Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLXXVI (Philip José Farmer, Barbara Paul, Knut Faldbakken, and Ward Moore)

Which books/covers/authors intrigue you? Which have you read? Disliked? Enjoyed?

1. Father to the Stars, Philip José Farmer (1981)

From the back cover: “John Carmody has no ethics, no morals and no conscience. Until he takes the Chance on Dante’s Joy, living through seven nights of wildest fantasies come true, he can’t even imagine why anyone would want a conscience. But Dante’s Joy is a truly strange place–and the phone calls from his murdered wife are only the beginning of his strange experiences.

Father John Carmody is a man who knows evil intimately, and is coming to know good with an equal intimacy. He is in a unique position to roam the galaxy, dispensing wisdom and advice along with Catholic doctrine and the saying of mass–a fully qualified father to the stars!”

Contents: “The Night of Light” (1957), “A Few Miles” (1960), “Prometheus” (1961), “Father” (1955), “Attitudes” (1953)

Initial Thoughts: I’ve previously read two works within Philip José Farmer’s Father Carmody sequence–“Father” (1955) and the 1966 novelization of “The Night of Light” (1957). Unfortunately, I never got around to reviewing the latter although I have positive memories despite the disturbing subject matter.

2. Under the Canopy (1980)

From the back cover: “JUNGLE WORLD. The primitive jungle planet known as Gaea was one of the most distant outposts of the Interplanetary Union. But as far as both the natives and Margo Kemperer, the I. U.’s colonial administrator, were concerned, life on Gaea was just about perfect. At least until Margo’s new assistant, Stephanie Leeds, arrived. Stephanie, a crusader from another colonial planet, seemed determined to turn the whole structure of Gaean society upside down. But what Stephanie didn’t seem to realize was that she was about to tackle three very powerful opponents: Margo, who wouldn’t let anyone upset the delicate balance of her world; the proud and intensely loyal Gaeans; and the jungle itself–the dark, brooding, deadly jungle, where the first mistake she made might very well be her last…”

Initial Thoughts: In 2016, I reviewed (and disliked) Barbara Paul’s first novel An Exercise for Madmen (1978). I am always willing to give an author a second shot! For a brief blurb about the author and her work check the SF Encyclopedia entry.

3. Caduceus Wild, Ward Moore with Robert Bradford (1978)

From the back cover: “MEDARCHY. It finally happened. The medical establishment has taken over the the civilized world. Orwell’s Big Brother is a doctor, and there is a prescription for everyone… usually thanatization or “modification.” The all-powerful high court of Medics will decide. The primitive operations and drugs of an earlier culture have been replaced by a more sophisticated methods and controls.

The population at large, described as Patients, willingly observe the codes of behavior set by the ruling Medics. It is a strange and cold world, still evolving from the devastation of ancient bacteria aerosols. All that is visible, from architecture to transportation, has been newly created by the Medical technologists. The minds and bodies of the citizens are on “hold.” Nothing must encroach on the Public Health. Every facet of life has been measured and made safe.

But there are a few escapees, dissidents,, deviants. The “Abnormals.” This is the story of three of them…”

Initial Thoughts: Ward Moore’s poor Greener Than You Think (1947) about grass gone wild has put me off his fiction for a while (never managed to review it). In 2016, I acquired but haven’t yet read Moore’s best known alternative history novel Bring the Jubilee (1953). As a fan of SF about medicine/doctors, I thought I’d track down Caduceus Wild — the 1978 rewrite of the 1959 serial. I suspect the best SF dystopia with a world controlled by doctors will remain James Gunn’s The Immortals (1962).

4. Sweetwater, Knut Faldbakken (1976, trans. Joan Tate 1994)

From the inside flap: “Sweetwater, by the distinguished Norwegian writer Knut Faldbakken, is the sequel to the widely acclaimed Twilight Country.

When Jonathan Bean of the Peacekeeping Force goes in search of his brother, listed as missing, his life takes a sudden and dramatic turn. Trapped by the inhabitants of the Dump, repository of Sweetwater’s rubbish, he comes parts of their lives. THese people, former citizens of Sweetwater who escaped the city with certain ideals, have by now deteriorated, physically and morally. War and deprivation have taken their toll and struggle for survival leads them to desperate acts. We follow their fortunes as they are driven back to their ravaged civilization.

Knut Faldbakken portrays unflinchingly the behavior of people in a disintegrating society against an unforgettable landscape of decay and collapse.”

Initial Thoughts: I adored Knut Faldbakken’s Twilight Country (1974, trans. Joan Tate, 1993). With my revised rating, Twilight Country clocks in as my second best read of 2020 (original list). This sequel follows an outsider her journeys into the Dump to track down his brother. I can’t wait to give it a go! Check out my review of Twilight Country.


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14 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLXXVI (Philip José Farmer, Barbara Paul, Knut Faldbakken, and Ward Moore)

  1. I’ve read “Night of Light”, I assume “The Night of Light” in the above collection is the shorter version, which I haven’t read. I wouldn’t know if it’s really much better. I’ve read “Father” though in “Strange Relations”. Philip J. Farmer faded into oblivion a very long time ago insofar as my current interest in SF is concerned, even though I think I used to munch on his stuff. He had excellent ideas and concepts, but was not really a very good writer. Authors such as Robert Heinlein, Philip K. Dick, J. G. Ballard, Roger Zelazny, Ursula LeGuin, Harry Harrison, George Martin, Christopher Priest, Harlan Ellison, Jack Vance, Robert Holdstock, Brian Aldiss, Bob Silverberg, Robert Sheckley, Alfred Bester, Ian Watson, John Varley, Mary Gentle, Gene Wolfe, Michael Moorcock, Sam Delaney, Michael Bishop, Tom Disch, Thomas Burnett Swan, and Barry Malzberg and James Tiptree, are, considering their skill and craft, better writers than Farmer.

    Still, it would be fun though to read “Night of Light” again, as it did contain some fantastic concepts, but I no longer own a copy. I would rather read the shorter version though. His “The Jungle Rot Kid on the Nod”, is very good though.

    • Thanks for stopping by.

      His quality depends on the story. Just like the authors you listed, he had the ability to write a masterpiece and then a stinker a few stories later. hah.

      I’ve read both of those Father Carmody stories as well. As I point out in my initial thoughts, I read the 1966 novel version (Night of Light) rather than the original short story — “The Night of Light” (1957) — which is in the collection. I never managed to review it.

  2. Farmer would have been better primarily as a short story writer. “The Lovers” is another novel I’ve read but not the original short version. I’ve said before, that I read the original “Riverworld” novella, that was better than the series, although “To Your Scattered Bodies” was quite good, it was just a shame it couldn’t
    have been wrapped-up more quickly. I suppose it was more commercially viable to write at novel or greater length, even though he couldn’t always sustain it.

  3. Good luck with ’em all! Apart from the Faldbakken, there’s not one I know about or care to learn of first-hand. Hate PJF, not a partisan of Ward Moore’s, and Barbara Paul…? Who?

    One of the many benefits I derive from following you is the fascinating peek into pathways I’d never explore on my own. It enriches my online life. Thanks!

  4. I have never really got on with Philip Jose Farmer, though I liked his story “The Sliced-Crosswise-Only-On-Tuesday World” (which became a whole series of “Dayworld” novels, to its detriment.) I never have read any of the RIVERWORLD novels for some weird reason (there was a time when TO YOU SCATTERED BODIES GO was the only Hugo novel winner I’d never read.) I don’t have a great explanation for any of this. (I mean, we ever worked at the same company — but not at the same time — and we come from the same part of the world.)

    Ward Moore gets a lot of respect — I’ve seen good notices for GREENER THAN YOU THINK, for example, though I haven’t read it and you hated it — but again, I’ve not been all that impressed. JOYLEG, his collaboration with Avram Davidson, is pretty minor, and I also read a very strange short novel, TRANSIENT, published in the February 1960 issue of Amazing, which I found somewhat ambitious but ultimately appalling. I think BRING THE JUBILEE (a South wins the Civil War alternate history) and “Lot”/”Lot’s Daughter”, a rather terrifying post-apocalyptic pair of stories, are his best (and best known) works.

    • Here’s what I wrote about TRANSIENT, at Black Gate:

      “Transient” didn’t appear in book form until a small-press “Double” edition in 2013. And I think it’s fairly easy to see why. It’s a really odd story, ambitious to an extent, but mostly a mess and a failure, at least in my view. It’s about Almon Lampley, currently the Governor of his state, by appointment after his predecessor’s death. Lampley is beginning his campaign for re-election, when he sneaks out to a small town, and enters a hotel. Then things get strange … and the rest of the novel is a phantasmagoria of weird, often horrific, events. Lampley encounters strange guests, wanders into what seem other worlds, a weird department store, caves. He encounters a race of tiny people, kidnaps one such woman, who grows larger, whereupon he rapes her. He rapes another (normal) woman along the way. There are hints that all this is in pursuit of some personal issues Lampley has — to do with his relationship with his wife, and particular to the tragic history of their son — though none of this is ever made clear. It ends up being boring and unpleasant, even as paragraph by paragraph a pretty impressive imagination is displayed. Worst of all — the story basically just stops.

      • Sounds like Transient is plagued by the same problems as Jack C. Haldeman, II’s “Sand Castles” (1974) which I reviewed recently. A smattering of images thrown at random at the reader without a way to navigate them.

    • If we’re talking non-fantasy Hugo-winning novels pre-1995, Vonda McIntyre’s Dreamsnake (1979) is your Riverworld. But I suspect Dreamsnake is something I’d love and far better than Riverworld! Like Niven’s Ringworld, the series got progressively worse. I remember a camping trip in which I was trapped in a leaking tent for 24 hours (torrential rain) with Farmer’s horrible The Dark Design (1977). I had no other book.

      As I mentioned to Richard above, I have a soft spot for Farmer’s early short stories like those in Strange Relations (1960): https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2014/01/26/book-review-strange-relations-philip-jose-farmer-1960/

      I’ll probably read “Lot” and “Lot’s Daughter” before I read any of his other works.

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