Archive for the 1959 Category

Review: The Shrouded Planet & The Dawning Light

Posted in 1957, 1959, 4:Stellar!, Review with tags , , , , on June 6, 2009 by Aaron

Robert Randall (Robert Silverberg & Randall Garrett)
1957 & 1959

I’ve been looking forward to reading these two books ever since I picked up The Dawning Light from Joe back in November (December?) last year.  Just like the Close Up for these two books, this will be a double-header review.  Both these books by Robert Randall are the joint work of two authors – Robert Silverberg and Randall Garrett.  Garrett was an experienced contributor to pulp magazines and several years older than Silverberg, and acted as a kind of mentor to the younger writer.

These two books together represent one almost seamless and continuous story despite their origins as pulp fare.   ‘Planet’ was originally published in three separate parts in Astounding Science Fiction during 1956.  For the Gnome Press hardback release in ’57, linking chapters were added to aid the flow in novel form.  Something, incidentally, that was desperately needed for The Philosophical Corps, so desperately in fact that their absence effectively destroyed what could have been a much better book… but I digress.  ‘Light’ was likewise release over three consecutive months in 1957 in the same magazine. The linking chapters work very well in these books, so well that you wouldn’t know unless you… knew.

Wikipedia goes into quite a bit of detail regarding the plots of these two books (‘Planet’ here, ‘Light’ here) and has a substantial reference regarding the planet Nidor where the books are set.  However, if you want to really enjoy these books, I recommend not reading them (the wikipedia entries, I mean) if you can at all help it.  I somehow managed to studiously avoid all this information until after I completed the tales, and my reading experience was, I think, all the better for it.

So, what was the reading experience??  I’m not going to go into detail, I’m just going to gloss over the basic structure so you can enjoy it the way I did.  The biggest strength of the story is that we never find out what the real motivations of the Earthmen are until the very end.  I found myself swinging one way or the other with regards to whether they were benign or not.  But let’s back up a bit.  The planet Nidor orbits a very bright star and is perpetually covered in cloud.  Indeed, the Nidorians have never actually seen their sun, or even the sky for that matter.  This brings to mind the Murray Leinster’s The Forgotten Planet which I read recently.  In another parallel with that book, nightly rains are a by-product of all that cloud.  Since a great cataclysm some four thousand years ago, the Nidorians have lived in a static society structured around the worship of ‘The Great Light’, their sun.  Everything is in balance from the planet’s ecology, to the economy, to leadership by the oldest members sixteen tribes.  This living, yet petrified civilization is what’s alluded to by the title of the first book.  It certainly is a ‘shrouded’ or ‘mummified’ planet.  Well, it is until the Earthmen arrive and playing on being emissaries of The Great Light, shake things up a bit.

If the title of the first book gives you an indication of what the planet is like, the second title does too.

I’ve decided that I can’t comment how I want here without giving too much away, and if you haven’t read these books then I don’t want to spoil it.  The exact motivations of our brethren in the future really are skillfully witheld until the end, and in such a way that I couldn’t make a confident guess as to what they might be.  Suffice to say that there is a lot of scope for different interpretations and comment on the motivations for intervention/nonintervention in foreign (and not necessarily off-world) cultures.

The authors have created a very believable world here populated by interesting characters.  The writing is excellent and the story well paced and engaging.  I thoroughly recommend it.  The only negative aspect that is worth comment is that the revelations at the end are too hastily resolved.  Upon reflection, I think this may be a by-product of the pulp origins of the story.  Each book was published in three parts so the sixth and final installment had to provide a satisfactory conclusion as well as being reasonably self-contained in the confines of a short story.  If they went to the trouble of penning linking chapters, also fleshing out the ending to be more suitable for one long novel (which these two books essentially are) would have been a good idea.

One thing that many stories of this vintage suffer from is the curse of the outdated technology.  Not so here.  Because all of the action takes place on Nidor where the technology is relatively primitive to that contemporary to the time of writing, there isn’t much danger of attempting to describe stuff that seems odd or flat out nonsense to the modern reader.  One of the reasons why the tale holds it’s own very well today.

This is a very entertaining and satisfying read that despite being a little too quickly wrapped up at the end, I think any SF fan will enjoy.

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Close Up: The Shrouded Planet & The Dawning Light

Posted in 1957, 1959, Close Up, Comparisons with tags , , , , , , on May 30, 2009 by Aaron

closeupRobert Randall (Robert Silverberg & Randall Garrett)
1957 & 1959

I’m doing something a little different for this Close Up. Since these two books are effectively one continuous story, we’ll examine them together.  Looking at the two together illustrates something immediately.  It illustrates one of the things I wish never happened.  One of the things I struggle to understand.  One of the things I find disappointing about Gnome Press.  This: Why did the cover art go from wonderful, colorful, imaginative and descriptive, to… crap??  I suspect there are several answers to this question, and I’ll attempt to address this issue in it’s own post sometime.  For the meantime, we can see what I’m talking about here.

On the left, nice art, attractive, makes me interested.  On the right… not.

I usually give you bigger pics to enjoy, but I’m trying to put them side-by-side on this occasion.  If you want to see in more detail, just click the image and it’ll open the appropriate page on  the Gnome Press Flickr site.

Both books are very similar in condition.  They look good from a distance, but up close not so much.  We’ll have a closer look at this later.  Let’s take the jackets off.

‘Planet’ is in a little better condition here.  ‘Light’ has a bit of spotting on the boards.  Looking at the top we can see the usual darkening of the block.

‘Planet’ is a bit ahead here too.  It’s difficult to tell from these pics, but time has been a little kinder to ‘Planet’s’ text block.

You can also see that ‘Light’ isn’t quite sitting flat.  This is because I photographed it just after putting a dust jacket cover on.  I took the pics of ‘Planet’ prior to doing so.  The spine is a little more secure on ‘Planet’, you can see a slight lean there on ‘Light’ though that is exaggerated by the Brodart cover.

The difference in the darkening on the block is a bit more evident here.  The jacket on ‘Planet’ is a little worn on all extremities.

Though the jacket on ‘Planet’ is a little worn, ‘Light is in pretty good condition around the edges.  However, if you look closely at ‘Planet’ you can see an issue that both jackets share and is also quite serious on both.  Foxing.  Let’s have a closer look at portions of the jacket now.

You can see it prominently now, especially if you check out the larger pics.  I didn’t take a pic of the inner side of the jackets, but it is worse there.  Very noticeable on the endpapers too.

‘Planet’ is obviously suffering less in this regard and ‘Light’ does have issues as you can see.  Check out a previous owner’s embossed stamping there on ‘Planet’, which also has another owner’s stamp on the front paste-down.

You also get a good view of the extent of the foxing on the dust jacket.  It’s evident all over, but this is about the worst spot on the book.

I mentioned both books have the typical Gnome block browning and ‘Light’ is the worst off.

Almost in the same league as the copy of The Survivors I have.  The back of each book is quite nice and rip/wear free, the foxing is the big turn-off.  If it wasn’t for this endemic problem on these two books, their grade would be VG to NF.

Alas, this issue relegated both of these copies down to G I think.  It’s a shame, as otherwise they are both in great condition.

The Shrouded Planet
Year: 1957
Paid: $23
Art: Wallace Wood
Quantity: 5000 copies (2038 remaindered)
Binding: Navy blue boards with sky blue lettering on spine.
GP Edition Notes: 1st edition so stated.
Comments: Text block darkening and foxing on an otherwise nice copy.  Two previous owners stamps.
Expand Upon: wikipedia.com, Internet Speculative Fiction Database

The Dawning Light
Year: 1959
Paid: $29
Art: W.I. Van der Poel
Quantity: 5000 copies (1530 remaindered)
Binding: Navy boards with red spine lettering.
GP Edition Notes: 1st edition so stated.
Comments: Significant block darkening and foxing on an otherwise nice copy.
Expand Upon: wikipedia.com, Internet Speculative Fiction Database

These two books to my mind are in exactly the same condition.

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Review: The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag

Posted in 1959, 3:Lunar, Review with tags , on March 20, 2009 by Aaron

Robert Heinlein
1959

Wow.  It’s such a pleasure to read Robert Heinlein.  I haven’t actually read a book of his for… well, I don’t know how many years.  Before the era of modern communications and the Internet, I was a huge consumer of Heinlein fare.  I cut my teeth – literarily speaking – on his juveniles.  And in the last few years I have listened to practically everything of his on audio book, some more than once.  This book however, has been one that has somehow stayed low on my radar.  I have of course known of it’s existence, but never had the opportunity to take it in for some reason.  Until now.

This is a collection, the title story occupying about half of the book.  It’s a horror.  Or, it’s supposed to be a horror, I think.  Heinlein’s style doesn’t translate well to the horror genre.  I wasn’t scared, or troubled.  He just doesn’t write with enough gravity.  It reads more like a noir or hardboiled crime fiction/ fantasy crossover.  Ok, there were a couple of instances which I found a little disturbing – the necessity for the Sons of the Bird to cover their faces with their hands upon mention of the Bird – was an unusual example.  But with Heinlein’s trademark easy style and dry wit always present, there is a disconnect between the subject matter and the way it is delivered.  Don’t get me wrong, the title story is a good read (an excellent read in a couple of ways I’ll talk about later), but it doesn’t read the way it is, I think, meant to.  Some of the elements in the story also brought to mind a couple of examples of contemporary horror: the recent movie Mirrors and to a lesser extent, Stephen King’s The Mist.

The remaining stories are a mixed bag.

The next – The Man Who Traveled in Elephants –  is a strange story about an elderly man passing into the afterlife.  In that story the main character makes a passing reference to the book  And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street first published in 1937 by Dr Seuss, and there are obvious similarities between the two tales.

After that we have a time-travel tale with a twist in the mold of By His Bootstraps, a paranoid questioning reality, another bizarre story that I can only surmise is some sort of political commentary (I didn’t enjoy that one very much), and finally another reality warping play on time and space in the form of a tesseract-shaped house.

As much as I did or didn’t enjoy the stories in this book, there are some things about Heinlein’s writing I always appreciate.  the first are the puzzles or paradoxes he bases some of his short work around.  In this volume, All You Zombies— (the time-travel one) and —And He Built a Crooked House— are fine examples of this kind of work.

The other thing that I enjoy so much in Heinlein’s work are his characters.  Or more precisely, the insight he has into relationships – especially between men and women – that comes through in his writing.  The protagonists in the title story are a husband and wife team of private investigators, and I got as much (if not more) enjoyment from their interplay – both spoken and unspoken – than from the actual story itself.

Another thing I love about Heinlein’s characters from this period (his early work and the juveniles) is that they are spiritually rooted in the 1940s and ’50s.  This comes through so clearly in the vernacular they use, they attitudes they have and many of the social customs they display.

Randall had been married too long and too comfortably not to respect danger signals.  He got up, went to [his wife], and put an arm around her.  “Look kid,” he said seriously and gently, “I’m not pulling your leg.  We’ve got our wires crossed somehow, but I’m giving it to you as straight as I can, the way I remember it.”

If that isn’t pure ’40s or ’50s, I don’t know what is.

I mentioned a mixed bag earlier.  This collection is certainly that.  I suggest this is equal parts classic short Heinlein, fantasy and something from left field.  I think most everyone will find something to their liking contained within, but I think not many will like everything.

All You Zombies— and —And He Built a Crooked House— can be read online via Best Science Fiction Stories.

Close Up: The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag

Posted in 1959, Close Up with tags , , on February 5, 2009 by Aaron

closeupRobert Heinlein
1959

As I mentioned, I received this book earlier this week.  I kind of intimated that there were a couple of things bugging me about it.  And there are.  I guess I was unfair to introduce it as “The Unpleasant Impression of Jonathan Hoag” in that post.  This is a Heinlein 1st edition and it is in great condition.  That’s my layman’s description.  In terms of grading I am not sure how to place this, my first impression was Fine, but I think perhaps the couple of issues I’ll highlight might send it down to Near Fine.  Lets step through and check it out.

All good so far, what a lovely clean cover.  Beautiful.  Well protected by a Brodart dust jacket cover too…  But wait what’s that??  Lets have a closer inspection.

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A nasty little patch worn on the cover.  Thankfully it hasn’t made it all the way through.  So, if we open it what do we see??  Oh, my goodness…

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Price-clipped.  After the initial impression (I hadn’t noticed the small wear point on the cover then) I was somewhat deflated to see it had been chopped.  The seller, Jean, didn’t mention this little point in the auction.  In all fairness I didn’t ask any questions either.  Small lesson learned: Always ask pertinent questions such as “Has it been price-clipped?”  You will also notice a bit of what looks like foxing down the inner edge there too.  The other thing that jumped out at me at this point was this:

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Mr Bruce B. Tinkel has stamped his name nicely into the book.  Well, at least he didn’t scrawl it in there with a magic marker or something.  I’ll add this to the list of questions to remember to ask in an auction.  OK, so if we look a little closer at the spine what do we see.

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Nice.  Sits nice and square and the top and bottom of the spine look great.  You can see the dust jacket is superb here, so often focal points for wear and tearing.

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I love the boards on this book, nicely embossed in three colours.  Cool.  The back of the dust jacket is nice and clean also.

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Remember I mentioned that I have irrefutable evidence that this book has never been read??  How can I know this??  Check this out:

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Between pages 18 and 19 the bottom edges are still attached to each other!!  Either the trimming process was  a little inaccurate or more likely the binding process was.  Now, I don’t know about you, but I think it would certainly be a major inconvenience to read this book and maintain this situation.  Especially over a 50 year period.  You can also see the text block is darkened as is typical for the later GP books.

Actually, after consideration I wasn’t too concerned about the price-clipping.  As far as I know, Gnome never released a BCE edition of this book.  I’m pretty sure the Gnome Press book club (called the Fantasy Book Club) was dead by the time this book was published.

I’ve been in regular contact lately with Jean whom I bought this off – there are a couple more Gnome Press books winging my way.  Many thanks Jean, I certainly appreciate this Heinlein, it’s the star of my collection thus far.

Year: 1959
Paid: $210
Art: W.I. Van der Poel
Quantity: 5000
Binding: Tan-olive cloth with three-color title embossing.
GP Edition Notes: 1st edition so stated on the copyright page.
Comments: Great shape. I think this would be Fine if not for the flaws I’ve highlighted. I would appreciate input from anyone who might advise me otherwise or have any comments about this book.
Expand Upon: wikipedia.com, Internet Speculative Fiction Database

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