Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCCXVII (Roger Zelazny, Philip José Farmer, Steve Wilson, and an anthology with Ursula K. Le Guin)

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

1. My Name is Legion, Roger Zelazny (1976)

From the back cover: “HE DID NOT EXIST… OR DID HE? He had destroyed his punch cards and changed his face. There was no credit card, birth record, or passport for him in the International Data Bank.

His names were many… any he chose.

His occupation was taking megarisks in the service of a vast global detective agency.

His interworld assignments were highly lucrative, incalculably vital, and terrifyingly deadly.

And more often than not, his life was a living hell!”

Contents: “The Eve of RUMOKO” (1969),” “‘Kjwalll’kje’k’koothaïlll’kje’k” (1973), “Home Is the Hangman” (1975)

Initial Thoughts: In the early days of my site read I reviewed the first in the Nemo sequence–“The Eve of RUMOKO” (1969). At the time I did not care for it. However, I recently read F. Brett Cox’s monography Roger Zelazny (2021) and retrospectively I’m not sure that I understood the character or what Zelazny was trying to accomplish with the story sequence. Often after I read a monograph, I end up making a few impulsive purchases and this is one of them! I hope, at the very least, it gives me a deeper understanding of Zelazny’s SF project. And “Home Is the Hangman” (1975) is a Hugo and Nebula-winning novella that I have not read.

2. Millennial Women, ed. Virginia Kidd (1978)

From the back cover: “Six Women in Search of Their Selves

CAROL–She could face the sacrifice her career demanded… but could her husband?

ELANA–Even skill, devotion, and care can’t always prevent betrayal of the deepest trust.

KATHY–Had she been used too much ever to have a self?

MAB–Her work was vital, but could it define her?

AMANDA–She dared the taboos of her people to save the injured stranger who fell from the sky.

LUZ–Duty was a sham, and love was lost–only Luz could say who Luz was and what she might become.

These women, of different times and worlds than ours, illuminate and enrich our understanding of our own todays and tomorrows.”

Contents: Marilyn Hacker’s “Prayer for My Daughter” (1978) [poem], Cynthia Felice’s “No One Said Forever” (1978), Diana L. Paxson’s “The Song of N’Sardi-el” (1978), Elizabeth A. Lynn’s “Jubilee’s Story” (1978), Cherry Wilder’s “Mab Gellen Recalled” (1978), Joan D. Vinge’s “Phoenix in the Ashes” (1978), Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Eye of the Heron” (1978).

Initial Thoughts: I read Le Guin’s The Eye of the Heron (1978) before I started my site. I might as well give it a reread. This is one of the few women-only anthologies published before the modern SF era.

3. The Lost Traveler, Steve Wilson (1976)

From the back cover: “THE LOST TRAVELLER

When Civilization did an ugly disappearing act called World War III, men already used to the lack of it stood the best chance of survival. And the Hell’s Angels (Los Angeles Chapter) were survivors from way back…”

Initial Thoughts: You know me. I buy many post-apocalyptical fictions that I know will be crap. This probably fits the bill. SF Encyclopedia writes the following about his only SF novel: “set in a desolate Post-Holocaust venue at century’s end, extols the survival capacity of a Pariah Elite of Hell’s Angels, one of whom becomes a Messiah figure. At novel’s end, after a battle with the army, it looks as though agriculture will be revived.” Looks like Wilson got a little too excited about Roger Zelazny’s Damnation Alley (1969).

4. Tongues of the Moon, Philip José Farmer (1964)

From the back cover: “Earth colonies on Mars and the Moon witness the destruction of the home planet and know they are not alone in space but threatened by an ultimate weapon even deadlier than those that destroyed once beautiful Terra.

The fate of the human race hangs in the balance.

This is Science Fiction–but–perhaps less Fiction than Science…

Man’s fate has always been to play deadly games with the enormous forces of the universe…tempting doom.

And now it may be too late…”

Initial Thoughts: Another post-apocalyptic scenario novel about colonists continuing the Cold War on the Moon after nuclear holocaust on earth. Falls into the “I buy many post-apocalyptical fictions that I know will be crap” category. We shall see!

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21 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCCXVII (Roger Zelazny, Philip José Farmer, Steve Wilson, and an anthology with Ursula K. Le Guin)

  1. Looking forward to hearing what you think of My Name is Legion. I quite enjoyed it, as a nearly-new Zelazny reader. It’s interesting to see how different artists depicted the same scene from “Home is the Hangman” for two different covers (The Brothers Hildebrandt in 1976 and Ralph Brillhart in 1981).

    • Hello Andy,

      What’s your favorite Zelazny? Of what I’ve reviewed, my favorite is The Dream Master (1966) https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2014/04/19/book-review-the-dream-master-roger-zelazny-1966/

      I have fond memories of Lord of Light from before I started writing about genre.

      I have read the first story of My Name is Legion in another anthology and did not care for it. There’s a review floating around on my site if you want to track it down (see the review index) but I won’t link it due to its age (2012). I’d like to think I’ve gained a richer understanding of Zelazny’s fiction since then.

      I think I prefer The Brothers Hildebrandt cover to be honest!

      • The only other one I’ve read so far is Damnation Alley, which I liked a lot more than you did! I have copies Lord of Light and Eye of Cat, though, which I expect I’ll get to at some point this year. Interestingly Interzone magazine (which recently had a soft relaunch with issue 294) has started doing an “A-Z” of Zelazny’s works, which began with an essay on the Amber series.

        • I seem to remember your review of Damnation Alley. Yeah, definitely not a novel for me.

          I highly recommend the Cox monograph on Zelazny I link above. He spends a lot time trying to make sense and connections between Zelazny’s early far more experimental period and the mainstream shift that occurred later.

      • This is the cover I know, – it always reminded me of The Day the Earth Stood Still. The book probably bought by my father when it first came out, and has lived at the family cottage for the last many decades… I will have to give it another read

        • Hello Pat, I do prefer the 1st edition cover — The Brothers Hildebrandt. And yeah, reminds me a bit of The Day the Earth Stood Still as well!

          Do you have a favorite Zelazny?

  2. “Their selves” rather than “themselves” is such a 70s feel.

    I wonder now if Wilson had seen the first Mad Max film. I remember that cover being a spark to wondering “Is it embarassing to be seen reading this on a streetcar full of grad students?”

    • Hello Jim,

      He apparently wrote three other biker-related non-SF thrillers — I guess it was his thing!

      Chronologically it doesn’t work with Mad Max as that appeared in 1979. Maybe he watched it but it couldn’t have inspired his 1976 novel. I suspect Zelazny’s very average Damnation Alley (1976) would have been more likely.

  3. You’re right, “Tongues of the Moon” is crap, just another run-of-the-mill Philip J. Farmer novel. It’s quite short, but as I remember, it has no real structure and just tends to go on without any chapters to break the monotony.

    The later novel “Changeling” is the novel I liked best by Zelazny, although I did like “Nine Princes in Amber”, the first volume of the “Amber” series. I haven’t read the short story.

    • I do like the idea that a nuclear war wipes out so much of humanity (all of it? I don’t know, haven’t read it yet) on Earth and conflict continues on the Moon… it’s a great scenario for a SF novel. It’s unfortunate that it’s crap.

  4. Fine score with ‘The Lost Traveler’, copies in good condition are not cheap.

    Keep an eye out for Wilson’s 1985 novel ’13’, which only was published as a paperback, in the UK. I think it’s a better novel than ‘Traveler’, maybe because it’s about aging bikers riding in to the backwoods town of Badwater, Louisiana to rescue a compatriot from the clutches of a hangin’ judge who runs his town the way he pleases, the law be damned……….

  5. My Name Is Legion is a good one in my opinion. I think the individual sections hang together well, and there’s an overarching background story about the morality of the surveillance state that was way ahead of its time.

    • I didn’t care for the first section when I read it in an anthology in 2012. I hope I enjoy it more this time around.

      Ahead of its time? I dunno. the historian in me cringes at that idea. I think the concept of the immorality of the surveillance state is pretty common in SF of the time. The legacy of Orwell…. What does he do differently on that angle?

      • He doesn’t have anything groundbreaking or unique to say about the subject, but he makes it very personal. The main character is one of the architects of the central information system and he had the choice to illegally opt out of it. There’s an undercurrent of guilt, almost survivor’s guilt, because he knows that he has a freedom that is denied the rest of the world.

        That, in my opinion, is one of Zelazny’s great strengths as a writer, making big, abstract philosophical issues small and personal.

  6. Hey Joachim–

    I read “Home is the Hangman” in another story collection of Zelazny’s first, and found My Name is Legion in a bookstore years later. I bought it because I recognized the story from the cover, but I didn’t really care for either “RUMOKO” or the telepathic dolphin story when I read them. The cover blurb on Legion makes it sound like the stories are all going to be about a man constantly evading capture and exposure while he does his thing, but Zelazny isn’t really writing about a totalitarian surveillance state–this is what the world of Legion could become, but it doesn’t. I don’t remember feeling any fear for the hero, or ever thinking he was likely to be caught. There’s no Gestapo, no Thought Police, no all-knowing Forbin Project Colossus computer system watching everyone and everything. I think “Hangman” is a great story though–maybe because it’s really a high-tech murder mystery. But the three stories taken together just don’t do it for me. I think Legion was a failed experiment on Zelazny’s part–he must have wanted to try writing more conventional-seeming science fiction than he usually did (no immortal dimension-traveling princes, chess-playing unicorns, interstellar police agents dressed as kangaroos, or the like) but couldn’t pull it off. It’s too bad, because I would have liked to read a story or novel with Legion’s hero being suspected of a crime and pursued by the authorities, and having to clear his name while evading capture–something more like The Fugitive. I think Roger Zelazny’s best stories and books were the ones when he took a really bizarre idea and went all out with it.

    I liked the Hildebrandt cover better than the Bilhart one; it’s much more menacing.

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