Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCCX (R. A. Lafferty, Jan Morris, Star anthology, and an August Derleth anthology)

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

1. Strange Ports of Call, ed. August Derleth (1948)

From the back cover: “‘Begotten of Imagination, on the body of Technology, there springs forth the wild child Science Fiction.’ –Clifton Fadiman

The above is one of the many attempts that have been made to describe a department of fiction which, in spite of some sniping critics, continues to increase its followers. Recently Bertrand Russell observed that science fiction consists of ‘intelligent anticipation–much more intelligent than the expectations of statesmen.’

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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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Short Story Reviews: Fritz Leiber’s “The Ship Sails at Midnight” (1950) and Theodore Sturgeon’s “The Sex Opposite” (1952)

My series on (sometimes quietly) radical 50s stories on sex and sexuality continues. Check out my two earlier installments: post-apocalyptic sexual chaos and Philip José Farmer’s “The Lovers” (1952).

Rob Latham in his article “Sextrapolation in New Wave Science Fiction” (2008) argues that in the early 1950s “a handful of stories were published in the magazines that dealt explicitly with sexual topics” long absent from genre. Latham suggests that some of the notable New Wave takes on science fictional sex read as reconceptualized versions of these stories [2]. With few exceptions, the 50s trailblazing tales were ignored by the major digests of the day and instead appeared in the failing pulps–Startling Stories and Thrilling Wonder Stories–or in “second- and third-tier digests just struggling to establish themselves” such as Howard Browne’s Fantastic Adventures. For example, my two previous posts in this series covered Sherwood Springer’s “No Land of Nod” (1952), which appeared in Thrilling Wonder Stories, and Philip José Farmer’s “The Lovers” (1952) in Startling Stories. The later was rejected by H. L. Gold, according to John Brunner, at Galaxy with the note: “I’ll publish this if you can get rid of the sex–I run a family magazine” [3].

Let’s get to the stories! Both Fritz Leiber’s “The Ship Sails at Midnight” (1950) and Theodore Sturgeon’s “The Sex Opposite” (1952) explore polyamorous relationships between humans and aliens. In Leiber’s case, a group of bohemians fall in love with a bisexual alien. In Sturgeon’s tale, a heterosexual couple both fall for a parthenogenetically female “alien” symbiote that appears male to women and female to men.


3/5 (Average)

Fritz Leiber’s “The Ship Sails at Midnight” first appeared in Fantastic Adventures, ed. Howard Browne (September 1950). You can read it online here.

Four self-proclaimed “‘wild’-young people, bohemians” (61), fresh out of college but still “sponging” off their parents “doing academic odd-jobs” (57), encounter the enigmatic and stunningly gorgeous Helen serving food at Benny’s, an all-night diner. Soon after meeting Helen, Es, “something of an artist,” starts to push the boundaries of her previously staid art (56). The narrator, Larry, who calls himself a writer but spends more time “reading magazines and detective stories, lazing around, getting drunk, and conducting […] endless intellectual palavers” (58) suddenly has something to actually write about–a carnal and intellectual love for Helen that they keep hidden from the rest. Louis, a philosopher, slowly encounters new avenues to explore rather than “merely cultivat[ing] a series of intellectual enthusiasms [..] and fruitless-excitement over the thoughts of other men” (57). And the gruff exterior of Gene, an atomic scientist, begins to mellow. All four view Helen as a “Great Books discussion leader” who serves as an intellectual midwife–who fosters, encourages, and inspires the expansion of their minds.

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Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCCVI (John Brunner, Phillip Mann, Shepherd Mead, and a Frederik Pohl anthology)

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

I planned to have a review up today. Unfortunately, August is always my least productive month writing as it marks the return to work after a much needed summer break. It’s been a rough few weeks! Stay tuned.

1. The Squares of the City, John Brunner (1965)

From the back cover: CHECHMATE IN PARADISE. Ciudad de Vados was a Latin-American showplace, a paradise…a flourishing supercity designed and run nearly to perfection.

But not quite. They had a traffic problem.

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Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCXCVIII (Harlan Ellison, Edward Bryant, Murray Constantine, Sayko Komatsu, and an automobile-themed anthology)

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

1. Car Sinister, ed. Robert Silverberg, Martin Harry Greenberg, and Joseph D. Olander (1979)

From the back cover: “MAN AND HIS MACHINE. The car is man’s most personalized machine; for teenagers it is a rite of passage and a statement of freedom; for adults it is a reflection of success, taste, and hopes; and for an entire culture it is a great and industrious mode of transportation–driving, perhaps, on the road of destruction. And the automobile–thrilling, honking, speeding, nerve-shattering–haunts us with the dark possibility that when our age of motoring innocence is over, we may no longer be the masters… CAR SINISTER–a splendid, imaginative vision of what lies down the road for all of us.”

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Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCXCVII (Poul Anderson, Kingsley Amis, Eleanor Arnason, Roger Elwood anthology of SF plays)

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

1. Strangers from Earth, Poul Anderson (1961)

From the back cover: “A SENTIENT ROBOT

THE COLONISTS WHO LEFT A PERFECT WORLD

A MADDENING HUNT FOR A MARTIAN

A MAN-MADE ANIMAL

A GALACTIC SWINDLER

These are some of the ingredients Poul Anderson chooses to mix and blend into this first-class collection of stories: and his ability is as wide as the range of his interests.”

Contents: “Earthman, Beware!” (1951), “Quixote and the Windmill” (1950), “Gypsy” (1950), “For the Duration” (1957), “Duel on Syrtis” (1951), “The Star Beast” (1950), “The Disintegrating Sky” (1953), “Among Thieves” (1957)

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Updates: Recent SF Purchases No. CCXCVI (Harry Harrison, Carole Nelson Douglas, Terry Bisson, Star Anthology)

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

1. Planet of the Damned, Harry Harrison (serialized 1961)

From the back cover: “Brion Brandd of the Galactic CRF had a problem. It was the planet Dis. Brion’s assignment was to salvage it.

Dis was a harsh, inhospitable, dangerous place and the Disans made it worse. They might have been a human once–but they were something else now.

The Disans had only one desire–kill! Kill everything, themselves, their planet, the universe if they could–

BRION HAD MINUTES TO STOP THEM–IF HE COULD FIND OUT HOW!”

Initial Thoughts: Smells like a variation of Harrison’s Deathworld (1960), which I never managed to review, from a year earlier. Which isn’t a good sign… Planet of the Damned was a finalist for the 1962 Hugo for Best Novel. It lost to Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land (1961).

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Future Media Short Story Reviews: Fritz Leiber’s “The Girl with the Hungry Eyes” (1949) and “A Bad Day for Sales” (1953)

The fifth and sixth story in my series on the science fictional media landscape of the future. Fritz Leiber imagines a sinister conjuration of the Girl behind the advertisement and a robot who wanders a post-nuclear landscape selling soda to the charred victims.

Previously: Brian W. Aldiss’ “Panel Game” in New Worlds Science Fiction, ed. John Carnell (December 1955). You can read it online here.

Next Up: Tomorrow’s TV, ed. Isaac Asimov, Martin Harry Greenberg, and Charles Waugh (1982). Stories by Isaac Asimov, Jack C. Haldeman II, Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, and Ray Nelson. Links to each short story can be found in the review.

4.5/5 (Very Good)

Fritz Leiber’s “The Girl with the Hungry Eyes” (1949) first appeared in The Girl with the Hungry Eyes, and Other Stories (1949). I read it in his collection The Secret Songs (1968). You can read it online here.

“The Girl with the Hungry Eyes” explores the post-WWII economic boom as television and rapidly growing suburbs expanded the reach and power of advertising. Cold War rhetoric promoted consumerism as a key component of the American Way of Life (source).

A tale of erotic obsession and terror, “The Girl with the Hungry Eyes” imagines a fantastical conjuration of the archetypal advertising Girl selling every conceivable product. Her face appears on billboards across the urban expanse. Her torso or limb holds the object to be marveled at. And her eyes, “the hungriest eyes in the world” (131), tear into the soul and take something away with their gaze. Fritz Leiber’s terrified narrator, the “poor damned photographer” (129) who unleashed her on the world and fell for her spell, confesses “there are vampires and vampires, and not all of them suck blood” (128).

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Book Review: Fellowship of the Stars, ed. Terry Carr (1974) (Ursula K. Le Guin, John Brunner, George Alec Effinger, Pamela Sargent, Fritz Leiber, et al.)

3.5/5 (Collated rating: Good)

Terry Carr’s anthology Fellowship of the Stars (1974) collects nine original short stories by luminaries of the genre, Ursula K. Le Guin and Fritz Leiber, to lesser known authors such as Alan Brennert and Mildred Downey Broxon. As the title suggests, Carr commissions stories on the “theme of friendship between human and alien beings” (vii). In a bit of a twist, in more than one instance “friendship” might be code for something far more sinister.

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