Short Story Review: J. G. Ballard’s “The Cage of Sand” (1962)

The following review is the 12th installment of my series searching for “SF short stories that are critical in some capacity of space agencies, astronauts, and the culture which produced them.” Some stories I’ll review in this series might not fit. And that is okay. I relish the act of literary archaeology.

As always, feel free to join the conversation.

Today: J. G. Ballard’s “The Cage of Sand” (1962) in the June 1962 issue of New Worlds Science Fiction, ed. John Carnell. You can read it online here.

Previously: Charles W. Runyon’s “First Man in a Satellite” first appeared in Super-Science Fiction (December 1958), ed. W. W. Scott. You can read it online here.

Up Next (tentative): Maureen Exter’s “The Spacers’ Dance” in Crisis, ed. Roger Elwood (1974). I have a PDF of the story. Let me know in the comments if you want a copy. The Crisis anthology isn’t the cheapest online.

Or perhaps….

Herbert W. Franke’s “Welcome Home” (1960) which first appeared in Der grüne Komet (1960). I read it in The Black Mirror and Other Stories: An Anthology of Science Fiction from Germany and Austria, ed. Franz Rottensteiner (2008). I have a PDF of the story. Let me know in the comments if you want to read it.

4.5/5 (Very Good)

J. G. Ballard’s “The Cage of Sand” (1962) first appeared in New Worlds Science Fiction (June 1962), ed. John Carnell. You can read it online here.

Amidst the wreckage of Cape Canaveral, with its “old launch-gantries and landing ramps [..] like derelict pieces of giant sculpture” (140), three souls attempt to find meaning in the buried hotels and relics of a rapidly disappearing past.

Adrift, We Cast About

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Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLXXII (James Tiptree, Jr., Allen F. Wold, Nova Anthology, and non-fiction on Drugs, Esoterica, and Visionary Experience in the Seventies)

As always, which books/covers/authors intrigue you? Which have you read? Disliked? Enjoyed?

1. Warm Worlds and Otherwise, James Tiptree, Jr. (1975)

From the back cover: “A DOZEN FABULOUS TALES OF INNER VISIONS AND OUTER SPACE…

LOVE IS THE PLAN, THE PLAN IS DEATH (Nebula-Award Winner—Best Short Story 1973)

Courtship rites can easily run amok, especially when that’s what’s supposed to happen… especially when the creatures are color-coded for passion as well as for death!

THE GIRL WHO WAS PLUGGED IN

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Short Story Review: Charles W. Runyon’s “First Man in a Satellite” (1958)

The following review is the 11th installment of my series searching for “SF short stories that are critical in some capacity of space agencies, astronauts, and the culture which produced them.” Some stories I’ll review in this series might not fit. And that is okay. I relish the act of literary archaeology.

Preliminary Note: I am getting a bit carried away by this project. The historian in me rears its obsessive head. I experience intense enjoyment reading any and all stories on the theme regardless of their quality. I know my readers might want me to feature some higher quality stories. Right? While I have a few average to solid stories in the docket read and waiting for reviews, I plan on tackling some harder-hitters in the near future (more Malzberg, Ballard, Sturgeon, etc.).

I had fun writing about this one! As always, feel free to join the conversation.

Today: Charles W. Runyon’s “First Man in a Satellite” first appeared in Super-Science Fiction (December 1958), ed. W. W. Scott. You can read it online here.

Previously: Roger Zelazny’s “Halfjack” in the June 1979 issue of Omni, ed. Don Dixon. You can read it online here.

Up Next: J. G. Ballard’s “The Cage of Sand” (1962) in the June 1962 issue of New Worlds Science Fiction, ed. John Carnell. You can read it online here.

2.75/5 (Vaguely Average)

Charles W. Runyon’s “First Man in a Satellite” appeared in Super-Science Fiction (December 1958), ed. W. W. Scott. You can read it online here.

For two years of my youth in the early 1990s, I lived in Washington, D.C with the National Air and Space Museum a few blocks away from our tiny home in Dupont Circle. While I could not yet read, I knew how long it should take for my parents to read each and every exhibit label to me. And, agape at Able the monkey’s space couch and preserved body, I asked the predictable question: “did she survive the voyage into space?” “She did,” my mother would said, “she died soon after.” “And the monkeys before her?”

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Book Review: At Midnight on the 31st of March, Josephine Young Case (1938)

3.5/5 (Good)

Preliminary note: This review is a slightly different version of the article I wrote for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction‘s “Curiosities” column in the recent March/April (2021) issue. I received permission from C. C. Finlay to post it on my site after the magazine hit shelves. You can read the article on the publisher website here. An index of earlier installments of the column can be found here. It makes fun browsing if you are interested in the more esoteric reaches of the genre.


Josephine Young Case (1908-1990), the daughter of pioneering industrialist and the first chairman of General Electric Owen D. Young (1874-1962), crafts a novel in blank verse. Released in the ninth year of the twentieth century’s worst economic crisis, this speculative epic poem is a strident call to return to the soil and reaffirm the value of work.

As if hermitically sealed, the town of Saugerville—a distillation of rural Americana newly electrified—remerges in a pre-Beringian wilderness of loneliness and endless trees. Roads evaporate into forests, electricity flickers off. A new cartography intrudes with its center on the clustered houses, two steeples, and roughhewn fields. Tracing an ensemble cast over one year, Case unearths a traumatic tapestry of severed horizons and grim survival.

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Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLXXI (Jack McDevitt, Clifford D. Simak, New Worlds Quarterly, and New Voices)

As always, which books/covers/authors intrigue you? Which have you read? Disliked? Enjoyed?

1. Worlds Without End, Clifford D. Simak (1964)

From the back cover: “A link between yesterday and the tomorrow that was here already…. Dreams constructed and maintained by society…. A world-to-world search for an elusive secret…. The bizarre, weird, strange creations of things and worlds only Clifford D. Simak could have written… and make believable.”

Contents: “Worlds Without End” (1956), “The Spaceman’s Van Gogh” (1956), “Full Cycle” (1955)

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Short Story Review: Roger Zelazny’s “Halfjack” (1979)

The following review is the 10th post in my series searching for “SF short stories that are critical in some capacity of space agencies, astronauts, and the culture which produced them.” Some stories I’ll review in this series might not fit. And that is okay. I relish the act of literary archaeology.

As always, feel free to join the conversation!

Today: Roger Zelazny’s “Halfjack” in the June 1979 issue of Omni, ed. Don Dixon. You can read it online here.

Previously: Frederik Pohl’s (as Paul Flehr) “The Hated” (1958) in the January 1958 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction, ed. H. L. Gold. You can read it online here.

Up Next : Charles Runyon’s “First Man in a Satellite” first appeared in Super-Science Fiction (December 1958), ed. W. W. Scott. You can read it online here.

3.5/5 (Good)

Roger Zelazny’s “Halfjack” first appeared in the June 1979 issue of Omni, ed. Don Dixon. You can read it online here. I read the story in the The Last Defender of Camelot (1980).

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Short Story Reviews: Carol Emshwiller’s “Bingo and Bongo” (1956), “Nightmare Call” (1957), and “Hunting Machine” (1957)

Here are the next three stories of my series exploring Carol Emshwiller’s short stories (published between 1955-1979) in chronological order. And if you missed it, Part I contained her first three stories.

Emshwiller’s next three science fiction stories, all published by Robert A. E. Lowndes, are polished fables utilizing standard genre tropes (alien possession, humans abducted by aliens, etc.) to highlight humanity’s encounter with itself in idiosyncratic and grim ways. I am particularly entranced by the stories told from a non-human perspective. This distancing effect allows Emshwiller to play with tone (“Bingo and Bongo”) and spin macabre horror (“Nightmare Call”).

While lacking the intense power of “Animal” (1968) (the best story of hers I’ve read so far), all three are worth the read for fans of clever weirdness. I look forward to Part III.

As always, feel free to join the conversation!


“Bingo and Bongo” (1956), 3.5/5 (Good): First appeared in Future Science Fiction, #31 (Winter 1956-1957), ed. Robert W. Lowndes. You can read it online here. In William Tenn’s Of Men and Monsters (1968) and F. M. Busby’s Cage a Man (1973), humans are imprisoned like lab rats by distant and truly alien aliens. The captives learn just enough about their world and captors in order to escape. Emshwiller brilliantly inverts the perspective. “Bingo and Bongo” is told from the perspective of an alien, a “Mother-Father-Aunt” entity with children, who believes humans are little more than non-sentient pets. The Mother-Father-Aunt’s progeny want new humans after the unfortunate death of their last in an escape attempt (they didn’t want to pay the money to have him professionally healed).

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Short Story Review: Frederik Pohl’s “The Hated” (1958)

The following review is the 9th post in my series searching for “SF short stories that are critical in some capacity of space agencies, astronauts, and the culture which produced them.” Some stories I’ll review in this series might not fit. And that is okay. I relish the act of literary archaeology.

As always, feel free to join the conversation!

Today: Frederik Pohl’s (as Paul Flehr) “The Hated” (1958) in the January 1958 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction, ed. H. L. Gold. You can read it online here.

Previously: Philip K. Dick’s “A Little Something For Us Tempunauts” in Final Stage: The Ultimate Science Fiction Anthology, ed. Barry N. Mazlberg and Edward L. Ferman (1974) [You can borrow this anthology online in one-hour increments]

Up next: Roger Zelazny’s “Halfjack” in the June 1979 issue of Omni, ed. Don Dixon. You can read it online here.

3.75/5 (Good)

Frederik Pohl’s “The Hated” (1958) first appeared in the January 1958 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction, ed. H. L. Gold. He wrote it under the pseudonym Paul Flehr. You can read it online here.

“The Hated” (1958) postulates that astronauts will require psychological conditioning to survive the confines of space travel to Mars. In Pohl’s future, the Mars-craft crams six men in a space the size of a Buick (51). The continuous sounds of machine and crew, the fetid taste of the air filled with sweat, the omniscient fear of crushing your oxygen line while sleeping, the free fall, the dreams of drowning, generates an intense drive to kill your crewmates. Byron, the narrator, wants a knife for Sam, to strangle Gilvey with his bear hands, gun Chowderhead with one bullet to the belly, turn a tommy gun on Wally, and cage the captain with hungry lions. The conditioning is “like a straightjacket”–Byron elaborates: “You know how to make a baby cry? Hold his hands […] What they did to us so we couldn’t kill each other, it was like being tied up, like having out hands held so we couldn’t get free” (50).

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Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLXX (Brian W. Aldiss, H. Beam Piper, Ann Maxwell, and Bo Carpelan)

As always, which books/covers/authors intrigue you? Which have you read? Disliked? Enjoyed?

1. Empire, H. Beam Piper (1981)

From the back cover: “”H. BEAM PIPER beloved author of LITTLE FUZZY, SPACE VIKING, and other classics, has left behind a veritable treasure trove of short fiction in his passing. Collected here for the first time anywhere are four of the best stories by one of the Grand Old Masters of science fiction.”

Contents: “The Edge of the Knife” (1957), “A Slave is a Slave” (1962), “Ministry of Disturbance” (1958), “The Return” (1954) with John J. McGuire, “The Keeper” (1957).

Initial Thoughts: Years back I read, but never reviewed, H. Beam Piper’s pulp extravagance Space Viking (1963) and detested it. I get the sense Space Viking might not be representative of his work? Piper has a devoted following and I want to know why.

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