Updates: Holiday Purchases! No. CCCXXIX (George Alec Effinger, Margot Bennett, anthology on Nuclear War, and Michael Conner)

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Time for more holiday finds!

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

1. When Gravity Fails, George Alec Effinger (1986)

From the back cover: “In a decadent world of cheap pleasures and easy death, Marîd Audran has kept his independence and his identity the hard way. Still, like everything else in the Budayeen, he is available …for a price.

For a new kind of killer roams the streets of the decadent Arabic ghetto, a madman whose bootlegged personality cartridges range from a sinister James Bond to a sadistic disemboweler named Khan. And Marîd Audran has been made an offer he can’t refuse.

The two-hundred-year-old ‘godfather’ of crime in the Budayeen has enlisted Marîd as his instrument of vengeance. But first Marîd must undergo the most sophisticated of surgical implants before he dares to stop a killer with the powers of every psychopath since the beginning of time…

Wry, savage and unforgettable, When Gravity Fails is a major new work of dark genius by one of the most celebrated talents in science fiction today–a cutting-edge, heart-stopping tour-de-force detective story about an insane future world not so far removed from our own.”

Initial Thoughts: Yes, I know, published one year outside my self-imposed cutoff point for my site’s coverage… Alas. I love Effinger. I want to return to his work. For my novel reviews, check out What Entropy Means to Me (1972) and Heroics (1979). I also thoroughly enjoyed the stories in Irrational Numbers (1976) — and I rank “Biting Down Hard on Truth” (1974) as one of my favorite 70s short story visions.

2. The Long Way Back, Margo Bennett (1954)

From the back cover: I own the 1957 Science Fiction book blub edition sans cover as the 1955 edition shown above–and the 1954 1st edition–are far too expensive ($275+). Thus, I’ve gone ahead and included the 1955 inside flap blurb divined from an ebay listing.

“The time is the future, some centuries after Europe after Europe has been destroyed by atomic warfare. But a legend persists in the super-organized society in Africa that man still survives in England, and that buried in the heart of that lost country is a golden city. The inhabitants, so the legend goes, never speaks of the city except when they are dying. And so an expedition is formed and sets out from Africa to search for the mythical islands of Britain and for traces of a possible civilization. The group is headed by Valya, a beautiful girl coldly dedicated to Science and the State.

The expedition finds a land of dense forests, inhabited by packs of huge ravening dogs. There are also tigers and strange, miniature cows and horses lurking in the brush. Finally, the Africans come upon a strange race of pale-skinned people who speak corrupt English and exist in the most primitive fashion, their whole lives dominated by the fear of their god, Thai, who, in the distant past, caused a great blast to destroy all life. Brown is the only native the expedition meets who has an inquiring mind and who is possessed with a mystic feeling that the English have had a great past and a may have a great future. How he saves the expedition and how they save him are only two of the dramatic high points of this novel. The Long Way Back is exciting reading. It is an outstanding novel by any standard–well written, intelligent and imaginative.”

Initial Thoughts: My nuclear doom collection grows and grows! I am fascinated by Bennett’s unusual African perspective. SF Encyclopedia doesn’t have much to say about this one other than “the denouement uneasily combines love interests, satire and adventure.”

3. I Am Not the Other Houdini, Michael Conner (1978)

From the inside flap: “The Chinese campaign of 2023 lasted some twenty years and led to the depopulation of urban centers throughout the United States. The civil war that followed led to a schism between the eastern and western states. Now, as July 4, 2079, approaches, Bruce Nukhulls, a government psychology expert, flies from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco on a mission of the utmost urgency.

On this day, Alphonse Sterling, known to his many admirers as the Great Houdini, will perform his greatest feat ever in Union Square. As millions of frenzied fans watch on their television sets, Sterling will pass through a mass of molten silver without being harmed. For Sterling, it will be his finest trick. For Nukhulls, it will provide an opportunity to stage the political coup of the age.

But the key to it all does not rest with Sterling or Nukhulls. It rest with a neurotic drunk named Ryan Arcad who possesses psychokinetic powers. And it is with Arcad’s involvement with Sterling’s wife and his surprising relationship with Nukhulls which change his life–and theirs–in ways even a clairvoyant could not forecast.

dealing with subtle ideas of illusion, suggestion and the impulsive and unpredictable nature of human beings, I Am Not the Other Houdini is a provocative novel by an exciting young science fiction writer.”

Initial Thoughts: An author unknown to me and a bizarre premise, count me intrigued. Mike Conner published four SF novels between 1978 and 1995 and thirteen short stories between 1976-1993. “Guide Dog” (1991) won a Nebula Award for Best Novelette.

4. Nuclear War, ed. Gregory Benford and Martin Harry Greenberg (1988)

From the back cover: “MANKIND HAS FINALLY BLOWN ITSELF OFF THE MAP.

Nuclear war. The greatest single threat facing mankind. The arsenals of a man-made Armageddon await only a word… the touch of a button.. a computer-glitch to reduce our cities to twisted wreckage, where survivors envy the dead.”

Contents: Chan Davis’ “The Nightmare” (1946), Theodore Sturgeon’s “Thunder and Roses” (1947), Fredric Brown’s “The Weapon” (1951), J. F. Bone’s “Triggerman” (1958), Herbert Gold’s “The Day They Got Boston” (1961), Norman Spinrad’s “The Big Flash” (1969), Joe Haldeman’s “To Howard Hughes: A Modest Proposal” (1974), David Drake’s “Men Like Us” (1980), Gardner Dozois and Jack C. Haldeman, II’s “Executive Clemency” (1981), Michael Bishop and Lee Ellis’ “The Last Child into the Mountain” (1983), Pamela Sargent’s “Heavenly Flowers” (1983), Ben Bova’s “Nuclear Autumn” (1985), Gregory Benford’s “To the Storming Gulf” (1985)

Initial Thoughts: I love nuclear glooms stories. I want to read more and more and more and more…. I included a bunch in my 2023 in review post–Pangborn, Matheson, Moore, Tenn, etc.


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