Here are three short reviews. Either I waited too long to review the work or in the case of the short story collection, the handful of poor stories (amongst the many gems) faded from memory and I couldn’t convince myself to reread them…
I apologize for the brevity and lack of analysis. My longer reviews definitely try to get at the greater morass of things but hopefully these will still whet your palette if you haven’t read the works already.
1. Dying Inside, Richard Silverberg (1972)
(Jerry Thorp’s cover for the 1972 ediiton)
Note: Nominated for the 1973 Nebula and Hugo Award for Best Novel but lost to Isaac Asimov’s far less adept The Gods Themselves (1972). In some ways Asimov’s novel reaffirmed what many voters thought was lost in the New Wave, while Silverberg’s Dying Inside pushed a radical non-genre take/style on its subject. More likely, Asimov’s career achievements swayed voters rather than the novel itself—which, I must admit, is one of Asimov’s better post-50s efforts but not award-winning quality.
As I mentioned in my review of Silverberg’s The Second Trip (1971), his late 60s and early 70s science fiction novels were often well-wrought ruminations on acute social alienation. Dying Inside (1972) might be the most mature and articulate of these works–although, due to its seriousness, it might not be the most accessible. David Selig, born with a telepathic gift, earns a living plagiarizing for students at the local university. His ability allows him to become incredibly adept as his job. However, he struggles with his relationship with his sister who views his telepathy as alienating and uncomfortable. Over the course of the novel his telepathy begins to fade away and he struggles with the ramifications of the loss of a key component to his self.
The vast number of allusions are well integrated into the story. New Wave SF at its most literary and powerful.
1. The Enemy of My Enemy, Avram Davidson (1966)
(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1966 edition)
Avram Davidson’s The Enemy of My Enemy (1966) is a derivative Jack Vance imitation without the precision of intellect and detail. As we shift from locale (“pullulating Pemath Old Port,” 5) to locale (decadent and ritualistic Tarnis), the ideas flit by without development or more than a passing thought. Yes there’s wordplay, yes there’s world-building, but it all feels superficial and purposeless.
Jerrod Northi, pirate and rogue, becomes the target of unknown forces bent on his assassination. He decides to escape once and for all via extreme measures: the transformation! Inhabitants of Tarnis have seven signs that indicate membership, “Green eyes. Long fingers. Long ears, with tips. Smooth and hairless bodies. Full mouths. Slender feet. Melodious voices.” (40). And Northi must become Tonorosant of Tarnis by means of extensive and expensive plastic surgery if he hopes to pass undetected in his new home…
If you’ve read all of Jack Vance’s catalogue and are desperate to get your hands on some phantasmal trailing eddy left by Big Planet (1952) and its ilk perhaps you’ll be able to delude yourself for a minute or two. If a bland, and somewhat slow, pulp adventure pulls you in every time then perhaps you’ll brave the waters… Otherwise, avoid.
For a more detailed (and equally negative) review via Tarbandu at The PorPor Books Blog — here.
3. Universe 2, ed. Terry Carr (1972)
(Dean Ellis’ cover for the 1972 edition)
4/5 (collated rating: Good)
While Universe 1 (1971) contained few standout stories but an overall high level of quality, Universe 2 (1972) contains a handful of outright masterpieces: namely, Robert Silverberg’s “When We Went to See the End of the World” and Gerard F. Conway’s “Funeral Service”. Gene Wolfe’s “The Headless Man” and Gordon Eklund’s surprisingly good “Stalking the Sun” are close on their heels. I will discuss only the two best stories…
It is unsurprising that Robert Silverberg’s “When We Went to See the End of the World” was nominated for both the 1973 Hugo and Nebula Award for Best Short Story. The story is told as one might banter between suburban friends, eager to impress and gossip… “Nick and Jane were glad that they had gone to see the end of the world, because it gave them something special to talk about at Mike and Ruby’s party” (41). The experience of the end of the world (that shifts for each group that views it via a time travel device) transposed into an idealized portrait of American life allows the haunting elements of the the spectacle of the end to be thrown into relief. And of course, the shallowness of aimless lives and superficial conversation hits home. Uncomfortable in its whimsical take on existential crisis, devastating in its implications… Highly Recommended.
Gerard F. Conway’s “Mindship” (1971) was the surprise of Universe 1 and he delivers the second best story in Universe 2—“Funeral Service”. Jack picks up his father, or rather, his dead father’s memories inserted into a robot. Reminds me of Dying Inside, a character study of a man struggling with a decayed relationship, in this case his dead father. Jack struggles to come to grips with the robot simulacra, “No, not a memory, something more, he thought. That was his father; somewhere inside that body, his father lived” (60). Of course, the dead are dead, and a simulacra that regurgitates memories alone cannot make reconciliation possible, if it was possible at all. Conway’s minimalistic telling tackles loss and memory without all the saccharine frosting of Ellison’s “On the Downhill Side” in the same collection. Fantastic.
I am not going to review the entire collection as the few duds have since faded from my memory and I do not want to reread them! The following fall into this category: Harlan Ellison’s saccharine and awkwardly melancholic “On the Downhill Side” with unicorn familiars and the undead and Grania Davis’ zany and forgettable head trip “My Head’s in a Different Place, Now.” Lafferty, Pangborn, Dozois, Shaw, and Russ all put in good, if lesser than what they are capable of, shifts. Even Pamela Sargent, whose Cloned Lives (1976) was the most disappointing novel I read in 2013, manages to write one of her best short stories (about alien experimentation) for Carr.
I highly recommend Universe 2 as it provides a nice slice of early 70s SF—from New Wave literary experiments to more straightforward socially inclined SF adventure. And snag a copy of Universe 1 as well.
For more book reviews consult the INDEX