Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLXVII (Ben Bova, Margaret O’Donnell, Dennis Schmidt, and a themed anthology on gentle invaders)

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

1. Millennium: A Novel About People and Politics in the Year 1999, Ben Bova (1976)

Fred Marcellino’s cover for the 1st edition

From the inside flap: “We are thrust into the terrifying world of the future in this chilling novel about people and politics in the year 1999. The Earth’s population has soared to eight billion. The two major powers are on the brink of nuclear war as they vie for control of the planet’s dwindling supply of natural resources.

Meanwhile, a few hundred kilometers above the Earth’s surface, on their respective Moon colonies, the United States and Soviet Russia feverishly race to complete networks of ABM satellites to protect themselves from missile attack.

Each side knows that if it can complete its own satellite ABM network before the other side does, the decades-long nuclear stalemate of terror will be broken. A decision advantage would be obtained. A preemptive nuclear strike could be hurled at the enemy, with the ABM satellites blunting the inevitable counterstrike.

Two men are deeply involved in this potential holocaust: the heads of the American and Russian colonies. Fortunately, for the sake of humanity, they are both idealistic men of good will, determined to work together to establish a world in which co-existence is possible. How they accomplish this, the forces that are thrown against them, and whether or not each man himself survives in the dramatic story of Millennium.”

Initial Thoughts: As Bova recently passed away, I’ve gone ahead and acquired his first short story collection and one of his best known novels. As I’ve said before, I do not have high hopes as Bova’s fiction has never resonated with me.

2. The Beehive, Margaret O’Donnell (1980)

Uncredited cover for the 1st edition

From the inside flap: “Gorston’s dictatorship has lasted for thirty years, bolstered by propaganda, wholesale indoctrination and the ever-present secret police. No one can escape the programming, least of all the nation’s women. Conditioned to function as either wives or Grey Ones, the wives are enforced child bearers, and the Grey Ones oppressed workers, leading an existence as drab and asexual as their dyed grey hair and shapeless clothes.

This is the background to Margaret O’Donnell’s haunting futuristic thriller. In an un-named country, in an imminent future, she creates a plausible society that is only one step away from our own.

Can the women challenge their masters? Are they capable of playing the cruel cat and mouse game in which Steiner, the all-powerful head of the secret police, takes such delight? Is a non-violent revolution possible in the face of torture and bullets? Led by Hillard, the Grey Ones prepare for the Rising, knowing that at any moment the conspiracy could be betrayed or exposed. In the face of overwhelming odds, they gamble everything in one desperate bid for freedom for themselves and their country.

Controversial and absorbing, The Beehive is an extraordinary first novel—a menacing revolutionary thriller that argues lucidly through its Orwellian vision the possible outcome of women’s struggle for equality.”

Initial Thoughts: While Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) the discourse on feminist SF about the future oppression of women, earlier fictions are ripe for exploration. Suzy McKee Charnas’ glorious Walk to the End of the World (1974) comes to mind. Margaret O’Donnell’s The Beehive (1980), while occasionally appearing in academic scholarship on feminist SF, appears to have vanished (or never made a splash in the first place) completely. And considering how much I had to shell out on this hardback from the UK, copies are scarce!

3. Gentle Invaders, ed. Hans Stefan Santesson (1969)

Uncredited cover for the 1st edition

From the back cover: “The Alien is most often described by science fictionists as a horror-inspiring monster with insidiously evil intentions.

Our monsters are different.

There is a lady fetchingly endowed with some of the more alluring female attributes, who is sent from Galaxy Center to teach Earthlings about love… but her methods are rather unorthodox.

And a strange looking red-headed man who does even stranger things to television sets.

And a man from Mars who discovered how to make a fortune on Earth.

Contents: Sasha Miller’s “Sit by the Fire” (1958), Leigh Brackett’s “The Queer Ones” (!957), Miriam Allen deFord’s “Freak Show” (1958), Zenna Henderson’s “Subcommittee” (1962), Edward D. Hoch’s “Unnatural Act” (1969), Fritz Leiber’s “The Night He Cried” (1953), Mack Reynolds’ “The Martians and the Coys,” Frank M. Robinson;s “Quiz Game” (1953), Eric Frank Russell’s “Dear Devil” (1950), William Tenn’s “Party of the Two Parts” (1954).

Initial Thoughts: It’s rare to encounter a 60s anthology with women authors (Sasha Miller, Leigh Brackett, Miriam Allen deFord, and Zenna Henderson) comprising 40% of their contents. Damon Knight’s Orbit series from three years earlier is another notable example. As of now, I’ve only read Tenn’s contribution to the volume–and enjoyed it!

4. Way-Farer, Dennis Schmidt (1978)

G. Benvenuti’s cover for the 1st edition

From the back cover: “According to every reading it was a paradise planet—a warm and fecund world far more desirable than the teeming, polluted warrens of the planet-city that Earth had become. Yet when the least of the one-way transports had landed its cargo of Pilgrims, the men of Earth were to learn of a danger that no machine could detect, and against which no machine could defend them—the Mushin, mental entities that stimulate and amplify the dark streak of violence that lies near the core of every human being.

Seven generations would pass before a descendant of the scattered remnant of the original colonists would be ready to face the power of the Mushin. But first he would have to learn to wield the weapon that is no weapon—and that only where there is no Will, is there a Way…

His name is Jerome. This is his story. He is the WAY-FARER.”

Initial Thoughts: Unknown author and unknown book. I have no idea what to expect. This one came up on twitter in a discussion on space opera conflict resolved using  peaceful means.

Anyone read this one? Or cringe at the Benvenuti cover?


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16 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLXVII (Ben Bova, Margaret O’Donnell, Dennis Schmidt, and a themed anthology on gentle invaders)

  1. the Untied States from #1
    Your best-ever typo, Dr. B! Still chuckling.
    They all sound interesting to me, and I’ve never heard of THE BEEHIVE or Dennis Schmidt. (I hate the jacket illo on THE BEEHIVE, it’s so…cheesy, yet bland, like Velveeta used to be.)

    • Good eye! But yes, definitely feels like the United States is in an “untied” state. Hah,

      The Beehive isn’t excelling on the cover front. A lot of those UK presses used cheesy images.

      It’s not a cheap book online. The most I’ve spent on a SF novel ($25-30) since Sven Holm’s Termush.

  2. I’ve got a huge soft spot for old skool sf that extrapolated the Cold War into the 21st century, and beyond… But yeah, Bova doesn’t float my boat too much either. But to be fair, I haven’t read a great deal of his work apart from the odd short.
    Speaking of Zenna Henderson, I’ve finally decided to get around to reading all of her People stories, in the NESFA editon (https://www.nesfa.org/book/ingathering-11/). I’ve only read “Ararat” and one other non-People story, and liked them both. Then maybe onto the TV movie adaptation, “The People” (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0069072/) starring William Shatner!

    • I keep on thinking that there’s a Bova out there that will resonate with me. I want to get sucked into a tapestry-esque near-future vision with some contemporary (at the time) politics extrapolated. But I never get very far when I try to give them the read!

      As I mentioned to Mark below, Zenna Henderson is a complete hole in my knowledge. On twitter, someone described her SF as Christian fiction? Thoughts?

  3. I have the Schmidt book, but I’ve never read it. Wonder what he’s doing now? I also have the Hans Stefan Santesson book, and of the stories in it you might like Leigh Brackett’s “The Queer Ones” as it was published in “Venture Science Fiction” a supposedly more adult version of “F&SF”, Zenna Henderson’s “Subcommittee”, only because she wrote about real people, and I never read a bad story by her, especially her stories of ‘The People”, and Eric Frank Russell’s “Dear Devil”, as it was, and I’ve read several times years and years ago, a more humanitarian sf first-contact story than his usual Campbell inspired superman hackwork.. Liked none of the covers this time around, though the Hans Stefan Santesson book cover has a Richard Powersish look to it as it photographed with Vaseline on the lens. Belmont was really a bottom tier publisher, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it was lifted from somewhere without permission.

    • According isfdb.org, Schmidt died in 2003. But yes, I always wonder about the careers of authors who published a handful of novels but never made it big.

      Zenna Henderson is complete hole in my knowledge. I have one of her collections of “The People” stories but haven’t tackled it yet not have I encountered any individual tales in anthologies over the years (other than this one!).

      I intrigued by this collection despite the “bottom tier publisher”—in this instance it does seem like there’s a cohesive thematic link between the tales, and a fascinating one at that.

  4. I read MILLENNIUM back when it came out. (I’m sure James did too — I assume it was feature in his Y2K book reviews on Usenet back then!) — I kind of liked it but I’m not so sure it holds up.

    I think very highly of Leigh Brackett’s “The Queer Ones”.

    • Hello Richard,

      Re-Bova: As I mentioned to Expendable Mudge above, “I want to get sucked into a tapestry-esque near-future vision with some contemporary (at the time) politics extrapolated. But I never get very far when I try to give them the read!” I think these near future political/thriller/SCIENCE-type SF novels are often more interesting in theory than practice (to me at least).

      Dickson’s miserable The Far Call (1978) is a GREAT example of the problem I have with this type of novel. https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2015/05/01/book-review-the-far-call-gordon-r-dickson-serialized-1973-book-form-1978/

      • Well, if you want a near future thriller type, and you don’t want to expend a lot of effert, the January-February 2021 issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine contains a story called “Fake News”. A fairly decent screed in which the rich rule, newspapers are only allowed to run stories that are state approved, newspapermen are villified (one is murdered after writing the wrong story), police are encouraged to be brutal and to murder, and all negative news is considered prosecutable slander. I was surprised to read this story in a mystery magazine, but then, the science fiction magazines are pretty libertarian and pro business. I suppose New Worlds could have run this, but a crime story this politically cynical has no place is sf magazines now.

        • As you know, I do not read a lot of new SF. I want it from the decades I am most interested in! 🙂

          The current SF magazines are libertarian and pro-business? Not sure I’d agree. Clarkesworld, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, etc. certainly aren’t.

      • @ JB —

        You weren’t very kind to Gordon Dickson and THE FAR CALL, were you?

        “I could say that The Far Call is afflicted with a certain bubonic bloat, where each character is a new bubo that reeks and drips….”

        Not that I blame you. Dickson was the archetype of the pulp mechanic who never learned how to write competent narrative prose. It didn’t seem to bother his readers (whoever they were — probably readers of the old ANALOG), and Dickson was probably also a nice guy, and people in the field at the time probably accepted him as a bargain-basement, second-string Poul Anderson. But, yeah — I imagine the slush piles at ANALOG are still filled with prose like Dickson’s.

        As for the books under consideration here, I haven’t read them and have nothing to add.

        • Something about Dickson’s novel really bothered me!

          I have found individual Dickson stories can show moments of real quality — but they are, on average, very workmanlike (at least what I’ve read so far).

          The Far Call did mysteriously nab him a Hugo nomination.

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