Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CLXVIII (Disch + Vance + Dick + Watson)

There is no better way to celebrate the New Year than with a pile of vintage SF acquisitions!

You might notice the predominance over the coming weeks of UK publishers (Pan, Granada, Panther)—the images correspond to my editions. I acquired nine via a “secret” UK pipeline for a mere $3.50 each (with shipping) as a gift from my wife. Cue bad Chris Foss copycat (Tony Roberts and his ilk) covers. The disconnect between Thomas M. Disch’s 334 (1972) and the Tony Roberts spaceship pains me.

The books: A lesser known Ian Watson novel. Anyone know the cover artist? His short fiction inspires: A Very Slow Time Machine (1979). I found Jonah Kit (1975) worthwhile although I never reviewed it.

A Jack Vance novel that explores the nature of language…

A collection of early PKD stories. I’ve read the majority of his short fiction in my omnibus collections of his work but it might be worth the reread.

And finally, what I am most excited about, Disch’s best known collection of thematically linked short fiction….

Enjoy! As always, thoughts and comments are welcome.

1. Alien Embassy, Ian Watson (1977)


(Uncredited cover for the 1979 edition)

From the back cover: “A WORLD AT PEACE WITH ITSELF, AND WITH ITS NEIGHBOURS— The 22nd century world of Lila Makindi, a young African girl, is a world of simplicity and peace, where the greatest honour any citizen can hope for is to be chosen by Bardo (the Space Communications Administration) as a candidate for Starflight.

Lila is chosen. She begins to practise the tantric yoga exercises that will take her to the stars where she will communicate and exchange knowledge with their alien inhabitants.

But Lila soon discovers that galactic intercourse is not the sole purpose of Starflight. Bardo’s purpose is much more urgent, for the galaxy is threatened by an immense malignant energy force—the Starbeast. And the efforts of the starflyers is the only way of containing the Starbeast. At least, that’s Bardo’s story….”

2. The Preserving Machine and other stories, Philip K. Dick (1969)


(Uncredited cover for the 1972 edition)

No back cover description or interior blurb for the 1972 Pan edition (shown above). Here are the contents: “The Preserving Machine,” “War Game,” “Upon the Dull Earth,” “Roog,” “War Veteran,” “Top Stand-by Job,” “Beyond Lies the Wub,” “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale,” “Captive Market,” “If there were no Benny Cemoli,” “Retreat Syndrome,” “The Crawlers,” “Oh, to be a Blobel!” and “Pay for the Printer.”

3. 334, Thomas M. Disch (1972)


(Tony Roberts’ horrid cover for the 1974 edition)

From the back cover: “New York in 2021 AD—an overpopulated world where women marry each other, where men may become ‘mothers’, and where only couples with high IQs can have children. A terrifying world of disintegrating human relationships, dominated by an insidious ‘welfare state’.”

4. The Languages of Pao, Jack Vance (1957 magazine publication)


(Gray Morrow’s cover for the 1966 edition)

From the inside flap: “DIVIDE AND CONQUER—GALACTIC SCALE. On the remote, bleak planet of Breakness, far from his own people, Baran, heir to the Panarch’s throne on Pao, was brainwashed. Palafox, omnipotent Dominie of Breakness Institute, was the half-mad egoist responsible for the kidnapping and implantation Breakness’s totally alien thought-patterns into the mind of Beran. Palafox planned far ahead. Beran’s future was to be shaped to serve the Dominie’s ends: total universal conquest. But Beran, with the vestiges of Paonese, had his own ideas.”

39 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CLXVIII (Disch + Vance + Dick + Watson)

  1. I have read the Watson novel in the VG 1990s edition,and did quite enjoy it at the time,but can’t really comment on it,as it’s so many years since I read it.As I remember though,it had mystical aspects I quite liked in it.

    “The Preserving Machine” was the first short story collection by him I read,in 1978.I was quite impressed by the title story,as I think I was by most of them at the time,but “Upon the Dull Earth” has made a more lasting impression on me.It prefigures much of the surreal,metaphysical stuff he would soon become famous for.The more politically focused “If there were no Benny Cemoli”,also still stands out in front for me.I don’t like the cover very much though,and think I preferered the one on my former Pan edition.

    I haven’t read “334”,and didn’t like the two Tom Disch novels I read,although “Camp Concentration” contained some good writing.It was the latter part I didn’t like.Yes,that cover above is bad.

    • As 334 isn’t a novel perhaps you’ll enjoy his short fiction more!

      Of the stories in the PKD collection I remember reading the title story (fantastic, one of my favorites), “Beyond Lies the Wub,” “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale,” and “Roog.” I might have read more of them but I can’t remember… or the titles aren’t ringing a bell.

      • Yes,I know you like “The Preserving Machine”.Some in the collection are less memorable.

        I’ve mentioned Disch’s short piece “Downtown” before,that I liked,so I might like “334”.

  2. Long overdue for you to read the Disch and Vance, in my not so humble opinion 🙂 The PKD has some good stories (and a bunch I recall nothing about), and I know you reviewed Watson favorably so I’m keen to learn about more of his fiction.

    Can’t say I like most of those covers, though. The Gray Morrow cover would be nice to add to my collection, but the PKD looks cheap and the Disch completely misses the mark.

    • I read Camp Concentration around a year ago and was mostly impressed. I find his style somewhat forced (I know, I enjoy plenty of authors who do the same thing — hah). In between I’ve read quite a few of his short stories so I suspect 334 will be wonderful!

      Am I correct in suspecting that the back blurb of 334 presents a rather sensationalized version of the contents?

      Is this one of Vance’s more “mature/intellectual” works? His plain adventures do not interest me.

      As for the UK edition covers, I agree completely — but, saving two of my better finds for a later posts, Keith Roberts’ collection Machines & Men and Sladek’s IMPOSSIBLE TO FIND collection Keep the Giraffe Burning.

  3. I’ve read all of those (I think, can’t say for sure about the Vance without getting up and going through to the lounge) and have those identical editions of the Disch and the Dick (and the Roberts and Sladek that are coming). All of which I read about 40 years ago and can remember little if nothing of.
    I do recall liking the Disch (after not liking CC so much). It’s written in a fairly chatty, accessible style IIRC, and is a fix-up of a handful of stories. ‘334’ was a novella from New Worlds Quarterly I liked, and particularly good is the black comedy of ‘Bodies’. If you like On Wings of Song, I’d say you’d like 334.
    The cover for 334 is just inappropriate, if nothing else.

    • I hope to read 334 in the next month or so. So you would definitely call it a fix-up? Or, a thematically linked series of stories? (isfdb.org lists it as a collection).

      I have the 1st ed. of the Sladek, 1977 — so perhaps a different edition than you. It had two 70s UK printings. The second in 1978 with a Peter Gudynas cover.


      Hopefully my review of Sladek’s crazy quilt of novel The Müller-Fokker Effect (1970) comes together….

      • Disch once confirmed that the model for 334 is Hubert Selby’s “Last Exit to Brooklyn” – so a novel made up of short stories or a “short story cycle” if you want to be high-toned..

        • Dean Ellis usually does much better art for his paperbacks. However this looks like another cobbled together piece of artwork, almost for a sex-and-Satanism horror novel. Perhaps something that was in inventory. The trends towards s&m oriented photoshopped fantasy art isn’t much better. If you want bad go look up the hilariously hideous “stabbed fruit” covers of the Zebra book line of the seventies.

      • Matthew, there’s some humor in modeling it on “Last Exit” as it was Selby’s cobbled together “novel” to send to Kerouac’s publisher from previously written short stories — so, as Disch’s model probably wasn’t conceived as a whole 334 probably wasn’t either.

  4. It would be interesting to compare the novel The Languages of Pao with the then current events in which it was created and then published. About thirty years ago I went on a Vance reading binge, reading all of the Demon Princes books, plus quite a few short stories. The first Vance novel I read was the “Startling Stories” pulp with it’s lead novel being “Big World”, so, all-in-all, I’m pretty partial to his adventure fiction.

    “… an overpopulated world where women marry each other …” Oh. My. Ghod! It’s the end of the world I’m tellin’ ya. Sounds very sensationalized for something by Disch.

    • What historical context are your referring to?

      Yeah, as Disch himself was gay, I wonder how much of that is tongue and cheek (as Disch is often a satirist, CC for example) and/or the publisher sensationalizing the contents.

  5. Talking about interesting, maybe sometime you could compare the French translation of a book that you’ve read to see how the translation compares to the original.

  6. I really like the cover for the Dick collection! It was my first P.K.D., many years ago, so maybe a bit of nostalgia has something to do with it. Sure, it’s kinda tacky, but I like the B-movie quality of it. Many cheap British editions of Pan and Panther, Corgi (etc) SF/Horror books in the 1960s and 70s had the same type of photo-realistic, cheesy covers – if you grew up with them, you ended up loving them.

    As for Disch, I read both ‘Camp Concentration’ and ‘334’ in my teens about 30 years ago, and I was very underwhelmed by them, in the main. I may have been too young and inexperienced to take in all the esoteric references and abstract qualities of C.C., but I just didn’t get on with Disch’s slightly pretentious and portentous, overloaded stab at ‘avant gardism’ (if that’s the right way to spell it, like that). I still need to try some of his earlier novels, like ‘The Genocides’ (1965) and ‘Echo Round His Bones’ (1967) which I feel will be more my ‘cup of tea’.

    I did get something out of them both, but I found them rather dull and ‘dry’ in the main. Maybe they were far too subtle, for my youth, but I do remember loving his very entertaining 1972 short story collection ‘Under Compulsion’.

    • I left CC with a sense of ambivalence. I recognized that it was a masterful novel but I was not blown away. I struggled with a review and decided against it. The premise = yes! The characters = yes! But as you say, it suffers from stylistic overload in many ways. We shall see with 334.

      As for the Dick cover, I like it as well — in a corny way — although the Leo and Diane US edition art (used for the 1969 + 1970 editions) is far superior.

  7. Hi

    I like the cover for the Dick. Even for a giant spaceship cover the Disch is uninspired. The only Disch I have read in Camp Concentration, my process through the book was sort of, boy is this a bit boring, them must finish it’s a classic, then this is getting incomprehensible and boring, to the end when I thought it sort of tied together and was okay. Alien Embassy sounds good but I am not big of the cover,

    Happy Reading

  8. Vance is an author whose books I always appreciate as crafted well, yet that never grab me. I don’t know what doesn’t connect for me.

    Dick I typically like. His writing has that comfortable 50s Magazine tone which I’ll follow anywhere.

    • I think I’ve read about seven of Vance’s novels,but only finished four of them.”The Houses of Ism” was the one I thought was the best by several miles.

      By “50s Magazine tone”,I assume you mean he had a pulp science fiction voice.I think that’s true,as his prose was rather like a rough sculpture,that was still asethetic and distinctive.

  9. The cover for the Ian Watson title reminds me of the work of Jim Burns, or maybe Tony Roberts. Burns did more figures than spacecraft though, so I’m leaning more towards him.

  10. Like you my first exposure to Watson was the Jonah Kit. My library had a pbk copy with a whale on it (who doesn’t like whales?) so I gave it a try and loved it. I read the other two Watson novels they had: The Embedding-unusual subject of linguistics for SF; and The Martian Inca. If they’d had the above copy of Alien Embassy instead of the Jonah Kit who knows if I’d ever have given Watson a whirl because the cover you’ve posted is hideous. (Who doesn’t love a brown blob with a face?–a lot of people).
    Incidentally the 2nd and 3rd Watson novels I read were hardbacks from the SFGateway series from years ago—those abominations with the yellow covers and the plain lettering on the front. No artwork. I believe they still use them for some ebook covers. Here in Canada one of the major supermarket chains has a noname lost cost generic food line that uses the same colour scheme: yellow labels with plain black lettering; I half-expect to find an old SF novel filed in with the boxes of soda crackers when I’m shopping.

    • So far I prefer his short fiction to his novels. So, if we were to come up with a linguistics in SF list…. The Embedding, Delany’s Babel-17, Vance’s The Languages of Pao. What else?

      I suspect SF Gateway publishes those bland yellow covers to save money. I can’t fault them too much as three vintage novels (or more) in one volume brings a lot of important books back into print at a minimal price for them (and us).

      • Of course the big thing in SF linguistics now is Ted Chiang’s ‘Story of Your Life’ that they made into the film The Arrival which I haven’t seen but seems to be getting rave reviews everywhere.
        I read Babel-17 years ago knowing that it was considered one of the ‘classics’ but I really didn’t care for it at all.

        • I read Babel-17 when I was 19 or so, I remember enjoying it but I remember very few specifics. As for The Arrival — I saw it with my wife and we thought it was, for Hollywood, a worthwhile film!

          • I thought The Arrival was extremely disappointing, one long yawn but I’m glad you enjoyed it. I always set myself up to be disappointed by SF movies and generally, expectations are more than met.

            Interstellar was mentioned as being in the same league as 2001: A Space Odyssey…an unforgivable blasphemy. I thought it was dumb, wooden expository dialogue driving a silly plot.

  11. About those absolutely hideous SF Gateway covers, I can fault them. I’ve been to enough high school and college art shows to know that you can get decent cover art from students for a song, you don’t need to put out books with those crappy covers. They’re embarrassing. It’s hard to believe that an art director got paid for to produce those.

  12. I think Thomas Disch was a writer of the first order, he had somewhat of a love/hate relationship with SF and outside the field (they can tell me by the stench).
    Camp Concentration, 334 and On Wings of Song I thought were all brilliant. I couldn’t put CC down, finished reading it lodged between two British Rail carriages on a cold winter night one weekend returning to University. David Pringle included CC and 334 in his The 100 best SF novels and they deserve that rating.

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