Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCCV (William Golding, John Wyndham, Mervyn Peake, Joan D. Vinge, Ralph Blum, and an anthology)

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

1. 5 Tales From Tomorrow, ed. T. E. Dikty (1957)

From the back cover: “THE TIME: TOMORROW… when

…space travel is as simple as suburban commuting

…robots do everything from washing dishes to waging wars

…do-it-yourself surgery kits are as common as Band-aids

…giant electronic brains mastermind all human activity

THE PLACE: SPACE SPACE SPACE

where the cold, dark islands of abandoned planets drift in a fabulous universe flooded with blazing energy, the dust of old suns and the heat of smoldering new stars.

Space–the promise of new life to a crowded earth–the new frontier–the hope of tomorrow!”

Contents: Bud Foote’s “Push-Button Passion” (1954), Tom Godwin’s “The Cold Equations” (1954), Clifford D. Simak’s “How-2” (1954), Robert Abernathy’s “Deep Space” (1954), Everett B. Cole’s “Exile” (1954)

Initial Thoughts: Confession time. I haven’t read Tom Godwin’s “The Cold Equations” (1954). As someone interesting in mapping a territory, I feel that it’s one of those important short fictions with lasting (and controversial) impact on the genre. I’ve certainly read quite a few debates about the story! The rest of the anthology interests me less–although I’m always eager to explore works by authors I know little about (Everett B. Cole, Bud Foote, and Robert Abernathy).

2. Sometimes, Never, ed. William Golding, Mervyn Peake, John Wyndham (1956)

Selection from the inside page: “With the publication of LORD OF THE FLIES, William Golding was recognized in England as a major novelist. Similar acclaim and recognition have followed publication of the novel in the U.S., and there is now a second novel, PINCHER MARTIN, available for U.S. readers who are rapidly developing what might be called a Golding cult.

The listing of his works, however, do not mention William Golding’s novelette, ENVOY EXTRAORDINARY, which is one of the three in this volume and which represents the first publication of this astonishingly varied author in America.”

Contents: William Golding’s “Envoy Extraordinary” (1956), John Wyndham’s “Consider Her Ways” (1956), Mervyn Peake’s “Boy in Darkness” (1956).

Initial Thoughts: I adore William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (1954) — take a premise of triumph and survival and bravery à la Jules Verne’s Two Years’ Vacation (1888) and create an incisive commentary on the superficiality of civilization. I have never read anything else by Golding! As for the other authors in the collection, I’ve long been a fan of Peake’s Titus Groan (1946) (I haven’t the later volumes) and have limited experience with Wyndham beyond The Chrysalids (variant title: Re-Birth) (1955).

3. The Snow Queen, Joan D. Vinge (1980)

From the back cover: “The Winter colonists have ruled Tiamat for 150 years, slaughtering the gentle sea mers in trade for off-world wealth. But soon the gate to the galactic Hegemony will close, Tiamat will be isolated, and the 150-year reign of the Summer primitives will begin. Unless…. ARIENRHOD, the ageless, corrupt Snow Queen, can commit a genocidal crime–and destroy destiny… unless SPARKS DAWNTREADER, the Snow Queen’s companion, can survive sea and city, palace and slums–and find destiny… unless HEGEMONY COMMANDER JERUSHA PALATHION, the Snow Queen’s victim, can find one ally on Tiamat–and change destiny… And unless MOON SUMMER, a young mystic, can break a conspiracy that spans space–and control destiny. Because Moon is the Snow Queen’s lost weapon. The Snow Queen’s lost rival. The Snow Queen’s lost nemesis. The Snow Queen’s lost soul. Moon is the Snow Queen’s clone…”

Initial Thoughts: In my earlier years of SF reading, I tackled Vinges The Snow Queen (1980) due to its status as a Hugo Award winner. I enjoyed the novel so much that I gave it to my sister. As it’s been almost 15 years (and my memory of it has faded), I thought I’d reacquire a copy although I’m not sure I’ll get to rereading it anytime soon.

4. The Simultaneous Man, Ralph Blum (1970)

From the back cover: “A CHILLING FACTUAL NOVEL ABOUT MAN-MADE MINDS FOR A COLD NEW WORLD

The agency specializes in surgical alterations, government bureaucrats set about making one man’s brain the receptable for the memory of another.

‘Bear’–the input. ‘Black Bear’–the receiver. A research scientist and a convicted murderer become two men with one shared mind.”

Initial Thoughts: Blum published one SF work–The Simultaneous Man (1970). According to SF Encyclopedia, Blum was a screenwriter and author involved in early drug research. His interests inspired the novel in which a “A Black convict undergoes, through advanced brainwashing, a memory edit that progressively erases his personality, rather as in Alfred Bester’s earlier The Demolished Man (1952) or Robert Silverberg‘s later The Second Trip (1972). The process enables Identity Transfer from a research scientist, but eventually transforms the convict into a Doppelganger who haunts his original, a relationship that ends tragically in the Cold War USSR.” Count me intrigued! An African American protagonists isn’t a common thing in 70s SF…


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45 thoughts on “Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCCV (William Golding, John Wyndham, Mervyn Peake, Joan D. Vinge, Ralph Blum, and an anthology)

  1. “The Cold Equations” is The Yearling rewritten to appeal to the prurient and smug. Ptui.
    “Boy in Darkness” is IMO the best thing Peake ever wrote, and sure to appeal to a fan of Titus Groan in any case.

    • I have only general memories from my late teens. I do distinctly remember enjoying it so much that I thought my sister would like it (we were both fans of epic fantasy and science fiction that conveyed similar attention to world building at the time).

  2. Many thanks for this post, Joachin! I love seeing covers of vintage SF paperbacks, especially anthologies. I’m sure I’ve read some of the stories in these anthologies, although I’m not sure offhand which ones.

    • I love the early Powers cover on the first anthology. It’s hard to even see his small piece of art on the second… I suspect you’ve read “The Cold Equations” perhaps? That iconic “hard SF” tale that has so polarized readers since (what happens when you have a stowaway on a spaceship when you don’t have enough fuel for extra weight.

  3. I liked THE SNOW QUEEN quite a bit when I read it, back when it came out. I actually liked the sequel (WORLD’S END) even better, though I seem to be in a minority there. (The huge third volume, THE SUMMER QUEEN, is fine too. The fourth volume, a pendant of sorts, isn’t so great.)

    I think “The Cold Equations” is fairly essential reading, even if you don’t like it. It’s not a story I like to argue about, I think arguments have taken a political dimension outside the actual scope of the story. I believe it makes its point effectively, even if the setup is easy to tear to shreds. As for the other stories in that selection (which seems to be mostly the longest stories from the Dikty 1955 Best) — the Simak is pretty good. I’ve never heard of Bud Foote (nor his pseudonym.) I don’t think I’ve read that Everett Cole story but I wouldn’t hold my breath expecting anything great! Abernathy did some nice work, though I don’t remember that story.

    I need to get a copy of SOMETIME, NEVER — I expect it to be outstanding. And I’ve never heard of the Blum book. It looks like it might be a product of its time — which, I know, is fine by you!

    • I remember the Golding and Wyndham stories as being very much worth reading, but suffering a bit in proximity to the Peake, which almost anything would. Anyway, yes, you need it!

      And you’re right about “The Cold Equations,” but its debt to Rawlings is something I don’t think I’ve ever seen mentioned, so I felt obliged to throw it out there.

      • Yes, I hadn’t thought of the Rawlings novel, but you’re right, that makes sense.

        I guess Joachim is too young to remember when it was common to torture young readers by assigning them THE YEARLING in school!

        • I can’t even imagine reading The Yearling as a kid—not only is heartbreaking, it’s just too difficult. The idea that books about children are for children rears its ugly head again.

        • The only story I remember being “subjected to” was Wuthering Heights. Everything else I read with glee — from Lord of the Flies to Things Fall Apart to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.

          • I loved a lot of what I was assigned, but I had some complaints. DANDELION WINE was one, particularly after our 8th Grade teacher told us “You are boys growing up in a Northern Illinois town! This book is about a boy in a Northern Illinois town! You will LOVE IT.” Other bad ones: I NEVER PROMISED YOU A ROSE GARDEN, A SEPARATE PEACE, and, yes, WUTHERING HEIGHTS. But I loved LORD OF THE FLIES and 1984 and THE ILLUSTRATED MAN and A FAREWELL TO ARMS and even THE CATCHER IN THE RYE.

      • I seem to remember another science fiction short story written before “The Cold Equations” bandied about as similar… same basic premise….

        And the wikipedia entry provides three potential answers to whatever I was thinking about: “The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction points to A Plunge into Space (Robert Cromie, 1890)[10] as having a subplot very similar to “The Cold Equations”.[11] “A Weighty Decision” (Al Feldstein in Weird Science, 1952)[12] and the story “Precedent” (E. C. Tubb in New Worlds, 1952).[13] also have been cited as potential inspirations. In all three, as in “The Cold Equations”, a stowaway must be ejected from a spaceship because the fuel aboard is only sufficient for the planned mission mass.”

        • Yeah, that’s why I mentioned in discussing Tubb that he wrote “The Cold Equations” before Godwin. The Robert Cromie story is the 19th century one … in some long ago discussion of “The Cold Equations” an expert in “proto Science Fiction” dug it up as the earliest example of that trope.

    • I’ll get to “The Cold Equations” — I promise.

      Right now I’m reading three other stories that a young John Brunner praised (along with “The Lovers” which I just wrote about) as cutting edge when it came to controversial topics.

    • Rich H: I think “The Cold Equations” is fairly essential reading … even if the setup is easy to tear to shreds.

      Start with the simple fact that ‘The Cold Equations’ is a Trolley Problem story, or an attempt at one.

      (Though kudos to T. Walters above for making THE YEARLING comparison, which is quite the left-field — and admirably imaginative — way of looking at Godwin’s story. But no, ‘The Cold Equations’ has nothing to do with the Rawlings, except inasmuch as I guess you can make a convoluted argument that THE YEARLING is a Trolley Problem story, too.)

      Today’s fannish objections to ‘The Cold Equations’ seem at bottom to be mostly political objections to the fact that it is a Trolley Problem story, and at the story’s end Godwin doesn’t ‘Save The Cat’ — in this case the teenage human female. To a large extent, then, they’re objections to the fact that the story tries to be something else than the usual fantasy comfort food.

      That’s not my beef with it. My beef is the same one I had when I read it as a kid. Which is, that it’s a crp Trolley Problem story, because it says on the lid that ‘The Cold Equations’ is a *science fiction story, but the ‘hard science’ in Godwin’s story is worse than non-existent, it’s total pants. Here’s this rocket ship tooling around planets in distant solar systems, with the implication that interstellar travel is accomplished, yet it’s so dependent on chemical fuel, like a car or pre-WWII biplane, that a few pounds extra of weight will make the trip impossible.

      What utterly shameless, ignorant garbage. The Tsiolkovsky Rocket Equation was called that in 1903, but it had also been derived as far back as 1810 by a mathematician called William Moore, and also independently by Robert Goddard in 1912 and by Hermann Oberth about 1920.

      And the Rocket Equation is absolutely clear: chemical rockets aren’t going take anybody anywhere far beyond the Moon.* That was as well-known in 1954, when Godwin and John W. Campbell — and it was Campbell who was mostly responsible for the ending of ‘The Cold Equations’ — published the story. So that’s my beef with ‘The Cold Equations’: it’s a Trolley Problem story that postures like it’s SF based on the hardest of ‘hard science,’ but it’s completely bogus.

      Nuclear rockets are another story, and they’re how NASA planned to go Mars in 1972-73, and currently what NASA’s Artemis program will supposedly use.

      • You are right, of course, that the “hard science” in “The Cold Equations” is nonsense. (The other objections — that, you know, they could have put a sign up — which of course every teenageer would have obeyed! — are easier to work around.) It’s clear that Godwin, without worrying too much about the science, wanted to write a story about a disaster in space, then pull a rabbit from a hat and save everyone. And Campbell clearly recognized that the story would have much greater impact as a “Trolley Problem” story. And it’s obvious it did have that impact, even though many readers, from the start (as I believe the ASF letter column shows, though I’m not sure Campbell published any letters cogently attacking the science) argued that the girl could have been saved.

        • Pardon my semi-rant. It was slightly intemperate.

          I didn’t comment on the SOMETHING, NEVER anthology. As it happens the Golding story there, ‘Envoy Extraordinary’ is technology-focused fiction — alt history SF, in fact, as in, ‘suppose someone had invented the steam engine in Roman times.’

          Since Golding wrote it, we’ve learned that someone — probably several someones at slightly different times — did invent the steam engine in Roman times, but the Romans didn’t see any better use for it than as a mechanism to open temple doors (unlike concrete, which the Romans also had and made much use of, as you’ll know if you’ve ever seen the Colosseum).

          ‘Envoy Extraordinary’ isn’t a great Golding story. But some of his novels are remarkable, in particular THE INHERITORS and DARKNESS VISIBLE(1979), and the latter is like nothing else ever I’ve ever read–

          https://william-golding.co.uk/reading-darkness-visible

          Golding at his best, was for lack of a better term, a ‘magician.’ That is, with most authors you see after a while how they get their effects and recognize their customary style, even if you could never do it. This (for me) is true of even a Gene Wolfe, Saul Bellow, or Robert Stone to some extent. Conversely, there are a small minority of writers who, when they’re at their most powerful, the reader (well, me) often can’t make out how they’re doing what they do, so one finds oneself looking at specific passages and going ‘Whoa! Where did that come from?’ or ‘How did they (the author) ever think of that or arrive there?’ or ‘Why is this passage so powerful, when I’m not even sure what it means?’ An American instance of this rare kind of ‘magician’ writer was Denis Johnson.

          These writers can be pretty awful sometimes too, when they’re not doing whatever it is they do. The Golding story in SOMETHING, NEVER is merely lackluster. The Peake story is probably the most powerful in the collection and the Wyndham well-carpentered in the Wyndham way.

  4. FIVE TALES FROM TOMORROW was one of the first SF paperbacks I owned as a child and some of the stories made an impression. “The Cold Equations” has been discussed to death so I won’t. Simak’s “How-2” was one of the first of his that I read, possibly my introduction to his humane and intelligent ouevre; I’ve reread it more recently and the years have been kind to it. Cole’s “Exile”–about a member of a sophisticated technological civilization stranded on a crude and primitive planet, and looking for a way to be rescued–is not an excellent story by any means, but worth reading. I identified with the character as an SF-reading kid stranded in the crude and primitive surround of trailer parks in the 1950s in the American South. It belongs along with Shiras’s “In Hiding” and George O. Smith’s THE FOURTH R, and no doubt others people could name, in an implicitly recursive subgenre (how’s that for late-night jargoneering?) that can be read as mapping the childhood of early SF readers in the days before the internet and the normalization of SF tropes. You should excuse the expression. All of them.

    • I look forward to reading it! I’m pretty sure the first I “owned” was my dad’s copy of Asimov’s The Currents of Space. But with this miserable cover….

      I did not care for the novel at all and continued reading my fantasy until my much later teens.

  5. I’ve read William Golding’s “The Inheritors”, which is included in David Pringle’s “Science Fiction: the 100 Best Novels”, about the mystery of lost things, which in this case, is the decline of the Neanderthals and the emergence of “modern humans”. It’s excellent in the way it makes you feel sorry for the Neanderthals and that “we” are the alien unwanted ones.

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