Friday, December 31, 2004

Meditations on Middle-Earth

Karen Haber (editor): Meditations on Middle-Earth (St. Martin's Griffin, 2002)

One of the books I read this year about J.R.R. Tolkien was Meditations on Middle-Earth, edited by Karen Haber. It was mostly a disappointment for two reasons. It's a collection of essays by folks, mostly fantasy authors, and how they feel about The Lord of the Rings. Some essays are good, such as the one by Poul Anderson. But most are around the level of what you'd expect to find in Freshman English in college. Various famous authors of fantasy (well, famous on the best seller list, at least!) tell how, gosh, Tolkien is the greatest and how much he inspired their writing. Quickly read, quickly forgotten. The second problem with the book are the numerous typographical errors, especially in names from the Tolkien books. What makes this doubly strange is that the excellent artwork (by John Howe, who worked on the movies) often use the same names (and are spelled correctly). Go figure.

This books counts as 17 contributions to the 2004 Short Story Project.

Contents: Preface—The Beat Goes On (Karen Haber); Introduction (George R.R. Martin); Our Grandfather—Meditations on J.R.R. Tolkein (Raymond Feist); Awakening the Elves (Poul Anderson); A Changeling Returns (Michael Swanwick); If You Give a Girl a Hobbit (Esther M. Friesner); The Ring and I (Harry Turtledove); Cult Classic (Terry Pratchett); A Bar and a Quest (Robin Hobb); Rhythmic Pattern in The Lord of the Rings (Ursula K. Le Guin); The Longest Sunday (Diane Duane); Tolkien After All These Years (Douglas A. Anderson); How Tolkien Means (Orson Scott Card); The Tale Goes Ever On (Charles De Lint); The Mythmakers (Lisa Goldstein); "The Radical Distinction..." A Conversation with Tim and Greg Hildebrandt (Glenn Hurdling); On Tolkien and Fairy-Stories (Terri Windling).

Astounding Stories of Super Science

Astounding Stories: The 60th Anniversary Collection; edited by James Gunn (Easton Press, 1990). Three volumes, introductions by Poul Anderson (black cover volume), Stanley Schmidt (red cover volume) and Isaac Asimov (blue cover volume).

Much of my short story reading for the year came from multi-author collections. I also read a number of magazines (which will be mentioned later). Many of these stories I have read previously, but it has been (in some cases) decades, so it was like discovering them for the first time.

The first major collection I read was a trio of books edited by James Gunn, Astounding Stories: The 60th Anniversary Collection (published by Easton Press in 1990). It's a very nice collection (and I recall it was priced pretty nice as well!), gilt edges, ribbon bookmarks, leather or pseudo-leather covers (all the usual Easton Press features).

Even nicer are the introductions (Stanley Schmidt, Isaac Asimov and Poul Anderson) and the artwork. Each story is prefaced by the cover of the issue of Astounding that it originally appeared in. It's a nice way to see how the artwork evolved over the years.

The three volumes were...

Astounding Stories: The 60th Anniversary Collection (Volume I, edited by James Gunn, introduction by Stanley Schmidt, the red cover volume): The Sargasso of Space by Edmond Hamilton (September 1931); The Fifth-Dimension Tube by Murray Leinster (January 1933); The Shadow Out of Time by H.P. Lovecraft (June 1936); The Eternal Wanderer by Nat Schachner (November 1936); Cloak of Aesir by Don A. Stuart (pseudonym for John W. Campbell, Jr.) (March 1939); The Roads Must Roll by Robert A. Heinlein (June 1940); The Stolen Dormouse by L. Sprague de Camp (April 1941); The Changeling by A.E. Van Vogt (April 1944).

Counts as eight stories for the Short Story Project.

This volume, overall, contains the oldest stories in the collection. It also, for the most part, is the weakest of the three volumes for that reason and because several stories are either sequels or part of a series.

The best tales here are The Shadow Out of Time, Cloak of Aesir, The Roads Must Roll and The Stolen Dormouse.

The Shadow Out of Time is part of the so-called Cthulhu Mythos, and (along with a few other tales such as At the Mountains of Madness) one of the strongest stories in the cycle. Lovecraft was a wildly variable writer (and, from what I've read, quite a eccentric individual). The story represented something of a triumph for Lovecraft, placing a story in a magazine that had a much greater audience than some of his other outlets (such as various amateur productions or the much revered Weird Tales magazine). He even rated the cover of the June 1936 issue. However, he never really followed up on this success, mostly due to his eccentric nature. There's some really haunting writing here, especially the sequences set underground in Australia. Turn the lights down and light the candles!

Cloak of Aesir was written by Campbell under the Don A. Stuart pseudonym in order to differentiate it from his space opera tales. In this story and others he strove for atmosphere and character more than page-turning adventure. He doesn't quite reach his initial height (found in the story Nightfall) or his eventual height (found in the story Who Goes There?), but it's a solid tale of an Earth dominated by aliens and the revolution that eventually overthrows those aliens. The only weakness is that it is the second of two stories, so it might have been better to have either used the first tale or one of the others I mentioned.

The Stolen Dormouse is an amusing tale by de Camp and it is nice to see one of his science fiction efforts rather than his more well-known fantasy efforts (I do like those tales, though, don't get me wrong!). It seems to me that the story owes something to Heinlein (look for echoes of Heinlein's Beyond the Horizon, which itself is an echo of his recently published lost first novel For Us, The Living). Whether Heinlein suggested the idea to him (and other works, such as Heinlein's own Grumbles from the Grave show that he did share ideas) or it was something that Astounding's editor Campbell suggested to both I don’t know.

The Roads Must Roll is a tale set fairly early on in Heinlein's Future History series (see the book The Past Through Tomorrow, as well as smaller collections as The Man Who Sold the Moon or Revolt in 2100 for the other stories in the series). I've had a love/hate relationship with the tale since I first read it. It is well written, but my liberal leanings (yes, folks, I do have liberal leanings) chafe at Heinlein's treatment of labor. Is this how Heinlein really thought? Was the voice of the character the "true" voice of the author?

The weakness of the volume comes from the other tales. The Sargasso of Space by Hamilton has not stood the test of time (see my notes on Asimov's Before the Golden Age (when I get around to doing a posting on that book) for a similar complaint). Murray Leinster's career stretched from the early days until the 1960's, so surely a better story than The Fifth-Dimension Tube could have been found. Again, it has not really stood the test of time and it is also a sequel (so you are at something of a disadvantage). The Eternal Wanderer was an O.K. story but I can't recall ever reading another tale by Schachner. He appears to be an author who was popular at the time, but who's star has faded. I think that Gunn could have chosen a better tale by Van Vogt than The Changeling, but he might have felt that some of the better tales (the Weapon Shop stories, for example) have been reprinted so many times that they had lost their freshness. I had difficulty finishing this story.

Astounding Stories: The 60th Anniversary Collection (Volume II, edited by James Gunn, introduction by Isaac Asimov, the blue-gray cover volume): Nightfall by Isaac Asimov (September 1941); Bridle and Saddle by Isaac Asimov (June 1942); Sucker Bait by Isaac Asimov (March 1954); Profession by Isaac Asimov (July 1957); Killdozer! by Theodore Sturgeon (November 1944); Cold Front by "Hal Clement" (G. Harry Stubbs) (July 1946); The Equalizer by Jack Williamson (March 1947).

Counts as six stories for the Short Story Project, as I had read Bridle and Saddle as part of the Foundation Trilogy and did not re-read it.

This might be called the Isaac Asimov volume, given his multiple contributions to the volume. I'm sure that Gunn could have found other authors to get multiple entries from (Henry Kuttner and/or C.L. Moore, writing in collaboration or by themselves; Robert A. Heinlein under his own name or his numerous pseudonyms; even John W. Campbell under his name or his Don A. Stuart pseudonym spring to mind). Perhaps Gunn likes Asimov (he did write a book on the Good Doctor) more or there was a rights problem with the other authors (rumor has it, for example, that the estate that controls the works of Kuttner and Moore make unreasonable demands for reprints). Still, other than Bridle and Saddle, Gunn made some excellent choices here.

Nightfall could arguably be Asimov's most famous story. I'm not going to do a rundown on the plot, if you haven't read it, get thee to a collection that has it and read it. If you've only seen the movie, shame, junk the movie and read the story. That movie should never have been made (I'm sure we can say that of many movies!). The first volume of his autobiography (In Memory Yet Green) talks about how the story came to be (and it's a good process of the typical relationship that Astounding editor John W. Campbell, Jr. had with many authors):

He [Campbell] had come across a quotation from an eight-chapter work by Ralph Waldo Emerson, called Nature. In the first chapter, Emerson said: "If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God..."

Campbell asked me to read it and said, "What do you think would happen, Asimov, if men were to see the stars for the first time in a thousand years?"

I thought, and drew a blank, "I don't know."

Campbell said, "I think they would go mad. I want you to write a story about that."

We talked about various things, thereafter, with Campbell seeming to circle the idea and occasionally asking me questions such as, "Why should be stars be invisible at other times?" and listened to me as I tried to improvise answers. Finally he shooed me out with, "Go home and write the story."

In my diary for that day I said, "I'll get started on it soon, as I think the idea is swell, and I even envisage making a lead novelette out of it, but I don't delude myself into thinking it will be an easy story to write. It will require hard work."

It is, in my opinion (and as Asimov points out in the autobiography) a good story. Heck, the SF Writers of America voted it as the best, by a healthy margin. At that point in his career, Asimov was still an amateur:

My status on that evening of March 18 was as nothing more than a steady and (perhaps) hopeful third-rater. What's more, that's all that I considered myself to be at that time. Nor did anyone else, as far as I know, seriously consider me, in early 1941, as a potential first-magnitude star in the science-fiction heavens—except, maybe, Campbell. The Golden Age was in full swing and it contained, already, such brilliant stars as Heinlein and Van Vogt and such scarcely lesser names such as Hubbard, de Camp, del Rey, and Sturgeon. Surely no one could possibly have thought I would ever be considered comparable to these—except, maybe, Campbell.

Asimov's output was always more non-fiction than fiction. Much of his output, as much as I love it, was pretty "pulpy". Nightfall, however, is one of the cases where he breaks those bounds.

Sucker Bait and Profession are both good stories. They are also probably not as well known to a more casual fan of science fiction, which is a shame, as they are as strong as any of Asimov's more famous Foundation or Robot tales. In Sucker Bait an expedition is sent to a planet where a previous expedition had failed a hundred years earlier. The ship carries a number of scientists, each working in his (no female characters!) niche. In fact, the scientists are so specialized that they find it difficult to talk to each other. The ship also carries a member of a new profession, the Mnemonics. Members of that profession are encouraged to read anything and everything, and prove their worth by finding obscure links between specialties or dredging up things that may have been forgotten. The main character is a Mnemonic, and manages to save the day (eventually) by jumping across specialties and remembering an obscure fact.

It's an interesting idea. Certainly my own personal experience, in job hunting, has shown me that our society is becoming more and more specialized. While I don't have some of the qualities that Asimov talks about in the profession (a photographic memory is implied), given my reading habits, it's a job that I'd love to have!

Profession has some similar themes. Technology (in the story) has advanced to the point where education is done electronically through tapes. A person is tested for various qualities, and is programmed into a profession. Yearly Olympics are held, where people compete in their professions. Winners are recruited by various planets for their technical skills, losers got another chance in the next competition.

The main character is placed in a home because he can't be educated using the tapes. There are such homes scattered across the planet, peopled by those who are not up to the tape method. They are given the chance to educate themselves the old fashioned way, through reading and classes.

What the main character eventually learns is that while he initially considers himself to be stupid, as he can't be educated through the tapes, he is actually one of the gifted ones. Once educated by a tape, you are pretty much stuck in that profession. If a newer model of a machine comes out, you (apparently) can't be re-educated with a new tape. And it seems that you either can't learn new skills (or society has changed to the point where people can't grasp the concept). The main character eventually realizes that he and the others in these homes for the "stupid" are actually the ones who do all the innovation in society.

Both Sucker Bait and Profession probably appealed to your fan of the Golden Age for other reasons. Like In Hiding by Wilmar H. Shiras, or Mimsy Were the Borogoves by "Lewis Padgett" (Henry Kuttner & C.L. Moore) (both these were read in 2004, and I'll post about them eventually!), you have stories where social outcasts turn out to have the skills needed to save the day. You are outside of society, but you are better than society. Your "typical fan" (and hey, I was one and still am), finding it difficult to fit in, feeling misunderstood, saw themselves in these stories and more.

Theodore Sturgeon's Killdozer! is a nice thriller of a story. You can also tell that Sturgeon was making good use of life experience here; some paragraphs are practically manuals on how to operate power equipment (Hmm...Melville did it for Moby Dick, does this make Sturgeon great literature?). Avoid the horrid television movie of several years ago or Stephen King's hack attempts to re-work the same theme and ideas and read this one with the lights turned low.
Hal Clement (G. Harry Stubbs) was a science teacher and a (not-so) amateur astronomer. He may not have written some of the most interesting characters in the world, but man, could he set up a scientific puzzle. Cold Front is a classic Clement tale of misunderstood aliens and a situation that the main characters must grapple with and understand in order to win through. No guns blaze, nobody dies, but that doesn't make it any less of a conflict. I'm not sure if I would have chosen this story to represent Clement's contribution to Astounding, but hopefully those reading the collection would have been hooked enough to go onto his other contributions, such as novels like Mission of Gravity.

Finally, we have Equalizer by Jack Williamson. It's a solid, early to middle career tale by Williamson, one that I sort of had encountered previously. At one point I remember reading a collection of essays on science fiction that had a quote in it that stuck with me until now. I've finally made the connection between the quote and the source:

Long rows of shops and warehouses stood deserted. Doors yawned open. Neglected roofs were sagging. Ruined walls, here and there, were black from old fire. Every building was hedged with weeds and brush.

Far across the shattered pavements stood the saddest sight of all. A score of tall ships stood scattered across the blast aprons, where they had landed. Though small by comparison with such enormous interstellar cruisers such as the Great Director, some of them towered many hundreds of feet above the broken concrete and the weeds. They stood like strange cenotaphs to the dead Directorate.

Once they had been proud vessels. They had carried the men and the metal to build Fort America. They had transported labor battalions to Mars, dived under the clouds of Venus, explored the cold moons of Jupiter and Saturn. They had been the long arm and the mighty fist of Tyler's Directorate, and the iron heel upon the prostrate race of man.

Now they stood in clumps of weeds, pointing out at the empty sky they once had ruled. Red wounds marred their sleek skins, where here and there some small meteoric particle must have scratched the mirror-bright polish, letting steel go to rust. And the rust, in the rains of many years, had washed in long, ugly, crimson streaks down their shining sides.

One of them, the most distant, had fallen. The great hull was flattened from the impact, broken in two. Steel beams, forced through the red-stained skin, jutted like red broken bones. The apron was shattered beneath it, so that a thick jungle of brush and young trees had grown up all around it.

Interesting how that quote has haunted me for about 30 years!

Astounding Stories: The 60th Anniversary Collection (Volume III, edited by James Gunn, introduction by Poul Anderson, the black cover volume): Private Eye by "Lewis Padgett" (Henry Kuttner & C.L. Moore) (January 1949); The Witches of Karres by James H. Schmitz (December 1949); Bindlestiff by James Blish (December 1950); ...And Then There Were None by Eric Frank Russell (June 1951); Martians, Go Home by Fredric Brown (September 1954); We Have Fed Our Sea by Poul Anderson (August 1958); The Big Front Yard by Clifford D. Simak (October 1958).

Counts as seven stories for the Short Story Project.

This volume highlights authors who would carry Astounding (later, Analog) into a new level of maturity. Look at the contributions by Russell, Anderson or Simak. Are these space operas? Are these pulp writings?

Private Eye is probably the weakest tale in the volume. There's a nifty idea (if police have the ability to watch a person through time in order to determine a crime, how can somebody get around that in order to commit a crime?), but Padgett, or rather, Kuttner and/or Moore, have done better. See some of the entries from the Science Fiction Hall of Fame (posting is coming!), for examples.

The Witches of Karres is a fun tale by Schmitz. As with H. Beam Piper and a few others, Schmitz was a popular author in Astounding who fell into obscurity when his various books went out of print. Luckily, Baen Books has republished his tales, including this one. I urge you to pick up a few (and if you'd like to read the electronically, the so-called Websubscriptions site associated with Baen Books has several volumes available free).

Bindlestiff is part of the overall Cities in Flight sequence by Blish. These were first written as individual tales and then stitched together into a series of four books. You can generally find the four books collected in a single hardcover or paperback volume called Cities in Flight. The sequence runs from the early days of exploring the solar system to the (literally) end of the universe and the start of the next. Bindlestiff is in the approximate middle of the series, and concerns the airborne (I kid you not) city of New York and a fight against another city that has turned bindlestiff (or criminal). Despite being the middle story of a long sequence, it stands on its own better than some of the stories from the first volume of this book trio (e.g., the Murray Leinster contribution).

...And Then There Were None by Russell and Martians, Go Home by Brown are both funny and thought-provoking. Given the usual uneducated view of Campbell, you might be surprised that such a subversive tale as ...And Then There Were None would appear in the pages of Astounding. Heck, given the view that most people have of "pulp", you'd be surprised that such a thoughtful story appeared there. Haven’t read it? Look it up, either in a collection, or in a book called The Great Explosion. Martians, Go Home is a hoot. What if there really were Little Green Men on Mars. What if they invaded Earth. Brown manages both, but also manages to avoid all the clich├ęs you might expect. Excellent pair of tales.

We Have Fed Our Sea is one of my favorite stories by Anderson. I'm more familiar with the novel version, called The Enemy Stars (and it's been so long since I've read that one, that I'm not sure how different the story is from the book). Man explores the stars by sending ships traveling slower than the speed of light out to a destination, and then hopping to them via a faster-than-light matter transmitter. The story concerns The Southern Cross, diverted to explore a dead star, and what happens to the crew when something goes horribly wrong. Is this pulp fiction?

A bell buzzed.

His heart sprang. He crawled back, feeling dimly that there were tears on his own face now, and stared into the screen.

A being stood in the receiving chamber. It wore some kind of armor, so he could not make out the shape very well, but though it stood on two legs the shape was not a man's. Through a transparent bubble of a helmet, where the air within bore a yellowish tinge, Maclaren saw its face. Not fish, nor frog, nor mammal, it was so other a face that his mind would not wholly register it. Afterward he recalled only blurred features, there were tendrils and great red eyes.

Strangely, beyond reason, even in that first look he read compassion on the face.

The creature bore David Ryerson's body in its arms.

Anderson was one of our finest practioners of the craft of science fiction writing. He knew how to tell a fine tale (probably learned from his love of Norse and other epics). He wrote many fine characters. His planets were realistic, given his own grounding in science and his work with people such as Hal Clement. He was well read, and wove the works of others into his tales, such as this quote from Kipling found in this story:

We have fed our sea for a thousand years
And she calls us, still unfed,
Though there's never a wave of all her waves
But marks our English dead:
We have strawed our best to the weed's unrest
To the shark and the sheering gull,
If blood be the price of admiralty,
Lord God, we ha' paid it in full!

The field of science fiction is all that much poorer for our loss of this talent.

I have written elsewhere of how much I enjoy the works of Clifford D. Simak. I have also written elsewhere of my belief that his inherent optimism and his so-called pastoral science fiction helped me back from the brink. The Big Back Yard is one of his best, and contains seeds that fed into other works, such as his novel Mastodonia. You've got a lot of classic Simak touches: the faithful dog (inevitably named Bowser or Towser), the shrewd main character who takes advantage of a strange situation, a secondary character with a needed skill or talent.

Hiram Taine, a Yankee Trader (do we still have those?) wakes up one day with his dog (Towser in this case) barking. It appears that he has mice or rats in his house. Or does he? Later, upon going into his basement, he finds a new ceiling. Then there's that big cylinder in the woods that appeared over night...

Things get really interesting when he opens his front door and finds a desert where none was before!

Great stuff. I'm glad to see Old Earth Books bringing out two of Simak's classics and an effort underway to bring all of his short works back into print.

Counts as 21 stories (between the three volumes) for the 2004 Short Story Project.
Shorter Works of Samuel R. Delany

Ah, the 70's. The Nebula Awards collections found in the library. The piles of books from the Science Fiction Book Club that my parent's would buy me. Writers like Robert Silverberg writing about sex and drugs. New authors such as Gene Wolfe and Samuel R. Delany.

I first encountered Delany as an author of short stories. Tales such as Aye, and Gomorrah..., Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones and Driftglass appeared in a few collections that I read (such as the Nebula Awards collections).

During high school I encountered Delany as a novelist, in two books (Nova and Dhalgren). Nova was a space opera, a wonderfully baroque space opera. Dhalgren was...well...even now it's hard to explain. It was certainly the novel that moved Delany from the likes of Ace Books (where his first book, The Jewels of Aptor, was published) into even more prominence than the winning of the Nebula for various works, e.g., Babel-17, Aye, and Gomorrah..., Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones) seemed to have done. I even had a chance to meet Delany briefly at a convention in New York City; he was very nice, much less snobbish than some of the other authors at that convention.

(I plan to re-read Nova, Dhalgren and other works in 2005, so maybe I'll have something more detailed to say.)

In 2004, I read two novels, two collections of short works, two short novels and a long autobiographical work by Delany. The autobiographical work came close to being considered one of the best books I read in 2004 (there was a lot of tough competition for that slot!). Here are my reviews of the short story collections.

Aye, and Gomorrah and Other Stories (Vintage Books, 2003):

Counts as 16 entries in the 2004 Short Story Project.

The Star Pit; Corona; Aye, and Gomorrah...; Driftglass; We, in Some Strange Power's Employ, Move on a Rigorous Line; Cage of Brass; High Weir; Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones; Omegahelm; Among the Blobs; Tapestry; Prismatica; Ruins; Dog in a Fisherman's Net; Night and the Loves of Joe Dicostanzo; Afterword: Of Doubts and Dreams.

Distant Stars (iBooks, 2004):

Counts as 2 entries in the 2004 Short Story Project.

Of Doubts and Dreams: An Introduction by Samuel R. Delany; Prismatica (illustrated by John Pierard); Corona (illustrated by John Collier); Empire Star (illustrated by John Jude Palencar); Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones (illustrated by Jeanette Adams, special effects by Digital Effects, computer program by David Cox); Omegahelm (illustrated by John Coffey); Ruins (illustrated by John Pound); We, in Some Strange Power's Employ, Move on a Rigorous Line (illustrated by Michael Sorkin).

Because there was so much overlap between these two collections, I'll consider them together. Of the two collections, I'd recommend starting with Distant Stars, due to the illustrations. In fact, if Distant Stars had contained The Star Pit and Babel-17, you would have had just about the perfect Delany collection (you can get Babel-17 and Empire Star in one volume from Vintage).

The Star Pit and Empire Star are among Delany's best short works, and along with Babel-17 and Nova rate among his best space opera. In fact, with all the bro-ha-hah over the past few years on the New Space Opera, it seems to be overlooked that Delany was reinventing space opera well before the likes of Ken MacLeod, Charles Stross or Alastair Reynolds came along (don't get me wrong, I like all three...well, two out of the three!).

(I'll note right here that I only review a handful of the stories that I read. I'll eventually add more reviews.)

Prismatica (1977, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction): This story is mentioned as one of the early tales Delany was working on in the text of Motion of Light. The main character (Amos) is hired by The Grey Man (his skin is grey, his clothing is grey; his ship is grey, his crew is colorless by application of dust and dirt; colors give him a headache) to find a mirror that is broken into three parts. However, on the Grey Man's ship, he finds that the Grey Man has imprisoned Jack (Vance?), the "Prince of the Far Rainbow", the original quester for the broken mirror and original owner of the ship. Jack's love is trapped in the pieces of the mirror. Amos and Jack use their wits (not their fists) to get around the Grey Man and get the mirror pieces back.

I mention Jack Vance, as this story reminded me strongly of the style of Jack Vance, especially in the tales of The Dying Earth. I'm also reminded of Fritz Leiber's tales, but Delany does not get as darkly humorous as Leiber did in his tales of Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser. The artwork reminds me strongly of the style of Arthur Rackham, see especially this image and this image.

I loved this part:

That knocking came again.

"Only that isn't above us," said Jack. "It's below."

They looked at the floor. Then Jack got down on his hands and knees and looked under the cot. "There's a trapdoor there," he whispered to Amos, "and somebody's knocking."

"A trapdoor in the bottom of a ship?" asked Amos.

"We won't question it," said Jack; "we'll just open it."

Ruins (1968, Algol; 1981, Distant Stars): Jack Vance homage, similar in feel to the above story. Delany mentions a story in the introduction that he first started writing in 1963, revised multiple times, over the course of 17 years. He mentions that it was originally published in a fanzine. It is a short work, but it packs a terrific (surprise, so I won't talke about it) punch in the end.

In some weird form of symmetrical writing, the foreword/introduction to Distant Stars is also the afterword in Aye... Talk about economy/recycling!

There are some comments from that piece that I wanted to quote. Delany gives three rules for writing, that he often uses in writing workshops:

Derived from Theodore Sturgeon: "To write an immediate and vivid scene...visualize everything about it as thoroughly as you can, from the tarnish on the doorknob plate to the trowel marks on the ceiling's unpainted plaster. Then do not describe it. Rather, mention only those aspects of it that impinge on your character's consciousness as she or he, in whatever emotional state she or he is in, moves through it. The scene the reader envisions...will not be the same as yours—but it will be as important, vivid, detailed, and coherent for the reader as yours was for you.

Derived from Thomas Disch: When a story runs down the only thing you can really do is to ask of your story what's really going on in it. What are the character's real motiviations, feelings, fears, or desires? Right at the point you stopped, you must go down to another level in the tale. You must dig into the character's psychology deeply enough (and thus build up your vision of the story's complexity enough) to reinterest yourself. If you can't then the story must be abandoned.

From Samuel R. Delany: At some point, when the story is still only an idea, an image, or a subject, ask yourself what is the most cliched, the most traditional, the most usual way to handle the particular material. Ask yourself what are the traps that, time and again, other writers have fallen into when handling the same material, which have made their work trite, ugly or dull. Can you think of any way to avoid precisely these traps? How do you want your work to differ from the usual? How is your work going to deal with this material in a way no one has ever dealt with it before? Locating a precise writerly problem to avoid (or solve) or situating a particular writerly approach that will set your work apart can often provide the excitement to write it.
The World of M.C. Escher

This year I read The World of M.C. Escher (ed. by J.L. Locher, Abrams, 1971).

I remember looking at this book in the bookstores when it came out. It was something that I always wanted. I ended up getting several similarly titled trade paperbacks.

The book is something of a disappointment. The essays are relatively pointless and pretty uninformative. The pictures are much smaller and not as sharp as those in the other books I have.
The Cosmic Connection

Carl Sagan: Cosmic Connection (with editing by Jerome Agel) (Cambridge University Press, 2000) and Other Worlds (with editing by Jerome Agel) (Bantam, 1975)

2004 saw two me re-reading two books by Carl Sagan. I first encountered Sagan in high school, thanks to a friend.

The first book I re-read was Other Worlds. This is a very short book, hardly more than an extended essay. In fact, upon reading this and Cosmic Connection, I think that Other Worlds was made up of bits and pieces left over from Cosmic Connection, heck it feels like an extended introduction or overview of the longer work.

The better of the two works is definitely Cosmic Connection: An Extraterrestrial Perspective. I now see that it has an extended title (Carl Sagan's Cosmic Connection: An Extraterrestrial Perspective). I picked up this new edition partly to replace my disintegrating paperback and partly to see what the additional material (contributions by Freeman Dyson, Ann Druyan and David Morrison) were like.

The book has lost none of its impact for me. It's amazing how wide-ranging Sagan is in the book, running from commentary on the military, to the possibility of other intelligences on our planet, to the mystery of our solar system, to speculations on intelligence around other suns. David Morrison's Epilog discusses some things that we've learned since the book was written, it's actually amazing to see how much has stood the test of time.

It's a shame, an absolute shame that Sagan died. I look at what we've done in space since his death—three rovers and several orbiters to Mars, a mission to Jupiter, a mission to Saturn, missions to comets and asteroids—he would have loved to have seen all of this. This one of those books that really cemented my interest in science in general and astronomy in particular. I owe Sagan a lot.

I can't recommend the book highly enough. If you're interested in science, get it. If you plan to write a science fiction novel or story, get it.

Counts as 43 essays in the 2004 Short Story Project.

Contents: Foreword (Freeman J. Dyson); Carl Sagan: A New Sense of the Sacred (Ann Druyan); Preface; A Transitional Animal; The Unicorn of Cetus; A Message from Earth; Experiments in Utopias; Chauvinism; Space Exploration as a Human Enterprise: The Scientific Interest; Space Exploration as a Human Enterprise: The Public Interest; Space Exploration as a Human Enterprise: The Historical Interest; On Teaching the First Grade; 'The Ancient and Legendary Gods of Old'; The Venus Detective Story; Venus Is Hell; Science and 'Intelligence'; The Moons of Barsoom; The Mountains of Mars: Observations from Earth; The Mountains of Mars: Observations from Space; The Canals of Mars; The Lost Pictures of Mars; The Ice Age and the Cauldron; Beginnings and Ends of the Earth; Terraforming the Planets; The Exploration and Utilization of the Solar System; Some of My Best Friends Are Dolphins; 'Hello, Central Casting? Send Me Twenty Extraterrestrials'; The Cosmic Connection; Extraterrestrial Life: An Idea Whose Time Has Come; Has the Earth Been Visited; A Search Strategy for Detecting Extraterrestrial Intelligence; If We Succeed...; Cables, Drums, and Seashells; The Night Freight to the Stars; Astroengineering; Twenty Questions: A Classification of Cosmic Civilizations; Galactic Cultural Exchanges; A Passage to Elsewhen; Starfolk I: A Fable; Starfolk II: A Future; Starfolk III: The Cosmic Cheshire Cats; Epilog to Carl Sagan's The Cosmic Connection (David Morrison).
The Lives of a Cell

Lewis Thomas: The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher (Lewis Thomas) (Penguin, 1978)

Lewis Thomas was one of those authors that Amazon was always recommending to me, so I picked up The Lives of a Cell to give him a try. I've enjoyed Stephen Jay Gould and John McPhee, so I thought I'd do all right.

These essays orignally appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine in the early 1970's. Overall, I enjoyed them, but had a problem that I often have with Stephen Jay Gould's essays. Sometimes Thomas is reacting to something timely (in the 1970's), so you lose a little due to a lack of context. Sometimes Thomas is responding to an article in the Journal or another publication, so you may not have the background. The subject matter, as you'll see from the list of contents (below) is wide-ranging. Not as good an author as Carl Sagan (and I'll be posting on Sagan eventually), this is an author that I'm going to buy more books from and an author I'll revisit. Especially if I ever find that really good idea for a science fiction novel...

Counts as 29 contributions to the 2004 Short Story Project.

Contents: The Lives of a Cell; Thoughts for a Countdown; On Societies as Organisms; A Fear of Pheromones; The Music of This Sphere; "An Earnest Proposal"; "The Technology of Medicine"; "Vibes"; "Ceti"; "The Long Habit"; "Antaeus in Manhattan"; "The MBL"; "Autonomy"; "Organelles in Organisms"; "Germs"; "Your Very Good Health"; "Social Talk"; "Information"; "Death in the Open"; "Natural Science"; "Natural Man"; "The Iks"; "Computers"; "The Planning of Science"; "Some Biomythology"; "On Various Words"; "Living Language"; On Probability and Possibility; The World's Biggest Membrane.

Rudy Rucker: Seek! (Rudy Rucker) (Four Walls Eight Windows, 1999)

2004's contribution to books read by Rudy Rucker was a non-fiction collection called Seek! (exclamation point included). It's a mixed bag, broken into articles on science, articles on life, articles on science fiction and articles on art. By mixed bag, I mean very uneven, widely varying in quality...

Some of this stuff is great. Rucker's articles on computers (in the science section) are especially interesting, exploring artificial life, fractals, cellular automata, etc. He worked on several programs for fractals and cellular automata that you can download from his website. The articles on art show a new maturity in his writing, and I'd like to see more from him in this area.

The stuff in between...well, that's where we get the mixed bag. In his articles on science fiction, we see somebody who seems pretty darned annoyed that he doesn't have the same recognition for creating/founding the cyberpunk movement that is accorded to folks like William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. Sorry about that, Rudy. In the articles on life, for the most part, we see stuff that should have been tossed in the filing cabinet and forgotten. Do we really need to know about the time that Rudy was high on various substances and approached one of Jerry Falwell's associates and raved at him? Hunter S. Thompson he is not, and it wasn't very amusing in Thompson's works.

Counts as 32 essays in the 2004 Short Story Project.

Contents: Seek What?; 37 Questions; Welcome to Silicon Valley; A Brief History of Computers; Cellular Automata; Four Kinds of Cyberspace; Life and Artificial Life; Hacking Code; A New Golden Age of Calculations; Mr. Nanotechnology; Fab! Inside Chip Fabrication Plants; Goodbye Big Bang; Tech Notes Towards a Cyberpunk Novel; Drugs and Live Sex; Jerry's Neighbors; The Central Teachings of Mysticism; Haunted by Phil Dick; California New Edge; Vision in Yosemite; Cyberculture in Japan; The Manual of Evasion; Memories of Arf; Island Notes; In Search of Brugel; A Transrealist Manifesto; What SF Writers Want; What is Cyberpunk?; Cyberpunk Lives!; Interview iwth Ivan Stang; Special Effects: Kit-Bashing the Cosmic Matte; Art in Amsterdam; Pieter Brugel's Peasant Dance.
Sam Gunn

Ben Bova: Sam Gunn, Unlimited (BantamSpectra, 1993)

Ben Bova's contribution to my reading this was his short story collection Sam Gunn, Unlimited. The books revolves around ex-NASA astronaut, "entrepreneur" (con man?) Sam Gunn as the Solar System is opened up. According to Bova's website, these stories are now part of his Tales of the Grand Tour mega-series. Fun stuff, amusing stories, fast pacing, some good characters. There's another collection of Sam Gunn stories that I've got, I'll tackle it next year.

Counts as nine stories in the 2004 Short Story Project.

The book contains several sections of bridging material between the stories plus the following stories: Space University, Two Years Before the Mast, Vacuum Cleaner, Diamond Sam, The Supervisor's Tale, The Long Fall, Isolation, and Einstein.
Phase Space

Stephen Baxter: Phase Space (HarperCollins, 2002)

Phase Space is a collection of stories by Stephen Baxter, honorary member of the "Killer Bs". (The other Killer B's are David Brin, Gregory Benford and Greg Bear; Baxter was indoctrinated into the group relatively recently.) The collection is a mixture of stories. The majority are associated with his Manifold sequence of books (Manifold: Time, Manifold: Space, Manifold: Origin); for example, the story "Sheena 5" is pretty much folded directly into Manifold: Time. Other stories such as "Moon-Calf" or "War Birds" are similar to his alternate history novels such as Voyage.

For the most part, as he did with the Manifold sequence, Baxter examines the Fermi Paradox: If the universe is teeming with life, why haven't we heard from anybody? In fact, by the end of the book, I was feeling moderately exhausted by the various scenarios proposed. I might have done better with the book if I had read the stories bit by bit, rather than all in a few sittings.

The book is an import from the United Kingdom (thanks Pete!). Alas, we have yet to see it on this side of "the Pond". For some reason publishing houses seem to be increasingly reluctant to bring out short story collections by single authors. So if you like Baxter, you'll have to contact Amazon's U.K. version to get a copy. Hopefully Del Rey (the house that published Baxter's Manifold sequence as well as several of his other recent books) will eventually come out with the collection, even if in paperback. (And hopefully we'll see collections—either from a U.K. publisher or a specialty publisher in the U.S.) of other folks such as Alastair Reynolds—folks who have a large body of short stories that are only available in magazines and various multi-author collections.

Counts as 25 stories for the 2004 Short Story Project.

Contents: Dreams (I): Moon-Calf. Earths: Open Loops; Glass Earth, Inc.; Poyekhali 3201; Dante Dreams; War Birds. Worlds: Sun-Drenched; Martian Autumn; Sun God; Sun-Cloud. Manifold: Sheena 5; The Fubar Suit; Grey Earth; Huddle. Paradox: Refugium; Lost Continent; Tracks; Lines of Longitude; Barrier; Marginalia; The We Who Sing; The Gravity Mine; Spindrift; Touching Centauri. Dreams (II): The Twelth Album.
From the Dust Returned

Ray Bradbury: From the Dust Returned (Morrow, 2001)

While From the Dust Returned is billed (it says so on the cover) as a "novel", it's a collection of interlinked short stories, much in the same way that The Martian Chronicles is a collection of interlinked short stories. True, there are common characters and a overall common theme, but I think that partly due to the length it took him to write this (1945 to 2000!) and the fact that most of the contents appeared in various collections over the years leads to something that is not quite a novel.

Not to say that it's a bad book. On the contrary, there are some great Bradbury tales here: The October People, Uncle Einar and The Wandering Witch, for example. There are wonderful Bradbury characters, and Bradbury's excellent use of many sources for his tales. And best of all, in this age of bloated authors (especially in the fields of science fiction and fantasy), there is Bradbury's sparse style. Like Clifford D. Simak and Arthur C. Clarke, Bradbury never uses four polysyllabic words when one or two brief (but piercing) words of description will do.

Counts as 25 contributions towards the 2004 Short Story Project.

Contents: Prologue: The Beautiful One is Here; The Town and the Place; Anuba Arrives; The High Attic; The Sleeper and Her Dreams; The Wandering Witch; Whence Timothy?; The House, the Spider, and the Child; Mouse, Far-Traveling; Homecoming; West of October; Many Returns; On the Orient North; Nostrum Paracelsius Crook; The October People; Uncle Einar; The Whisperers; The Theban Voice; Make Haste to Live; The Chimney Sweeps; The Traveler; Return to the Dust; The One Who Remembers; The Gift; How the Family Gathered.
Pulp Science Fiction at its Best

John W. Campbell, Jr.: The Black Star Passes (Fantasy Press, 1953)

A lot of my reading in 2004 was pre-Golden Age and Golden Age science fiction. What can I say? I have a admitted fondness for the pulps, for space opera, for the stories that appeared in Astounding Science Fiction and other magazines.

Probably no better example of the pulps and space opera can be found in the early stories of John W. Campbell, Jr. Known widely as an editor that helped launch the careers of a thousand Golden Age authors (either by bringing them into the fold at Astounding Science Fiction or by guiding them to maturity, a short sample of names would include Isaac Asimov, Theodore Sturgeon, Clifford Simak, Robert A. Heinlein and many, many others!)

Campbell had two other careers as a writer, before he had his career as an editor. In the second, he wrote stories under the pseudonym of Don A. Stuart. In these stories, he aimed for mood and scene. Among the classics to be found under that moniker are The Cloak of Aesir and the very scary Who Goes There?

Campbell's first writing career was the author of galaxy-spanning space operas. Stories filled with parsec-eating spaceships, hurtling planets, inventions crowding one upon another...trying to out do E.E. "Doc" Smith, Edmond Hamilton and the other practioners of the art. The Black Star Passes is made up of three stories about the famous inventing trio of Arcot, Wade and Morey: Piracy Preferred, Solarite and The Black Star Passes.

Of the three, the first is probably the weakest, mostly due to the plot. A deranged air pirate is attacking various cross-country airplanes, putting the passengers and crew asleep. He steals negotiable securities, bonds and the like and subsitutes shares in his company (hence the title). Aroct and Morey find a way of defeating the pirate and he is turned to good and becomes the third member of the trio (Wade). In the second tale, the trio turn their talents towards building a space ship and traveling to the planet Venus, where they discover (no surprise) a race of just-about-humans. In the third, the combined federation of Earth and Venus are invaded by the inhabitants (again, human) of the Black Star, which is (aha!) passing near our solar system. The Black Star is a dead star and the inhabitants are looking for something that's a bit warmer. After some super science battles, they retreat in defeat and the two solar systems do a swap, with us losing Pluto but gaining a couple of planets from the other solar system.

The stories are fast moving and light in terms of plot and character. The dialog, except where it bogs down in scientific mumbo-jumbo reminds me of a Howard Hawks film. Despite the creakniness brought on by the fact that so much of Campbell's science has proven to be wrong, I enjoyed reading these stories again after a multi-decade gap. In fact, I started off 2005 reading the second book of the series!

By the way, counts as three stories in the 2004 Short Story Project.
The Kif Strike Back

C.J. Cherryh: Chanur's Venture (DAW, 1985) and The Kif Strike Back (DAW, 1986)

Following up on last year's re-read of The Pride of Chanur, this year saw the re-reads of Chanur's Venture and The Kif Strike Back. It was the first time I had read these books since they were published in the 1980's.

Cherryh excels at creating believable alien societies (and characters). We just don't have men in suits (or with funny bumps on their foreheads) here. In fact, Cherryh succeeds so well in making a believable alien society that when members of that society interact with humans, you find the humans to be alien!

Chanur's Venture had some edge-of-the-seat page-turning action. The Kif Strike Back (the title, I understand, was proposed jokingly and was taken seriously!) is even more of a page-turner than Venture.

I should mention that I read both of these as eBooks from Palm. While I don't like Palm's approach (you need a code consisting of a combination of the name that appears on your credit card along with your credit card number to unlock the book), I do appreciate the fact that they've managed to include the map from the books and give you the ability to do bookmarks, notes, etc.
The Girl with a Pearl Earring

Tracy Chevalier: Girl With A Pearl Earring (Plume, 1999)

This year I tackled Girl With A Pearl Earring (Plume, 1999). After all, one cannot live on science fiction, military history and science fact alone (well, actually, why not?)...

I had seen the movie, so I had to read the book. At least I can say to my wife that I read one of her books this year and she has yet to read one of my books. So I can say I read one chick book this year.

I was somewhat disappointed, as I was hoping for more behind-the-scenes style stuff from the book. Sure, there is some narrative about technique, and some narrative about how paints were mixed, but that came through better, in my opinion, in the movie.

It was somewhat odd to read this one and Stephenson's Quicksilver in the same year. They overlap in terms of time frames and certainly give you give viewpoints on a interesting period in our history.

The big question: Would I read anything else by the author? Well, I gave my wife another book by Chevalier last Christmas, so maybe I’ll tackle that in 2005. And we’ll see if she reads any of my books!
The Songs of Distant Earth

The Songs of Distant Earth (Del Rey, 1986) by Arthur C. Clarke.

If you've read any/many of Clarke's short story collections, you've probably encountered Songs before. It originally was a short story. He took the core of that story and expanded it nicely. It's not a shoot-em-up, there's relatively little "action" but there is plenty of character and conflict. Earth sends out colonies as a series of robotic ships carrying genetic seeds. When the ship finds a habitable planet, the ship helps to raise the first generation of colonists, who then try to make it on their own. As there is no faster-than-light travel or communication, colonies spend long periods of time without hearing from the mother planet. The colony world of our setting is visited by a ship from Earth. It was not originally scheduled to visit, but has to stop to do repairs. There's a bit of interaction between the two groups, some positive and some negative. There's quite a bit of sadness, as the ship that is visiting is the last from Earth; Earth has been destroyed. Eventually both groups separate, with many changes. Like I said, not much action, but a lot of good writing. As with Clifford Simak and Ray Bradbury, Clarke manages to pack a lot of ideas into relatively few words.

And, as usual with the Clarke novels from Imperial Earth onwards, there's a good afterword that lists where he found the various ideas and concepts used in the story. I've found these afterword to be a bit dangerous for me, as they inevitably lead to massive purchases of books on subjects such as fractals, etc.!
The City and the Stars

The City and the Stars (Signet, 1957) by Arthur C. Clarke.

Inspired by a discussion on one of the groups I moderate, I'm re-read this (first time in about 30 years). I also plan to re-read Against the Fall of Night, an earlier, but fairly different, telling of the same story. You can definately tell that Clarke was influenced by people like John W. Campbell, Jr., Olaf Stapledon and J.D. Bernal. A solitary city is the last refuge of Man on Earth, or is it? One inhabitant of the city questions this and finds the truth. He travels across the Earth, and eventually into space to find out what Man's fate was.

One amusing bit to be found in some introductions to either book is a tale that Clarke tells about a psychiatrist and his patient. One had read Against the Fall of Night and the other had read The City and the Stars. The plots were different enough that they each were convinced the other was hallucinating.
Sands of Mars

Sands of Mars (Gnome Press, 1952) by Arthur C. Clarke.

A science fiction writer travels to Mars to write about life there. There are the obligatory travel scenes, with various incidents such as a meteor strike on the ship. However, Clarke manages to poke a bit of fun at many of the sequences by having the character be the writer (for example, he makes himself "space sick" by thinking about all the scenes he wrote describing that ailment). He explores Mars, and eventually falls in love with the planet and throws his lot in with the colonists. While Clarke depicts a Mars that never was (and eventually I'll write, I hope, another posting talking about the book in more detail), it is definately a work that inspired (and continues to inspire) many astronauts, astronomers and other scientists.
Prelude to Space

Prelude to Space (Ballantine, 1976) by Arthur C. Clarke.

Another early work by Clarke. It depicts a privately funded trip to the Moon. The book is told primarily from the viewpoint of the main character, a historian who is sent to write the official account of the enterprise. There are some nice touches such as the depiction of the astronauts and their training, a person who tries to destroy the mission and a nice end sequence. Despite the fact that we never traveled to the Moon quite in this fashion, there are passages in here that ring true even today and move me as much as they did when I first read the book.
The View from Serendip

The View from Serendip (Random House, 1977)

As you'll see from the contents, as with the above book, Clarke ranges all over the place. However, can anybody ever really introduce Isaac Asimov? If there's a theme to this book, it's Clarke's love of his adopted home of Sri Lanka.

Counts as 25 essays for the 2004 Short Story Project.

Contents: Concerning Serendipity; Dawn of the Space Age; Servant Problem—Oriental Style; The Scent of Treasure; The Stars in Their Courses; How to Dig Space; A Breath of Fresh Vacuum; The World of 2001; "And Now—Live from the Moon..."; Time and the Times; The Next Twenty Years; Satellites and Saris; The Sea of Sinbad; Willy and Chesley; Mars and the Mind of Man; The Snows of Olympus; Introducing Isaac Asimov; Life in Space; Last (?) Words on UFO's; When the Twerms Came; The Clarke Act; Technology and the Limits of Knowledge; To the Committee on Space Science; The Second Century of the Telephone; "Ayu Bowan!".
Greetings, Carbon-Based Bipeds!

Greetings, Carbon-Based Bipeds! Collected Essays 1934-1998 (St. Martin's Press, 1999) by Arthur C. Clarke.

If you're going to own only one book of Clarke's non-fiction, this is definately the one to look for. Heck, it's worth it for Extraterrestrial Relays alone, the place where Clarke came up with the idea for satellites that "hover" over one place on the Earth...and have spawned a multi-billion industry of satellites for communications, televsision and other uses. Essays on books (The Conquest of Space), essays on people (Dunsany, Lord of Fantasy), autobiographical essays (You're on the Glide Path, I Think), math, science, society. A great reference book, a great book for inspiration. It's a dangerous book, though. Read about fractals and you may be tempted to start exploring them buy a few a few programs...and Clarke has sent you off on another trip!

Counts as 59 essays for the 2004 Short Story Project.

Contents: Introduction: Part 1: The 1930s and 1940s: Rockets and Radar; Dunsany, Lord of Fantasy; Rockets; The Coming Age of Rocket Power; Extraterrestrial Relays; The Moon and Mr. Farnsworth; The Challenge of the Spaceship; First Men in the Moon; The Problem of Dr. Campbell; The Lackeys of Wall Street; Voyages to the Moon; You're on the Glide Path, I Think; Morphological Astronomy; The Conquest of Space; Introduction: Part 2: The 1950s: Beneath the Seas of Ceylon; The Effect of Interplanetary Flight; Space Travel in Fact and Fiction; Review: Destination Moon; Interplanetary Flight; The Exploration of Space; Review: When Worlds Collide; Review: Man on the Moon; Flying Saucers; Review: Flying Saucers Have Landed; Undersea Holiday; The Exploration of the Moon; Eclipse; Astronautical Fallacies; The Star of Bethlehem; Capricorn to Cancer; Keeping House in Colombo; The Reefcombers' Derby; Rest Houses, Catamarans, and Sharks; The First Wreck; A Clear Run to the South Pole; The Isle of Taprobane; The Great Reef; Winding Up; Introduction: Part 3: The 1960s: Kubrick and Cape Kennedy; Failures of Nerve and Imagination; We'll Never Conquer Space; Rocket to the Renaissance; The Obsolescence of Man; Space and the Spirit of Man; The Uses of the Moon; The Playing Fields of Space; Kalinga Prize Speech; More Than Five Senses; Son of Dr. Strangelove; Possible, That's All!; The Mind of the Machine; God and Einstein; Introduction: Part 4: The 1970s: Tomorrow's Worlds; Satellites and Saris; Mars and the Mind of Man; The Sea of Sinbad; Willy and Chesley; The Snows of Olympus; Writing to Sell; Introduction: Part 5: The 1980s: Stay of Execution; The Steam-Powered Word Processor; Afterword: "Maelstrom II"; Mother Nature Got There First; Message to Comsat, February 18, 1988; Graduation Address: International Space University; Back to 2001; Coauthors and Other Nuisances; The Power of Compression; Life in the Fax Lane; Credo; The Colors of Infinity: Exploring the Fractal Universe; Close Encounter with Cosmonauts; The Century Syndrome; Who's Afraid of Leonard Woolf?; My Four Feet on the Ground; Introduction: Part 6: The 1990s: Countdown to 2000; Macroni Symposium; Introduction to Charlie Pellegrino's Unearthing Atlantis; Tribute to Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988); Satyajit and Stanley; Aspects of Science Fiction; Save the Giant Squid!; A Choice of Futures; Gene Roddenberry; Introduction to Jack Williamson's Beachhead; Scenario for a Civilized Planet; NASA Sutra: Eros in Orbit; Minehead Made Me; Good-bye, Isaac; Encyclical; Letter from Sri Lanka; Message to Mars; Preface: The War of the Worlds; Preface: The First Men in the Moon; The Joy of Maths; Tribute to Robert Bloch; Spaceguard; Foreword: Encyclopedia of Frauds by James Randi; Bucky; Homage to Frank Paul; Greetings, Carbon-Based Bipeds!; The Birth of HAL; The Coming Cyberclysm; Tribute to David Lasser; Toilets of the Gods; When Will the Real Space Age Begin?; Review: Imagined Worlds by Freeman Dyson; Eyes on the Universe; Walter Alvarez and Gerrit L. Verschuur; The Gay Warlords; More Last Words on UFOs; Carl Sagan; Introduction: Part 7: Postscript: 2000 and Beyond; For Cherene, Tamara, and Melinda; Science and Society; Is There Life After Television?; The Twenty-First Century: A (Very) Brief History.

Re-read in 2008!

Re-read in 2010! Seemed the appropriate thing to do, given the year.
Scavengers in Space

As is my usual custom, I'll start several books more or less at once, realize I've started too many books, put a few aside, and then start finishing them off...

I recently finished Scavengers in Space by Alan E. Nourse. It's a darn shame that Nourse is pretty much forgotten and probably uknown by the generations of readers past mine. With a little polishing and very little updating this book could fit in with much of the SF of today. Heck, it would make a great episode in the lamented British SF series Star Cops. Or it would fit in with the Japanese anime/magna Planetes.

The sons of an asteroid hunter receive word that their father died (apparently in an accident) in the Belt. When they hook up with his partner, they feel that it was not an accident, that he had made a big strike, and that the nefarious Jupiter Equilateral mining corporation was behind it (hey, just like they say on TV—"ripped from the headlines!!!!").

They try to find the strike that their father made. Trouble ensues when Jupiter Equilateral sends a ship to capture them and get the information out of them so JE can claim the strike for themselves.

There's lots of nifty scenes—a ship trying to escape, a chase around the JE "mothership", a very neat planetarium, an amazing discovery.

As I said, this book could stand up today. Maybe somebody like Baen will republish Nourse's books, along the lines of what they've been doing with Murray Leinster's books and stories.
Perry Rhodan

Enterprise Stardust/The Third Power; Scheer, K.H. & Ernsting, Walter (Ace, 1969)

(Yes, I read it in 2003. So sue me. I read it again.)
Paintings of Middle-Earth

Alan Lee: Tolkien's World—Paintings of Middle-Earth (Fine Communications, 1992):

Another book related to J.R.R. Tolkien was Tolkien's World: Paintings of Middle-Earth; credited to Alan Lee. A collection of paintings by Lee, Howe (see the posting about Karen Haber) and others, depicting Middle-Earth (and published well before the movies were planned or made). Some very good artwork here, some that could have been dropped, and overall not enough of Lee, Howe and my other favorites!
Children of Apollo

Mark Whittington: Children of Apollo (Xlibris Corporation, 2001)

Children of Apollo is an alternate history of the Apollo program. Nixon decides to fith the Soviet Union in space by stepping up the Apollo program to include more missions to the Moon, plans to go on to Mars, and invites the Soviets to participate. There's a lot of good astronautical detail for those who like Hard SF, a lot of historical detail for those who like alternate history and a fun mixing of real historical figures and fictional characters (Bill Clinton even makes a minor appearance!) I did not like Children of Apollo as much as Stephen Baxter's own alternate history of the Apollo program, Voyage. However, I'm prejudiced by the fact that I read Voyage first and its one of my favorite books. Whittington has hinted about plans for another alternate history in space book, I look forward to seeing it.
The Science Fiction Hall of Fame

The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume I (edited by Robert Silverberg, Avon, 1971):

Contains: A Martian Odyssey by Stanley G. Weinbaum (1934); Twilight by "Don A. Stuart" (John W. Campbell, Jr.) (1934); Helen O'Loy by Lester del Rey (1938); The Roads Must Roll by Robert A. Heinlein (1940); Microcosmic God by Theodore Sturgeon (1941); Nightfall by Isaac Asimov (1941); The Weapon Shop by A.E. van Vogt (1942); Mimsy Were the Borogroves by "Lewis Padgett" (Henry Kuttner & C.L. Moore) (1943); Huddling Place by Clifford D. Simak (1944); Arena by Fredric Brown (1944); First Contact by Murray Leinster (1945); That Only a Mother by Judith Merril (1948); Scanners Live in Vain by "Cordwainer Smith" (Dr. Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger) (1948); Mars is Heaven! by Ray Bradbury (1948); The Little Black Bag by C.M. Kornbluth (1950); Born of a Man and Woman by Richard Matheson (1950); Coming Attraction by Fritz Leiber (1950); The Quest for Saint Aquin by Anthony Boucher (1951); Surface Tension by James Blish (1952); The Nine Billion Names of God by Sir Arthur C. Clarke (1953); It’s a GOOD Life by Jerome Bixby (1953); The Cold Equations by Tom Godwin (1954); Fondly Fahrenheit by Alfred Bester (1954); The Country of the Kind by Damon Knight (1955); Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes (1959); A Rose for Ecclesiastes by Roger Zelazny (1963).

Counts as twenty-five for the 2004 Short Story Project.

The Science Fiction Hall of Fame was a collection done by the Science Fiction Writers of America as a sort of "retroactive" Nebula Awards. The SFWA started the awards in 1966 (the organization itself was founded in 1965); the members felt that there should be a way of honoring stories that were written before 1966. Hence these collections (five volumes, volume II is listed as IIA and IIB) that should be in every person’s SF library. I’m glad to see that Tor Books has started reissuing them in hardcover. The first two volumes (I and IIA) are out and I intend on picking them up and subsequent releases to replace my torn and worn paperbacks.

A Martian Odyssey by Stanley G. Weinbaum (1934). Stanley G. Weinbaum was an excellent science fiction author whose career was cut short by a early death. A Martian Odyssey was followed up by one sequel, Valley of Dreams (also 1934, and the earliest story, that I know of, that involved extraterrestrials visiting ancient man on Earth). Weinbaum excelled at making aliens that were...well...alien. His Mars is not a thinly-disguised version of Earth with scantily clad heroines and their heaving bosoms (let's make it clear that I am not only a big fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs and others, but also of heaving bosoms).

The story deals with the first human expedition to Mars and what they found there. There are some anachronisms, e.g., a breathable atmosphere and a bit of dialog about people mobbing the first moon pictures. The best bit is Weinbaum's ability to create an alien character in the story—Tweel—that is alien and sympathetic. Other aliens—such as the pyramid create (my first encounter with a silicon-based lifeform) or the dream-beast or the really enigmatic barrel-creatures with their cry of "We are v-r-r-iends!" also work well.

Here, for example, is some dialog by the main character about the gulf between Tweel and himself:

"Well, there we were. We could exchange ideas up to a certain point, and then—blooey! Something in us was different, unrelated; I don't doubt that Tweel thought me just as screwy as I thought him. Our minds simply looked at the world from different viewpoints, and perhaps his viewpoint is as true as ours. But—we couldn’t get together, that's all. Yet, in spite of all difficulties, I liked Tweel, and I have a queer certainty that he liked me.

The story is available in this collection, and many others. The most recent collection of Weinbaum's works (that I'm aware of) was a "best of" collection by Del Rey Books in 1979. I also have it in A Martian Odyssey and Others from Fantasy Press (1949). Perhaps NESFA Press will come out with a collection.

Twilight by "Don A. Stuart" (John W. Campbell, Jr.) (1934). As I've mentioned before, Don A. Stuart was a pseudonym that Campbell used for his stories where he tried to emphasis mood and character and setting. The name is derived from his wife's maiden name. Campbell built his career on such stories as The Black Star Passes or The Mightiest Machine where action was the key. There's still a lot of action in certain of "Stuart's" stories, Cloak of Aesir comes to mind, as well as what may be the best (and certainly the most famous) one of the bunch, Who Goes There?

It's clear that the stories written by "Stuart" had a lot of impact on the field of science fiction. Take a look at Isaac Asimov's Nightfall or Arthur C. Clarke's Against the Fall of Night (later rewritten and expanded as The City and the Stars) for two examples of the influence.

Twilight is a tale of a man who encounters a strange who is lost—lost in time. There's not much characterization, and most of it is the stranger's narrative of his adventures in the far future. This is one tale that is steeped in atmosphere.

"Where do you come from Mr. Kentin?"

"Come from?" He smiled, and his voice was slow and soft. "I come from out of space across seven million years or more. They had lost count—the men had. The machines had eliminated the unneeded service. They didn’t know what year it was. But before that—my home is in Neva'th city in the year 3059."

There are passages here reminiscent of (ital) The Time Machine (H.G. Wells) or Last and First Men (Olaf Stapledon):

And on all Earth there was only man and the organisms he had protected—the plans he wanted for decoration, and certain ultra-hygienic pets, as long-lived as their masters. Dogs. They must have been remarkable animals. Man was reaching his maturity then, and his animal friend, the friend that had followed him through a thousand millenniums to your day and mine, and another four thousand millenniums to the day of man’s early maturity, had grown in intelligence. In an ancient museum...I saw one of those canines. His skull was nearly as large as mine.

Then man reached his full maturity. It extended over a period of a full million years. So tremendously did he stride ahead, the dog ceased to be a companion. Less and less they were wanted. When the million years had passed, and man’s decline began, the dog was gone. It had died out.

Overall, a somber tale. But even at the end, there’s a bit of hope:

So I brought another machine to life, and set it to a task which, in time to come, it will perform.

I ordered it to make a machine which would have what man had lost. A curious machine.

Helen O'Loy by Lester del Rey (1938). A tale of two men and a robot. The robot grows to experience emotions and gains consciousness. One of the men grows to love her. The story is an interesting contrast to Isaac Asimov's Robot stories or Jack Williamson's tales of the Humanoids.

Microcosmic God by Theodore Sturgeon (1941). I really must buy some of the collected works of Ted Sturgeon. During the course of the short story in 2004, I read several of his stories and was struck by their quality. Microcosmic God, on the face of it, could be another B-grade Hollywood-style pulp tale—a man creates life, the lifeform gets him into trouble, dire consequences occur. However, we have trouble in the form of a greedy banker, not the lifeform (which in other hands would have been rebellious monsters, for example). The dire consequences were not for the main character, but (potentially) for us, down the road (I won't say any more). If you have never read this one, please do seek it out.

The Weapon Shop by A.E. van Vogt (1942). The Weapon Shop was one of three (if my memory serves) short stories and one novel (The Weapon Shops of Isher) set in a common universe. Like his tales of the Space Beagle or the Rull he stitched the shorter works together into a book (The Weapon Makers). You can get these is an omnibus from Tor’s Orb line called The Empire of Isher.

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with van Vogt. Some of his stuff (these tales, the Rull stories, the Space Beagle stories and Slan) are excellent. They’re fun stories from a fun time in science fiction and they’ve (mostly) aged well. Other stories of his have not held up. Part might be that given the rates of pay for the magazines, one had to produce a (bold) lot (bold) in order to survive. This led to a lot of paste jewels among the real jewels.

The Weapon Shop tales are set in the far future of the Empire of Isher. This particular tale outlines how the main character moves from idealizing the Empire to standing up for his own rights. The oddity of the tales is that the person who founded the Empire and the Weapon Shops is the same; and, as this is a van Vogtian tale of van Vogtian supermen, he’s still around and participating in the action.

Mimsey Were the Borogroves by "Lewis Padgett" (Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore) (1943). This is another fine tale by "Lewis Padgett". It's interesting to compare this one with some of the other stories I read in 2004 such as Isaac Asimov's Profession or Baby is Three by Theodore Sturgeon and In Hiding by Wilmar Shiras. See also my thoughts about this kind of story and science fiction fans.

Mimsy gets its title from the nonsense poem by Lewis Carroll that appears in the Alice tales. Or are they nonsense? A being from the future tests out a time machine by dumping some toys into the past. These toys have unexpected consequences in the main time of the story as well as in the time of Lewis Carroll (hence the poem). The story has some nice characters, especially the two child characters and a psychiatrist.

Huddling Place by Clifford D. Simak (1944). This story eventually made its way into Simak's (arguably) most famous work, City. I've already posted about Simak and his works and my fondness for them. Simak had a "stiff" way of writing, his characters all speak very formally (with no contractions, for example), but it works. The story talks about the way cities would fall apart with the development of cheap (almost disposable) housing, cheap and rapid transportation, etc. This one concentrates on a few generations of the family that makes appearances throughout the tales and how the insular society that develops has some negative consequences.

Arena by Fredric Brown (1944). You've probably seen this story, whether you realize it or not. It was made into an episode of the original Star Trek series. The two tales are similar overall, the major differences being the alien (Star Trek did not have the budget to make a realistic version of Brown's rolling alien) and the ending. In Arena, a interstellar conflict is on the verge of starting. The main character is taken to a planetoid (by a third, and vastly superior race) and pitted against one member of the other alien race. Using only whatever materials can be found on the planet they must fight each other. In both versions of the story, humanity wins. In Brown's original, the main character kills the alien and the superior race destroys the alien fleet. In the Star Trek version, Kirk spares the alien and humanity wins because he did not finish the alien off.

First Contact by Murray Leinster (Will F. Jenkins) (1945). I've never encountered another tale by Leinster with the characters that appeared in this story. I don't know if they did make a reappearance (if anybody is aware that this was a series, please let me know). A ship from Earth makes the journey to the Crab Nebula (a supernova remnant) and encounters an alien ship. They both realize that neither ship can return to their respective home planets because they may give away the position of said home world. Leinster's solution to the dilemma is unique, to say the least.

That Only a Mother by Judith Merril (1948). A post a-bomb story of mutation. Merril draws an excellent main character and builds to a final horror quite well. A story with a lot of impact.

Scanners Live in Vain by "Cordwainer Smith" (Dr. Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger) (1950).

Martel was angry. He did not even adjust his blood away from anger. He stamped across the room by judgment, not by sight. When he saw the table hit the floor, and could tell by the expression on Luci’s face that the table must have made a loud crash, he looked down to see if his leg was broken. It was not. Scanner to the core, he had to scan himself. The action was reflex and automatic. The inventory included his legs, abdomen, chestbox of instruments, hands, arms, face and back with the mirror.

Words and phrases like cranch, Scanner, haberman, up-and-out, raw space, the Talking Nail, Beasts, the Great Pain of Space, the Vomact family fill the opening paragraphs of this story. "Smith" wrote an interlocking series of stories of a truly unique future. Some of the dialog and plots are clumsy, but the images. Ships that sail between the stars and whisper between the dimensions. A multi-mile high spaceport on Earth. Altered animals that are given intelligence and serve the "true men". A drug that extends the lifetimes of people. Planets that guard their riches with cats. Quests across space and time. "Smith's" tales and his one related novel have been reprinted by NESFA Press. I urge you to try them, if you haven’t already. One of science fiction’s most original talents awaits you.

Mars is Heaven! by Ray Bradbury (1948). This is one of the early tales that eventually became part of The Martian Chronicles. According to one introduction that I read by Bradbury, they were not planned as a series, but eventually (unconsciously?) he found a series of stories that had common backgrounds and themes. In this tale one of the early expeditions to Mars lands on what appears to be the Earth. Is it Earth? Heaven? Or something else entirely? A nice mix of science fiction (or perhaps that awkward phrase "science fantasy") and horror.

The Little Black Bag by C.M. Kornbluth (1950). Kornbluth is similar to Weinbaum in that he was very popular when he wrote and had a career cut short by an early death. He often wrote with Frederik Pohl (see The Space Merchants for what was probably their best collaboration). In The Little Black Bag, some medical technology from the future is sent into the past with (the usual) bad consequences. One character (who finds the lost bag) wants to use it for good, another wants to exploit it. The story was made into an episode of the original Twilight Zone series, a good episode of the show, but not as good as the original tale.

Born of Man and Woman by Richard Matheson (1950). Probably the strangest tale in the collection. Matheson uses a very abrupt and sparse style (to good effect) to carry the oddness of the main character. Is it science fiction? Horror? A good tale either way.

Coming Attraction by Fritz Leiber (1950). Leiber's science fiction is not as well known as his fantasy (such as the tales of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, which I'll eventually get around to posting on, I promise!!!) or horror. Coming Attraction is an effective tale of post-atomic horror that could also be seen as the grandfather to many cyberpunk tales (with the satin masks and things like cars with fishhooks to snag skirts). For me, it also struck a chord due to a more recent horror:

...with their five-year old radiation flash-burns, and I could begin to make out the distant stump of the Empire State Building thrusting up out of Inferno like a mangled finger.

The Quest for Saint Aquin by Anthony Boucher (1951). One of the very few science fiction stories that involves religion in a sympathetic view (Arthur C. Clarke's The Star or The Nine Billion Names of God comes to mind, as do some books by James Blish such as A Case of Conscience). We have a post-atomic-holocaust setting, where the seat of the Catholic Church is now in the ruins of California, existing underground in a fashion similar to the early days of the Church. A priest (Thomas) is sent with a "robass" (a robotic steed, an interesting twist on the robots of Isaac Asimov) to search out Saint Aquin. He has moments where his faith is weakened and tested (Doubting Thomas?) and ultimately succeeds in his quest. He succeeds but what he finds is not what he expected and may not have the results that the Pope had hoped for.

Surface Tension by James Blish (1952). Blish outlines a method for colonizing planets that has come up a few times in scientific writings (as well as in some other science fiction works, such as Stephen Baxter's Titan). The tale tells of a method to colonize another planet not by adjusting the planet to suit man, but to adjust man to suit the environment of the planet. Humanity is adjusted so that he can live in the puddles and ponds of a world that a ship crashes onto. It's probably the only tale where microbes such as diatoms and paramecium are main characters! Isaac Asimov put the tale to good use in his excellent collection Where Do We Go From Here? (which used science fiction stories to teach you about science).

The Nine Billion Names of God by Arthur C. Clarke (1953). If you're not a regular reader of science fiction, you’ve probably encountered either this tale or The Star by Clarke. As I mentioned in my description of Boucher's short story (above), it's one of the few sympathetic portrayals of religion in science fiction. It is a very brief tale, as are many of Clarke's short stories, but Clarke manages to pack a lot into it. A monastery purchases a computer to help automate the generation of the names of God. What happens when they finally discover the last of those names?

It’s a Good Life by Jerome Bixby (1953). A nice creepy tale about a child who possesses superpowers but not the maturity to use them. This was filmed twice for The Twilight Zone (once for the original series, once for the movie version). Neither filmed version has anywhere near the impact of the written version. The scene with the rat in the basement, for example…

The Cold Equations by Tom Godwin (1954). A good mix of the cold facts of physics to tell a very human story. A girl stows away on a shuttle to visit her brother at a colony planet. The shuttle is fueled by chemical engines. If you add extra mass to such a system, you don't have enough fuel to get to your destination. The rules to be followed when such a situation arises are very harsh.

Fondly Fahrenheit by Alfred Bester (1954). One of Bester's nice experiments in style. A serial killer is on the it a robot, an android or a human or all. I prefer Bester's novels to his short stories, but this is one of my favorites.

The Country of the Kind by Damon Knight (1955). I haven’t much memory of many of Knight's stories. I seem to remember encountering him more as an editor of a number of excellent anthologies in the 1960's and 1970's rather than an author. Country takes place in a future where (apparently) crime has been eliminated with the exception of one (?) person. That person is altered so that he cannot commit any acts which end in successful violence. He's allowed to roam free, creating havoc, in a prison as big as the whole planet. A very strange tale.

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes (1959). This story first appeared in Fantasy and Science Fiction but a recent edition that I saw in the store seems to ignore these roots. Is it science fiction? Has Keyes joined other authors who have had wider success in ignoring the place that gave him a start? Personally I find the short story much better than the novel. The impact of Charley's tale (running from a state of "retardation" to intelligence to "retardation" again) is greater in the original.

A Rose for Ecclesiastes by Roger Zelazny (1963). This story was one of Zelazny’s early tales, where he consciously imitated the style of the Planet Stories genre but, much as John W. Campbell, Jr. did as Don A. Stuart, took the tale beyond its pulp roots with character and style and setting. A linguist on Mars tries to translate the epic poetry of the Martians as well as translate the great literature of Earth into Martian. His experiences there may lead to a revitalization of a declining race and an infusion of culture into the younger Terrestrial race.

Still to of Volumes IIA and IIB.