Post-academia depression hits hard…. While completing my PhD (defended in the summer of 2017), reading SF and writing about SF was the way I kept sane. After multiple mostly unsuccessful years on the academic market, I have changed gears career-wise (although I’m still affiliated with a university and teaching college-level history courses but without the research component) and it has been a liberating experience. My history obsessions remain, even stronger in many ways, and academic monographs on all the topics that I wanted to read about but never could—Hellenistic successor states to Alexander, Early Islam, Late Antique and Medieval Persia, etc.–have dominated my time and pocketbook 2018 (don’t ask how much I’ve spent). I have included a “Best Academic History Reads of 2018” section for the curious.
At the beginning of November, I was moments from announcing that I was on hiatus for the foreseeable future. However, I have fallen back in love with SF and writing about SF and the new year beckons!
All of this is to say, I read little SF this year–until last month. However, there were a handful of stand-out SF novels and short stories that I managed to squeeze in.
And please list your favorite vintage (or non-vintage) SF reads of the year. I look forward to reading your comments.
…and read lots of good books in 2019. I will.
Best SF Novels Continue reading Updates: My 2018 in Review (Best SF Novels, Best SF Short Fiction, and Bonus Catagories)
(Ron Walotsky’s cover for the 1970 Ace edition)
I must confess, I generally skip the introductions to anthologies—even if they are written by my favorite authors who happen to be notable anthologists (Judith Merril, Robert Silverberg, Barry N. Malzberg, etc.). While paging through various collections hunting for stories, I encountered Judith Merril’s micro-introduction to her famous New Wave anthology England Swings SF (1968). Here’s a list of the contents.
Although it is spread across three pages, it is only a few lines of text–a poetic beckoning, itself a condensed version of what the New Wave embodied. Merril’s intro as poem demonstrates literary invention, the blend of old (“scout ship”) and new (“heading out of sight into the multiplex mystery of inner/outer space”) images, and references to both high (“surrealism) and pop culture (“Beatles”). Continue reading Fragment(s): The Power of a Good Introduction (Judith Merril’s 1968 New Wave Anthology England Swings SF)
(Fiction 114, May 1963)
Whenever it is Philippe Curval’s birthday I am pulled back into the fascinating world of French SF cover art–in particular the magazine Fiction, which, during its early years, had an utterly different aesthetic than anything found on American magazines. As I desperately want to read his novels (the vast majority remain untranslated), I can only enjoy the magazine covers he created in the 50s (Part I and Part I of my series on his photocollages).
This is all to say, I have chosen another lesser known artist for Fiction to showcase, Michel Jakubowski. This post which continues a loose series I’ve cobbled together on Adventures in French Science Fiction Cover Art (list below). I cannot find any information on him online. Perhaps he’s related to the more famous French SF author and editor Maxim Continue reading Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: The Dark Depths and Haunting Layers of Michel Jakubowski
1. One of two SF/F gifts (not specifically for Christmas — but let’s pretend!) I’ve included in this post…. Due to my recent series on Maps and Diagrams in Science Fiction, a reader and fan of the site sent me his extra copy of J.B. Post’s An Atlas of Fantasy (1973)–which includes some SF maps as well. Thank you!
2. The second gift—I’ve been spacing a giant pile of vintage SF I received from a family friend out over many months! Sturgeon sometimes intrigues, and sometimes infuriates—hopefully there will be more of the former in this collection. No stories in the vein of “The Hurkle Is a Happy Beast” (1949) please.
3. Dr. Adder, K. W. Jeter’s infamous “couldn’t be published when it was written” novel that might have defined “cyberpunk” long before Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984). I have the Bluejay Books 1st edition with lots of evocative (and disturbing) interior art.
4. And finally, a completely unknown quantity from an author I’d never heard of–Gina Berriault. Promises to be a Cold War satire of impending nuclear destruction. And it has a History professor as a main character! (i.e. maybe a 1960s version of me? we shall see).
And let me know in the comments if you receive any SF/fantasy Christmas gifts.
1. An Atlas of Fantasy, J. B. Post (1973)
(Uncredited cover for the 1979 edition) Continue reading Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CXCVIII “Christmas Edition” (An Atlas of Fantasy + Sturgeon + Jeter + Berriault)
(Steve Marcesi’s cover for the 1975 edition)
4.75/5 (Very Good)
“The Minutemen’s hidden safety, crouching on the fifteenth floor of the Fontana West apartments, puts cross hairs on Gradington’s Adam’s apple, now even so slightly exposed just below the bottom of his bulletproof helmet and mask, just above the top of his body armor, and squeezes the trigger (5).”
In some ways SF comparisons between modern sports and Roman arenas, where blood and guts are spilled in obligatory fashion, might come off as a soft target. Imagine if the football players had knives! Pass. Imagine if one of the players had a gun! Double pass. Yes, we know sports can be violent and taxing on the mind and body. A quick browse through the current NFL injury list and articles such as The Boston Globe‘s six-part series on Aaron Hernandez makes grim Continue reading Book Review: Killerbowl, Gary K. Wolf (1975)
1. A Ballard novel that had previously escaped my grasp… Too bad I don’t own the visually fun 1981 1st edition (Bill Botton’s cover screams Damnation Alley).
2. Unfortunately my 1st edition copy of Angus Wilson’s satirical 1961 SF novel The Old Men at the Zoo did not come with a dustjacket (damn sellers who incorrectly list books online!). The novel itself appears interesting! Has anyone read it?
3. A spectacular Paul Lehr cityscape cover + Nebula award winners = what is not to love?
4. And finally, my sole Brooklyn, NY book purchase from my summer trip — the fifth in Doris Lessing’s Canopus in Argos: Archives sequence of SF novels.
As always, comments (and even tangents) are welcome.
Note: His-res images of all but Angus Wilson’s novel are my personal copies.
1. Hello America, J. G. Ballard (1981)
(James Marsh’s cover for the 1985 edition) Continue reading Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CXCVI (Ballard + Lessing + Wilson + Nebula Awards Anthology)
(Colin Hay’s cover for the 1984 Italian edition of Cancerqueen (1950), Tommaso Landolfi)
4.75/5 (Near Masterpiece)
The fiction of Tommaso Landolfi—an Italian author, translator, and critic—dabbled at speculative edges. Those far more knowledgeable about Italian SF consider Landolfi’s novella “Cancerqueen” (1950), translated in 1971 by Raymond Rosenthal, an important work in the history of Italian SF as it resonated with later “New Wave sensibilities” and “went against the realist grain of Italian high culture” (Salvatore Proietti, “The Field of Italian Science Fiction,” Science Fiction Studies, July 2015).
Redolent with gothic overtones, “Cancerqueen” tells the transfixing tale of a possibly insane narrator (N) relating his voyage into space, and into the womb of a manipulative spaceship. Writing as an act of self-delusion—“perhaps I should pretend I have a reader, I shall be less alone, and that is enough” (50)—N relates how, in a disconsolate state of mind, he agreed to an outrageous proposition put forth by Filano, an escapee from a nearby asylum. The proposition: Deep in the mountains Filano has a spaceship named Cancerqueen and he wants to take N to the moon! For N, “she was my liberator, whose wings (wholly metaphorical) would transport me (not metaphorically) beyond my disagreeable Continue reading Novella Review (Italian SF in translation): “Cancerqueen” (1950), Tommaso Landolfi