(Gary LaSasso’s cover for the 1983 edition)
In my late teens I encountered the space opera of C. J. Cherryh through the Hugo and Nebula Award-winning Downbelow Station (1981).* I was hooked. Her paranoia-drenched spacescapes, interstellar freighters, the awe-inspiring cumulative world-building effect of innumerable novel sequences from distinct perspectives, and narration that dwells on psychological impact of events were my bread and butter. See below for the list of the ten (I think?) novels I’ve previously read (although many details blend together). For whatever reason I hadn’t returned to her SF in more than a decade. I am glad I did!
C. J. Cherryh’s Port Eternity (1982), part of the Age of Exploration sequence within the larger Alliance-Union world, can be read alone. It is a claustrophobic rumination on identity Continue reading Book Review: Port Eternity, C. J. Cherryh (1982)
(Vincent Di Fate’s cover for the 1st edition)
Lewis Shiner’s Frontera (1984), a paranoid romp across post-democratic landscapes (both Earth and Mars) of decay and corporate takeover, contains a hypnotic premise and a not entirely convincing plot. Be prepared for a maelstrom of ideas and images: Subliminal messages. An abandoned Martian colony. Implanted Biological RAM. A dangerous voyage to Mars in old NASA shuttles. Corporate mercenaries. Hyper-violence. Mutant children. Transcendent mathematics.
Recommended for fans of gritty Continue reading Book Review: Frontera, Lewis Shiner (1984)
(Steve Crisp’s cover for the 1985 edition)
John Christopher’s A Wrinkle in the Skin (variant title: The Ragged Edge) (1965) is the second in my informal reading series on 50s/60s post-apocalyptic visions. Fresh off Alfred Coppel’s moody and reflective Dark December (1960), I chose one of Christopher’s works long overshadowed by his popular Tripods trilogy (1967-68)* and more famous earlier catastrophe novel The Death of Grass (1956).* Continue reading Book Review: A Wrinkle in the Skin (variant title: The Ragged Edge), John Christopher (1965)
(Rus Anderson’s cover for the 1973 edition)
3.75/5 (collated rating: Good)
Jacques Sternberg (1923-2006) was a Belgian author who occasionally published SF, especially early in his career. Future Without Future (1971, trans. by Frank Zero 1973) contains a nearly novel-length novella “Fin de siècle” and four other bleak satirical works published between 1958 and 1971.
A worthwhile acquisition for “Fin de siècle” (1971) alone. The other stories are still worth a read. If you’re interested in SF in translation, this collection is a must have. I plan on tracking down Sternberg’s only SF novel in translation, Sexualis ’95 (1956, trans. Lowell Blair 1965). It’s a shame La sortie est au fond de l’espace (“The Way Out is at the Bottom of Space”) (1956), “a black comedy set in space and featuring the last human survivors of a bacterial Holocaust” doesn’t exist (yet!) in translation…. (See SF Encyclopedia for a rundown of his works).
Like Stanislaw Lem, Sternberg creates planetary environments and otherworldly denizens that feel truly alien. In the more dystopic works, Sternberg’s bleak outlook on humanity’s increasing inability to connect with each other and our pasts Continue reading Book Review: Future Without Future, Jacques Sternberg (1971, trans. 1973)
(Richard Corben’s cover for the 1977 edition)
4.25/5 (collated rating: Very Good)
The 1977 Annual World’s Best SF, ed. Donald A. Wolheim and Arthur S. Saha (1977) is a glorious anthology of SF published from the year before containing rousing works by the established masters (Isaac Asimov and Brian W. Aldiss), philosophical gems from New Wave icons (Barrington J. Bayley), and gritty and disturbing commentaries on masculinity by the newer voices (James Tiptree, Jr.). While Richard Cowper and Lester del Rey misfire, the overall quality is high for a large Continue reading Book Review: The 1977 Annual World’s Best SF, ed. Arthur W. Saha and Donald A. Wollheim (1977)
(Uncredited cover for the 1971 edition)
4.25/5 (Very Good)
“In my holster I carried a pistol that had never been fired. Yet I was master of ten thousand graves” (72).
Occasionally my childhood love of survival tales—whether post-apocalyptic nightmares or sailors stranded on Pacific islands—rears its head and I am forced to track down a book, languishing in some forgotten corner, that satiates the craving. Alfred Coppel’s Dark December (1960), an unknown gem, successfully distills in ultra-realistic strokes the basic post-nuclear war survival formula: man traverses a bombed landscape, pockmarked with the vestiges of human habitation, on a quest to find his family. Dark December is a careful study of trauma and survival in the face of forces willing to plunge the world back into Continue reading Book Review: Dark December, Alfred Coppel (1960)
My “to review” pile is growing and my memory of them is fading… hence short—far less analytical—reviews.
1. City of Cain, Kate Wilhelm (1974)
(Uncredited cover for the 1978 edition)
Kate Wilhelm’s City of Cain (1974) is a moody, streamlined, and psychologically heavy near-future SF thriller. Peter Roos returns from the Vietnam War a scarred man both mentally and physically. After a technical error on a helicopter, a missile it was carrying explodes killing half the crew and sending shrapnel into Roos’ body. Back in the US, Roos engages Continue reading [Short] Book Reviews: Samuel R. Delany and Howard V. Chaykin’s Empire (1978), Kate Wilhelm’s City of Cain(1974), Charles Sheffield’s Sight of Proteus(1978)