1962


The Great Explosion: One of the funniest sci-fi novels that I’ve ever read

The Great Explosion by Eric Frank Russell

In his 1955 collection entitled Men, Martians and Machines, English sci-fi author Eric Frank Russell told, via one short story and three novellas, some of the adventures of a starship crew that strongly suggested nothing less than a proto-Star Trek ensemble. The collection featured visits to three very different sorts of planets, in which the men, Martians, and robot of the starship Marathon came up against a world of mechanical devices; a world of green-skinned inhabitants, lethal trees and giant snakes; and a world of ropy creatures with the power to induce hypnotic hallucinations. Apparently, Russell liked the episodic nature of the collection, with its explorations of three discrete and v... Read More

They Walked Like Men: Simak bowls a strike

They Walked Like Men by Clifford D. Simak

In the history of the science fiction novel, there have been any number of depictions of invaders from other worlds trying to conquer good ol’ Mother Earth, be it with brute force and death rays (as in H.G. Wells’ seminal novel of 1898, The War of the Worlds) or more insidiously (as in Jack Finney’s 1955 masterpiece of paranoia, Invasion of the Body Snatchers). But nowhere, I suspect, has the reader ever been presented with a takeover attempt akin to the one in Clifford D. Simak Read More

Ficciones: Innovative and challenging fantastical stories

Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges

Ficciones is a classic collection of seventeen short stories by acclaimed Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges, originally published in the 1940s in Spanish, and winner of the 1961 International Publishers Prize. These stories and mock essays are a challenging mixture of philosophy, magical realism, fantasy, ruminations on the nature of life, perception and more. There are layers of meaning and frequent allusions to historic figures, other literary works, and philosophical ideas, not readily discernable at first read. Reading Ficciones, and trying to grasp the concepts in it, was definitely the major mental workout of the year for me. My brain nearly overloaded several times, but reading some critical analyses of these works helped tremendously with my understanding and appreciation of these works ... well, at least most of them.

The ... Read More

The Seed of Earth: A generally pleasing work from one of sci-fi’s best

The Seed of Earth by Robert Silverberg

Men of a certain age may recall a particular trepidation that was attendant with the coming of their 18th birthday; i.e., the fear of being drafted into the armed forces. From 1940 until January ’73, males here in the U.S. could be drafted, even during peacetime, to fill vacancies in the Army and other services, and well do I remember the sigh of relief that many breathed when the draft disappeared, in favor of an all-volunteer system. But, as Robert Silverberg’s 1962 novel The Seed of Earth had already demonstrated, conscription could entail far more intimidating prospects than a mere two-year Army hitch.

For the future Grand Master and multiple Hugo and Nebula Award winner, The Seed of Earth came at the tail end of his first phase of writing. S... Read More

The Case Against Satan: An infernally fine piece of work

The Case Against Satan by Ray Russell

Up until a few years ago, the name "Ray Russell" was only familiar to me by dint of his work as a screenwriter on such marvelous horror/sci-fi films as Mr. Sardonicus (1961), The Premature Burial (1962), Zotz! (also from 1962) and X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes (1963). It wasn't until I noticed a highly complimentary review of his 1962 novel The Case Against Satan, in Jones & Newman's excellent overview volume Horror: Another 100 Best Books, that I even knew he was an author at all, but I've since run across a quote from a guy named Stephen King, calling Russell's original novella Sardonicus "perhaps the finest example of the modern gothic ever written"! I'd been thus trying to lay my hands on a c... Read More

The Drowned World: Diving into the pellucid depths of our racial memories

The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard

The Drowned World (1962) is J.G. Ballard’s best apocalyptic work, the other two being The Burning World (1964) and The Crystal World (1966), but if you are thinking of an action-packed adventure where a plucky group of survivors clings to decency amid the collapse of civilization, this is the wrong book. Ballard was interested in ‘inner space,’ and while he sometimes adopted SF tropes in his books and short stories, his works most often featured natural disasters, the collapse of civilization, lonely astronauts, grim future urban landscapes, and weird obsessions with technology and mechanization. His main intent was to explore the psychology of human beings trapped in modern urban societies (and what happens when these societies collapse), and most of his protagonists are fatalistic, detached, and not particularl... Read More

The Man in the High Castle: Axis Powers win WWII, and then things get weird

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

This is a strange and sinister book, even for Philip K. Dick. It’s a carefully-crafted alternate history about a world in which the Axis powers won WWII and now dominate the globe (other notable books in this vein include Bring the Jubilee by Ward Moore and Pavane by Keith Roberts), but being PKD that is just the beginning. It prominently features the I Ching (Book of Changes), an ancient Chinese classic that serves as a sort of oracle or fortune telling device for several of the characters. ... Read More

Ellison Wonderland: Annoyingly pompous, but still entertaining

Ellison Wonderland by Harlan Ellison®

Harlan Ellison® comes across as pompous, overbearing, aggressive, and obnoxious, but I wouldn’t miss any of his stories. He’s one of the best story tellers in speculative fiction and I have no problem separating the man’s fiction from his personality (though that abrasiveness often comes across in his fiction, too). And, as much as I don’t like his personality, I have to admit that he’s interesting. Partly that’s because he does interesting things such as getting expelled from THE Ohio State University after assaulting a professor who criticized his writing, but mostly it’s because he’s been involved in the SFF scene since a couple of decades before I was even born, so he’s got a lot of stories to tell about the industry and about some of my favorite writers.

That’s what he does for a large ... Read More

A Clockwork Orange: A malenky bit of ultraviolence makes for a horrorshow jeezny

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

Not everyone may be a fan of Anthony BurgessA Clockwork Orange, but we all know of it thanks to the iconic film by Stanley Kubrick. The image of juvenile delinquent Alex and his droogs with their frighteningly ruthless smiles, black hats, suspenders, and kicking boots as they terrorize helpless citizens while singing “Singin’ in the Rain” in a dystopian near-future London is impossible to forget.

The story is simple: Alex’s little gang goes on a horrifying crime spree until he is caught, put into prison, but is offered a new experimental therapy, the fictional Ludovico technique, which involves forcing the subject to watch violent imagery for extended periods while administering drugs that induce nausea. At the end of this treatment, little Alex cannot even think violent thoughts without being crippled with pain and nausea, with the uninte... Read More

Something Wicked This Way Comes: A Book Chat

This Book Chat we’re continuing with another classic Ray Bradbury title: Something Wicked This Way Comes, his 1962 novel that mixes fantasy, horror, and coming-of-age to tell the story of a sinister carnival that arrives in the town of two 13-year-old boys, Jim Nightshade and William Halloway.

Bill Capossere: I’ll start off by saying I loved this book when I read it the first time as a young teen, somewhere when I was probably just a year or two older than the two protagonists; I choked up and I think actually cried a bit when I read it to my own son about four or five years ago, and I loved it again on this re-read. Some of the reasons were the same, some of the reasons are different, and certainly I’m a bit more critical of the craftsmanship than my ... Read More

The Girl, the Gold Watch, and Everything: An excellent fantasy … in more ways than one!

The Girl, the Gold Watch, and Everything by John D. MacDonald

Having never read anything previously by renowned author John D. MacDonald, I discovered his 1962 paperback The Girl, the Gold Watch, and Everything after reading about it in David Pringle's excellent overview volume Modern Fantasy: The Hundred Best Novels. Writing about the novel in that volume, the British critic tells us that it is "an amusing romp," and MacDonald's "only full-length fantasy." There may perhaps be many readers who are surprised to hear of MacDonald being mentioned in the same sentence as the word "fantasy"; after all, he is an author more well-known for almost 50 hard-boiled crime thrillers, not counting the 21-book series featuring his most famous character, Florida-based private investigator Travis McGee, which started in 1964. But in truth, MacDonald was, early in his ... Read More

Recalled to Life: Ungrateful dead

Recalled to Life by Robert Silverberg

True to his word, after announcing his retirement from the science fiction field in 1959, future Grand Master Robert Silverberg’s formerly prodigious output fell off precipitously. Although he’d released some 16 sci-fi novels from the period 1954 – ’59, not to mention almost 250 (!) sci-fi short stories, AFTER 1959 and until his major return in 1967, his sci-fi production was sporadic at best. In 1960, Silverberg only released one sci-fi book, Lost Race of Mars (a so-called “juvenile”), and in 1961, not a single full-length affair; only two short stories. In 1962, however, in a slight return to form, Silverberg released Recalled to Life and The Seed of Earth. The year 1962 was hardly an idle one for Silverberg, ... Read More

The Trial of Terra: Fun and amusing

The Trial of Terra by Jack Williamson

Jack Williamson's The Trial of Terra made its initial appearance in 1962, as one of those cute little Ace paperbacks (D-555, for all you collectors out there). The book is what's known as a "fix-up novel," meaning that parts of the book had appeared as short stories years earlier, and then skillfully cobbled together by the author later on to form a seamless whole. Despite this, the book is a stand-alone novel in the Williamson canon, with no relation to any of the other books in the author's substantial oeuvre.

The Trial of Terra tells a very interesting story, and one that might strike my fellow Trekkers as a bit familiar. It seems that there has been a galactic Quarantine Service in effect for many millennia, its job being to ensure that no planet makes first contac... Read More

Little Fuzzy: How do you define sapience?

Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper

The Zarathustra Corporation owns and has been mining the planet of Zarathustra for years. They’re allowed to own the planet because it contains no sapient races. But when prospector Jack Holloway discovers a potentially sentient mammalian species, the Zarathustra Corporation may lose its charter and, therefore, the planet’s resources that they’ve been exploiting. What exactly are these little fuzzy creatures? Pets or people? It makes a big difference to Zarathustra Corporation.

I read H. Beam Piper’s 1962 Hugo-nominated novel Little Fuzzy in preparation for reading John Scalzi’s Fuzzy Nation, his recent “reboot” of Piper’s classic. Little Fuzzy is a quick read featuring cute Ewok-like creatures whose sapience could do great financial damage... Read More

The Seventh Swan: A moving story

The Seventh Swan by Nicholas Stuart Gray

I had a hard time getting into The Seventh Swan at first; I think Nicholas Stuart Gray's writing style was the culprit. He jumps between points-of-view constantly, so it's hard to tell who's thinking what. After I got used to that, though, I found The Seventh Swan moving.

Alasdair is the seventh swan-brother from the famous fairy tale, left with a swan's wing instead of one of his arms because his sister was unable to finish that last shirt in time. He is a young Scottish lord in this novel, incredibly handsome but shrouded in self-pity and the immaturity that comes from having such a strange "childhood." Since he lacks his sword-arm, he has a bodyguard, Ewen, a gruff mercenary who is both more kind and more haunted than he seems.

Alasdair also has a sweetheart, Fenella, who finds out about what ails him. Be... Read More