1961


Catseye: Another otherworldly adventure by Andre Norton

Catseye by Andre Norton

Andre Norton’s novels are always a good option when you’re in the mood for an exciting, fast-paced, imaginative, and family-friendly adventure story. This one stars Troy Horan, a young man who lives hand-to-mouth in a ghetto called The Dipple on the luxury planet of Korwar. He’s a refugee from his home planet of Norden which has now been commandeered as a military outpost. Back home, his family were herders and his father, at least, seemed to have some sort of empathetic bond with the animals he cared for. Troy, being young when he was on Norden, isn’t quite certain about the nature of that bond.

When Troy gets an unexpected job offer from the owner of an exotic pet emporium, Troy realizes that his heritage may be an advantage. On his first day of work, Troy indeed feels an effortless rapport with the animals he... Read More

Time Is the Simplest Thing: Fast-paced and imaginative, with an important message

Time Is the Simplest Thing by Clifford D. Simak

Written s(i)mack-dab in the middle of the American Civil Rights Movement, Clifford D. Simak’s Time Is the Simplest Thing utilizes the tools of science fiction to make poignant comments on the issues of the day. The novel, the author’s sixth out of an eventual 29, was initially serialized in the May - July 1961 issues of Analog magazine with the equally appropriate title The Fisherman, and went on to be nominated for that year’s Hugo Award. (It lost, to Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger In a Strange Land.) Later that year, it made its first bo... Read More

Hothouse: Fertile and bizarre plant life, but human characters are pretty wooden

Hothouse by Brian W. Aldiss

Yeah, Brian W. AldissHothouse (1962) was definitely written with some chemical assistance. Maybe some LSD-spiked vegetable juice? It may have been written as a set of five short stories in 1961, but it’s a timeless and bizarre story of a million years in the future when the plants have completely taken over the planet, which has stopped rotating, and humans are little green creatures hustling to avoid becoming plant food.

There are hundreds of fearsome carnivorous plants that would love to eat human morsels, but will gladly settle for eating each other instead. As the planet has come to a stop, a massive banyan tree now covers the sunny-side of the planet, with all other plants surviving in its shade. But there are gargantuan plant-based spiders called traversers who dwell above the plant layer and actually spin webs across space to the moon and other pla... Read More

Film Reviews: Two versions of Solaris

The Novel Solaris was written in 1961 by Stanislaw Lem in Polish before being made into a feature film by famous Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky in 1972. Four decades later, both James Cameron and Steven Soderbergh expressed interest in doing a remake, with Soderbergh getting the nod in 2002 because Cameron was busy with other movies. I saw the Tarkovsky film in 1995 and the Soderbergh film in 2002.

The planet Solaris is covered by a single, massive ocean, and after its initial discovery scientists begin to observe unusual movements and formations in the ocean. The story centers on a small group of scientists on Solaris Station, a research station that revolves around the planet Solaris. It opens with psychologist Kris Kelvin arriving on Solaris Station to check on the three scientists stationed there. Nobody comes to greet him when he first arrives, and when he meets S... Read More

Solaris: An alien sentient ocean

Solaris by Stanislaw Lem

Solaris is an amazing little novel with a colorful history. First written in 1961 by Stanislaw Lem in Polish, it was then made into a two-part Russian TV series in 1968, before being made into a feature film by famous Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky in 1972. It only reached English publication in 1970 in a Polish-to-French-to-English translation. And just when you thought it had faded from attention, both James Cameron and Steven Soderbergh expressed interest in doing a remake, with Soderbergh getting the nod in 2002 because Cameron was busy with other movies. Finally, a direct Polish-to-English translation by Bill Johnston was made available as an ebook and audiobook in 2011.

In my case, I saw the Tarkovsky film back in 1995, watched the Soderbergh film in 2002, finally read the 1970 translation in 2013, a... Read More

James and the Giant Peach: Not for kiddies only

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

Perhaps I should confess right up front that this review of what is popularly regarded solely as a children's book is being written by a 50+-year-old male "adult" who hadn't read a kids' book in many years. For me, Welsh author Roald Dahl had long been the guy who scripted one of my favorite James Bond movies, 1967's You Only Live Twice, and who was married for 30 years to the great actress Patricia Neal. Recently, though, in need of some "mental palate cleansing" after a bunch of serious adult lit, I picked up Dahl's first kiddy novel, James and the Giant Peach, and now know what several generations have been aware of since the book's release in 1961: that this is an absolutely charming story for young and old alike, with marvelous characters, a remarkably imaginative story line and some quirky humor scattered throughout.

As most baby boom... Read More

Stranger in a Strange Land: Authorial politics override the story. DNF

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein

Robert Heinlein was one of the most influential writers of sci-fi in the 20th century. He published more than thirty novels, several of which won awards, and many more received nominations. Considered one of the ‘big three’ alongside Asimov and Clarke — the American perspective, that is — Heinlein’s agenda included independence, personal responsibility, freedom, and the influence of religion and government on society. Stranger in a Strange Land, arguably his most famous book — and perhaps most controversial — is the subject of this review.

Stranger in a Strange Land is the story of Valent... Read More

Some of Your Blood: A very sad book

Some of Your Blood by Theodore Sturgeon

In the 1978 horror movie Martin, writer/director George A. Romero presented us with a young man who enjoys killing people and drinking their blood, but who may or may not be a so-called "vampire"; the film is wonderfully ambiguous all the way down the line on that score. Seventeen years before Martin skulked through the dreary suburbs of Pittsburgh, however, another unconventional vampire was given to the world, in the pages of Theodore Sturgeon's Some of Your Blood. (Actually, an apology may be in order right now, as that last is a bit of a spoiler; the sanguinary habits of the central character of Sturgeon's novel are only revealed toward the story's conclusion. However, seeing that the back cover of the book's current incarnation, the one from Millipede Press, gives away even more spoiler details than this, perhaps I may be excused here.)

Theodore Sturgeon, of course, is a writer... Read More

A Fall of Moondust: A hard SF survival story

A Fall of Moondust by Arthur C. Clarke

Pat Harris is the captain of Selene, the only tour bus on the moon. Every day he and his stewardess, Sue Wilkins, take passengers on a trip across the moon’s Sea of Thirst. This crater filled with moondust seems similar to a lake on Earth, and Selene, like a motorboat, smoothly skims across its surface. By the light of Mother Earth, Selene’s passengers are entertained by glorious views of the moon’s topography, including the impressive Mountains of Inaccessibility.

Pat Harris loves his job. Selene is an excellent dust cruiser, Pat enjoys skimming along the dust and delighting his passengers with the moon’s views, and he has a secret crush on his stewardess. But Pat’s and Sue’s wits and characters will be severely tested when an unexpected moonquake shakes the Sea of Thirst and Selene sinks into the dust. Communications are cut off and n... Read More