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

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

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

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

CONTENTS:

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

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

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

Sure, the planetary science is in those books is wrong and way out of date.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 All planetary science before the Mariner space probes and those that followed is hopelessly out of date.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

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

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

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

PLANETS OF WONDER edited by Terry Carr

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

CONTENTS:

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

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

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

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

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

Reading Science Fiction

Reading Science Fiction literature has always been one of my main interests in life, and I’ve been reading “proper” science fiction since I first signed out H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine from the local library at the tender age of about eight or nine years old (circa 1969-1970).

I usually prefer older (classic) SF, pre-“New Wave”, with a particular fondness for the vintage SF of the “Golden Age” and the SF “Pulps”. Any list of my favourites classic SF authors would contain some very familiar and famous names:

H. G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jules Verne, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Jack Williamson, Robert A. Heinlein, John W. Campbell Jr, Stanley G. Weinbaum, Henry Kuttner, Edmond Hamilton, Leigh Brackett, C. L. Moore, Frederik Pohl, Cyril M. Kornbluth, Philip K. Dick, Poul Anderson, Brian W. Aldiss, Harry Harrison, H. Beam Piper, Cordwainer Smith, Alfred Bester, Algis Budrys… and many, many others (I’d be here all night listing them).

Although I’m mainly a reader of older SF, there are a few types of modern SF that I do like to read, in particular New Space Opera, Hard SF, and good old Classic Space Opera, which never seems to go out of fashion, no matter how hard the literary wannabes among the SF writing and reading fraternity have tried to kill it off over the years. Some of the modern SF authors that I’m a huge fan of would include:

Alastair Reynolds, Stephen Baxter, Peter F. Hamilton, Greg Bear, Greg Egan, Linda Nagata, Iain M. Banks, Ken MacLeod, Wil McCarthy, Peter Watts, Ian R. MacLeod, Paul J. McAuley, Iain MacDonald and a few others.

Although I do still like the occasional good SF novel by my favourite old and modern authors, the volume of novels that I read has declined sharply over the years. I used to read a lot more novels when I was younger, particularly during my teens (the 1970s), but that started to drop off sharply from about 1978 onwards, as the increasingly intensive study commitments during my A-Levels and university years totally wiped out most of my previously plentiful free reading time.

Once I finished university (1983, at the age of twenty-two), started work, discovered a social life (I didn’t even know what a social life WAS back in my teens, no going out, no drinking, no women – it’s really no wonder that I’d had so much reading time), and with the many trials and tribulations of adult life kicking in, any free time that I may have had left for reading disappeared as quickly as Roadrunner with Wile E. Coyote on his tail. So the number of novels that I read declined sharply during those years, and has never recovered to its former levels, even now, thirty years later.

I also loved reading short story collections and anthologies back in my teens. At that time, it was pretty much 50-50 between novels and short fiction, but as the number of novels that I read declined sharply during the late-1970s and early-1980s, the balance swung sharply towards short fiction, which began to take up more and more of what reading time I did have remaining. I’ve always considered short fiction to be the bedrock of the science fiction genre anyway, and, if you add to that the fact that it’s simply much easier to fit the occasional short story into a hectic lifestyle, particularly in these days of monstrously bloated and padded novels, nine times out of ten, you’ll find me reading a good anthology or author collection, rather than a novel.

I do NOT like (and never have liked) reading a novel piecemeal, a few chapters at a time, and prefer to do it all in one go. But that pretty much became impossible once the size of the average SF novel went above four hundred pages or so. I can usually manage about 300-350 pages max before I want to call it a day. That was okay with most classic SF novels, which usually came in at about 250-300 pages, and which I can read in one sitting. I can’t do that with these bloated modern bricks. I have to read a few chapters at a time, but I often find it very hard to go back and just pick up where I left off. My train of thought and enjoyment of the story has been broken, and before I start on new chapters of the novel I almost always have to go back and do a recap, and re-read the earlier chapters again (certainly if it’s been days, maybe weeks even, since I’d read the previous chapters), because I’ve forgotten details of the story.

I do still sometimes long for the days when a good SF novel was a mere 250-300 pages, and I could finish it in one sitting. If that were still the case, I’d probably have gotten back into reading SF novels, and I’d be reading a lot more of them today. But I find myself looking at these eight hundred page bricks and thinking “Nah, can’t be bothered”. It’s simply too much time and effort to put into reading a single story, when I can read twenty short stories in a similar-sized anthology much more easily. With a short story collection or anthology, I can read one story at a time, one over lunch, another when I visit the bathroom, another before I go to bed. I can leave the book down for days, weeks even, and start on a completely new story when I lift it up again, without missing out on anything, or having to go back and recap.

While I may be much more a fan of short fiction these days, the real truth is that reading short fiction has become habitual for me over the past thirty years, whereas I seem to have lost the knack (and the patience) for reading novels. I’ve become much more accustomed to reading short fiction in recent decades, and while I can still tackle the much shorter, older classic SF novels easily enough, reading one of those overly-padded modern monsters is a real effort, and one that I’m rarely willing to make, unless it’s one of my favourite modern authors (someone like Alastair Reynolds or one of the others mentioned above).

Maybe I can re-train myself to read these big novels. And maybe this blog can help me focus, get back into the groove, and give me a reason to start into reading novels on a regular basis. Fingers crossed.

It’s a Geek’s Life… (Part Two)

The Golden Years – Geek Nirvana During the Seventies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I was wrong.

To Be Continued…

It’s a Geek’s Life… (Part Two)

The Golden Years – Geek Nirvana During the Seventies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I was wrong.

To Be Continued…