Archive for the Review Category

Review: Mel Oliver and Space Rover on Mars

Posted in 1954, 4:Stellar!, Review with tags , , on February 16, 2012 by Aaron

William Morrison
1954

This book achieves the distinction of being the first of my collection that I’ve read for review without actually reading the book itself – it was read through the Kindle app on my iPhone.  I talked a bit about that in a recent post.  I have two more books to get through in this way Invaders from the Infinite and The Vortex Blaster, and I’m looking forward to it.  Three actually if you count Highways in Hiding when I re-launch into that.  The whole Kindle experience has re-inspired and reinvigorated my reading.  There is also the not-insignificant benefit of eliminating the chance of accidental damage to my precious books!!  Another advantage of reading on the iPhone is that it’s very easy for me to make notes for the review.  I can bookmark pages or highlight text for reference later using Kindle, or pop out of the app and make short text or audio memos using the Evernote app that will sync with my MacBook the next time I connect to the ‘net.  This is awesome.

I’ve occasionally mentioned in this blog about my formative reading years, checking Mr. Heinlein and Hugh Walters out of the Napier Public Library.  This was a time around 1980 just before I became a teenager.  I used to love going to the library after school.  My mum (that’s British English. For those who use inferior versions of the language, translate that as ‘mom’) , took me there and let me go for an hour or so while I grazed along the shelves, sampling the fare on offer.

Just to digress a little here, I hardly ever write in British English anymore (I think it’s referred to as International English these days..), I almost always use American English.  The reason for this is that in Korea here, where I’ve spent the last 8+ years living and teaching, the education system uses American English – a legacy of the American participation and occupation since the Korean War.  If I slip up and spell a word on the black/whiteboard the way I was taught in school, the kids pull me up about it.  “Teacher!!  Wrong spelling!!”  So I’ve adopted ‘color’ instead of ‘colour’ and ‘theater’ as opposed to ‘theatre’ to name a couple of examples.  The students find it quite interesting when I explain some of the differences between the two versions of the language.  Some foreign English teachers here are quite militant one way or the other, but it doesn’t worry me too much.  Just so long as the kids understand that neither is right or wrong, they’re just different.

Anyway… the Napier Public Library.  It’s not there anymore.  At least, not the one I enjoyed going to.  It was bulldozed and rebuilt nearby.  Rebuilt as a big, bright, airy and soulless structure in the late ’80s I think.  Actually, if I’m objective about it, it needed to be.  It had become way too small for Napier’s growing population and a new facility was badly needed.  I’m just bemoaning the fact that it’s gone, the place that I loved so much.  The place where books like Starman Jones and Journey to Jupiter became touchstones of my lifelong love of science fiction literature.

I’ve gotten (more British English, got, for you AE speakers..) quite a bit off track here.  Why have I spent some space rambling about stuff not related to Mel & Rover?  Books like this and those I’ve mentioned bring back treasured reading memories.  Despite my younger brother turning 40 in September last year, I still just love well written juvenile SF, and this particular book falls into that category for me.  There is a real skill writing in this style.  Heinlein was an absolute master at it.  To be able to connect to the young reader, to make you feel as a youngster that this really could be you.  The protagonist in these tales thinks and reacts to fantastic situations in ways that you yourself could imagine or relate to, or aspire to from the point of view of the young reader looking up to teenage maturity.  It’s a skill I fear is disappearing, or at least, no longer viable as the young reader these days (are there any?) is so much more sophisticated and cannot relate to a time when the telephone for example, was a household fixture in the same way as refrigerators or toilets are.  Of course, there’s a tried and true formula for writing YA novels which I’ll touch on later, but I can’t really think of any decent modern YA or juvenile SF around at the moment.  Paolo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker is probably the best example I’ve read recently.  The Hunger Games also springs to mind.  But they’re just not the same.  Or maybe I’m somewhat blinded because I’m older now and fall prey to nostalgia.  I’m getting off track again…

What this reinforces to me, and the reason I give this a Stellar! rating, is that if you enjoy YA SF then you’ll enjoy this.

But what about the author William Morrison?  Joseph Samachson (William Morrison was a pseudonym) was a biochemist and besides writing in that capacity, of interest to us he wrote for comics and magazines, and this was apparently his one and only novel.  A pity.  You can learn more about him on wikipedia or check out his bibliography on the ISFDB.

Finally I might start talking about this book now!! Mel is a teenager whom we meet while he’s stowed away about a thousand miles above Earth’s surface, accelerating into a journey to Mars.  He ventures forth, meets fellow stowaway Rover, gets in (and out) trouble, joins the circus and all the while is uncovering a murderous plot against him.  That’s it!!  In true YA fashion the story is as straight as an arrow.  I would just like to elaborate on some aspects of the book.

First, the science, or aspects of the science.  Mr Morrison tries to keep everything grounded in reality, but of course this is the reality of the 1950s, so many ideas are of course dated.  One example is when Mel & Rover are in transit between Earth and Mars.  Mel sends a message ahead to his father’s business partner, Mr Armstrong.  When no reply is forthcoming, it’s assumed that Mr Armstrong is traveling and won’t get the message until he returns home.  Reasonable assumption 60-odd years ago, but today I can get email or messages on my iPhone from anywhere worldwide instantly wherever I might be.  Mel’s human race are a part of a system-wide civilization, inter-planetary travel is routine, yet they can’t receive messages because they aren’t home??  Hmmm…  But, being the die-hard golden-age scientific fiction aficionados we are, we accept these things.

In terms of the hard science that keeps the book grounded (excuse the pun, you’ll see why in a moment..), Mr Morrison employs gravity in several different ways.  There are several examples throughout the book, in fact, I felt he could (or should) have found other devices to showcase his skills in illustrating his grasp of literary hard science. Before I mention a couple of gravitational examples, one non-gravitational example he did use (also on more than one occasion..) was the thin Martian atmosphere – distance didn’t significantly diminish clarity.

With regards to gravity, he used a couple of very interesting examples.  One was when Mel and his circus employer/friend, Bolam the strongman were in a taxi.  Mel becomes frustrated at the lack of speed.  When they hit a low or high spot in the road, the cab’s wheels left the ground to spin uselessly.  Bolam comments that there are some advantages to higher gravity such as that on Earth.  Mel wonders why not just make the vehicles heavier to simulate a higher G?  Bolam responds that it would be a waste of precious materials and power.  They also encounter the necessity to remove a lot of speed to negotiate corners.  Bolam explains that due to the low gravity that applying hard braking easily capsizes the vehicle going around the corner or leads to spinning out. “Accidents of that kind are fifty times as frequent here as on Earth, although it’s true they’re less serious when they do happen.”

Mars has apparently just the right gravity for circus-style acrobatics.  The Moon allows prodigious leaps, but everything is performed much too slowly to engage the audience.  Earth’s gravity allows for fast and exciting routines, but the higher gravity raises the risks of injury.  Mars in comparison offers the large leaps yet the one third G means that the potential for injury is greatly reduced while still providing an engaging performance for the punters.

As I mentioned earlier, the plot is crystal clear and there are no side issues or significant deviations.  We’re with Mel the whole way.  It’s well paced and the book maintained my interest consistently by keeping the action up.   These things are typical (and important) for a juvenile novel, and there’s still a bit of a twist at the end to keep things interesting.  If I had one gripe about the story it’s that we never get a satisfactory resolution for Rover.  Why was he stowing away en route to Mars?  He was the number two character in the book after all… I felt there was a story there to be told.  Perhaps William Morrison planned to explore Rover a bit further in a subsequent volume.

This is clean, innocent fun, and any fan of golden age YA fare will absolutely enjoy this.  I really wish that Mr Morrison took Mel and Rover on further escapades around the solar system.  An interplanetary circus would have been the perfect vehicle for some simple adventure.

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Review: Two Sought Adventure

Posted in 1957, 3:Lunar with tags , on May 5, 2011 by Aaron

Fritz Leiber
1957

I was looking forward to reading this very much as a bit of an escape from the usual SF fare. As soon as I started reading it, I had my doubts about the worth of the contents. I have never liked being introduced to a fantasy book by the scene being set with what seem clumsy and contrived fantasy names and locations. It’s as if the author wants to impress with the power of his imagination and how exotic and mysterious his world must be.  Maybe back in the day it was fine, but these days to this sometimes jaded and experienced reader it’s not interesting, even a turn-off perhaps unless you’re about 16 years old.  However, as I often say here, when reading these stories we mustn’t be too critical in a contemporary light.  We must try wind our minds back to the times in which they were written.  Not an easy thing when you’re born in 1969, but as I was weaned on Heinlein juveniles and Hugh Walters around 1980 or so it’s no big deal really.  I really want to pick up some Walters first editions sometime… hard to come by those.

To the book at hand.  While I did start with a fair bit of skepticism, that quickly disappeared as I got engaged in the capers of this pair of fearless and daring adventurers.  Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser present an unlikely couple in the form of a Conanesque barbarian and a diminutive thief in the mold of a kind of a half-elf character from Dungeons & Dragons.  Indeed, these characters and their world were apparently an influence in the role-playing world.  You can read about them in more detail on wikipedia here.

Fritz Leiber presents a bit of a tragic figure for all his ability as a writer in the realms of SF, horror and fantasy.  Apparently an accomplished fencer, this skill of his comes through in excellent and believable descriptions of bouts of swordplay throughout the collection.  It is a collection, did I mention that?  Anyway, these two good friends engage in a bit of hack & slash and various other types of derring-do – breaking and entering, wasteland adventures and such and so forth.  Their influence as literary characters and that of their world (in particular their hometown of Lankhmar) remain to this day.  I recommend looking into these two more widely on the Internet.

This isn’t a particularly good review.  It’s the first since, well… Mutant, way back in December ’09!!  Man, I’m out of practice.  Still this is better than nothing and will hopefully get my Review wheels turning again.

Bottom line is (and this is what we all want after all..) that this is a good collection of Fantasy tales with two very believable and human protagonists.  No superhuman abilities or miraculous escapes, just excellent fantasy fun with engaging characters.  If you are seeking adventure, make it three and join Fafhrd and Mouser.  Highly recommended.

Review: Mutant

Posted in 1953, 3:Lunar, Review with tags , , , , on December 29, 2009 by Aaron

Lewis Padgett
1953

This is the third of three books by the Kuttner/Moore team that Gnome Press have in their stable, and like the one other copy I have – Robots Have No Tails… – this is a collection though presented (albeit rather thinly) in novel form.

Each chapter is a short story in the ‘Baldy’ series. There is a brief intro to each that provides a linking device by which these tales are tied together. A Baldy crashes his ‘copter in some remote mountains and accesses shared memories recollecting important events in Baldy history while he waits against hope for rescue. I found this glue rather unnecessary and again, for me, it was a distraction and detraction from tales that were on the whole pretty good as stand-alone pieces – I could have quite readily inferred the progression satisfactorily myself.

Baldies are a post-apocalyptic (or post ‘Big Mistake’ as it’s called) human mutation that have telepathic powers. In actual fact, ‘mutant’ is a bit of a misnomer. The term is traditionally used to describe a one-off genetic aberration such as those sported by the various X-Men, by Johnny Alpha and his Strontium Dog colleagues or to a lesser extent the abilities of the Children of he Atom. Baldies are really a different species arising from a mutation – not ‘mutants’ per se, but a brand new species of the homo genus. This Big Mistake caused an identical genetic modification in some people so a small percentage of post-Mistake offspring exhibit dominant Baldy traits – Baldies become a permanent and growing percentage of the population.

So, I hear you ask, why were they called ‘Baldies’? Well, they are bald as you can see from Ric Binkley’s cover art, but further, have a complete lack of bodily hair. Because of this, they were able to be readily identified and most resorted to the habit of wearing hairpieces to camouflage themselves from society at large. A prudent move as Baldies often engender a certain amount of fear in most normal people due to their mind-reading abilities and as a result suffer from some discrimination. But outside of the extremist ‘Paranoid’ Baldy faction, they are generally understanding of many humans’ attitude towards them in their obviously dominant position, and seek to bring a reconciliation that will be satisfactory in the long term.

Just on the note of conflict, I just want to mention a cultural idiosyncrasy of the times – the duel. All men carry a dagger so they can engage in duels if challenged. What is it about this form of conflict resolution that so appealed to SF writers back then? It seems a bit odd and rather antiquated from the viewpoint of today, The great RAH used this device in his early work Beyond This Horizon (with firearms though, not blades). But as I so often encourage, you have to read these books with a certain amount of tolerance and with one mental foot in the 1940s or 50s. These things (the duels) go to the death, so they aren’t taken lightly and to engage with a Baldy is tantamount to suicide as they can read your mind as to what moves you’re about to pull.

As I mentioned earlier, the stories depict several key scenarios in Baldy history – they are snapshots of events leading to the inevitable confrontation between them and regular humans. This culminates in a solitary Baldy having to make the final decision as to whether to extinguish the threat to Baldy existence or let fate determine how the relationship between the two species develops.

Aside from those unnecessary linking intrusions I really enjoyed the tales. In contrast to mutant fare we have been getting in the modern sci-fi era – isolated and/or disparate mutations affecting individuals in radically different and bizarre ways – I liked the treatment here. A single mutation consistent and breeding human mutation evolution that has the potential to subsume the inferior (or at least non-telepathic) regular human version. In some ways this brings to mind John Wyndham’s story The Midwich Cuckoos, but the Baldies aren’t evil as the children in that story apparently are.

What Henry Kuttner (all subsequent editions are credited to him, see the book’s ISFDB page – I suspected as much from the style of the prose) does well here is conveying the sense of community that Baldies experience. They have a telepathic link that’s kind of analagous to the Internet – each individual is kind of server. They can all choose to partake of the resource, or ‘log out’ and resist intruding on, or intrusion from others. It’s quite skillfully handled given that it’s a tough thing to try to impart what is actually happening in the mind. Let me give you an example:

They looked at each other in silence. Their minds touched and sprang apart and then touched again, tentatively, with light thoughts that leaped from point to point as gingerly as if the ideas were ice-floes that might sink beneath the full weight of conscious focus.
I thought I loved you . . . perhaps I did . . . yes, I too . . . but now there can’t be . . . (sudden, rebellious denial) . . . no, it’s not true, there can’t ever be rightness between us . . . not as if we were ordinary people . . . we’d always remember that picture, how I looked (abrupt sheering off from the memory) . . . (agonized repudiation of it) . . . no couldn’t help that . . . always between us . . . rooted too deeply . . . and anyhow, Cas – (sudden closing off of both minds at once, before even the thought-image had time to form.)
Alexa stood up. “I’m going to town,” she said.

page 105/106

That’s a bit lengthy, but it gives you a great example of how he’s handled it. Pretty slick if you ask me. Short passages of mind communication are scattered throughout the book and really help us become part of the Baldy experience – not just a third-party to it.

To wrap this up, Mutant is an enjoyable read that presents some interesting dilemmas and makes us think about how we might handle being in such a position as they. However, you don’t need to be a telepath to work out what’s happening over the course of the stories, so if you read this collection, keep in mind they are tales separated in time and just skip the linking interludes. You will enjoy it a bit more.

Review: Address: Centauri

Posted in 1955, 4:Stellar!, Review with tags , on December 6, 2009 by Aaron

F.L. Wallace
1955

Wow, I’ve been really lucky lately.  I’ve been treated to some excellent space opera from the Gnome Press stable.  Following the mediocre reading experiences that were Pattern for Conquest and Cosmic Engineers,  I’ve had the pleasure of The Mixed Men, The Starmen and now Address: Centauri.

But who is author F.L. Wallace??  Well, this is his one and only novel.  Check out his pages on Wikipedia and the Internet Speculative Fiction Database.  Somewhat dissimilar to the majority of authors published by GP, he wrote entirely in the 50’s and the very early 60’s.  The very early 50’s, the 40’s and even the 30’s provided the majority of the material for Gnome Press.

I hinted that this is a space opera, but upon a bit more reflection I’m not so sure.  Space opera is typified by it’s large scale – planet hopping, vast distances, extremely advanced yet poorly described technology and often rather thin characters.  While all of this is more or less present here in Address: Centauri, it’s arrangement sort of dissuades me from attaching the ‘space opera’ label.

Earth is the province of beautiful people, medical and cosmetic technology is advanced enough to remedy a great many problems.  But not all.  For those for whom finances or the technological limits are a barrier we have ‘Handicap Haven.’  An asteroid that houses an advanced medical facility catering to societies physical and mental rejects, and we indeed do have a motley bunch of starring characters drawn from this pool.  Which brings me to something I mentioned in the Close Up about the cover illustration something about the story.  I’m talking specifically about the main characters.

First, looking a bit like a Weeble, is Jordan – a genius engineer who has no legs.  Next is huge Anti.  Formally a talented dancer, but infected by some kind of rampant flesh-building organism.  Next our main man, Docchi.  Through a near-fatal accident, his tissues have been saturated with a partially organic ‘cold lighting’ fluid that responds to his emotional state by lighting his skin.  Jeriann looks great physically but has no digestive system whatsoever.  Finally the beautiful face of Nona.  Emotionally retarded and unable to communicate but with a kind of telepathic empathy with, and ability to influence, electronic and gravitic systems.

To cut a long story short, it’s Nona’s ability to control the artificial gravity of Handicap Haven that sets our population of rejects on their way to Alpha Centauri in a race to be the first to reach another star system, find a true home and perhaps establish contact with an alien civilization.

But, getting back to the question of whether this is a true space opera or not, lets check the boxes.  Vast distances and planet hopping – we go from Sol system all the way to Alpha Centauri.  Check.  Extremely advanced yet poorly described technology – artificial gravity and medical marvels.  Check.  Rather thin characters – barring Docchi, we spend very little time on the motivations and personalities of the other characters.  Check.  However, the vast distances are not a feature but a vehicle or framework for the story to take place in.  The means of setting up a time frame and a duration within which the story can transpire.  The advanced technology is in fact analyzed in a little more detail than we might expect from traditional space opera.  Sure, it’s still a bit sketchy, though to Mr Wallace’s credit, what he does describe leans more towards the harder side of science and it does have an air of credibility.  And we do develop real sympathy for the characters and their plight.  Indeed, the author has provided a very interesting group for us to enjoy the story alongside, and the two most interesting for me are Docchi and Nona.

We don’t really get to know Nona that well aside from her ability that unlocks faster-than-light travel by manipulating gravity, or to be more precise, mentally manipulating the systems that manipulate gravity.  It is her mysteriousness that is attractive however, and she also develops a relationship with Dr Cameron – the only able-bodied and initially very reluctant (he was effectively kidnapped after all) member of our crew.

Docchi is the leader.  He organizes the rebellion that leads to Handicap Haven’s departure and we experience his angst and frustration at having to evaluate and cater to the special needs of the asteroid’s various maladies and juggle (amongst other things) the rationing of power and the allocation of medical supplies en route to the Centauri system.

To wrap this review up without giving too much away, we learn that this rag-tag bunch achieve their goal, find a new home and are viewed as the true representatives of the human race.

There is a great base here from which F.L. Wallace could have built a couple more books around our team’s efforts to establish their home and relations with the denizens of the Centauri system. It’s a real shame he didn’t as I really enjoyed the ride out there, and would have liked to tag along on some more adventures with Docchi, Nona, Anti and their interesting friends.

Review: The Starmen

Posted in 1952, 4:Stellar! with tags , on November 14, 2009 by Aaron

Leigh Brackett
1952

I was rather pleased to pick this up.  Check out the Close Up for some visual goodness.

In looking into the writing career of the author Leigh Brackett, I learned some interesting trivia.  Thanks to that fount of all human knowledge, Wikipedia, I discovered that she was, amongst many other notable things,  involved in the writing of several prominent movies, the most notable (from an SF perspective) was the original screenplay for The Empire Strikes Back.  It was eventually entirely rewritten, but she was included in the credits.  Check her out on wikipedia and at the ISFDB – very interesting reading.

This is a good story.  I especially enjoyed the way it began.  On a contemporary Earth, our hero Michael Trehearne (an interesting choice of name) is chasing his origins.  From the U.S. to England and finally to the French countryside he has searched and finally feels he is closing on the source of his difference.  There are no real hints at this being an SF tale until about chapter 4.  A refreshing start, and this is where we pick up his real adventure.

His difference is physical.  Not an obvious difference, but as a very successful test pilot for the USAF his ability to withstand heavy ‘G’s and other subtle differences leads him to suspect something special in his origins.  Though he doesn’t suspect how special.  He does indeed locate his ‘kin’ and thereafter his real adventure begins.  I’m trying to avoid giving too much away here, suffice to say that he embarks on a cosmic adventure with his erstwhile relatives and succeeds in helping to bring interstellar travel to the various peoples of the galaxy.

This is a typical space opera and not really unusual in any respect except for the cool device around which the story is built.  The monopoly the Vardda people have on interstellar travel and its jealous protection provides the interesting backdrop against which this story is penned and it is engaging.  While not being a page-turner, it is consistent with quality golden age space opera in that there is a constant upbeat pace and many interesting changes of location.

In the course of his adventures, Trehearne – what we would now consider true Star Trek or Star Wars fashion – discovers that the galaxy is peopled with many different races based on the basic humanoid form, and to Ms Brackett’s credit she does provide a somewhat reasonable explanation for this:

Trehearne had been amazed at the persistent recurrence of the humanoid form even when the root-stock from which a particular race had evolved was not even remotely human, and Yann had explained to him what every Vardda school-child was taught in General Biology, that the development of the humanoid form [….] rested simply upon the necessity of a species that intended to progress beyond the animal level of intelligence to evolve hands, or a workable substitute, and free them for use.
page 112

Cool.

In subsequent editions known as The Galactic Breed or The Starmen of Llyrdis, it is a well paced, expertly crafted and thoroughly enjoyable tale.  If you’re a fan of fine space opera, I highly recommend taking to the stars with The Starmen.

Review: SF’58: The Year’s Greatest Science Fiction and Fantasy

Posted in 1958, 3:Lunar, Review with tags , on November 5, 2009 by Aaron

Judith Merril, editor
1958

I’ve been reading a little slow lately – it’s taken me about a month to work my way through this anthology. My reactions to it are a bit mixed, though before looking a bit more closely at it, first a very brief history.  The SF(‘xx) series edited by Judith Merril was a long-running annual series in which Ms Merril attempted to collect the outstanding SF&F for a particular year.  To put things in their proper order, I’ll talk more about this and her when I review the very first tome in this series.

As I said, my reactions were mixed.  I normally read anthologies cover to cover, as I imagine the editor always has some sort of structure or theme development in mind when putting the thing together.  While I did read the first story first, I thereafter hopped all over the shop in reading.  I’m not sure if this affected my reading experience or not.

I felt it was quite an odd bunch of stories – a couple I thought were fantastic, but others were a little strange to my way of thinking.  I just want to mention a couple of my favorites before taking a general overview.

The Wonder Horse by George Byram is a fantasy tale about a mutant racehorse that goes on to be unbeatable, the controversy the horse generates and how it’s owners cope with the sudden fame and fortune.  A very straightforward story, no real surprises or twists, no startling conclusion, and one that perhaps seemed a little misplaced in an anthology of this nature.  To my surprise though, I enjoyed it a lot.  A thoroughly engaging and satisfying read.

The other (and perhaps the) stand-out tale for me was Zenna Henderson’s Wilderness.  Told with extreme skill and wonderfully paced, it relates the experiences of one young woman – a teacher in a very small and remote South-West town – and the discovery of who she really is.  Confused and frightened by her heightened senses, she thinks her sanity to be slowly deteriorating until she meets someone like her and reluctantly accepts her true identity.  I’ve since discovered that those of you familiar with the ‘People’ series from Zenna Henderson will no doubt more-or-less know what they are in for here, but for me it was new and unfamiliar.  Ms Henderson was a very talented writer and I’m certainly looking forward to reading more of her work; she also appears in both Judith Merril’s first Gnome Press anthology and in SF’57.

The Fly by George Langelaan deserves a mention of course.  A tale with which everyone is very familiar now, but nevertheless it was an education to read in it’s original form.  This is (I think) it’s first publication in hardcover, although it was earlier published in Playboy magazine in July, 1957.

Another notable inclusion is Near Miss.  The last Henry Kuttner story to be published; a tribute to the prolific and very popular author who died that year.

Prefacing each tale is a small introduction by Ms Merril and at the back of the book is a Summary and a section called ‘The Year’s S-F, Summation and Honorable Mentions’ – a kind of an appendix or perhaps a reading list for you.  The short introductions add an extra dimension to each tale –  Ms Merril gives us the occasional bit of insight into her choices, a little background or info on the author and/or story.  They make for interesting reading so here they are reproduced for your appreciation.

View this document on Scribd

Complementing the stories are 6 non-fiction articles that comment on various aspects of science fiction and ‘space science’ in general.  The most interesting of which is Sputnik: One Reason Why We Lost written by G. Harry Stine.

In all honesty, I struggle to see how this could be collectively considered ‘The Year’s Best’, but Judith Merril is far more experienced than I when it comes to this kind of thing so I take her at her word.  Having said that though, the inclusion of that non-fiction really adds an extra dimension to this book and this combined with those two or three exceptional tales make the effort worthwhile.

Review: The Complete Book of Outer Space

Posted in 1953, 4:Stellar!, Review, Summary Review, The Complete Book of Outer Space with tags , , on October 19, 2009 by Aaron

Jeffrey Logan, editor
1953

Well, I’ve pretty much said it all in each chapter as I delivered each in this blog, but this is just to deliver a final few thoughts overall.  This book brings back some nice memories for me.  The feeling I got while reading it is similar to the feelings I had when as a boy between about 5 – 10 years old I would browse the various volumes in the Time-Life series – the Life Science Library and the Life Nature Library.  We had these two series at home and I would sit for hours just flicking through looking at the pictures and reading what I could.  The illustrations and photographs in those books captured my imagination like not much else has since.  The Complete Book of Outer Space is delivered in much the same way.  Not-too-technical-nor-long articles accompanied by interesting and imaginative photos and pictures.

Much of it is very outdated now, but as I pointed out often in the brief intro to each chapter, it’s incredibly interesting from a historical perspective.  It takes us back to a time when sending man into space was still a goal, and the possibilities for the conquest of space seemed immediate and endless.

Here it is, all in one click or chapter by chapter:

The Complete Book of Outer Space – All 14 parts

Part 1 – Intro & The Development of the Spaceship
Part 2 – Station in Space
Part 3 – Space Medicine
Part 4 – Space Suits
Part 5 – The High Altitude Program
Part 6 – History of the Rocket Engine
Part 7 – Legal Aspects of Space Travel
Part 8 – Life Beyond Earth
Part 9 – Exploitation of the Moon
Part 10 – Interstellar Flight
Part 11 – The Spaceship in Science Fiction
Part 12 – A Plea for a Coordinated Space Program
Part 13 – The Flying Saucer Myth
Part 14 – The Experts

This work of non-fiction is an interesting accompaniment to the Gnome Press stable of Golden Age Science Fiction.  It provides a ‘hard’ backdrop to the creative fiction all around it – in some ways giving us a glimpse of the ‘pegs of reality’ on which the imagination of authors like Heinlein, Clarke and Asimov spent some time hanging.

It’s been an incredibly enjoyable and interesting way to deliver this book over the past 6 months and I’m sad it’s over.  I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have.