Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCCVII (Jack Williamson, William E. Cochrane, a Groff Conklin anthology, and an anthology of gay and lesbian SF)

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

1. 6 Great Short Novels of Science Fiction, ed. Groff Conklin (1954)

From the back cover: “THE BLAST: STUART CLOETE envisions New York City under atomic attack, and tells the story of the lone survivor.

COVENTRY: ROBERT HEINLEIN shows what happens to one of the last individualists, who request a sentence to purgatory.

THE OTHER WORLD: MURRAY LEINSTER reveals a savage, feudal civilization which lives off the sweat of slaves kidnapped from our world.

BARRIER: ANTHONY BOUCHER writers of a time traveler, and his strange encounters with the people who will come after us.

SURFACE TENSION: JAMES BLISH traces a race of microscopic men that works out its destiny under water on a planet somewhere far out of the galaxy.

MATURITY: THEODORE STURGEON depicts the agonizing plight of a super man born in our midst.

Contents: Stuart Cloete’s “The Blast” (1946), Robert A. Heinlein’s “Coventry” (1940), Murray Leinster’s “The Other World” (1949), Anthony Boucher’s “Barrier” (1942), James Blish’s “Surface Tension” (1952), Theodore Sturgeon’s “Maturity” (1947)

Initial Thoughts: You know me…. the post-apocalyptic nightmare always pulls me in. Purchased entirely due to Stuart Cloete’s “The Blast” (1946). The extensive bibliography (with mini-reviews) in Paul Brians’ Nuclear Holocausts: Atomic War in Fiction, 1895-1984 (1987) has proved indispensable. It’s how I found Alice Eleanor Jones’ “Created He Them” (1955) and Katherine MacLean’s “Interbalance” (1960).

2. The Humanoids, Jack Williamson (1980)*

From the back cover: “STRANGE BENEFACTORS. From far beyond Earth came a generation of benevolent robots whose sole purpose was to serve man by ending wars and easing his bodily and spiritual ills. Dr. Clay Forester, brilliant scientist and citizen of the distant future, had been recruited by a band of dissidents to stop the fledgling “brace new world.” But why should he try to kill humanity’s only hope for everlasting peace?

A vagabond band of psychic anarchists are determined to defeat the invincible robots. And Clay Forester must discover the secret of the Humanoids and make an agonizing choice: fight for mankind’s freedom to struggle and despair… or yield to the Humanoids’ implacable imperative of total peace and pure bliss.”

Contents: “With Folded Hands…” (1!947) and The Humanoids (1949)

Initial Thoughts: One of those 1940s “classics” I’ve yet to read. Williamson, other than a handful I read in my late teens and early 20s, is mostly unknown to me…

3. Class Six Climb, William E. Cochrane (1979)

From the back cover: “To climbers, the Giant Tree of Kyle Murre is unique, a solitary goliath tower kilometers into the atmosphere, the greatest living thing in the known universe–the ultimate CLASS SIX CLIMB. To the natives, the Tree is God. To Captain FitzRoi, it is merely an obstacle on the road to power, and so must be destroyed.

All that stands between this symbol of a world’s independent integrity and its contemptuous destruction by Procyon’s Star Service is three human misfits. Clearly that would be no contest all–were it not the the power of the God Tree itself.”

Initial Thoughts: Considering how I bounced off Cochrane’s “The Safety Engineer” (1973) (as S. Kye Boult), I get the sense this one is also all idea with poor delivery…

4. Kindred Spirits: An Anthology of Gay and Lesbian Science Fiction Stories, ed. Jeffrey M. Elliot (1984)

No interior page or cover blurb. Here’s a brief selection from the introduction: “Life, love, sex—possibilities–infinite in number, rich in variety. This anthology explores the subject of same-sex love, within the perimeters of the science fiction-fantasy genre. As such, this is a unique work–the first to deal exclusively with gay/lesbian subject matter. While similar stories have appeared in other collections, this is the first volume to focus wholly on the gay/lesbian experience.

Until the mid-1960s, science fiction-fantasy authors, by and large, portrayed same-sex love, in the worlds of one critic, in a manner that could be described as ‘offensive, repellent, and cliched.’ In many ways, gays/lesbians were treated much like blacks: as non-existent. When they were, they appeared as minor characters, peripheral to the story, often as ugly stereotypes conjured up by homophobic authors. Rarely did gay/lesbian characters occupy center stage–they were, instead, part of the furniture, put there to be laughed at, pities, or scorned.

As times changed, so did the portrayal of same-sex love. This change is directly attributable to the influence of the lesbian-feminist and gay liberation movements, which fostered a new consciousness about gays/lesbians.”

Contents: Mike Conner’s “Vamp” (1977), Joanna Russ’ “When It Changed” (1972), Edgar Pangborn’s “The Night Wind” (!974), Elizabeth A. Lynn’s “The Man Who Loved the Moon” (1979), Barry N. Malzberg’s “Going Down” (1975), Rachel Pollack’s “Black Rose and White Rose” (1975), Thomas N. Scortia’s “Flowering Narcissus” (1973), Paul David Novitski’s “Nuclear Fission” (1979), Robert Silverberg’s “Passengers” (1968), Jessica Amanda Salmonson’s “The Prodigal Daughter” (1981), Theodore L. Thomas’ “Broken Tool” (1959), David Gerrold’s “How We Saved the Human Race” (1972)

Initial Thoughts: I’ve been reading a lot of 50s takes on sex and sexuality (some quite radical) so I thought I’d acquire an anthology on a similar theme from later decades! I’ve already read the Silverberg and Thomas stories.


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27 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCCVII (Jack Williamson, William E. Cochrane, a Groff Conklin anthology, and an anthology of gay and lesbian SF)

  1. Oh WOW! “Flowering Narcissus” rings loud bells. I had this volume in my library until the early 2000s but I don’t remember anything else here very clearly right now. Still, wonderful to be reminded of 1970s gay sf.

    • I haven’t read any of Scortia’s SF so count me intrigued by “Flowering Narcissus.” I also wonder if Malzberg’s take is better than his other treatments of gay relationships… we shall see…

      As I’ve discussed before, I am a bit befuddled by the inclusion of Theodore L. Thomas’ “Broken Tool” (1959). I struggled to identify any implied or otherwise relationship between the male characters. I wrote the following: “The story was anthologized in Kindred Spirits: An Anthology of Gay and Lesbian Science Fiction, ed. Jeffrey M. Elliot (1984) (contents). Did Elliot interpret Carter’s obsession with the much younger Lightner as more than paternal affection after the death of his own son? Or are Carter and Cecil’s displays of friendly interaction code for queer companionship in a moment of extreme shared sadness? Elliot might be conflating homosocial relationships–Thomas’ hyper-masculine world of the Space Academy–with queer overtones?

      I suspect Elliot read Carter and Cecil as a surrogate “couple” responsible for “raising” Lightner. If this is the correct interpretation, this is a very positive depiction of a gay relationship (even with the sad ending). Let me know your take–SF from the 50s that tackled queer desire are rare and fascinating!”

      Short Story Reviews: Theodore L. Thomas’ “Broken Tool” (1959), “The Far Look” (1956), and “The Good Work” (1959)

      • The idea of “homosocial” as distinct from “homosexual” in the sense of sex between same-sex partners hadn’t made it out of sociology classes by 1959. If there was subtext, that would’ve been the one everyone defaulted to.

        • Absolutely. Definitely me attempting to interpret why Elliot included it — it feels more like a military fiction type story of men bonding in shared trauma and struggle vs. a gay relationship (implied or otherwise). And another reader pointed out that they struggled with why it would be included as well… The editor’s intro doesn’t help matters. It describes who Thomas was etc. That said I guess Thomas agreed for the story to be included in this anthology!

          I am not always the best at detecting how characters are coded. Our discussion of Robinson’s generation ship story with the gay male character forced to be a dictator–“The Oceans Are Wide” (1954)–is case in point!

  2. I am, like you, very skeptical that CLASS SIX CLIMB is worth your time!

    I had never heard of Stuart Cloete’s “The Blast” until Dave Hook uncovered it for our discussion of 1946 SF at Worldcon. Dave thought it one of the best novellas of that year.

    • Re-the Cloete story. The Brians extended-bibliography review I mentioned praises elements of what seems to be a rather all-over-the-place reading experience:

      “One of the few survivors of the Great Disaster of October 5, 1947 tells, in a series of disjointed flashbacks, of the chaotic horror which engulfed New York City in the wake of an atomic attack which also destroyed most of the rest of the Northern Hemisphere, if not the Earth. Although the U.S. retaliates against the Russians, Nazi refugees in Latin America had actually launched the attack. Civilization proves fragile, for within an hour of the bombing, the city is plunged into a chaos of theft, rape, and murder. To protect his wife, the protagonist disguises her as a boy until starvation renders her safely unattractive. Many people commit suicide, others resort to infanticide or cannibalism. Angry famers repel fleeing city-dwellers. The protagonist finds his metier in shooting people’s starving pets for half the meat, later turning to big game hunting as he pursues freed zoo animals and mutated creatures such as giant minks through the urban jungle, choked with flourishing plant life. Most people, including the narrator’s wife, die not of the immediate effects of the war, but of a mysterious disease seemingly induced by radiation and called the “Red Death,” which causes them to dance themselves to death. The narrator survives a rather comically described bout of this terpsichorean plague, indulges in drinking and collecting art, and finally joins a band of roving Indians and mates with their young white female interpreters, and rides off happily in the spring sunshine.

      Despite its fantastic elements, the story is actually rather thoughtful. Cloete seems concerned seriously to warn his contemporaries of the dangers of atomic warfare, depicted here in the form of small bombs smuggled into the country. He discusses the futility of the notion of atomic secrecy: ‘Among others, I wrote and talked to the natures of our Anglo-American retention of the bomb, maintaining that manufacture should cease and control be given to the Untied Nations. I also said that our civilization, as we knew it, was finished; and that as others were writing and saying at the time the future presented only two alternatives: the liberation of man through atomic power or the destruction of our civilization, either by great nations in an undeclared war, which was what we feared, or by–and this was more or less in the realm of ‘astounding fiction’ stories-atomic bandits or nihilists.’ Scientists are noted as being prominent in efforts to remove the bomb from military control. The narrator states that the human race destroyed itself through its courage. Cowardice would have been preferable.”

  3. I have a few Groff Conklin anthologies on my shelf. He’s not the most discerning editor in the world, but he’s by no means a hack. I do have to question classifying “Surface Tension” as a short novel (it’s very much a novelette).

    That queer anthology looks… interesting. Have to wonder how that would’ve registered in 1984, when a certain US administration was perfectly fine with a certain virus ravaging queer communities.

    • I wonder if I could find any contemporary reviews of it online… The designation of novel, novella, novelette, and short story frequently seem a bit off in the 50s. But yeah, they all are much shorter than novels.

    • The term “Short Novel” at that time was very ill-defined. Some of the magazines (Planet Stories for one) happily advertised 10,000 word stories as “Complete Novels”. Conklin, I think would accept any story longer than 15,000 words as a short novel.

      • Speaking of Planet Stories and “complete novels” — it’s Betsy Curtis’ birthday today and I was thinking about reviewing some of her short fiction… she’s a complete unknown to me.

        And Curtis’ “Temptress of Planet Delight” in Planet Stories (May 1953) was marketed as a novel on the cover….

  4. I don’t think I’ve read any of these particular books, but regarding some of the authors mentioned: I read Jack Williamson’s novella “Nerves” and found it almost unreadable due to the large amount of jargon, having to do apparently with either physics or medicine or both. I found it hard even to discern a plot underneath it. I’ve read some of Heinlein’s early work (although not “Coventry”), and found it much more accessible, although I find some of the colloquial, cracker-barrel dialogue (reminiscent of old Hollywood movies) distracting. I prefer Clarke and Asimov, partly (among other reasons) for their more straightforward, less colloquial, dialogue.

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