Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCXCV (Andre Norton, Alfred Bester, Kendell Foster Crossen, Mark Clifton, Frank Riley)

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

1. They’d Rather Be Right, Mark Clifton and Frank Riley (1954)

Inside page blurb: “They’d rather be right!

They tried to smash ‘Bossy’ the super-computer. Joe Carter and his strange friends saved the machine–but that really wasn’t necessary. You can’t smash an idea–and the idea was bound to grow again anyway. But people can hate an idea….

They’d rather be right!

It was said long ago that the price of immortality is rebirth–and that is a price few have ever been willing to pay. Given the chance…

They’d rather be right!

They could have eternal youth–at a price. But the ultimate frustration lay in this: only the bums, the ner’do-wells, could bring themselves to pay that price! As for the rest…

They’d rather be right!

‘Bossy’ had dreams for sales. The dreams of the ages could be realized! If… you’d give up one half, and alter the other half beyond recognition.

Would you rather be right?”

Initial Thoughts: The worst pre-1990 Hugo winning novel? Debate!

I read this as an older teen although my copy has long since disappeared and my memory of it is null.

2. Starburst, Alfred Bester (1958)

From the inside page: “Bester at His Best

Strange and starling stories… lighting-quick dialogue… a crackling style that keeps the action moving almost faster than the story can be read–these are the trademarks of Alfred Bester, one of the most inventive authors in the field today.

Here, for the first time in book form, is a galaxy of Bester’s outstanding stories, including: Fondly Fahrenheit: a killer robot and his master flee from the planetary police.. Disappearing Act: a U.S. army hospital is faced with an insolvable problem–patients who disappear and reappear at will… Of Time and Third Avenue: a 1950 man comes into possession of a 1990 almanac, and fins that in order to keep it he must match wits with a man from the future… Oddy and Id: a charming but diabolical monster has the power to rule the world… The Roller Coaster: a girl from the future has an affair with a twentieth-century man… Adam and No Eve: he was the last man on earth, the sole survivor of a total, chain-reaction holocaust.”

Contents: “Disappearing Act” (1953), “Adam and No Eve” (1941), “Star Light, Star Bright” (1953), “The Roller Coaster” (1953), “Oddy and Id” (1950), “The Starcomber” (variant title: “5,271,009”) (1958), “Travel Diary” (1958), “Fondly Fahrenheit” (1954), “Hobson’s Choice” (1952), “The Die-Hard” (1958), “Of Time and Third Avenue” (1951)

Initial Thoughts: I recently read a fascinating interview of Bester in Hell’s Cartographers: Some Personal Histories of Science Fiction Writers (1975), ed. Brian W. Aldiss and Harry Harrison. He describes his bizarre meeting with John W. Campbell, Jr. (1910-1971) ostensibly over the publication of “The Devil’s Invention” (variant title: “Oddy and Id”) (1950) (which appears in the his collection). Interviews often inspire me to track down more of an author’s work — and so I did! While I’ve read Bester’s The Demolished Man (1952) and The Stars My Destination (1956), I’ve only reviewed his collection The Dark Side of the Earth (1964) on the site.

3. Web of the Witch World, Andre Norton (1964)

From the back cover: “Simon Tregarth, whose own Earthly prowess had won him a throne and a witch-wife in an alien world. ,knew that both triumphs were precarious as long as the super-science of Kolder held a foothold on that planet.

And his premonitions were right when those invaders from another dimension made their final diabolical strike for total conquest.

Andre Norton’s WEB OF THE WITCH WORLD is a terrific novel of scientific marvel, other-world color, and sword-and-sorcery action that will thrill delight every reader.”

Initial Thoughts: I’ve read only a few Andre Norton novels over the years. I still have yet to start her Witch World series. I bought the first volume back in 2011! And it remains unread…

4. Year of Consent, Kendell Foster Crossen (1954)

Back cover: “It is only 36 years from now. The streets, the buildings, the fields look just as they do today. And the people look the same–until you get close enough to see the bland, vacant stare in their eyes, to hear the empty, guarded quality of their voices.

They are victims of a gigantic con game. Free will, the right of dissent have been washed away in a sea of slogans coined by the public-relations manipulators who have taken over the government. the rare ones who momentarily forget they are no longer individuals have their symptoms recorded by an enormous mechanical brain in Washington. The real dissenters, the incorrigible revels, have their ‘sickness’ cured by a simply surgical operation…

This is the year of consent. And this is the story of a man who fought back.”

Initial Thoughts: Unknown author and book… Here’s his SF Encyclopedia entry.


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47 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCXCV (Andre Norton, Alfred Bester, Kendell Foster Crossen, Mark Clifton, Frank Riley)

  1. STARBURST includes two of the greatest SF stories of all time — no debate: “5,271,009” and “Fondly Fahrenheit”. The rest of the contents are strong as well, but those two stories are on another level.

    “They’d Rather Be Right” (aka THE FOREVER MACHINE) is famously called the worst Hugo winning novel of all time. It’s not good — but it may not be the worst. Curiously, its year, 1954, was weak enough that it’s hard to find a long list of better novels that year — but there is one SF novel: A MIRROR FOR OBSERVERS, and, to be sure, one iconic Fantasy novel: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING. But absent those — it’s a truly ambitious novel, on its own terms. But it also simply doesn’t work,

    Kendall Foster Crossen I hardly know but his reputation is terrible. And while I’ve enjoyed many Andre Norton novels, I’ve never read a Witch World book.

    • Hello Rich,

      Re-They’d Rather Be Right. Yup, definitely aware of its reputation (although my memory of it is vague at best) and tried to reference it with my question about whether people agree. I’d place it up there among the worst Hugo winners along with Heinlein’s Double Star and Leiber’s The Wanderer…

      I’m eager to explore the Bester collection.

      • I like DOUBLE STAR a good deal more than you do … In the case of THE WANDERER I’ve never got past page 40, though.

        I think there are some fairly recent (last 30 years anyway! 🙂 ) Hugo novel winners that are not so great, too.

        “They’d Rather Be Right” is indeed tendentious, and tendentious in support of ugly ideas. For all that, I meant it when I said it was ambitious — it really was trying to interrogate some potentially interesting (but, as I said, ugly to me) ideas. It just doesn’t do so very well. But fans may have responded to that ambition. Rumor has it, too, that Astounding readers were motivated to vote because they felt “their” magazine had been slighted in 1953.

          • Well, to be honest if I ever did finish THE WANDERER it might end up ahead of THEY’D RATHER BE RIGHT.

            Most of the latter day Hugo novel winners are fine books — indeed, perhaps all of them. Many are not what I’d have chosen from their year but they aren’t terrible. (Some of the short fiction awards have gone to terrible stories, but whatever.)

            The early Hugo winner (besides THE WANDERER) that I have not ever read is TO YOUR SCATTERED BODIES GO. While I’m not a big Philip Jose Farmer fan, I dare say that is likely better than THEY’D RATHER BE RIGHT.

    • But yes, not a ton to pick from in 1954. I guess there’s Clement’s Mission of Gravity, Anderson’s Brainwave, Asimov’s Caves of Steel, the Pangborn…. I’ve read the first three and found them solid (the Clement is historically important but not for me).

      • “Mission of Gravity” and “The Caves of Steel” were both serialized in 1953 — thus, to my mind, not eligible for the 1955 Hugo, though it’s entirely possible that voters back then wouldn’t have cared (especially as there were no 1954 Hugos.)

          • My understanding is that the convention organizers were close to the people involved with the International Fantasy Award and did not want to step on their toes. The Worldcon was in London, and the IFA was also presented in London. I have heard there was a bit of jealousy in England about the Hugos gaining prominence at the expense of the International Fantasy Award.

            The IFA that year went to THE LORD OF THE RINGS. (Tolkien was apparently slight confused at receiving this award.) In retrospect the Hugos would not have competed at all — for one thing, THE LORD OF THE RINGS (1954-1955) was not even eligible. For another thing, the Hugos back then were primarily SF (as was, really, the IFA.)

            Ironically, that was the last year of the IFAs. Their list of awardees, however, is very strong:
            (Fiction only — they also gave out non-fiction awards)
            1951: Earth Abides by George R. Stewart
            1952: Fancies and Goodnights by John Collier
            1953: City by Clifford D. Simak
            1954: More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon
            1955: A Mirror for Observers by Edgar Pangborn
            [1956: (tie) The Dragon in the Sea by Frank Herbert, The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding]
            1957: The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

            (1956 is in brackets because most accounts say there was no award that year (including the Loncon I journal I link to below) but David Hartwell claimed his UK first edition of The Dragon in the Sea advertised its IFA.)

            Here’s a link to the Journal of the convention from that year, which does explain their reasoning. http://www.fiawol.org.uk/FanStuff/THEN%20Archive/1957Worldcon/57PR2.htm

            My choice for the novel Hugo would be THE STARS MY DESTINATION — though it actually wasn’t “officially” published in the US until 1957 (the final issue of the Galaxy serialization was January 1957, which of course likely came out in December 1956, and the Signet edition (with a great Powers cover) appeared in March 1957.) BUT — the UK version, TIGER! TIGER!, was published in 1956.

            For short fiction — here’s a pretty darn impressive list:
            “The Country of the Kind” by Damon Knight,
            “The Man Who Came Early” by Poul Anderson,
            “The Dead Past” by Isaac Asimov,
            ” And Now the News …” by Theodore Sturgeon,
            “The Anything Box” by Zenna Henderson,
            “Horror Howce” by Margaret St. Clair

            (You could add another Knight (“Stranger Station”) or another Sturgeon (“The Skills of Xanadu”).)

            • I did more research. There actually was no 1956 International Fantasy Award. The UK edition of The Dragon in the Sea DID claim that it won the IFA in a tie with The Lord of the Flies, but this was a mistake — in fact those books finished tied for THIRD behind LOTR and John Christopher’s NO BLADE OF GRASS in 1957.

              This from the Science Fiction Encyclopedia. Which to be honest I trust more than I trust Hartwell (who probably was basing his assertion in his copy of The Dragon in the Sea.)

            • For those who don’t know, THE DRAGON IN THE SEA was the UK title for Frank Herbert’s first novel, otherwise called UNDER PRESSURE in the US in every other publication (including its original serialization in Campbell’s ASTOUNDING), except for Avon’s edition in 1956 where it was titled 21st CENTURY SUB.

              I re-read it a few years back and it’s one of those strong 1950s SF novels, worthy of being a contender alongside those other nominees on the IFA awards list Rich posted above.

              I mean, seriously: a nuclear sub during WWIII, on a clandestine seabed oil-drilling missions in enemy waters because global oil supplies are running out for both sides! A mission, moreover, that twenty-six previous subs have been lost on, and one man aboard may be a saboteur and spy for the commies! With a heavy topping of 1950s-style Freudian theory, a la Bester and Sturgeon, because the protagonist is an undercover military psychologist! How can you mess all that up?

              Herbert didn’t. It’s arguably the best, tightest thing he ever wrote, with the prose showing hardly any of the writing problems he displayed so conspicuously later (wandering POV, sententious waffling, etc).

            • I couldn’t quite give it an award but I did like it and a big part of that was, as you say, because of its clean, tight writing. (If you or anyone else is interested (and if I can post links) I posted a brief review of it <a href=”https://featuredfutures.wordpress.com/2019/11/14/review-the-dragon-in-the-sea-by-frank-herbert/>here.)

            • Nitpick re THE DRAGON IN THE SEA/UNDER PRESSURE:
              The US hardcover edition, from Doubleday, was titled THE DRAGON IN THE SEA. (I have the SF Book Club version sitting in the next room.)

        • JB: And do you find They’d Rather Be Right by Mark Clifton and Frank Riley the worst Hugo-winning pre-1990 novel?

          I haven’t read it. Later, its legend preceded it and despite Barry Malzberg’s advocacy for Clifton, I’ve never thought that much of him. And when I was a kid, it simply didn’t turn up in the UK.

          For your historical interest (if any): in London in the 1960s, American SF writers were spottily published — Asimov’s FOUNDATION AND EMPIRE was first published in the UK only in 1962, for instance — and while US SF paperbacks and magazine made their way across the Atlantic, it was a fairly arbitrary thing. Firstly, in those pre-container days they were carried by cargo ships simply as ballast — an afterthought to the main cargo. Secondly, you had to know which outlets carried them: either American SF would randomly end up on spinner racks in newsagents/tobacconists; or I’d go to certain districts of London, like Soho, where American SF was sold in places that sold hard pornography in the back room and under the counter, while the magazines with the pictures of naked women with their genitals airbrushed out would be on open display.

          Sort of appropriate, I’ve always felt. In line with that, THEY’D RATHER BE RIGHT was published in America as THE FOREVER MACHINE, a Galaxy novel with the Wallace Wood cover below, which if I seen I would have bought because I was a Wally Wood fan —

      • I read “Fondly Farenheit” a little too quickly the first time and felt I had missed something so I had to go back read it again to get the aha moment. Great story with great style.

  2. That Powers cover is interesting … the background has a hint of what’s to come but those people (people? on a Powers painting) are just so pure pulp.

    • I also find Powers’ early art fascinating. He’s completely capable of the refined figure. Yet there isn’t a clear move from more traditional pulp figures to pure surrealism in his SF art (I’m not sure I find this a hint of what’s to come but rather a blending of what he already created with older pulp forms). Some of his earliest covers are on the surreal side: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/ea.cgi?1811

      He’ll have a surreal cover. Then he’ll have a hybrid one like this…

      • I see what you mean, the human figures on his first cover (Pebble in the Sky — cool that his first was on Asimov’s first book, given the ubiquity of both through the following decade) could pass for early 60s.

  3. I read the first 2 Witch World novels about 20 years ago and I was never tempted to read any more. If you do review them eventually, I’d be interested in what a mature adult has to say about them.

    • While I read a few of her books as an older teen, I suspect she would have fit right in with all the Heinlein juveniles I read… but then again, I’ve turned against Heinlein over the years. Hah.

  4. Grand Master Norton is no kind of hand at creating characters, she’s a fist. Maybe a foot, she stinks so bad at it. And in fantasy, since the plots make my eyes roll so hard I can see my brain, that matters so much more…so “have fun in Witch World.” sez I, with a knowing smirk.

    The Bester will be fun for you to read I’ll bet. “Of Time and Third Avenue” is the one I most want to hear you wail on…I mean review.

    THEY’D RATHER BE RIGHT had a rep that prevented me from picking it up from the freebie bin at The Book Stall. And YEAR OF CONSENT sounds tediously tendentious to me. The cover, the title…just “yuck” from beginning to end.

    • Yeah, They’d Rather Be Right exudes a “STAY AWAY I’m poisonous vibe” — which is partly why I’m interested in revisiting it. I don’t have negative memories — just no memories of my reading experience. Hah.

      You are so harsh re-that Powers cover for the Year of Consent. I am intrigued. Look at that little person stuck in the computer!

      • Yes, look at…them…::eyeroll::
        And Mister Muffin flashing his (chin)cleavage at us while he drags the drunk lady…deeper into the…computer…?…which she appears to be fingering like it’s got something icky on it…?
        What in Satan’s name is going on here?!

  5. Agree that the Bester collection is superb. I think the two posthumous re-sorts (Virtual Unrealities and Undemolished, IIRC) contain all the stories in it but the otherwise superb Star Light, Star Bright omnibus cuts just one or two from it and even that is too much cutting. Didn’t care for the one Witch World Norton I read and don’t know Crossen beyond his name.

    As far as the Clifton/Riley, I’ve said this before, elsewhere: because the early Hugos were so great, it does stick out as the worst. As a Hugo winner, no, it’s not very good. But I think that’s exactly the problem. If it hadn’t won the Hugo, people might say “Hey, you should read this overlooked novel” because, as just a generic SF novel, it’s readable and interesting. But, yeah, as a Hugo winner when that was a virtual stamp of excellence, people are rightly disappointed and there were definitely better options.

    • Hello Jason,

      I tend to track down the original collections as I enjoy the introductions as contemporary windows into an author’s work. With the digitization of almost all the main magazines of the day, I can always find the few stories that might be missing.

      I’ve only read Clifton’s average Eight Keys to Eden (1960) in the past. Here’s my review (it’s from the first years of my site) — https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2012/02/14/book-review-eight-keys-to-eden-mark-clifton-1960/

      I wish I could remember anything about the novel. In my late teens I read almost all the Hugo Award Novel winners (but Dreamsnake which I finally read and wrote about recently) pre-1990 or so.

      • I did the same thing up to 2000 (except one has been in the Pile for eons) – the Vinge books are good winners from the 90s but the batting average started getting too low for me.

        The “readable and thought-provoking” phrase (along with observations of other flaws) from your review of Eight Keys would fit well but I don’t remember details too well, either. That’s one of the reasons I write what I think of what I read now – to remind me. 🙂

        • I read a few beyond 1990 but it wasn’t a cohesive project and I know I skipped anything that was fantasy.

          It sounds like I should read more of Clifton’s short fiction — that seems to be what he was best known for at the time.

  6. I just realized that YEAR OF CONSENT was first published in 1954, so theoretically it was ANOTHER candidate — with THEY’D RATHER BE RIGHT and FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING and MIRROR FOR OBSERVERS and all — for best Novel that year. Not having read it, I can’t comment fairly, but I strongly doubt it was in the running!

      • Yes — I just realized that too was from 1954. I’ve just about finished my list and I’ll be discussing it on Facebook at least, and on my blog too.

        There are more interesting candidates than I realized, including some from outside the SF field, such as LORD OF THE FLIES (which I don’t consider SF) and Gore Vidal’s MESSIAH. And there are a number of interesting “juvenile” (as YA was called then) candidates: THE STAR BEAST of course (which I think is only a middling Heinlein juvenile, distinguished unfortunately by Heinlein’s joke that he had stuck a story about “raising John Thomases” past his notoriously prudish editor at Scribners’), but also THE HORSE AND HIS BOY and a British favorite, Eleanor Cameron’s THE WONDERFUL FLIGHT TO THE MUSHROOM PLANET.

        Add I AM LEGEND, Pohl and Kornbluth’s SEARCH THE SKY, a well-regarded early Poul Anderson fantasy (THE BROKEN SWORD — I had no idea that was that early!), plus a couple of J. T. MacIntosh’s better novels (BORN LEADER, well regarded in some quarters but not by me — and horribly racist; plus ONE IN THREE HUNDRED, which I liked a lot as a teen) — and you can easily put together a nomination list that greatly overshadows THEY’D RATHER BE RIGHT.

        All that said, I personally think THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING (obviously) and A MIRROR FOR OBSERVERS tower over the competition, even I AM LEGEND. Still, back then I AM LEGEND might indeed have been in with a a chance, had not Astounding voters decided (so it is said) to make sure their favorite magazine got revenge for the slight of the first Hugos.

        I would dearly dearly love it if the voting totals from those first couple of years could ever be resurrected. I doubt that’s possible, alas.

  7. I read They’d Rather Be Right about 5 years ago and I think I decided to read it after rreading a couple of his short stories – “What Have I Done” and “A Woman’s Place”. I don’t remember much now but this was my review for Goodreads.

    “I almost gave up on finishing this book several time. It wasn’t until the halfway point when I saw some apparent allusions to General Semantics and Dianetics. But they even seemed to be cobbled together to make some point I never actually got. Then throw in a telepathic superman, a 50’s style AI computer, an Ayn Rand style altruistic rich and and powerful businessman and immortality and it still didn’t add up to anything that made much sense.”

    I didn’t like it much, 2 stars, and it wasn’t later that I learned it won a Hugo and the related controversy. I really can’t say it was the worse pre-1990 award since I only read about half of the winners.

    • I’d imagine that it might be helpful NOT knowing that something won the Hugo. Unfortunately, when I was an older teen there was a posted list of winners next to the SF shelves at my local used book store. And marketing worked…. I looked for those novels as I had little else to inform what I chose other than what my father remembered from his youth.

      • I was born in 1947 and my exposure to SF may have been comic books and Saturday morning TV before I read anything other than the Wizard of Oz series. In school my friends and i started reading Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, probably because they were in the school library. Reading The Time Machine may have been prompted by the 1960 movie. I remember our group getting into ERB and Barsoom around that time. By middle school I was reading the Heinlein juveniles. I didn’t have much disposable income and got books from the library and some back dated novels and magazines from used book stores. After HS my reading dropped off a little with other recreational activities taking precedent!! then i went in the army and started reading some more but the army libraries weren’t good sources of SF back then. After that it was usually “word of mouth” that drove my reading selections although my reading time had dropped off considerably again. But during that time I don’t remember specifically looking for Hugo and Nebula award winners. I remember getting into Kurt Vonnegut via his SF connections and really enjoyed his stuff even though most of it was only tangentially SF. When i retired I started reading again with a vengeance and I may have read more since then then I did in all the years prior. My post retirement reading has included a lot of reading everything I can find on a particular author that i enjoy a lot. In some cases i have made it a point to read their whole output in date order to get a feel for how their ideas and style developed over time.

        • I’m glad you’ve managed to read again with a vengeance. I was born in the late 80s and the first SF I read were random books that my dad had laying around (he read SF in his early teens before quitting). I didn’t care much for Asimov and Heinlein and dropped SF entirely for fantasy. I was obsessed with the long, indulgent, Tolkein-esque style fantasy (Robert Jordan, Stephen R. Donaldson. Tad Williams, etc.) for many years. I returned to SF in my later teens (SF was often mixed with fantasy on the shelves of my local stores). I really started reading SF religiously in college and graduate school (PhD in history) and read new as well as older stuff (most of the novel classics for example). In my second semester of graduate school I started this website and have been writing about SF ever since.

          I have realized that science fiction in itself isn’t what interests me. Rather, SF written at a particular period of time (and this is of course the historian in me interested in what SF can say about the people who lived in a time and place). And this is why I’m not interested in reading only the best. All of it says something about the years in which it was written. I use the ratings because I know that others will want to know what to track down! Of course, in my exploration I have identified authors that particularly resonate with me.

          • I never got into fantasy that much except for a few of the more famous ones. I never consciously thought about placing A SF story in the context of the time it was written as a way to understand what people were thinking. I always try to put myself in the time the story was written so that I understand the references better. If I’m reading a SF story from the 50’s and the guy is using a typewriter I don’t wonder why he isn’t using a PC. Speaking of PC’s I have always been surprised that the majority of early SF writers never predicted the how computers would get smaller, even to the point of being on your cell. The early idea was to get more computing power you needed more size and power. I think I remember a story where a computer was built into a planet to get big enough. Thinking back as I am writing this I do think I picked up some things subconsciously about the culture in the real world at the time the story was written. I have an account on Goodreads and I do get a little annoyed when someone reads something many decades in the past and then complains in their review about how much male chauvinism or implied racism there was in the story. Unfortunately those things were more “acceptable” at the time and writers are a product of the culture they live in. You won’t be able to enjoy an old story if you constantly judge it by our current technology and cultural viewpoints. My major problem with my own taste in reading is I seemed to be locked into the classic era and I noticed I didn’t enjoy as broad a range of novels and authors as things changed with the New Wave in the mid 60’s.

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