Return to K-Mac's home pageThe Portable Universe 9
by Michael P. Kube-McDowell

originally published in The Elkhart Truth
October 20, 1983

It's a month for award-winners of all stripes, and topping the list is the first book of a series that author Brian Aldiss calls "the climax of my career." No small claim that, for Aldiss lived up to his 1959 tag of "most promising new author" by producing the classic "Starship" and the 1962 Hugo-winner "The Long Afternoon of Earth." But nothing you may have read by Aldiss and little you have read by others will prepare you properly for "Helliconia Spring" (Berkley, $6.95 trade paper).

The planet Helliconia orbits one element of a double star system, and so experiences not only the familiar yearly seasonal cycles, but also a 2,600-year Great Year -- centuries of bitter cold, a cataclysmic warming period, a brutal summer, and then a long slide down into dark and cold again. The Great Year has shaped the evolution of both organisms and cultures on Helliconia, and Aldiss has worked out both in scrupulous detail. "Helliconia Spring" relates the experiences of the humans of the city of Oldorando as they struggle to survive the violent change brought on by a Great Year spring -- the birth of science and agriculture, the spread of plague virus, invasions by the humans' intelligent rivals known as phagors.

Though episodic at times because of the span of time covered, "Helliconia Spring" is relentlessly interesting, an ambitious and engaging spectacle. It deserved the jury-selected John Campbell Memorial Award it received in July, and I'm eagerly looking to the hardback publication of "Helliconia Summer" this fall.

No single collection of short SF stories has ever created as much of a stir as "Dangerous Visions" (Berkley, $9.95 trade paper), edited by iconoclast Harlan Ellison and first published in 1967. It contains some of the most successful of the experimental "New Wave" writing of the 1960's, and includes among its 33 tales Nebula winners "Gonna Roll the Bones" by Fritz Leiber and "Aye, and Gomorrah..." by Samuel Delany, as well as the Hugo-winning "Riders of the Purple Wage" by Philip Jose Farmer. This is a big book in both size and content, and not to be missed by any serious SF reader.

Even bigger though not quite as distinguished is "Again, Dangerous Visions" (Berkley, $10.95 trade paper), a 46-story monument which first appeared in 1972. But it too has its share of honored stories, first among them the splendid novella "The Word for Word is Forest" by Ursula LeGuin.

What propitious timing for Ballantine's Del Rey Books -- in September Isaac Asimov's "Foundation's Edge" ($3.95 paper, splendid cover by Michael Whelan) captured the top prize in SF, the Hugo Award for Best Novel, and here they are ready with the first paperback edition. If you are unfamiliar with the Foundation series -- formerly the Foundation trilogy -- this isn't the place to start. But if you're one of the many fans of what has been voted "best science fiction series of all time" and haven't yet read "Edge," now poverty is no excuse.

Rowena Morrill stands near, if not at, the very top of the ladder of fantasy artists. The proof, if any is needed, can be found in the slim but spectacular volume "The Fantastic Art of Rowena" (Pocket, $8.95 paper). Its twenty-seven color plates include most of her best-known work (including my favorite "Twilight Terrors") and are accompanied by some refreshingly candid commentary.

It's taken me an unconscionably long time to get around to discovering Kate Wilhelm. She has been publishing SF since 1956, and her much-honored 1976 novel "Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang" should have been enough to awaken my attention. No matter. Her newest novel "Welcome, Chaos" (Houghton-Mifflin, $13.95 cloth) makes up for a lot of lost time. It's an absolutely chilling story anchored in the America we know and revolving around the fear we all face -- nuclear war. What if there were a way for the body to repair damage caused by radiation? Would it mean peace at last -- or war when one superpower had its key citizens protected?

Saul Werther has protected the secret for thirty years because he fears the latter answer, and because the serum leaves half those treated dead and surviving women sterile. He must keep other scientists from making the same discovery, and keep a step ahead of the government agents who want what he knows -- until he discovers the Soviets have the serum. Wilhelm writes with crisp precision and emotional depth, making "Welcome, Chaos" a stunner.

--Michael Kube-McDowell
October 20, l983

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Last Revised: 04 March 2014