Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CCLV (Francis Stevens, M. Barnard Eldershaw, Robert Thurston, Rudolph Wurlitzer)

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

1. The Heads of Cerberus, Francis Stevens (1919)

Uncredited cover for the 1984 edition

From the back cover: “Francis Stevens’ fast-paced, imaginative novel is probably the first science-fiction work to deal with the concept of parallel worlds. Five young friends inhale the dust of Purgatory, pass through the Gateway of the Moon and enter the marvelous Alternate Earth where time flows at a far faster pace than her own. To their horror and amazement, by stepping over the bank of the unknown, they have left their world of Philadelphia in 1917 and have entered into a mystifying and dangerous “Philadelphia” of 2118. How they attempt to escape from the oblivion that threatens to swallow them is an unforgettable journey into the fantastic.”

Initial Thoughts: Pre-WWII SF and I don’t mix. I’ve tried. I read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), C. S. Lewis’ Cosmic Trilogy (1938-1945), David Lindsay’s A  Voyage to Arcturus (1920), and plenty of others…. That said, the historian in me itches to have a better grasp of pre-WWII SF, and Francis Stevens’ The Heads of Cerberus (1919) fits the bill. And apparently her novel is the first alternate worlds SF novel ever written…. It’s out of copyright so you can easily read it on Project Gutenberg Australia. I, of course, wanted a paper copy!

2. Set of Wheels, Robert Thurston (1983)

Alan Daniels’ cover for the 1983 edition

From the back cover: “IS THERE A FORD IN THE FUTURE?

Lee Kestner didn’t want one of the new low pollution, low performance cars. He wanted a muscle machine. He found a ’67 Mustang, a blast from the past, from Earth’s glorious, vanished Golden Age. The cops would be out to crack him for illegal driving. But they’d have to catch him first.

It was time to take that wreck of a Mustang and teach her roll. Put the pedal to the metal. Earth can be like Heaven again if you’ve got Wheels…”

Initial Thoughts: I am fascinated, from a historical perspective (i.e. the 70s conservative backlash) only, by “rebellion” as an act of pollution (a bizarre conclusion in my view). K. Keith Mano’s The Bridge (1973) comes to mind. Thurston’s Set of Wheels (1983) posits driving a polluting car as an act of rebellion! I suspect he’s more interested in rebellion as indulging in the allure of the road. I’m currently compiling a list of science fiction car-related SF (there’s nothing that screams Americana more than the “freedom of the road”).

Tarbandu over at The PorPor Books Blog hated it. I suspect it’ll be more interesting as a window in to 70s society than as a work of fiction. We shall see!

3. Tomorrow & Tomorrow & Tomorrow, M. Barnard Eldershaw (Marjorie Barnard and Flora Eldershaw) (1947, revised 1983)

Uncredited cover for the 1984 edition

From the back cover: “Enduring Works from Women Novelists.

It is the twenty-fourth century. Knarf, a writer, lives in a society of technocratic socialism that has abolished war and poverty through ‘scientific’ laws. Knarf has written a novel which begins in November 1924 and tells the story of an Australian working man. Harry Munster and of his family and their friends and lovers. Through their eyes we experience the terrible years of the Depression: years of rising anger that culminate, at the end of the Second World War, in civil disturbance and the threat of a Third World War.

When first published in 1947 these stirring passages were seriously cut by the government censor. Now for the first time the full uncensored text is printed as the authors wrote it. The result is both a warm and vivid portrait of what was to follow—the nuclear shadow which is our common inheritance.

M. Barnard Eldershaw is the pseudonym for Marjorie Barnard (b. 1897) and Flora Eldershaw (1897-1956), two of the finest Australian novelists of this century, who were both involved in the radical left in the 1920s and 1930s. Barnard and Eldershaw collaborated on a number of novels and on numerous works of criticism, biography, and history.”

Initial Thoughts: I found this novel via circuitous route of pseudo-history and bizarre article/fictions. A follower on twitter alerted me to a fascinating article on Barry N. Malzberg at the Jewish online magazine Tablet. A related link took me to a 2013 Borgesian work of pseudo-biography, a fictious account by Shay Azoulay of a lost “magnum opus” that never existed–Jacob Wallenstein’s Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow (1955). I, impulsively, looked the author up before I had read the article… and of course, Jacob Wallenstein and his book never existed. But, M. Barnard Eldershaw’s Tomorrow and Tomorrow (1947) appeared which I knew nothing about! Their novel was re-published, in uncut form, as Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow (1983).

The meta-levels continue: M. Barnard Eldershaw’s work is a novel within a novel. The science fiction “novel within a novel” Little World Left Behind is a future view of the past, of the Australia of the present. Read SF Encyclopedia’s description here.

If you know anything about this one let me know! I’m transfixed (by my journey to the book and the book itself).

4. Quake, Rudolph Wurlitzer (1972)

Sanford Kossin’s cover for the 1974 edition

From the back cover: “Frantic sex, madness an brute survival, as Los Angeles digs out of the apocalypse!

Armed guards and vigilantes roam the streets… herds of screaming, naked people… falling buildings and mounting hysteria… horror upon horror!”

Initial Thoughts: According to SF encyclopedia, the science fiction of Rudolph Wurlitzer, better known as a mainstream novelist and screenwriter, shares “an apocalyptic mise en scène similar in feeling to, but not clearly identified as being, the Post-Holocaust world so familiar to sf readers; Quake in particular creates a post-Disaster Los Angeles […] that clearly prefigures the metamorphic City of writers like Steve Erickson.”

I am all for metamorphic cityscapes—ruined and transformed! I look forward to this one, despite the overly sensationalist cover blurb.


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29 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CCLV (Francis Stevens, M. Barnard Eldershaw, Robert Thurston, Rudolph Wurlitzer)”

  1. My brain initially registered that first one as “The Heads of Celebrities”.
    Which, I guess, is a story which could go any of several directions …

      1. Hey there. I haven’t really looked yet; was going through email and the notice of this post had that cover as a thumbnail in it. And just saw notice of your comment in email. Haven’t actually read this post yet.
        From what I see coming here to comment, the cover art of Ship Who Sang was also featured in “Terran Trade Authority” art book. Cover art of The Lights in the Sky Are Stars really catches my eye. Have a few more things to get done then I will come back to really read the post.

            1. Oh no, not another social media platform! haha. I’ve already been convinced to list small portions of my reviews on Goodreads with a link to the full post.

  2. Wurlitzer wrote NOG, about a man wandering the West with an octopus in a bathyscaphe.

    I think that’s one of the taproots of my interest in (read: peculiar love for) Tentacled Americans. And nonsensical bizarro fiction. And writers whose claim to fame is that they haven’t any to claim.

      1. Exactly! I wonder if Jodorowsky read it before making El Topo? Anyway, the same classical structure, the same elegant aesthetic of form, volume, and color, deployed in similarly surreal storytelling.

          1. I bought Quake back when it came out from Picador back in 1974 with a vastly different cover (not shown on isfdb, unfortunately) but I didn’t take to it and culled it long ago. I might well like it more now.
            As I recall, assuming I’m thinking of the right book, the cover was of a collapsimg cityscape with a flamboyantly American car (big, bright convertible, with big fins, etc) front and centre with several rather manic people in it, escaping from the wreckage of a flyover behind them. I remember that better than any of the actual novel, I’m afraid!

            1. That cover sounds like it’s right on the money from what I’ve read about the book. I look forward to diving in! I’m all for collapsing cities, crazed landscapes of decay and destruction….

              This one?

            2. I recognise the picture and I’m sure that is the edition I read, but the picture I’m remembering is different and I’ve either conflated two similar-ish books, or my memory has drifted a long way over the years!

            3. It’s been a long time. I guess my ‘memory’ of the cover is just wrong. The more I look at the one you posted, the more it looks familiar!

            1. Caused a riot in Mexico City! If you haven’t read about his early life and films, it’s an adventure for sure…. both his life and your reading experience.

  3. That’s quite a tale of yours getting to M. Barnard Eldershaw. I happen to have a copy of both Tomorrow and Tomorrow (1947) and Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow (1983)! Though I haven’t read either version. I know someone who wrote a thesis on this work back in the 1990s. That’s all i’ve got, sad to say. Maybe this will be the encouragement to finally read the damn thing.

    1. For all I own my tale of discovery might be more interesting than the novel itself!

      It’s one of those works that I might read a bit about first before I dive in — if I get around to it. As I mentioned, I find its structure and the more overtly SF part of the novel the most intriguing.

      And, I wonder if Shay Azoulay’s fictional pseudo-biography is in dialogue with Eldershaw’s work. Check out the link to that fake biography — worth the read!

  4. Wow. Two Australian connections (the first very marginal). I downloaded Heads of Cerberus. How could I not want to read the “first” alternate universes novel — even if it doesn’t turn out to be as advertised. I went to Amazon looking for T&T&T but I don’t have that much money. I do, however, have a few libraries which never throw books away, so after Covid . . .

    I spent two summers (winter there) in Australia in the 90’s and fell in love with the place, as well as some of the writers I picked up in used bookstores. You are driving down my alley this week.

  5. I can see the spine of Heads of Cerberus on my TBR shelves from here … it’s moved across the country with me twice and I’ve been in this apartment since 1995. Just waiting for the right moment … (I read like a DJ, it’s all about the transitions) or at least an interesting review.

    Speaking of pseudo-history, I’m currently about a third of the way through Jean d’Ormesson’s The Glory of the Empire. Would be really interested in your thoughts on it, if you’ve read it.

      1. Heh, that’s why I specifically thought of you — it’s not a novel, properly speaking, it’s fake academic history in an early 20C style. You’re the guy who would get all the jokes! (the footnotes and bibiography are punishing).

        (Plus, it’s not often you get to reflect on Lem and Robert E. Howard at the same time 😉 ).

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