Exploration Log 1: Sonja Fritzsche’s “Publishing Ursula K. Le Guin in East Germany” (2006)

I devour a massive quantity of scholarship on science fiction (authors, culture, fandom, etc.) and history topics that intersect with my SF interests. Some weeks I spend more time reading historical fanzine debates and magazine articles than fiction. I thought that I would share some of what I’ve found most transfixing with you all! In the past I’ve tweeted the most intriguing bits I’ve come across (Michael Moorcock burning John Brunner novels for example) but with the impending implosion of the platform I thought it best to post more on my site which is on track for a banner year.

Thus, I inaugurate the first in what I hope are many future Exploration Logs! Some posts will be a brief survey of the various SF-related non-fiction I’ve read. Other posts, I hope, will be a jumping off point for my own research. In this instance, I’ll share the elements of an article that resonated with me.

Today I’ll cover an absolutely transfixing piece by Sonja Fritzsche on how two Ursula K. Le Guin novels went through an “elaborate approval process” before appearing print in Communist East Germany (GDR). Read more to learn more about the Stanislaw Lem Club’s stash of illegal western SF and how The Dispossessed‘s Shevek was incorporated in the East German national myth!


Sonja Fritzsche’s article “Publishing Ursula K. Le Guin in East Germany” appeared in Extrapolation, vol. 47, Iss. 3 (Winter 2006). As I could not find a copy online, I requested it through my university’s Interlibrary Loan system. If you’re desperate to get your hands on a copy, reach out!

“Publishing Ursula K. Le Guin in East Germany” reveals three fascinating intersecting threads–1) the mechanisms of the censorship program according to the “official literary policy of Socialist Realism,” 2) status of genre within the GDR and 3) how Le Guin’s complex takes were interpreted and rationalized in order to see print for the growing number of East German SF fans in the 70s and 80s.

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Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLXXXVI (Vonda N. McIntyre, Thomas Burnett Swann, William Melvin Kelley, and a World’s Best Science Fiction Anthology)

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

1. Where is the Bird of Fire?, Thomas Burnett Swann (1970)

From the back cover: “Were the mythical monsters our ancestors spoke of so often more than fantasy? Is it not probable that these semi-human races existed–and that only human vanity has blurred their memory?

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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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Book Review: Fellowship of the Stars, ed. Terry Carr (1974) (Ursula K. Le Guin, John Brunner, George Alec Effinger, Pamela Sargent, Fritz Leiber, et al.)

3.5/5 (Collated rating: Good)

Terry Carr’s anthology Fellowship of the Stars (1974) collects nine original short stories by luminaries of the genre, Ursula K. Le Guin and Fritz Leiber, to lesser known authors such as Alan Brennert and Mildred Downey Broxon. As the title suggests, Carr commissions stories on the “theme of friendship between human and alien beings” (vii). In a bit of a twist, in more than one instance “friendship” might be code for something far more sinister.

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Updates: Recent Speculative Fiction Purchases No. CCLXIX (Orson Welles edited SF Anthology, Angélica Gorodischer, Charles Willeford, and Dan Jacobson)

1. The Machine in Ward Eleven, Charles Willeford (1963)

From the back cover: “‘I tied his body to the treatment table and stuffed his mouth with wadded paper towels. Dr. Fellerman’s big brown eyes were expressive indeed, particularly when my fingers adjusted the elastic harness over his head and centered the shiny electrodes to his temples.

A simple, impersonal, uncomplicated machine. I plugged the long cord into the wall outlet, turned the two plastic knobs as far to the right as they would go and left them there…’

For some time now, Charles Willeford’s writing has been emanating from the deep South like a series of electric shocks. Millions of readers around the world delight over each new item, whether a feature in Playboy or one of his rare novels. He is ranked as an author of distinction in the Burnett-Foley Best Short Stories of 1962.

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Book Review: The Dead Astronaut, ed. uncredited (1971) (J. G. Ballard, Ursula K. Le Guin, Arthur C. Clarke, et al.)

(Pompeo Posar’s cover for the 1st edition)

3/5 (collated rating: Average)

“The dead astronaut: The phrase is filled with anxiety, the words themselves evoking the tension and anguish that gripped the whole world in that fateful month of April 1970, when a technical malfunction came close to costing the lives of astronauts Lovell, Swigert and Haise” (5).

The Dead Astronaut (1971) contains a range of 50s and 60s SF stories—from Ursula K. Le Guin to J. G. Ballard—on the broad theme of astronauts, that appeared in Playboy Magazine. For a  reader of genre for only the last decade (and a bit), it’s shocking to consider that Playboy, at one point, contained top-notch science fiction! That aside, The Dead Astronaut contains a range of soft and hard science fictional accounts of astronauts Continue reading

Book Review: The Word for World is Forest, Ursula K. Le Guin (1972)

(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1976 edition)

4.5/5 (Very Good)

Won the 1973 Hugo for Best Novella. Nominated for the 1973 Nebula for Best Novella.

In November 1969, word of the My Lai Massacre (March 16, 1968), where American soldiers killed (and raped and mutilated) between 347-504 unarmed South Vietnamese civilians, reached American newspapers. Ronald L. Haeberle’s iconic (and horrifying) photograph of massacred children and adults–superimposed with, “Q. And babies? A. and babies,” the chilling lines from NBC’s interview with massacre participant Paul Meadlo–was transformed into the “most successful poster” opposing the Vietnam War by the Art Workers Coalition. Ursula K.  Le Guin brilliantly channels this general anti-war anger, transposed to an alien local with colonizing humans as villains, in The Word for World is Forest (1972). Continue reading

Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CCI (Le Guin + Van Herck + Leinster + High + Analog Anthology)

1. I’ve acquired quite a few vintage SF novels and short story collections in translation over the last few weeks–here’s one from Paul Van Herck, a Belgian author who wrote in Dutch. Not the cheapest DAW books edition I’ve encountered….

2. I always want more Le Guin…. Here, a series of linked short stories set in a fantasy world.

3. This Analog Annual anthology contains the only publication of P. J. Plauger’s novel Fighting Madness. Plauger won the John Campbell Award for Best New Science Fiction Writer before fading from the scene.

4. I love vintage SF. I do not love Ace Doubles. Yes, they published a few PKD novels that are worth reading, but, on the whole, I find their quality quite low. This was a gift from a family friend and one of the very few Ace Doubles I’ve been looking for — mostly due to Philip E. High’s city-themed novel.

As always, enjoy the covers! (they are hi-res scans of my personal copies — click for larger image)

Are any other the works worth reading? Let me know in the comments!

EDIT: I was too harsh on my Ace Doubles comment. I realized, and mentioned in the post and comments below, that they also published early PKD, Samuel Delany, and Barry N. Malzberg novels and short story collections, etc. Due to my low tolerance of pulp, I still find the vast majority of them uninteresting.

1. Where Were You Last Pluterday?, Paul Van Herck (1968, trans. 1973)

(Karel Thole’s cover for the 1973 edition) Continue reading

Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CXCIX (Ursula K. Le Guin + Cordwainer Smith + M. P. Shiel + John Varley)

1. Ursula K. Le Guin’s novella, The Word for World is Forest, first appeared in Harlan Ellison’s Again, Dangerous Visions (1972) anthology before a stand-alone publication. I seem to remember reading it as a kid…. But…. the memories are vague.

2. Cordwainer Smith and I have never really seen eye to eye (I wanted to rhyme). I’m all for acquiring more of his collections just in case!

3. From Wikipedia:  “H. G. Wells lauded [M. P. Shiel’s] The Purple Cloud as ‘brilliant’ and H. P. Lovecraft later praised the novel as exemplary weird fiction, ‘delivered with a skill and artistry falling little short of actual majesty.'”

The Richard Powers cover is one of his best of the 60s.

4. John Varley, another author whom I’ve yet to read despite owning numerous of his collections and novels…. Millennium (1983) seems, well, suspicious? Time travel, airplanes, dystopic futures, love affairs across time. We shall see!

…and it was turned into a film in 1989.

Note: the images are hi-res scans. Click to enlarge.

As always, comments and tangents are welcome!

Enjoy.

1. The Word for World is Forest, Ursula K. Le Guin (anthology publication 1972) (MY REVIEW)

(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1976 edition) Continue reading