Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLXXXV (Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Lester Del Rey, Peter George, and Adrien Stoutenburg)

1. Nerves, Lester Del Rey (1956)


‘In 1942, three years before the general public had ever heard of nuclear fission. Lester del Rey wrote a brilliantly detailed novella of disaster in an atomics plant, which now appears, skillfully expanded to book length, as NERVES. A wholly admirable blend of prophetic thinking (in medicine as well as atomics), warm human values and powerful narrative suspense, this novel is strongly recommended…’ –N.Y. Herald Tribune.”

Initial Thoughts: I’ve read only one of Lester del Rey’s novels since I started my site–The Eleventh Commandment (1962, revised: 1970)–and thirteen short stories. I’ve read a few reviews of Nerves, none of which were ultra-positive, I might be more interested in tracking down the original 1942 novella…. Dean Ellis’ cover art is spectacular!

2. The Inhabited Island, Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (1971, variant edition 2020)

From the back cover: “When Maxim Kammerer, a young space explorer from twenty-second-century Earth, crash-lands on an uncharted world, he thinks of himself as a latter-day Robinson Crusoe. Eager to establish first contact with the planet’s humanlike inhabitants, he finds himself increasingly entangled in their primitive way of life. After his experiences in their nightmarish military, criminal justice, and mental health systems, Maxim begins to realize that his sojourn on this radioactive and war-scarred world will not be a walk in the park. 

The Inhabited Island is one of the Strugatsky brothers’ most popular and acclaimed novels, yet the only previous English-language edition (Prisoners of Power) was based on a version heavily censored by Soviet authorities. Now, in a sparkling new edition by award-winning translator Andrew Bromfield, this land-mark novel can be newly appreciated by both longtime Strugatsky fans and new explorers of the Russian science fiction masters’ astonishingly rich body of work.”

Initial Thoughts: I recently sat down to read the Strugatskys’ Prisoners of Power (1971, trans. 1977) and realized that an uncensored edition had recently been published with a new translation by Andrew Bromfield as The Inhabited Island. The Soviet authorities censored the 1971 first edition. The American 1977 edition reproduced the censored edition.

3. Commander-1, Peter George (1965)

From the inside page: “SUPERTHRILLER. Only a writer with Peter George’s far-reaching imagination could surpass his Red Alert and Dr. Strangelove with a new novel that goes even farther out to make a hautingly provocative but completely logical forecast of the world’s future. Here it is–the strangest story ever told, a story that will hold you spellbound…”

Initial Thoughts: Peter George is best known for Two Hours to Doom (variant title: Red Alert) (1958) that was the “underlying inspiration” for Stanley Kurbick’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964). Kubric transformed George’s vision into a black comedy. Arthur C. Clarke, on the back cover blurb, claims that Commander-1 tops “his Dr. Strangelove” (I’m assuming Clarke means Red Alert although he might also mean George’s 1964 novelization of Kubrick’s film).

Cammander-1 was George’s last novel before his suicide. I’m a huge fan of British post-apocalyptic fiction so I look forward to this one.

4. Out There, Adrien Stoutenburg (1971)

From the back cover: “America: The Near Future! America: Danger—Contamination Zone!

Sometime in the early part of the twenty-first century, cities lay sterile under steel and plastic domes. It is the only world a teenager can know. Earlier generations violated every rule of ecology and laid plunder to their country.

Somewhere, though, out there was another world. There might be animals. There might be other life. There might be death.

Somehow, Lester, a romantic follower of St. Francis of Assisi; sturdy, strong Patrick; intelligent, but insecure Sylvie; shy, fat Fay; and eight-year-old Knobs, along with Zebrina Vanderbrook would find a way out into the brace old world OUT THERE!”

Initial Thoughts: An author completely unknown to me… SF Encyclopedia describes her one SF novel as “significantly anticipates many later novels, being set in an early twenty-first century Dystopian Near Future where a diminished population lives in Keeps insulated from the countryside, which has been devastated by Pollution. The cast of young protagonists, led by an older woman who remembers the real world, venture into the badlands, eventually finding signs of a living flora and fauna […] in the Sierra Nevada; the novel ends without any assurance that, now that it has been discovered, the land will remain immune from the old exploitative cycle that had brought the planet to the edge of extinction. Stoutenburg wrote several nonfiction volumes about the extinction of animal species; Out There is eloquent and deeply felt.” We shall see!

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14 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLXXXV (Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Lester Del Rey, Peter George, and Adrien Stoutenburg)

  1. My first thought was how can a novel from 1971 be the “first major novel of ecological distaster”? But perhaps it is kind of close. The SFE suggests THE CLONE and MAKE ROOM! MAKE ROOM! as earlier examples (plus many short stories.) Surprised me!

    As for NERVES — I read the novella with some respect almost 50 years ago, didn’t think the novel version added much. In retrospect, I don’t think its reputation is necessarily deserved. Probably due more to a certain (of its time) originaliity, and to its competent execution, than to real lasting value.

    The Strugatsky looks interesting to me, the George less so (to me!) … I’ve been meaning to investigate the Strugatskys further — I’ve only read ROADSIDE PICNIC to date.

    • My initial reaction was one of confusion as well. But then I realized that defining novels in the subgenre like The Sheep Look Up (1972) appeared much later… I tried to read The Clone at one point and got about half way though. Not one of Wilhelm’s best (or Thomas).

      The general impression I’ve gotten from the reviews of encountered over the years is that Nerves is functional and not much more.

      My Strugatsky knowledge is limited as well. I’ve only read The Ugly Swans and maybe a few short stories here and there before I started my site.

  2. I read “Prisoners of Power/Inhabited Island” about 10 years ago amidst a Strugatsky Brothers binge. What I found remarkable about it—and this counts for the translations of the censored versions of “Hard to be a God” and “Roadside Picnic” that I read around the same time—is that one can nonetheless perceive that these works were critical of the then existing Soviet hierarchy. “Hard to be a God” in particular—which I gather was a very popular work amongst the generation that read it in the 1960s and 70s. Still, I’d like to read the unexpurgated versions too one day.

    • Hah. The Strugatskys are definitely authors whose books I acquire but never read… I should remedy that. As I’ve probably mentioned countless times, I’ve only read The Ugly Swans and a few short stories (before my site).

  3. Love Strugatsky brothers – being born in Ex-Yugoslavia, their stuff was published and read pretty equally along their western contemporaries. Dead Mountaineers hotel is my favourite Strugatski novel. There is an Estonian movie that I have yet to see made after it.

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