Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLII (James White, Patricia A. McKillip, John Maddox Roberts, and an Original Anthology)

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

1. Fool’s Run, Patricia A. McKillip (1987)

Michael Whelan’s cover for the 1988 edition

From the back cover: “Terra Viridian is a young woman who obeyed a vision, took a laser assault rifle, and turned fifteen hundred innocents into light. She was captured, convicted, and sentences to the orbital prison called the Underworld. Forever.

Seven years later: a bar-band pianistsnamed The Magician suddenly plays Bach, while a riot burns around him. The Queen of Hearts, a drifter who hides her life beneath a golden mask, steps enigmatically from the shadows. Underworld administrator Jase Klyos unexpectedly lets a concert bring sound to his silent, sterile hell. And beneath her mad eyes, the vision of a psychotic killer… changes. The thing that Terra Viridian saw is coming. Growing. Watching. And it must be set free.”

Initial Thoughts: In my teens fantasy was my domain. As I had access to hundreds of acres of rural Virginia countryside, the forests and streams and gullies became my invented fantasy landscape (in inhabited by Dogtullises — i.e. Dog Turtles). McKillip’s The Forgotten Beasts of Eld (1975) and the brilliant The Riddle-Master of Hed (1976)  marched with a legion of fantasy novels that fostered my love of reading. I haven’t returned to her work since. And when I discovered she wrote science fiction later in her career…. I bought one!

2. Hospital Station, James White (1962)

H. R. Van Dongen’s cover for the 1979 edition

From the back cover: “SECTOR GENERAL. Blazing like a gigantic, misshapen Christmas tree against a misty background of stars, Galactic Sector Twelve General Hospital provides environments and medical staff for the treatment of any known life form.

But it’s a big galaxy—and then there are realms beyond the galaxy. So it’s all in the day’s work for the medics of Sector General to have to deal with….

  • A telepathic dinosaur
  • The toughest orphan in the universe
  • An incomprehensible alien that seems to be eating itself
  • A berserk patient who could wipe out the whole hospital station”

Contents: “Medic” (1960), “Sector General” (1957), “The Trouble with Emily” (1958), “Visitor at Large” (1959), “Out-Patient” (1960)

Initial Thoughts: Whenever I bring up my love of medical-themed science fiction, numerous readers point out James White’s Sector General sequence of stories. While I have read a few here and there, I have yet to read one of the collections from cover to cover. Time to rectify that.

White’s three novels reviewed on this site should be tracked down:

3. Chrysalis 4, ed. Roy Torgeson (1979)

Clyde Caldwell’s cover for the 1979 edition

From the inside page: “This fourth volume in the Chrysalis series of all-original science fiction stories once again presents the very best writing by recognized masters of the art, established professionals and brilliant newcomers.”

Contents: Charles L. Grant and Thomas F. Monteleone’s “When Dark Descends,” Gregory Long’s “The Word,” R. A. Lafferty’s “St. Poleander’s Eve,” Karl Hansen’s “Wires,” Spider Robinson’s Local Champ,” Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s “Fugitive Colors,” Octavia E. Butler’s “Near of Kin,” Robert Thurston’s “Vibrations,” Orson Scott Card’s “Eumenides in the Fourth Floor Lavatory,” Alan Ryan’s “Good Night, Though Child of My Heart.”

Initial ThoughtsOctavia E. Butler wrote only a handful of short stories. As a result, I rather track them down in individual anthologies rather than an author specific collection. Along the way I might discover other short fiction gems!

4. The Strayed Sheep of Charun, John Maddox Roberts (1977)

Michael Flanagan’s cover for the 1977 edition

From the back cover: The newly discovered world of Charun, sprung from a Roman tradition, has strayed far from the old religion. Not only is the aristocracy ridden with corruption, but is supported by slaves, gangsters, and monstrous android warriors. The citizens of Charun have long been deprived of any kind of higher ideals. All they live for is gambling and the fights—confrontations of brutality and certain death—between slaves well groomed and trained for their fate….

In this grotesque place three men are brought together: a young fighter who sold himself into slavery in order to save his tribe from extinction, a Jesuit priest with a few tricks up his sleeve, and a Franciscan brother who plans to go quietly winning converts among Charun’s poor. Their methods are different, but their aims are the same: to live long enough to return a violent planet to the path of righteousness…”

Initial Thoughts: An author and work that I hadn’t heard about until recently. Deeply suspicious of overtly Roman/medieval tropes…. we shall see.

For book reviews consult the INDEX

For cover art posts consult the INDEX

44 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLII (James White, Patricia A. McKillip, John Maddox Roberts, and an Original Anthology)

  1. #3 sounds like fun, I have read “Near of Kin,” and “St. Poleander’s Eve” and neither was a Peak Read. Neither was crap, either, I hasten to add!
    #4 gives me the heebies. Words like “righteousness” don’t sit well, for what I rather assume are self-evident reasons.

  2. Hi, I love checking out all the neat books you find, lots of great stuff, thanks for sharing.

    I have a question, was wondering if you could help. Years ago, would be the early 2000’s, 02 or 03, I was at a used bookstore and remember seeing a Sci-Fi novel and was wondering if you could help identify it. I didn’t buy it, and can’t remember the name but it’s been stuck in my head for years. On the cover was a woman in a glass tube, and the plot of the book was about a man who had his mind transfered into the body of a woman who along with a super genius who’s mind was in a little kids had to go on a quest to find their original bodies.

    Does that sound familiar to anyone?


  3. A word about John Maddox Roberts. I haven’t read Strayed Sheep so I can’t really comment on it, but he is also the author of SPQR, a mystery series set in Rome around the time of the fall of the Republic. There are, like, 10 books in the series and the quality falls off a bit by the end, but the first few are highly entertaining. Most of his other books seem to be fantasy and I hope that they would be as enjoyable, but the only one I have read is one of his Conan novels and it felt pretty generic…Oh, and apparently he later expanded Strayed Sheep and republished it as Cestus Dei, so you don’t even have the final version.

    • Yup, I am aware that I have the first version of The Strayed Sheep. Like Wilson Tucker’s brilliant The Long Loud Silence (1952, rev. 1969), I am perfectly okay reading an earlier version.

      This is something of a related tangent, maybe? Bear with me!

      As for his more overt historical fiction, as I’m a professional medievalist (PhD) with an primary interest in medieval conceptions of and historical writing about Rome — I’m deeply reluctant to read it…. I suspect my view is something akin to a professional scientist encountering amateur level science in a novel. It’s nothing to do with whether they are actually entertaining or not! It’s simply that I rather read about history in an academic monograph or article.Also, I tend to approach them as if I were researching about medievalism (the presentation of medieval history after the middle ages), which is currently a major area of study at the moment.

      Even loose extrapolations from the “roman,” or “medieval” or “early modern” frustrate me. There’s a reason I haven’t reviewed Keith Roberts’ wonderful Pavane. It’s steeped with a deep anti-medieval current… which, of course, was all the thing back in the 60s/70s. And that’s okay. I find it far more interesting as a work of “medievalism” than a novel. Some of these issue broil beneath the surface of my review of Richard Cowper’s The Road to Corlay (1978) (which I also did not enjoy writing about). https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2019/04/01/book-review-the-road-to-corlay-richard-cowper-1978/

      At the same time, my area of study deeply impacts how I approach SF. At a conceptual level I am fascinating by texts within texts (I researched medieval compilations of other writings quoted and rewritten), commentaries on memory and the act of history, how one retells the traumatic past…. Those operations pull me into SF. On another level, my professional obsessive approach to history informs my general approach to reading — finding a niche and exploring its nooks and crannies.

  4. I loved FOOL’S RUN. I think it’s McKillip’s only science fiction novel. Lively and colorful, not overly interested in science or avoiding plot coincidence.

    Seconding Butler’s “Speech Sounds” and “Bloodchild” — brilliant stories.

  5. Recently read “Fool’s Run”, it is a combination of melancholy, music, and space opera.. The primary characters are a pair of twins, and a man who is in love with one of them. I loved it, and it has one of the best covers of all time. I also loved the rather whimsical cover by H. R. Van Dongen for the James White collection.

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