Archive for Robert Heinlein

Ballpoint Blues…

Posted in Book Care with tags , , , on January 25, 2012 by Aaron

A couple of posts ago I mentioned that I picked up a copy of Heinlein’s The Menace from Earth.  I paid $175 for it plus another $40 for insured shipping.  On the face of it, it’s not a bad price to pay for the second most desirable Heinlein title (if average price is any indicator) from the GP stable (Methuselah’s Children seems to be the most sought after GP Heinlein).  All looked good, and I was quite satisfied with what I paid.  Unfortunately a ballpoint pen had been applied to the front of the dust jacket.  The vendor never mentioned this and it wasn’t apparent in the image supplied.  In fact the description stated “There is no previous owner’s name or mark anywhere in or on the book or dust jacket.”  When in actual fact there is the pen on the front, and also there is a previous owners name on the front free end-paper.  Check out the cover.  First, the image as seen on eBay:

Come to think of it, if I was truly familiar with the cover image, I should have picked up the errant markings.  Now that I know they are there, I can see them well enough.  Can’t see the pen marks, but can see where the original ink has been removed in trying to erase them.  Now two pics taken by myself:

Clicking through on my images will get you a big size look.  You can see the markings quite clearly in the image above.  The pic below gives you a real in your face view.

It really annoys me when the vendor either a) doesn’t have a close look at what they’re selling, and for $175 that’s quite irresponsible, or b) chooses not to disclose any and all flaws, which is just plain dishonest.  Not sure into which camp he falls here.

The vendor did offer a full return refund though, including postage.  That’s still no excuse for any oversight or misleading of the customer.  I could just send it back, but I have it now, and I don’t really want to do that.  I’ve been interested lately in the restoration route so I’ve sent it, along with my now two-piece The Porcelain Magician jacket, off to a book restorer in the States.  They are going to give me a quote on restoring them.  Should be interesting.  No doubt the cost might exceed their true worth, but what the hell, it will be an educational exercise.  With regards to the Heinlein title, it might prove to be worth it in the longer term anyway.  I’ll keep you posted on progress…

UPDATE 26/01: I have corresponded with Jerry whom I bought this book off.  We have resolved this to my total satisfaction.  Jerry is jbs15 on eBay.  Jerry is a gentleman of integrity and cares about books and his customers.  Highly recommended.

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First in a Long Time…

Posted in Gene Wolfe, New Arrivals with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 10, 2012 by Aaron

Happy New Year people…

Well, I haven’t been able to get enthused about reading for a long time.  Still collecting though.  I’ve picked up a several new books since that last long time ago post.  L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt’s The Carnelian Cube, the Northwest of Earth collection from C.L. Moore, another collection, The Menace from Earth by Mr. Heinlein and currently a signed, inscribed non-fiction work Lost Continents from L. Sprague de Camp is on the way.  I also picked up a seemingly near-new jacket for The Porcelain Magician by Frank Owen.  I say ‘seemingly’ because the thing had a rather severe crease right down the center of the spine.  So severe in fact, that it promptly fell in two when extracting it from the shipping tube.  I was very disappointed, but thankfully the vendor was great and gave me a full refund.  I’m going to send it away to a restorer to get a quote on repairing it.  I haven’t had much luck with dust jackets lately as the jacket for The Menace from Earth has some ball-point pen writing on the front.  It was invisible in the auction image and the seller never mentioned it.  The markings are faint, but obvious to any cursory examination, and unmistakeable to a collector.  I think I’ll send that away for a restoration price too.  It’s a real shame as the book and the jacket are in very good condition otherwise.  Still, the restoration route could be interesting.

Also I’ve been expanding my Gene Wolfe collection.  I succumbed and picked up PS Publishing’s limited (100 copies) and slip-cased first edition of The Very Best of Gene Wolfe, as well as the similarly limited and slip-cased first edition (250 copies) of Kerosina’s Storeys from the Old Hotel.  In addition, I picked up The Shadow of the Torturer series from Innovation Comics, based on Gene Wolfe’s legendary books.  I never knew this existed until I ran into it on eBay.  Apparently it was supposed to run to 6 issues, but only made it to three.  I wish it ran to completion.  It’s quite good.

Also, I’ve been part of a book myself!!  When I was president of the Seoul Photo Club, back in 2009 we embarked on something called The Seoul Metro Project.  The fruits of which you can find on Magcloud.  It’s one photo from every stop in the Seoul subway system (over 400!) pulled together into a beautiful coffee table photo book in which I contributed a section on Line 3.  Many thanks must go to my good friend, Seoul Photo Club stalwart and one of the finest photographers I know, Flash Parker whose brainchild the whole thing was and who put the book together.  I recently wrote an article outlining the background to the project that will be published in next (February 2012) edition of Groove Korea magazine.

I’ll get some images of those offending jackets up before I send them away.  I don’t know when that might be, as I’m in an English language immersion camp in the countryside north of Seoul at present and my books are of course not with me.  I’ll have another three weeks out here but maybe I’ll have time in my fleeting weekend visits home to snap something.  We’ll see…

Brief Reflections from The Dark Tower

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on September 21, 2010 by Aaron

I recently finished listening to the Dark Tower series by Stephen King.  This is the second time I’ve listened to it, the first being about four years ago.  It’s very good.  At least, I enjoy it immensely.  The reason I mention it here is that Mr King throughout the seven books in the series alludes to or directly mentions many, many literary figures, their books and their creations.  Just by way of example, Arthurian legend figures prominently, The Wizard of Oz and Frank L. Baum are ascendant at one point, the similarities to The Lord of the Rings are unmistakable, Dr Seuss, Harry Potter, Robert Heinlein, Richard Adams… the list goes on and on.  Movies and TV series are similarly referenced.  Check out the series’ Intertextual References section at wikipedia. The series is a bibliophile’s (especially an SF&F bibliophile’s) trainspotting paradise.

Of interest to us here are the references to works from Gnome Press.  I picked up two concrete references and one that I’m not so sure about.  The most obvious example is the name of one of the organizations that the Crimson King uses as a front and that manufactured most of the technology that is now decaying in Roland’s world – ‘Northwest Positronics’.  The obvious reference is to the kind of brain that Isaac Asimov’s robots have in I, Robot – they have positronic brains.  Just as I write this, it occurs to me that the ‘Northwest’ part could potentially be a reference to Northwest Smith – C.L. Moore’s erstwhile gunslinging spaceman from Gnome titles Shambleau & Others and Northwest of Earth.  Just now, as I wrote that, it also occurred to me that I might not be drawing such a long bow here.  Northwest Smith is indeed a gunslinger unmistakeably cut from the same cloth as Roland of Giliad.

Next, Calvin Tower, obsessive book collector and proprietor of The Manhattan Restaurant of the Mind, calls young Jake a ‘Hyperborean wanderer’ when Jake picks up his copies of Charlie the Choo Choo and the book of riddles.  Again, this is an unambiguous reference to the Conan the Barbarian series, Hyperborea lying somewhat to the north of Conan’s homeland.  This is probably also a nod to Clark Ashton Smith who is also referenced a couple of times in the series.

The third reference I detected is less direct.  When Pere Callahan is telling his story to Roland’s ka-tet as they wait for the ‘wolves’ to descend on the town of Calla Bryn Sturgis, he calls his world-shifting wanderings across parallel versions of the United States, his journeys through ‘highways in hiding’.  Now, if this was just mentioned once, I might dismiss this as a coincidence, but it is specifically referred to in that way at least four or five times.  Too many, in my opinion, to not be a nod to George O. Smith’s 1955 book Highways in Hiding – the latest to be added to my Gnome Press collection.

There we go.  Apologies for the largely unexplained references to characters and situations in the Dark Tower series, but do yourself a favor and read (or listen to) it.  It’ll make sense then, and you’ll also have a ball trying to catch all those references.  Not to mention enjoying a wonderful story.

Review: All About the Future

Posted in 1955, 4:Stellar!, Adventures in Science Fiction Series, Review with tags , , on April 24, 2009 by Aaron

Martin Greenberg, editor
1955

This is the third book of the ‘Adventures in Science Fiction Series’ that I’ve read.  I haven’t gotten around to reviewing The Robot and the Man yet, but Journey to Infinity I have.  I have to say I am really enjoying the books in this series and I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on the others.  I’ll probably repeat this in all the reviews for these books, but Greenberg’s theme idea is a winner.  Slightly different from the other two I have read – collections tracing the history of mankind and the history of the development of the robot – these stories are each a different take on the kinds of cultures we might see in the future.

I’ll touch on the stories in a moment, but first I just want to mention the Foreword and the Introduction.  The foreword is written by editor Martin Greenberg in which he outlines the purpose of the collection and gives a brief intro to each story.  This is a very important part of the book because it really focuses your mind on the themes and issues to take note of.  It sets the book up nicely because without it, this would be too easy to read as just a collection of pretty good science fiction short stories.  The introduction written by Robert Heinlein is special.  Actually there are two intros, the other by Isaac Asimov.  What I’m going to do here is reproduce the intro by Mr Heinlein for you to enjoy.  It’s a fascinating glimpse into how the Great Man’s mind was working back then, how he used the present to think about a science fiction future, and how he saw the ‘real’ future from the perspective of 1955.  He has a stab at predicting some things that will come to pass  (prediction #4; The United States will never engage in a preventative war), and lists a few he thinks will probably never happen.  It’s 11 pages, but this is a must-read for Heinlein fans, science fiction fans (particularly classic sf) and fans of ’50s nostalgia in general. So here it is, ‘Where To?’ by Robert Heinlein.  Enjoy.

View this document on Scribd

If you are a bit concerned about me breaking the back of this book over a scanner, don’t be.  I held the book open carefully and photographed it.  I have also made the assumption that reproducing this here isn’t a big problem.  If I’m incorrect in that, someone advise me please.

Well, on to the stories.  As I said, I’m not going to spend a lot of space analyzing every one, but I’ll let you know a little about each.

‘The Midas Plague’ by Frederick Pohl tells us about a society, that because of the excess of production, assigns ‘consumption quotas’ to citizens.  One newly married individual hits on a brilliant but illegal and subversive idea to meet and exceed his consumption needs, reduce his quotas and move up the social scale.

The operations of an ultra-secret governmental security force is the subject of ‘Un-Man’ by Poul Anderson.  Working to secure the position of a world government in the face of shadowy interests actively working against them, this organisation of clones is hard pressed to maintain stability.

Theodore Sturgeon’s ‘Granny Won’t Knit’ is an unusual tale of blossoming psi-powers in an very conservative and conformist society.  Exposed skin is considered offensive in this male-dominance and rigidly structured civilisation.

‘Natural State’ describes the transformation of a city-dwelling media star into a ‘mudfoot’ – the technology-independent people living in the wasteland outside the walled cities.  Written by Damon Knight, the story culminates in the eventual collapse of the city-states at the hands of their more naturalistic neighbors.

In ‘Hobo God’, Malcolm Jameson tells the tale of how an unwitting and unwilling astronaut becomes an unwitting and unwilling god to the native population after his mission fails on Mars.

Walter M. Miller Jr’s ‘Blood Bank’ is set it a far, far future where the current civilisation on Earth is a dark enigma to the rest of the galaxy.  Disgraced because of a tragic encounter with a mercy ship of Terran origin, a former interstellar patrol commander is determined to unravel the mystery whatever the cost.

As I mentioned earlier, some ideas regarding society and civilisation permeates the book.  Themes such as consumerism, world government and ultra-conservatism are commented on in the various stories, perhaps not directly but Martin Greenberg has constructed the book and chosen the tales well.

I enjoyed ‘Un-Man’ the most.  It’s the longest in the collection and feels surprisingly contemporary, as if it was written recently and not 50-odd years ago.  The others by comparison feel a little dated.  This isn’t neccessarily a negative on their part, but rather testimony to the strength and style in Poul Anderson’s writing in this case.  The others vary in quality for me, but in general a very enjoyable collection, especially in the light that Greenberg’s introduction throws upon it.  I have to recommend this book if only for the introduction by Heinlein.  Perhaps the editor and authors didn’t know all about the future back then, but when considered from our point of view today, I think they indeed knew more about the future than they were given credit for.

Review: Sixth Column

Posted in 1949, 3:Lunar, Review with tags , on March 31, 2009 by Aaron

Robert Heinlein
1949

I think I mentioned elsewhere that I love reading early Heinlein.  I do.  There is nothing complex about his writing.  It’s very simple; the dialogue is simple, the plots are straightforward and the ideas are not challenging.  These are the reasons I could enjoy books like Starman Jones and Farmer in the Sky so much when I was 10 years old.  How fond are the memories of going to the Napier Public Library after school to pick up another Heinlein story, or another science fiction adventure from Hugh Walters.  Yet underneath the stories and adventures with which Robert Heinlein captivated my young mind, bigger ideas were waiting; social commentary and (sometimes harsh) critique of institutions such as religion and government.  Ideas that wouldn’t bring themselves to the fore until I was older and (somewhat) wiser.  Of course, in Heinlein’s juvenile novels, the protagonists were about my age back then and I could readily identify with the issues and feelings that they often had to overcome.

This book is not a juvenile novel (it lacks a young character for a start) but it reads like one:  Invading bad guys.  The last outpost of hope.  Wondrous secret technology.  The simplicity of it all as I alluded to earlier.  The content is a little more mature, however.  The characters don’t turn a hair at killing, and killing masses of people at that.  Indeed, one individual’s execution is described quite graphically.  These things are certainly out of bounds in Heinlein’s juvenile fare.

The US has been invaded and defeated by the ‘PanAsians’.  It’s not made specific who the PanAsians actually are, but I assumed them to be a bloc of countries including the likes of Japan, China and Korea.  They are of mongoloid extraction – that at least is made clear.  The military has been utterly wiped out, except for a research group under a mountain in The Rockies somewhere, and they have just all but eliminated themselves via an inadvertently uncontrolled use of the Ledbetter Effect (Dr Ledbetter himself didn’t survive) – a mysterious new force that isn’t fully understood.  This is where we pick up the story.  Our tiny group of heroes recognizes the powerful force they have on their hands and has to somehow utilize it to free America from the domination of the PanAsians.

In the Close Up of this book, I commented on the bizarre cover.  I also said that the cover is quite an accurate description of what is inside.  Our little band decides to set up a religious cult, capitalizing on food shortages and unemployment to attract followers, while assuaging the fears of the PanAsian authorities by dishing out gold coins – gold that is obtained by transmutation (one of the numerous and very handy uses the Ledbetter Effect can be turned to).  Other things are in their favor also, such as the occupiers reluctance to police things such as religious organizations and the worship of Gods.  The great God that is invented in this case is called ‘Mota’ – the reverse spelling of atom.  Under the guise of worshiping Mota, the cult travels freely around the country, and sets up a network of ‘churches’ that waits for the right time to rise up and use the Ledbetter Effect at it’s most devastating.

The Ledbetter Effect is truly a marvelous thing.  Just a little too marvelous to my way of thinking.  Cool looking divine halo; check.  Impenetrable force field; check.  Undetectable communications channels; check.  Transmutation; check.  Tractor and repulsor beams; check.  Fear-inducing subsonics; check.  Disintegrator; check.  Laser-like cutting focus; check.  Release surface tension on cell walls leading to explosive decompression of human bodies; check.  And get this one folks – race-selective death ray; double-check.  The last is especially useful when your country is occupied by a race that are referred to as monkeys, flat-faces, apes, baboons and slanties at various points throughout the book.

Apparently the book generates a bit of controversy regarding the depiction of the PanAsians in this way.  Too rascist or something.  I don’t have a problem with it at all.  To my way of thinking, it fits very well within the context of the book.  I’m sure if anyone was occupying my country, putting people in concentration camps, engaging in genocide and generally being a nuisance, I would think of much worse things to refer to them by.

I’ll leave the considerable scope for social and institutional commentary analysis to others who are smarter than I.  Before I wrap this up, I just want to mention the pacing of the story.  It breezes along at a good pace.  There is never a dull moment and the dialogue heavy exposition that characterizes some of Heinlein’s work is absent.  As I mentioned earlier, this has an RAH juvenile feel, and it all wraps up neatly in the end.

I have two major criticisms of the book.  One is the Ledbetter Effect, it is just too powerful and I struggled to take it seriously even in a science fiction setting.  The other is in a similar vein to one thing I said about Silverberg’s Starman’s Quest.  The end comes too quickly.  Not as quickly as ‘Quest’ but more time should have been taken over unfolding the climax of the story.

A rather obscure work from Mr Heinlein, Sixth Column (retitled as The Day After Tomorrow is some subsequent editions) is good brisk fun from an author who has always been very enjoyable for me to read.

Close Up: Sixth Column

Posted in 1949, Close Up with tags , , on March 27, 2009 by Aaron

closeupRobert Heinlein
1949

Another Heinlein 1st edition.  I just love saying that.  Sixth Column is rather an obscure book in terms of Heinlein.  To me at least anyway – I hadn’t heard of it prior to my Gnome Press awareness.  This isn’t in as good condition as ‘Hoag’ but it’s not too bad.  Actually there are a couple of flaws which I’ll highlight later, but first lets have a look at the cover.  The cover artist is Gnome Press stalwart Edd Cartier and the subtitle proclaims that this is “a science fiction novel of strange intrigue”.  Well, the cover image certainly engenders ‘strange intrigue’ at the very least.  Check it out.

Looks like a couple of refugees from a carnival somewhere.  Bizarre.  Before getting into the story (I’m reading it at the moment) I would have thought that this would bear little relation to what was contained within, as book covers are want to do.  However, much to my mild surprise, it is very appropriate.  But that’s a topic for the review.

You can see on the spine there has been an abrasion of some sort.

Luckily it didn’t break through the dust jacket there.  Must have been a close thing.  The results of this can be seen under the covers.  Actually, the book looks as though it’s taken a few knocks.  Lets get the jacket off and take a peek.

We can see several issues here.  The most prominent of which is the dent on the front.  This is I think connected to the graze I just pointed out.  It looks as though something weighty has been dragged across the book while it has been lying flat before dropping off and grazing down the front of the spine.  You might be able to tell that the book isn’t standing quite straight – the spine is a bit loose.  Cool atom device with the chains on the front board there though.  Nice.

It’s had a bump on the bottom front free corner too.  And somebody has carelessly dropped something on to the back of the book at some stage.

Ouch.  These dings all look worse than they actually are.  I’ve purposely held them at an unflattering angle to the light so as to highlight the dents and things, making them easier to see.

Lets put the wrap back on and zoom in on the spine extremities.

The dust jackets a bit worn, but nothing too serious there.  Actually apart from that abrasion on the spine and the scratch on the back which I’ll point out in a minute, the jacket is good.  No tears to speak of at all.  Some minor rubbing to the bottom edges there.  Lets zoom out now and take in the ends.

Still sits quite square despite the looseness in the spine.  The back is nice, unlike any Gnome book I have thus far.

Looks great.  Nice and clean, the edges of the jacket look great.  But wait, what’s that??  Step closer.

A bit of a scratch there.  Luckily it hasn’t made it all the way through.  To finish on a positive note, I like the gnome astronaut on the back.  Very cool.

Year: 1949
Paid: $180
Art: Edd Cartier
Quantity: 5000 copies
Binding: Black cloth with red lettering to spine with a really cool red atom & chain device on the front.
GP Edition Notes: 1st edition so stated on copyright page.
Comments: The book has survived some close scrapes well – it’s been very lucky by the looks of it. Very clean internally and a great price for a Heinlein 1st edition too.
Expand Upon: wikipedia.com, Internet Speculative Fiction Database

condition

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.