Future Media Short Story Reviews: C. M. Kornbluth’s “The Advent on Channel Twelve” (1958) and Alice Eleanor Jones’ “The Happy Clown” (1955)

Today I’ve reviewed the eighteenth and nineteenth stories in my series on the science fictional media landscape of the future. Alice Eleanor Jones and C. M. Kornbluth conjure a media-saturated world and cartoon characters that generate cultish adoration. Both authors respond to the rapid growth of television in the United States over the 1950s and multimedia conglomerates like Disney.

Previously: John Brunner’s “Fair” in New Worlds Science Fiction, ed. John Carnell (March 1956) under the pseudonym Keith Woodcott. You can read it online here

Up Next: Frederik Pohl’s “The Wizards of Pung’s Corners” in Galaxy Magazine, ed. H. L. Gold (October 1958). You can read it online here.


4.5/5 (Very Good)

C. M. Kornbluth’s “The Advent on Channel Twelve” first appeared in Star Science Fiction Stories No. 4, ed. Frederik Pohl (1958). You can read it online here if you have an Internet Archive account. Nominated for the 1959 Hugo for Best Short Story. Lost to Robert Bloch’s “That Hell-Bound Train” (1958).

In the short intro to the story in The Best of C. M. Kornbluth (1976), Frederik Pohl explains that Kornbluth’s two young sons (and their father) never missed an episode of the The Mikey Mouse Club (1955-1958). The iconic Disney TV show generated a “national mania” with kids everywhere singing the Mouseketeer song and wearing mouse-ear hats. In 1955, the wider Disney craze would see the creation of their first theme park–Disneyland. Expanding on earlier ruminations on media and the masses in The Space Merchants (1953), “The Advent on Channel Twelve” imagines the dystopic elevation of cartoon character to an altogether new pedestal in the American consciousness.

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Book Review: Picnic on Paradise, Joanna Russ (1968)

(Diane and Leo Dillon’s cover for the 1968 edition)

4/5 (Good)

Nominated for the 1969 Nebula Award for Best Novel

Joanna Russ’ first published novel Picnic on Paradise (1968) delightfully subverts traditional SF pulp adventure tropes.  Although not as finely wrought as The Female Man (1975), And Chaos Died (1970), or her masterpiece We Who Are About To… (1976), Picnic is worthwhile for all fans of feminist SF and the more radical visions of the 60s.

Unfortunately, the metafictional implications/literary possibilities of the Alyx sequence Continue reading

Book Review: Drunkard’s Walk, Frederik Pohl (1960)

(Nik Puspurica’s cover for the 1960 edition)

3/5 (Average)

Frederik Pohl’s best early SF was produced with his frequent collaborator C. M. Kornbluth—the most notable of which include the masterpiece The Space Merchants (1953) and Gladiator-In-Law (1954).  The solo work I have read so far from the same period does not reach the heights of his Kornbluth collaborations but rather fluctuates between downright dull satires with intelligent dogs in the vein of Slave Ship (1956) to solid but unspectacular satire about higher education, Drunkard’s Walk (1960).  As of this moment in my SF reading career I place Pohl’s editorial work above his 50s/early 60s solo SF.  That said, I have not read any of his short fiction.

Recommended for fans of 50s/60s Continue reading

Book Review: The Last Hurrah of the Golden Horde, Norman Spinrad (1970)

(Dean Ellis’ cover for the 1970 edition)

4/5 (collated rating: Good)

A solid collection of seventeen short stories and one novelette by one of my favorite New Wave authors, Norman Spinrad.  Although the collection seldom reaches the heights of his inventive and original alt-history novel The Iron Dream (1972)The Last Hurrah of the Golden Horde (1970) is still a wonderful showcase of his earliest short fiction. However, Spinrad’s relentlessly bleak outlook on Earth’s future will not appeal to all SF readers.  I only recommend the collection for fans of experimental late 60s SF, the New Wave movement, and bleak satires of societal ills (count me in!).

The best include: “Technicality” (1966), a war against pacifist aliens who wield horrific but non-lethal weapons; “The Last Hurrah of the Golden Horde” (1969), an absurdist pastiche of the bastardization of ideology and societal decadence; and “Dead Continue reading

Book Review: The Centauri Device, M. John Harrison (1974)

(Paul Lehr’s cover for the 1980 edition)

4/5 (Good)

I can only imagine the shock that readers received and still receive (according to amazon reviews) after diving into M. John Harrison’s The Centauri Device (1974) expecting a standard space opera.  This is a subgenre where the anti-hero still has not found a firm place to roost…  You know the rubric: Empathizing with the hero.  Positivism.  Saving the world.  The good guys win.

I suspect the shock to the system that Stephen R. Donaldson’s leprous and bitter (and reluctant) savior Thomas Covenant in Lord Foul’s Bane (1977) and subsequent novels had on high fantasy was something akin to impact The Centauri Device‘s drug-addled, inarticulate, and passive spacer Continue reading

Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CV (Russ + Spinrad + Malzberg + Kornbluth)

Dawn Treader bookstore haul part II [part I]!  A batch of my favorite authors: Norman Spinrad, Joanna Russ, Barry N. Malzberg, and C. M. Kornbluth.  Two novels and two short story collections!

…and some fun covers.

Thoughts?

1. No Direction Home, Norman Spinrad (1975)

(Charles Moll’s cover for the 1975 edition)

From the back cover: “A GHASTLY WORLD… AN ULTIMATE ORGASM… A COSMIC NIGHTMARE… Bone-chilling, mind-shattering science fiction that will take you Continue reading

Book Review: Citizen in Space, Robert Sheckley (1955)

(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1955 edition

4/5 (collated rating: Good)

Robert Sheckley’s easily one of the best SF satirists in the short story form.  The collection Citizen in Space (1955), although not as uniformly brilliant as the collection Store of Infinity (1960), is chock full of gems including “The Luckiest Man in the World” (1955), “Something for Nothing” (1954), “Ask a Foolish Question” (1953), and “Skulking Permit” (1954).  Sheckley exposes in all their glory the vast variety of humankind’s follies and utopic delusions.

Later in the 50s and in the span of 6os his visions would become increasingly searing and metafictional.  This early collection Continue reading

Book Review: The Bridge, D. Keith Mano (1973)

(Uncredited — but looks like Jerome Podwil’s work — cover for the 1974 edition)

3.25/5 (Good)

The Bridge (1973) is D. Keith Mano’s only “full-fledged” SF work (Clute on SF encyclopedia).  Mano’s profoundly unsettling dystopic New York circa 2035 is characterized by an unusual mix of radical environmentalism gone amok and Christianity misinterpreted beyond recognition.  In our current day of overwhelming evidence of Global warming and other types of environmental devastation caused by mankind, Mano’s near future will come off as unnecessarily alarmist.

Clearly Mano means his work to be a satire of the most draconian rhetorical flourishes of the environmentalist Continue reading

Book Review: A Pail of Air, Fritz Leiber (1964)

(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1964 edition)

4/5 (Collated rating: Good)

My only previous exposure to Fritz Leiber was his enjoyable and highly experimental Hugo-winning novel The Big Time (1958) — an unusual story (evoking a one-act play) whose characters are soldiers recruited from all eras of history relaxing in between missions during a vast temporal war.  The same sort of invention and incisive wit abounds in the collection A Pail of Air (1964).  Against a post-apocalyptical backdrop that runs throughout most of the stories, Leiber’s stories are chimeric (and satirical) parables on a vast spectrum of themes — the mechanization of the future, gender relations, endless war, media saturation…  The stories shift between whimsical delight and gut-wrenching despair.

This collection of eleven stories from the early 50s to the early 60s is highly recommended for all SF fans — especially the title story  “A Pail of Air” (1951),  “The Foxholes of Mars” (1952), Continue reading