1956


Forbidden Area: As chilling now as when it was first published

Forbidden Area by Pat Frank

Foreign espionage and sabotage undermining the credibility of American armed forces. A counter-intelligence group mocked and silenced for its theories. Shadowy plans, decades in the making. The fate of the world caught in the balance between devastation and salvation. Pat Frank describes all of these in Forbidden Area, which was first published in 1956 and is still terrifying sixty-one years later.

Harper Perennial’s 2016 re-issue of Forbidden Area only clocks in at just over 200 pages and contains four interlocking plotlines, each of which is essential to the overarching story. First there’s the introductory tale of Henry and Nina, two teenagers who happen to be necking in the Florida surf on what, in hindsight, will be an extremely momentous night. They see something that should be impossible: a large submarine discharging a smal... Read More

The Man Who Japed: PKD shines in his third novel

The Man Who Japed by Philip K. Dick

Cult sci-fi author Philip K. Dick's third novel, The Man Who Japed, was originally published in one of those cute little "Ace doubles" (D-193, for all you collectors out there), back to back with E.C. Tubb's The Space-Born, in 1956, and with a cover price of a whopping 35 cents. (Ed Emshwiller's cover for The Man Who Japed was his first of many for these beloved double-deckers.) As in Dick's previous novel, The World Jones Made (1955), the story takes place on an Earth following a nuclear Armageddon that has considerably changed mankind's lot. In The Man Who Japed, by the year 2114, around 130 years after the war's end, society is run in accordance with the principles of... Read More

The Dragon in the Sea: Submarine treachery

The Dragon in the Sea by Frank Herbert

The East and the West rule the world, but the West is running out of oil. The West has been sending subtugs (specialized submarines) to smuggle oil from the East, but the last twenty missions have failed. It’s treachery! Security knows that the East has a lot of sleeper agents among their ranks, so they assign John Ramsey, who specializes in psychology and electronics, aboard the next mission in order to uncover the sleeper agent.

There are four men aboard the subtug, and since one of them is Ramsey, his search seems pretty simple. He even has fancy new technology that monitors the crew’s hormone levels. Unfortunately, things don’t go as planned. The crew discovers a dead man aboard the subtug — was he a sleeper agent or the victim of one? They also find gadgets designed to give away their location. And there’s sabotage, too. (How many sleeper agents does the East ... Read More

The Stars My Destination: Tiger, tiger, burning bright, intent on revenge

The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

Much has been written about Alfred Bester’s classic 1956 SF novel The Stars My Destination (Tiger! Tiger! in the United Kingdom). According to Wikipedia, it is considered one of the best SF books of all time by many authors such as Neil Gaiman, Joe Haldeman, Samuel. R. Delany, Robert Silverberg, and William Gibson.

Predating cyberpunk by almost three decades (if you count from Gibson’s... Read More

The 13th Immortal: One of Silverberg’s earliest novels

The 13th Immortal by Robert Silverberg

The 13th Immortal is one of Robert Silverberg's earliest novels, and though it's not considered one of his great works, I certainly enjoyed it thoroughly and recommend it to those who like short science fiction novels from the 1950s. It's a post-apocalyptic story about twelve immortals who have divided most of the world among themselves into separate Empires, leaving a few other places to whoever claims them. Those few key other spaces include a mutant city, a computerized city with no human inhabitants, and the larger space of Antarctica.

The main point Silverberg makes in this novel is that human beings are to blame for their own fall, and everyone in this new future realizes that the apocalypse was a "technology-born nightmare." Therefore, there is a general commitment to live as much as possible without being dependent on technology:

"The old ways returned to the world ... Read More

Double Star: No second-rate actor could ever become president, right?

Double Star by Robert A. Heinlein

Most of Robert A. Heinlein’s adult novels have interesting ideas or premises but many lack likeable characters and/or fun quickly-moving plots. Fortunately Double Star has all the right elements and is entertaining from start to finish. It’s one of Heinlein’s best novels, I think, and I must not be alone in that opinion since it won the Hugo Award in 1956 and was nominated for Locus’ All-Time Best Science Fiction Novels. Double Star is a character-based novel that explores some important political issues without getting preachy.

Lorenzo Smythe, who styles himself “The Great Lorenzo,” is a down-and-out actor who has a lot more self-esteem than he has job offers. In fact, he’s a pompous ass and nobody wants to hire him. Just after he’s spent his last penny, he’s offered an acting job that pays a lot more money than he’s ever been offered before. He will be playing... Read More

The World Jones Made: Compulsively readable

The World Jones Made by Philip K. Dick

By 1956, the sensation of seeing his name in print was not a new one for author Philip K. Dick. Between 1952 and 1955, he had placed around 75 (!) short stories in the various science fiction magazines and digests of the day, and in 1955 his first novel, Solar Lottery, saw its first publication. That novel appeared in one of those cute little "Ace doubles" (D-103, for all you collectors out there), backed with Leigh Brackett's The Big Jump. The book sold passably well, Dick later wrote; around 150,000 copies' worth. (Today, that 35-cent paperback is likely to fetch 70 times its original price.)

Dick's follow-up novel came the next year, and that novel, The World Jones Made, also initially appeared as an Ace double (D-150), paired with Margaret St. Clair's Agent of the Unknown. Dick's second full-length work finds the future Hugo winner already displ... Read More

Time for the Stars: One of Heinlein’s best juveniles

Time for the Stars by Robert A. Heinlein

Time for the Stars is one of my favorite Heinlein Juveniles, and I like his juveniles better than his books for adults, so I guess that makes Time of the Stars one of my favorite Heinlein works. It’s got everything that makes his stories so much fun to read, especially for kids. Likeable heroes, sweet relationships, real emotions, a touch of romance, a bit of physics, spaceship travel and exploration of distant planets. (And also, as usual, there’s a hint of incest — romance with a cousin — and a few complaints about taxes. It is a Heinlein novel, after all.)

In Time for the Stars, twins Tom and Pat join an experimental scientific study to see if telepathy might be a viable way for Earth to communicate with her exploring spaceships. It’s thought that if telepathy could work for anyone, it would be identical twins. Tom and Pat are excited to be ... Read More

The Incredible Shrinking Man: A beautiful psychological study of masculinity

The Incredible Shrinking Man by Richard Matheson

Every day Scott Carey is getting shorter by 1/7 of an inch. The doctors have figured out why — he was exposed to a combination of insecticide and radioactivity — but so far they have not been able to make him stop shrinking. Now Scott is only one inch tall and he is trapped in the cellar of his family’s rented home with a stale piece of bread, an out-of-reach box of crackers, a sponge, a garden hose, a water heater, and a black widow spider. And in seven more days, he’ll be gone.

Well, that’s enough to make many readers want to hear Scott’s story. How did he get in the cellar? Why didn’t he prepare for this since he had plenty of time? Where is his wife and daughter? Will the therapies reverse the shrinkage? Will the spider get him?

Readers who are expecting a horror-adventure story will be pleased with Richard Matheson’s T... Read More

To Live Forever: Vance writes about things that fascinate me

To Live Forever by Jack Vance

Note: You may also find this book published with the name Clarges.

In Clarges, a city in the far future, humans have conquered death. Unfortunately, there's just not enough room for billions of immortal people to live forever, so they've passed the fair-play act which divides society into 5 phyle which must be maintained at certain population ratios. Those who choose to participate in fair-play must register in Brood, the lowest phyle, and receive 82 years of life, after which an "assassin" visits and takes them away in a black hearse. By significantly contributing to society, citizens may move up through the phyle, adding several years of life with each step. A very select few will reach Amaranth and may have their bodies genetically modified (with 5 copies made, in case of accidents), making them youthful forever. This social climbing causes a lot of anxiety for the peo... Read More