Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CCXIII (Sheffield + Lessing + Callenbach + Ford)

1. Body modification + new definitions of humanity + a mystery! What is there not to like? I’ve not read any of Charles Sheffield’s SF. I look forward to exploring his oeuvre.

2. A proto-cyberpunk novel? I wonder if Ford’s novel, Web of Angels (1980), doesn’t receive the readership it should due to the lack of noir imagery and Asian culture that forms the “cyberpunk” archetype…. thoughts?

3. I need to complete Doris Lessing’s sequence! When I might get around to reading it is another matter…

4. I always see Ernest Callenbach’s environmental utopia novel on the shelves of my local Half Price Books. While wandering around Mexico City I saw this one for a few pesos… and grabbed it.

Note: I am currently in Mexico City, far away from my scanner, and will be for almost another week. In two instances I own different editions of the books than the cover might indicate. I have noted in the back cover blurb which I own.

Let me know what books/covers intrigue you. Which have you read? Enjoyed? Hated?


1. Sight of Proteus, Charles Sheffield (1978) (MY REVIEW)

(Clyde Caldwell’s cover for the 1978 edition)

From the back cover: “In the 22nd century a combination of computer-augmented bio-feedback and chemo-therapy techniques has given man the ability not only to heal himself, but to change himself–to alter his very shape at will. But Form Change has its darker aspects, ranging from unauthorized experimentation on human subjects to a threat to the very essence of humanity—a SIGHT OF PROTEUS.

Charles Sheffield has written a thrilling novel of pursuit and unveiling in a world where the forms of humanity are practically boundless–until one man breaks an unbreakable law; until an alien force losses itself upon the world—and a planet that exploded sixteen million years ago delivers its final legacy…”

2. Web of Angels, John M. Ford (1980)

(Terrance Lindall’s cover for the 1980 edition)


In this extragalactic society many people had Websets, for the Web was literally the mind of the universe. Grailer was a Webspinner, one of the handful of extraordinary people who could manipulate the Web, and thus he was a space outlaw, forever hunted by the black knights of CIRCE.

But an even crueler penalty for the Webspinners was the Geisthounds, inhuman nightmares lurking within the system, ready to pounce at one unlucky spin of the Web.

Grailer saw the Geisthounds murder his lover, Sharon Rose. Now he would never stop seeking until he found the answers he needed… until he discovered the knowledge that would be both agony and exhilaration.”

3. The Sirian Experiments: The Report by Ambien II, of the Five, Doris Lessing (1981)

(Paul Gamarello’s cover for the 1981 edition)

From the back cover of the 1982 Vintage Books edition: “This is the third visionay novel in the Doris Lessing series Canopus in Argos: Archives that began with Shikasta and continued with The Marriages of Zones Three, Four, and Five.

Ambien II, one of the five rulers of the Sirian Empire, visits Shikasta, a planet where both Sirius and its rival, Canopus, are conducting experiments. Through a slow and painful education Ambien learns to love and honor the Caopian way, and becomes the herald of Caopian wisdom to her own people.

Once again, Doris Lessing uses Shikasta–clearly the planet Earth–to articulate her view of mankind and its history, and to illustrate her conviction that to survive we must learn to open our minds to new ways of thinking, feeling, and being.”

4. Ecotopia: the Notebooks and Reports of William Weston, Ernest Callenbach (1975)

(Uncredited cover for the 1977 edition)

From the back cover of the 1990 edition: “Ecotopia was founded when northern California, Oregon, and Washington seceded from the Union to create a “stable-state” ecosystem: the perfect balance between human beings and the environment. Now, twenty years later, the isolated, mysterious Ecotopoia welcomes its first officially sanctioned American visitor: New York Times-Post reported Will Weston.

Like a modern Gulliver, the skeptical Weston is by turns impressed, horrified, and overwhelmed by Ecotpoia’s strange practices: employee ownership of farms and businesses, the twenty-hour work week, the fanatical elimination of pollution, “mini-cities” that defeat overcrowding, devotion to trees bordering on worship, a woman-dominated environment, and bloody, ritual war games. Bombarded by innovative, unsettling ideas, set afire by a relationship with a sexually forthright Ecotopian woman, Weston’s conflict of values intensifies–and leads to a startling climax.”

For book reviews consult the INDEX

28 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CCXIII (Sheffield + Lessing + Callenbach + Ford)

      • It would be a hard choice between Web of Angels and Ecotopia.

        I’ve read one John M. Ford before, his Star Trek tie-in The Final Reflection, and enjoyed it immensely. I’d love to see some of his non-licensed work, and the premise of this one is very interesting even though cyberpunk isn’t really my thing.

        On the other hand, that Callenbach hits ALL the right buttons. States seceding, the year 1999, matriarchy, “innovative, unsettling ideas,” it’s all there! I have to wonder what the tone of the book is? My expectation—based on nothing but the cover summary and my own cynicism—is that it’s an extended “those damn hippies” tirade, but maybe it’s something more substantial? I’m very curious!

  1. I’ve read a fair amount of Sheffield including the Proteus books. My main memories of them were they were oh-so-1970s in their use of biofeedback. I like the Caldwell cover for Sight of Proteus. It may be ugly, but it’s more interesting than what’s on my Baen reprint of the book.

    • I forgot to post the Sheffield a few weeks ago — so I’ve already read it….

      I loved his ideas but the characters were pieces of interchangeable cardboard. I wish more time was spent discussing the implication of “humanity” if such radical transformations can occur. In addition, and perhaps Sheffield’s greatest flaw, is his inability to evoke a visual scene of wonder — for example, the Antarctic “pleasure dome” which seemed incredibly dull.

      • His characterization got better throughout his career as, I think, his evocation of scenes did. I think he’s another writer that probably was better at shorter lengths.

        I’m kind of surprised I haven’t blogged more about Sheffield. I’ll have to see if I have any notes on the ones I’ve read but not reviewed. There aren’t a lot of Sheffield titles I haven’t read though they include his erotic fantasy with David Bischoff, The Selkie.

    • Thanks for visiting!

      Doesn’t help that the first novel in the sequence, Shikasta (1979), is also one of the longest.

      I’ve always adored the title to the second: The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four and Five (1980)

      I wonder if it’s okay to read them out of order….

      • I’ve read the entire series and enjoyed it immensely. The second volume is odd in that I never quite understood how it fit in with the rest of the volumes. So I would say yeah, it is safe to read that one by itself. The first and third volumes (if I remember them correctly) kind of tell the same story from different angles. The fourth and fifth volumes are stand alone stories set in the Campos mythos. They can be read in any order, but probably won’t make too much sense without having read the first or third volume first.

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  3. I was always a fan of Charles Sheffield’s short fiction. If people were cryonically frozen, what types would be revived? Sheffield postulated that it wouldn’t be the scientists, because everything that they knew would have been surpased. Instead Sheffield postulated it would be gossip mongers, because so much would be lost in the future, the hunger for celebrity news would far excede the demand. That’s story, that I read thirty-five years, or so, ago, and it has still stuck with me.

    I have Ecotopia, but have yet to read it. If I remember correctly, all of the reviews that I read of it mentioned that it was a hard slog to get through. More interested in scoring points than telling a good story.

  4. Ecotopia is pretty easy to read – I zipped through it in a few short sittings. It was almost like reading a series of blog posts. But yes, it is rather preachy, as Callenbach was more interested in conveying his socio-political and philosophical points rather than composing a credible story, although I suppose the main character’s story arc makes sense, more or less.
    I just found the way he described Ecotopia as coming about almost comical – and I’m saying this as someone who’s sympathetic to his ideas. It’s just that I grew up in a pretty rural part of Oregon between Portland and Salem in the 1970s and the first half of the 1980s, and found it laughable that all of those rednecks living in eastern Washington, eastern and southern Oregon and northern California (I mean north of the San Francisco Bay area, Marin County and Napa Valley) would be on board with seceding from the US to establish some kind of environmental utopia with equality for all (seceding to form a white ethno-state, though…).

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  6. Here’s all I remember. I believe it first appeared in Galaxy during the seventies, but I cannot remember the title to save my life.

    • I procured a copy of his collection Vectors — it might be in there. Perhaps when I read it (whenever that might be — not feeling it at the moment), I’ll be able to identify the story.

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