Book Review: After Doomsday by Poul Anderson (four stars)

Book Review: After Doomsday by Poul Anderson (four stars)

‘Hatred of the murderers crowded out fear and grief alike. Hatred focused so sharply on the thing which pursued her ship that it seemed the steel must melt.’

Writing in the early 1960s, Anderson develops a more engaging, plausible tale than current SF authors. Two challenges interweave. His failure to anticipate the coming digital and solid-state revolution dates the book but doesn’t make him unusual.

‘They could be anywhere among a couple hundred billion stars. How can we get word to them?’

Simultaneously I was reading Stars and Bones. a contemporary post-Apocalyptic novel with a similar approach. Anderson wins. The story and storytelling are direct and well-paced. In retrospect humorous that so many characters smoke on space craft.

‘In the Seven Classics of Voyen, one may read, “Many desperations do not equal one hope.”

Book Review: World Without Stars by Poul Anderson (four stars)

Book Review: World Without Stars by Poul Anderson (four stars)

“Earth’s no place for a live man to live any more.”

Published in 1961 before we launched a man into space, let alone walked on the moon (not to mention a couple years before Star Trek debuted), this story of extra-galactic exploration holds up well.  Hardly hard SF as humanoid aliens abound, Anderson respects science enough to at least address faster-than-light travel, etc.

‘At least, there was no conscious hatred. Down underneath, I don’t know. We threatened their whole existence. You see, they were gods.’

Ahead of his time in hinting at social and sexual trends a half century away, Anderson nevertheless writes an all-male adventure story related as much to war as space exploration. The climax is telegraphed sufficiently that it will not surprise many readers.

“Don’t be romantic. You haven’t got the face for it. The object of the game is to stay alive, and get back our people and our stuff.

Anachronisms abound. Cigars and pipes portrayed as normal. Patriotism assumed, hardly the case in anything of this century. Microelectronics not conceived of.

“When free folk know what freedom costs and how to meet that cost, they are hard indeed to overcome.”

Book Review: Pebble in the Sky (Galactic Empire #3) by Isaac Asimov (four stars)

Book Review: Pebble in the Sky (Galactic Empire #3) by Isaac Asimov (four stars)

‘Schwartz was a believer in the goodness of human nature. He didn’t think there would be another war. He didn’t think Earth would ever see again the sunlike hell of an atom exploded in anger.’

 Fun science fiction classic. Don’t let the series sequence number fool you, this is Asimov’s first science fiction novel. First. If you think you like science fiction and haven’t read this, you should. It’s not as good as his later work, but worth reading.

“By the life of the Emperor, your comrades of Earth are themselves the best such missionaries. Living here, as they do, cooped up on their deadly planet, festering in their own anger, they’re nothing but a standing ulcer in the Galaxy.” 

First published in 1950. Before the Cold War got cold, before Sputnik, before molecular biology. Allowing that, it works. In fact, Asimov seems prescient. I first read this decades ago; enjoyed it more now, especially as contemporary offerings are such thin soup.

‘The bloody fools! Who the devil did they think they were? Yes, yes, he knew. They thought they were the original humans, the inhabitants of the planet—The worst of it was he knew that they were right.’ 

Asimov’s ridicule of racism, sexism, novelists, and bureaucrats should resonate with modern readers, even as he suffers from a cringe-worthy quaintness endemic to his youth and time.

“It’s like a visicast, isn’t it, with the great all-conquering heroes zooming to victory in the nick of time? That’s where they usually end it. Only in our case the visicast went on and we found that nobody believed us.” 

Book Review: Against the Fall of Night by Arthur C. Clark (Three Stars)

Book Review: Against the Fall of Night by Arthur C. Clark

(Three Stars)

“Quivering in the air above the base of the fall was the last rainbow left on Earth.”

A science fiction classic first published as a novella in 1948, revised and expanded several times in the 1950s. The opening scene was written in 1935. A good story, well written, and it stands up well despite it’s age.

“It was waiting, waiting for the veil of the past to be lifted again after … more than fifteen hundred million years.”

The biggest fallacy is the supposed setting billion years in the future, yet so little changes. These guys were big believers in evolution except when it interfered with their stories. Considering when it was written, the text contains few of the errors of modern SF.

“Already, in a few months, the Present had changed out of all recognition—and now they were going to lose the Past.”

Clarke explains: “I was also to discover the lines of A. E. Housman that not only described the locale perfectly, but also gave me the title of my first novel: ‘Here on the level sand, between the sea and land, what shall I do or write against the fall of night?'” (Wikipedia)

“It is lovely to watch the colored shadows on the planets of eternal light.”

Book Review: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein (Three Stars)


Book Review: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein

(Three Stars)

“Chaotic crossed with psychotic.”

Disappointed. I read this story fifty years ago and loved it. On re-reading it now, I found it not only trite, but disturbing. This is going to be long, but I must justify dropping a former five-star rating to two. (I gave a star back for literary merit. Heinlein was a great storyteller.)

“He really did think he was Sherlock Holmes’s brother Mycroft … nor would I swear he was not; ‘reality’ is a slippery notion.”

The star of the story is Mike, a “gigantic” self-aware computer.

“I will accept any rules you feel necessary to your freedom. I am free, no matter what rules Continue reading

Book Review: Earth’s Last Citadel by Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore (Two Stars)


Book Review: Earth’s Last Citadel by  C. L. Moore and Henry Kuttner

(Two Stars)

“They were from — outside. They wore light like a garment, and to them humans were–vermin. They cleansed the earth of them.”

Classic, but not all that good science fiction. Eligible for 2019 retro Hugo Award consideration, but not up to snuff. Liberal borrowings from H. G. WellsTime Machine.

“How great a man this was, who could speak so coolly while death marched down upon him!”

Old fashioned, manly men who acted more than thought. Female supporting cast not well developed.

“Fighting it was like defying the lightning.”

We know now that the moon is gradually getting farther, not closer, to Earth, but the image of the moon looming large and huge tides is a good one. The hotter sun, a real trend, leads to a desiccated landscape.

“Far back in Alan’s mind, behind the helpless horror, the terrible revulsion, the more terrible taint of kinship with this being whose dreams he had known–lay one small corner of detached awareness.”

Book Review: Beyond this Horizon by Robert Heinlein (Four Stars)


Book Review: Beyond this Horizon by Robert Heinlein

(Four Stars)

“Easy times for individuals are bad times for the race.”

Utopias have their downside. A landmark science fiction novel by a dean of the genre. Written before the United States entered World War Two, yet amazing prescient of the next fifty years.

“But man is a working animal. He likes to work. … likely to spend his spare time working out some gadget which will displace labor and increase productivity.” (20th, not 21st century man)

Marred by lengthy exposition/preaching. While Heinlein was ahead of society in some ways and clearly foresaw many technology advances only made possible by the invention of the transistor some years later, he mistook then-current fads in economics and para-psychology as indicative of future trends. “The structural nature of finance is too deeply imbedded in our culture for pseudo-capitalism to return.”

“The only thing that could give us some real basis for our living is to know for sure whether or not anything happens after we die.”

The protagonist voice is like P. G. Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster. “I’m one long joke on myself.”

“An armed society is a polite society.”

Skip the post-script blather by Tony Daniels. “Which shows how much of the modern negative criticism that Heinlein evokes in the present day is not only completely mistaken and stupid, but pernicious and hatefully intended.” Denounces ad hominem attacks by “critics, most of whom I consider idiots.” Claims it “does not end with a twist” but with “an authentic answer.” Which is wrong on both counts. Dissuades reading any of his works.

“The only choices that matter are those that we responsibly made based on the evidence, not on anyone’s declarations, however well intentioned.”

(Finalist for Hugo retro award for 1943)

Book Review: Across a Billion Years by Robert Silverberg (Four Stars)

Book Review: Across a Billion Years by Robert Silverberg

Four Stars

“We (archeologists) are enemies of entropy; we seek to snatch back those things that have been taken from us by the years.”

Classic science fiction. Considering it was written in the 1960s, this book’s science fiction works better than many current offerings. It flunks sociology, as do many contemporaries.

“The first rule of archeology is be careful with the evidence. No, that’s the second rule. The first one is find your evidence.”

Twentieth century attitude towards rape; twenty-first century attitude toward inter-species sex. Some cringe-worthy moments. Our “hero” is meant to be clueless, but he’s also a chauvinistic ignoramus (at best).

“It’s unhealthy to gulp down a surfeit of miracles; gives one indigestion of the imagination.”

Topics of interest: Silverberg invented believable slang, acknowledging that languages evolve in four hundred years. Worked. Twenty-fourth century Israel includes the former United Arab Republic (Egypt, Iraq and Syria). Androids are an emancipated minority.

“Communication by pantomime isn’t terribly satisfying.”

Telepathic communication is discussed as “a full meeting of the souls. It is the end of secrecy and suspicion, of misunderstanding, of quarrels, of isolation, of flawed communication, of separation.” That was holy writ in the 1960s. Not so long as humans have greed and pride, not to mention psychopaths. Those who control those impulses would be censored regardless of the mitigating factor of their behavior. Communication is good; knowing each other’s every thought, not so good.

“If we haven’t succeeded in blowing ourselves up by A. D. 2376, we’re probably to make out all right. Maybe.”

Book Review: City by Clifford D. Simak (Four Stars)

Book Review: City by Clifford D. Simak

Fours Stars

“Until it can be proved that Man did, in fact, exist, argument that the discovered fragments originated with Man can have but little point.”

The first short stories which became City were written in 1943. The collection was first published in 1952. Simak’s future history positing a world populated by dogs and robots was cutting edge social commentary as well as science fiction. (The transistor hadn’t been invented, and atomic power was till magic: albeit black magic)

“Since we are machines, we must be scientific. We can’t dream. Facts are all we have.”

Unlike much science fiction of that time, Simak’s stories aged well. Despite the advances in technology, his robots and communications devices aren’t jarringly wrong. His posited domed bases on the surface of Continue reading

Book Review: Catseye by Andre Norton Four Stars

Book Review: Catseye (Dipple #1) by Andre Norton

Four Stars

“Knowledge could be both a weapon and a defense.”

Slow start, but Norton delivers. Her character and world building are leisurely, but do the job. Satisfying end to this story with hooks into the next. A skill rare among today’s writers.

“Look, listen and keep your thoughts to yourself—the law of survival”

One can’t help but think Norton was writing about more than man’s relationship with animals formerly kept as pets when this was written. (I’ve tried to say more three times, but quit because anything more would be spoilers. Just read it and enjoy.)

“Belt knives shift from one wearer to another without losing their edge.”

No female humans appear in this story written by a woman. I find that odd.

“Few men are going to accept readily a co-partnership with creatures they had always considered property.”

Awarded an extra star because, though first published in 1961, this story weathers the last half century of technological innovation very well. Many stories written only twenty years ago sound dated. Perhaps it’s because the people, creatures and relationships are so real.

“One does not throw away a new thing merely because it is strange.”