Short Story Reviews: Carol Emshwiller’s “This Thing Called Love” (1955), “Love Me Again” (1956), and “The Piece Thing” (1956)

I have decided to do something I have never done before–read a contiguous chunk of an author’s work in chronological order. “Philip K. Dick? Robert A. Heinlein?” you might ask. “No! You know me….” I respond [in jest]. I have chosen to chart Carol Emshwiller’s short stories published in genre magazines and anthologies between 1955 and 1979. SF Encyclopedia conveys my fascination best: “In her hands, sf conventions became models of our deep estrangement from ourselves.” Of the two short stories of hers I’ve read–“Animal” (1968) and “Lib” (1968)–the former, an unnerving fable of the sexualized “Other” whose exclusion reinforces a community’s self-identity and cohesion, resides in my mind like a luminescent beacon. And I have finally latched on to its ever-present light.

If you are interested in all of Emshwiller’s short stories, check out Nonstop Press’ 2011 (vol. 1) and 2016 (vol. 2) omnibus release which includes those in non-SFF genre magazines. Here’s an example of what I am cutting: while her first published short story “Built for Pleasure” was SF, it only appeared in Long Island Suburban (November 1954) before the omnibus. Instead, I will start with 1955’s “This Thing Called Love” in Future Science Fiction, #28, ed. Robert A. W. Lowndes.

As I’ve only scratched the surface of Emshwiller’s output and can’t adequately summarize her work (I hope to by the end of this project), here’s the blurb from the Nonstop edition:

“Crossing the boundaries between fabulist literature, science fiction, and magical realism, the stories in this collection offer a valuable glimpse into the evolution of Carol Emshwiller’s ideas and style during her more than 50-year career. Influenced by J. G. Ballard, Steven Millhauser, Philip K. Dick, and Lydia Davis, Emshwiller has a range of works that is impressive and demonstrates her refusal to be labeled or to stick to one genre. This exhilarating new collection marks the first time many of the early stories have been published in book form and is evidence of the genius of Emshwiller, one of America’s most versatile and imaginative authors.”

This series will happen concurrently with the other short story reading exploration I am conducting and other reviews I have planned. Caveat: like my attempt to watch and review Survivors (1975-1977), this series could stop after three posts or take five years. I am a reader of whim.


“This Thing Called Love” (1955), 3.5/5 (Good). First appeared in Future Science Fiction, #28 (1955), ed. Robert A. W. Lowndes. You can read the story online here.

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Book Review: Project Barrier, Daniel F. Galouye (1968)

3/5 (collated rating: Average)

In the early days of my site, I reviewed Daniel F. Galouye’s best-known novel Dark Universe (1961) and A Scourge of Screamers (1966). Since then I’ve attempted to read Simulacron-3 (1964), adapted into a fantastic German mini-series World on a Wire (1973) and The Thirteenth Floor (1999), three times without success. What can I say, I’m a reader of whim and in each instance I wasn’t in the mood. Maybe it was Bill Botton’s compelling/bizarre psychedelic cover for Project Barrier (1968) or perhaps Rich Horton’s comments on twitter about the title story but I decided to give Galouye’s short fiction a go.

Project Barrier (1968) contains four uneven tales with one notable standout–“Rub-a-Dub” (variant title: “Descent Into the Maestrom”) (1961)–which I highly recommend if disturbing psychological SF is up your alley. The others in the collection exude a more run-of-the-mill feel. I found it refreshing that Galouye, a veteran greatly impacted by war injuries, tends to eschew violent conflict for peaceful resolution.

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Short Story Review: Philip K. Dick’s “A Little Something For Us Tempunauts” (1974)

The following review is the 8th 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.

Today: 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]

Previously: Kris Neville’s “Cold War” (1949) in the October 1949 issue of Astounding Science Fiction, ed. John W. Campbell, Jr. You can read it online here.

Up next: TBD

4/5 (Good)

Philip K. Dick wrote “A Little Something For Us Tempunauts” (1974) after a two-year hiatus. He explains that a friend brought by a copy of John T. Sladek’s brilliant “The Poets of Millgrove, Iowa” (1966) that spurred him to write again: “the first sf story in years that galvanized me into new life—like Kant reading Hume.” He further explains that Sladek’s satirical deconstruction of the cult of the astronaut “can stand in the ranks of the all-time great short stories in the English language” and that it “changed in a flash my entire conception of what a good sf story is” (source). I, too, adore Sladek’s story. Along with Barry N. Malzberg’s general characterization of astronauts and the space agency, it inspired this series.

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Book Review: Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down, Irene Schram (1972)

3/5 (Average)

“And he shot a little duck,

Right through the middle of the

Head, head, head.”

Nursery song (29)

Irene Schram’s near-future (?) shocker Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down (1972) subjects a fifth-grade class and their teacher to a terrifying series of violent travails at the hands of emotionless men. Told mostly from the perspective of the young students who write their thoughts in a school notebook, Schram presents a wide-ranging critique of contemporary American society (pollution, Vietnam, police brutality, et al.). Despite the resilience of children, society will win. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel. I found Ashes, Ashes an occasionally successful exercise in epistemological displacement and the effects of normalized trauma weakened by a lack of focus and moments of excess that verge on comical. 

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A SF “bande dessinée” Review: Paul Gillon’s The Survivor, 1 (1985, trans. 1990)

Story: 1/5 (Bad)

Art: 3/5 (Average)

Paul Gillon’s La survivante (The Survivor) (1985-1991) is a four-part erotic SF “bande dessinée” marketed as “ADULTS ONLY.” The first two volumes were translated into English by Dwight Decker and published in 1990. This is a review of volume 1. It’s sexually explicit, post-apocalyptic, and French. It’s Barbarella (1962-1964) 80s style, but the new 60s sexual liberation of the later is recast as campy exploitation… Other than the front cover below, I have not included images of the kaleidoscope of sexual acts and nudity–male, female, and andromorphic robot–included within the mere 47 pages. Take my word for it.

Aude Albrespy emerges from her aquatic escape from a nuclear war to a transformed world. Her partner “died trying to escape” and his skeleton greets her emergence from the depths (1). Ravenous and nude, she traverses the scarred landscape hunting for canned food and survivors. A few humorous interludes transpire.

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Short Story Review: Kris Neville’s “Cold War” (1949)

The following review is the 7th 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.

Thank you Antyphayes, “Friend of the Site,” for bringing this story to my attention!

Today: Kris Neville’s “Cold War” (1949) in the October 1949 issue of Astounding Science Fiction, ed. John W. Campbell, Jr. You can read it online here.

Previously: Theodore L. Thomas’ “Broken Tool” (1959) in the July 1959 issue of Astounding Science Fiction, ed. John W. Campbell, Jr. You can read the story online here.

Up next: 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]

“Cold War” (1949), 3.5/5 (Good). You can read it online here. I read it in First Step Outward, ed. Robert Hoskins (1969). Now let’s dive into the psychological hellscape that is militarized SPACE!

“The Government needs YOU!

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Book Review: Survival Ship and Other Stories, Judith Merril (1974)

Derek Carter’s cover for the 1st edition

3.5/5 (collated rating: Good)

Ever since I read Judith Merril’s “Daughters of Earth” (1952), I’ve been fascinating with her subversive takes 1950s-60s gender roles and classic SF tropes. Survival Ship and Other Stories (1974) contains twelve short stories and a never-before-published poem selected by the author.

In addition to the merits of the tales within, I found Merril’s brief reflections on her early work fascinating. For example, she ruminates on the failure of her planned novel based on the generation ship launched by The Matriarchy in “Survival Ship” (1951), “Wish Upon a Star” (1958), and “The Lonely” (1963). She also describes a magazine “cover story” commission. The author would be provided with the cover art and asked to write a story containing its elements! The following three in this Continue reading

Short Story Reviews: Theodore L. Thomas’ “Broken Tool” (1959), “The Far Look” (1956), and “The Good Work” (1959)

The following review of Theodore L. Thomas’ “Broken Tool” (1959) is the 6th post in my series on “SF short stories that are critical in some capacity of space agencies, astronauts, and the culture which produced them.” I have gone ahead and added two additional stories, including one that explores similar territory with a more positivist conclusion, by the same author.

Thank you Jennifer Jodell, “Friend of the Site,” for bringing it to my attention.

Today: Theodore L. Thomas’ “Broken Tool” (1959) in the July 1959 issue of Astounding Science Fiction, ed. John W. Campbell, Jr. You can read the story online here.

Previously: Theodore Sturgeon’s “The Man Who Lost the Sea” (1959), 5/5 (Masterpiece). First appeared in the October 1959 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, ed. Robert P. Mills. You can read the story online here.

Up next: Kris Neville’s “Cold War” (1949) in the October 1949 issue of Astounding Science Fiction, ed. John W. Campbell, Jr. You can read it online here.

Martinez’s interior art for Theodore L. Thomas’ “Broken Tool” (1959)

“Broken Tool” (1959), 3.5/5 (Good): You can read the story online here.

Theodore L. Thomas speculates on an unintended consequence of training cadets for deep space exploration—the creation of a radical, unmoored from earth, who only looks outward. Our Continue reading

Short Story Review: Theodore Sturgeon’s “The Man Who Lost the Sea” (1959)

The following review was originally conceived as the fifth post in my series on “SF short stories that are critical in some capacity of space agencies, astronauts, and the culture which produced them.” However, it does not fit. It is a spectacular evocation of memory and triumph and worth the read.

Thank you Mark Pontin, “Friend of the Site,” for bringing it to my attention.

Today: Theodore Sturgeon’s “The Man Who Lost the Sea” (1959), 5/5 (Masterpiece). First appeared in the October 1959 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, ed. Robert P. Mills. You can read the story online here.

Previously: Katherine MacLean’s “Echo,” in Infinity One 3.75/5 (Good). Available online here.

Up next: Theodore L. Thomas’ “Broken Tool” (1959) in the July 1959 issue of Astounding Science Fiction, ed. John W. Campbell, Jr. You can read the story online here.

Uncredited cover for the 1st edition of Alpha 8 (1977)

Theodore Sturgeon’s “The Man Who Lost the Sea” (1959), nominated for the 1960 Hugo Award for Best Short Story, thrusts the reader into a seemingly delusional landscape, generated by extreme trauma, of narrative fragments. One thread follows a child as he presents increasingly complex toy Continue reading