Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCCXV (John Brunner, Connie Willis, Cynthia Felice, Philip Wylie, and a themed anthology)

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

1. The Shockwave Rider, John Brunner (1975)

From the back cover: “Future shock!

In the obsessively technological, paranoidally secretive and brutally competitive society depicted by John Brunner, even personal identities are under threat. But one man has made it his mission to liberate the mental prisoners, to restore their freedom in a world run mad.

Nickie Haflinger, the only person to escape from Tarnover–where they raise hyper-intelligent children to maintain the political dominance of the USA in the 21st century–is on the run, dodging from loophole to crevise to crack in the computerised datanet that binds the continent like chains. After years of flight and constant changes of identity, at the strange small town called Precipice he discovers he is not alone in his quest. But can his new allies save him when he falls again into the sinister grasp of Tarnover…?”

Initial Thoughts: I read John Brunner’s The Shockwave Rider (1972) before I started my site–along with his other masterpieces Stand on Zanzibar (1968), The Sheep Look Up (1972), The Jagged Orbit (1969), The Whole Man (196), etc. Of his best known novels, I remember the least about The Shockwave Rider. However, I cannot find my copy for a rare reread! For all I know I gave it to a friend or lost it in a move. I sought out this UK edition due to the intriguing urban arcology background of the cover.

2. Water Witch, Cynthia Felice and Connie Willis (1982)

From the back cover: “Mahali’s rulers for generations were the water witches, who could feel the ebb and flow of previous water in their very bones. Then there was a coup, and control of Mahali’s water passed to an impersonal computer network.

It was Deza’s father who hit upon the scheme. Dressing his daughter in ceremonial garb, he passed her off as the last surviving member of the royal house. With tricks and illusions she and her father moved towards the centers of power.

But it’s the nature of a con artist to go too far…”

Initial Thoughts: This novel, Connie Willis’ first, is a complete unknown to me. I have yet to read anything by Cynthia Felice yet either! As for Willis, I’ve never cared for her SF (so far)–I’ve read Doomsday Book (1992), To Say Nothing of the Dog, or How We Found the Bishop’s Bird Stump at Last (1998), and perhaps one or two more in my late teens.

3. The End of the Dream, Philip Wylie (1972)

From the back cover: No summary is provided on the back cover or inside flap. Here’s SF Encyclopedia’s blurb on the novel: “set in a 2023 multiply devastated by Ecological catastrophes, several of which are unspecifically but clearly linked to Climate Change.”

Initial Thoughts: I still have yet to read any SF written by the creator of “momism.”

4. Two Views of Wonder, ed. Thomas N. Scortia and Chelsea Quin Yarbro (1973)

From the back cover: “ALL ORIGINAL STORIES–on themes selected by paired teams of writers whose TWO VIEWS OF WONDER ILLUMINATE THE SUBJECTS THEY HAVE CHOSEN”

Here are the theme paragraphs provided by the editors: “THEMES:

(1) After watching the televised torture-murder pf his/her lover, the protagonist must device a communication system for the revolutionary underground in a society tyrannized by complete electronic surveillance.

(2) The protagonist is the manager a vast megalopolis that is breaking down because of transportation failure. Protagonist has commissioned a research group to solve the problem. The group comes up with the answer, a form of instantaneous matter transmission. The manager is aware of the decaying quality of life in the city. Shall the protagonist use the invention to prolong the existence and growth of the impractical city or, knowing that the proper use of the invention will render cities unnecessary, can he/she devise a scheme for using the invention to reverse the whole social trend?

(3) The protagonist, a biochemist, is face with the problem of releasing a newly discovered serum that confers near-immortality. The only problem is that it does not stop the normal aging progress.

(4) In a society critically overpopulated, all citizens suffering from chronic, debilitating, or terminal diseases are subject to euthanasia. The protagonist, involved in a love-hate triangle, discovers that one of the other two memories has successfully concealed a chronic disease.

(5) Through a destructive act, the protagonist becomes involved with an alien, unaware that because of their different natures, their relationship will destroy one or the other of them.

(6) The protagonist is part of a starship party rediscovering a planet settled years ago by a misanthropic molecular biologist and part. Protagonist falls in love with a native only to discover that all inhabitants of the planet are not human but rather mutated domestic animals.”

Contents (all but the Ellison published in 1973): Joe Gores’ “Faulty Register,” Miriam Allen deFord’s “Lone Warrior,” Pamela Sargent’s “IMT,” Michael Kurland’s “Small World,” Sydney J. Van Scyoc’s “When Petals Fall,” Reginald Bretnor’s “Papa Schimmelhorn and the S.O.D.O.M. Serum,” George Zebrowski’s “Rope of Glass,” Tamsin Ashe’s “The Quality of Mercy,” Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s “Un Bel Di,” Harlan Ellison’s “Kiss of Fire” (1972), Willo Davis Roberts’ “A Personage of Royal Blood,” Thomas N. Scortia’s “Thou Good and Faithful.”

Initial Thoughts: Here are the theme paragraphs provided by the editors to the authors. Each theme received two stories — from the male and female perspective.


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24 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCCXV (John Brunner, Connie Willis, Cynthia Felice, Philip Wylie, and a themed anthology)

  1. The Philip Wylie looks interesting. I haven’t read anything by him, though I’ve been tempted by ‘The Disappearance. (1951).
    Even though I’ve read ‘The Shockwave Rider’ a few times, like you I remember precious little, apart from Brunner’s extrapolation of 70s phone freaking with the protagonist using phone connections to rewrite his identity.
    My favorite cover is still the one I first read, shoehorning Brunner’s work into the lineage of cyberpunk after the fact:

    • I now own a substantial chunk of Wylie’s SF output — Triumph, The Disappearance, The End of the Dream, and Tomorrow! To be honest, I’ll probably read one of his nuclear war novels first (i.e. Triumph or Tomorrow!).

      That’s the edition I owned as well! I hunted and hunted for my copy. No hidden closet box remained unopened. Not sure where it went… I remember that I ranked it somewhere behind Stand and Sheep and above The Whole Man in the “top tier” Brunner I had read at that point.

  2. You’re aware that THE SHOCKWAVE RIDER you are about to read may not be the same book you read previously? If you read the US edition, that is. The US editor apparently combined two characters into one, much to Brunner’s dismay. This was mentioned briefly in passing in Jad Smith’s book. Brunner’s plaint appears here:
    https://www.fanac.org/fanzines/Yandro/Yandro233.pdf#view=Fit
    on page 27.

    At least you’re moving in the right direction if you have a UK edition.

    • That’s awful. I empathize with Brunner’s outrage. It’s been years since my last read through but I feel obliged to seek out a UK copy of the work in protest.
      Damn all the servile editorial minions of bloated publishing rackets!
      The Trainites are comin for ya…

    • I’m not so sure what to think actually. Editors slice and dice regularly and sometimes for good reason — and Brunner published his rewrites and expansions regularly in the 70s in periods of financial stress for a quick check. There is still value reading whatever others read at the time. Even if that’s a cut edition!

      For example, the Tucker’s The long Loud Silence (1952) (as you probably know) was excised of its cannibalistic references in the early 50s. They are only restored in the late 60s. That timeline says a lot about each era!

  3. I remember devouring all the John Brunner I could find way back in the 70s. Stand on Zanzibar made the biggest impression at the time, and I recall he was one of the first writers who made me see SF could be about ideas. Someone above mentioned Philip Wylie’s The Disappearance, which is well worth a read.

    • I devoured all I could in the early 2000s! (right before I started my site in 2010). Unfortunately, that means I haven’t written about any of his best known works on the site but rather a bunch of lesser novels that he wrote for a paycheck in order to write his masterpieces. For example: Average to bad stuff like Bedlam Planet (1968), Born under Mars (1967), Double, Double (1969), and The Dramaturges of Yan (1982)

      Stand always has a special place in my heart as it introduced me to the New Wave movement.

  4. The Philip Wylie book to read — even though it’s not science fiction (though there are a couple of short SF stories embedded in it ) is FINNLEY WREN.

    I have not read THE SHOCKWAVE RIDER, though I should and in fact I was looking at the audio book just today. Perhaps I’ll read that next.

    As for Connie Willis and Cynthia Felice — I’m not sure if they’ll be your thing but for me, I really enjoyed all their collaborations. They are light stuff, somewhat romance-oriented, but really enjoyable.

    The Connie Willis I really like is her first solo novel novel, LINCOLN’S DREAMS. Though I also liked DOOMSDAY BOOK a lot. And some of her short fiction is excellent.

      • I should have remembered your history degree! Yes, I know Willis totally got her medieval history wrong. And so I can understand your frustration. (She got Latin wrong, too, I understand.) I was just ignorant enough to tolerate her fantasy medieval history, and I thought the emotional story worked. But I do bow to your superior knowledge!

        • Medieval history PhD 😉 haha. My issue, as I age, is less and less and less about whether someone gets history right or wrong. The past is a vast tapestry that can inspire all forms of literature. My issue is more how trite and surface so many of those engagements with the past are — the same handful of tropes and behaviors and mindsets repeated ad nauseum like bad fantasy archetypes. And even by authors (cough Robert Cowper) WHO SHOULD KNOW BETTER as he studied as an Anglo Saxonist at Oxford…. and still road The Road to Corlay is littered with every pseudo-medieval cliché possible.

  5. THE SHOCKWAVE RIDER is probably the most significant Brunner after SOZ, and one of the two SF novels from the mid-1970s that ‘got’ the ubiquitously computer-networked world that was coming (the other being MICHAELMAS by Budrys, in 1977).

    Indeed ….

    antephayes: My favorite cover … shoehorning Brunner’s work into the lineage of cyberpunk after the fact

    No ‘shoehorning after the fact’ about it. SHOCKWAVE RIDER is the prototype of cyberpunk (aside from a couple of Tiptree stories about the same time as Brunner), which would be concerned with many of the same concerns when it came along a half-decade later.

    I read it when it came out , then again a few years ago to see if it stood up. On my second reading, I thought that it was still significant, but was struck by the clumsiness of some of the prose on a sentence by sentence level, as I have been by other Brunner productions. He was not that naturally graceful a writer, I don’t think. Peculiarly, too, in a lot of the stuff he churned out for Wollheim at Ace in the early 1960s the prose is more finished than in the later work. My guess is that he put that stuff through the typewriter for at least one more draft than he did after he experienced (1) the disillusion of SOZ failing to kick him up to another income level — indeed, he lost money on it — and (2) the loss of energy that came from not being so young any more.

    • Mark, I can assure you I use ‘shoehorning’ in only the most positive sense–if that’s possible. I am a great fan of Brunner and of The Shockwave Rider in particular. Personally, I feel that The Sheep Look Up is his great work from that fertile period, but I offer such an opinion only as a matter of taste.
      However, what I was gesturing at rather vaguely, re: the shoehorning, is the following: I recall back in the 1980s and early 90s, as a young devotee of cyberpunk SF, a lot of talk about the origins of and the existence of “proto-cyberpunk” & etc. No doubt Brunner’s work is a remarkable example of the latter, just as we can find antecedents in everything from E. M. Forster’s The Machine Stops through Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination, and on through the New Wave and beyond. However, such works only became “proto-cyberpunk” with the advent of cyberpunk itself, as a semi-organized sub-genre. It’s not a huge point, but given the many anxieties that seem to bat around the SF scene about lineages and debts and so on and so forth, I would suggest a certain caution regarding naming any work as a proto-this, or proto-that, given that such declarations are always made retrospectively, as it were. At its worst, it manifests in the ludicrous thesis pedaled by Darko Suvin (among others) that we can consider everything from Gilgamesh through Lucian’s True History and onward as “proto-SF”. Unfortunately, in doing so we begin to lose a sense of the specificity of SF, cyberpunk and what have you. I feel that this is probably less of a problem with Brunner, considering the near proximity of The Shockwave Rider to the 1980s and cyberpunk, and Brunner drawing upon ideas that were patently in the air at the time. But still, I will maintain that declaring it proto-cyberpunk is a conceptual violence of sorts, that tends to obscure both its specific context and debts, and so on and so forth. Still, and despite the foregoing, I’m not that concerned by those that want to declare it thus.

      • I think your point is well taken. But then I remember that I usually try to shoehorn Delany’s NOVA — and even Harrison’s THE CENTAURI DEVICE — into the “New Space Opera”, which really began in 1990 or so.

        (Or even Melissa Scott’s FIVE-TWELFTHS OF HEAVEN?????)

        • If I’m not mistaken, there’s a much more direct connection with The Centauri Device. While Harrison might have written it–as I argue in my review (with an incredibly contentious comment section. that book continues to be divisive)–as a subversive take on space opera, elements of his work (its baroque feel and names) were taken by younger readers who who later became authors as an overt point of inspiration.

          • But doesn’t most “New Space Opera” abandon the anti-hero style main character used by Harrison? I’m mean, he’s a character so high on drugs that he ruminates about the nature of mud for multiple paragraph…. I snark in my review: “The anti-space opera pastiche that eventually became passé.”

          • Oh, absolutely. Harrison, I believe — and he’s a truly great writer! — did not understand what Delany was doing, and, oddly, didn’t fully understand what he himself was doing. The names are the obvious thing younger writers stole — and they are great! — but it’s the baroque feel, and the very definite “subversion” that was carried forth most importantly in the “New Space Opera”.

            Harrison is really a major writer who we as a field haven’t fully come to grips with yet. Perhaps because his range is so wide. He may be the writer that, in 20 years, we recognize as nearly the best of his era.

            And of course Harrison eventually returned to Space Opera, with the Kefahuchi Tract books.

            • The spaceship names in The Centauri Device always crack me up. I compiled a list in my review: “Driftwood of Decadence. New English Art Club. Liverpool Medici. Gold Scab. Whistler. Seventeenth Susan. Solomon. Nasser. Strange Great Sins. Maupin. Trilby. Green Carnation. Les Fleurs du Mal. Madame Bovary. Imagination Portraits. Syringa. White Jonquil. Forsaken Garden. Let Us Go Hence. Melancholia that Transcends All Wit. My Ella Speed. Fastidious. La Vie de Bohème. Atalanta in Calydon.”

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