the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for January 2014

people have been posting Vintage SciFi reviews and discussions all over the place!   While I’m battling airport traffic today, you should enjoy these links to Vintage SciFi goodness all over the blogopshere!   it’s like a giftbox of chocolate truffles. where do I start?  with the caramel? with the white chocolate? with that sparkly one?

Found a link I missed?  Post it in the comments and I’ll update the list as soon as I can.

Howling Frog Books offers up a selection of reviews, including Rendezvous with Rama, by Arthur C. Clark, We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin, The Demolished Man, by Alfred Bester, and Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, by Philip K. Dick.

Sheila Williams has a heartfelt editorial in Asimov’s about remembering Frederik Pohl

My Readers Block reviews Dangerous Visions #3, edited by Harlan Ellison and including short stories by Theodore Sturgeon, Roger Zelazny, Norman Spinrad, J. G. Ballard, and more, and Angels and Spaceships by Fredric Brown

Books Without Any Pictures reviews The Gods of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs, with some great cover art!! Also a great review of Flatland by Edwin Abbot.

Lynn’s Book Blog reviews Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

50 Year Project reviews The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

Genre-Bending discusses The Dying Earth by Jack Vance

Some timely posts on SFSignal recently, one on Reading More Older SFF, and another on LGBT Science Fiction and Fantasy in the 1970s

I can always count on Science Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations for Vintage goodies. In the past week he’s posted an extensive cover art gallery, and a review of A Funeral for the Eyes of Fire  by Michael Bishop.

AQ’s Reviews discusses Marooned on Mars by Lester Del Rey

I Read Therefore I Am discusses The Day of The Triffids by John Wyndham

Remember I said Lesley Connor was someone to thank for the upcoming Book of Apex blog tour in February?  Jason Sizemore is the other person to thank.  Apex Magazine is quite literally his baby.  By the way, as you are reading this, Jason and I are hanging out at ConFusion.

The Demolished Man and The Stars My Destination, by Jason Sizemore

Jason Sizemore is the two time Hugo Award-nominated owner and editor of Apex Publications. You can find more information about him and Apex at http://www.apexbookcompany.com

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The-Demolished-Man-cover

I had a late matriculation into science fiction. It wasn’t until my college years did I begin to read hard genre fiction. But what I did read had a profound effect on my future reading tastes and choices.

The first science fiction novel I remember reading is Alfred Bester’s The Demolished Man (our first Hugo Award-winner back in 1953). Its plot features a powerful telepath (Powell) waging a battle against a damaged and powerful businessman (Reich). The book reads as a futuristic sort of police procedural. It’s an insightful examination of human nature, showing us that things haven’t changed all that much from the 50s.

The Demolished Man is my go to book when readers ask me for a good science fiction book to ease them into the genre. The hard SF aspects of the novel are core to the plot and the world Bester creates feels sufficiently futuristic even 60 years later.

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Judge a book by it’s cover?  don’t mind if I do.  We’re all guilty of buying a book because it has gorgeous cover art, or shying away from a book because the cover art is boring or off-putting.  While I’m out of town this weekend, enjoy this gallery of Frank Frazetta cover art!  It’s sure to be alluring to some of you, and off-putting to others.  I have high expectations for discussions in the comments!

Not familiar with Frank Frazetta? Ultra-Famous fantasy artist who got started in comics and then went to painting. Many of his paintings were purchased for fantasy and adventure novel cover art during the 1960s and 1970s. His style involves lots of skin. lots of skin.  probably NSFW.

Big pics and slow loading times ahead!

warlord of mars frazetta

conan frazetta Read the rest of this entry »

I told my guest posters they could write about anything they wanted for Vintage Science Fiction month, so long as it was speculative fiction related and happened before 1979. I didn’t give anyone any specific direction, on anything.  Ladies and gentlemen, today you are in for a treat. Brittain didn’t just write about one book, or one author. He went all out and read through the nominated and winning novels of the Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards of 1977.

1977: The Award Winners

by Brittain Barber

Brittain Barber is the o-owner of and main writer for the blog Two Dudes in an Attic, where we read Gary Gygax novels so you don’t have to. Scribblings on Two Dudes emanate from the Pacific Northwest and sit at the nexus of science fiction, fantasy, political science, Japan, music, and soccer. (This makes for a killer Venn diagram.)

When the invitation came to do a guest post during Vintage SF Month, I tried to come up with
something more entertaining than a simple book review of some cobwebby relic. Many of my posts tend towards aimless, politico-economic rambling,  I quickly shot that down as requiring far too much research. Finally, I settled on the idea of looking at the award winners and nominees from a particular year; in this case, my birth year of 1977. (Does this make me vintage as well? I prefer to think otherwise.) (Also, I realize that the books here were all published in 1976, but we’ll just talk about them in terms of 1977, for simplicity’s sake.) The topic thus decided, I set about to read as many of the major books from the year as I could, in hopes of providing capsule reviews here. It is fortunate that 1977 was still a year of thin, concise volumes. I wouldn’t have been able to pull this off in an age when the average page count ticks up over four or five hundred.

My focus for this piece is what I consider to be the three big prizes of Western SF: The Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards. I read the winner of each and as many of the nominees as I could get my hands on. I skipped World Fantasy, Campbell, and a couple of others, but there may be time for a follow up later on. I also passed on short fiction in a bid to prevent this project from spiraling out of control. Fortunately, the nominee listings (and awards!) had considerable overlap. Starting with the winning books, below is a selection of the best and brightest of 1977. I may still ramble.

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm – Wilhelm took home the Hugo and Locus with this book, a mix of elegy, apocalypse, and clones. The writing is lyrical and hypnotic, as Wilhelm manages to make her clones both sympathetic and wholly alien. I was disappointed in the end with the conflict she decided to make unavoidable and the results she made inevitable, but that is a matter of opinion rather than technique. I’m a little surprised that this book has faded from the SF consciousness a bit, as it appeared to make a splash at the time. It has also aged well, with little inside to date it. In fact, it may be even more relevant now, with cloning back in the public eye. Recommended reading and a worthy winner, I think. At the very least, I haven’t read anything else from 1977 that is clearly better.

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outcasts of Heaven beltThe Outcasts of Heaven Belt, by Joan D. Vinge

published in 1978

where i got it: purchased used

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You know how sometimes a book looks really really good, and then you read it and it’s nothing special?  this book was the opposite. For not looking like anything special (and suffering from an ultra-cheesy tagline), The Outcasts of Heaven Belt was pretty damn good.

They came on a mission to paradise - blissfully unaware that heaven had become hell!" what an unfortunate tagline!

They came on a mission to paradise – blissfully unaware that heaven had become hell!” what an unfortunate tagline!

Think about some space operas that have come out in the last few years. How long are they? 400 pages? 600 pages? longer?   Vinge crams all the trappings of a great space opera in just two hundred pages. Everything from the not so pretty realities of space travel, to the effects of radiation, to complex planetary system politics, to how our cultural norms might change based on different environs. To add to the SFnal-ness of the whole thing, time is measured in seconds. No hours, days or weeks, character refer to kiloseconds, megaseconds and gigaseconds. There’s a great little graph in the front of the translating this into hours, days and weeks. It’s in logarithmic scale, making the metricality of measuring time in 10 to the nth seconds make perfect sense.

terrible photo of a really cool logarithmic scale of time.

terrible photo of a really cool logarithmic scale of time.

The story starts out with the crew of The Ranger. Traveling from Morningside, they’ve been enroute for four years, hoping to reach the Heaven system, and open up a new trade route. This isn’t like Star Trek, you can’t just get a message from someone instantaneously. Morningside hasn’t been in any communication with Heaven, but they’ve had no reason to believe the system isn’t doing just fine. The Heaven system had been colonized because of it’s resource rich icy and rocky asteroids and planetoids, and the moons orbiting its gas giants. Any system with that quantity of resources and trade goods would be rich within a few generations. (Vinge doesn’t even dream of Earth like planets.  None of the planets we colonize are Earths. They are what we can find, and what we can survive on)

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I met Lesley Connor at ConText down in Columbus last summer, and we became fast friends. Lesley works for Apex Books, and she’s one of the people to thank for next month’s Book of Apex blog tour.

Taking Flowers for Algernon by Lesley Connor

Lesley Conner is the social media editor and marketing leader for Apex Publications. She spends her days pestering book reviewers, keeping the Apex blog in order, and chatting about books, writing, and anything else that crosses her mind on Twitter at @ApexBookCompany.

*Warning: This post includes MAJOR spoilers for Flowers for Algernon. You’ve been warned. Go read the book. You’ll be happy you did.*

I can still remember the first time I read Flowers for Algernon. I was in the seventh grade; Mrs. Smith’s advanced reading class. I don’t remember everything, of course. Over the years the classroom discussions dissecting the diction and Daniel Keyes’s decision to tell the story through a heartwarming but unreliable narrator have faded. The hours I spent with my legs curled beneath me as I read Charlie’s journal entries, letting the story unfold first in clunky, unsure sentences but quickly hurtling toward a level that was nearly beyond my thirteen years, are more of imprint, rather than a true memory.

But the emotion those words invoked. That I will never forget.

The tears blurring my vision, tracking down my cheeks, dripping from my jawline. The ache that gripped my heart when Charlie realized Algernon was regressing and there was nothing he could do, no matter how desperately he tried, to keep the same from happening to him. Rereading his early journal entries with him, knowing where he was going back to, how he’d let people hurt him, tease him, push him around, because he hadn’t realized they were being cruel. When he goes back to his adult education class in the final scene, sitting in his old seat, and a part of his teacher, Miss Kinnian, breaks down, knowing the man she’d grown to love was gone forever. I cried for Charlie, for Algernon, for Miss Kinnian, for every time I felt like I hadn’t quite fit in.

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Best of Hal ClementThe Best of Hal Clement, edited by Lester Del Rey

published in 1979

where I got it: purchased used

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School teacher and rationalist, Hal Clement, most famous for Mission of Gravity, is one of the fathers of hard science fiction.  His works deal in real science, and a theme that kept coming up in this collection is characters who face issues that would realistically come up in SFnal situations, be them dealing with aliens, unexpected gravity, or even mechanical problems.  It was very satisfying for me to read about characters whose first impulse isn’t to shoot first and ask questions later, but to ask question first, to observe, to learn about their surroundings, to make the best possible decisions with the resources at hand. And the alien descriptions are just amazing. How would creatures evolve on different types of planets with different environments and resources? What would they think of humans? Those are the types of questions Clement thought about.

 

Enjoyable and completely readable, these are recommended to all fans of hard science fiction. These stories may be slower paced, but they’ve got pay-offs that beat many fast paced space opera adventure stories. Lester Del Rey edited and wrote the introduction to The Best of Hal Clement, and convinced the “I’m not a writer, I’m a teacher” Mr. Clement to write the Author’s Afterword.

 

The collection includes: Impediment (1942), Technical Error (1943), Uncommon Sense (1945), Assumption Unjustified (1946), Answer (1947), Dust Rag(1956), Bulge(1968), Mistaken for Granted (1974), A Question of Guilt (1976), and Stuck with It (1976).

And these were some damn excellent stories, possibly some of the best hard science fiction I’ve read in a long time.  Bulge and A Question of Guilt didn’t do it for me, but they were still very well written. Here are my thoughts on some of my favorites:

Impediment – Aliens have landed in a remote area of North America, hoping to find a particular element with which to recharge their weaponry. But first, they must face the challenge of first contact with human beings. These aliens have no vocal speech, and use a completely different method of communication than we do. At first they are not sure if we are even intelligent. They do make contact with a lone hiker, and are able to communicate with him through writing. Impediment offers some excellent discussion on communication and language. And it was nice to see a First Contact story from the aliens point of view. It’s obvious to the reader what their human friend is doing and saying, but the aliens have no idea.

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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.