Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLXXVIII (Tanith Lee, Michael Bishop, Ian Watson, Greg Bear, Ferenc Karinthy)

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

1. Strength of Stones, Greg Bear (1981)

From the back cover: “Ages ago this world was named God-Does-Battle. No one remembers wh. It was colonized in the most up-to-date way possible, supplied with the best Cities ever built by Robert Kahn. Huge laboratories labored for decades to produce the right combinations of plant, animal, and machine, and to fit them into the right design. The result was magnificent; living Cities, able to regenerate broken parts, to produce food on demand, and medicine, and clothing. so careful, so advanced was Robert Kahn that he even built into his Cities the ability to protect their inhabitants; to sense the presence of the occasional person whose potential for violence or cruelty made him a threat to society, to remove him from the City, and to erect walls of needle-sharp crystal to be sure he did not return.

Robert Kahn designed too well. It was not long before the shining Cities began to exercise their built-in imperative to protect. They removed from society the cruel and violent, then the potentially cruel and violent, then the bad-tempered, the unpredictable—until at last the Cities stood safe, having ejected all of their inhabitants into the harsh desert plains of God-Does-Battle.

Generations have passed, but the Cities inside those impassable walls remain intact: The nomads who camp around the walls have not lost hope. Somehow there is a way inside. The time is ripe for a hero.”

Initial Thoughts: I recently read Greg Bear’s early short story “Webster” (1973) and thought I might as well track down more of his early novels. According to SF Encyclopedia, a lot of Bear’s earliest novels are “lame” [I find this a very poor choice of words. It’s hardly clear why they are flawed from the article]. In the earliest days of my site, 2theD (Mike) frequently covered SF from this era and his review of Strength of Stones (1981) lodged in my memory. So Mike, if you still stop by, I bought this one because of you! And it hardly seems “lame”….

2. Under Heaven’s Bridge, Michael Bishop and Ian Watson (1981)

From the back cover: “The Kybers are an unnerving sight for human eyes, more like Giacometti sculpture than living things. Are they flesh or machine? No one knows–and the Kybers themselves remain impassively silent on the subject. Only Dr. Keiko Takihashi, ship’s linguist, has been able to establish any communication with them; each day a Kyber comes (The same each day? No one knows.) to hear what she teaches of Earth’s language and history. In return it tells her—nothing. What the Kybers call themselves, how they view the world, their two suns, all remains a mystery.

But a time is coming when the Kybers must respond, or die; one of their suns is about to go nova. Surely nothing could live through that fierce heat–assuming, that is, that the Kybers are living.

Keika Takihashi is convinced that they are, and determined to save at least some of their race from annihilation. The Kybers have singled her out; surely the will tell her their secrets, open themselves to her, allow her to take some few on board ship and away to safety. In interfering so, Keiko is about to step over a line established at man’s first contact with alien races; she knows all too well that no one can predict what will happen now.”

Initial Thoughts: Both Michael Bishop and Ian Watson rank highly in the reviews on my site. I reviewed Watson’s The Very Slow Time Machine (1979). I even conducted a guest post series on Bishop’s fiction. I’ve reviewed the following five novels and collections on my site. Check them out if you haven’t already!

The co-written Under Heaven’s Bridge (a transatlantic pre-internet collaboration!) is not supposed to be either’s best work. But… I think I’m a bonafide Bishop completist (pre-1985). We shall see if I get around to this one. The cover is another story. Goodness it’s terrifying!

3. Drinking Sapphire Wine, Tanith Lee (1977)

From the back cover: “Four-BEE was an utopian city. If you didn’t mind being taken care of all your long long life, having a wild time as a “jang” teen-ager, able to do anything you wanted from killing yourself innumerable times, changing bodies, changing sex, and raising perpetual hell, it could be heaven.

But for one inhabitant there was always something askew. He/she had tried everything and yet the taste soured. And then he/she succeeded in committing the one illegal act–and was thrown out of heaven forever.

But forever is not a term any native of that robotic utopia understood. And so he/she challenged the rules, declared independence, and set out to prove that a human was still smarter than the cleverest and most protective robot.

You don’t need to have read Tanith Lee’s DON’T BITE THE SUN, which set the original scene, to find this new one of the same high merit that distinguished this author’s THE BIRTHGRAVE.”

Initial Thoughts: I love Tanith Lee’s early SF. This is a sequel to her first novel Don’t Bite the Sun (1976). The best of her works I’ve consumed so far is Electric Forest (1979). That is all.

4. Metropole, Ferenc Karinthy (1970, trans. George Szirtes, 2008)

From the back cover: “On his way to a linguists’ conference in Helsinki, Budae finds himself in a strange city where he can’t understand a word anyone says.

One claustrophobic day blurs into another as he desperately struggles to survive in this vast overpopulated metropolis where there are as many languages as there are people. Fearing that his wife will have given him up for dead, he finds comfort in an unconventional relationship with the elevator-operator in the hotel.

A suspenseful and haunting Hungarian classic, and a vision of hell unlike any other imagined.”

Initial Thoughts: According to the brief author blurb on the back cover, Ferenc Karinthy (1921-1992), “son of the renowned humorist genius Frigyes Karinthy, was a novelist, playwright, journalist, and water polo champion. He is the author of over a dozen novels. This is the first to be translated into English.”

I’m always up for SF in translation by authors I know little about.

For book reviews consult the INDEX

For cover art posts consult the INDEX

For TV and film reviews consult the INDEX

25 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLXXVIII (Tanith Lee, Michael Bishop, Ian Watson, Greg Bear, Ferenc Karinthy)

  1. I’ve read UNDER HEAVEN’S BRIDGE but tbh I don’t remember it well. I loved Watson’s THE EMBEDDING (and I’ve reprinted him in one of my books), and I’ve loved a lot of Michael Bishop’s work. (And, if you remember the name of my blog, you’ll realize that Bishop and I are both familiar with the same quite wonderful Archibald MacLeish poem!) Bishop’s “Cathadonian Odyssey” was in the second issue of F&SF I ever bought, and it blew me away. I also loved his first novel, A FUNERAL FOR THE EYES OF FIRE, and the revised version was one of the first examples I read that showed a writer could revise his work, and improve the prose, and still end up with a lesser product.

    I loved DON’T BITE THE SUN — as I recall DRINKING SAPPHIRE WINE was good but not as good as its predecessor. Lee too wrote a lot of good short fiction.

    As for Bear — I’ve liked a lot of his stuff too, particularly “Hardfought” and “Blood Music”, but I never read STRENGTH OF STONES.

    • Hello Rich,

      I know the poem and the book and immediately thought of the connection to your site when I saw the title for the first time many years back. It was the first Bishop I read under its less interesting variant title Beneath the Shattered Moons. While I enjoyed it (review linked above), A Funeral For the Eyes of Fire, Stolen Faces, and Catacomb Years were far superior in my assessment.

      As for the differences between the original and rewritten copy of A Funeral, please please please let me know. If you check my review and the comment section, I (and many readers) were unclear what was changed. Without knowing the quality of the rewrite, I placed a caveat at the beginning of the review where I emphasized how the original is a masterpiece and should be in print regardless of the quality of the rewrite. https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2014/01/08/book-review-a-funeral-for-the-eyes-of-fire-michael-bishop-1975/

      • It has been so long since I read both versions of FUNERAL that I can’t really comment in detail on differences, but as I recall one change was from first person to third person viewpoint.

        • I’m a sucker for first person narratives as I’m all about our swirling, dark, and sometimes oblique interior thoughts.

          I was a bit peeved that Bishop wanted the rewrite to receive the eBook republication. Alas. One reason I don’t always listen to the opinions of authors on their own work — hah!

    • I forgot to point out that I’ve read Watson’s Jonah’s Kit but never managed to review it! I started The Embedding multiple times but put it down (no mark on its quality but wasn’t in the moon. One of a legion of texts that I know I’ll enjoy if I give them another read….

      I’m 90% positive that back in my late teens (~17?) when I was reading all the Hugo Award-winning novels that I tackled Bear’s Blood Music (1985) but the details are faint as it was half my life ago.

      • I’ve read Bear’s STRENGTH OF STONES.

        Bear’s earliest novels are arguably weak (I’ve read them). But then came a period around the time of BLOOD MUSIC and ‘Hardfought’ and, I suppose, EON, when as far as science fiction was concerned he seemed The Thing Itself, the bleeding edge. BLOOD MUSIC was singled out for praise by the likes of Doris Lessing (!) and Algis Budrys for the radical-ness of its vision.

        STRENGTH OF STONES is on the cusp of that period leading into BLOOD MUSIC. I liked it, though it’s patchy — deliberately so, since it’s structured as a fix-up novel out of three novellas depicting, in classical SF style a la FOUNDATION and Simak’s CITY, the state of play on its planet at different times and, IIRC, with the last third really slingshots into a radically different situation centuries later. Bear did that then — spent pages showing you the destruction of Earth, or the end of human life as we know it, or the end of the universe.

        In the mid-1990s, he went back to being weak again. It’s a mysterious thing, how sometimes a particular writer can for about a decade be genuinely The Thing Itself in terms of SF, then lose the vision completely and even become outright bad. Bruce Sterling is another one. Zelazny and Delany, too, I guess, but there the reasons for their losing it are rather clearer, given their long-term personal drives and needs.

        As for the rest of these books, my assessments and tastes align with Rich’s, as usual.

        • Yeah, your assessment is essentially what SF Encyclopedia says as well. Bear has week first novels. Hits his stride with short fiction in the early 80s. And his novels from 1985 with Blood Music to around 1990 exploded the field in a good way… and then petered out…

  2. Greg Bear is super hit or miss for me, but that cover and blurb make that look like an intriguing choice imo.

    Michael Bishop–I truly need to read more of his books. I was blown away, as you know, by two of them, and I’ve got more just sitting on my TBR pile.

    • Which of Bear’s have you read? I think I read Blood Music in my late teens when I was reading the Hugo novel list… but that was a while ago!

      Bishop is solid (at worst) to brilliant. I am not sure that this one is worth tracking down as it’s more notable as an early transatlantic experiment in co-writing than a quality novel (according to reviews I’ve read). Their work individually is more interesting.

      • I’ve read quite a few from Bear. Blood Music is one I enjoyed a lot. Darwin’s Radio and Children were good. Forge of God and Eon were, I thought, excessively drawn out.

  3. I LOVE that Bear cover – curious to see how it reads! Also the only Lee I’ve read is Electric Forest, which I adored. Def need to read more by her, looking forward to your review.

    • Thanks for stopping by. Did you see my review of Lee’s Electric Forest? (linked above). It was one of my top reads of last year.

      Also, Drinking Sapphire Wine is the sequel to her first published novel that I also reviewed and linked above. You might want to track that one down although it isn’t as good as Electric Forest.

  4. Any time you see “Wine” in a title, you know it’s gonna be at least a LEETLE pretentious. I’m surprised the Dune series by Herbert didn’t have wine in each of its titles. You’d expect to see a “Dune: A Fine Philosophical Wine” and “Giant Sandworms of Wine” the sequel.


    — Catxman

  5. Hi

    The Lee along with the first volume Don’t Bite the Sun are my favourite books by her. She is a great writer and I have read a number of her books mainly the fantasy but I should look at her more SF works again. I find I am a different reader now than i was in my teens and 20’s, as I should be. Under Heaven’s Bridge I have read and I want to read it again as the memory of the book has intrigued me. I find there are works that I think of as having a more European SF feel to me. This has nothing to do with the author’s nationality. It is I think more a category I created for want of an official designation. They tend to have more of an anthropological or research based focus. They are less action oriented and the plot and conclusion tends to be a bit more ambiguous. The science is also a bit more fantastic, not fantasy but not hard science fiction either. The Aldiss story you covered which I really liked “An Appearance Of Life” would be an example. Another Aldiss story I just read and want to post on “Old Hundredth” would be another.

    I have rambled on a bit, so happy reading

  6. I found you looking for some information on Under Heaven’s Bridge, which I read shortly after it came out in the US–probably the summer of 1982. Thereabouts, anyhow.

    I understand that back then most considered the book something of an odd lot, and it seems to have been largely forgotten in the interim. I can see some of its weaknesses clearly. Nevertheless, it has stuck in my mind for forty years, not only particular scenes or passages of prose, but just generally. It’s wistful and strange, with characters who are exactly as dysfunctional as you would expect them to be given what they’re doing (a good model: take your average university department and send them all into space together for years at a time, then see what happens), and comes to a conclusion that echoes, all at once, many different facets of the rough-hewn jewel that is “be careful what you ask for”.

    You may not like it; perhaps it was just that time in my life for that book. But I recommend it.

    I’ll throw Karinthy on The Big List of get-to’s. At a glance, it seems interesting for a variety of reasons; but I casually note that the central character of UHB is also a linguist.

Comment! Join the discussion!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.