Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CCXXXIX (Jack Dann, Judith Merril, Anne McCaffrey, John Shirley)

1. I have yet to read any of Jack Dann’s SF — this surreal (?) post-apocalyptical novel looks promising! And a strange Jim Burns cover to boot…

2. I recently reviewed Judith Merril’s “Wish Upon a Star” (1958) for my generation ship short story read-through (i’ll have a new installment soon). I decided to track down another one of her short fiction collections….

I’ve reviewed the following collections so far:

3. The title of Anne McCaffrey’s collection Get Off the Unicorn (1977) was derived from a humorous misprint. According to the collection’s introduction: “The title was derived by accident: McCaffrey’s working title had been “Get of the Unicorn” but this was misprinted as “Get Off the Unicorn” in Ballantine’s roster of unfilled contracts. After McCaffrey’s editor, Judy-Lynn del Rey, was repeatedly asked what “Get Off the Unicorn” was, del Rey asked McCaffrey what she could do about that theme.”

The collection itself contains a wide-range of her short fictions—from the Pern sequence (a childhood favorite) to the earliest story in the Catteni Sequence. I DEVOURED Freedom’s Landing (1995), Freedom’s Choice (1997), Freedom’s Challenge (1998), and Freedom’s Randsom (2002) as a kid! How to survive and thrive on an alien planet was my “go-to” SF device.

4. I’ve only read a handful of John Shirley’s short stories. It’s time for a novel. Eclipse (1985), set in a future a cyberpunk dystopia, tells the tale of anti-fascist resistance. We shall see!

Let me know what you think of the books and covers in the comments!

1. The Man Who Melted, Jack Dann (1984)

(Jim Burns’ cover for the 1986 edition)

From the back cover: “A 1985 Nebula Finalist for Best Novel, THE MAN WHO MELTED is the stunning odyssey of a man searching through the glittering, apocalyptic landscape of the next century for a woman lost to him in a worldwide outbreak of telepathic fear. Filled with passionate humanity and writing of the highest order, it is an important and resonant work by an exceptionally talented writer.”

2. Survival Ship and Other Stories, Judith Merril (1974)

(Derek Carter’s cover for the 1974 edition)

From the back cover: “WISH UPON A STAR—Here Merril turns her compassionate eye on the problems and inner conflicts of an adolescent boy who has lived his life on a star ship commanded by women.

THE LONELY—If we practice our ‘Space Speech’ and listen real hard—is this the sort of thing we’re going to hear?”

Contents: “Survival Ship” (1951), “Wish Upon a Star” (1958), “Exile from Space” (1956), “Connection Completed” (1954), “The Shrine of Temptation” (1962), “Peeping Tom” (1954), “The Lady Was a Tramp” (1957), “Auction Pit” (1946), “So Proudly We Hail” (1953), “The Deep Down Dragon” (1961), “Whoever You Are” (1952), “Death Is the Penalty” (1948), “The Lonely” (1963)

3. Get Off the Unicorn, Anne McCaffrey (1977)

(Paul Alexander’s for the 1977 edition)


LADY IN THE TOWER: The Rowan was one of a select group of telepaths—a complete Prime, one of only five. Then one day, another Prime appeared mysteriously from the outer boundaries of space, asking for help in a savage battle against evil!

FINDER’S KEEPER: Young Peter had a unique gift which earned him and his mother a little money and gave pleasure to others. Then, one day, an unscrupulous man forced Peter to use his precious gift in a crooked scheme—and Peter grew up fast!

HONEYMOON: “Helva and her new brawn were sent on an especially urgent mission… a mission that not only put them both into great danger, but a mission that also caused them to break the ultimate taboo!

THE SMALLEST DRAGON BOY: The only think Keevan wanted in life was to be a dragonrider, just like his father… but everything seemed to stand in his way!


Contents: “Lady in the Tower” (1959), “A Meeting of Minds” (1969), “Daughter” (1971), “Dull Drums” (1973), “Changling” (1977), “Weather on Welladay” (1969), “The Thorns of Barevi” (1970), “Horse from a Different Sea” (1977), “The Great Canine Chorus” (1970), “Finder’s Kepper” (1973), “A Proper Santa Clause ” (1973), “Apple” (1969), “Honemoon” (variant title: “The Ship Who…” (1977).

4. Eclipse, John Shirley (1985)

(Joe DeVito’s cover for the 1987 edition)


The Soviets invaded. NATO retaliated. The limited nuclear strike had stopped the Soviet advances; it had even forced them back, but the price was high. The reat cities of Europe were dead. And no one seemed to want to claim the survivors.

Until NATO turned over the policing of the wreckage to the Second Alliance—a right-wing, fundamentalist, supposedly neutral, international security corporation.

Then, out of the rubble, the New Resistance was born. They were a motley crew of freedom fighters with few resources. Misfits, drop-outs, patriots, and partisans, the had nothing at all in common except their enemy, the Second Alliance and its soon-to-be-revealed purpose—a single-minded determination to control the world.”

For book reviews consult the INDEX

For cover art posts consult the INDEX

36 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CCXXXIX (Jack Dann, Judith Merril, Anne McCaffrey, John Shirley)

  1. I had an entire screed penned about John Shirley before I realized I was talking about John VARLEY. Shirley’s work is unknown to me, and it seems as though he’s produced a copious amount of tie-in fiction. This one clearly isn’t, so I’ll be most interested to learn what you think of it.

    • Of Shirley’s novels, I’m most interested in procuring Transmaniacon (1979), City Come A-Walkin’ (1980), and Three-Ring Psychus (1980) — however, they aren’t the cheapest online.

      He seems, as antyphayes mentioned below, to be something of a “punkie leftie” — I mean, a fascist corporation takes over in Eclipse! hah. Intrigued.

  2. I was a big fan of Shirley’s work way back around 1990 when I was deeply immersed in and committed to the whole cyberpunk thing. I fondly remember the Eclipse series and it’s theme of resurgent fascism and the struggle against it in the 2020s. A series for our times! Shirley is/was a punk leftie anarcho type. Def down my neck of the woods. Maybe time for a revisit?

    • Of the 80s aesthetics, I find cyberpunk the most appealing. I am so tempted to put together a cyberpunk reading series. But, I have trouble following my own plan as this is a hobby and I don’t feel like being constrained. There are sooooo many examples that seem unknown by the general SF reading population. Gibson casts such a shadow….

      Arachne, Lisa Mason (1990)
      Eclipse, John Shirley (1985)
      Mercedes Nights, Michael D. Weaver (1987)
      Mindplayers, Pat Cadigan (1987)
      Hardwired, Walter Jon Williams (1986)
      Software, Rudy Rucker (1982)
      Vacuum Flowers, Michael Swanwick (1987)


      Do you have any other 80s examples worth exploring that come to mind?

      • I haven’t read Arachne or Mercedes Nights. Around 1991-93 I went off the skids of cyberpunk, reading Brunner’s great works and becoming more interested in older sf. It was the beginning of the end of my interest in contemporary sf! I remember enjoying Sterling’s shaper mechanist stories. Mirrorshades has some great short cyberpunk. Like Gibson’s Johnny Mnemonic collection. Some of Jeter’s stuff. I’m probably the wrong person to ask. I betrayed cyberpunk years ago!

        • My exploration really was Gibson and a few precursors — Brunner, etc.

          I ever got much farther than that — I think I read Sterling’s Islands in the Net and perhaps some of the stories of his you mentioned (I had a collection of them at one point).

          I own Jeter’s first few SF novels — I haven’t read the cyberpunk one, Dr. Adder, yet.

          • I loved Jeter back in the day but fear that Dr Adder is perhaps not as great as I remember. I liked the “sequel” The Glass Hammer perhaps even more? His steam punk novel Infernal Devices is a lot of fun. I though highly of Farewell Horizontal too. And I recall a horror novel Dark Seeker as good. But it’s all very vague in the memory coils these days. I liked Sterling’s early work too then: Involution Ocean, The Artificial Kid and Schismatrix.

            • Jeter’s trilogy is pretty loose, so no you don’t have to read them in sequence. I vaguely recall liking The Glass Hammer because of the way it evoked the passage of time in its near future setting–I think the main narrative revolves around a documentary or some other televisual reconstruction of the protagonist’s past life.
              Yep, I just refreshed myself with your review of Involution Ocean. My thoughts about the book are informed by a the time and place of my past readings. Additionally I hadn’t read Moby Dick at that tender age, so I’d like to maybe revisit it in order to compare and contrast!

  3. I remember reading Eclipse when it came out and it seemed to be me like it was trying too hard to be CYBERPUNK, like he had a checklist of all the tropes and made sure he hit them all.

    For me, the essential cyberpunk reading list starts with William Gibson’s first three Sprawl novels–Neuromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive taken as one long novel.

    Michael Swanwick’s Vacuum Flowers, and Bruce Sterling’s Schizmatrix–I’d also recommend Islands In The Net and Zeitgeist by Sterling.

    Water Jon Williams’ Hard Wired is good, but I suspect it aged poorly, I haven’t revisited it in a while.

    Steven Barnes’ Streetlethal is excellent, I didn’t think the sequels measured up.

    Spider Robinson’s Mindkiller is one that is often overlooked, but I think it deserves to be on the A list.

    John Brunner’s dystopian trilogy–Shockwave Rider, The Sheep Look Up, and Stand On Zanzibar–is a critical influence on a lot of the genre, but damn, they’re depressing.

    Alfred Bester’s Golem 100 is an interesting Cyberpunk/Dark Urban Fantasy fusion–it’s experimental fiction and kind of hit and miss.

    • “Too cyberpunk” — In my experience, most post-Gibson cyberpunk feels that way. It always feels like a pastiche of itself. hah

      Starting a list with Gibson when I mentioned that he has cast a shadow proves my point! To be clear, the little list I gave above were lesser known works I wanted to explore.

      I’ve read his Sprawl novels — a long time ago. The same with the Brunner novels you mentioned.

      I haven’t read the others you’ve mentioned.

      It’s troubling that zero women authors feature on your list. Have you read any cyberpunk by women? Pat Cadigan is generally considered to be a MAJOR voice in the subgenre. I am willing to concede that, as the movement was from the 80s/90s, I’ve not explored it substantially.

        • It’s been a long time since I read the Eclipse series. I don’t recall it being CYBERPUNK in the way you describe. I do remember it being more politically engaged then Gibson’s work in the sense that Shirley’s left wing politics was more obviously weaved into the narrative. Still, it’s almost 30 years since I read them.
          Brunner on the other hand. Too grim? Sure. But then he nailed the future in so many ways. Having lived through the recent summer in Australia I feel like I’ve found myself in The Sheep Look Up.

          • Goodness me I love Brunner. Stand on Zanzibar is still my fav SF work — and The Sheep Look Up and The Jagged Orbit are close behind. I don’t remember much from The Shockwave Rider. I should probably reread it.

            • The Jagged Orbit is the one I remember least–only because I’ve read it a mere single time! I want to reread The Sheep Look Up, mostly to compare it to our present; but that also puts me off. Living the novel is no great claim methinks.
              Have you every read Brunner’s The Crucible of Time? I recall be drawn to the idea of the novel, but found its execution less appealing. Though I recall enjoying it nonetheless.

    • I mean, on the original canvas perhaps…. Yes, it’s annoying. But I’m not a collector — I’m not trying to find the best condition copies or even those with the best art. I want the texts.

      • I agree finding a good reading copy is the most important thing, but I love the covers. I seek out the best condition book I can afford, so when I get an order it before ABEbooks and it has a sticker on it, I’m heartbroken. I love to scan the covers for my computer’s desktop background.

        • Recently I acquired a copy of Melissa Scott’s The Game Beyond and the front cover didn’t just have a sticker, it was missing a chunk! Now that made me angry. I couldn’t even scan it for my acquisition post — I had to find an image online.

  4. I started to comment on this when you first put it up, but I lost my text somewhere…
    I’ve read a fair amount of Jack Dann and enjoyed The Man Who Melted when I first read it back when it came out, but a more recent re-read got bogged down and I never finished it (yet!) Some comments on it here https://www.flickr.com/photos/17270214@N05/17026658649

    I read the John Shirley when it came out as well and thought it was quite good (even the OTT scene in central Paris. I know you don’t care, but I won’t spoil it for others) but overall it seemed a bit long. I didn’t bother with the rest of the trilogy, and I don’t think I’ve read any other books by him. Much of his later output tends to be horror or tie-in novels.
    There’s a slim chance I have City Come a Walking at home waiting to be read but I ‘don’t think so…

    For other cyberpunk books from back then, most of the main books or authors have been mentioned but Blood Music by Greg Bear is often thrown in to the mix, and I thought Richard Kadrey’s Metrophage was very good. He hardly wrote any novels over the folowing 20 years, but now his Sandman Slim horror series (2009 onwards) is very succesfull.
    Infernal Devices by Kurland is indeed good fun, and I recently picked up a sequel to it (which, alas, seems a bit more traditionally Victorian than the steampunk feel of the first. https://www.flickr.com/photos/17270214@N05/10977452774

    • I recall enjoying all of the Eclipse novels (or The Song Called Youth as Shirley called the sequence), but it was almost 30 years ago so I wouldn’t necessarily stand by that assessment. The novels weren’t more than c. 200 pages a pop.
      The Kurland novel sounds interesting, but I was talking about K.W. Jeter’s Infernal Devices, published a few years after the Kurland. Jeter has fairly recently written no less than two sequels to the 1987 original, but I have yet to read these.

      • AIDS as such doesn’t feature but when the novel was written it was very much a headline issue and fear of it or of the novel’s Screamers seemed to me to be a deliberate comparison Dann was making.
        Could be wrong; I still haven’t finished it this time around…

  5. My mistake! I’ve read both Jeter’s Infernal Devices and Kurland’s The Infernal Device and got confused.
    I haven’t read the Jeter sequels either – but other books by him I’d say could be worth a read include Morlock Night (Arthurian legends & the Time Machine), Farewell Horizontal and In the Land of the Dead (which I remember thinking was like Lovecrtaft meets Steinbeck in the Californian orange groves!) and the co-written, very OTT, Alligator Alley! (I sprang for the ltd. edition so I could get the music & the t-shirt!)
    Kurland’s also written some neat stuff, maybe best described as ‘zany’!

      • I tried reading Morlock Nights some years back but gave up. It was no Infernal Devices! I remember Farewell Horizontal fondly, and even read it a second time (at least, possibly more). I’ve read Dr Adder many times but not for almost 30 years. I liked it a lot, but there was some heavy misogynistic body scarification shit in it. I haven’t read In The Land of the Dead or Alligator Alley but paint me intrigued. I tried reading the first of his sequels to Blade Runner/Do Androids Dream… some years ago but gave up. I have a copy of Noir on the shelves and have heard good things about it.
        Seeklight is a classic Joachim read. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get to it.
        Speaking of Time Machine sequels. Have either of youse read either of David J Lake’s sequels, to whit: The Man Who Loved Morlocks (1981), &/or The Truth About Weena (1998)? I’d like to and am in the process of hunting down a copy of the second (short). I’ve located a copy of the first (novel) in the National Library here…

  6. The Man Who Melted is extraordinary. Did a written review of it ages ago, which I recently adapted into a video on my channel.

    Delighted in an oddly nerdy way to see an old B. Dalton Booksellers price tag on that McCaffrey book. Boy, I miss BD. As I worked there my first year of college, I can offer a bit of fun trivia on those tags. “70M” refers to the numerically-coded section of the bookstore this one belongs in, in this case, Science Fiction obviously. I think the “M” is specifying a mass market paperback but my memory cells might be slightly corrupted on that detail.

    “8E” refers to the year and date that particular copy was received into the store. So if this is the 1977 edition of McCaffrey’s book here, this copy came into the store in May 1978 (5th letter of the alphabet denoting fifth month). The remaining numbers are the SKU and had to be hand keyed into the register, 8516138.

  7. “The Man Who Melted” just burned my brain. It is a mind-twisting mental hammer that you’re just expected to figure out. I don’t know if I liked it or hated it, but I did admire it.

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