Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CCCI (Angela Carter, Keith Roberts, J. L. Hensley, and a Leo Margulies Anthology)

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

1. Heroes & Villains, Angela Carter (1969)

From the back cover: “The Barbarians had attacked the village, looting and burning. And when they left, Marianne, a daughter of the scientists, went with them. Now she followed Jewel, leader of the barbarians, and lived with him as his captured bride…”

Initial Thoughts: A few years ago I read, and was blown away, by Angela Carter’s The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (1972). I placed it on my best reads of 2016 list but never managed to write a review. Inspired by the novel, I wrote an article derived from a fascinating 1979 interview on Angela Carter’s views on science fiction–including her inspirations and the state of the British SF scene, Michael Moorcock’s prodigious production and New Worlds editorship, and the unescapable influence of J. G. Ballard.

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Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCC (James Blish, Norman Spinrad, R. M. Meluch, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.)

My 300th purchase post!

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

Preliminary Note: As I’m currently on vacation, the images in this post are photographs of my volumes rather than my normal hi-res scans. I’ll replace them when I get home.

1. Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (1969)

From the inside page: “TAKE A TRIP WITH BILLY PILGRIM

-To the cellar of a slaughterhouse in Dresden, a city about to be destroyed by the greatest man-made catastrophe of all time.

-To happy marriage and mating with the sweet and willing daughter of one of the finest citizens of Illium, New York.

-To a luxurious zoo on the planet Tralfamadore for the public exhibition of lovemaking with the famous Earthling blue-moviestar, Montana Wildhack.

All in an amazing novel that could only have been written by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., a writer whose wildest flights take you straight to the hear and now.

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Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCXCIX (Henry Kuttner, C. L. Moore, Jack Williamson, Jacob Transure, Star Anthology)

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

1. Ahead of Time, Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore (1953)

From the inside page: “A brain in a box fights a criminal plot

A visitor from the future turns out to be peculiar even for his society

An eternal hillbilly family survives the centuries and gets into political trouble

A sick electronic calculator catches a psychosis from its operator

…these are some of the highly original and vividly written stories you will find in this selection of a master’s work.

Science fiction and fantasy grow constantly in popularity. Writing of this quality and imagination is the reason. Henry Kuttner demonstrates again in his book why more and more readers are becoming devotees of that intriguing fiction which is not content to stay in the world as we see it and know it, which takes us to the farthest reaches of space and time, to the farthest reaches of the human mind.”

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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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Updates: Recent SF Purchases No. CCXCVI (Harry Harrison, Carole Nelson Douglas, Terry Bisson, Star Anthology)

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

1. Planet of the Damned, Harry Harrison (serialized 1961)

From the back cover: “Brion Brandd of the Galactic CRF had a problem. It was the planet Dis. Brion’s assignment was to salvage it.

Dis was a harsh, inhospitable, dangerous place and the Disans made it worse. They might have been a human once–but they were something else now.

The Disans had only one desire–kill! Kill everything, themselves, their planet, the universe if they could–

BRION HAD MINUTES TO STOP THEM–IF HE COULD FIND OUT HOW!”

Initial Thoughts: Smells like a variation of Harrison’s Deathworld (1960), which I never managed to review, from a year earlier. Which isn’t a good sign… Planet of the Damned was a finalist for the 1962 Hugo for Best Novel. It lost to Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land (1961).

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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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Updates: Recent SFF Purchases No. CCXCIV (Theodore Sturgeon, Edgar Pangborn, Patricia A. McKillip, Ludovic Peters)

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

1. Not Without Sorcery, Theodore Sturgeon (1961)

Back cover blurb: “In 1948, Theodore Sturgeon published his first collection of short stories, titled, either from modesty or irony, WITHOUT SORCERY. Mr. Sturgeon’s firm conviction that, in his own world at least, absolutely anything is possible (and therefore whatever happens does so ‘without sorcery’) is an obviously specious argument and certainly no excuse. The fact is that anything which Theodore Sturgeon writes is the result of an extraordinary alchemy–the sorcery of his own talent, a talent that is peculiar to himself, unidentifiable but unmistakable, elusive yet always there. This is sorcery, and there is no point boggling it.

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Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCXCIII (Theodore Sturgeon, Kevin O’Donnell, Jr., R. M. Meluch, Ian Macpherson)

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

1. The Synthetic Man (variant title: The Dream Jewels), Theodore Sturgeon (1950)

From the back cover: “SUPERKIDDO! He ran away from home into the carny world. Noname “Kiddo,” disguised as a little girl in a freak show. What he didn’t know didn’t exist. What he couldn’t do was unimaginable. What he hadn’t asked was obvious: ‘Who am I and where did I come from?'”

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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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