Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLXXXII  (Isaac Asimov, Mary Vigliante, Algis Budrys, and Vladimir Voinovich)

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

1. Earth Is Room Enough, Isaac Asimov (1957)

From the back cover: “ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN and probably will RIGHT HERE ON EARTH.

You don’t have to rent a spaceship or sign up for a singles cruise to Saturn or spend your weekends star-hopping along the Milky Way because EARTH IS ROOM ENOUGH.

Earth is where the action is and each tomorrow unleashes new discoveries.

Here are brilliant, witty, frightening, and fascinating stories of the future by the greatest science fiction master of them all. Just hitch your mind to these weird and wonderful tales for a spin around the world of tomorrow that will take you right to the center of your wildest dreams.”

Contents: “The Dead Past” (1956), “Franchise” (1955), “Gimmicks Three” (1956), “Kid Stuff” (1953), “The Watery Place” (1956), “Living Space” (1956), “The Message” (1956), “Satisfaction Guaranteed” (1951), “Hell-Fire” (1956), “The Last Trump” (1955), “The Fun They Had” (1951), “Jokester” (1956), “The Immortal Bard” (1954), “Someday” (1956), “The Author’s Ordeal” (1957), “Dreaming Is a Private Thing” (1955)

Initial Thoughts: At one point I read Asimov–before I started my site. Asimov’s The Currents of Space (1952) was the first SF novel I remember reading—pilfered from a dusty shelf of my dad’s old books at my grandfather’s house—although it would be years before I put aside the high fantasy that hooked me on books. And no, I’m not planning on rereading the Foundation series anytime soon due to a show I’ll probably never see. Of the stories in the collection, “Dreaming Is a Private Thing” (1955) seems to address themes I adore–future media, dreams commodified, etc.

2. The Colony, Mary Vigliante (1979)

From the back cover: “AFTER THE NUCLEAR AGE CAME THE STONE AGE.

In the little band that survived the nuclear War, humanity had reverted to barbarism, and all the evils of the old society had grown worse. Sunny, a lone woman survivor, had been seized by four men who informed her that they were all her husbands, and had quickly realized that she was in the hands of a colony of male chauvinist pigs. when the survivors had organized, the men had far outnumbered the women. They had created a family structure that supported male dominance without limit. By their decree women existed only to serve. Sunny was forced to conform to this murderous doctrine. She struggled—and was beaten into passivity; ran away—and was brought ack; then she found a gun—and what she did then is a story in itself.”

Initial Thoughts: In retrospect, I’m not sure why I purchased this novel. The hilariously corny low-budget cover? The dream of discovering a lost feminist SF classic despite knowing it isn’t? SF Encyclopedia describes Mary Vigliante Szydlowski’s SF as follows: “Unlike most Feminist work, her novels seemed to express a sense that the oppression of women could be exhilarating.” Not a ringing endorsement!

3. Moscow 2042, Vladimir Voinovich (1986, trans. 1987)

From the inside flap: “This comic masterpiece by Russia’s greatest living satirist gives us a breathtaking parody of Orwell’s 1984.

It begins in 1982 over a few beers with a friend in the little German town of Stockdork. Vitaly Kartsev, a Soviet writer in exile, picks up the intriguing information that a Munich travel agency can book flight guaranteed to pass through a time warp. At first he laughs the whole notion off as the product of a sozzled imagination. Yet he makes his way to Munich the very next morning, stung by a desire to see what will have become of Moscow fifty years into the future. The travel agent regrets, but it cannot be done–at least not on a fifty-year flight. But to Karstev’s amazement the agent has an opening in a few weeks on a flight landing in Moscow in sixty years—that is, in 2042.

Karstev books himself a seat.

What follows is bawdy, outrageous, ingenious comedy as profoundly penetrating and timely as anything Orwell or Swift or Huxley ever conceived. Wielding a cast of characters that includes terrorists, sheiks, CIA and KGB agents, an American news correspondent, and another writer in exile—the towering, moralizing, authoritarian Sim Simych Karnavalov—Voinovich does what no Russian author has ever done before. He launches his adventure in the West and takes the reader into the Soviet Union with him. And the sights are as alien and bizarre to him as they are to us.

In the Moscow of 2042, Marx’s vision has reached absurd proportions, and communism has become a parody of itself. There is a Bureau of natural Functions, a palace of Love, Paplit–literature written on paper for posterity, all of it propaganda–and Paplesslit–literature typed onto typewriters with no paper in them (Resolving the whole headache of censorship).

Kartsev’s escapades are hilarious, from encounters in Moscow’s seedier quarters to confrontations with the keepers of the Kremlin to the revolution he sees unfold. Here is no mere weaving of plot and counterplot but a novel within a novel and an unprecedented merging of reality and the imagination. Moscow 2042 is surely one of the most memorable works of comic literature–a dazzling display of wit and wisdom.”

Initial Thoughts: I’m always on the lookout for SF in translation. I know little about the author or novel.

4. The Unexpected Dimension, Algis Budrys (1960)

From the back cover: “ALGIS BUDRYS… This first collection of three novelettes and four short stories from the work of Algis Budrys demonstrates the variety of interest and skill in handling which have made this young author a star in the science fiction firmament.

The diversity of his approach will be seen in stories covering every area of science fiction and fantasy, from robotics to psi to time travel, in every variety of mood from wry humor to grim reality. Yet the astute reader will perceive a theme of universal concern that is common to all these stories–the theme of death–and life. And this is what brings each of these tales from unexpected dimensions close to home.

Contents: “The End of Summer” (1954), “The Distant Sound of Engines” (1959), “Never Meet Again” (1958), “The Burning World” (1957), “First to Serve” (1954), “Go And Behold Them” (variant title: “The End of Winter”) (1958), “The Executioner” (1956)

Initial Thoughts: I’ve reviewed a substantial quantity of Budrys’ SF in the history of the site–from Rogue Moon (1960) to Budrys’ Inferno (variant title: The Furious Future) (1963), a collection of his short stories. So far I’ve enjoyed his 50s/early 60s SF if it delves into our darker interiors. For a full list of the Budrys’ I’ve reviewed (including three novels that I’ve not enjoyed), check out his listing in my index.

And I adore Blanchard’s cover art!


For book reviews consult the INDEX

For cover art posts consult the INDEX

For TV and film reviews consult the INDEX

18 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLXXXII  (Isaac Asimov, Mary Vigliante, Algis Budrys, and Vladimir Voinovich)

    • He only created a handful of covers — I enjoy quite a few of them. I must confess, I love this cover considering the author and the risqué /subversive quality of Farmer’s 1950s fiction.

  1. Funny, I started Moscow 2042 recently. I quite Like Voinovich and have read several, including The Fur Hat and Monumental Propaganda, which is the last I recall seeing published.

  2. The Budrys connection is strong, and “The End of Summer” in particular is a major story. It’s frustrating in a way — I could give it 4.5/5 if I did star ratings, but I feel like it could have been a 5, but just didn’t quite close the deal. And I’m not sure why — it’s the ending, somewhat, but I can’t myself see exactly how Budrys should have changed it.

    Budrys’ current reputation is in a sort of murky, mixed, state. But if you examine just his greatest short stories (besides “The End of Summer” I’d add “For Love”, “Be Merry”, “Wall of Crystal, Eye of Night”, “The Nuptial Flight of Warbirds”, and a few more) and his best novels (ROGUE MOON, WHO, THE AMSIRS AND THE IRON THORN, HARD LANDING, maybe MICHAELMAS) you see are really remarkable body of work.

    As for the Asimov, it’s a good collection with two of his very best stories — “The Dead Past” and “Dreaming is a Private Thing”.

    As I’ve said before, I haven’t heard of Vigliante (and I can’t stop wanting to call her Vigilante), and though I’ve heard of Voinovich I’ve never read him. I’d say I had a blind spot for the letter V, but I like both the Vinges (and Varley!)

    • Hello Rich,

      I’ve heard conflicting things about The Amsirs and the Iron Thorn. I have no love for Michaelmas. Perhaps a symptom of the contemporary world of media giants (think AT&T bankrolling major far right news sources like OAN), I found the entire premise of an altruistic media mogul outlandish.

      I realize now that “The Dead Past” was the reason I purchased the collection in the first place! I look forward to reading those two.

      The Vinges were important authors in my youth. I’ve read all Vernor Vinge’s main novels (from The Peace War to A Deepness in the Sky) published pre-2000. And I’ve read Joan Vinge’s The Snow Queen and its sequel (and various other stories/novels of hers).

      • THE AMSIRS AND THE IRON THORN has a bifurcated reputation. Some people seem to think it’s a total mess. Some think it’s effectively strange. I’m in the latter category. I haven’t reread it in a long time — I have the serial issues, and I may reread it in that form.

        As for Joan Vinge and the SNOW QUEEN books — I think the middle book, WORLD’S END, may have a similar reputation in a way to AMSIRS — lots of people hated it, but some people (myself included) think it the best of the trilogy.

        • @ Rich —

          THE AMSIRS AND THE IRON THORN, simultaneously, is arguably total science fiction piffle and yet has aspects that are fascinating — maybe genius-level, at least in part. (And I’m going to mention a few historical matters you may know about, but others here won’t.)

          Budrys seems to have been dragooned by Fred Pohl into writing the novel in installments to deadline. Having first sent Pohl the novel’s beginning, he was informed by Pohl, who’d been his agent in the 1950s and was now running his book column in GALAXY, that Pohl was damned well going to serialize the whole novel in IF (starting the issue after Budrys’s novella, ‘Be Merry,’ had been published there) and so Budrys needed to get busy writing the rest pronto.

          Budrys hated the experience and stress, and swore never to repeat it.
          Later, he facetiously called it a novel about “a boy raised by apes on Mars.” I’ve re-read parts of it a number of times in recent years. While I’ll definitely concede its “skiffiness” and that a whole bunch of people will consequently find it not to their taste, two aspects of it impress me — a lot more than when I read it as a kid, in fact.

          [1] It’s decades ahead of its time in understanding what might be done with certain then-nascent technologies. Primarily —

          In the first part of the novel, genetic engineering, as it emerges that the two species of intelligent beings preying on and eating one another are both human, the result of a “genetic experiment” being run on Mars.

          In the second part of the novel, fully embedded and distributed computing/AI, as the protagonist travels to Earth, to the descendant society of the one that long ago set up the genetic experiment on Mars, and which has now moved on to other things. It’s a world where the distinction between technology and environment has been eliminated. Thus, wearing clothes and living in buildings have become historical artifacts that, mostly, people no longer use because Comp, the sum of global AI, simply arranges and re-arranges the environment with its swarms of billions of “exteroaffectors” or tiny drones, constructing and taking apart what people need as they need it.

          This part of the novel is fairly amazing: the only other person who’d figured this stuff out in 1964-65 was another writer of Eastern European origins, Stanislaw Lem. How did Budrys get to it? Well, full disclosure: I had to write this piece for MIT TECHNOLOGY REVIEW in 2008 —
          https://www.technologyreview.com/2008/10/20/218155/the-alien-novelist/

          — and as part of the process I interviewed Fred Pohl, then still alive and compos mentis, by phone and I asked him about it. He said that he and Budrys used to go visit MIT to see what the people there, like Marvin Minsky, were thinking about and cooking up. Thus, besides the swarms of distributed AI in THE IRON THORN, the early grasp of what the internet would become that Budrys shows in MICHAELMAS (the first half was apparently written in the mid-1960s, FFS!). Thus, too, I suspect, the ‘joymakers’ in Pohl’s novel THE AGE OF THE PUSSYFOOT in 1966, which in all their essentials are our modern cellphones.

          [2] And the other thing about about THE IRON THORN that impresses me is Budrys’s mastery of what the literary critic James Wood calls ‘close writing,’ or Flaubert-descended free indirect discourse.

          Budrys couldn’t do this kind of third-person POV narrative to this level in the 1950s, though sparks of it show up in stories like ‘The End of Summer’ and ‘Nobody Bothers Gus. However, starting with early 1960s stories like ‘For Love’ and ‘Be Merry’ and this novel he just starts knocking it out of the park. Nobody in SF has ever done this kind of narrative technique better, and many mainstream lit writers didn’t and can’t do it as well (and it’s primarily a mainstream literary technique). MICHAELMAS, of course, is the high-water mark of Budrys’s use of the technique.

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