Doomstar: Hamilton goes out like a pro

Doomstar by Edmond Hamilton

As I have mentioned elsewhere, sci-fi pulpmaster Edmond Hamilton, during the early decades of his career, destroyed so many planets in his stories that he managed to acquire for himself the nickname “World Wrecker.” But in his final novel, Doomstar, the destruction of a mere planet seemed to be small potatoes for the Ohio-born author, and nothing less than the death — or, in this case, the poisoning — of a solar body would suffice! Doomstar was initially released as a 50-cent Belmont paperback in January 1966, almost 40 years after Hamilton’s first story had appeared in Weird Tales magazine. (I was fortunate enough to acquire the 1969 Belmont paperback, also with a cover price of 50 cents.) Hamilton was 62 when he released his final novel, and I am happy to r... Read More

The Saliva Tree: A tribute to H.G. Wells

The Saliva Tree by Brian W. Aldiss

In 1966, with the 100th anniversary of H.G. Wells’ birthday approaching, Brian W. Aldiss wrote a story in tribute of one of, if not, the genre’s grandfather. The resulting novella, The Saliva Tree, distills elements of The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds into a suspenseful horror story that has just the socio-political agenda ‘grandpa’ would have approved of.

Set in the late 19th century, The Saliva Tree opens with two “scientifically enlightened” young men standing in the countryside of rural England, watching a meteor shower, and remarking on life. When one ... Read More

Needle in a Timestack: Ten wonderful and wonderfully entertaining pieces

Needle in a Timestack by Robert Silverberg

Having read some two dozen novels by Robert Silverberg over the past couple of years, I recently decided that it was high time for me to see what the Grand Master has accomplished in the area of the shorter form. As if by serendipity, while shopping the other day at the Brooklyn sci-fi bookstore extraordinaire Singularity, I found a volume of Silverberg short stories that, as it’s turned out, has fit the bill for me very nicely. Released in 1966, Needle in a Timestack gathers 10 short tales together from the period 1956 – ’65, out of the 581 (!) short stories, novellas and novelettes that Silverberg has thus far given us. (Readers who are understandably dubious regarding that seemingly superhuman number are urged to go to the author’s Quasi-Off... Read More

The Crystal World: Time and death are defeated as crystallization takes over

The Crystal World by J.G. Ballard

The Crystal World (1966) is J.G. Ballard’s third apocalyptic work in which he destroys civilization, the other two being The Burning World (1964) and The Drowned World (1962). It seems he likes the elements, having employed floods, draughts, and now crystallization. The process somewhat resembles Ice-9 in Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle (1963), but there is no ironic humor to be found in this book as far I could tell. In The Drowned World, the flooding of the world was used as a metaphor for diving deep into the collective racial memories of the Triassic-age, when dinosaurs ruled the Earth. This time, Ballard posits a myster... Read More

The Crack in Space: Off the mark by 72 years

The Crack in Space by Philip K. Dick

Although he displayed remarkable prescience in many of his books, cult author Philip K. Dick was a good 72 years off the mark in his 18th sci-fi novel, The Crack in Space. Originally released as a 40-cent Ace paperback in 1966 (F-377, for all you collectors out there), the novel takes place against the backdrop of the 2080 U.S. presidential election, in which a black man, Jim Briskin, of the Republican-Liberal party, is poised to become the country's first black president. (Dick must have liked the name "Jim Briskin"; in his then-unpublished, non-sci-fi, mainstream novel from the mid-'50s, The Broken Bubble, Jim Briskin is the name of a DJ in San Francisco!) Unlike Barack Obama, whose campaigning centered around the issues of war, economic crisis and heal... Read More

Now Wait for Last Year: A virtual compendium of Dick’s pet themes

Now Wait for Last Year by Philip K. Dick

A virtual compendium of many of Philip K. Dick's pet themes, tropes and obsessions, Now Wait for Last Year, the author's 17th published sci-fi novel, originally appeared as a Doubleday hardcover in 1966. (As revealed in Lawrence Sutin's biography on Dick, the novel was actually written as early as 1963 and rewritten two years later.) Phil was on some kind of a roll at this point in his career, having recently come out with the masterpieces The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch and Dr. Bloodmoney, and Now Wait for Last Year is still another great one for this important writer.

In it, the Earth of the year 2055 is in big trouble, fighting a protracted, losing war with the 6-foot... Read More

Fantastic Voyage: People inside a submarine inside a person

Fantastic Voyage by Isaac Asimov

Jan Benes, a brilliant scientist from the Other Side, has knowledge that can deliver America a military advantage. Benes has decided to defect, but when the Americans smuggle Benes into the country, They shoot him. Though Benes survives, an inoperable blood clot threatens to end his life. But wait! There may be a new technology that could allow surgeons to remove the blood clot from inside Benes’ body.

Miniaturization is that secret new technology. Controlled by the Combined Miniature Defense Force (CMDF), miniaturization will allow “four men and one woman” in a submarine armed with surgical lasers to enter Benes’ blood stream. From within his arteries, the team hopes to destroy the clot, saving Benes’ life and delivering the Americans the technological advantages Benes has smuggled from the Other Side.

Fantastic Voyage is primarily told from the p... Read More

He Who Shapes: A short rich read from one of the strongest voices in SF

He Who Shapes by Roger Zelazny

In the mid to late ‘60s, the sci-fi world was Roger Zelazny’s oyster. Possessing an abundance of fresh ideas delivered with a deft hand, the author took the genre by storm — This Immortal, Lord of Light, and Creatures of Light and Darkness gained notable attention and won awards. Published amidst these unique novels was, however, a book of an entirely different range and frequency. More personal and cerebral than mythic or heroic, The Dream Master (1966) instead features Zelazny’s interests in the psyche, subconscious, and to a small degree, spiritualism. The novel is based on the novella He Who Shapes, which Zelazny would later state is his preferred version and is the subject of this review.

He Who Shapes is the story of Dr. Charles Rend... Read More

The Eyes of Heisenberg: Fascinating ideas, lacks character development

The Eyes of Heisenberg by Frank Herbert

The Eyes of Heisenberg (1966) is set in a far future where humanity is ruled by a small group of biological immortals known as Optimen. They have lived for tens of thousands of years and regulated every aspect of life. Their life and health is preserved by carefully maintaining the balance. Genetic engineering has progressed to the point where the genetic sequences of a fertilized ovum can be manipulated by highly skilled doctors. This technique is used to keep the population within a narrow genetic bandwidth and decide who gets to have children. Parents have little say in this matter but they are not entirely without rights. When Lizbeth and Harvey Durant, a couple lucky enough to be selected for breeding, exercise one of these rights, to be present at the modifying of the genetic material of their child, it becomes apparent that there is a certain uncontrollable element to procr... Read More

The Ganymede Takeover: The oddball of PKD’s sci-fi oeuvre

The Ganymede Takeover by Philip K. Dick

When I read Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore's 1946 novella Chessboard Planet some years back, the thought occurred to me that this story is a must-read for all fans of cult author Philip K. Dick. In the story, the United States is in the midst of a decades-long war with the European union and is in big trouble, because scientists working for the enemy have come up with a formula employing "variable constants" that can completely preempt reality. In the story's memorable opening, a doorknob opens a blue eye and watches one of the protagonists, and ultimately, the tale becomes hallucinatory in the extreme, as equations and counterequations for abrogating reality are bounced back and fo... Read More

The Blue World: More great stuff from Vance

The Blue World by Jack Vance

What’s to be said about Jack Vance that hasn’t already been said? The man is simply one of the most imaginative writers of the 20th century. His sci-fi fantasy styled adventures are deceptively simple, but the complexity of being human hides just below the surface, rearing its head in profound fashion in the middle of all the humor and fun. Vance’s 1966 The Blue World is no different.

Our hero, Sklar Hast, is an assistant hoodwink living on Tranque Float. Not a con or charlatan, Hast literally winks the hoods — in more complex Morse Code fashion — of the communicator devices located on the floats of their lily-pad archipelago, passing news between themselves. At the outset of the story, Sklar’s life is relatively simple. He sits in when the master hoodwink is away, teaching apprentices at other times. Tranque Float’s ancestors, having escaped their home planet... Read More

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress: The American revolution in an SF context

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein

“Sometimes I think that government is an inescapable disease of human beings. But it may be possible to keep it small, and starved, and inoffensive.”

It’s the year 2075. The Earth, which has a worldwide government of Federated Nations, sends its criminals and exiles to the moon where they won’t bother anyone on Earth. The “Loonies” are governed by wardens who require them to grow hydroponic grain which is sent back to Earth. This has been going on for over a century, so the lunar colony is no longer just criminals and exiles. They’ve had families and have built a society, but they’re still treated as Earth’s slave labor force. They do work for Earth, but get no benefits. Now they want to be free.

When a computer technician named Mannie realizes that the moon’s central computer (Mike) is sentient and lonely, he befriends it and they begin, with the hel... Read More

The Green Brain: Does not achieve the desired result

The Green Brain by Frank Herbert

The Green Brain is one of the novels that Frank Herbert published following the release of Dune. It was first published as a novelette under the title Greenslaves in Amazing Stories in 1965. Apparently the title is a reference to the English folk song Greensleeves. It was released as a novel by Ace Books in 1966. My copy is one in a series of four Frank Herbert titles reissued by Tor in 2002, to coincide with the release of The Butlerian Jihad by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. I read The Green Brain shortly after this publication became available and I think it is the only Frank Herbert book I didn't like when I first read it... Read More

This Immortal: Flamboyant New Wave SF with Greek mythic overtones

This Immortal by Roger Zelazny

The Earth has been mostly depopulated as humans have discovered more sophisticated and comfortable cultures elsewhere in the universe. Much of its infrastructure was destroyed during “The Three Days,” and most of the mainland areas are still “hot.” Genetic mutations have caused the birth of creatures previously thought to be only myth. Now Earth is a strange and dangerous place, fit only as a tourist attraction and a vacation spot for the Vegans.

But some people still love Earth, including long-lived Conrad Nomikos, Commissioner for the Arts. Conrad hates the Vegans, so he isn’t happy that he’s been assigned to be the tour guide for Cort Mishtigo, a rich Vegan who may be planning to buy up more of Earth. But even more interesting than Mishtigo’s plans for Earth is the nature of Conrad himself. Who is he?

This Immortal is a gorgeous novel... Read More

The Witches of Karres: Pure fun!

The Witches of Karres by James H. Schmitz

The Witches of Karres by James Schmitz is classic, old school science fantasy. Originally published in 1966, this is the story of Captain Pausert of Nikkeldepain, who rescues three young slaves on a foreign world only to find that they are actually three witches from the interdicted planet of Karres. With magical abilities to see the future, teleport objects over long distances, and destroy objects with just a whistle, these three young ladies turn Pausert’s life completely upside down. And that’s before a vatch gets involved.

A fun space-opera fantasy, The Witches of Karres is written for pure entertainment. With a cast of characters that leaps off the page as fully realized as a detailed drawing in a comic book, this is a breakneck romp across a galaxy and out the other side. When the planet that they are stopped on... Read More