Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CCCI (Angela Carter, Keith Roberts, J. L. Hensley, and a Leo Margulies Anthology)

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

1. Heroes & Villains, Angela Carter (1969)

From the back cover: “The Barbarians had attacked the village, looting and burning. And when they left, Marianne, a daughter of the scientists, went with them. Now she followed Jewel, leader of the barbarians, and lived with him as his captured bride…”

Initial Thoughts: A few years ago I read, and was blown away, by Angela Carter’s The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (1972). I placed it on my best reads of 2016 list but never managed to write a review. Inspired by the novel, I wrote an article derived from a fascinating 1979 interview on Angela Carter’s views on science fiction–including her inspirations and the state of the British SF scene, Michael Moorcock’s prodigious production and New Worlds editorship, and the unescapable influence of J. G. Ballard.

Pringle placed Heroes & Villains (1969) on his 100 Best Science Fiction Novels (1949-1984) list.

2. Molly Zero, Keith Roberts (1980)

From the back cover: “Raised, tested, trained and indoctrinated in the Blocks, Molly Zero is being groomed for the governing Elite.

Rebelling against her fate, she flees. An innocent searching for truth, Molly finds the world outside the Blocks alien and frightening. Her flight plunges her first into the heart of a small community. Next, attracted by their eccentric gaiety, she joins the travelling gypsies, roaming the country in Commercial Air Cushion Vehicles. And then Molly gets caught up in urban terrorism…”

Initial Thoughts: I’m annoyed that a large CHUNK of the cover is missing from my copy (see above scan)! Was not described as such in the online listing….

In 2015, I reviewed the 1977 novella that Keith Roberts later expanded into the novel. I wrote the following: “4.25/5 (Good): ‘Molly Zero’ is an evocative and well-written vision of a totalitarian future where the army has taken over the UK.  The plot is nothing new but the delivery elevates the experience.  Molly Zero, a resilient and intelligent young woman, is an immensely appealing character—subjected along with her crèche mates to systematic brainwashing—whose small pleasures as she grows up and terrible pains truly moved me.  Roberts paints childhood in convincing strokes—only a child in a totalitarian future where movement is controlled, knowledge regulated, would be desperate to know “if there are Scandinavians” (18).

Molly Zero and her crèche are groomed for an unknown reason.  Machines watch constantly: “She’s asleep.  Something hears you though; a little machine that stores the whisper, magically, a silly little wheel.  The wheel spins, trembles, settles down again to its steady, unseen rhythm” (21).  She falls in love with a fellow young woman named Liz.  But they are being guided from a distance: “I’ve told you before.  You must try not to identify.  After all they’re not people yet” (35).  Sadness and despair abound.  And perhaps the brainwashing succeeded.

In 1980 Keith Roberts published a novelization of this novella under the same name.  I am intrigued but knowing the outcome of the open-ended conclusion might diminish the power of the work.”

3. The Black Roads, J. L. Hensley (1976)

From the back cover: “Sam Church is a trained killer, a member of the infamous Red Roadmen organization. In the bizarre world of this future America, the Roadmen’s word is law; to incur their displeasure is death. But Sam Church refuses to kill and is imprisoned and tortured by his peers for his nonconformity. H escapes and, in a terrifying race across the continent, clashes with the Roadmen in a running duel that can only end in death–his own or that of the system of tyranny that reigns on The Black Roads.”

Initial Thoughts: An unknown author and book… I’ve long known about the generally low quality of Roger Elwood’s Laser Books imprint and sketchy editorial practices. See the SF Encyclopedia entry on the imprint. Regardless, K. W. Jeter’s Laser Books volume Seeklight (1975) was an okay first novel.

4. Three Times Infinity, Leo Margulies (1958)

From the back cover: IN THE FAR REACHES OF INFINITY, on the exotic planets of the galazy, man explores the perils of the unknown, the TERRORS OF OUTER SPACE!

I. He was pitted against the intrigue and beauty of a woman from another planet, a woman with strange powers and even stranger ways.


by Ray Bradbury and Leigh Brackett

II. They were a small band of colonizers on a strange and eerie planet–helpless before the machine that turned time back.


by Theodore Sturgeon

III. They left Earth without authorization and flew farther than any man had before. Then the ship began to flounder and one by one they realized they might never return.


by Robert A. Heinlein”

Initial Thoughts: Classic authors that are known to most and a classic assortment of stories (none of which I’ve read). I did not realize that Leigh Brackett co-wrote anything with Ray Bradbury…

For book reviews consult the INDEX

For cover art posts consult the INDEX

For TV and film reviews consult the INDEX

26 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CCCI (Angela Carter, Keith Roberts, J. L. Hensley, and a Leo Margulies Anthology)

  1. Looking forward to the Molly Zero review. Theoretically I have Three Times Infinity — though I haven’t located it yet in the many boxes of books after a recent move. Interested in The Black Roads, but it sounds like it could go either way in terms of quality.

    Tim Powers first published with Laser Books — a couple of not bad sf novels.

    • Good good!

      That said, as I’ve already read the “Molly Zero” novella that he expanded, I don’t know if I’m going to get to the novel any time soon. He is a favorite of mine so I thought I’d acquire more of his work. Did you see my recent Keith Roberts collection review: https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2022/06/08/book-review-the-grain-kings-keith-roberts-1976/

      The two Tim Powers novels are listed among the “interesting” Laser Books publications on SF Encyclopedia — despite the press’ restrictions that curtailed a lot of visions. I get the impression that Jeter (also included in the list and reviewed on my site) was desperate for any novel to be printed (I assume you know about his struggle to get Dr. Adder (1984) published? It was written a decade earlier) — hence why he agreed to the Laser Press edition.

      • I did see The Grain Kings review. Roberts is an interesting author.

        Tim Powers has explained how he and his associates Jeter and Blaylock were all commissioned (by Elwood, I think) to do installments in a time travel series with King Arthur. The project was cancelled, but the novels were reworked and published. They include Powers’ The Drawing of the Dark.

      • I would not hasten to MOLLY ZERO. I too was quite taken by the novella but found the novel version added little of interest and he should have left the novella alone. The novel read like something Roberts felt obliged to do for commercial reasons.

        • Did it mark his return to major presses? I thought he had a period of time when he was convinced that the major publishers were out to get him… but I don’t know when exactly that period was.

          • No. MOLLY ZERO (1980) was published by Gollancz, as were KITEWORLD (1985) and the collection THE LORDLY ONES (1986). His previous books were published by Gollancz, Hutchinson, and Rupert Hart-Davies, pretty major to my knowledge, Kerosina Books, his venture into self-publishing, appears to have started in 1987, per the bibliography in his SF ENCYCLOPEDIA entry.

            • I’m referencing his obituary. This is what it says.

              “Roberts himself seemed unable to form steady relationships, professional or personal. Unmarried, and living alone in a rented flat, for years he refused to deal with major publishers, accusing them of creative accounting over the royalties of his early books. Even when he dealt with small-press publishers, the relationship would often sour, their quality not helped by Roberts’s sudden mood swings and self-destructive tendencies.”


              Maybe it was only a few year period between some of his novels etc. As it seems to be after his first novels and there was a gab between them and Molly Zero, I assumed the tiff might have been at that point. But it easily could have been after those 80s visions as well. I don’t know. It was more an extrapolation on the passage in the Guardian. And, of course, I’d like to know more.

            • Responding to my own post rather than yours below since there’s no Reply link at the end of the latter:

              You can presumably know more, for limited values of “know,” by reading his fictionalized memoir LEMADY, mentioned in the obituary, though I confess I had a hard time paying attention to it since it was hard to know how fictionalized, and about what, it was.

  2. “Heroes and Villains” is an excellent novel, as you might remember me telling you. I read it because of David Pringle book. I preferred it to the one you read, “The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr Hoffman”, although even that one was very good.

  3. I remember buying and reading THREE TIMES INFINITY way back in the sixties. I was a big fan of Bradbury, Sturgeon and Heinlein. I can still remember being shocked at what seemed even then the cheesy pulpishness of the Bradbury- Brackett story. Nothing about it seemed remotely like his writing. I’d still be curious as to how it came about.

    • I have avoided a lot of Brackett’s pulpier SF. I am a fan of her post-apocalyptic novel The Long Tomorrow (1955) and thought The Big Jump (1955) was solid.

      Heinlein and Bradbury were definitely authors of my late teens — working through my dad’s shelf of SF. I’ve returned a bit to Bradbury as I reviewed his lovely “The Pedestrian” (1951) for my media in SF series. Heinlein, well, he’s really not for me….

    • Brackett started “Lorelei of the Red Mist” and left it for Bradbury to finish when she was summoned by Howard Hawks to script THE BIG SLEEP, according to Jonathan Eller’s BECOMING RAY BRADBURY (p. 69 of U of Illinois hardcover).

  4. It goes without saying that anything by Carter is worth a look.

    Molly Zero is a Keith Roberts book I need to get to — in general I find him pretty impressive.

    I enjoyed a few of the Laser Books I read … the Jeter, the two Powers books, Pournelle’s two. Yes, Elwood’s Harlequin-like restrictions (Harlequin use to have rules for its romance lines as to which page should have the first kiss (or, later, first sex; plus restrictions on certain language, so that in one example I read the hero caressed the heroines naked fanny … even as they were, er, making love — it just sounded weird) meant that greatness was out of reach, but competent entertainment was possible. It’s my feeling though — and I was VERY selective in the Lasers I bought — that the ratio of competent entertainment to outright duds was sadly low.

    Finally, John has mentioned the provenance of the Bradbury/Brackett collaboration. It’s a story that has retained a certain reputation due to the intriguing pair of authors, but I think it’s less good than one might have hoped, and probably would have been better had Brackett finished it. The Sturgeon is good but not great — for me, a mild disappointment. I have never read “Destination Moon”, nor seen the movie — it’s always seemed historically importan, but likely very dull.

    • I think I have one of Powers books. You enjoyed something by Pournelle?

      I tried to watch “Destination Moon.” I call “Destination Boredom.” I suspect the Heinlein story is far better (even if he’s not my cup of tea).

    • I haven’t read it. I read the original novella and linked it above. The thing with having 1k unread SF novels so when I get to things I post could be never… haha. I am a reader of whim. And my whim is in other places right now.

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