Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCXCVIII (Harlan Ellison, Edward Bryant, Murray Constantine, Sayko Komatsu, and an automobile-themed anthology)

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

1. Car Sinister, ed. Robert Silverberg, Martin Harry Greenberg, and Joseph D. Olander (1979)

From the back cover: “MAN AND HIS MACHINE. The car is man’s most personalized machine; for teenagers it is a rite of passage and a statement of freedom; for adults it is a reflection of success, taste, and hopes; and for an entire culture it is a great and industrious mode of transportation–driving, perhaps, on the road of destruction. And the automobile–thrilling, honking, speeding, nerve-shattering–haunts us with the dark possibility that when our age of motoring innocence is over, we may no longer be the masters… CAR SINISTER–a splendid, imaginative vision of what lies down the road for all of us.”

Contents: Roger Zelazny’s “Devil Car” (1965), Josef Nesvadba’s “Vampires Ltd.” (1962, trans. 1964), Leonard Tushnet’s “A Plague of Cars” (1971), Roger Zelazny’s “Auto-da-Fé” (1967), Bill Earls’ “Traffic Problem” (1970), Kenneth Bulmer’s “Station HR972” (1967), H. Chandler Elliott’s “A Day on Death Highway” (1963), Harry Harrison’s “The Greatest Car in the World” (1966), Avram Davidson’s “The Roads, the Roads, the Beautiful Roads” (1969), George R. R. Martin’s “The Exit to San Breta” (1972), Gene Wolfe’s “Car Sinister” (1970), R. A. Lafferty’s “Interurban Queen” (1970), Leonard Tushnet’s “Waves of Entropy” (1974), Frank Herbert’s “The Mary Celeste Move” (1964), Fritz Leiber’s “X Marks the Pedwalk” (1963), Robert Thurston’s “Wheels” (1971), Barry N. Malzberg’s “Sedan Deville” (1974), Robert F. Young’s “Romance in a twenty-First Century Used-Car Lot” (1960), Frank M. Robinson’s “‘East Wind, West Wind'” (1972), Harlan Ellison’s “Along the Scenic Route” (1969)

Initial Thoughts: I’ve never cared for the act of driving or the car as desirable object (as long as it works I’m good!). Similar to my views on sports and science fiction, the automobile as an American obsession with all its symbolic connotations of youth and freedom yet simultaneously an instrument of destruction (pollution, destruction of neighborhoods for highway systems, etc.) fascinates. I’ve waited for at least three years for the price of this collection to drop below $20. I plan on reading it soon!

2. Swastika Night, Murray Constantine (Katharine Burdekin) (1937)

From the back cover: “Seven hundred years after Nazism achieved power, Hitler is worshipped as god. The fascist Germans and Japanese struggle to maintain their populations. An Englishman named Alfred is on a German pilgrimage. According to official history, Hitler is a tall, blond god who personally won the war. Alfred is astounded when when shown a photograph of Hitler before a crowd. He is shocked that Hitler was a small man with dark hair and a paunch. And Alfred’s discovery may mean his death…”

Initial Thoughts: I struggle to read SF written before WWII. But Katharine Burdekin’s dystopia (written in the early stages of the Nazi rise to power) is described as the “first Hitler wins tale of any significance” by SF Encyclopedia with prevalent feminist arguments. Count me intrigued! Check out the SF Encyclopedia entry for more details about the novel — I don’t want to spoil the plot here.

3. Phoenix Without Ashes, Edward Bryant and Harlan Ellison (1975)

From the back cover: “THE STARLOST 2785 A.D. They had banished Devon from the world of Cypress Corners because he dared to challenge the Elders. And when he defied them again, they hunted him like an animal.

Then Devon stumbled on a secret passage in the hills. His whole life changed in that moment. For Devon had accidentally discovered the giant ark that was ferrying not only Cypress Corners but the other Earth cultures to another planet.

What Devon did not know was that there ad been a terrible accident aboard the spaceship. The gear had been damaged, the crew dead. And the ark and all its worlds were now headed straight for destruction…”

Initial Thoughts: This generation ship story is a novelization of the script–published later in Jack Dann and George Zebrowski’s anthology Faster Than Light (1976) (which I also own)–for the pilot episode of the failed (for good reason) TV series The Starlost (1973-1974). If you don’t know about the drama surrounding Harlan Ellison’s show, check out Wikipedia and the introduction to the novelization.

4. Virus: The Day of Resurrection, Sakyo Komatsu (小松左京) (1964, trans. by Daniel Huddleston 2012)

From the inside flap: “In this classic of Japanese SF from 1964, American astronauts on a space mission discover a strange virus and bring it to Earth, where rogue scientists transform it into a fatal version of the flu. At first, life continues as normal. A celebrity dies in a car accident, nuclear disarmament talks proceed apace, and then a disease hits poultry stocks worldwide, leading to an egg shortage just as demand for a new influenza vaccine–which requires eggs for its production–spikes.

Soon, even vaccinated individuals simply begin to die of heart attacks. Governments the world over hoard their information about the flu, so by the time the secret within the secret is understood, it is too late. Infrastructure collapses, a US general goes rogue, and nearly all human life on Earth is wiped out over the course of a few months.

Soon, there are fewer than ten thousand men and handful of women living in international research stations in Antarctica. For years they struggle to recreate society with their limited resources. Then one of the researchers realizes that an imminent major earthquake in the now-depopulated United States may lead to nuclear Armageddon…”

Initial Thoughts: I recently acquired Sakyo Komatsu’s Japan Sinks! (1973, trans. by Michael Gallagher, 1976) and thought I’d procure the only other one of his novels that exists in English translation. I know little about his work.


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20 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCXCVIII (Harlan Ellison, Edward Bryant, Murray Constantine, Sayko Komatsu, and an automobile-themed anthology)

  1. CAR SINISTER was a Yule gift to me from my mother the first one I spent away from her. I had no memory of its existence until I saw that cover!
    Don’t want to say anything about Murray Constantine’s actual book except that if one put 45’s name in place of Hitler’s….

  2. Maybe this isn’t a popular opinion, but the first episode of The Starlost is not bad. It certainly manages to evoke the best aspects of the gen ship fable. And it even works as a stand alone fable worth consuming. The rest of the series though is simply dog shit.

  3. I still own a copy of Car Sinister and read it all a couple times back in 79/80 or so. A few years ago I pulled it out and re-read a few of the stories. I had re-read the Lafferty somewhere more recently and enjoyed it, so I skipped it but I did read and enjoy the Leiber, the Wolfe, the George RR Martin One of his earliest, iirc) and the William Earls story. All quite different and all fairly short, which helped I think, because the premises they were founded on didn’t really bear much thinking about! Don’t recall why I only read those 4, I guess a novel I was keener on came along and distracted me!

  4. Arguably the best thing to come out of STARLOST was Ben Bova’s satirical account of the production of a TV series with let’s just say a SLIGHT resemblance to STARLOST — THE STARCROSSED. It’s pretty clear from that that Bova’s experience on the production team of STARLOST was, er, less than positive.

    I read PHOENIX WITHOUT ASHES when it came out. A minor work by any measure, though not awful. And perfectly worth including in your Generation ship review series.

    I’m not a big fan of car-related SF, but there seem to be some good stories in CAR SINISTER, and it least it doesn’t include Robert F. Young’s thoroughly dreadful “The Quest of the Holy Grille”. Which isn’t to say that “Romance in a Used-Car Lot” is any better — I don’t know, not having read it. But it could hardly be worse.

    I have a feeling SWASTIKA NIGHT is a worthy piece of fiction but it’s one of those things that looks so scary to me I just don’t want to read it.

    • I’m intrigued by the idea of Ben Bova writing a satire. My general (perhaps misguided) assumption was that most of his SF was straight-laced. I’ll investigate.

      Yeah, I think that this point I’ll be able to read every generation ship story published in the decades I’m interested in. I might as well acquire the few I’m missing!

      i think my interest in car-related SF is more related to my interest on the impact of suburbia on the American psyche. And the idea that the suburb could be liberating (a yard!) but simultaneously cut you off from the multi-racial urban communities (and strand housewives at home). And of course, the car becomes a vehicle (no pun intended) for youthful rebellion — thus, it’s intersection with Americana intrigues me.

      As I mentioned to Expendable Mudge above, “Yeah, it looks like one of those novels that will be good but I wonder if I can gather the mental strength to read it — felt the same about After the Flood” which I recently reviewed and adored.

  5. Good haul! I enjoyed Car Sinister many years ago when it came out. (Evidently an appreciating asset in my library at $20 a copy.) Looking back, I think Ellison’s “Along the Scenic Route” and Chandler Elliott’s “A Day on Death Highway” are the most memorable. Elliott’s strikes me as part of that 1950s and 1960s sf subgenre of “a day at work” stories set in some hellish future.

    I’ve seen the movie adaptation of Virus and have read a few stories by Komatsu. “Take Your Chance”, not-exactly-sf tale, I found his best so far.

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