Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCCIV (Philip José Farmer, Keith Roberts, Pauline Ashwell, Stephen Minot)

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

1. The Lovers, Philip José Farmer (1961)

From the back cover: “In 1952, Philip José Farmer excited instant acclaim in the science fiction field with the publication of a short story, THE LOVERS.

In 1961, he wrote and published the full-length novel based on that short story.

And in 1972, Ballantine Books is proud to bring this classic work back into print.

Mr. Farmer, who is known for his explorations into the psychological byways of odd relationships, here postulates a love affair which might well have surprised even Haverlock Ellis. but words such as ‘normal’ or ‘abnormal’ simply have no application in the original concepts to which Mr. Farmer’s imagination gives rise. The book remains unique and fascinating.”

Initial Thoughts: I’ve long been a fan of Philip José Farmer’s early SF — especially the stories in Strange Relations (1960) and The Alley God (1962). I am eager to dive into his “controversial” account of human and alien love. Should I read the 1951 short story first before the 1961 novelization?

2. Unwillingly to Earth, Pauline Ashwell (1992)

From the back cover: “GO TO SCHOOL–AND SEE THE UNIVERSE!

Raised on a rough and rugged miner’s planet thousands of light-years from civilization, Lizzie Lee is an unlikely candidate for higher education. So when she’s tricked into accepting a scholarship to the most prestigious university in the galaxy–on Earth itself, the last thing she wants to do is go.

But she can never resist a challenge either, whether it’s solving a murder mystery on the moon, negotiating a hostage crisis amidst a collapsing civilization, or preventing a global war, so she’s going to prove to those arrogant Earthers that she’s got what it takes–or her name isn’t Lysistrata!”

Contents: “Unwillingly to School” (1958), “Rats in the Moon” (1982), “Fatal Statistics” (1988), “The Lost Kafoozalum” (1960)

Initial Thoughts: Previously, I’d read (but bounced off) Pauline Ashwell’s Nebula-nominated short story “The Wings of a Bat” (1966). I am most interested in the two earliest stories in this linked-collection. It appears to be an attempt to create a female Heinlein-esque hero who achieves great things from humble beginnings.

3. The Chalk Giants, Keith Roberts (1974)

From the back cover: “After The Apocalypse… …the hazardous evolution of mankind continues. And in primeval response to the disaster, humanity’s solutions to catastrophe carve the harsh new world in violent patterns of magic and myth, rite and religion. Brave images scar the ancient hills, the clash of swords and the ageless power of sexuality sign-post another, bloodsoacked path to civilization…

Keith Roberts has written a haunting and provocative epic of stunning imaginative power. In The Chalk Giants times to come take on the awesome dimensions of prehistoric myth. In our future likes our past. and in our past, our future…”

Contents: “The Sun Over a Low Hill” (1974), “Fragments” (1974), “Monkey and Pru and Sal” (1971), “The God House” (1971), “The Beautiful One” (1973), “Rand, Rat and the Dancing Man” (1974), “Usk the Jokeman” (1974)

Initial Thoughts: I thoroughly enjoyed Keith Roberts’ collection The Grain Kings (1976) and couldn’t resist tracking down another. If you are also inclined, please note that the 1976 US printing of Roberts’ The Chalk Giants cuts two stories from the UK edition. It’s worth splurging a bit for the complete UK edition if possible.

According to SF Encyclopedia, the stories in The Chalk Giants fit within a framing narrative: the “separate tales elegantly embody a cyclical vision of the future of the island of Britain. The protagonist of the framing narrative (seen in the UK edition only) drives to the south coast to escape an indistinct Disaster, goes into hiding, and (depending on one’s reading) either cycles the rest of the book through his head or can be seen as himself emblematic of the movement the tales portend, from Post-Holocaust chaos through God-ridden Ruined Earth savagery back to a state premonitory of his own wounded condition.”

Sounds fantastic!

4. Chill of Dusk, Stephen Minot (1964)

From the inside flap: “Fifty years have passed since the end of World War III and the collapse of civilization. In a remote pocket of the Maine woods, a man named Adams has assumed the leadership of a colony of survivors. Outside the colony walls lies the threat of roving bands of marauders and the dangers of the unknown. Inside the walls there is a greater danger–the decay of values and the loss of a sense of purpose.

Adams strains to maintain a link with the past through a system of compulsory education, enforced with harsh leadership. But in a world bereft of society and struggling for physical survival, liberal education becomes dangerous.

Adams is aided by a wandering scout named Luke who joins the colony and falls in love with Adams’ daughter, Elizabeth. The novel traces the lives of Adams, his children, and his grandchildren, through many dramatic crises and scenes of terror. This realistic fantasy creates for the reader the strange and menacing world of the twenty-first century, where the fate of all that lies outside the small radius of the colony is unknown and only a few old men called “Pre-Wars” have any recollection of the rich past. It is a world without any of the amenities of life–a world without books!

Written with strength and dignity, this suspenseful novel is a denunciation of war through the examination of war’s aftermath. It is a powerful document for peace, rendered in narrative terms.”

Initial Thoughts: I recently read Paul Brians’ monograph Nuclear Holocausts: Atomic War in Fiction, 1895-1984 (1987) and decided to track down a few stories that I hadn’t yet read. In the monograph’s massive bibliography, Brians includes the following short review (*spoilers*) of Minot’s novel: ‘A vivid account of the decline of a community into barbarism a century after a nuclear war and the ensuing collapse of civilization. A tyrannical teacher tries in vain to preserve the learning of the past, but catholic missionaries are more successful, providing a structure for peoples’ lives, if not a faith. Wolves and raiders are constant threats. Finally, cruel sun-worshippers take over the colony and sacrifice the teacher’s daughter. Little is said about the war: only the mention of a flash and the birth of a deformed baby point to a nuclear conflict. Although the novel is powerfully written, it is difficult to determine the author’s point of view. Neither traditional education nor the return to illiterate primitivism is presented sympathetically.’

I am, of course, endlessly fascinated by nuclear apocalypse. If you’re new to my site or missed it, check out my recent review of Theodore Sturgeon’s “Memorial” (1946) and P. C. Jersild’s After the Flood (1982, trans. 1986). And I’ll have a review of Angela Carter’s take on the theme up soon! (maybe next weekend?)

For cover art posts consult the INDEX

For book reviews consult the INDEX

For TV and film reviews consult the INDEX

26 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCCIV (Philip José Farmer, Keith Roberts, Pauline Ashwell, Stephen Minot)

  1. I read Unwillingly to Earth last year — I thought it was fun. It does have a sort of Heinlein-esque quality to it, but I liked Ashwell’s handling of the young female protagonist much better than Heinlein’s in Podkayne of Mars.

    It also put me in mind of some Tiptree stories, but the influence (if any) would have been from Ashwell to Tiptree, because at least two of the linked stories were published well before anything Tiptree wrote.

    • You’ve made me far more interested in the collection. I assumed she’d craft a more compelling young female protagonist than anything Heinlein wrote. I suspect I tried to read Podkayne at one point… those dark early years of Heinlein reading.

      I also have a soft sport for the Vallejo cover (not something I normally say about his work).

  2. UNWILLINGLY TO EARTH is lots of fun. The two earlier stories are indeed better. In other words — what Hestia said!

    The Tiptree story most obviously influenced by Ashwell might be “The Only Neat Thing to Do”.

    As for “The Lovers”, I’m not a big fan, but I’d suggest reading the shorter version first, definitely.

    I think “Monkey and Pru and Sal” is the only story I’ve read from THE CHALK GIANTS and in my memory it’s pretty good but my memory is dim. I need to reread some Roberts.

    • I think I’ll probably read the first three stories at some point.

      I don’t think I’ve read the Tiptree story yet. Or if I did, I certainly don’t remember it.

      The short version of “The Lovers” wasn’t reprinted until 2000. Which means I don’t have a paper copy… and it’s 36 odd magazine pages (with multiple columns so probably 80+). I’ll wait until I start teaching in the fall so I can print it out. I find it impossible to review longer stories without physically writing in notes.

      Roberts is great. His descriptions of the physical landscape (the shale, terrors of being compressed into the ground like old fossils on the coast, the cold, the bleak waves) paired with the interior mental space of the characters, so well done. And so New Wave in the best way possible. He’s an effective stylist.

    • Yes, “The Only Neat Thing to Do” was the first story I thought of. Similar “plucky young woman gets in over her head” vibe.

    • It does! Yeah, they cut the first and last story — i.e. the framing narrative! I remembered you enjoyed, Pavane, right? I can’t imagine you wouldn’t also enjoy the stories in The Grain Kings that I reviewed recently (linked above). I can’t say anything about this collection yet as I haven’t read it.

  3. I think it would be a good idea to read the short story version of “The Lovers” first, I haven’t, but I wish I had. The novel I think, tends to be a bit tedious, being too long for it’s purpose. I’ve said before that Farmer is better at shorter length.

    “Pavane” was great, but the only other book I read by him, a collection called “The Lordly Ones”, is banal I thought.

  4. I’ll add my voice to encouraging you to read ‘Unwillingly to School’. It is a lot of fun, and well written to boot. I too have a copy of the 1992 collection, so perhaps it’s time to read the rest of them.
    I also liked Ashwell’s ‘The Wings of a Bat’ more than you. A great set-up, a good story–sometimes that’s all you need.

    • While I have read some of her work–“The Wings of a Bat: which you mentioned (and I remember nothing other than what I wrote in the review), I’ll probably include her first three published short stories in a post like I’ve been doing over the past year.

      That would include “Unwillingly to School” (1958), “Big Sword” (1958) (as Paul Ash), “The Lost Kafoozalum” (1960) (in this collection).

      “The Big Sword” appeared in Astounding Science Fiction (October 1958).

      • Actually, you’ll have to go a little farther back for her first three:
        Whitby, Pauline (1926-2013); used pseudonyms Paul Ash, Paul Ashwell & Pauline Ashwell (about) (items)

        Hearts United, (ss) Yankee Shorts #9, 1941, as by Pauline Ashwell
        Invasion from Venus, (ss) Yankee Shorts #21, 1942, as by Paul Ashwell
        Madness and Love, (ss) Yankee Romance Shorts #8, 1943, as by Pauline Ashwell


        I assume only the second in that list is within your remit.

  5. I’m a huge fan of Keith Roberts, although some of the later stories are not quite as good as the earlier ones. I have read The Chalk Giants several times but find that I don’t want to go back to it now. The writing is amazing and his love of the landscape really comes through, but the story is so tragic and you feel so much for the characters that I just don’t want to go there again. He was apparently a very difficult man and sometimes his misanthropy comes through in the stories.

  6. I run hot and cold on Vallejo–he seems to repeat himself a lot–but the cover for UNWILLINGLY TO EARTH would’ve had the teen me reaching for my wallet. It manages to capture the excitement and fear of starting off on a new part of life (college) with a science fiction twist. The use of a doorway is a simple but perfect choice.

  7. Hi

    I love the cover for Lovers and Peter Jones is always a sentimental favourite as I received a book on his art from a friend who has since passed away. Also Keith Roberts is an interesting writer. I have stepped away for awhile but I have missed it and will start again in Sept. All the best


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