Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CXC (Ellison + Burroughs + Walker + Gladman)

1. Harlan Ellison does mystery and horror…. might not get around to this one for a while. What I’ve read of Ellison suggests he might be very good at it!

For example, see my review of his collection Approaching Oblivion (1974) (Ellison also came by an wrote a comment).

2. There is plenty of fascinating contemporary SF/fantasy out there… for anyone who adheres to some narrative of the degradation of genre, you just need to look! Gladman’s novella is case in point. I’m a sucker for any Invisible Cities-esque experiment.

3. The PorPor Books blog mostly enjoyed this environmental SF disaster novel. As it cost less than a dollar, I snatched up a copy.

4. I’ve not read any of William Burroughs’ fiction. Seems like a good place to start. I’m in love with the cover.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts!


1. No Doors, No Windows, Harlan Ellison (1975)

(Diane and Leo Dillon’s cover for the 1975 edition)

From the back cover: “Feeling trapped? No exits in your life? Confronted by days and nights of shivering fear? Forget it! If you think you have troubles, wait until you meet the men and women… and things in these 16 heart-squeezing suspense stories by the man the Louisville Courier-Journal & Times says “is currently the leading craftsman in the literature of terror and dread.” Gathered together for the first time in a book guaranteed to make your life sweet and sensibly by comparison, these shuddery thrillers introduce you to: a mad bomber, a hangman, a corrupt PR man, the guy who drives the nitro truck, the demon-god of street violence, assorted murderers and their victims and, in a brand-new story done especially for this collection, an encounter with the tired little old man who wasn’t there. Harlan Ellison, winner of the Mystery Writers of America 1974 award for Best Short Story (included in this book), shows you a frightening world of paranoia and panic, fear and fantasy… with no way out!”

2. Event Factory, Renee Gladman (2010)

(Cover for the 2010 edition)

From the back cover: “A ‘linguist-traveler’ arrives by plane to Ravicka, a city of yellow air in which an undefined crisis is causing the inhabitants to flee. Although fluent in the native language, she quickly finds herself on the outside of every experience. Thinks happen to her, events transpire, but it is as if the city itself, the performance of life there, eludes her. Setting out to uncover the source of the city’s erosion, she is beset by this other crisis—an ontological crisis—as she struggles to retain a sense of what is happening.”

3. The Lord’s Pink Ocean, David Walker (1972)

(Josh Kirby’s cover for the 1973 edition)

From the back cover: “RED TIDE DESTROYS MILLIONS OF FISH ALONG SEACOAST… such were the headlines in American newspapers at the very time the hard-bound edition of this remarkable novel appeared. Subtitled, “A Novel of the Future,” David Walker’s THE LORD’S PINK OCEAN seemed to be coming true in the very present. But the “red tide” of mutated algae slowly went away—that year. But will it come again? Soon?”

4. Cities of the Red Night, William Burroughs (1981)

(Thomi Wroblewski’s cover for the 1982 edition)

One critic blurb from the back cover: Heathcote Williams, Guardian, says, “Burroughs’s nightmares render Brave New World and Nineteen Eight-Four as innocuous as The Archers.”

30 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CXC (Ellison + Burroughs + Walker + Gladman)

      • Please do, I for one would love to read it. In fact, I should probably write something similar. There is the conceit of an argument buried deep within my focus upon the old stuff..

        • One reason is a simple one — as a historian I have the desperate urge to “know” a movement and all its strands….

          I guess my “surprise” referred to the fact that I don’t ascribe any “glory era” to the decades I focus on… I mean, I certainly enjoy the SF produced in them but I don’t think it went all downhill from there (well maybe in the 80s but it’s better now — haha).

          • Yeah, I reckon we might share some points here. I too don’t subscribe to a “good old days” thesis. In a nutshell my outlook is related to the development of sf as an “insurgent” literary genre, that recapitulates the broad development of 19/20th century literature towards a more reflexive, avant-garde moment – for instance what we find in the “new waves” of the 1960s and 70s. My main prob is that after this point, and additionally with the globalisation of sf in the same period, the sheer volume of works is just too hard to keep abreast of. No to mention, its experimental, “amplic” phase is over and has largely become one of “chiselling” away and a body of received tropes, ideas, etc. (ps. the amplic/chiselling binary i borrow from Isidore Isou by way of Guy Debord). So, um, it’s a combo of a critical perspective + the existential horror faced with a book industry out of control in the production stakes…

  1. Over the last ten – twenty years (I’m almost sixty) I’ve been specializing in gaslight, pulp, and digest fiction (mystery, sf, horror, adventure, and some western fiction) for several very good reasons. The first is that with the collapse of the mass market paperback market, and the rise of the self-published trade paperbacks the price of modern fiction has skyrocketed, and masses of trade paperbacks just take up too much room to buy in quantity, and I like reading print books. What a dinosaur am eye. Two: endless interconnected series. Three: four or five hundred (or more) page novels (often in a series). Everything has to be a f(deleted)ing epic. Five: for every good book there seems to be a dozen that are in desperate need for a good editor. Too much to read, and so little of it seems to be carried by libraries, so to read it, I HAVE to buy it.

    Otherwise, I used to be a fan of Ellison, until he became so full of himself that he drove me away. During the late seventies and the eighties so many writers of speculative fiction got it into their heads that they were ARTISTS and were now writing LITERATURE and more or less abandoned story-oriented fiction for fictions that had MEANING, and so many became snobs. Ellison was one of these writers, witness just how forgettable the fiction in Again, Dangerous Visions mostly is. Still, time for me to go and reevaluate some of his stuff.

    I initially hated the Dillions artwork but I’ve really come to appreciate it. My first experience with it was as the wraparound cover illustration for the March 1973 issue of F&SF for Ellison’s “The Deathbird”. So awesome that little measured up to it. Although [http://www.isfdb.org/wiki/images/2/2d/CRCKTTHMGZ1993.jpg this one] from my collection is right up there.

    • “During the late seventies and the eighties so many writers of speculative fiction got it into their heads that they were ARTISTS and were now writing LITERATURE and more or less abandoned story-oriented fiction for fictions that had MEANING, and so many became snobs.” — I am pained (but unsurprised) by such dismissive and reductive views (sounds a bit snobbish to me!) of the late New Wave movement.

  2. Joachim,
    I pulled Walker’s book off the TBR shelf and finished it last night. Easy reading, straight forward post apocalyptic story in the cozy catastrophe category. A few racial epithets that failed to raise any reaction from the characters, but would probably get a howl from today’s younger readers.
    I entered it in my reading log I’ve been keeping continuously since August 1973.
    I don’t have any of the other books. I’ve never heard of Renee Gladman. The last Ellison book I read was Doomsman about 15 years ago: Forgettable. I read Burroughs’ Nova Express early this year and have to admit I didn’t have the patience to figure out the story from what was mostly gibberish to me.

  3. I read Cities of the Red Night, whilst staying in Holland, around 25 years ago. It is my only Burroughs, so far, which I’ve been meaning to rectify for years, as I have most of his other works. I thoroughly enjoyed it (as well as the Dutch people and culture!) and have no problem, whatsoever, with ‘dark’, ‘cynical’, or supposedly ‘negatively based’ subject matter – as Burroughs’ work is often accused of, by naysayers. If memory serves, most of the stories are acute, witty, deliriously symbolic, and affecting, creating an intense, other-worldly atmosphere, often in accord with the SF/Fantasy mode. Also, it’s a good one to start off with, as the stories are pretty much straightforward narratives, as opposed to a lot of his other stuff, which utilises ‘Cut-Up’ and stream of consciousness/Modernist techniques in their structure (hence all of the irritated, non-plussed head-scratching from many readers, who often have a point, when it comes to such literature! Having said that, it is always good to challenge yourself, as much as possible, in the reading process).

    I also agree with Mark’s excellent points, above, as to why many people like us tend not to bother with modern SF/Fantasy. I would also add that, for me, even though all good genre fiction should engage with the ‘real word’, as much as it can, much of the current stuff is far too blatantly ‘sociopolitical’; i.e. the politically motivated, over-egged message often overpowers the other ideas, to the detriment of the enjoyment of the novel, or even originality. This overt ‘politicisation of the modern SF genre may be a ‘noble’ cause, in and of itself, but it also engenders a lot of unadventurous, stereotypical, dull stories, with ‘samey’ genre tropes (often a post-apocalyptic/dystopian/alternate reality world, in the very near future, dealing with sociopolitical divisiveness, from the ‘Left’, and a military or war driven narrative in the Space opera mode, from the ‘Right’), and which are purely there as an armature for either subtle, ideologically-driven metaphors, or thuddingly obvious political point-scoring. (And no, I’m not a supporter of those idiotic, right-wing extremists the Sad Puppies, etc. I am, to all intents and purposes, a ‘Leftist’, but I feel the Left are, in many ways, as much to blame for the above sorry state of affairs in modern SF fiction, as are the Right, these days.)

    Anyway, I don’t mean to get too ‘political’ on the blog, here! Just an extra point I wanted to make (in relation to Mark’s astute assertions, above) for one of the reasons I don’t read much contemporary SF. Basically, it’s because, as someone who keeps abreast of the news every singe day, and all of the world’s accompanying damn problems – the globe’s tragic, seemingly endless wars and sociocultural divisions, etc, throughout the whole of the political spectrum – sometimes I just want my literature in the evening to be leavened with a bit more style, wit, invention and even pure escapism, as opposed to having to wade through what is essentially a political tract, dressed up in cliche genre trappings. As I say, there IS room for all of politics (and aesthetics, philosophy, experimentation and culture, of course) in SF, because – when it comes down to it – what is the human condition, if it isn’t ‘political’? But there is a balance to be striven for in such a venture, and when I read the book reviews of new SF publications every month in the Guardian (UK) or wherever, most of them, to my mind, sound – to be perfectly blunt – blood awful, even though they are being praised to the rafters (by a politically partisan/biased paper, of course).

    Then again, maybe there ARE some excellent contemporary SF authors who are very political, but are subtle and ingenious enough about it – and maybe I just don’t know about them…

    • Ehh, I think lots of 60s/70s SF is profoundly political — perhaps positions we pass off as standard in this day and age but were radical and different then… we have to be profoundly careful comparing the past to the present and I fear you are overstating when you claim current SF is all “politics.” A position I find highly suspect….

  4. Joachim,

    The reasons I don’t bother to read much modern science fiction is about half the authors kill their stories with too many words while the other half write nonstop violence of some sort.

    The former have interesting blurbs and great reviews, but write books of 500 plus pages that begin with endless details about a cast of numerous dull characters for about the first 150 pages, from those few I’ve sampled over the last fifteen years such as Consider Plebas, Evolution’s Shore and Revelation Space. Then, after the fuse to the action has been lit, the remainder of the book resumes the details downpour of how said action affects all the characters until the ending sputters out leaving me thinking I’ve wasted my money. Again.

    I can tell a nonstop violence story by the cover art and back cover blurb so I don’t pick them up them up anymore. I really don’t have the time or desire to waste on a story intended for the mentality of a 13 year old. A good xample: A Hymn Before Battle.

    Some other books that turned me away from modern SF are the commercial crap of Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson and their exploitation of Dune. S.M. Stirling’s never ending saga of an unexplained apocalypse with its mixture of fantasy wiccan crap. William Gibson’s pitiful efforts where he now dilutes and hides his wonderful short story ideas within insipid novels. Enough on that subject.

    I haven’t given up on modern SF, however. I enjoyed Ferrigno’s Assassin series, Richard K. Morgan’s Takeshi Kovacs (Netflix butchered the story), Sean McMullen’s Greatwinter series, and most recently, Allan Smale’s Eagle series.

    I hope you tell us your reasons.

  5. Aside from most everything by Harlan Ellison and Philip K. Dick one standout is The Last Question-Isaac Asimov. Another by Tom Purdom is a top favorite. Problem is, it’s been many years since I read it and I just can’t think of the title. It was about a stowaway on a space ship. The ending was the absolute best.

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