Which books/covers/authors intrigue you? Which have you read? Disliked? Enjoyed?
1. The Darfsteller and Other Stories, Walter M. Miller, Jr. (1982)
From the back cover: “Walter M. Miller, Jr., wrote A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ, and changed the nature of science fiction, forever. Now, collected together for the first time are some of his most gripping masterpieces, including the Hugo Award-winning ‘The Darfsteller’ and ‘Crucifixius Etiam.'”
Contents: “The Darfsteller” (1955), “The Will” (1954), “Vengeance for Nikolai” (variant title: “The Song of marya”) (1957), “Crucifixus Etiam” (1953), “I, Dreamer” (1953), “The Lineman” (1957), “Big Joe and the Nth generation” (variant title: “It Takes a Thief”) (1952), “You Triflin’ Skunk” (1955).
Initial Thoughts: I’ve already read and reviewed (see links above) the majority of the stories in this collection. However, as I’ve bit on a bit of a Miller, Jr. binge as of late, I decided to acquire this collection due to “The Darfsteller” (1955) which I haven’t read yet.
2. Wild Seed, Octavia E. Butler (1980)
From the back cover: “HE COULD NOT DIE:
Doro was a mind force who changed bodies like clothes, killing his hosts by reflex–or design. He roamed Earth, gathering the genetic Wild Seed: the tormented, mad thought-reader, seers, and witches. Some he helped. Some he destroyed. But Doro bred, rules, owned them all. He feared no one–until he met Anyanwu.
SHE COULD NOT BE KILLED:
Anyanwu was an old woman, a young woman, a man, a leopard, an eagle, a dolphin–a shaeshifter. She could absorb bullets and make medicine with a kiss. She gave birth to tribes, she nurtured and healed–but Anyanwu would savage any who threatened those she loved. She feared no one–until she met Doro.
TOGETHER THEY WERE LOCKED IN A WAR OF WILLS.
From the African jungles to the colonies of America, Doro and Anyanwu were the father, mother, and gods of an awesome, unborn race. And their love and hate wove a Pattern of destiny that not even immortals could imagine…”
Initial Thoughts: Last year I read and enjoyed (mostly), Octavia E. Butler’s Dawn (1987). Due to the extreme price of many of her novels–even newer editions–I’ve slowly started to acquire a few of her earlier Patternist novels. This is the 4th in the sequence.
3. Shadrach in the Furnace, Robert Silverberg (1976)
From the back cover: “A Novel of the 21st Century That Becomes an Inferno of Tomorrow’s Nightmares.
The stunning novel of a man surrounded by machines that flash instantaneous pictures of everything happening… a man surfeited with drugs that allow him to be eyewitness to the living past and pleasured by sensual women who vie for his favors… a man named Shadrach who finds little rest in this miracle-infested world.
SHADRACH IN THE FURNACE.
A supershocker about what happens when telemetric sensors no longer suffice, when the great Khan, ruler of the earth, needs more… when he needs to survive through the body of a virile, healthy, very special man.. through Shadrach Mordecai.”
Initial Thoughts: In the history of this site, I’ve reviewed twelve Silverberg novels–and read but never reviewed A Time of Changes (1971 and Tower of Glass (1970)–and thirty short stories. I’m always open to reading more of his work! (especially if it isn’t 50s Silverberg).
4. Starmasters’ Gambit, Gérard Klein (1958, trans. 1973)
From the back cover: “As colonists penetrated the galaxy, a series of strange legends accumulated about the worlds just beyond the rim of our exploration. These legends told of vast black citadels built by pre-human intelligences that dominated certain deserted planets. And the legends agreed that these colossal structures were not only impenetrable to explorers–but were still in some mysterious way activated.
This is the story of Jerg Algan, into whose restless hands fell the key to the citadels. This is the story of Jerg Algan whose fate it was to be a “knight” on a cosmic chessboard, leaving from planet to planet as a gambit–a chess sacrifice move–to check the dark monarch who ruled the farther half of the Milky Way. This is the novel that established Gerard Klein as the leading modern science fiction novelist of Jules Verne’s homeland.”
Initial Thoughts: Gérard Klein… one of a handful of non-English language SF authors frequently published by DAW Books in the 1970s. Due to my average experience with French-language SF so far (albeit I’ve only read a handful), I’m not sure what to expect from this one.
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56 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CCXC (Robert Silverberg, Octavia E. Butler, Walter M. Miller, Jr., Gérard Klein)”
If you have not read the Miller, that implies you’ve not read Asimov’s Hugo winners anthologies. I suggest the V1/V2 omnibus for the dramatic gearshifting between the 1950s and 1960s.
I’ve read plenty of the Hugo-winning short stories that appear in the anthology. But no, I have not read the anthology end-to-end. That said, I’ve read every Hugo-winning SF novel published before 1990 (and quite a few published later) as I just finished Dreamsnake (1979). I adore Walter M. Miller, Jr. I’ll get to “The Darfsteller” eventually.
The last time I deliberately sought out science fiction that won an award–vs. my general interest in an author or theme or reading an anthology or magazine cover-to-cover–was in my late teens.
The SFBC used to offer V1 and V2 in one giant, inexpensive volume and I believe it was one of my introductory volumes.
Nice! I didn’t read SF short fiction until my early 20s. And by that point I no longer tried to comprehensively read award lists… which is how I read so many of the Hugo-winning novels.
I used to have The Darfsteller collection but got rid of it long ago as I had my favourite stories in other books. I enjoyed the Gerard Klein and kept if for ages but eventually shed it as well. My favourite of his was the earlier The Day Before Tomorrow. I read the other couple of titles of his that DAW did but wasn’t as impressed by them. In fact, I came across a fairlly recent omnibus volume of his called Starmasters (2018), which I bought as stock for the shop with the vague intention of re-reading some of his work. Still not read any of it yet!
It wasn’t a smart purchase as I’ve read all but two stories in the collection. I could easy read both online or in other anthologies I probably own… alas. I am weirdly a fan of the Jones cover. He’s normally not one of my favorite SF artists despite his popularity in the UK.
As for Klein, he’s a complete unknown to me other than looking through the complete DAW publication list. Is his stuff bland pulp? Or is there more substance behind what appears to be narrative-driven adventure? How would you characterize his work?
As I recall, the rather brief Day Before Tomorrow was the most interesting, the others being more straight forward (despite involving time travel plots) and pulpish is maybe a suitable word for them.
I like the Josh Kirby cover!
It appealed to me, too. I quickly realised I couldn’t afford /all/ the numbered DAW books as they came out, but for a while I did have quite a stack! (I almost as quickly realised I didn’t /want/ a lot of them anyway!)
It doesn’t seem that there project to showcase SF in translation was a financial success unfortunately. To the best of my knowledge no press (until the contemporary era) tried to have another sequence of French, Swedish, etc. SF in translation like DAW in the 70s.
I noticed that I have “The Overlords of War” in my Calibre library and I don’t remember why I wanted to read it since I haven’t read any Gerard Klein before (or even knew who he was). Now that I have some background I will probably move it to my Kindle in the near future.
Let me know what you think! I dunno if I’ll be getting to this one any time soon…. or in a decade. hah (I own so many books and have so many current reviewing projects!)
SHADRACH IN THE FURNACE was as I recall Silverberg’s last novel before his second retirement, which is to say the last in his “middle period” (1963 or so to 1976) … this the period of his most ambitious work. I read it in the Analog serialization, and I remember enjoying it, but not much more.
I want to elaborate on those “periods” … the first is his apprentic/hackwork period, 1954 to ??? — he probably decided to “retire” in about 1960, partly because of the collapse of the magazine field, partly because of boredom, partly because he was making better money writing nonfiction. But he still had inventory, and so stories from that period appeared at least until 1962, and novels until 1964 (One of Our Asteroids is Missing, an Ace Double) or even 1965 (the juvenile Conquerors from the Darkness.) One of Our Asteroids is Missing reads very much like his ’50s work, and was published as by Calvin M. Knox, so I suspected it might have been an expansion of one of his novellas for Science Fiction Adventures or Infinity, but I can’t find any evidence of that.
Beginning in 1963 with “To See the Invisible Man” Silverberg started producing more interesting and mature work, originally at Fred Pohl’s prompting. Again it’s best to track this period with short fiction, I think — and that continued through 1974 (and the great “Schwartz Between the Galaxies.) But a couple further novels were in inventory (SHADRACH plus THE STOCHASTIC MAN) and they appeared in the next couple years. I’d imagine the actual “retirement” decision came in 1973 or so. He was still editing New Dimensions, and producing other anthologies, and he was a shrewd investor, so I imagine by this time he was financially secure.
It was in 1979 that he officially returned, with the sale (and partial serialization) of LORD VALENTINE’S CASTLE, and he remained prolific until shortly after the turn of the millennium — say, 2003 or 2004, with a couple of outliers showing up a few years later. His last novels were THE LONGEST WAY HOME (2002) and the linked story sequence ROMA ETERNA (2003). He remains very firm that, at the age of 87, he is done writing fiction, though he does continue his essays for Asimov’s Science Fiction.
I agree with your general assessment of Silverberg’s progression–something I’ve charted at length on my site over the years as I’ve read a good 14 of his novels (12 of which I’ve reviewed) mostly from that audacious and productive “middle period” and countless short stories. I’m still missing some heavy-hitters like Book of Skulls (1971) and Nightwings (1968) although I have copies of both.
I have not dabbled in any of his work (fantasy or science fiction) published after his 1979 return. Maybe at some later point in my reading adventures.
I should add that the later work was always very professional, very well done, and occasionally quite excellent. (“Enter A Soldier. Later, Enter Another” is perhaps a high point.)
One of the nice things about conversation in comments vs. twitter is that I have something to go back to when the random desire hits to read something newer… haha. Website as memory device.
Totally happens for me too — and I get very frustrated when I remember that something I wanted to take a closer look at was mentioned on FB or Twitter and I can’t track it down.
Twitter makes me irrationally angry… I don’t know why. I keep it in the hope that I might find new readers for my site and to promote my reviews.
I try to discipline myself and use it only for discussions with friends, and not click on what’s trending. Because if I do, I’ll get mad. I did see someone else claim that it got less horrible after the invasion of Ukraine, perhaps because a lot of Russian bots were kicked off. But I don’t know about that.
Sounds like good policy. I don’t follow authors (unless they follow me) or politicians so I avoid a lot of the nonsense. I write a one-sentence snarky comment about some book and some idiot (who shall remain nameless) goes and makes an entire podcast about it. The same guy demonstrates zero knowledge of anything I’ve written about… i.e. actual arguments with actual evidence that yeah, I don’t care if you argue against as at least it’s arguing against something a bit more substantial. Twitter is a forum for gut reactions vs. engagement with texts. And I’m all about the later and directly annoyed by the former. I read reviews. And, as a reviewer, I want people to read reviews.
When it comes to Silverberg I am probably the odd man out because i actually enjoyed his early pulp fiction that you refer to as his first period. I actually read and read most of his stuff from “Revolt on Alpha C” to “The Man in the Maze”.
I enjoyed “The Man in the Maze” but I now have a problem trying to explain why. Muller is a man with the ultimate disability in a future world where the disabilities we are familiar with no longer exist. In our recent history since the novel was written, we as a culture have been trying to accommodate people with disabilities and try not to exhibit any negative attitude towards the disabled. Silverberg creates a situation where Muller’s disability can’t be ignored and he chooses a challenging self exile. But we are also meeting alien cultures that don’t understand us and in one case don’t even accept us as intelligent beings. In this situation can Muller’s disability be a way to communicate with the aliens? Should Muller be expected to help humanity when he has suffered greatly in any contact with his own race? There are several unanswered questions in this novel. One is an ending that doesn’t tie up all the loose ends and the question of how Muller was able to find ways to survive in the maze when others couldn’t without expending enormous technological resources and a few brave volunteers.
I was born in 1947 and most of the SF I enjoy was published before the New Wave changes of the mid 1960’s. I found most of the early Silverberg to be a quick, moderately enjoyable read and an example of good pulp fiction within the boundaries of that genre during that period.
Oh yeah, The Man in the Maze (1969) is absolutely brilliant. My review: https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2012/02/05/book-review-the-man-in-the-maze-robert-silverberg-1969/
I love the reworking of Greek myth in this instance. A fantastic premise and delivery.
I was born in 1987. I discuss what draws me to SF written between 1945-1980 here (if you haven’t seen it). Hint: I’m a historian by trade and training interested in American history within those decades: https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2018/06/15/fragment-s-why-i-read-and-review-50s-70s-science-fiction/
I read your review. I think that the quandaries that are present aren’t ever suppose to be resolved completely just like Muller’s relationship to the maze is never explored completely. I also read your “why I read —-“. I don’t think my reasons for reading SF are quite so introspective! Now that I am retired I read a lot. i belong to Goodreads and always meet my 100 book annual quota that I set each year. It’s mostly Sf but I read other genres and some non-fiction. I started reading early and read a lot of SF before the New Wave era and maybe that’s why I like earlier stuff (or stuff written like earlier stuff) the most.
While I’ll read pulp SF, mostly short stories, I really like it when I hit one of the classics for the first time. By accident I came across a copy of “Sirens of Titan” in my early teens and that really drew me into the world of strange SF ideas. Even though I don’t read much SF written after the 60’s there is still some stuff that feels like the classic stuff but bigger and better. I felt that way about The Hyperion Cantos. I don’t particularly like New Wave ideas that seem to make the writing style more important than the story. I grew up on reading authors who who write a great story in less than 200 words and often a lot less than that.
You wrote “I’m also drawn to the 60s/70s because there was a serious and conscience attempt to tell stories in artful ways (New Wave SF): “literary” prose, radical structure/politics, non-standard SF characters/perspectives. Sometimes it’s beautiful. Sometimes it doesn’t work. But it’s all fascinating.” Unfortunately for me I find most often that it doesn’t work and it is rarely beautiful or fascinating (with the exception of Dan Simmons and a few others). You are much more open to new styles and ideas than I am although I will keep trying. Another big shelf I have at Goodreads is for the “did not finish”. I like to know what i did try and didn’t like. I also rate everything I read although I wasn’t as faithful about it in the beginning so that I get a feel for what i think about a particular author.
I agree about historical context especially since I read a lot of old stuff (including crime/detective/mystery/noir). I tend to get annoyed when i see someone complain about sexist, racist and other elements in a crime story written in 1940. you can’t read an old novel and expect it to meet present day attitudes. I always make sure i know when a novel or story was written (this isn’t always readily available on an ebook) so that i can adjust my frame of mind.
The historical context is what makes me enjoy SF. I’m no longer like the younger me who enjoyed SF because it was SF and read much more widely. I’m not sure I enjoy SF because it is SF. I enjoy it because it was written at a particular moment and tells us about the whims and desires and fears and paranoias of the day. Hence I treat my reading adventures as mapping a moment in time.
That said Jim, The Man in the Maze (1969) is a New Wave novel! So you enjoy a few of them at least — I’m assuming if they are lower on the experimental end and more on the narrative side of things? If that’s the case, check out Gary K. Wolf’s Killerbowl (1975). Some might argue that it’s post-New Wave but he definitely maintains some of the same concerns — yet has a rigorous and compelling plot. https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2018/11/23/book-review-killerbowl-gary-k-wolf-1975/
I just got back to this. I read your review of Killerbowl and strangely, while i am a fan of pro football, the subject didn’t grab me. What I did dind interesting was your statement.
Three elements of Killerbowl elevate the novel above similar sports-themed SF I’ve enjoyed—1) the narrative 2) the structure 3) the visual and societal details. Joachim Boaz praising narrative? Even I fall victim to an empathetic underdog story if the novel is well-wrought and inventive.
You seem to imply that narrative isn’t as important to you as other factors. that brings up the problem that i might not really understand what narrative is other then the pieces of the story following a particular plot line that connects the events that are occurring. If that is correct then I do require a pretty strong narrative to enjoy a novel. That gives me a starting off point to deal with the characters motivations, the look and feel of the world that events are happening in and a good (hopefully new) science fictional idea to provide the sense of wonder. I think that i felt too much New Wave SF was reducing the narrative to such a minor factor that i could gt a good handle on the rest of the story to enjoy it.
I do enjoy a well written phrase, sentence or paragraph such as you get from Cordwainer Smith or Kris Neville but just don’t drag it out. I am also a fan of hard-boiled detective fiction and classic noir but I find that some authors feel they have to go overboard on descriptions of every mundane thing in sight. Raymond Chandler invented this technique and knew how to make it work without your mind starting to wander.
To be clear, I am not a fan of the NFL (I don’t even watch the Super Bowl) and still enjoyed the novel.
Yes, for me, narrative isn’t as important as other factors. So often mood and scene is more important to me. Pulp-narrative driven SF without distinct characters are profoundly dull.
It all depends on the writer. I have enjoyed countless novels from the New Wave with reduced to non-existent narratives that resonate profoundly with me.
I’ve actually read a lot of Silverberg’s 1950s work, though by no means all of it. (That would be hard to do, especially the short stuff!) REVOLT ON ALPHA C I actually read very early, in the Scholastic edition, from the children’s section of our local library. I didn’t like it much then, and not on a more recent reread either! But I did enjoy some of his other juveniles, notably TIME OF THE GREAT FREEZE.
I find his various ’50s non-juvenile novels a mixed bag. (I didn’t want to say “adult novels” because he also was writing pseudonomously for the soft porn market — a couple of which novels have been recently reissued — and I didn’t want to confuse things.) Silverberg learned to write “professionally” very quickly (in both sense — he was doing so early in his career, and he do do it at a great rate) so that most of his work is smoothly readable. But it’s often very “thin” in a plot sense, and the ideas are often not well-developed. But some of the novels show signs of ambition — clever ideas, say, or interesting moral questions. It’s just that those ideas and questions aren’t always — or, really, ever, in the early books — fully fleshed out, or rigorously examined. But the potential was clearly there. That said — some of these early stories really were just hackwork, turned out at speed to fill a hole in a magazine, say. So — mixed bag. But there is some enjoyable reading to be found, though no buried classics. Nothing as good as, say, Algis Budrys in the ’50s.
Since I have retired i have been picking out a particular author that I like and trying to read their stuff chronologically to get a feel for how their style and ideas evolved over time. As it worked out the last 2 Silverberg novels I read were – “The Man in the Maze” and “Across a Billion Years”. “The Man in the Maze” was my favorite so far and “”Across a Billion Years” wasn’t quite as enjoyable but still good (3 out of 5). I have “to the Dark Star” on deck to read in the near future. I agree that all the earlier novels and short stories were a mixed that I would generally rate 2 or 3 out of 5.
My first experience with Budrys was Rouge moon many years ago, a novel i really liked. Because of that experience i have started reading more Budrys, chronologically of course, but haven’t found anything i have enjoyed nearly as much. i remember enjoying “The Stoker and the Stars” that i had read years ago. I just found a copy of “The Furious Future” (AKA “Budrys’ Inferno”) with short stories up until 1964 to read in the future.
For me, his best early story is “The End of Summer”, a very very good story that could have been a great story, perhaps if attempted just a bit later in his career. There are other fine stories from the ’50s, though ROGUE MOON is clearly the best, but some of the later work is remarkable — the underrated novel THE AMSIRS AND THE IRON THORN, and stories like “Be Merry”, “Wall of Crystal, Eye of Night”, and “For Love”, from the ’60s — and some truly fine later work too, especially his last, rather short, novel, HARD LANDING.
Both Budrys’ Inferno and The Rogue Moon are reviewed on my site! https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2017/03/06/book-review-budrys-inferno-variant-title-the-furious-future-algis-budrys-1963/
Rogue Moon: https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2019/11/10/short-book-reviews-rogue-moon-algis-budrys-1960-and-syzygy-michael-g-coney-1973/
And the lesser Michaelmas, Some Will Not Die, and The Falling Torch…
The Budrys stories that Rich mentions, along with some others, are the notable ones and mostly date from the 1960s. They can be found — along with ‘The Master of the Hounds,’ which was his only mystery story in THE SATURDAY EVENING POST, and won him an Edgar award — in a 1978 Berkley collection called BLOOD AND BURNING —
It has this Richard Powers cover —
That’s the one to get. I like to think of Budrys as the ‘missing link’ between Kornbluth and Tiptree in a certain tradition of SF writing, and this collection best exemplifies that.
As for approaching him chronologically, I would not. John Boston opined somewhere that Budrys was a strong enough critic that he knew what his best stories were and made sure only those later got reprinted in his anthologies. If one of his 1950s-era stories didn’t make it into one of those anthologies, it’s a pretty sure bet that it’s not so good. (Though there are exceptions.)
John is right, as he often is. I went back and looked at a lot of the early Budrys stories for a project I had to do a few years back. Budrys entered the field as part of the ‘1953’ generation, which included P K Dick, Sheckley, and Silverberg, and like those writers for a short while distinguished himself as a writer who could churn out enough stories fast enough to eke out a living in the then-enormous SF magazine field. In general, that shows. Unlike Silverberg, like Dick, Budrys’s stories often had original SF notions, but the writing is rough; I’ve complained of Sturgeon trying to do emotion and interiority by overloading his stories with sentiment; early Budrys overloaded his with desperate men snarling at each other through clenched teeth. Most of these stories were not deserving of reprint if they haven’t been reprinted, with the notable exception of ‘Nobody Bothers Gus,’ a superman story you will not forget but that Budrys didn’t want to reprint himself — though it’s been widely reprinted elsewhere, including by David Hartwell in THE SCIENCE FICTION CENTURY — because of a pivotal paragraph of background written to suit John Campbell’s prejudices. Unlike Dick and Sheckley, Campbell really liked Budrys and was the top-paying market of the time, and for better or worse Budrys wrote for that market in the 1950s.
Round about 1958, F&SF’s editor launched a short-lived companion mag called VENTURE, and Budrys started writing for that and his writing took a sharp upswing, with stories like ‘The Edge of the Sea’ and ‘Contact Between Equals.’ Then Venture and most of the SF magazine market died because the American News Company — the distributor for almost all of them — collapsed in a hostile raid after some New York real estate wheeler-dealers realized the ANC’s building was worth a lot more as real estate than was the ANC as a business. 1959-60 is a fascinating moment in American SF history. I think of it as a kind of ‘Pickett’s Charge,’ a moment when the best SF writers of the time realize the field as they’ve known is ending and take their best shot (Walter Miller’s A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ, Budrys’s ROGUE MOON, James Blish’s A CASE OF CONSCIENCE, among others, were all published in this period) before they flee wherever they can.
Silverberg fled to non-fiction and pseudonymous soft porn. Budrys, alongside his then-buddy Harlan Ellison, moved with his young family to Chicago and went to work for a publisher mainly known for soft-porn, Nightstand Books. When Ellison then drove on to Hollywood to write for TV (ROUTE 66, BURKE’S LAW, THE TWILIGHT ZONE), Budrys stayed in Chicago with his family and went to work for Playboy Press before becoming a freelance PR campaign manager. He never again wrote SF or fiction in a consistent, continuous way, but when he did write what he wrote was much more achieved. Actually, fully achieved in a literary sense in a story like, forex, ‘Be Merry’ — which ‘does’ a mainstream literary effect more successfully than, maybe, Walter Miller or anybody else that ever came out of SF. At this latter point, Budrys could have been a successful mainstream writer except that he kept on having SF ideas.
It’s mostly for these later stories that Rich and I are so big on Budrys. Because he did write a lot of crap — though frequently with ideas he would have been able to handle a lot better later — in the 1950s.
I own Blood and Burning and look forward to reading it soon as it contains two short stories for my media series.
“The Darfsteller”, as James notes an early Hugo winner, is pretty darn good stuff. The other one you haven’t read is not bad also, though perhaps not great. Here’s what I wrote about “Vengeance for Nikolai” in my review of that issue of Venture:
“And finally, Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s “Vengeance for Nikolai” might have been rather controversial in its time. The heroine is a Russian woman, and the villain is an American General. Some time in the future, the U. S. has invaded Russia, for no apparent good reason. Marya’s son has been killed, and she volunteers to be captured, trusting that she will be able to get close the the general, and kill him. The story is very straightforward – it sets up the situation, and moves quickly in a direct line to the expected conclusion. No twist, no subtlety. But quite well executed.”
Considering my general love for Miller, Jr., I expect I’ll adore it as well!
I recently read David N. Samuelson’s “The Lost Canticles of Walter M. Miller, Jr.” — a rundown of every published Miller short story https://www.depauw.edu/sfs/backissues/8/samuelson8art.htm
He places “Vengeance” quite high in his list of Miller’s best stories: ” Only “Crucifixus Etiam” really stands out among the shorter works, followed by “The Big Hunger,” “It Takes a Thief,” “Death of a Spaceman,” “The Hoofer,” and “Vengeance for Nikolai,” most of which come dangerously close to sentimentality (melodrama in “It Takes a Thief”) and each of which relies heavily on a gimmick, the bane of so many short stories.”
I’m pretty sure that article inspired me to track down more of his collections.. even if I’d read the majority of the stories within it.
My experience with Walter M. Miller was with the short story version A Canticle for Leibowitz many, many years ago and found it a unique and terrific read. I read the expanded version many years ago and was a little disappointed with the middle and last sections although it seems that many people enjoy each part equally or even more that the original short story. I also read many of his short stories, again many years ago, and don’t remember much. Maybe it’s time to dig up one of those collections and reread it.
Unless I’m completely mistaken, I don’t think it was “expanded” into a novel. The three novellas were simply joined together. He only thought of it as a potential novel after he wrote the second novella. I could be wrong… It’s been a long time since I read it. Maybe elements were modified a bit.
I recommend “Death of a Spaceman” (variant title: “Memento Homo”) (1954): https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2020/11/28/short-story-review-walter-m-miller-jr-s-death-of-a-spaceman-variant-title-momento-homo-1954-and/
And “The Hoofer” (1955) https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2022/01/26/short-fiction-review-walter-m-miller-jr-s-the-hoofer-1955/
I reviewed both for my series on negative/subversive takes on astronauts and the culture that produced them. I link online copies of the short stories in both reviews.
I read those stories several years ago and I really like “Death of a Spaceman” and “The Hoofer” was just OK. Both stories told about space travel from a 1950’s perspective but I found that neither one felt very dated. “Death of a Spaceman” was so well written that you could temporarily forget what you know about contemporary space travel and accept the 1950’s version. “The Hoofer” didn’t have enough “sense of wonder” to bring the story alive for me and make me forget the contrasts with space exploration today. They were both creatures of the 1950’s but I can still remember the way I felt about what space travel should and would be like when I was reading this kind of stuff as a teen in the early 60s. It was easy to slip back into that mindset.
Finally I should mention WILD SEED briefly — I read all of Butler’s SF novels in a rush right around the time of stories like “Bloodchild” appeared (and greatly impressed me.) I thought they were all very good — even SURVIVOR, which she later more or less repudiated. I think CLAY’S ARK may have been my favorite, but I remember thinking WILD SEED pretty good too. (KINDRED is powerful, and it’s not surprising it’s the novel with the greatest mainstream attention, but that’s because it’s less science fictional.)
I wish paper copes were cheaper online! Not spending the $800 plus dollars for Survivor! Haha.
Yes, Kindred (1979) is my favorite of her works so far. Although I’ve only read it and Dawn (1987). There’s a paper waiting to be written about Butler’s Kindred (1979) and John A. Williams’ Captain Blackman (1972) [both African American authors writing liminal speculative fiction/science fiction using time-travel as commentary about contemporary society etc.]– https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2021/05/16/short-book-reviews-john-wyndhams-the-chrysalids-variant-title-re-birth-1955-john-a-williams-captain-blackman-1972-and-gina-berriaults-the-descent-1960/#more-22851
“Wild Seed” is one of two Octavia Butler novels I’ve read, the other one being “The parable of the Sower”. I think I preferred the latter novel, because the writing was better, which is important, but otherwise I don’t remember it as being anything special and don’t really remember what it was about. I wasn’t overly impressed with “Wild Seed”, which as I said, I think it had something to do with the writing, but I feel sure it was more intellectually and conceptually exciting. It dealt with the theme of super humanity, and how it hosts could colonise a continent and eventually flower into a powerful modern generation.
I’ve only read Dawn (1987) and Kindred (1979). I’ve been meaning to read more of her short fiction….
I haven’t read any of short fiction, I think if I read her again, it would be best to read her short fiction.
My only reading so far is the short story Speach Sounds; an intresting one. It have ger a Hugo I think.
(Suddenly a small publishing house has translated three novels by her to Swedish; Kindred and Parabel of The Sower 1&2. (Sensation!)
Yup, won her the 1984 Hugo — http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cgi?40924
I have a review series where I look at the first three published short stories by various women authors — I’ve looked at Nancy Kress, Lee Killough, Melisa Bishop, and have a post on Eleanor Arnason in the works. I might do one on Butler and it would include Speech Sounds.”
You must read The Darfsteller–in fact, I demand that you to do this! It’s truly one of the great shorts of the 1950s. It even speaks, in part, to the theme of the new media landscape, insofar as it poses some interesting questions regarding the mass automation of cultural production. I’ve been vaguely planning to write up a short review of it for ages, and maybe, just maybe, this will be the encouragement I need.
I’ve been having a brief respite from my furious Silverberg odyssey over the last week. I read Delany’s The Einstein Intersection, just to get a better sense of its impact on the burgeoning new wave scene. I’m planning on returning to Silverberg via Thorns, but I have managed to read a lot of his short fiction from the 1950s, 60s and 70s. I feel that you are too harsh on his 50s work. Certainly most of it is dross, albeit relatively well constructed. But there is the occasional gem.
I plan on it — eventually!
I’ve not read that much 50s Silverberg so I’m unsure what I was “too harsh” about. A handful of short stories in two of his 60s collections — Godling, Go Home! (1964) and Needle in a Timestack (1966), the miserable Master of Life and Death (1957), and “Sunrise on Mercury” (1957). So 19 short stories and 1 novel. I assume you mean my take-down of Master of Life and Death! haha.
But I found many of his short fictions in Godling, Go Home! quite solid: https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2013/08/14/book-review-godling-go-home-robert-silverberg-1964/
Perhaps I commented too harshly upon your too harsh comments! I’m pretty much on the same page as you re: 50s Silverberg. I did however recently read a short story called ‘The Artifact Business’ (1957) which had a great central conceit, even if the denouement was on the ridiculous side. Nonetheless I’ve been ruminating upon this story for a few weeks now. By no measure is it as good as his works post ‘To See The Invisible Man’. Additionally, I’m still trying to get my head around how someone who initially makes himself over into the veritable writing machine for essentially economic reasons, ends up producing the body of work that he did in the 1960s and 70s.
antyphayes — What’s intriguing is that there were a couple of other writers who managed a similar makeover. The most obvious comparison to Silverberg is John Brunner — a writing machine, more or less, from his debut in the early ’50 until, say, THE WHOLE MAN — after which he produced some really brilliant work like STAND ON ZANZIBAR. (I like to say, though, that I like early Brunner better than early Silverberg, but later Silverberg better than later Brunner.) You could argue that Harlan Ellison did something similar, though he never had real success with novels. On the other hand, Silverberg’s erstwhile collaborator Randall Garrett never really did become a top writer (though he did improve over time.)
I’d suggest that some of this was simple market conditions — the mid to late ’50s SF market had lots of room for just filler stuff, so an apprentice writer could sell almost anything that was at least competent. And by the mid ’60s, the SF market was pretty consciously looking (assuming a “market” can be “conscious” — pathetic fallacy, I know) for better written stuff.
I agree that Brunner is a great example of this process. Indeed, I feel that despite Silverberg’s good work in the late 60s and early 70s, nothing of his reaches the level of Stand on Zanzibar or The Sheep Look Up.
I don’t dispute that the market played some role in this change, but I also find the nature of the “demand” that market relations imply is somewhat nebulous. On the one hand, readers and—crucially—writers were wanting something other than mere filler. On the other hand, the market—in the form of editors, publishers and writers—was fitfully trying to address this. I find Silverberg’s later remarks about the New Wave revolution going too far throws some interesting light upon the nature of this market demand. He points to a disjunct between the desire of writers like himself to engage in literary experiments, and the resulting lack of interest of much of the mass audience for SF. In Silverberg’s case, the market won out over his own ambivalent feelings about the worth of literature. But is the market right?
I read quite a few Silverberg novels back in the day – as a teenager, I probably averaged about 2 – 3 SF novels a week – but there are some that I know I’ve read but have no memory of doing so, Shadrach in the Furnace being a case in point. If I was re-reading him, I think I’d stick with his more realistic novels (e.g. Dying Inside, The Stochastic Man etc) rather than his other stuff – e.g. I’m not sure I’d ever have the patience to read Lord Valentine’s Castle again.
I recently procured The Stochastic Man as well. The Stochastic Man, Nightwings, Up the Line, and Shadrach in the Furnace (and perhaps one other) are my only Silverberg novels from his productive (and genius) “middle period” that I’ve yet to read.
My only meeting with Silverbergs third period has been the short stories in The Conglomerate Cocktail Party & the Nebula awarded novella Sailing to Byzantium.
I remember them as good stories.
When it comes to his first period I havent read much, but those stories has been (surprice) good; the classic The Iron Cansler (Gal) or The Warm Man (F&SF 57)
PS Has anyone here read NK Jemisin? The praise of her has even reached Sweden!
Silverberg is one of my absolute favorite SF authors from the 60s/70s. Are none of his classics translated into Swedish? (Dying Inside, Tower of Glass, A Time of Changes, Downward to the Earth, Hawksbill Station, etc.?)
I obviously have read lots of good things about Jemisin and my students (I teach 11th and 12th grade) enjoy her work when I recommend them. That said, as I read science fiction from the decades that historically interest me vs. any broader interest in science fiction (which I no longer really have) I doubt I’ll be reading them myself anytime soon.
Well I am not so into contemporary SF; but I read a interview with Jemisin in The Paris Review; she was of course refering to, among others Octavia Butler.
Hawksbill Station, The Tower of Glass, The Time of Changes, The Inner World and some more. So Silverberg is relatively translated compared to some others. Thomas M. Disch were are You; we want You in Swedish!
Mark’s mention of VENTURE reminds me that I have the complete run and that I must do a survey of its fiction sometime. In retrospect it’s late 50s iteration was pretty remarkable.
Also I agree that “Contact Between Equals” and “The Edge of the Sea” are outstanding, and with the contemporaneous ROGUE MOON represent a distinct step up for Budrys. “The Master of the Hounds” is very good as well — though of course not SF — and it has a really cool last line.
Speaking of last lines, one of my favorite early Budrys stories is, objectively, not one of his best. This is “The War is Over” (Astounding, February 1957, same issue as Piper’s classic “Omnilingual”). It’s as clunky as heck, and Budrys never collected it himself (though Groff Conklin reprinted it) — but its concept, and the final resolution, is something I found really really neat, reading it in my teens.
‘The War Is Over’ is clunky, but one item of proof for the contention that the Budrys 1950s-era stories he didn’t reprint sometimes had great concepts he didn’t then have the writing chops to properly deliver on. (And even some that he did reprint are like that, as with ‘Between the Dark and the Daylight’ which is a perfect concept that read a lot rougher when I re-read it as an adult than when I first read it as a kid.)