Updates: Recent Science Fiction and Fantasy Purchases No. CCCII (C. L. Moore, Marc Laidlaw, Fredric Brown, Mack Reynolds)

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

1. Dad’s Nuke, Marc Laidlaw (1986)

From the back cover: “BARBECUE THE NEIGHBOURS. In post-collapse suburban America, keeping up with the Joneses has got a little out of hand. Fallout shelters used to be the ultimate status symbol–until Mr. Johnson had his baby daughter’s digestive system adapted to consume radioactive waste.

Now Jock Smith has the edge on his neighbours–he has installed his very own tactical nuclear missile in the back yard.

After all, these are dangerous times..”

Initial Thoughts: I’ve not read anything by Marc Laidlaw. According to SF Encyclopedia, Dad’s Nuke “is a Satire of suburban life and Christian fundamentalism set in a Near-Future community, effectively a Keep sealed off from the rest of the disintegrating America; ritual technological fixes for anxiety include having a personal nuclear power plant and a baby adapted to recycle the wastes into her lead-lined diapers.” As an unabashed fan of satires of suburban life and nuclear catastrophe, count me intrigued!

2. Martians, Go Home, Fredric Brown (1955)

From the back cover: “IN THIS INGENIOUS TALE of the invasion of earth by a billion Martians, Fred Brown, author WHAT MAD UNIVERSE, again creates a brilliant, weirdly imaginative science fiction world.”

Initial Thoughts: As I’ve only read Fredric Brown’s solid The Light in the Sky Are Stars (1953), I’m eager to get a better grasp on his work.

3. Jirel of Joiry, C. L. Moore (1969)

From the back cover: “Castle Joiry had been taken. The heavy boots of invaders rang in the hallways, and the arching ceilings echoed back the clash of falling swords. Joiry’s commander was brought, still struggling violently, before the conqueror. Standing tall, armor running red with blood, Jirel of Joiry refused to surrender her home, and vowed to her enemy that his victory would cost him his life, and more.

That very night Joiry’s Lady crept by secret ways to the castle’s deepest dungeon. Laying her strong hands on the forbidden door, she bade farewell to the world of treacherous men–then walked of her own will through the doorway and into Hell, in search of her revenge.”

Contents: “Black God’s Kiss” (1934), “Black God’s Shadow” (1934), “Jirel Meets Magic” (1935), “The Dark Land” (1936), “Hellsgarde” (1939)

Initial Thoughts: Another author I’ve simply not explored enough… I’ve read and enjoyed Doomsday Morning (1957) but haven’t read her influential sword and sorcery tales. Considering this style of fantasy is not for more this will be more for my historical edification.

4. The Towers of Utopia, Mack Reynolds (1975)

From the back cover: “Shyler-Deme is under siege!

The enemy has no face. It does not show on the scanners. It avoids the world’s most sophisticated surveillance system. But it leaves a wake of profitless crime and motiveless murder… and puts the future of mankind’s paradise-on-earth in peril!”

Initial Thoughts: Like the rest in this post, I’ve not explored Reynolds’ fiction extensively. Apparently The Towers of Utopia is the second volume in the Bart Hardin (1974-1976) sequence. I’ve already read the third book Rolltown (1976) and didn’t I needed knowledge of the earlier volumes. I do not own first volume Commune 2000 A. D. (1974) yet.


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24 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction and Fantasy Purchases No. CCCII (C. L. Moore, Marc Laidlaw, Fredric Brown, Mack Reynolds)

  1. I remember the Marc Laidlaw when it came out and being intrigued. Sadly, I got bored before I finished it. I had wanted to like it as I liked his collegues’ work, especially Rudy Rucker (I liked their collaborations!) and K. W. Jeter as well, iirc.
    I’ve enjoyed some of Fredric Brown’s short stories but the edition of Martians Go Home that I always seemed to see for literally decades was the one with the Kelly Freas cover (the alien looking through a giant keyhole one), which I never liked, so I never tried to read it. I like other Freas art, just not this one!
    I’ve not read much C. L. Moore, but the Jirel of Joiry stories I read were enjoyable pulpish fantasy, and although he never cited her as an influence, I was strongly reminded of aspects of Vance’s Dying Earth when I read them. He’s mentioned some authors from Weird Tales but not Moore. That was years ago though, so don’t ask for more detail!
    Any Mackk Reynolds I’ve read has been fairly pedestrian stuff.

    • Rudy Rucker is another I’ve yet to read although I own Software (1982). I did not realize they wrote collaborations.

      As with many of these authors, I’ll probably get at their work via short stories first — Brown included. I found The Lights in the Sky are Stars intriguing but not brilliant.

      As pulpish fantasy, it’s completely not my cup of tea — some of Vance included (the reason I never reviewed Dying Earth). But there are some books — for example Matheson’s I am Legend that I recently reviewed — I consume entirely due to their historical importance. And, like the Matheson, I might end up liking elements of them.

  2. I really liked Martians Go Home. It’s Epistemological Horror, which is one of those niche genres I can’t get enough of. It’s also got the kind of terseness that Brown was famous for in his short fiction.

  3. I must have only read two Frederic Brown stories, “Knock” and “Answer”. Both are so short they read like a joke and its punchline, and they’re both equally horrifying. “Knock”, described as the shortest horror story of all time, is only two sentences:

         The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock at the door.
    

    It takes a certain kind of genius to make me a situation like that far more terrifying. The imagination begins to fill in the blanks.

    As for all the books you mentioned, I haven’t read any of them, but “Dad’s Nuke” sounds promising.

  4. …iiiinterestinng…for once I’ve read ’em all!

    I expect the Laidlaw won’t thrill you, nor Moore’s pure, unadulterated fantasy. Brown’s work is consistent, but your desire to explore isn’t likely to run aground on this story. Mack Reynolds? Really? Why ever?

  5. A couple of thoughts:

    I much preferred Laidlaw’s cyberpunk novel, Neon Lotus, to Dad’s Nuke. Moore’s Judgment Night is a superior space opera, but I read her Fantasy Masterwork collection, Black Gods and Scarlet Dreams, a couple of years ago and the Jirel of Joiry stories all sort of blur into one if read one after the other.

      • Moore’s core SF works aside from (and better than) JUDGMENT NIGHT are a handful of novellas she published in ASTOUNDING from the mid-1940s to 1950, some under the Lawrence O’Donnell pseudonym: “No Woman Born,” “Vintage Season,” “The Children’s Hour,” and a notch below, “Heir Apparent” and “Paradise Street.” The first two are famous and much anthologized, the third less so (but just about as deserving to my taste), and the last two are pretty obscure. The best place to find those are in the editions of JUDGMENT NIGHT that include a selection of shorter work in addition to the novel.

        • If any of her works might fit my media series, let me know! They’d be fast tracked to the top of my “to read” list.

          But yes, I need to read more of her solo 40s/50s short stories.

          • Seconding John Boston on C.L. Moore’s novellas.

            Some of them — ‘Vintage Season’ and ‘No Woman Born’ — used to crop up in many anthologies of the ‘classics’ of SF, with ‘Vintage Season’ receiving the most votes of any American magazine SF story from the SFWA’s members when Robert Silverberg put the original SCIENCE FICTION HALL OF FAME 1929-1964 anthology together. The others, though, are hard to find. As John notes, the JUDGMENT NIGHT collection is the only place you’ll get hold of most of them. Of the stories in that volume, he doesn’t mention ‘The Code,’ which I think is up there with the others, nor that ‘Heir Apparent’ manages to lay out the cyberpunks’ main theme, the fusion of AI and human intelligence (and by a criminal), back in 1950.

            ‘The Children’s Hour’ isn’t in JUDGMENT NIGHT, unfortunately, and is relatively difficult to find — except these days in Internet archives — but here’s where it has been reprinted over the years.
            http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cgi?41559

            As for Moore’s ‘Jirel of Joiry’ stuff, on the other hand, it’s not my bag. Though sometimes I’m able to appreciate that what it does, it does well. It’s this pulp fantasy side of Moore that the Del Rey BEST OF C.L. MOORE very much concentrates on — because Lester Del Rey was an ignorant ass — which unfortunately renders that volume fairly useless in demonstrating Moore’s very significant contribution to turning American magazine SF into a real artistic literature .

            **
            As for DAD’S NUKE: yeah, it sounds great, but what Expendable Mudge said about Laidlaw.

  6. The Jirel of Joiry stories are not really pulp adventures in the Conan mold (which is why some of the reactionary sword and sorcery fans don’t like them), but have a dreamy, otherworldly quality and also serve as an interesting analogy for dealing with the trauma of sexual assault, a subject Moore couldn’t address directly in the climate of the 1930s. I reviewed the first two stories at my blog a while ago:

    http://corabuhlert.com/2020/09/09/retro-review-black-gods-kiss-by-c-l-moore-or-how-to-suppress-womens-sword-and-sorcery-writing/
    http://corabuhlert.com/2020/09/11/retro-review-black-gods-shadow-by-c-l-moore-or-overcoming-trauma-as-a-core-theme-of-sword-and-sorcery/

    I also have an article coming up on C.L. Moore and Jirel of Joiry in a new magazine that’s due to be out this September.

    That said, I agree with whoever said you should not read the Jirel of Joiry stories too close together, because themes and imagery do repeat. They’re better enjoyed spaced out a little.

    • Thanks for stopping by — and for the links.

      I can’t promise I’ll get to the stories soon as I have so many to read and so many projects at the moment. I will read your reviews (I might have already as they are quite recent) as I always love learning about the genre.

  7. I didn’t think as highly of “The Code” as you do. The concept did not seem to me very well thought out (or at least, not well communicated), and the fit between style and plot didn’t work as well as it should have. It read like a tight Lewis Padgett plot recounted in leisurely Moore fashion, which was awkward–though it was certainly interesting.

    • John Boston: I didn’t think as highly of “The Code” as you do, and the fit between style and plot didn’t work as well as it should have.

      Fair enough. My personal taste inclines me to give extra credit to an SF story with especial conceptual brio, to the extent that I may overlook deficits in execution. Similarly, for comparison, Van Vogt is a writer many people can’t tolerate for his slapdash lack of conventional logic (to put it kindly, the man frequently wrote nonsensical garbage), but who when he hit on all cylinders — as in, IMO, ‘The Monster’ or ‘Recruiting Station’ — was the Thing Itself, the pure quill, in terms of a certain kind of SF.

      In ‘The Code,’ Moore came up with a singular, genuinely weird concept that no other SF writer ever has (AFAIK; you’ve read even more of this stuff than I have), and one that sticks in my mind decades after I read it. And very simply, that’s why I rate it more highly than you do.

      You write: ‘The concept did not seem to me very well thought out (or at least, not well communicated).’

      Eh. I think more the latter, since in retrospect it strikes me as an actually more comprehensible, though similar, concept to the better-executed ‘Children’s Hour.’ But there’s also the question of how well should it have been communicated, since the story’s point is that the father’s transforming into something intrinsically alien and incomprehensible to mere humanity. Similarly, by what logic can the ‘mother’ from the alternate timestream turn up (IIRC, because it’s between years since I read the story and I don’t have a copy at hand) at the story’s climax? Well, she can turn up because she operates by the dream-logic of aliens. I’ll roll with that; I even like it for its conceptual brashness.

      I think you’ve a strong point about it perhaps being better suited to being a Lewis Padgett-style story — say, one about the length of ‘Mimsy Were the Borogroves.’ Atmosphere is necessary for the concept, but some of ‘The Code’ is just word salad (forex, the Van Vogtian-level bafflegab non-explanations about glands, the hot life-science of the 1940s, where now it would be RNA memory or epigenetics).

      To put it another way, it might have been nice if Moore had given ‘The Code’ one more pass through the typewriter and, maybe, her husband’s hand had been laid on it. For better or worse, though, we don’t have that version of the story. We have the version we have, which is, as you concede, “certainly interesting.”

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