Update: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLXXXIX (Nevil Shute, Nancy Kress, Hilbert Schenck, and a themed-anthology on future sex)

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

1. The Shape of Sex to Come, ed. Douglas Hill (1978)

From the back cover: “Eight stories from SF names as highly-respected as Aldiss, Moorcock and Silverberg explore the strange and bizarre possibilities for sexuality in the furthest reaches of tomorrow.”

Contents: Robert Silverberg’s “In the Group” (1973), Thomas M. Disch’s “Planet of the Rapes” (1977), A. K. Jorgensson’s “Coming-of-Age Day” (1965), Anne McCaffrey’s “The Thorns of Barevi” (1970), Brian W. Aldiss’ “A One-Man Expedition Through Life” (1974), Brian W. Aldiss’ “The Taste of Shrapnel” (1974), Brian W. Aldiss’ “Forty Million Miles from the Nearest Blonde” (1974), Hilary Bailey’s “Sisters” (1976), John Sladek’s “Machine Screw” (1975), and Michael Moorcock’s “Pale Roses” (1974).

Initial Thoughts: I don’t know what to think of some of the short stories in the collection — in particular Thomas M. Disch’s tale. That said, I am fascinating by the impact of the free love movement and the growth of sexual freedom and its profound influence on New Wave SF.

2. In the Wet, Nevil Shute (1953)

From front and back blurb: “In The Wet is a strange and fascinating tale. It concerns the life of a man in the 1980’s and a world greatly different from the one we know now. It is a novel for every reader who wants to speculate on where we’re going and what it will be like.

This is NEVIL SHUTE whose latest book, On the Beach, is a terrifying prediction on the death of the world after an atomic war. Nevil Shute, author of many best sellers, has always been intrigued by the future. Several of his novels have been based on such speculation and prediction.

In The Wet is one of the most intriguing of these novels of the future. It concerns a time nearly thirty years ahead–after another war, but one which did not wipe out all living things It is, if you will, a counterargument to On the Beach, a story filled with lovers who can live and a future that can be infinitely better than the past.”

Initial Thoughts: I look at my shelves and see On the Beach… “It’s a classic.” “Give it a read.” But laboriously saccharine memories of the film interrupt my reverie and I turn away. I think I’ll read this one first!

3. Trinity and Other Stories, Nancy Kress (1985)

From the back cover: “THIS IS THE WORLD OF NANCY KRESS..

…A place whose borders reach beyond the most distant stars and deep into the private real of imagination. It is a universe of remote worlds and personal passions, where men and women do not surrender their humanity to technology or paradox… and sometimes find their true souls, by accident or design.”

Contents: “With the Original Cast” (1982), “Casey’s Empire” (1981), “Talp Hunt” (1982), “Against a Crooked Stile” (1979), “Explanations, Inc.” (1984), “Shadows on the Cave Wall” (1981), “Ten Thousand Pictures, One Word” (1984), “Night Win” (1983), “Borovsky’s Hollow Woman” (1983) (with Jeff Duntemann), “Out of All Them Bright Stars” (1985), and “Trinity” (1984)

Initial Thoughts: I recently reviewed Nancy Kress’ the first three published short stories. They felt a bit like embryos of her future work. I tracked down this collection to expand my knowledge of her short fiction.

4. Wave Rider, Hilbert Schenck (1980)


WAVE RIDER. Through the power of telepathy of man merges with the ocean to prevent the greatest of all sea disasters…

A chemical is released that kills all underwater life and lives and grows to kill again…

Nine undred feet down is a trapped, embattled sub, frantically seeking the technology to reach the surface—or to life forever beneath it…

A society of children, joined by a sensory link, fight a fearsome battle with their weapons of ocean currents and solar mirrors…

One extraordinary man charts and finds the wave that, if ridden, will forever make him one with the sea…”

Contents: “The Morphology of the Kirkham Wreck” (1978), “Three Days at the End of the World” (1977), “Buoyant Ascent” (1980), “Wave Rider” (1979), and “The Battle of the Abaco Reefs” (1979)

Initial Thoughts: Hilbert Schenck (1926-2013) seems like an author who has completely faded from contemporary memory. Especially as between 1980 and 1984, he received four Hugo Award nominations and two Nebula Award nominations in the short format categories! As I have only read his disappointing novel A Rose for Armageddon (1982), I look forward to reading his short fiction — which, according to various reviewed I’ve read over the years, appear to be his strength.

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31 thoughts on “Update: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLXXXIX (Nevil Shute, Nancy Kress, Hilbert Schenck, and a themed-anthology on future sex)

  1. I just realised reading your post that I still have my recently bought copy of In the Wet lying on a shelf behind me waiting to be read. Must get to it soon! And the Nancy Kress cover is a mid 70’s cover for a Jack Vance book.(The Asutra) a bit changed and re-used. It fit the Vance novel very well – no idea how it fits any of the Kress stories! Who is still writing good stuff, btw. I read a recent novella during lockdown I was very taken with csalled Sea Change. And happy birthday!

    • Thank you for the birthday wishes!

      Yeah, reusing SF art…. a common activity.

      I was quite taken with Kress’ novel An Alien Light (1987) when I read it a few years ago. I enjoyed my recent readthrough of her first three published short stories. Even if they were far from the heights she later achieved.

            • Nevil’s straightforward writing style. He tells an engaging story with good dialog. His description of the difficulties of living in Queensland in the rainy season have stayed with me. He goes on a bit about the politics of the UK in the 1950’s, which is a bit dated. And the main character has a nickname that today is pretty offensive. But in old books, I’m pretty lenient about stuff like that being a product of an earlier time.

            • I expect a book written in the 50s to cover issues in the 50s — so that won’t bother me. If anything, that makes it far more interesting (the historian in me speaking).

      • I enjoyed it a lot but the future portrayed is one only an Australian or Canadian could have come up with! Really quite unlikely even at the time, I think, let alone with hindsight!

    • Part of the fun, at least for me, is the act of exploration. I don’t expect every work to be a work of genius — but it will at least tell me a bit about 1950s society/concerns/values/fears.

  2. Happy birthday!
    Among In the Wet’s curious details:
    India is painted as loyally monarchist in a novel published after India became a republic.
    Population figures for the Empire are given for total population and white population.
    The lead has a very unfortunate nickname.

    • Thanks!

      As I mentioned to Mike, regardless of a work’s problems, “Part of the fun, at least for me, is the act of exploration. I don’t expect every work to be a work of genius — but it will at least tell me a bit about 1950s society/concerns/values/fears.” And yeah, it sounds like Shute (like Churchill) had dreams of a British Empire preserved post-WWII — and that vibe percolates through the novel.

  3. I just so happened to buy a copy of The Shape of Sex to Come last Thursday. My partner read the unfortunately titled Disch story. She thought that even though it began in a promising satirical register, it wasn’t able to elevate itself above the sadly common sexism of the time.

  4. Happy Birthday!

    I read those Schenck stories in F&SF when they came out, and I found them on the whole quite enjoyable. All somewhat nautical in theme or setting. I was surprised years later to buy a 1950s F&SF and find that Schenck had published a story way back then. As I recall, it was a nuclear war story, probably bought in order to fulfill the seemingly official requirement that any SF magazine published in the 1950s feature at least one story about nuclear war (either as it is happening, or post-apocalypse.)

    • Thank you! Not a relaxing weekend unfortunately as I had to put in 10 hours of grading…. the life of a teacher. Which prevented me from writing a new review!

      As for Schenck, I am intrigued — and fascinated that all of his stories (or almost all) revolve around the ocean. As did the novel of his I read previously.

      I, too, saw that one 1950s story when I checked his isfdb.org entry. I guess it’s never too late to return to early dreams of publishing SF! hah.

  5. Oh man, I remember that first book! Or rather, I remember the cover. The stories, maybe not so much – although I did wonder recently how Planet of the Rapes would go down today. The last story would have stuck in my mind because I had yet to read Moorcock’s Dancers at the End of Time sequence, of which it was an example (also, because I thought it was pretty good).

    • While I haven’t been thrilled with Moorcock’s Dancers at the End of Time sequence (the first book An Alien Heat is reviewed on the site), I am interested in reading a short story within the series.

      • I guess Pale Roses made a stronger impression on me than the overall sequence because I read it first? That said, I wonder if sometimes such stories work better because they crystallise an idea the author has already explored in previous work. Another case in point (for me) would be King’s One for the Road, which I read before Salem’s Lot.

        • I’m trying to think back to my review…. https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2016/12/27/book-review-an-alien-heat-michael-moorcock-1972/

          “Moorcock’s romantic New Wave comedy does move beyond a flat demonstration of extravagant prose and scenario. An Alien Heat is a quiet reaffirmation of the dangers of excessive indulgence that damages meaningful relationships. In this far future where the narrative shells of past glories and defeats are played out as mindless games, Jherek and Underwood spin their own story replete with at least fragments of purpose and meaning. Funny, there will be giggles, and altogether too slight…”

          My assessment was clouded by the fact that I read a bunch of far superior decadence by M. John Harrison in future fragmented landscapes around the same time — Harrison’s The Pastel City (1971) and The Committed Men (1971) [both reviewed on the site].

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