Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCCX (R. A. Lafferty, Jan Morris, Star anthology, and an August Derleth anthology)

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

1. Strange Ports of Call, ed. August Derleth (1948)

From the back cover: “‘Begotten of Imagination, on the body of Technology, there springs forth the wild child Science Fiction.’ –Clifton Fadiman

The above is one of the many attempts that have been made to describe a department of fiction which, in spite of some sniping critics, continues to increase its followers. Recently Bertrand Russell observed that science fiction consists of ‘intelligent anticipation–much more intelligent than the expectations of statesmen.’

In this brilliant collection of stories the well-known editor and publisher, August Derleth, has assembled some of the best science fiction tales of recent years. Open the book to any page and you will find yourself completely captivated.”

Contents: Clark Ashton Smith’s “Master of the Asteroid” (1932), A. E. van Vogt’s “Far Centaurus” (1944), Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore’s “Call Him Demon” (1946), Nelson S. Bond’s “The Cunning of the Beast” (1942), Donald Wandrei’s “The Crystal Bullet” (1941), Fritz Leiber’s “Mr. Bauer and the Atoms” (1946), P. Schuyler Miller’s “Forgotten” (variant title: “The Forgotten Man of Space”) (1933), Frank Belknap Long’s “A Guest in the House” (1946), Philip Wylie’s “Blunder” (1946), Ray Bradbury’s “The Million Year Picnic” (1946).

Initial Thoughts: I own the 1958 edition in which 10 of the 20 stories were cut. Contains many authors I’ve yet to read–Philip Wylie, Clark Ashton Smith, Nelson Bond, Frank Belknap Long, etc. And I adore the cover! I wish I knew the artist.

2. Star Science Fiction Stories No. 2, ed. Frederik Pohl (1953)

From the back cover: “The immediate and huge success of the first volume of STAR SCIENCE FICTION STORIES made two things clear: that the public for superior science fiction is growing immensely, and that a second volume ought to follow the first as soon as enough good stories could be found.

Here is that second volume, fourteen excellent stories by some of the best-known authors in the field and the best newcomers. It is a feast of imagination and adventure–and first-rate writing.

All these stories are brand-new. They appear here for the first time.”

Contents: Alfred Bester’s “Disappearing Act” (1953), Theodore Sturgeon’s “The Clinic” (1953), Algis Budrys’ “The Congruent People” (1953), Hal Clement’s “Critical Factor” (1953), Jerome Bixby’s “It’s a Good Life” (1953), Lester del Rey’s “A Pound of Cure” (1953), Robert Crane’s “The Purple Fields” (1953), James Blish’s “FYI” (1953), Anthony Boucher’s “Conquest” (1953), Fletcher Pratt’s “Hormones” (1953), Robert Sheckley’s “The Odor of Thought” (1953), Jack Williamson’s “The Happiest Creature” (1953), C. M. Kornbluth’s “The Remorseful” (1953), Richard Wilson’s “Friend of the Family” (1953).

Initial Thoughts: I’ve been slowly acquiring the first ever series of original anthologies–Frederik Pohl’s Star series. I’ve previously featured no. 1 and 4.

3. Apocalypses, R. A. Lafferty (1977)

From the back cover: “THE PARADOX OF REALITY. Or the paradox of R. A. Lafferty? There is no one quite like him. He has earned a reputation for original and imaginative writing, with a sharp-bladed humor that is unlike anything ever written–he has a Hugo Award and the appreciation and amazement of his peers to prove it.

Apocalypses, like most of Lafferty’s works, is one of those rare books that is impossible to categorize–is it science fiction, fantasy, poetry, “horror/comedy,” historical fiction? You will have to judge for yourself. But one thing you can be sure of–it is like nothing else you’ve ever read!”

Contents: Where Have You Been, Sandaliotis? (1977) and The Three Armageddons of Enniscorthy Sweeney (1977).

Initial Thoughts: I’ve picked up and put down various Lafferty novels countless times. I adore many of his utterly unique short fictions–in particular “And Read the Flesh Between the Lines” (1974), “All Pieces of a River Shore” (1970), “The World as Will and Wallpaper” (1973), “Ride A Tin Can” (1970), “Continued on Next Rock” (1970), “Interurban Queen” (1970), and “Nine Hundred Grandmothers” (1966)–but struggle with larger doses of his work.

4. Last Letters From Hav, Jan Morris (1985)

From the back cover: “When the world’s foremost travel writer took her first trip to the small, multinational port of Hav, it was unlike any of her other journeys. For Hav exists only in one special place–Jan Morris’s magnificent imagination.

Here Jan Morris is at her most delightful, engaging us with tales of the arcane splendor of a state on the verge of extinction, a place that reminded her ‘constantly of places elsewhere, but remained to the end absolutely, often paradoxically and occasionally absurdly, itself.’

Only in Last Letters from Hav will you discover the curious excitement of the traditional Roof Race; can you wander through the back alleys of Hav’s ancient waterfront and encounter the specters of its enamored visitors of yesteryear: Freud, Diaghilev, Marco Polo, and Lawrence of Arabia; can be awakened y the wistful notes of a trumpeter on a far-off minaret. Throughout, the book is haunted by a growing premonition of the catastrophic events that will alter Hav forever, but a reader could not ask for a more masterly guide through this utterly unique place and time.”

Initial Thoughts: According to SF Encyclopedia, Jan Morris’ Last Letters from Hav (1985) can be described as follows: “In the 1985 iteration, a travel writer named Morris sojourns in the vastly intricate Middle Eastern peninsula and City called Hav, a Zone safely insulated behind a great escarpment or Polder […]; several eras (see Time Out of Sequence) cohabit within the city and the land; there are troglodytes, a “roof race”, a woman who may be Immortal, a Labyrinth echoing Underground the complexities above, a sense that the world – in particular the world of cities – is illimitable.”

As a fan of hyper-stylized works of SFF like China Miéville’s The City & The City (2009), Borges, Italo Calvino, and even Jeff VanderMeer’s The Cites of Saints and Madmen (2001) etc. count me intrigued!

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For TV and film reviews consult the INDEX

43 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCCX (R. A. Lafferty, Jan Morris, Star anthology, and an August Derleth anthology)

  1. Of course the only story in the Derleth anthology I’ve read is the van Vogt, which I’d say is one of his best. Also “The Million Year Picnic” if we’re counting its appearance in The Martian Chronicles.

  2. IMNSHO, the only first class story in either of those anthologies is the Bester, ‘Disappearing Act’ in STAR #2

    The Bixby is not only a classic, of course, but may actually be quite good. But I am unable to think anything sensible about it, because like, forex, Clarke’s ‘The Star,’ it’s such a chestnut — like a piece of mental furniture that’s been there forever. It may even have been in the very first SF anthology I read as a kid lo those many decades ago.

    The Sturgeon and the Kornbluth are solid. The Sturgeon is from his prime period; the Kornbluth isn’t top-drawer Kornbluth, but I struggle to think of anything that Kornbluth published under his own name that wasn’t good to great.

    And Fred Pohl’s STAR anthologies may have been the first all-original stories anthology series in SF, paving the way for series like Knight’s ORBIT, Carr’s UNIVERSE and Silverberg’s NEW DIMENSIONS later. So all props to STAR and Pohl for that.

    Conversely, the Derleth anthology is downright cheesy, hardly fourth-rate even. The only remotely significant story there is Van Vogt’s ‘Far Centaurus,’ which was the first SF story to have the particular idea that it has and so it deserves credit for that.

    (Also, that spaceship design on the cover makes no fricking, fracking sense whatsoever.)

    JB: ‘ I adore many of his (Lafferty’s) utterly unique short fictions … but struggle with larger doses of his work.’

    You’re not alone, guy. I actually like Lafferty’s novels because I take them as they are — which is to say, except for PAST MASTER, they don’t really amount to novels in any conventional sense, but are just Lafferty riffing his Lafferty riffs at book length.

    Lafferty’s short stories, which get in and deliver their punchlines and then get out are the thing. And even there, I hold the unfashionable belief that his earlier stuff for Frederik Pohl in the 1960s may be his best in that Pohl seems to have corralled him to stay on point and not get too Lafferty-esque (and disappear up his own behind, which Lafferty had a definite tendency, increasingly pronounced, to do). I cite the likes of ‘Slow Tuesday Night,’ ‘Thus We Frustrate Charlamagne,’ and ‘What’s the Name of That Town?’ as examples.

    • I beg leave to differ about the Derleth anthology, which I obtained at age 10. It was a high point of my personal Golden Age (I was precocious) because of Kuttner’s (and Moore’s, for sure) “Call Him Demon,” to my taste just short of their best (and yes, I have reread it since I was 10). There’s nothing else there so memorable; runners-up are the van Vogt and Bradbury stories.

      I was glad to get the Derleth anthologies, even in their appallingly truncated Berkley paperback versions. Derleth’s problem as an SF anthologist was that he didn’t really like SF all that much; he liked The Weird Tale. So his nominal SF anthologies were filled up with the weirdest SF he could find, or the weird stories that could most plausibly be passed off as SF. which made a piquant change from the Groff Conklin, Campbell, and Gold anthologies that were otherwise prevalent in the late ’50s and early ’60s. Nice place to visit if you didn’t have to live there.

      • I must confess, I didn’t realize the anthology was truncated. I bought it online based on a photo of shelves of anthologies from a friend who owns a bookstore in Chicago.

        I don’t think I’ve ever read a Derleth anthology. And I’ve wanted to read more of Kuttner/Moore’s SF.

        • Reprints of SF anthologies in the ’50s were almost always truncated, or worse. Big books were sometimes fissioned, albeit incompletely. Campbell’s ASTOUNDING SF ANTHOLOGY from Simon & Schuster contained 22 stories, and Berkley broke it into one book with eight stories under the original title, and another with seven stories titled ASTOUNDING STORIES OF SPACE AND TIME, leaving the other seven lost to follow-up. They vivisected ADVENTURES IN TIME AND SPACE in similar fashion. The Conklin hardcover anthologies were always gutted for paperback publication. In the same vein, British hardcover publishers invariably omitted chunks of the contents of US anthologies that they–sort of–reprinted.

    • I quite enjoyed the monograph on Pohl I read recently so I decided I might as well track down the Star anthologies due to their historical importance. And I’ve read at least one or two stories (maybe just one) for my media series so far from them.

      Looking at my reviews, it appears that I really enjoy Lafferty’s short fictions from around 1970. I’ve only read a few from the 1960 — including “Nine Hundred Grandmothers” (1966), which might be my favorite of his so far.

      • I’ve read all 5 of Pohl’s Star anthologies over the last 4 years after running across #2 back in 2018. I enjoy old anthologies and thought that Pohl did a good job of picking stories that I generally enjoyed. Since i read a lot of anthologies there would be a lot of stories i had read before but since many years had passed since last reading the story it was just as good the second time around

        • I’ve read 7 or 8 of the stories in the two collections, but none of them very recently.
          I have the Lafferty, and enjoyed it but as you say, his skill was at shorter lengths. I’ve read various novels of his but I don’t think I’ve re-read any (yet – I still own several).
          My first encounter was probably Thus We Frustrate Charlemagne in World’s Best SF #1 (ed by Carr & Wolheim) back in 1971! But the DAW collection Strange Doings a couple of years later was the first collection of his I read and Continued next Rock & Narrow Valley were favourites there. And Interurban Queen & Groaning Hinges of the World, both from anthologies a couple of years later…

          • Hello Mike

            To be clear, I never said or meant to imply that his skill was at shorter lengths. I said I have been unable to make it through a novel — as a reader of mood, it could have been as simple as I wasn’t feeling is work or wanted him in a shorter dose.

            I also enjoyed “Continued on Next Rock” and “Interurban Queen.” “This We Frustrated Charlemagne” has come up multiple times in these comments so it sounds like something I should read.

      • And Tom P has saved me the trouble of finding UKL’s article on the Guardian! Thank you, kind sir.
        Jan Morris, as a transwoman, has always interested me for her takes on Otherness in ALL her writing. It feels different to me, knowing what I know about her and her past, reading her words about Others and Othering…of course that’s easily explained by the fact that I do know those things about her. I still seek out her words.
        I read HAV last millennium but retain little concrete detail about it. I came away with a vaguely positive impression but no “wow” moments in it.
        Cheers, Dr. B! Happy Howl-low-weenie day.

        • I think the Le Guin review was due to a later addition to the novel in the form of a 2006 short story. But yes, she definitely makes it all seem quite tantalizing.

          As I mentioned above, I am fascinated by works of detailed urban “worldbuilding” — the its kaleidoscopic architectures, its cultures, its nightmares, its impending doom. In the list I forgot to include one of the most brilliant examples of this fantasy-esque genre: the first 50-odd pages of Angela Carter’s The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (1972).

          • The omnibus volume, just called Hav, includes the original short(ish) novel and a novella that’s about half as long. Both are very enjoyable, although Hav has changed dramatically in the intervening (fictional as well as actual) years. This is a very good example of the variety of sui generis fictional works that still belong in the overall category of fantasy. Le Guin’s novel and short stories set in Orsinia are a distant relation, so it’s not surprising she loved this.

  3. I have a huge soft spot for Clark Ashton Smith, particularly his Zothique stories–Dying Earth stories avant la lettre.
    I read all of the Star Science Fiction collections a few years back. Good, solid collections. But sadly the only story I remember from the above is the Jerome Bixby.

  4. I picked up a copy of “Strange Ports of Call” with all 20 stories. I love these old anthologies and have never read one edited by Derleth. The upper date limit of 1948 means there will not be any great stories that I might have missed but who knows. The story that immediately jumps out at me is Thunder and Roses” the great post nuclear war story by Sturgeon. It’s ironic that while this story was anthologized many many times over the years it is now being panned by younger readers for sexism and violence. I was born in 1947 and it makes it easier for me to get into the mindset that was prevalent back then and enjoy the story in the context of the times.

    • Did you read something recently leveling that critique at the Sturgeon short story? I have a relentless interest in post-apocalyptic short fiction so I’ll jot down the title for a future post.

      • I saw oneon Goodreads.

        “I’m unhappy I read this. Published in 1946, it holds both a terror of nuclear war and a level of sexism that’s hard to bear. I read a number of nuclear-powered-apocalypse stories before I was in high school, and I don’t ever want to read another one.”


        There are a few at “Young People read old SFF. Here’s an example.

        “Oh look, we’ve travelled back in time. And how. Starr Anthim (how do you like that corny, on-the-nose name?) is an early version of a manic pixie dream girl. I mean that in some of the worst ways. Her entire career has been about being appealing to men. Her job as a device in the story is to appeal to the less violent side of the main character. (Hey, he only kills one man for now and doesn’t launch those nukes. Rejoice!) And then once she has accomplished her final task of telling Pete her message, she dies. Mission complete.This not-quite-secular Noah parable comes across as terribly preachy. The exposition in Starr’s monologue doesn’t help.At this point, I’ve read too many post-apocalyptic stories set after a bombing to find anything original in this story. It may be relevant again in today’s palpable recent worries of nuclear war, but it’s marred by the resolution. What does the story say? Nukes are bad. Killing lots of people is bad. The answer: club each other one by one to death. Oh look, we’ve travelled back in time”


        • I decided long ago to not take reviews of stories, novels, etc. that I enjoy (or study due to the moment in time in which they were written) personally. Tastes and the nature of genre evolve over time — and that’s okay! I am of course interested in how the science fiction written at the time reveals values and fears and obsessions of the era. Because Sturgeon’s story was written when it was written is what makes it so interesting.

          • I agree totally and I do seem to have a knack for reading the story or novel in the context of when and where it was written. I actually need that ability to enjoy most of my reading to the fullest because since i retired I have been mainly interested in classic SF from the 40’s and 50’s and noir crime fiction from the 30’s and 40’s. I just started reading another Francis Stevens novel called “Claimed” a fantasy from 1920. So I am even going further into the past than usual to find reading material. I thought her novel “The Heads of Cerberus” was pretty interesting SF from back then.

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