Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCCXIX (Kim Stanley Robinson, Pamela Sargent, Greg Bear, and René Barjavel)

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

1. The Wild Shore, Kim Stanley Robinson (1984)

From the back cover: “Seventeen-year-old Henry wanted to help make America great again, like it had been sixty years ago, before all the bombs went off. But for the people of Onofre Valley, just surviving was challenge enough. Then one day the world came to Henry, in the shape of two men who said they represented the American Resistance…”

Initial Thoughts: In my late teens and early twenties I read two-and-a-half Robinson novels–Red Mars (1992), Green Mars (1993), and half of Blue Mars (1996). I found the initial settlement and its struggles fascinating but grew weary of the endless political and social machinations that followed as the planet underwent terraforming. As I recently enjoyed his early short story “Exploring Fossil Canyon” (1982), I thought I might as well track down his first novel… and I love a good post-apocalyptic story.

2. Venus of Dreams, Pamela Sargent (1986)

From the back cover: “THE VENUS PROJECT–an endeavor breathtaking in scope and awesome in possibilities. In short, the most ambitious project ever embarked on by the human race.

The story of one woman’s dream and of a new generation of pioneers, given the opportunity of carving a home for mankind out of the raging hell of Venus.

VENUS OF DREAMS is a magnificent saga of the men and women standing on the bring of an inspiring destiny, by one of today’s most gifted science fiction writers.”

Initial Thoughts: Yes, this is a year outside my normal publication boundary date of 1985… I still have yet to find a Sargent novel that has really spoken to me so I’m eager to explore more of her 80s novels. I’ve only read Cloned Lives (1976) and The Sudden Star (variant title: The White Death) (1979) along with a handful of short stories. I acquired Sargent’s best-known novel The Shore of Women (1986) back in 2021.

3. Ashes, Ashes, René Barjavel (1943, trans. Damon Knight, 1967)

From the back cover: “This was to have been the happiest day of young Blanche Rouget’s life. In Paris, the now-electronic city of love, Blanche had been about to make her debut as a star.

Then, abruptly, the Black Emperor of South America had told the world of the missiles already racing northward. Panic had broken forth.

And then had come the real horror. A vast clock of darkness had descended over the earth. And Blanche was hurled into a world gone mad in its death-throes.”

Initial Thoughts: I’ve heard mixed things about this WWII-era French post-apocalyptic novel. When I tweeted about it, a few mentioned René Barjavel’s sketchy political views during WWII (he was branded a collaborator post-War and later cleared)… We shall see!

4. The Wind From a Burning Woman, Greg Bear (1983)

From the back cover: “LISTEN TO THE WIND…

In this unique collection, multiple Hugo and Nebula Award winner Greg Bear soars past the mere boundaries of space-time to universes beyond our own, where reality dissolves, where boundaries of space-time to universes beyond our own, where reality dissolves, beauty and terror merge…

When monstrous treason triggers planetary revenge… Where ghosts lead a boy to a forbidden, wondrous destiny… Where chaos rules, gargoyles live, and a stone messiah must rise… Where cities walk… Where a woman must conquer a starship built in infinite galaxies… And where, in an ultimate war, love and history will be the ultimate casualties.

The are places where awe and mystery meet on the edge of science-and where stories are whispered on the wind…”

Contents: “The Wind from a Burning Woman” (1978), “The White Horse Child” (1979), “Petra” (1982), “Scattershot” (1978), “Mandala” (1978), “Hardfought” (1983)

Initial Thoughts: I’ve read very little of Bear’s early fiction. In my Hugo-Award binge in my late teens, I read but do not remember Blood Music (1985). Any favorite early Bear short stories?

For book reviews consult the INDEX

For cover art posts consult the INDEX

For TV and film reviews consult the INDEX

42 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCCXIX (Kim Stanley Robinson, Pamela Sargent, Greg Bear, and René Barjavel)

  1. I’m a big Robinson fan since buying The Wild Shore when it came out!
    I re-read the whole California Trilogy during lockdown in the new omnibus edition and thought the whole set stood up well when I re-read them. I’ve bought pretty much everything he’s done since.

    Brief comments of The Wild Shore here https://www.flickr.com/photos/17270214@N05/49745431916 but there are other related photos if you click to the left. Or click on the ‘album’ link for even more!

    I loved the first two Pamela Sargent books in her Venus trilogy but, although I have it (I think!), I haven’t yet read the somewhat belated vol 3; I feel I should re-read the first two before tackling vol 3.
    I haven’t read the other two titles; I’m not really a big Greg Bear fan.

    • I look forward to reading The Wild Shore. I’ve only read the Mars sequence and a few short stories here and there.

      How would you describe the Sargent Venus trilogy? Is it a feminist take on the colonizing an inhospitable world trope? Or is it a more straight-laced “how we might colonize a real planet” style SF?

      • iirc, it’s a mix; lots of gender politics against quite a different social background as a determined woman does all she can to bring about the colonisation, including molding her family to help the project, so it becomes a generational project. Quite a lot of discursive stuff about the techniques required to alter the atmosphere, etc. But it’s a long time since I read it.

      • Robinson’s The Wild Shore was first published as an Ace Special paperback, amongst Gibson’s Neuromancer and Shepard’s Green Eyes and others, Robinson’s fine novel is by far the best of the bunch.

        Neuromancer, though very influnetial, is very overrated, in my opinion.

        Robinson’s PhD thesis was an analysis of the novels of Philip K Dick (I bought a copy, very interesting read).

        • My reollection is that Robinson’s book was the top of the list in the adverts i saw at the time, with Gibson’s either 2nd or 3rd. I enjoyed all the early ones (maybe the first 8 ) in the series but either didn’t read, or didn’t finish 3 or 4 of the later ones. Still got most of them though!

        • Yup, I’ve been slowly collecting the Ace Special series over the last few years: from the lesser known stuff like Waldrop’s Them Bones to Robinson’s novel.

          I have fond memories of Neuromancer. Albeit, I read it in my late teens…. when I was obsessed with the Hugo list.

  2. Hard sci-fi is a tough sell for me, which is why I’ve never touched a Kim Stanley Robinson novel. I do like a good bit of post-apocalyptic action, so I’ll await your review for that novel of his and Ashes, Ashes.

    • I agree with you. That said, I read the Mars trilogy when I was in my late teens and hadn’t figured out what type of SF really resonated with me — and I was going by the Hugo Award list (both Green and Blue Mars won).

        • First of all, the fine writing.

          Second, I enjoy post-apocalyptic SF novels, there’s that theme of “starting over” again. Often in novels of this sub-genre it’s, “we just pick up where we left off” and off we go, so a linear repetition or extension of what came before.

          This isn’t the case with The Wild Shore, there’s conflict arising from who gets to set the agenda going forward, or who is going to quash any resistance to that agenda, in other words, power-play politics.

          It’s interesting Robinson has post-nuclear war rural life settlements, an SF pastoral vision. It’s a while since I read the novel so can’t recall if there was much political stuff going on within those rural communities as part of the plot. I’m aware of Robinson’s politics, which are very left-wing and socialist in nature. I don’t share them at all, however, this novel made a deep impression on me. I wrote KSR a short letter expressing my admiration and he was kind enough to reply.

          The Wild Shore is very much in the traditon of George Stewart’s Earth Abides, another classic SF novel that left eduring resonances and is beautifully written. I should read it again.

          • Have you been following my ongoing informal series on post-apocalyptic short fiction? In a few of those reviews I reference a fantastic article by Martha Bartter. Here’s a paraphrase from my review linked below of her central argument: “She explores the deep ambivalence within tales of future atomic war. Authors, and their characters, yearn to “build, a new infinitely better world out of the old” (148), and what better way than to destroy all that was. Narratives often betray a sinister destructive urge. She argues that “atomic war has traditionally been presented both as obvious disaster and as secret salvation” (148).” As in, the relentless power of the “starting over” again premise…

            Short Story Reviews: Richard Matheson’s “Pattern for Survival” (1955) and Margaret St. Clair’s “Quis Custodiet…?” (1948)

            You probably have already read it but Brackett’s The Long Tomorrow also successful uses the pastoral elements of the premise. https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2020/07/04/book-review-the-long-tomorrow-leigh-brackett-1955/

            Count me intrigued! (my politics are far more in line with Robinson’s to be honest — haha).

            • I think Bartter is right that some post-apocalyptic fiction is kind of authorial “burn it all down, I can show you how to do it better”. I tend to get interested in it the same way I have a weakness for fiction about amnesiacs — the building/re-building of identity, but on a bigger scale.

            • Yup, amnesia is another one of those relentlessly intriguing premises. Although, isn’t the vibe is a bit different? Amnesia is more about recovering exactly what was vs. creating anew.

  3. Have Sargent’s Venus trilogy but have only read an excerpt from it. I have read Wind From a Burning Woman and thought the standout story was “Hardfought” though “Petra” has its moments.

  4. I thoroughly enjoyed “Wild Shore” and the rest of the California trilogy back when they were new. His early “A Memory of Whiteness” is also interesting.

  5. A lot of SF authors published short story collections early on their career to increase visibility* – a short story being more accessible than a novel, I guess – The Planet on the Table was KSR’s calling card. The collection sticks in my mind because it didn’t really give any indication of his potential. I guess he’s a long distance runner rather than a sprinter? (Burning Chrome was another case in point)

    Maybe they still do?

  6. I thought it had some good stuff in it, but the later Remaking History or Down and Out in the Year 2000 both have excellent stories in them. Some of the best probably count as fantasy though. I understand he liked writing short stories but pretty much stopped to concentrate on more financially rewarding markets (i.e. novels!)

    • If I remember correctly, I enjoyed the middle volume (Green Mars) the best. I am intrigued by the Sargent. I have very mixed views on her SF so far in my explorations. I’ve reviewed two novels and three short stories which you can access via my review index. “Desert Places” (1974) is the best work of hers I’ve read so far.

    • “Blood Music” is all about biological nanotech- I don’t recall a tank, just people dissolving. The shorter version was terrific: the extended novel was less great

  7. The Venus series is an odd duck because as I recall, the third book got orphaned twice. Should have appeared from Bantam Spectra but didn’t in the aftermath of Lou Aronica leaving. Then, it did appear years later from Avon Eos, created under Aronica, but by the time it appeared, he was gone from there as well. Series got memory holed very quickly.

  8. Let me just add to some of the praise above for KSR’s The Wild Shore; read it for the first time a few months ago and quite thoroughly enjoyed it. In fact, I would recommend his entire ‘Three Californias’ trilogy, as the next two, The Gold Coast and Pacific Edge, are also well worth reading.

    • Thanks for stopping by. I’ve only heard good things. Please note: I do have a pretty rigorous chronological (and historical) framework for my site and the two sequels fall outside of my timeframe of study (1945-1985). I dabble of course a bit around those edges so I might track down later volumes.

      • Regardless of the limits you impose for the site, you should probably read both books just for your own enjoyment (like a far more recent offering by KSR that deals with some of the same themes, The Ministry for the Future). In fact, I think that once you get through Wild Shore, curiosity might just prompt you to read the other two.

Comment! Join the discussion!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.