1953


The Sword of Rhiannon: Classic planetary romance

The Sword of Rhiannon by Leigh Brackett

Lightning-cracked time portals. Secret tombs. Slave ship mutiny. Snake men. Buried alive. Parlays with kings. These are just some of the adventurous elements of Leigh Brackett’s The Sword of Rhiannon. (Though initially published as Sea Kings of Mars, it quickly changed names, and in reprintings since has consistently been known as The Sword of Rhiannon.) Written in 1953, it was one of the last threads of the pulp era yet benefits from increased expectations regarding prose and characterization. It never, however, fails as an adventure.

Matt Carse, Earthman and grave looter on Mars, meets with the opportunity of lifetime one evening walking the streets of Jekkara. Shown the mystical sword of the mighty and long dead sorceror Rhiannon, its... Read More

The Rithian Terror: A pleasing blend of hard SF and hard-boiled espionage

The Rithian Terror by Damon Knight

A pleasing blend of futuristic science fiction and hard-boiled espionage caper, The Rithian Terror, by Damon Knight, first saw the light of day in the January 1953 issue of Startling Stories, under the title Double Meaning. For 25 cents, readers also got, in that same issue, a Murray Leinster novelette entitled “Overdrive,” as well as five short stories, including Isaac Asimov’s “Button, Button” and Jack Vance’s “Three-Legged Joe;” that’s what I call value for money! Anyway, the Knight novel later appeared in one of those cute little “Ace doubles,” and, later still, in a 1965 paperback from Awa... Read More

Against the Fall of Night: Historically interesting, difficult to read

Against the Fall of Night by Arthur C. Clarke

Against the Fall of Night, by Arthur C. Clarke, originally appeared as a novella in 1948, in Startling Stories. Clarke expanded the story and published it as a novel with Gnome Press in 1953. Still later he wrote The City and the Stars which expands some of the themes posited in Against the Fall of Night.

Against the Fall of Night would be considered a novella by today’s standards; it’s probably about 40,000 words in length. Other aspects of the work contribute to a “novella” feel; the story is not fleshed out and large sections are told to us via indirect narrative. The things that are shown, though, are imaginative and gorgeous.

Alvin lives in the city of Diasp... Read More

Fahrenheit 451: A “Book Chat”

For today’s Book Chat, we’re examining Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451. Interestingly, it’s the only one of his novels that Bradbury considered to be “science fiction,” telling the story of Guy Montag, a fireman who starts fires rather than putting them out. In Montag’s world, books and intellectual curiosity are forbidden, with interesting and terrifying consequences.

Let’s begin!

Bill: Another day, another Bradbury classic. I’ve been a fan of Fahrenheit 451 since I read it the first time way back in late middle or early high school and have remained so through all those re-reads back when I used to teach it in high school as well (most student reactions were positive). This re-read was no different, though com... Read More

The Kraken Wakes: Baked Alaska

The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham

At this point, only the most obstinate of naysayers would ever deny the alarming evidence regarding global warming, the shrinking of the ozone layer, the melting of the polar ice caps, and the rising of the Earth’s ocean levels. Indeed, just recently, the European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 satellite revealed that Greenland and Antarctica are, together, losing their millennia-old ice caps at the rate of some 500 cubic kilometers per year! But over 60 years ago, British sci-fi author John Wyndham presented to his readers an even scarier proposition than Man’s unwitting destruction of his environment, in his 1953 offering The Kraken Wakes (released in the U.S. under the title Out of the Deeps); namely, the deliberate destruction of the polar ice caps, with its concomitant w... Read More

Bring the Jubilee: A brilliant alternative history where the South prevailed

Bring the Jubilee by Ward Moore

Ward Moore’s Bring the Jubilee is a fairly obscure alternate-history story published in 1953 in which the South won the "War for Southron Independence." In this world, Robert E. Lee succeeds Jefferson Davis as the second president of the Confederacy in 1865. The Confederacy steadily expands its empire through Mexico and South America. Its chief rival is the German Union, which splits control of Europe with the Spanish Empire. In response, the Confederacy has allied with Great Britain, creating two opposing empires that straddle the Atlantic.

Strangely enough, slavery was abolished but minorities continue to face persecution, and poverty is rampant in the United States, the former Union states of the North. Other than a rich landowner minority, most people are indentured to their owners, effectively a form of slavery. In addition, the combustible engine, l... Read More

Childhood’s End: The Overlords have a plan for us

Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke

There's something very comforting in the SF novels of Arthur C. Clarke, my favorite of the Big Three SF writers of the Golden Age (the other two being Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov). His stories are clearly-written, unembellished, and precise, and they focus on science, ideas, and plot. Though some claim his characters are fairly wooden, I don’t see it that way. They tend to be fairly level-headed and logical, and focus on handling the situations on hand in an intelligent manner. In Clarke's world, the average protagonist is a smart and scientific-minded person, much like ... the author himself. And I think his target audience is also readers who think scientific pr... Read More

More Than Human: Introducing the “Homo Gestalt”

More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon

Theodore Sturgeon’s More Than Human, which won the International Fantasy Award in 1954 and was selected as one of David Pringle’s 100 Best SF novels, must have been quite an eye-opener back in 1953 in the Golden Age of Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke, when robots, rocket ships, future societies and aliens ruled the roost. For one thing, it hardly features any credible science at all, and in tone and atmosphere owes more to magic realism and adult fantasy. In fact, the writing reminds me most of Ray Bradbury, full of poetry and powerful images. Try readi... Read More

The Well of the Worlds: Kuttner & Moore went out with a doozy!

The Well of the Worlds by Henry Kuttner & C.L. Moore

Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore's final science fiction novel, Mutant, was released in 1953. There would be sporadic short stories from the famous husband-and-wife writing team throughout the '50s, as well as a mystery series from Kuttner featuring psychoanalyst/detective Dr. Michael Gray, not to mention a superior sci-fi novel from Moore herself, Doomsday Morning, in 1957, but Mutant was, essentially, the last word, sci-fiwise, from the team. But Mutant is what's known as a "fix-up" novel, comprised of five short stories (in this case, mainly dating back to 1945) cobbled together to make a whole, so I suppose that we must call the team's T... Read More

Mutant: Kuttner & Moore’s final novel

Mutant by Henry Kuttner & C.L. Moore

By the early 1950s, the great husband-and-wife writing team of Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore had moved to the West Coast to acquire degrees at the University of Southern California, and were concentrating more on their scholastic pursuits than their (formerly prodigious) sci-fi/fantasy output. In 1953, the pair released Mutant, which would turn out to be their final, novel-length work of science fiction as a team. Mutant is what is known as a "fix-up novel," consisting of four short stories originally published in 1945 and a final story released in 1953, cobbled together with some interlinking material. Taken as a whole, the book is another great achievement for the pair; a wonderfully well-written, thought-provoking, multigenerational piece of hard science fiction.

Mutant tells the story of the Baldies, a population of telepathic, hairless (natch) humans that h... Read More

King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table: Arthur for kids

King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table by Roger Lancelyn Green

If you're in search of a King Arthur retelling for young readers that stretches from his birth to his death and includes everything that happens in between, I would personally recommend Rosemary Sutcliff’s Legends of King Arthur trilogy. To me, it is the quintessential compendium of Arthurian lore, taken from a variety of sources, and retold in Sutcliff’s beautiful poetic-prose. Variations of the legend are a dime a dozen these days, but to me, Sutcliff’s version is the best.

However, for those with a particular interest in Arthurian legend, and eager to get their hands on every bit of literature surrounding him, then Roger Lancelyn Green’s classic is just as essential. As a member of one of the famous Inklings of Oxford University (a group tha... Read More