Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitons No. CLXX (Leiber + Lafferty + Stapledon + Soviet SF Anthology)

1) Lafferty collections are notoriously hard to find and tend to be on the expensive side—at least for 60s/70s paperbacks. I’ve already read two or three stories in the one below in different anthologies over the years—I remember “Continued on Next Rock” (1970) most clearly. The Jack Gaughan cover evokes the sheer oddness of Lafferty’s visions. Does it illustrate a story in the collection?

2) Readers have spoken highly of this particular Leiber novel. So I found a copy… not cheap. Alas. See, I sometimes listen to suggestions!

3) I always buy Soviet SF collections. The editor is uncredited but Judith Merril provides a five page introduction I’m eager to read. Maybe she’s the editor? EDIT: According to The Internet Speculative Fiction Database, Judith Merril holds the copyright — indicating that she is the uncredited editor.

4) My first Olaf Stapledon. Someone whose influence I’ve read widely about and been aware of for years. It’s about time I added a few of his works to my collection. I love Paul Klee, but not the art used for the Penguin cover! (In the Land of the Precious Stone, 1929).

All images are scans from my own collection (click image to zoom).

As always, thoughts/comments are welcome.


1. Strange Doings, R. A. Lafferty (1972)


(Jack Gaughan’s cover for the 1973 edition)

From the inside page: “FROM BIZARRE HUMOR TO SHEER HORROR, the sixteen stories in this surprising book cover the entire range of fantasy. All are off-beat with the wry, playful, unboundaried imagination that has gained R. A. Lafferty a steadily increasing following of delighted readers. Stories such as “World Abounding,” “The Man with the Speckled Eyes,” Entire and Perfect Chrysolite,” and the Hugo-contending “Continued on Next Rock,” reveal Lafferty penetrating to the zany realities of the human and inhuman condition.

You will have to move through strange worlds of personality literally splitting itself, of nightmares becoming true and preferred, of the perils of doubting and the hazards of believing. And in each story you will move through the individual and beautiful styles of a master of the unexpected turn of phrase, idea and situation.”

2. Our Lady of Darkness, Fritz Leiber (1977)


(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1977 edition)

From the back cover: “On the bright San Francisco morning that Western saw the gray, shadow-boned horror peering out at him from his own apartment window, the city became a realm of terror with no escape. For this evil-spawn lurked in every airshaft and alleyway, feeding on the despair and screams of the modern city as the daemons of old fed on the fears of their dark age. It had chosen him, and it had chosen well…. As terrifying as THE EXORCIST, as chilling as SALEM’S LOT, OUR LADY OF DARKNESS explores the nightmare forms of the supernatural in the modern age.”

3. Path into the Unknown, intro by Judith Merril (1968)


(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1968 edition)

From the back cover: “THE NEW WORLD OF SOVIET SCIENCE FICTION where robots challenge their creators for domination of the Earth…

where a strange form of mutation threatens to change men into beasts…

where human needs and values are locked fateful battle with the totalitarian ethos of the machine..

These are but a few of the themes reflected in this gathering of flittering gems of Soviet Science Fiction. Like all great SF, these dazzling flights of the imagination will shake up your previous ideas of the possible and the probably. And they may also drastically alter your conception of just what is happening in Russia today.”

4. Sirius (variant title: Sirius: A Fantasy of Love and Discord), Olaf Stapledon (1944)


(Paul Klee’s cover for the 1964 edition)

From the back cover: “Sirius is a tale of immense and tragic pathos in which Olaf Stapeldon evokes the terrible loneliness of a dog born with the mind of a man. Thomas Trelone’s life-work was to explore the possibilities of producing a superman by experimenting with the hormone injections into various mammals. Sirius himself is infinitely the most successful of these trials. he is the only viable puppy born with the brain capacity of a human being, but he still has the senses, the instincts, and the physique of a dog. Born at the same time as Plaxy, Thomas’s youngest daughter, the child and puppy brought up together, share the same lessons, and develop an intense understanding of one another’s humanness and dogness.

It is the inevitable conflict between Sirius’s intellect and instincts and its effects upon the girl, Plaxy, which was produced one of the most moving of the ‘Wonder Stories’ we call Science Fiction.”

40 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitons No. CLXX (Leiber + Lafferty + Stapledon + Soviet SF Anthology)

  1. Good luck with your Olaf Stapleton.I haven’t read that one.The only ones I have,are “Last and First Men” and “Star Maker”,but I really preferred SM.I feel a bit skeptical when regarding it to those two,but is probably quite enjoyable and lighter in tone,as well as a good one to start with.

    • “lighter in tone” is what gives me hope of enjoying Sirius and Odd John. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy Last and First Men and Star Maker (I did!), just that I can imagine Stapledon pulling off a lighter enjoyable read with aplomb. These two books have been on my to-read list for quite some time.

      • From what I know of the book, it is far from “lighter in tone.” The stupidity of man. Violence. Religious Fanaticism. War War II. These are its themes.

        Having not read it, Sirius sounds more like Kafka’s “Investigations of a Dog” (1922) than a hybrid Homeward Bound (1993) containing some Stapledon philosophy smattered about…. Of course, my off the cuff analogy could be completely wrong — haha.

      • “Last and First Men” was excellent really,which was a densely strutured history,but “Star Maker” was I thought,less opaque,more cerebral and mystifying.It depends on personal preference though I suppose.

  2. Hi

    Looks like a nice haul, Tor has a short feature on Lafferty, I have not read enough of him to say how accurate it is.


    I read the Leiber and liked it but it was long enough ago that I am planning to reread it. I have the Merril with the beautiful Powers cover but I am not sure if I read any of the stories yet. Sirus I have heard about but since the trauma of Old Yeller and Where the Red Fern Grows I tend to avoid novels about dogs.

    Happy Reading

    • Helly Guy, I’m glad Tor publishes those blurb articles to introduce readers to lesser known (at least to many segments of the SF audience — myself included until a few years ago) authors. Especially someone like Lafferty.

      A reader a while back posted a much more detailed and evidence drive article about his main themes — I’ll look for it again in the next few days.

      Speaking of dog trauma, avoid Richard Adams’ Plague Dogs (1977) (of Watership Down fame)…. I was depressed for a long time as a kid!

      • Is this the article you’re thinking of?


        “The Plague Dogs” is a favorite of mine. It has a somewhat ambiguous but nonetheless happy ending. (Have you seen the animated versions of “Watership Down” and “The Plague Dogs”? They’re supposed to be superb – but apparently, no, they’re not for young children.)

  3. I distinctly remember reading Sirius, because I was a young man of 22, visiting Germany for the first time, in the late 1980s, when I took it up. I was madly in love with a childhood friend who had moved over there, many years before, but whom I had re-connected with, a few months beforehand; she invited me for a two week holiday, but, alas, it ultimately turned out to be a case of unrequited love. So, in an attempt to bolster my spirits, I drowned my melancholy and youthful sorrows in beer and books, whilst traipsing the bars and sights of the beautiful city of Hamburg, Sirius being one of the distractions! (I hope my more personal recollections and context to reading the book, aren’t too irrelevant, here!)

    Unfortunately, my memory being what it is, 30-odd years later, I hardly remember any details about Sirius, apart from the main story outline. But, I DO remember the general impression and atmosphere of the book, and I did find it intellectually stimulating and emotionally moving, especially in relation to the plight of the ‘upgraded’ dog. However, it is by no means a masterpiece of SF, and, considering a comment above, it isn’t much like Kafka’s vastly superior ‘Investigations of a Dog’, either. But it is certainly worth your time and you will no doubt get something out of it – hell, you may even give it 5 out of 5!

    I recently got around to reading only my second Stapledon (I still have all his others, impatiently staring at me, from my bookshelves), which was the hugely influential and lauded Star Maker, after many years of putting it off. Unfortunately though, I have really struggled with it, and still have the last 30-odd pages to finish, months after temporarily putting it down! (which is extremely rare for me, as I always try to finish books, whatever I think of them). The problem, at least for me, is that there is hardly any ‘personal’, human involvement or connection with the main character – it is very ‘abstract’ and inchoate, in terms of a human viewpoint – it has to be, in a way, considering it is a vast, cosmic history of various alien consciousnesses and civilisations, throughout the galaxy, set over billions of years. Moreover, again through necessity, there is no real ‘plot’ or story to speak of – it is more akin to a free-flowing and distanced observational documentary, than a gripping narrative film, in terms of analogous art-forms. Because of these traits, it rapidly becomes rather repetitive and – curiously, considering the incredible subject matter – bland, to the point of tedium. Having said that, it is certainly a unique, revolutionary novel, in many ways (Virginia Woolf herself, loved it) and there are some extraordinary, lyrical descriptions and scenes, but it left me cold and listless, to a point. So, I think Sirius is a much better novel, over-all.

    But, I will eventually finish Star Maker, for the sake of completion! At the moment, though, I would roughly give it a 2 out 5. Sirius is more like a 3 or 4, out of 5, if memory correctly serves.

    Anyway, enough of my blabbing – I look forward to reading your review of Sirius, Joachim….

    • “Star Maker” does take stamina to wade through all the pages.It’s complexity is alchemical and you can get lost in the constant alterations as it continually unfolds it’s revelations.It’s well worth it though if you do,and is hardly dull.The daring and nilhilistic approach he utilised,is still stunning today.

      It seems to me however,it was an experiment in deconstructing literary techniques,so it’s probably not surprsing it lacks usual literary values.Having not read “Sirius” though,I can’t say it’s a better book.It’s probably a matter of personal preference though.

    • Atomicbark, I love how books are wrapped up in the time and place in which we read them (as they themselves are wrapped up in the time and place their are written). I look forward to reading more of his work. As for Sirius, it’s the first one I’ve found for cheap in the used book stores, hence my purchase!

      Thanks for your comment.

      • Less pulpy are some of Leiber’s later lesser-known horror novellas from the 5-8 years after he wrote “Lady of Darkness”: Dark Wings, The Moon Porthole, The Glove, The Button Molder, Horrible Imaginings. They often have a perverse quality (Leiber intentionally indulging a certain quantity of belated dirty old man-ism), and are suffused in personal guilt as the elderly Leiber-manque figures who feature ruminate over the damage they’ve inflicted on their families, past failures, and the indignities of old age as they confront encounter the supernatural.

  4. Ah! I really liked Sirius when I read it a couple of years back – a very odd book, which must have caused quite a stir when it came back, with its allusions of sexual attraction between a girl and her dog – at least that’s what I read into it. Stapledon was a bizarre writer. I really liked Odd John as well, even if I didn’t find it quite as intriguing as Sirius, perhaps because it felt a bit dated.

    What’s in the Soviet collection, btw?

  5. I’ve been a fan of Fritz Leiber since I was knee-high to a gopher, and I read Our Lady of Darkness when it was first serialized in the January and February issues of F&SF. A pair of issues you might like to look for. The January issue has a great cover by Ron Walotsky and a Lafferty tale, while the February issue has a story by John Varley that I swear, it’s been since 1977 since I read it, was an influence of the novel and movie The Martian, another story by Joanna Russ, and a review of Dickson & Harrison’s novel The Lifeboat. Read and compare notes! I remember liking the novel, but then, I like mostly everything by Leiber. Great cover on the paperback by Powers.

    • Although I own quite a few magazines I haven’t collected them in any concerted way. I will, eventually, as so many stories were not collected in anthologies or single author volumes.

      Joanna Rus always intrigues…..

      Which Powers cover? I love both! (although I find Path to the Unknown superior to Our Lady of Darkness)

  6. Going back to the Lafferty and your question about the cover. Yes, as I recall it does illustrate one of the stories, although I forget now which one. The Man With the Speckled Eyes I think.
    The two I remember best are Continued on Next Rock and The Transcendent Tigers. Oh, and Sodom and Gomorrah, Texas as well. Good stuff.

    I have Path Into the Unknown but I must admit I prefer the slightly later companion volume Vortex: New Soviet Science Fiction. Different paperback publishers but both originally published by MacGibbon & Kee Ltd. Vortex has a lengthy intro about Soviet SF by Ariadne Gromova and translated by book editor C. G. Breame. It also says who translated the individual stories, unlike Path.

    And the Fritz Leiber book contained one of the quotes featured in Madeleine Shepherd’s Alien Surfaces exhibition… ages since I read it though.

    • I have another Soviet SF anthology in the wings, and of course, a few from the Collier book series edited by Sturgeon. I’ll track down the one you list in the near future as well. If only I had more time to review books, I have a stack of four or so waiting to be reviewed!

      Thanks for the link!

      • I’m re-reading the Strugatsky novella, The Second Martian Invasion, in it and loving it… Wish I remembered more Greek mythology to get the significance/jokes of some of the names of the characters. Some are obvious, some less so.

  7. I’ve always liked Lafferty. I couldn’t help but wonder if even he knew where he going. There were times I found myself laughing only to say,”What am I laughing at?” Head shaking fun.

  8. All this talk of dog sf and no mention of Simak’s City? 🙂 Well, perhaps rightfully so. Sirius is a noticeable cut above in terms of the seriousness with which the idea is presented. It’s perhaps also worth noting that where Star Maker and Last and First Men form a sort of ideological tandem (Stapledon was exploring similar ideas in different settings), so too do Sirius and Odd John. Thus while I would agree that the latter two are “lighter”, it’s only because the former are so philosophically profound in context. Place Siriius or Odd John aside other explorations of the themes you mention and you will find material of worthwhile substance – perhaps unlike City….

  9. Sirius is a wonderful book – like he takes Kafka’s playful “Investigations of a Dog” and runs with it, using current (mid-1940s) evolutionary biology. Interesting that another book from the era (well, about 10 years older) also had Klee on its cover: Karel Capek’s War with the Newts (a little bit of genetic mutation happening there, too).

    • Hello Adam, I find it a tad strange that you describe Kafka’s story as playful. I found it profoundly sinister, even disturbing…. Perhaps not as dark as his short story (and my favorite of his works) “The Starvation Artist.”

      I look forward to reading it!

      • “Sinister” – really? We talking about the same “Investigations of a Dog”? I think it’s the result of the dog investigator’s earnest tone. But maybe it’s the result of my reading that Kafka story alongside another one – Capek’s “Dog’s Tale” (from his fairytale collection), which must have been influenced by “Investigations.”

        I find an awful lot of humour in Kakfa’s stories – humour that (if anecdotal info is correct) Kafka himself was often unaware of.

        • It’s been many years since I’ve read the story, but yes, “sinister.” The inability of the dog to understand the existence of their human owners as a parallel to our own limits of understanding. I can understand the comedy/humor in the premise (at the time I was less able to decipher black comedy). If I were to reread it perhaps I would update my original view…. I suspect I was 17 or so!

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