Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CLXXXVI (Wyndham + Conway + Brown + Wright)

Post-PhD job takes over… and books are not reviewed. But reading and buying still happens!

1. A supposed cult classic republished by Picador Press….. Has anyone read Smallcreep’s Day (1965)? Near the top of my “to read” pile. And I love Barbara Costall’s cover.

2. Early in the year I reviewed Conway’s short story “Mindship” (1971) in Universe 1 (1971), ed. Terry Carr. It was pretty solid. I tracked down the novel version which included the short as the prologue.

3. I was obsessed with Austin Tappan Wright’s Islandia (1942) as a kid. Not with the novel per se, which I never owned, but the lengthy and descriptive entry in Alberto Manguel and Gianni Guadalupi’s spectacular (and wonder inducing) The Dictionary of Imaginary Places (1987). And of course, the idea of  Wright slowly creating an imaginary world that could exist within our own and only “discovered” after his death resonated with a young me…

I’ve included the map from the entry in The Dictionary of Imaginary Places.

4. And finally, another John Wyndham novel… although the premise sounds downright bland and trite. But then again, I still have not read a lot of his work and I know he was a formative voice in SF.

~

1. Smallcreep’s Day, Peter Currell Brown (1965)

(Barbara Costall’s cover for the 1973 edition)

From the back cover: “For sixteen years, Pinquean Smallcreep has slotted a certain type of slot into a certain type of pulley. Now, he feels he must find out why… and abandons his machine to search the factory for an answer.

What follows — wildly humorous, darkly visionary, profoundly challenging — is something no reader will ever be able to forget.”

2. Mindship, Gerard F. Conway (1974)

(Kelly Freas’ cover for the 1974 edition)

From the back cover: “THE MINDSHIP was the break-through to the stars. In spite of work on Faster Than Light, hyperdrives, and such, it was the power of the mind that turned out to be the most certain directing force between the worlds. So the mindships came into being, driven forward by the lines of mental energy, directed by trained crews—and held together not by the navigator or the captain but by the man they called the cork.

He was just another man but he had the ability to siphon out the discords which could wreck a ship, to create the harmony without which starflight would be disastrous.

Kilgarin was such a “cork,” but he had deliverately grounded himself until they forced him to take up the mental reins again. It was their risk and they should have known better—because Kilgarin had ulterior motives no ship’s cork had a right to harbor.”

3. Islandia, Austin Tappan Wright (1942)

(Bob Pepper’s cover for a Signet edition with an unlisted date — 1970s?)

From the back cover: “ISLANDIA has been an underground classic for over two decades. Signet’s republication of this book brings before the public one of the most staggering feats of literary creation—a detailed history of an imagined country and a young American’s adventure there among the people he met, and with the woman he loved.

THE SPELL OF ISLANDIA is powerful. As Norman Cousins described the book’s power in the Saturday Review: “ISLANDIA, like life, was real; ISLANDIA was earnest. Little by little it became recognized for the miracle it was.'”

4. Re-Birth (variant title: The Chrysalids), John Wyndham (1955)

(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1955 edition)

From the inside flap: “‘Watch though for the Mutant…’ Long ago, perhaps in the twentieth century, a terrible catastrophe had fallen upon the world. You could still see the blasted, charred cities—and the Badlands where nothing grew at all.

But in the village where young David Strorm lived, they were trying to rebuild civilization. It was a time of hard labor in the fields, and sharp terror in the night—when the hideous raiding parties came out of the Fringes country. All this was part of life.

But there were other things David could not understand.

….the freakish plants and animals that sprang unpredictably from sound stock.

….the babies that were born, and then never seen or mentioned again.

….that law that said a Mutant was an abomination—a think to be hunted down and killed.

David tried hard to believe this, but he could not.

…Then one day he discovered that he he too was a mutant outcast, and there were others—Rosalind and Mark, Petra and Anne—who shared this fearful heritage…and that their forbidden powers might mean a re-birth for mankind…”

17 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CLXXXVI (Wyndham + Conway + Brown + Wright)”

  1. I only have Smallcreeps Day, out of the above. I have had that very same Picador copy for about 25 years and still haven’t gotten around to reading it! But, I will bet money that you will love it, and give it near a 5 star rating. I say this because so many people whose opinions I respect have told me what a brilliant, unusual, absurdist, extremely weird but morally penetrating novel it is. You have reminded me about it and I must now find it in my stored away books, soon, to read…

    Missing your astute reviews, tbh, but I know how life can invariably get in the way of our favourite pastime, reading. Cheers

    1. Thanks for the kind words.

      I miss writing them (albeit, I have many in draft at the moment but the stories/novels are passing from memory and they are harder to write every passing day).

      Smallcreep’s Day is definitely a novel I had to purchase online as I won’t find it in an American bookstore unless by some bizarre stroke of luck! I’ve been searching through the Picador books — especially after reading Kavan’s Ice and Bax’s The Hospital Ship.

    1. Not a huge fan of Freas in general — and this cover is sort of why… The pastel/air brush look doesn’t appeal.

      As for Islandia, for the longest time I knew only what I had read in The Dictionary of Imaginary Places. And mostly the map!

  2. Ah, maps of unknown lands! Somewhere deep in the bookshelves I have a wonderful volume called “Atlas of Fantasy” which my OH gifted me decades ago. It has the most marvellous charts of sci fi and fantasy worlds – I could stare at it for hours!

    1. The concept of a dictionary of imaginary places makes me so happy… but then again, as does Calvino’s Imaginary Cities and virtually anything inspired BY the “novel” (like the dictionary mentioned).

  3. I read Smallcreeps’ Day way back in about ’71 – great book! I have worked in a couple of factories including one where we never knew what the parts we made were for, so naturally this book resonated

    1. Wait, you really worked at a factory which you DIDN’T know what you were making? I suspect it was a rather surreal experience…. and I can imagine that Brown’s vision resonated. I look forward to reading it.

  4. Great to have you back, Joachim. Hope you are enjoying the new job, despite the busyness. I like Barbara Costall’s artwork for Smallcreep’s Day. Also the Richard Powers cover. I still haven’t read anything by Wyndham… Must get round to it soon. (He thinks, hopefully…)

    What have you read recently that has impressed you?

    1. Hello! I recently reread Russell Hoban’s The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz (1973) — it’s as amazing as I remembered it to be…. And a tad further back I finished Keith Roberts’ Pavane (1968). Solid and moody! Worth the read for sure.

  5. I don’t think I’ve ever even heard of these, except Re-Birth / Chrysalids, which I found disappointing.

    https://mporcius.blogspot.com/2015/05/re-birth-by-john-wyndham.html

    You have to love blurbs like “staggering feat” and “miracle.” How can the text of Islandia, or any book, live up to that? Maybe I’m just too cynical!

    I worked in a machine shop for a while, filing flash off of heat diffusers (I think we called them “heat sinks,” they were just 8- or 10-inch hunks of aluminum with fins jutting off them) and drilling holes in pieces of metal for hour after hour. I figured they were parts for machines that some other guy would use to make heat diffusers and drill holes in other pieces of metal. Smallcreep’s Day sounds like it has a great idea for its basis, but could devolve into some kind of boring and banal polemic or allegory about how life is meaningless or the bourgeoisie is exploiting us or whatever. It will be interesting to hear what you think of it.

    1. Oh the joys of cover blurbs — I tend to ignore them along with any introductions by authors or editors… Smallcreep’s Day has a rather rabid cult following. I hope there’s something of value amongst its pages. The author worked in a factory when he decided to write the book.

  6. Big Wyndham fan – big fan of a lot of 1950s SF – but I can see why some might find the plot (post-apocalyptic, weird cult-like religion) a little too familiar. But my reading experience was very positive – and maybe that’s because I read him first in high school (not recently!), and before I had read any other SF. And I think his prose style is excellent, elegant maybe, if not full of the pyrotechnics you get in stuff by Elliison, Delany, Dick, etc.

  7. Hi

    Some great books, I just did a post on some Penguin Books that includes a cover for The Chrysalids by Peter Lord which I love, although the Re-Birth cover by Powers is also great. I enjoy Wyndham, we took him in high school, I have a couple of editions of his novels, including The Chrysalids published for use in the Ontario school system. I know I started Islandia many years ago, the concept fascinated me at the time, but I did not finish it. The SmallCreeps cover is also great. I read the The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz after seeing your quote, and loved it, although the novel itself is still sitting in my to discuss pile. A number of the themes seem particularly relevant at present.

    Happy Reading
    Guy

  8. Re-birth, aka, The Chrysalids was re-issued by NYRB, introduced by Christopher Priest. Priest endorses it mainly for its entertainment value.

    It’s probably something we’d consider YA SF in today’s terms, though I liked it when I read and reviewed it back in 2010. My review would probably be less generous now.

  9. Hello, I read Smallcreep’s Day a few years ago, although it had been on my shelf for years. I would have to say that I did not like it. I suspect that if I had read it during adolescence or early adult hood I might have enjoyed it more. But, frankly, I found it boring and this was not leavened by Smallcreep’s journey being about finding meaning in a boring existence. I also found Smallcreep himself uninteresting. Picador published some wonderful titles back in the 70s when I was a teenager and opened the floodgates to all kinds of exciting writers – Anna Kavan, Angela Carter, Italo Calvino, Russell Hoban. Peter Currell Brown just wasn’t one of them. Neil

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