Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCCIX (John Brunner, Lester del Rey, John Domatilla, anthology of Best SF 1965)

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

1. Quicksand, John Brunner (1967)

From the back cover: “She had nearly killed a man who tried to assault her. She spoke a language no one could understand. Commonplace objects like clothing and cars were a mystery to her.

Paul was haunted and entranced by her. He licked at the secrecy that surrounded her until, inevitably, his fate became linked to hers. And she gave him a vision of a world more beautiful than any he had ever known.


Initial Thoughts: My Brunner obsession in my early 20s generated a packed few years of reading as many novels–the good and the bad–that I could get my hands on. This one escaped my grasp.

2. World’s Best Science Fiction: 1965, ed. Donald A. Wollheim and Terry Carr (1965)

From the back cover: “Selected from the pages of every magazine regularly publishing science-fiction and fantasy stories in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, and the rest of the world, Ace Books presents here the first of an important new series of anthologies. For the first time in paperbacks, an up-to-date selection of the outstanding modern science-fiction writings in the world, as picked by the discerning eyes of two experts.”

Contents: Tom Purdom’s “Greenplace” (1964), Ben Bova and Myron R. Lewis’ “Men of Good Will” (1964), Christopher Anvil’s “Bill for Deliver” (1964), Norman Kagan’s “Four Brands of Impossible” (1964), William F. Temple’s “A Niche in Time” (1964), Edward Jesby’s “Sea Wrack” (1964), C. C. MacApp’s “For Every Action” (1964), Josef Nesvadba’s “Vampires Ltd.” (1962, trans. 1964), John Brunner’s “The Last Lonely Man” (1964), Robert Lory’s “The Star Party” (1964), Colin Free’s “The Weather in the Underworld” (1964), Philip K. Dick’s “Oh, to Be a Blobell!” (1964), Edward Mackin’s “The Unremembered” (1964), Harry Mulisch’s “What Happened to Sergeant Masuro” (1957, trans. 1964), Thomas M. Disch’s “Now Is Forever” (1964), Jack B. Lawson’s “The Competitors” (1964), Fritz Leiber’s “When the Change-Winds Blow” (1964).

Initial Thoughts: A best of a year collection without a single work by a female author…. at least Carr and Wollheim included two translated fictions from Czechoslovakia (Nesvadba) and the Netherlands (Harry Mulisch). I’ve previous read and reviewed a solid collection Nesvadba–In The Footsteps of the Abominable Snowman (variant title: The Lost Face) (1964, trans. 1970). Harry Mulisch seems to be quite revered in his homeland– albeit, not to my limited knowledge in the US…

3. Gods and Golems, Lester del Rey (1973)

From the back cover: “Surely one of science fiction’s most happily argumentative representatives, an authority on a variety of subjects far too wide to list, and with a command of language, agility of mind and a total confidence to pass as an authority on any subject.

In an odd way, this is what science fiction is all about–the ability to convince the reader, or the listener, of the absolute reality of total impossibilities. But of course, one needs more than gall, a good mind, and command of the language. One needs talent, and professionalism, and experience, three qualities that add up to the controlling power which is the key in the finest of Lester del Rey’s writing.

Of which these five stories are a prime example…”

Contents: “Vengeance is Mine” (1964), “Superstition” (1954), “Life Watch” (1954), “For I Am a Jealous People!” (1954), “Pursuit” (1952)

Initial Thoughts: I purchased this collection as a young John Brunner in the listed del Rey’s “For I am A Jealous People” (1954) along with Philip José Farmer’s “The Lovers” (1952), Sherwood Springer’s “No Land of Nod” (1952), Theodore Sturgeon’s “The World Well Lost” (1953) as a “step forward” in the field due to their mature treatment of moral complexities. For more on Brunner’s early views of genre, check out Jad Smith’s John Brunner (2012).

My only previous exposure to del Rey:

4. The Last Crime, Ian Kennedy Martin (as John Domatilla) (1980)

From the inside flap: “The Last Crime is a daring and acidly funny science-fiction thriller that propels its reader into the twenty-first century, into the heart of a conspiracy to sabotage the London control center of the polluted, ultra-totalitarian Western world.

England is in the grip of a dictatorship, her demoralized citizens manipulated by mind drugs and by a massive computer complex that records and stores even the minute details about every living being. In this twilight world, Harold Acteon is one of the few who has retained the vivid and dangerous memory of freedom, and in the name of freedom he resolves to destroy the all-powerful and artfully concealed data banks. Shadowed by deadly agents of the omnipotent Kabinet, Acteon draws on all his resources to convert four fellow revolutionaries to his audacious and desperate master plan–a plan that ultimately runs an astonishing course down the dark path of betrayal.

Through his ingenious and crazily contorted prose, John Domatilla brilliantly conveys the future in a story that sparkles with irony, black humor, and sheer inventiveness. He has conjured up with magical skill the alarming prospect, not easily dismissed, of an Orwellian society. Although set in the future, The Last Crime is a deeply contemporary novel, a savage exploration of our present-day “civilization” for which future generations will have to pay.”

Initial Thoughts: All my knowledge of this novel comes from SF Encyclopedia: “set in a harsh, twenty-first century, Dystopian London whose inhabitants are addled and manipulated through forced immersion in an invasive Media Landscape, under the control of Univac-R, a massive Computer. An undercover team led by Harold Acteon, which has been set up to destroy Univac, runs into trouble. Interjections of reportage and other typographical intrusions are moderately intriguing, but perhaps over-complexify Martin’s clear Satirical intent.” A media landscape SF novel with typographical play? Count me intrigued!

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18 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCCIX (John Brunner, Lester del Rey, John Domatilla, anthology of Best SF 1965)

  1. Never heard of QUICKSAND, look forward to its turn at the top of the stack.
    The “Domatilla” rings a bell because “Harold Acteon” is such a pithy pairing of tragic heroes…one a King whose only fault was looking up when he should’ve ducked and the other the hunter who had the audacity to gaze upon a nude woman with lustful thoughts. (Bad luck it was an ill-tempered goddess.)
    Nesvadba’s story is in TH E LOST FACE, which I possess, but is as yet unread…none of the rest pique my present-day interest much.

    • To the best of my knowledge, the Nesvadba story isn’t in The Lost Face (variant title: In The Footsteps of the Abominable Snowman (variant title: The Lost Face) (1964, trans. 1970). I reviewed the collection (linked above) and do not remember it.

      That said, it is his most anthologized story so maybe you have it in another volume. I have it in two other volumes! (Car Sinister and Other Worlds Other Seas): https://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cgi?1568076

  2. I admit I had no idea that QUICKSAND was about naked women and a paradise of sensual ecstacy. Unless that’s just marketing talk.

    I don’t think I ever read that particular Wollheim/Carr Best of (their first.) Some of the selections are eyebrow-raising. Anvil? “Men of Good Will”? (A mediocre one-joke story.) Lory? Temple? And the writers I’ve never heard of (who may have done good work, mind you, but not much of it!): Lawson? Free? Mackin? I will say that “Sea Wrack” is a good story, and the stories by Kagan, Purdom, Brunner, Leiber, Disch, and Dick are at least solid, and sometimes more than that. MacApp is usually not all that great, but could be entertaining. Nesvbada is often good, and I admit I don’t know Mulisch, but I’m happy to see translated writers.

    1965 was at sort of a low point for SF — and a surprising low point for women writers. I haven’t finished my project to estimate percentage of SF/F stories per year by women, but after advancing through much of the 1950s, that percentage decreased for a while, until the mid to late ’60s.

    “For I am a Jealous People” is the only Del Rey story I’ve heard of in that collection. I don’t remember it well — I have a vague notion that I felt like it got extra credit for trying to be “mature” but that the story wasn’t really that great. But, it’s been a long time, so I could be way off base.

    • Thanks for the review link. I think I read the review when you posted it…. I’ll refresh my memory. Mackin is a complete unknown — as with quite a few of the others — to me.

      • Mackin–real name Ralph McInerny–was a British writer of the ’50s and early ’60s who is pretty much unknown these days, for good reason. His major work, if that term can be invoked for him, was a series of stories about the impecunious and raffish computer engineer Hek Belov, essentially situation comedies, some of which were reasonably amusing but that’s as much as can be said for them. That’s one reason “The Unremembered” was so striking; there was no antecedent for it in his previous work. His career essentially ended when John Carnell ceased to edit NEW WORLDS and SCIENCE FANTASY.

  3. Quicksand is one of my favorites of Brunner’s, and yes, that cover illo/blurb is a textbook case of Marketing Malpractice.

    I’m surprised and curious to see Mulisch having written something specifically SFnal (though who knows how much so, given the takeup of surrealist/magic realist writing in the mid-60s anthologies). Synchronistically enough given its placement on this page tho, the novel that does gesture in that direction is The Procedure, which incorporates a retelling of … The Golem.

    • I agree about “marketing malpractice.” The back cover has the entire naked woman…

      I am definitely intrigued by the Mulisch as he’s not someone I know other than what I read about him after seeing his name in the anthology on wikipedia.

  4. That last one on the list, “The Last Crime”, definitely captures my attention. I think I’ll look for a copy. Out of all the sub-genres that appeal to me in sci-fi, the post-apocalyptic and dystopian ones are my favourites. The most recent post-apocalyptic novel I read was “The Quiet Place” by Richard Maynard, which was sort of a cross between “The Time Machine” and “Earth Abides”. Highly recommended if you want a grim short read.

    Which reminds me, have you read “Manalone” by Colin Kapp? I thought it was a fantastic proto-cyberpunk story with great worldbuilding. It’s also set in a nightmarish future London with Orwellian overtones and a nice little twist at the end.

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