the Little Red Reviewer

This week’s discussion topic is:

Topic for Jan 20 – Jan 26: Why is this important to you?   Why are you interested in reading Vintage SciFi? What do you get out of it?

With so many new books coming out every year, why even bother reading older science fiction?

Is there value in reading older science fiction?  Is it worth your time?

Why even read this stuff?

 

This is something I’ve thought about a lot over the past five years.  Reading older science fiction, for me, is like taking the world’s most fun history class. I get to see what life was like in the 60s, the 40s, the 30s, and before 1900, through the eyes of speculative fiction.     Because I can’t think of a way to phrase it better, I’m going to plagarize myself from a Vintage SciFi blog post I wrote in 2016:

If you could ask your great grandparents what their life was like when they were growing up, you would, right?

If you could go back in time and see what your country and your family were like before social media took over the universe, you’d be interesting in seeing what the world was like, right?

This January, you can. This January, I invite you to travel through time with me. Travel into the past, look into the youthful eyes of your great grandparents. See what came before so we could have what we have now.

Ok, maybe not time travel exactly. . . but sort of.

Everything comes from somewhere. You came from your parents, duh. But who are the parents of your favorite science fiction books? I’ll tell you: the parents of your favorite science fiction books are the books that author read to be inspired and to dream. And those books have parents too. If you don’t like me using the word “book parents” here, how about “the author’s influences”? Something they were influenced and inspired by to create something new and modern.

By reading older fiction, you get to see how that fiction progressed to get to where it is today. You get to experience the family tree, as it were, of speculative fiction.

Ok, that’s my two cents.

What are yours?

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Hello!   I am at ConFusion Science Fiction Convention this weekend,  mingling with my nerdfamily, making new friends, and wearing a sticker on my shirt that says “Ask Me About My Kickstarter!”.

if you are visiting Little Red Reviewer for the first time because we just met at  ConFusion,  Welcome!  This website is eight years of what I’ve read, what I’ve enjoyed, what I didn’t enjoy, and more. To meet the Andrea from eight years ago, use the archive thingy on the right side of the screen (I have no idea what that will look like on mobile, by the way) to travel back to 2011 or 2010.  To meet today’s Andrea, just keep scrolling down, or hit up the Review Index in the menu.

Obligatory Promo Post

I am Kickstarting The Best of Little Red Reviewer,  a print book of my best book reviews. I am super excited about this project,  can’t wait to hit my funding goal!  Backer reward start at $5,  you can get the print book for a pledge of only $15 (plus shipping), and there are some really cool backer rewards starting at $35.  The cool stuff is going really fast, btw.

Here is a link to the Kickstarter page.  I am super cute and dorky in the video. #justsaying

Click here for more info that you ever wanted about the project, and links to all the guest posts and interviews I have done about it.

Thank you for stopping by!

 

The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov

published in 1952

where I got it: purchased used

 

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I was nineteen or twenty years old the first time I met R. Daneel Olivaw. I didn’t know what to make of him.  Was he a good guy? Did he care about humans? What kind of person was he? I was maybe 24 or 25 when I made it to the end of Daneel’s life.  I like that Daneel has been a part of my life all these years. I think my early 20s was the perfect age for me to get to know him.

 

Prior to writing The Caves of Steel in 1952, Asimov had already written a handful of robot short stories that had been published as I Robot in 1950 (Asimov reportedly protested the title of the collection, as another author had already used that title, but his publisher didn’t care. But that’s a whole ‘nother story).    When unsure of how to stretch a robot story out to novel length, Asimov’s editor suggested he write a mystery novel, and make one the detectives a robot. That one conversation started everything.

 

The Caves of Steel takes place roughly three thousand years in the future, and humanity is a star faring race.  We’ve colonized planets, tried to terraform planets, lost some colonies and built others. While the humans of space are living in the future,  humans on Earth seem to be stuck in the past. People on earth mostly live in gigantic domed cities (sort of arcology-esque?), and rarely if ever leave the domes to stand under natural sunshine.  Many Terrans resent the Spacers, for a variety of reasons that Asimov touches on. “Clinging to the past” seems to be a character trait for many characters in this book.

 

Detective Lije Bailey has just been assigned the strangest case:  He’s to investigate the murder of a visiting Spacer. Stranger yet,  the Spacers demand that Bailey partner up with one of their own. His new partner is R. Daneel Olivaw.  The “R” stands for Robot. If Bailey is going to solve this case, the first thing he’s going to have to do is get over the revulsion he feels for Daneel.  And the first thing Daneel is going to have to do is get really good at passing for a human.

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Welcome to week two of Vintage SciFi Month!   Last week we had a fantastic discussion about what makes older books feel dated, or not feel dated.

Topic for Jan 13 – Jan 19: Gateway Drug to Vintage. Your friend says they don’t want to read anything older. They think older books are awful/dated/slow paced/badly written/etc.

What titles(s) do you recommend to them to help them step outside their comfort zone?

How do you convince them to give the book(s) a chance?

 

 

To help you get your thinking caps on, here are some links to some recent #VintageSciFi around the blogosphere

Tip the Wink reviews Sands of Mars, Arthur C. Clarke’s first published novel

Every Day Should be Tuesday reviews Nightfall and Other Stories by Isaac Asimov, and looks at Astounding by Alec Nevala-Lee

Kaedrin tackles Robert Heinlein’s Podkayne of Mars and explains the most confusing Heinlein conversation I have ever been part of.

Weighing a Pig reviews Destination Void by Frank Herbert

Howling Frog Books reviews Earthworks by Brian Aldiss

This Sporadic Life reviews Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein

Red Lips and Bibliomaniacs has a fantastic and in depth review of Lost Mars: The Golden Age of the Red Planet edited by Mike Ashley

Wolfman’s Cult Film Club enjoyed Fantastic Voyage

David Lee Summers talks about A Bertram Chandler’s famous John Grimes

Late to the Game enjoyed the movie The Black Hole

 

Enjoy!

 

The Future is Female!  25 Classic Science Fiction Stores by Women, from Pulp Pioneers to Ursula K. Le Guin, edited by Lisa Yaszek

published in 2018 (features scifi stories from 1928-1969)

where I got it: borrowed from a friend

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When a friend offered to let me borrow his copy of The Future is Female,  I jumped at the chance. The volume features science fictioni short stories dating back to 1928, and featuring authors like C.L. Moore, Kit Reed, Judith Merril, Kate Wilhelm, Leigh Brackett, and of course Ursula K. LeGuin and James Tiptree, Jr., among many, many others.   I pick up a lot of random scifi anthologies and single author collections, I liked the idea that this one pulled fiction from across so many decades and generations. There is also a companion website, womensf.loa.org, that offers more in depth author biographies, and a truly excellent trove of cover art of the magazines and anthologies where these stories were originally featured. (Note to self: remember this website later this month when we’re talking about scifi cover art!)

 

The introduction, by editor Lisa Yaszek, gives a very, very quick summary of three generations of writers, and the pulp magazines they wrote for.  I got a chuckle out of Yaszek’s discussion of why these female writers often wrote under a pseudonym – in a number of cases it was to protect their jobs, their privacy, and to protect their government clearance.  I also laughed out loud at the editors mention of some authors with female names, who upon further research, turned out to be men!

 

Designed to be read in the order presented,  I was a jerk and jumped all around in the table of contents, reading what looked interesting first. So far, I’ve read only a handful of the short stories, here are my thoughts on them.   And yes, there are spoilers in some of these mini-reviews, and no I don’t feel bad about the spoilers. These stories are in many cases, older than my parents!

 

The Black God’s Kiss by C.L. Moore (1934) – this is a famous short story, which I am embarrassed to say I have never read until now.  A sci-fantasy starring Moore’s famous Jirel of Joiry, Jirel must defend her fallen lands against the invader Guilliame. Since no weapon on earth can destroy Guilliame, Jirel travels to an unearthly underworld in search of a weapon that can stop him. Here’s where things go from an epic fantasy to sci-fantasy – there are changes in gravity, changes in the laws of physics, possibly alien technology. I love the atmospheric feeling in this story! Makes me want to read a lot more Moore.  She hasn’t got time to wonder about all the amazing (and sometimes horrifying) things she comes across, her goal is Get the Weapon, and then Get Home, and then Kill Guilliame. What she has to do to get the weapon, and what the weapon is, I was not expecting any of this, and I hope it was shocking in the 1930s. Highly recommended.

 

Space Episode by Leslie Perri (1941) –  Lida, Michael, and Erik are astronauts, and upon return to Earth their ship was hit by a micro-meteor, doing damage to one of the engines. If they are going to survive re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, someone has to go outside the ship to repair the engine. With the damage to the airlock, whoever goes outside will not be able to get back in. One of these astronauts must sacrifice their life to save the other two.  Lida assumes one of the men will make the sacrifice, but they turn out to be cowards, so (spoiler) she does it. When this story was originally published, apparently male science fiction fans took offense to having to read about two cowardly male characters. Is Lida a heroic female astronaut? Or is she a heroic astronaut?

 

That Only a Mother by Judith Merril (1948) – a cautionary tale. The bombs fell far away, but the radiation and chemicals are in the air here too,  causing children to be born with horrible mutations. Maggie is sure her unborn baby will be fine, and when her husband Hank gets called back to the labs after their daughter’s birth, Maggie sends him letters telling him about their little girls beautiful face, and her laughter, and her development.  If there is anything wrong with their daughter, Maggie hasn’t said a word. In fact, their little girl seems to be developing quicker than expected, at less than a year old, she can speak and can even sing a little! When Hank is finally granted shore leave to spend days on end with his wife and baby daughter,  he discovers a secret he must keep, forever. I was not AT ALL prepared for the shocker of an ending. In the biography area, it is mentioned that not only was That Only A Mother Merril’s first SF story, but it was written to win a bet with John W. Campbell. And yes, she won the bet handily.

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Hello and welcome to this week’s #VintageSciFi discussion!

Topic for Jan 6 – Jan 12:  I just dated myself. In your experience, which vintage SF books don’t feel dated?  What titles have passed the test of time, and feel like they could have been written in the last ten years? Is such a book possible? What, in your opinion, makes something feel dated?

Anytime this week, post a blog post with your thoughts, and leave the link down in the comments so others can more easily find your post.

Not sure where to start?  Here are my questions and thoughts.

 

What makes a Vintage book feel dated?  

On the hard scifi side of things, whenever I read an older science fiction story and the author talks about “computers the size of a room”, or punchcards, I laugh my head off.  1960 called, they want their room sized computer back!  I do want my scifi to have technology – computers, spaceships, flying cars, but almost the less the author speaks to the specifics of the inner workings of the technology (how exactly the spaceship flies, how big/small the computer is), the less dated it feels.  Vintage Science fiction is more a victim of the “dated through technology” issue than vintage fantasy. In fantasy, a magic wand is a magic wand, you know?

Many readers are turned off and bothered by the fact that older scifi fantasy books tend to feature only white, male protagonists, and that female and non-white characters are built around stereotypes and flimsy characterization.  This can make a book feel not only horribly dated, but also offensive.  In my personal experience, I’ve read some books where this is super-bothersome for me, and other times i am not as bothered. Could be the author, could be the mood i’m in that day, I have no idea.

 

What dated books do I enjoy, even though they feel dated?

 

I recently read Isaac Asimov’s Caves of Steel (review coming soon!).  It is horribly dated, often to the point of being funny. The main character comes off as a country bumpkin at times, and i’m hoping that was on purpose, actually, and his wife is written as a 1 dimensional cartoon character. More of this in the review, but his entire worldview is just so narrow as to be silly.  So, yes, horribly dated, but more in the review about why I think this is an important read, and how influential the ideas presented were.

 

One of my favorite older short story collections is The Best of Hal Clement, but yeah, in style and pacing, these stories feel really dated.  Lots of hard scifi, good conversations, excellent commentary on communication between humans and aliens.  If you’ve never read any Hal Clement, this paperback is worth hunting for.

 

It should surprise no one that Mary Shelley Frankenstein does feel dated, and in my opinion this is 100% due to the writing style, which was perfectly modern when the book came out two hundred years ago (Yes, TWO HUNDRED years ago!!).  If you’re not sure where to start with historical Science Fiction,  Frankenstein a perfect place to start.

 

What Vintage SciFi Books have you read that didn’t feel dated?

 

I’m really interested to hear what everyone else has to say on this one, because the only ones that quickly come to mind for me are Dune by Frank Herbert,  Nova by Samuel Delany,  Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm, and Waystation by Clifford Simak. With the Wilhelm title,  the first chapter or two feel a little dated, but everything after that could have been written last year.

What do Dune and Nova have in common?  They take place in the far future, and the lives and goals of the characters have nothing to do with today’s life on Earth.  In Nova, Earth and Earth based politics are mentioned, but Lorq’s decisions are not based on 20th century Earth.

 

Now it’s your turn to join the discussion!

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, by Kate Wilhelm

published 1976

where I got it: purchased used copy

 

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I’ve been looking for a copy of this book for years.  I had no idea what the book was about, couldn’t seem to find a copy to save my life, so when I did finally find a copy in a used bookstore, I didn’t care that the cover art was obscured by an ugly sticker, I didn’t care that the ratty paperback appeared to be a library discard, I didn’t care that the back cover copy had a glaring spelling error. THIS BOOK WAS MINE NOW. FINALLY. (yes, i know about Amazon. Yes, I know about ABE books.  The joy of visiting used bookstores is better than anything on Amazon or Abe)

 

Described as a cautionary, quiet science fiction novel about surviving an apocalypse, Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang won the Hugo, the Locus, the Jupiter, and the Campbell award, and was nominated for the Nebula award.   Along with her husband, Damon Knight, Kate Wilhelm was among the authors who started the Clarion Workshop. Kate Wilhelm passed away at the age of 89, in March of 2018.

 

As the story opens, it’s not so much an extinction level event that begins the apocalypse, more a slow death of a thousand cuts. Radiation leaks, soil that can no longer sustain agriculture, outbreaks of disease, famines, droughts, all which lead to riots and civil unrest.

 

The wealthy Sumner family wasn’t entirely sure what was happening or why, but they knew something horrible was on the horizon, so they planned. A valley full of livestock. A privately funded hospital full of everything they could purchase. A private mill for electricity. Underground bunkers.

 

The goal was for the entire extended family to be self sustaining, no matter what happened to the rest of the world. What they never saw coming was the sterility, the dead children, the lost pregnancies. What’s the point of planning for survival if no one can have babies?   If you can’t create babies the old fashioned way, learn how to make them a new way: through cloning. But even the clones couldn’t naturally have children, so that was another scientific puzzle for the scientists in the family to solve.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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