Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CCXXIV (John Varley + Marta Randall + Jean Mark Gawron + Colin Greenland)

1. John Varley’s fantastic mind trapped in a computer after an accident while a lion in an underground Mars safari park short story “Overdrawn at the Memory Bank” (1977) inspired me to pick a collection of his late 70s and early 80s short stories—including the Nebula and Hugo-nominated “Beatnik Bayou” (1980) and the Hugo-nominated “The Barbie Murders” (1979).

2. Colin Greenland’s oblique Daybreak on a Different Mountain (1984) is my type of fantasy—sculpted landscapes, a Ballard-inspired entropy-filled world, surreal sequences…. I picked up volume two in the loose Daybreak sequence.

3. I am slowly working through Marta Randall’s novels–see my favorable reviews of Islands (1976) and A City in the North (1976)–and, despite the awful cover, snagged the first volume in her Kennerin Saga sequence.

4. An finally, a complete unknown quantity…. My friend 2theD (who, unfortunately, has long retired his blog) described it as impossible to paraphrase, nebulous, linguistically inspired….

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


1. The Barbie Murders, John Varley (1980)

(David Plourde’s cover for the 1980 edition)

From the inside flap: “John Varley. Whether he’s looking into a murder on the moon or pondering life among the outer rings of Saturn, John Varley creates controversy among SF fans and readers everywhere.

One of today’s top young authors, compared by Asimov to the early Heinlein–he has been accused of being too flasy, too deep, too sex, too adventurous, too “pulpy,” too literary…

Accused, in fact, of everything but being dull.


Contents: “Bagatelle” (1976), “The Funhouse Effect” (1976), “The Barbie Murders” (1978), “Equinoctial” (1977), “Manikins” (1976), “Beatnik Bayou” (1980), “Good-ye, Robinson Crusoe” (1977), “Lollipop and the Tar Baby” (1977), “Picnic on Nearside” (1974).

2. The Hour of the Thin Ox, Colin Greenland (1987)

(Roger Dean’s cover for the 1st edition)

From the back cover: “In tranquil, prosperous Bryland, a young heiress learns of a new engine of war which will bring terrible change in its wake. In the distant, arrogant nation of Escaly, the elderly Imperial Geometer is set upon an unexpected and frightening mission. In the dark, feverish jungles of Belanesi, a strange half-human people wait for a season of rain and the call of a mysterious piper.

At the Hour of the Thin Ox three cultures collide, with violent and paradoxical consequences.”

3. Journey, Marta Randall (1978)

(Uncredited cover for the 1st edition)

From the back cover: “ONE WORLD DIES… ANOTHER IS BORN. Somewhere in the cosmic darkness lies the unsettled Aerie. It is nothing now. Only a vast muddy rock. But it brings Jason and Mish Kennerin the hope of a new beginning as their own planet crashes down around them.

It is their home now. A shelter against the universe. A bastion of their love.

When others join them, their influence grows. With careful moves and brash gambles, they forge a mighty empire–a family dynasty whose name will thunder across the generations to the farthest reaches of time and space.”

4. Algorithm, Jean Mark Gawron (1978)

(Paul Alexander’s cover for the 1st edition)

From the back cover: “THE FORCE THAT BENT A UNIVERSE.

The Novak Transformation had altered the very shape of the universe and left proud Earth an outcast, a sleazy pleasure-colony at the outer edge of the Federation of planets “Way Up There.” But the Federation must expand or die: first came the starship jammed with mercenaries from seven worlds; then came the Assassin… ALGORITHM.”

For book reviews consult the INDEX

For cover art posts consult the INDEX

16 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CCXXIV (John Varley + Marta Randall + Jean Mark Gawron + Colin Greenland)

  1. I’ve read “The Barbie Murders” collection.A few of them weren’t bad,but none of them compare to the best piece I’ve read by him,”The Persistence of Vision”.I hope you enjoy the book though.

  2. Three good books there and one by a Klingon. I’ve been a fan of Verley’s fiction for years and The Barbie Murders is my favourite collection by him. The Randall isn’t bad but I couldn’t really see why it needed to be sf. And Greenland is also a favourite writer.

  3. “Too blithe about sex between middle-aged men and young teen girls” is something one can say about ’70s Varley, which I will admit was less obviously true to me when I was 13yo and reading “The Persistence of Vision” in my first new issue of F&SF. THE BARBIE MURDERS was kinda sorta the B-side collection compared to THE PERSISTENCE OF VISION…not entirely, but kinda sorta at the time. “Good-Bye, Robinson Crusoe” and “Picnic” and “Lollipop” were certainly better than “Air Raid” (despite the world being in love with the last, and the star-crossed film causing a fair amount of trouble for Varley among others).

    • As my view of Varley is limited, I haven’t encountered those particular stories yet. Well, I suspect stories from a time to be of that time! hah — the historian in me…

      I have the novel version of Millennium — was the film an adaption of the short story? or the expanded novel?

  4. I’ve been following you for a few years and I still can’t get used to the way you introduce books you haven’t read yet. If I see a favorite I want to know what you think RIGHT NOW, ALREADY. My problem, I admit.
    Concerning John Varley, when his stories came out and I was reading them, he reminded me of early Heinlein in that both he and RAH seemed to live, mentally, in the era they were describing. It worked for Heinlein, which is probably also one reason so many dislike him today. They have moved past him. It worked for Varley, but his prominence did not last as long, perhaps because technological change had speeded up.
    The only thing Varley wrote that inspired raging hatred in me was his Hugo and Nebula winning Persistence of Vision. I won’t give away the ending, since you will probably read it, but it is a whining, anti-science call to give up trying and return to the womb. IMHO. Yech.

      • Favorites? Regarding Varley, any short piece from his first years except TPOV. I only read one novel, The Ophiuchi Hotline, and loved it. The problem with being an author is that most of your reading energies go into writing, so I moved on and missed the bulk of his career.
        I met Marta Randall at an editor’s function just before my first novel came out, when Islands was on the stands. I read it the next day and found her to be a fine writer, but Islands was a bit whiny for my taste. I always meant to read more, but . . .
        I read and appreciated you review of Islands. Now I think I’ll go see what you had to say about A City in the North.

        • Oh my, what a hoot. I just read your review of A City in the North and realized that I had read it before. Not that it wasn’t memorable, it was, but sometimes I go to your by-author list and read 20 or so at a time. That clears my mind but is unfair to your reviews.
          The hoot was that this time I followed the link to Marta’s Gallery of Hideous Covers. I knew them all from bookstore shelves during their lifetimes, and The Famous Pickled Baby Cover haunts me still. Thanks for linking so I can finally connect that image with the book it tried to destroy. Poor Marta. I always comforted myself for the whack job the artist did on my Fond Farewell to Dying by telling myself it could have been worse. It could have been pickled babies.

          • Oh, I meant something else!

            You wrote: ” If I see a favorite I want to know what you think RIGHT NOW, ALREADY. My problem, I admit.”

            I assumed you then had a favorite in this post that prompted you to make that comment. I suspect now that you meant it more generally…

            (I’ll respond to your other points in a bit).

  5. I sure hope you do a review of Jean Mark Gawron’s Algorithm. I consider it one of the most misunderstood science fiction novels in the entire genre. It has a fascinating mixture of speculation and cybernetics that came before the official cyberpunk progenitors who entered the scene in the 80s.

    It was a kind of a prototype to that subgenre.

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