Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CCXLIV (John Shirley, Carol Emshwiller, Daniel Walther, and Jacques Sternberg)

1. Few themes make me as excited as dystopic urbanism: the city or suburbia as an arena of all the malignancies of societal decay. The progressive SF symbol of progress, a lake of uplifting spires, tossed into anarchy and chaos….

John Shirley’s City Come A-Walking (1980) takes this premise to its extremes—the city of San Francisco, the “pulsing heart of urbanized madness” gains sentience. Definitely the Shirley novel I’ll read first (recently nabbed Shirley’s 1985 novel Eclipse).

Tarbandu read it and didn’t care for it over at The PorPor Books Blog. I hope my experience is different!

2. Back in 2017, I read and reviewed Carol Emshwiller’s masterful short story “Animal” (1968). It’s about time I read more of her short fictions.

3. I recently read and enjoyed Jacques Sternberg’s collection Future Without Future (1971, trans. 1973). He was a Belgian author who wrote in French. Unfortunately, the only other one of his SF works available in English is Sexualis ’95 (1965, trans. 1967). I’m not sure this erotic SF novel has any merit. We shall see.

Too bad his first SF novel La sortie est au fond de l’espace (1956) remains untranslated. Its premise seems like SF I could get behind: “a black comedy set in space and featuring the last human survivors of a bacterial Holocaust” (SF Encyclopedia).

4. Daniel Walther, a French SF author, positions The Book of Shai (1982, trans. C. J. Cherryh, 1984) as a deliberate anti-Ayn Rand novel. Considering the one man saves everything nature of so many post-apocalyptical and sword-and-sorcery adventures, I’m intrigued how it plays out! I don’t have high hopes.

Translated by fellow author C. J. Cherryh, who appeared to translate a bunch of the DAW French editions….  lists of translations should be a feature of her  isfdb.org listing — alas.

I also find it humorous that Cherryh gives the sequel, which she also translated, 1 star on Goodreads! The third volume of the trilogy remains untranslated.


1. City Come A-Walking, John Shirley (1980) (MY REVIEW)

(Catherine Huerta’s cover for the 1st edition)

From the back cover: “AND UH-ONE AND UH-TWO AND… APOCALYPSE!

San Francisco, city of the future, pulsing heart of urbanized madness, where Stu Cole danced to the jerk of angst-rock and the beat of modern decadence… until he fell for the beautiful, hard-bitten psi-rocker Catz Wailen… until City came for him.

City: Stone, steel,  sewers, and electricity jolted into living, breathing self-awareness…

City: The embodiment of megalopolis tortured and twisted by violence, paranoia, and drugs.

Caught in a web of blood and death, could Cole trust this artificial intelligence? Or were he and Catz slaves to a being bent on self-destruction?

Stu Cole doubted he would live long enough to find out!”

2. Joy in Our Cause, Carol Emshwiller (1974)

(Leo Manso’s cover for the 1st edition)

From the inside flap: “For those who already know Carol Emshwiller’s work, this collection of twenty short stories is long overdue; for those who do not, unexpected pleasures awaits. Her stories are as fresh, startling, and eye-opening as cold dew on an iron shovel.

Many of them are written from an angle of vision that can be called “feminine,” but only if that work is given new definition. For the writer is a woman, a wife, a mother who writes from that life, who steals time for her serious self from the time demanded of her by others. But she has distilled the essence of her experience with a kind of joy, and brilliantly overcome. Thus “Joy in Our Cause” becomes the title of a story and of this collection.

The stories are sometimes cruelly intimate, revealing the stirrings of a human being whose imaginative life must struggle for livin room. Some are wry and satirical of pretension, the writer’s own and others’. None of them is conventional: there is always an extraordinary juxtaposition of word and idea, a marvelous clarity of perception, and deeply moving sketches of subtle emotional range. Carol Emshwiller is a writer whose talents deserve the highest acclaim.”


3. Sexualis ’95, Jacques Sternberg (1965, trans. Lowell Blair, 1967)

(Uncredited cover for the 1st US edition of Sexualis ’95 (1965, trans. 1967), Jacques Sternberg)

From the back cover: “The Year is 1995.

Did you ever imagine a world of the future like this…

***The heaviest single tax is the one paid quarterly to the Sexual Finance Bureau—in exchange for the erotic pleasures placed easily at everyone’s disposal.

***On a railroad line, a visit from a prostitute is included in the price of your ticket—and you don’t even have to give her a tip.

***As for the theater and movies, it is not uncommon for entire families to go on a Saturday night to see such films as The Whorehouse of Parma, Dracula versus the Nymphomaniacs, and Sodomy on the Bounty.

Read all about it in SEXUALIS ’95—once you do, you won’t be able to forget it…”

4. The Book of Shai, Daniel Walthier ()

(Richard Hescox’s cover for the 1984 edition)

From the back cover: “After science had slipped out of the hands of scientists into the hands of scientists into the hands of political fanatics, there finally came the time of the Great Burning, followed by centuries of disaster, the tilting of the world’s axis, the shifting of the continents, and the slow horrid rise of a Newer Order of mankind…

Out of one of the last strongholds of stability, the Citadel of the Serpent, came the young man Shai. At first a student believing the fabrications of an unnatural faith, then thrust into the terribly changed world by a catastrophe the Serpent could not prevent, Shai’s first quest became a testing for manhood among the ruins of the older barbarisms once called Civilization…

A power action novel of future adventure by a master of the fantastic, translated by C. J. Cherryh, and introducing a hero of legendary proportions.”

For book reviews consult the INDEX

For cover art posts consult the INDEX

15 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CCXLIV (John Shirley, Carol Emshwiller, Daniel Walther, and Jacques Sternberg)

  1. Let’s just skip gaily past the heteronormative nature of the untipped female prostitute included with your train ticket and try to wrap our head (!) around the appalling common-or-garden sexism…uhm, no, let’s just consign this to the trash heap of history. There–review written for you!

    • I mean, it’s a dystopia — I won’t know the purpose or type of societal commentary in his erotic vision until I read it. I suspect it’s a standard anti-60s radicalism type vision. But who knows!

      Remember, I’m a historian. Part of why I read is to learn about the society that created it. I am not going to assign anything immediately to the “trash heap of history.”

      • A fruitful discussion is awaiting the assertion that historians are not prone to assigning things to the scrapheap of history, but not just now. Better thee than me when it comes to this li’l marvy.

        • Of course historians are, like everyone else… but hopefully my site’s modus operandi suggests that I value uncovering cultural artifacts that might have been passed over by others. Doesn’t mean I like them all! Definitely means I love the act of exploration.

  2. You’ll probably enjoy Joy in Our Cause and City Come A-Walking as they’re both very good but The Start of the End of It All is one of the best collections I’ve read and Eclipse is pretty high on the list of novels, as well. I know you can move right on to that and, if the Emshwiller suits (or even if it doesn’t) don’t stop there!

    • Thanks for commenting! (I’m a fan of your site’s intensely detailed analysis — I need to make a point to stop by more often)

      I suspect I’ll enjoy Joy in Our Cause — it already contains the before mentioned “Animal” (1968) that I enjoyed so much.

      Have you read any of Emshwiller’s novels that she wrote later in her career? She published one with The Women’s Press: Carmen Dog (1988). The Mount (2002) seems creepy and bizarre. While I do not read a lot of newer SF, I’ve had these two on my radar for a while.

      • Thanks for the kind words!

        As far as Emshwiller’s novels, I have read the two you mention. Carmen Dog is very short and I liked it a lot. I gave it a one-line retro-review in a post about off-beat novel: “Feminist trapeze dogs only start the surrealist meltdown which is nevertheless quite pointed.” It’s a sort of feminist fable but that’s kind of reductive. It’s really brilliant and imaginative and touches on a lot. The Mount was a longer novel (still short enough by current standards, I suppose) and, unfortunately, I didn’t like that as much. It’s good in many ways, but I felt it had too much of the realistic SF novel in it to really make a great fable and too much of a pretty clear fabulist metaphor to make a great SF novel. Not sure if that’s putting it quite right, but it just engaged a little of my SF brain and a little of my surreal brain without quite satisfying either. Still, if you like Emshwiller, it’s definitely worth a try. And I really recommend Carmen Dog.

    • I remember your review of “Pelt” — I left a comment on the review when you wrote it.

      But yeah, I’m in the same boat. Adored one story but haven’t returned to her work since.

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