the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for the ‘Vintage SciFi’ Category

In 1932, Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote the first of what would be five Venus novels, starring Carson Napier.  Napier had thought he was navigating towards Mars, but one wrong calculation took him to Venus!  Called Amtor by the natives, the planet is covered in a thick cloud cover. Napier’s adventures on Venus include earning the love of Princess Duare, piracy, getting involved in politics, rescuing people, dealing with classism, daring escapes, and generally having as many adventures as can possibly be crammed into a sword and planet pulp novel.

There were only five Carson of Venus novels. . .   until now!

 

The Edgar Rice Burroughs Universe is relaunching the Carson of Venus series!  The pulping characters from yesteryear, written , well, today!   Carson of Venus: The Edge of All Worlds by Matt Betts will be available this spring.

I realize this isn’t strictly Vintage Science Fiction, since Betts’ book is being published now. But? I was SO CURIOUS to know how and why Betts wrote this! And how in the heck would a contemporary writer write in the style of pulp fiction from the 1930s and 1940’s?   So, like any good blogger, I asked him.  You can learn more about Matt Betts at his website, or by following him on twitter @Betts_Matt. Check out all the Edgar Rice Burroughs Universe books and comics here.

Wanna know if you need to read the original Carson of Venus stories to enjoy this new one?  Wanna know about Betts’ adventures in writing canon in someone else’s world?  What about the stickier issues of modernizing pulp fiction?  Of course you want to know! read on!

Little Red Reviewer: Who is Carson of Venus, and how did you get involved with writing in the Edgar Rice Burroughs Universe?

Matt Betts: Carson Napier is a character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs for a series of novels that were first published in 1932. Burroughs originally wrote four novels and a novella with the character, and started another book but abandoned it with the outbreak of World War II, when he became a war correspondent.

Carson is an earth man that built a rocket to fly to Mars. Unfortunately, he miscalculated one vital factor, which throws him off course and eventually lands him on Venus, or Amtor as the inhabitants call it. Carson is a little different from other pulp heroes of the time in that he isn’t infallible, and is a little more thoughtful in his plans.

I got involved through the new Director of Publications, Christopher Paul Carey. I’d submitted some work to him when he was with another company, and he remembered my writing. When he was hired on at ERB, Inc., he contacted me and discussed his ideas to continue some of Burroughs’ stories. This was exciting enough, but the plan was to make these canonical additions to Burroughs’ series. The idea of being part of these worlds was really too interesting to pass up. We discussed how the series would start and decided Carson would be a wonderful launch for the new series he had planned.

LRR: What went through your head, as you started reading ERB’s original Carson of Venus books, and comparing his writing style to yours?

MB: It was daunting to be sure. I mean it’s one thing to say I’d love to write a Edgar Rice Burroughs book, but sitting down to actually do it is a whole other matter. There’s a lot of expectation riding on new work in an established series by a pulp legend.

Reading ERB’s work was a big part of preparing to write the book. I read the Carson books first, of course, to get a feel for the series and the characters, but I also read most of the John Carter of Mars books and a few others to really get Burroughs’ style. After that, I read the Venus books again (and again.) While they didn’t ask me to emulate Burroughs exactly in my book, I did have a few directives from ERB, Inc. that included sticking to Burroughs’ point of view for the series, keeping to their spirit, and his storytelling conventions.

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Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964) Directed by Byron Haskin, written by Ib Melchior and John C. Higgings, starring Paul Mantee, Victor Lundin, and Adam West, 110 minutes long.

 

I really wasn’t sure what to expect with Robinson Crusoe on Mars.  I knew this movie was from the 60s,  I knew it was a modernized/scifi version of Defoe’s 18th century novel Robinson Crusoe, and I knew this movie filmed and released before we actually knew what the surface of Mars was really like.  And that’s all I knew. 

 

 

I wasn’t expecting a good movie. 

 

And you know what? Compared to movies that came out in the last ten years, well, yes, Robinson Crusoe on Mars sucks.  BUT. like many classic works, you have to adapt your lens, to see it the way people at the time may have seen it.   Once I realized this movie wasn’t about about being stranded on a realistic Mars, but a movie about a man who was stranded somewhere inhospitable, and what he went through to survive, the movie and the story gets far more enjoyable. And the special effects were pretty darn good for the time! So check your 2020 expectations at the doors, folks.

 

Did you read Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe in high school? I didn’t, and had to look it up on Wikipedia.  The big plot points of the original are fairly straightforward – experienced sailor gets shipwrecked and makes it to an island where he believes he is alone. How to survive if no one comes looking for him because no one knows he’s alive? Yeah, anyway, he finds that cannibals are using this island to kill their prisoners. One of their prisoners escapes, and he and Crusoe become allies. Not being able to understand the man’s language, Crusoe names him Friday and starts trying to convert the guy to Christianity. Friday is viewed as a loyal servant. They save more of the prisoners and kill the cannibals.  Eventually they are rescued.  

 

Knowing the plot of the original Robinson Crusoe makes plot moments in this movie make SO MUCH MORE SENSE, I’m just sayin’! 

 

What Robinson Crusoe on Mars does very, VERY well, is showing the desolation and loneliness that Kit Draper is facing on Mars.  With only the friendly monkey Mona for company, Kit has to stave off the fears that no one knows how to find him, and that he may never hear another human’s voice again, or see another human again, and there’s a very high chance that he will die alone and far from home.  The scenes of him just walking, and walking, and walking, on desolate plains that are completely devoid of life were quite effective.  The hobbies he invents, to cope with all the nothingness, were relatable in this current day and age of social distancing.

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Welcome to Vintage Science Fiction Month!

 

 

Right out of the gate we have some excellent reviews and blog posts:

 

John at SciFi Mind posted his Vintage Month reading list, I’m most looking forward to John’s reviews of Ursula K. LeGuin’s Lathe of Heaven, and C.L. Moore’s Northwest Smith stories.

H.P. at Everyday Should be Tuesday got started a few hours early with a fun review of the time travel romp Lest Darkness Fall, by L. Sprague de Camp. Double entry accounting? really?  (I tease!)

Lynn at Lynn’s Book Blog has a truly gorgeous cover art gallery of   Be sure to grab her January schedule of themed cover art tags.

John at WikiFiction has a fantastic review of A Case of Conscience by James Blish. I had no idea Blish was a biologist, i love learning new things!  Alien biology, evolution, and religion? that’s a firm YES from me!

Starship CoffeeCake (what a great twitter name!) has plans to reread Larry Niven’s Ringworld. I hope they live-tweet their reading adventure!

If you’re still building your January TBR, GW recommends Galactic Sybil Sue Blue by Rosel George Brown.  She’s a mad, mod heroine!

Joseph’s first read of the month is Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock, a title and author I’m not familiar with, so now I’m even more curious to read Joseph’s thoughts on this book!

And if you’re looking for some issues of Astounding Magazine, where you can read famous stories in their very first printing, Astronaut LeTigre offered the perfect link to the Internet Archive’s section on Astounding.

 

We’re only ten hours into Vintage Month and the party is already hopping! If I’m able to hop online later tonight, I’ll update this post with more links as I find them.

I’m knee deep is some Henry Kuttner stories, and working on a review of R.U.R.  Stay groovy my friends!

 

 

2020,  don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out, m’kay?

Huge thank you to Jacob of Red Star Reviews!  He not only co-hosts Vintage SciFi month and runs the VintageSciFi twitter and instagram, he also invited me onto his podcast to talk about Vintage SciFi Month! (click here for all of the Red Star Reviews podcast episodes)

 

Recording this podcast was the most fun I’ve had in ages, and Jacob is a fantastic host and producer. The episode is around 37 minutes long, and you can listen to it by clicking here:

A Conversation on Vintage Science Fiction Month

 

We talked about how Vintage Science Fiction Month started, how it grew, what the rules are (spoiler: there really aren’t any), the joy of it being multi-generational, laughing when sometimes books turn out to be stinkers, and resources for finding Vintage books online, such as Project Gutenberg, LibriVox, Luminist, buying e-books, and getting e-books from your local library.

 

Huge thanks to Jean at Howling Frog for turning me on to Luminist Archive, that place is amazing!

 

Show notes:

Project Gutenberg
Luminist Archives (everything)
Luminist archives SF Magazines
Librivox Audiobooks – free public domain
Ann and Jeff Vandermeer “big books”, these are avail in print and e-book.
Big Book of Classic Fantasy
Big Book of Science Fiction
The Weird Compendium
Sultana’s Dream by Rokheya Sakhawat Hossain at Strange Horizons
Open Road Media – lots of classic scifi avail in print and e-book

Every January, I get to read some cool stuff that isn’t usually on my radar. This year was no different. (ok, well, some of it was on my radar,  but my reaction to what I was reading was nice and surprising!)

 

But?  Something happened this January during my Vintage reads that has never happened before.  I mean, it has, but not due to reading vintage science fiction.

 

what happened, you ask?

 

Reading Vintage Science Fiction this year, more than any other year I’ve done this, made me want to go out and get a ton of biographies.  I want to get a biography of Begum Rokheya, Oscar Wilde, and Orson Welles, and I want to know all about Mary Shelley’s world, and what life was like when she grew up.   I want to know more cool stuff about these hella cool people!

 

I’m not a biography reader,  so saying that I want to read biographies is a big stinkin’ deal!

 

Your turn:

What did you get out of Vintage Science Fiction Month this year?

 

While you’re chewing on that,  here’s the latest batch of Vintage links!

 

Heather at Froodian Slip enjoyed Isaac Asimov’s famous Foundation, and she’s interested to see what happens next in the series. She also enjoyed Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man, a collection of stories that revolve around a man who is so freakish that the freak shows don’t even want him.

 

WikiFiction celebrates Jack Vance’s novel Emphyrio, which turns 50 years old this year. John didn’t much care for Emphyrio, but he is a huge fan of Asimov’s The End of Eternity.

 

Howling Frog continues to amaze, with reviews of Star Trek 10 by James Blish (I LOVE these Star Trek episode novelizations!),  The Door Through Space by Marion Zimmer Bradley, Ordeal in Otherwhere by Andre Norton,  and Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper.

 

Bookforager had a good time with Trader to the Stars by Poul Anderson, and now I am also imagining Rijn as talking with  Brian Blessed’s voice!

 

If audio is more your thing, SFFAudio has an excellent podcast, courtesy LibriVox, of Philip Jose Farmer’s The Green Odyssey. They also have audio of Ray Bradbury’s I, Mars. Their website has a TON of Vintage discussions!

 

Video more your thing? Head over to Lydia Schoch’s site for a review of the short 1930 scifi film It’s a Bird . Lydia also had a good time reminiscing about The Trouble with Tribbles.

 

Neal at Gutenberg’s Son has some excellent suggestions, if you’re looking for a new Vintage book to read.

 

It’s official, Sara Light-Waller has THE BEST garage door!

 

Kristin Brand recommends Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars, with a few disclaimers.

 

Mervi’s reviews reviews Jack Vance’s final Planet of Adventure volume, The Pnume.  The aliens are fun and curious, even if some of the scenes were eye-rolling.

 

Planetary Defense Command gave E.E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensman books a try, with Galactic Patrol. He enjoyed the wackyness, but wasn’t real keen on the telepathy stuff.

 

SciFi Mind read Frank Herbert’s Destination Void, which asks the questions of how (or why) do you keep a mission alive,  when the mission may have been designed to fail?  Thanks to John’s review, this book has now become a MUST READ for me!

 

I get most of these links through our twitter feed and by people leaving their links in the “Vintage Scifi Not-A-Challenge tab up top.  Apologies if I missed yours!  Please leave your link in the comments, and I’ll do my best to get this post updated with your links.

 

Thank you everyone, for an amazing Vintage month!!

I didn’t have another Vintage SciFi Month post planned. . .  until I yesterday afternoon when I listened to a very fun episode of RadioLab.   (and yes, I listen to podcasts the same way I read anthologies: in random order)

 

The title of the episode was just War of the Worlds, and I could guess what it was about, but the episode was a million times more fun than I expected!   Sorry, Yes, this blog post is one huge advertisement for their hella fun War of the Worlds episode and for RadioLab in general.

 

Maybe you already know this timeline?

1898:  H.G. Wells writes War of the Worlds.

1938: Orson Welles does his Oct 30th radio broadcast of his version of War of the Worlds, which takes Wells’ story and makes it sort of news-y.

 

Right at the beginning of the broadcast,  Welles announces that this is a science fiction story,  and then at the end of the broadcast he announces it again.  He and his radio crew assumed they were giving people a fun Halloween scare.  And yet, people freak the hell out any way.

The Radiolab hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich go into all sorts of fun historical detail about how how Newspaper and Radio were not friends, and “We interrupt this broadcast for an important news bulletin” was really new at the time, and how listeners would channel surf the same way we channel surf today.

 

It’s just a damn good podcast episode.

 

They talk about how the police station fielded hundreds of calls from people worried about a Martian invasion, and how people swore they saw smoke above the city. People had convinced themselves that they saw something, and they didn’t see anything! because nothing was actually happening!  And that Welles had no idea that he’d scared the shit out of people until the next morning when he read the newspapers.

 

The hosts then asked what I thought (boy was I wrong!) was a rather silly question:  Could someone pull this same stunt again?  Could someone trick listeners into thinking a radio drama about an obviously fake event was real?

 

um, Yes.

 

Two more times, actually!

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Welcome to our last week of #VintageSciFi discussions.

There are some excellent conversations going on in the comments sections, and it’s never too late to join in. Here are links to the discussions posts from earlier this month:

Topic for Jan 6 – Jan 12:  I just dated myself.

Topic for Jan 13 – Jan 19:  Gateway Drug to Vintage.

Topic for Jan 20 – Jan 26: Why is this important to you?

 

for our final week of Vintage Science Fiction month, we’re doing something fun. Let’s talk about cover art! the good, the bad, the weird, and the WTF.  Before going further, I need to give a huge shout out to Joachim at Science Fiction and other Suspect Ruminations, who has a ginormous index of Vintage Cover Art.  There are also cover art galleries available at The Future Is Female, and this rather random but still enjoyable SciFi Books Flickr group gallery. DECADES of wonderful and weird cover art!  because do you judge a book by it’s cover? I know I do.

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Let’s discuss!

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Topic for Jan 27 – Jan 31: That’s, um, interesting.  Post your favorite Vintage Cover art. Post the weirdest cover art you can find. Post Vintage cover art that makes you want to pick the book up, post vintage cover art that makes you say WTF?

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Be warned, this post is just a gigantic gallery of Vintage cover art (loading my be slow) and my comments on the artwork. Based on the cover art, would you pick up this book?   If you’ve read these titles, does the cover art have anything to do with the story?

 

If you’ve got Vintage SciFi Cover art that you love, or cover art that is so weird you’re not sure what to think about it, put a link to the image in the comments.

What a striking image!! But I don’t think that’s what Jirel was wearing??

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This 1962 artwork looks right out of the mid 80s

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my favorite Waystation Cover Art. first time I saw this cover art, I didn’t even notice the little farmhouse.

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um, what??

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Lem’s The Cyberiad is freakin’ fantastic! Love this Monty Python-esque cover art!


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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?

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!

 

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!


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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.