Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CCXXI (Nancy Kress + Norman Spinrad + Charles Sheffield + Graham Dunstan Martin)

1. A lesser-known novel by Nancy Kress… She remains a complete unknown author to me. I’ve heard high praise for her best-known novel–the Hugo and Nebula-nominated Beggars in Space (1990).

2. In the mid-80s Bluejay Books released a series of illustrated editions of previously published novels and novellas from the likes of Vernor Vinge, Rosel George Brown, and Theodore Sturgeon. As I’ve long respected the work of Norman Spinrad, I tracked down a Bluejay Books edition of his Hugo-nominated novella “Riding the Torch” (1974) with illustrations by Tom Kidd. At first glance the illustrations are not my cup of tea…. but the Spinrad novella has a wonderful premise.

I’ve previously reviewed Spinrad’s meta-fictional masterpiece The Iron Dream (1972) and his worthwhile short story collection The Last Hurrah of the Golden Horde (1970).

3. I recent reviewed Charles Sheffield’s novel Sight of Proteus (1978) and was impressed enough to track down a short story collection. Unfortunately my copy is rather battered, obfuscating my absolute favorite Attila Hejja SPACE SCENE cover!

4. Post-apocalyptic nightmares where survivors are forced to live inside radiation suits? Yes! Raving preacher promising deliverance if survivors leave their radiation suits? Yes! Probability of novel being a “lost” masterpiece? Close to zero.

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


1. An Alien Light, Nancy Kress (1988)

(Ron Walotsky’s cover for the 1st edition)

From the inside flap: “Nancy Kress burst upon the scene several years ago with a stunning first novel, The Prince of Morning Bells, which Theodore Sturgeon called “a fine yarn and a grand entertainment,” and Anne McCaffrey called “uncommonly astute and poignant.” She wrote two more fantasy novels: The Golden Grove and The White Pipes, and won the 1985 Nebula award for “Out of All Them Bright Stars.”

Now, Nancy Kress presents a knockout novel of character and science-fictional ideas that looks at the paradox of human aggression and cooperative survival from an alien viewpoint. The human race is at war with the Ged, a collective species that is baffled by mankind’s ability to turn violence upon itself and yet advance into space. In order to defeat the humans, the Ged must first understand them.

So they go to the world called Qom, where a lost Earth colony has forgotten its origins and regressed into a pre-industrial society. They are split into two warring city-states: Delysia, a town of merchants, and Jela of Spartan warriors. The Ged build a walled city out in the wilderness, promising riches and new weapons for anyone brave enough to stay in the city one year.

The offer attracts a diverse collection of outcasts and adventurers, Jelite warriors and Delysian artisans. Once inside, they are taught the secrets of science and technology. In watching them learn, the Ged hope to find out how humans think. But what they don’t anticipate the few humans who will cross feudal boundaries to unite against the Ged, deducing more than the Ged meant to teach about the nature of the universe and the origins of humans on Qom.

An Alien Light is a major new novel in the tradition of Theodore Sturgeon’s The Cosmic Rape pr Donald Kingsbury’s Courtship Rite. It explorers the difficult questions of survival and suicidal aggression with a degree of excitements and insight that made Spider Robinson proclaim: ‘Kress made me think and she made me feel, so skillfully that it wasn’t until the the book was over that I remembered to be professionally envious.'”

2. Riding the Torch, Norman Spinrad (1974, illustrated edition 1984)

(Tom Kidd’s cover for the 1984 edition)

From the back cover: “THE LAST QUEST. For a thousand years, the Trek has gone on. Two thousand forty torchships seek mankind’s new home. Every year or so, the Council of Pilots turns the Trek towards another new solar system which may hold a planet humanity can live on. In one thousand years, none has worked out—but it’s a big galaxy, isn’t it?

While the Pilots steer, and search the spaceways, human endeavor in all its forms goes on. The seedlings of Earth are planet, bred, protected; art is created. The greatest of the senso composers, Jofe D’Mahl, has just completed his most ambitious work: a simulated history—and rationale—of the Trek.

But the Pilots have upstaged him at his own premier with a bulletin about another planet, and D’Mahl is furious. There’s only one thing he can do now: pick up the gauntlet the Pilots have thrown down, venture forth into the void, and bring back the news they won’t tell on their own!”

3. Vectors, Charles Sheffield (1979)

(Attila Hejja’s cover for the 1st edition)

From the back cover: “From the absurd to the sublime to universe according to Sheffield in which you will encounter: Technological telepathy. A politician who discovers the artful art of though-control. A natural philosopher who invents the steamship—in Ancient Persia! Erasmus Darwin, brilliant grandfather of Charles, in an distinctly different kind of fantasy—or is it really science fiction? The incredible Waldo Burmeister, star of thermodynamic dieting and the martian sewer system.

Structured by an astounding range of scientific knowledge, here are some of the most entertaining flights of the imagination on which you will ever book passage, from the viewpoint of one of the most astonishing minds you will ever meet.”

For the contents, check the Internet Speculative Fiction Database entry.

4. Time-Slip, Graham Dunstan Martin (1986)

(Peter Gudynas’ cover for the 1st edition)

From the back cover: “Time-Slip, Graham Dunstan Martin’s second fantasy novel, is set in Scotland in the twenty-first century. Edinburgh has been spared from total destruction in the holocaust and the society that exists has undergone dramatic changes. They survive in protective radiation suits. This is no ordinary holocaust novel. As in his well-received Soul Master, Dunstan Martin explores the themes of good and evil, of power and politics and (centrally) of religion.

At the center of the novel is Jenny Blinkbonny, a teacher troubled in her mind and faith. She becomes intractably involved with Peter Gilchrist who has a passionate faith in his own powers of survival and believes it is his destiny to change the world. Gilchrist confronts the issue f guilt and despair in powerful preaching and moves to set the people free. First they must remove their radsuits….”

4 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CCXXI (Nancy Kress + Norman Spinrad + Charles Sheffield + Graham Dunstan Martin)

  1. Afraid I’ve only read a couple of books by Nancy Kress; Oaths & Miracles and the sequel Stinger. The first was good, the second OK. They were both crime novels with a touch of SF though.
    The same with Spinrad & Sheffield. I’ve read several books by both authors, but not those ones.
    Don’t recall reading GD Martin at all, although I know I saw some of his titles at least. Back when there were actually book reps who came regularly to try and sell you books, the rep for his hardcover publisher used to visit me to take orders and also try to sell me his car stock of forthcoming new titles. I bought other authors, but I don’t recall ever buying GDM’s, however cheap they would have been…

    • Which Spinrad novels have you read? I’ve collected quite a few over the years… but have only touched the surface of his extensive oeuvre. I also read Spinrad’s poor Agent of Chaos (1967) before I started my site. I know I’ll enjoy Bug Jack Barron (mine is signed!) but haven’t gathered the courage to sit down and read it…

  2. Well done of the signed copy! That was the 1st of hos I read, followed by Iron Dream, Songs from the Stars, Void Captain’s Tale, Pictures at Eleven… also the recent novella Raising Hell & may have also read 1 or 2 of his older books.
    Songs From the Stars here:
    Songs From the Stars - Norman Spinrad

    • I’ll take a peak at your comments on Songs From the Stars.

      The signed copy was actually an accident — it was a $3 used book store find — and it is hard to tell that the scrawl is actually a signature. I suspect those pricing the book didn’t realize it was signed! But I scoured ebay for signed Spinrad novels and the signature matches.

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