Updates: Recent Speculative Fiction Purchases No. CCLXIX (Orson Welles edited SF Anthology, Angélica Gorodischer, Charles Willeford, and Dan Jacobson)

1. The Machine in Ward Eleven, Charles Willeford (1963)

From the back cover: “‘I tied his body to the treatment table and stuffed his mouth with wadded paper towels. Dr. Fellerman’s big brown eyes were expressive indeed, particularly when my fingers adjusted the elastic harness over his head and centered the shiny electrodes to his temples.

A simple, impersonal, uncomplicated machine. I plugged the long cord into the wall outlet, turned the two plastic knobs as far to the right as they would go and left them there…’

For some time now, Charles Willeford’s writing has been emanating from the deep South like a series of electric shocks. Millions of readers around the world delight over each new item, whether a feature in Playboy or one of his rare novels. He is ranked as an author of distinction in the Burnett-Foley Best Short Stories of 1962.

For his fans, and for readers with the enviable thrill of discovering Willeford still ahead of them, the publishers commissioned THE MACHINE IN WAR ELEVEN as a paperback original. The manuscript—even before it went to press—had begun to scare the wits out of readers, and is already being talked about as Willeford’s best.”

Contents: “The Machine in Ward Eleven” (1961), “Selected Incidents” (1962), “A Letter to A.E. (Almost Anybody)” (1963), “Jake’s Journal” (1963), “Just Like on Television-” (1963), “The Alectryomancer” (1959).

Initial Thoughts: Thank you Gavin Woltjer (twitter)! I send him handful of duplicate copies of SF novels I owned in exchange for this somewhat pricey paperback. Primarily a writer of hard-boiled noir, Charles Willeford (1919-1988) in The Machine in Ward Eleven, according to SF encyclopedia, comes close to fantastic in his depiction of psychopathology: “some of these tales being sufficiently extreme to be understood – certainly in recent years – as prophetic of sf concerns in the new century.”

2. Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire That Never Was, Angélica Gorodischer (2001, trans. Ursula K. Le Guin, 2003)

From the inside flap: “In eleven chapters, the multiple stoytellers of Kalpa Imperial–the first of Gorodischer’s nineteen award-winning books to be translated into English–relate the story of a fabled nameless empire, which has risen and fallen multiple times. Fiary tales, oral histories, and political commentaries are all woven, tapestry-style, into this incredible story: beggars become emperors, democracies become dictatorships, and history becomes legends and stories.

And yet, Kalpa Imperial is much more than a simple political allegory or fable—it is also a celebration of the power of storytelling. Gorodischer and Le Guin are a well-matched, sly and delightful team of magician-storytellers. Rarely have author and translator been such an effortless pairing.

Kalpa Imperial is a powerful introduction to the writing of Angélica Gorodischer, and a novel that will enthrall readers already familiar with the worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin.”

Contents: “Portrait of the Emperor” (1983), “The Two Hands” (1983), “The End of a Dynasty or the Natural History of Ferrets” (1983), “Siege, Battle, and Victory of Selimmagud” (1983), “Concerning the Unchecked Growth of Cities” (1983), “Portrait of the Empress” (1984), “And the Streets Empty” (1984), “The Pool” (1984), “Basic Weapons” (1984), “‘Down There in the South'” (1984), “The Old Incense Road” (1984)

Initial Thoughts: Thank you to Expendable Mudge (twitter), “Friend of the Site,” for the copy! If I ever returned to writing, I’d write fantasy. Dense, Borgesian allegories in complex invented worlds… I’m hoping that Angélica Gorodischer’s Kalpa Imperial proves inspiring! A few of my friends have not had the most complimentary assessments…. we shall see!

3. Invasion from Mars: Interplanetary Stories, ed. Orson Welles (1949)

Contents: Howard Koch’s “Invasion from Mars” (variant title: “The Invasion from Mars: A Radio Adaptation”) (1938), Robert A. Heinlein’s “The Green Hills of Earth” (1947), Ray Bradbury’s “Zero Hour” (1947), Anthony Boucher’s “Expedition” (1943), Murray Leinster’s “Incident on Calypso” (1945), Frederic Brown’s “The Star-Mouse” (1942), Nelson S. Bond’s “The Castaway” (1940), Isaac Asimov’s “Victory Unintentional” (1942), Theodore Sturgeon’s “Farewell to Eden” (1949), Ray Bradbury’s “The Million Year Picnic” (1946).

Initial Thoughts: I bought this for one reason–Orson Welles edited the volume and wrote the short introduction! According to Peter Bogdanovich in This Is Orson Welles (1992), this is most likely a ghost-edited volume (See SF Encyclopedia). I am still curious about reading the intro. The anthology itself has a standard spread of classic authors some of which I haven’t read in years (Asimov, Bradbury, etc.).

4. The Confessions of Josef Baisz, Dan Jacobson (1977)

From the inside flap: “From Dan Jacobson, a living master of the English novel, comes this brilliant exploration of the life of an ambitious minor functionary in an imagined police state, who through exploitation and sheer luck ultimately achieves pollical prominence–only to lose his soul.

Josef Baisz, the candidly treacherous narrator of these “confessions,” is bound to take his place among those unforgettable literary creations whose moral lapses and failures have helped to illuminate the contemporary world for recent generations of readers.

Born in the Republic of Sarmeda, the son of a family fallen on hard times, Baisz travels upward through the various levels of power in Sarmedan society, teaching himself the art of servitude and exploring the hierarchies of ruthlessness. finally he comes face to face with the last, and the most central, object of his treachery—himself.

For the fans of Dan Jacobson, Baisz’s life–sometimes funny, sometimes cruel, but always enthralling–is an invitation to contemplate the human and political comedy of our time. This novel is a magnificent illumination of the contemporary psyche; a searing indictment of modern morality.”

Initial Thoughts: Not sure why I tracked this one down…. According to SF Encyclopedia, “The Confessions of Joseph Baisz (1977) is set in a tyrannical, unnamed, South-Africa-like Dystopia.” Like Adrian Mitchell’s The Bodyguard (1970), the novel focuses on one of the creators of the dystopia rather than someone fighting against it. Depending on how I enjoy Jacobson’s novel, I might pair the two in an article.

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13 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Speculative Fiction Purchases No. CCLXIX (Orson Welles edited SF Anthology, Angélica Gorodischer, Charles Willeford, and Dan Jacobson)

    • Definitely more interested in the anthology due to Welles’ affiliation (whether ghost-edited or not) than anything else. His name was attached to a Merril anthology I haven’t posted yet as well

      As for Kalpa Imperial, the frequent commenter who gave me the copy, Expendable Mudge, is a “reserved fan.” And I know Bogi Takács didn’t care for it at all.

      I’ll take a look at your review.

      Here’s Expendable Mudge’s somewhat tepid take: http://expendablemudge.blogspot.com/2020/08/kalpa-imperial-argentinian-woman.html

      • Now, now…I am not not a fan, just a more reserved sort of fan. It’s a tremendous feat of imagination, just not well-marketed as a novel. It’s even in black-and-background-color that I felt that “…I was in the presence of very, very high-level art.”

        Bogi Takács, OTOH, is very much not a fan!

        • Thanks for the copy!

          I linked your review as I didn’t want to put words in your mouth and then forgot to go back and change the comment (I’ll edit it).

          Yeah, marketing it as a novel with chapters seems like the wrong move. The fact that they are short stories, which isfdb.org makes clear at least, makes it even a bit more appealing to me (Borges!).

        • Expendable — I do agree that the novel designation is a bit of a stretch.

          I hope it would not be too cruel of me to say that Bogi disliking something does not exactly convince me that it’s bad. I think e can be remarkably wrong-headed. Some of the time. (As can we all, I’m sure.) (I met em once and e was perfectly nice, mind you.)

          • People with Opinions are bound to disagree among themselves, it’s inevitable. In fact I think of it as salubrious…too much agreement turns into Groupthink.

            Nothing is scarier than Groupthink.

            • Rich and Expendable, oh no worries. I know there will always be disagreement. My original comment related more to what I said in the initial thoughts section — “If I ever returned to writing, I’d write fantasy. Dense, Borgesian allegories in complex invented worlds… I’m hoping that Angélica Gorodischer’s Kalpa Imperial proves inspiring!” Yet, as I’ve read reviews, there’s a chance it won’t be.

  1. I read “The Green Hills of Earth” in the collection “The Green Hills of Earth” by Robert Heinlein, during my early SF reading days. I can’t really remember anything about any of them now.

  2. Charles Willeford, huh?

    I’ve never read his short stories, but I know most of his novels well. They’re in the crime genre and — as the SFE says of the stories in ‘The Machine in Ward Eleven– they’re essentially “studies of psychopathology.” (Though that’s not all they are.)

    Willeford was responsible for the best, most varied psychopaths in American crime literature after Jim Thompson, at least as far as my reading has taken me.

    He wasn’t a bad guy himself, but he came by his knowledge of psychopathy authentically. He was much decorated for his WWII Army service and he wrote down some accounts of some of the casual rape and murder of civilians by American servicemen that he witnessed in Europe. Some of them are on the internet, but I won’t link to them.

    • Thanks for context — I did not know that much about him. I wonder why it was reviewed (see quote on the top of the cover) in the Science Fiction Quarterly. I should track down who the reviewer was and what they said…. beyond the hyperbole.

  3. Kalpa Imperial is a favorite and, next to Mieville’s Embassytown, my most loaned out and never returned so I have to buy another copy book I own.

    I’m also a big Willeford fan. “Jake’s Journal” might be my favorite from that collection. That collection might be more noir/horror than what you usually write about.

    • Hello Justin! I, too, enjoy Mieville — I listened to an audiobook two years ago of his The City and The City and was thoroughly impressed.

      Yeah, as I imply in my initial thoughts, calling the book “SF” or “Speculative” might be a bit of a stretch. That’s okay! Ultimately, I read a bit more widely than I review. I, for example, read Cormac McCarthy’a brilliant Blood Meridian (1985) a while back.

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