Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CCXLVIII (Mary Gentle, Philip Wylie, Bruce Sterling, and a New Dimensions anthology)

1. More post-apocalyptic fictions…. I dunno about exclamation points in titles! More seriously, I’ve yet to read any of Philip Wylie’s novels—this one is at the top of the list.

2. Before I explore an author’s best known fictions, I enjoy nosing about the periphery first. Here’s Mary Gentle’s first collection of short fiction (I’m most interested in the SF stories).

3. I might have read Bruce Sterling’s Islands in the Net (1988) in my late teens. I know I had a copy that I gave away. I can’t remember anything about it other than the cover–if there’s a cover that screams 80s cyberpunk it’s that one!

I’ve previously reviewed Sterling’s Involution Ocean (1977).

A little research reveals the female figure was repurposed (sans the original spaceship background) from an earlier Luis Royo cover—Mike Resnick’s The Dark Lady: A Romance of the Far Future (1988) (cover link).

4. I adored Robert Silverberg’s original anthology New Dimensions 2 (1973) — I’m a bit closer to owning the entire series.

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


1. Tomorrow!, Philip Wylie (1954)

(Uncredited cover for the 1954 edition)

From the back cover: “TOMORROW! is a powerful novel of average Americans at work, at play and in love in two neighboring cities.

It is–until the savage strike of catastrophe—the story of the girl next door and her boy friend: of a man who saw what was coming and a woman who didn’t; of reckless youngsters and tough hoods.

Then, suddenly, atomic destruction hurtled down out of the sky and America was threatened with annihilation…

If you’re interested in the TOMORROW of America—in learning about our dangerous vulnerability to attack, to panic and chaos–don’t miss this book. IT MAY SAVE YOUR LIFE!”

2. Scholars and Soldiers, Mary Gentle (1989)

(Ian Miller’s cover for the 1990 edition)

From the back cover: “SCHOLARS AND SOLDIERS is Mary Gentle’s first story collection including two original novellas set in the same universe as her new novel, Rats and Gargoyles. She burst onto the science fiction scene with two bestselling novels, Golden Witchbreed and Ancient Light, and shows here that her talents are equally suited to the shorter form as to the novel.

From a story set on Orthe, the world of her earlier novels, to the unclassifiable TAROT DICE, these stories all prove one thing—that Mary Gentle can never be relied upon to take the easy expected way out. This collection is a major achievement in the career of one of the world’s leading fantasists.”

Contents: “Beggars in Satin” (1989), “The Harvest of Wolves” (1983), “The Crystal Sunlight, the Bright Air” (1983), “The Tarot Dice” (1989), “Anukazi’s Daughter” (1984), “A Sun in the Attic” (1985), “A Shadow Under the Sea” (1983), “The Pits Beneath the World” (1983), “The Knot Garden” (1989).

3. Islands in the Net, Bruce Sterling (1988)

(Luis Royo’s cover for the 1989 edition)

From the back cover: “Laura Webster’s on the fast track to success. A bright young star in a multinational conglomerate, she’s living in a post-millennial age of peace, prosperity, and profit.

In an age of advanced technology, information is the world’s most precious commodity. Information is power. Data is locked in computers and carefully rationed through a global communications network. Full access is a privilege held by a few.

Now, Laura Webster is about to be plunged into a netherworld of black-market data pirates, new-age mercenaries, high-tech voodoo… and murder.”

4. New Dimensions Science Fiction Number Seven, ed. Robert Silverberg (1977)

(One Plus One Studio’s cover for the 1st edition)

From the inside flap: “This seventh volume in Robert Silverberg’s annual collection New Dimensions is dedicated to presenting the most original and significant science fiction being written today. All twelve stories are published here for the first time and the contributors are a mixture of very well-known writers such as Gordon Eklund, Barry N. Malzberg, Fritzleiber and the newcomers to science fiction.

In contrast to earlier volumes, this collection has shifted its tone and emphasis. The captivating stories “Black as the Pit, from Pole to Pole” and “The Blood’s Horizon” are departures from the traditions in New Dimensions both in their length and in their mystifying and experimental qualities. Gordon Eklund tackles the time-reversal theme in his disturbing tale “The Retro Man,” and Fritz Leiber makes his “debut” in New Dimensions with his black fable “The princess in the Tower 250,000 Miles High.” With his experience as one of science fiction’s best known and respected authors, Robert Silverberg provides in this collection the most imaginative and provocative writing in science fiction.:

Contents (all published in 1977): Gordon Eklund’s “The Retro Man,” Marta Randall’s “The State of the Art on Alyssum,” Steven Utley and Howard Waldrop’s “Black as the Pit, from Pole to Pole,” Phyllis and Alex Einstein’s “You Are Here,” J. A. Lawrence’s “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Bat,” John Shirley’s “The Almost Empty Rooms,” Barry N. Malzberg’s “In the Stocks,” Felix C. Gotschalk’s “Home Sweet Geriatric Dome,” Gregory Benford’s “Knowing Her,” A. A. Attanasio’s “The Blood’s Horizon,” Henry-Luc Planchat’s “Several Ways, and the Sun,” Fritz Leiber’s “The Princess in the Tower 250,000 Miles High.”

For book reviews consult the INDEX

For cover art posts consult the INDEX

32 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CCXLVIII (Mary Gentle, Philip Wylie, Bruce Sterling, and a New Dimensions anthology)

  1. #2 has a truly intriguing cover, and the notion of Tarot Dice makes me very curious.

    #3 is clearly meant as a come-on to the intended audience, no? I can almost hear her now: “Hello, she breasted boobily.”

    I hope they all end up being good reads when their turn comes.

    • Yeah, Ian Miller has a fantastic/punchy style. Here’s a favorite:

      Did you see the original cover that #3 reused? I guess the press thought she could morph from some far future SF local to the more immediate late 80s cyberpunk near future… hah.

  2. snort
    Well, if ya got, flaunt it; Royo and the publishers clearly felt her, um, look was going to drive up…sales.

          • I’ve run across some of Sterling’s stories in anthologies and was always willing to read them, but can’t recall a single one. Not title, not plot, not characters, not even a line of description or dialogue. He’s competent, but we do not have chemistry for some reason.

            I liked THE DIFFERENCE ENGINE a lot more than any solo-authored work by either man. It spoke to me. The idea of a mechanical computer of such power has a bizarre appeal to me. The steampunk in me?

  3. I just grabbed a copy of Islands in the Net on kindle. The new cover is not hardly as 80s-tastic as the one shown here.

    That is quite funny that someone thought they could just majorly borrow off someone else’s cover and no one would notice.

    I love all these old school books. Takes me back to trawling every used book shop in San Francisco in the late 80s.

    The Frank Herbert one, I am pretty sure I had that at some point. Can’t recall if I actually read it, but I seem to remember buying it at any rate.

    Great stuff. Keep ’em coming.

      • There was a really nice book collecting his art out a few years ago.
        I just checked – it was 2014.
        I first really noticed him when he did the cover and interior art for the paperback of Michael Crichton’s Eaters of the Dead but stuff like Green Dog Trumpet and his interpretation of The Luck in the Head by M. John Harrison story were great, too.

        It took me years to get around to reading the Sterling, but once I started I enjoyed it a lot. My favourite of his remains Schizmatrix though. Have to admit that, commercially, we sold more copies of his Mirrorshades anthology than all his other early books put together!

          • Very! But cyberpunk was red hot at the time and there were very few actual novels out yet and people wanted to explore more.
            Dangerous Visions comes to mind as an anthology by a known author which broke him to a much larger audience. For some time a lot of people only knew him as it’s editor. Don’t know it’s sales figures but Ellison was a fairly niche author so I wouldn’t be surprised if it outsold his own fiction for a while. Without DV and his contributions to Star Trek he’d be almost forgotten by now, remembered for 2 or 3 classic stories.

            • I say niche, although everybody knew his name and he was pretty high profile, the general sf&f reading public didn’t really take to him.
              I don’t remember the original publication in 1967; my opinion was formed from around 1972 onwards with the release of Again, Dangerous Visions. I bought it because of the rep of DV (which I read later), not because I knew much about Ellison except he was meant to be good and that he had edited it.

            • I can imagine that reading Dangerous Visions and its anthology sequel must have been somewhat shocking at the time.

              But yeah, I had no idea that Mirrorshades was so popular. Tempted to track down a copy now!

  4. I like the cover for Tomorrow!, but I’m a sucker for that style of art.

    The cover for Islands in the Net gives me a huge nostalgia vibe for my teenagers years in the 80’s. That was definitely the look back then.

    • Yeah, it gives off a powerful 50s mainstream paperback cover vibe. Tempted by the book? Do you enjoy 50s post-apocalyptic novels?

      The Stirling cover screams the decade. Did you see the humorous reusing of cover art I mentioned above in the comments and in the post?

  5. Sterling’s one of my favorites. Regarding that particular book, based on a long ago reading, it seemed then to spend a lot of time on a setup that was necessary but could have been done much more efficiently (and the setup was basically boring by design so it really should have been as short as effectively possible) so that it nearly lost me but it ultimately paid off and became an interesting and philosophical take on the virtues and vices of the old non-networked world vs. the new networked one. While I do like it and would probably appreciate it even more on a re-read, right now I prefer his short fiction and several other novels.

      • Ironically, that’s the only SF book of his I haven’t read up to The Caryatids. Between us, we’ve got him covered! 🙂 Involution Ocean is in my Pile and I look forward to reading your review but, just so I’ll have free rein, I’ll do that after I’ve done mine (one of these days).

        As far as stories, it’s kind of funny that Sterling is about the only SF writer in the world without a book series but he does do story series (sometimes related to a novel) and those are some of my favorites. His Shaper/Mechanist stories like “Swarm” are epochal (these are related to Schismatrix). The “Chattanooga” stories like “Taklamakan” are great and great fun. The stories with Leggy Starlitz like “The Littlest Jackal” are also good (and loosely related to Zeitgeist).

        Basically, his first and third collections (The Crystal Express and A Good Old-Fashioned Future) are indispensable to me, and his second (Globalhead) is only a nose behind. I didn’t like Visionary in Residence much but the mainstream story “Code” was the best in that, and “In Paradise” was also good. The best one I’ve read that came out since those was “Kiosk” though there are a few I should have read by now but haven’t gotten around to.

        If you get around to any of these, I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

        Oh, and in terms of reviews on my site, I’ve only got the one of his collaboration with Shiner, “Mozart in Mirrorshades,” but I see you’ve found that one. 🙂

        • Hah, yes, I decided it would be easier to go browse your site for a review rather than wait for a response. I keep on telling myself that I’m going to do a review series on cyberpunk (I read a few back in my late teens and early 20s — i.e. before I settled more firmly on the 50s-70s) but never end up getting anywhere….

          I’m a reader of whim! So who knows when, if ever, I’ll get to his work.

          I feel like I’ve read Islands in the Net in the past — and possibly a few other of his short fictions here and there. But nothing is that firm in my memory.

  6. ISLANDS IN THE NET was Sterling when, IMO, he was just about the Thing Itself, Mr. SF. He lost it completely around the turn of the 21st century, but there was a time when he absolutely had a hotline to what the near-future world would look like, or at least could convince you he did.

    ISLANDS was set in the then-almost forty-years-distant world of 2025 and was written back when there wasn’t a web or an internet as we know it. Sterling got lots of the issues right, and IIRC fell down only on failing to predict (a) the Soviet Union’s collapse and (b) just how dreadful neoliberalism would be once the U.S.S.R. went away.

    Way, way better than INVOLUTION OCEAN, which is basically an embarrassingly bad youthful debut novel. Sterling’s second THE ARTIFICIAL KID is worth a look if you ever run into it. But ISLANDS, his fiourth, and SCHISMATRIX, his third, were written back when Sterling was firing on all cylinders — by my lights, both highly recommended.

    • I’d put his lossage a bit later as I think that, after the problematic mixed bag of Zeitgeist, The Zenith Angle is good and he could still do some stories but I basically agree. I think he was many times the writer Gibson was reputed to be in the 20th century but kind of got lost in “design fiction” and “futurism” and now even paranormal romance or some such. Glad to hear another vote for The Artificial Kid. It’s almost half Delany-esque New Wave and half-proto-cyberpunk and not his very best or anything, but it’s quite good and I liked it.

      • Yeah, I basically agree about ZEITGEIST, which has some great things in it — Green Huey, for one! And which I now remember I reviewed for a dotcom.era magazine, RED HERRING, fairly favorably, though I was put off by a couple of Sterling’s techno-economic extrapolation/notions on which the novel were based simply not being plausible in any reality if you knew anything about how things actually work.

        THE ZENITH ANGLE not so much. That was when I personally thought, “Bruce, Bruce — you’re losing it.”

        It kind of felt a little like he believed his own personality cult/agitprop, so when gas in the tank started running down ideas-wise he didn’t recognize it and just kept on. And he was an ideas-writer. Regarding the Gibson comparison, Sterling in the first couple of decades was clearly the superior ideator, Gibson a far better prose-stylist who proceeded — and proceeds — slowly and relies on his sub-conscious to do most of the work.

        As for THE ARTIFICIAL KID, “It’s almost half Delany-esque New Wave and half-proto-cyberpunk” is right. But another influence in there — especially in the book’s latter parts — feels like Jack Vance, of all things. And this synthesis actually works, so it’s hard not to respect that.

  7. I read all of Sterling’s available work up until about 1995 when I gave up on contemporary st. I recall enjoying Islands in the Net, tho I think I enjoyed Schismatrix and the stories in The Crystal Express more–tho it’s all a bit hazy these days. Cyberpunk really was a bust considering how quickly we were living that unglamorous dystopia with none of the cool cyber enhancements…
    No one seems to have said anything about the Phillip Wylie. Struck dumb by the overrated hijinks of the cyberpunks? Is Wylie another sadly neglected author? I have yet to read any of his novels. I’ve been fascinated, on and off over the years, with the premise of The Disappearance (1951). Maybe one day. And of course the film adaptation of When Worlds Collide was a firm fave of my teens.

    • I wonder why I find cyberpunk nostalgic. I was born in the cyberpunk heyday (late 80s). Maybe reading Neuromancer when I was 18 or so (I don’t remember exactly) was an important moment in my SF development.

      I’ve only watched When Worlds Collide and haven’t touched the source material. As with so many 50s films and books, I was perturbed that the only humans worth rescuing were white.

  8. I read several Wylies in the early sixties, but not since then, so this may be off a little. Tomorrow was the grittiest and most realistic, and the best of the bunch. I believe the protagonist was in favor of Civil Defense, and everybody laughed at him until the % came down. Triumph, as the title suggests, was more upbeat, therefore less realistic. I look forward to reading your review.

  9. I’m a big Bruce Sterling fan, though it’s been a while since I’ve read him. I quite liked Involution Ocean, he wrote better later but it was his first novel. Islands in the Net I remember being pretty good, but it’s been decades I suspect. The cover does it no favours really.

    Mary Gentle I should probably give another try. I’ve only read her Ash which I thought very good, so not sure why I’ve not read more by her. Quite like the Miller cover.

    • Hello Max,

      Involution Ocean was as far as I’ve explored Sterling — that I remember. As I mentioned, I might have read Islands as a teen.

      I am less interested in Gentle’s fantasy. The SF is really what I’m after. I might only review those in the collection before reading her first SF novel Golden Witchbreed. I haven’t read any of her work yet!

Leave a Reply to kaggsysbookishramblings Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.