Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCCXIV (Harlan Ellison, Gillian Freeman, Mick Farren, Fritz Leiber)

A new year and new books!

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

1. From the Land of Fear, Harlan Ellison (1967)

From the back cover: “SCIENCE FICTION STORIES by Award Winning Author

WHERE DID HARLAN ELLISON COME FROM?

At 13 he ran away from home in Ohio and joined a carnival. At 15 he was driving a dynamite truck in North Carolina. At 19 he was thrown out of college and at 21 had sold his first novel. Today he is 33 and is considered one of the top screenwriters in Hollywood. Fairly ordinary background? True.

But somewhere along the way, Harlan Ellison made a strange detour. He vanished into a country of the mind where time and space ceased to exist, where strange ideas and wild adventures were commonplace. He came back from that dark world, carrying away with him its richest treasures: stories unlike any ever told before. In this unusual book you will sample these “stray dreams.”

FROM THE LAND OF FEAR!”

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Short Story Reviews: Fritz Leiber’s “The Moon Is Green” (1952) and Sonya Dorman’s “Go, Go, Go, Said the Bird” (1967)

Today I have selected two radical post-apocalyptic visions to review. Fritz Leiber (1910-1992) writes a conscientious attempt to understand the plight of a housewife trapped in a fallout shelter with an abusive husband and a mysterious man outside who whispers her deepest fantasies. I am fascinated by subversive 50s stories–especially on sex, masculinity, colonization, suburbia–and Leiber’s tale ticks many of my favorite boxes. Sonya Dorman (1924-2005), a skilled American representative of New Wave movement, recounts a highly metaphoric flight of a woman attempting to maintain independent thought and experience in a world hurtling towards disaster.


4.5/5 (Very Good)

Fritz Leiber’s “The Moon Is Green” first appeared in Galaxy Science Fiction, ed. H. L. Gold (April 1952). You can read it online here.  

On January 3rd, 1950, in response to the successful 1949 Soviet test of atomic weapons, President Truman announced a crash program to develop the hydrogen bomb. It is within this moment of escalating terror after Truman’s announcement that Leiber wrote “The Moon is Green” (1952). While Leiber references hydrogen weapons, the story was published before the “Ivy Mike” Hydrogen bomb test (November 1st, 1952)–known to the public after a media blackout on January 7th, 1953–that revealed the devastating presence of fallout. The Soviets conducted their own test of a thermonuclear device–Joe-4–on August 12, 1953 (source).

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Book Review: Hothouse (variant title: The Long Afternoon of Earth), Brian W. Aldiss (1962)

4.5/5 (Very Good)

Brian W. Aldiss’ Hugo-winning Hothouse (1962) imagines an oppressive, violent, and alien Earth transformed by “the long age of the vegetable” (187). The surviving humans live–“more by instinct than intelligence” (54)– in a continent-encompassing banyan tree in constant fear of killer flora and fauna. Aldiss succeeds in constructing a profoundly unsettling worldscape encyclopedic in its details with unusual rituals of survival. There’s the existential sense throughout that the humans, detached from any memory of their past, who attempt to survive are but frantic movements of an apocalyptic paroxysm. Inventive, relentless, hallucinogenic.

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Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCCXI (Phyllis Gotlieb, John D. MacDonald, Robert Onopa, and Peter George)

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

1. Sunburst, Phyllis Gotlieb (1964)

From the back cover: “In the hideous aftermath of the atomic sunburst. The people of Sorrel Park had been written off. Now they were nothing but a kind of human garbage, festering and hopeless.

In the center of town lived the worst of the human garbage–and by far the most dangerous. They were a breed of terrible children, possessed by terrifying supernormal powers. They were a new race of monster bred out of the sunburst, and if they ever broke loose they would destroy the world…”

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Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCCIX (John Brunner, Lester del Rey, John Domatilla, anthology of Best SF 1965)

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

1. Quicksand, John Brunner (1967)

From the back cover: “She had nearly killed a man who tried to assault her. She spoke a language no one could understand. Commonplace objects like clothing and cars were a mystery to her.

Paul was haunted and entranced by her. He licked at the secrecy that surrounded her until, inevitably, his fate became linked to hers. And she gave him a vision of a world more beautiful than any he had ever known.

THEY LIVED IN A PARADISES OF SENSUAL ECSTACY… UNTIL IT WAS TOO LATE. BECAUSE HER LOVE WAS LIKE QUICKSAND.”

Initial Thoughts: My Brunner obsession in my early 20s generated a packed few years of reading as many novels–the good and the bad–that I could get my hands on. This one escaped my grasp.

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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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Future Media Short Story Review: John Brunner’s “Fair” (1956)

Today I’ve reviewed the seventeenth story in my series on the science fictional media landscape of the future. John Brunner explores how total immersion media, one organ in a vast futuristic fair designed to satiate the masses, can transform fear within the broken.

Previously: John D. MacDonald’s “Spectator Sport” in Thrilling Wonder Stories, ed. Sam Merwin, Jr. (February 1950). You can read it online here

Up Next: C. M. Kornbluth’s “The Advent on Channel Twelve” in Star Science Fiction Stories No. 4, ed. Frederik Pohl (1958). You can read it online here.

Alice Eleanor Jones’ “The Happy Clown” in If, ed. James L. Quinn (December 1955). You can read it online here.

4.5/5 (Very Good)

John Brunner’s “Fair” first appeared in New Worlds Science Fiction, ed. John Carnell (March 1956) under the pseudonym Keith Woodcott. You can read it online here. It also appeared in his first collection No Future In It (1962).

I recently devoured Jad Smith’s short monograph John Brunner (2012) in the Modern Masters of Science Fiction series for Illinois University Press. Not only did the book rekindle my desire to tackle more of Brunner’s short fiction but I also bought copies of The Squares of the City (1965) and Quicksand (1967). I might even reread The Shockwave Rider (1975) in the near future. If you are at all interested in John Brunner’s science fiction I recommend acquiring a copy.

Smith identifies “Fair” (1956) as Brunner’s “finest achievement during this [early] period” (Smith 28). I’d rank it right under his spectacular generation ship short story “Lungfish” (1957). As with many of Brunner’s best works, “Fair” had a contested publication history–in this instance John Carnell only accepted it under the pseudonym “Keith Woodcott” to “fill out an issue” (Smith 29). The identity of the consummate wordsmith didn’t last long as Carnell accidentally revealed his identity in next issue when the story came in second in the reader’s poll!

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Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCCIII (William S. Burroughs, Chester Anderson, Pat Cadigan, Donald Kingsbury)

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

1. Courtship Rite, Donald Kingsbury (1982)

From the inside flap: “Gaet, Hoemei and Joesai are three clone brothers, survivors of the rigorous and deadly process of nurture and weeding that produces people of high kalothi, people worthy of surviving on the inhospitable planet of Geta. Geta was settled many thousands of years ago by human starships, but only legends of the people’s origins remain, memories that have become myths.

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Book Review: The Grain Kings, Keith Roberts (1976)

4/5 (collated rating: Good)

Keith Roberts (1935-2000) was an influential, if underread and underappreciated, English author (and cover artist) best known for his alternate history fix-up novel Pavane (1968) and powerful short fictions evocative of the English countryside. He won four BSFA awards in various categories (novel, short story, and artist) yet did not achieve the same critical success in the United States. According to his obituary, his difficult personality, like his common male main characters unable to form steady professional or personal relationships, and propensity to refuse to deal with major publishers impacted his popularity.

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