Updates: Recent Purchases No. CCLXXIX (James Tiptree, Jr., George Zebrowski, Murray Leinster, International Science Fiction Magazine)

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

1. Macrolife, George Zebrowski (1979)

From the inside flap: “A novel of epic scope, Macrolife opens in the year 2021. The Bulero family owns one of Earth’s richest corporations. As the Buleros gather for a reunion at the family mansion, an industrial accident plunges the corporation into a crisis, which eventually brings the world around them to the brink of disaster. Vilified, the Buleros flee to a space colony where the young Richard Bulero gradually realizes that the only hope for humanity lies in macrolife—mobile, self-reproducing space habitats.

A millennium later, these mobile communities have left sunspace and multiplied. Conflicts between macrolife and natural planets arise. John Bulero, a cloned descendent of the twenty-first century Bulero clan, falls in love with a woman from a natural world and experiences the harshness of her way of life. He rediscovers his roots when his macroworld returns to the solar system, and a tense confrontation of three civilizations takes place.

One hundred billion years later, macrolife, now as numerous as the stars, faces the impending death of nature. Regaining his individually by falling away from a highly evolved macrolife, a strangely changed John Bulero struggles to see beyond the collapse of the universe into a gigantic black hole.

Inspired by the possibilities of space settlements, projections of biology and cosmology, and basic human longings, Macrolife is a visionary speculation on the long-term future of human and natural history. Filled with haunting characters, this is a vivid and brilliant work.”

Initial Thoughts: Zebrowski is known to me only through his poor to vaguely good SF short stories collected in The Monadic Universe (1977). I’ve previously purchased The Omega Point (1972) but haven’t gotten around to reading it. Macrolife appears to be one of those vast in scope, replete with genealogical trees, SF epics crammed into only 278 pages (ah the 70s!). I’ve seen Macrolife on lists of generation ship stories but I’m not sure, at first glance, if they can be classified as such.

2. The Starry Rift, James Tiptree, Jr. (1986)

From the inside flap: “”the Rift is the RIver Darkness, a starless standing wave of nothingness between galactic arms. A region filled only with visions and voices; innocent terror and mortal atrocity; sacrifice, tragedy, decisions. And heroes.

Set in the same universe as the acclaimed Brightness Falls From the Air, against the backdrop of a far future university library where alien students are researching a project on the history of the human race, acclaimed multiple Hugo and Nebula winner James Tiptree, Jr. weaves a tapestry of individual courage and passion into a saga of exploration, confrontation and crisis–the Federation’s conquest of a galactic frontier.

Coati Cass is a rambunctious teen runaway who discovers; an unseen, unknown species; the trail of two missing Fed scouts; the promise of a miracle; an intimate friendship in the utter void… and a nightmare that destroyed the Lost Colony, and threatens all intelligent life.

Raven is a deep-space Salvage office who suddenly reunites with the lost love of his youth—twice. She is Illyera, a rejuvenated media queen aboard a private yacht full of stranded rich tourists. She is Illaine, clone of Illyera’s clone, aboard a Lost Colony survivor ship enslaved by sadistic Black Worlder pirates who capture and ravage whole cultures, and who are attacking Illyera’s yacht. Unaided, Raven must stop the slavers, save both ships, and both women, and only then face an impossible conflict between the dictates of his life and the anguish of his heart.

Rift-Runner One is an exploratory mission homing on signals from the transRift planet Zieltan. The crew have no way of known that Black Worlder atrocities have spread to the Ziello Harmony: the Ziellor, genetically unable to prodce outlaws, can only conclude that all humans are evil—unaware that a civilized Federation exists, they have begun destroying human colonies. Two galactic powers who share no language, no heritage, not even biology, are about to stumble into an era of war, unless the crews of Rift-Runner and a Ziello warship, both beset by violent space-spawned hallucinations, can learn–and communicate–the truth.

One of the most gripping and dramatic writers in SF, James Tiptree’s popular novels include Up the Walls of the World and Brightness Falls From the Air.”

Initial Thoughts: I want to read more James Tipree, Jr. That is all! I’ve reviewed the following:

3. International Science Fiction, Vol. 1, No. 1 (November 1967), ed. Frederik Pohl

Contents: Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s “Wanders and Travelers” (1963), Helmuth W. Mommers and Ernst Vlcek’s “The Epsilon Problem” (1964), Michel Ehrwein’s “Uranis” (1961), Damien Broderick’s “The Disposal Man” (1965), Luigi Cozzi’s “Rainy Day Revolution No. 39” (1965), Robert Presslie’s “Ecdysiac” (1963), “Ilya Varshavsky’s “Perpetual Motion” (1965), J. L. Mahe;s “They Still Jump” (1967), F. C. Gozzini’s “Witchcraft for Beginners” (1967), Ilya Varshavsky’s “Homunculus” (1965), Helmuth W. Mommers and Ernst Vlcek’s “Monster” (1964), Philip E. High’s “The Big Tin God” (1963)

Initial Thoughts: This Frederik Pohl-edited SF magazine lasted a grand total of two issues. I’m now the proud owner of both! Those who review and read SF in translation have a major problem—most of the authors are complete unknowns to the general readership and reviews generate a fraction of the readership that even a middling English-language author would. Does anyone know if Pohl wrote or spoke about his experiences creating this magazine?

4. The Planet Explorer (variant title: Colonial Survey), Murray Leinster (1956)

From the back cover: “You are There—Centuries, eons from now the peculiar, fantastic, astounding MIND OF MAN will conquer strange, new worlds, presently beyond the reaches of imagination—and probe the meaning of the central core of Infinity with instruments of incredible scientific precision! You Are There! in the far-off era when man will defy gravity, space, time—to explore the UNIVERSE and make immensity HIS OWN!”

Initial Thoughts: If I were to pick an author I enjoy that writes completely different SF than what I normally obsess over (i.e. the meta, moody, broody, and sinister), Murray Leinster would be at the top of the list. Something about his Med Service stories latch onto me (ideas of service? the need to regulate big business?). Check out my reviews of S.O.S From Three Worlds (1967) and Doctor to the Stars (1964).

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19 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Purchases No. CCLXXIX (James Tiptree, Jr., George Zebrowski, Murray Leinster, International Science Fiction Magazine)

  1. I enjoyed exactly one Zebrowski and Macrolife wasn’t it. Long on epic scale, short on characters and plot. Still better than the one about the evil planet of evil religious people who were evilly eviling.

  2. There is something about George Zebrowski’s writing that I find off-putting, though many people I greatly respect like him, so the problem may be in me and not him. But I just find his prose hard going, even though his ideas often seem intriguing. Which is a long-winded way of saying I haven’t read MACROLIFE.

    THE STARRY RIFT is late Tiptree, and as with most late Tiptree, doesn’t quite reach the level of her early to mid-70s work. It’s a story collection, though marketed as a novel (and the stories are linked, though only tenuously.) The first story, “The Only Neat Thing to Do” is the best, and it’s one of her more popular stories. It’s kind of a “Cold Equations” descendant. I like it, even a lot, but I think it falls short of great. The other two stories are fun but not as good.

    The best Tiptree comes from her first two collections, TEN THOUSAND LIGHT YEARS FROM HOME and WARM WORLDS AND OTHERWISE, though there are other great stories. My favorites are “And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill’s Side”, “The Last Flight of Dr. Ain”, “Love is the Plan, the Plan is Death”, “On the Last Afternoon”, and “The Milk of Paradise”, with “The Woman Men Don’t See”, “Slow Music”, “All the Kinds of Yes”, and the non-Tiptree story “The Screwfly Solution” also in the conversation. Plus several stories from TEN THOUSND LIGHT YEARS FROM HOME that may not rank with her best but for which I have a lot of affection — “The Snows are Melted, The Snows Are Gone”, “The Peacefulness of Vivyan”, “Forever to a Hudson Bay Blanket”.

    As for International Science Fiction, I have not seen a copy. I seem to recall Pohl writing about it somewhere — maybe on his “The Way the Future Blogs” blog, which seems to have vanished from the internet. Pohl was ever a proponent of finding SF in translation, seems to me.

    • Which Zebrowski stories/novels do you remember reading?

      I have fond memories of the Ten Thousand Light Years From Home collection as well — while the memories are faint, I found “And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill’s Side” haunting and mysterious. As it was a decade ago that I consumed them, I feel like I should return to her earliest short fiction. It would be a good read-through series!

      I suspect you can access all the back posts of “The Way the Future Blogs” through the Wayback machine via Internet Archive. I’ll take a look.

      As always Rich, thanks for stopping by!

      • I think the only novel length Zebrowski I’ve read is his collaboration with Charles Pellegrino, THE KILLING STAR, which if I recall includes the profoundly amoral moral that the logically correct thing to do is wipe out any aliens pre-emptively, because there is a non-zero chance that they will wipe us out. I think that’s more Pellegrino’s idea, actually.

        But I’ve read several pieces of short fiction, which I consistently find hard going at the prose level.

    • Which one was King talking about? To be clear, Leinster has his flaws — but I find his positions appealing (check my reviews of his Med series stories I linked above for a better sense of what I mean).

        • A Google Books search indicates King discusses Leinster on page 145 of On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft (2000) — however, the preview does not contain 146 where he continues his Leinster recollection…

          Here’s what he writes on 145 about Leinster’s Miners in the Sky (1967) if I’m correct in the novel identification:

          “When I was in the eighth grade, I happened upon a paperback novel by Murray Leinster, a science fiction pulp writer who did most of his work during the forties and fifties, when magazines like Amazing Stories paid a penny a word. I had read other books by Mr. Leinster, enough to know that the quality of his writing was uneven. This particular tale, which was about mining in the asteroid belt, was one of his less successful efforts. Only that’s too kind. It was terrible, actually, a story populated by paper-thin characters and driven by outlandish plot developments. Worst of all (or so it seemed to me at the time, Leinster had fallen in love with the word zestful.”

          • I have ON WRITING handy and can report that on page 146, King rhapsodizes further for a paragraph about Leinster’s abuse of and his distaste for “zestful.” He continues:

            “Asteroid Miners (which wasn’t the title, but that’s close enough) was an important book in my life as a reader. Almost everyone can remember losing his or her virginity, and most writers can remember the first book he/she put down thinking: _I can do better than this, Hell, I –am– doing better than this! What could be more encouraging to the struggling writer than to realize his/her work is unquestionably better than that of someone who actually got paid for his/her stuff?

            “One learns most clearly what not to do by reading bad prose–one novel like Asteroid Miners (or Valley of the Dolls, Flowers in the Attic, and The Bridges of Madison County, to name just a few) is worth a semester at a good writing school, even with the superstar guest lecturers thrown in.”

            And that is it for Mr. Leinster.

            That said, I can report (from over a distance of decades) that PLANET EXPLORER is perfectly competent, mildly clever and mostly well-meaning ’50s SF, animated by scientific or technical ideas but not requiring the reader to understand anything challenging.

            • Thanks for completing the quote!

              Leinster has his moments — at least in the stories of his I’ve read so far. He’s an author I wish I discovered when I was younger. I was far too busy reading bad fantasy instead (Tad Williams, Robert Jordan, etc.)

  3. “Wanderers and Travelers” (in Pohl’s International Science Fiction) is one of the Strugatsky’s “Noon Universe” stories. It appears in the collection “Noon: 22nd Century” in a different translation as “Pilgrims and Wayfarers”. I have a huge soft spot for the Noon Universe stories, as they track the Strugatsky’s own growing disillusionment with the USSR across the 60s, 70s and 80s.
    I know very little about George Zebrowski, though I may have an edited collection of his? The novel above looks like it has pretensions of Stapeldonian scope. I fear tho his target was not reached… Oh for a truly grand novel about gen ships. Frank M. Robinson’s “The Dark Beyond The Stars” almost gets there, but not quite (I quite liked it nonetheless).
    The Tiptree novel sounds fab. I’ve only read a handful of her short stories, but I have to say that “set […] against the backdrop of a far future university library where alien students are researching a project on the history of the human race” has me intrigued.

    • Due to the price of Strugatsky books, I’ve not read enough of their books (only The Ugly Swans)! Excited to read this one.

      As for Robinson, I just posted a review of “The Oceans Are Wide” (1954). I wonder if he expanded on some of his ideas for the later novel.

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