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23 October 2011

It seems to me that the 1940s must have been a terrific decade for the birth of SF writers. Another, born in the same decade as Sandra Miesel, Claudia Edwards, Ru Emerson and William Burkett, was David Palmer born in Chicago in 1941. His first book originally appeared, as a number of fine books have done, as a novella series in one of the pulp magazines. Analog’s January 1981 issue featured a novella titled Emergence. This was followed by a second novella entitled, Seeking, that appeared in Analog the following month. Both novellas won Reader’s Choice Awards, both were Hugo Award nominees, and when the book, Emergence – using the novellas as the first two sections of that – appeared, in 1984, it was also a Hugo nominee and won the Compton Crook award.
Emergence is a riveting book. It purports to be written by Candy Smith-Foster, a child genius who throughout the majority of the book writes in her own form of English, a telegram format that omits most link words such as “the, and, she/her/ his/he, I/me/mine” etc. This made the first few pages hard to get into but only initially. I then found that I was swept into the work by the character and her story and I stayed up all night finishing it. If Palmer has not been the only person to tell a port-holocaust tale using a child, he is certainly the very best. Candy’s adoptive father is an eminent pathologist, (and, unbeknown to Candy, a major figure as a government consultant) her adoptive mother died six years earlier. Her father, Doctor Foster, has a bomb shelter below the house in case the worst occurs, it does when he’s in Washington and Candy is alone – if you don’t count Terry, whom she introduces as her retarded twin-brother, he is in a way, but not at all the way you’d think. Virtually all the population is dead when Candy emerges three months later. How she copes, who isn’t dead and why, who she meets and what happens from those meetings, and where she goes from there is riveting. At least, it riveted me when I read it first and still holds my attention strongly each time I’ve read it thereafter.
Unhappily Palmer’s second book, Threshold, (published Bantam 1985 and said to be the first in a trilogy – To Halt Armageddon) I found to be nowhere near the quality of Emergence. This may have been because I wanted to read more of Candy, but I found the characters didn’t engage me, and I read the book once cursorily and discarded it. (My opinion appears to be shared by a number of other readers and critics.) Palmer is said to be still working on the next in this trilogy (Special Education). But on checking I discovered something I had not been aware of, that a sequel to Emergence (Tracking) was published in three parts in Analog over July/August, September, and October in 2008. I can only hope that this will be brought out as a book, since it’s the Palmer book that I have been waiting for since 1984. (And if not I must try to find copies of these three issues that I can buy, I’ve been dying to know for almost thirty years what happened to Candy after “Emergence.”) Palmer has a standalone novel, Schrodinger’s Frisbee completed – the blurb I’ve seen does sound interesting – and Wormhole Press was suggested as a publisher for this at some stage in the future along with indications that they would be publishing/republishing all of Palmer’s work. Unhappily this has not materialised and the publisher appears to have folded.
David Palmer has produced a very small body of work – two published books and three novellas, and two more books completed but as yet unpublished – since 1984, but I really recommend Emergence, and if the novellas in Analog’s 2008 issues are a sequel to Emergence then they are almost certainly worth a good look as well. Second-hand copies of Emergence are listed as available on Amazon as varying prices. And a final note: I loved the cover art on Emergence, this was from Jim Burns, and it conveyed the feel and theme of the novel in one sweeping look. More covers should be of this type and quality!
Bibliography
Novels
Emergence (1984)
Threshold (1985)
Short fiction
“Tracking – part 1”. Analog 128 (7&8). July/August 2008. 
“Tracking – part 2”. Analog 128 (9): 90–133. September 2008. 
“Tracking – part 3”. Analog 128 (10): 86–133. October 2008.

1 Comment »

  1. Lyn,
    I too was enthralled with EMERGENCE and re-read it several times over the years. I never stopped looking for more from Palmer, but somehow missed THRESHOLD entirely until it was mentioned at an SF club meeting last Friday. I did read – with initial enthusiasm – the TRACKING novellas in Analog but was quite disappointed. There is some of the original flavor there, but not as much as I hoped for, and I did not feel that Palmer did a good job of bridging the actual time gap between the publications (i.e. Tracking seemed to take place in a post-holocaust 21st century world that was not necessarily the successor of the post-holocaust world of the 1980s novel. Still, I would very much like to see TRACKING come out in novel form and would buy it and keep it.

    The context of our SF meeting where Palmer’s work came up was a suggestion for next year’s reading list as “one off” novels that people loved but where the author didn’t proceed to make the splash we thought they would. We suggested EMERGENCE and Panshin’s RITE OF PASSAGE (which, if you haven’t read, you ought) among others.

    Mem Morman

    Comment by Mem — 11 June 2013 @ 03:06

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