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.”
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?)
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