Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCCX (R. A. Lafferty, Jan Morris, Star anthology, and an August Derleth anthology)

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

1. Strange Ports of Call, ed. August Derleth (1948)

From the back cover: “‘Begotten of Imagination, on the body of Technology, there springs forth the wild child Science Fiction.’ –Clifton Fadiman

The above is one of the many attempts that have been made to describe a department of fiction which, in spite of some sniping critics, continues to increase its followers. Recently Bertrand Russell observed that science fiction consists of ‘intelligent anticipation–much more intelligent than the expectations of statesmen.’

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Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCCVII (Jack Williamson, William E. Cochrane, a Groff Conklin anthology, and an anthology of gay and lesbian SF)

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

1. 6 Great Short Novels of Science Fiction, ed. Groff Conklin (1954)

From the back cover: “THE BLAST: STUART CLOETE envisions New York City under atomic attack, and tells the story of the lone survivor.

COVENTRY: ROBERT HEINLEIN shows what happens to one of the last individualists, who request a sentence to purgatory.

THE OTHER WORLD: MURRAY LEINSTER reveals a savage, feudal civilization which lives off the sweat of slaves kidnapped from our world.

BARRIER: ANTHONY BOUCHER writers of a time traveler, and his strange encounters with the people who will come after us.

SURFACE TENSION: JAMES BLISH traces a race of microscopic men that works out its destiny under water on a planet somewhere far out of the galaxy.

MATURITY: THEODORE STURGEON depicts the agonizing plight of a super man born in our midst.

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

My series on (sometimes quietly) radical 50s stories on sex and sexuality continues. Check out my two earlier installments: post-apocalyptic sexual chaos and Philip José Farmer’s “The Lovers” (1952).

Rob Latham in his article “Sextrapolation in New Wave Science Fiction” (2008) argues that in the early 1950s “a handful of stories were published in the magazines that dealt explicitly with sexual topics” long absent from genre. Latham suggests that some of the notable New Wave takes on science fictional sex read as reconceptualized versions of these stories [2]. With few exceptions, the 50s trailblazing tales were ignored by the major digests of the day and instead appeared in the failing pulps–Startling Stories and Thrilling Wonder Stories–or in “second- and third-tier digests just struggling to establish themselves” such as Howard Browne’s Fantastic Adventures. For example, my two previous posts in this series covered Sherwood Springer’s “No Land of Nod” (1952), which appeared in Thrilling Wonder Stories, and Philip José Farmer’s “The Lovers” (1952) in Startling Stories. The later was rejected by H. L. Gold, according to John Brunner, at Galaxy with the note: “I’ll publish this if you can get rid of the sex–I run a family magazine” [3].

Let’s get to the stories! Both Fritz Leiber’s “The Ship Sails at Midnight” (1950) and Theodore Sturgeon’s “The Sex Opposite” (1952) explore polyamorous relationships between humans and aliens. In Leiber’s case, a group of bohemians fall in love with a bisexual alien. In Sturgeon’s tale, a heterosexual couple both fall for a parthenogenetically female “alien” symbiote that appears male to women and female to men.


3/5 (Average)

Fritz Leiber’s “The Ship Sails at Midnight” first appeared in Fantastic Adventures, ed. Howard Browne (September 1950). You can read it online here.

Four self-proclaimed “‘wild’-young people, bohemians” (61), fresh out of college but still “sponging” off their parents “doing academic odd-jobs” (57), encounter the enigmatic and stunningly gorgeous Helen serving food at Benny’s, an all-night diner. Soon after meeting Helen, Es, “something of an artist,” starts to push the boundaries of her previously staid art (56). The narrator, Larry, who calls himself a writer but spends more time “reading magazines and detective stories, lazing around, getting drunk, and conducting […] endless intellectual palavers” (58) suddenly has something to actually write about–a carnal and intellectual love for Helen that they keep hidden from the rest. Louis, a philosopher, slowly encounters new avenues to explore rather than “merely cultivat[ing] a series of intellectual enthusiasms [..] and fruitless-excitement over the thoughts of other men” (57). And the gruff exterior of Gene, an atomic scientist, begins to mellow. All four view Helen as a “Great Books discussion leader” who serves as an intellectual midwife–who fosters, encourages, and inspires the expansion of their minds.

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Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CCCI (Angela Carter, Keith Roberts, J. L. Hensley, and a Leo Margulies Anthology)

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

1. Heroes & Villains, Angela Carter (1969)

From the back cover: “The Barbarians had attacked the village, looting and burning. And when they left, Marianne, a daughter of the scientists, went with them. Now she followed Jewel, leader of the barbarians, and lived with him as his captured bride…”

Initial Thoughts: A few years ago I read, and was blown away, by Angela Carter’s The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (1972). I placed it on my best reads of 2016 list but never managed to write a review. Inspired by the novel, I wrote an article derived from a fascinating 1979 interview on Angela Carter’s views on science fiction–including her inspirations and the state of the British SF scene, Michael Moorcock’s prodigious production and New Worlds editorship, and the unescapable influence of J. G. Ballard.

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Updates: Recent SFF Purchases No. CCXCIV (Theodore Sturgeon, Edgar Pangborn, Patricia A. McKillip, Ludovic Peters)

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

1. Not Without Sorcery, Theodore Sturgeon (1961)

Back cover blurb: “In 1948, Theodore Sturgeon published his first collection of short stories, titled, either from modesty or irony, WITHOUT SORCERY. Mr. Sturgeon’s firm conviction that, in his own world at least, absolutely anything is possible (and therefore whatever happens does so ‘without sorcery’) is an obviously specious argument and certainly no excuse. The fact is that anything which Theodore Sturgeon writes is the result of an extraordinary alchemy–the sorcery of his own talent, a talent that is peculiar to himself, unidentifiable but unmistakable, elusive yet always there. This is sorcery, and there is no point boggling it.

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Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCXCIII (Theodore Sturgeon, Kevin O’Donnell, Jr., R. M. Meluch, Ian Macpherson)

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

1. The Synthetic Man (variant title: The Dream Jewels), Theodore Sturgeon (1950)

From the back cover: “SUPERKIDDO! He ran away from home into the carny world. Noname “Kiddo,” disguised as a little girl in a freak show. What he didn’t know didn’t exist. What he couldn’t do was unimaginable. What he hadn’t asked was obvious: ‘Who am I and where did I come from?'”

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Updates: My 2021 in Review (Best SF Novels, Best SF Short Fiction, and Bonus Categories)

2021 was the best year in the history of my site for visits and unique viewers! I suspect this increasingly has to do with my twitter account where I actively promote my site vs. a growing interest in vintage SF. I also hit my 1000th post–on Melisa Michaels’ first three published SF short stories–in December.

As I mention year after year, I find reading and writing for the site—and participating in all the SF discussions it’s generated over the year—a necessary and greatly appreciated salve. Thank you everyone!

I read very few novels this year. Instead, I devoted my attention to various science short story reviews series and anthologies. Without further ado, here are my favorite novels and short stories I read in 2021 (with bonus categories).

Tempted to track any of them down?

And feel free to list your favorite vintage (or non-vintage) SF reads of the year. I look forward to reading your comments.


My Top 7 Science Fiction Novels of 2021 (click titles for my review)

1. Where Time Winds Blow (1981), Robert Holdstock, 5/5 (Masterpiece): Holdstock’s vision is a well-wrought cavalcade of my favorite SF themes–the shifting sands of time, the pernicious maw of trauma that threatens to bite down, unreliable narrators trying to trek their own paths, a profoundly alien planet that compels humanity to construct an entirely distinct society… It’s a slow novel that initially masquerades as something entirely different. Just like the planet itself.

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Short Story Review: Theodore Sturgeon’s “Memorial” (1946)

I recently finished David Dowling’s Fictions of Nuclear Disaster (1987) and thought I’d review a handful of the short stories discussed in the monograph. The first on my list is Theodore Sturgeon’s haunting “Memorial” which first appeared in the April 1946 issue of Astounding Science Fiction, ed. John W. Campbell, Jr. You can read it online here.


“Memorial” (1946), Theodore Sturgeon, 4/5 (Good): Grenfell has a plan to create a war memorial to end all memorials—The Pit. It will writhe with lava. It will shine forth with a ghastly glow. Created by nuclear explosion a thousand times as powerful as the Hiroshima bomb (161). Like some grotesque manifestation of the Darvaza gas crater, it will be a “living reminder of the devastation mankind has prepared for itself” (161). And the message will be the most “useful thing in the history of the race—a never-ending sermon, a warning, an example of the dreadful” possibilities of nuclear war (161).

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Book Review: First Step Outward, ed. Robert Hoskins (1969) (Asimov, Silverberg, Sturgeon, Heinlein, et al.)

3.25/5 (collated rating: Vaguely Good)

Published a few months before the Apollo 11 mission to the moon, Robert Hoskins’ anthology First Step Outward (1969) charts an imagined future history of humanity’s exploration of the galaxy. The stories, gathered from some of the big names of the day (Robert Heinlein, Robert Silverberg, Theodore Sturgeon, Isaac Asimov, Poul Anderson, etc.), are grouped as if part of the same future with headings such as “To the Planets” and “To the Stars.” As with most anthologies, this contains a range of gems (such as Sturgeon’s “The Man Who Lost the Sea”) and duds (Ross Rocklynne’s “Jaywalker”).

I’ve previously reviewed five of the thirteen stories in their own posts–linked for easy consultation.

Brief Plot Summary/Analysis

“Cold War” (1949), Kris Neville, 3/5 (Average): Previously reviewed in its own post here.

“Third Stage” (1963), Poul Anderson, 3.5/5 (Good): Previously reviewed in its own post here.

“Gentlemen, Be Seated!” (1948), Robert A. Heinlein, 2.75/5 (Vaguely Average): My first return to Robert A. Heinlein in around a decade is exactly like I thought it would be–thoroughly disappointing. Yes, yes, yes, I know this is far from what he was capable of. The number of reprints this misfire of a story receives mystifies (it appeared in the regularly reprinted The Green Hills of Earth and The Past Through Tomorrow).

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