Short Fiction Reviews: Phyllis Gotlieb’s “A Grain of Manhood” (1959), “Phantom Foot” (1959), and “No End of Time” (1960)

Since 2021, I’ve put together a series on the first three published short fictions by female authors who are new(ish) to me and/or whose most famous SF novels fall mostly outside the post-WWII to mid-1980s focus of my reading adventures. So far I’ve featured Josephine Saxton (1935-), Carol Emshwiller (1921-2019), Wilmar H. Shiras (1908-1990), Nancy Kress (1948-), Melisa Michaels (1946-2019), Lee Killough (1942-), Betsy Curtis (1917-2002), and Eleanor Arnason (1942-).

I do not expect transformative or brilliant things from first stories. Rather, it’s a way to get a sense of subject matter and concerns that first motivated authors to put pen to paper and to further map the territories that fascinate me.

Phyllis Gotlieb (1926-2009) was one of a legion of authors who received a debut under the influential editorship of Cele Goldsmith (1933-2002). Goldsmith fostered the early careers of Ursula K. Le Guin, Keith Laumer, Thomas M. Disch, David R. Bunch, Roger Zelazny, among many others. For a fascinating look at her years at Amazing Stories, check this later reflection article. Goldsmith writes: “My greatest pleasure was developing and publishing new, talented writers. I was not a writer and never aspired to be. But I was an editor who loved to help writers adapt their ideas and copy for the audience. My requirements: credible (or incredible), well-plotted, care- fully developed stories. My criteria for acceptance: ‘goose flesh’ while reading a submission.” For more on her contribution to the field, check out “Friend of the Site” John Boston and Cora Buhlert’s article over on Galactic Journey. Barry N. Malzberg also interviewed her in 2003.

Gotlieb, also known for her poetry, was born in Canada and received an M. A. in English from the University of Toronto. Her first novel–which I acquired recentlySunburst appeared in 1964. Her novella “Son of the Morning” (1972) received a Nebula Award nomination. Here’s her complete bibliography. I have read none of her work until now!

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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


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.”


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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: Fritz Leiber’s “The Moon Is Green” (1952) and Sonya Dorman’s “Go, Go, Go, Said the Bird” (1967)

Today I have selected two radical post-apocalyptic visions to review. Fritz Leiber (1910-1992) writes a conscientious attempt to understand the plight of a housewife trapped in a fallout shelter with an abusive husband and a mysterious man outside who whispers her deepest fantasies. I am fascinated by subversive 50s stories–especially on sex, masculinity, colonization, suburbia–and Leiber’s tale ticks many of my favorite boxes. Sonya Dorman (1924-2005), a skilled American representative of New Wave movement, recounts a highly metaphoric flight of a woman attempting to maintain independent thought and experience in a world hurtling towards disaster.

4.5/5 (Very Good)

Fritz Leiber’s “The Moon Is Green” first appeared in Galaxy Science Fiction, ed. H. L. Gold (April 1952). You can read it online here.  

On January 3rd, 1950, in response to the successful 1949 Soviet test of atomic weapons, President Truman announced a crash program to develop the hydrogen bomb. It is within this moment of escalating terror after Truman’s announcement that Leiber wrote “The Moon is Green” (1952). While Leiber references hydrogen weapons, the story was published before the “Ivy Mike” Hydrogen bomb test (November 1st, 1952)–known to the public after a media blackout on January 7th, 1953–that revealed the devastating presence of fallout. The Soviets conducted their own test of a thermonuclear device–Joe-4–on August 12, 1953 (source).

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Book Review: So Close to Home, James Blish (1961)

3/5 (collated rating: Average)

It’s been more than a decade since I’ve read James Blish. I’ve long been a fan of his Hugo-winning novel A Case of Conscience (1958) and individual stories in collections like The Seedling Stars (1957) and Galactic Cluster (1959). Unfortunately, So Close to Home (1961) is an uneven collection with more duds than hits. The three worthwhile stories–“The Oath” (1960), “Testament of Andros” (1953), and “The Masks” (1959)–can be found online at the links below. Almost all the stories in the collection are set in the near future and chart humanity’s fear of the end and how one might navigate the strange new worlds that emerge.

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Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CCCXIII (John Wyndham, Keith Roberts, Fredric Brown, Naomi Mitchison)

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

1. The Day of the Triffids, John Wyndham (1951)

From the back cover: “WHAT WERE THEY–


Until a few short hours ago–before the sky exploded into a shower of flaming green hell–triffids had been regarded as merely a curious and profitable form of plant life. Now these shadowy vegetable creatures became crawling, killing nightmare of pain and horror.

Madness hung in the air, fear lurked in every side street, death hovered in every doorway. Stripped of civilized veneer by terror and desperation, the handful of surviving humans began to turn on each other.

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Short Fiction Reviews: Norman Spinrad’s “The Weed of Time” (1970) and William Morrison’s “The Addicts” (1952)

Today I’ve decided to do something a bit different. Over the past year or so I’ve been compiling short stories on various themes and I put three of the themes to vote on the hellscape that is Twitter (I’m @SFRuminations). And science fictional drugs won out!

If this topic is interesting, let me know. My notebook contains a substantial list of stories I haven’t yet read on the topic. If you know of other short stories from the decades of my interest (1945-1985), leave a note in the comments.

4/5 (Good)

Norman Spinrad’s “The Weed of Time” first appeared in Alchemy and Academe, ed. Anne McCaffrey (1970). You can read it online here. I read it in his collection No Direction Home (1975) above with its striking Charles Moll cover.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m relentlessly drawn to New Wave movement because there was a serious and conscience attempt to tell stories in artful ways replete with “literary” prose, radical structure/politics, non-standard SF characters/perspectives. Sometimes it’s beautiful. Sometimes it doesn’t work. But it’s all fascinating. This one works.

Now let’s enter the landscape of a transformed mind… At birth, the nameless narrator emerges “an infant-child-youth-man-ancient, in a government cell in a mental hospital dying in clean white sheets” (1979). He sees immediately the “gestalt painting of [his] lifespan, a pattern of immutable events painted on the stationary and external canvas of time….” (78). He experiences all the actions of his life simultaneously (79). No knowledge can effect any “action performed in any particular time-locus” (79). He babbles incessantly about the effects of consuming tempis ceti, an alien plant accidentally released on earth before the astronauts had even returned from their journeys. Of course, all prophesized occurs… and all businesses want to exploit prophesy even if the oracle already knows the irrelevancy of it all.

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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: Alfred Coppel’s “The Hunters” (1952, “The Dreamer” (1952), and “Double Standard” (1952).

Up Next: George R. R. Martin’s “The Second Kind of Loneliness” (1972) and Tom Godwin’s “The Nothing Equation” (1957)

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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Short Story Reviews: Betsy Curtis’ “Divine Right” (1950), “The Old Ones” (1950), and “The Protector” (1951)

In the past year or so I’ve put together an informal series on the first three published short fictions by female authors who are new(ish) to me and/or whose most famous SF novels fall mostly outside the post-WWII to mid-1980s focus of my reading adventures. So far I’ve featured Josephine Saxton (1935-), Carol Emshwiller (1921-2019), Wilmar H. Shiras (1908-1990), Nancy Kress (1948-), Melisa Michaels (1946-2019), Lee Killough (1942-), and Eleanor Arnason (1942-).

I do not expect transformative or brilliant things from first stories. This is particularly relevant to keep in mind for today’s post. Rather, it’s a way to get a sense of subject matter and concerns that first motivated authors to put pen to paper and to further map the territories that fascinate me.

Today I’ve selected the first three professional science fiction stories published by Betsy Curtis (1917-2002). She is “best” known for her Hugo-nominated short story “The Steiger Effect” that appeared in Analog Science Fiction, ed. John W. Campbell, Jr. (October 1968). It lost to Harlan Ellison’s “The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World” (1968). Her short biographical blurb by Eric Leif Davin in Partners In Wonder: Women and the Birth of Science Fiction 1926-1965 (2006) indicates that she received an M.A. in English (1941) from Oberlin College, in 1966 another M.A. in Education from Allegheny College, and was active in the Society for Creative Anachronism (375). Her work is not discussed in much detail by Davin. She published 13 stories in professional magazines and two in fanzines between 1950-1973. For a bit more about her fannish activities, check out the following forum posts.

Have you read any of her work? If so, what were your thoughts?

2.75/5 (Below Average)

Betsy Curtis’ “Divine Right” first appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, ed. Anthony Boucher and J. Francis McComas (Summer 1950). You can read it online here.

Sometime in the future a family of telepathic monarchs rule. Until the death of King Almar the Eighth, Curtis suggests the monarchy was more on the benevolent side of things–collecting a small tithe and encouraging the indoctrination of children to its glories through song and rhyme. But everything changes with the controversial ascension of King Glann. Unlike his predecessors, he squeezes the people dry for new palatial constructions. The story’s protagonist, the young Tod Winster bubbles with the capitalistic credo: “But Dad [..] When you’ve worked hard and earned something, shouldn’t it be yours to keep?” (98). He wants a bicycle. And in a confusing sequence of events his life savings are handed over as a tithe to King Glann in a ceremony to inaugurate the completion of the Winter Palace… but something is amiss. The king doesn’t seem to be a telepath at all. And Tod’s confused actions create the spark of rebellion!

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