Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CXCIX (Ursula K. Le Guin + Cordwainer Smith + M. P. Shiel + John Varley)

1. Ursula K. Le Guin’s novella, The Word for World is Forest, first appeared in Harlan Ellison’s Again, Dangerous Visions (1972) anthology before a stand-alone publication. I seem to remember reading it as a kid…. But…. the memories are vague.

2. Cordwainer Smith and I have never really seen eye to eye (I wanted to rhyme). I’m all for acquiring more of his collections just in case!

3. From Wikipedia:  “H. G. Wells lauded [M. P. Shiel’s] The Purple Cloud as ‘brilliant’ and H. P. Lovecraft later praised the novel as exemplary weird fiction, ‘delivered with a skill and artistry falling little short of actual majesty.'”

The Richard Powers cover is one of his best of the 60s.

4. John Varley, another author whom I’ve yet to read despite owning numerous of his collections and novels…. Millennium (1983) seems, well, suspicious? Time travel, airplanes, dystopic futures, love affairs across time. We shall see!

…and it was turned into a film in 1989.

Note: the images are hi-res scans. Click to enlarge.

As always, comments and tangents are welcome!


1. The Word for World is Forest, Ursula K. Le Guin (anthology publication 1972) (MY REVIEW)

(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1976 edition)


The planet Athshe was a paradise whose people were blessed with a mystical awareness of existence. Then the conquerors arrived and began to rape, enslave and kill the humans without a flicker of humanity. The Athsheans were unskilled in the ways of war, and without weapons. But the gentle tribesmen possessed strange powers over their dreams. And the alien conquerors had taught them how to hate…”

2. You Will Never Be the Same, Cordwainer Smith (1963)

(Paul Lehr’s cover for the 1970 edition)

From the back cover: “CORDWAINER SMITH had a vision of the future that created a legend in his lifetime—the universe of the instrumentality of Man, or Norstrilia, of the Underpeople and their heroine C’Mell, of the Scanners—a vision shot through with the truth of poetry and prophecy.

This classic collection includes such famous stories as “The Lady Who Sailed The Soul,” “The Game of Rat and Dragon,” Alpha Ralpha Boulevard,” and “Scanners Live in Vain,”—landmarks of imaginative writing.

Read them and in truth


3. The Purple Cloud, M. P. Shiel (1901, revised in the 1920s)

(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1963 edition)

From the back cover: “A purple vapor, far deadlier than any bomb or gas invented by man’s genius, passes over the world and kills every living being but one. One person is singled out for survival, and to meet the most bizarre destiny ever conceived by any mind–human or divine.”

4. Millennium, John Varley (1983)

(Ron Walotsky’s cover for the 1983 edition)

From the inside flap: “To Louise Baltimore and her fellow citizens of Earth in the 99th century, life offers bleak prospects. The world is on its deathbed, dying from the accumulated poisons of one too many wars. Suicide is common, since convincing reasons for hanging around for the planet’s final gasps are few.

But there is a plan. Directed by the Big Computer, a group of people are engaged in an all-out effort to create a future for humanity; if not there, then on another planet; if not in their time, then in another. Louise is one of these people.

Louise is the head of a time travel team which uses The Gate to enter the past. There they kidnap people, but not just anyone. Louise must choose only those who are destined to die in their time, passengers of airplanes of the twentieth century that are about to crash, or those involved in similar disasters. They will be rescued and brought to Louise’s time, and placed in suspended animation awaiting the moment when a great space/time ship will carry them to a distant planet in an unthinkably distant future. There, these folks, dead in their own time, will give new life to the human race.

The enterprise is risky. In order not to disturb the delicate fabric of time, no shred of evidence must be left, no clue to what happened be allowed to exist. Bloody remains, dismembered bodies, personal effects—all prefabricated by Louise’s people—are placed in the wrecks to satisfy the curious authorities. For if something should happen to change the flow of time, the timequake that would result could destroy all hope of human survival.

But something has gone wrong. Two stunner guns are lost, one in 1955 and the other in 1980. Three members of Louise’s team have already died trying to retrieve them. And now it seems that one of the weapons will fall into the hands of a crash investigator named Bill Smith. And Smith is smart enough to figure out something happened—and do something about it. Louise must attempt to stop him from changing history. It is a mission of enormous danger. One false move, one tiny mistake, may cause instant disaster. And things don’t get any easier when Louise finds herself falling love with this twentieth-century meddler.”

14 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CXCIX (Ursula K. Le Guin + Cordwainer Smith + M. P. Shiel + John Varley)

    • Richard Powers’ surreal details make me incredibly happy… And I love paintings WITH the perspective lines drawn on (this isn’t the first of Powers’ covers with this technique).

      Huge fan of this edition.

      I know absolutely nothing about the quality of the novel…. I’m intensely suspicious.

  1. Millennium is a good book, one of the better time travel novels out there. The film is not worth it. The Cordwainer Smith short stories are very good, you might like his short fiction better than his novels–I think he tends to ramble in his novels and the short format keeps that to a minimum.

    • His short stories are the only works of his I’ve tried. I have a lot of trouble with whimsy in SF (some authors pull if off — Robert Sheckley and Stanislaw Lem for example). I know Smith’s stories have deeper meaning and often sinister elements beyond the whimsy… It’s a preference — and, the winds might change…

  2. I thought LeGuin’s The Word for World is Forest was excellent and the best of the seven I’ve read by her, all were in the late 1970s and of which I have little recollection. The movie Avatar seems to have used the same theme of natives rebelling against alien exploitation/takeover, although with with none of LeGuin’s subtlety. Hollywood always seems to prefer the blunt force trauma of a 16 pound sledge hammer to get their message across.

    The only book I’ve read by Smith was the collection The Space Lords. Nice titles, but something about his writing just puts me off so my priority to acquire anything else by him zeroed out.

    I just read Shiel’s The Purple Cloud last year. I enjoyed it very much. An interesting turn of the century travelogue that morphed into Ballardian escapades. I won’t supply a spoiler. I note there’s one portion that requires a major suspension of disbelief…

    The interval between Varley’s The Ophiuchi Hotline and Mammoth was about 30 years. Both were above average in mainstream SF so I’ll add this one as a low priority to buy…

    My tangent: I’m halfway through Alun Llewellyn’s The Strange Invaders (1934). It has surprised me that I never knew something like this existed until a recent search of early SF lists revealed it, as well as Shiel, Stapledon’s Sirius, Burdekin’s Swastika Night, Gilman’s Herland and to a much lesser degree, London’s The Iron Heel, where the story was obliterated by his socialist rants.

    Happy reading in 2019!

    • Yeah, it’s a template plot for sure — ruthless invaders encounter “primitive people” who fight back in their own way. That said, Le Guin’s writing is incredibly powerful and evocative, she can take a standard premise and do wonders…. I look forward to (re?)reading it.

      I’m pretty sure that was Smith collection I ALSO tried to read! I did not quit after the first story but tried to read others as well.

      I have a copy of The Ophiuchi Hotline somewhere…. have you read any of Varley’s short stories?

      • None whatsoever for Varley short fiction. I might add I’m more of a novel reader anyway, though I did enjoy the fantasies in Buzzati’s Catastrophe and Borges Ficciones.

  3. For a short period of time, four years of high school, I read nothing but the sf and fantasy magazines, so I read the future major sf & f writers like David Drake, John Varley, George Martin, Lisa Tuttle, Vonda MacIntyre, Brian Lumley, Joe Haldeman, and others, when they were learning their crafts with their short fiction, and I remember quite liking Varley’s short fiction. The Varley novel you mention was first published as a novelette in the first issue of Asimov’s and I liked it. I hear the movie was a waste of time.

    Not a big fan of Le Guin, but remember liking it, and thinking it one of the better stories in Again, Dangerous Visions. However, I’ve heard the novel expanded the novella, but don’t quote me on that.

    Couldn’t pick my favorite cover this time around, as I like them all; from the illustrative to the surreal.

    Loved Smith growing up, but later I found some of his stuff disappointing.
    Scanners Live in Vain for instance could have been written by the John Birch society in its dealings with labor unions.

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