Guest Post: A Little Knowledge, Michael Bishop (1977)

(Dean Ellis’ cover for the 1978 edition)

The sixth installment of my The Science Fiction of Michael Bishop guest post series was graciously provided by Heloise over at Heloise Merlin’s Weblog.  She is a long time fan of Michael Bishop’s work and we have engaged in numerous (fruitful) discussions of his work—including whether or not the first version of A Funeral for the Eyes of Fire (1975) is superior to his complete rewrite Eyes of Fire (1980).

Heloise purposefully chose one of Bishop’s lesser known novels.  But, from the review, A Little Knowledge (1977) has been wrongly ignored: “even though [A Little Knowledge] never leaves this single place on Earth, in the end Bishop’s novel manages to give more of a sense of what it means for humans to live in a vast, largely unexplored universe than most novels that are filled with large spaceships and far-future technologies.”

I plan acquiring a copy ASAP.

Visit Heloise’s site! Enjoy!  Comment!

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A Little Knowledge (1977)—Michael Bishop

Michael Bishop’s Urban Nucleus sequence (consisting of the novel A Little Knowledge and the stories collected in Catacomb Years) is unusual among his early works in that it is not an anthropological Science Fiction novel; unlike books like A Funeral for the Eyes of Fire or And Strange at Ecteban the Trees, while reading A Little Knowledge, one is not so much reminded of Ursula K. LeGuin but it rather seems influenced by Philip K. Dick – and not by his largely consensual novels like Ubik or The Man in the High Castle, but his Continue reading

Updates: My 7 Favorite Metafictional Science Fiction Novels

Here are my seven favorite metafictional science fiction novels. By metafiction I’m referring to devices such as breaking the fourth wall (characters addressing the audience), the author addressing the reader, a story about a writer writing a story, a story containing another work of fiction within it, a work where the narrator reveals himself or herself as the author of the story, narrative footnotes, etc….

I’d love to hear your favorites (they don’t have to be novels)!

Obviously, these types of experimental works only appeal to some readers (especially fans of the sci-fi New Wave movement of the late 60s and early 70s) but I personally love seeing experimentation in an often — dare I say — stylistically stale genre.  Often, the metafictional aspects do not prevent authors from deploying traditional narratives.



My top seven (and an honorable mention):

1. Beyond Apollo, Brian N. Malzberg (1972) (REVIEW) — what you read is most likely the novel written by the main character. However, he’s most likely insane so attempting to get AT the true nature of his voyage to Venus is purposefully layered… Complicating the matter is how unreliable of a narrator he is and the fact that he’s tells many versions of the same story. Malzberg pokes fun at pulp science fiction throughout — which he clearly enjoyed as a child.

2. Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner (1968) — the metafictional aspects are rather hidden in this New Wave masterpiece (my single favorite sci-fi novel).  Brunner’s vast (in scope and depth) mosaic of invented book fragments, advertising jingles, and narrative portions are interspersed with news articles taken from his own day — including the school shooting at the University of Texas in 1966.  Of course, as readers we’re geared to imagining that everything Continue reading

Updates: An Incomplete List of Worthwhile Classic Science Fiction Blogs/Resources

I love the idea of a community of science fiction reviewers — so I’ve put together a list of a handful of book review blogs focused on classic/slightly more esoteric science fiction.  Obviously there are plenty of great blogs I’ve omitted that have reviews of new releases or only occasional vintage science fiction….  Or, blogs that refrain from reviews of vintage science fiction unless participating in certain reading challenges….

Please visit them, comment on their reviews, and browse through their back catalogues.

1] Speculiction….: An under visited /commented on blog with quality book reviews of classic science fiction — however, the reviewer, Jesse, is limited by the lack of older science fiction available to him in Poland.  I especially enjoyed his reviews of Ballard’s “beautifully strange enigma” that is The Crystal World (1966) and of course, my favorite science fiction novel of all time, John Brunner’s magisterial Stand on Zanzibar (1968).  An index of his reviews can be found here.  He also has a good mix of newer science fiction reviews as well.

2] The PorPor Books Blog: SF and Fantasy Books 1968-1988: I find this blog Continue reading

Book Review: Dr. Futurity, Philip K. Dick (1960)

(Ed Valigursky’s cover for the 1960 edition)

2.75/5 (Average)

Over the years I’ve found Philip K. Dick’s early novels hit or miss.  Along with The World Jones Made (1956), Dr. Futurity (1960) (expanded from the 1954 short story “Time Pawn”) is the least satisfying of his novels I’ve read so far.  My total PKD consumption is extensive — around 20 novels and at least 60 short stories.

Time travel is by far my least favorite major science fiction trope.  However, in many of Philip K. Dick’s novels and short stories time travel is transformed into something surreal and often, downright fascinating.  But unlike his later novels, the trope in Dr. Futurity is an endlessly laborious plot device.  Our hero doctor, Jim Parsons, is constantly whisked back and forth in time with hardly a moment of rest or discussion. Continue reading

Book Review: The Penultimate Truth, Philip K. Dick (1964)

(Uncredited cover for the 1964 edition)

4/5 (Good)

Although I’ve read a great majority of Philip K. Dick’s novels and short stories, I’ve only reviewed one of Philip K. Dick’s novels in the lifetime of this blog, The Man Who Japed (1956).  Despite not reaching the near perfection which characterizes his best works, The Penultimate Truth (1964) is worth the read.  The work’s premise is pure PKD.  As with his best, an uncanny sci-fi infused surrealism seeps from the pages….  However, the work is plagued by ramshackle editing, the unfortunate tendency to use words like “homeostatic” and “tropism” ever few pages, and an ungainly plethora of named characters who have little to no import in the novel creates unnecessary confusion.

Brief Plot Summary (limited spoilers)

Most of the inhabitants of Earth, due to worries about an approaching nuclear war with the Soviets, retreated to massive underground facilities (Tom Mix Continue reading

Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: Eye[s] in the Sky

(Ed Valigursky’s cover for the 1957 edition of Eye in the Sky (1957), Philip K. Dick)

Inspired by Ed Valigursky’s stunning cover for the 1957 edition of Philip K. Dick’s early novel Eye in the Sky (1957), I kept on the lookout for novels with similar disembodied eyes (floating, gazing with menacing presence at fearful scurrying forms arrayed below).  I discovered that it was a common theme — sci-fi artists use eyes to illustrate otherworldly (alien, spiritual) presence, big brother-esque governmental control, inhuman powers…  Few equal the true presence of Ed Valigursky’s cover but are fascinating nevertheless.

Many years ago I read Eye in the Sky but remember little.  I was intrigued but not blown away by Simak’s Way Station (below).  Dr. Futurity (below) is waiting to be read on my shelf and Continue reading

Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. XXVIII (Ace Doubles: Brunner, Dick, Delany, et al.)

I’m the proud new owner of four ace doubles in remarkable condition!  And considering the general quality of many of the Ace doubles, I consider it quite the haul.  The contents: two early pulp works (of rather dubious quality) by John Brunner (one under his pseudonym Keith Woodcott), one early Philip K. Dick novel, two early Samuel Delany novels, and an assortment of works by lesser known authors (Tom Purdom, Jack Sharkey, and Bruce W. Ronald).  I will devour the Philip K. Dick and John Brunner works — yes, Brunner’s early works are terrible but I’m a Brunner completest which requires a high pain threshold for his pre-Stand On Zanzibar (1968) works.

1. Captives of the Flame/The Psionic Menace (1963), Samuel R. Delany, John Brunner (as Keith Woodcott)

(Cover by Jack Gaughan Continue reading

Book Review: The End of the World (1956), ed. Donald Wollheim

(Ed Emshwiller’s? cover for the 1956 edition)

3.75/5 (Good)

 The End of the World (1956) is a highly readable collection of short works by some of the leading figures of the 50s:  Robert Heinlein, Edmond Hamilton, Philip K. Dick,  and Arthur C. Clarke are the most notable contributors.  All the works, including the short by the virtually unknown author Amelia Reynolds Long, have appeared in other volumes but it’s nice to have them grouped according to theme with a quality Ace edition 50s Emshwiller cover.

Wollheim gathers together a fascinating range of accounts of the end of the world — seen through the eyes of aliens, humans from the present viewing the future, the last men on earth surveying the ruins, a robotic bomb who thinks it’s human and “accidentally” triggers the end of the Continue reading

Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: Reusing Cover Art

(Jack Gaughn’s cover for the 1964 edition of Three Worlds to Conquer (1964), Poul Anderson)

I spend a substantial amount of time looking through the sci-fi publisher catalogues of Ace, Pyramid Books, Dell, Doubleday, Signet, Ballantine, etc for both books to read and interesting covers that fit into various themes for my Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art posts (INDEX).

While perusing I’m occasionally baffled by covers that I’ve sworn I’ve seen on other books — and lo and behold, publishers sold art to different publishers, often lesser-known and unable to commission their own Continue reading