Updates: New Purchases No. CCLXVII (Joanna Russ, J. T. McIntosh, Jean d’Ormesson, and a Terry Carr anthology)

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

1. Worlds Apart (variant title: Born Leader), J. T. McIntosh (1954)

Richard Powers’ cover for the 1958 edition

From the back cover: “ROG FOLEY had never seen Earth—and he never would. For all that was left of Earth was an atomic funeral pyre in the sky.

ROG FOLEY was a leader of the new generation of humans who were born and raised on Mundis, the distant planet circling Brinsen’s Star and to which the last survivors of Earth had escaped in a 17-year journey through space.

ROG FOLEY and his disciples were strongly opposed to the way things were being run on Mundis by their elders. There were too many DOs and too many DON’Ts. Finally, in desperation, Rog established a separate colony—and it seemed as though the conflicts which had brought Earth to its doom were destined to haunt mankind even in this remote solay system.

BUT THEN a new danger appeared—invasion by a band of interplanetary despots who wanted to make Mundis their first conquest on the path to Galactic Empire. Faced by this common peril, the Mundians were forced to unite in a desperate, last-ditch struggle to save humanity.

Here is a mature science-fiction novel of human conflict in outer-space—with the fate of the entire Universe at stake!”

Initial Thoughts: I’ve yet to read anything by J. T. McIntosh. I do not have high hopes. SF Encyclopedia describes it as follows: “Born Leader […] puts two sets of colonists from a destroyed Earth on nearby planets, where the authoritarian set conflicts with the libertarian set.”  Does not sound promising. I have a soft spot for Powers’ cover!

2. The Two of Them, Joanna Russ (1978)

Uncredited cover for the 1979 edition

From the back cover: “Irene (née Waskiewicz), TransTemp agent and mother by chance to a daughter by choice, starlover turned outlaw. Zubeydeh, child of crystal veils and quiet madness. Irene stole her own freedom, and now she has bought Zubeydeh’s. The price was murder and there is nowhere to run but Earth…”

Initial Thoughts: In my various twitter escapades, Joanna Russ’ came up and inspired me to comb through her bibliography to identify any of her novels that I might be missing. And lo and behold, I bought The Two of Them (1978).

I’m a fan of her work as readers of the site will know–especially her novel We Who Are About To…(1976) and her short story “The Second Inquisition” (1970).

3. The Glory of the Empire: A Novel, A History, Jean d’Ormesson (1971, trans. by Barbara Bray, 1974)

Giovanni Battista Piranesi, View of the Appian Way, 1756-57

From the back cover: “The Glory of the Empire is the rich and absorbing history of an extraordinary empire, at one point a rival to Rome. Rulers such as Basil the Great of Onessa, who founded the Empire but whose treacherous ways made him a byword for infamy, the romantic Alexis the bastard, who dallied in the fleshpots of Egypt, studied Taoism and Buddhism, returned to save the Empire from civil war, and then retired ‘to learn to die,; come alive in The Glory of the Empire, along with generals, politicians, prophets, scoundrels, and others. Jean d’Ormesson also goes into the daily life of the Empire, its popular customs, its contribution to the arts and the sciences, which, as he demonstrates, exercised an influence on the word as a whole, from the East to the West, and whose repercussions are still felt today. But it is all fiction, a thought-experiment worthy of Jorge Luis Borges, and in the end The Glory of the Empire emerges as a great shimmering mirage, filling us with wonder even as it makes us wonder at the fugitive nature of power and the meaning of history itself.”

Initial ThoughtsHistory as fiction. As a historian, I am fascinated. Far more fascinated than I am about historical fiction. Invented histories of the Borgesian tilt tickle all my fancies. A dense/labrythine tome for sure…

4. Universe 12, ed. Terry Carr (1982)

Richard Courtney’s cover for the 1983 edition

From the inside page: “Terry Carr’s UNIVERSE anthologies are recognized as the premier forum for new works of science fiction and fantasy. UNIVERSE 12 continues the tradition of creative and literary excellence, concentrating on the human element. included in this supernova of fiction are:

George Turner’s “A Pursuite of Miracles,” in which the “impossible” is commonplace but dilemmas of the heart are an impenetrable puzzle—even under laboratory conditions.

Nancy Kress; “Talp Hunt,” which explores humanity’s tenuous grasp on selfhood in the “eternalizing” process on an alien planet.

Howard Waldrop’s “God’s Hook,” a Hawthornesque allegory of plagues, hellfire, and dire incantations as Izaak Walton meets John Bunyan on an apocalyptic fishing expedition.

R. A. Lafferty’s “Thieving Bear Planet,” the tale of havoc among explorers of a topsy-turvy world where reality merges with hallucinatory memory of disturbing hilarity.”

Contents (all original stories): George Turner’s “A Pursuit of Mira’s “Exploring Fossil Canyon,” Howard Waldrop’s “God’s Hooks,” Nancy Kress’ “Talp Hunt,” Bruce McAllister’s “When the Father’s Go,” R. A Lafferty’s “Thieving Bear Planet,” Mary C. Pangborn’s “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” James Patrick Kelly’s “In Memory of,” Leigh Kennedy’s “Helen, Whose Face Launched Twenty-eight Conestoga Hovercraft.”

Initial Thoughts: One of the my best reads of 2019 was Nancy Kress’ first SF novel An Alien Light (1987). I procured Universe 12 in order to read her earlier short fiction. Speaking of which, I should put a post together on her first four short stories published in the 1970s…. Let me know if you’re interested!

I want to eventually review all the Universe volumes. So far I’ve tackled, Universe 1 (1971), Universe 2 (1972), Universe 4 (1974), and Universe 10 (1980).

For book reviews consult the INDEX

For cover art posts consult the INDEX

33 thoughts on “Updates: New Purchases No. CCLXVII (Joanna Russ, J. T. McIntosh, Jean d’Ormesson, and a Terry Carr anthology)

  1. The Two of Them is, I think, the only Joanna Russ novel I have not read, and I really should remedy that.

    Universe 12 came out in 1982, the year after I graduated from university, and I was in a weird state where I was essentially establishing a social life in a new place, plus figuring out my job, and for a couple of years there I read very little, and particularly little SF. I credit, usually, Connie Willis (especially “The Last of the Winnebagos”) and Kim Stanley Robinson (especially “Green Mars”, the novella not the novel); as well as a couple others (John Kessel and Bruce Sterling for two) with luring me back. Upshot is, I had bought all the Universe volumes through 7 or 8, and then I stopped, and I’ve not read this volume. The only story I’ve read, I think, is “God’s Hooks”, which back when I read it was kind of a miss for me.

    J. T. McIntosh … hmmm … an interesting (sometimes) and engaging (sometimes) writer who can also be annoying as heck. Born Leader aka Worlds Apart isn’t his best novel at all (I’d probably pick One in Three Hundred or maybe World Out of Mind) … and it features one of the most shockingly racist bald statements I’ve seen in its explanation of why the colony featured in the book is all-white. I say all that but, as I note in my review on my blog, I still read McIntosh stories when I find them in old magazines, and fairly often they’re pretty entertaining. My blog review: http://rrhorton.blogspot.com/2018/05/a-mostly-forgotten-sf-novel-born-leader.html

    Finally, I must say the Ormesson novel, of which I have not heard, looks FASCINATING. When you posted that picture of that book and a beer earlier in the day I assumed it was a history book you were reading for your day job perhaps, or just as a break from SF.

    • The Two of Us is also the only novel of hers I’ve not read: Picnic on Paradise (1968), And Chaos Died (1970), and We Who Are About To… (1977) are all reviewed on the site. I read but never got around to reviewing The Female Man (1975) [my memory of it has faded a bit as a result — but it was challenging for sure].

      Re-your comment about my twitter post: I read a lot of history for sure! But this one is definitely a work of fiction masquerading as history. Count me intrigued! And I’m all for exploring more speculative fiction in translation.

  2. 3) is the one I own of all these, and have read, and am quite sure I didn’t really get well enough to review in a cogent way.

    I think I’m most fuddled by the bits I didn’t think were alternate history…are we absolutelysure* Basil isn’t real? I kinda sorta think he was…but more than anything, I’m quite sure the book cost them a packet and sold like it had cooties.

    • The entire enterprise seems deliberately Byzantine (in every conception of the word) — there were a bunch Alexios and Basil-named Byzantine emperors. I am fascinating in uncovering the “real” from the pages. I also have to dredge up memories of 60s-style academic scholarship, which he is also probably ridiculing…

  3. Interesting! I read The Glory of the Empire back in 2016 and concluded “as a fictional created saga it succeeds and convinces brilliantly; but as the story is told as an epic, sweeping piece of history the reader is kept at something of a distance from events”. My review is here if you want to look at it at any time – I don’t think there are spoilers. I liked it and was impressed but I wouldn’t say I loved it! https://kaggsysbookishramblings.wordpress.com/2016/06/30/fact-vs-fiction-vs-history-vs-novel/

    • Thanks for linking your review. I am completely prepared to go into this novel reading it more as a fictional history monograph (which often come off as exercises in detached distance!) rather than historical novel.

      From your review — > “There are even illustrations of artefacts, and a lovely map, all adding to the ‘authenticity’ of the book!” — these are touches I love!


  4. I read Joanna Russ’s THE TWO OF THEM when it came out.

    If memory serves, it’s a slighter, more genre-compliant revisiting of the same themes as THE FEMALE MAN — crosstime agent rescues young girlfriend from Islamic hellhole-world, the two then become lesbian rebels against the patriarchy across the time-streams. Fade, IIRC, to a weak rhetorical meta-ending….

    Personally, for me as a reader Russ hit it out of the park in a few short stories — “The Second Inquisition,” “Nobody’s Home,” “When It Changed,” and, maybe, “Souls” a little later. While she had undoubted gifts as a critic and a rhetorician, I read all four of Russ’s novels as they came out and none of them did much for me as novels . All have patches of brilliance, mind you.

    Still, it’s been decades. If I think back, I found an American copy of AND CHAOS DIED (1970) when I was a kid in London, and read it through more than once. So, callow as my taste might have been, that was a Russ novel that must have impressed me in segments, at least. It had the benefit, too, of being part of editor Terry Carr’s first run of Ace Specials, alongside the likes of Ursula LeGuin’s THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS and Keith Roberts’s PAVANE.

    I wouldn’t mind taking a look at AND CHAOS DIED again. Probably, THE FEMALE MAN, too.

    • I pretty much endorse everything Mark says here, except I think PICNIC ON PARADISE and WE WHO ARE ABOUT TO … are pretty successful in doing what Russ was trying to do, which may not have been exactly congruent with “writing a fully successful novel”. (The same statement, actually, could probably be applied to THE FEMALE MAN.) Indeed, this is, I think, particularly clear in the case of WE WHO ARE ABOU TO … and THE FEMALE MAN, which are both, I think, purposely quite didactic. Russ’s acerbic wit is enough to make them both very readable, even if not quite great “novels”. PICNIC ON PARADISE is a different case — slighter, for sure, but quite fun. In all these cases, and also AND CHAOS DIED, I must footnote things by saying it’s been a VERY long time since I read the books — back in the ’70s for all of them, except for a reread of PICNIC ON PARADISE probably in the ’90s.

      As for the short fiction, those stories are exactly what I’d pick, probably adding “My Boat”, and noting that “The Second Inquisition” and “Nobody’s Home” will always turn up on my lists of “Best SF short fiction of all time”. And, really, all the rest of the Alyx stories are very fine.

      A couple of years ago, by the way, I happened across a mainstream story by Russ in THE ARLINGTON QUARTERLY, for Autumn 1970. (This is, or was, the literary journal of the University of Texas at Arlington.) It’s called “Not For Love”, and it’s pretty good, pure campus sexual hijinks stuff with a nice satirical edge. I found it at an estate sale for a guy named Clyde G. Wade who had been a professor at the University of Missouri at Rolla. (Our state’s engineering school.) He had had a piece about the Faerie Queene in the magazine. Stupidly — incredibly stupidly — I only bought one copy (he had four or five) — they were only a dollar each. I gave that copy to a friend who I know has a great interest in Russ (after I read the story, of course.)

      • Rich H: PICNIC ON PARADISE and WE WHO ARE ABOUT TO … are pretty successful in doing what Russ was trying to do, which may not have been exactly congruent with “writing a fully successful novel”.

        Sure. WE WHO ARE ABOUT TO … is successful at doing what Russ wanted to do. Except for me as a reader it simply wasn’t worth doing at that length. It’s a simple didactic exercise mechanically extended — though barely, since even with all the white space Russ used, it’s pretty slim.

        As a story with a 15,000-20,000 word count, it would have worked better — it feels to me like it should have been about the length of ‘The Second Inquisition.’ And if Russ could have done the same kind of cutting that Sturgeon applied to get to ‘The Man Who Lost the Sea,’ we might be talking about the result as one of the brilliant SF short stories.

  5. Hi

    I just read Canoe by Nancy Kress in Extrasolar (but it appears in other anthologies as well) and it was quite good. A bit more hard science than I expected. I will definitely read more of her work. A lot of her novels including We Who Are About To are in my TBR pile.

    All the best

    • No worries!

      Be ready for a big dose of pessimism in We Who Are About To… (1976). I mean, from the title alone, you know what’s going to happen!

      I find it an amazing evisceration of those idiotic “Adam and Eve” narratives of spaceman and spacewoman or last humans on earth going to rebuild society-type tales.

      • ‘Adam and No Eve’ ain’t all that.

        Basically, protagonist (hereafter P) invents an atomic rocket that, despite warnings, he takes off in with his dog (yes), in the process setting Earth’s atmosphere afire and destroying all life there. P and pooch then return to devastated world of ashes.

        Since this is all related in flashbacks as P crawls over the dead Earth with a broken leg, Bester has P hallucinate conversations with his dead fiancée and others, which is what passes for plot in this story till P’s starvation-maddened dog attacks him. P thereupon kills pooch and builds a funeral pyre for it. Story ends as P prepares to die, anticipating that his body’s bacteria will eventually evolve into the next round of intelligent life on Earth.

        That’s all, folks. While I yield to no one in my admiration for Bester’s 1950s-era productions, I share your disinterest in pre-WWII American SF (the British and the Russians are another matter) and I don’t think ‘Adam and No Eve’ really transcends the general ruck of that.

        • When I first read “Adam and No Eve” (age 12 or so) I was quite wowed by the ending — I thought it a neat inversion of the “Adam and Eve” trope. But there’s not much more to the story than that, alas. The standard line on Bester is that he wrote basically two OK stories in the ’40s — “Adam and No Eve” and “Hell is Forever”. But even those aren’t even close to what he did between 1950 and 1963, a truly remarkable run of stories, and two great novels.

          • Rich H.: But even those aren’t even close to what he did between 1950 and 1963, a truly remarkable run of stories, and two great novels.

            Very little SF by anyone at any time comes close to that vintage run, frankly.

            • For reasons Rich explained above, I am tempted by Adam and No Eve for the trope-inversion (even if it’s pre-WWII SF)… One of the reasons I adored Russ’ powerful and incisive We Who Are About To… (1976) (and, as my review lays out, it was a stripped down way of telling vs. The Female Man that worked for the premise).

  6. Hi

    I see there is a summary above. We are still renovating here and I noticed a Bester collection yesterday, Star Light, Star Bright, which had Bester’s introduction to Adam and No Eve, he states “The genesis of the story came out of irritation.Very often stories arise because I get fed up with a cliche, and I’d about had it with the Adam and Eve device in science fiction…., This seems like something you might agree with. Looking at Bester’s work I think the avoidance of cliche is what caused Bester to give us the flawed superman Gully Foyle in The Stars my Destination/ Tiger! Tiger! or the very bleak story of the man and his robot/android companion in “Fondly Fahrenheit”.

    I am not sure if this helps.

    • Guy wrote: I noticed a Bester collection yesterday, Star Light, Star Bright, which had Bester’s introduction to Adam and No Eve

      That is the definitive Bester collection, by God, especially with the intros and autobiographical content (including Bester’s account of ‘how I managed not to laugh in John W. Campbell’s deranged, narcissistic face,’ although Bester doesn’t quite put it like that).

      It’s a sad world where STAR LIGHT, STAR BRIGHT isn’t available in kindle, at the least.

      Non-apropos of SF, are you Guy Savage? If so, synchronistically, I’m reading THE TALENTED MISS HIGHSMITH, which was the second biography of Highsmith (in 2010) by Joan Schenkar and probably the best, though Schenkar did rather overplay the salaciousness — and she didn’t need to, because Highsmith was a fabulously awful human being (John Campbell is rendered a beacon of sanity and humility by comparison)

  7. Joanna Russ was one of those authors whose work I hated when I was young, but whose work has grown on me over the years. Yes, people’s tastes can change. I remember liking McIntosh’s work, but it’s been so long that I can’t remember why. Loved the cover of “Universe 12”. I think that it has a sense of humor to it. Or maybe I’m reading too much into it.

    • I read Russ’ The Female Man (1975) my first year of grad school (2010). I had no idea what to make of it. I remember trying to talk about the novel but not being able to put my thoughts to words (as a result I never reviewed it for the site). I get the impression that I’d have a much better grasp of her work if I were to return to it.

      The Universe 12 cover is fun for sure. I like the spaceship and the spotlights and the drawing below… it’s fun!

  8. Hi

    I looked at your review of the Russ story. You and James Harris both mentioned “Appearance of Life,” so I read that and agreed with your assessment. I also read the Bayley, I love his short stories. I should probably go through the entire volume again and make some comments.

    All the best

    • Glad you liked “Appearance of Life” — it’s my type of SF tale, through and through…. The mysterious local, memory, societal transformation (increasing isolation).

      Let me know if you review the collection! I’d love to read your thoughts. It was a solid one for sure.

    • If you include a link, I automatically have to approve it.

      (an attempt to screen out random wordpress bloggers who stop by and link their sites without any discussion, etc.)

  9. Unless I missed it, no one in 30 posts mentioned McIntosh, and that seems about right. I read The Fittest in the early sixties, soon after it appeared, and liked it for the chilling picture of the post-pagget world. (Paggets are intelligent animals, upgraded by a scientist, who escaped their cages and pretty much destroyed human society.) Of course I liked everything so early in my reading career. I wouldn’t hold out much hope for Worlds Apart.

      • I don’t know why I bought it. I was reading SF Encyclopedia one day… or it was his birthday and I posted about it on Twitter and decided to try at least one of his books. Or, more likely, and this is rare, but, I’m a big fan of Richard Powers and might have at least partially bought it for the cover!

        I have read, and I can’t remember where, that some of his work veers into morally nebulous areas. I think it was the One series of short stories fix-uped as One in Three Hundred (1954). These pulp authors spewing work out often don’t speculate on the moral implications of their narratives…

        E. C. Tubb is a great example: https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2019/12/27/book-review-the-space-born-e-c-tubb-1955/

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