Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCXCVII (Poul Anderson, Kingsley Amis, Eleanor Arnason, Roger Elwood anthology of SF plays)

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

1. Strangers from Earth, Poul Anderson (1961)

From the back cover: “A SENTIENT ROBOT

THE COLONISTS WHO LEFT A PERFECT WORLD

A MADDENING HUNT FOR A MARTIAN

A MAN-MADE ANIMAL

A GALACTIC SWINDLER

These are some of the ingredients Poul Anderson chooses to mix and blend into this first-class collection of stories: and his ability is as wide as the range of his interests.”

Contents: “Earthman, Beware!” (1951), “Quixote and the Windmill” (1950), “Gypsy” (1950), “For the Duration” (1957), “Duel on Syrtis” (1951), “The Star Beast” (1950), “The Disintegrating Sky” (1953), “Among Thieves” (1957)

Initial Thoughts: I’ve written extensively about my evolving views of Poul Anderson extensively on my site. I’d check out my review of Tau Zero (1970) for my most succinct (and relatively recent) assessment of his work. Including Tau Zero, I’ve reviewed eleven of his novels and twenty five short stories.

2. To The Resurrection Station, Eleanor Arnason (1986)

From the back cover: “It began like any other day…

Until Belinda Smith was abruptly snatched from the comforting surroundings of university life by her mysterious guardian and imprisoned in the solitary confines of Gorwing Keep. Suddenly, she was the reluctant heiress to her planet’s largest fortune–and the unwilling bride-to-be of an alien prince.

But fate had still more surprises in store for the young woman. And soon Belinda, her unwanted fiancé, and a battered old robot would find themselves fleeing across the galaxy in search of a new life. Their destination: a real-life fountain of youth, found in only one spot in the entire universe.

The fabled planet Earth….

and its legendary resurrection station.”

Initial Thoughts: I recently reviewed and thoroughly enjoyed Eleanor Arnason’s first three published short stories. Unfortunately, she wrote little more SF in the 1970s–and no SF novels until the mid-80s.

3. New Maps of Hell, Kingsley Amis (1960)

From the inside flap: “NEW MAPS OF HELL is a critical analysis of Science Fiction by a well-known writer. This book is based on a series of lectures delivered at Princeton University. The humor, acute analysis, and wisdom in his book are already having an effect on the popularity of Science Fiction.

Ingenuity, inventiveness, and imagination are the qualities that aficionados of this literary form have long admired. Kingsley Amis crystallizes their interest–citing the best examples. With this guide book the new reader can easily avoid the space opera, the worn-out minor themes, and enjoy directly the best in what is now acknowledged to be an exciting literary form.”

Initial Thoughts: In the past two years or so I’ve amped up my consumption of science fiction scholarship. According to SF Encyclopedia, Kingsley Amis’ New Maps of Hell (1960) “was certainly the most publicly influential critical work on sf up to that time, although not the most scholarly. It strongly emphasized the Satire and Dystopia elements of sf, and introduced the term Comic Inferno. Amis, himself a satirist and debunker of note, saw sf as an ideal medium for satirical and sociological extrapolation; hitherto, most writing on sf had regarded it as primarily a literature of Technology. As a survey the book was one-sided and by no means thorough, but it was witty, perceptive and quietly revolutionary.” I look forward to reading this influential, if long superseded, analysis of science fiction (I should also read more of his SF).

It also has one of my favorite titles of all time!

4. Six Science Fiction Plays, Roger Elwood (1976)

From the back cover (complete contents): “The City on the Edge of Forever

HARLAN ELLISON’S original script, up to now seen only by a privileged few, with a special introduction by the seven-time Hugo and Nebula Award winner.

Sting!

TOM REAMY’S taut and suspenseful monster flic that has never before been published.

Contact Point

THEODORE R. COGSWELL and GEORGE RAE COGSWELL offer the first publication of their tightly plotted spaceprobe thriller–an outer space battle with hungry green dust that throbs with malignant life.

Stragner with Roses

JOHN JAKES’ eerie drama of time travel and a scientist who vacations into the future to save his daughter’s life.

The Mechanical Bride

FRITZ LEIBER’s tantalizing teleplay about beautiful mannequins designed for wealthy men grown tired of living women.

Let Me Hear You Whisper

PAUL ZINDEL’s touchingly humorous drama of a talking dolphin–and a cleaning woman who talked back.”

Initial Thoughts: While Elwood’s anthologies are often maligned with saturating the market with often substandard work, I am pleased that he put together a volume on a rather esoteric territory of SF — the play. Of course, I suspect the main draw was Harlan Ellison’s original teleplay (that never aired) for Star Trek’s “The City on the Edge of Forever” (1966). I am most intrigued by Leiber’s “The Mechanical Bride” (1954) which has to be a reference to Marshall McLuhan’s The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man (1951) published a few years earlier.


For book reviews consult the INDEX

For cover art posts consult the INDEX

For TV and film reviews consult the INDEX

37 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCXCVII (Poul Anderson, Kingsley Amis, Eleanor Arnason, Roger Elwood anthology of SF plays)

  1. I agree, a great title. But I gave up on New Maps. In part he is hustling for sf’s literary worth, which gets a bit dull these days.
    The plays intrigue. Particularly Leiber.
    And the Arnason looks tempting.

    • I’m far more interested in New Maps as an artifact of 60s vs. any argument that it might be making. But yes, what’s a bit tiresome now certainly was a radical argument back in his day. Have you read any of Amis’ science fiction? I tried to read The Alteration at one point. I put it down for some reason…

      • I set out to read New Maps for the reason you cite: as an artifact of 60s sf criticism. After reading the first two sections I found I was gaining nothing much, except an insight into the marginal status of sf vis-a-vis contemporary literary snobbishness. Which is something I suppose. I mostly like my copy for the excellent cover:

        I haven’t read any of Amis’ sf. The short story you mention intrigues tho.

        • antyphayes: I mostly like my copy for the excellent cover.

          That’s the Corgi edition I owned decades ago, in another country.

          JB: … (NEW MAPS OF HELL) strongly emphasized the Satire and Dystopia elements of sf, and introduced the term Comic Inferno. Amis, himself a satirist and debunker of note, saw sf as an ideal medium for satirical and sociological extrapolation.

          Yes. IIRC, one consequence of this that even now makes Amis’ take on SF a little more interesting than that, and which was then a complete surprise to the American SF community — writers, editors, and readers alike — was that his focus on the Comic Inferno as the primary mode of good SF meant he valorized as the central, good American SF writers not Heinlein and Sturgeon but, above all, Frederik Pohl and then the likes of William Tenn and Sheckley (and maybe PKD, for stories like ‘Second Variety).

          This was a complete surprise. As far as the American SF community thought about Pohl, it was as an inconsequential figure: H.L. Gold’s assistant editor at GALAXY, a sometime anthologist, a failed literary agent, and — oh yes — Kornbluth’s collaborator.

          Sure, THE SPACE MERCHANTS and GLADIATOR-AT-LAW had made a mark. But it was fairly clearly Kornbluth who made those novels sing. There’d been plenty of solo Pohl during the 1960s in the form of short stories, but most of it wasn’t outstanding — just undistinguished, like ‘The Hated,’ which you reviewed in your ‘astronaut culture’ series. Still, there’d been some notable Pohl short fiction: stories like ‘The Tunnel Under The World,’ ”The Day the Icicle Works Closed,’ ‘The Wizards of Pung’s Corners,’ and ‘The Midas Plague.’ Amis focused on those in NEW MAPS OF HELL and bigged Pohl up.

          In the long run, I don’t know that Amis was wrong. Pohl published his first story in 1939, edited his first SF magazine in 1940, and, wearing various hats, kept a career going till 2011, when his last novel appeared. By the mid-1970s, when he became a fulltime writer again (after seeing the likes of Delany’s DHALGREN and Russ’s THE FEMALE MAN into print) he was as accomplished a solo writer as Amis had taken him to be in the 1950s.

          One could seriously build an argument that Pohl was more influential in American SF than was John W. Campbell — and therefore that Pohl was the single most influential figure of 20th century American SF.

            • I am a big fan of Kingsley Amis’ fiction overall. I think THE ALTERATION is very good, one of the best alternate history novels. The rest of his SF is fine — some nice short stories (“Something Strange” possibly the best), some nice novels (ENDING UP Is good, but though it’s SF (set a couple or three decades in the future) it doesn’t really use the SF furniture in any important way; THE ANTI-DEATH LEAGUE is quite good but sort of borderline SF; RUSSIAN HIDE-AND-SEEK is less interesting; THE GREEN MAN is first rate, but it’s fantasy, not SF.) I read NEW MAPS OF HELL long ago — 1975 or so — and found it interesting but out of date.

              That interview from New Worlds is interesting, but really it’s partly just a reflection of what he admits — he’s not been keeping up — and partly a reflection of reality — Budrys, he says, hasn’t done anything — well, he had, but in short fiction that Amis missed I’m sure, and Amis also missed THE AMSIRS AND THE IRON THORN (or that had just come out maybe), but mostly Budrys was making a living, not writing; and Pohl was concentrating on editing — his major work came later. It’s pretty clear that while Amis may have underrated Kornbluth a bit, he was right about Pohl, and it was the American SF field in general that had underrated Pohl. And I understand why Pohl didn’t like the Ballard stories he mentioned much — I don’t either, to be honest — I think they were a worthwhile experiment perhaps but not nearly as good as his great early to middle ’60s stories, like “The Terminal Beach” or “The Voices of Time”.

  2. Man, the cover for Resurrection Station brings back a lot of memories. Not of the book itself (which I haven’t read) but whole style of the cover. The fonts, the pictures, the placements of it all. I miss this kind of cover today….

    • Dated doesn’t bother me. I’m reading it because it’s from when it was written and an important book in the development of SF scholarship 🙂

      The only Amis work I’ve read is the beginning of The Alteration. I quit for whatever reason.

      Have you read any of his SF? Or only his more mainstream fiction?

      • I’ve never read his sci fi, and have limited contact with his mainstream works though I’ve steered away from his best known books because of the attitudes to women I expect to encounter! But The Riverside Villas Murder and The Green Man were both very good!

        • If I read any of his SF soon, it’ll be his short story “Something Strange” (1960). SF Encyclopedia describes it as ” minor tour de force about appearance and reality and about psychological conditioning.” i.e. one of my absolute favorite thematic topics in SF.

        • It’s only really in THE RUSSIAN GIRL and STANLEY AND THE WOMEN that Amis goes full misogynist (and I would suggest skipping those!) … in the rest of his work his often misogynous “heroes” are shown to be wrong at almost every step.

          LUCKY JIM — clearly his best known work still! — is a young man’s novel, and it does engage in lazy cliche in its portrayal of the villainess (Margaret Peel, said, cruelly, to be based on Philip Larkin’s much put upon long-time lover Monica Jones(though this was written very early in any stage of Larkin and Jones’ relationship), and in its portrayal of the heroine too. It’s a very funny novel indeed, but, yeah, Amis was pretty unsubtle throughout that book.

          • Rich H: It’s only really in THE RUSSIAN GIRL and STANLEY AND THE WOMEN that Amis goes full misogynist

            What about JAKE’S THING? Its ending where the protagonist is offered a cure for his erectile dysfunction …

             Jake did a quick run-through of women in his mind, not of the ones he had known or dealt with in the past few months or years so much as all of them: their concern with the surface of things, with objects and appearances, with their surroundings and how they looked and sounded in them, with seeming to be better and to be right while getting everything wrong, their automatic assumption of the role of injured party in any clash of wills, their certainty that a view is the more credible and useful for the fact that they hold it, their use of misunderstanding and misrepresentation as weapons of debate, their selective sensitivity to tones of voice, their unawareness of the difference in themselves between sincerity and insincerity, their interest in importance (together with noticeable inability to discriminate in that sphere), their fondness for general conversation and directionless discussion, their pre-emption of the major share of feeling, their exaggerated estimate of their own plausibility, their never listening and lots of other things like that, all according to him. So it was quite easy. 'No thanks,' he said.
            

            .

            • My reading, admittedly perhaps give Amis credit that a reading of the later Stanley and the Women might disallow him, is that by that time Jake has been exposed as essentially deranged, and we are supposed to gasp at his loss of perspective, not chuckle along with him.

  3. Good stuff, none of which I want to read. Arnason’s MAMMOTHS OF THE GREAT PLAINS appealed 4-of-5 stars’-worth (https://expendablemudge.blogspot.com/2020/10/mammoths-of-great-plains-underknown.html) but princesses and aliens and the fountain of youth all make me squirm separately; together…!

    I’m sure I’ve said to you before that reading plays, like being around cats, is something the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution really does explicitly prevent others from requiring me to do. But the plays chosen are really trenchant!

    Amis, Anderson…well, enjoy ’em and if they ever result in a review I’ll read it.

  4. To the Resurrection Station is a trip, just a whole lot going on there. I didn’t love some of the writing and pacing (it feels like an early novel) but it has moments of humor and subversiveness.

  5. JB: Hello Mark, have you read Amis’ short revisit (in interview form with Disch) to New Maps of Hell?

    Here’s a link for the curious: https://archive.org/details/Impulse_v01n10_1966-12_AK/page/n27/mode/2up?q=&view=theater

    I bought that issue of IMPULSE when it came out, as it happens. However, I’ve re-read that Amis interview much more recently, too.

    So then: Kingsley Amis — like his son Martin, really — began as an ostensible literary rebel and promoter of the new (in Kingsley’s and his pal Philip Larkins’s cases, this meant American SF and jazz) and then, once established, lapsed into a lifetime posture of being a full-bore semi-reactionary. Honestly, I think because it was an easy way of continuing to be provocative once one was no longer a young firebrand.

    In the realm of jazz criticism, for instance, Amis and Larkin took to complaining about Coltrane and Charlie Parker’s tone on alto, FFS, and indeed anything after the Duke Ellington band of the 1940s. This in the mid-1960s and despite the fact that neither of them could play a note. In the jazz language of the 1950s, they consciously chose to become extremely ‘moldy figs.’

    So, to Kingsley’s comments in this ancient issue of IMPULSE —

    Yes, Amis is actually correct in what he says about Ballard: he, Amis, was too stupid to understand what Ballard was doing with his condensed novels, which were anyway a transitional move on the way to the next phase of Ballard’s career, the triptych of CRASH, HIGH RISE, and CONCRETE ISLAND. Yes, Amis is also correct when he says, “I’m sorry to sound like a wizened Tory, a reactionary dreamer about the glories of the past,” because he does sound like a wizened, reactionary Tory.

    Yes, Pohl disappeared from doing much fiction-writing in the 1960s. That’s because he became the full-time editor of three SF magazines (and see my comment above about his influence), though what he did write was strong in terms of science-fictional conceptualization c.f. THE AGE OF THE PUSSYFOOT (1965) with its cell phones that are also drug dispensers —
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Age_of_the_Pussyfoot
    –while his short story DAY MILLION (1966) might be the first fully New Wave story from an American SF writer —
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Day_Million

    Yes, Budrys did mostly disappear from SF fiction writing. He’d a wife, three kids, and a house note in Chicago to support, and went to work for PLAYBOY, then into PR. Though the little short fiction he did write during the 1960s is some of his best, and he became SF’s best critic/reviewer.

    Yes, Sheckley did get off the treadmill of producing one story every two weeks once he was selling to the slick magazines and sold the rights to THE TENTH VICTIM to the movies.

    Yes, to much of the rest of what Amis says. As far as it goes.

    Because basically he’s complaining that these various writers didn’t have the option of going off and playing the don at Cambridge or in America as he did, and did what they had to do to survive in the real world. Furthermore, one senses that he’d take this churlish posture of how they’ve not lived up to his earlier critical estimates of them whatever they’d written. And that’s because being a reactionary had simply become his preferred default posture.

    In particular, when Amis says, “Yes, I know there’s a great pressure on science fiction writers to produce, and produce, and produce. But some of these writers who have made reputations and are reasonably secure … would be well advised to turn out four books instead of five etcetera,” he was clueless.

    John Brunner, then as ‘reasonably secure’ with as ‘made a reputation’ as any SF writer, did exactly what Amis advised, took the extra time to write STAND ON ZANZIBAR, and never recovered financially. Indeed, Brunner died before his time, burned out, like Kuttner and Kornbluth. Till recently, the only SF writer who ever mastered the treadmill of producing the necessary SF verbiage and making a decent living from it and not dying was Robert Silverberg. And Silverberg did it by investing in the stock market from a very early age, so he could step away when he couldn’t stand producing SFany longer.

    None of these men had the option – as Kingsley did – of being such a hopeless alcoholic that his third wife housed him in her basement after she remarried because she took pity on him. See the relevant sections of the book, EXPERIENCE, by Amis fils, Martin.

    • Thank you for the explanation/analysis. Obviously when I read both texts I’ll be more able to engage with your comment. But yes, I completely understand how the inability to understand how science fiction authors had to operate in order to survive would have been lost on Amis and influenced his views.

      “Day Million” is wonderful — reviewed on the site. While I haven’t read a ton of Pohl’s short fiction, I have read that one.

    • I think the novel that killed Brunner’s career (and Brunner himself, one might argue) was his ambitious non-SF novel THE GREAT RIVERBOAT RACE (or whatever it was called), not the big SF novels like STAND ON ZANZIBAR.

      As for Amis’ failure to empathize with the financial issues faced by Budrys and Pohl etc., sure, but it’s more because Amis’ first novel was a bestseller and kept selling forever, and his subsequent novels were largely successes. His early academic career was a struggle, lecturing at a generally regarded as second rate university (Swansea) — and his eventual appointment to Cambridge was derided by some of his fellow dons on the ground that they were hiring a “pornographer”. As for his rather pathetic late life alcoholism, yes, it was pretty terrible, and it was nice of Hilary to take him in — but he was also the financial support of Hilary and her husband.

      That said, his critical views of latter day SF were churlish, and he seemed largely to want it to stay stuck in the 1950s. As with Jazz, to be sure. The parallels are obvious. (Ballard’s condensed novels are interesting, but in the end I don’t think they stand with either his earlier work (especially at short lengths) or with the full-length novels that followed the condensed novels.)

      I recall some sniping at Philip Larkin when his letters came out and revealed him to be an ugly racist etc. The sniping was fair — he really was kind of nasty. But a few writers took it a step further — stop reading him, they said — AND READ US INSTEAD. WE’RE NOT RACIST.

      I felt like responding “Well, maybe not (though I bet you could find some ugly stuff in the furniture of their minds) but you’re still shitty poets, and Larkin’s poetry is still great.” Similar in a way with Amis — he was an alcoholic, could be misogynist, was pretty reactionary — and he’s still one of the great comic novelists of the second half of the 20th Century.

      • Rich H: That said, his critical views of latter day SF were churlish, and he seemed largely to want it to stay stuck in the 1950s. As with Jazz, to be sure.

        I perhaps went on overlong, but that’s my beef, essentially. He was churlish and he wanted the world to stay stuck in the 1950s, and it didn’t become someone who’d had an easy ride from the time he came out the gate with his first novel.

      • Rich H: I think the novel that killed Brunner’s career (and Brunner himself, one might argue) was his ambitious non-SF novel THE GREAT RIVERBOAT RACE (or whatever it was called), not the big SF novels like STAND ON ZANZIBAR.

        You’re right. THE GREAT RIVERBOAT RACE took him five years to write and was pretty much DOA, so was when he went under. But SOZ he’d invested extra time on — like, a whole year — and didn’t make as much money as he’d have made churning out the regular product and as he’d expected it to make because it won a Hugo. So SOZ was when he first went in the hole.

        Not incidentally, I don’t know if you’re aware, but poor old Brunner and his wife got exhumed and raked over the coals again in 2007-8. Interesting stuff, covering the period before Brunner’s fall, when he had the house in Hampstead, the same district of London where Kingsley Amis lived; Brunner and Amis would have seen each other in the pubs and on the streets.

        ‘Remembering John Brunner’
        https://efanzines.com/Prolapse/Prolapse08.pdf#page=12

        ‘Running up that hill, Or, ‘Life with the Brunners’
        https://efanzines.com/Prolapse/Prolapse07.pdf#page=13

        Owning a house in Hampstead — because he’d cracked the American market back at the turn of the 1960s — would have, alongside Brunner’s unfortunate toff’s manner, been quite sufficient to arouse the resentment of Moorcock and Aldiss, as alluded to in the accounts here

        • I’ve heard stories about Brunner being widely disliked — maybe partly on merit? — but in large part for, as you put it, his “toff’s manner”. But I hadn’t seen those accounts.

          Brunner did mostly keep up his production through the ’70s — four novels in 1969, for example, but there was some decline beginning in the mid ’60s, likely caused by him working on the longer more ambitous novels. I’d have assumed that novels like STAND ON ZANZIBAR got bigger advances and maybe been better sales than say DOUBLE DOUBLE (admittedly an extreme example) — but I sure don’t know his sales figures.

          Also, as I feared, I got the title of his big historical novel wrong — it was THE GREAT STEAMBOAT RACE.

  6. I really do need to read TO THE RESURRECTION STATION, I am sure I will enjoy it.

    I also think the complaints about Elwood have long been overstated. His anthologies did NOT singlehandled kill the anthology field. That’s been analyzed and it really doesn’t add up. The anthologies themselves are uneven, but some are good, and a lot are like magazines — some dreck, some so-so stuff, and one or two good maybe great stories. Elwood himself seems to have been a bit clueless, a lot prudish, so maybe people were reacting to that. I bought several of his books back then and generally felt they were OK. And only he would do something like the anthology of SF plays.

    • Do you know where it was stated that Elwood singlehandedly killed the anthology field? I can’t help but imagine that it also went hand-in-hand with the decline of magazines in the 70s….

      • The Wikipedia article on Elwood quotes Teresa Nielsen Hayden extensively on what I would call the “Standard Elwood Narrative”. I just think that narrative took hold in the late ’70s, and began to be repeated, but was always at least a bit exaggerated.

        Martin H. Greenberg’s endless string of anthologies in the ’90s and ’00s was, in my opinion, of, in the aggregate, significantly lower quality than Elwood’s ’70s run. But people liked Greenberg (with good reason, I don’t doubt) and so he didn’t get the same blowback.

          • Yes, I suspect I was mainly remembering Jonathan’s statistical analysis.

            The Standard Elwood Narrative that I’ve talked about is repeated ad nauseum to this day, with the claim that his oversaturation of the market was a long term disaster for SF anthologies, and, as Jonathan shows, that really does not seem to be true. That’s the primary claim I wish people would drop.

            There are two more negative claims about Elwood — 1) that his business practices were dishonest — that he either deceived publishers or cheated writers. The first seems a stretch of a claim — and I’d ask if those books generally made money? Maybe? Maybe not? But if they did make money, the publishers can’t complain. And if they didn’t, well, sometimes books do lose money. The second — that he may have cheated writers — is a more serious claim, and if he did, sure, he deserves criticism.

            The second anti-Elwood claim is that his books weren’t very good. To truly evaluate that, you’d need to look closely at the contents of his anthologies. I bought a number of them in the mid-70s, and read a few more from the library. My memories — dim indeed, and based on my teenage acumen — are that they weren’t usually outstanding, but that they published the occasional good story, a lot of middle of the road stuff, and some real clunkers. They were not nearly as good as the contemporary top original anthology series — ORBIT, UNIVERSE, NEW DIMENSIONS — but then little was. They were, by and large, at least equal to say AMAZING in average quality. I was NOT — at that time — a disappointed customer. I got to read the occasional Gene Wolfe story, the occasional Pangborn, lots of Lafferty, some Malzberg, etc… and some new writers who maybe never measured up.

            I’m not making the case that they were GREAT — but their latter day reputation, I believe, is lower than they deserve. As I said, the great bulk of Martin H. Greenberg’s anthologies from the 2000s are no better, and probably worse. And Elwood did publish a few interesting projects — his collaboration with Silverberg, EPOCH, is actually quite good (and if you want to say that’s due to Silverberg, fine, but still …), and his CONTINUUM project (a series of four anthologies of connected stories) is a neat idea that worked out OK. Books like SHOWCASE, TEN TOMORROWS, and IN THE WAKE OF MAN are quite strong. (The latter published one of Gene Wolfe’s most remarkable novellas, “Tracking Song”, for example.)

  7. I’m very interested to hear what you think of the Arnason, and thanks to Rich and Mark for all the interesting details about Brunner and Amis. I could stand to read you two swap anecdotes all day!

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