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.

THE MEN AND THE MIRROR (1973) by Ross Rocklynne

Rocklynne, Ross - The Men and the Mirror-03

This time out, we have a single author collection of short fiction by SF Pulps stalwart, Ross Rocklynne (real name Ross Louis Rocklin, February 21, 1913 – October 29, 1988). Rocklynne was very active in the SF magazines from the early-1930s up until the mid-1950s, when he disappeared off the scene for more than a decade (supposedly because of his interest in Dianetics), only returning in the late-1960s, when he wrote a small number of highly regarded stories, including “Ching Witch!”, which appeared in Harlan Ellison’s classic 1972 anthology, AGAIN, DANGEROUS VISIONS.

But it’s Rocklynne’s classic 1930s, 1940s and early-1950s stories that he is most remembered for. And this is a nice little collection, spanning 1936-1952, another fairly short book, only 208 pages and six stories, so it shouldn’t be too hard to get through.

TITLE: THE MEN AND THE MIRROR
AUTHOR: Ross Rocklynne
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Single Author Collection
FORMAT: Paperback, 208 pages
PUBLISHER: Ace Books, First Ace Printing, New York, 1973
ISBN: 0 7278 1221 1

CONTENTS:

  • Introduction by Ross Rocklynne
  • “At the Center of Gravity” (Astounding Stories, June 1936)
  • “Jupiter Trap” (Astounding Stories, August 1937)
  • “The Men and the Mirror” (Astounding Science Fiction, July 1938)
  • Robert D. Swisher letter from Astounding Stories, November 1938
  • “They Fly So High” (Amazing Stories, June 1952)
  • “The Bottled Men” (Astounding Science Fiction, June 1946)
  • “And Then There Was One” (from Astounding Science Fiction, February 1940)

Ross Rocklynne was one of those writers who seemed to pop up regularly in the SF mags during the 1930s-1950s, and who was very popular, but was sadly underappreciated compared to his more famous contemporaries (Heinlein, Van Vogt, Asimov, Del Rey, etc), and so he never achieved the same level of fame as these authors. Perhaps this was because many of the stories were very unusual for that era, less mainstream commercial SF, and in many ways quite a bit ahead of their time. He was certainly a very powerful writer, almost avant-garde, and in many ways was a precursor to the New Wave of the 1960s. Maybe this explains why he was never as big as the likes of Heinlein or Van Vogt.

My own first encounters with Rocklynne’s work came through reading some of his short fiction in various anthologies of Golden Age SF (I’ve never read any of his novels). The two that I remember best, and which stick in my mind, are “Into the Darkness” (Astonishing Stories, June 1940) and “Time Wants a Skeleton” (Astounding, June 1941). “Into the Darkness”, which spawned several sequel stories, is a fascinating tale with no human characters at all. The main characters are a bunch of ancient, sentient nebulae (not many writers could pull that one off)! “Time Wants a Skeleton” is a very clever time paradox/time loop story, which was quite unusual and complex back in 1941, although this type of story has become quite commonplace in recent years.

I’ve never read any of the stories in this collection before, and all of them are considered classic “scientific puzzle” or “scientific problem” stories, which were so much in vogue during that era. The first three stories, “At the Center of Gravity”, “Jupiter Trap” and “The Men and the Mirror” were all published in Astounding in June 1936, August 1937 and July 1938 respectively, and were part of the “cops and robbers” Colbie and Deverel series, featuring Interplanetary Police Officer Lt. Jack Colbie, and his long time adversary, space pirate Edward Deverel. The third story and title story of the collection, “The Men and the Mirror” is followed by a very interesting letter published several months later in Astounding from one Robert D. Swisher, arguing that the calculations in “The Men and the Mirror” were completely wrong. Just the kinda thing that John W. Campbell Jr loved to publish, and guaranteed to cause much controversy and discussion! 🙂

The fourth and fifth stories were originally intended to be part of the Colbie and Deverel series, but for some reason Rocklynne changed the names, backgrounds and personalities of the main male adversaries. But in every other respect, they are still the same “cops and robbers” space stories. The final story of the six, “And Then There Was One”, is a variation on the classic “Ten Little Indians” theme. It breaks (slightly, but not a lot) the trend of the “cops and robbers” theme in the previous five tales, and was obviously written to show that the premise of the first story, “At the Center of Gravity”, was scientifically incorrect. Rocklynne sounds like a right screwball – quite obviously my type of guy! 🙂

The edition of THE MEN AND THE MIRROR that I have is the Ace Books 1st Paperback edition, and apparently Rocklynne himself was VERY unhappy about how Ace Books handled the publishing of his short story collection. And who could blame him? The stories were published out of chronological order, and, if that wasn’t bad enough, the break between the fifth and sixth stories was completely omitted, leaving out altogether both the title of the story and the author’s introductory comments to the final story in the collection, “And Then There Was One”. It is so bad that there are many readers who are convinced that there are only five stories in the collection. I’ve seen comments on Amazon.com complaining about this very thing. But trust me. There are six stories, not five. Just go to page 168 and check it out.

You have to look very carefully to even find where “And Then There Was One” begins, as the final paragraph of the previous story, “The Bottled Men”, ends about half way down page 168, there is a single paragraph break, and then straight into the first paragraph of “And Then There Was One”. There is no title nor any author’s comments (as there were with the previous five stories) to show where it begins. And this was compounded even further by the fact that there are only five stories listed on the Contents page – “And Then There Was One” is omitted from that as well, although, strangely enough, it IS listed on the preceding Copyright/Credits page. All in all, this was a complete printing/publishing cock-up by the Ace Books editors, which, sadly, spoils the enjoyment of this nice collection somewhat. No wonder Ross Rocklynne was absolutely livid.

Just as an addendum, and through judicious use of Google, I’ve tracked down Rocklynne’s author comments to “And Then There Was One”. They were published for the very first time in a reference book, The Work of Ross Rocklynne: An Annotated Bibliography & Guide**, and I’ve reprinted the comments here, just in case anyone else has read the collection and might be interested:

“Sir Isaac Newton provided the idea. He already had Worked out the problem of the hollow planet before I approached it in “At the Center of Gravity”. My answer was wrong. A decision was made to set the record straight, even though no complaining remarks about my ancient error had come through. The ten little Indians implied in the title became six big businessmen having a bit of a go at each other under rather strange and, in a manner of speaking, revolutionary conditions. Again, a planet was tailored to fit the problem.”*

*The Work of Ross Rocklynne: An Annotated Bibliography & Guide p.59

**The Work of Ross Rocklynne: An Annotated Bibliography & Guide
by Douglas Menville
edited by Boden Clarke
Borgo Press, First Edition December 1989
Hardback: ISBN: 0-8095-0511-8 $19.95
Paperback: ISBN: 0-8095-0511-3 $9.95

BEYOND THE BARRIERS OF SPACE AND TIME edited by Judith Merril

This time around, we have an SF anthology. This one is an oldie, from 1955, and is compiled and edited by Judith Merril, another of my favourite anthologists. This is the first Judith Merril anthology that I’ve featured on this blog, and most certainly won’t be the last.

TITLE: BEYOND THE BARRIERS OF SPACE AND TIME
EDITED BY: Judith Merril
CATEGORY:Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY:Anthology
PUBLISHER: Sidgwick and Jackson, London, 1955
FORMAT: Hardback, 1st Edition, 291 pages

CONTENTS:

  • Introduction by Theodore Sturgeon
  • Preface by Judith Merril
  • “Wolf Pack” by Walter M. Miller, Jr. (short story, Fantastic, Sept/Oct 1953)
  • “No One Believed Me” by Will Thompson (Saturday Evening Post, April 24, 1948)
  • “Perforce to Dream” by John Wyndham (short story, Beyond Fantasy Fiction, Jan 1954)
  • “The Laocoon Complex” by J. C. Furnas (Esquire, April 1937)
  • “Crazy Joey” by Mark Clifton and Alex Apostolides (short story, Astounding Science Fiction, August 1953)
  • “The Golden Man” by Phillip K. Dick (novelette, If Magazine, April 1954)
  • “Malice Aforethought” by David Grinnell [Donald A. Wollheim] (short story, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Nov 1952)
  • “The Last Seance” by Agatha Christie (short story, Ghost Stories, November 1926)
  • “Medicine Dancer” by Bill Brown (short story, Fantasy Fiction, November 1953)
  • “Behold It Was a Dream” by Rhoda Broughton (Temple Bar, November 1872)
  • “Belief” by Isaac Asimov (novelette, Astounding Science Fiction, October 1953)
  • “The Veldt” by Ray Bradbury (Saturday Evening Post, September 23, 1950)
  • “Mr. Kincaid’s Pasts” by J. J. Coupling [John R. Pierce] (short story, Fantasy & Science Fiction, August 1953)
  • “The Warning” by Peter Phillips (short story, Fantasy & Science Fiction, September 1953)
  • “The Ghost of Me” by Anthony Boucher (short story, Unknown, June 1942)
  • “The Wall Around the World” by Theodore R. Cogswell (novelette, Beyond Fantasy Fiction, September 1953)
  • “Operating Instructions” by Robert Sheckley (short story, Astounding Science Fiction, May 1953)
  • “Interpretation of a Dream” by John Collier (The New Yorker, May 5, 1951)
  • “Defense Mechanism” by Katherine MacLean (short story, Astounding Science Fiction, October 1949)

This anthology is a 1st UK Edition, published in London by Sidgwick & Jackson, old stalwarts in the SF publishing field. It features nineteen stories by a wide assortment of authors, many of them pretty obscure. There is also an Introduction by Theodore Sturgeon, a Preface by Judith Merril, and a Bibliography at the back of the book.

The Bibliography erroneously lists the Anthony Boucher story (“The Ghost of Me”) as having appeared in the June 1942 edition of Astounding Science Fiction. It was the June 1942 edition of Unknown. I’ve done the usual with all of the stories that appeared in the SF&F magazines, giving their month and year of publication, and noting if the stories were short stories, novelettes, etc. But several of the stories were not published in the SF&F magazines, appearing instead in general mass media publications. In those instances, only the name of the magazine and the year of publication is listed.

Highlighting the stories from the regular SF&F publications of that era, there are a few familiar faces and stories, although many are also totally unfamiliar to me. There are some old favourites – Bradbury’s “The Veldt”, Asimov’s “Belief”, and Dick’s “The Golden Man” (an old childhood favourite of mine). There are also a bunch of unfamiliar stories from very familiar authors – Wyndham, Miller, Boucher, Sheckley, Clifton, Cogswell, Phillips, Wollheim (as David Grinnell) and MacLean. But the other stories are by totally unknown authors (to me, anyway). The stories may have appeared in the regular SF mags, but I’m afraid I’m totally unfamiliar with them and their authors (J. J. Coupling and Bill Brown).

In among the regular SF authors and magazines from that era, there are some real oddities. As I’ve already mentioned, there were several totally unfamiliar stories by unfamiliar authors, originally published in mainstream non-SF publications – John Collier (The New Yorker), J. C. Furnas (Esquire) and Will Thompson (Saturday Evening Post).

There is also a story from 1926 by Agatha Christie (“The Last Seance”), which is a strange one for an SF anthology, although many pre-1960s SF&F anthologies were often a varied mix of more cross-genre types of stories. Finally, there is another oddity which was first published way back in 1873, a story by Rhoda Broughton (“Behold It Was a Dream”). Broughton was the niece of J. Sheridan Le Fanu, and an accomplished author in her own right, although regretfully now mostly forgotten. The Bibliography completely omits the listing for this story, for some reason.

A very interesting anthology, and a bit of a strange mix. Should be a good read.

6 GREAT SHORT NOVELS OF SCIENCE FICTION (1954) edited by Groff Conklin

6 Great Novels of Science Fiction

For this post, we have an anthology, this one from 1954. It’s another from one of the old dependables and one of my own personal favourite anthologists, Groff Conklin.

This anthology is a paperback, published by Dell, one of their Dell First Edition range, number D9, to be precise. It’s billed as “six short novels by six masters of imaginative storytelling”. One of the six is a long novella (98 pages), and the other five are all short novellas, and one long novelette, spanning 49-58 pages in length, from shortest story to longest.

 

TITLE: 6 GREAT SHORT NOVELS OF SCIENCE FICTION
EDITED BY: Groff Conklin
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Anthology
FORMAT: Paperback, 384 pages
PUBLISHER: Dell First Edition, New York, 1954.

CONTENTS (6 Stories)

  • Introduction by Groff Conklin
  • “The Blast” by Stuart Cloete (novella, Collier’s, April 1946)
  • “Coventry” by Robert A. Heinlein (novella, Astounding Science Fiction, July 1940)
  • “The Other World” by Murray Leinster (novella, Startling Stories, November 1949)
  • “Barrier” by Anthony Boucher (novella, Astounding Science Fiction, September 1942)
  • “Surface Tension” by James Blish (novelette, Galaxy, August 1952)
  • “Maturity” by Theodore Sturgeon (novella, Astounding Science Fiction, February 1947)

The first story, “The Blast”, is a bit of an oddity, as it’s by a writer that I’ve never heard of, Stuart Cloete, and it didn’t even appear in one of the science fiction magazines, but rather in an April 1946 edition of Collier’s, one of the big mass market, general magazines, which was published in the US between 1888 and 1957.

The other five stories are all from science fiction magazines, Astounding, Galaxy and Startling Stories, and all spanning the years 1940-1952. I’m familiar with three of them (Leinster, Boucher and Blish), and they’re old favourites of mine, although it’s many years since I’ve read any of them. The titles of the Heinlein and Sturgeon stories vaguely ring a bell for me, so I may or may not have read them at some point in distant past, but I recall absolutely nothing about them.

Quite an interesting anthology of stories. Should be fun reading this one.

A New Dawn: The Complete Don A. Stuart Stories (2003)

A New Dawn The Complete Don A Stuart Stories NESFA

This time out, I’m taking a brief look at one of the high-quality NESFA Press collections of SF author short fiction. This one contains all of John W. Campbell, Jr’s short fiction written under his “Don A. Stuart” pseudonym, plus a couple of previously unpublished (in book form) articles also written by Campbell under the Stuart handle. The collection starts off with an excellent introduction, “The Man Who Lost the Sea”, written by Barry N. Malzberg, giving a short but fascinating examination of Campbell’s career. This is followed by sixteen stories, and finishes off with the two essays.

TITLE: A NEW DAWN: THE COMPLETE DON A.STUART STORIES
AUTHOR: John W. Campbell, Jr.
EDITED BY: James A. Mann
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Author Collection
DUSTJACKET ART: Bob Eggleton
FORMAT: Hardback, 464 pages
PUBLISHER: NESFA Press, US, 2003
ISBN: 1-886778-15-9

CONTENTS (16 Stories, 2 Articles):

  • Introduction: “The Man Who Lost the Sea” (2002) by Barry N. Malzberg
  • “Twilight” (Astounding Science Fiction, November 1934, short story)
  • “Atomic Power” (Astounding Science Fiction, December 1934, short story)
  • “The Machine” (Astounding Science Fiction, February 1935, short story, Machine series #1)
  • “The Invaders” (Astounding Science Fiction, June 1935, novelette, Machine series #2)
  • “Rebellion” (Astounding Science Fiction, August 1935, short story, Machine series #3)
  • “Blindness” (Astounding Science Fiction, March 1935, short story)
  • “The Escape” (Astounding Science Fiction, May 1935, novelette)
  • “Night” (Astounding Science Fiction, October 1935, novelette)
  • “Elimination” (Astounding Science Fiction, May 1936, short story)
  • “Frictional Losses” (Astounding Science Fiction, July 1936, novelette)
  • “Forgetfulness” (Astounding Science Fiction, June 1937, novelette)
  • “Out of Night” (Astounding Science Fiction, October 1937, novelette, Aesir series #1)
  • “Cloak of Aesir” (Astounding Science Fiction, March 1939, novelette, Aesir series #2)
  • “Dead Knowledge” (Astounding Science Fiction, June 1938, novelette)
  • “Who Goes There?” (Astounding Science Fiction, August 1938, novelette)
  • “The Elder Gods” (Unknown, October 1939, novella)
  • “Strange Worlds” (Unknown, April 1939, article)
  • “Wouldst Write, Wee One?” (Scienti-Snaps, Vol.3 No.1, February 1940, article)

The stories appear in chronological order, in order of dates of publication, with the exception of the three stories in the Invaders sequence and the two Aesir stories, which have all been re-ordered so they appear in their own correct internal sequence.

Campbell, especially the Don A. Stuart alter ego, was one of my favourite SF writers of the 1930s. Under his own name, he competed with E. E. “Doc” Smith, writing stories of superscience (although Campbell was a MUCH better writer than Smith), but under the Stuart pseudonym, he wrote stories that were truly special, dark, moody, decadent, and more akin to the darker tales of H. G. Wells and other classic scientific romance authors than anything hitherto seen in the pulps.

Sure, there were a few other writers in that era who did the dark, moody and decadent thing pretty darned good – Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, C. L. Moore, and Henry Kuttner, to name but a few – but these authors mostly wrote SF&F of a completely different, more fantasy-oriented flavour. In my opinion, Campbell, with the exception of maybe Jack Williamson, who also was writing some similarly dark, moody SF during that period, had no real direct competition in science fiction at that time.

When I was a kid (early-mid teens), I first encountered Campbell’s short fiction in various collections and anthologies that I checked out of local libraries. Ironically, I encountered the superior Don A. Stuart tales years before I ever read any of Campbell’s Superscience stories. “Night” was the first one, in the Sam Moskowitz-edited anthology Microcosmic God. That story had a huge and formative impact on me as a reader, and I was delighted to find out a year or two later that it was actually a sequel to another excellent story, “Twilight”.

After I read “Night”, I eagerly hunted down any other Campbell short stories that I could find. Some of them were just as good as “Night”, including the aforementioned “Twilight” and other tales such as “Forgetfulness”, the two Aesir stories “Out of Night” and “The Cloak of Aesir”, and the classic “Who Goes There?”. These all became huge favourites of mine during my teenage years. “Dead Knowledge”, “Blindness” and the Machine trilogy of stories were all also very good. It’s been many years since I’ve read most of these stories, so it’s going to be fun revisiting them.

When Campbell took over at Astounding as The Editor, and kick-started the Golden Age which totally reshaped SF, he became one of the biggest and most important figures in the history of the genre. But, at the same time, we also lost potentially one of the genre’s greatest writers, something that I, personally, regret quite a lot. We can only imagine how good he might have become, what other amazing stories he might’ve written, if he hadn’t given up writing to concentrate fully on being the editor of Astounding.

But, at least, in this excellent collection, he has left behind some of the greatest SF stories not only of the 1930’s, but indeed any other era. This is one of my favourite SF author short fiction collections, and definitely recommended reading.

THE RED PERI (1952) by Stanley G. Weinbaum

Weinbaum, Stanley G - The Red Peri

Last time out, I had a look at one of the oldest and most valuable SF books in my collection, the original 1949 Fantasy Press US 1st Edition hardcover of A Martian Odyssey and Others, which contained a dozen of the best pieces of short fiction written by classic 1930’s SF author Stanley G. Weinbaum. Now I’m going to take a look at a second Weinbaum short fiction collection, The Red Peri, another US 1st Edition hardcover, also published by Fantasy Press, in 1952.

TITLE: THE RED PERI
AUTHOR: Stanley G. Weinbaum
COVER ARTIST: John T. Brooks
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Single-Author Collection
FORMAT: Hardback (with dustjacket), US 1st Edition, 270 pages
PUBLISHER: Fantasy Press, Reading, Pennsylvania, US, 1952.

Contents (8 stories):

  • “The Red Peri” (novella, Astounding Stories, November 1935)
  • “Proteus Island” (novella, Astounding Stories, August 1936)
  • “Flight on Titan” (novelette, Astounding Stories, January 1935)
  • “Smothered Seas” (novelette, Astounding Stories, January 1936)
  • “Redemption Cairn” (novelette, Astounding Stories, March 1936)
  • “The Brink of Infinity” (short story, Thrilling Wonder Stories, December 1936)
  • “Shifting Seas” (novelette, Amazing Stories, April 1937)
  • “Revolution of 1950” (novella, Amazing Stories, October-November 1938)

This one can be regarded as the companion collection to the earlier A Martian Odyssey and Others, and between them, they contain all but a couple of Weinbaum’s entire short fiction output. There are fewer stories in this one – eight as opposed to twelve – but there are three novellas, four novelettes and only one short story in The Red Peri, whereas A Martian Odyssey and Others contained no novellas, eight novelettes and four short stories.

It’s been a long, long time since I read this one, and my memories are understandably hazy. I do remember preferring A Martian Odyssey and Others to The Red Peri, as the earlier collection did contain more of Weinbaum’s “better” stories. But this collection also contains several of his best longer-form stories. I distinctly remember enjoying both “The Red Peri” and “Proteus Island”, although my memories of the other stories range from extremely vague to non-existent.

Like A Martian Odyssey and Others, this 1st US hardcover edition of The Red Peri comes with the original dustjacket, showcasing some very nice art by John T. Brooks. As with the earlier collection, the dustjacket of this one is in remarkably good condition considering its age. A little frayed around the outside, but otherwise pretty intact.

Overall, The Red Peri is a very nice collection, and in great condition, considering the fact that it’s almost sixty-five years old and has been around the block a bit. Along with A Martian Odyssey and Others, it’s definitely one of the real treasures in my SF book collection.

A MARTIAN ODYSSEY AND OTHERS (1949) by Stanley G. Weinbaum

A Martian Odyssey and Others by Stanley G. Weinbaum

This time out, I’m going to take a brief look at one of the oldest and most valuable SF books in my collection, the earliest collection of short fiction by classic 1930’s SF author Stanley G. Weinbaum. I bought this book a long time ago from a UK used book dealer, must’ve been thirty-five years ago or more, way back when I was just becoming an obsessive book collector for the first time. It actually came as part of Weinbaum two-book set by the same publisher, Fantasy Press, the other book being The Red Peri, another collection of Weinbaum’s short fiction, which will also be the subject of the blog post after this one.

TITLE: A MARTIAN ODYSSEY AND OTHERS
AUTHOR: Stanley G. Weinbaum
COVER ARTIST: A. J. Donnell
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Single-Author Collection
FORMAT: Hardback (with dustjacket), US 1st Edition, 289 pages
PUBLISHER: Fantasy Press, Reading, Pennsylvania, US, 1949.

Contents (12 stories):

  • “A Martian Odyssey” (novelette, Wonder Stories, July 1934)
  • “Valley of Dreams” (novelette, Wonder Stories, November 1934)
  • “The Adaptive Ultimate” (novelette, Astounding Stories, November 1935)
  • “The Mad Moon” (novelette, Astounding Stories, December 1935)
  • “The Worlds of If” (short story, Wonder Stories, August 1935)
  • “The Ideal” (novelette, Wonder Stories, September 1935)
  • “The Point of View” (short story, Wonder Stories, February 1936)
  • “Pygmalion’s Spectacles” (short story, Wonder Stories, June 1935)
  • “Parasite Planet” (novelette, Astounding Stories, February 1935)
  • “The Lotus Eaters” (novelette, Astounding Stories, April 1935)
  • “The Planet of Doubt” (novelette, Astounding Stories, October 1935)
  • “The Circle of Zero” (short story, Thrilling Wonder Stories, August 1936)

This collection is notable for containing Weinbaum’s most famous short story, “A Martian Odyssey” and its sequel, “Valley of Dreams”. There are also a few other good ones, including “Parasite Planet” and its sequel “The Lotus Eaters”, “The Mad Moon”, “The Worlds of If” and “The Adaptive Ultimate”. “The Adaptive Ultimate” has also been (if you’ll pardon the pun) adapted to film, television and radio a number of times over the years.

Overall, A Martian Odyssey and Others contains most of the best of Weinbaum’s short fiction, and, combined with the eight stories in The Red Peri contains almost all of the short fiction that Weinbaum wrote, with the exception of a handful of stories.

The dustjacket is in pretty good condition, considering its age, showcasing some lovely artwork by A. J. Donnell. As an aside, the edition that I have also bears a very interesting hand-written inscription/dedication on the front inside page. The inscription goes as follows:

“FROM SCIENTI-CLAUS 1955
FOR ALF GREGORY’S HG WELLSIANS
IN RESPECT OF THE MEMORY
OF THE GREATEST*
OF THEM ALL.

*HGW: 1886-1946″

It’s an extremely sobering thought that, at the publication date of this book (1949), the Great Man (H.G. Wells) had only been dead a mere three years. 😦

It looks like this book was bought as a Christmas gift for someone, and this dedication is a tribute to a H.G. Wells fan group active in the UK, possibly in the late-1940s and the 1950s. At least that’s the assumption that I’m making from this. I know that it’s a long shot, as we’re talking more than sixty years ago here, and this group may or may not have been anything more than a small local fan group. But does anybody out there have any information on an old UK-based SF/HG Wells fan group by the name of ALF GREGORY’S HG WELLSIANS? If so, I’d be very appreciative if you’d let me know the details.

CLASSIC SCIENCE FICTION – THE FIRST GOLDEN AGE edited by Terry Carr

Classic Science Fiction - The First Golden Age

Here is yet another SF anthology edited by one of my favourite SF anthologists, Terry Carr. It’s a nice, beefy one this time, at 445 pages, with twelve stories, plus an introduction by Carr.

I know most people usually dive on into the stories first, but take my advice, and do NOT skip the Introduction. It is a fascinating, lengthy, detailed 17-page thesis by Carr, which serves as an excellent historical background to the First Golden Age of Science Fiction. This one is an absolute must for anyone, like myself, who is as much a student of the history of science fiction as I am a fan of the literature itself.

TITLE: CLASSIC SCIENCE FICTION – THE FIRST GOLDEN AGE
EDITED BY: Terry Carr
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Anthology
PUBLISHER: Harper & Row, New York, 1978
FORMAT: Hardback, 1st Edition, 445 pages
ISBN 10: 0-06-010634-4
ISBN 13: 9780-06-010634-8

CONTENTS:

  • Introduction by Terry Carr
  • “The Smallest God” by Lester del Rey (Astounding Science Fiction, January 1940)
  • “Into the Darkness” by Ross Rocklynne (Astonishing Stories, June 1940)
  • “Vault of the Beast” by A. E. van Vogt (Astounding Science Fiction, August 1940)
  • “The Mechanical Mice” by Eric Frank Russell (Astounding Science Fiction, January 1941)
  • “-And He Built a Crooked House-“ by Robert A Heinlein (Astounding Science Fiction, February 1941)
  • “Microcosmic God” by Theodore Sturgeon (Astounding Science Fiction, April 1941)
  • “Nightfall” by Isaac Asimov (Astounding Science Fiction, September 1941)
  • “By His Bootstraps” by Robert A. Heinlein (Astounding Science Fiction, October 1941)
  • “Child of the Green Light” by Leigh Brackett (Super Science Stories, February 1942)
  • “Victory Unintentional” by Isaac Asimov (Super Science Stories, August 1942)
  • “The Twonky” by Henry Kuttner (Astounding Science Fiction, September 1942)
  • “Storm Warning” by Donald A. Wollheim (Future Fantasy and Science Fiction, October 1942)

Intriguingly, and in addition to the fantastic main Introduction, each of the twelve stories has its own multi-page introduction, each of which which gives detailed background information on the author and the story itself. How I wish that every anthology would do this. And then there are the twelve stories themselves. And what stories they are.

This anthology contains some of the greatest short stories from the Golden Age of Science Fiction, and I’m familiar with most, but not all, of them, as they’ve appeared in other anthologies or single-author collections. Just looking at the roll-call of authors, it’s like a who’s-who of the biggest SF names from that era. Of course, eight of the twelve stories are from Astounding Science Fiction, which is unsurprising, as it was by far the biggest SF magazine of the Golden Age.

We have two of the best of the early stories written by Isaac Asimov, as well as one of the best and probably the most famous story written by Henry Kuttner, and likewise absolute gems by Eric Frank Russell, Theodore Sturgeon and Lester del Rey. I’ve always been a huge fan of Leigh Brackett, and her story “Child of the Green Light” is also a cracker. Even the two stories that I was totally unfamiliar with, “Storm Warning” by Donald A. Wollheim and “Into the Darkness” by Ross Rocklynne, are excellent stories.

A. E. van Vogt’s story “Vault of the Beast” easily ranks up there alongside “Black Destroyer”, “The Monster” and “Dormant” as one of my all-time favourite van Vogt short tales. And the two Robert A. Heinlein short stories, “By His Bootstraps” and “-And He Built a Crooked House-“, well, what superlatives can I heap upon them other than to say that they are two of the greatest SF short stories ever written?

As this is an older book, and has been out of print for a number of years, I guess anyone looking for a copy will have to haunt the second-hand/used books stores. And if you spot one, snap it up right away! This is a fantastic anthology of Golden Age SF short fiction. I enjoyed every single story, which is something that I rarely say about most anthologies, as there are usually at least one or two stories which aren’t as good as the rest.

Terry Carr very rarely disappointed with his anthologies, and with this one, he came up with the goods yet again. This is an absolute gem of an anthology, and I’d recommend it without any hesitation to all fans of Golden Age SF.

THE MARATHON PHOTOGRAPH AND OTHER STORIES (1986) by Clifford D. Simak

The Marathon Photograph (1986)

This time out, we have a single author collection of short fiction by one of my favourite authors, Clifford D. Simak, in which all of the stories have an underlying thematic link dealing with the mysterious paradox of time.

It’s quite a short collection, at only 171 pages, and only four stories (making it a relatively quick and easy read compared to most of the modern brick-sized entities masquerading as books). But one of those stories is a long novella, and there are also two novelettes and a single short story making up the rest of the book. And what stories they are.

 

TITLE: THE MARATHON PHOTOGRAPH AND OTHER STORIES
AUTHOR: Clifford D. Simak
EDITOR: Francis Lyall
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Single Author Collection
FORMAT: Hardback, 171 pages
PUBLISHER: Severn House (SH), London, 1986
ISBN: 0 7278 1221 1

  • The Introduction
  • “The Birch Clump Cylinder” (from Stellar #1, edited by Judy-Lynn del Rey, Ballantine, 1974)
  • “The Whistling Well” (from Dark Forces), edited by Kirby McCauley, Viking, 1980
  • “The Marathon Photograph” (from Threads of Time), edited by Robert Silverberg, Nelson, 1974
  • “The Grotto Of The Dancing Deer” (from Analog, April 1980)

The stories are all quite long. Even the shortest, “The Grotto of the Dancing Deer”, comes in at just over twenty-one pages. This story is a good one, first published in Analog back in April 1980, and winning the Hugo, Nebula and Locus Awards for that year. It’s a lovely story, and one which I recall enjoying a lot when I first read it twenty or so years ago.

“The Marathon Photograph” at seventy pages, is the longest story in the collection. I read this one many years ago on its original publication in Threads of Time, edited by Robert Silverberg (1974). I loved it then, and still do. It’s my favourite of the four stories in this collection.

The other stories in the collection, “The Birch Clump Cylinder” and “The Whistling Well”, are two that I haven’t read before. From what I’ve read of both stories so far, I’m quite sure that I’ll enjoy them just as must as I did the other two.

Simak had his first SF story published in Astounding way back in 1931 (“World of the Red Sun”), and most of my favourite Simak short fiction came from much earlier in his career – “The World of the Red Sun” (1931), “Sunspot Purge” (1940), “Beachhead” aka “You’ll Never Go Home Again” (1951), “The Trouble with Ants” (1951), “Small Deer” (1965), and a few others – and I haven’t read a lot of his later stuff. By contrast, the stories in this collection are all from quite late in Simak’s career (he died in 1988, at the age of 83), the earliest two being written when he was almost 70, and the other two during his mid-70’s.

It’ll be interesting to compare and contrast with his earlier material. “The Marathon Photograph” already rates as one of my favourite Simak tales, if not my overall favourite.

Definitely a nice little collection, from a pretty much forgotten (except by the oldies) and greatly underappreciated author.

STORIES FOR TOMORROW (1954) edited by William Sloane

Stories for Tomorrow

I’ve got an interesting anthology in front of me at the moment. Actually, I’ve got two different editions of it. Firstly an original US 1st Edition hardback, which I bought from a dealer on Amazon. This is an ex-library copy, and came without a dustjacket, otherwise the book itself is in excellent condition. The other edition is the UK 1st Edition hardback, complete with dustjacket (pictured here), which has slightly different contents to the US Edition.

The US edition first…

TITLE: STORIES FOR TOMORROW
EDITED BY: William Sloane
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Anthology
FORMAT: Hardback, 628 pages
PUBLISHER: Funk & Wagnalls, US, 1954

CONTENTS LISTING:

About This Book by William Sloane

PART I: THE HUMAN HEART

  • “The Wilderness” by Ray Bradbury (Today, April 6th 1952, revised for Fantasy & Science Fiction, November 1952)
  • “Starbride” by Anthony Boucher (Thrilling Wonder Stories, December 1951)
  • “Second Childhood” by Clifford D. Simak (Galaxy, Feb 1951)
  • “Homeland” by Mari Wolf (first published as “The Statue”, If Magazine, January 1953)
  • “Let Nothing You Dismay” by William Sloane (written for this anthology)
  • “A Scent of Sarsaparilla” by Ray Bradbury (Star Science Fiction Stories #1, February 1953

PART II: THERE ARE NO EASY ANSWERS

  • “The Exile” by Alfred Coppel (Astounding Science Fiction, October 1952)
  • “The Farthest Horizon” by Raymond F. Jones (Astounding Science
    Fiction
    , April 1952)
  • “Noise Level” by Raymond F. Jones (Astounding Science Fiction, December 1952)
  • “First Contact” by Murray Leinster (Astounding Science Fiction, May 1945)

PART III: SWEAT OF THE BROW

  • “Franchise” by Kris Neville (Astounding Science Fiction, February 1951)
  • “In Value Deceived” by H. B. Fyfe (Astounding Science Fiction, November 1950)
  • “Okie” by James Blish (Astounding Science Fiction, April 1950)
  • “Black Eyes and the Daily Grind” by Milton Lesser (If Magazine, March 1952)

PART IV: DIFFERENCE WITH DISTINCTION

  • “Socrates” by John Christopher (Galaxy, March 1951)
  • “In Hiding” by Wilmar H. Shiras (Astounding Science Fiction, November 1948)
  • “Bettyann” by Kris Neville (reprinted from New Tales of Space & Time, edited by Raymond J. Healey, 1951)

PART V: THE TROUBLE WITH PEOPLE IS PEOPLE

  • “The Ant and the Eye” by Chad Oliver (Astounding Science Fiction, April 1953)
  • “Beep” by James Blish (Galaxy, February 1954)
  • “And Then There Were None” by Eric Frank RussellAstounding Science Fiction, June 1951)
  • “The Girls from Earth” by Frank M. Robinson (Galaxy, January 1952)

PART VI: VISITORS

  • “Minister Without Portfolio” by Mildred Clingerman (Fantasy & Science Fiction, Feb 1952)
  • “The Head-Hunters” by Ralph Williams (Astounding Science Fiction, October 1951)
  • “Dune Roller” by Julian May (Astounding Science Fiction, December 1951)
  • “Disguise” by Donald A. Wollheim (Other Worlds Science Stories, February 1953)
  • “The Shed” by E. Everett Evans (Avon SF&F Reader, January 1953)

PART VII: THREE EPILOGS

  • “The Nine Billion Names of God” by Arthur C. Clarke (Star Science Fiction Stories #1, ed. Frederik Pohl, Ballantine, 1953)
  • “The Forgotten Enemy” by Arthur C. Clarke (King’s College Review, December 1948)
  • “The Answers” [also as “…And the Truth Shall Make You Free”] by Clifford D. Simak (Future, March 1953)

This is an ex-library copy, which came without a dustcover, when I bought it from a dealer on Amazon. Otherwise the book itself is in excellent condition.

There are a few stories here that I’m familiar with, either being old favourites of mine, or having vague but fond memories of them – all of the stories by Clarke, Bradbury, Simak, Russell, Leinster and Blish. The rest I’ve either not read at all or read so long ago that I can’t remember them. Personal favourites among these are Blish’s “Beep”, Leinster’s “First Contact”, Russell’s “And Then There Were None”, Simak’s “Second Childhood”, Bradbury’s “The Wilderness”, Robinson’s “The Girls from Earth”, and both of the Clarke stories.

As I’ve already said, the UK 1st edition is slightly different to the US edition:

TITLE: STORIES FOR TOMORROW
EDITED BY: William Sloane
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Anthology
FORMAT: Hardback, 476 pages
PUBLISHER: Eyre & Spottiswoode, London, 1955.

CONTENTS LISTING:

About This Book by William Sloane

PART I: THE HUMAN HEART

  • “The Wilderness” by Ray Bradbury
  • “Starbride” by Anthony Boucher
  • “Homeland” by Mari Wolf
  • “Let Nothing You Dismay” by William Sloane
  • “A Scent of Sarsaparilla” by Ray Bradbury

PART II: THERE ARE NO EASY ANSWERS

  • “Noise Level” by Raymond F. Jones
  • “First Contact” by Murray Leinster

PART III: SWEAT OF THE BROW

  • “Franchise” by Kris Neville
  • “In Value Deceived” by H. B. Fyfe
  • “Black Eyes and the Daily Grind” by Milton Lesser

PART IV: DIFFERENCE WITH DISTINCTION

  • “Socrates” by John Christopher
  • “In Hiding” by Wilmar H. Shiras
  • “Bettyann” by Kris Neville

PART V: THE TROUBLE WITH PEOPLE IS PEOPLE

  • “The Ant and the Eye” by Chad Oliver
  • “Beep” by James Blish
  • “And Then There Were None” by Eric Frank Russell
  • “The Girls from Earth” by Frank M. Robinson

PART VI: VISITORS

  • “Minister Without Portfolio” by Mildred Clingerman
  • “The Head-Hunters” by Ralph Williams

PART VII: THREE EPILOGS

  • “The Nine Billion Names of God” by Arthur C. Clarke
  • “The Forgotten Enemy” by Arthur C. Clarke
  • “The Answers” by Clifford D. Simak

As with many anthologies from that period, a number of the stories have been cut from the UK edition that were in the original US edition. There are seven fewer stories, and the UK edition is 152 pages shorter. My UK edition also has a nice dustjacket, although the one on my copy is a bit on the tatty side.

Overall, another very interesting anthology. I’m looking forward to working my way through this one.

BUG-EYED MONSTERS edited by Anthony Cheetham

TITLE: BUG-EYED MONSTERS
EDITED BY: Anthony Cheetham
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Anthology
FORMAT: Hardback, 280 pages
PUBLISHER: Sidgwick & Jackson, London, 1972.
ISBN: 0 283 97864 3

CONTENTS:

  • Introduction by Anthony Cheetham
  • “Invasion from Mars” by Howard Koch (with Orson Welles) – 1938 radio adaptation of War of the Worlds, CBS, October 30, 1938
  • “Not Only Dead Men” by A. E. Van Vogt (1942) (Astounding Science Fiction, November 1942)
  • “Arena” by Fredric Brown (1944) (Astounding Science Fiction, June 1944)
  • “Surface Tension” by James Blish (Galaxy, August 1952)
  • “The Deserter” by William Tenn (1953) (reprinted from Star Science Fiction Stories, edited by Frederik Pohl, Ballantine, February 1953)
  • “Mother” by Philip José Farmer (1953) (Thrilling Wonder Stories, April 1953)
  • “Stranger Station” by Damon Knight (1956) (Fantasy & Science Fiction, December 1956)
  • “Greenslaves” by Frank Herbert (1965) (Amazing, March 1965)
  • “Balanced Ecology” by James H. Schmitz (1967) (Analog, March 1965)
  • “The Dance of the Changer & Three” by Terry Carr (1968) (reprinted from The Farthest Reaches, edited by Joseph Elder, Trident 1968)

This is a nice little anthology, containing ten stories (more accurately NINE stories and one radio play adaptation) spanning thirty years 1938-1968. It is edited by Anthony Cheetham, with whom I am totally unfamiliar. According to Cheetham’s interesting little introduction, the title of the book is a gentle, fun jibe at the old, stereotypical “bug-eyed monster” of the pulps. However the ten stories in the anthology are of an altogether higher quality than those old yarns in the pulps, almost a “rehabilitation” of the old bug-eyed monster.

There’s quite a mix in this anthology. We start off with one which is very apt, given the title of the anthology. Howard Koch’s (and Orson Welles’s) classic 1938 radio adaptation of H. G. Wells’s seminal 1898 interplanetary invasion novel War of the Worlds. It first appeared in book form in the anthology Invasion from Mars), edited by Orson Welles (Dell, 1949). The Martian invaders are probably the original archetype for all the B.E.M.s that came afterwards, so this one is as good a place to start as any. I’ve read it before in a number of publications, and it’s always nice to revisit it.

As for the other nine stories, as usual, there are a few that I’m familiar with, and a few that I’m not. Fredric Brown’s classic Arena and James Blish’s Surface Tension are the two that I remember best. Both have always been favourites of mine. Frank Herbert’s Greenslaves is another one that I recall liking, although my memory is a bit fuzzier on the details of that one. I have very vague memories about encountering the Van Vogt, Knight, Tenn and Carr stories at some point in the distant past, but don’t recall anything about them except the briefest details. I don’t recall ever reading either the Farmer or Schmitz stories before.

I may not know (or recall) a few of the stories, but with the exception of Koch, the other nine authors in the anthology are all VERY familiar to me. No obscure writers here, although I must admit that I’m much more familiar with Terry Carr as one of my favourite anthologists, rather than as an author. Overall, this looks like a good one. With those names in it, how could it not be? I think I’m going to really enjoy reading BUG-EYED MONSTERS. 🙂

POSSIBLE WORLDS OF SCIENCE FICTION edited by Groff Conklin

TITLE: POSSIBLE WORLDS OF SCIENCE FICTION
EDITED BY: Groff Conklin
CATEGORY: Anthology
SUB-CATEGORY: Short Fiction
FORMAT: Hardback, 256 pages
PUBLISHER: Grayson & Grayson, Ltd, London, 1952.

That’s the various general details, here’s a listing of the contents:

Introduction by Groff Conklin

PART ONE: THE SOLAR SYSTEM

  • “Operation Pumice” by Raymond Z. Gallun (Thrilling Wonder Stories, April 1949)
  • “Enchanted Village” by A. E. Van Vogt (Other Worlds Science Stories, July 1950)
  • “Lilies of Life” by Malcolm Jameson (Astounding Science Fiction, January 1945)
  • “Asleep in Armageddon” by Ray Bradbury (Planet Stories, Winter 1948)
  • “Not Final!” by Isaac Asimov (Astounding Science Fiction, October 1941)
  • “Moon of Delirium” by D. L. James (Astounding Science Fiction, January 1940)
  • “The Pillows” by Margaret St. Clair (Thrilling Wonder Stories, June 1950)

PART TWO: THE GALAXY

  • “Propagandist” by Murray Leinster (Astounding Science Fiction, October 1947)
  • “Hard-Luck Diggings” by Jack Vance (Startling Stories, July 1948)
  • “Space Rating” by John Berryman (Astounding Science Fiction, October 1939)
  • “Limiting Factor” by Clifford D. Simak (Startling Stories, November 1949)
  • “Exit Line” by Samuel Merwin, Jr. (Startling Stories, September 1948)
  • “The Helping Hand” by Poul Anderson (Astounding Science Fiction, May 1950)

This is an interesting anthology, edited by one of the great classic SF anthologists, and another of my favourites, Groff Conklin. The theme of this anthology is “Possible Worlds”, mankind’s possible future exploration of space, and the worlds and lifeforms he might encounter “out there”. The book is divided into two sections. The first, containing seven stories, deals with possible worlds within the solar system. The second section, comprised of six stories, takes us out to encounter worlds and life out in the galaxy.

There are quite a few familiar names here from the many anthologies I’ve collected over the years. Anderson, Asimov, Vance, Simak, Van Vogt, Leinster, Bradbury and Gallun. The others – Merwin, St. Clair, Jameson, Berryman and James – aren’t familiar to me at all. I either don’t know them at all, or have met them so infrequently that they don’t register in my fading memory. As for the stories, however, only the Van Vogt, Asimov, Bradbury and Leinster ring a bell. I don’t recall the others at all. Maybe I’ve read some or all of them at some point in the distant past, but I just don’t remember them. So it should be fun making my way through this anthology, given that I really love vintage SF from this era.

We’ve got thirteen stories in all, the oldest from 1939, the newest from 1950. They are culled from a range of SF magazines from that period – unsurprisingly there’s a large contingent (six stories) from Astounding, and the rest are spread around Startling Stories (three stories), Thrilling Wonder Stories (two stories), and one story each from Planet Stories and Other Worlds Science Stories.

I’ve had this anthology in my collection for many years, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually read it. As I have a rather huge collection of many thousands of SF books, it’s not exactly on its lonesome there – so many books to read, not enough years left in my life to read ’em all. But at least this one has moved to the top of the list and will not remain unread before I shuffle off this mortal coil. 🙂

RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA by Arthur C. Clarke

Rendezvous with Rama 1st Ed

TITLE: RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA
AUTHOR: Arthur C. Clarke
CATEGORY: Novel
SUB-GENRE: Hard SF
FORMAT: 1st Edition Hardback, 256 pages
PUBLISHER: Gollancz (UK), June 1973. Published in the US in August 1973 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
ISBN: 0-575-01587-X.

2077: September 11th – an asteroid slams into northern Italy, destroying the cities of Padua and Verona, and sinking Venice, causing unimaginable damage and wiping out countless lives. After the catastrophe, Project Spaceguard is set up, to monitor and warn about any new rogue near-Earth celestial bodies that might pose a threat to our world.

2130: Project Spaceguard astronomers detect a large object in the outer solar system, just beyond the orbit of Jupiter. It’s assumed to be an asteroid, and its extreme speed and trajectory show that the object is not orbiting our sun, but is a visitor from interstellar space passing through our solar system. It’s given the name Rama, after one of the Hindu gods (the names of the Greek and Roman gods have all been used up).

Scientists find the object fascinating because of its large size and extremely rapid rotation, so a probe is launched from the Martian moon, Phobos, to intercept Rama on a rapid flyby trajectory. But when the probe approaches Rama, they are shocked and amazed at the transmissions, which show that Rama is not an asteroid, but an artificial body, an immense, spinning, hollow cylinder fifty kilometres long and over twenty kilometres in diameter, a vast alien spaceship or artifact. Mankind is about to have its first encounter with an extraterrestrial civilization, their first visitor from the stars.

2131: The only manned spaceship close enough to reach Rama before it leaves the solar system again is the solar survey vessel Endeavour, under the captaincy of Commander Norton and with a crew of more than twenty. The ship intercepts Rama inside the orbit of Venus and lands at the “North Pole”, where Norton and his crew find an airlock through which they gain access to the interior of Rama. Once inside, they find the interior in complete darkness, but continue exploring using artificial lighting. They descend into Rama down an immense (eight kilometres long) stairway, one of three spread out around Rama’s interior, but part-way into the descent, the lights come on, and they can now see the whole of the interior of this incredible alien world.

And “world” it is, much too large to be a mere spaceship. It’s an inverted world on the inside of the immense cylinder (like the inside of Babylon 5, but ten times bigger), a world with its own artificial gravity produced by the rapid spin of the giant cylinder, and its own environment and ecology. The interior surface of the cylinder is referred to as the Central Plain by the crew, and is divided into two “hemispheres” by an immense ten kilometre-wide body of water designated the Cylindrical Sea (which is initially frozen, but thaws out as Rama gets closer to the sun). The sight of this immense ring of water, encircling the entire interior circumference of Rama, and stretching in a curve right up into the “sky”, where it hangs “upside-down” miles overhead, is an awe-inspiring and terrifying one.

There are also six enormous trenches stretching along the interior, all the same distance apart, three in the northern hemisphere and three in the southern. These contain the immense kilometres-long “strip-lights” which provide the interior lighting for Rama.

The northern half of Rama contains a number of what looks like small “towns” – labelled London, Paris, Rome, Moscow, Tokyo and Peking – all connected together by “roads”. In the middle of the Cylindrical Sea is a mysterious island covered in large structures which resemble skyscrapers, so the astronauts call this one New York.

The southern half of Rama is covered by a patchwork of hundreds of small kilometre-square regions which contain all sorts of strange stuff, all seemingly unconnected. But most fascinating is the immense structure at the far end (the stern) of the ship, a gigantic cone encircled by six smaller cones. These are found out to be the main visible component of Rama’s vast and mysterious reactionless “space drive”, which has been hurling the vessel through interstellar space for God knows how many millennia now.

Rama initially appears to be totally lifeless, until the appearance of cybernetic lifeforms referred to as “biots”, who scurry all over the interior surface of the ship, seemingly existing only to tidy up and repair Rama, getting the huge vessel ready for… something (we never find out exactly what, but possibly for some upcoming manoeuvre of the craft). The “biots” totally ignore the explorers, as though they aren’t even there. We never actually get to see the builders of Rama – the inference is that they are hidden somewhere on this vast spaceship, possibly in suspended animation during the long voyage.

The story revolves almost totally around the adventures of the explorers, as they try, totally in vain, to uncover and understand the amazing mysteries of this alien world. There are no bug-eyed monsters, sneering villains nor any of the other clichés of dramatic adventure fiction. Just the sheer awe and wide-eyed sensawunda as the humans explore the wonders of Rama. Sure, there are accidents and mishaps.

The aggressive society on Mercury view Rama as a threat, so launch an enormous nuclear missile to destroy the ship (which has a near-escape). There is the rescue of a crewmember who is stranded on the far side of the Cylindrical Sea, and a few other exciting interludes. But this is not a bog-standard adventure story. It’s a hard SF novel, depicting a First Contact between humans and a mysterious alien artifact. Rama, and the exploration of it, is the focus of this story, not the humans.

After a few weeks of exploring, and failing to unlock the secrets of Rama, the crew of the Endeavour have to get ready to leave, making their way back up the immense stairway to the airlock and their waiting ship. Rama is now too close to the sun for the Endeavour’s cooling systems to compensate. As they leave, Rama undergoes a braking manoeuvre, and begins siphoning off energy from the sun to replenish its reserves for the long journey ahead.

Then, using the sun’s gravitational field to provide a slingshot effect, it swings round and hurtles off in a different direction out of the solar system, as the “space drive” kicks in, accelerating Rama to a speed that no human vessel can match. Its destination? Unknown. But Rama is now heading towards the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy orbiting many tens of thousands of light-years outside of our own Milky Way. It still has a long, long way to go before this journey is over.

The huge irony of this story is that the human race is reduced to an insignificant bit-player compared to the wonders of Rama, the real star of this story. The Ramans are simply not interested in humanity at all, that is, if they are even aware that we exist. They’re only “passing through”, their only interest in our solar system is as a pit-stop, a refuelling depot to replenish Rama’s reserves for the long interstellar voyage ahead. It’s a rare and humbling focus in an SF novel, as, in most stories, the human race almost always takes centre stage, or at least a major role of some kind.

We know as little about the creators of Rama at the end as we did at the start of the novel, aside from the scientist’s revelation that “Ramans do everything in threes”. Who or what are they? Where do they come from? Where are they going? The enigma of Rama remains intact, the wonders, secrets and mysteries still unexplained. They don’t have to be, and these mysteries and secrets may even add to the story. Not EVERYTHING has to be explained. The sheer sensawunda of this story keeps the reader enthralled from start to finish.

Rendezvous with Rama was first published in 1973, and, to this day, remains not only my personal favourite of all of Arthur C. Clarke’s novels, but one of my favourite SF novels, EVER! I remember reading it for the first time when I was about twelve years old. I couldn’t sleep one Saturday morning, so I took Rendezvous with Rama to bed with me, and read it from start to finish in less than three hours. I couldn’t put it down – I was totally enthralled. I became totally obsessed with that novel for many months afterwards, reading and re-reading it again and again and again.

Clarke often takes criticism about not writing in-depth characters, and Rendezvous with Rama is no different. But the critics completely miss the point. This novel (and most of Clarke’s work) is a HARD SF story – it’s all about the science and sheer sensawunda, the awe-inspiring majesty and mystery of mankind’s first encounter with an amazing, unfathomable alien artifact. The humans are insignificant, unimportant, mere observers, visitors, passing through Rama, just as Rama passes through our solar system, on its way to its final destination. The real star of the novel, the main “character”, isn’t the humans at all, it’s Rama.

It isn’t for nothing that this novel won all the SF book awards going at that time – the Nebula Award for Best Novel (1973), the Hugo Award for Best Novel (1974), the British Science Fiction Association Award (1973), the John W. Campbell Memorial Award (1974), the Locus Award for Best Novel (1974), and the Jupiter Award for Best Novel (1974). It was (and is still) very highly regarded. Rendezvous with Rama is, undoubtedly, one of the seminal classic hard SF novels of the past sixty years.

Along with another classic, Ringworld by Larry Niven (which appeared a year or two before, and explored similar themes), it influenced an entire generation of younger SF authors, such as Alastair Reynolds, Peter F. Hamilton, Iain M. Banks and many others. If many of the themes explored in Rendezvous with Rama (and Ringworld) might nowadays seem overused and clichéd to the modern SF audience, don’t blame Clarke (or Niven). The themes might be commonplace now, but those two authors did it all first.

There were a number of inferior sequels to Rendezvous with RamaRama II (1989), The Garden of Rama (1991), and Rama Revealed (1993) – all supposedly written “in collaboration” between Clarke and Gentry Lee, but obviously written entirely by Gentry Lee (Clarke was a MUCH better writer). They aren’t remotely as good as the original novel (I tried a couple of them – couldn’t finish them), and I’d recommended giving them a big MISS.

But read the Real Thing, one of the true classic SF novels. You won’t regret it.

A SENSE OF WONDER edited by Sam Moskowitz

TITLE: A SENSE OF WONDER
EDITED BY: Sam Moskowitz
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Anthology
FORMAT: Hardback, 197 pages
PUBLISHER: Sidgwick & Jackson, London, 1967. Originally published in the US in 1967 by Doubleday and Company, Inc. under the title THREE STORIES.

CONTENTS:

  • Introduction by Sam Moskowitz
  • “Exiles on Asperus” by John Wyndham [as by John Beynon Harris] (Wonder Stories Quarterly, Winter 1933)
  • “The Mole Pirate” by Murray Leinster (Astounding Science Fiction, November 1935)
  • “The Moon Era” by Jack Williamson (Wonder Stories, February 1932)

A SENSE OF WONDER is quite a short anthology, at only 197 pages. The edition that I have is the 1967 UK 1st edition hardback, in excellent condition, and complete with pristine condition dustjacket. It was published back in 1967 by good old UK SF reliables, Sidgwick & Jackson. The US 1st edition had been published earlier the same year by Doubleday and Company, Inc. under the much more bland title THREE STORIES.

The anthology is edited by SF legend Sam Moskowitz, contains only three stories, all novellas, and an introduction by Moskowitz himself. Whilst there are only three (pretty long, admittedly) stories in this anthology, the introduction by Moskowitz is also a fascinating read in itself. I often find a really good introduction to a book to be just as interesting as the stories themselves. And this one, though relatively short, at only three pages, is definitely interesting.

According to Moskowitz’s introduction, this 1967 anthology marked the first time that any of these three stories had appeared since their original publication in the SF “pulps”, back in the early-to-mid 1930’s. So we have Moskowitz to thank for rescuing these three old gems from the depths of literary obscurity, although it must be pointed out that this anthology is forty-seven years old, and is in itself a forgotten gem by today’s standards. It’s scary to think that the publication date of the book is actually closer to the original first appearances of the stories in those ancient SF magazines than it is to the present day.

The first of the three novellas is “Exiles on Asperus” by John Wyndham, which was first published in the Winter 1933 edition of Wonder Stories Quarterly. It was written under his real name, John Beynon Harris. It’s a long time since I’ve read any Wyndham, and I don’t recall ever reading this one before.

The second story is “The Mole Pirate” by Murray Leinster, which first appeared in the November 1935 edition of Astounding Science Fiction. I’m familiar with this one only by reputation, as I’ve never read it. I haven’t read any Murray Leinster in a long time, but I just recently bought the two volumes of Murray Leinster Wildside Press Megapacks on Amazon, so I reckon it’s well past time for me to reacquaint myself with the old master.

The third and final story is “The Moon Era” by Jack Williamson, which was first published in the February 1932 edition of Wonder Stories. I remember reading this one as a teenager (in an old paperback edition of A SENSE OF WONDER, no less), and it has always remained a favourite of mine, one of those stories that still sticks in your mind thirty-five or forty years after you first read it.

Despite being written in 1931, this is essentially an updated nineteenth century “scientific romance” in the style of H. G. Wells, which is no bad thing in my book. And we all know that Jack Williamson was a huge fan of Wells and the other scientific romance authors, with the Wells influences showing through very heavily in a lot of his early writing. Since I absolutely love scientific romances (that’s how I started off reading SF in the first place, with H. G. Wells and Jules Verne), this story was already a winner from the first time I laid eyes on it.

I’m looking forward to reading this anthology again. It’s been many years since I read “The Moon Era”, and I’m itching to re-read it. As far as I recall, back when I read A SENSE OF WONDER all those years ago, I just read “The Moon Era” over and over again (I was really obsessed with it as a teenager), and didn’t even bother with the other two stories. So it’ll also be nice to actually read “Exiles on Asperus” and “The Mole Pirate” for the first time, as I don’t recall ever reading either of them before, despite having this anthology on my bookshelves for many years.

SCIENCE FICTION edited by S. H. Burton

TITLE: SCIENCE FICTION
EDITED BY: S. H. Burton
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Anthology
FORMAT: Hardback, 245 pages
PUBLISHER: Longman, The Heritage of Literature Series, London, 1967.

CONTENTS:

  • Introduction by S. H. Burton
  • “Requiem” by Robert A. Heinlein (Astounding Science Fiction, January 1940)
  • “A Present from Joe” by Eric Frank Russell (Astounding Science Fiction, February 1949)
  • “Dark They Were and Golden-Eyed” by Ray Bradbury (Thrilling Wonder Stories, August 1949, as “The Naming of Names”)
  • “Protected Species” by H. B. Fyfe (Astounding Science Fiction, March 1951)
  • “The New Wine” by John Christopher (Fantastic Story Magazine, Summer 1954)
  • “Nightfall” by Isaac Asimov (Astounding Science Fiction, September 1941)
  • “The Windows of Heaven” by John Brunner (New Worlds, May 1956, as “Two by Two”)
  • “Youth” by Isaac Asimov (Space Science Fiction, May 1952)
  • “The Star” by Arthur C. Clarke (Infinity Science Fiction, November 1955)

This is an unusual little book, a very small hardcover, only the size of a paperback. It’s also interesting in that it was published as part of Longmans’ prestige “The Heritage of Literature Series”, rather than as a commercial SF paperback or hardback. This series seems to be more of an academic line, covering not only science fiction, but detective fiction and general short fiction. Very interesting.

It’s a fairly short anthology, and there are a few classic, well-known stories by big name authors, which have seen publication previously in many anthologies and single-author collections – Heinlein’s “Requiem”, Bradbury’s “Dark They Were and Golden-Eyed”, Asimov’s “Nightfall” and Clarke’s “The Star”. It’s always nice to re-read these excellent stories, especially if you haven’t read them for a while.

There are also several stories, by familiar authors, which are not so well known – Asimov’s “Youth”, Russell’s “A Present from Joe”, Brunner’s “The Windows of Heaven” and Christopher’s “The New Wine”. And finally, there is also a story by an author with whom I’m totally unfamiliar, although I have seen his name in old magazine listings – H. B. Fyfe’s “Protected Species”. I haven’t read this one (or anything by this author) before.

I’ve started reading this anthology with the least familiar, so right now I’m part way through Fyfe’s “Protected Species”, which is quite a good story, at least so far. It’ll be interesting to see where it leads. After that, I’ll move onto the other stories that I haven’t read before, although the author’s ARE familiar to me – Russell, Brunner and Christopher. And I’ll finally finish off by re-reading the biggies from Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein and Bradbury.

As this anthology is short, it shouldn’t take me very long to finish it. I’m off to read the rest of “Protected Species”…

THE GREAT SF STORIES VOL. 1 (1939) edited by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg

TITLE: ISAAC ASIMOV PRESENTS THE GREAT SF STORIES VOL. 1 (1939)
EDITED BY: Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg
CATEGORY: Anthology
SUB-CATEGORY: Short Fiction
FORMAT: Paperback, 432 pages
PUBLISHER: DAW Books, New York, 1st Printing, March 1979.

Those are the various general details, and here’s a listing of the contents:

  • Introduction by Isaac Asimov
  • “I, Robot” by Eando Binder (Amazing Stories, January 1939)
  • “The Strange Flight of Richard Clayton” by Robert Bloch (Amazing Stories, March 1939)
  • “Trouble with Water” by H. L. Gold (Unknown, March 1939)
  • “Cloak of Aesir” by Don A. Stuart (John W. Campbell, Jr.) (Astounding Science Fiction, March 1939)
  • “The Day is Done” by Lester Del Rey (Astounding Science Fiction, May 1939)
  • “The Ultimate Catalyst” by John Taine (Thrilling Wonder Stories, June 1939)
  • “The Gnarly Man” by L. Sprague De Camp (Unknown, June 1939)
  • “Black Destroyer” by A. E. Van Vogt (Astounding Science Fiction, July 1939)
  • “Greater Than Gods” by C. L. Moore (Astounding Science Fiction, July 1939)
  • “Trends” by Isaac Asimov (Astounding Science Fiction, July 1939)
  • “The Blue Giraffe” by L. Sprague De Camp (Astounding Science Fiction, August 1939)
  • “The Misguided Halo” by Henry Kuttner (Unknown, August 1939)
  • “Heavy Planet” by Milton A. Rothman (Astounding Science Fiction, August 1939)
  • “Life-Line” by Robert A. Heinlein (Astounding Science Fiction, August 1939)
  • “Ether Breather” by Theodore Sturgeon (Astounding Science Fiction, September 1939)
  • “Pilgrimage” by Nelson Bond (Amazing Stories, October 1939)
  • “Rust” by Joseph E. Kelleam (Astounding Science Fiction, October 1939)
  • “The Four-Sided Triangle” by William F. Temple (Amazing Stories, November 1939)
  • “Star Bright” by Jack Williamson (Argosy, November 1939)
  • “Misfit” by Robert A. Heinlein (Astounding Science Fiction, November 1939)

This is a real gem of an anthology, and what a year 1939 was! It’s hard to know where to start with this lot, but it would probably be with the three that really stand out for me, Van Vogt’s “Black Destroyer”, John W. Campbell’s (under his “Don A. Stuart” pseudonym) “Cloak of Aesir” and Milton A. Rothman’s “Heavy Planet”, which are all stories that impacted greatly on me when I first started reading short SF way back in my early teens.

But there are also so many other good stories here, in particular C. L. Moore’s “Greater Than Gods”, Jack Williamson’s “Star Bright”, Lester Del Rey’s “The Day is Done”, Eando Binder’s “I, Robot”, Isaac Asimov’s “Trends”, and the two Robert A. Heinlein stories “Life-Line” and “Misfit”. Most of the others I can’t really remember, as I read them so long ago, and there are a few that I don’t think I’ve actually read before.

I’m really looking forward to reading (or is that re-reading?) Henry Kuttner’s “The Misguided Halo” (I’m a big fan of his), Theodore Sturgeon’s “Ether Breather” (likewise a big fan of his), Robert Bloch’s “The Strange Flight of Richard Clayton” and the two L. Sprague De Camp stories “The Gnarly Man” and “The Blue Giraffe”. All big names that I’ve enjoyed reading before.

This book was the first in a very long series, and Isaac Asimov Presents the Great SF Stories, Volumes 1-25, was one of the greatest ever series of science fiction anthologies. Published by DAW Books, the twenty-five volumes each covered a single year, and the entire series spanned the years 1939-1964.

The first twelve of these volumes were also later repackaged in a series of hardcovers, Isaac Asimov Presents the Golden Years of Science Fiction. There were six volumes in total of that one, First Series-Sixth Series, each one containing two of the original paperback volumes. For some reason (I’ve never found out why), this series of hardcovers stopped at the half-way mark, and the remaining thirteen volumes of the paperbacks were never collected in hardback. Pity. Those hardbacks were really nice, and I’m fortunate enough to have all six of them.

The twenty-five volume paperback set is a different matter. I only started to collect those several months ago, and so far I only have nine of them, although I continue to pick up the odd one here and there, with the intention of collecting the entire series, eventually. The books in this series are also quite expensive and hard to find, and most of the copies that I’ve seen are from US sellers, so the shipping charges to the UK and Ireland are also very expensive. I’ve often seen costs totalling up to $50 on Ebay for one of these paperbacks inclusive of shipping, as some of the US sellers charge ridiculously and inexcusably high transatlantic shipping charges. It’s much better if you can find them on Amazon UK, as they only charge £2.80 shipping from all Amazon sellers, even those in the US.

Anyways, nine down, sixteen to go. Oboy! I guess it’s time to get the credit card out and start buying a few more of these books…

SCIENCE FICTION OF THE THIRTIES edited by Damon Knight

TITLE: SCIENCE FICTION OF THE THIRTIES
EDITED BY: Damon Knight
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Anthology
PUBLISHER: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., Indianapolis/New York, 1975
FORMAT: Hardback, 1st Edition, 464 pages

CONTENTS:

  • Foreword by Damon Knight
  • “Out Around Rigel” by Robert H. Wilson (1931)
  • “The Fifth-Dimension Catapult” by Murray Leinster (1931)
  • “Into the Meteorite Orbit” by Frank K. Kelly (1933)
  • “The Battery of Hate” by John W. Campbell, Jr. (1933)
  • “The Wall” by Howard W. Graham, Ph.D. (1934)
  • “The Lost Language” by David H. Keller, M.D. (1934)
  • “The Last Men” by Frank Belknap Long, Jr. (1934)
  • “The Other” by Howard W. Graham, Ph.D. (1934)
  • “The Mad Moon” by Stanley G. Weinbaum (1935)
  • “Davey Jones’ Ambassador” by Raymond Z. Gallun (1935)
  • “Alas, All Thinking” by Harry Bates (1935)
  • “The Time Decelerator” by A. Macfadyen, Jr. (1936)
  • “The Council of Drones” by W. K. Sonnemann (1936)
  • “Seeker of Tomorrow” by Eric Frank Russell and Leslie T. Johnson (1937)
  • “Hyperpilosity” by L. Sprague de Camp (1938)
  • “Pithecanthropus Rejectus” by Manly W. Wellman (1938)
  • “The Merman” by L. Sprague de Camp (1938)
  • “The Day is Done” by Lester del Rey (1939)

What SF Master Damon Knight has done for Science Fiction of the Thirties is to plough his way through hundreds of classic “pulps” from the 30’s, mining them for a few of the forgotten gems from that era, and picking out the best of them for this anthology. He has reappraised the best of the tales from the 1930s SF magazines, with the added condition that his choices are stories which have rarely, some of them never, been published before in SF anthologies. And it’s a real thrill to read these stories, particularly for a jaded old fan like me who thought he’d read all the good old stuff worth reading.

Reading the short but fascinating Foreword to this anthology, we come to understand that Knight had been a life-long critic of the stories in the pulps, but had undergone a recent change of heart. Sturgeon’s Law (“Ninety Percent of Everything is Crud”) applies to the pulps just as much as it does to everything else, and it is the ten percent of stories which are not crud which make it worth persevering, and wading through the crap, to find the diamonds in the rough. And these stories are all good ‘uns. Damon Knight, former unrelenting critic of the “pulps”, is a hard taskmaster, and his standards are VERY high.

So, given that I’ve read a LOT of vintage SF, how has he done? The good news is that I’m totally unfamiliar with at least six of the authors in this anthology. The rest of them are names that I know, but the real surprise is that I have never read most of these stories before. I’m familiar with only THREE out of the eighteen stories – Weinbaum’s “The Mad Moon”, Campbell’s “The Battery of Hate” and Bates’ “Alas, All Thinking” (all of which I read many, many years ago) – which is a pretty amazing strike rate for Knight and the stories that he has chosen here. He has really come up with the goods, producing an anthology of stories that few SF readers will have seen before.

Most modern SF anthologies showcasing stories from “the old days” have long since started to reprint the same classic stories over and over again, so an avid SF fan would very likely have read most of them before. As good as many classic SF stories are, it becomes a bit tiring and disheartening to see them in every other anthology – “The Cold Equations” and “It’s a Good Life” are two examples of classic SF stories that come to mind. I have these two in so many old anthologies that I could scream every time I see them in yet another. I love these stories to bits, but too much of a good thing, etc…

Which raises the question: if Damon Knight could find these forgotten gems, surely there are many, many more in those SF magazines, just waiting for some adventurous researcher and editor to find them? And now that Damon has sadly passed on from us, to that great everlasting Science Fiction Convention in the Sky, who is willing to step into his giant shoes and continue to unearth these hidden treasures of the past? Or do hardcore fans like me have to continue ponying up exorbitant amounts of money for the old SF magazines or rare, out-of-print anthologies from the dim and distant past, in order to unearth more forgotten SF gems?

SF editors need to start using a bit of imagination and initiative, as in “Great story, but it’s been published a zillion times before. How’s about something that hasn’t been published before?”. I know that great editors of the past (and present) have produced many excellent anthologies of vintage SF. Editors like Groff Conklin, Terry Carr, Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg, Gardner Dozois, Brian Aldiss, Mike Ashley, and many others have produced some amazing anthologies over the years. But many of the classic editors/anthologists have now sadly passed on, and we have a dire need for newer editors to come forward and take up the gauntlet, to continue the great work that Damon Knight and the other great editors of the past have done to unearth the forgotten SF treasures of the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. Sure, I’d be the first to say that we need new authors producing great new SF. But we should also never, EVER forget the old masters.

So what’s my verdict of Science Fiction of the Thirties? Overall, I think this is an excellent anthology. Taking into account that these are NOT modern literary SF masterpieces, and that the stories are 1930s pulp SF tales, churned out at a few cents per word, it’s amazing that ANY of them were any good. But some were real beauts. Even for as low grade a market as the “pulps”, many talented writers took extreme pride and joy in their work, and went way beyond the line of duty, producing something much more than the miserly word rates they were being paid could ever merit. Damon Knight has uncovered a few of those forgotten gems for us and put them together in this very nice anthology. For someone like myself, who is a huge fan of finding good old SF stories that I haven’t read before, this type of book is just right up my alley.

I wish there were a few more volumes of anthologies containing similarly rare old SF magazine stories out there. Here’s hoping that someone will continue on with the good work of finding classic stories from the “pulps” that we haven’t read before. I, for one, will be eagerly watching out for more.

PLANETS OF WONDER edited by Terry Carr

TITLE: PLANETS OF WONDER – A TREASURY OF SPACE OPERA
EDITED BY: Terry Carr
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Anthology
PUBLISHER: Thomas Nelson Inc., Nashville, Tennessee, 1976
FORMAT: Hardback, 1st Edition, 189 pages, ISBN: 0-8407-6526-6

CONTENTS:

  • Introduction by Terry Carr
  • “Dust of Gods” by C. L. Moore (Weird Tales, August 1934)
  • “We Guard the Black Planet!” by Henry Kuttner (Super Science Stories, November 1942)
  • “The Veil of Astellar” by Leigh Brackett (Thrilling Wonder Stories, Spring 1944)
  • “Kingdoms of the Stars” by Edmond Hamilton (Amazing Stories, September 1964)

This is one of my favourite SF anthologies, edited by one of the best anthologists out there, Terry Carr. It’s also a pretty short one, at only 189 pages, with only four stories, but what stories they are.

What we have here are four of the genuine Classic Space Opera adventures from days gone by, one from the 1930s, two from the 1940s and one from the 1960s. Even more importantly, all of these stories were authored by four of the greatest proponents of that sub-genre of SF, Henry Kuttner, C. L. Moore, Leigh Brackett and Edmond Hamilton. These two great husband and wife author teams of the Thirties and Forties, are among my favourite SF writers of that era, and I’ll read pretty much anything written by the four of them. Kuttner, Moore and Brackett, in particular, are three of my favourite SF authors ever.

This is a gem of an anthology, with four great stories and an excellent introduction by Terry Car. I reckon that it’s been out of print for many years, but it would be well worth tracking down in used book stores. I wish that far more old anthologies like this would again be made available in electronic format for the Kindle, Nook and various other eReader devices out there, For the enjoyment of newer generations of SF readers, who have never seen these old classics before.

Poor kids. They don’t know what they’re missing!

BEACHHEADS IN SPACE edited by August Derleth

TITLE: BEACHHEADS IN SPACE
EDITED BY: August Derleth
CATEGORY: Anthology
SUB-CATEGORY: Short Fiction
FORMAT: Hardback, 224 pages
PUBLISHER: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1954 (Originally published in the US in 1952 by Pellegrini & Cudahy).

That’s the various general details, here’s a listing of the contents:

  • “Beachhead” by Clifford D. Simak (1951)
  • “The Years Draw Nigh” by Lester del Rey (1951)
  • “Metamorphosite” by Eric Frank Russell (1946)
  • “Breeds There a Man…?” by Isaac Asimov (1951)
  • “And the Walls Came Tumbling Down” by John Wyndham (1951)
  • “The Blinding Shadows” by Donald Wandrei (1934)
  • “The Metamorphosis of Earth” by Clark Ashton Smith (1951)

This is an interesting old anthology, edited by another of my favourite SF anthologists, August Derleth. The theme of this anthology, according to the book’s jacket blurb, is “invasion from another world, or counter-attack from Earth against the planets”.

I haven’t read this one in many years, maybe twenty-five years or more, but I remember that it was a favourite of mine way back in the day, and it still has a special place on my bookshelves. Obviously my memories of the individual stories are vague after all this time, and I don’t remember all of them clearly, and a couple of them not at all. But the ones that I do recall really liking are Clifford D. Simak’s very clever short story “Beachhead” (AKA “You’ll Never Go Home Again!”, first published in Fantastic Adventures, July 1951), Eric Frank Russell’s excellent novella “Metamorphosite”, (from Astounding, December 1946), and Clark Ashton Smith’s scary and unusual alien invasion SF/Horror novelette “The Metamorphosis of Earth” (Weird Tales, September 1951).

I also remember liking Lester del Rey’s “The Years Draw Nigh” and Isaac Asimov’s “Breeds There a Man…?”, although for some reason I remember a lot less about them than I do about the Russell, Simak and Smith stories. I don’t recall anything at all about the Wyndham and Wandrei stories. I’m surprised about not remembering the Wyndham story, as I’m usually a big fan of his writing.

But as good as my recollections are of the Simak and Smith stories, the stand-out story for me in this anthology has always been Eric Frank Russell’s classic “Metamorphosite”, which I recall having a huge impact on me back when I was a young guy in my twenties. I don’t think this story is in any of my other anthologies (and I have zillions of the darned things!), so I reckon it hasn’t been reprinted very often. It’s far, far too many years since I last read it, and indeed this entire anthology, so it’s long overdue for a re-read. I’ve already started on the Simak story, and, so far, it’s at least as good as I remember it, if not better. If the rest of the stories hold up as well as this one is doing, I’m going to really enjoy reading this anthology again.

Please take note that this is the 1954 UK edition, which is different from the original 1952 US hardcover edition, published by Pellegrini & Cudahy. Apparently all editions aside from the original hardcover edition have been “butchered” in some way, missing stories, etc. This UK edition is missing the Introduction and seven of the stories from the US edition. Also note that John Wyndham has two stories in the original US edition, one under his usual John Wyndham pseudonym, and the other as John Benyon.

Here is the full Contents Listing of the original 1952 US edition:

  • Introduction by August Derleth
  • “The Star” by David H. Keller, M.D.
  • “The Man from Outside” by Jack Williamson
  • “Beachhead” by Clifford D. Simak
  • “The Years Draw Nigh” by Lester del Rey
  • “Metamorphosite” by Eric Frank Russell
  • “The Ordeal of Professor Klein” by L. Sprague de Camp
  • “Repetition” by A. E. van Vogt
  • “Breeds There a Man…?” by Isaac Asimov
  • “Meteor” by John Beynon
  • “And the Walls Came Tumbling Down” by John Wyndham
  • “Blinding Shadows” by Donald Wandrei
  • “The Metamorphosis of Earth” by Clark Ashton Smith
  • “The Ambassadors from Venus” by Kendell F. Crossen
  • “To People a New World” by Nelson S. Bond

For lovers of old-style, classic SF short fiction, this anthology would be right up their alley. If you can actually find it, that is. As it’s such an old book, it’s obviously long out of print, and you’ll have to hunt through used book stores to find this anthology. But it’ll be well worth the trouble it takes to find it, as are any other anthologies edited by August Derleth.

After all these years, I think I’ll actually make a major effort to get off my butt and track down the longer original US hardcover edition, which I didn’t even realize was different/longer until I recently read the Wikipedia entry on the anthology.

Highly recommended, particularly the original US hardcover edition.

EMPIRE by H. Beam Piper

TITLE: EMPIRE
AUTHOR: H. Beam Piper
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Collection
FORMAT: Paperback
PUBLISHER: Ace Books, New York, 1981 (ISBN: 0-441-20557-7-250)

CONTENTS:

  • Terro-Human Future History Chronology
  • Introduction, by John F. Carr
  • The Edge of the Knife
  • A Slave is a Slave
  • Ministry of Disturbance
  • The Return (with John J. McGuire)
  • The Keeper

Last time out, I featured FEDERATION, the first of two collections gathering together the short fiction of H. Beam Piper’s classic Terro-Human Future History cycle. This time it’s the turn of EMPIRE, the second collection of stories set in that future history.

The book starts with an excellent three-page chronology of Piper’s Terro-Human Future History, put together from dates, events and other data spread over all of Piper’s short fiction and novels. This is followed by yet another fascinating and detailed ten-page Introduction by Piper scholar John F. Carr, which gives a lot of useful additional details on the future history as related in the five stories in this collection.

The five stories in the FEDERATION collection are from the earlier phase of Piper’s Future History, whereas the five stories in EMPIRE cover the later stages of that Future History, with the exception of The Edge of the Knife, which is unique in that it is set in the more contemporary timeframe of the early 1970s, pre-dating the formation of the Federation, and thus placing the story effectively outside of the future history itself.

I haven’t read this collection for years, but I have fond memories of The Keeper, Ministry of Disturbance, and The Edge of the Knife, although I remember very little about either A Slave is a Slave or The Return (which are lined up for a much-needed re-read in the not-too-distant future). If they turn out to be even half as good as the other stories, that will be the cream on top of the cake, as far as I’m concerned.

The Keeper, in particular, is very moody and atmospheric, and is one of my favourite Piper stories, in my opinion bettered by only Omnilingual (I’ve always found it funny that my two favourite stories in Piper’s Future History chronology are, by their positions in that future history, the very first, Omnilingual, and the very last, The Keeper). The Keeper allows us the only available brief and tantalizing glimpses into the mysterious far future of the Fifth Empire, and is also the only known story written by Piper which is set beyond the end of the First Empire. The rest of the existing Terro-Human Future History Chronology doesn’t go beyond the First Empire, which makes The Keeper seem strange and out of place compared to the other stories, until we accept that it is the only surviving proof that Piper intended to write other stories extending his future history far into the distant future.

Aside from the few snippets of background information contained in The Keeper, we know absolutely nothing about Piper’s plans for developing the details of these distant far-future eras of his chronology. According to Jerry Pournelle, who had a lot of contact with Piper back in the day, he had certainly planned something much bigger. Pournelle has always asserted that he had seen Piper’s folders full of extensive notes and details of a much longer and more complex future history chronology. Tragically, those notes were lost after Piper’s suicide, and all that we’re left with is a big bunch of “maybes” and “what-might-have-beens”, only too aware that the future history material which (fortunately) still exists in print, as good as it is, gives us only a tiny portion of the greatness that might have been.

As it stands, EMPIRE is a very strong collection, and already contains at least three of my favourite Piper stories, plus the excellent chronology and introduction. And as such, it’s definitely well worth adding to any aspiring SF reader’s bookshelf.

FEDERATION by H. Beam Piper

TITLE: FEDERATION
AUTHOR: H. Beam Piper
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Collection
PUBLISHER: Ace Books, New York, 1981, ISBN: 0-441-23189-6-295
FORMAT: Paperback, 284 pages

CONTENTS:

  • Preface, by Jerry Pournelle
  • Introduction, by John F. Carr
  • Omnilingual
  • Naudsonce
  • Oomphel in the Sky
  • Graveyard of Dreams
  • When in the Course-

The book starts with a brief Preface by Jerry Pournelle, a short but fitting tribute to H. Beam Piper and his writing. This is followed by a lengthy twenty-page Introduction by John Carr, which is a much more detailed and even more fascinating essay on the life and writings of Piper.

The five stories themselves are from Piper’s acclaimed TerroHuman Future History cycle, one of the most complex and detailed future histories in science fiction literature. This collection, Federation, is made up of stories from the earlier stages of that Future History, and a later collection, Empire, completes the stories from the later part of the cycle.

There are certainly some very good stories in this collection, but the stand-out for me is definitely Omnilingual, which I first read a long time ago, way back in my teens. Along with He Walked Around the Horses (which isn’t in this collection, and isn’t part of the Future History), this has always been one of my favourite pieces of SF short fiction, and I’ve always regarded both Omnilingual and He Walked Around the Horses as Piper’s two best short stories, although his other stories are also of an extremely high calibre.

As far as I’m concerned, the collection is worth buying just for Omnilingual alone. But the other four stories are nothing to turn your nose up at either. This is H. Beam Piper we’re talking about here, and he simply did not write bad SF stories.

A very good collection.

ON OUR WAY TO THE FUTURE edited by Terry Carr

TITLE: ON OUR WAY TO THE FUTURE
EDITED BY: Terry Carr
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Anthology
PUBLISHER: Ace Books, New York, 1970
FORMAT: Paperback, 253 pages.

That’s the various general details, here’s a listing of the contents:

  • Introduction by Terry Carr
  • Greenslaves by Frank Herbert (1965)
  • A Better Mousehole by Edgar Pangborn (1965)
  • Ballenger’s People by Kris Neville (1967)
  • King Solomon’s Ring by Roger Zelazny (1963)
  • Sundance by Robert Silverberg (1969)
  • Be Merry by Algis Budrys (1966)
  • Under the Dragon’s Tail by Philip Latham (1966)
  • A Taste for Dostoevsky by Brian W. Aldiss (1967)
  • Cyclops by Fritz Leiber (1965)
  • Goblin Night by James H. Schmitz (1965)

We’ve certainly got an interesting anthology here, an oldish one from 1970. It’s also the first anthology posting (but definitely will not be the last) on this blog from another of my favourite SF anthologists, Terry Carr.

This anthology isn’t restricted to a single theme, as were the two Robert Silverberg anthologies in my previous posts, and is more of a general multi-theme “ten science fiction adventures in tomorrow” kind of thing, charting our journey into infinity, our way into the future. There’s a wider variety of stories here by big-name SF authors, stories which, up until the time of publication, had never appeared in paperback before.

As usual, I’ll continue working my way through the stories in this, and the previous anthologies, completely at random, in a totally haphazard fashion, pretty much as the whim takes me and when I get free time to do so. I usually just lift a book, any book, from the “to read” stack, and read any story that takes my fancy. Next time, I might do the same, but with a completely different anthology, and so on.

I don’t have any real system for reading, but usually pick my favourite authors first, then work my way down to least favourite (or authors I haven’t encountered before), The main postings themselves are more for providing general overall information about the various anthologies and individual author collections, but will also be interspersed with posts on the individual stories as and when I have read them.

The Best of Arthur C. Clarke 1937-71

Here’s another book of excellent short fiction, this time a single-author collection, THE BEST OF ARTHUR C. CLARKE 1937-71.

TITLE: THE BEST OF ARTHUR C. CLARKE 1937-71
AUTHOR: Arthur C. Clarke
EDITED BY: Angus Wells
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Collection
PUBLISHER: Hardback – Sidgwick & Jackson, London, 1973, ISBN: 0 283 97979 8); Paperback – Sphere Books, London, 1973, ISBN: 0 7221 2426 0)

I have both the above hardback and paperback editions. The paperback was initially released as one volume, but later reissues were split into two volumes. Here is a listing of the contents:

  • 1937: Travel by Wire
  • 1938: Retreat from Earth
  • 1942: The Awakening
  • 1942: Whacky
  • 1947: Castaway
  • 1949: History Lesson
  • 1949: Hide and Seek
  • 1951: Second Dawn
  • 1954: The Sentinel*
  • 1955: The Star
  • 1955: Refugee
  • 1956: Venture to the Moon
  • 1960: Into the Comet
  • 1960: Summertime on Icarus
  • 1961: Death and the Senator
  • 1961: Hate
  • 1965: Sunjammer
  • 1972: A Meeting with Medusa**

This is an interesting one, although there are certainly some stories missing from it that you might expect to appear in any self-respecting Arthur C. Clarke Best of…. To name but a few: The Nine Billion Names of God, “If I Forget Thee, O Earth…”, The Wind from the Sun, Transit of Earth, I Remember Babylon, and Expedition to Earth, among others.

And there are also quite a few personal favourites that I thought should’ve definitely been in there – Rescue Party, All the Time in the World, The Forgotten Enemy, The Fires Within, Time’s Arrow, Out of the Sun, and a few others.

But that’s the problem with all Best of… collections, isn’t it? There’s never enough room for every story that the readers (or editors) think should definitely be in there. And, in the end, it’s totally up to the personal choice of the editor. Still, even with the omissions, this is still a nice collection of Clarke’s short fiction.

This was the very first collection of Arthur C. Clarke short stories that I ever read, way back when I was a kid (we’re talking forty years ago here), so it holds significant sentimental value for me, even though it isn’t by any means the most comprehensive collection of Clarke’s best short fiction. For that, read instead the later collection MORE THAN ONE UNIVERSE: THE COLLECTED STORIES OF ARTHUR C. CLARKE (US, 1991), which would be much more deserving of the title THE BEST OF ARTHUR C. CLARKE.

* The Sentinel is erroneously dated in the contents listing as being published in 1954. The correct publication date is 1951.

** The collection is dated 1937-1971, but one story in the collection, A Meeting with Medusa, was published in 1972.

“Divine Madness” by Roger Zelazny (1966)

TITLE: “Divine Madness” (1966)
AUTHOR: Roger Zelazny
CATEGORY: Short Story
SUB-CATEGORY: Time Travel, Temporal Paradox
SOURCE: TRIPS IN TIME edited by Robert Silverberg (Wildside Press, 1977)
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: Magazine of Horror (Summer 1966), published again in New Worlds (October 1966)

Okay, here’s my second random pick from TRIPS IN TIME, “Divine Madness” by Roger Zelazny.

A tortured man is having seizures, during which he is seemingly being forced to relive a sequence of recent events in reverse. The doctors claim that this is all unreal, and that he is enduring a strange hallucination caused by a combination of epilepsy and grief from some unspecified recent trauma or loss. But we are led to believe otherwise, that he is actually trapped in some kind of temporal paradox, during which he really is reliving these recent events in reverse.

The seizures/time reversals are getting longer, starting off at a few minutes long, then hours, then seemingly days in length. And they are rushing inexorably backwards towards the point of origin, the mysterious unnamed trauma which seems to be the cause of everything. He can watch these events, but it seems he is helpless to change any of them. The laws of cause and effect have been turned upside down, and the actions which started the chain of events would not be revealed until the end of the story.

Things begin to become clear as actions continue to unfold backwards, through the funeral, the tragic phone call in which he is informed of his girlfriend’s death in an 80mph car crash, and finally onto the initial event which caused everything, that fateful final argument between them that led to her storming off in anger. Will he be able to say those all-important words to her once he actually reaches the crucial moment, or will he once again be unable to change anything, and be forced to watch helplessly as events unfold tragically, yet again?

“Divine Madness” is at heart a tragic love story with an ingenious SF twist at it’s core. There never is any explanation given for the strange time reversal paradox, why it was happening to this guy or what was causing it. Nor is there any need for an explanation. It just IS. I know that many SF authors and readers like to have the clever stuff revealed in every detail (I can be one of those people, at times), but sometimes I do think it’s nice to leave the occasional thing unexplained and mysterious.

Zelazny’s beautiful use of language always was a cut above many of his contemporaries, and I really liked the lucid descriptions of the reversal scenes – birds flying backwards, the cigarette growing longer and unlighting back into the lighter, the Martini being undrunk back into the glass, the fountain sucking the water back into itself, the birds replacing the bits of the candy bar that they were uneating, and various other everyday minutae unfolding in the opposite direction from the one they are supposed to occur. Some of these scenes are both beautiful and ingenious.

Over the years, the “time reversal” story has become a fairly familiar gimmick in SF literature, sci-fi movies and television series. I certainly remember an entire episode of the UK comedy sci-fi television series Red Dwarf built on the idea – I wonder if the creators, Rob Grant and Doug Naylor, ever read “Divine Madness”, as I know they’re huge SF literature fans. But when Zelazny’s story was published in 1966, (twice, first in the Summer edition of Magazine of Horror, and again in the October edition of New Worlds magazine), “time reversal” was a much fresher and less clichéd SF device than it is today.

Whilst this may not be the only “time reversal” story in SF, I can only think of one other off the top of my head that tackled the subject in such an elaborate manner, the much more light-hearted and comedic “Round Trip to Esidarap”, written by Lloyd Biggle, Jr., which was published six years earlier than “Divine Madness”, as “Esidarap ot Pirt Dnuor” in the November 1960 edition of If magazine. Maybe there are other “time reversal” stories of this type out there, but I can’t think of any right now.

However one thing’s for sure. Few, if any, SF authors could write as fine an example of the form as Roger Zelazny has given us with “Divine Madness”.

Rated: 3.5 out of 5.0