Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CXCVI (Ballard + Lessing + Wilson + Nebula Awards Anthology)

1. A Ballard novel that had previously escaped my grasp… Too bad I don’t own the visually fun 1981 1st edition (Bill Botton’s cover screams Damnation Alley).

2. Unfortunately my 1st edition copy of Angus Wilson’s satirical 1961 SF novel The Old Men at the Zoo did not come with a dustjacket (damn sellers who incorrectly list books online!). The novel itself appears interesting! Has anyone read it?

3. A spectacular Paul Lehr cityscape cover + Nebula award winners = what is not to love?

4. And finally, my sole Brooklyn, NY book purchase from my summer trip — the fifth in Doris Lessing’s Canopus in Argos: Archives sequence of SF novels.

As always, comments (and even tangents) are welcome.

Note: His-res images of all but Angus Wilson’s novel are my personal copies.


1. Hello America, J. G. Ballard (1981)

(James Marsh’s cover for the 1985 edition)

From the back cover: “By the year 2030 the American continent had been abandoned. Its great cities were empty. On board the SS Apollo are the descendants of Americans who left their homeland when the economy collapsed. Now, a century later, an expedition from Europe reaches the Atlantic coast off what had once been Brooklyn…”

From the back cover: “

2. The Old Men at the Zoo, Angus Wilson (1961)

(Graham Bishop’s cover for the 1961 edition)

My edition did not come with a dust jack (unclear in the online listing). I have inserted the blurb from an ebay listing: “The unpredictable Angus Wilson, after a succession of brilliant explorations of the modern temper, turns now to the future, and to an institutional setting, to explore the matter further. The Old Men at the Zoo begins in 1970 with the accidental death of an attendant at the London Zoo, and ends three years later after England has been seized by and then freed from a ferociously totalitarian “Uni-European” government. In between, we follow the intramural problems of the zoo authorities and their families, as well as the larger world problems of which the zoo’s administration is a reflection.

Simon Carter, who narrates the story, is Administrative Secretary of the London Zoological Gardens. From his hyper-conscientious viewpoint we see how a fine plan for transferring most of the animals from their cages in London to an open reserve in south=western England is exploited as a war-scare evacuation, used for political ends by the old-guard President of the Society. We watch the growing threat of the Uni-European movement, go through the fierce local war that brings England to her knees, and finally know the sad, confused relief of liberation.

Participating in this wide-ranging tale are a variety of men and women, from Lord Godmanchester, the hard-headed newspaper magnate, to Matthew Price, the lively, eccentric Curator of Birds, and from Martha Carter, whose sexual compatibility with her narrator-husband is threatened by the pressures of cold and hot war, to Harriet Leacock, the nymphomaniac slaughter of the zoo’s Director. In the microcosm of the entire zoo staff we see acted out an image of what present day international troubles might soon bring the world to. The Old Men at the Zoo is essentially a study in conscience, a rich and dramatic panorama of the human situation in a world that is changing too fast.”

3. Nebula Winners Twelve, ed. Gordon R. Dickson (1978)

(Paul Lehr’s cover for the 1979 edition)

From the back cover: “NEBULA WINNERS TWELVE. The latest galaxy of exciting tales by the dazzling stars who have won science fiction’s most coveted awards, the Nebulas…

The winners:

The Bicentennial Man …………………………………………………Isaac Asimov

Houston, Houston, Do You Read? ……………………….James Tiptree, Jr.

A Crowd of Shadows……………………………………………….Charles L. Grant

The runners-up and other nominees:

Breath’s a Ware That Will Not Keep……………Thomas F. Monteleone

Tricentennial………………………………………………………………..Joe Haldeman

In the Bowl……………………………………………………………………..John Varley”

4. Documents Relating to the Sentimental Agents in the Voylen Empire, Doris Lessing (1983)

(Uncredited cover for the 1984 edition)

From the back cover: “This book, the fifth novel in the series Canopus in Argos: Archives, bring us to the Volyen empire–small, in rapid decline, and a vortex of chaos–as the empires of Sirius and Shammat vie for its control with their favorite weapons: rhetoric and false sentiments. The all-knowing, benign Caopus has sent agents to help the Voyens survive the turmoil, but they, too, prove to be less than impervious to the temptations at hand. When young Invent succumbs to a stubborn condition known as Undulant Rhetoric, Agent Klorathy is sent to Voylen to supervise him and make sure that he eventually realizes he madness and hollow promise of the words that now have him hypnotized.”

For book reviews consult the INDEX.

11 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CXCVI (Ballard + Lessing + Wilson + Nebula Awards Anthology)

  1. I haven’t read The Old Men at the Zoo but there was a BBC adaptation written by Troy Kennedy Martin in 1983.

    Martin went on to write Edge of Darkness, possibly the greatest original TV series ever made, and while it might not strictly qualify as science fiction, it does include references to the Gaia hypothesis.

    • When I looked up the book I saw mention of the BBC adaptation…. does not appear to be very popular or widely available. I’d probably try to watch it if I found it online!

      I did not know of Edge of Darkness….

  2. It had some striking imagery, as I recall. I had read the book a while before the tv adaptation and was quite keen to watch it and thought it was pretty good. Either each episode was shown twice within the week, or it was repeated soon after as I’m fairly sure I saw some of it twice!

    • Regarding the “striking imagery” — the book or the adaptation (I think you mean the book)? The Amazon reviews rip the novel to shreds — at least on US Amazon. I’ll read it anyway!

      I can’t find the show online or in DVD. BBC must have a fantastic back catalogue that is only occasionally delved into….

      • Missed this earlier. I actually meant the tv adaptation.
        Iirc, there are scenes where the new Committee re-introduce a bear pit and bear baiting as a way of attracting new audiences. That stuck in the mind. I also think I was slightly disappointed in the number of animals they actually used on screen, especially after they re-located to Wales. Only remember the wolves; some scenes with them were quite strong stuff for the times!
        There! Intriguing spoilers for you! 😉

  3. I read The Old Men at the Zoo several years ago, when I was still working at a university, and I thought it was fantastic. It takes the simple bureaucracy of a zoo and puts it through a modern war. The different ways that the various characters react–getting coopted into the new tyranny, or just going insane–is very interesting. The main character tries to keep it together and salvage whatever he can of his pre-war existence, and along the way starts comparing everybody else to various animals. Sometimes I think about getting a copy of my own, just for the sake of really digging into it, and getting to know more of Wilson’s work.

    Hello America is a novelized version of what you might think of as a signature Ballard dystopia. I remember liking it more than his disaster novels of the early 1960s, but maybe that’s because I just got used to the Ballardian themes a little more. Reading Ballard has been a process of acceptance.

    Interesting news about the TV adaptations.

    • I’m all for a “signature Ballard dystopia” — The Drowned World is one of my favorite novels of all time…. although I never reviewed it on my site. I definitely prefer Ballard’s 60s SF to The Atrocity Exhibition-style he veered into in the 70s (I still find individual stories appealing but it can be a challenge to digest three or four in a row).

  4. I’m curious to see what you think of Lessing’s Campos series. I read them about 25 years ago and they have stayed with me all this time. The novels in the series don’t have to be read in order, but The Sentimental Agents would probably make more sense if you read the first or third book in the series first.

Comment! Join the discussion!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.