Some New Books – January 2016

I haven’t bought any new SF books in ages now, but, with Christmas behind me and a few quid spare in my pocket, I took the notion over the past couple of weeks to trawl Ebay.co.uk for some books. Actually, none of them are “new”, as there’s not a lot of modern SF that I enjoy, with the exception of some anthologies of short fiction and a very narrow range of authors and sub-genres. But I did find two second hand/used anthologies of classic Golden Age stuff, which is much more my kind of thing, one collection of Isaac Asimov’s fantasy stories, essays and articles, and, finally, one “Best of the Year” SF anthology, from 2007.

  • SCIENCE FICTION: THE BEST OF THE YEAR 2007 EDITION edited by Rich Horton (trade paperback, Prime Books, Germantown MD, US, 2007, ISBN-10: 0-8095-6297-9, ISBN-13: 978-0-8095-6297-8)
  • MAGIC: THE FINAL FANTASY COLLECTION by Isaac Asimov (Paperback, Voyager, London, 1997, ISBN: 0-00-648203-1)
  • GREAT TALES OF THE GOLDEN AGE OF SCIENCE FICTION edited by Isaac Asimov, Charles G. Waugh and Martin H. Greenberg (hardback, Galahad Books, New York, 1991, ISBN: 0-88365-772-4)
  • THE GOLDEN AGE OF SCIENCE FICTION edited by Kingsley Amis (Large Format Paperback, Penguin Books, 1983, first published by Hutchinson & Co., 1981)

The SCIENCE FICTION: THE BEST OF THE YEAR 2007 EDITION trade paperback is a nice anthology of reasonably recent (less than ten years old) stories, twelve in all, five from Asimov’s SF Magazine, two from F&SF, and the other five from five different sources both magazines and books. I haven’t read this one yet, but there are a few authors in it that I usually like (Robert Reed, Walter Jon Williams, Ian Watson, Robert Charles Wilson), and Rich Horton rarely puts together a bad “Best SF” anthology.

MAGIC: THE FINAL FANTASY COLLECTION is a single-author collection of Isaac Asimov’s fantasy (as opposed to SF) short fiction. It’s also notable for collecting a number of Asimov’s essays and articles about fantasy and other subjects. It’s a bit of a strange one, this, although I found it an interesting mix of articles and fiction. And Asimov’s fantasy is just as logical as his science fiction, with its own strict internal rules and limitations, which made it easy for me to read, despite the fact that I’m not a huge fan of reading fantasy.

GREAT TALES OF THE GOLDEN AGE OF SCIENCE FICTION is a cracking anthology of classic Golden Age SF put together by the ever-reliable trio of Isaac Asimov, Charles G. Waugh and Martin H. Greenberg. Nine stories in all, almost all of them published in Astounding during the 1941-1947 timeframe. Some of the biggest names in SF are in this one – Isaac Asimov, A.E. van Vogt, Jack Williamson, Theodore Sturgeon, Lester del Rey, C.L. Moore, Ross Rocklynne, A. Bertram Chandler, T.L. Sherred – and with some of their most classic stories.

THE GOLDEN AGE OF SCIENCE FICTION edited by Kingsley Amis is another cracking anthology, with a completely different group of stories and authors to the previous anthology. Only Asimov appears in both, but with different stories. And there are seventeen stories in this one, almost twice as many as the other anthology. Aside from Isaac Asimov, we’ve got Arthur C. Clarke, Poul Anderson, Frederik Pohl, Brian W. Aldiss, Cordwainer Smith, H. Beam Piper, Harry Harrison, Damon Knight, Anthony Boucher, James Blish, Robert Sheckley, J.G. Ballard, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Jerome Bixby, F.L. Wallace and Philip Latham. That is a hugely impressive line-up of SF author talent with some of their most classic stories.

The Kingsley Amis anthology is a completely different kind of book to the other one edited by Asimov, Waugh and Greenberg. I wouldn’t really consider it a real “Golden Age” anthology at all, as the stories are from the 1950s and 1960s (there’s even one from 1979!), rather than the 1940s (the actual “Golden Age of SF” is usually considered to be circa 1938-1950, when Campbell’s Astounding ruled the roost unchallenged, and before the appearance of F&SF and Galaxy). The stories are therefore slightly more sophisticated than those in the other book, with much less of an emphasis on stories from Astounding, and a much higher percentage coming from F&SF, Galaxy and other sources. The stories are of the highest calibre, and the only criticism I would have is none of them actually qualify as “Golden Age” SF, as they come from a later period, and there are several of the 1960s stories that even come dangerously close to belonging to the New Wave. I guess Amis’ interpretation of “Golden Age” SF is a bit different to the rest of us, and maybe a bit more of a personal one. 🙂

All in all, a nice little batch of books. I’ve gotten the bug back again for hunting down SF books. I must get back on Ebay to see if I can find a few more classic anthologies.

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.

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 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.

Some New and Old SF Novels

I‘ve picked up a few books recently, so I’ll list them, a few at a time. Starting off firstly with the novels. Two new purchases from Amazon.co.uk, and two old/used books from local car-boot sales.

  • SATURN’S CHILDREN by Charles Stross (paperback, Orbit Books, London, 2008, ISBN: 978-1-84149-568-2)
  • NEPTUNE’S BROOD by Charles Stross (paperback, Orbit Books, London, 2013, ISBN: 978-0-356-50100-0)
  • PIRATES OF THE ASTEROIDS by Isaac Asimov (Paperback, NEL, London, 1973, first published by Doubleday & Co., Inc., New York, 1953, as LUCKY STARR AND THE PIRATES OF THE ASTEROIDS by Paul French)
  • OCEANS OF VENUS by Isaac Asimov (Paperback, NEL, London, 1974, first published by Doubleday & Co., Inc., New York, 1954, as LUCKY STARR AND THE OCEANS OF VENUS by Paul French)

The two Charles Stross books were bought new from Amazon.co.uk. These two books can be considered a pair, or loosely connected series, set in the same post-human “universe” (but many centuries apart) where humanity’s “children” seem intent on recreating the worst mistakes of both our dodgy societies and our nasty individual behaviour. Both novels can be classified as “thrillers”, set in the above-mentioned SF scenario.

The first book of the two, Saturn’s Children, is set within our solar system, only two hundred years after the death of the final natural human, whilst the follow-up novel, Neptune’s Brood, is set five thousand years later, and against an interstellar background, although constrained by STL travel and real physics. Both books are of the Hard(ish) SF/New Space Opera sub-genre of SF that I like so much, and Stross writes excellent New Space Opera fiction, so I’m pretty much guaranteed to enjoy them. I’ll leave commenting on the plots of either novel until a later date, as I haven’t read them yet.

The two Isaac Asimov novels are part of his “juvenile” or Young Adult (YA) SF&F Lucky Starr six-book series, written back in the 1950’s under his “Paul French” pseudonym (Pirates of the Asteroids is Book 2 in the series, and Oceans of Venus is Book 4). I read all of these books back when I was a kid, and they were an important part of my formative years as a young SF reader, leading me directly onto reading Asimov’s more adult SF works. As the series was written back in the Fifties, long before the first space probes gave us the first true images of our planetary neighbours, giving us a wonderful glimpse of one of those SF alternate “solar-system-that-never-was” continuums that fascinate me so much.

Unlike the two Stross novels, these two books are much older, used/second-hand copies, and were picked up recently at a car-boot sale for next-to-nothing. Both books are in quite tatty, strictly “readers-only” condition. They are definitely not collectible copies, so, ideally, I’d love to pick up pristine copies (or at least much better) of these two books, and every book in the series (if possible), as these are the classic New English Library (NEL) UK editions with the gorgeous cover artwork that I read way back when I was a pre-teenager.

I know that an omnibus collection of the entire six-book series, The Complete Adventures of Lucky Starr, was released back in 2001 (although it’s apparently now out-of-print and quite expensive to buy), but I’d like to track down decent condition copies of the six 1970’s NEL paperback UK releases, just for the lovely covers, and because they will bring back so many great childhood memories. 🙂

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. 🙂

Some New Books: April – August 2014

This month marks the first anniversary of the first post to this blog, which has chugged along with at least one post per month, each month, since the blog began. Considering the fact that I believed that this might just be a short-lived offshoot of my main blog, and that it most likely would be folded back into that blog relatively quickly, I’m quite pleased that it has made it to the year mark. 🙂

Anyway, here’s an update on the books that I’ve picked up from Ebay UK, Amazon UK and elsewhere, over the period roughly April – August of this year:

Novels:

  • RAINBOW MARS by Larry Niven (hardback)
  • THE MEMORY OF SKY: A GREAT SHIP TRILOGY by Robert Reed (trade paperback)
  • FIRE WITH FIRE by Charles E. Gannon (paperback)

Collections:

  • THE COLLECTED STORIES OF VERNOR VINGE by Vernor Vinge (trade paperback)
  • THE FLIGHT OF THE HORSE by Larry Niven (paperback)

Anthologies:

  • YEAR’S BEST SF 11 edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer (paperback)
  • YEAR’S BEST SF 12 edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer (paperback)
  • THE YEAR’S BEST SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY 2014 edited by Rich Horton (trade paperback)
  • SPACE OPERA edited by Rich Horton (trade paperback)
  • THRILLING WONDER STORIES Volume 1 edited by Winston Engle (trade paperback)
  • THRILLING WONDER STORIES Volume 2 edited by Winston Engle (trade paperback)
  • AMAZING STORIES – GIANT 35TH ANNIVERSARY ISSUE – APRIL 1961 (2014 REISSUE) edited by Steve Davidson & Jean Marie Stine (trade paperback)
  • THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF MINDBLOWING SF edited by Mike Ashley (trade paperback)
  • THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF EXTREME SCIENCE FICTION edited by Mike Ashley (trade paperback)
  • THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF GOLDEN AGE SCIENCE FICTION edited by Isaac Asimov, Charles G. Waugh and Martin H. Greenberg (trade paperback)
  • ALIEN’S: RECENT ENCOUNTERS edited by Alex Dally MacFarlane (trade paperback)
  • FUTURE LOVECRAFT edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia & Paula R. Stiles (trade paperback)
  • DEVILS AND DEMONS – A TREASURY OF FIENDISH TALES OLD & NEW edited by Marvin Kaye (hardback)
  • MASTERPIECES OF TERROR AND THE SUPERNATURAL – A TREASURY OF SPELLBINDING TALES OLD & NEW edited by Marvin Kaye (hardback)
  • THE GREAT SF STORIES 1 by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg (paperback)
  • THE GREAT SF STORIES 4 by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg (paperback)
  • THE GREAT SF STORIES 5 by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg (paperback)
  • THE GREAT SF STORIES 7 by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg (paperback)
  • THE GREAT SF STORIES 9 by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg (paperback)
  • THE GREAT SF STORIES 10 by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg (paperback)
  • THE GREAT SF STORIES 15 by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg (paperback)
  • THE GREAT SF STORIES 16 by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg (paperback)

Non-Fiction:

  • THE FORREST J. ACKERMAN OEUVRE by Christopher M. O’Brien (trade paperback)

Aside from two novels, Chuck Gannon’s excellent FIRE WITH FIRE and Larry Niven’s equally excellent RAINBOW MARS, one omnibus of three novels, Robert Reed’s “Great Ship” Trilogy THE MEMORY OF SKY, two author short story collections, Larry Niven’s THE FLIGHT OF THE HORSE and THE COLLECTED STORIES OF VERNOR VINGE, plus one non-fiction book, THE FORREST J. ACKERMAN OEUVRE, it’s all anthologies this time around.

An interesting trend seems to be running right now, with anthologies of material from classic SF magazines being republished. Here we have two volumes of THRILLING WONDER STORIES and the 2014 reissue of the classic April 1961 35th Anniversary issue of AMAZING STORIES. Lovely stuff.

I’ve also picked up several horror anthologies, DEVILS AND DEMONS, MASTERPIECES OF TERROR AND THE SUPERNATURAL and FUTURE LOVECRAFT, which is unusual for me, as ninety-nine percent of my fiction reading is SF. But I’ve always had a soft spot for anything Lovecraft, so FUTURE LOVECRAFT should be right up my street. I’m not fussed on modern horror & supernatural stuff, but DEVILS AND DEMONS is made up of all older, classic horror stories, which I really like, as is its sister anthology, MASTERPIECES OF TERROR AND THE SUPERNATURAL. These should both be great reads.

There are three more anthologies of MAMMOTH books in among this lot, which are very nice indeed. I love those MAMMOTH anthologies. There are also two more anthologies from the ever-reliable Rich Horton – his most recent (2014) edition of THE YEAR’S BEST SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY, and SPACE OPERA, a nice fat anthology of excellent space opera tales culled from more recent years. And to round off the newer books, there’s Alex Dally MacFarlane’s ALIEN’S: RECENT ENCOUNTERS, collecting some of the best recent SF stories covering that subject.

Finally, I’ve been on a bit of a roll tracking down Asimov’s classic THE GREAT SF STORIES series, which covers a massive 25 volumes of SF paperback goodness. Last time out, I’d only managed to procure one of them, Volume 19. But sheer determination will always win through, and this time around, I’ve picked up another eight volumes in the series, and just a few days ago I nabbed another three volumes, which haven’t arrived yet. That’s 12 out of the 25 volumes so far in only 3-4 months, so a pretty good start. I intend to keep going until I get all 25 volumes, as the OCD/obsessive collector in me will not allow anything else (I go nuts until I fill in any gaps in my collection).

So even more anthologies than usual. But I can’t complain, as I love my short fiction. 🙂

The Age of Innocence – “Sensawunda” and the Older Science Fiction Fan

Older sci-fi/SF fans (or “fen”, to give them their correct title), almost all have an incredibly developed Sense of Wonder, more often referred to in the SF world as “sensawunda”, that wide-eyed innocence and boundless enthusiasm, that willingness to see beyond the mundane world around us and embrace the infinite potential and possibilities of the universe, of all time and space.

It’s almost like a special extra sense, an ability to link to our “inner child”, something that makes us different from the rest of the mainstream “mundane” population, who seem to have lost that link to their childhood once they became adults. Many of those people would look at us and consider us “big kids”, adults who have refused to grow up and drop the obsessions and attitudes of childhood (or even something much less flattering). We, on the other hand, look at them and consider them boring, unimaginative old farts, having lost all the childish aspects that made life fun, and growing old long before their time.

Our sensawunda keeps us forever young. Unfortunately, very few of the younger generation these days seem to have it, at least once they grow out of the wide-eyed innocence of their childhood years. We older fen were instilled with a powerful essence of sensawunda from a time before we could even read or write. The kids these days have seen it all a thousand times, and have had everything handed to them since birth. They lose their sensawunda at a very early age, and today’s teenagers are for the most part very worldly-wise, cynical, and almost impossible to impress.

All of the things we saw on TV and at the cinema, way back when they were new and ground-breaking, are part of background culture for these kids. They don’t see anything remarkable about these great films and TV series, because they’ve “always been there”, as far as the kids are concerned. They miss out totally on one of the greatest aspects of geekhood, and we older geeks are so, so lucky to have lived through it all.

Back “when we were young”, every new sci-fi series, every new sci-fi cinema release, every new book release by Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov or other top SF writers, every new issue of the Spider-Man Comics Weekly, The Avengers, The Mighty World of Marvel, Countdown and TV Action, Lion and Thunder or any of our favourite comics, any and all of these geek objects were things of wonder, and we all waited on them obsessively, like addicts waiting on their next fix (but in a nice way, of course).

I try to compare cynical modern teens with the wide-eyed innocence and enthusiasm of my teenage self, sitting eagerly in front of the TV every week, waiting for the next episode of Star Trek or Doctor Who. Or sitting in the local cinema, mouth wide open, watching Star Wars for the first time, and listening in awe to the tie fighters roar all around me over the amazing new THX sound system. In the pre-video, pre-internet age, every new sci-fi TV series and sci-fi cinema release was SPECIAL. The newness and uniqueness of it all was overpowering.

In those far-off days, you saw a series episode or film ONCE, and then they were gone, forever. Now, with DVDs, streaming and all the modern recording techniques, you can watch anything, over and over again a hundred times. It may be amazingly convenient, and none of us would be without it, but it has also played a huge part in killing the magic, the sensawunda. It’s all become as common as muck, so easily accessible and available. There’s nothing special about any of it any more.

The current generation of kids, at least here in the West, are spoiled rotten. All of this great technology and sci-fi culture has been around since long before they were born, and they’ve grown up with it as an integral part of their lives. But you know the old saying – “Familiarity Breeds Contempt” – they just don’t appreciate it. It’s no big deal to them. We older fen, on the other hand, we were there when Star Trek first appeared in the 1960’s, when Star Wars ushered in the era of blockbuster sci-fi movies in the late-1970’s. Before that, with only a handful of exceptions, sci-fi movies were cheap B-movies, sneered at by everyone except the hardcore fans.

We were there for the first appearances of Blake’s 7, Battlestar Galactica, Blade Runner, Alien, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. We were there when all of these great television shows and films (which are now familiar cultural icons) were new, fresh, and NOBODY had ever seen anything like them before. Some of us were even there for the first appearance of Doctor Who (although I don’t remember anything about it, as it was two weeks before my third birthday!). And the oldest fans were there for the three original Quatermass TV serials – The Quatermass Experiment (1953), Quatermass II (1955) and Quatermass and the Pit (1958), Captain Video and His Video Rangers, and even the sci-fi “pulps”. Well before my time, and I’m so envious of them.

All of us older fans, we’re starting to get on a bit (I’m 53). But the one great thing about being middle-aged or older is that we lived through the truly great eras of nearly EVERYTHING – sci-fi TV and cinema, the growth and explosion into popular culture of SF literature, the great eras of US and UK comics, and the great popular music eras of the 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. We are SO lucky. We’re the most fortunate of all, because we lived through the one, true geek generation. We’ll never see its like again.

The kids these days missed out on all of that, and will NEVER experience anything like it. There are so many bright, shiny new fads these days, massive marketing machines making sure that they happen seemingly one right after another. And each of them lasts all of five minutes until the next one comes along. Nothing is unique or special any more. They’ve seen it all before.

To be honest, I’m not overly enthusiastic about the rapidly looming advance of my “senior years”. But being a geek is the one area in life where I can honestly say “It’s great to be old”. 🙂

SCIENCE FICTION edited by S. H. Burton

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

CONTENTS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SCIENCE FICTION OF THE THIRTIES edited by Damon Knight

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

CONTENTS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some New Books, First Quarter 2014

Here are some SF books, some new, some old, that I’ve picked up over the past two or three months from various places such as Ebay UK, Amazon UK and my regular supplier of comics and books in the US:

Novels:

  • THE SPACE MACHINE & A DREAM OF WESSEX Omnibus by Christopher Priest (paperback)
  • STARFARERS by Poul Anderson (hardback)
  • HAWKMOON: THE HISTORY OF THE RUNESTAFF Omnibus by Michael Moorcock (trade paperback)
  • THE LIGHT AGES by Ian R. MacLeod (paperback)
  • THE SPACE TRILOGY Omnibus by Arthur C. Clarke (trade paperback)

Collections:

  • THE BEST OF JACK WILLIAMSON (paperback)
  • THE EARLY WILLIAMSON (hardback)
  • BREATHMOSS AND OTHER EXHALATIONS by Ian R. MacLeod (trade paperback)

Anthologies:

  • THE GREAT SF STORIES 19 edited by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg (paperback)
  • THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF TIME TRAVEL SF edited by Mike Ashley (trade paperback)
  • RAYGUN CHRONICLES – SPACE OPERA FOR A NEW AGE edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt (trade paperback)
  • GREAT TALES OF SCIENCE FICTION edited by Robert Silverberg and Martin H. Greenberg (hardback)
  • THE YEAR’S BEST SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY 2013 edited by Rich Horton (trade paperback)
  • AFTER THE END: RECENT APOCALYPSES edited by Paula Guran (trade paperback)
  • WORLDS OF EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS edited by Mike Resnick and Robert T. Garcia (trade paperback)
  • MODERN GREATS OF SCIENCE FICTION – NINE NOVELLAS OF DISTINCTION edited by Jonathan Strahan (trade paperback)
  • RAGS & BONES: NEW TWISTS ON TIMELESS TALES edited by Melissa Marr and Tim Pratt (hardback)

Non-Fiction:

  • H.G. WELLS: CRITIC OF PROGRESS by Jack Williamson (hardback)
  • AFTER THE NEW WAVE: SCIENCE FICTION SINCE 1980 by Nader Elhefnawy (trade paperback)

That’s quite a nice selection, leaning very heavily towards short fiction, particularly anthologies, plus three collections of individual author short stories. There are only two novels, plus three omnibus editions containing two (the Priest), three (the Clarke) and four (the Moorcock) novels, respectively. Only two of the books are non-fiction, which is pretty unusual, given my buying habits in recent years, which has swung sharply towards including much more non-fiction.

But no surprise with the large number of anthologies and individual author collections. Most of my book buying lists will always lean heavily in that direction, as I always tend to read a lot more short fiction than novels.

BEACHHEADS IN SPACE edited by August Derleth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highly recommended, particularly the original US hardcover edition.

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 One)

Here’s the first part (of three) in the story of my rise to geekhood.

Early Days in the Sixties – Genesis of a Geek

I’m a card-carrying geek. I’ve always been a geek. I’ve been one all my life, right from when I was a very young child, and I simply can’t conceive of being any other way. It’s as natural for me as breathing.

I’m also not one of those shy, retiring types who tries to hide the fact that I’m a geek out of view, for fear of ridicule. I’ve always been very proud of my geek status. I don’t give a damn who knows it or who doesn’t like it. They can all take a great running leap off the top of a high building, as far as I’m concerned.

My early childhood was not a particularly happy one, what little of it I can recall. My family was poor, very poor, and we never had much in the line of material goods. For much of the time it was a struggle for our parents to even feed and clothe us. We also lived on a council estate in Northern Ireland during that infamous period in Irish history known as “The Troubles”, which began in 1968 (I was only seven years old at the time), and was to last right up into my thirties. It overshadowed my entire earlier life, and for everyone of my generation who lived through it, it was a dark time, full of tensions, fear, and unhappiness.

Any kind of an escape from the dreary and depressing reality of life in a poverty-stricken, 1960’s Northern Ireland council estate was a welcome one, and so I took every chance I could to escape from “real life” into the realms of my incredibly active imagination. But WHEN did I actually become a geek, and, more importantly, HOW and WHY? Why did I choose that path, rather than follow the more mundane hobbies that the vast majority of other kids my age indulged in?

I suppose it all began at a very early age, before I’d even started school, back when I started to read my first “proper” books (books with lots of words, rather than mere “picture books”). By the time I first went to school (aged four and a half years), I was already a voracious reader, very advanced for my age, and my parents and other relatives encouraged me as much as possible by continually giving me new books to read. My uncle started buying me books on a regular basis, and these were invariably based around science, nature and technology. They were full of dinosaurs, spaceships, and stories of other worlds and solar systems, all of which captivated my fertile young imagination. My preferences were already being shaped around science-oriented themes even at that early age.

Even this early in life, I showed a very strong preference for the fantastic rather than the mundane, for wild adventures into space and through time, dinosaurs, aliens, indeed anything “out of this world”. I took every chance I could to escape from boring “real life” into the realms of my incredibly active imagination. So all the influences and obsessions of a future geek had already been laid down right from the start. It was almost like I was pre-ordained to become a geek, although we all know that couldn’t be true, could it?

Soon afterwards, at about four or five years old, I started reading comics and quickly developed a strong preference for the more SF-oriented strips over the less fantasy-oriented stories, particularly the war and sport strips which were more dominant in British comics at that time. And around the same time, I also started paying attention to sci-fi and fantasy films and sci-fi television series on UK TV.

Doctor Who, on UK television, started having its first really strong influence on me about 1966-67, when I was about six years old, and at about roughly the same time, my life was changed forever when I saw the classic George Pal movie adaption of The Time Machine (1960) for the first time on Irish television (RTE). I became totally obsessed with the concept of time travel, which remains my favourite SF theme even now. At the young age of six or seven, I was already a confirmed SF nut, at least as far as comics, films and television were concerned.

As a direct result of this obsession with The Time Machine (1960) movie and Doctor Who, I was also to start reading SF. About a year or two after I’d seen the movie, I found the original H. G. Wells’ novel The Time Machine in a local library, and I just had to read it. I was hooked, despite the drastic differences between the novel and the film, and moved from there on to reading anything else I could find by Wells, then on to Verne, Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein and the greater world of SF authors at large. I’ve never looked back, and remain a hardcore SF literature fan to this day.

As I got older, I immersed myself ever further into the fascinating world of comics, watching sci-fi TV and films, reading great SF books, and also drawing and writing, almost always something connected with the aforementioned comics, books, TV series and films.

I drove my poor parents mad. They just didn’t “get” sci-fi at all, but humoured their crazy kid. My father really hated all of this “silly sci-fi nonsense”, and Doctor Who in particular, but tolerated it when I was very young. He hoped desperately that I’d “grow out of it” as I got older, but there was absolutely no chance of that happening! Here I am, more than forty years later, and still a hardcore SF fan.

Poor Dad! He must be turning in his grave!

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…

It’s a Geek’s Life… (Part One)

Here’s the first part (of three) in the story of my rise to geekhood.

Early Days in the Sixties – Genesis of a Geek

I’m a card-carrying geek. I’ve always been a geek. I’ve been one all my life, right from when I was a very young child, and I simply can’t conceive of being any other way. It’s as natural for me as breathing.

I’m also not one of those shy, retiring types who tries to hide the fact that I’m a geek out of view, for fear of ridicule. I’ve always been very proud of my geek status. I don’t give a damn who knows it or who doesn’t like it. They can all take a great running leap off the top of a high building, as far as I’m concerned.

My early childhood was not a particularly happy one, what little of it I can recall. My family was poor, very poor, and we never had much in the line of material goods. For much of the time it was a struggle for our parents to even feed and clothe us. We also lived on a council estate in Northern Ireland during that infamous period in Irish history known as “The Troubles”, which began in 1968 (I was only seven years old at the time), and was to last right up into my thirties. It overshadowed my entire earlier life, and for everyone of my generation who lived through it, it was a dark time, full of tensions, fear, and unhappiness.

Any kind of an escape from the dreary and depressing reality of life in a poverty-stricken, 1960’s Northern Ireland council estate was a welcome one, and so I took every chance I could to escape from “real life” into the realms of my incredibly active imagination. But WHEN did I actually become a geek, and, more importantly, HOW and WHY? Why did I choose that path, rather than follow the more mundane hobbies that the vast majority of other kids my age indulged in?

I suppose it all began at a very early age, before I’d even started school, back when I started to read my first “proper” books (books with lots of words, rather than mere “picture books”). By the time I first went to school (aged four and a half years), I was already a voracious reader, very advanced for my age, and my parents and other relatives encouraged me as much as possible by continually giving me new books to read. My uncle started buying me books on a regular basis, and these were invariably based around science, nature and technology. They were full of dinosaurs, spaceships, and stories of other worlds and solar systems, all of which captivated my fertile young imagination. My preferences were already being shaped around science-oriented themes even at that early age.

Even this early in life, I showed a very strong preference for the fantastic rather than the mundane, for wild adventures into space and through time, dinosaurs, aliens, indeed anything “out of this world”. I took every chance I could to escape from boring “real life” into the realms of my incredibly active imagination. So all the influences and obsessions of a future geek had already been laid down right from the start. It was almost like I was pre-ordained to become a geek, although we all know that couldn’t be true, could it?

Soon afterwards, at about four or five years old, I started reading comics and quickly developed a strong preference for the more SF-oriented strips over the less fantasy-oriented stories, particularly the war and sport strips which were more dominant in British comics at that time. And around the same time, I also started paying attention to sci-fi and fantasy films and sci-fi television series on UK TV.

Doctor Who, on UK television, started having its first really strong influence on me about 1966-67, when I was about six years old, and at about roughly the same time, my life was changed forever when I saw the classic George Pal movie adaption of The Time Machine (1960) for the first time on Irish television (RTE). I became totally obsessed with the concept of time travel, which remains my favourite SF theme even now. At the young age of six or seven, I was already a confirmed SF nut, at least as far as comics, films and television were concerned.

As a direct result of this obsession with The Time Machine (1960) movie and Doctor Who, I was also to start reading SF. About a year or two after I’d seen the movie, I found the original H. G. Wells’ novel The Time Machine in a local library, and I just had to read it. I was hooked, despite the drastic differences between the novel and the film, and moved from there on to reading anything else I could find by Wells, then on to Verne, Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein and the greater world of SF authors at large. I’ve never looked back, and remain a hardcore SF literature fan to this day.

As I got older, I immersed myself ever further into the fascinating world of comics, watching sci-fi TV and films, reading great SF books, and also drawing and writing, almost always something connected with the aforementioned comics, books, TV series and films.

I drove my poor parents mad. They just didn’t “get” sci-fi at all, but humoured their crazy kid. My father really hated all of this “silly sci-fi nonsense”, and Doctor Who in particular, but tolerated it when I was very young. He hoped desperately that I’d “grow out of it” as I got older, but there was absolutely no chance of that happening! Here I am, more than forty years later, and still a hardcore SF fan.

Poor Dad! He must be turning in his grave!

To Be Continued…

Some New Books

I’ve built up a new stash of recently acquired books to add to my ever-growing “To Read” pile. If I can acquire a couple of extra lifetimes, I might even get to read a few of them.

First up is a large hardback anthology, Machines That Think, edited by Isaac Asimov, Patricia S. Warwick and Martin H. Greenberg. This one contains twenty-nine stories about robots and computers. Next up is The Year’s Best Fantasy, Second Annual Collection, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. I’m not nearly as big a fan of fantasy as I am of SF, but these two ladies always put together a decent anthology.

Third on our list is 18 Greatest Science Fiction Stories, edited by Laurence M. Janifer, followed by Not the Only Planet – Science Fiction Travel Stories, edited by Damien Broderick. And last up are two novels, which is a rarity for me these days (I tend to read a lot more short fiction than I do novels). The hardback of Mining the Oort, by Frederik Pohl looks very interesting indeed. And the final book is a novel by Edward Eager, The Time Garden, a kid’s/YA fantasy novel written back in 1958. Looks a bit of an oddity, but interesting.

Also, I must get another chapter of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows under my belt. I’m about six chapters into it, and enjoying it so far.

Lots of good reading ahead…