(Kelly Freas’ cover for the 1975 edition)
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)
(Brian Froud’s cover for the 1st edition)
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)
(Gene Szafran’s cover for the 1st edition)
4.5/5 (Very Good)
David Gerrold’s Moonstar Odyssey (1977) is a careful and introspective reflection on identity and gender set in a fascinating world made habitable by terraforming. While the back cover suggests the presence of a driving narrative–the fulfillment of a prophecy propelled by a catastrophic cataclysm–instead, Gerrold’s novel is a bildungsroman that follows the self-realization of a precocious child named Jobe. The dominate struggle that forms the core of the novel is “The Choice”–the moment in a young person’s life when they chose to move from their androgynous state to either “Reethe [or] Dakka, between female Continue reading Book Review: Moonstar Odyssey, David Gerrold (1977)
(Steve Weston’s cover for the 1st edition)
Fantasy and science fiction that deploys geographical and urban allegory—Italo Calvino-esque cities balanced over chasms, the skeletons of urban human interactions measured out in string, etc.*—relentlessly intrigues. In John Crowley’s The Deep (1975), the world as chessboard is perched on top of a pillar with endlessness on all sides. In Garry Kilworth’s Cloudrock (1988), two tribes eek out their existence on a levitating rock surrounded by poisonous gasses. Terry Carr’s Cirque (1977) posits a city next to an abyss out of which crawls a tentacled beast…. Sculpted urban and geographic artifice can, in the hands of an adept author, create meaning-rich texts as characters inscribe new patterns on the landscapes they traverse. Continue reading Book Review: Daybreak on a Different Mountain, Colin Greenland (1984)
(Uncredited cover for the 1963 1st edition)
You’ve got what almost every middle-aged man in American would like to have. Freedom. Real freedom. You can do any damned thing you want to. You’ve got financial security, you’ve got no responsibilities, and you’ve got no reason at all to feel guilty about what you’ve done. The company’s taken care of everything. Right?” (91)
David Ely’s Seconds (1962), a disquieting and sparse thriller, posits a near future where a shadow organization can grant the wealthy new identities via plastic surgery and staged deaths. Wielding deceptively simple prose, Ely ruminates on the existential dread of the male mid-life crisis–an undefined desire to escape, to redo, to break free from the expectations and constraints of the suburban existence. It is a careful novel. A well-crafted nightmare Continue reading Book Review: Seconds, David Ely (1962)
Note: My “to review” pile is growing. Short reviews are a way to get through the stack. Stay tuned for more detailed and analytical reviews.
But first…. three completely different volumes.
1. The World Menders, Lloyd Biggle, Jr. (1971)
(David Bergen’s cover for the 1975 edition)
Despite the idiotic moments in Star Trek: Insurrection (1998), as a kid I adored the first sequence–the undercover team observing the Ba’Ku community from a hidden observation station (before Data’s malfunction). Of course, Star Fleet assumed the Ba’Ku were pre-warp drive (and thus first contact shouldn’t be initiated). The mechanics of going undercover to initiate or prepare a society for contact is a fascinating and endlessly replayable SF premise. Continue reading Short Book Reviews: Lloyd Biggle, Jr.’s The World Menders (1971), Pamela Sargent’s The Sudden Star (variant title: The White Death) (1979), Josef Nesvadba’s In the Footsteps of the Abominable Snowman (variant title: The Lost Face)(1964, trans. 1970)
(Robert Andrew Parker’s cover art for the 1968 edition)
2.75/5 (Vaguely Average)
E. G. Valens’ Cybernaut (1968), a narrative SF poem, translocates earth exploration metaphors into the endless emptiness of space with varying degrees of success.
The narrator’s deep space exploration–“Operation C / Exploratory / A first incision in the skin of time. / Objective: / Lay back the superficial tissue / Lay bare the cortex of / The galaxy” (13)–is not all triumph. Continue reading Book Review: Cybernaut, E. G. Valens (1968)