(Catherine Huerta’s cover for the 1st edition)
“It’s the gestalt of the whole place, this whole fuckin’ city, rolled up in one man. Sometimes the world takes the shape of gods and those gods take the form of men. Sometimes. This time. That’s a whole city, that man” (18).
John Shirley’s City Come A-Walkin’ (1980), an early cyberpunk novel, succeeds as a surreal and earthy paean to diverse urban community and punk rebellion. A club owner and angst rocker join forces with a physical manifestation of San Francisco to fight the forces of technological change. While a brilliant evocation of aesthetic and emotion with sympathetic main Continue reading Book Review: City Come A-Walkin’, John Shirley (1980)
(Uncredited cover for the 1969 edition)
4.5/5 (Very Good)
“[He] maintained that it was in fact essential to conceal what could be concealed; indeed, an inspired lie could be preferred to a malignant truth” (24).
Sven Holm’s Termush (1967, trans. 1969) depicts, with stark minimalism, the psychological state of wealthy survivors holed up in a hotel shelter after an apocalyptic nuclear event. This brief work, a mere 110 pages, is not an adventure story. It is not an exercise in nightmarish brutality like The Road (2006) or an account of humanity’s turn towards evil as the gauze of “civilization” falls away like The Death of Grass(1956).
Rather, Sven Holm (1940-2019) (SF Encyclopedia entry), a Danish author of mainstream literature, delves into the psyche of the survivors, their isolation and inability to grasp the immensity of the changes beyond their walls, and their Continue reading Book Review: Termush, Sven Holm (1967, trans. 1969)
(Pompeo Posar’s cover for the 1st edition)
3/5 (collated rating: Average)
“The dead astronaut: The phrase is filled with anxiety, the words themselves evoking the tension and anguish that gripped the whole world in that fateful month of April 1970, when a technical malfunction came close to costing the lives of astronauts Lovell, Swigert and Haise” (5).
The Dead Astronaut (1971) contains a range of 50s and 60s SF stories—from Ursula K. Le Guin to J. G. Ballard—on the broad theme of astronauts, that appeared in Playboy Magazine. For a reader of genre for only the last decade (and a bit), it’s shocking to consider that Playboy, at one point, contained top-notch science fiction! That aside, The Dead Astronaut contains a range of soft and hard science fictional accounts of astronauts Continue reading Book Review: The Dead Astronaut, ed. uncredited (1971) (J. G. Ballard, Ursula K. Le Guin, Arthur C. Clarke, et al.)
(Detail from Bob Haberfield’s cover for the 1973 edition)
4.25/5 (Very Good)
In the Star Trek: Voyager episode “One” (1998), Seven of Nine, unaffected by a nebula’s subatomic radiation, must care for the crew while they’re placed in stasis. Alone on the ship, Seven experiences the prolonged effects of isolation including disturbing dreams and hallucinations. Ever since I saw “One” as a child, I’ve become fascinated with the strategies that humans might use in space to cope with isolation and the rituals they might enact to preserve sanity. Michael Moorcock and Hilary Bailey’s The Black Corridor (1969) (see note below), explores Continue reading Book Review: The Black Corridor, Michael Moorcock and Hilary Bailey (1969)
(Uncredited cover for the 1st edition)
4.5/5 (Very Good)
In the turbulent 1960s, the radical socialist Students for a Democratic Society (1960-1974) were one of the most influential organizations in the nascent New Left. SDS’s 1962 political manifesto, the Port Huron Statement, proclaimed in idealized terms the importance of egalitarianism, participatory democracy, labor rights, Civil Rights, and nuclear disarmament. Marge Piercy (1935-) wrote her first SF novel Dance The Eagle to Sleep (1970) while working as an organizer with the SDS regional office in New York (biography). In the last years of the 60s, while she was writing the novel, she describes SDS devolving into “warring factions” and her own personal disillusionment as the Vietnam War raged on.
In this context, Dance The Eagle To Sleep (1970) can be read as the rise and fall—intense, ecstatic, meaningful, tempestuous—of an SDS-esque student-driven movement (The Indians) in a near-future totalitarian America. Piercy follows a cast of characters whose paths, visions, and routes to revolutionary activity differ. As the movement is beset by external and internal Continue reading Book Review: Dance The Eagle To Sleep, Marge Piercy (1970)
My “to review” pile is growing and my memory of them is fading… hence short—far less analytical—reviews.
1. The Ballad of Beta-2, Samuel R. Delany (1965)
(Vincent Di Fate’s cover for the 1982 edition)
3.25/5 (Vaguely Good)
As I’ve been on a generation ship kick as of late, I was excited to pull out my copy of Samuel R. Delany’s early novel The Ballad of Beta-2 (1965). Delany subverts the standard (and infuriating) trope of cultural stasis—for the sake of societal stability—that authors suggest will occur between the colony ship’s departure and arrival. Instead, Delany explores the intermediary generations by examining a series of ballads Continue reading Short Book Reviews: Samuel R. Delany’s The Ballad of Beta-2 (1965), Barry N. Malzberg’s The Last Transaction (1977), and Philip McCutchan’s A Time for Survival (1966)
(Patrick Woodroffe’s cover art for the 1973 edition)
The Candy Man wanders from place to place in a crumbling mega-city with his sole companion, a mechanical dog named Wolf who comes with a handy handle. Candy Man instigates the lobotomized, with primal speeches and drugged sugar floss tinted with pulverized beetles, to revolution. His reward for turning in those he encouraged deviate from the will of the Deep Machine and their Teachers? Vials of drugs. Enter the hypnagogic world of Vincent King’s Candy Man (1971), an unsettled landscape inhabited by the degenerate remnants of humankind and the arcane workings of a computer program that cannot escape its original perimeters.
Fresh off Vincent King’s short story “Defense Mechanism” (1966), I tracked down a copy of his second novel. Occupying a similar space as “Defense Mechanism” (conceptual breakthrough in a decaying world city), King pushes the narrative Continue reading Book Review: Candy Man, Vincent King (1971)
(The Brothers Hildebrandt’s cover for the 1976 edition)
4/5 (collated rating: Good)
Cyborgs. Grand adventure. Space plagues. Theater performances for aliens. Trauma and recovery. Anne McCaffrey’s fix-up novel The Ship Who Sang (1969) is comprised of four previously published short fictions and one specially written for the volume (listed below). The fourth section, published in Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact (June 1969) ed. John Campbell, Jr. as “Dramatic Mission” (1969), was nominated for both the Nebula and Hugo Award (1970) for best novella. The stories follow the space opera adventures and emotional development of the cyborg Continue reading Book Review: The Ship Who Sang, Anne McCaffrey (1969)
(David McCall Johnston’s cover for the 1971 edition)
3/5 (collated rating: Average)
Preliminary publication note: The UK and US editions of the New Writings in Science Fiction anthology series (1964-1977) varied in content—even volumes indicated by the same number. They are often treated as separate entries in the isfdb.org anthology listing. I read and reviewed the US edition.
The back cover of New Writings in Science Fiction 7 (1971), ed. John Carnell promises a form of “future shock”—plunging us into a world derived from ours but foreign and alien. Is the collection successful? As with the three other volumes in this anthology series I’ve read—New Writings in SF 4 (1965), New Writings in SF 6 (1965), and New Writings in SF 9 (191972)–the answer is a mixed “somewhat.”
In the volumes I’ve explored so far, Vincent King is the biggest surprise—i.e. an author I had never read who produces regularly solid work. As with “Testament” (1968), King’s “Defence Mechanism” (1966) evokes “existential emptiness” Continue reading Book Review: New Writings in SF 7, ed. John Carnell (1971)