My 300th purchase post!
Which books/covers/authors intrigue you? Which have you read? Disliked? Enjoyed?
Preliminary Note: As I’m currently on vacation, the images in this post are photographs of my volumes rather than my normal hi-res scans. I’ll replace them when I get home.
1. Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (1969)
From the inside page: “TAKE A TRIP WITH BILLY PILGRIM
-To the cellar of a slaughterhouse in Dresden, a city about to be destroyed by the greatest man-made catastrophe of all time.
-To happy marriage and mating with the sweet and willing daughter of one of the finest citizens of Illium, New York.
-To a luxurious zoo on the planet Tralfamadore for the public exhibition of lovemaking with the famous Earthling blue-moviestar, Montana Wildhack.
All in an amazing novel that could only have been written by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., a writer whose wildest flights take you straight to the hear and now.“
Initial Thoughts: I read and enjoyed (I think) Slaughterhouse-Five as a teen (not sure exactly when I read it). As I couldn’t find my original copy, I bought one at a used bookstore on my travels for $1 and might as well read it again. I remember Cat’s Cradle far more clearly.
2. The Void Captain’s Tale, Norman Spinrad (1982)*
From the back cover: “Void Captain Genro Kane Gupta is truly the master of his craft. Through the pleasure rooms of the Dragon Zephyr, he moves with haute authority, the object of every woman’s desire. But the good captain hides a secret. In the depths of the ship he has begun an affair d’armoir with a woman he never should have met. Now Genro, swashbuckler of the Void, is about to plunge his passengers and crew into a nightmarish tragi-comedy in limitless space. The Void Captain’s libido and a woman’s transcendent appetite are short-circuiting the ship directly into the Great and Only–to the ultimate calamity, or the ultimate bliss!”
Initial Thoughts: First a note about publication date. According to The Internet Speculative Fiction Database, Spinrad’s novel was first published in France in 1982 and the US in 1983. I’m a huge fan of Spinrad but haven’t returned to his SF in years. I need to rectify that.
3. So Close to Home, James Blish (1961)
From the back cover: “JAMES BLISH author of Hugo Award winning A Case of Conscious, has selected a group of his own stories about futures that may be just around the next corner. To these he has added a brand new story, “The Abattoir Effect,” which has never appeared anywhere else before.
With customary, but still astonishing attention to ingenious detail, Blish leads one through a series of lively and entertaining stories which could become fact–as indeed have so many stories which, not so long ago, were considered wild flights of imagination.
Most of the world doesn’t pretend to understand the technological developments of the past twenty or thirty years. But all people can understand the effects of these advances before it is Joe Doaks who lives with them–or dies because of them. And so it is with effects that James Blish is most concerned, the immediate, urgent and often very personal results involved for people who can’t tell a fission from a fusion. But who still know a good story when they read one.”
Contents: “Struggle in the Womb” (1950), “Sponge Dive” (1956), “One-Shot” (1955), “The Box” (1949), “First Strike” (1953), “The Abattoir Effect” (1961), “The Oath” (1960), “F Y I” (1953), “The Masks” (1959), “Testament of Andros” (1953)
Initial Thoughts: In the early years of my site I reviewed quite a bit of Blish (check out my review INDEX) and read others such as A Case of Conscience (1958). As with Spinrad, he’s not an author I’ve read much as of late.
4. Wind Child, R. M. Meluch (1982)
From the back cover: “BORN OF WIND AND WOMAN.
Daniel East’s mother was dead. Laure Lafayette-Remington East, the only person who had ever been able to speak with the Kistraalians, the wind beings who’d called Aeolis their home long before humans transformed it into a paradise planet for the very wealthy. Alive, Laure could have warned the winds about the human weapon that could threaten their very existence. Now Daniel alone remained to carry his mother’s message of survival. But to accomplish his mission Daniel had to learn how to communicate with the winds. And in the learning, he discovered a ten-thousand-year-old secret that sent him rocketing across the galaxy in search of a living legend which could herald the beginning of a new age or the final extinction of an entire race… WIND CHILD.”
Initial Thoughts: Oops, this is the second book in R. M. Meluch’s Wind duology! I need the first. I got seduced by the Paul Alexander cover (that’ll look even snazzier with a hi-res scan when I return home). I doubt the novel has much merit.
For cover art posts consult the INDEX
For book reviews consult the INDEX
For TV and film reviews consult the INDEX
31 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCC (James Blish, Norman Spinrad, R. M. Meluch, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.)”
The only one of these I’ve read is Slaughterhouse-Five. I’ve read and enjoyed it several times, but in recent years I’ve started to wonder if the whole business about Billy Pilgrim’s being kidnapped by ETs and put on display in a zoo isn’t a figment of his imagination, brought on by his reading so much science fiction. (This is hinted at near the end of the book when Pilgrim, browsing in a bookstore, comes across a book by Kilgore Trout with a plot very similar to Pilgrim’s own Tralfamadore adventures.
My impression (from what little I remember and read about it since) is that he’s suffering from PTSD — so yeah, I assume some of the “voyaging” isn’t “real” in the physical sense.
Sort of like the time-traveling in John A. Williams’ Captain Blackman (1972). The main character is a black Vietnam War soldier on a hospital bed flitting back in time to the experiences of a lineage of black soldiers betrayed by the United States (and into a cataclysmic future war): https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2021/05/16/short-book-reviews-john-wyndhams-the-chrysalids-variant-title-re-birth-1955-john-a-williams-captain-blackman-1972-and-gina-berriaults-the-descent-1960/#more-22851
Many thanks for all these reviews, Joachim, and for letting us know about Captain Blackman, which I hadn’t heard of.
No problem. While I don’t think I have the chops, I can’t help but imagine a solid book chapter on black speculative fiction takes on time travel and race history in the US that would center on Octavia Butler’s Kindred (1979) and John A. Williams’ Captain Blackman (1972).
I had read some Vonnegut when i was younger. The first Vonnegut book i read was the Sirens of Titan when was about 14 or 15 and it was by pure chance. My mother used to pick up bundles of used paperbacks as we were not that well off financially. She would then pass on any SF to me since she didn’t like it. I thought it was something unique and different and really liked it although ‘m sure i didn’t pick up on the nuances and deeper meanings at the time. Later on, in my mid 20’s I read Slaughterhouse Five and was truly impressed but being young and busy with other things on my mind (mainly chasing and occasionally catching women) I didn’t actively look for more Vonnegut. When i changed jobs in 1979 (age 32) and met some new SF reading friends who were Vonnegut fans that I started reading everything i could find. One of those friends kept his favorite Vonnegut quote (and mine) on his Facebook page.
“I was a victim of a series of accidents, as are we all.” As spoken by Unk in The Sirens of Titan. I always felt that the Sirens of Titan and Slaughterhouse Five were the most science fictional of his books and with a unique take on big SF ideas. I re-read Slaughterhouse Five about 5 years ago and still look at it as events that actually happened in a SF sense and never felt that any of it was in his mind. I’m 75 now and I think the original quote “I was a victim of a series of accidents” should be followed by “and so it goes”.
Regarding the comment by “jimd77777” on Slaughterhouse-Five: re-reading the novel over the years, I think Billy Pilgrim’s time-travel (being “unstuck in time) may be real, but his adventures involving the Tralfamadorians–and also his vision of his own future in which he becomes famous and is assassinated by Paul Lazarro–are figments of his imagination. His vision of his own death seems to me one that would occur only to a science fiction reader.
I think I may have to read it again with these different interpretations in mind !!
“Slaughterhouse Five” is one of five Vonnegut novels I’ve read, and one short story. I think that what happens to Billy Pilgrim is in his imagination, but there should be a meaningful reason for it in the context of the novel. His time traveling talent is real though. His later novel “Galapagos”, is quite good.
The only SF of Spinrad’s I’ve read, is two short stories. They didn’t leave much impression on me, which is probably why I haven’t read any of his novels, although the one in “Dangerous Visions”, wasn’t bad.
There’s no way The Iron Dream wouldn’t leave an impression on you — that’s for sure! https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2013/05/18/book-review-the-iron-dream-norman-spinrad-1972/
Or the stories in The Last Hurrah of the Golden Horde (1970)
But yes, I read but never reviewed Agent of Chaos (1967) and it has completely slipped from memory.
What older SF have you been reading recently? I’ve been reviewing some gems and haven’t seen you around.
I found The Void Captain’s Tale pretty heavy going when it came out – iirc the characters all speak a future argot with words and phrases from several languages which sometimes halted me in my tracks as I worked out what they were saying. I still have my copy and do intend to re-read it eventually, Or at least try. Never even attempted the sequel.
Sounds intriguing! As I’m a big fan of his work (so far), I’ll probably (I hope) get to this one soon. Or at least some Spinrad short fiction.
I’ve read your Spinrad reviews. Well, I’ve reread the second, third and fourth volumes of Gene Wolfe’s “Book of the New Sun”. I reread the first volume, “Shadow of the Torturer” three years ago, so I had wanted to finish the entire book, and also because I’m following a channel on UTube where somebody is doing an excellent project on his book.
Yes, you have, but I haven’t known what to say. I liked most of them though.
I’ll get to Wolfe’s larger novels eventually. Not feeling it at the moment (I’m a reader of whim!).
Which youtube channel? I must confess, I rather read reviews and articles on science fiction topics than watch videos or podcasts. Although I have agreed to do a podcast episode on a book I recently reviewed — we’ll see if it comes about.
They take some stamina, but they’re well worth it in the end. Did you read “The Fifth Head of Cerberus”?
That’s Media Death Cult, hosted by somebody who calls himself Moid Modelhoff. He reviews mostly SF books, and takes his task seriously and enjoys it.
I’d like to hear you do a podcast, I like Evan Lampe’s ones.
Re-the potential podcast: Thank you. We shall see if it happens.
Nope. Never got to The Fifth Head. Again, I will eventually. I thoroughly enjoy the path that I have ended up reading and reviewing — including some lesser known gems like Jersild’s After the Flood (1982).
I see. Good, you might prefer to read it before starting the first part of Wolfe’s great tome, I don’t know. It’s excellent though. Jersild’s novel sounds really good, it’s one I hope to go for soon, I’d like to see how it compares to other post catastrophe novels such as those by Philip K. Dick, Anna Kavan, J.G. Ballard and Angela Carter.
If feels quite different from those authors. If you’ve seen any Scandinavian noir TV shows, it has a similar cold bleakness related to the Swedish coastal geography (location rarely features heavily in those authors).
I have that same edition of “So Close To Home”. The only story I remember liking from it is “The Box”, a class sf puzzle story. “Testament of Andros” has been anthologized a lot, but its charms pass me by. Enjoy!
I look forward to reading it. I’m in a 50s short fiction sort of mood as of late.
Any favorite Blish works?
I found SO CLOSE TO HOME pretty lackluster except for the two stories named by Uncle B. You would do much better with his earlier collection GALACTIC CLUSTER (Signet 1959), which is a superior selection of his ’50s work (an opinion buttressed by the fact that when various selections of “The Best of James Blish” started to appear, their contents tracked GALACTIC CLUSTER’s much more closely than those of SO CLOSE TO HOME.) Much of his best ’50s work appeared in neither book but was incorporated into EARTHMAN, COME HOME and YEAR 2018! a/k/a THEY SHALL HAVE STARS, and into THE SEEDLING STARS.
This is an instance where I’ve read and reviewed everything you mentioned already on the site.
My Galactic Cluster (1959) review (I was in my early 20s when I started my site and this is one of my earliest reviews so keep that in mind): https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2010/06/22/book-review-galactic-cluster-james-blish-1959-collected-short-stories-from-1953-59/
You can find my reviews of Earthman Come Home, They Shall Have Stars, and The Seedling Stars here:
I reviewed the collection — posted yesterday! I was charmed by “Testament” I must confess 🙂 https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2022/12/22/book-review-so-close-to-home-james-blish-1961/
Hey Dr B. Meluch? Nevahoydova. LOVE that illo, though, so totally get that it seduced you. Have a lovely rest-of-vacation!
Yeah, R. [Rebecca] M. Meluch isn’t that well known. Although she’s steadily published various SF series. 13 novels since the late 70s and a handful of short stories.
I have some of her books in the shop; a 2016 revised/expanded version of 1985’s Jerusalem Fire (I guess you might eventually read the original), and a couple of others in her series where Rome never fell and now have a space empire to rival the one the US has! See what you’re missing by not reading more current SF! 😉
Haha. I suspect there’s plenty of good stuff now… no clue why people want to rewrite earlier books. This also goes for some of my favorite authors like Michael Bishop.
I haven’t read any Norma Spinrad but the first author who jumped into my head when I read that title and the idea of The Second Starfaring Age was Cordwainer Smith. But looking at other reviews I realize it is just those particular uses of language that made the association since sex wasn’t a big part of Smith’s work.
Maybe start with his short fiction? He’s very New Wave… and I know we’ve discussed your general views of it. https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2014/09/28/book-review-the-last-hurrah-of-the-golden-horde-norman-spinrad-1970/
It was the specific phrases that caught my attention. I’m a huge Cordwainer Smith fan and I love his use of language. Any similarities between Spinrad and Smith probably end with those phrases. But that’s a good idea to start with a collection of short stories to see if I like him.
I’m with John B. on the Blish collection except I remember kind of hating “The Box”. (“Testament of Andros” is good though.) But it’s a really weak collection from an excellent writer. I have only the vaguest memories of rather liking THE VOID CAPTAIN’S TALE, but apparently not liking it enough to remember any of it! SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE is very good but I like CAT’S CRADLE more.
And of Meluch I know almost nothing.
I, too, remember preferring Cat’s Cradle over Slaughterhouse-Five when I read it in my early 20s or late teens. That said, I remember little about them.