Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCCXV (John Brunner, Connie Willis, Cynthia Felice, Philip Wylie, and a themed anthology)

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

1. The Shockwave Rider, John Brunner (1975)

From the back cover: “Future shock!

In the obsessively technological, paranoidally secretive and brutally competitive society depicted by John Brunner, even personal identities are under threat. But one man has made it his mission to liberate the mental prisoners, to restore their freedom in a world run mad.

Nickie Haflinger, the only person to escape from Tarnover–where they raise hyper-intelligent children to maintain the political dominance of the USA in the 21st century–is on the run, dodging from loophole to crevise to crack in the computerised datanet that binds the continent like chains. After years of flight and constant changes of identity, at the strange small town called Precipice he discovers he is not alone in his quest. But can his new allies save him when he falls again into the sinister grasp of Tarnover…?”

Initial Thoughts: I read John Brunner’s The Shockwave Rider (1972) before I started my site–along with his other masterpieces Stand on Zanzibar (1968), The Sheep Look Up (1972), The Jagged Orbit (1969), The Whole Man (196), etc. Of his best known novels, I remember the least about The Shockwave Rider. However, I cannot find my copy for a rare reread! For all I know I gave it to a friend or lost it in a move. I sought out this UK edition due to the intriguing urban arcology background of the cover.

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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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Updates: My 2022 in Review (Best SF Novels, Best SF Short Fiction, and Bonus Categories)

2022 was the single best year in the history of my site for visits and unique viewers!

As I mention year after year, I find reading and writing for the site—and participating in all the SF discussions generated over the year—a necessary and greatly appreciated salve. Whether you are a lurker, occasional visitor, or a regular commenter, thank you for your continued support.

Continuing a trend from 2021, I read only a handful of novels this year. Instead, I devoted my obsessive attention to various science short story review initiatives (listed below), anthologies, and histories of the science fiction genre. Without further ado, here are my favorite novels and short stories I read in 2022 with bonus categories. Descriptions are derived from my linked reviews.

Check out last year’s rundown if you haven’t already for more spectacular reads. I have archived all my annual rundowns on my article index page if you wanted to peruse earlier years.


My Top 5 Science Fiction Novels of 2022 (click titles for my full review)

1. Vonda N. McIntyre’s Dreamsnake (1978), 4.75/5 (Near Masterpiece): Won the 1979 Hugo, Locus, and Nebula Award for Best Novel. Snake journeys across the post-apocalyptic wastes of a future Earth with three serpents healing the sick and caring for the dying. She is a member of the healers, who adopt orphans and rescue the oppressed and train them how to use the serpents. Mist and Sand are genetically modified vipers of terrestrial origin. But Grass comes from another alien world. Snake uses Mist and Sand’s venom to create vaccines, treat diseases, and cure tumors. Grass, the rare dreamsnake, with its alien DNA is the most important of them all–it provides therapeutic pleasure and dreams that facilitate conquering one’s fear and healing in the ill. In Snake’s voyages, she encounters prejudice and violence. A joyous sense of sexual freedom permeates the proceedings. A powerful and different take on a post-apocalyptic worldscape in every possible way.

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Short Story Reviews: Harlan Ellison’s “Psycho at Mid-Point” (1956) and “The Discarded” (variant title: “The Abnormals”) (1959)

The following review is the 20th installment of my series searching for “SF short stories that are critical in some capacity of space agencies, astronauts, and the culture which produced them.” Some stories I’ll review in this series might not fit. Many are far from the best. And that is okay. I relish the act of literary archaeology.

I turn now to an author, Harlan Ellison (1934-2018), whom I’ve only marginally explored considering his prodigious output. I am completely ignorant of his 50s visions. I’d previously read and reviewed his collection Approaching Oblivion (1974) and a handful of other stories including “A Boy and His Dog” (1969). The first story in this post–“Psycho at Mid-Point” (1956)–exemplifies the theme at its most brutal and nihilistic. As a bonus, I’ve paired it with one of Ellison’s better known 50s tales of mutants and prison ships–“The Discarded” (variant title: “The Abnormals”) (1959). If you know of any other Ellison stories that might fit the theme, let me know.

As always, feel free to join the conversation and read along with me on the search for the depressed astronaut.

Previously: Three stories by Alfred Coppel

“The Hunters” in Fantastic Story Magazine, ed. Samuel Mines (Fall 1952). You can read it online here.

“The Dreamer” in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, ed. Anthony Boucher, Jr. and Francis McComas (April 1952). You can read it online here.

“Double Standard” in Galaxy Science Fiction, ed. H. L. Gold (February 1952). You can read it online here.

Up Next: TBD

3.25/5 (Above Average)

Harlan Ellison’s “Psycho at Mid-Point” first appeared in Super-Science Fiction, ed. W. W. Scott (December 1956). You can read it online here. It was not collected or anthologized.

Mike Ashley in Transformations: The Story of the Science Fiction Magazines from 1950 to 1970 (2005) does not have kind words for the three-year run of the magazine Super-Science Fiction (1956-1959). He describes the editor W. W. Scott as utterly out of his depth with a misguided reliance on “instant impact” without substance or cohesion or knowledge of the field. That said, Scott accidentally published a few solid short stories before the magazine’s demise in the market collapse in the late 50s even if the overall issues tended to be poor (168-169) and pandered to whatever craze filled the air (187). I’d classify Harlan Ellison’s “Psycho at Mid-Point” as a solid early work that fits the theme of this series perfectly!

“After fifteen months, Wallace went mad” (54).

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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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Book Review: Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year: Fourth Annual Collection, ed. Lester del Rey (1975) (R. A. Lafferty, Harlan Ellison, Robert Silverberg, Vonda N. McIntyre, et al.)

3/5 (collated rating: Average)

Lester del Rey’s Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year: Fourth Annual Collection (1975) is a mystifying read. For an anthology series claiming to contain the best stories of 1974, del Rey completely misidentifies all the hard-hitters of the year. For example, it does not include a single Hugo– or Nebula-nominated story.

My advice: Ignore the title. Instead, if you have an unnatural obsession with anthologies like myself, then contemplate picking up a copy for the Vonda N. McIntyre, F. M. Busby, John Brunner, and Gordon R. Dickson stories. The rest are average to poor.

Brief Plot Summary/Analysis

“If This Is Winnetka, You Must Be Judy” (1974), F. M. Busby, 4/5 (Good): Until I read this story, I assumed F. M. Busby’s SF from the 70s was as blunt and imprecise as Cage a Man (1973) and “Tell Me All About Yourself” (1973). With the emotional strokes reminiscent of Silverberg’s masterpiece Dying Inside (1972), Busby spins an ingenious time-travel tale about a man who lives his live in non-sequential sections.

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Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLXXXVI (Vonda N. McIntyre, Thomas Burnett Swann, William Melvin Kelley, and a World’s Best Science Fiction Anthology)

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

1. Where is the Bird of Fire?, Thomas Burnett Swann (1970)

From the back cover: “Were the mythical monsters our ancestors spoke of so often more than fantasy? Is it not probable that these semi-human races existed–and that only human vanity has blurred their memory?

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Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLXXVII (Octavia E. Butler, Harlan Ellison, James White, Poul Anderson)

As always, which books/covers/authors intrigue you? Which have you read? Disliked? Enjoyed?

1. Dawn, Octavia E. Butler (1987)

From the back cover: “XENOGENESIS: The birth of something new—and foreign.

Lilith Iyapo awoke from a centuries-long sleep—and found herself aboard the vast living spaceship of the Oankali. Alien creatures covered in writhing tentacles, the Oankali had saved every surviving human from a dying, ruined Earth. They healed the planet, cured cancer, increased human strength and disease resistance, and were now ready to help Lilith lead her people back to Earth.

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