Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLXXVII (Octavia E. Butler, Harlan Ellison, James White, Poul Anderson)

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

1. Dawn, Octavia E. Butler (1987)

From the back cover: “XENOGENESIS: The birth of something new—and foreign.

Lilith Iyapo awoke from a centuries-long sleep—and found herself aboard the vast living spaceship of the Oankali. Alien creatures covered in writhing tentacles, the Oankali had saved every surviving human from a dying, ruined Earth. They healed the planet, cured cancer, increased human strength and disease resistance, and were now ready to help Lilith lead her people back to Earth.

But for a price. For the Oankali were genetic engineers. DNA manipulators. Gene traders. They planned to give us their alienness. They planned to take our humanity.

They planned to interbreed.

And there was no way to stop them.”

Initial Thoughts: Other than Kindred (1979), Octavia E. Butler is not an author I’ve explored in depth–in part due to how expensive early editions of her paperbacks are! Thus, when I infrequently see them, I buy them. This 1st edition paperback cover by Enric is infamous for whitewashing the main character.

I finished Dawn a few weeks ago and plan on having a review up soon.

2. Major Operation, James White (1971)

From the back cover: “SECTOR GENERAL is an enormous hospital based far out on the Galactic Rim. No other hospital on or off the Earth encounters the wildly diverse problems created by the hundreds of different alien life forms that turn up at Sector General for treatment. Being a doctor, human or otherwise, in this establishment requires a decree of adaptability Hippocrates never imagined…”

Contents: “Invader” (1966), “Vertigo” (1968), “Blood Brother” (1969), “Meatball” (1969), “Major Operation” (1971)

Initial Thoughts: I’ve devoured most of Murray Leinster’s Med Service stories–Doctor to the Stars (1964) and S.O.S From Three Worlds (1967). It’s about time I devour the stories that may have inspired elements of Deep Space Nine (my favorite Trek!) (1993-1999) and Babylon 5 (1993-1998).

I still don’t own the first volume in the Sector Station sequence–Hospital Station (1962)—do you need to read them in order?

3. Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison (1975)

From the inside flap: “Winner of six Hugo and three Nebula awards, Harlan Ellison has long been regarded as one of the most brilliant and controversial writers in the field of speculative fiction. The SF Book Blub is proud to present this collection–immediately acknowledged as one of his finest when it was first published in 1975.

Deathbird Stories gathers together 19 tales originally published between 1960 and 1974. It as been extensively revised by the author himself, and is likely to become the definitive edition of the book.

in the tradition of Mark Twain’s “Letter from the Earth,” the Hugo-winning “The Deathbird” retells the story of Genesis from a diabolical perspective. Taken from the molten magma core of the Earth where he rested for millennia within the confines of his crypt, and brought up to the surface by the Snake, Nathan Stack is due for his final showdown with God, “the mad one…”

In the Hugo-winning “Adrift Just off the Islets of Langerhans: Latitude 38° 54′ N, Longitude 77° 00′ 13″ W,” Lawrence Talbot has lost something vitally important, and he can’t die until he finds it. So, with the aid of his old friend, Victor, the Central European scientific genius, he plans an adyssey through the interior of his own body… to search for the exact geographic location of his soul.

The Edgar-winning “The Whimper of Whipped Togs” is set in modern-day New York City, where no one wants to get involved. Beth is a young Bennington graduate who witnesses a Kitty Genovese-like dance of death below the window of her new apartment. She is appalled by her failure to do anything to help the victim, but when the horrors of the city invade her own life, she discovers the existence of a new god….

“Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes”–Hooker. Grabber. Swinger. If there’s a buck in it, there’s rhythm and the onomatopoeia is Maggie Maggie Maggie. She died feeding the “Chief” slot machine in Vegas, and now her love is Kostner. She wants Kostner because she’s lonely and she tells him so with her three blue eyes, staring from the jackpot bars. Kostner’s on a roll, jackpot after jackpot, but all he can think about is those three blue eyes and the woman beckoning in his dreams…

In “Shattered Like a Glass Goblin,” Rudy is home from the army seeking his fiancée, Kristina, who’s living with Jonah and the rest of the gang up at The Hill. When Kris shuns him, he should take a hint. But Rudy’s in love with her. So she moves in and tolerates the perpetual orgy of drigs and sex. But what are those squeaking noises coming from the attic? And the moist sounds from the basement?

Let Harlan Ellison introduce you to the new gods of our age.”

Contents: “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs” (1973), Along the Scenic Route” (1969), “On the Downhill Side” (1972), “O Ye of Little Faith” (1968), “Neon” (1973), “Basilisk” (1972), “Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes” (1967), “Corpse” (1972), “Shattered Like a Glass Goblin” (1968), “Delusion for a Dragon Slayer” (1966), “The Face of Helene Bournouw” (1960), “Bleeding Stones” (1973), “At the Mouse Circus” (1971), “The Place with No Name” (1969),”Paingod” (1964), “Ernest and the Machine God” (1968), “Rock God” (1969), “Adrift Just Off the Islets of Langerhans: Latitude 38° 54′ N, Longitude 77° 00′ 13″ W” (1974), “The Deathbird” (1973) 

Initial Thoughts: I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Harlan Ellison’s New Wave short stories over the years. Check out my review of Approaching Oblivion (1974). Before his passing he stopped by my website and left a message (25 comments down) on the review.

It’s about time I read more of his work in a more sustained manner than the handful of tales I encounter in various anthologies.

4. Guardians of Time, Poul Anderson (1960)

From the inside flap: “The best of science fiction creates a future that is not only logical and probable, but that seems inevitable.

And given that definition, Poul Anderson’s place in the science-fiction pantheon is assured. With the precision of a fine camera, he has focused his imagination on infinity and recorded in these pages an astonishing depth of field. The past–the Palace of Cyrus the Great, the Mongol bands who explored North America—is is aligned with the future–time-travel and mutable history–in a daringly ambitious projection.

For the inevitability of time-travel being invented somewhere in the future (or “some-when,” as Mr. Anderson puts it) is not difficult to accept. And once accepted, it is obvious that time-travel jeopardizes the existence of all who come after it. A single grain of matter thrown into the past must alter history, change life. Therefore the future must protext itself by establishing the Time Patrol to police the time lanes and prevent irresponsible time-travelers from tampering with the continuum.

GUARDIANS OF TIME is about the adventures of one agent of the Time Patrol. Its excitement lies in the realization that not only must the Time Patrol be organized somewhen, but that it must be operating NOW!

Contents: “Time Patrol” (1955), “Brave to Be A King” (1959),, “The Only Game In Town” (1960), “Delenda Est” (1955)

Initial Thoughts: Poul Anderson was very much an author of my late teen years (~17) when I fell in love with science fiction (I was primarily a fantasy reader before that). While I have soured a bit on his often functional stories, I’m always willing to return.

And goodness, I love the exuberance of the Richard Powers cover!


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38 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLXXVII (Octavia E. Butler, Harlan Ellison, James White, Poul Anderson)

    • I know I have a copy of the second volume (Star Sturgeon). This is the third volume in the sequence. Hm… I might amble over to Abebooks and buy the 1st in the sequence — Hospital Station.

      Did you enjoy them?

      • Well, their treatment of women is unfortunately true to the period when they were written but not in any, uh, unsavoury way. I think I like them more now than I did then because SF where the point is to help people is so rare.

        What hooked me on White was Monsters and Medics. In fact, because I had not yet alphabetized my library, I did not immediately realize Major Operation and Monsters and Medics were by the same author.

        • Yeah, the main point is an appealing one (even if I love my SF depressing and meta at other moments).

          Alphabetize your library? What sorcery is that? hah. I have the books I’ve read in on their shelves. The books I haven’t on their own shelves. And the books I haven’t read AND haven’t included in a purchase post in their section. I have boxes of childhood books (some SF) in my closets. And a pile of accidental duplicates somewhere else (although I think I gave all of them to a friend).

  1. I’m looking forward to your thoughts on Dawn. I enjoyed this immensely. One of those rare sf novels that is also a novel of ideas and critical argument.
    I’ve read the Anderson. His Time Patrol stories are fun, but little more. One of those authors that can truly deliver the goods from time to time but usually is just ok. On a similar theme/period of composition, H Beam Piper’s Paratime stories are better.

    • I enjoyed Dawn’s moral complexity and the main character. I struggled mightily with the dry way it was written almost completely without metaphors — it was stark and brittle in prose. I’ll keep it at that for now! I hope my review conveys my thoughts in a more effective way.

      • Agree with antyphayes on the Anderson — fun but little more. “Time Patrol” and “Delenda Est” were the stand-outs for me. I do think “functional” is an apt word for his stories, although when he’s really hit his stride with a particular story, that functionality can be quite fun (and I have that beautiful Powers copy, as well! And just so happened to pick up Hospital Station not three days ago). The Paratime stories have always been intriguing, and that endorsement is enough to tip the scales.

        Otherwise, I’m interested to read your DAWN take, as well. When I first started reading genre things a few years back, I had a very short-run podcast on sf lit (based on the premise that I’d never read/liked it, and my co-host did [as is clear, I no longer have those hang-ups!]). Regardless, one of our eps was on DAWN [https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/episode-12-dawn-by-octavia-butler/id956403635?i=1000346534583]. Although I was likewise lukewarm then (was also a bit put off by its stilted style), it has stuck with me much longer than most things I’ve read. Looking forward to your take.

  2. I also remember James White’s Hospital Station stories as standing alone. I am pretty sure I’ve read Major Operation (I remember that cover, certainly) but I don’t recall reading the others. I don’t think it matters.

    Deathbird Stories is one of Ellison’s bleakest collections. They are good stories, some of his best, but very dark. Reading them all in one sitting is powerful. You may want to have some Robert Sheckley or Frederic Brown ready as an antidote.

    • I guess I didn’t know if White describes the station, characters, and locale a bit more in the first stories in the sequence. Sounds like the stories operate like the episodic days pre-DS9 and Voyager days of Star Trek! Turn on the rerun and it doesn’t matter where you are in the arc.

        • Sounds a bit like David R. Bunch’s crazy but delightful Moderan stories in that they are stand-alone yet linked — Bunch’s stories appeared in every SF publication imaginable and when they were finally gathered together into a collection in 1971 you notice all the tricks he uses to reorient the reader into the world. He has a few sentence blurb about the bizarre society of Modern that must be repeated at least 15 times (a bit hyperbolic but it’s what I remember). But as a result there’s no need to read them in order!

          Thanks for stopping by!

  3. I still don’t own the first volume in the Sector Station sequence–Hospital Station (1962)—do you need to read them in order?

    As others have said, they’re largely stand-alone experiences. Where recurring characters recur, they’re explained in the context of the story at hand. You really don’t lose much if any subtlety…White didn’t use that particular talent often.

  4. I’ve read four collections, including “Deathbird Stories”, and a few pieces in anthologies by Harlan Ellison. A formidable stylist, he was and is one of the most awesome SF authors, whose fiction, even if you don’t always like what he writes, commands attention and respect. The one I like most by him though, was written later, in the 1970s, “Jeffty is Five”.

  5. Hi again!

    I read Hospital S. a few years ago; I liked it; a very different kind of space opera!
    A Hospital in space with this peace mission; Original.

  6. I read Harlan as his stories first appeared in various collections, culminating in Love Ain’t Nothing But Sex Misspelled. (I don’t agree, but best title ever.) Shattered Like a Glass Goblin didn’t quite work for me— too obvious — but Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes was my favorite of all his short stories.

    • I haven’t read either of those yet. I enjoyed the ones in Approaching Oblivion (linked in the post).

      And he is still the author of one of the only SF stories that continues to shock me — “A Boy And His Dog.” Never managed to review it as a result…

      • When I read “A Boy and his Dog”, my gut reactions was *%#^ Harlan, couldn’t you think of anything else to write? File under, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

        • I think it was a deliberate attempt to subvert boy and dog style stories (Old Yeller, etc.) in as aggressively immoral way as possible. Jabbing at the boy fiction-type stories we all encountered as kids… boy trains dog to hunt, boy must learn to take care of dog, maybe dog gets sick and boy must be a man and put their best friend down. Stuff like that.

          • Maybe. Probably. I took it as more of a jab at boy loves girl. He does, but not as much as his dog. That is cynical enough, but boy would rather eat girl than eat dog? That’s pure Harlan cussedness — which is usually why I like him so much.

            That and the fact that he writes like one of Satan’s imps on meth.

            • Could it be both though? In the boy and dog subgenre of fiction girls aren’t really in the picture. And here you have a scenario where a girl arrives… and, in boy fiction, the dog really is the focus of the boy’s attention.

              But yes, regardless, I think he’s deliberately attacking fundamental attitudes and narratology of youth fiction in a horrifically disturbing way.

  7. I’ve read 3 Octavia Butler books this year, and I really liked “Parable of the Sower” and “Bloodchild & Other Stories.” The idea behind “Mind of My Mind” was promising, but I didn’t love the book. Harlan Ellison is one of my favorite writers, and “Deathbird Stories” is a great collection. “Angry Candy” is also great — I probably enjoyed that more than “Deathbird.” So many of his stories seem charged with electricity: “I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream,” “‘Repent, Harlequin, Said the Tick-Tock Man,” “The Man Who Rowed Christopher Columbus Ashore” — just to name the ones at the top of my mind. At a library sale, I spotted “Essential Ellison: 50-Year Retrospective.” I had to rub my eyes, thinking it was a hallucination. It’s a book to treasure.

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