Short Story Reviews: Robert Silverberg’s “The Seed of Earth” (1958) and Doris Piserchia’s “Pale Hands” (1974)

I’ve decided to reframe my series on 50s sex and sexuality to include my entire area of SF interest (1945-1985). Thus, I’ve paired Robert Silverberg’s “The Seed of Earth” (1958), a rumination on colonization and human/alien sex, with Doris Piserchia’s “Pale Hands” (1974), a distressing dissection of a future society designed to fixate all sexual desire on masturbation stalls.

Here are the earlier installments in the series:

  1. Philip José Farmer’s “The Lovers” (1952)
  2. Sherwood Springer’s “No Land of Nod” (1952)
  3. Wallace West’s “Eddie For Short” (1953)
  4. Fritz Leiber’s “The Ship Sails at Midnight” (1950)
  5. Theodore Sturgeon’s “The Sex Opposite” (1952)
  6. Ward Moore’s “Lot” (1953)
  7. Langdon Jones’ “I Remember, Anita…” (1964)
  8. Damon Knight’s “Not With a Bang” (1950)

If any short stories published between 1945-1985 on sex and sexuality come to mind that I haven’t reviewed yet, let me know in the comments. I have a substantial list waiting to be covered but it’s far from comprehensive.

3.5/5 (Good)

Robert Silverberg’s “The Seed of Earth” (variant title: “Journey’s End”) first appeared in Super-Science Fiction, ed. W. W. Scott (April 1958). You can read it online here. It is also available in his collection Dimension Thirteen (1969) that I plan on reviewing in the near future.

A preliminary note about publication: Silverberg reused the title “The Seed of Earth”–chosen by W. W. Scott over “Journey’s End”–for a later unrelated novella and a novel.

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Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCCXVII (Roger Zelazny, Philip José Farmer, Steve Wilson, and an anthology with Ursula K. Le Guin)

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

1. My Name is Legion, Roger Zelazny (1976)

From the back cover: “HE DID NOT EXIST… OR DID HE? He had destroyed his punch cards and changed his face. There was no credit card, birth record, or passport for him in the International Data Bank.

His names were many… any he chose.

His occupation was taking megarisks in the service of a vast global detective agency.

His interworld assignments were highly lucrative, incalculably vital, and terrifyingly deadly.

And more often than not, his life was a living hell!”

Contents: “The Eve of RUMOKO” (1969),” “‘Kjwalll’kje’k’koothaïlll’kje’k” (1973), “Home Is the Hangman” (1975)

Initial Thoughts: In the early days of my site read I reviewed the first in the Nemo sequence–“The Eve of RUMOKO” (1969). At the time I did not care for it. However, I recently read F. Brett Cox’s monography Roger Zelazny (2021) and retrospectively I’m not sure that I understood the character or what Zelazny was trying to accomplish with the story sequence. Often after I read a monograph, I end up making a few impulsive purchases and this is one of them! I hope, at the very least, it gives me a deeper understanding of Zelazny’s SF project. And “Home Is the Hangman” (1975) is a Hugo and Nebula-winning novella that I have not read.

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Book Review: Far Out, Damon Knight (1961)

Today I’ve reviewed the twenty-second and twenty-third story in my series on the science fictional media landscape of the future. In “Thing of Beauty” (1958) Damon Knight speculates on something very similar to AI art. And in “You’re Another” (1960) Knight conjures a delirious manifestation of reality TV unlike any other. I’ve gone ahead and included reviews of the rest of the stories in Knight’s collection Far Out (1961).

Previously: Ray Bradbury’s “Almost the End of the World” in The Reporter (December 26, 1957). It appeared in his short story collection The Day It Rained Forever (1959). If you have an Internet Archive account, you can read it online here.

Up Next: Richard Matheson’s “Through Channels” in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, ed. Anthony Boucher and J. Francis McComas (April 1951). You can read it online here.

Robert F. Young’s “Audience Reaction” in Science Fiction Quarterly, ed. Robert A. W. Lowndes (February 1954). You can read it online here.

3.5/5 (Collated rating: Good)

Damon Knight’s impact on the science fiction field can be felt to this day. He founded the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and co-founded two influential science fiction workshops (Milford and Clarion). Knight also edited the Orbit series of anthologies, notable for their larger-than-average number of female science fiction authors and overall quality–I’ve reviewed Orbit 1 (1966), Orbit 3 (1968), Orbit 4 (1968), and Orbit 8 (1970) so far. I can’t help but notice that his fiction, on the other hand, has faded a bit from popular knowledge. I struggle to identify a masterpiece Knight novel. Did he write one?

I’ve enjoyed his short fiction, notably “Down There” (1973) and “I See You” (1976), immensely. With that in mind, I consumed my first collection of his short stories. I can add “The Enemy” (1958), “You’re Another” (1955), and “Cabin Boy” (1951) to my list of favorite Knight visions.

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Short Story Reviews: Richard Matheson’s “Pattern for Survival” (1955) and Margaret St. Clair’s “Quis Custodiet…?” (1948)

In Martha Bartter’s article “Nuclear Holocaust as Urban Renewal” (1986), she explores the deep ambivalence within tales of future atomic war. Authors, and their characters, yearn to “build, a new infinitely better world out of the old” (148), and what better way than to destroy all that was. Narratives often betray a sinister destructive urge. She argues that “atomic war has traditionally been presented both as obvious disaster and as secret salvation” (148). I planned on featuring this thought-provoking article in my Exploration Log series but never got around to writing it. Alas! Maybe a comment or two from my readers will inspire me to finally do so.

With Bartter’s argument in mind, I’ve paired two divergent post-nuclear stories. Margaret St. Clair affirms, despite devastation and violence, the possibility of a revitalized future that avoids the pitfalls of the past. Richard Matheson sidesteps the issue entirely and instead explores how survival, even if fleeting, depends on an interior retreat into a world of pulp science fiction (and thus posits a meta-analysis of genre).

3/5 (Average)

Margaret St. Clair’s “Quis Custodiet…?” first appeared in Startling Stories, ed. Sam Merwin, Jr. (July 1948). You can read it online here.

Margaret St. Clair (1911-1995) was a mainstay of the major pulp magazines and maintained a prolific career from 1946 to the late 60s (between the 70s and early 80s she produced only one novel and a handful of stories).”Quis Custodiet…?” explores a conflict three hundred odd years after the “big atom bombs fell” (114) between “homo mutatus,” or the “Blown-up” humans who experience the effects of radiation mutation and the “Formers,” those spared the mutations (110).

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Short Story Reviews: William Tenn’s “Generation of Noah” (1951) and “Eastward Ho!” (1958)

William Tenn’s brand of satire has long fascinated me. Today I’ve selected two smart satires of Cold War terror that map the new rituals of the apocalyptic age. I read both in his worthwhile collection The Wooden Star (1968). I’ve previous read and reviewed two of his collections–Of All Possible Worlds (1955) and The Human Angle (1956)–in addition to his only novel, Of Men and Monsters (1968).

Are there any other Tenn fictions that I haven’t covered that I should track down?

4/5 (Good)

William Tenn’s “Generation of Noah” first appeared in Suspense Magazine, ed. Theodore Irwin (Spring 1951). You can read it online here if you have an Internet Archive account.

Elliot Plunkett, WWII veteran and one-time company man, abandons his previous life in order to train his family to survive future nuclear apocalypse. His rural poultry farm raises money for a complex of underground living and store rooms with generators, supplies, Geiger counters, and lead-lined suits (16). He inundates his conversations with quotes from issues of Survivor magazine (16). He teaches his children in a “scientific way” in “keeping with the latest discoveries” (13). He selects the virtues that his children might need in the new future–“strength and self-sufficiency” (19). But this is not survivalist manifesto Dean Ing style or a messianic Heinlein narrator. “Generation of Noah” reveals the profound cruelty Plunkett deploys to beat in his vision of the new morality (placed in stark contrast to the adoring kindness of his wife).

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Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCCXVI (Gore Vidal, Pat Murphy, Kris Neville, and J. T. McIntosh)

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

1. 200 Years to Christmas, J. T. McIntosh (1959)

From the inside flap: “For almost two centuries the huge spaceship had speared its way through the stars, bound for another two hundred years of travel before it would put down on a new planet, a new home for the Earth people.

On board the metal-enclosed worldlet were four hundred people; the last survivors of Earth. It was up to them to start life anew, to correct the mistakes their ancestors had made.

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Generation Ship Short Story Review: Julian May’s “Star of Wonder” (1953)

This is the 16th post in my series of vintage generation ship short fiction reviews. Today I have an interesting formulation of the generation ship–its component parts dispersed across multiple vessels–that did not appear on Simone Caroti’s list that spurred this project.

As a reminder for anyone stopping by, all of the stories I’ll review in the series are available online via the link below in the review.

You are welcome to read and discuss along with me as I explore humanity’s visions of generational voyage. And thanks go out to all who have joined already. I also have compiled an extensive index of generation ship SF if you wish to track down my earlier reviews on the topic and any that you might want to read on your own.

Previously: Fred Saberhagen’s “The Long Way Home” in Galaxy Magazine, ed. H. L. Gold (June 1961). You can read it online here..

Next Up: TBD

2/5 (Bad)

Julian May’s “Star of Wonder” first appeared in the February 1953 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories, ed. Samuel Mines. You can read it online here.

After getting involved with SF fandom in her teens, Julian May (1931-2017) published two short stories in the 1950s before returning in the 1980s with the multi-volume Saga of the Pliocene Exile sequence (1981-1984). In between, according to Wikipedia, May worked with her husband T. E. Dikty in publishing, wrote children’s fiction and nonfiction, Buck Rogers comic strips, and even Catholic catechism for publishers affiliated with the Franciscans. Of her two 50s SF tales, “Dune Roller” in the December 1951 issue of Astounding Science Fiction remains by the best known (I suspect for good reason). It received both a TV adaptation for Tales of Tomorrow and film version.

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Short Story Reviews: Ward Moore’s “Lot” (1953) and Langdon Jones’ “I Remember, Anita…” (1964)

My series on 1950s stories on sex and sexuality finds itself relentlessly drawn back to the well-trodden post-apocalyptic wasteland. New moralities are inscribed and ritualized in the wreckage. As Paul Brians points out in Nuclear Holocaust: Atomic War in Fiction, 1895-1984 (1987), authors in the 1950s and 60s demonstrate an obsession with the sex in the post-holocaust landscape as if they are “feverishly battling atomic thanatos with eros” [note 1]. Here I have paired two moments that dance around either side of the nuclear nightmare. Langdon Jones’ “I Remember, Anita…” (1964), the most controversial story from the early issues of Michael Moorcock’s New Worlds, explores an intense love affair in the moments before and after impact. Ward Moore’s shocker “Lot” (1953) charts the moments after impact as the masses flee from the city.

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

Up next: Damon Knight’s “Not With a Bang” (1950)

If any stories on 1950s stories on sex and sexuality come to mind that I haven’t read yet let me know in the comments. I have a substantial list waiting to be covered but I suspect it’s far from comprehensive.

4.5/5 (Very Good)

Ward Moore’s “Lot” first appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, ed. Anthony Boucher and J. Francis McComas (May 1953). You can read it online here.

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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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