Updates: Recent SFF Purchases No. CCXCIV (Theodore Sturgeon, Edgar Pangborn, Patricia A. McKillip, Ludovic Peters)

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

1. Not Without Sorcery, Theodore Sturgeon (1961)

Back cover blurb: “In 1948, Theodore Sturgeon published his first collection of short stories, titled, either from modesty or irony, WITHOUT SORCERY. Mr. Sturgeon’s firm conviction that, in his own world at least, absolutely anything is possible (and therefore whatever happens does so ‘without sorcery’) is an obviously specious argument and certainly no excuse. The fact is that anything which Theodore Sturgeon writes is the result of an extraordinary alchemy–the sorcery of his own talent, a talent that is peculiar to himself, unidentifiable but unmistakable, elusive yet always there. This is sorcery, and there is no point boggling it.

Having thus stamped each story with a ‘familiar’ as clear as a trademark, it was inevitable that some would be selected by intelligent editors for inclusion in anthologies, and these are readily available elsewhere. Many however, have remained unpublished in book form since their appearance in WITHOUT SORCERY.

So here they are–the rare, the wonderful, the delightful stories of Theodore Sturgeon, written, we insist, NOT without sorcery.”

Contents: “It” (1940), “Poker Face” (1941), “Artan Process” (1939), “Ether Breather” (1939), “Butyl and the Breather” (1940), “Brat” (1941), “Two Percent Inspiration” (1941), “Cargo” (1940)

Initial Thoughts: My general assessment of Theodore Sturgeon’s short fiction has undergone something of a resurgence as of late — and the reason for a glut of his volumes I’ve acquired recently. I’d always adored More Than Human (reviewed long before I started writing about SF). I think my growing appreciation of his short fiction is tied to a greater understanding of the quality (or lack thereof) of many of his contemporaries.

Note: I thought I was buying his first collection Without Sorcery (1948). This edition contains less stories. Alas!

2. Good Neighbors and Other Strangers, Edgar Pangborn (1972)

Inside cover blurb: “Edgar Pangborn, through his skillful opposition of the weird to the everyday and the alien to the worldly, totally involved the reader in a new, slightly altered reality. In GOOD NEIGHBORS AND OTHER STRANGERS, all the stories have have earthly setting–and an earthly understated, masterly prose. It is in the introduction of strange life forms into each setting–the corner gas station, the local saloon, or a down-east farm–that gives each story its compelling quality of weirdness, irony, and sometimes mystical magic.

The title story relates how one tearful stray from a herd of alien livestock caused great consternation on earth, and how the apologetic herders made amends. There is a novelette about the bizarre abduction of Harp Ryder’s young wife—told by the only man who will ever know the truth; the ten-legged blue bugs that can give you a dream—or a nightmare; the startling case of the man found huddling naked in the elephant’s cage at the zoo; and the shadow-monkeys from–where?–with their annoying habit of following along, even when you’re out parking with your girl.

Then there’s Darius, a most unusual cat; the pickup truck bound for Olympus; the chicken bone–well, not creature exactly; the remarkable journal of Dr. David Bannerman, recently deceased; and the ‘wrens’ Grampa hatched from his bear the summer he was 106.

Mysterical, mysterious, blood-curdling, or tipped with irony, all these tales are finely-drawn explorations of men facing ‘the other’—entertaining testimony to the reach of our soaring imagination and boundless ability to cope with the unexpected and, sometimes, to the little quirks that make us human.”

Contents: “Good Neighbors” (1960), “A Better Mousehole” (1965), “Longtooth” (1970), “Maxwell’s Monkey” (1964), “The Ponsonby Case” (1959), “Pickup for Olympus” (1953), “Darius” (1953), “Wogglebeast” (1965), “Angel’s Egg” (1951), “The Wrens in Grampa’s Whiskers” (1960)

Initial Thoughts: I’ve only read two of Pangborn’s short fictions on my site: “Mount Charity” (1971) and “Tiger Boy” (1972). I’ve only read (and disliked) one of his novels–West of the Sun (1953). I’ve heard good things about Davy (1964) and A Mirror for Observers (1964)–both of which I own.

3. The Riddle-Master of Hed, Patricia A. McKillip (1976)

Back cover blurb: “THREE STARS OF DESTINY. Long ago, the wizards had vanished from the world, and all knowledge was left hidden in riddles. Morgon, prince of the simple farmers of Hed, proved himself a master of such riddles when he staked his life to win a crown from the dead Lord of Aum.

But now ancient, evil forces were threatening him. Shape changers began replacing friends until no man could trusted. So Morgon was forced to flee hostile kingdoms, seeking the High Ones who ruled from mysterious Erlenstar Mountain.

Besides him went Deth, the High One’s Harper. Ahead lay strange encounters ad terrifying adventures. And with him always was the greatest of unsolved riddles–the nature of the three stars on his forehead that seemed to drive him toward his ultimate destiny.”

Initial Thoughts: Nostalgia took over… As I’ve mentioned in previous acquisition posts, McKillip’s The Forgotten Beasts of Eld (1975) and The Riddle-Master of Hed (1976) marched alongside a legion of fantasy novels that fostered my love of reading. I haven’t returned to her work since.

4. Riot ’71, Ludovic Peters (1967)

Inside cover flap: “London in 1971 is tense and depressing as nascent neo-fascist organizations work, both covertly and overtly, to prevent Negro immigration. Soon there are two inexplicable murders–and all the earmarks of ritual Mao Mao sacrificel… except that somehow… The Government, however, is convinced that it must discover who or what group lies behind the spurt of provocations, the sudden eruptions of violence and madness.

Ian Firth and John Smith find themselves drawn into the inquiry, gradually infiltrating a sinister and deeply determined organization. They are helped by their American colleague Stamberger, and by Colley, an articulate colored law student [note: cover blurbs in the 60s for anti-racist novels can still use racist tropes!] . And then there is Faith Mortimer, the sister of one of the murdered men, who feels the weight of his unavenged death.

Before the spine-tingling climax, proving that things… and people… are seldom what they seem, the forces of reaction, evil and bigotry have been tackled on their own ground. Ludovic Peters manages in this brilliantly thought-out and excitingly written novel, to convey the stark horror that may appear tomorrow–just because no one cares what is happening today.”

Initial Thoughts: An unknown author and unknown book! At the beginning of the year I had grandiose plans to read and review a range of visions of future race violence novels written by authors of different backgrounds (White, African American, and Chicano): Warren Miller’s The Siege of Harlem (1964); John A. Williams’ Sons of Darkness, Sons of Light: A Novel of Some Probability (1969); and Enrique Hank Lopez’s Afro-6 (1969). I read Miller’s odd novel but did not care for it and the project dropped by the wayside.

I procured Ludovic Peters’ vision in order have a UK representative. According to the brief blurb on SF Encyclopedia, “Ludovic Peters” is the pseudonym of German-born UK screenwriter and author Peter Brent (1931-1984). I’m unsure how much Peters’ vision fits the theme as it’s more about dystopian future sliding towards neo-fascism where vigilantly organizations uses violent measures to prevent immigration. As always, I’m interesting in mapping lesser known routes regardless of their quality — who knows if I’ll get to this one.

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29 thoughts on “Updates: Recent SFF Purchases No. CCXCIV (Theodore Sturgeon, Edgar Pangborn, Patricia A. McKillip, Ludovic Peters)

  1. I would HIGHLY recommend you read the rest of McKillip’s fantasy bibliography. She only improved as time went on and while her latest, “Kingfisher” in 2016, wasn’t my favorite, it was still excellent.

    I know you tend to stick to the era and all the reasons why. But if you ever decide to go outside the box, McKillip is the author to do so with. 😀

  2. I read A Mirror of Observers years ago and I liked it. A novel with good characterization, and, also, full of compasion for its characters, although a bit too sentimental because of that.

    • I’ve heard good things about A Mirror of Observers. It’s one of those novels I’ve owned for years… it’s watched me from the shelf… waiting… and I’ve never picked it up!

      • I liked A MIRROR FOR OBSERVERS when I was a kid. From what I can recall of it now, it would still strike me as a good-intentioned book, in somewhat of the same way as James White’s writing is that. It has an uplifting message, without being fatuous.

          • Pangborn and Leinster are similar the way the lightning and the lightning-bug are similar, to steal one from Mark Twain. It’s easy to make fun of Pangborn–A MIRROR FOR OBSERVERS has epigraphs from Plato and George Santayana–but his work lasts for me, both in memory and on re-reading. “Angel’s Egg” is the most notable story in the collection, and one which apparently made a big impression when it was published.

            NOT WITHOUT SORCERY not only contains less stories, but lesser stories, as the blurb suggests when it says these are the ones that haven’t been reprinted elsewhere. Missing are “Microcosmic God,” “Maturity,” “The Ultimate Egoist,” “Memorial,” and “Shottle Bop,” which would have made a much better book if one has to make a selection.

            • Hello John,

              As I mentioned in the “initial thoughts section,” I thought I was getting the uncut Without Sorcery — his first published short story collection. Either I or the book seller made a mistake… But I’m not against having another Ballantine book on the shelf so I didn’t press the matter. But yes, I quite enjoyed “Memorial” (1946): https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2021/11/14/short-story-review-theodore-sturgeons-memorial-1946/

              I didn’t mean to imply that Leinster and Pangborn are similar in anything other than having as Mark stated an “uplifting message, without being fatuous.” And his mention of White’s Sector General stories–I assume rather than dark as all depths of hell novels like Underkill (1979) –made me think of Leinster.

  3. This promises to be interesting. Unless I hear croons of ecstasy, however, nothing could induce me to read McKillip…and Sturgeon’s old hat to me by now…”Ludovic Peters” sounds depressingly predictive.

    Least said, soonest mended vis-à-vis ol’ Pangs-borne.

  4. I am a huge Sturgeon fan and read all 13 volumes in the “Complete stories” series. The stories in Without sorcery are some of the first stories he wrote. I keep changing the order but my 3 favorite SF short story writers are Sturgeon, Simak and Cordwainer Smith. You mention “More Than Human” and I think that exemplifies Sturgeon’s writing. It moves from the lyrical to terseness and occasionally to a stream of consciousness mode and has some long internal monologues that would be boring from a lot of SF author’s but handled very well by Sturgeon. Some of my favorite Sturgeon short stories that I highly recommend would be “The Other Celia” (1957) and “A Saucer of Loneliness” (1953).

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