Thursday, May 19, 2011

Book Review: 'Protostars' edited by David Gerrold

2 / 5 Stars

‘Protostars’ (271 pp.) was published by Ballantine in 1971; the cover artwork is by Gene Szafran.

David Gerrold came on the SF scene in the early 70s and since that time has enjoyed considerable success as a writer and editor of both his own work, and work for licensed properties. [His 1973 book ‘The World of Star Trek’ was really the first 'Bible' for Trekkies.] 

‘Protostars’ is unapologetic New Wave sci fi, and about as representative an example of the genre as any other anthology of the era. 

Each of the stories – which are new and never previously published -  gets a rather pretentious introduction by editor Gerrold, who imparts various anecdotes and bits of wisdom about Being A Writer.

My review of the contents:

‘What Makes A Cage, Jamie Knows’ by Scott Bradfield: a short-short by teenager Bradfield; calls to mind a ‘Twilight Zone’ episode.

‘I’ll Be Waiting for You When the Swimming Pool is Empty’ by James Tiptree: in his intro to this story, editor Gerrold remarks that he can’t find any information about the mysterious James Tiptree, who communicates solely through a P.O. Box in MacLean, Virginia. Not until 1977 would the SF world know that  ‘Tiptree’ was the pseudonym of Alice Bradley Sheldon. ‘Swimming Pool’ is a satirical tale of a well-meaning hippie who arrives on a backwater planet with the most earnest of intentions.

‘In A Sky of Daemons’ by Larry Yep: a textbook example of the stylistic excesses of so many New Wave authors: characters identified by all caps (‘SHIVA’), italicized passages denoting Inner Musings, awkward switches in the narrative POV from first to third person, philosophical conversations with a sardonic AI that rules the world, etc., etc.

‘The Last Ghost’ by Stephen Goldin: in a formless Void, the spiritual essence of a recently deceased woman encounters that of a man in the grip of Angst and Anomie. Goldin also contributes the short-short story ‘The World Where Wishes Worked’, a fable with a trick ending.

‘Afternoon With A Dead Bus’ by David Gerrold: nature red in tooth and claw on the streets of the city. 

‘Eyes of Onyx’ by Edward Bryant: one of the better entries in the collection, a downbeat reworking of a Bible story set in a bleak, near-future LA.

‘Cold, the Fire of the Phoenix’ by Leo P. Kelley: things could get really embarrassing when a ‘mainstream’ SF author decided to embrace the New Wave movement, and did so via a story or novel that slavishly incorporated every artifice the Movement epitomized. This story is a great example. It’s the worst in the anthology.

‘Oasis’ by Pamela Sargent: a man with a unique ability – or curse - strives for solitude in the Sinai desert. While the underlying theme is not all that original to SF, author Sargent handles it well, and this is another of the better entries in the anthology.

‘Holdholtzer’s Box’ by David R. Bunch: a fable about human self-discovery; unremarkable.

‘The Five-Dimensional Sugar Cube’ by Roger Deeley: with the help of metaphysics, Boy Meets Girl. Lightweight, but not unrewarding, due to the presence of a red-haired swingin’ 70s chick.

‘And Watch the Smog Roll In’ by Barry Weissman: dark satire of a near-future California in the grip of toxic pollution, and a bureaucracy gone amok (rather uncomfortably close to the current reality).

‘Chances Are’ by Alice Laurence: editor Gerrold gives this slight tale (about a woman in a coma) five pages of introductory discussion. In the New Wave era, self-important, bloviating intros were part and parcel of many anthologies…..

‘The Naked and the Unashamed’ by Robert E. Margroff: satirical tale of near-future campus protests;  very early 70s in tenor.

‘My Country, Right or Wrong’ by andrew j. offutt: (no typos, spelling one’s name in lowercase was a ‘hip’ affectation for New Wave authors). This is a competent tale of a time traveler who goes from 1978 to 2078, and doesn’t like what he sees.

‘Side Effect’ by Pg Wyal: in this story’s introduction editor Gerrold assures us that author Wyal is indeed a real person, ‘a quiet-voiced…thoughtful individual’ who works in the offices of ‘Crawdaddy’ magazine (a smarmy 70s rock music mag), and someone who doesn’t much like to rewrite his stories (not a good sign). Nonetheless, according to Gerrold, ‘Side Effect’ is one of the best pieces in ‘Protostars’. 

In ‘Side Effect’ author Wyal does what so many New Wave writers did so frequently and so successfully: he blatantly copies William Burroughs’s prose style, an action calculated to turn New Wave editors like Gerrold into helpless, servile putty in one's hands……..

1 comment:

MPorcius said...

I just recently read the first two of Gerrold's "War Against the Chtorr" books, A Matter for Men and Day For Damnation and they were reasonably good, and not very "New Wavey." In fact, Gerrold seemed to be doing a sort of homage to Heinlein, using lots of Heinleinian themes and devices (lots of dialogue about "big issues" like the role of the state and personal responsibility; skepticism of government; glorification of the military; a secret group of supercompetent individuals willing to do whatever it takes to save society; a first person narrator who is mentored by war heroes, etc.) There is a real homoerotic undertone that some might find irritating, and some overlong surreal "alternative state of consciousness" sequences that I certainly found irritating. Overall, though, not bad.