Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CCLVIII (Philip K. Dick, Kit Reed, Kenneth F. Gantz, and a Themed Anthology)

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

1. Clans of the Alphane Moon, Philip K. Dick (1964)

Ed Valigursky’s cover for the 1st edition

From the back cover: “Holding a precarious liberty as the result of an interstellar stalemate, the human survivors of Alpha Centauri’s hospital moon readied themselves for their war of independence.

Naturally, the Pares, always suspicious and sunning, assumed the leadership, leaving it to the Manses to provide the super weapons out of their sheer love of violence. Propaganda and other details would have been left to the Skitzes, the Heebs, and Polys, and the Ob-Coms.

But when the Earth expedition arrived, everything turned out to be different… because they too were divided among themselves, and some of them weren’t really human at all!

It’s a Philip K. Dick tour-de-force of the far future.

Initial Thoughts: I read this one years ago during a pre-site PKD binge. I have vague memories of Lord Running Clam… and yet another PKD main character beset with marital problems. And the strange Alpha Centauri moon colony derived from a psychiatric hospital survivors. I found this Ace 1st edition for cheap.

2. Fort Privilege, Kit Reed (1984)

Frederick Porter’s cover for the 1st edition

From the inside cover: “It may turn out to be the party to end all parties. A great celebration has been planned to mark the centennial of the venerable Parkhurst on Manhattan’s Central Park West, and the elite are turning out in full force. But there’s a dark side to the festivities, for the Parkhurst is no longer just a fine old apartment building; it has become the last line of defense in a city under siege.

Over the years, the middle-class exodus from Manhattan has been accelerating as riots, fires, murders, and assorted disasters have grown so commonplace that reporters and TV newscasters no longer bother to cover the events. The refugees have been replaced—with alarming speed—by scavengers and opportunists, the lawless, the violent, and the pathological. Now, as the last of New York’s rich and famous gather for the hundredth anniversary gala of the presumably impregnable granite-walled Parkhurst, a seething mob is massing in Central Park, preparing to make a final, savage assault on wealth and privilege.

Inside the “fortress” is an unlikely crew of defenders: Abel Parkhurst, the aging patriarch; his wild daughter, Sarah: Bart Cavanaugh, a young man who’s lost his memory; sturdy Marine Colonel Al Brody; and the fanatical Ted Becket, who may be more dangerous to the defenders than to their enemies.”

Initial Thoughts: Kit Reed is a Joachim Boaz favorite — especially her anti-war allegory Armed Camps (1969). While I’ve read but never got around to reviewing more of her novel-length SF in 2017, I need to return to her work.

3. Not in Solitude, Kenneth F. Gantz (1959, rev. 1961)

Richard Powers’ cover for the 1961 edition

From the back cover: “Hostile Intelligence. It was a race against the clock and Dane had to make a fast decision. Colonel Cragg, the C. O. of the USAF spacecraft Far Venture, was ready to write off the party of scientists who had strayed from the ship and seemingly disappeared. The crew of civilian and military specialists were poised for the nuclear blastoff that should take this first Martian mission back to Earth.

But Dane had seen the curious spark fires that flashed across the sands from the mysterious lichen beds. Dane believed they were the signals of some alien form of life and that the scientists were still alive…

He had to prove his theory, even if it meant clashing with the military brass and placing his own life in danger. For unless hey understood the nature of what he believed to be a hostile, threatening force and took steps against it—none of them might ever see the planet Earth again…”

Initial Thoughts: This is a new author and novel to me. SF Encyclopedia adds little to whether or not it’s worth the read…. Thoughts? Have you read it?

4. The Alien Condition, ed. Stephen Goldin (1973)

Mati Klarwein’s cover for the 1st edition

From the back cover: “A dozen life-forms never before imagined… creative projections in the possible that only the best sceince-fiction has to offer… escapes into a dozen new kinds of minds, some hostile, some loving… even to death.”

Contents: Kathleen Sky’s “Lament of the Keeku Bird,” Vonda N. McIntyre’s “Wings,” Alan Dean Foster’s “The Empire of T’ang Lang,” Miriam Allen deFord’s “A Way Out,” Arthur Byron Cover’s “Gee, Isn’t He the Cutest Little Thing,” Rachel Cosgrove Payes’ “Deaf Listener,” C. F. Hensel and Stephen Goldin’s “Nor Iron Bars a Cage,” Thomas Pickens’ “Routine Patrol Activity,” William Carlson and Alice Laurance’s “Call from Kerlyana,” S. Kye Boult’s “The Safety Engineer,” James Tiptree, Jr.’s “Love Is the Plan the PlanIs Death,” Edward Wellen’s “The Latest from Sigma Corvi.”

Initial Thoughts: This looks like a great line-up of authors — with a heavy focus on women writers. Vonda N. McIntyre and James Tiptree, Jr. regularly impress me. This one might be read soon!

For cover art posts consult the INDEX

For book reviews consult the INDEX

For TV and film reviews consult the INDEX

20 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CCLVIII (Philip K. Dick, Kit Reed, Kenneth F. Gantz, and a Themed Anthology)

  1. Not his best work but, as per usual, PKD’s imagination is in overdrive alongside his black humor; this is one of his funniest novels. Remember reading it and having to put the book down I was laughing so hard. The suicide prevention scene involving one of the main protagonists and the telepathic Ganymedian slime mould Lord Running Clam is one of most bizarre and “out there” in SF.

    • Yeah, I’d rank it middle of the pack. It’s been a long while since I read it — maybe 11 years ago? The only elements I remember was the standard PKD marital strife/drama, the bifurcated society on the moon, and the intriguing alien slime mold. As I saw this for cheap, I grabbed the first edition paperback — I might reread it soon, we shall see!

      One of Valigursky’s least intriguing covers… ew.

  2. Lord Running Clam’s the high point for absurdist humor. Less amusing are “the Heebs” and “the Polys.”

    But hellfire, it was 196-what? and PKD wasn’t in the sweetness-and-light brigade from the jump.

    • I would suggest that PKD on the whole is very sympathetic to mental illness — despite the corny names for the different groups.

      Oh, and for male readers who complain about female authors from this era and their supposed penchant for melodrama, my retort is always PKD. Man with marital problems moans and moans and moans…. and needs a telepathic mold to rescue him from suicide. DRAMA.

  3. I don’t like the cover for “Clans of the Alphane Moon”. It doesn’t tell you anything. I suppose it’s quite an inventive and funny novel, but I much prefer “Galactic Pot-Healer”.

    I’ve read but don’t remember anything about “Love Is the Plan, the Plan Is Death”. James Tiptree Jr. [Alice Sheldon] is a good author, but her fiction failed to make any lasting impression on me.

      • “Galactic Pot-Healer” is one of his best novels, but is less critically acclaimed than his more famous novels. The fact that it isn’t necessarily in his canon, makes it more worthy of special praise I think.

  4. All the talk is of PKD—inevitably? Let me join the pack! I have that exact edition, tho i haven’t read it. I assume, on the basis of what i’ve gleaned over the years, it’s a “third tier” PKD . I categorise his novels into three tiers. For instance, The Penultimate Truth, one of my faves, i nonetheless find hard to place in the first tier—maybe it’s a borderline? Whereas Maze of Death and Ubik (even with the last two pages) are clearly first tier. But on the third lies, alas, most of his work. Too harsh?

    • I reviewed and enjoyed The Penultimate Truth:


      …back in 2012.

      There’s are multiple reason I haven’t returned to him since which I won’t spell out at length here. He was the author I primarily read before my site. This one included. I, too, enjoyed Maze of Death and Ubik. My memories of PKD tend to swirl into a single mass. I’m not sure I’ve read them recently enough to divide the mass into “tiers.”

      Of the books in this post, I am most interested in Kit Reed’s!

      • I’ve been reading PKD since the 1980s. Like many a young teen nerd i have the film Blade Runner to thank for that. Though i made my way through his literary works slowly. I recall being more obsessed by John Brunner in the 1990s than PKD. Strangely it was mostly between 2000 & 2010 i worked my way through his oeuvre—all of his short stories and say at least half, if not more of his too many novels. It is past time I write upon PKD. He continues surfacing—for eg. i quoted him in my PhD. It breaks my heart that obscurantists like Jean Baudrillard have come to dominate what passes for theory on Dick.

        • A particular someone has ruined any enjoyment of PKD I used to have. I still recognize the genius of his work but I won’t review it on this site. I won’t go into more details (you can email me if you desperately want to know). But yes, at one point I was a huge fan. haha

  5. JB wrote: “PKD. Man with marital problems moans and moans and moans…. and needs a telepathic mold to rescue him from suicide. DRAMA.”

    In PKD’s defense, CLANS is one of twelve (12- count ’em!) novels he had to write in one (1) year to meet strenuous alimony payments after his divorce from his second wife. Another bit in it, forex, is protagonist Chuck R. taking drugs so he never has to sleep and thus can work a second job all night writing dialogue for CIA robots, and so meet his alimony payments.

    In fact, now I remember the book, protagonist Chuck’s divorce also includes the judge ruling he had to get a higher-paid job to meet the payments the judge is awarding his ex-wife. Again, somewhat mirroring PKD’s personal situation: his ex-wife’s lawyer used the fact that PKD had just had his best year ever, winning the Hugo for THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE, to claim that’s what his alimony payments should be based on.

    As for whether CLANS is second or third tier PKD —

    Yeah, not the equal of UBIK, THE THREE STIGMATA, or A SCANNER DARKLY, so not first-tier. But PKD took a lot longer with those, while this is one of twelve novels he churned out on amphetamines once a month. So maybe best to judge it like you’d judge one of a year’s worth of monthly improvisatory jazz performances as against a through-composed symphony with every note worked out ….

    And on that basis, I think every one of those dozen novels is frikking, frakking brilliant and crazy, but CLANS is in the top three in terms of inventiveness. Arguably, better than THE PENULTIMATE TRUTH or NOW WAIT FOR LAST YEAR (Not as derangedly inventive as THE ZAP GUN, it’s true, but even PKD admitted he was starting not to make sense by the time he wrote that one.)

    Most of all, though, CLANS is a hoot — the way at the novel’s climax, forex, the interstellar war kicks off but pales next to the savagery between Chuck and Mary his ex-wife (who’s a psychiatrist who works for the CIA) who’ve both arrived (on different sides) on the Alphane moon. It’s hilarious.

    The whole book is.

    • That is exactly what i want to hear! I’m cautious about outright condemning Clans, even if i’ve heard scurrilous talk. I should just read the fucker!

      I can’t say i am a big fan off The Zap Gun. But the others you mention needless to say are first tier (oh why do i hesitate over your magnificence, penultimate?). Still, even sometime mad and crazily inventive ones are duds—i’m thinking mostly of The Crack in Space here.

      But as you say, “maybe best to judge it like you’d judge one of a year’s worth of monthly improvisatory jazz performances as against a through-composed symphony with every note worked out ….”

    • Mark: To clarify my original comment, hopefully you saw that PKD doesn’t need a defense as my joke was a joke not a critique. I personally don’t care if a book is filled with scenes of emotional turmoil and relationship strife (I’m the fan of Malzberg!). I was humorously responding to what I see as a frequent putdown of particular authors while the fan favorite PKD contains, as you lay out in great detail, tons of relationship drama based on lived experience.

      But yes, as I’ve said to all the other commenters, I remember enjoying Clans when I read it years ago and thought it was quite funny.

  6. So, in the interests of comments to this post not being not all PKD all the time, I bought THE ALIEN CONDITION when I was a kid and it came out. None of the stories in it did anything for me then — and they certainly won’t now — and even the author who might have been the main prompt for my buying the book, Tiptree/Sheldon, had a story, ‘Love Is the Plan, the Plan is Death’, that didn’t do much for me (though it later became an award-winner). The best thing about it, in my view, was and is the Abdul Mati Klarwein cover.


    Here’s a piece from the GUARDIAN in 2016 by Sandra Newman, literary novelist (a marketing category) and author of last year’s THE HEAVENS (which I recommend) talking specifically about both Tiptree’s ‘Love is the Plan,’ the Plan Is Death’ and PKD’s CLANS OF THE ALPHANE MOONS in the course of making some perceptive, right-on observations about SF as it was then and is now. She articulates, JB, maybe why it is you are more interested in stuff from the 1960s, 70s, and early 80s as compared to today’s SF.

    ‘Rambling, offensive – and unbeatable: old-school sci-fi’
    by Sandra Newman

    I recommend folks read the whole piece. But some of it ‘s too good not to quote ….

    ‘There were many talented authors, but also an abundance of shameless hacks. The quality of the writing varied wildly not only between writers, but in the works of an individual writer – often within a single book. Several eminent authors prided themselves on being able to write a novel in a couple of weeks. Samuel R Delany, Gene Wolfe and Michael Moorcock have all written both unreadable garbage and books regarded as literature even by non-geeks.

    ‘In that wild west era, plots could go anywhere or nowhere. A typical plot development, in Philip K Dick’s Clans of the Alphane Moon, has a hero crushed by divorce and failure, contemplating suicide in his crappy apartment. At the last moment, he’s interrupted by his neighbour, a telepathic slime mould. Having rudely flowed under the door, it says, “I couldn’t help overhearing …” Then it offers the man a job and says it will find him a replacement wife. Off it goes, and soon a teenage girl arrives at the door. She is completely content to be fixed up with a much-older suicidal loser by an alien slime mould. Her breasts are exhaustively described.

    ‘This takes three pages, and is not buoyed by any particular grace or style. It’s ridiculous; it’s offensive. And it has an effect you simply cannot produce with a book that is well written….’

    ‘Authors also did not feel constrained to create sympathetic characters. Protagonists often despised the human race, whether or not they belonged to it … James Tiptree Jr.’s Love Is the Plan The Plan Is Death is told from the point of view of an insectoid alien besotted with a larva – ingeniously combining gross bugs and paedophilia. Here is a typical passage:
    ‘Now I feel my special hands, my tender hands I always carry hidden – now they come swelling out, come pushing toward my head! What? What?
    ‘My secret hands begin to knead and roll the stuff that’s dripping from my jaws.
    ‘Ah, that arouses you too, my redling, doesn’t it?
    ‘(Spoiler alert: In the consummation of their love, the larva eats the ecstatic protagonist.)’

    Newman then goes on to Cordwainer Smith’s ‘A Planet Named Shayol, before commenting in the next graf: ‘These stories share a blithe disregard for the comfort zone of the reader. Jarring elements are introduced so carelessly they’re often hard to follow. But this makes them, for lack of a better word, mindblowing. It’s sometimes difficult to believe that they were written by a human, and scary to contemplate that that human was at large in the community. The goofball plots, the disjointed writing styles, even the candour of the sexism are things older fans miss, much the way New Yorkers miss the post-apocalyptic landscape of New York of the 70s. It could be nasty, but it was different from everything else, unpredictable and often frightening – and it was ours.’

    Me: I don’t know if Newman is aware, apropos of Smith/Linebarger that the human who wrote it wasn’t only at large in the community, but helped formulate US policy during the Cold War and was repsonsible for what was for thirty years the US military primary text on psyops and psychological warfare.

    Newman concludes: ‘I hope fans of the new SF will look back to some of the weirder, more socially unacceptable books of the past. A crafted work of literature is a beautiful thing; a genius’s unedited ravings, however, is a thing both beautiful and rare.’

    Amen, sister. Amen.

    • I’ll give the article a read.

      You write — “She articulates, JB, maybe why it is you are more interested in stuff from the 1960s, 70s, and early 80s as compared to today’s SF.”

      That said, I focus on the decades I’m interested in because I’m a historian by training and trade interested in the politics, culture, and society of the 50s-70s and by extension writing produced in the era—not due to any comparison between the SF produced now and then. I haven’t read enough contemporary SF to make such a comparison nor would I do so. To the best of my knowledge (or at least in the last decade), I have never compared SF produced now to that from my decades of primary focus in a single one of my reviews or writings other than to outright dismiss narratives of contemporary decadence.

      Check out my article on the matter here where I lay out my modus operandi: https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2018/06/15/fragment-s-why-i-read-and-review-50s-70s-science-fiction/

  7. Yeah, I’d read that and recalled, forex, you stressing that you weren’t coming from a place of “golden-age-ism” or “all current SF is crud.” Nor am I, as it happens. There’s still good SF written.

    As a historian, though, you’ll appreciate that the past was a different country where they did things differently. And for better or worse, it’s hard to imagine anybody today commercially publishing books like Heinlein’s FARNHAM’S FREEHOLD or Frank Herbert’s HELLSTROM’S HIVE. (Not to say either is remotely a good book, but they’re both inimicable to received wisdom about how human societies should work.) It’s hard to imagine J.G. Ballard coming up now and publishing the likes of CRASH. It’s hard to imagine Malzberg managing to eke out a decade as a novelist in 2020.

    And so on.

    This isn’t even to get into the whole New Wave-related offensive during the late 1950s-70s to write SF in a more conscious, artful way.

  8. I’m perfectly okay with both Heinlein’s Farnham’s Freehold and Herbert’s Hellstrom’s Hive never seeing print!

    All jest aside, the 50s-70s definitely have a particular historical context which makes those decades unique. I think there was a desire to apply post-modernist ideas present in literary fiction to SF, play with issues of psychoanalysis and post-colonialism, engage with issues brought to the fore by the Civil Rights movement, and of course revel in the general anti-tradition/authority currents of the Counterculture.

    Again, I’m not convinced of all these modern parallels you’re making. Malzberg and his ilk feel like they do as they were writing in the environment of the day. They, if as you speculate were starting to write now, wouldn’t be writing exactly what they wrote back in 70s – their work would respond to our contemporary concerns/conventions. Marlzberg, a profoundly topical author with his endless JKF fixations, would fixate on some other topical obsession. Silverberg is a great example — he wrote junk pulp, the New Wave movement gained traction and he shifted with the wind, and when the 80s came around he tried his hand at what was in vogue at the time… Writers are chameleons when they need to be!

    I am tangentially reminded of Borges’ stunning short story “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote” (1962)…

    My wife reads a vast variety of contemporary literature (often more mainstream takes on SF/fantasy/magical realism) and it can be downright bizarre. And many some of those authors occasionally publish in contemporary SFF venues as well….

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