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.”
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.
As always, which books/covers/authors intrigue you? Which have you read? Disliked? Enjoyed?
1. Strength of Stones, Greg Bear (1981)
From the back cover: “Ages ago this world was named God-Does-Battle. No one remembers wh. It was colonized in the most up-to-date way possible, supplied with the best Cities ever built by Robert Kahn. Huge laboratories labored for decades to produce the right combinations of plant, animal, and machine, and to fit them into the right design. The result was magnificent; living Cities, able to regenerate broken parts, to produce food on demand, and medicine, and clothing. so careful, so advanced was Robert Kahn that he even built into his Cities the ability to protect their inhabitants; to sense the presence of the occasional person whose potential for violence or cruelty made him a threat to society, to remove him from the City, and to erect walls of needle-sharp crystal to be sure he did not return.
Italian artist, author, translator, and comic book critic Ferruccio Alessandri (1935-) created twenty-two covers for the Italian SF magazine Galassia (most of the issues between #109-132) in 1970. Galassia magazine was instrumental in introducing Italian audiences to the New Wave movement. Issues often contained both translations of popular English language authors and original Italian short stories and experimental visions.
As a unit, Alessandri’s covers convey a terrifying hellscape of insectoid visages (#122, #110, #128, #130), encounters with the surreal (#115), the oddly humanoid shapes (#119, #114, #116, #127), etc. Like searing flashes of a planet bathed under neon light, they are micro windows into the wonderscape of science fiction. While his Galassia covers are unconnected to the contents of the issues (to the best of my knowledge), I find their cumulative effect unsettling and alien.
In 1968, the moody Canadian psychedelic pop group The Poppy Family released “Of Cities and Escapes,” a haunting song of urban emptiness. The song’s narrator intones: “I live in a one-room apartment, with windows on one side / I stare through the glass ‘cross the water, to where the big, ugly city lies.” In the second verse, later sampled by Deltron 3030 on “Madness” (2000), the narrator cannot escape the death spiral: “I’m caught in the grip of the city, madness and smog.” Twilight City (1974, trans. Joan Tate, 1993), by Norwegian novelist Knut Faldbakken (1941-), delves into a similar dystopian urban gloom. The refugees of a decaying city dust off the entangling membranes of lost paths and the weight of melancholy souls and attempt to chart a new beginning in the city dump.
Brief Plot Summary/Analysis
In an unnamed country, the metropolis of Sweetwater–“an eruption of urban geography” (2) possessed by an “ever-growing urban sprawl” (23)–suffers under the effects of global warming, industrialization, and malignant societal decay.
Preliminary note: This review is a slightly different version of the article I wrote for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction‘s “Curiosities” column in the recent March/April (2021) issue. I received permission from C. C. Finlay to post it on my site after the magazine hit shelves. You can read the article on the publisher website here. An index of earlier installments of the column can be found here. It makes fun browsing if you are interested in the more esoteric reaches of the genre.
Josephine Young Case (1908-1990), the daughter of pioneering industrialist and the first chairman of General Electric Owen D. Young (1874-1962), crafts a novel in blank verse. Released in the ninth year of the twentieth century’s worst economic crisis, this speculative epic poem is a strident call to return to the soil and reaffirm the value of work.
As if hermitically sealed, the town of Saugerville—a distillation of rural Americana newly electrified—remerges in a pre-Beringian wilderness of loneliness and endless trees. Roads evaporate into forests, electricity flickers off. A new cartography intrudes with its center on the clustered houses, two steeples, and roughhewn fields. Tracing an ensemble cast over one year, Case unearths a traumatic tapestry of severed horizons and grim survival.
Pop surrealism? Lowbrow art? The Andy Warhol effect? However you classify Atelier Heinrichs & Bachmann’s covers for the German press Heyne Bücher (produced between 1966-1971), they’re gleeful and sarcastic. I’d wager their cover for Frank Herbert’s Dune Messiah (1969) above pokes fun at the US 1st edition by Jack Gaughan. The collaged sculpture giggles forth with its pastel halo like a Tiki-recast of Gaughan’s stoic monument to Muad-Dib. Gaughan’s mysterious orb now transformed as blue bubble-gum bubbles (or water droplets on a desert planet?). Regardless of whether or the design team saw the US 1st edition, this streak of impish fun runs throughout their covers.
In 2016, I covered The Cryptic Diagrams and Collaged Heads of Atelier Heinrichs. They too were possessed by moments of kitsch and collage. I’m assuming that Bachmann joined the team for the years 1966-1971. Atelier Heinrichs produced covers before and after Bachmann (isfdb link). I cannot find more information in German or English about the artists involved and the nature of their “atelier.” If you find anything, let me know!
German painter and graphic designer Johann Peter Reuter (1949-) created fourteen credited covers for German SF presses between 1977-1984. I have identified a potential fifteenth cover included below–the 1977 edition of Isaac Asimov’s Second Foundation (1953)–that I believe fits his style and date range. From the information gleaned from his homepage, Reuter’s SF output occurred in the first few years as a freelance artist after studying art in Dortmund. He started as a figurative painter before evolving to non-figurative forms (brief artist blurb).
If you’re interested in his non-SF art, check out his fascinating series of paintings from 2004 on the visualization of the mass.