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EW looks at the latest Science Fiction books

The newest by Arthur C. Clarke, Terry Brooks, and others are reviewed

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EW looks at the latest Science Fiction books

Since the science fiction boom kicked off by Star Wars in 1977, science fiction and fantasy titles have been appearing regularly on the best-seller lists, but almost all these genre best-sellers have come from the kiddie-lit end of the spectrum. As a result, publishers have been flooding paperback racks with pabulum, and science fiction suitable for grown-up palates has once again become as much of a rarity as in the 25-cent pulp-magazine era.

The Scions of Shannara Terry Brooks (Del Rey, $19.95)
Del Rey has been the pioneer in the re-infantilization of both science fiction and fantasy, and of all Del Rey’s authors none has geared down to a lower common denominator than Terry Brooks. His latest epic fantasy so dilutes the original Tolkien sword-and-sorcery formula that the result is closer to The Smurfs Go to Camelot than The Lord of the Rings. Brooks’ Elfin hero, Par Ohmsford, is a role model for fifth-graders needing to overcome shyness and low self-esteem who will be cheered to be told at the novel’s end, ”I like you, Elf-boy. You are stubborn and determined, and sometimes you don’t take notice of anything or anyone around you — only of yourself. But I am like that, too. Maybe that is how we keep ourselves from becoming exactly like everyone else. Maybe it is how we survive.” Brooks’ readers need to hear this, and they sent this first volume of his new bedtime tetralogy to the best-seller lists in its first week on the market. D-

Astounding Days Arthur C. Clarke (Bantam, paperback, $8.95)
From Childhood’s End in 1953 to The Fountains of Paradise in 1979, Clarke’s own work has set the standard for science fiction that is both high-tech and high-class. Now, in this ”science fictional autobiography,” Clarke has found an oddly indirect way to tell his life story. Instead of writing about his family, friends, and enemies, if any, Clarke gives us a story-by-story rehash of the pulp science fiction stories that bent his twig as a Welsh teenager in the ’30s. As a chronicler of his own life, Clarke is about as forthcoming as J. D. Salinger, but there is a contagious glee in his picking over the trash he loved as a kid. The result, though it only makes one eager for a real autobiography, is surprisingly flavorsome. Clarke confesses that he stopped reading SF magazines in the ’70s: ”This was partly due to the ever-increasing demands on my time, partly because the best fiction of the year would later be more conveniently encapsulated in book form (The Hugo and Nebula Award collections, the Best of 19-, etc.). Unfortunately, I now no longer have time to read even those.” B+

Nebula Awards 24 Edited by Michael Bishop (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, $22.95/$13.95)
If we can judge by the stories in this anthology of winners and runners-up for the 1988 Nebula Award given by the Science Fiction Writers of America, Clarke may be more fortunate than he knows. Certainly, 1988 was not a banner year for the genre. Of the three short fiction awards, only the novella The Last of the Winnebagos, by Connie Willis, is probably true SF — and a good read to boot. James Morrow’s story is a whimsy about Noah’s Ark, and George Alec Effinger’s novelette is a tepid time-travel fantasy. There are only four other no-account stories in the book, which is plumped out with funeral sermons for Robert Heinlein and Clifford Simak, encomiums for Ray Bradbury and Dr. Seuss, five poems, and an annual survey by Ian Watson that denigrates this year’s Nebula-winning novel as ”juvenile.” In his introduction, the editor pleads with ”fair-minded reviewers” to make allowances for the fact that other year’s-best editors have skimmed off the cream and to understand that this is a ”different animal.” It is, and it’s got mange. C-

Carmen Dog Carol Emshwiller (Mercury House, $15.95)
Carol Emshwiller has been a notable presence in the science fiction field since the mid-’50s, when her stories began to appear regularly in Judith Merril’s annuals — and her face on the covers of SF magazines (as painted by her husband, the artist Emsh). Now, at age 68, with two collections of stories behind her, Emshwiller has produced a first novel that combines the cruel humor of Candide with the allegorical panache of Animal Farm. In the hyper-Kafkaesque world of Carmen Dog, women have begun devolving into animals and animals ascending the evolutionary ladder to become women. Pooch, the heroine, is a golden setter whose long-term ambition is to become a great opera singer and change her name to Puccim, but meanwhile she has to contend with animal experimenters and other MCPs. The result may not be SF, strictly speaking, but there has not been such a singy combination of imaginative energy, feminist outrage, and sheer literary muscle since Joanna Russ’ classic The Female Man. A