Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLI (J. G. Ballard, Marie C. Farca, John Shirley, Michael Blumlein)

Note: I’ve changed the post title “Acquisitions” to “Purchases” for the sake of clarity. Some readers (especially on twitter) assume I’ve read these books. I’ve just bought them! (or they are unread books from a pile I bought a while back but never processed). These posts provide my initial half-formed thoughts, links to related reviews, front cover scans of my personal copies (unless noted), and back-cover info. For full-formed thoughts on books check out my reviews. I’ve also changed the format. My “initial thoughts” can now be found after the back cover blurb. Let me know if the format changes are helpful.

As always which books/covers intrigue you. Which have you read? Disliked? Enjoyed?

1. The Wind From Nowhere, J. G. Ballard (serialized 1961)

(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1962 1st edition)

From the back cover: “The dust came first.

It began piling up in the streets and on window ledges—red dust, inches thick. In London, the wind toppled the flimsier buildings and forced the airlines to suspend service. Midway in the Atlantic, the S. S. United States had to turn back because of heavy seas. Tokyo and Singapore reported widespread flooding and fire damage.

Then, at the rate of five miles per day, the wind force bean to accelerate. By the end of three weeks, it had passed hurricane velocity. Buildings were falling, looters prowled the streets and food supplies were growing short.

Science was powerless to analyze or halt the global cyclone. Ruthlessly, it stripped the earth to its seams—turning Paris and Rome into jungles of falling masonry, leveling proud landmarks, eroding fertile plains.

Would man be swept from the face of his planet? Or could a way be found to fight the relentless fury of Nature gone mad?”

Initial Thoughts: J. G. Ballard is a personal favorite. While I never reviewed The Drowned World (1962), I placed it in my preliminary Best of the 60s list (hasn’t been updated since 2015). My review of Ballard’s “The Dead Astronaut” (1968) rekindled my interest in tracking down the rest of his 60s visions.

Ballard disowned his first novel The Wind from Nowhere (1962). He claimed it was hackwork which he wrote in a few days. If Kafka is any example, I care little for what an author retrospectively says about their fiction. Burgess disowned A Clockwork Orange as he was annoyed it was the only novel he was known for (um, it made him a ton of money that allowed him to write whatever he wanted). Octavia E. Butler disowned her third Patternist novel Survivor (1978). Reviews online claim it’s worth reading (the $350+ price tag prevents me from buying a copy). Gene Wolfe also disowned his first novel.

Ballard’s The Wind from Nowhere might indeed be his worst novel–and that’s okay for three reasons. 1) Even his average works are better than most. 2) Authors aren’t always the best judge of their own work. 3) I like the act of exploring.

2. Complex Man, Marie C. Farca (1973)

(Anita Siegel’s cover for the 1st edition)

From the inside flap: “This provocative novel continues the adventures of Andrew Ames, whose experiences on another planet were related in Marie C. Farca’s first novel Earth.

Ames i the “Complex Man.” His home is an inverse, highly technological Earth of the future where reproduction is achieved through clinical cloning, where people live in huge multilayered cities completely apart and sheltered from the natural environment. To that sterile world Ames returns after some time spent among a people whose simple community, complete with villages, fields, and forests both amazed him and left him wondering  which life he really preferred and which was more the way things were meant to be.

Thought of that pastoral realm continue to bedazzle Ames as he struggles to readjust to what has become an almost alien way of life. But subtle forces are bringing change to his home planet, and as this parable of the future man moves to its surprising conclusion Ames discovers that the very technology that identifies his culture is leading it to a society more like the one he once lived in.”

Initial Thoughts: I bought this because of the fantastic Anita Siegel cover. No shame. She’s a favorite of mine (art post). I had no idea this was the second in a series as isfdb.org lists them as standalone novels. I’ll need to buy the first one. As for Marie C. Farca, I can find little about her online. Here’s here SF encyclopedia entry-–which is so general it suggests the writers hadn’t read her books.

3. Transmaniacon, John Shirley (1979)

(Uncredited cover for the 1st edition)

From the back cover: “BEN RACKEY

Foremost Professional Irritant, remarkable in acting both as burglar and inciter in the bizarre and pleasure-seeking world of the 22nd century is a fearless, ruthless man of ingenuity, completely overwhelmed with his own strength. His lated and most dangerous assignment is to steal

THE EXCITER

A dangerous and fragile device for the augmentation of the telepathic transfer of mania. By seeking out and amplifying strong, hostile human emotions, the excited can turn a street brawl into a ragging mov and a border skirmish into a full-scale war. As soon as Ben has possession of it he will have the power to destroy

THE BARRIER

Conceived as the perfect defense against nuclear, biological, and chemical warfare, it was activated in 1989—an invisible screen of densely flowing ions entirely enclosing the continental zone labeled “The United States.” Once the barrier is demolished Ben can escape.

TRANSMANIACON

THE DANGEROUS, GROTESQUE, AMORAL WORLD BEYOND THE FARTHEST REACHES OF CHAOS!”

Initial Thoughts: As I read and enjoyed John Shirley’s early cyberpunk novel A City Come-A Walkin’ (1980), I went ahead and bought his first SF novel—skirting around the edges a bit before reading an author’s best known work is my style. Excited about this one.

4. The Movement of Mountains, Michael Blumlein (1987)

(Ken Barr’s cover for the 1st edition)

From the inside flap: “Jules Ebert is a physician in a near-future world on the brink of economic crisis. In spite of the constant budget cutbacks at the medical clinic where he works, Jules is content with his life. But his lover, a woman named Jessica, is restless: sensing that there is no future for her on Earth, she persuades Jules to travel to the colonized planet of Eridis, where she will work as a research scientists. Jules agrees to take up practice there, administering to a race of genetically engineered slaves, the Domers.

Designed to mine a fungus that is used in a new wonderdrug, the Domers are huge and corpulent creatures with five-year lifespans; their bodies recycled to create each succeeding generation. A new strain of virus disrupts their carefully orchestrated lives, however, conferring strange memories; with them comes the pain of hope. The Domers’ intellectual awakening poses a complex moral dilemma for Jules: should he cure the disease, or allows its dissemination on the change that it will liberate both the Domers and the rest of mankind?

Certain to spark controversy and garner acclaim, The Movement of Mountains will prove to be one of the most though-provoking sf novels ever published.”

Initial Thoughts: I know little about the author or his work. Michael Blumlein seems to have written some interesting experimental fiction for Interzone condemning Reagan—“Tissue Ablation and Variant Regeneration: A Case Report” (1984). And, as I am interested in medical-themed SF, that one at least seems like my cup of tea.

Check out my review of William Kotzwinkle’s Doctor Rat (1976) if you haven’t already.

For book reviews consult the INDEX

For cover art posts consult the INDEX

25 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLI (J. G. Ballard, Marie C. Farca, John Shirley, Michael Blumlein)”

  1. You’ve read James White’s Sector General series, right? http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pe.cgi?1050
    A group of my LibraryThing pals are reading the whole series, most of us again.

    Never heard of Farca or Blumlein, so will be interested to see what you end up thinking when you end up reading and thinking about them.

    1. I have read individual stories in the sequence but not an entire collection back-to-back.

      I am a fan of White for his novels The Dream Millennium, The Watch Below, and All Judgement Fled.

      1. They’re a lot of fun, and taken together, make a hopeful design that is what I’m always dreaming will happen.

        1. I think the only thing preventing me from reading them back-to-back is that I don’t own the first collection in the series (I have a few of the later volumes)… let me go remedy that! hah.

      2. I first started reading White’s Sector General stories and they were okay at the point I stopped at but I’m still assessing. I need to read more, in a more focused way someday. But I also read All Judgment Fled in there, and I loved it – it’s a somewhat known novel but should be considered a classic.

        For more medical stuff, you may have read Murray Leinster’s Med Series but, if not, that’s a good one.

        1. Yes, I have read a few Leinster stories in that sequence after I procured the collection Doctor to the Stars (1964) a while back. However, 50s/60s pulp isn’t generally my scalpel of choice (hah) — there are a few exceptions of course. And from what I read so far of both authors I firmly place White > Leinster (perhaps informed a bit by the White novels that I mentioned above).

          The type of medical SF I enjoy tends to be the type that I think Blumlein wrote — radical evisceration in a highly experimental manner.

          Here are a few I’ve particularly enjoyed.
          William Kotzwinkle’s Doctor Rat (1976): https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2017/04/09/book-review-doctor-rat-william-kotzwinkle-1976/

          Martin Bax’s The Hospital Ship (1976): https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2017/07/20/book-review-the-hospital-ship-martin-bax-1976/

          And disconcerting fables like Elizabeth Baines’ The Birth Machine (1983): https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2017/05/17/book-review-the-birth-machine-elizabeth-baines-1983/

          Which is why I think I’ll enjoy the Michael Blumlein story I mentioned.

  2. The Ballard: Yeah, he disowned it after writing it while on a fortnight’s (two week) holiday (vacation) from his job as an assistant editor at a trade journal, CHEMISTRY & INDUSTRY. But it accomplished what he wanted it to do, which was enable him to quit his day gig and become a full-time writer in 1962.

    I’ve glanced through it without owning it. Clearly, Ballard banged out his own personalized version of a Brit ‘cozy catastrophe’ a la John Wyndham or John Christopher, who were then big (especially in the U.K.) and in the process worked out the template of the next three novels he’d write: THE DROWNED WORLD; THE BURNING WORLD (aka THE DROUGHT); and THE CRYSTAL WORLD. In the late 1960s and early ’70s, these phase-one post-disaster Ballard novels were enormously influential; the early book-length outings of Thomas Disch, Chris Priest, and M. John Harrison, among others, all echo them to some extent.

    WIND has basic elements that would recur in those next three Ballard books — for instance, an authoritarian madman, Hardoon, whose futile reaction to the global disaster that the wind represents is to build a giant pyramid, and who’s a predecessor to the authoritarian madman in THE DROWNED WORLD, Strangman, whose futile reaction to the sinking of London beneath the rising oceans is to train teams of crocodiles (IIRC) and drain the lagoons of the sunken city. Similar madmen feature in THE BURNING WORLD and THE CRYSTAL WORLD.

    First time out, however, Ballard couldn’t think of any better ending to WIND than (spoiler) to just have the global wind die down at the novel’s finish. He hadn’t yet figured out the classic Ballard ending in which the protagonist triumphantly realizes, as Conrad put it, that “into the destructive element is the way” and achieves his personal victory by traveling deeper into the Disaster Zone and dissolving his existing self, either psychically or literally. (As Kerans does in THE DROWNED WORLD.) Also, the prose is pretty perfunctory compared to later Ballard.

    Still, Ballard had to work fairly hard to get it out of print because Penguin kept reprinting it. Indeed, in the late 1960s a whole run of iconic Penguin SF covers in the UK were done by Alan Aldridge, who also worked with the Beatles, the Who, the Rolling Stones, Cream, and Andy Warhol, and was a signature illustrator of the era.

    Aldridge’s cover THE WIND FOR NOWHERE was particularly notable. Here’s an obituary for Aldridge, who died in 2017, in a design magazine, featuring his cover for WIND right up top, before getting to pieces he did for the likes of the Beatles, the Who, and Warhol —

    https://www.designweek.co.uk/issues/20-26-february-2017/remembering-alan-aldridge-revolutionary-graphic-designer-swinging-sixties/

    The Blumlein: He just died at the end of last year. I haven’t read this first novel and it’s atypical — he was trying to fit himself into a then-commercial SF framework and it was a space adventure story set on another planet, and that didn’t interest me.

    But yeah, later he wrote some interesting, worthwhile short fiction, often using his medical background, and most of that is definitely worth looking at from what I’ve seen.

    The Farca: You’ve got me. I know nothing about this person and have no memories of seeing their books when they came out.

    The Shirley: Meh. I haven’t read it, and was put off by the cover and blurb at the time. Motivated by your recent review of CITY COME-A-WALKIN’, I did download a Kindle sample of a Shirley ‘Best Short Stories’ (not the title, but that was more or less the idea) a couple of days ago. I got through the first ten pages of the first story, before deleting the sample. I grant Shirley is historically important because of his relationship to the cyberpunks, but I have to class your enthusiasm for Shirley alongside your enthusiasm for Vincent King. It would be a boring world if we were all the same, wouldn’t it?

    1. Ballard: I look forward to reading it. Especially as I’ve read all his subsequent apocalypse novels (The Drowned World, The Drought, and The Crystal World). And, as you lay out, it’ll be fun seeing the embryonic similarities. I had to buy this one online, and due to the lack of printings, it wasn’t the cheapest paperback I’ve purchased ($12). I wanted a UK edition (with an Aldridge or Pelham cover) but they were much more expensive.

      For anyone else stopping by, here’s the Aldridge (1967)

      And the Pelham (1974)

      Shirley: “but I have to class your enthusiasm for Shirley alongside your enthusiasm for Vincent King.”

      I am a bit confused. You downloaded some random short stories of Shirley (which I haven’t read) and then dismissed them and somehow that relates to what I wrote about a different book. I was only talking about one book — City Come-A-Walkin’ (1980). I haven’t read anything else he wrote. It’s fine to disagree with my assessment–and I love the discussion that results—but remember I’ve only explored a little corner of his work. I could dislike everything else for all I know. As for King, I do not have “enthusiasm” for it. It received the lowest “good” rating I could give it — a 3.5/5. If you want to know what I’m really “enthusiastic” about look for the 4.5 and above ratings!

      The novels I’ve read and reviewed this year that truly excite me!

      Tanith Lee’s Electric Forest (1979)
      Leigh Brackett’s The Long Tomorrow (1955)
      Sven Holm’s Termush (1967)
      Michael Moorcock and Hilary Bailey’s The Black Corridor (1969( (although I gave that one a 4.25 it probably qualifies)
      Marge Piercy’s Dance the Eagle to Sleep (1970)

      1. As you (J.B.) say: “It’s fine to disagree with my assessment–and I love the discussion that results—but remember I’ve only explored a little corner of his work.”

        Same here. I thought that it was time to give Shirley a try, based on your liking CITY and the fact that he was cyberpunk-adjacent there at the beginning and an influence on Gibson. But then I read a few pages of this one Shirley short story and thought the writing was really lame — I mean, really lame, sophomoric, and rushed. So, I thought, enough.

        That’s all. No need for confusion.

  3. Read the first 20+ pages of the Blumlein last night (turned out it was on the shelves at home!) Promises to be interesting but probably not for everybody as there’s some sex scenes which tend toward graphic and one of the main characters so far sleeps with her landlord (or designated other, usually his father) to pay her rent.

  4. I have read a lot of Ballard, but some of it I haven’t re-read in many years. I have an edition of this book but have not read it. I like your comment about how an author may not always be the best person to judge the work. And there are a lot of novels (in this genre especially) that are “bad,” in that they don’t succeed very well on the usual measures of popularity, may not be uniformly page-turning, and may just be too deliberately obtuse and esoteric to really work for most readers. But very often I will enjoy reading these books because they are interesting and revelatory in some way. Honestly, I enjoy reading an out-there, experimental “bad” novel that doesn’t really work well far more than I enjoy reading a middle-of-the-road fantasy series volume or science fiction sequel that does everything expected of it but isn’t gorgeously written, doesn’t attempt to shake up the genre, and doesn’t break any ground. And first novels are often these experimental works. It’s why, for example, I love Bruce Sterling’s Involution Ocean – it’s a silly, over-extended metaphor and takeoff on Moby Dick, but it does enjoyable things with narrative voice, style, and hallucinatory visions.

    1. Thanks for stopping by (and I love comments!).

      I suspect Gene Wolfe was right about his first novel — it probably is trash in comparison to his later works. But average Ballard? Still count me in. I know M. John Harrison is very suspicious of many of his early short fictions (if I remember correctly, he doesn’t allow some of them to be reprinted). But I adored many of the ones in The Machine in Shaft Ten.

      I read Stirling’s Involution Ocean in 2016. I was ambivalent but enjoyed the overall setting. https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2016/10/24/book-review-involution-ocean-bruce-sterling-1977/

      I think Vincent King’s Candy Man (1971) fits what you described above. It’s weird, not entirely coherent, has some fun ideas, and some truly annoying narrative ticks. Was it hallucinatory and weird? Yes! Was it good? Not really. Am I angry that I read it? Absolutely not.

      https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2020/05/10/book-review-candy-man-vincent-king-1971/

      1. Thanks for that lead… Candy Man sounds terrible (and also, awesome!) I’ll have to track that one down!

      2. Havng owned them both since the early/mid 70s, I recently re-read both Candy Man and Time Snake and Super Clown by Vincent King. I haven’t really finalised my thoughts as I usually do on Flickr, but I found them both fairly accessible and easy to read, with Candy Man confirming my recollection that it was my favourite of the two.

  5. Intrigued to hear your thoughts on the Blumlein! His “The Brains of Rats” from 1986 is a favorite of mine. His prose, in that story at least, has the kind of teeth and counter-intuitive insight you don’t often come across (not that this needs to stand for the entry here).

    1. Thanks for the comment.

      I am more likely to read “Tissue Ablation and Variant Regeneration: A Case Report” (1984) and “The Brains of Rats” (1986) before The Movement of Mountains (1987). Hopefully soon! (I’m not always in control when the whim a particular work strikes — hah).

  6. (This was intended to be a reply on the Shirley part of the comments but it won’t post, so I’m going to try replying to the whole post.)

    I think Transmaniacon is a interesting work – above Three Ring Psychus which starts great but ends poorly – but probably not as interesting as the even nuttier Dracula in Love (even though it’s about Professional Irritant punks, bikers, futuristic cities, and dolphins). Eclipse is still the masterpiece for me but they share some aspects. My notes say it’s “a fair example of early Shirley.”

    Mark, you gotta give Shirley more of a chance than that. 🙂 As Michael Swanwick once said, he was the John the Baptist of the cyberpunks and influenced Sterling and Gibson who influenced everybody but, more than that, he’s fascinating in his own right. He could sell product which is presumably relatively ordinary but, in his less commercial writing, he does things his own way and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. But the guy who could write “The Incorporated,” “The Prince,” “A Walk Through Beirut,” “Shadow of a Snowstorm,” “Cold Feet,” or “I Live in Elizabeth,” “Uneasy Chrysalids, Our Memories,” or “Six Kinds of Darkness” is an essential author.

  7. It’d be nice if wordpress had told me it thought it was spam. I had hit “Post Comment” and it just silently took me to the top of the page. I didn’t know what was going on. It was extra weird because I’d just successfully posted about Leinster (who, btw, I think is WAY better than White, but that’s just my opinion 🙂 ) and it got weirder still because, right after that, I was mysteriously logged out of wordpress for the first time in years, or maybe ever.

    Anyway – nice review of City. It makes me want to read it again. I recall liking it but also being disappointed because I went into it with such high expectations, having picked up the idea somewhere that it was epochal. As was, it just struck me as a weird, neat book.

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