Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCXCI (James White, Joan D. Vinge, D. G. Compton, Somtow Sucharitkul)

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

1. The Escape Orbit (variant title: Open Prison), James White (1964)

From the back cover: “STRANDED ON A PLANET OF MONSTERS. When the survivors of the his starship were taken prisoner by the insec-creatures against whom Earth had fought a bitter war for nearly a century, Sector Marshal Warren expected to be impounded in a prison camp like those the Earthmen maintained. But the “Bugs” had a simpler method of dealing with prisoners–they dumped them on an uninhabited planet, without weapons or tools, and left them to fend for themselves against the planet’s environment and strange monsters. A “Bug” spaceship orbited above, guarding them.

Escape was impossible, the “bugs” told them–but it was absolutely necessary, for reasons Warren couldn’t tell even his own men.”

Initial Thoughts: James White’s novels have long been favorites of mine. The Escape Orbit (variant title: Open Prison) was nominated for the 1966 Nebula Award for Best Novel. I’ve reviewed the following:

2. Fire from the Wine Dark Sea, Somtow Sucharitkul (1983)

From the back cover: “Somtow Sucharitkul is a triple science fiction award winner. His awards include the John W. Campbell for Nest New Science Fiction Writer. Sucharitkul not only lives up to, but exceeds the standards set by his honor.

Fire From the Wine Dark Sea is the exclusive first collection of his work. Always exciting, original, and provocative. Somtow Sucharitkul is the brightest new star in the SF galaxy!”

Contents (excluding nonfiction and poetry): “Fire from the Wine-Dark See” (1979), “The Thirteenth Utopia” (1979), “A Child of Earth and Starry Heaven” (1981), “Sunsteps” (1977), “Aquila the God” (1982), “Comets and Kings” (1979), “Angels’ Wings” (1980), “Dear Caressa of This Towering Torment” (1980), “Absent Three from Felicity Awhile…” (1981), “Darktouch” (1980), “Coaster Time” (1982), “The Last Line of the Haiku” (1981)

Initial Thoughts: The only Somtow Sucharitkul work I’ve read was the average Starship & Haiku (1981). I’m eager to explore his short fiction!

A bit about him from my Starship & Haiku review: “Somtow Sucharitkul (S. P. Somtow after 1985) is a fascinating individual.  He’s a Thai-American SFF author/composer who moved back and forth between Thailand and the UK (English was his first language and he received his education at the University of Cambridge).  Perhaps best known for his Mallworld sequence of stories (1979-2000), Somtow’s output is immense and ranges from horror to mainstream fiction (in addition to numerous symphonies and operas).”

3. Eyes of Amber and Other Stories, Joan D. Vinge (1979)


“Eyes of Amber”–The Hugo Sward-winning story of one Earthman trying to play a symphony of civilization to a distnat, barbaric world.

“To Bell the Cat”–What happens to human facing true alien encounter when they have already become alienated from each other?

“View from a Height”–What do you do with the rest of your life when you’re alone on a one-way journey to meet the universe?

“Media Man”–In the precarious society of Heaven Belt, he sold dreams to dying people. And he knew his career would be over the day he told them the truth…

“The Crystal Ship”–The Star Well: was it two races’ chance for the future or a bottomless pit in which all hope must die?

“Tin Solder”–Can love really survive across the spaceways and down through time?”

Contents: Eyes of Amber” (1977), “To Bell the Cat” (1977), “View from a Height” (1978), “Media Man” (1976), “The Crystal Ship” (1976), Tin Solder” (1974)

Initial Thoughts: I procured this collection as I thought “Media Man” (1976) might fit my current media landscapes of the future series (my most recent post). I’ll read it soon. I’ve enjoyed Joan D. Vinge’s short fiction in the past. Check out my review her first collection Fireship (variant title: Fireship / Mother and Child) (1978). I thought “The Crystal Ship” (1976) was solid as was the fix-up novel The Outcasts of Heaven Belt (1978). Before I started writing about SF, I read and enjoyed Vinge’s Hug-winning Snow Queen (1980).

4. A Usual Lunacy, D. G. Compton (1978)

From the back cover: “It makes people positively ache with happiness. It puts the roses back in their cheeks and the itch back in their blood. ‘It’ is the Scholes Virus–proper medical term for what used to be called, out of mawkish ignorance but with uncanny prescience, the ‘love bug.’

Professor Trevor Scholes has discovered, isolated and classified every variety of the infection that now bears his name. One variety, B79/K, is so rare that the odds are fifty thousand to one against two compatible carriers meeting.

So of course Giles Cranston and Tamsin McGillvray meet…”

Initial Thoughts: In the earlier years of my site I read D. G. Compton’s science fiction religiously. If he’s new to you, check out The Unsleeping Eye (variant title: The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe) (1973), Synthajoy (1968), and Farewell, Earth’s Bliss (1966). He won the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award last year. Check out this video announcing the award (with Friend of the Site Rich Horton).

Others I’ve read include:

For book reviews consult the INDEX

For cover art posts consult the INDEX

For TV and film reviews consult the INDEX

12 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCXCI (James White, Joan D. Vinge, D. G. Compton, Somtow Sucharitkul)

  1. According to my memory, that Joan Vinge collection is very good. I read most or all of the early Somtow Sucharitkul stories as they appeared — I found them uneven but colorful and “different”. “The Thirteenth Utopia” sticks in my mind as a good one.

    That is some cover on that James White novel! The premise sounds like Tom Godwin’s THE SURVIVORS. I might normally pass on such a novel, and such a cover, but with James White’s name on the cover I feel like it’s worth a try.

    The Compton novel is one of his that I have not read. But the premise might be promising, especially in his hands.

    • I’m looking forward to the “Media Man” story in the Vinge collection — for obvious reasons. It also takes place in the Heaven’s Belt world which I found intriguing in her novel Outcasts of Heaven’s Belt.

      My memories of Sucharitkul’s Starship & Haiku have faded a bit but I also found it uneven “but colorful and different.”

      As for the James White novel… it was nominated for the 1966 Nebula Award for Best Novel. I do not have high hopes and Gaughan’s cover blends a weird amateur quality with sheer bizarre terror at that beast. The premise does sound bland. Sort of like Harry Harrison’s people struggle against weird alien Deathworld stuff — which I never cared for.

      I’m worried the Compton will be more like my least favorite of his novels The Missionaries or Chronocules (variant title: Hot Wireless Sets, Aspirin Tablets, the Sandpaper Sides of Used Matchboxes, and Something that Might have been Castor Oil) than Synthajoy. But we shall see! That’s part of the fun!

      • The James White novel was one of the last serialized in John Carnell’s era of NEW WORLDS in 1964, so was written back around 1962 which would explain its old-fashioned plot and ideas — even Brian Aldiss was still writing this kind of stuff at that time, with the likes BOW DOWN TO NUL/THE INTERPRETER.

        And White and Aldiss (and Brunner) were writing them because that was exactly the kind of trad SF novel that Carnell liked and mostly serialized — more usually by the likes of Lan Wright, Kenneth Bulmer, Dan Morgan, and other writers John Boston could probably tell you about than I can. The credit goes to Carnell that he could also back J.G. Ballard from the beginning, serialize PKD’s TIME OUT OF JOINT and Sturgeon’s VENUS PLUS X when no American mag would have them, and sponsor Moorcock to be his replacement as editor.

        That is a shamefully amateurish cover by Gaughan, agreed.

        • Don’t remind me of Bow Down to Nul! I reviewed it — in the early days of my site. https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2011/02/25/bood-review-bow-down-to-nul-variant-title-the-interpreter-brian-w-aldiss-1960/

          Have you read the White novel? The impression I get from other people commenting is that it’s quite different and deeper than the cover might suggest… sounds like I just need to give it a read…

          I’ve also reviewed some Dan Morgan (although from the 70s): https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2013/11/05/book-review-inside-dan-morgan-1971/

        • A nit-pick: PKD’s TIME OUT OF JOINT was announced for serialization in INFINITY, November 1958, under the title BIOGRAPHY IN TIME. Unfortunately that issue was INFINITY’s last.

            • JB: ‘The inclusion of Ballard in Carnell’s publications always struck me as fascinating (Carnell seemed to enjoy some more “literary” and experimental visions of SF but so much bog-standard stuff at the same time)’

              Ballard was very clear about how much he owed to Carnell, who bought everything Ballard sent him from the beginning and was always strongly supportive — to the point of putting Ballard’s name up front on the covers and giving him an issue’s cover story whenever he could. In fact, I think Ballard once said something like ‘I owe everything to John Carnell. He made me.’ Though not quite in those words, and of course one struggles to think of a writer less ‘made’ by any other sensibility than himself, James Ballard.

              It does seem incongruous now. But I was a kid in London in the late 1960s who went around backstreet bookshops where they sold American imports — still shipped over randomly as ballast on Atlantic freight ships then — and second-hand books and mags (and often pornography under the counter), and I collected a whole bunch of Carnell mags.

              Reading them then, with their Brian Lewis covers (forex this) —

              — they offered a continuum in terms of a once-extant British SF sensibility (I was reading them after the fact) that extended comfortably from the likes of Ballard’s DROWNED WORLD and Brunner’s SOCIETY OF TIME stories, through James White, to the trad SF stuff by figures such as Colin Kapp. It all made sense in its British SF context, is what I’m saying.

              Partly because the British scene was small enough that it could be dominated by Carnell and his mags, and because Carnell was at one time or another a literary agent for the majority of British SF writers — a Pohl-like figure in his smaller pond and one who never aroused the animosity that Pohl sometimes did. Partly, too, because there was a British SF tradition, which differed from the American one and was still influenced by H.G. Wells (dead only in 1946), and it had produced more major — but still clearly British — writers like John Wyndham and Arthur C. Clarke.

              As for White’s THE ESCAPE ORBIT, I read it decades ago and can’t remember a damned thing about it now. After you effused about White’s ALL JUDGMENT FLED, I did re-read that and I thought it was solid and intelligent, but not extraordinary.

    • Agreed. THE ESCAPE ORBIT is a very smart book that has next to nothing to do with that ridiculous cover. It’s about a military commander whose unexpected new job it is to maintain order and discipline in the newly created colony of humans and to keep them all oriented to the tasks of survival and figuring out how to escape, and whose job subtly changes with circumstances until it becomes something else entirely. Vague, I know, but spoilers should be avoided for this one. It’s been pretty much forgotten along with most of White’s work since he is not a flashy writer—as you will know from the books of his you’ve read.

      • Hello John, thanks for stopping by. Yeah, the cover makes it look like it’ll be a Harry Harrison-esque Deathworld-style novel. Glad it isn’t.

        I’ve quite enjoyed White’s The Watch Below (1966), All Judgment Fled (1968), The Dream Millennium (1974), and Underkill (1979) (although I never reviewed it).

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