Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CLXXV (Ballard + Strugatski + deFord + Baines)

1) Blunt statement: I need to read more of the Strugatski brothers. I devoured the The Ugly Swans (written 1966-1967, published 1979 in the US, published in 1987 in the USSR) but did not review it.

2) A fascinating speculative feminist novel from The Women’s Press–birth, myth, delusions, dreams, terror.  Few reviews exist online so I will go in without much knowledge of the work.

3) I placed Miriam Allen deFord’s collection (filled with numerous gems) Xenogenesis (1969) on a list of SF Gollancz’s Masterwork series should acquire. Her only other published collection for the longest time was priced far out of my reach. This is why you have Amazon lists… scan them frequently, find the deals!

4) A Ballard novel with “pervading auroral gloom, broken by inward shifts of light”? Count me in! As a fierce advocate of Ballard’s early fiction and novels, I cannot wait to read this one…

Related reviews: Billenium (1962), High-Rise (1975), The Voice of Time and Other Stories (1962). The Drowned World (1962) and The Drought (1964) clock in as my favorite of his novels—although both remain unreviewed… Stay tuned for my upcoming review of The Terminal Beach (1964).

Scans are from my personal collection. Click to enlarge.

Thoughts/comments are welcome (as always)!

1. The Final Circle of Paradise, Arkadi and Boris Strugatski (1965, trans. 1976)

(Laurence Kresek’s cover for the 1976 edition)

From the back cover: “FLAWED UTOPIA. When Ivan Zhilin, interplanetary engineer, returned after years of space work, he wanted a quiet vacation on some sunny restful spot on Earth. And at first it seemed he had found the place—a charming seaside of a “liberated” country.

But somehow, since his long sojourn in far orbits, things had subtly gone wrong. He got disquieting hints of irrational actions, of secret societies of a destructive nature, of events of mass madness… and a constant reference to a mysterious product available only through the “right connections.”

And when he pursued the enigmas, he found himself projected into THE FINAL CIRCLE OF PARADISE—the ultimate electronic “high.”

It is an unusual and thought-provoking novel by the talented authors of HARD TO BE A GOD. Never before translated, this is truly a DAW international event!”

2. The Birth Machine, Elizabeth Baines (1983)

(Hannah Firmin’s cover for the 1983 edition)

From the back cover: “‘She shivers in the hospital corridor, new admission for induction of labour. Nine o’clock on a Monday morning in January, in the early nineteen-seventies. The age of technology…’

Zelda is a ‘good girl’ who has made a ‘good’ marriage. She is accustomed to please. Yet as her body is divided and her baby wrenched from her, rebellion rises in her; she enters a surreal world where past, present and deeper levels of myth, and childhood fairytales are nightmarishly confused.

The Birth Machine is a disturbing and powerful first novel by a talented new writer who uses language to pleasure and surprise.”

3. Elsewhere, Elsewhen, Elsehow, Miriam Allen deFord (1971)

(Richard V. Corben’s cover for the 1971 edition)

From the inside flap: “ELSEWHERE, ELSEWHEN, ELSEHOW i a definitive collection of fantasy and science fiction stories by one of the all-time greats in the field. Miriam Allen deFord, the doyenne of the San Francisco Bay Area Science Fiction Group (which included the late Anthony Boucher, J. Francis McComas, and Poul and Karen Anderson) introduces us in these stories to the living and to the dead—the dead who no longer have reason to fear the heat of the sun—and the living, here on Terra and on other worlds, who live in the shadows of a fear as old as, if not older than, the human race. These are chilling hints of the possible Tomorrows which we ourselves will perhaps never know, but which those who will come after us will have to live with….

Miriam Allen deFord is well-known as a writer of crime and suspense as well as science fiction stories, biographies, poetry, and novels. Some of her recent books include Real Bonnie and ClydeTheme Is MurderThomas Moore, and Xenogenesis.”

4. The Crystal World, J. G. Ballard (1966)

(George Masi’s “cover design” for the 1988 edition)

From the back cover: “The forces of nature are pitted against humanity in The Crystal World, J. G. Ballard’s fourth novel. Dr. Edward Sanders, physician specializing in the treatment of leprosy, is invited to Mont Royal by Dr. and Mrs. Clair. Upon arriving at Port Matarre, a small outpost in the interior of Africa, he notices a ‘pervading auroral gloom, broken by inward shifts of light.’ The reluctance of authorities to acknowledge this curious mid-morning darkness arouses Sanders’s suspicion that something has gone wrong. Unable to reach Mont Royal by car—the roadways have been blocked—he takes to the river. His journey brings him to the forest, now strangely drawn toward this glittering world, whose area expands daily, affecting not only the physical environment but also its inhabitants. The purity and the permanence of the forest’s crystal form taunt him, even at the expense of the one unpredictable agent called human life.”

31 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CLXXV (Ballard + Strugatski + deFord + Baines)

  1. Well, The Crystal World is essential early Ballard although it’s a long time since I read it.
    The Strugatsky is one I read back when the DAW edition came out but, ultimately, I decided not to keep it. I had liked it but I have a feeling that I ran out of steam about half way through on a re-read and decided i was unlikely to want to try it again…

      • Hard to Be a God has been made into a movie twice. The first version is pretty obscure and i don’t know anything about it. I saw the version that came out a couple years ago and it was rough going. It’s more of an interpretation of the book than an adaptation. It reminded me of some scenes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail in that everything is covered in mud and feces. It’s a great movie if you like body fluids and torture. Otherwise beware.

        Roadside Picnic has been made into a movie called Stalker that I saw a long time ago and remember liking although it was very slow. Interestingly, it has also been turned into a pilot for a TV series. However WGN, which commissioned it, has turned it down so maybe it’s dead. That may be just as well. Non-limited run series based on SF novels rarely turn out well.

        • As books are confined by the time in which they are made and film is a different medium I often am fine with “loose” adaptations of source material. Else I wouldn’t like Tarkovsky’s Solaris or Stalker or some of the amazing Shakespeare adaptations that have hit the screens over the years! Sometimes source material simply provides the inspirational kernel of the film….

          As for all the blood and mire, I watched the trailer and read about the film and that was definitely the feel I got. My experimental film tolerance is quite high so I’ll still give it a shot.

          • My tolerance is pretty high as well and there were definitely some things in the movie I liked. But it was so long it felt more like an endurance test than anything else. Hopefully your experience will be more positive.

      • I’ve been putting it off for another reason. As a medievalist, I have low tolerance for the word “medieval” applied to alien worlds or fantasy imaginings of what the past might have been like…. And I know it’s meant as some sort of commentary on technology etc. But I’m pretty sure medieval universities aren’t present in the Strugatsky Brothers’ or the movie’s world! haha. Yet, I know they use the word “medieval.”

  2. I’m surprised you’ve never read “The Crystal World”.I’ve compared it before to Anna Kavan’s “Ice”.I read it in 1983,but not since.My Ballard phase started in the ’90s.A forerunner of “The Crystal World”,”The Illuminated Man”,is in “The Terminal Beach”,and is quite excellent I think.I’ve read the two volumes of his “Collected Stories”,but read “The Terminal Beach” in advance of those.The selected collections are usually the best,and the piece that forms the titular title is also excellent.

    • There are a lot of things I haven’t read. And a lot of things you’ve not read…. I just exited my 20s so many years of reading ahead! (hopefully).

      My favorite in The Terminal Beach is “The Drowned Giant” (1966).

      • Yes of course Joachim,but thought you might have read it,since you liked his other 1960s novels so much.Still,that’s the way it goes I suppose.It’s been often difficult to know what to read and what not to read,while some stuff has been absolutely unreadable!Ballard is an example of an author who had a wide intellectual audience who was more attractive to me rather than more universely known authors,whom I don’t like or perhaps wisely stayed away from.

  3. (1) I had the similar thought recently and put Strugatsky’s Roadside Picnic on my to buy list, as well as The Ultimate Threshold anthology edited by Mirra Ginsburg. Her introduction to Zamyatin’s We is excellent; (2) I purchased Tennant’s The Crack after panning it on your website, but am still waiting for delivery from across the big pond. Our interests don’t always coincide, but I’ve broadened my horizons from the rut of the 1950’s I’ve been exploring the last three years (3) I have to admit I wasn’t the impressed with the contents of Xenogenesis, because of the variable quality to the stories, and (4) I liked Crystal World, but not as much as Hello, America, Concrete Island or High-Rise. I always feel like I need an adjustment back to the real world after enjoying anything by Ballard.

  4. The Final Circle of Paradise is not bad but it’s not top shelf Strugatskys. I’d recommend starting with Hard to be a God, Far Rainbow, or even the wonderful Noon: 22d Century – a fix up of sorts, and the key work of their Noon universe stories. And then, of course there is the great Roadside Picnic…

    • Unfortunately most of their books are far from cheap. I do have a copy of Hard to be God I haven’t posted yet. But neither of the others….

      Far Rainbow is at best $12 (I know, that’s not too bad, but, for old paperbacks…). Noon: 22nd Century is $30 — at least Roadside Picnic has had some recent printings (the price has dropped substantially as of late).

      • Cool. I’ve got a copy of the Ugly Swans but still haven’t got to it. Re the price, i think i was lucky to scoot in before the recent inflation in price on their works. I bought up a lot of the old Macmillan hard covers about 6-7 years ago. I’ve noticed they seem a lot more expensive these days. There are a few new cheap translations floating around but really ALL of their works should be made available cheap.

      • If you like Lem’s _The Futurological Congress_, paper-thin satire of the Soviet state, or Bulgakov in satirical mode, _Tale of the Troika_ and _Monday Begins on Saturday_ are both mordant, heavy-handed fun. The original translated English edition of _Tale of the Troika_ was the second half of the original printing of _Roadside Picnic_, which means that it’s pretty scarce (there’s an excellent new translation of _Roadside Picnic_ that came out three or four years ago). _Definitely Maybe_ is a more serious work in the same vein (it has some kinship with _The Three-Body Problem_, which I only just now put together).

        Of the Noon Universe novels, _Far Rainbow_ is probably my favorite. It manages to be dark while still fulfilling both the spirit and the letter of Soviet Writers’ Union regulations, which to my mind makes it among the most successful works of *Soviet* Soviet science fiction. It was also printed as part of a 2-work edition with _The Second Invasion from Mars_, which is decidedly minor and reads like off-label Lem.

        Daw published a bunch of Strugatsky novels, but in almost all cases I prefer the original Macmillan editions, with the one caveat that they’re all those super squared off perfect-bound, glued folios that were popular in the late 70s and early 80s, where you get a maximum of one reading before the spine breaks. Some or all of them come with introductions by Theodore Sturgeon, and all of them (I think?) feature excellent Richard M Powers covers that somehow perfectly suit the contents of the books while totally missing the tone and style. Some of that probably has to do with the translations, which tend to be slightly more dry than the original Russian, but even the Russian texts read like a pastiche of Wells or Asimov on a gloomy day. Very workmanlike prose. Which is great, if your Russian skills, like mine, are on the low side of serviceable.

        I read a bunch of their stuff for a paper in high school long ago, and I own about half of their translated works, and my favorites are definitely _Roadside Picnic_ and _Tale of the Troika_. At the time, _Roadside Picnic_ was my absolute favorite, but somehow watching _Stalker_ many times has diminished my fondness for the original novel a bit, mostly because movie isn’t taking cheap shots at “the West” by setting itself in a fake town in Canada. Overall, _Tale of the Troika_ is the most satisfying for me, although it’s more a satire than an sf novel.

      • Thanks for the comment Forrest. For some mysterious reason your comment went to the spam folder… Hence my delay in responding.

        I plan on acquiring as many Strugatsky novels as I can for a reasonable price. Thanks for all the suggestions. And yes, The Futurological Congress and 90% of the Lem I’ve read so far really resonated with him (from A Perfect Vacuum to His Master’s Voice).

        My edition of The Ugly Swans is one of those Macmillan and I own quite a few more of other Soviet translated works. My Russian is nonexistent so I’ll definitely be reading only the translations!

        I posted a few of the Mcmillan volumes I own and their covers here: https://sciencefictionruminations.wordpress.com/2016/03/08/updates-recent-science-fiction-acquisitions-no-cxlii-the-soviet-sf-special/

        Thanks again for the recommendations.


  5. The Crystal World has a firm place in my frozen heart! My brother gave me a copy when i was 15 and it blew my mind. Up to that point I’d been mostly a Clarke Heinlein type of guy. Ballard was my ticket out of the straight sf ghetto.

    • I can imagine! Clarke and Heinlein do form a sort of SF ghetto…. I read a lot of their crud as a teen (I suspect I’d still enjoy a few of Clarke’s if I reread them). I seem to remember Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness blowing my mind in a similar way! And Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar.

  6. Oh yeah, good old Le Guin. Sadly i only read the Earthsea books when i was a kid. When I reread them a few years back I was struck by how she managed to weave in subverious ideas unobstrusively. I wish i had read more of her back then and Brunner too.

  7. The Ballard book was just one of a whole bunch of what I’d call the New Wave of Apocalypses that the British were specializing in, in the early-to-mid sixties. The early sixties saw the earth destroyed, or almost destroyed, by Brian Aldiss (Hothouse), John Lymington, John Blackburn , John Christopher (who wrote the first modern zombie novel), John Creasy, etc. Most of these were either written off as “early works” or as hackwork. Too bad, some of these were very instrumental in my early reading. I’m ashamed to say that I ate up everything by Lyminton that I could find. On the other hand I still stand behind most of what the one-man world wrecking machine John Christopher wrote.

  8. I think you’ll love the Ballard – definitely fits into your aesthetic! Read it a long time ago and for me it remains a favourite of his. Isn’t it vaguely the last of the quartet of “environmental” books – Drowned Workd, The Drought, Wind From Nowhere? Not read the Strugatsky (jealous!) It’s always been difficult to locate them – I really enjoyed Roadside Picnic and Dead Miuntaineer’s Inn. The other two look interesting – the Women’s Press SF series ran to quite a few different books as I recall…look forward to the reviews

    • Iain, thanks for the comment! I have no doubt I’ll enjoy the Ballard — ossifying landscape as manifestation of psychological state is absolutely one of my favorite SF themes.

      And yes, locating Strugatsky novels is a difficult task. I have an amazon wishlist that I browse ever few days to spot the deals. Hence the acquisition of this volume. And sometimes I find the recent masterwork reprintings at local used book stores–they seem unaware how much even those volumes go for…. I prefer the older editions but it’s impossible to find them.

  9. Have you ever wondered what the Strugatskies would be saying about modern Russia in their novels if they were still alive?

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