Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLVI (Joan Slonczewski, Barrington J. Bayley, James E. Gunn, Per Wahlöö)

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

1. The Mind Master (variant title: The Dreamers), James E. Gunn (1981)

Lisa Falkenstern’s cover for the 1982 edition

From the back cover: “IT IS THE 22ND CENTURY… IT IS THE AGE OF ECSTASY… Man has perfected the chemical transfer of information. Pop a pill and experience the Garden of Eden, the knowledge of centuries, or the vicarious thrill of someone else’s life. And in this world, one man—The Mnemonist—holds the task of keeping society functioning.

but it is time to choose his successor.

While his body is bound to the ultimate computer, his mind roams, monitoring lives.

Who will serve?

One of the bright, beautiful children who wait only for the latest “capsule of dreams?”….

A brilliant historian who is tempted to risk all of his work for a promise of delight?…

A doctor who in serving loses the love his most wishes to gain?…

Who will serve?

Now that serving means the end of sweet delirium.

And not serving means the end of all else…”

Initial Thoughts: James Gunn is a Joachim Boaz favorite from the earliest days of my site. While I haven’t returned to his work in a few years, I remember his powerful dystopic rumination on the healthcare system of the future in The Immortals (1962) fondly. Check out The Joy Makers (1961) as well! I read, somewhat enjoyed, but never reviewed The Listeners (1972).

2. Still Forms on Foxfield, Joan Slonczewski (1980)

H. R. Van Dongen’s cover for the 1980 edition

From the back cover: “THE QUAKER PLANET.

Fleeing the final war that would destroy Earth;s civilization,  a small group of Friends—Quakers—found refuge on the uncharted planet they named Foxfield. Somehow they managed to survive, with the aid of the bizarrely gifted native life-form, the Commensals—and, even more extraordinarily, they kept up the practice of their gentle but demanding beliefs.

Then, after nearly a century of silence, Earth contacted them—human civilization had miraculously survived the war and had spread out to the stars, flourishing to an undreamed-of richness.

And the Friends of Foxfield were a part of it—whether they agreed or not…”

Initial Thoughts: A few months ago I procured Slonczewski’s best known novel, A Door Into Ocean (1987). But, as is my wont, I tend to explore the lesser known works of an author first. And Slonczewski’s take on Quakers in space fits the bill.

3. Annihilation Factor, Barrington J. Bayley (1972)

Peter Lloyd’s cover for the 1972 edition

From the inside flap: “Castor Krakhno believed he was waking from a nightmare. Opening his eyes, he found himself lying on his side on a concrete pavement. Near him were bodies, collapsed like rag dolls. They were all dead…

Prince Paredan had been having violent and unpleasant dream. He forced himself awake and rolled off the couch. Faintness, vibrations, an overwhelming desire to give in, to lose consciousness assailed him. Peredan stumbled out of his apartments into the bright outer offices. The offices were littered with unconscious forms. The prince struggled on…

The Patch was happy. I had eaten well. It rested, savoring the flavor of the planets it had devoured. Then it began to move, following the slipline, drifting on to yet another inhabited world…”

Initial Thoughts: This post feels like a trip down nostalgia road! Barrington J. Bayley, like Gunn, featured heavily in the early days of my site. While I doubt I’d be as kind towards his idea-heavy but often ramshackle novels now, The Fall of Chronopolis (1974), The Garments of Caean (1976), and Collision Course(variant title: Collision with Chronos) (1973) contained legitimately fascinating ideas.

4. The Generals, Per Wahlöö (1965, trans. by Joan Tate, 1974)

Gary Tong’s cover for the 1974 edition

From the inside flap: “Time: the not too distant future. Place: a small island in the temperate zone. Scene: an extraordinary court-martial at air-force headquarters. Corporal Edwin Velder is on trial for his life. Some of his 127 alleged crimes are military, but others are civil and moral: bigamy, rape, and sacrilege. Per Wahlöö’s new novel takes the form of the proceedings of the trial, stretching over three months.

This trial is of great political importance to regime. The result is a foregone conclusion: Velder has been prepared in prison by “specialists” for three years. He is a physical and mental wreck and confesses to all but one of the charges. In reality the court-martial is an elaborate rehearsal of the events of the last eight years. The past and the dead are on trial.

A group of civilized, intelligent men took over the island, we learn, and began to build an ideal state. There were no politics, religion, laws, bureaucracy, or taxes. The country was carefully developed and enjoyed great prosperity and general happiness under the loosely exercised authority of the state’s founders. After five years the first cracks appeared with a disagreement in the ruling council. Slow disintegration set in: a secret armed force was built up by one of the rulers, and eventually civil war broke out. The rout of the liberal party was followed by full-scale fighting between the “fascists” and the “reds.”

At the time of the trial the country has enjoyed, officially, three years of peace after the cease-fire, but in fact the Generals, who rule with an iron grip, are ceaselessly struggling for power with one another. The military tribunal, a gallery of fanaticism and obtuse cruelty, forces Velder to reconstruct the events, personalities, ideals, battles, and final defeat of the island revolution. As the inevitable verdict is pronounced on the innocent, unprotesting Velder, the latest coup takes place.

The Generals is a political book but told with Wahlöö’s sardonic humor and thriller writer’s sense of suspense. He is too subtle a moralist to draw an obvious allegory or point a message for his readers. They must draw their own conclusions from what is Wahlöö’s most demanding and satisfying novel.

Per Wahlöö and, his wife, Maj Sjöwall [this is an error on the publishers part. They were NEVER married but were partners for 13 years], have been called the ‘reigning king and queen of mystery fiction’ by the National Observers. They received the Edgar Award for the best mystery novel from the Mystery Writers of America in 1970, and a film of their Laughing Policeman, starring Walter Matthau, has recently been released.”

Initial Thoughts: I’ve been on a mini-Scandinavian science fiction kick as of late. I enjoyed Sven Holm’s Termush (1967, trans. 1969) recently and placed Anders Bodelsen’s Freezing Down (1969, trans. 1971) on my best reads of 2019 list. This one look like an intense read! I look forward to it.


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40 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLVI (Joan Slonczewski, Barrington J. Bayley, James E. Gunn, Per Wahlöö)”

  1. “Cynically unperturbed by the appalling loss of life, the royal houses merely tried to involve the Patch in their machinations, to the extent that civil war broke out all over again.”
    Bayley wrote that plot in the 1960s/early 70s…the horrors of the Heath gov’t and the instructive vileness of the Fall of Nixon unfolding before him. I should probably read it. The parallels and echoes would make it worthwhile.

    1. I don’t know much about Bayley’s political views — I should investigate. Have you read much of his work?

      I agree with SF Encyclopedia that the general lack of cheer in his space operas has reduced their popularity: “Perhaps because Bayley’s style is sometimes laboured and his lack of cheerful endings is alien to the expectations of readers of conventional Space Opera, he never received due recognition for the hard-edged control he exercised over plots whose intricate dealings in Time Paradoxes and insistent metaphysical drive make them some of the most formidable works of their type.”

      1. I don’t get Bayley’s politics. Sometimes I wonder if he is some type of anarcho-commie radical. Fucked up empires seem to be a specialty of his. I love his time displaced capitalist space station in Collision with Chronos, in which the ruling class kids are delivered into the time displaced working class sector, and vice versa.
        I’ve got Annihilation Factor but haven’t read it. One of the few remaining works of his I haven’t. I should probably dust it off and take a look.

        1. Yeah, I’m not sure. But I’m also not sure that Bayley always has control over his narrative to make these views clear or rather simply some ideas he’s tossing at the wall hoping they stick…. I read and reviewed Collision with Chronos but don’t remember the “displaced capitalist space station.”

          1. It’s crazy but true. The story takes an unexpected turn 2/3 of the way through. I’ve read the novel a few times and it wasn’t until the third or fourth time that i firmly got a grip on this change of pace!

  2. Ah, del Rey era Del Rey Books. I don’t know that I’d call the planet in Foxfield uncharted, in as much as its location is known and the Quakers mapped it from orbit. Plus no doubt the natives are familiar with it.

    In a weird way, it’s a bit like that ancient Heinlein, Methuselah’s Children, in that the humans do not fully appreciate the nature of the beings who graciously allowed them to settle among the aliens.

    1. Hello James, misleading back cover blurbs aside (sometimes I wonder if they even read the book in hand), how does the work compare to her later novels?

      I am intrigued by the Heinlein comparison — Heinlein was an author of my youth that I’ve mostly disavowed. Is this a more overt reworking? Or, do you think they are more incidental parallels between the works?

  3. Incidental parallels that happen to high-light a sea change in RAH’s fiction. Before Starship Troopers,Heinlein aliens were generally presented as beings worthy of respect, quite possibly so much more powerful than humans that pissing them off was suicidal. After SST, they are mostly inferior natives (Podkayne) or rivals to be put in their places. Or exterminated.

    Still Forms was one of my favourite books as a teen, whereas for whatever reason her later books didn’t click as well for me. I still own them all, though.

      1. I’ve read all his novels and most of his short stories. I’m a bit behind in his most recent short works.

        I’ve reviewed most of them. Unfortunately, I read most before I started my blog so the “Raw Feed” reviews are basically my notes on them and not as coherent as a regular review.

        My Mind Master “review” is at https://marzaat.wordpress.com/2016/05/03/the-mind-master/

        As to favorites, if I had to give a ranking of my top three, it would by The Joy Makers, The Immortals, and The Listeners.

        His recent Transcendental trilogy is interesting but I wouldn’t put it at the top. It does have lots of buried homages to early sf.

        1. Thanks for the link!

          But yes, I agree on two of those three top Gunn novels. I’m behind on his short fiction as well. I have two of his collections laying around… perhaps I should read those first!

          1. I’ve liked most of the Gunn stories I’ve read, though I suspect I might dig some of his academic work more. I’ve enjoyed Station in Space, The Joy Makers and The Immortals. I recall being severely disappointed by a short called Every Day Is Christmas (1957). I’d been hoping for a stunning critique of 1950s consumerism a la Frederick Pohl. Sadly it was not very good.

  4. What do people see in Gunn that I am overlooking? His prose never impressed me and his worlds seem to be populated by a dozen or so people.

    1. Well, it was almost a decade ago that I read and reviewed any of Gunn’s fiction — and I was barely in my 20s at the time. I’m not sure what I’d think now. That said, The Immortals might be the most brutal satire of the current American (key point here, not Canadian!) healthcare system that I’ve read! And it was written so long ago…

      I did not care for The Listeners (1972) which I read only half a decade ago.

    1. Me too. That said, I fall into the Lem camp for potential first contact SF!

      There is one Gunn tick that bothers me — and it was in The Listeners as well. The quotations from various standard pieces of classic literature that preface each chapter. In the Listeners the technique rubbed me the wrong way… and my indecision as to why was one of the reason I didn’t write a review.

      As I mentioned to Marzaat above, I should read one of his collections of short fictions before this novel.

  5. Thanks for your interest in Skandinavian SF. I have (and others!), named Kallocain of course; but dont miss The Masterpiece Aniara (56), by Harry Martinsson (nobel prizer 74).
    Mats B-P

    1. Thanks for visiting. Have you read this one or the others we discussed earlier (Sven Holm and Anders Bodelsen)? Kallocain and Aniara are the two books most commonly brought up in discussions of Scandinavian SF…. so I’ve definitely heard of those!

      Joachim

      1. Honestly i have not! We in Scandinavia have not so much of “pulp-sf” in our history,
        so most of it are “mainstram-sf”.
        I now You are interested (like me!), in art. It is the same situation; we have not “pulp-artists”. But things to be find in our art history of SF interest; what do You say of artist Roj Friberg (1934-2016)?
        /Mats

        (Try Roj friberg konstnär on Google)

        1. Nearly all of the covers when it comes to our SF-magazines or SF-paperback series are taken from American or English sources. So it did not appeared a market to Swedish artists.
          Mats

          1. Yes, Lundwall are at his best in say 1975-80. Most of these I think not translated. There are others Bertil Mårtensson and more… (But not so much and not so original…)
            So it is in The “Mainstream fields” we can find our important contributors.
            Mats

            1. Do you know of a Swedish bibliography of his work? I assume it would be more complete than the one I linked you above….

              Which of Lundwall’s have you read?

  6. I remember Fängelsestaden (“The City Of Prisons”) as my favorite (1978). A dark tale inspired by Piranesis prison visions.
    I should read it again of course!

    Mats

    1. But there are more; Mörkrets Furste eller Djävulstornets Hemlighet (1975). A wilde huge steampunk story, c.400 pages. I was 17 then… Has a signed ex from the SF convention in Stockholm 75, Alfred Bester was special guest. Verk fun!

  7. The Wiki (english), article on Bertil Mårtensson seems ok. Myxomartis Forte, the short story in The Penguin World Omnibus of SF, ed. Brian Aldiss and Sam J. Lundwall,
    this story is one of his best, he said; I belive him!
    Mats

    1. Note: I read it in a som way revised swedish version; the Swedish SF-magazines; it was 98% translated texts (and SF are a short story genre…); novels sells more… Most of our SF writers short storys are to this day not published!

      M.

      1. Addenda: There are of course short storys in our SF fanzines (of leading writers).
        Summa and SF Forum are the most important.
        Mats

      2. Yeah, of the non-English language SF magazine scene, I know the French and Italian magazines the best. And they too mostly contained translated US and British SF until the 70s and later.

    1. Hello Adam, how are you!

      Have you been reading anything cool?

      It’s an odd cover as the contents of the novel are far from playful! My wife enjoyed his best known non-SF novel, The Laughing Policeman (1968) which he wrote with his partner Maj Sjöwall

  8. Addenda: There are of course short storys in our SF fanzines (of leading writers).
    Summa and SF Forum are the most important.
    Mats

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