1951


Dreadful Sanctuary: The Norman conquest

Dreadful Sanctuary by Eric Frank Russell

As I have mentioned elsewhere, there are several writers who never seem to let me down, and in that elite group, English author Eric Frank Russell must surely be included. The Best of Eric Frank Russell (1978) was my initial exposure to this Golden Age great (reputedly, legendary editor John W. Campbell’s favorite contributor), and it was, for me, among the best of the 21 Best of… titles in the justly celebrated Ballantine series. I had also loved Men, Martians and Machines (1955), which can almost be seen as a warm-up for Star Trek; Read More

Black Amazon of Mars: Exceeds its inspiration

Black Amazon of Mars by Leigh Brackett

While credit is certainly due to the originator of an idea, iterations which better the original are likewise deserving of recognition, and in some cases, perhaps more. Edgar Rice Burroughs gets a lot of attention for pioneering the Martian hero story, as does Robert E. Howard for Conan, the barbarian with honor in a strange land of beasts and magic. But they may not be the writers who best presented the ideas. Leigh Brackett’s hyper-masculine hero Eric John Stark — similar in name to John Carter — features in some of her SEA KINGS OF MARS stories. More consistent in quality, described in a more practiced, fluid prose, and existing in a fantasi... Read More

Dragon’s Island: Part noir, part jungle adventure, all great fun

Dragon’s Island by Jack Williamson

The five-year period from 1948 – ’52 was one of superlative productivity for future sci-fi Grand Master Jack Williamson. Although he’d already written some 75 short stories since his first sale at age 20, in 1928 (“The Metal Men,” in the December issue of editor Hugo Gernsback’s Amazing Stories magazine), that five-year stretch saw him produce some of his most fondly remembered longer pieces: the novels Darker Than You Think (1948), The Humanoids (1949), The Cometeers (1950), Seet... Read More

City At World’s End: Going Vegan

City At World’s End by Edmond Hamilton

Written near the dawn of the Cold War era and soon after mankind first became aware of the fearful possibilities of the atom bomb, City at World’s End yet remains both highly readable and grippingly entertaining today, more than 65 years after its initial appearance. Edmond Hamilton’s book initially as a “complete novel” in the July 1950 issue of the pulp magazine Starling Stories, was released in hardcover the following year, and, in ’53, appeared again in the pages of Galaxy. (Personally, I just finished reading the 35-cent Crest Giant paperback from 1957.) Hamilton, who was already 46 when he wrote this tale, had been a published author since 1926, and already had countless hundreds of short stories, novellas and novels under his spacebelt (I invite you to loo... Read More

Hold Back the Night: Not for the faint of heart

Hold Back the Night by Pat Frank

Hold Back the Night (1951; 2017) is the third of Pat Frank’s classic Cold War-era novels receiving a re-issue from Harper Perennial, after Mr. Adam (1946; 2016) and Forbidden Area (1956; 2016). Originally published during the Korean War, Hold Back the Night finds inspiration from the very real events which occurred during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir and tells the story of a single group of U.S. Marines. Frank’s intimate descriptions of military life during wartime, especially the differences separating enlisted men and their commanding officers, as well as the hardships they shared d... Read More

Prelude to Space: Clarke’s 1951 debut

Prelude to Space by Arthur C. Clarke

Prelude to Space is the first novel Arthur C. Clarke wrote and is generally not considered as good as Childhood's End (1953), probably the most famous of Clarke's early novels. The publication history of this story is not unusual for the period. Clarke wrote the novel in the space of a month in 1947 but it wasn't until 1951 that the whole novel was published in magazine format by Galaxy Science Fiction. It was followed by a hardcover edition in 1953. What is atypical about it is that the novel does not appear to be based on one of Clarke's short stories. Although one of his lesser works, it has been reprinted numerous times. The edition I read was printed in 1977 and includes a "Post Apollo Preface," as Cla... Read More

The Illustrated Man: Grim but touching stories

The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury

The Illustrated Man is a  collection of Ray Bradbury’s stories which are sandwiched between the account of the titular man whose tattoos come alive at night and set the scenes for the 18 tales in this collection. All of these stories are classic Ray Bradbury — full of spacemen, Earth-Mars conflict, psychiatrists, spoiled children, bad marriages, book burning, domestic work-saving technologies, and nervous breakdowns. They deal with the fear of atomic war, loneliness, prejudice, madness, and the dangers of automobiles, junk food, and media entertainment (but smoking is okay).

All of the tales are written in Bradbury’s incomparable prose and most of them are emotionally touching. But, not surprisingly, they’re almost all grim, making The Illustrated Man a book that you probably won’t want to read all at once unless you... Read More

The Goshawk: Love the hawk, hated the author

The Goshawk by T.H. White

When I found out that T.H. White, the author of The Once and Future King, had written The Goshawk, a book about training a hawk, I jumped at the chance to read it. I love stories about birds of prey (probably fostered by a childhood obsession with My Side of the Mountain) and have often fantasized about becoming an amateur falconer.

Based on The Goshawk, these fantasies are not likely to come true. T.H. White describes the process for training a hawk in stark detail and it does not sound appealing or practical for my current lifestyle, which involves sleep and sanity and a minimum of animal abuse. Apparently you have to keep the bird awake and hungry for two or three days straight until it passes out from exhaustion, resting on... Read More

The Day of the Triffids: The Walking Vegetables

The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

Bill Masen wakes in a hospital with bandages over his eyes. Finally, he will be able to expose his eyes to light — if only a nurse or doctor would come to remove the bandages. Well, no one is left to help Bill because a gnarly comet has blinded every person that watched its lightshow. Bill removes his bandages, leaves the hospital, and learns that English civilization — perhaps human civilization — has collapsed due to mass blindness.

Without its ability to see, humanity loses its place atop the food pyramid. A new creature now dominates: the triffid. A triffid is a tall plant. It eats insects. It can use its stalk as a whip, which is deadly because it contains poison. Though a triffid can’t just eat a person, python style, its prehensile stalk can tear and consume the flesh from a rotting corpse. Worse, the triffids can walk. And they can talk to each other! Each triffid h... Read More

The Puppet Masters: Somewhat icky

The Puppet Masters by Robert A. Heinlein

Unfriendly aliens from Titan have arrived on Earth and are planning to conquer us. To do this, the slug-like beings latch onto the backs of their human hosts and take over their bodies and minds. The aliens are rapidly spreading in the Midwest and they’ve managed to infiltrate the Treasury Department. To make world domination go even faster and easier, they’re planning to get the President of the United States. That’s why Sam Cavanaugh, secret agent, has been called in from his vacation. He’s teaming up with Mary, a beautiful red-head, to stop the invasion. But Sam and Mary soon learn that even secret agents are susceptible to alien body snatching.... and falling in love.

There’s plenty of action in The Puppet Masters — chases, capture, torture, escape, reconnaissance missions, hide-outs, vehicle crashes, parachute landings, vigilantes, and even a plague. And since this is Rob... Read More