Which books/covers/authors intrigue you? Which have you read? Disliked? Enjoyed?
1. Planet of the Damned, Harry Harrison (serialized 1961)
From the back cover: “Brion Brandd of the Galactic CRF had a problem. It was the planet Dis. Brion’s assignment was to salvage it.
Dis was a harsh, inhospitable, dangerous place and the Disans made it worse. They might have been a human once–but they were something else now.
The Disans had only one desire–kill! Kill everything, themselves, their planet, the universe if they could–
BRION HAD MINUTES TO STOP THEM–IF HE COULD FIND OUT HOW!”
Initial Thoughts: Smells like a variation of Harrison’s Deathworld (1960), which I never managed to review, from a year earlier. Which isn’t a good sign… Planet of the Damned was a finalist for the 1962 Hugo for Best Novel. It lost to Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land (1961).
2. Probe, Carole Nelson Douglas (1985)
From the back cover: “PROBE was a crack government-funded psychiatric unit and Kevin Blake was its star psychoanalyst… innovative, daring, infallible. But he’d finally met his match–an amnesiac known simply as ‘Jane Doe.’ She’d been found on a rocky Minnesota bluff one lonely night… naked, emaciated, her deathly white face blotched with a leprosy of filth.. her mouth frozen into a death camp grin.
She had lived. The two policemen who found her had not.
Now she is Kevin’s most challenging patient. Young and beautiful, physically Jane Doe is the perfect specimen.. too perfect. No vaccination scars, no dental work, no imperfections.
Kevin finds himself increasingly drawn to the uniquely innocent personality time and therapy uncover. There is something–something even more disturbing than the alien word ‘Zyunsinth’ hypnosis wrested from her subconscious–something darkly ominous in Jane Doe’s unremembered past that obsesses Kevin Blake. He will risk his career, his life, even his sanity, to discover it.
The truth will forever change them both.. and out world.”
Initial Thoughts: Carole Nelson Douglas (1944-2021) is unknown to me. SF Encyclopedia describes Probe (1985) as follows: “Though she has been an infrequent author of sf, the Probe sequence–Probe (1985) and Counterprobe (1988)–is of some interest for its slow unfolding of the mystery behind the Amnesia afflicting a young woman who has Psi Powers and who turns out to be what the title says she is: a probe inserted by Aliens into the human world to gather data. But love intervenes. Nelson’s sf is strongly plotted, and it was long hoped that she might one day return to the genre.”
3. Star Science Fiction Stories No. 4, ed. Frederik Pohl (1958)
From the back cover: “This is the fourth volume in the brilliant STAR series of original science-fiction stories edited by Frederik Pohl. Of the three previous volumes, reviewers have said: ‘The best buy in science fiction for this or any year…’ ‘…really exceptional stories, brilliantly written…’ ‘I have never read more entertaining, more well written, more excellent science fiction in one volume.’
Here are two short novels, and seven short stories in the best tradition of STAR. We wish to mention with particular pride two stories from the contents of this volume:
‘The Advent on Channel Twelve,’ by C. M. Kornbluth. Brief, incisive, and at his satiric best.
‘A Cross of Centuries,’ by Henry Kuttner. The last great story by one of science fiction’s beloved masters.”
Contents: Henry Kuttner’s “A Cross of Centuries” (1958), C. M. Kornbluth’s “The Advent of Channel Twelve” (1958), Fritz Leiber’s “Space-Time for Springers” (1958), Richard Wilson’s “Man Working” (1958), Lester del Rey’s “Helping Hand” (1958), Miriam Allen deFord’s “The Long Echo” (1958), Edmund Cooper’s “Tomorrow’s Gift” (1958), Damon Knight’s “Idiot Stick” (1958), James E. Gunn’s “The Immortals” (1958)
Initial Thoughts: Purchased due to C. M. Kornbluth’s “The Advent of Channel Twelve” (1958) for my media landscapes of the future series!
4. Wyrldmaker, Terry Bisson (1981)
From the back cover: “WYRLDMAKER WAS KEMEN’S TREASURE–AND HIS CURSE.
Heir to one of the eleven kingdoms of Treyn, Kemen was haunted by the image of Noese, a magnificent woman who rose from the sea and taught him to love–then disappeared again.
But with Kemen she left a son, Hayl, and a magnificent sword called Wyrldmaker–a powerful weapon that blazed with the cold-hot fire of a magic blue stone.
Soon it would thrust him into battle, forcing him to don his deathrobe and walk the past of no return. But far from dying, Kemen found that he had been sent on a special quest for life…
Tormented and betrayed by the woman who saved him, aided by a wyzard who sprang from his past, still Kemen pursued his quest–a quest that would lead him toward the dawn of a fabulous new universe…”
Initial Thoughts: I’ve not read any of Bisson’s work. I’ve heard good things about some of his short fictions. This is his first novel.
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29 thoughts on “Updates: Recent SF Purchases No. CCXCVI (Harry Harrison, Carole Nelson Douglas, Terry Bisson, Star Anthology)”
A uni prof whose SF course I took had a rather uncharitable theory that Harrison’s forays into comedy being inspired in part by Planet of the Damned attracting snickers at its wretchedness.
I wonder how similar Probe is to John Brunner’s Quicksand?
The contemporary views of Planet of the Damned can’t have been that bad if it was a Hugo finalist for best novel!
I’ve never cared that much for Harrison. That said, I have not read his best work — yet. I’ve enjoyed his more deliberately New Wave short stories such as “By The Falls” (1970): https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2014/12/03/book-review-nebula-award-stories-six-ed-clifford-d-simak-1971/
And Captive Universe (1969) was solid if too brief for the captivating premise to develop: https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2019/12/31/short-book-reviews-harry-harrisons-captive-universe-1969-john-christophers-the-death-of-grass-1956-nancy-kress-an-alien-light-1987-and-joe-haldemans-mindbridge-197/
I’ve read a TON of Brunner but not Quicksand. So I don’t know.
JB: I’ve read a TON of Brunner but not Quicksand.
I’ve read QUICKSAND. At various points in his life Brunner claimed it was his best book, ahead of his Club of Rome novels.
I’d say he was wrong and it’s a failure. But it’s also an experiment and unlike anything else Brunner wrote. Fairly clearly, the whole manuscript needed at least one more pass through the typewriter and the ending, in particular, is both nasty but also cursory and not fully set up, as if Brunner needed to rush through it so he could get the MS off and get on to his next contracted title.
Still, there’s an interesting book in there. I’ve never been arrogant enough to advocate ‘duty reading’ of specific titles for you to review. But if you ever get round to it, I’d be curious what you make of QUICKSAND. For that matter, I’m curious if Rich H has read it and what he makes of it.
#2 & #4 sound particularly drearily heteronormative.
#1 rings my “white savior narrative” proximity alert.
#3 has “Tomorrow’s Gift” which my filing elf tells me is located in the “positive-shading-to-good” memory cabinet. None of the others are in the files, period, though not to say that they’ve never passed before my ocular units.
Edmund Cooper wrote something that remains lodged in your brain? You have made me far more intrigued than I was before. I tried to read A Far Sunset (1967) at one point but quit. And thought Seed of Light (1959) was okay (there’s a review somewhere on the site)…. I haven’t read any of his short fiction to the best of my knowledge.
I absolutely adored SEAHORSE IN THE SKY when I was nine! And FIVE TO TWELVE. But that was fifty-four (?)-ish years ago. A FAR SUNSET snapped my streak, too, so maybe you have a ghost of a chance to like the story.
The name Seahorse in the Sky has always scared me off when I see that book in a used book store! Hah. I was definitely in the Redwall and all its sequels and prequels phase at 9.
It seems like a Zombie story in some way, just the title and characters are different. But no one can challenge the authentic men.
Thanks for stopping by.
Which sounds like a zombie story? I assume you mean the Harrison?
Exactly Joachim, I mean Harrison. Thanks for your reply.
Yeah, you’re right. It does, according to the blurb, sound a bit like a zombie story. Have you read any of his work?
No I haven’t. I think a Zombie story and Harrison world were inspired from the cannibal tribes societies. Some actual writers imagine that the world tend to be primitive, wild, and sick, as long as the number of hooligans, dregs, cast outs, and criminals increase.
I muss confess I’ve never been a fan of zombies…. You couldn’t catch me watching The Walking Dead or anything of that ilk. Hah.
What science fiction do you enjoy?
I read the first part of the serial version of PLANET OF THE DAMNED (as “Sense of Obligation” in Analog, September 1961, and I remember wondering “Was the original DEATHWORLD this particular Analog serial? (I had that issue because of the Westlake and Davidson/Garrett stories I think. Neither are particularly special either!) I never finished the novel, which seemed OK paint-by-number SF adventure on horrible planet stuff.
I’ve never read Carole Nelson Douglas, though I know the name. I like a lot of Bisson’s work — mostly short stuff — but I know nothing about WYRLDMAKER. And that specific edition of STAR is on the shelf in my bathroom, and I was working through it slowly, but I haven’t finished it. The Kornbluth, as I recall, is good. Gunn’s story is pretty solid. Leiber’s is good fun, especially if you have a tolerance for cat cuteness.
My impression of what I’ve read about Wyrldmaker is similar to what you said about Harrison’s two works… “paint-by-the-numbers” adventure.
I agree that the Gunn story is solid. It formed part of Gunn’s novel wonderful fix-up The Immortals (1962) (which I might enjoy more than The Listeners!): https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2013/04/27/book-review-the-immortals-james-e-gunn-1962/
I should also indicate that I bought Wyrldmaker as it’s a themed story in particular review series of mine… I won’t give the theme as the character discovers something about the world and I assume it’s a huge spoiler (for those who care — haha, not me). His SF Encyclopedia entry gives it away: https://sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/bisson_terry
I enjoyed Harrison’s Death World trilogy but when I tried his Stainless Steel Rat series I gave up and never tried him again. Best of luck with Planet of the Damned…
I realized now that the reason I never reviewed Deathworld was that I listened to it as an audiobook (not something I normally do). I thought it was sufficiently grim but did not rise above bog standard adventure fare.
I’d agree with that assessment.
Some of Terry Bisson’s novels, especially the SF rather than sword and sorcery, are enjoyable. I tend to prefer his shorter fiction. BEARS DISCOVER FIRE is my favorite collection of his stories.
Unfortunately, most of his short fiction is from outside the range of my reading interests (published in the 90s). As of now, I’ve acquired his first two novels. Wyrldmaker, while it seems like heroic fantasy/sword and sorcery, is actually science fiction (have you read it? am I safe giving away the spoiler?). I also have a copy of Talking Man (1986).
Kornbluth’s ‘The Advent on Channel Twelve’ is short, funny, and dark (Kornbluth was so not a happy camper in the Consumer Wonderland of 1950s America).
It’s the best piece of fiction you’ve got in this batch, though it’s something like four pages or less, IIRC.
Also in the Pohl volume, the Kuttners’ ‘A Cross of Centuries’ is okay but not up to their best of the 1940s (but very little is). Gunn’s ‘The Immortals’ and Knight’s ‘Idiot Stick’ were mildly significant in their time, but will make absolutely nobody’s list of “SF you simply must read.” And so on, for the rest of a very short anthology (as many anthologies were then).
The Harry Harrison has been published as DEATHWORLD 2, I think, which about sums it up. I read it when I was ten, but can’t really remember a thing about it now except that it wasn’t as good as DEATHWORLD (1), which I liked well enough at that age. But then I read DEATHWORLD (1) twice: firstly, as a Penguin paperback and, secondly, as a serial called THE ANGRY PLANET in a British weekly comic, BOYS’ WORLD, where the hero’s name was changed from Jason DiNalt to Brett Million.
And that explains a lot about Harrison’s storytelling. He became Brian Aldiss’s running buddy and was intelligent enough, but started out as a comic book artist in the US, graduated to writing comic ‘continuity’ as comics scripts used to be called, and got by when he moved to the UK by writing for comics before the fiction royalties started racking up.
The only notable thing about Harrison as a comics writer is that he worked with two of the three best UK comic artists, Ron Turner and the great Frank Bellamy (for the second Brett Million series).
Just to jazz up the visual field here, and because if you’ve never seen Bellamy’s work he was something else, I’ll link to a couple of pages from the second Brett Million series, GHOST WORLD. (Not to be confused with Daniel Clowes’s identically-titled work.)
To the best of my knowledge, Planet of the Damned has not been titled or sold as Deathworld 2. That title goes to the sequel to Deathworld, i.e. Deathworld 2 (1964). Here’s the Deathworld sequence: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pe.cgi?1001
Here’s the Planet of the Damned sequence (which also has sequels): http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pe.cgi?26023
None of the alternate titles suggest an overlap in titles. Maybe I’m missing something?
As for Kornbluth, he’s long been one of my favorites — and I love the idea of him living in Levittown and souring on the suburban dream sold to so many.
Thank you for the comic images! They do spice things up!
As I noted, I too was confused by “Sense of Obligation”, at first thinking it must be part of the DEATHWORLD sequence (which I ought to add I have not read.) But you are correct — it is separate.
Y’all are right and my memory deceived me. Now I think back the protagonist of PLANET OF THE DAMNED was called Brion Brand — though he might as well have been called Jason DiNalt and the novel DEATHWORLD 2. Or DEATHWORLD 4. Because there’s a omnibus edition, with DEATHWORLD 3, of the DEATHWORLD TRILOGY, with a cover by — appropriately enough — comic book artist Richard Corben, the early HEAVY METAL mainstay.
Harrison really did milk his series.
Also, his comic roots were more extensive than I realized. Apparently, back in the day he worked for EC Comics, among other gigs, where he was inked by Wally Wood (!), and through most of the 1960s he wrote the Flash Gordon newspaper strip.
I enjoyed Deathworld for what it was. I turned my brain off and liked the campiness. Planet of the Damned was rough. Blatant misogyny, totally predictable plot. The campiness didn’t do much for me that go round. That year should have been won by “Dark Universe” imo.
Yeah, I’m with you on the Dark Universe boat! Thoroughly enjoyed that one — would probably enjoy it even more if I re-read it. There’s a review on the site but it’s super old so I won’t link it.
I’ve read half a dozen of Bisson’s novels, including Wyrldmaker. I much preferred the 1990s sf novels, to be honest. Voyage to the Red Planet might just might interest you as it was published in 1990 (or is your cut-off year 1989?). It’s about a mission to Mars financed by a movie studio. Fun, but not quite as biting a satire as it wants to be.
I don’t have a firm date. But as of now I’m not reading much published after 1985. I own this one and Talking Man (1986).