1957


Wasp: Phase 9 From Outer Space

Wasp by Eric Frank Russell

There seems to exist some very real confusion as to just what English sci-fi author Eric Frank Russell did during WW2. Some sources would have us believe that he worked for British Intelligence during the war years, while others claim that he was merely an RAF radio operator and mechanic. Whatever the real story may be, the writer put his war experiences to good use over a decade later, when he wrote what would be his sixth novel out of an eventual 10, Wasp. Initially released as an Avalon Books hardcover in November 1957, when Russell was already 52, Wasp has been called one of its author’s finest works. This reader was fortunate enough to acquire the 35-cent Permabook paperback edition from 1959 at NYC bookstore extraordinaire Read More

Eye in the Sky: Very early PKD

Eye in the Sky by Philip K. Dick

Jack Hamilton has just lost his job as an engineer for a government defense contractor because his wife Marsha is a suspected communist sympathizer. Having nothing better to do for the afternoon, he accompanies Marsha to the viewing of a new linear accelerator. An accident at the accelerator beams the Hamiltons and six other unsuspecting citizens into a parallel universe that at first appears to be their world but soon starts to evince subtle differences that become more and more obvious as time goes on. There is some sort of “corny Arab religion” at work — God is all justice and no mercy so, for example, telling a lie brings down an immediate curse such as a bee sting.

There are miracles here that can be taken advantage of, such as a cigarette machine that Jack, a darn good engineer, manages to rig up to produce unlimited supplies of excellent brandy, but generally this is an uncomfortable w... Read More

The Shores of Space: Matheson X 13

The Shores of Space by Richard Matheson

The four novels that I had previously read by New Jersey-born Richard Matheson  — namely, 1954’s I Am Legend, 1956’s The Shrinking Man, 1958’s A Stir of Echoes and 1971’s Hell House — all demonstrated to this reader what a sure hand the late author had in the fields of science fiction, fantasy and horror. Thus, it was no surprise to me that his 1957 collection The Shores of Space, which feat... Read More

Lone Star Planet: The Wild West in space

Lone Star Planet by H. Beam Piper

Lone Star Planet (1957) is a fun science fiction murder mystery novella by H. Beam Piper. The murder occurs on a planet colonized in the future by the citizens of Texas who wanted to escape the intrusive United States government on Earth. They set up a system where there’s not much centralized government and it doesn’t have much authority, for they all agree on this tenet:

Keep a government poor and weak and it’s your servant; let it get rich and powerful and it’s your master. We don’t want any masters here on New Texas.

Thus, New Texas looks a lot like the Wild West. Men wear Levis and cowboy hats and carry pistols on each hip. Everything is super-sized and even the cattle whose beef they export (which they call supercows) have to be herded with tanks ... Read More

The Midwich Cuckoos: The dangers of telepathic children

The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham

Midwich was just another quiet English town until the Dayout — when an invisible dome surrounds Midwich for one day. Afterward, all of the women discover that they are pregnant. Since not all of them are married (or sexually active), it soon becomes clear that these women are being used to bring strange creatures to life on Earth.

When the children are born, it’s obvious that their genes do not come from this world. The children have golden eyes, silver hair, and pale skin. If that’s not proof enough, the children can telepathically communicate with each other (though only with members of the same sex). They can further telepathically create impulses in the minds of the townspeople. The children grow up alarmingly fast and their telepathic powers allow them to learn very quickly. It seems that one of their first lessons is self-preservation, and they use their powers to attack anyone they ... Read More

The Door Into Summer: A charming time-travel story from Golden Age Heinlein

The Door Into Summer by Robert A. Heinlein

The Door Into Summer (1957) is an immensely enjoyable time-travel story told effortlessly by Robert A. Heinlein long before he turned into a crotchety, soap-box ranting old crank who had a very unhealthy obsession with free love and characters going back in time to get involved with their mothers (gross!!).

So, back to this book. The Door Into Summer is the story of Daniel Davis, a hard-working engineer in 1970 who invents a wonderful robot vacuum cleaner named Hired Girl (not at all sexist, right?), but has more ambitious plans for an all-purpose household robot called Flexible Frank. He collaborates with his business partner Miles Gentry and assistant named Belle Darkin. However, one evening Dan discovers that his partner Miles is in cahoots wi... Read More

Dandelion Wine: A perfectly-distilled small-town summer

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

Can you be nostalgic for a place you never lived in, for a time long gone before you were born? I certainly never lived in Waukegan, Illinois in the summer of 1928 as a 12-year old boy named Douglas Spalding, but Ray Bradbury has perfectly evoked a magical world of a long-lost Midwest small town as seen from the eyes of a bright, energetic young boy.

You would think small town life is fairly boring and uneventful, but in the lyrical hands of Bradbury, think again. The short vignettes he tells are always unexpected, and verge from wryly-amusing to heart-breaking to outright terrifying, all because of the skill and love with which Bradbury approaches these characters.

Strangely enough, I didn't like The Martian Chronicles much, because it merely used Mars as a stage to explo... Read More

Master of Life and Death: Early Silverberg

Master of Life and Death by Robert Silverberg

Future Grand Master Robert Silverberg’s fifth sci-fi novel, Master of Life and Death, was originally released as one-half of one of those cute little “Ace doubles” (D-237, for all you collectors out there), back to back with James White’s The Secret Visitors. Published in 1957, this was one of “only” three novels that Silverberg would release that year (the others were The Dawning Light and The Shrouded Planet), a fairly paltry number, one might think, for this remarkably prolific author… until one realizes that he also came out with no fewer than 82 (!) short stories and novellas that year in the sci-fi vein, plus 19 “adult” stories. On average, that comes to around a story every three or four days, PLUS ... Read More

Doomsday Morning: C.L. Moore’s last science fiction novel

Doomsday Morning by C.L. Moore

By the mid-1950s, science fiction's foremost husband-and-wife writing team, Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore, could be regarded more as coeds than working authors. After the release of their "fix-up" novel Mutant in late 1953, the pair released only five more short pieces of sci-fi over the next five years. And while it is true that Kuttner did come out with a series of novels featuring psychoanalyst/detective Dr. Michael Gray, for the most part, the two concentrated on getting their degrees at the University of Southern California. Kuttner, taking advantage of the G.I. Bill, graduated in 1954, while Catherine Lucille, paying her own way, took things slower and finished up by 1956. And the following year, she capped off a glorious writing career with a solo SF novel, her last, Read More

Citizen of the Galaxy: One of Heinlein’s best Juveniles

Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert A. Heinlein

Robert A. Heinlein’s best books are those he wrote for kids, and Citizen of the Galaxy is one of the best of those. Originally serialized in Astounding Science Fiction in 1957, this is an anthropological adventure story with strong libertarian and anti-slavery themes.

We first meet Thorby, a young belligerent orphaned slave boy, as he has just landed on an unfamiliar planet and is on the auction block. Nobody wants him — he’s too feisty — but he is eventually sold for a pittance to Baslim, a man who appears to be a crippled beggar. Despite Baslim’s kind treatment, it takes a while for Thorby to warm up, but once he does he discovers that Baslim is more than he seems. Under Baslim’s tutorage, Thorby becomes an accomplished and very well educated beggar.

Eventually Thorby must leave his new home, but the knowledge and connections he received from Baslim ... Read More

The Big Time: A concept novella

The Big Time by Fritz Leiber

Available free on Kindle.

The Place is a recuperation station outside of space and time where Spider soldiers in The Change War go for rest and relaxation between operations. This war has been going on between The Spiders and The Snakes since the beginning of time and Soldiers have been drafted (resurrected) into "The Big Time" from many points in history. From outside of time, they can plunge in at crucial moments and manipulate events to serve their cause, or they can change things ex post facto, which is why sometimes memory and history don't quite match.

All of the story happens in The Place, which is sort of like a cosmic Cheers except that it's run by an Elizabethan bard instead of a washed-up baseball player. The soldiers and entertainers at The Place spend their time drinking, dancing, singing, and discussing world eve... Read More