1964


Night of Masks: A simple story on an infrared planet

Night of Masks by Andre Norton

Nik Colherne lives in the Dipple, a planet-side slum that serves as the opening setting for a few of Andre Norton’s novels. Nik survived a fiery crash that left him orphaned and with a disfigured face that others find abhorrent. Rejected and friendless, Nik is targeted by the Thieves’ Guild who promise him a new (and handsome) face if he’ll impersonate the hero of a young boy that they are trying to find. The boy, Vandy, is the son of a powerful warlord and the thinking is that if Nik poses as the boy’s hero, Vandy will trust him enough to come along with him. Nik is a little suspicious of the mission, but the guild makes everything sound legit, and cooperation is Nik’s only hope for a new face and a new life.

When Nik eventually finds the boy, the two of them end up imprisoned on a planet with a sun that emits only inf... Read More

The Valley Of Creation: Clan brothers

The Valley Of Creation by Edmond Hamilton

One of the crowning events in the sci-fi/fantasy year 1948 was most assuredly the release of Jack Williamson’s 1940 novella Darker Than You Think as an expanded, full-length novel; it has since gone on to be acclaimed one of the greatest fictional books on the subject of lycanthropy ever written. In it, reporter Will Barbee learns that he is a primordial shapeshifter and, in one memorable sequence, runs through the night in the form of a wolf, relishing his exhilarating swiftness and grace. But this was not the only time in 1948 that the reader was presented with such a scenario. In the July issue of the 20-cent Startling Stories magazine that year, Williamson’s close friend and colleague, Read More

The Invincible: Early classic encounter with a swarm intelligence

The Invincible by Stanislaw Lem

Stanislaw Lem was a Polish SF author, one of the most famous and successful writers outside the English language world, selling over 45 million copies in 40+ languages over five decades from the 1950s, but mainly in Eastern European communist bloc countries such as Poland, Germany, and the Soviet Union. However, despite his success he had a rocky relationship with the United States SF community, having a fairly low opinion of American SF fiction writers other than Philip K Dick’s works, and having his honorary membership with the SFWA taken away when he became eligible to become a regular member, which may have been intended as a slight and which he took as one. He refused to join.

Lem even translated PDK’s Read More

The Drought: A solid novel, but not among his greats

The Drought by J.G. Ballard

Fully believing that “the catastrophe story, whoever may tell it, represents a constructive and positive act by the imagination rather than a negative one, and an attempt to confront a patently meaningless universe by challenging it at its own game,J.G. Ballard set about writing his third of four disaster novels. The first featuring a world inundated with water, for the third he went the opposite direction: drought. The Burned World (1964) its apposite title, human reaction to extreme environmental conditions is once again the subject under examination. Ballard would later revise the text, and as a result it has come to be known most predominantly as The Drought.


The Drought is the story of Edward Ransom, a doctor... Read More

The Mindwarpers: An oddball addition to Russell’s canon

The Mindwarpers by Eric Frank Russell

For his ninth novel out of what would ultimately run to 10, English sci-fi author Eric Frank Russell pulled a bit of a switcheroo on his readers. The book in question was initially released in the U.K. in 1964 in a hardcover edition by British publishing house Dennis Dobson, sporting the title With a Strange Device. A year later, it was released here in the U.S. as a 50-cent Lancer paperback (the edition that I was fortunate enough to acquire at Brooklyn bookstore extraordinaire Singularity), as its author was turning 60, but with a new and perhaps catchier title: The Mindwarpers. Written at the height of Cold War tensions, and at the peak of the world’s fascination with espionage, spies and suchlike... Read More

Labyrinths: Each selection takes the reader on a winding path of ideas

Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges

An appropriate title for any Jorge Luis Borges collection, Labyrinths is that selected by Penguin for their ‘best of’ printing of the author. Containing short stories, essays, and parables, each selection takes the reader on a winding path of ideas that seems to branch off infinitely into the wonder of reflective thought. Surreal in concept rather than imagery, it’s no surprise many of the most intelligent writers of fantasy and science fiction cite Borges as one of their significant influences. Erudition is on full display, so the reader should come fully prepared to wade in over their head in abstract allusion and references — known and unknown.

With its limited accessibility, Labyrinths is the opposite of mainstream fantasy. With Borges utilizing civilization’s range of output, the stories possess elements of the quotidian and esot... Read More

Almuric: Overwhelming storytelling gusto

Almuric by Robert E. Howard

It is truly remarkable how much work pulp author Robert E. Howard managed to accomplish during his brief 30 years of life. Indeed, a look at his bibliography, on a certain Wiki site, should surely flabbergast any reader who knows the Texan writer only as the creator of Conan the Cimmerian, King Kull, Bran Mak Morn, Solomon Kane and, essentially, the entire genre known as Sword & Sorcery. Hundreds upon hundreds of titles can be found there, in such variegated categories as boxing, Westerns, Oriental exoticism, sword & sorcery (natch), horror, fantasy, crime, historical tales, detective stories, adventure … even comedy, “spicy stories,” essays and poetry. But of all these myriad story types, one salient fact emerges: Most of them are just that — short stories. Howard, despite his superhuman output, wrote very few (f... Read More

The Dark Light Years: Worth a wallow

The Dark Light Years by Brian Aldiss

It had been a good 30 years since I last read anything by British sci-fi author Brian Aldiss. Back in the mid-‘80s, spurred on by three highly laudatory articles in David Pringle’s Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels, I had eagerly read Aldiss’ classic novel of a generational starship, Non-Stop (1958); his equally classic tale of an Earth billions of years hence, Hothouse (1962); and his underrated novel of an Earth gone sterile due to fallout radiation, Greybeard (1964), back to back to back (as well as his volume of linked stories, 1959’s Galaxies Like Grains of Sand) ... and had loved them all. But, between this and that, as I said, no Aldiss for me since then. On a... Read More

The Secret of Sinharat & People of the Talisman: A wonderful double feature

The Secret of Sinharat & People of the Talisman by Leigh Brackett

Leigh Brackett, the so-called “Queen of Space Opera,” would have turned 100 years old on 12/7/2015, and to celebrate her recent centennial in my own way, I have resolved to read five novels featuring her most well-known character: Eric John Stark. Brackett, of course, was already something of a well-known commodity before her first Stark story appeared in 1949; she had already placed no fewer than 32 short stories and novelettes, beginning in 1940, in the various pulp publications of the day, thereby establishing herself as the most important female sci-fi author of the Golden Age (other than C.L. Moore, of course). Her Stark tales, all three of them, originally appeared in the pages of Pl... Read More

The Simulacra: Dick keeps his multiple story lines percolating

The Simulacra by Philip K. Dick

Fueled by prescription amphetamines, and in a burst of creative effort rarely seen before or since in the sci-fi field, cult author Philip K. Dick, in the period 1963 - ‘64, wrote no less than six full-length novels. His 13th since 1955, The Simulacra, was originally released as an Ace paperback in 1964 with a cover price of 40 cents. The book, written in Dick's best middle-period style, gives us a pretty whacky look at life in the mid-21st century. Scottish critic David Pringle, in his Ultimate Guide to Science Fiction, aptly describes the work as "an overpopulated novel which flies off wildly in too many directions," and indeed, readers may need a flowchart to keep track with this one. According to my careful count, the book features no less than 56 named characters (not t... Read More

The Terminal Beach: The best of Ballard’s early stories

The Terminal Beach by J.G. Ballard

J.G. Ballard is best known for his autobiographical novel Empire of the Sun (1984), along with his early novels like The Drowned World (1962), The Crystal World (1964), The Atrocity Exhibition (1970), Crash (1973), Concrete Island (1974), and High-Rise (1975). But many consider his best work to be his huge catalog of short stories, many of which were pivotal in the New Wave SF movement in the late 60s/early 70s. Ballard’s style may have been suited to the short form, as it plays to his strengths (hallucinatory imagery, bizarre concepts, powerful descriptions) and avoid his weaknesses (lack of empathetic characters, weak plots, unrealistic motiva... Read More

Davy: My favorite coming-of-age SF novel of all time

Davy by Edgar Pangborn

Davy (1964) is a wonderfully-written coming-of-age story set in a post-apocalyptic Northeastern United States 400 years after a brief nuclear exchange destroyed high-tech civilization, where life has become far more like the frontier days of the early US, with a scattered group of city-states dominated by the Holy Murcan Church. Far from what you might expect, it is a tale filled with humor, pathos, and charm. It is the narrative voice of Davy as he grows up from a simple boy to a randy young man that captures the reader from the start. His early days are dominated by wanting to escape from his bondsman life (in between freeman and slave), his desire for the tavern owner's daughter, and his discovery of a golden horn in the possession of an innocent and ignorant mutant.

Taking this horn propels him on a series of adventures with deserters from a battle and he eventually joins an iti... Read More

The Discarded Image: An accessible approach to medieval cosmology

The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature by C.S. Lewis

To me, this might be C.S. Lewis' best book. I will have to cop to not really liking the NARNIA books (too allegorical, and those British schoolchildren are pretty annoying), and while I do quite like his SPACE TRILOGY, I think that Lewis was much better as a writer of academic non-fiction than he was as a fiction writer. In The Discarded Image, Lewis is able to tackle a huge subject: medieval cosmology and worldview, and bring both his wide reading and ability to make things understandable to the "common man" to the table.

In his eminently readable way Lewis starts by setting the stage, asking his audience (this was originally a series of lectures given to non-academics) to imagine a world according to the view pro... Read More

Time of the Great Freeze: Cold Comfort

Time of the Great Freeze by Robert Silverberg

Given that global warming seems to be an almost universally accepted fact of life these days (except by obstinate conspiracy theorists such as my buddy Ron, who also denies that men ever walked on the moon), it might strike a reader as strange to come across a sci-fi novel that posits the advent of a new Ice Age in the early 23rd century. And yet, such is the case with Robert Silverberg’s Time of the Great Freeze, a novel that first saw the light of day as a Holt, Rinehart & Winston hardcover in 1964. This was right in the middle of Silverberg’s supposed “retirement” period from science fiction, which began in ’59 and ended when editor Frederik Pohl induced the author to come roaring back in ’67. The year 1964 saw Silverberg release only one other sci-fi novel, Read More

Martian Time-Slip: In the upper echelon of Dick novels

Martian Time-Slip by Philip K. Dick

It’s easy to be skeptical when you crack open a book by Philip K. Dick; his output is hit or miss. The psychotic craziness of Dick’s personal life so often leaked into his writing that on more than one occasion his work features plots and themes derailed by a chaos seemingly external to the text. In the moments Dick was able to focus his drug and paranoia-fueled energies into a synergistic story, the sci-fi world benefited. Martian Time-Slip, just falling shy in quality to The Man in the High Castle or A Scanner Darkly, is one of these occasions.

The setting is Mars thousands of years in the future when the red planet is experiencing its second wave of civilization. The Bleekmen (Dick’s less than subtle name for Africans) are being pushed to the wastelands while those of European descent terraform the planet ... Read More

Earth’s Last Citadel: Had me fairly riveted

Earth’s Last Citadel by C.L. Moore & Henry Kuttner

Catherine Moore and Henry Kuttner, generally acknowledged to be the preeminent husband-and-wife writing team in sci-fi history, initially had their novella Earth's Last Citadel released in the pages of Argosy magazine in 1943 (indeed, it was the very last piece of science fiction to be serialized in that publication). It was finally published in book form 21 years later. This is a pretty way-out piece of sci-fi/fantasy that reveals its debt to a handful of writers who had been major influences on the pair, particularly the florid early works of Abraham Merritt.

In it, four participants in the conflict know... Read More

The Penultimate Truth: A fun and mordant vision of the future

The Penultimate Truth by Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick's 11th science fictopm novel, The Penultimate Truth, was originally released in 1964 as a Belmont paperback (no. 92-603, for all you collectors out there) with a staggering cover price of... 50 cents. Written during one of Dick's most furiously prolific periods, it was the first of four novels that he saw published that year alone!

One of his more cynical depictions of a duplicitous U.S. government, the story involves yet another one of the author's post-atomic holocaust futures. Here, it is the year 2025, and the bulk of mankind lives underground in protective "cubbies," while a pitched atomic war is fought on the surface by the "leadies" (robots) of the opposing sides. What is actually happening, however (and this is not a spoiler; it is revealed in the novel's opening chapters), is that the war has been over for a full 13 years, and the government in charge — via Agency... Read More

Clans of the Alphane Moon: Yet another feather

Clans of the Alphane Moon by Philip K. Dick

Clans of the Alphane Moon was one of six books that science fiction cult author Philip K. Dick saw published in the years 1964 and 1965. Released in 1964 as a 40-cent Ace paperback (F-309, for all you collectors out there), it was his 14th science fiction novel since 1955. This period in the mid-'60s was a time of near hyperactivity for the author. Under the influence of prescription uppers (like one of Clans of the Alphane Moon 's central characters, Chuck Rittersdorf, who takes extraterrestrial "thalamic stimulants of the hexo-amphetamine class" in order to work two jobs), his output during that time was both prodigious and wildly imaginative. Clans of the Alphane Moon, although it may be accused of being underdeveloped and shows signs of being hastily written, IS nevertheless as fun as can be, and a really wild ride.

In the book, we are introduced to some... Read More