Book Review: Heroes & Villains, Angela Carter (1969)

4.5/5 (Very Good)

English author Angela Carter (1940-1992) spun postmodern fabulations of decadent futures and decaying urban expanses replete with incisive deconstruction of genre conventions [1]. Her dark, Freudian, and erotic masterpiece The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (1972) ranks amongst my favorite SF 70s visions. From a young age Carter read John Wyndham and, like so many others in the 60s, felt the relentless pull of Michael Moorcock’s New Worlds magazine and the larger New Wave movement: “this lode, this seam of intensely imaginative and exciting fiction” [2]. And, as with her contemporary Emma Tennant, the work of J. G. Ballard–and/or his ability to fill the air with his entropic sadness–spurred her to write post-apocalyptic SF [3]. Heroes & Villains (1969) is the product of her inspiration and “her first tale to engage in a recognizably sf displacement of reality” [4].

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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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Article: Angela Carter on Science Fiction

I still have not reviewed one of my favorite novels (tied with Christopher Priest’s 1981 masterpiece The Affirmation) that I read in 2016: Angela Carter’s The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (1972). I have an excuse—I successfully defended my PhD earlier this month and am currently revising the 300+ page dissertation for final submission later this summer! And, I must confess, the fear that I won’t be able to do The Infernal Desire Machines justice envelopes me….

On May 7th Angela Carter Online [an indispensable resource for anyone who wants to learn more about her life and works] posted a previously unpublished 1979 interview with Carter conducted by David Pringle for a New Worlds volume that never came together: “The conversation focuses mostly on the topic of science fiction, and includes discussions of the seminal Continue reading

Updates: 2016 in Review (best novels + best short stories + best anthologies + notable posts)

Dear readers, thank you all profusely for your comments, words of thanks, and emails over the year. It is my overarching goal to inspire you all to read more SF from the 50s-70s, dust off the boxes of your parents’ books in some forgotten closet, browse the shelves at your local used book store (or favorite online store), reflect on the often fascinating cover art…

2016 was not the most productive reading/reviewing year as my PhD dissertation defense date rapidly approaches. For the purposes of maintaining my sanity, reading and writing about SF remains my primary relaxation hobby—surprising perhaps as I read a lot of depressing SF that wouldn’t be “relaxing” for most people. According to Megan at From Couch to Moon I like my fiction “moody, broody, meta, and twisted.”

And other than a few satires here and there, my favorite SF reads of 2016 fit firmly within Megan’s descriptors.

Thanks again!

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Best novels

  1. The Affirmation, Christopher Priest (1981)
  2. The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (variant title: The War of Dreams), Angela Carter (1972). Review forthcoming 
  3. The Dream Millennium, James White (serialized 1973, novel 1974)
  4. The Committed Men, M. John Harrison (1971)

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