Future Media Short Story Review: Barry N. Malzberg’s “The Idea” (1971) (as K. M. O’Donnell)

Today I’ve reviewed the thirteenth story in my series on the science fictional media landscape of the future. Here, I finally return to the nightmarish embrace of Barry N. Malzberg.

Previously: Pat Cadigan’s “Rock On” in Light Years and Dark: Science Fiction and Fantasy of and for Our Time, ed. Michael Bishop (1984). You can read it online here.

Up Next: TBD

3.5/5 (Good)

Barry N. Malzberg’s “The Idea” first appeared in In the Pocket and Other S-F Stories (1971) (as K. M. O’Donnell). I cannot find the story online. Please contact me if you do not own a copy and want a PDF of the story. I recommend you procure the fantastic anthology TV: 2000, ed. Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg, Charles G. Waugh (1982) which “The Idea” also appears in. I’ll be returning to this volume in coming weeks for this series.

Reading a Barry N. Malzberg story is like returning to a familiar embrace–an embrace of the blackest satire conveyed via terrifying existential traps. Ever since I read his masterpiece Beyond Apollo (1972), a metafictional destruction of America’s obsession with space exploration, Malzberg joined the pantheon of my favorite authors.

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Short Fiction Reviews: Algis Budrys’ “Forever Stenn” (variant title: “The Ridge Around the World”) (1957), Basil Wells’ “Sole Survivor” (1957), Helen McCloy’s “The Unexpected” (1957), and John D. Odom’s “The Word is Law” (1957)

Preliminary note: I never can pinpoint exactly why I read what I read when I read it as I am a creature of impulse and whim. While browsing lesser known authors, I came across Helen McCloy (1904-1994). She’s best known for her post-apocalyptic novel The Last Day (1959) (as Helen Clarkson)—which you read online as paper copies are incredibly scarce and expensive–and wrote a handful of speculative short stories of which three appear to be science fiction. Mysteries and non-genre fiction made up the majority of her output.

The Last Day led me to McCloy’s “The Unexpected” (1957) and that in turn lead me to the December 1957 issue of Satellite Science Fiction, ed. Cylvia Kleinman. As I recently read the short novel in the issue, Jack Vance’s solid The Languages of Pao (1957), I decided that I might as well read the rest of the stories in the magazine. And I hadn’t read a Budrys short in a bit… And I’d never heard of Basil Wells (1912-2003) or John D. Odom (unknown dates).

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Short Book Reviews: Michael G. Coney’s Monitor Found in Orbit (1974) and Ron Goulart’s After Things Fell Apart (1970)

Note: My read but “waiting to be reviewed pile” is growing. Short rumination/tangents are a way to get through the stack before my memory and will fades. Stay tuned for more detailed and analytical reviews.


1. Monitor Found in Orbit, Michael G. Coney (1974)

3/5 (collated rating: Average)

I’ve long enjoyed Michael G. Coney’s science fiction–check out Friends Come in Boxes (1973), Hello Summer, Goodbye (variant title: Rax) (1975), “Those Good Old Days of Liquid Fuel” (1977), and my recent rumination on “The Mind Prison” (1971) (which appears in this collection) for my Generation Ship Short Story Review series. Unfortunately, the majority of the stories in Monitor Found in Orbit (1974), his only published short story collection, are middling at best. I waited far too long to review this one! Despite the presences of some solid to good stories, I can only provide brief summaries at this point without a reread.

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Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCXCV (Andre Norton, Alfred Bester, Kendell Foster Crossen, Mark Clifton, Frank Riley)

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

1. They’d Rather Be Right, Mark Clifton and Frank Riley (1954)

Inside page blurb: “They’d rather be right!

They tried to smash ‘Bossy’ the super-computer. Joe Carter and his strange friends saved the machine–but that really wasn’t necessary. You can’t smash an idea–and the idea was bound to grow again anyway. But people can hate an idea….

They’d rather be right!

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Book Review: Universe 12, ed. Terry Carr (1982) (Kim Stanley Robinson, Howard Waldrop, Nancy Kress, R. A. Lafferty, et al.)

3.5/5 (collated rating: Good)

My fifth sojourn to Terry Carr’s Universe series of original anthologies (17 volumes published between 1971-1987) embodies the reasons I gravitate towards the medium: I discover new authors, I reassess old opinions, and deepen my understanding of my favorites. Recommended for Nancy Kress’ rumination on a childhood wrecked by insanity; Kim Stanley Robinson’s character piece on Mars transforming; Howard Waldrop’s account of obsession in an apocalyptic past; and Bruce McAllister’s tale of an astronaut returning home and the lies we tell.

Recommended for fans of more introspective early 80s SF.

Brief Plot Summary/Analysis

“A Pursuit of Miracles” (1982), George Turner, 3/5 (Average): The Australian author and SF critic George Turner (1916-1997) published his first science fiction at 62! It’s never too late to start. A few years ago I read Turner’s first novel Beloved Son (1978) in the Ethical Culture trilogy. While the details have faded from memory as I never got around to writing a review, I remember how fascinated I was by the exploration of a post-Holocaust world by a returning expedition in the first half of the novel. The second half faded and grew increasingly ponderous and I’m not sure I finished….

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Generation Ship Short Story Review: Don Wilcox’s “The Voyage That Lasted 600 Years” (1940)

This is the 14th post in my series of vintage generation ship short fiction reviews. Today I return to the 1940s with a story that feels like the progenitor of so many later visions of the generation ship. Along with Robert A. Heinlein’s “Universe” (1941) and “Common Sense” (1941) (novelized in 1963 as Orphans of the Sky), Don Wilcox’s “The Voyage That Laster 600 Years” (1940) maps out a commonly followed path for the subgenre.

Previously: Vonda N. McIntyre’s “The Mountains of Sunset, the Mountains of Dawn” in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (February 1974), ed. Edward L. Ferman. You can read it online here.

Next Up: TBD


3.5/5 (Good)

Don Wilcox’s “The Voyage That Lasted 600 Years” first appeared in the October 1940 issue of Amazing Stories, ed. Raymond A. Palmer. You can read it online here.

According to SF Encyclopedia, Don Wilcox (1905-2000) taught creative writing at Northwestern University and started writing pulp science fiction for Ray Palmer’s Amazing Stories and Fantastic Adventures in July 1939. He remains best known for his pioneering generation ship story “The Voyage that Lasted 600 Years” (1940).

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Short Story Reviews: Wilmar H. Shiras’ “In Hiding” (1948), “Opening Doors” (1949), “New Foundations” (1950), and “A Day’s Work” (1952)

Wilmar H. Shiras (1908-1990) is best known for her short stories in the Children of the Atom sequence–starting with “In Hiding” (1948)–about hyper-intelligent mutant children and a well-meaning psychiatrist who brings them together. In 1953, she added two additional stories and expanded it into a novel. Here’s her bibliography and SF Encyclopedia entry. I’ve decided to read the three short stories published before the novelization. I might at some later point tackle the complete Children of the Atom (1953). I’ll also review the only other story she published before her brief 1970s comeback.

First, here’s a bit of historical context that helps place the Children of the Atom stories. In The Dragon’s Tail: Americans Face the Atomic Age (2013), Robert A. Jacobs analyzes radiation’s “paradoxical iconography” that dominated early Cold War media. Jacobs describes the paradox as follows: “its abstract nature (invisible, odorless, tasteless), when combined with its true dangers (genetic mutation, cancer, death), allows it to evoke impossible worlds emerging from the ordinary one” (12). In film and fiction, “radiation came to symbolize a break in the normal structure of everyday reality” (13). The mere reference to its presence served as a “narrative marker” to indicate that “from this moment on anything was possible” (13). Modern readers might scoff at a nuclear logic (if it’s described at all) more alchemical rather than scientific but it went with the territory. Think of the B-film with a Geiger counter ominously signally some gigantic mutant about to appear… No informational deluge required. The author’s certainty about the audiences’ terrified/fascinated uncertainty is enough to justify whatever transpires.

Shiras’ stories in the Children of the Atom sequence fit Jacobs’ formulation perfectly. She provides no explanation for the hyper-intelligent mutant children other than vague references to a nuclear accident and radiation exposure. I’m not entirely sure what to think of these short stories. She avoids many of the pitfalls of other mutant children tales (A. E. van Vogt’s Slan and John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids come to mind) by the inclusion of caring normal adults who empathize with them and attempt to provide them a better life. Ultimately, the historian in me kicks into gear–they are fascinating relics of the earliest Cold War years and that adds another level of appeal.


3.75/5 (Good)

“In Hiding” (1948) first appeared in Astounding Science Fiction, ed. John W. Campbell, Jr. (November 1948). You can read it online here.

“In Hiding” introduces Peter Welles, a thoughtful psychiatrist, and Tim, a boy who seems different despite his average grades and normal child-like behavior. Tim is referred to Dr. Welles by his kind teacher Miss Page. Dr. Welles’ believes one should always trust a teacher, especially a veteran who taught him as a child (meaningful observations like this one add an air of realism to the proceedings), a proceeds with an array of tests. The results? Welles believes Tim is hiding something from his teachers and family. Over time, Tim opens up to Welles and grows to trust him. And the secret is immense…. Tim pretends to be normal as he is really a hyper-intelligent mutant created by a nuclear accident. And he’s far more than simply precocious–at reads all the books in the library, corresponds with luminaries across the globe, writes under various pseudonyms, and conducts cat breeding experiments in his own workshop.

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Book Review: Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year: Fourth Annual Collection, ed. Lester del Rey (1975) (R. A. Lafferty, Harlan Ellison, Robert Silverberg, Vonda N. McIntyre, et al.)

3/5 (collated rating: Average)

Lester del Rey’s Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year: Fourth Annual Collection (1975) is a mystifying read. For an anthology series claiming to contain the best stories of 1974, del Rey completely misidentifies all the hard-hitters of the year. For example, it does not include a single Hugo– or Nebula-nominated story.

My advice: Ignore the title. Instead, if you have an unnatural obsession with anthologies like myself, then contemplate picking up a copy for the Vonda N. McIntyre, F. M. Busby, John Brunner, and Gordon R. Dickson stories. The rest are average to poor.

Brief Plot Summary/Analysis

“If This Is Winnetka, You Must Be Judy” (1974), F. M. Busby, 4/5 (Good): Until I read this story, I assumed F. M. Busby’s SF from the 70s was as blunt and imprecise as Cage a Man (1973) and “Tell Me All About Yourself” (1973). With the emotional strokes reminiscent of Silverberg’s masterpiece Dying Inside (1972), Busby spins an ingenious time-travel tale about a man who lives his live in non-sequential sections.

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Future Media Short Story Review: Pat Cadigan’s “Rock On” (1984)

Today I’ve reviewed the twelfth story in my series on the science fictional media landscape of the future–and the first from the early 1980s. Pat Cadigan howls a ghastly punk scream into the vastness of the night.

Previously: Ann Warren Griffith’s “Captive Audience” in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, ed. Anthony Boucher and J. Francis McComas (August 1953). You can read it online here.

Up Next: Barry N. Malzberg’s “The Idea” in In the Pocket and Other S-F Stories (1971) (as K. M. O’Donnell).

3.75/5 (Good)

Pat Cadigan’s “Rock On” first appeared in Light Years and Dark: Science Fiction and Fantasy of and for Our Time, ed. Michael Bishop (1984). You can read it online here.

Whenever I delve into the nihilistic streets of cyberpunk, I enter the mental soundscape and acute estrangement imbued by the seminal 80s goth/post punk band The Cure: “scarred, your back was turned / Curled like an embryo” (“Cold” from Pornography, 1982). Robert Smith’s incantation of “a shallow grave / A monument to the ruined age” almost personifies cyberpunk’s fleeting but terrible power and apocalyptic conceptions of dark streets and conglomerates stamping out the last individuals finding their way across the net.

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