Archive for Robert Silverberg

Review II: Starman’s Quest

Posted in 1958, 2:Orbital, Audio Books, Review with tags , , on July 25, 2009 by Aaron

Robert Silverberg
1958

This book has recently become available at Librivox.org.  I thought I’d take the opportunity to listen to it and feed back the experience into the review I did a few months ago.

Unfortunately, it didn’t do anything to change my opinion.  The body of the story is great, right up until Alan inherits his money and takes on development of the Cavour drive.  As I pointed out in the original Review, the big disappointment is the end and this is exacerbated in audio form.  With audio books, it is very easy to just switch off for a minute or so.  If you do that towards the end of this book, as you switch back in you will wonder what the hell is going on as the story progresses in giant leaps.  And all of a sudden it’s over.  As I did with the book, I kind of felt a little cheated out of a fulfilling read (or listen, as the case may be).

It’s frustrating, as there is some great material and ideas here.  Despite all this, the book is well read by Dawn Larsen.  It’s very easy to listen to her voice and she is well paced.  All in all, Starman’s Quest is worth reading or listening to, but pay attention at the end.

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.

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.

condition

On, to a new book…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on May 20, 2009 by Aaron

I’ve started reading Robert Randall‘s The Shrouded Planet.  I think I will do a ‘double-header’ or ‘side-by-side’ style Close Up and a single large Review for that and The Dawning Light, it’s sequel.  Could be interesting.

I’m currently working on the Review for ‘Men Against the Stars’.  I’ve grudgingly come to the conclusion that I don’t (or can’t) really do a classic ‘review’, my results are often more like a synopsis with a bit of opinion thrown in.  But that’s ok.  I try to avoid giving too much away while still giving you an idea of what it’s all about and perhaps whether you would enjoy it or not.

New Arrival…

Posted in New Arrivals with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 22, 2009 by Aaron

The Shrouded Planet arrived today.  Cool.  A book I’ve been looking forward to for a while, I finally have.  It wasn’t in quite a good a condition as I’d hoped, but it’s not too bad.

In other news, Joe agreed on the deal and I can expect a package of  four books from him sometime in the near future.  I’m very excited about it.  SF’58 edited by Judith Merril, Nat Schachner‘s Space Lawyer, Address: Centauri by F.L. Wallace and Raymond F. JonesRenaissance.  Renaissance is signed by cover artist and Gnome Press co-founder David A. Kyle.  Nice.  Thank you very much Joe, I appreciate your patience and effort a lot!!

Review: Starman’s Quest

Posted in 1958, 2:Orbital, Review with tags , , on February 25, 2009 by Aaron

Robert Silverberg
1958

I don’t have much time for Robert Silverberg’s books.  Admittedly I haven’t read many but what I have read has never really engaged me.  He seems to be a writer with many ideas, but with some kind of inability to bring them to deserving life on the page.  Two cases in point: ‘Kingdoms of the Wall’ and ‘Sailing to Byzantium’.  In Kingdoms the protagonist scales a huge mountain and passes through different cultures and habitats on the way.  In Sailing to Byzantium, there is a sort of time-traveling party that jaunts from one civilization to the next having a good time.  Both cool concepts (the latter being based on a poem by William Butler Yeats), but neither left me satisfied.  Actually I really enjoyed Kingdoms when I read it about 15 years ago, but I wasn’t a ‘mature’ reader back then.  Or maybe I’m a snob now.  Dunno…

This book, Starman’s Quest, doesn’t satisfy me either, though there are a couple of interesting ideas presented.  The story is simple enough, I’ll outline it here and there’s not much danger of spoiling it for you as the outcome is telegraphed quite early on.

17 year old Spacer boy has twin brother who jumps ship on Earth.
Boy does an interstellar return run,  brother is now 9 years older.
Boy locates brother and shanghais him back on board.
Boy stays on Earth for 9 years and develops hyperspacial drive.
Boy employs the new technology to catch up to the ship.
Boy is now the same age as his twin, family is reunited and all are happy.

The story is not complicated, a very simple plot.  There are some shortcomings in the structure which I’ll talk about later, but there are a couple of cool ideas in the book.

The first interesting idea is the community of ‘Spacers’ – the crews of these interstellar ships.  Due to the supposed ‘Fitzgerald Contraction‘, Spacers live much longer relative to their planet-bound brethren.  A few weeks in space at near lightspeed can equal many years of ‘normal’ time.  Because of this Spacers have trouble adjusting to life between runs – the substantial societal and technological changes in their absence are difficult to cope with.  Existing in their own societies on board ship and in special enclaves at spaceports, they rarely interact with the general population.  Indeed, they also suffer a certain amount of discrimination.  Our ‘boy’, Alan, is only 17 subjective years old but several hundred objective years old…  or is it the other way ’round…  Anyway, this idea doesn’t require a leap of imagination or creativity to bring about, but the two different societies co-existing is a cool concept for a story.

The other interesting idea is the structure of Earth’s society at the time of the action.  Well, the structure of ‘York City’ at least.  There is a caste system in place operating in a kind of socialist police state.  It’s insinuated at various points in the book that the authorities brook no nonsense.  Citizens also have to wear, or are otherwise implanted with an ID chip.  People are born into ‘guilds’ that determine their method of income and place of residence.  For those who have no guild there is a ‘free’ guild.  One of the more respectable forms of income for members of this guild is gambling.  It isn’t portrayed as oppressive as it sounds, citizens have a decent amount of freedom and the tracking technology seems to be available to all if you want to locate somebody.

The structure and pacing of the book is not quite right.  The meat of the story should have been, I feel, in the development of the Cavour Drive.  We are introduced to interstellar propulsion early.  We learn the distinction between and the history of the slower-than-light ‘Lexman Drive’, and the theoretical and as yet undeveloped hyperspacial ‘Cavour Drive’.  We learn that Alan has a dream to develop the latter and open up the stars.  Yet the bulk of the book is dedicated to the location of his brother and his acquisition of the funds to facilitate development.  The actual development of the Cavour Drive is glossed over quite rapidly – only two chapters; a scant 8 pages were taken in locating the Cavour’s lost notes, the development and testing of the drive and the location and reunion of the family.

Something else that bugged me was the Rat character.  A small cutesy but very intelligent alien that could speak well.  It served as Alan’s conscience/advice dispenser.  Totally unnecessary I thought and I found it difficult to take seriously.  I can draw an unfavorable comparison to Heinlein here.  In many of his books he has a similar character – Willis in Red Planet and Lummox in The Star Beast to name two.  Alien characters that rarely verbalise but act as efficient sounding boards for the protagonists.  Admittedly, those two characters are crucial plot elements in those two books, but this makes the too-verbose Rat seem all the more superfluous.

Continuing the parallel with Heinlein, his 1956 book Time for the Stars has a similar theme in that a set of twins is separated by interstellar travel and suffer asynchronous aging.

I absolutely enjoy reading my Gnome Press books; I take great pleasure in the experience no matter the quality of the story.  I have to be a little harsh though and say that this book could should have been at least half again as long.  The final third of the book read like a slippery slope – it just kept gaining pace until it fell off the edge.  It began so well with those nice ideas looking for a suitable vehicle.  Pity the wheels fell off at the end.

Close Up: Starman’s Quest

Posted in 1958, Close Up with tags , , on February 24, 2009 by Aaron

closeupRobert Silverberg
1958

Nice.  There’s not much really to say about this book.  The pictures speak for themselves.  The cover is beautiful and white, though perhaps a little yellowed on the spine.  No tearing or noticeable scuffing.  The attractive cover art looks good too – my wife admired it, so it must be…

Likewise the boards are great.  A little bruising on the spine extremities, but no problem.

A closer look at the spine extremities reveals that it really is in great condition.  Note the dust jacket is pristine here.  Super.

There are a couple of things I have questions about.  One is the trimming of the dust jacket.

You can se it’s trimmed mighty close to the text on the flaps.  This is evident in all four locations.  It’s clearly not where a library covering has been trimmed off the jacket (which is the first thing that came to mind)  as I have also seen this on another copy of this book.  I think it must be a mismatch between the dimensions of the dust jacket and the book itself – not all GP books are the same height; they do vary slightly.  So I think they printed the jackets thinking the books were going to be slightly taller and they required a bit of trimming to make them fit.

The other thing is the trimming of the block.

Aside from the typical Gnome Press browning, you can see some rough edges there.  Does anyone know what causes this??  I have seen this on many first edition books.  I am tempted to say in this case it is probably a dull guillotine blade that has torn the pages.  But in others it looks like they just didn’t trim the leaves that came from the edges of the printed block.

Year: 1958
Paid: $23
Art: Stan Mack
Quantity: 5000  (2000 remaindered).
Binding: Currey priority ‘A’ binding – Dark blue boards with yellow lettering to spine.
GP Edition Notes: 1st edition so stated on copyright page.
Comments: Great price for a book in excellent condition. Any illumination on the trimming of the flaps and block would be greatly appreciated.
Expand Upon: wikipedia.com, Internet Speculative Fiction Database

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