Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLXXV (Tanith Lee, Anthony Boucher, Jack Womack, and Alexander Cordell)

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

1. Ambient, Jack Womack (1987)

From the back cover: “Twenty-first century New York. It’s a nightmare. Reaganomics has gone mad: there’s murder and mutilation on the bombed-out streets, and in the corporate conference rooms. Manhattan is a zoo. There’s guerilla war on Long Island. You’ll need to be rich to survive at all, and it’s easier to be dead than poor.

Seamus O’Malley is a bodyguard and assassin in the outrageously powerful Dryco organization, and he’s in deep trouble. Taking the job sounded like a good idea at the time.

Falling in love with his employer’s mistress Avalon, probably wasn’t so bright. Getting caught up in the Dryden family’s crazy, lethal rivalries didn’t help. Agreeing to murder the Old man was plain stupid. And being involved with the Ambient only complicated matters further. Before long O’Malley’s on the run, and there’s nowhere safe to hide. ‘Ready to kill, Shameless?’ Avalon said. ‘Ready to die.’

In this remarkable first novel, Jack Womack combines the horror of A Clockwork Orange, the pace of Alfred Bester, the vision of J. G. Ballard and the wit of Raymond Chandler to create a violent, bizarre and shocking world that is not so very far removed from our own.”

Initial Thoughts: While I have read about Jack Womack’s SF I have yet to read any myself. In part as his first novel Ambient was published in 1987 and my project mostly skews to the early 80s. Sometimes I feel a compulsion to acquire works outside my normal range. Ambient is the first published and the third in internal order of Womack’s Terraplane sequence of 6 novels. Here’s the full list.

2. The Silver Metal Lover, Tanith Lee (1981)

From the inside flap: “It is the world of the future, where beauty is available to all, given the sophistication of technology and medicine. Yet Jane is—well, surely pleasant enough-looking, with her soft brown hair and slightly plump body. Years back, when Jane was tiny, her beautiful, wealthy mother had her analyzed for perfect body type, and now cosmetic medications keep her true to form. And she questions little After all, her mother has so much authority, so many opinions, and there’s nothing for Jane to say.

And Jane’s lovers are largely in her mind–men from films she’s seen, from books she’s read. The thought of confronting a flesh-and-blood lover makes Jane grow cold. What would she say to him? What would he think of plain Jane?

Until she meets Silver, a singer and guitarist. And a robot–with all the adoration and compassion that in-the-flesh lovers lack.

But, unlike human lovers, Silver is for sale, and Jane–desperate for his love–risks estrangement from her mother and friends to possess him. With Silver as her partner, she tastes the first happiness and independence she has ever known. She even grows pretty, as she stops taking the pills and treatments her mother ordered fr her.

Yet–what would you do if the manufacturer decided to recall the particular model of lover you’d bought?

A starling romance of the future by the author of Sometimes, After Sunset and Electric Forest.

Initial Thoughts: Tanith Lee is a Joachim Boaz favorite. I’m a fan of her gauzy and sinister sensibilities and The Silver Metal Lover (1981) seems fill to the brim. Check out my reviews of Electric Forest (1979) and Don’t Bite the Sun (1976). This is high on my “to read” list.

3. Far and Away, Anthony Boucher (1955)

From the inside page: “FAMOUS as an author imaginative fiction and as the editor of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Anthony Boucher here presents a selection of his own best stories. Which means a collection of some of the very best stories in the field.

Here you can read, among others, ingenious tales about

a U. S. election result that is changed

a time machine that enables a murdered man to be seen alive

a Venusian visitor who is captured by a woman’s simplicity

a man who asks to be cursed by doesn’t foresee the hilariously fantastic results

Refreshing in their intelligence, their delightful and sometimes profound imagination, and their exceptional writing, these stories demonstrate clearly that Anthony Boucher is a name to conjure with in the realm of fiction that conjures with fancy.”

Contents: “The Anomaly of the Empty Man” (1952), “The First” (1952), “Balaam” (1954), “They Bite” (1943), “Snulbug” (1941), “Elsewhen” (1943), “Secret of the House” (1953), “Sriberdegibit” (1943), “Star Bride” (1951), “Review Copy” (1949), “The Other Inauguration” (1953)

Initial Thoughts: Last month I read and reviewed Boucher’s “Star Bride” (1951) for my series on negative/subversive takes on astronauts and the culture that produced them. “Star Bride” contains a half-hearted condemnation of colonialism implicit in the process of exploring space. I did not care for the story but felt intrigued enough to procure a collection of Boucher’s short fictions. I do not have high hopes!

4. If You Believe the Soldiers, Alexander Cordell (1973)

From the back cover: “Britain, 1982–a place where blackshirts patrol the streets and a fascist government controls the state. Civil servant Mark Seaton attempts to expose corruption within his ministry and is rewarded by ridicule, ostracism, and finally torture. His wife is faithless, his friends are betrayers, his life is seemingly at an end.

Then yet another government appears to give Mark, and his country, a hope for democratic existence. Be can he trust his ‘liberators,’ or are they too bent on destroying the vestiges of freedom left in Britain? Caught in a whirlwind of revolution, Mark must struggle for his very existence in a land where a chance word may mean imprisonment and an act of revolution spells certain death.

Initial Thoughts: Another fascists take over the state UK thriller! A definitely a dime a dozen theme but I’ve discovered a handful of fascinating takes: from Michael Moorcock and Hilary Bailey’s The Black Corridor (1969) with its inventive typographic art to Reginald Hill’s bizarre speculation that football fan clubs will be take over the state in Albion! Albion! (1974).


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31 thoughts on “Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLXXV (Tanith Lee, Anthony Boucher, Jack Womack, and Alexander Cordell)

  1. I enjoyed The Silver Metal Lover but gave my copy to someone whose mother was unfortunately much like the one in SML…

      • It is a more intimate unpleasantness. Parental abuse in the near-future but a mundane sort, not the lush decadence of, oh, Darkeness, I.

        • Ah, that sounds a bit more disturbing. I think the lush decadence of Electric Forest (1979) makes perfect sense considering the “reveal” and how the main characters views herself through TV. I suspect some similar themes of societal conceptions of beauty and control are present throughout both.

  2. Look forward to the Ambient review. I have read Terraplane. I vaguely remember liking it. My notes tell me I wanted to read more Womack! But I haven’t done it yet.

      • The novels are set in the same dystopian setting where people speak a futuristic slang. You can start with Ambient without problem, although in my opinion is the least interesting novel in the series. My favourites are Terraplane (the first one I read) and Random Acts of Senseless Violence. I also liked Elvissey, but felt that it wasn’t as good as those two.

        • Yeah, Random Acts of Senseless Violence does seem to be the one I see mentioned most often. I am most intrigued by his earliest work [an upcoming review hint!] rather than what might be “best.” As with my current exploration of John Shirley, I rather read his lesser known early SF before tackling Eclipse (1985).

      • I’ll probably post a “review” of Terraplane tomorrow. Your recent mention of Wyndham made me discover I’ve never blogged about any of his novel, so I’ll be doing that too.

  3. Alas, I haven’t read any of those!

    The Cordell book is completely unfamiliar to me.

    I have had AMBIENT — indeed Jack Womack in general — on my radar for decades, and somehow have not read him. People I trust praise him highly.

    I’ve read a lot of Tanith Lee’s work (especially at shorter lengths, natch!) and I like it a lot, but I haven’t read THE SILVER METAL LOVER.

    As for the Boucher collection, I may have read a couple of the stories, but none really stick with me.

    • Boucher’s legacy, at least at this historical juncture, seems more related to his editorial work than SF. Any idea what is considered his “best” work?

      I’m a huge Tanith Lee fan. I plan on reading everything she wrote in the 70s and early 80s.

      • Boucher’s best known SF story is surely “The Quest for Saint Aquin”, which is in the SF Hall of Fame.”Snulbug”, “Barrier”, “The Compleat Werewolf”, and “They Bite” are three others with some resonance. But nothing is what I’d call major.

        Yes, he’s known more than anything as an editor, primarily the co-founding editor of F&SF, but also the editor of a great 2 volume collection of SF (including four novels) from the ’40s a ’50s, A TREASURY OF GREAT SCIENCE FICTION. I read that from the library at age 13 or so and it was pretty influential.

        He also reviewed SF and mysteries for the New York Times and also Herald-Tribune as “H. H. Holmes”. As Holmes he also wrote a mystery novel about SF Fandom, ROCKET TO THE MORGUE, which featured several prominent SF figures somewhat thinly disguised. (He wrote several other mysteries as “H. H. Holmes”, an homage to a serial killer, not the detective, though he was a Holmesian, and wrote a series of radio plays feature Sherlock Holmes.)

        Real name of course William White. And supposedly he pronounced his pseudonym to rhyme with “voucher”, though I can’t stop saying it as “Boo-SHAY”.

  4. Hans Arnold (see Wikipedia english), made the coverartworks for Electric Forest (“Den elektriska skogen”, Delta 82) and Silver Metal (“Jungfrun som älskade silver”, Delta 83) = The swedish translations.

    • Thanks! The resource I use — The Internet Speculative Fiction Database — is still mostly incomplete for Swedish editions. Is there a Swedish database/website with cover images?

      • Unfortunately not; SF are not “Hot Stuff” in this country. And this problem; most of SF covers (magazines, books), are from “foreign sources” (ha ha). But there are, despite this, artists active (or has been…), in this field. Arnold is one formidable example.

  5. Bouchercon is the name of a mystery convention for a reason, for sure, but I think I sprained something in my rush to download the March 1953 F&SF to get “The Other Inauguration.”
    Imagine writing such a thing in the “I Like Ike” years!!

  6. In a genre notable for having too many ugly, stupid, cheap covers, that cover on AMBIENT deserves a lifetime achievement no-prize for its extraordinary ugliness, stupidity, and ineptitude.

    I’ve read Womack’s TERRAPLANE and liked it (and there’s a Robert Johnson connection). I might have read AMBIENT; my memory is unclear.

    What Rich Horton says about Anthony Boucher. The rationale for “The Quest for Saint Aquin” making it into the SF Hall of Fame has always thoroughly eluded me; it’s a plodding, thoroughly middle-brow story even by the standards of the time when it was written. Still, it’s to Boucher/White that we owe the loosing of PKD on the world, since in the very early 1950s Dick went to a writing class that Boucher/White ran in Berkeley and then made his first sale, “Roog,” when Boucher bought it for the early F&SF.

    Tanith Lee could write. I’m not an enthusiast for the commercial fantasy genre as it descends from Tolkien at all and I particularly despise the cop-out of rewriting fairy stories because a writer has no original stories to tell, but Tanith Lee’s reworkings of fairy tales in RED AS BLOOD and elsewhere — along with Angela Carter’s — I do admire.

    Haven’t read THE SILVER METAL LOVER, though. That’s another strikingly inept cover. Cheap-ass genre publishers.

    • Re-Ambient’s cover — haha. It’s extreme for sure. In a schlocky sense 80s sense it succeeds. But I’m generally no fan of 80s visual aesthetic.

      Boucher: I definitely respect his editorial prowess. Are there any other authors whom he’s responsible for mentoring/publishing who made it big?

      I’ve heard lots of positive things about Lee’s Red as Blood. I’ve read Carter’s take on fairy tales in The Bloody Chamber and enjoyed them as well. My favorite Carter remains The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman. Unfortunately, never got around to reviewing it. I agree about the cover. It’s BLAND made manifest.

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