Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CXL (Vance + Pournelle + Sucharitkul + Crowley)

A more disparate series of SF novels would be hard to come by…. John Crowley has long impressed—The Deep (1975) and Beasts (1976) are highly recommended works of literary SF.  And finally, I have the last one of his 70s novels!

A new author in Somtow Sucharitkul (sometimes known by S. P. Somtow)…

Vance’s most famous work and one of only a handful of supposedly top-tier “classics” I have yet to read…

Pournelle anyone? First work by him as well… Baen book picked up a number of his novels so I don’t have high hopes.


1. Engine Summer, John Crowley (1979)


(Gary Friedman’s cover for the 1979 edition)

From the back cover of a later edition: “RUSH THAT SPEAKS.  Born into the community of Truthful Speakers one thousand years after the Storm, he was raised on stories of the old days—a world filled with saints, a world in which all things were possible, a world which finally destroyed itself.  In love with a beautiful woman, Rush journeys far and learns much.  Taken into the society of Dr. Boots’s List, attached to the old mysteries, Rush grows closer to a sainthood he could never have imagined.”

2. Starship & Haiku, Somtow Sucharitkul (sometimes as S. P. Somtow) (1981) (MY REVIEW)


(Gerry Daly’s cover for the 1981 edition)

From the back cover: “A millennial war left a sullen void where Civilization once stood… But then the whales began their song—a mysterious song that resounded throughout the polluted tale that moved the survivors to revive an honored ritual…  And at the vanguard stood Takahashi, self-appointed Death Lord—a man gone mad in the wake of the chaos.  He saw himself an artist whose greatest creation was a living haiku, with a last line as exquisite as it was final—the end of all human life.  Only once chance remained for Josh Nakamura, for his younger brother Didi, and for Ryoko, the beautiful daughter of a high minister of Japan.  They must take the whale’s legacy and leave the planet before they too became part of Takahashi’s terrible poetic vision…”

3. Birth of Fire, Jerry Pournelle (1976)


(Kelly Freas’ cover for the 1976 edition)

From the back cover of a later edition: “The Project—an insane plot perpetrated by a few foolhardy maniacs?  Or the only hope for freedom for Mars?  This was the decision Garrett had to face when he arrived on Mars, a convicted murderer who had chosen slavery to Earth’s Federation of corporations on the alien planet over life imprisonment on Earth.  The Project wanted Garrett.  He had the skills they needed.  The skills of a brutal street-fighter combined with a knowledge of electronics, surpassed only by that of the beautiful Martian-born Erica.  And if the Federation got Erica, there was Garrett’s sinister pact with her.  A pact which, much as he loved her, he was pledged to fulfill… and a Marsman always keeps his word.”

4. The Dying World, Jack Vance (1950)


(Uncredited cover for the 1979 edition)

From the back cover: “They wait… on a dying world of mystical spells, wondrous curses and demonic creatures of the night… They are Turjan, the scientist who struggles to create life… T’sais, the enchantress from Embelyon, who journeys to faraway Earth, seeking beauty and love midst the dim forests and misty crevices of that magical land… Guyal of Sfere, born with an ache for knowledge that carried him to Museum of Man and the wisdom of the universe.”

27 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CXL (Vance + Pournelle + Sucharitkul + Crowley)

  1. Gosh, I love that cover for Engine Summer. They all sound quite interesting, but I’d have to read a review or two before reading. I’d be very interested in your reviews!

    • I think you’ll get a good impression of Crowley’s work by looking at the reviews of The Deep and Beasts that I linked in the post. Most people consider him a master — and well, Vance’s Dying Earth is a must buy for all SF fans. So for once, I am not treading lesser known ground with those two 😉

  2. Nice haul! The Crowley is on my list, the Vance is really more science-fantasy (but still worth reading, because Vance), and Starship and Haiku is one I’m really trying to track down after seeing some great reviews of it.

    I think the one that doesn’t fit is the Pournelle… Laser Books once had the reputation as the worst SF publisher at the time; it was an imprint of Harlequin Romance who decided to break into SF by commissioning a ton of schlocky 50k-60k-word novellas, and the editors—knowing nothing of the market—did a hack-job on many of them. Who knows, maybe it made Pournelle’s work better…

    • The Pournelle wasn’t my purchase 😉 My dad saw a Berkley cover (later edition) and bought it for me…. It seems to be a hit for Baen press as they have reprinted it at least twice!

      I think most SF is Science-Fantasy (I mean super standard SF tropes such as telepathy could essentially be magic… and warp drives…)! Doesn’t bother me! haha

  3. The Crowley is great! Engine Summer is the one that made me a fan. I’m sure I read back when Little, Big came out that he had written the two books at essentially the same time, switching between projects as the mood took him. Little, Big is on my to re-read list but I’m patiently waiting for the LB25 edition to appear, which might, with luck, be later this year.

    I enjoyed, if that’s the right word for such a moving book, the Sucharitkul when it came out. I started re-reading it last year but it’s currently sitting with a bookmark about 30 pages in… His Inquestor quartet is waiting to be re-read, or just read for the last volume, as well

    The Vance is one of his best; you may have read a couple of the sections as short stories as a couple of them get anthologised quite a lot.

    And I did try to read a couple of the early Laser Books when they came out but, really, they were all pretty bad. Even the 2 Tim Powers ones, which are probably the most collectible of them. Doubt if I did more than look at the Pournelle in a bookshop as King David’s Spaceship a bit earlier wasn’t that great…

    Anyway 3 excellent books out of 4 is pretty good!

    • I would strongly disagree with The Dying Earth being among Vance’s best. Coming from very early in Vance’s career, they’re very simple, relatively familiar stories, and do not yet show the singular voice that makes Vance, Vance – the voice one can find in later Cugel stories, Araminta Station, and others. It’s among his most well known, for sure, but popularity and quality do not always go hand in hand.

      • My opinion of The Dying Earth has increased over time. Reading the book a few years after I discovered Vance with Eyes of the Overworld, I was initially a bit disappointed but, as I say, the stories have grown in stature to me over the years. Um; decades!

  4. “Engine Summer” is a very finely crafted,admirable book,one of a sort I don’t like to aim sharp criticism at,but didn’t like it as much as “Beasts”.I thought it was more intensely literary and morbid in it’s depiction of a post holocaust society than the other one,that was contained within a simpler,linear framework.This is only my opinions though,not the final word,and you have different tastes.I might think differently whenever you do your review.I’m sure you’ll enjoy it though,as I did,despite my reserved views.

    Science fantasy,like science fiction,is difficult if not impossible to define,and so both are indistinguishable from each other.No it doesn’t bother me either,and anybody can do anything provided the’ve got the necessary skills.

  5. I’m in the minority perhaps in that while I love the second and third Dying Earth books (the two Cugel books), I found the first and fourth underwhelming. It will be interesting to see what Joachim thinks.

    • Eyes of the Overworld (the 1st Cugel book) was the first Vance I read, and I still rate it highly although I think the best of the individual stories of The Dying Earth are better than the best of ‘Eyes’.

    • It’s been a while since I read The Dying Earth but yeah I remember it as uneven, which is perhaps unfair as it was a fix up. I recall one of the stories about a deserted city (?) as a standout. Eyes of the Overworld however, what a hoot! A great read. The Crowley and Sucharitkul look very interesting. I haven’t read either author. Pournelle, pshht! I read his Janissaries crapolo when I was too young to know better.

  6. Great choices as always Joachim, love the Crowley cover. I’ve not read this one but have a lovely hardback copy of Beasts which came with high recommendations. Enjoy your reading my friend.

  7. Starship and Haiku sounds right up my alley! It smacks of Samuel R. Delany, which earns an immediate slot on my to-read list.

    I’ve had Engine Summer on my TBR ever since Catherynne M. Valente raved about it (multiple times,) but I’ve still never gotten around to reading it. I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts!

  8. Just listened to this Niven & Benford interview and right at the end Niven talks about Laser Books a little and says that apparently the only ones that sold at all well were the Jerry Pournelle titles… Make of that what you will! Maybe you have a forgotten classic (but I doubt it)

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