THE EARLY POHL (1976) by Frederik Pohl

The Early Pohl (1976)-03

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

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

Contents (8 stories, 1 poem):

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

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

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

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

THE MEN AND THE MIRROR (1973) by Ross Rocklynne

Rocklynne, Ross - The Men and the Mirror-03

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

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

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

CONTENTS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BEYOND THE BARRIERS OF SPACE AND TIME edited by Judith Merril

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

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

CONTENTS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6 Great Novels of Science Fiction

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

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

 

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

CONTENTS (6 Stories)

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

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

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

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

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

A New Dawn The Complete Don A Stuart Stories NESFA

This time out, I’m taking a brief look at one of the high-quality NESFA Press collections of SF author short fiction. This one contains all of John W. Campbell, Jr’s short fiction written under his “Don A. Stuart” pseudonym, plus a couple of previously unpublished (in book form) articles also written by Campbell under the Stuart handle.

The collection starts off with an excellent introduction, “The Man Who Lost the Sea”, written by Barry N. Malzberg, giving a short but fascinating examination of Campbell’s career. This is followed by sixteen stories, and finishes off with the two essays.

 

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

CONTENTS (16 Stories, 2 Articles):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A New Dawn The Complete Don A Stuart Stories NESFA

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

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

CONTENTS (16 Stories, 2 Articles):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE RED PERI (1952) by Stanley G. Weinbaum

Weinbaum, Stanley G - The Red Peri

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

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

Contents (8 stories):

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

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

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

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

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

THE RED PERI (1952) by Stanley G. Weinbaum

Weinbaum, Stanley G - The Red Peri

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

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

Contents (8 stories):

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

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

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

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

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

A MARTIAN ODYSSEY AND OTHERS by Stanley G. Weinbaum

A Martian Odyssey and Others by Stanley G. Weinbaum

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

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

Contents (12 stories):

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

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

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

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

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

*HGW: 1886-1946″

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

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

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

A Martian Odyssey and Others by Stanley G. Weinbaum

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

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

Contents (12 stories):

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

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

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

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

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

*HGW: 1886-1946″

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

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

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

Classic Science Fiction - The First Golden Age

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

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

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

CONTENTS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Marathon Photograph (1986)

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Marathon Photograph (1986)

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STORIES FOR TOMORROW (1954) edited by William Sloane

Stories for Tomorrow

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

The US edition first…

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

CONTENTS LISTING:

About This Book by William Sloane

PART I: THE HUMAN HEART

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

PART II: THERE ARE NO EASY ANSWERS

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

PART III: SWEAT OF THE BROW

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

PART IV: DIFFERENCE WITH DISTINCTION

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

PART V: THE TROUBLE WITH PEOPLE IS PEOPLE

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

PART VI: VISITORS

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

PART VII: THREE EPILOGS

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

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

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

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

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

CONTENTS LISTING:

About This Book by William Sloane

PART I: THE HUMAN HEART

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

PART II: THERE ARE NO EASY ANSWERS

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

PART III: SWEAT OF THE BROW

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

PART IV: DIFFERENCE WITH DISTINCTION

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

PART V: THE TROUBLE WITH PEOPLE IS PEOPLE

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

PART VI: VISITORS

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

PART VII: THREE EPILOGS

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

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

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

BUG-EYED MONSTERS edited by Anthony Cheetham

This is a nice little anthology, containing ten stories (more accurately NINE stories and one radio play adaptation) spanning thirty years 1938-1968. It is edited by Anthony Cheetham, with whom I am totally unfamiliar.

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

CONTENTS:

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

According to Cheetham’s interesting little introduction, the title of the book is a gentle, fun jibe at the old, stereotypical “bug-eyed monster” of the pulps. However the ten stories in the anthology are of an altogether higher quality than those old yarns in the pulps, almost a “rehabilitation” of the old bug-eyed monster.

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

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

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

POSSIBLE WORLDS OF SCIENCE FICTION edited by Groff Conklin

This is an interesting anthology, edited by one of the great classic SF anthologists, and another of my favourites, Groff Conklin.

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

CONTENTS:

Introduction by Groff Conklin

PART ONE: THE SOLAR SYSTEM

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

PART TWO: THE GALAXY

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

The theme of this anthology is “Possible Worlds”, mankind’s possible future exploration of space, and the worlds and lifeforms he might encounter “out there”. The book is divided into two sections. The first, containing seven stories, deals with possible worlds within the solar system. The second section, comprised of six stories, takes us out to encounter worlds and life out in the galaxy.

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

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

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

RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA by Arthur C. Clarke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA by Arthur C. Clarke

Rendezvous with Rama 1st Ed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A SENSE OF WONDER edited by Sam Moskowitz

At only 197 pages long, A SENSE OF WONDER is quite a short anthology. But it’s also an old favourite of mine.

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

CONTENTS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Favourite SF Authors – H.G. Wells

This is the first of my Favourite SF Authors postings, and who better than the author who started it all for me, the man dubbed the “father of science fiction”, H.G. Wells.

The first time I saw George Pal’s film adaption of The Time Machine (1960) on television was probably the first event in my life which I can definitely point to and say without a doubt that “this was when I became a science fiction fan”. I was only about five, maybe six years old at most, and that one film turned me into a crazy time-travel fanatic. A couple of years later, as a direct result of being a fan of the film, I read the original novel, which was the first time I had ever read a proper SF book. These two events (plus a growing obsession with Doctor Who) changed my life forever, and I’ve been an obsessive SF fan ever since.

Wells wasn’t the first SF author by any means. Jules Verne and others had walked that road before him. Nor was he even the most highly-regarded among his contemporaries while he was writing. But he has outlived them all, and has been by far the most enduring and influential upon successive generations of SF writers and readers. Most of the contemporary authors who were once regarded as highly as or more highly than Wells are now no longer so well known, and many of them have faded into obscurity altogether. But Wells has stayed right at the top for all these years.

What was it that made him so important? I’d argue strongly that Wells was the first to seriously cover so many of the SF themes that we take for granted these days, writing about them as SF, as opposed to fantasy. Sure, maybe Verne had done it to a lesser extent, but his scientific explorations were almost always more concerned with the technological gadgetry (submarines, flying machines, “rockets” fired to the moon out of enormous cannons, etc) rather than true exploration of SF themes, and most of his stories were pure fantasies. In contrast, Wells examined a far, far wider range of real SF themes and how they relate to human society, and on a much deeper level.

Time travel? Wells did the first “proper” story (using a time machine, not dreams or other fantasy devices), in The Time Machine, which was also a sly but strong criticism of class differences within British society. Interplanetary invasion? War of the Worlds, which doubled as a strong swipe at the British Empire and imperialism in general. Genetic engineering and the morality of biological tinkering on humans? The Island of Doctor Moreau. Invisibility and the corruption of the corruptible who attain and abuse “absolute power”? The Invisible Man. Lunar exploration and anti-gravity, with more examination of society and class structure? First Men in the Moon. Accelerated time? “The New Accelerator”. The list goes on and on.

The really remarkable thing was that Wells was writing about many of these themes well over a century ago, which is something that I find almost unbelievable. Others had written about travelling to the moon or through time before Wells did. But these previous efforts fell squarely into the “fantasy” camp (travelling through time in dreams, going to the moon in balloons, or pulled by birds, etc). Wells was the first to write about them in a way that could be termed even remotely as “real” science fiction, both philosophically and in the way he explained them in a “scientific” way. And he also wrote about many other SF themes that no writers before him had ever explored. Many of these fundamental SF themes have now been done to death over more recent decades by countless other SF authors. But Wells was the first to imagine most of these themes and write great SF stories around them.

So many of the modern core themes in SF stemmed from the work of this one man, that I don’t think we can really conceive how differently the genre would’ve developed if he’d never existed. I think that it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that he was the single most important figure in science fiction literature’s history, although there have been any number of other great writers who’ve challenged him for that position. But, in so many areas, Wells was the first to write about so many things, that I’d have to grant him “pole position”.

The rest, good as they were, followed in his giant shadow.