Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLXV (Brian W. Aldiss, James E. Gunn, Sharon Webb, and a Themed Anthology)

My first purchases of 2021! As always, which books/covers/authors intrigue you? Which have you read? Disliked? Enjoyed?

1. Helliconia Spring, Brian W. Aldiss (1982)

Kinuko Y. Craft’s cover for the 1983 edition

From the back cover: “Imagine a world in a system of twin suns, where Winter is 6000 ice-locked years and every Spring is the first remembered. Imagine a People finding ruined cities beneath the melting snows. Never dreaming they had built them. And would again… Imagine Helliconia. And begin the most magnificent peice since DUNE…”

Initial Thoughts: I love Brian W. Aldiss’ SF–from his iconic generation ship novel Non-Stop (variant title: Starship) (1958) to bizarre experimental works short stories like “Judas Danced” (1958) [which I need to reread!]. I have yet to explore any of of his early 80s SF. I’ve reviewed the following Aldiss works:

I’ve also read but never got around to reviewing his wonderful Greybeard (1964).

2. This Fortress World, James E. Gunn (1955)

Greg Theakston’s cover for the 1979 edition

From the back cover: “THE UNIVERSE WAS RUINED… The Church was the only link between a thousand nameless, warring, fortress worlds. Dane was an acolyte, a Keeper of Mysteries, until he was entrusted with the greatest Mystery of all. It was a stone that spoke. It gleamed in his hand and spoke in his mind with a tiny voice from the far end of Time: “I am Earth…” Then Dane became a warrior for a world he’d never see!”

Initial Thoughts: James E. Gunn, SF scholar and author extraordinaire, passed away December 23rd (obituary). In the first years of my site, he was a firm favorite. He even stopped by to tell me his favorite SF cover! I’ve reviewed the following:

I read but did not review The Listeners (1972) as well.

3. Earth Child, Sharon Webb (1982)

John Rush’s cover for the 1983 edition

From the back cover: “MORTALITY’S END. It was called the Mouat-Gari process. It gave to all of Earth’s children man’s oldest dream—immortality. For Kurt Kraus, torn from his family, attacked and persecuted by a generation he was destined to see age and die before his eyes, the first years of eternal life were the hardest.

But as a century passed, and Kurt found himself one of Earth’s ageless rulers, he discovered immortality’s terrible price, and the awful choice mankind had to make to redeem its future.”

Initial Thoughts: Unknown work and author! Have any of you read it?

4. The Wounded Planet (variant title: Saving Worlds), ed. Roger Elwood and Virginia Kidd (1973)

Uncredited cover for the 1974 edition

From the back cover: “Out of a concern for life as we know it… some of the best-known names in science fiction demonstrate in chillingly possible stories, the pain and punishment that have placed a scar on The Wounded Planet.”

Contents (short stories listed only — full listing), all published 1973: Terry Carr’s “Saving the World,” George Zebrowski’s “Parks of Rest and Culture,” Kris Neville and Lil Neville’s “The Quality of the Product,” Katherine MacLean’s “Small War,” Andre Norton’s “Desirable Lakeside Residence,” Gary Snyder’s “The Smokey the Bear Sutra,” Gene Wolfe’s “An Article About Hunting,” Dennis O’Neil’s “Noonday Devil,” R. A. Lafferty’s “Scorner’s Seat,” Barry N. Malzberg’s “The Battered-Earth Syndrome” Poul Anderson’s “Windmill,” Theodore R. Cogswell and Theodore L. Thomas’ “Paradise Regained,” Gene Wolfe’s “Beautyland,” Colin Saxton’s “The Day,” D. M. Price’s “Starfish,” A. E. van Vogt’s “Don’t Hold Your Breath,” Robert SIlverberg’s “The Wind and the Rain.”

Initial Thoughts: I enjoy themed anthologies–this one on environmental destruction. I most look forward to the two Gene Wolfe tales. And I’ve never read one of Andre Norton’s short stories…


For cover art posts consult the INDEX

For book reviews consult the INDEX

For TV and film reviews consult the INDEX

68 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLXV (Brian W. Aldiss, James E. Gunn, Sharon Webb, and a Themed Anthology)”

    1. Thanks for the review link — I’ll take a peek. I tried at least three times to write a review. But sometimes I can’t put my thoughts together. I enjoyed the novel greatly.

        1. As you might imagine, I disagree a bit with your overall rating (I’d give it at least a 4.5/5). I understand your comments about the shoddy structure to the novel. However, its emotional center — on aging, a unique take on the focus of an apocalyptic story (there are no manly young men waving guns really in this one), and the focus on loss really got to me. As it was a few years ago and I didn’t write a review, some of the specifics have passed from mind for me to write a more substantive statement.

          1. That’s plenty substantive. I agree that it’s an unusual angle on the End of the World, but I myownself still want craft to be served. One thing that’s not made much of is the way older people tend to end up in community with each other. I don’t remember clearly 7+ years on but that struck me as odd while I was reading.

  1. Helliconia is very different from some of his other works. I loved it in the 80s. „Barefoot in the Head“ is another piece by him that I‘d like to recommend. Sadly, I‘ve only reviewed his latest works when he wasn’t up on his heights as an author anymore.

    1. One of the criticisms I often level at earlier Aldiss novels (see review links above) is how slight they are (not always in length but a refusal to develop ideas and characters). It seems like he took a different tact in more ways than one in Helliconia….

      1. His quality is mixed. I think no one would call Barefoot in the Head slight. But you’re on for something with the plot/character dimension. It’s an awful long time that I‘ve read his older works, though. Time for a reread, I guess.

          1. Happy Hippos in Space, I cannot cheer this idea enough 🤣
            Your review sounds more like a one or max two stars, though. Did he need money at the time?

            1. I probably have read selected works by him only. Great recommendations by friends leading my around those pitfalls! I‘d have to check, but I think only his better books got translated. Which is sometimes a good filter!

            2. I should also mention that Hothouse, which I haven’t read as I don’t own an unabridged version (US vs. UK editions), is an early novel and supposed to be really good.

              One other issue is that Aldiss often wrote fix-up novels which introduce cohesion issues — Hothouse is an example.

            3. Goodness, that’s exhaustive!
              My general assumption is that staying tight in a narration is nearly always better. Of course, authors have their comfort zone in story length. But when they start to extend novellas to novels, it nearly always gets worse.
              Not to speak of the time when publishers expected a minimum length in novels (to spread over more room at booksellers and be able to cash in more money from readers). Work’s didn’t necessarily get better by that.
              I always thought that this was caused by easier correction with word processors and cutnpaste.

            4. Malzberg’s novel is more of a tapestry from different perspectives — so it works.

              Again, depends on the author and what they’re trying to do with the previously published material.

            5. As novels became more and more financially viable in the late 50s and 60s, authors tended to rewrite earlier short fictions. A.E. van Vogt is a good example.

            6. Maybe that’s the reason why I didn’t come across many of those – I tend to read from mid of the 60s onwards (New Wave -> Cyberpunk).

            7. All the A.E. van Vogt novels of the 70s, almost all fix-ups… he was too involved in Scientology at that time to write new work. I think there are more fix-ups in the periods you read (60s/70s) than you think. Hence why isfdb.org is great!

              For example:

              Joan Vinge wrote a fix-up novel Legacy (1980)

              I reviewed the first novel in the sequence a while back: The Outcasts of Heaven’s Reach (1978): https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2012/05/22/book-review-the-outcasts-of-heaven-belt-joan-d-vinge-1978/

              As did her husband at that time — Vernor Vinge with Grimm’s World (1969)

            8. There are SOOO many more examples from the era you primarily read….

              Gene Wolfe’s novel The Fifth Head of Cerberus (1972) is a fix-up.

              So, in short, super common across all types of authors — some of which you’ve probably read without knowing it.

          2. About fix-up novels: plenty of novels exist that have the form of a fix-up without actually originating that way — David Mitchell’s CLOUD ATLAS and GHOSTWRITTEN are a couple of instances.

            It’s a form that intrinsically can have the scope to show different generations of a civilization or iterations of a situation, or have segments with different protagonists who never meet and have different perspectives. So it’s a form that can suit SF’s concerns really well.

            In that way, American SF’s origins in WWII-era SF magazine publishing conditions was kind of felicitous. When American publishers started publishing SF novels in the 1950s, authors like Simak with his CITY series, Asimov with his FOUNDATION series, or Walter Miller with the stories in F&SF that became A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ could recycle them as novels. Those are some of SF’s masterworks, and it’s hard to imagine that they’d have come out so well if the authors had through-composed them in uninterrupted periods of real-time.

            1. Hopefully my comment didn’t sound like a fix-up novel put down! My van Vogt example was simply to illustrate that some authors cobbled together their stories to spew out more novels when it was financially feasible. Many authors were quite adept at the sticking.

              And in Miller’s case, he apparently realized on while writing the third Canticle novella that they would fit together as a novel.

  2. Greybeard and Hothouse are close to the top of my olde tyme sf novel reading pile (which isn’t saying a great deal because [1] the pile is huge and [2] i mostly read short stories when i read fiction). Really I should be trying to crack more Aldiss shorts–for instance I liked a recent read of his, Amen and Out (1966), though not so much Full Sun (1967). Apart from Judas Danced, do you have any other Aldiss short stories to recommend?
    I read one of the Helliconia books when I was a teen (the second one out of order??). Super vague memories of it, but it did make me want to read the rest–which, 30+ year later, i have yet to do. And almost certainly unlikely to, considering the length of the series–c. 1000 pages.
    In contrast The Wounded Planet collection sounds more my cuppa tea.
    Here’s to more short stories!

    1. I think there are two versions of Hothouse — which one is the original version? I think I have the US version I own was abridged as The Long Afternoon of Earth (1962) so I have less interest in reading it — I rather read the unabridged version.

      A lot of the Aldiss I’ve enjoyed, I’ve read a while ago. You might want to hunt through some of the review links above of the collections I’ve tackled (Galaxies Like Grains of Sand, No Time Like Tomorrow, Starswarm, Who Can Replace a Man?) I comb through my site in a bit as well.

      The premise to Helliconia is fantastic. It’s length, not so much! Years of reading novels under 250 pages has influenced me heavily… haha.

      I might tackle The Wounded Planet soon. Looks like some fantastic offerings and I’m partial to the theme.

      1. I have a copy of Hothouse, and have read one of the stories that comprise it (‘Hothouse’ republished in Issac Asimov Presents the Great SF Stories vol 23). I liked it a lot at the time, but just haven’t got around to the novel.
        I’m going to try and track down the Aldiss collection, Who Can Replace a Man? It looks to be jam packed with stories from the 50s and early 60s. Now, to read your review of it!

      2. Aldiss seems to me a writer who was capable of writing pretty much anything he wanted to write by the end.

        I read one his mainstream novels in the 1980s, LIFE IN THE WEST, and it was above-average mainstream lit. Aldiss took a great range of approaches and themes in his short fiction, from the stuff in the 1950s for Carnell’s old-school NEW WORLDS and SCIENCE FANTASY magazines, through his 1960s stories for the Moorcock version of those mags, and then on through the decades to the very idiosyncratic little pieces he did at the end. Likewise with his novels — this is a guy who followed BAREFOOT IN THE HEAD with THE EIGHTY-MINUTE HOUR: A SPACE OPERA, then that with THE MALACIA TAPESTRY.

        I confess I’ve never had the heart to read the HELLICONIA books. In the early 1980s, when they came out, they just seemed like they’d be another 1000-plus pages of semi-medievaloid sf/fantasy series to plow through in the wake of Wolfe’s BOOK OF THE NEW SUN and Vance’s LYONESSE trilogy. There was masses of such verbiage extruded back then: Joan Vinge’s THE SNOW QUEEN and its sequels, plus the effect of STAR WARS and all the Tolkien rip-off epic fantasies, plus Asimov extruding FOUNDATION sequels again, Herbert extruding DUNE sequels, Heinlein extruding whatever you call those ghastly books he produced at the end. Gah!

        I sometimes feel like I should read HELLICONIA, however. I look forward to learning what you make of it.

  3. The Wounded Planet looks interesting, ecological crisis are my kinda stories, hope some of them are are good. Helliconia trilogy is sitting on my shelves waiting to be read!

    1. Some are bound to be great — Gene Wolfe is a favorite, and his short stories can be stunning.

      And I, perhaps in the minority, adore Barry N. Malzberg.

      I suspect, not having read it, that it’ll be a solid anthology.

      Wish I knew the cover artist! (I think it’s Dean Ellis but don’t have evidence other than similarity of style).

      Read any solid SF in 2020? (not sure if you saw it, but I put together a best reads of 2020 post — https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2021/01/01/updates-my-2020-in-review-best-sf-novels-best-sf-short-fiction-and-bonus-categories/)

  4. I have/had “The Wounded Planet”. It’s from the years when Roger Elwood was putting out an anthology a day, or so it seemed. I didn’t like it well enough to take it when I moved out of my parent’s house 40 years ago, but looking at the list of titles, I’d kind of like to read it again now. It’s probably still on the shelf in their house….

    1. Whenever I see an Elwood anthology, I tend to be a bit suspicious as he cranked them out. But the line-up of this one is top-notch (Malzberg, Wolfe, Carr, etc.).

      I bet that shelf is a place you need to raid ASAP! There could be so many goodies worth rereading.

    2. Woops! Just checked my book database, and I do have it! Thanks for the post, now I have something I’m excited to re-read.

  5. I snagged the Helliconia Trilogy on Kindle recently to read. Haven’t gotten around to it. Aldiss is an author I’ve read a couple times and always been perplexed. I am curious to see more, and “Non-Stop” sounds fascinating.

  6. I read the Hellenconia Trilogy when it first came out. I loved it so much that I wrote a ballet named after one of the characters. I was intrigued by the premise, but I was disappointed that the time between novels was so vast that none of the characters could reappear. It’s the world that provides the continuity, and that stretches it a little for me.

  7. Also, I thought I had read all the Frank Herbert our there, but I’ve never seen The Wounded Planet. I might have passed it by, since it was short stories, and I wasn’t into them then. I’ll have a look.

      1. A ballet? That’s super cool!

        Haha, yes, Herbert’s name is deliberately positioned for sure!

        The world itself is what intrigues me the most about Helliconia. Have you read any of his other works? I’m a huge fan of Non-Stop (variant title: Starship) (1959) and his early short fiction.

        1. Unfortunately, after I read the trilogy, I hit grad school and didn’t have time for fun reading, although I made an exception for Frank Herbert’s post-Dune-trilogy books and Arthur C. Clarke. In fact, I found all the Brian Herbert/Kevin Anderson spin-offs at a library book sale, hardbacks for $1 each, and have been working through them. My reading tends towards Magical Realism now.

          The ballet, unfortunately, was mostly lost before it was ever performed. Only the first movement survives (although it has had a few concert performances).

          1. Unfortunately, I dislike the Dune continuations by his son immensely. Hopefully you have better luck with them than I!

            I started my site my first year of my PhD (History) — it was how I kept sane.

            1. I’ve read worse. They are too predictable. Most of them are prequels, though. IIRC, one was a completion of an unfinished novel by his father. I think Brian ruined the ending, tying up every plot thread with a nice neat bow.

            2. Yeah, they’re prequels. I think I read House Atreides (1999), House Harkonnen (2000), and maybe The Butlerian Jihad (2002) (when they came out) before I gave up.

  8. Aldiss’ Helliconia trilogy of books are jaw-droppingly brilliant. An incredible feat of world-building and imagination. Read all three, own first edition signed hardback copies of each. And beautiful editions they are too. Why this major literary accomplishment is not better known is baffling.
    If you haven’t read them, don’t hesitste, you’ve a treat ahead.

    1. What does his signature look like? I never go out of my way to find a signed edition, although I’m happy when I do (especially if the seller is unaware that it’s signed).

      Considering the response to the book I’ve received and the sheer quantity of its reprints, I’d call Helliconia Spring pretty well known — and of course, its critical success (it won the BSFA and received Nebula and Locus nominations). It was also one of the Gollancz masterwork volumes as well back in 2010. http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?314253

      1. These are the editions I own:
        https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/BookDetailsPL?bi=2197824652&cm_mmc=ggl--COM_Shopp_Rare--naa-_-naa&gclid=CjwKCAiAxeX_BRASEiwAc1QdkaZic8Oo07fBdlxtOqR_v0z5QU0fx-00B6BGqu4PS_HyUGKIijf7NhoCUYMQAvD_BwE

        Unfortunately they’re back in the UK so I’M not able to scan an image to show you amongst 20-plus boxes of hardbacks/paperbacks/Analog/FS&F etc..My PKD collection is back there too. I only own one signed book of his, the limited hardback edition of Confessions of a Crap Artist, his best mainstream novel or I guess as close to mainstream that a PKD novel can get.

        I’ve actually a few signed editions of Aldiiss’ books. They may have been nominated but I’m not aware they actually won anything (may be wrong), which again is baffling, since I thought they were just brilliant, light years beyond most of the stuff out there and easily in good company with the best SF the field has produced.

        1. Signed PKD novels are hard to track down — I assumed the reason was that he rarely went to conventions? Yeah, two of the three Helliconia novels won the top UK SF award — the BSFA. They might be better known in the UK than in the US.

          1. I know he suffered from agoraphobia when younger and I don’t think he did the SF convention circuit more kept close to home socially speaking. He did go to a French SF convention and delivered a speech on his VALIS experience to a very mixed reaction, some concluded he was unhinged. He was also on amphetamines (prescribed) for a long time, though despite his reputation as a “dopehead” writer I don’t think he indulged in that much, though he definitely associated with a crowd that did.

            From reading the biographies and issues of the PKD Society newsletter you could pretty much conclude his private life was neither conventional or stable. This is interesting from my perspective, I first encountered his novels when I went to university and quicky realized he pushed all my buttons using SF tropes to discuss/explore philosophy, theology, music etc. I also found him extremely funny possessed of a black humor and razor sharp wit. I’d never encountered a writer remotely like him. I decided I had to read everything he’d written.

            At that point I knew exactly nothing about him, only the strange titles on paperbacks that would come and go, in and out of print etc. However, after reading a few of his novels I got the distinct impression this was not an author living in the suburbs somewhere, leading a conventional life, writing a few hours each day and doing the other stuff an average American does. Despite the crazy and far-out contents of his novels and short stories there was a feeling that stuff from his private life was seeping into his writing, maybe re-imagined and altered but there was such a feeling of immediacy in some of the novels to conclude otherwise. Of course later this was confirmed.

            Some novels that deal with philosophical themes can be pretty dry but as one acute observer noted his novels are the opposite. His characters discuss philosophy and the nature of reality because their circumstances demand it, often their sanity and lives depend on it. I also like PKD as a writer because there’s lots of dialog, his characters are constantly talking to each other.

            As for PKD editons, after owning a good few of the paperbacks I just wanted to own copies of his work in hardback. I didn’t have much spare cash at the time but was lucky in that this was before awareness of his work was spreading outside the SF world and you could pick up second hand editions of PKD novels quite cheaply. Re the CoaCA limited signed edition, I just swallowed hard and bought a copy that was on sale at L.W. Currey for $90.00. I also picked up a complete set (around 12 I think) of the PKD Gregg Press hardback editions for $125.00. My parents found me a first edition copy of Ubik (a favorite of mine) for next to nothing in a second hand bookshop and I picked up a few others on the way. Since then prices for PKD’s books have gone through the roof, you’d be lucky to see a single copy of one of the Gregg Press ediitions for less than $125 today.

            In case you ever come across a second hand copy of Tod Machover’s VALIS; the opera, don’t bother, it’s crap.

  9. I wasn’t aware that James Gunn had died.
    Sad to hear that, an excellent writer and thoughtful scholar/editor of science fiction.
    I enjoyed his The Listeners.
    Had my eye on his Transcendental trilogy for a while now and need to read it.

    1. Yeah, it hit me harder than I thought it would. Perhaps because he was one of the earlier proponents of SF as a subject worth studying in a scholarly way….

      I need to review some of his short fiction.

  10. Oh, and Barefoot in the Head gets a nod in a great list of 70s litSF over at The Neglected Books Page, if you haven’t seen it … I got to feel a little proud of myself for how many of them I actually read at the time, but my want list still had a bit of a digesting-snake look when I got to the bottom :-D.

  11. We have the Sharon Webb novel in Swedish. Blogger Jonas Waldenström has read it (enlitenbloggomrymden). He gave i 3 (average). It was published in the Nova SF paperback serie in the eighties; this serie gave us for the first time in Swedish titles like Einstein Intersection, The Three Stigmatas of WPE, Planet of Adventure among others.

    1. I always find it fascinating what gets translated. I just made a post about Italian editions of Tanith Lee — it appears almost all her novels were translated and published only a few years after their original pub date in the US!

      Yes, I know Jonas — he used to stop by and comment a bit on my site.

      I’ll check out his review –and see how badly google translate mutilates Swedish!

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