Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLXXIV (Suzette Haden Elgin, Paul Cook, Herbert W. Franke, Charles Eric Maine)

As always, which books/covers/authors intrigue you? Which have you read? Disliked? Enjoyed?

1. Furthest, Suzette Haden Elgin (1971)

From the back cover: “Coyote Jones, agent for the Tri-Galactic Intelligence Service, had been sent to a planet so unimaginably distant from the rest of the Federation that it bore the descriptive name Furthest. His mission: to find out why the total body of data about Furthest showed the world’s inhabitants to be absolutely average down to the last decimal place. That data had to be false.

Jones was permitted to live on the planet, but the natives were so wary of him that he could uncover nothing—until he chanced into a personal crisis faced by his young Furthest assistant. The boy’s sister had been sentenced to Erasure, and he wanted Coyote Jones to take the fugitive girl in and hide her.

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Short Story Review: Poul Anderson’s “Third Stage” (1962)

The following review is the 14th installment of my series searching for “SF short stories that are critical in some capacity of space agencies, astronauts, and the culture which produced them.” Some stories I’ll review in this series might not fit. And that is okay. I relish the act of literary archaeology.

As always, feel free to join the conversation.

Today: Poul Anderson’s “Third Stage” (1962) in the February 1962 issue of Amazing Stories, ed. Cele Goldsmith. You can read it online here.

Previously: Anthony Boucher’s “Star Bride” (1951) in the December 1951 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories, ed. Samuel Mines. You can read it online here.

Up Next: TBD

3.5/5 (Good)

Poul Anderson’s “Third Stage” first appeared in the February 1962 issue of Amazing Stories, ed. Cele Goldsmith. You can read it online here.

At first glance Poul Anderson’s “Third Stage” (1962) reads as an archetypal disaster-in-space tale of intrepid spacemen making courageous decisions under great duress. Around that central core, Anderson delves into far more sinister reaches–the media’s role in televising and manipulating grief. Anderson’s astronauts maintain their heroism despite the machinations of nefarious media men in pursuit of ratings.

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Updates: Recent SFF Purchases No. CCLXXIII (Avram Davidson, Joan D. Vinge, William Tenn, and Michael Kurland)

As always, which books/covers/authors intrigue you? Which have you read? Disliked? Enjoyed?

1. The Island Under the Earth, Avram Davidson (1969)

From the inside page: “In THE ISLAND UNDER THE EARTH, a master fantasist has created his most fabulous land of imagination, peopled with humans and not-humans who speak with characteristically different voices and pursue goals and philosophies that set them inevitably against one another.

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Short Book Reviews: John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids (variant title: Re-Birth) (1955), John A. Williams’ Captain Blackman (1972), and Gina Berriault’s The Descent (1960)

Note: My read but “waiting to be reviewed pile” is growing. Short rumination/tangents are a way to get through the stack before my memory and will fades. Stay tuned for more detailed and analytical reviews.


1. The Chrysalids (variant title: Re-Birth), John Wyndham (1955)

3/5 (Average)

John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids (1955), my first exposure to his science fiction, transpires in a standard post-apocalyptic cozy catastrophe scenario with a deeply emotional core. The narrative follows David’s childhood in the backwater territories of Labrador, Canada hundreds of years after a nuclear war. The Church, inspired by Nicholson’s Repentances—which along with the Bible are only surviving books–imposes a draconian theology that “only God produces perfection” (51). Mutations, a visual sign of diabolical influence, must be destroyed. David, the son of the local strongman and preacher, discovers a young girl with a terrifying secret–she has six toes. David starts to accumulate secrets including his own mysterious telepathic abilities and recurrent dreams of a city in a world without cities. He shares them with his sympathetic Uncle Axel, who attempts to protect him from the forces narrowing in.

There are some nice touches throughout. Uncle Axel recounts his travels and knowledge of the world as a seaman and the effects is that of a medieval map, filled with pseudo-legendary beings, historical fragments, and “real” flora and fauna that, at first glance, seems too fantastic to exist (54-57).

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Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLXXII (James Tiptree, Jr., Allen F. Wold, Nova Anthology, and non-fiction on Drugs, Esoterica, and Visionary Experience in the Seventies)

As always, which books/covers/authors intrigue you? Which have you read? Disliked? Enjoyed?

1. Warm Worlds and Otherwise, James Tiptree, Jr. (1975)

From the back cover: “A DOZEN FABULOUS TALES OF INNER VISIONS AND OUTER SPACE…

LOVE IS THE PLAN, THE PLAN IS DEATH (Nebula-Award Winner—Best Short Story 1973)

Courtship rites can easily run amok, especially when that’s what’s supposed to happen… especially when the creatures are color-coded for passion as well as for death!

THE GIRL WHO WAS PLUGGED IN

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Book Review: Project Barrier, Daniel F. Galouye (1968)

3/5 (collated rating: Average)

In the early days of my site, I reviewed Daniel F. Galouye’s best-known novel Dark Universe (1961) and A Scourge of Screamers (1966). Since then I’ve attempted to read Simulacron-3 (1964), adapted into a fantastic German mini-series World on a Wire (1973) and The Thirteenth Floor (1999), three times without success. What can I say, I’m a reader of whim and in each instance I wasn’t in the mood. Maybe it was Bill Botton’s compelling/bizarre psychedelic cover for Project Barrier (1968) or perhaps Rich Horton’s comments on twitter about the title story but I decided to give Galouye’s short fiction a go.

Project Barrier (1968) contains four uneven tales with one notable standout–“Rub-a-Dub” (variant title: “Descent Into the Maestrom”) (1961)–which I highly recommend if disturbing psychological SF is up your alley. The others in the collection exude a more run-of-the-mill feel. I found it refreshing that Galouye, a veteran greatly impacted by war injuries, tends to eschew violent conflict for peaceful resolution.

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Book Review: Survival Ship and Other Stories, Judith Merril (1974)

Derek Carter’s cover for the 1st edition

3.5/5 (collated rating: Good)

Ever since I read Judith Merril’s “Daughters of Earth” (1952), I’ve been fascinating with her subversive takes 1950s-60s gender roles and classic SF tropes. Survival Ship and Other Stories (1974) contains twelve short stories and a never-before-published poem selected by the author.

In addition to the merits of the tales within, I found Merril’s brief reflections on her early work fascinating. For example, she ruminates on the failure of her planned novel based on the generation ship launched by The Matriarchy in “Survival Ship” (1951), “Wish Upon a Star” (1958), and “The Lonely” (1963). She also describes a magazine “cover story” commission. The author would be provided with the cover art and asked to write a story containing its elements! The following three in this Continue reading

Adventures in Science Fiction Interior Art: Monday Maps and Diagrams 2/22/21: Cordwainer Smith’s Instrumentality of Mankind Timeline

Detail from Darrel K. Sweet’s cover for the 1st paperback edition of The Best from Cordwainer Smith (1975)

Today’s installment of my occasional Monday Maps and Diagrams series is a self-reminder that I must get over the poor taste left in my mouth by two forgettable Cordwainer Smith short stories and dive into the meat of his Instrumentality of Mankind sequence. Which should I have read?

I’m a sucker for future history timelines (Olaf Stapledon, Robert A. Heinlein, and Isaac Asimov come to mind). They add a sense of time and scope to what, at first glance, might seem like disparate pieces. I often wonder how much an author plans out a timeline. This one, scanned from The Best of Cordwainer Smith (1975), places each of the Instrumentality of Mankind stories into a functional timeline. I’m assuming it adds to the series’ sense of historical development and societal evolution?

Let me know what you think of the series and the timeline in the comments!

John J. Pierce’s timeline (he wrote the intro article) in the 1975 Ballantine Paperback edition

Isfdb.org note on the timeline’s publication history: “There are (at least) 2 variants of this timeline. A table version titled The Instrumentality of Mankind appears in the original July 1975 Nelson Doubleday hardcover. A reformatted graphical version titled Timeline from THE INSTRUMENTALITY OF MANKIND appears in Continue reading

Recent Science Fiction and Fantasy Purchases No. CCLXVII (Daniel F. Galouye, Gordon Eklund, Lisa Tuttle, George R. R. Martin, and Andrew Sinclair)

As always, which books/covers/authors intrigue you? Which have you read? Disliked? Enjoyed?

1. Windhaven, George R. R. Martin and Lisa Tuttle (1981)

Vincent Di Fate’s cover for the 1st edition

From the inside flap: “The planet Windhaven was settled by humans after the crash of a colony starship. Survivors discovered that people could actually fly on this world, aided by the light gravity and dense atmosphere, and using wings made from a virtually indestructible metal fabric that had once been part of the starship. On this planet of small islands, monster-infected seas Continue reading