THE COMPLETE ADVENTURES OF LUCKY STARR by Paul French (Isaac Asimov)

LuckyStarr

Last time out, I listed some of the SF novels that I picked up recently, among them two of Isaac Asimov’s Lucky Starr juvies that he wrote back in the 1950’s under his Paul French pseudonym. Well, that set me to searching for the only single-volume omnibus of all six Lucky Starr novels, which I found on Amazon. It’s quite hard to come by, being out-of-print, and quite expensive. But I took the plunge and bought it, and it arrived by mail in double-quick time.

So what’ve we got? Let’s look at the details:

 

TITLE: THE COMPLETE ADVENTURES OF LUCKY STARR
AUTHOR: Paul French (Isaac Asimov)
CATEGORY: Novel
SUB-CATEGORY: Omnibus
FORMAT: Hardback, 701 pages
PUBLISHER: Science Fiction Book Club, in association with Doubleday & Co. Inc, New York, 2001
ISBN: 0-7394-1941-2

CONTENTS:

  • Introduction to the Adventures of Lucky Starr
  • Introduction to the Further Adventures of Lucky Starr
  • David Starr – Space Ranger (1952)
  • Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids (1953)
  • Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus (1954)
  • Lucky Starr and the Big Sun of Mercury (1956)
  • Lucky Starr and the Moons of Jupiter (1957)
  • Lucky Starr and the Rings of Saturn (1958)

The reason for the two introductions is that the books were released in two volumes back in 1985, with a different introduction for each volume. So both introductions have been republished in this single volume. The introductions alone are very interesting, and give some nice insights into Asimov’s thoughts on his old juvies from a vantage point of thirty years later.

Asimov spends much of both introductions, explaining, almost apologizing for how wrong he got the planetary science in his novels. I found all of this very entertaining, but, in effect, totally unnecessary. He wrote those books according to the knowledge that science had in the early 1950’s, from telescopic observations of the planets, before the radar imaging and planetary probes of the 1960’s and 1970’s made that old knowledge totally obsolete.

Sure, the planetary science is in those books is wrong and way out of date. Hey, so what? All planetary science before the Mariner space probes and those that followed is hopelessly out of date. There are no oceans on Venus, and it is a boiling, poisonous, high-pressure inferno to outdo any religious visions of hell. There has never been any advanced life or civilizations on Mars, no canals, and only an extremely thin, cold atmosphere. Mercury does not keep one side only to the Sun, Saturn’s rings are radically more complex, and the lunar families of both Jupiter and Saturn are much larger than they ever suspected back then, and the lunar ecologies of both planets much more complex than they could ever have imagined.

But you know what? I don’t give a hoot. That kind of thing has never bothered me too much, any more than the “wrong” planetary science in the books of earlier “greats”. I just shunt these Lucky Starr stories into the same alternate solar system where all the mythical planets of great earlier writers reside. Asimov is in some great company there: Stanley G. Weinbaum, Edgar Rice Burroughs, H. G. Wells, Olaf Stapledon, Edwin Lester Arnold, C. S. Lewis, Raymond Z. Gallun, P. Schuyler Miller, Ray Bradbury, Clifford D. Simak, James Blish, Clark Ashton Smith, John Wyndham, Frederik Pohl, Cyril M. Kornbluth, Henry Kuttner, C. L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, Edmond Hamilton, Theodore Sturgeon, Robert A. Heinlein and many, many other giants of the genre. These earlier solar system tales exist in their own little continuum, untouched by cold, hard, modern scientific facts. Nor should they be.

I first read most of these novels (all except Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus and Lucky Starr and the Big Sun of Mercury) way back in my early teens, usually on loan from local libraries. These were the classic NEL (New English Library) UK paperback editions, with those beautiful covers. Even now that I have the hardback omnibus, I still want to pick up those paperbacks in good condition, just for the covers.

I’ve been reading a little of the first novel in the series, and the writing holds up surprisingly well today. I think I’m going to really enjoy reacquainting myself with David “Lucky” Starr, Bigman and the rest in these fun books.

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Remembering Frederik Pohl (1919-2013)

Back in June, this blog marked the first anniversary of the sad and untimely death of one of my favourite SF authors, Iain M. Banks, who we lost to cancer last year at the age of only 59. This month marks the first anniversary of the death of yet another of my favourite SF authors, this time one of the old greats, Science Fiction Grand Master and one of the true titans of the genre Frederik Pohl, who died on September 2nd last year, at the age of 93.

Fred Pohl had been with us seemingly forever, since the dawn of time, or, more accurately, since before the Golden Age of Science Fiction began, way back at the end of the 1930s – his first published work was the poem “Elegy to a Dead Satellite: Luna” (under the pseudonym “Elton Andrews”), in the October 1937 issue of Amazing Stories. I’m one of those many people who felt almost as though he was always going to be with us, although that was sadly obviously never going to happen.

The previous year or two had been very unkind to the world of SF, with the loss of a number of great authors. Ray Bradbury (91) died in June 2012, and Harry Harrison (87) in August 2012. Jack Vance (96) and movie special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen (91) both passed away in May 2013. And then Banks (59) in June 2013 and Pohl (93) in September 2013. True, with the exception of Banks, all of these authors were “greats” from an earlier era, and all lived to a grand old age (Harrison was the youngest to pass on, at “only” 87). But they were all giants of the genre, and their passing was a great loss to all of SF.

I’ve been a huge fan of Pohl’s writing since I first encountered him in my early teens (way back in the early-to-mid 1970s), and he was a huge figure in my formative years as an SF reader. His SF novels were some of my favourites, among them GATEWAY and the other Heechee books, MAN PLUS, THE SPACE MERCHANTS (with Cyril M. Kornbluth), SEARCH THE SKY (with Kornbluth), GLADIATOR-AT-LAW (with Kornbluth), WOLFBANE (with Kornbluth), MINING THE OORT, JEM, SYZYGY, STARBURST, THE AGE OF THE PUSSYFOOT, DRUNKARD’S WALK and many, many other classics. These still grace my bookshelves to this day, although most of them are long overdue for a re-read.

But as much as I like his novels, I’m an even bigger fan of his short fiction. As a matter of fact, the irony is very first Pohl story that I recall reading, “Wings of the Lightning Land”, was one that I didn’t even know was written by Pohl, as it came from that period during the Golden Age of SF the 1940s, when he wrote much of his short stories under the pseudonym “James MacCreigh”. I still remember “Wings of the Lightning Land” with great fondness, and it’s one of those old stories which hit me between the eyes at an early age, and has stayed with me ever since.

It’s now amusing for me to recall that, for quite a while after I read that story, I had absolutely no idea that this “James MacCreigh” dude and Frederik Pohl were one and the same person. And it’s even more amusing to recall that the classic old anthology, in which I first read “Wings of the Lightning Land”, was SCIENCE FICTION: THE GREAT YEARS, edited by none other than a certain Carol & Frederik Pohl! It was ironic (and very creepy) that, last year, after not having read that story for many, many years, I just happened to come upon that old anthology again, and re-read “Wings of the Lightning Land”, the very week before Frederik Pohl died. How weird is that? 🙂

So this year, to mark the first anniversary of his death, I once again opened up SCIENCE FICTION: THE GREAT YEARS, and re-read “Wings of the Lightning Land”, in memory of Frederik Pohl and his alter ego, “James MacCreigh”. And to add another one for good measure, I also dug out a really good collection of Pohl’s earliest short fiction, THE EARLY POHL (1976), which contains a bunch of his Golden Age stories, all written under his “James MacCreigh” pseudonym. Great stuff!

Of the short fiction that Pohl wrote under his own name, I think that the first one that I read (and one that has also stuck in my mind all these years) is “Let the Ants Try” (1949). Fantastic tale, and the ending of that story still sends chills up my spine, even now, forty years after I first read it. But he also wrote so many other memorable short stories. “Day Million”, “The Tunnel under the World”, “The Midas Plague”, “The Man Who Ate the World”, “Critical Mass”, “The Abominable Earthman”, “The Gold at the Starbow’s End”, “In the Problem Pit” and so, so many others.

Fred Pohl was an awesome, awesome writer. But he was also hugely influential in SF as an editor throughout the 1960s, on classic SF magazines Galaxy and its sister publication If. And over the decades he has also edited far too many great SF anthologies to even start listing them here.

I’ve also been following his blog, The Way the Future Blogs, assiduously over the past couple of years. I’ve been really loving his recollections about the past history of SF, and I’m going to miss the writings of this great man, but he’s left a huge body of work out there for all of us to enjoy. He should be compulsory reading for all SF fans, old and young.

In Memory of Frederik Pohl, Science Fiction Grand Master.

VOYAGERS IN TIME edited by Robert Silverberg

TITLE: VOYAGERS IN TIME – Twelve Stories of Science Fiction
EDITED BY: Robert Silverberg
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Anthology
PUBLISHER: Meredith Press, New York, 1967
FORMAT: Hardcover, 243 pages.

In my last post I commented that I’d recently bought a couple of nice old SF anthologies from Amazon UK. I made a few comments about one of the anthologies, TRIPS IN TIME and gave a contents listing for it. Here’s the same routine for the other anthology, which was published ten years earlier, but can be considered a “companion” anthology, from a thematic viewpoint, since both books contain short stories about time travel. The second of the two anthologies is VOYAGERS IN TIME, edited by Robert Silverberg.

This anthology is a collection of more traditional (but still fun) time travel stories than those in TRIPS IN TIME. The stories in this one span a thirty year period, the earliest originally published in 1937, and the last in 1967. Here’s a listing of the contents:

  • The Sands of Time by P. Schuyler Miller (1937)
  • …And It Comes Out Here by Lester del Rey (1950)
  • Brooklyn Project by William Tenn (1948)
  • The Men Who Murdered Mohammed by Alfred Bester (1964)
  • Time Heals by Poul Anderson (1949)
  • Wrong-Way Street by Larry Niven (1965)
  • Flux by Michael Moorcock (1963)
  • Dominoes by C. M. Kornbluth (1953)
  • A Bulletin from the Trustees by Wilma Shore (1964)
  • Traveler’s Rest by David I. Masson (1965)
  • Absolutely Inflexible by Robert Silverberg (1956, revised version 1967)
  • THE TIME MACHINE [Chapter XI, XII – part] by H. G. Wells (1895)

This looks like another very interesting anthology of short fiction. Silverbob certainly does know how to put together a good anthology of stories. Again, some of them I remember well (Wells, Bester, Tenn, and Moorcock), others I vaguely remember (Miller, del Rey, Anderson, Niven, Kornbluth and Silverberg), and the last two I’m not familiar with at all (Shore, Masson).

As I’ve already said, this is a kinda/sorta “sister” anthology to the later TRIPS IN TIME (1977), which is a more unusual and quirky collection of time travel tales. I’ve already read several of the stories in TRIPS IN TIME, but now I’ve started reading some of the stories in VOYAGERS IN TIME as well. I’m dipping in and out of both books, and it will be nice to compare the two anthologies when I’ve finished both of them.

As usual, I’m working my way through the stories in both books slowly, as and when I get free time to do so, and not in any kind of order. I’ll just pick stories at random, usually with favourite authors first and working my way to least favourite or least familiar. Once I’ve finished I’ll start posting comments on individual stories (with the exception of the excerpts from The Time Machine, as I’ll be reviewing the novel at some point), and comments on the two anthologies as a whole.

It’s a Geek’s Life… (Part Two)

The Golden Years – Geek Nirvana During the Seventies

The start of our teenage years is the sweet spot for the vast majority of us, particularly geeks, the beginning of what is probably the most fondly remembered period of our lives.

It’s long enough ago that most of our memories are fond, rosy ones, but it’s also the first time in our lives from which we retain reasonably accurate and continuous recollections of events (unlike our earlier childhood – most memories from our first decade are pretty vague and fragmented). And it is also during these years that many of us have the most fun and freedom to do what we want (after we finish our homework, of course), before adulthood arrives and the bland banalities, responsibilities and worries of “grown-up” life start to descend upon us.

I mentioned in my previous posting that my childhood was a far from happy one. Things got even worse when I was eleven years old, when my parents separated, leaving my father to raise five kids on his own. He was forced to leave his job, and our descent into poverty became even more severe. To top it all off, my father’s health began to decline sharply after my mother left, and, as the “oldest”, I was shoehorned into the role of “surrogate mother” from this very tender age, taking over the extremely heavy responsibilities of not only looking after my father, but also the other four kids, one of whom was also very severely disabled.

To be blunt, I was a very unhappy young boy as a teenager, one who sought refuge in a world of make-believe. Any kind of an escape from this dreary and depressing reality was a welcome one, and I immersed myself in an alternate world of comics, sci-fi worlds on television, in films, and in great SF literature. I also became very preoccupied with drawing and writing.

To refer to these interests as mere “hobbies” would be a complete understatement. They were obsessions, a vital lifeline for me, and I depended on them utterly to keep me sane, when everything around me was so gloomy and depressing. Since childhood, and throughout my entire life, these “obsessions” have been entrenched as fundamental pillars of my personality and way of thinking, and I simply cannot imagine my life without them.

I may already have been a proto-geek from a much earlier period in my life, but the beginning of my teens marks the time from which I can seriously start referring to myself as a true, hardcore geek. Things may not have been rosy on the domestic and personal front, but my hobbies and obsessions certainly first started to kick into overdrive in a very big way at this age, almost certainly to compensate for my miserable “Real Life”. I was also now growing old enough to be much more sophisticated, systematic and discerning when it came to what I was “into”. And what I was into, and I mean REALLY into, was the Holy Trinity of SF literature, Sci-Fi on television and in films, and Comics.

All through the 1970’s, up until around 1977-78, was a “Golden Age” for me, from a geek perspective anyway, the completely opposing mirror image of my crappy “real life”. All during my teens there was a steady procession of classic sci-fi TV shows and films on local television, and although I had my favourites – Doctor Who, Star Trek, UFO, The Time Tunnel – I loved them all to a lesser or greater extent.

By this stage of my life I was also a totally obsessive reader of both comics (particularly the Marvel UK reprint comics) and SF literature. I’d started off initially in my pre-teens with Wells and Verne, then moving onto Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein, and anything else that I could read. By my early teens, the whole world of SF literature was my oyster. I was discovering great new (to me, anyway) authors like H. Beam Piper, Cordwainer Smith, Cyril M. Kornbluth, Frederik Pohl, John W. Campbell, Jr, Alfred Bester, Henry Huttner, C. L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, Edmond Hamilton, Jack Williamson, Stanley G. Weinbaum, Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Clark Ashton Smith and many, many others.

By my mid-teens, I was neck-deep in my alternate geek world, spending every available second on my hobbies. I just couldn’t get enough of the whole Sci-Fi/Comics/SF Literature thing, and it seemed like the good days would never end.

But I was wrong.

To Be Continued…