First He Died: No Excedrin needed

First He Died by Clifford D. Simak

As I think I may have mentioned elsewhere, stories about time travel can sometimes give me a headache right between the eyes. And really, who among us hasn’t, at one time or another, come close to getting a major-league migraine when trying to suss out the temporal conundrums inherent in many of these tales? Fortunately for me — and my head — the novel that I have just experienced is one that does indeed feature time travel in its story line, but that lays out its complexities in a manner that leaves the reader blissfully headache free. The book in question is Clifford D. Simak’s second novel, First He Died; an early and surprisingly superior outing from the beloved future Grand Master.

First He Died has a somewha... Read More

Into Plutonian Depths: Keep your lamps trimmed and burning

Into Plutonian Depths by Stanton A. Coblentz

Starting in 1906, scientists began searching for definitive proof of a theorized ninth planet; a heavenly body that would go far in explaining Uranus’ perturbations of movement that could not be wholly ascribed to the presence of Neptune alone. And it was 23-year-old astronomer Clyde W. Tombaugh who, in the winter of 1930, ultimately made that discovery, while employed at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, AZ. The new planet would be dubbed Pluto on May 1st of that year, and was, naturally enough, a major news story at the time. Thus, it was this landmark discovery that led San Francisco-born author and poet Stanton A. Coblentz to pen his 5th novel (out of an eventual 23), Into Plutonian Depths, shortly thereafter. The book holds the distinction of being the first fictional work t... Read More

Cosmic Engineers: Simak’s first novel

Cosmic Engineers by Clifford D. Simak

Every great novelist has to begin somewhere, and for future sci-fi Grand Master Clifford D. Simak, that beginning was his first novel, Cosmic Engineers. This is not to say, of course, that this novel was the first attempt at writing that Simak had ever made. Far from it, as a matter of fact. Cosmic Engineers originally appeared as a three-part serial in the February - April 1939 issues of John W. Campbell’s highly influential Astounding Science-Fiction magazine, and in a slightly expanded book form 11 years later. But before 1939, Simak had placed no fewer than 10 short stories in the pages of ASF and Thrilling Wonder Stories, while at the same time working as a journ... Read More

The Martian Chronicles: Two reviews and a “Book Chat”

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

The Martian Chronicles is a collection of Ray Bradbury’s stories about the human colonization of Mars which were previously published in the pulp magazines of the late 1940s. The stories are arranged in chronological order with the dates of the events at the beginning of each story. In the first edition of The Martian Chronicles, published in 1950, the events took place in a future 1999-2027, but a reprinted 1997 edition pushes all events forward to 2030-2057. Because it’s a story collection, The Martian Chronicles has an episodic feel which has been made more fluid by connecting the stories with short vignettes, similar to the structure of Bradbury’s collection The Illustrated Man.

In the first story, “Rocket Summer,” we visit a small town in Ohio while the first human explorator... Read More

Waldo & Magic, Inc: Two early stories from Heinlein

Waldo & Magic, Inc by Robert A. Heinlein

Waldo & Magic, Inc is a collection of two seemingly unrelated stories by Robert A. Heinlein (though both involve magic “lose in the world”). I listened to the recent audio version produced by Brilliance Audio. MacLeod Andrews, who I always like, narrates. William H. Patterson Jr provides an introduction to the stories and Tim Powers provides an afterword.

The first story, “Waldo,” was originally published in Astounding Magazine in 1942 under Heinlein’s penname, Anson MacDonald. The titular character is a man who has myasthenia gravis, a disease which leaves him physically very weak. Waldo’s brain, however, is in fine working order. He has been able to compensate somewhat for his unusable body by developing remote manipulators to do his work for him. In fact, he’s known on Earth as a mechanical genius and has become rich because of his inventions. (Interesting ... Read More

The Dreaming Jewels: Unique, uncomfortable

The Dreaming Jewels by Theodore Sturgeon

Horty Bluett is only eight years old, but his short life has already been utterly miserable. One day, after suffering at the hands of his classmates and his adoptive parents, he runs off and joins the carnival. The only thing he carries is his sole possession — a jack-in-the-box doll named Junky. Junky has hard shiny eyes and Horty gets nervous and sick when Junky isn’t around.

At the carnival, Horty finally finds acceptance among some of society’s outcasts. For the first time in his life, he feels like he’s part of something — that he’s participating in life instead of watching it go by. As Horty gets older, he begins to realize that there’s something weird about the carnival. The man who runs it, who everyone calls Maneater, has some sort of genetic research going on and he may be a danger to Horty and to the world in general. And it all has something to do with Junky’s strange jewele... Read More

Fury: A classic of Golden Age science fiction

Fury by Henry Kuttner & C.L. Moore

1946 had been a very good year indeed for Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore, with a full dozen stories published plus three fine novels (The Fairy Chessmen, Valley of the Flame and The Dark World), and in 1947, science fiction's preeminent husband-and-wife writing team continued its prolific ways. Before the year was out, the two had succeeded in placing another 15 stories into the pulp magazines of the day, in addition to the novel for which Kuttner is best remembered: Fury. A classic of Golden Age science fiction, Fury originally appeared in the May, June and July issues of Astounding Science-Fiction under one of the pair's many pseudonyms, Lawrence O'Donnell. The story goes that legendary editor John W. Campb... Read More

House of Flesh: Wonderfully creepy

House of Flesh by Bruno Fischer

It was horror writer David Bischoff, writing in Jones and Newman's excellent overview volume Horror: Another 100 Best Books who first turned me on to Bruno Fischer's House of Flesh (1950). In his essay, Bischoff mentions that House of Flesh is a "Gothic novel for males," reveals that it is his favorite "shudder pulp horror" story, and tells us that this little novel surprisingly sold over 2 million copies in North America alone. The edition that I read is the hard-to-find original Fawcett "Gold Medal," but I'm very happy to see that the fine folks at Blackmask have released a new edition for a 21st century audience, as House of Flesh is an exciting page-turner that should please most readers... and not just males. While not exactly horror per se, it does contain some gruesome elements, and can be said to be more of a noirish tale with decidedly shuddery overtones.
... Read More

I, Robot: Some of Asimov’s best stories

I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

“..all conflicts are finally evitable. Only the Machines, from now on, are inevitable"

Most science fiction fans know Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics:

Robots must not hurt human beings or allow them to come to harm.
Robots must obey human beings so far as it doesn’t violate Law 1.
Robots must not harm themselves as long as this doesn’t violate Laws 1 and 2.

In I, Robot, Asimov presents nine stories within a frame story that explore the implications of these Three Laws of Robotics. The introduction presents the frame story, which introduces Dr. Susan Calvin, who has recently retired from a 50-year career as the world’s first robopsychologist. A reporter is attempting to interview the somewhat reclusive Dr. Calvin, who is reluctant to share her experiences. Through clever flattery, questions and prompts, he finally gets her talking, whic... Read More

Farmer in the Sky: A Heinlein Juvenile in audio

Farmer in the Sky by Robert A. Heinlein

As I mentioned in my recent review of The Number of the Beast, I used to be a fan of Robert A. Heinlein’s “Juveniles” when I was a kid. I give Heinlein much of the credit for turning me into a speculative fiction lover at a young age, so I was really disappointed that The Number of the Beast was so dreadful. To cleanse my palate, and to restore my trust in a man who was such an influence on me, I decided to read Farmer in the Sky, a Heinlein Juvenile which has recently been produced in audio format by Brilliance Audio.

Farmer in the Sky took me back to my childhood — when I loved to think about riding in spaceships while most girls were... Read More