Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

All reviews copyright 2003-2017 Evelyn C. Leeper.


CHORALE by Barry Malzberg:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 12/17/2010]

CHORALE by Barry N. Malzberg (ISBN 0-385-13138-0) is set in a future in which time travel of a sort has been invented. I say "of a sort" because while people go back in time, they go back to occupy the place of famous people, or perhaps just take over their bodies temporarily--the exact details are a bit fuzzy. So, for example, our first-person narrator goes back to be Beethoven and make sure that all nine of his symphonies are written as recorded, etc. The reason for all this is that the government has been convinced by a scientist that it must do everything it can to keep the past stable, or the present will fall apart. In this regard it is a bit like Poul Anderson's "Time Patrol", except that there is no evidence that anything would happen if they did nothing. As Malzberg writes (in 1978): "The Department, in short, proved its success only by the failure of catastrophe; it justified its existence by making nothing happen at all, and even in the most mindless of bureaucracies this is not a position which can be held indefinitely." [page 33]

To order Chorale from amazon.com, click here.


DARK SINS, DARK DREAMS edited by Barry N. Malzberg:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/23/2006]

"This is a genre book, a category book if you will; it will go into bookstores and libraries, it will go out of print, but ten or twenty years from now someone will have been reached by this book just as I was reached by similar genre or category hardcover books which were mine to behold a quarter of a century ago at the Flatlands Public Library." [Barry N. Malzberg, Afterword to DARK SINS, DARK DREAMS, October 1976, no ISBN] Read by me June 2006 in a copy checked out from the Red Bank Public Library. As with many books I get through inter-library loan, I am grateful this was not "de-accessioned" even though its complete check-out history seems to be three instances: one in 1987, one in 1996, and now mine. This book is a collection of science fiction crime stories, and was edited by Bill Pronzini and Barry N. Malzberg. Nowadays there are many collections that could be described as "science fiction crime stories", but almost all of them consist of stories written for those particular anthologies and the overall quality is below this collection, which consists of the best of the genre over a period of many years.

To order Dark Sins, Dark Dreams from amazon.com, click here.


DOWN HERE IN THE DREAM QUARTER by Barry N. Malzberg:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 03/10/2006]

DOWN HERE IN THE DREAM QUARTER by Barry N. Malzberg (ISBN 0-385-12268-3) is a 1976 collection of Malzberg's work from 1972 to 1976--and it contains two dozen stories and essays. A couple of points are worth noting about it. First, Malzberg in his comments says that the story "Transfer" was held at the offices of "Fantastic" three years before actually being published, and then, Malzberg says, "Barring one published letter in the fan columns of those magazines I have never received comment upon it." However, since this collection was published, "Transfer" has been reprinted at least four times. Some stories just take longer to percolate, I guess.

The other point is that of "Seeking Assistance" (published in the April 1976 issue of F&SF), Malzberg says, "It is meant to be my farewell to the practice of science fiction." Although he said there would be later stories published, they were written before "Seeking Assistance", and says that that story "is in point of chronology the last I will ever write."

DOWN HERE IN THE DREAM QUARTER by Barry N. Malzberg:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 03/31/2017]

In the introduction to his 1976 collection DOWN HERE IN THE DREAM QUARTER, Barry N. Malzberg (ISBN 978-0-385-12268-9) writes, "Therefore, therefore, in this introduction to this sixth and possibly last of my short-story collections (there may be more but they will include work no later than this in point of time since I have ceased like a drunk pounding helplessly at a luncheonette window in the cold to write science fiction) ..."

It seems to be an immutable law of science fiction or something that when an author declares he has given up writing science fiction, you should believe him only if he says it in his last will and testament, and even then it's not a sure thing. Malzberg "retired" at the beginning of 1976, having written 142 stories and had five collections published. Since 1976 he has written 200 more stories and had seven more collections published (not counting those in German, Italian, or French).

(There must have been something in the air in 1975. Robert Silverberg, who Malzberg said had only been wrong twice in his life, made two more mistakes: he claimed he was not going to write any more science fiction, and he claimed that the idea that James Tiptree, Jr., was a woman was absurd, because Tiptree was "ineluctably masculine.")

Anyway, Malzberg's announcement to the contrary, these twenty-two stories and three essays (counting the introduction) are examples of his early work. That all of them are from a five-year period would be surprising enough in terms of today's writers' outputs, but what is more astonishing is that they represent less than 20% of his total output (20 stories in 1972, 30 in 1973, 37 (!) in 1974, and 17 in 1975). And many of his colleagues of the time were equally prolific--or more so. There were giants in the earth in those days...

Of course, this productivity comes at a price--it is unlikely anyone will ever issue "The Complete Short Fiction of Barry N. Malzberg"--although with e-books ... At any rate, for now, one will have to hope that what has been collected in his dozen collections represents "The Best of Barry N. Malzberg". (There was a collection titled that, but it was back in 1976, presumably because of Malzberg's announced retirement from the field. There was also a 2013 collection, THE VERY BEST OF BARRY N. MALZBERG.)

To order Down There in the Dream Quarter from amazon.com, click here.


THE ENGINES OF NIGHT: SCIENCE FICTION IN THE EIGHTIES by Barry N. Malzberg:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 10/03/2008]

In one of the essays in THE ENGINES OF NIGHT: SCIENCE FICTION IN THE EIGHTIES (ISBN-13 978-0-385-17541-8, ISBN-10 0-385-17541-8), Barry N. Malzberg says, "Truthful as this material is, if there is any audience for this book (in truth, there is no other) it is one comprised of aspirant writers...." This master wordsmith makes two mistakes in one sentence, one grammatical and one substantive. The grammatical is in the use of "comprises" (it should be "it is one comprising aspirant writers"), but more important, Malzberg fails to reckon with people who are not aspirant writers and still want to read this book. I don't always agree with Malzberg (he has far too pessimistic world view for me), but I do find his writing stimulating.

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 11/23/2012]

I also read THE ENGINES OF THE NIGHT by Barry N. Malzberg (ISBN 0-312-94141-2). This is a collection of essays written in the late 1970s and early 1980s as a commentary on the state of science fiction and publishing at the time. One of the interesting things is to notice what has changed. For example, Malzberg bemoans the fact that James Tiptree, Jr.'s "Her Smoke Rose Up Forever" had appeared only in one anthology and one collection, both out of print at the time of his writing. It now has appeared in the United States in another anthology and another collection, both in print. Indeed, we seem to be in a Golden Age for collections of classic science fiction authors, with the Sheckley story also appearing in collections of his work currently in print.

This is not to say that everything in THE ENGINES OF THE NIGHT is outdated. The low esteem in which science fiction is held has not changed, and before you point to George R. R. Martin and J. K. Rowling, let me say that there is a difference between science fiction and fantasy.

To order The Engines of the Night from amazon.com, click here.


THE GAMESMAN by Barry N. Malzberg:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 04/01/2005]

Just as Barry Malzberg's REVELATIONS presaged Jerry Springer, his novel THE GAMESMAN (ISBN 0-671-80174-0) was way ahead of the curve in contests like "Survivor" whereby people hope to succeed through a long chance at a game rather than by hard work. Of course, in the world Malzberg describes hard work won't do it either. One of the predictable things about Malzberg is his unremitting pessimism. You'll either love it or hate it.

To order The Gamesman from amazon.com, click here.


IN THE ENCLOSURE by Barry N. Malzberg:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 11/11/2005]

As part of my long-term project to catch up on Barry N. Malzberg's writing, I bought several of his novels from the 1970s at the Worldcon last year, and just read IN THE ENCLOSURE by Barry N. Malzberg (so old that it does not have an ISBN). Quir, the first-person narrator, is an alien who has come to Earth as part of a team of 248, all of whom have instructions to tell the Earthmen everything they wanted to know. And more than that he can't remember. But (not too surprisingly) the Earthmen are suspicious, put them all in the "enclosure", and grill them twice a day about all their scientific and technological knowledge. Even though Quir tells them everything, they tell him they know he is withholding information, pressure him, and even torture him. A lot of the structure of the enclosure reminds me of Guantanamo (though the aliens being held there did not come in starships with a vast store of technical knowledge). For example, Quir is told that when they have told the Earthmen everything they know, he and his friends will be released. Yet the reader (and the narrator) suspect that this is not true.

There is also a touch of Lake Woebegon here. The aliens have a strict hierarchy, and Quir says, "I was . . . one hundred and fifty-eighth. This does not mean that there were one hundred and fifty-seven aboard more worthy or intelligent than I, but on the other hand there were ninety who were definitely less so." (page 14) Later he explains, "I was barely below the midpoint of the hierarchy; the midpoint was one hundred and twenty-four and I fell only thirty-four places below that, barely a statistical variation." (page 35) Actually, of course, he is within only a few slots of being in the bottom third. But he labors under the common delusion--held by probably 80% of people--that he is in the top half. It's not just status--it's income, it's intelligence, it's morality, it's anything positive.

To order In the Enclosure from amazon.com, click here.


THE MAN WHO LOVED THE MIDNIGHT LADY by Barry N. Malzberg:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 03/10/2006]

In DOWN HERE IN THE DREAM QUARTER by Barry N. Malzberg (ISBN 0-385-12268-3), a 1976 collection of Malzberg's work, he says in the afterword to an April 1976 piece, "It is meant to be my farewell to the practice of science fiction." Which is why THE MAN WHO LOVED THE MIDNIGHT LADY by Barry N. Malzberg (ISBN 0-385-15020-2) does not exist. It does not contain thirty stories and essays written between 1976 and 1980, and is obviously just a figment of my imagination. Well, okay, luckily for all of us, Malzberg changed his mind about writing science fiction.

To order The Man Who Loved the Midnight Lady from amazon.com, click here.


THE MANY WORLDS OF BARRY MALZBERG by Barry N. Malzberg:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/29/2005]

Barry N. Malzberg's THE MANY WORLDS OF BARRY MALZBERG (ISBN 0-445-00298-?) is a 1975 collection of eleven short stories by one of my favorite authors. In his introduction at that time, Malzberg wrote, "I have resolved to write no more or at least very few short-stories...." Luckily, this resolution was abandoned, because Malzberg has written many very fine short stories since then. Why do I like Malzberg's writing? Because he writes with passion. His stories are not written as exercises in elaborate plotting, but as character portraits and as a means of conveying emotion. This is probably why he has written mostly short fiction--even his novels are much shorter than the current norm. (I believe he has never written a work longer than two hundred pages.) An example of his writing: "Carrying gods around like baggage means after a certain point they become as familiar as underwear and nearly as negligible in the imagined scheme of things." This volume may be hard to find; there is another, later collection titled THE BEST OF BARRY N. MALZBERG (ISBN 0-671-80256-9) which may be easier to find.

To order The Best of Barry N. Malzberg from amazon.com, click here.


REVELATIONS by Barry N. Malzberg:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 12/10/2004]

Years before there was "Kung Fu" (with David Carradine), there was "Mad" magazine's humorous suggestion of "Frontier Buddhist". And years before there was Jerry Springer, Barry Malzberg suggested a similar show in his novel REVELATIONS (ISBN 0-380-00905-6). REVELATIONS is also one of Malzberg's novels that takes a cynical look at America's program, with an astronaut who seems to claim (at times) that the whole program was a hoax. Whether it all holds together is not clear, but Malzberg's observations about television seem remarkably prescient.

To order Revelations from amazon.com, click here.


THE SODOM AND GOMORRAH BUSINESS by Barry Malzberg:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 08/19/2005]

Barry Malzberg's THE SODOM AND GOMORRAH BUSINESS (ISBN 0-671-77789-0) is perhaps most notable for a single prescient sentence. Malzberg describes the Watts riots after Robert Kennedy's assassination, and then writes, "Then Chicago in the eighties when the Twin Towers toppled, and the Prudential went." (I realize that sounds as though he thinks the Twin Towers were in Chicago, but I'll note that the line is from the point of view of a narrator who has been at best spottily informed about history. Alas, when one thinks about it, a lot of today's students would do equally badly in sorting out events of fifty or sixty years ago.)

To order The Sodom and Gomorrah Business from amazon.com, click here.


PROBLEMS SOLVED by Barry N. Malzberg and Bill Pronzini:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 11/07/2003]

Barry N. Malzberg and Bill Pronzini collaborated on several mystery and science fiction stories, which are now collected in PROBLEMS SOLVED. (It's impossible to tell from the book if this includes all their short collaborations or just a subset.) I know Malzberg mostly from his science fiction rather than his mysteries, and Pronzini only as an editor, so it's hard to compare these stories with their other writings. I found them reminiscent of John Collier or Jeffrey Archer, and they're all very short (half a dozen pages or so). I'm a Malzberg completist, but for those who aren't the book is a bit pricey. Alas, as a trade paperback, it's unlikely to show up in your library either.

To order Problems Solved from amazon.com, click here.

FINAL WAR AND OTHER FANTASIES by K. M. O'Donnell:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 11/11/2005]

FINAL WAR AND OTHER FANTASIES by K. M. O'Donnell (again, no ISBN) is another Malzberg collection. (O'Donnell was one of Malzberg's pseudonyms.) About half the stories were included in MALZBERG AT LARGE, and the rest seem to have been collected nowhere else. (Even the Malzberg bibliography on the Locus site doesn't list them, since it goes back only to 1969. The Contento index does include them.) Of course, as half of Ace Double 23775, it is not that easy to find these days.

To order Final War and Other Fantasies from amazon.com, click here.



ACTS OF MERCY by Bill Pronzini and Barry N. Malzberg:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 02/10/2006]

ACTS OF MERCY by Bill Pronzini and Barry N. Malzberg (ISBN 0-843-92219-2) was written in 1977, and set in 1984, with its main character someone who rose from being a senator from California to having been elected President in 1980. So given this was written before Reagan became President, it is all the more interesting that the authors wrote of a rival candidate, "Kineen was a reactionary, considered by many to be a dangerous man: a latter-day Ronald Reagan." Because it's set in the future of when it was written, I guess it could be called science fiction, but it's more a mystery and political thriller.

To order Acts of Mercy from amazon.com, click here.


PROSE BOWL by Bill Pronzini and Barry N. Malzberg:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 02/10/2006]

PROSE BOWL by Bill Pronzini and Barry N. Malzberg (ISBN 0-312-65194-5) is a wonderful satire of the world in 2051 in which instead of football games or even chess matches being the main sport people watch, writing competitions are. The narrator, the Metaphor Kid, reminisces about "the almost legendary confrontation between The Cranker and Three-Finger Luke Waddell, in the old Metro Stadium back in '37. Culp's two-word victory with an incredible last-ditch sixty-line simile was the most exciting thing I'd even seen in my life." "Pulpeteers" compete in such categories as Quality Lit, Blazing Western Action, Suspense Fic, Futuristic Fic, and Space Opera. The Hackensack Hack has "his own special combination of exposition and shattering multiple plot twists." And not surprisingly, there is a passing reference to Frederik Pohl and Cyril M. Kornbluth's THE SPACE MERCHANTS as a landmark in 20th century literature.

To order Prose Bowl from amazon.com, click here.


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