This batch of short reviews appeared in The Baltimore Sun on February 24, 1985 and The Philadelphia Daily News around the same time. Subsequently, I received a postcard from James Tiptree, Jr. saying that she was glad to see at least one reviewer got the point of Brightness Falls From the Air.
The newest crop of notable science fiction books spans four different generations of writers, and illustrates the continuing vitality of a field that has developed from pulp-magazine origins to bestseller status.
The Merchant's War. Frederik Pohl. St. Martin's. 209 pages. $13.95.
Frederik Pohl started writing in science fiction's Golden Age of the 1940's -- a contemporary of Asimov and Heinlein. His newest book is a sequel to his 1953 satirical masterpiece, The Space Merchants.
Once again Pohl returns to a future Earth ruled by advertising executives, a world where sales are everything, most folk are helpless, squalid consumers, and the freedom-loving colonists of Venus are the only ones who fight back against the system. Pohl's hero, Tennison Tarb, is a minor-level copywriter who becomes involved in a Dickensian journey through the worst aspects of the society. Tarb triumphs, however, and wins his way back to fortune and power -- and responsibility -- beyond his dreams.
This book lacks the biting satire of its predecessor; after thirty years, Pohl's future is no longer quite convincing and he gives us precious little background to support it. Tennison Tarb is a rather drab character, and it is hard to remain sympathetic. The book has some fine moments (most notably Tarb's method of advancing in a supermarket checkout line), but they can't really save the book. Pohl has done better.
Dayworld. Philip Jose Farmer. G. P. Putnam's Sons. 320 pages. $16.95.
Philip Jose Farmer was, in his time, one of science fiction's most pioneering authors. He was the first important writer to introduce human sexuality into science fiction; his Riverworld series is a classic in the genre. Now Farmer is a mature writer, using the tools of his trade with precision and skill -- and Dayworld is one of his best books.
In this future society, the problems of overpopulation and pollution have been solved by a creative use of suspended animation. Each day of the week, one-seventh of Earth's people awaken, live, and go back to sleep -- while the remaining six-sevenths wait in stasis for their turn. Monday's people never meet Firday's; Tuesday and Wednesday exist in the same space but never the same time. This is the world of Stoner civlization, and only the criminal "daybreakers" live continuous lives from day to day.
Jeff Caird is a daybreaker. He is also an "immer" -- member of a privileged and secretive minority who have discovered the gift of eternal life. In order to survive in Stoner society, Caird has created seven separate alter egos, one for each day of the week.
But when another immer turns traitor, Jeff Caird must use all his personalities to track the criminal across the week. And when that criminal murders Caird's Tuesday and Wednesday wives, Caird is caught in a chase that may cost him his life.
Detective story, action and suspense novel, and a psychological tour-de-force that questions the very roots of individuality...Dayworld is a rewarding story from a master craftsman.
Brightness Falls From the Air. James Tiptree, Jr. Tor. 382 pages. $14.95.
James Tiptree, Jr. -- pen name of author Racoona Sheldon -- came to prominence during the "New Wave" of the sixties and early seventies. Tiptree's poetic mastery of language and compassionate concern for human feelings marked her as a rising star in the science fiction world. Tiptree has been silent for almost a decade...and the wait was well worth it.
Brightness Falls From the Air, a sure contender for this year's Hugo and Nebula Awards, is a tale of beauty -- and the responses that beauty causes. It is a tale of those who admire beauty, those who would possess it, those who are indifferent to it...and those who would destroy it.
The Dameii, natives of the world Damien, are the most beautiful creatures in the known Galaxy. It is their misfortune that they produce a secretion that can be distilled into Mankind's most potent and satisfying drug. Years ago, the Dameii were tortured and exploited for the sake of this liquid, known as "Stars Tears," and only the armed intervention of the Federation was able to save the race. The Federation placed guardians on Dameii, and then withdrew.
Now, decades later, a baker's dozen tourists have come to Damien to witness a unique astronomical event: the passage of the last wavefront of a nearby nova.
During the long Damien day and night, tension mounts as the guardians begin to suspect that some of these tourists may have come for a more sinister reason -- to once again visit upon the Dameii the horror of Stars Tears.
Tiptree's characters and real and human; her word-portraits are exquisite; and her construction is flawless. The novel will leave you crying, hoping, jubilant, and in awe. This is surely a book that must not be missed.
Fire Watch. Connie Willis. Bluejay. 274 pages. $14.95.
Connie Willis is the newest science fiction superstar, a writer of the new generation of the eighties. This book, a collection of her short stories, is an excellent introduction to a woman who is destined to become a major talent in the field.
Here is her Nebula-winning short story "A Letter from the Clearys" -- a disturbingly realistic version of a post-Holocaust world. Here is the powerful title story, Hugo and Nebula winner "Fire Watch": in which a time-tripper loses -- and finds -- his soul in the World War II firebombing of Saint Paul's Cathedral. And here is a riveting and disturbing new story, "All my Darling Daughters," which examines human relationships in a new light.
Twelve stories altogether make this collection a true bargain.
Moved to new site - With the (temporary?) end of the Legion, this seemed a good time to move to my own Legion site. Over there you'll find a post on what I would do with the L...
4 years ago