Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCXCIX (Henry Kuttner, C. L. Moore, Jack Williamson, Jacob Transure, Star Anthology)

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

1. Ahead of Time, Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore (1953)

From the inside page: “A brain in a box fights a criminal plot

A visitor from the future turns out to be peculiar even for his society

An eternal hillbilly family survives the centuries and gets into political trouble

A sick electronic calculator catches a psychosis from its operator

…these are some of the highly original and vividly written stories you will find in this selection of a master’s work.

Science fiction and fantasy grow constantly in popularity. Writing of this quality and imagination is the reason. Henry Kuttner demonstrates again in his book why more and more readers are becoming devotees of that intriguing fiction which is not content to stay in the world as we see it and know it, which takes us to the farthest reaches of space and time, to the farthest reaches of the human mind.”

Contents (bold titles, according to The Internet Speculative Fiction Database, were co-written with C. L. Moore): “Or Else” (1953), “Home Is the Hunter” (1953), “By These Presents” (1953), “De Profundis” (1953), “Camouflage” (1945). “Year Day” (1953), “Ghost” (1943), “Shock” (1943), “Pile of Trouble” (1948), “Deadlock” (1942)

Initial Thoughts: I purchased this collection as Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore’s short fiction is a hole in my knowledge. I plan on featuring the spectacular “Year Day” (1953) soon in my media landscapes of the future series.

2. Twilight of the Basilisks, Jacob Transue (aka Joan Matheson) (1973)

No plot summary provided on the back cover or inside flap. Bad marketing for an unknown author! Goodreads reviews don’t provide any clear indication of the plot.

Initial Thoughts: The definition of an unknown novel. I’ve reviewed Joan Matheson’s only other SF work — the short story “This Corruptible” (1968), a creepy body horror immortality tale. If you find anything else about her novel, let me know.

3. Star Science Fiction Stories, ed. Frederik Pohl (1953)

From the back cover: “HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of readers are discovering that science fiction provides some of the best writing and most fascinating stories that are being published today. They are learning that superior science fiction writers–like those in this volume–take you by means of real characters and gripping narrative into strange and stimulating new worlds: worlds that come closer to actuality every day.

Those who have already discovered this will also welcome this book: not only because the authors represented are recognized masters in the field but because this collection is no ‘re-hash’–these are all brand-new stories, appearing here for the fist time.”

Contents: William Morrison’s “Country Doctor” (1953), C. M. Kornbluth’s “Dominoes” (1953), Lester del Rey’s “Idealist” (1953), Fritz Leiber’s “The Night He Cried” (1953), “Clifford D. Simak’s “Contraption” (1953), John Wyndham’s “The Chonoclasm” (1953), William Tenn’s “The Deserter” (1953), H. L. Gold’s “The Man with English” (1953), Judith Merril’s “So Proudly We Hail” (1953), Ray Bradbury’s “A Scent of Sarsaparilla” (1953), Isaac Asimov’s “Nobody Here But–” (1953), Robert Sheckley’s “The Last Weapon” (1953), Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore’s “A Wild Surmise” (1953), Murray Leinster’s “The Journey” (1953), Arthur C. Clarke’s “The Nine Billion Names of God” (1953)

Initial Thoughts: I loved William Tenn, Fritz Leiber, Murray Leinster (perhaps weird), etc. so I suspect this anthology will be solid. I’ve already reviewed the Merril and Sheckley and enjoyed both. Clarke’s “The Nine Billion Names of God” might have been the first science fiction short story I ever read. At the time, it bounced off me — I wonder what I’ll think now.

4. Manseed, Jack Williamson (1982)

From the inside flap: “In the beginning was Egan Drake, wanderer and unhappy visionary. The neurotic child of a wealthy family, he died early, leaving behind a powerful dream–Egan proposed to spread mankind among the stars.

Then there was Megan Drake. Talented and beautiful, she took her brother’s vision–and her uncle’s money–and made of it something real. At the Raven Foundation’s mysterious New Mexico headquarters, she gathered experts in a myriad fields. But five were of paramount importance–the department heads in astronautics, biology, computer science, defense, and fusion propulsion–for they could contribute their genes to the electromechanical wombs that each ship was to carry into space.

The project was as simple in its design as it was grandiose in its aim: perhaps a thousand tiny ships would crawl to the stars; each that landed successfully on an Earth-type planet would produce several dozen well-educated colonists; each colonists would be a product of an optimized mix of the genes derived from Megan and the department heads and edited to suit local conditions of gravity, temperature, air pressure, etc. Every ship could manufacture cyborgs for repairs and self-protection.

But much of the technology was new and untried; no one could reliably foretell what might really occur at a millennia-long journey’s end if, say, a cyborg fell in love or aliens were met or…”

Initial Thoughts: My initial thoughts are entirely formed by the hilarious cover and title pairing. The worst in SF? Hyperbolic perhaps… but it’s so bad!

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13 thoughts on “Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCXCIX (Henry Kuttner, C. L. Moore, Jack Williamson, Jacob Transure, Star Anthology)

  1. I have 2 or 3 volumes of short stories by Kuttner but not this volume, so I don’t know how many I’ll have read. The only one I’m fairly sure about is the hilbilly one about the Hogben (sp?) family. Not sure How many he wrote about them, but I’ve read two. One was about them and the common cold but this might be the other one!

  2. Don’t worry about the Hogben stories — they are essentially negligible, though you might enjoy them. On the whole I’m not really that au fait with this particularl set of Kuttner/Moore stories, though.

    Star Science Fiction Stories is of course an absolutely seminal collection for what it is — the very first book in the very first SERIES of SF original anthologies. The book itself is fine, but maybe doesn’t QUITE live up to that implied standard. Still, it has an SF Hall of Fame story (“The Nine Billion Names of God”) and plenty more fine stories. And Pohl but out a second issue of Star that same year, which yielded another SF Hall of Fame piece (“It’s a Good Life”) — he was on to something!

    It’s become really clear to me that Frederik Pohl — hardly a neglected editor — was REALLY important simply for that aspect of his career. (He was also, of course, a major SF writer, an agent, and a worthwhile essayist (and even a Fan Writer Hugo winner.)) But — as a teenager, in the early ’40s, he edited two low end SF magazines. In the ’50s he initiated the very CONCEPT of a series of original anthologies, and also published important reprint anthologies, one of which arguably rescued Cordwainer Smith’s career from the dustbin of history. In the ’60s, he edited some of the truly central magazines in SF history — Galaxy/If/Worlds of Tomorrow. In that capacity he was Cordwainer Smith’s editor of choice, he brought Robert Silverberg back to the field and encouraged him to write more ambitious work, he was the most important editor early in James Tiptree’s career, he was critical to Samuel Delany’s career if for nothing else than publishing “The Star Pit”, one of the great SF novellas of all time; and in the ’70s he spent time at Ace, and then Bantam — and at Bantam he championed Delany’s DHALGREN despite his bosses’ skepticism. (DHALGREN, of course, became a big hit for Bantam and made them tons of money.) Then he stopped editing and just wrote stuff like GATEWAY and MAN PLUS and all.

    I know nothing about Matheson/”Transue”, alas, and my experience with later Williamson has been, er, the kindest thing to say would be “uneven”. But he was a damn good writer for a man in his late ’90s, I’ll say, once he got that old!

    • I did not realize the Star anthologies were the first original anthologies… Fascinating! Thanks for letting me know. As I mentioned, I read “The Nine Billion Names of God” — it might have been the first SF short story I ever read — and remember it bouncing off me (in my teens). Not sure what I’d think now!

      What do you know about William Morrison? SF encyclopedia claims “Country Doctor” (in the anthology) is one of his best. And, if I’m remembering the entry correctly, Pohl called him one of the great forgotten SF authors in short form.

      Ah yes, “Star Pit.” I don’t remember much about that one other than a vague impression that it was worth my time. I read all the stories in Driftglass a while back but never reviewed it. Aye, and Gomorrah … (1967) stuck in my mind the firmest (which shouldn’t be surprising considering it inspired my astronaut series). Delany is 100% someone whose short fiction I should return to. I’ve read many of his early novels but Dhalgren — Empire, Nova, Triton, Babel-17, Ballad of Beta-2 etc. and remember them well.

      It’s strange thinking Dhalgren became a hit…

  3. “Aye and Gomorrah” is a great story, and so is “Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones”, and I have a sneaking fondness for the more obscure “High Weir”, but “The Star Pit” is my favorite short fiction by Delany.

    I don’t know Morrison that well. Real name Joseph Samachson. The only stories I recall offhand are “Country Doctor” and “The Model of a Judge”. Good, I thought, but maybe not to the level Pohl seems to suggest. His SF career stretched only from 1941 to 1958. Mostly short fiction but he did have two novels, each in the neighborhood of 50,000 words and only published in single issues of a pulp. Maybe I’ll try one of those!

  4. I’ve read quite a bit of Kuttner and Moore and the Kuttner/Moore collaborations. You never knew which stories under the Kuttner byline included contributions by Moore although they did use the Lewis Padgett name for many of their collaborations. I got hooked when I read “Vintage Season” but unfortunately there wasn’t a lot of their work that rose to that level. I did read the Ahead of Time collection about 4 years ago but i don’t remember much about the stories. I always thought that he/she/them were among the better SF short story writers of the time.

    • Other than Moore’s stand-alone novels (Doomsday Morning in particular), they’re a hole in my knowledge. I’ll have a review of “Year Day” — written by Kuttner alone — from Ahead in Time up in the next week or so (I hope) for my SF media short story review series.

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