Updates: Recent SFF Purchases No. CCLXXIII (Avram Davidson, Joan D. Vinge, William Tenn, and Michael Kurland)

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

1. The Island Under the Earth, Avram Davidson (1969)

From the inside page: “In THE ISLAND UNDER THE EARTH, a master fantasist has created his most fabulous land of imagination, peopled with humans and not-humans who speak with characteristically different voices and pursue goals and philosophies that set them inevitably against one another.

Earthy, hot-tempered Captain Stag followed a simple man’s quest; Tabnath Lo the trader was driven by obsession; the enigmatic augurs Castegor and Gortexas maneuvered toward black-secret ends; and around them all the alien Sixlimbed Folk massed in hatred and plotted barbaric vengeance…”

Initial Thoughts: I have had little luck with Avram Davidson’s SFF in the past:

Due to peer pressure (and a gorgeous Diane and Leo Dillon cover), I purchased one of his best-known novels.

2. Psion, Joan D. Vinge (1982)

From the back cover: “A.D. 2417. The future of the galaxy is threatened by multiplanetary corporations. To Cat, an illiterate slum kid whose catlike green eyes brand him as half alien, the destiny of humankind is insignificant. But his uniqueness targets him for a government experiment, and he discovers how to use his telepathic powers in terrifying new ways. As Cat’s powers grow stronger they lead him toward brutal confrontations with deadly forces. Can Cat seize his enemies’ minds before they possess his?”

Initial Thoughts: I’ve previously enjoyed Vinge’s science fiction–from The Snow Queen (1980) to “Mother and Child” (1975)–and thought I’d procure another one of her novels. As with the Davidson, the gorgeous Diane and Leo Dillon cover made the purchase far easier.

According to SF Encyclopedia, Psion (1982) is far less ambitious than The Snow Queen: “Psion, which unlike its successor was published as a Young Adult tale, is actually a development, years later, of the first long fiction Vinge wrote as a teenager. Cat, an orphan (half human, half Hydran, a race despised by humans) with catlike eyes and Psi Powers, has full-blooded, melodramatic, Space-Opera adventures. None of these books remotely approach the scope and power of her second novel, which remains her finest work to date.”

3. Time in Advance, William Tenn (1958)

From the back cover: “The future is coming and William Tenn blows the trumpet that heralds it 4 times!

1. He forecasts in FIREWATER that only a humdrum business man can save civilization when the aliens arrive!

2. Forebodingly he tells in TIME IN ADVANCE how you can murder with impunity—if you serve your sentence first!

3. ‘Foredoomed!’ he cries, ‘Mars is not dead, its ancient microbes live on, lying in wat for man’s invasion!’

4. And the forerunners in WINTHROP WAS STUBBORD discover that they can’t return from the twenty-fifth century, unless they all return together!

4 by Tenn! Four forceful novelettes of man’s forthcoming future!”

Contents: “Firewater” (1952), “Time in Advance” (1956), “The Sickness” (1955), “Winthrop Was Stubborn” (1957)

Initial Thoughts: As frequent readers of the site know, William Tenn is a favorite of mine. The following have reviewed on the site:

  • “Bernie the Faust” (1963)
  • The Human Angle (1956)
    • “Project Hush” (1954)
    • “The Discovery of Morniel Mathaway” (1955)
    • “Wednesday’s Child” (1956)
    • “The Servant Problem” (1955)
    • “Party of the Two Parts” (1954)
    • “The Flat-Eyed Monster” (1955)
    • “The Human Angle” (1948)
    • “A Man of Family” (1956)
  • Of All Possible Worlds (1955)
    • “Down Among the Dead Men” (1954)
    • “Me, Myself, and I” (1947)
    • “The Liberation of Earth” (1953)
    • “Everybody Loves Irving Bommer” (1951)
    • “Flirgleflip” (variant title: “The Remarkable Flirgleflip”) (1950)
    • “The Tenants” (1954)
    • “The Custodian” (1953)
  • Of Men and Monsters (1968)

4. The Unicorn Girl, Michael Kurland (1969)

“BLIP! Greenwich Village was a model of decorum compared to what went down when the BLIP hit the cosmic fan—and scattered all time, space and sanity to the fourteen dimensions.

Mikes and Chester–fearless hippy explorers of a thousand incredible worlds—find that even their legendary powers are dwarfed by…







Initial Thoughts: Not sure why I read this one… Perhaps I’m intrigued by a positive take on HIPPIES DOING SF THINGS vs. the Edmund Cooper model i.e. Kronk (1970). I do not expect much.

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18 thoughts on “Updates: Recent SFF Purchases No. CCLXXIII (Avram Davidson, Joan D. Vinge, William Tenn, and Michael Kurland)

  1. Avram Davidson is (as I have mentioned before I think?) a personal favorite of mine. But his early SF novels are not nearly his best work. Fortunately, THE ISLAND UNDER THE EARTH is a) More “middle than early” and b) not SF but Fantasy. So — all his novels through 1966 are more or less conventional SF, though CLASH OF STAR KINGS is pretty nice when it’s about expatriate life in Mexico. He figured out that that was really not his metier, and in 1969 he published THE PHOENIX AND THE MIRROR and THE ISLAND UNDER THE EARTH, which are much better, and as noted not SF.

    The only problem is, THE ISLAND UNDER THE EARTH is the first part of a trilogy. And though Davidson announced the titles of the sequels (THE SIX-LIMBED FOLK and CAP OF GRACE) he never wrote them. A shame.

    (THE PHOENIX AND THE MIRROR is closer to self-contained, but there were planned sequels that eventually appeared, though it’s not clear they were what he originally planned. And PEREGRINE PRIMUS (1971), which is great fun, was followed by a much weaker sequel.)

    Greg Feeley wrote intelligently about the state of play for Davidson’s “apocrypha” here: http://www.avramdavidson.org/apocrypha.htm

    And I write, less intelligently no doubt, about all of Davidson’s novels here: http://rrhorton.blogspot.com/2019/04/the-novels-of-avram-davidson.html

      • @ Rich H. —

        Re. Davidson’s novels, something on which we (mildly) disagree finally. I like MASTERS OF THE MAZE (1965) more than you do and prefer it to his later novels — and I owned ISLAND UNDER THE EARTH, PEREGRINE:PRIMUS, and THE PHOENIX AND THE MIRROR at one point.

        To be honest, this has a lot to do with my not being a fan of most of what’s sold as ‘fantasy.’ But I think the vaguely SFnal premise of MASTERS served to provide a discipline and framework that Davidson’s later fantasy novels didn’t have, as they seemed to me to wander around whimsically to no great effect and without much in the way of architecture or ideas.

        Davidson’s short fiction is a different matter. “The Sources of the Nile” is a great story and there are others you could make strong arguments for. (I have THE AVRAM DAVIDSON TREASURY in storage and, seeing that there’s a kindle version, I might just buy that to re-read “Sources” and some of those others.)

        But those stories mostly came in the 1950s and early 1960s — early in his career when, besides winning the Hugo and Edgar, he sold to non-genre markets like Collier’s and Harlequin, and was doing a kind of weird story that was within range of what writers like John Collier and Roald Dahl did. He was also capable of a fancier range of prose styles than genre writers were generally doing then.

        I think that period of Davidson’s short fiction does much to explain the high regard in which he was held by other writers like Michael Swanwick, Algis Budrys, and others. Because otherwise I find that later high regard, frankly, a little mysterious.

  2. I plodded through Psion, although I have enjoyed other books by Joan Vinge more.

    Kurland is usually good fun – I enjoyed Unicorn Girl long ago and also the related Butterfly Kid by Chester Anderson (parts 1 & 2 of a thematic trilogy, although I never tracked down v3 by yet another author!)
    Much more recently I acquired Transmission Error, which was written around the same period and found it similarly zany and enjoyable!
    Transmission Error - Michael Kurland
    My favorite Kurland remains the steampunk-ish Infernal Device, a Moriarty-centred thriller (I suppose!) It’s sequels weren’t so good.

    • These purchases are from my first voyage to a local used book store since before Covid (post-vaccination I am far more inclined to head to stores in person)! On the shelf was Transmission Error as well — although I did not know anything about it (unlike The Unicorn Girl which I knew was part of that sequel) so I didn’t put it in my stack. If it’s still there next time, I’ll grab it.

  3. I’ve always been very impressed with the artwork on the Ace Specials, and the Davidson is a particularly good-looking cover. I also thought the William Tenn book had standout artwork. I had not seen that cover before.

  4. By the way, the third in the informal trilogy, after Anderson’s THE BUTTERFLY KID and Kurland’s THE UNICORN GIRL is THE PROBABILITY PAD, by T. A. Waters. It is regarded (though I haven’t read it myself) as much the least of the three books.

    And, yes, the artwork Leo and Diane Dillon did in the late ’60s and early ’70s was particularly remarkable.

  5. Pingback: Of Men and Monsters; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax – MarzAat

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