Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CLXXXIII (Huxley + Vance + Sherred + Merril edited Anthology)

1) What a bonkers cover from Carol Inouye (her only credited piece according to The Internet Speculative Fiction Database)! I do not have high hopes for the novel. T. L. Sherred published little SF in his career–he was a technical writer for the Detroit auto industry. Clute over at SF Encyclopedia describes Alien Island (1970) as “comic but fundamentally melancholy.”

2) Another SF novel from Aldous Huxley. I’ve wanted a copy of Ape and Essence (1948) for a long time. I’ve always preferred Brave New World (1931) to both Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) and Yvengy Zamyatin’s We (1921). Excited! Thoughts?

3) A wide-ranging SF anthology from Judith Merril. I am especially interested in reading her intro… and Ward Moore’s “The Fellow Who Married the Maxill Girl” (1960) as Admiral.Ironbombs has been reviewing and enjoying a lot of his work as of late: Bring the Jubilee (1953), “Lot” (1953), and “Lot’s Daughter” (1954).

4) A Jack Vance fix-up novel/short story collection containing seven additional stories in the Dying Earth sequence. Confession time: I read half of the stories in The Dying Earth (1950) recently and could not finish it. There was a certain half-hearted attempt to create a future mythology that slips all too easily into bland fantasy mode. Conflicted.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcome.

Note: I’ve finally settled on a new look for my site. There are a few minor issues (not showing comment numbers at the top of the post etc.) but I think the look is more professional and focuses on showcasing content.


1. Alien Island, T. L. Sherred (1970)

(Carol Inouye’s cover for the 1970 edition of Alien Island (1970), T. L. Sherred)

From the back cover: “Earth had not been attacked–no, indeed–and the Visitors were not about to allow the Establishment to intervene between them and the man-in-the-street.

The Establishment had, in fact, been spending considerable time, energy and (taxpayers’) money on an effort to shield the tender, hyper-sensitive feelings of the publis from the panic it assumed would result were it ever to become generally known that the Earth had Visitors–and had been having them for several years.

It was, of course, the Establishment which was scared witless. So they were bypassed.

And there wasn’t a thing the united governments of the Earth could do about it.”

2. Ape and Essence, Aldous Huxley (1948)

(Uncredited cover for the 1964 edition of Ape and Essence (1948), Aldous Huxley)

From the back cover: “APE AND ESSENCE is Aldous Huxley’s savagely satirical successor to BRAVE NEW WORLD. It is his horrific view of the world in the twenty-second century, after the Third World War, when a civilization dedicated to “perfection” attempts to suppress all man’s rebellious desires.

Like BRAVE NEW WORLD it has the shockingly sardonic quality and the acute insight into the challenges and dangers of our time which made Huxley one of our century’s most potent satirists.”

3. The 6th Annual Edition: The Year’s Best S-F, ed. Judith Merril (1961)

(John Van Zwienen’s cover for the 1962 edition of The 6th Annual Edition: the Year’s Best S-F (1961), ed. Judith Merril)

From the back cover: “Here are over forty of the past year’s best creations from master writers of outstanding science fiction and fantasy, including short stories, articles, fantastic poetry, cartoons, humor, S-F blues and ballads and a new, annual commentary by author-critic, Anthony Boucher.”

4. The Eyes of the Overworld, Jack Vance (1966)
(Jack Gaughan’s cover for the 1966 edition of The Eyes of the Overworld (1966), Jack Vance)

From the back cover: “In the dim far future of Earth, when the sun had shrunk to a small red disk in the dark sky and the race of man lived in isolated cities that echoed with the vastness of the world’s history, science, myth and magic had become one. Sorcerors who read the books of ancient time held great power, and fearsome monsters created in ages long forgotten stalked the land.

In this world of mystery and danger, the adventurer known as Cugel the Clever was forced to undertake a quest for Iucounu the Laughing Magician–a quest that was to take him to lands stranger than any he had dreamed of, and pit his wits and his sword against powers from beyond time itself.

In this long-awaited new novel of the Dying Earth, Jack Vance has written a tale that you will want to read again and again, for its marvels are unending.”

37 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CLXXXIII (Huxley + Vance + Sherred + Merril edited Anthology)

    • Do you think those forms dancing are buildings? Haha. Can’t tell… It’s crazy, the colors, the dynamic shapes, the weird composition.

      As for the Huxley, I peeked inside and it certainly seems like my cup of tea. We shall see!

      • If the text is as bizarre as the cover, you may be in for a trippy treat. The more I look at it, the more I see the white shape of a horned-man’s head on the right-hand side. Definitely dancing!

        • I like the dome — it appears to have trees and clouds in it… which leads me to believe the shapes are more supposed to be odd human forms. A strange cover for sure.

    • I’d love to know why. As you are definitely a proponent of pulp — in its various forms. I enjoyed M. John Harrison’s rather subversive take on sword and sorcery in The Pastel City (1972). But, other than that, I really can’t get into traditional quest narratives with sorcerers etc even if they are far future and in intriguing worlds.

      • I disliked the protagonist. I couldn’t say exactly why–and I can’t remember his name–but he just annoyed me. He was running off to look for new (or old, I guess) spells and I realized that I didn’t much care if he got them.

  1. The stories in the first Dying Earth collection have a very high reputation but I personally think they are weaker than most of Vance’s later work. The Eyes of the Overworld (the first Cugel book), on the other hand, is one of the most fun books I have ever read, the writing style, tone and images very evocative, by turns beautiful, chilling and hilarious. The second Cugel book, Cugel’s Saga, is also brilliant. I found the fourth Dying Earth book, Rhialto (no Cugel), to be underwhelming.

    One might consider the Cugel books subversive because Cugel is an absolute jerk, a self-important and self-deluded criminal, but many readers, myself included, find ourselves rooting for him.

    I agree about the covers of the Merrill anthologies–they look great and it is hard to resist buying them based on that alone.

    • The Merril collections pull from all types of publications — taking “Best Of” seriously and expansively…. Which seems to be something she argued for in her criticism. To the point (among other things) of Malzberg (in that column he had to take down from Galaxy’s Edge) writing that vicious attack on her wanting to “destroy” SF.

      …and it has one of my favorite Brian W. Aldiss stories, “Old Hundredth” (1960) which I read in Starswarm (1964)


      I’ll let you know what I think of the Vance. My interest in his SF has petered out over the years.

      EDIT: The link to the archived Malzberg article. https://web.archive.org/web/20160508174111/http://www.galaxysedge.com/mmal.htm

        • I remember doing a double-take when I read it the first time. You’re right, it has a different tone/content to his earlier criticism. I don’t really understand it and find it highly ironic — as both he and Merril attempted to do different things with SF as a genre. And apparently, he somehow saw his takes on SF not anti-genre (which I find slightly hard to believe).

          • I thought that column was quite something at the time – but then I remembered the column where he castigates Alice Sheldon/James Tiptree Jr as a fraud, a narcissist and a murderer, but then concludes that maybe the worst thing about her (by Malzberg’s rhetoric) is that all her sheeplike feminist fans never realised she may have treated science fiction like a shameful indulgence:


            • I find all of that very sad and disappointing. I read Tiptree’s biography a few years ago and it delved a lot into the letters she wrote to all her fellow SF authors — and how Malzberg was one of the central people she wrote to! (and if I remember correctly, had a rather normal reaction to her eventual outing as a woman).

  2. That edition of The Eyes of the Overworld was, I think, the first Vance book I ever read or bought. Not sure quite when I bought it, a local corner shop used to have a rack of imported US paperbacks that I loved to check out. It may have taken a bit of time to show up in the UK though. And I still have my copy!
    Cugel is a selfish jerk (and worse) but his escapades and the exotic, lush backgrounds made it one of my favourites almost instantly!
    I read The Dying Earth several years later and didn’t take to it as much, but still like it even now. I recently re-read one of the three stories in Rhialto the Marvelous (Morreion) and shall probably soon re-read Fader’s Waft (the longest of the three), which impressed me more on re-reading it maybe 10 years ago than it had on first reading it back in either 1984 or 85. But I agree that the other story, The Murthe, was cheap burlesque.

    • Do you have a single favorite Vance short story?

      As for The Dying Earth, I only read “Turjan of Miir” and “Mazirian the Magician.” Non-traditional main characters are a good thing in my book — most of the time. So perhaps I’ll enjoy the Cugel stories more.

    • Thanks for the comment.

      What type of SF do you enjoy? The reason I ask is that I don’t have, perhaps, the most standard tastes. I dislike a lot of pulp, adventure driven SF, etc. Although I end up buying some of them due to the covers anyway — hah.

      I have a list of my SF reviews by rating that might interest you — so you can get as sense of what I aim for.


      • I like unusual stories. Hard to define what that means though. I just live the feel of old sci-fi. Partly the optimism even when they are dark. They believed anything was possible. Now writers are more confined I think by actual scientific discoveries. Some of my favourites are Last and First Men. I am Legend. Cities in Flight. The Stars my Destination. The Coming Race. I love some of those old covers too. I will check out your list.

        I do like modern sci-fi too. My favourite being the Gap series by Stephen Donaldson. At present I a re reading the Galatic Milieu series by Julian May.

        • Confined by actual scientific discoveries? What new SF I’ve read goes in all different directions…. I guess it depends on what you read. And I’d suggest that some of the books you listed were also inspired by the contemporary scientific environment, even if we no longer ascribe to some of those theories.

  3. Your post, as usual, has made me add another book to my want list: Ape and Essence. I recently read Zamyatin’s We and thought 1984 was most likely influenced by it, but Orwell’s story was better written. It seems to me that the Russian science fiction I’ve read recently, such as several by the Strugatsky brothers and a collection, always seems to be somewhat dream like for lack of better description. Perhaps this method was a way of hiding anti government feelings and was a required defensive mechanism to avoid incarceration?

    I first read Brave New World in high school during the early 1970s just after 1984. I’ve reread both several times and always liked 1984 more. Since I’m mostly reading for enjoyment I won’t get into arguing that one is better than the other.

    I’ve read almost everything by Jack Vance and really liked the majority of it, the exceptions being his fantasy such as the Dying Earth etc. Although they incorporated his rich style I found the stories tedious because I much prefer science fiction to science fantasy with its heavy dose of magic. The latter tendency drove me almost entirely away from the genre in the mid 1980s. The few acquisitions of science fiction since then has lead me to agree with Sturgeon’s Law that 90% of everything is crap is still applicable.

    That being said, I’m glad your website explores the esoteric eddies of the 1950s through the 1970s!

    • Thanks for your kind words. Orwell complained that Huxley ripped off We for Brave New World. Then Orwell wrote 1984, which has the same plot (and resolution) as We. They both read the book. But 1984 is the clear imitation (and yes, I must confess, a reworking of the themes with a shift in style/tone etc).

      I enjoy the highly stylized allegorical feel. I always have.

      As for esorteric eddies, these (among others) are on the horizon (all read but unreviewed).

      Emma Tennant’s Hotel De Dream
      Angela Carter’s The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (I promised to review that one 6 months ago)
      Matin Bax’s The Hospital Ship
      J. G. Ballard’s The Terminal beach
      Adolfo Bioy Casares’ The Invention of Morel
      Keith Roberts’ Pavane
      Alan Burns’ Dreamerika!
      Arno Schmidt’s The Egghead Republic

      They should start appearing sometime after the 15 of this month — seriously busy at the moment. Alas!

      • Sounds like some interesting reading! I look forward to your reviews.

        I’ve read the Ballard and Roberts books and have Carter’s book on my to buy list. Still trying to scythe through the pile I bought at Wonderbooks while in Maryland last month before buying more….

        I came up with esoteric eddies because your reading is far from mainstream, and that’s a good thing. Your posts have lead me to many finds in the older fiction I prefer than the few flawed gems I’ve found from the lists I’ve compiled from the ISFDB. These eddies are full of reading treasures more often than fool’s gold!

        • I guess it also boils down to the fact that I’ve read a lot of the standard stuff already — I’ve read my Asimov, my Heinlein, my Herbert (some is good but most is bad). And I’ve definitely shifted tastes since I’ve started this blog — and have plunging readership numbers as a result — the number of unique readers has almost halved in two years. Ultimately I will read what I want to read — certainly not paid to do this! 🙂

          I’m glad it’s been useful

  4. The new look is great – it puts the cover art front and center in these posts.

    I’d read Brave New World a few times… and was surprised by Ape and Essence. Stylistically it’s more radical, and the social critique is much more biting. The contrast between Huxley’s take on the new atomic age and how nuclear weapons were treated in American SF in the late 40’s couldn’t be more striking.

    I imagine it would be up your alley – it’s SF that’s in many ways a few decades before its time.

    (I reviewed it in on my previous blog 2010, but that page has vanished – so just republished my old review over at the Finch and Pea.)

    • I definitely look forward to Ape and Essence. I might read it soon actually! The script element fascinates me.

      Thanks for the kind words.

      As I mentioned to Andrew above, many more reviews are on the horizon.

  5. It’s a good question: which is better, Nineteen Eighty-four, We, or Brave New World. I’m not sure there is a clear answer given the number of parameters on which we could compare them. I guess it’s just personal preference. What’s more interesting to me is: what books coming from writers who built their careers in genre rather than the literary scene produed works equally as viable? Brunner’s three ‘big’ novels come quickly to mind, as does a couple novels from Ballard and Lem’s Futurological Congress. And for certain there must be more. Also, is it time to expand to four and start including Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale in the discussion of major dystopias?

    And for the record, Vance’s Dying Earth is built on the strength of the Cugel stories, which form the core of the omnibus Tales of the Dying Earth. The early efforts can’t compare. Many people (including myself in the early going) do not distinguish between the first collection The Dying Earth and Tales, despite the decades of writing (and improvement) within the latter.

    • I think the big four are “the big four” due to the era in which they were created — i.e. the first “modern” (the emphasis on “first”) dystopias. As The Handmaid’s Tale is far newer, it would be better to discuss if Jack London’s The Iron Heel, Nabokov’s Bend Sinister, or Katharine Burdekin’s Swastika Night (and there are many others) belong in the mix.

      I think The Handmaid’s Tale already occupies a very privileged position as a central text in and out of genre.

      I must confess Jesse, these issues of “out of genre” vs. “in genre” seldom interest me. They are cyclical and ultimately frustrating. People’s inspirations and influences are more wide-ranging…. More damaging, they tend to create mono narratives of what is and isn’t SF — SF was and is consumed by all sorts of readers and was and is written by all sorts of people. Pulp is no more “true” SF than the more literary allegorical experiments of Yvengy Zamyatin. And nothing bothers me more than some preposterous and grandiose claim that “we are writing REAL [argh, what a horrid word] genre SF.”

      Rant aside, Vance no longer appeals (doesn’t matter if it’s early or late in his career). I’ll give him another go one of these days.

      • I’m with you on the genre vs non-genre thing in terms of personal interest. But it’s a reality that cannot be ignored in many contexts. As a simple example, Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar is not recognized beyond sf due to his “genre” roots as a writer. Had he the connections in journalism and “highbrow” publishing as Orwell, I think the situation would be different today. Whether you or I want to recognize that delimitation or not, I think many writers over the years have been short changed by it, which is why I noted ‘…from writers who built their careers in genre…”, rather than “…writers of true dystopia blah blah blah…”

        For me personally, all fiction is fantastical in that it creates scenes, characters, and scenarios beyond actually reality. It’s only a question of degree…

        If you, like many people, don’t appreciate Vance’s wit, then there’s little chance you will ever enjoy him, regardless of era. Give up while you’re ahead and spend your money on other titles that interest you more. 🙂

        • Yes, it’s definitely an issue one can’t escape — but I think so often it distracts from serious conversation about books. Readers get so wrapped up in whether or not it appeals to some narrow view they hold on definitions. So easy to dismiss what doesn’t fit said definitions….

          Obviously, I tend to read liminal SF/literary regardless of what press picked them up — wouldn’t be reading and reviewing Emma Tennant, Dino Buzzati, etc.

  6. The swedish edition of Ape and Essence (Apa och ande, 1947); The cover is made by surrealist artist Max Walter Svanberg. (1912-94.) One of Andre Bretons favorite artists…

  7. As I’ve just finished the novel I was reading, and finished several projects over at ISFDB, I’m catching up on your blogs, and while I’m coming to this conversation late I do have a few things to say if you’re interested.

    First of all, my favorite cover in this batch is Gaughan’s for the Vance book. Pastorally colorful, it looks like Gaughan crossed with Josh Kirby. I also liked Carol Inouye’s cover. The other two did nothing for me, with the Merril cover being rather generic.

    Thanks for the link to the Malzberg column. Not being a big Malzberg fan I was surprised to find that I totally agreed with him. I have to admit that I usually found Merril’s anthologies to be uninteresting, and empty of interesting stories, with covers that were often better than blank empty covers, but not by much. Of course, I wasn’t then, or now, a big fan of the New Wave movement, often finding it pretentious and dull. Which is why I read your postings, they’re interesting and informative about a type of sf I’d rather read about than read. But back to Merril, I never cared for either her fiction or her anthologies, if you want something similar try the Aldiss/Harrison “Best Of”s. Of course, I’ve been reading sf since 1966 so I experienced the whole new wave movement as it was happening, just as the much similar “Bizarro” movement in speculative fiction is happening now.

    As far as Jack Vance goes, I remember liking his stuff growing up, I read his “Big Planet” in the original “Startling Stories” pulp, and needless to say, I got that issue used, as it was originally published before my birth. I also liked his Demon Princes series, but then, I’m a sucker for a good adventure story.

    I miss the book/magazine covers you used to have as your page’s banner. Kinda bland now. Ah well, times change. I hope I haven’t bored you too much.

    • Um, disliking the contents of her edited anthologies isn’t the same as agreeing with Malzberg’s claim she was out to destroy SF.

      I also don’t understand why you didn’t like her anthologies — especially the one I posted above. It contains stories from both adventure driven to more experimental SF — Henderson, Bradbury, Aldiss, Dickson, Arthur C. Clarke, John Brunner, del Rey, Isaac Asimov….. If anything, she had a range in her definition of SF that incorporated both.

  8. P.S.: Looking forward to your review of the Keith Roberts book, can’t remember ever reading anything by him that I DIDN’T like.

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