Category Archives: SF Book Reviews

Book Review: A Wrinkle in the Skin (variant title: The Ragged Edge), John Christopher (1965)

(Steve Crisp’s cover for the 1985 edition)

3.75/5 (Good)

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)

Book Review: Future Without Future, Jacques Sternberg (1971, trans. 1973)

(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)

Book Review: The 1977 Annual World’s Best SF, ed. Arthur W. Saha and Donald A. Wollheim (1977)

(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)

Book Review: Dark December, Alfred Coppel (1960)

(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)

[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)

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)

3.5/5 (Good)

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)

Book Review: Seeklight, K. W. Jeter (1975)

(Kelly Freas’ cover for the 1975 edition)

3.5/5 (Good)

K.W. Jeter’s first published novel is a promising one (*). On a nameless colony world, entropic forces influence all. Humankind speaks less and less and resorts to animistic grunts. Robotic priests go mad. Speculation abounds of a “Dark Seed” (52) implanted by the eugenicists on Earth in the colonist gene pool creating an increasingly crude and lazy population, “wretched and fearful of any change or effort” (46). The landscape itself  is inscribed with the entropic effects: most of the population seems to be engage in quarrying, hillsides are covered with the Continue reading Book Review: Seeklight, K. W. Jeter (1975)

Book Review: Don’t Bite the Sun, Tanith Lee (1976)

(Brian Froud’s cover for the 1st edition)

3.75/5 (Good)

My friend Hergal had killed himself again. This was the fortieth time he had crashed his bird-plane on the Zeefahr Monument and had to have a new body made” (9).

Tanith Lee’s Don’t Bite the Sun (1976) posits a post-scarcity future  replete with advanced technology where youth, the Jang, are encouraged (and “taught” via hypno-schools) to engage in various forms of excess. The nameless female Jang narrator (N) attempts to find life’s purpose in a society without rules, struggle, Continue reading Book Review: Don’t Bite the Sun, Tanith Lee (1976)