Short Story Reviews: Melisa Michaels’ “In the Country of the Blind, No One Can See” (1979), “I Have a Winter Reason” (1981), and “I Am Large, I Contain Multitudes” (1982)

My 1000th post!

Every morning for the last few years, I post on Twitter the birthdays (pre-1955) of artists, authors, and editors involved in some way with science fiction. In the last year, a singular compulsion has hit and I’ve started to include even more obscure figures like Gabriel Jan (1946-) and Daniel Drode (1932-1984). On May 31st, while perusing the indispensable list on The Internet Speculative Fiction Database, I came across an author unknown to me–Melisa Michaels (1946-2019) (bibliography). She’s best known for the five-volume Skyrider sequence (1985-1988) of space operas “depicting the growth into maturity of its eponymous female Starship-pilot protagonist” (SF Encyclopedia).

As I’m always willing to explore the work of authors new to me, I decided to review the first three of her six published SF short stories. Two of the three stories deal with my favorite SF topics–trauma and memory.


In the Country of the Blind, No One Can See” (1979), 3.5/5 (Good): First appeared in Isaac Asimov’s Marvels of Science Fiction (1979). It was reprinted in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine (January 1979). You can read it online here.

On a terraformed Mars, Allyson Hunter and her two clone sisters, Rebecca and Kim, are societal outcasts. They spent their lives trying to be “real people” yet were “reminded, every day in a dozen little ways, that they weren’t real people” (87). Clones retain their first usage as replacement body parts. Permitted to live only due to indications of telepathic potential (needed to guide spaceships), the sisters attempt to live meaningful lives and develop useful skills. The sisters charter two identical twins, Frank and Todd, to convey them across the Martian landscape. A horrific crash kills Kim and forces the survivors to work together and move past the deep resentment and hatred the brothers hold.

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The Introduction to Dangerous Visions and New Worlds: Radical Science Fiction, 1950-1985, ed. Andrew Nette and Iain McIntyre (2021)

I’ve recently conducted a binge read of my ARC of Dangerous Visions and New Worlds: Radical Science Fiction, 1950-1985, ed. Andrew Nette and Iain McIntyre (2021). It is a must buy for any SF fan of the era interested in exploring the larger world behind the texts. Considering the focus of my website and most of my reading adventures over the last decade, I can unabashedly proclaim myself a fan of the New Wave SF movement–and this edited volume is the perfect compliment to my collection and interests.

The editors and PM Press have graciously provided me with the introduction to the volume. Perhaps it’ll convince you to purchase your own copy!

Relevant links: Amazon USA, Amazon UK, and the publisher website.


Dangerous Visions and New Worlds

An Introduction

The “long sixties,” an era which began in the late 1950s and extended into the 1970s, has become shorthand for a period of trenchant social change, most explicitly demonstrated through a host of liberatory and resistance movements focused on class, racial, gender, sexual, and other inequalities. These were as much about cultural expression and social recognition as economic redistribution and formal politics. While the degree to which often youthful insurgents achieved their goals varied greatly, the global challenge they presented was a major shock to the status quo.

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Short Story Review: Theodore Sturgeon’s “Memorial” (1946)

I recently finished David Dowling’s Fictions of Nuclear Disaster (1987) and thought I’d review a handful of the short stories discussed in the monograph. The first on my list is Theodore Sturgeon’s haunting “Memorial” which first appeared in the April 1946 issue of Astounding Science Fiction, ed. John W. Campbell, Jr. You can read it online here.


“Memorial” (1946), Theodore Sturgeon, 4/5 (Good): Grenfell has a plan to create a war memorial to end all memorials—The Pit. It will writhe with lava. It will shine forth with a ghastly glow. Created by nuclear explosion a thousand times as powerful as the Hiroshima bomb (161). Like some grotesque manifestation of the Darvaza gas crater, it will be a “living reminder of the devastation mankind has prepared for itself” (161). And the message will be the most “useful thing in the history of the race—a never-ending sermon, a warning, an example of the dreadful” possibilities of nuclear war (161).

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Short Story Reviews: Jesse Miller’s “Pigeon City” (1972), “Catalyst Run” (1974), “Phoenix House” (1975), and “Twilight Lives” (1979)

Along with Octavia E. Butler (1947-2005), Samuel R. Delany (1942-), John M. Faucette (1943-2003), John A. Williams (1925-2015), and Steven Barnes (1952-), Jesse Miller (1946/47-) was one of a handful of African American science fiction authors active in the 1970s (note). I do not have precise birthday information for Jesse Miller or know if he is still alive. I extrapolated the date from a quote in his author blurb in Orbit 16, ed. Damon Knight (1975): “I am black. I am twenty-nine, and I have a good sweet woman, whose name is Jean, and I am slowly going blind.”

Soon after his honorable discharge from the United States Airforce at 21 (after service in Vietnam?), he published four short stories between 1972 and 1979 and then left science fiction altogether. One of a legion of authors first published by the late Ben Bova, he was a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (renamed the Astounding Award) for his first published science fiction story “Pigeon City” (1972). He lost to Spider Robinson and Lisa Tuttle. He wrote his first story (published later in 1975) while in a VA hospital bed. For a bit about his life, his brief experience at SF conferences, reflections on losing the Campbell Award, and various humorous and serious interactions with other authors (he smoked a pernicious strain of weed with Joe Haldeman), check out his article “Obnoxia” (c. 2001). I’ve also included George R. R. Martin’s recollections, as recorded in his intro to “Twilight Lives” (1979), below.

Theodore Sturgeon penned the following about Miller in his intro to New Voices II, ed. George R. R. Martin (1979): “[Miller] has that rather rare gift of writing “there,” of giving the reader the feeling that the writer is on location and not operating on a built-up set. Jesse Miller will go flap-jappering up to a high place or he will disappear.” It’s a loss to the field that the latter happened. Three of the four short stories are worth the read! And “Pigeon City” is a near masterpiece that should be anthologized more widely.

If you happen to know any more about him, please let me know!

Note: I think this is complete but I could be missing someone. Steven Barnes published his first three short stories in the 70s. I know Charles R. Saunders’ early work appeared in 70s genre fanzines. Did he write any SF or was it all sword and sorcery? I considered leaving John A. Williams off this list as he’s known as a mainstream author. His wonderful novel Captain Blackman (1972) could be classified as a speculative fiction involving time-travel (whether or not its entirely metaphorical). Williams’ Sons of Darkness, Sons of Light (1969), which I purchased recently, tells of near-future race violence in New York City. I think he qualifies.


Pigeon City” (1972), 4.5/5 (Very Good): First appeared in Analog Science Fiction (November 1972), ed. Ben Bova. You can read it online here.

In the 1950s and 1960s, white Americans propelled by racism and economic reasons fled the urban centers for the suburbs. According to Leah Boustan, for every “black arrival, two whites left the central city” in Northern and Western metropolitan areas. An insidious cultural iconography of middle-class white suburbia, replete with lawn and single-family houses, perpetuated inequality and excluded others from the American Dream. In this period, major race riots broke out across the United States–New York City (Harlem Riots, 1964), Los Angeles (Watts Riot, 1965), Newark (1967), and Detroit (1967)–in protest of poverty, racism, and unemployment exacerbated by the departure of businesses from the city centers.

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Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLXXXIII  (Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Lisa Tuttle, T. L. Sherred, and Robert Bloch)

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

1. Player Piano, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (1952)

From the back cover: “Want the computer to solve all your problems? Want machines to give you everything you need? Want to be taken care of from cradle to grave by an industrial society that knows what is best for you? Want to find out what hell is really like?

Then you are invited to visit Kurt Vonnegut’s funny and savage vision of a future that is somewhere between Animal Farm and Alice In Wonderland. You’ll laugh until you cry.”

Initial Thoughts: Of Vonnegut’s SF, I’ve only read the magnificent Cat’s Cradle (1963) and Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death (1969) more than a decade ago. The latter has faded a bit from memory. I am intrigued by his first novel. Here’s the synopsis from The Internet Speculative Fiction Database: “In the near future, when cybernetic automation has effectively separated people into two castes, the “engineers and managers”, and the remainder of the population who can find work only in “recycling and reclamation” or the largely useless military, an underground movement arises with the intention of rolling back those changes and giving the masses the dignity of owning their own, productive, work once more.”

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Book Review: Casey Agonistes and Other Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories, Richard McKenna (1973)

4/5 (collated rating: Good)

Richard McKenna (1913-1964) spent the majority of his adult career (1931-1953) “not very happily” in the US Navy. He was forced to leave college and join the service due to his lack of opportunities in rural Idaho during the Great Depression. Many of his science fiction stories explore the homosocial world of the military–the comradery through shared trauma and battle, the corrosive effect on those who struggle to fit in, and the destructive culture of machoism. After his military service, he enrolled at the University of North Carolina in English. Only a handful of SF short stories appeared during his lifetime, the majority were published posthumously. McKenna considered SF to be his “training ground” before a planned career in mainstream literature. Right before his early death in 1964, he hit it big with the non-SF novel The Sand Pebbles (1962), which was turned into a famous 1966 movie by the same name.

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Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLXXXII  (Isaac Asimov, Mary Vigliante, Algis Budrys, and Vladimir Voinovich)

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

1. Earth Is Room Enough, Isaac Asimov (1957)

From the back cover: “ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN and probably will RIGHT HERE ON EARTH.

You don’t have to rent a spaceship or sign up for a singles cruise to Saturn or spend your weekends star-hopping along the Milky Way because EARTH IS ROOM ENOUGH.

Earth is where the action is and each tomorrow unleashes new discoveries.

Here are brilliant, witty, frightening, and fascinating stories of the future by the greatest science fiction master of them all. Just hitch your mind to these weird and wonderful tales for a spin around the world of tomorrow that will take you right to the center of your wildest dreams.”

Contents: “The Dead Past” (1956), “Franchise” (1955), “Gimmicks Three” (1956), “Kid Stuff” (1953), “The Watery Place” (1956), “Living Space” (1956), “The Message” (1956), “Satisfaction Guaranteed” (1951), “Hell-Fire” (1956), “The Last Trump” (1955), “The Fun They Had” (1951), “Jokester” (1956), “The Immortal Bard” (1954), “Someday” (1956), “The Author’s Ordeal” (1957), “Dreaming Is a Private Thing” (1955)

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Generation Ship Short Story Review: Michael G. Coney’s “The Mind Prison” (1971)

This is the 12th post in my newly resurrected series of vintage generation ship short fiction reviews. Today I have something a bit different — a 1970s commentary on the subgenre. While the story itself is not a generation ship tale as it takes place on Earth, it fits and critiques the theme from within a similar enclosed environment.

As a reminder for anyone stopping by, all of the stories I’ll review in the series are available online via the link below in the review.

You are welcome to read and discuss along with me as I explore humanity’s visions of generational voyage. And thanks go out to all who have joined already. I also have compiled an extensive index of generation ship SF if you wish to track down my earlier reviews on the topic and any that you might want to read on your own.

Previously: Arthur Sellings’ “A Start in Life” in Galaxy Science Fiction (September 1954), ed. H. L. Gold. You can read it online here.

Next Up: TBD


Michael G. Coney’s “The Mind Prison” first appeared in New Writings in SF 19, ed. John Carnell (1971). 3.5/5 (Good). You can read it online here. I read it Coney’s collection Monitor Found in Orbit (1974).

Coney positions “The Mind Prison”, in the introduction to his collection Monitor Found in Orbit, as a commentary on generation ship stories–in particular Robert A. Heinlein’s Orphans of the Sky (serialized 1941) and Brian W. Aldiss’ Non-Stop (variant title: Starship) (1959) which he read and reread over the years. He writes: “I cannot explain why I find the closed environment story so fascinating [..] Why should an adventure story be more exciting, merely because the people therein are not subject to external influences?” (114). Coney emphasizes the centrality of male heroism in many of these stories: “I would rather think that these stories emphasize identification, since the hero is invariably the only normal person around, surrounded by nonsensical religions, illogical facts, widely held misconception, which only he [emphasis Coney’s] can see the stupidity of” (114). “The Mind Prison” explores an enclosed environment remarkably similar to a generation ship, with a female heroine.

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Book Review: Only Lovers Left Alive, Dave Wallis (1964)

4/5 (Good)

The scene: Early 60s London. Conjure displays of cool style at local discothèques. Youthful insolence and wit. Frivolous consumerism. Into this swirling myth/reality of the “Swinging” city in the early 60s, Dave Wallis’ Only Lovers Left Alive (1964) weaves its own petulant “image making.” The youth attempt to create a world in the ashes of their forefathers who commit suicide in droves.

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