Book Review: Casey Agonistes and Other Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories, Richard McKenna (1973)

4/5 (collated rating: Good)

Richard McKenna (1913-1964) spent the majority of his adult career (1931-1953) “not very happily” in the US Navy. He was forced to leave college and join the service due to his lack of opportunities in rural Idaho during the Great Depression. Many of his science fiction stories explore the homosocial world of the military–the comradery through shared trauma and battle, the corrosive effect on those who struggle to fit in, and the destructive culture of machoism. After his military service, he enrolled at the University of North Carolina in English. Only a handful of SF short stories appeared during his lifetime, the majority were published posthumously. McKenna considered SF to be his “training ground” before a planned career in mainstream literature. Right before his early death in 1964, he hit it big with the non-SF novel The Sand Pebbles (1962), which was turned into a famous 1966 movie by the same name.

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Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLXXXII  (Isaac Asimov, Mary Vigliante, Algis Budrys, and Vladimir Voinovich)

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

1. Earth Is Room Enough, Isaac Asimov (1957)

From the back cover: “ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN and probably will RIGHT HERE ON EARTH.

You don’t have to rent a spaceship or sign up for a singles cruise to Saturn or spend your weekends star-hopping along the Milky Way because EARTH IS ROOM ENOUGH.

Earth is where the action is and each tomorrow unleashes new discoveries.

Here are brilliant, witty, frightening, and fascinating stories of the future by the greatest science fiction master of them all. Just hitch your mind to these weird and wonderful tales for a spin around the world of tomorrow that will take you right to the center of your wildest dreams.”

Contents: “The Dead Past” (1956), “Franchise” (1955), “Gimmicks Three” (1956), “Kid Stuff” (1953), “The Watery Place” (1956), “Living Space” (1956), “The Message” (1956), “Satisfaction Guaranteed” (1951), “Hell-Fire” (1956), “The Last Trump” (1955), “The Fun They Had” (1951), “Jokester” (1956), “The Immortal Bard” (1954), “Someday” (1956), “The Author’s Ordeal” (1957), “Dreaming Is a Private Thing” (1955)

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Generation Ship Short Story Review: Michael G. Coney’s “The Mind Prison” (1971)

This is the 12th post in my newly resurrected series of vintage generation ship short fiction reviews. Today I have something a bit different — a 1970s commentary on the subgenre. While the story itself is not a generation ship tale as it takes place on Earth, it fits and critiques the theme from within a similar enclosed environment.

As a reminder for anyone stopping by, all of the stories I’ll review in the series are available online via the link below in the review.

You are welcome to read and discuss along with me as I explore humanity’s visions of generational voyage. And thanks go out to all who have joined already. I also have compiled an extensive index of generation ship SF if you wish to track down my earlier reviews on the topic and any that you might want to read on your own.

Previously: Arthur Sellings’ “A Start in Life” in Galaxy Science Fiction (September 1954), ed. H. L. Gold. You can read it online here.

Next Up: 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.


Michael G. Coney’s “The Mind Prison” first appeared in New Writings in SF 19, ed. John Carnell (1971). 3.5/5 (Good). You can read it online here. I read it Coney’s collection Monitor Found in Orbit (1974).

Coney positions “The Mind Prison”, in the introduction to his collection Monitor Found in Orbit, as a commentary on generation ship stories–in particular Robert A. Heinlein’s Orphans of the Sky (serialized 1941) and Brian W. Aldiss’ Non-Stop (variant title: Starship) (1959) which he read and reread over the years. He writes: “I cannot explain why I find the closed environment story so fascinating [..] Why should an adventure story be more exciting, merely because the people therein are not subject to external influences?” (114). Coney emphasizes the centrality of male heroism in many of these stories: “I would rather think that these stories emphasize identification, since the hero is invariably the only normal person around, surrounded by nonsensical religions, illogical facts, widely held misconception, which only he [emphasis Coney’s] can see the stupidity of” (114). “The Mind Prison” explores an enclosed environment remarkably similar to a generation ship, with a female heroine.

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Book Review: Only Lovers Left Alive, Dave Wallis (1964)

4/5 (Good)

The scene: Early 60s London. Conjure displays of cool style at local discothèques. Youthful insolence and wit. Frivolous consumerism. Into this swirling myth/reality of the “Swinging” city in the early 60s, Dave Wallis’ Only Lovers Left Alive (1964) weaves its own petulant “image making.” The youth attempt to create a world in the ashes of their forefathers who commit suicide in droves.

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Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLXXXI (Brian W. Aldiss, Michael Swanwick, Anita Mason, Robert C. O’Brien)

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

1. In the Drift, Michael Swanwick (1985)

From the back cover: “The meltdown at Three Mile Island created the death zone known as the Drift, where the sky burned dark blue and pink and where boneseekers destroyed bodies within.

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Generation Ship Short Story Review: Arthur Sellings’ “A Start in Life” (1954)

This is the 11th post in my newly resurrected series of vintage generation ship short fiction reviews. I’m continuing my exploration of 50s visions.

As a reminder for anyone stopping by, all of the stories I’ll review in the series are available online via the link below in the review.

You are welcome to read and discuss along with me as I explore humanity’s visions of generational voyage. And thanks go out to all who have joined already. I also have compiled an extensive index of generation ship SF if you wish to track down my earlier reviews on the topic and any that you might want to read on your own.

Previously: Frank M. Robinson’s “The Oceans Are Wide” in Science Stories (April 1954), ed. Bea Mahaffey and Ray Palmer. You can read it online here

Next Up: Michael G. Coney’s “The Mind Prison” in New Writings in SF 19, ed. John Carnell (1971). You can read it online here.

Arthur Sellings’ “A Start in Life” first appeared in Galaxy Science Fiction (September 1954), ed. H. L. Gold. 3/5 (Average). You can read it online here.

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Book Review: Fellowship of the Stars, ed. Terry Carr (1974) (Ursula K. Le Guin, John Brunner, George Alec Effinger, Pamela Sargent, Fritz Leiber, et al.)

3.5/5 (Collated rating: Good)

Terry Carr’s anthology Fellowship of the Stars (1974) collects nine original short stories by luminaries of the genre, Ursula K. Le Guin and Fritz Leiber, to lesser known authors such as Alan Brennert and Mildred Downey Broxon. As the title suggests, Carr commissions stories on the “theme of friendship between human and alien beings” (vii). In a bit of a twist, in more than one instance “friendship” might be code for something far more sinister.

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Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLXXX (Brian W. Aldiss, Judith Merril, Brian M. Stableford, and Chad Oliver)

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

1. Barefoot In the Head, Brian W. Adliss (1969)

From the back cover: “AFTER THE ACID WAR…. Rising from the dust and ashes of a Europe still reeling from the effects of the great Acid War comes Colin Charteris, a futuristic Don Quixote riding the mechanized brontosaurus of the times.

Charteris tries desperately to make sense of the drugged, chaotic world he lives in, and finds himself hailed as the new Messiah. Stranger still, Charteris himself comes to believe this.

His adventures as he tries to save the world from its insanity are brilliantly told, a satiric science fiction comment on the future of mankind.”

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Book Review: In Watermelon Sugar, Richard Brautigan (1968)

4.5/5 (Very Good)

Desperate for something unlike any other New Wave SF experiment, I came across Richard Brautigan’s surreal post-catastrophe novel In Watermelon Sugar (1968). Brautigan, best known as a Counterculture poet and the author of Trout Fishing in America (1967), spins a poetic thread simultaneously elegiac and nightmarish. More a sequence of short linked scenes, In Watermelon Sugar charts the memories of a nameless narrator (N) attempting to write a book about the community and inhabitants of iDEATH. Brautigan juxtaposes the terrifying calamities of N’s past–including his memories of his parents consumed before his eyes by the human-like Tigers and the violent rhetoric and self-immolation of inBOIL–with N’s tender memories of his blossoming love for Pauline.

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