The Golden Age of Science Fiction – Volume II (Kindle Edition)

Last time out, I had a look at the first volume in a long-running (at least fifteen volumes) series of classic SF ebooks, The Golden Age of Science Fiction. Here’s the second volume of the series.

The Golden Age of Science Fiction – Volume II

  • Warrior Race, by Robert Sheckley
  • Advanced Chemistry, by Jack Huekels
  • Spacewrecked on Venus, by Neil R. Jones
  • The Martian, by A.R. Hilliard and Allen Glasser
  • The Velvet Glove, by Harry Harrison
  • Gambler’s World, by Keith Laumer
  • Invasion, by Murray Leinster
  • The Knights of Arthur, by Frederik Pohl
  • The Missing Link, by Frank Herbert
  • Sand Doom, by Murray Leinster

There are a few more familiar names in this volume than there were in the first. Robert Sheckley, Harry Harrison, Frederik Pohl, Murray Leinster, Frank Herbert and Keith Laumer are all pretty big names in the SF pantheon, and I’m familiar with Neil R. Jones through reading vintage SF magazines and novels (didn’t he appear in the Ace Doubles?). The name Jack Huekels rings a bell, although I can’t remember where from. And I’m not familiar with A.R. Hilliard and Allen Glasser at all.

As for the stories themselves, I daresay I’ve definitely read a few of these over the years. Some of the story titles definitely ring a bell – Warrior Race, Spacewrecked on Venus, The Velvet Glove, Gambler’s World, Invasion, The Knights of Arthur, The Missing Link and Sand Doom are all stories that I’m pretty sure I’ve read at some point in the distant past. But I’m afraid my memory has gone AWOL on me in recent years, and I can’t remember the details.

I read these stories a LONG time ago. I haven’t read Sheckley or Laumer in thirty-five years or more, and it’s been at least twenty-five years or more since I’ve read Leinster and Harrison, although they were big favourites of mine back in the day. Frank Herbert is someone I’m only familiar with through his DUNE novels, and I only ever read the first one or two of those, thirty-plus years ago.

Next up – The Golden Age of Science Fiction – Volume III

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction – Volume I (Kindle Edition)

Last time out I was talking about my general experiences with reading SF using e-readers and electronic book formats on my computer. I’m going to start off discussing a lot of the books I’ve been reading, beginning with a series of SF short fiction anthologies called The Golden Age of Science Fiction. I’ve found fifteen volumes so far on the Amazon Kindle Store, although there may be more. Here’s a contents listing of the first of the fifteen volumes:

The Golden Age of Science Fiction – Volume I

  • They Twinkled Like Jewels, by Philip Jose Farmer
  • This Crowded Earth, by Robert Bloch
  • Time and Time Again, by H. Beam Piper
  • Time Enough At Last, by Lynn Venable
  • Toy Shop, by Harry Harrison
  • Two Timer, by Frederic Brown
  • Watchbird, by Robert Sheckley
  • Year of the Big Thaw, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
  • The Sensitive Man, by Poul Anderson
  • The Skull, by Philip K. Dick

This is a pretty impressive list of big-name SF&F authors. H. Beam Piper, Frederic Brown, Harry Harrison, Poul Anderson and Robert Sheckley were always among my favourite authors back in the day, and I almost certainly read most of their short fiction several decades ago. However, I can’t say I remember any of the stories in this anthology in any detail, with the exception of H. Beam Piper’s Time and Time Again, which is an old favourite of mine.

A few of the others, the titles at least, ring a bell – Harry Harrison’s Toy Shop and Frederic Brown”s Two Timer come to mind – but I can’t remember anything else about them. My poor old failing memory and the passing of the decades has consigned any recollection of them to the dustbin of history. Some of the other story titles sound vaguely familiar, and I probably did read some of them in anthologies or collections many years ago. But I can recall absolutely nothing about any of them except for the Piper story. Perhaps rereading a few of them will jog my memory. That usually works.

One of the authors, Lynn Venable, is a writer with whom I’m not familiar at all. However, I looked into her history, and she appeared in a few SF magazines back in the mid-20th Century. Apparently, she stopped writing (SF that is, not sure about writing in general) back in the 1970s. But one of the notable things that I found out about her is that one of her stories was adapted for the classic Twilight Zone television series back in the day. Indeed, it was one of the most famous episodes, the one in which mild, bespectacled bookworm Burgess Meredith was the only survivor of a nuclear war, and is delighted that he now has peace to read what he likes, with no nagging wife or co-workers to bother him. That is, until he drops his spectacles and smashes them (with no opticians left to make him another pair). If I’m not mistaken, the above story, Time Enough At Last, is the story upon which that episode is based. But I won’t know for sure until I read it.

Okay, next up it’s The Golden Age of Science Fiction – Volume II.

Reading SF: Books vs Ebooks

For many years, I never really considered ebooks as “real” books, at least not in the same way that a physical hardback or paperback is a “real” book. There’s nothing solid, physical, to hold in your hand and browse through, to smell, and to put on the bookshelves and admire. I will ALWAYS prefer a real, physical book to any kind of electronic format. That’s the hardcore book collector side of me showing his face. But, as a mere reader, as opposed to a book collector, things have changed drastically for me in recent years.

For quite a few years now, I’ve been reading books in electronic format on my computer, in PDF, epub, mobi, doc, rtf, raw txt, and pretty much any other format that I can find, and for a quick, dirty read, these days I tend to prefer reading a story or book on my computer or e-reader. Things have changed to such an extent over the past ten years or so that I probably read more now in electronic format on my computer screen than I do from physical books. And, back in 2012, I bought myself an Amazon Kindle e-reader (3rd gen), and since then, I’ve been reading more and more SF in electronic format. The addition of a 10.1 inch Android tablet a couple of years ago has only added to the electronic reading experience, as I have it stocked up with books and both a Kindle and Epub reader to read them.

So I spend a lot more time actually reading books on my computer and my Kindle and Android tablets than I used to. The computer is on virtually from when I wake up until I go to sleep, and I can take my Kindle anywhere with me when I leave the house, with the hundreds of great SF books that I have loaded on it giving me virtually unlimited choice of reading material during those times when I’m bored or have time to kill on journeys or when visiting family.

There is also a weird psychological or habitual element to it all. Over the years, I’ve simply become used to reading more and more from computer or tablet screens and less and less from books. In many ways, I actually now find it easier to read on a Kindle or computer monitor than I do reading from a book. I guess I’m a living example of that demographic who spend most of their time staring at and reading from screens, and eventually find that they’ve changed so much on a psychological level that reading from a paper book is no longer the normal way to do it any more. It’s harder to concentrate on reading from a book for long periods without ignoring the addictive urge to get back to the computer screen.

I actually find it quite difficult now to read large amounts from a physical book, particularly fiction, without becoming restless, losing concentration, and finally putting the book down to go off and do something else. I used to NEVER be like that – a herd of wild horses couldn’t have dragged the old me away from a good book. Nowadays, I actually PREFER reading from a screen for prolonged periods vs reading from a book. This is hilariously ironic, coming from a guy who used to be an obsessive, non-stop reader of “real” books of all kinds, including novels, short story collections and anthologies.

I still buy lots and lots of books, but now primarily as a book collector. I read most fiction these days in electronic format. It seems that I’ve been split into two personas – the obsessive book collector, who will always prefer “real”, physical books, and the reader, who likes a quick, dirty read on his computer or Kindle. It’s much easier to carry hundreds of books around on a Kindle, and it certainly is a huge space-saver, not having to clutter up the house with yet more paperbacks (I’ve long ago run out of space, and my home is already totally cluttered up with paperbacks), and the Kindle certainly seems to have replaced the mass market paperback for me, leaving the buying of physical, print books mostly in hardback or trade paperback for more collectible books or my favourite authors.

Reading ebooks has also expanded my reading scope in many ways, not only with classic SF, but with modern and new authors that I would never have tried out in traditional book format. I also tend to buy the ebooks of authors that I like to read, for reading purposes, and then go and buy the hardback as a collectible as well, to put it on my bookshelves and admire it. Since I bought my Kindle four years ago, I’ve also been buying lots of SF at bargain basement prices, including not only stuff from new authors but also huge numbers of cheap Kindle author collections and anthologies of vintage and classic SF.

So now I reckon that it’s long past time that I start listing and recommending a few of these ebooks on this blog, in addition to the print books I’ve been collecting. And rightfully so, too, as they make up a huge percentage of my SF reading material these days.

In my next post, I’ll be taking a first look at a series of classic SF anthologies called The Golden Age of Science Fiction, which has been running for at least fifteen volumes (so far). Beginning with Vol. I and working my way through to Vol. XV, that should keep me going for quite a few posts.

Some Cordwainer Smith Books (Part 2)

Last time out, I was talking about receiving my first batch of Cordwainer Smith books in the post, and that I was waiting for another batch. Well, the second batch has now arrived, three books. Actually, two separate books, and an extra copy of one of them.

The two books are We The Underpeople and When The People Fell, both published by Baen Books. The reason that I have an extra copy of one of them is simple: I ordered both books and didn’t realise that they were different editions, different sizes. The original Baen 2007 edition was a trade paperback, and the 2012 edition was a much smaller mass market paperback, so they don’t go together too well on the bookshelf. I’d mistakenly ordered one of each, so I had to rectify my mistake, and immediately ordered a copy of the 2007 trade paperback edition of When The People Fell. The smaller mass market paperback edition will serve as a reading copy, while the two trade paperbacks go on the bookshelves. Extra copies never go to waste. 🙂

The good news for hardcore Cordwainer Smith fans, or those just wanting to try him out, is that these two books contain ALL of the science fiction writing of this great author. There’s no need to track down any of his other books, unless you’re one of those OCD obsessives (like myself), who has to have all the different editions, with the different introductions and different covers.

We The Underpeople contains not only an excellent Introduction by Robert Silverberg, but also Smith’s only SF novel, NORSTRILIA, and five of his best short stories. When The People Fell contains an equally excellent Introduction by Frederik Pohl, the remaining twenty-two stories in his Instrumentality of Mankind future history sequence, plus six non-Instrumentality stories.

That’s all of Cordwainer Smith’s SF stories in two books. Awesome, truly awesome. And required reading for anyone who considers themselves true, hardcore SF fans. All I can say is: Go get ’em!

Some Cordwainer Smith Books

I’m back on a book binge at the moment, all sorts of books from Amazon, Ebay and other sources. From the SF lit side of things, I’ve been concentrating on one of my favourite authors, Cordwainer Smith, and the first batch of four Smith books has recently arrived on my doorstep.

The first of the Smith books is the original 1968 Pyramid Books paperback edition of The Underpeople, which is the second half of Smith’s only SF novel, NORSTRILIA. The first half was The Planet Buyer, which I already have in it’s original Pyramid 1964 paperback edition. I’ve had the Sphere Books 1975 UK paperback edition of The Underpeople for years, but I wanted the original US Pyramid edition to go with my US original edition of The Planet Buyer.

The other three books are interesting in that they are three different editions of the same book, namely The Best of Cordwainer Smith. First we have the July 1975 hardcover Book Club Edition edition, published by Nelson Doubleday Inc, then the September 1975 Ballantine Books 1st paperback edition. Aside from the larger size and different dustcover art of the hardcover edition, everything is exactly the same, except for a couple of things. Two of the stories are reversed in order for some inexplicable reason, and J.J. Pierce’s excellent Future History Timeline is in a much easier to read vertical format in the hardcover, whereas in the paperback edition it’s in a harder to read horizontal format spanning several levels.

The third version of the book is actually a UK edition, trade paperback format, No.10 in the SF Masterworks series, published by Gollancz/Orion. Aside from the larger size and beautiful cover art, the internals of this edition are exactly the same as the Ballantine 1st US paperback edition, including the horizontal format Future History Timeline. This one is worth having for the lovely cover artwork and the fact that it’s one of the SF Masterworks series.

I’ve still got several more Cordwainer Smith books due to arrive soon in the post. I’ll list those when they arrive.

“Dormant” (1948) by A. E. van Vogt

TITLE: “Dormant” (1948) by A. E. van Vogt
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Short Story
SOURCE: BEST SCIENCE-FICTION STORIES edited by Michael Stapleton (Hardcover, Hamlyn, 1977, ISBN: 0-600-38243-5, 750pp)
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: Startling Stories, November 1948

I was rummaging in the vaults a while ago, and I came upon an old anthology that I haven’t read in years. Well, me being me, I couldn’t resist having a browse through it, and looking at the extensive contents listing of excellent stories, the memories started flooding back.

I fondly remember this particular story as one of my favourites from that anthology. A. E. van Vogt’s short story “Dormant” was one of those Golden Age of Science Fiction classics first published in the November 1948 edition of Startling Stories, and the story isn’t one of those far-future, outer space tales, but is actually pretty much in a contemporary setting, 1948, the same year as the actual publication date of the story. Being an historian (I was actually studying history at school at the time I read it), I’ve always really liked the strong post-World War II setting of this tale, with the US destroyer Coulson and it’s crew doing mop up operations on a remote pacific island, finding hidden caches of fuel and other goodies left behind by the Japanese.

But they also find a lot more than just Japanese leftovers. There’s the perplexing mystery of a gigantic rock, weighing millions of tons, which seems to be able to move around the island at will. A rock with a surface temperature of many hundreds of degrees, and which hurls out seemingly random destructive radioactive blasts. A giant rock which is not actually a rock, but an ancient, sentient robot bomb left on Earth countless millions of years ago by some alien race in a long-forgotten interstellar war.

The sections of the story from the POV of the bomb are among my favourites. The bomb, which actually has a name (it calls itself Iilah), has been dormant for countless aeons, but has recently been reawakened by the radiation from the atomic bomb tests on Bikini Atoll in 1946. It has got only low-level life functions back, and is suffering from amnesia. It cannot see the water, air, and even the humans around it. It’s simply totally unaware of their existence. All it can see are the ships and the planes, which it takes for strange lifeforms, flying around in the “sky”. And it’s the bomb’s attempts to communicate with these “lifeforms”, to try find out where it can get more sources of atomic energy to revive it, which unwittingly causes so much destruction and kills so many people.

And of course the humans, predictable as ever, just HAVE to start shooting at the damned thing. The giant “rock” fights back, kicking their asses and destroying the Coulson, much of the other equipment, and unknowingly snuffing out dozens of lives of which it is totally unaware. The remainder of the taskforce is ordered off the island, and an atomic bomb dropped, which is, ironically, exactly what Iilah needs. The flood of energy totally reinvigorates it, and it remembers its mission. It IS a robot bomb, after all, so it promptly follows orders, explodes and knocks Earth out of its orbit and into the sun. And so the world ends in 1948. 🙂

“Dormant” must be one of the first A. E. van Vogt short stories that I read (maybe even the first) back in the day, although I’d definitely read a few of his novels before that point. It was during this timeframe that I also came across three other van Vogt short stories – “The Monster”, “Vault of the Beast” and “Black Destroyer” – in anthologies that I’d taken out from the local library, but I’m pretty sure that I read “Dormant” before any of the others. Those four stories became huge favourites of mine during my mid-to-late-teens, and kick-started my obsession for hunting down collections of van Vogt short fiction.

“Dormant” (indeed all four of these stories) has stuck in my mind these past forty years, and is one of those early gems that cemented my newly-acquired obsession as a hardcore SF fan. I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for this one.

Anyone who might want to read this story, and is finding it hard to get a copy of this anthology, can also find the story in a couple of van Vogt’s short story collections, notably Destination: Universe! and Transfinite: The Essential A.E. van Vogt.

THE EARLY POHL (1976) by Frederik Pohl

The Early Pohl (1976)-03

This time out, I’m going to take a look at a collection of very early stories by one of my favourite SF writers, who also happened to be one of the best editors in the SF industry, and one of the true titans of the SF world, Frederik Pohl. The eight stories and single poem span the years 1937-1944, and there is also a nice introduction and further introductory piece, The Early Pohl, both written by the man himself.

TITLE: THE EARLY POHL
AUTHOR: Frederik Pohl
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Single-Author Collection
FORMAT: Hardback (with dustjacket), US 1st Edition, New York, 1976, 183 pages
PUBLISHER: Doubleday & Co. Inc., New York.

Contents (8 stories, 1 poem):

  • Introduction by Frederik Pohl
  • The Early Pohl by Frederik Pohl
  • “Elegy to a Dead Planet: Luna”, originally published as “Elegy to a Dead Satellite: Luna” under the pseudonym “Elton Andrews”, (poem, Amazing, October 1937)
  • “The Dweller in the Ice”, originally published under the pseudonym “James MacCreigh” (short story, Super Science Stories, January 1941)
  • “The King’s Eye”, originally published under the pseudonym “James MacCreigh”, (short story, Astonishing Stories, February 1941)
  • “It’s a Young World”, originally published under the pseudonym “James MacCreigh”, (novelette, Astonishing Stories, April 1941)
  • “Daughters of Eternity”, originally published under the pseudonym “James MacCreigh” (short story, Astonishing Stories, March 1942)
  • “Earth, Farewell!”, originally published under the pseudonym “James MacCreigh”, (novelette, Astonishing Stories, February 1943)
  • “Conspiracy on Callisto”, originally published under the pseudonym “James MacCreigh”, (short story, Planet Stories, Winter 1943)
  • “Highwayman of the Void”, originally published under the pseudonym “Dirk Wylie”, (novelette, Planet Stories, Fall 1944)
  • “Double-Cross”, originally published under the pseudonym “James MacCreigh”, (short story, Planet Stories, Winter 1944)

Aside from the poem, “Elegy to a Dead Planet: Luna”, which was Pohl’s first published work, I haven’t read any of these stories before. The first two Pohl stories that I did read, way back in my early and mid-teens, were also early ones from the same era as these stories, both appearing under the same “James MacCreigh” pseudonym as most of the stories in this collection.

“Wings of the Lightning Land” was a novelette which first appeared in the November 1941 edition of Astonishing Stories, and was the very first Pohl/MacCreigh story that I ever read, in the classic anthology Science Fiction: The Great Years, edited by Carol & Frederik Pohl (who else?). The other one that I read shortly afterwards was “Let the Ants Try”, a short story that first appeared in the Winter 1949 edition of Planet Stories, and which I read in another SF anthology (can’t remember which) back in my mid-teens. Both of these stories had a huge effect on me at that early age, and have remained firm favourites ever since I first read them over forty years ago. They are among a select group of SF stories that have stuck firmly in my mind virtually my entire life.

I’m actually very surprised that both of these stories were not included in this collection, as they’re two of Pohl’s best early stories from this era, and they really should’ve been in this book. They would’ve been a perfect fit for this one. Ah, well, I have them in other anthologies anyway. As I’m a big fan of Pohl’s work, and I always love stories from this time period, I really should enjoy these stories. I think I’ll be in for a real treat with this collection.