Book Review: The Very Slow Time Machine, Ian Watson (1979)


(Paul Alexander’s cover for the 1979 edition)

4.5/5 (Very Good)

My first exposure to Ian Watson’s extensive SF catalog could not have been more impressive.  The Very Slow Time Machine (1979) is up there with Robert Sheckley’s Store of Infinity (1960) and J. G. Ballard’s Billenium (1962) as the best overall collection of stories that I have encountered in the history of this site.

The collection is filled with narrative experimentation (“Programmed Loved Story,” “Agoraphobia, A.D. 2000,” etc), some awe inspiring ideas (“The Very Slow Time Machine,” “The Girl Who Was Art” etc.), a few delightful allegories (“Our Loves So Truly Meridional,” “My Soul Swims in a Goldfish Bowl”), and a handful of more traditional SF stories that hint at anthropological Continue reading

Book Review: The Crystal Ship (three novellas by Vonda N. McIntyre + Marta Randall + Joan D. Vinge), ed. Robert Silverberg (1976)


(Norman Adams’ cover for the 1977 edition)

3.25/5 (collated rating: Good)

According to a list compiled by Ian Sales [here] only a handful of SF anthologies have hit print solely featuring women authors—none were published before 1972 and, surprisingly, few after 1980 (there seems to be a resurgence in the last few years).  The Crystal Ship (1976) ed. Robert Silverberg, is one of these.  It contains the three novellas by three important SF authors who got their start in the 70s: Marta Randall, Joan D. Vinge, Vondra McIntyre.  The latter two achieved critical success: Joan D. Vinge won the Hugo for her novel The Snow Queen (1980) and Vonda N. McIntyre won the Hugo for her novel Dreamsnake (1978).  Marta Randall, on the other hand, despite her Nebula nomination for the intriguing Islands (1976) remains to this day lesser known.

All three of the novellas feature impressive female protagonists and narratives that subvert many of SF’s traditional Continue reading

Book Review: Ancient, My Enemy, Gordon R. Dickson (1974)

(Peter Rauch’s cover for the 1974 edition)

2.75/5 (collated rating: Vaguely Average)

Between 1974 and 1990 Gordon R. Dickson’s collection Ancient, My Enemy (1974) was reprinted eleven times.  The reason for this “popularity” is beyond me considering I found that a grand total of three of the nine stories were solid while the rest were poorly written cliché-ridden magazine filler…  Dickson had the ability to write some great short SF—for example, Mike at Potpourri of SF Literature adores his collection In the Bone (1987).  But Ancient, My Enemy gives little indication of his talent and generally lacks the insight that his novels such as The Alien Way (1965) possess.

Recommended only for Gordon R. Dickson completists.  I suggest acquiring later more discerning collections of his 50s/60s SF such as Continue reading

Updates: A New Classic SF Review Blog to add to your list

MPorcius, a frequent and well-read commentator on my site, has started transferring his numerous amazon reviews and writing new reviews of classic SF (a substantial portion is pre-1980s) to his blog.  Please visit him and comment on his posts!

queue rant: I’ve noticed a surprising lack of frequently updated classic SF blogs online.  Yes, many bloggers occasionally dabble in the distant era of SF glory or publish yet another review of the obligatory masterpieces because they appear on a some “best of” list (Dune, The Left Hand of Darkness, etc).  However, few are devoted to the period and make it a point to write reviews of books that very few people will ever actually read due to their obscurity i.e. blogs that don’t sell out by churning out reviews of new Tor releases (I have declined their offer) or endless 4/5 or 5/5 starred let’s pat each other on the back reviews of self-published (and generally awful) ebooks Continue reading

Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. LXXV (Heinlein + Sheckley + Anderson + Zebrowski)

A fun bunch of thrift store finds and gifts….  I’m most excited about Robert Sheckley’s novel Immortality, Inc. (1958) — not only is the cover gorgeous (the initials read LSG but I can’t figure out who the artist might be) but Sheckley is fast becoming a favorite of mine (for example, the short story collections Store of Infinity and The People Trap).

I know very little about George Zebrowski’s novels.  So, I’ll approach The Omega Point (1972) with a tad bit trepidation.  Has anyone read him?  If so, what do you think?

I’ve read Heinlein’s The Man Who Sold the Moon but I have a much later edition and sort of enjoy the standard pulp cover for the 1951 edition.

And another Anderson classic….

1. Immortality, Inc., Robert Sheckley (1958) (MY REVIEW)

(Uncredited — brilliant — cover for the 1959 edition) Continue reading

Book Review: The View from the Stars, Walter M. Miller, Jr. (1965)

(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1965 edition)

3.75/5 (Collated rating: Good)

Almost all SF fans have read Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s masterpiece A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959) but few indulge in his shorter works.  By 1957 Miller had virtually quit publishing new SF (A Canticle is comprised of novellas published between 1955-1957).  His only work published later was Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman (1997) completed by Terry Bisson and released posthumously.

The View From the Stars (1965) — containing five short stories, two novelettes, and one novella — is a cross section of his most productive decade.  Although I found that none of the works included should be considered masterpieces, “I, Dreamer” (1953), “Dumb Waiter” (1952),  “Big Joe and the Nth Generation” (1952), and “The Big Hunger” (1952) were wonderful.  All the others are readable Continue reading

Book Review: Godling, Go Home!, Robert Silverberg (1964)

(Uncredited cover for the 1964 edition)

3.25/5 (Average)

Before Robert Silverberg wrote his late 60s and early 70s New Wave masterpieces (A Time of Changes, Dying Inside, The World Inside, etc), he produced a vast quantity of pulp science fiction novels and short stories.  Godling, Go Home! (1964) is a surprisingly solid collection of 50s shorts that can, at times, be surprisingly meditative (on death, exploration, civilization).  That said, expect rather naive messages — à la “we travel in space because we can!” or “Alien contact requires out-of-the-box thinking” — grafted onto a by the numbers pulp plot.

A fun collection — recommended for fans of slightly more intelligent than normal pulp SF, Silverberg completes, and 50s SF.  “Godling, Go Home!” (1957), “Why?” (1957), and Continue reading

Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. LVIV (Laumer + del Rey + Stableford + Dickson)

An overpopulation themed novel (at least for part) by Gordon R. Dickson….

A supposedly underrated/dark novel by Brian M. Stableford (according to some, one of his best)…

An early novel in Keith Laumer’s famous Retief sequence…

And a fun juvenile by Lester del Rey….

1. The Outposter, Gordon R. Dickson (1971)

(Bruce Pennington’s cover for the 1976 edition)

From the back cover: “Destination: Oblivion.  The Lottery played no favorites — if a person’s number came up, he joined the rest of the losers marked for exile from the overcrowded Continue reading

Book Review: Needle in a Timestack, Robert Silverberg (1966)

(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1966 edition)

*Review for the 1966 edition.  The 1979 and 1985 editions were revised.*

collated rating: 3/5 (Average)

Needle in a Timestack (1966) is an uneven collection of ten short stories from the late 50s and early 60s by Robert Silverberg.  By the late 60s and early 70s Silverberg was producing his masterpieces.  However, earlier in his career he wrote mostly pulp novels and short stories.  A few in this collection tackle, in varying degrees of success, social science fiction themes: the media, war propaganda, colonialism, unusual criminal punishment, the suburban lifestyle etc.  Many of these Continue reading