little.

    Joanna Russ, in a review on Emphyrio’s first publication, compared its effect to that of Bertolt Brecht and thought it was perhaps Vance’s best. And what you have to be patient with is that it’s about apparently inconsequential people on a backwater planet living under a politico-religious regime that’s even more exploitative and absurd than it at first appears — the anti-space opera in essence. It’s quite a strange book, really.

    [2] Re. Wolfe and the Book of the New Sun, Wolfe is on record as citing Vance’s The Dying Earth as an influence. Simultaneously, yeah — Wolfe and Vance are very different in their concerns and effects.

    • I am not sure that Jesse’s description is antithetical to a novel having an ending that makes your eyes moisten. A novel can be all those things but still deeply affective….

      Yeah, authors can obviously state they are inspired or influenced by a book but then completely reimagine it in a vastly different way. I get that impression from what I have read of both rather than some sort of direct stylistic/conceptual influence.

  7. I suspect you will enjoy the Wolfe novels if you enjoyed THE ISLAND OF DR. DEATH AND OTHER STORIES AND OTHER STORIES. I got that when it first came out in paperback and most of the stories went over my head. I got a more recent edition and loved the stories. I link him with Thomas Disch in terms of his shying away from so many of the habits of SF writers. His novels PEACE and FREE LIVE FREE might appeal to your post-mod instincts, but in general I just think he’s working at a much higher level than anyone else in the field in terms of literary style. He ain’t light reading. I have to second the Vance influence, especially if one reads, as I did, THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN and the first Dying Earth novel in the same month.

  8. If you want to read some 70’s era Gene Wolfe before you tackle The Book of the New Sun, I cannot recommend The Fifth Head of Cerberus enough. It is a collection of three novelettes that connect together to form a novel. Beautifully written and absolutely head-spinning. It was the first Wolfe book I read and I’ve been a fan ever since.

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