Archive for July, 2010


Man of Two Worlds by Raymond F. Jones

July 28, 2010

The Book: Man of Two Worlds by Raymond F. Jones.  Originally published as a serial in 1944, then as a novel titled Renaissance in 1951.  The edition read was published in 1963 by Pyramid Press.

The Setting: Kronweld (a distant planet?) and Earth

The Story: A man tries to prove that the religion of his society is all hocus pocus, and gets embroiled in much more than he bargained for.  This includes, but is not limited to: cross dressing, political intrigue, epic journeys, military training, and leading a new and better world.  Yeah, there’s a lot of story in this book.

The Science: So, a lot of this book involves hopping back and forth between Kronweld and Earth.  And the mechanism that allows the hopping between the two places is called a Gateway.  The book never really bothers to explain how it works, except to say that a gauge is crucial to it.  It seems to be device that can rip holes in the fabric of space and allow you to step directly from one planet to another.  And they do that a lot.  Initially, it mostly sends babies from Earth to Kronweld.  Then, at the end, there’s a lot of space hopping by war machines in both directions.

I don’t think I need to point out that this is technology which we do not possess.  I do worry, based on reading stories and watching movies, that the citizens of Kronweld and Earth are possibly doing irreversible damage to the spacetime continuum, ripping it all open like that.  It’s very much the same sort of holes in space as in Philip Pullman’s The Subtle Knife.  It’s an awesome idea, but a hard one to really explain without magic.

The Reaction:The back matter on this book really had me worried.  It declared “CALL ME KETAN” at the top, and went into a first person thingy.  It sounded awful.  Thank goodness it seems to be just a misguided marketing attempt.  The story itself is complex, interesting, and unpredictable.  Even 20 pages from the end, I had no idea what was going to happen.  There’s even a female character who spends a fair amount of time being a good character before pleading with her daddy and asking Ketan for a baby.   I declare this worth reading.

The Cover: Cover painting by John Schoenherr.  I love this cover because there’s a big crazy bug machine on the front and a close up of the human chaos on the back.  The bug machine, alas, seems to be only a product of John Schoenherr’s imagination, as it doesn’t match anything in the book.  But it is an awesome machine.  Points for coolness.

Next Up: “The Invisible Boy” by Ray Bradbury


“Plague” by Murray Leinster

July 18, 2010

The Book: “Plague” by Murray Leinster from the Science Fiction Omnibus edited by Groff Conklin.  Story originally published in 1944 by Astounding Science Fiction.  Edition read was published by Berkeley Books in 1956.

The Setting: Distant space, a distant planet.

The Story: A massive, entrenched bureaucracy causes a deadly plague and attempts to kill the one man who figures out how to fight it.

The Science: It’s not a plague, really, it’s an electric being that feeds on human energy, but not any human energy, only women!  That’s right.  It only kills women.  Why?  I don’t know.  So the hero doesn’t have to worry about getting infected, I guess.  The story isn’t very clear on that point.  The entity prefers materials which conduct better (it can exist outside the female body) but, as far as I know, there should be no appreciable difference between the sexes when it comes to the body acting as a conductor – we’re all mostly water, right?  In trying to figure this out, I came across this article abstract- Differences in electrical stimulation thresholds between men and women – which, if I understand it correctly (and I’m not at all sure I do), means women feel pain more quickly than men.  SO it’s not really relevant anyway.  Mr. Leinster (if that is your real name), I”m afraid this doesn’t make sense.

The Reaction: When I’m not getting hung up on the arbitrary gender binary of plague susceptibility, I was enjoying the story.  In fact, I kept thinking of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s series.  (Which, if you needed to click the link to know what I was talking about, you need to stop everything, go find a copy of the book and a nice cup of tea and get reading.) The story was interspersed with encyclopedia articles, mentions of not-quite-random simultaneous action, and had a highly entrenched, highly ridiculous, but very much all powerful bureaucracy.   In other words, vogons.  My husband tells me this is a Foundation rip off, but I haven’t read that yet.  And so, I quite like the story.  Pretty good stuff.

The Cover: It’s an anthology and clearly this cover has nothing to do with this story, but it’s gorgeous.  I mean, look at all those spaceships!  And they’re such space age spaceships of the future.  Love it.  But I’m a sucker for retro-future spaceships and rayguns.

Next Up: Man of Two Worlds by Raymond F. Jones.


Perelandra by C. S. Lewis

July 17, 2010

The Book: Perelandra by C. S. Lewis.  Originally published in 1943, the edition read was published in 1975 by Macmillan Publishing.

The Setting: Venus

The Story: Ransom, hero of Out of the Silent Planet, is sent to Venus to do… something.  He encounters a watery world of floating islands with only a very few instances of fixed land.  And on them, all manner of spectacular and wonderful things.  Not least among these is the green woman who he encounters and who is the first woman on Venus.  Ransom and the woman converse.  Then Weston, villain of Out of the Silent Plant, shows up.  But he’s possessed by the devil.  Or a force of evil so pure that it doesn’t really matter what its name is.  Anyway, ex-Weston attempts to corrupt the woman by talking to her.  A lot.  And Ransom, representative of the good forces, tries to counter his arguments.  This continues for some time.  Then Ransom says, the hell with it, and proceeds to kick the shit out of ex-Weston and get his own shit kicked in the process.  They fight across the planet, ending up in a cave where Ransom chokes the ex-Weston.  Ransom climbs out of the cave which turns out to be inside a volcano, more or less, and is followed by ex-Weston, who’s not quite dead yet.  Ransom disposes of him, finds his way down the mountain, praises God (for PAGES) and heads back to earth.  The end.

The Science: The point of this book is not so much science, but theology.  Theology, however, is not our concern.  So let’s talk a little bit about what science supposes Venus to be like.  In the book, Venus is a world mostly of water, with floating mats of vegetation which can be quite massive and support a wide variety of plant and animal life.  The fixed land portions of the planet seem to be mostly very tall and mountain-y.  Light is diffused by a cloud barrier.  Lewis wrote this book during a time when science knew that Venus was covered in clouds, but not what lay beneath.  Turns out, Ransom would die of asphyxiation pretty quickly on the rocky surface, since the atmosphere is mostly carbon dioxide.  It’s supposed that Venus may have once been covered in oceans, but those evaporated and the hydrogen flew out in to space.  Or that’s what Wikipedia told me, anyway.  Lewis had some decent guesses, based on the science of his day, but it wouldn’t work out well based in today’s science.

The Reaction: I really like most of this book.  Ransom is having a grand old time discovering a world which hasn’t fallen from grace, then he has to stop it fall from grace, then there’s a nerd fight.  Then there’s a perilous journey.  The part that I didn’t like was the four page praising of the force of good.  Maybe it’s because it’s tedious, or maybe I was just really tired and wanted to go to bed.  But it’s well worth reading, even if you need to gloss over a couple bits.

The Cover: Cover painting by Bernard Symancyk.  The cover depicts a rocky landscape with a hand thrusting up through the ground.  The hand has long nails, painted red, and is holding an apple.  The hand and apple are inside a gazebo, presumably facing the gazebo alone.  Above the gazebo is a pink circle with a pink circle with a female figure in it and a green circle with a male figure in it to the right and left of first pink circle, respectively.  These side circles are inside lines of white which give the impression of being ovaries.  Pretty much…  wtf?  This cover is an artistic rendering of the theme of the novel, plus a gazebo.  I mean…  wtf?  Giant hand, apple, ovaries, gazebo, rocky landscape – none of these things are a part of the book.

Next Up: “Plague” by Murray Leinster


“R is for Rocket” by Ray Bradbury

July 10, 2010

The Book: “R is for Rocket” by Ray Bradbury.  The story was first published in 1943. The edition read is in R is for Rocket, published by Bantam Books in 1978.

The Setting:Earth, Florida, sometime in the future.

The Story: A boy loves rockets more than anything else and wants to be an astronaut.

The Science: The science is mostly in the background here, mostly mentioned in passing to establish the future-ness of the story.  Two quick bits:

  • To the moon! Rockets head to the moon on a weekly basis in this story.  Which is not how it goes nowadays.  We’ve not been to the moon since 1972.  Been there, done that, I guess.
  • Recorded Goodbyes: The boy and his mother say goodbye, but do it pre-recorded.  On audio-visual film spools.  Oh the 1940s, when film was the only way to go.  We’ve nothing so enduring as that for our basic household using.  So good guessing from Bradbury on space flight and in home technology, but it’s all turned out a bit differently.

The Reaction:You have to get past the future-y things mentioned as everyday, but once you get past it, it’s actually quite a sweet little story about a boy getting a chance at this dreams.  I liked it.

The Cover: “R is for Rocket, huh?  I’ll give ya rockets!  And lots of them.  In blue!”  So many rockets, so little context.

Next Up: Perelandra by C. S. Lewis


Special Post: The Martian Novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs

July 7, 2010

Eleven books is a heck of a series.  And the Martian or John Carter novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs are certainly that.  They run the gamut from kidnapping to fighting to falling in love to mad science to kidnapping to fighting again.  Mostly the kidnapping and fighting.  And where John Carter narrates, there’s sure to be a rollicking good time.  And where other people are the protagonists… well, that’s alright too, I guess.

The first three books are really the heart of the series.  There’s very little in the others that you can’t get from the first three.  But this is high, formula driven adventure.  I can’t wait to see what Pixar does with the story.

These are the books in the series, with links to my posts about them, all in one place for easy access.

1.  A Princess of Mars

2. The Gods of Mars

3. Warlord of Mars

4. Thuvia, Maid of Mars

5. The Chessmen of Mars

6. The Master Mind of Mars

7. A Fighting Man of Mars

8.  Swords of Mars

9.  Synthetic Men of Mars

10.  Llana of Gathol

11. John Carter of Mars


John Carter of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

July 7, 2010

The Book: John Carter of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs.  Consists of two stories published under the name Edgar Rice Burroughs.  “John Carter and the Giant of Mars” was published as a Whitman Big Little Book in 1940 and then in Amazing Stories in 1941.  The story was written by Burroughs’ son Jack and possibly revised by ERB.  “Skeleton Men of Jupiter” was published by Amazing Stories in 1943.  The two were combined into the book John Carter of Mars in 1964.  The edition read was published by Ballantine Books in 1973.

N.B. I’ll be addressing both stories in a single post.  I’ll try to keep it brief.

“John Carter and the Giant of Mars”

The Setting: Mars

The Story: Dejah Thoris is kidnapped by a synthetic man with a synthetic giant.  John Carter goes to rescue her, gets in trouble, gets out of trouble, saves Helium (his city) from an army of the horrible white apes.

The Science: There’s more genetic engineering in this book, but this was a Big Little Book story, so aimed more at kids.  My favorite moment of science in this book is when John Carter is about to be crushed by sliding glass walls, he remembers that he is wearing a diamond ring and that diamond will cut glass.  So he etches a circle in the glass and punches through.  This is accurate.  Diamonds are the hardest natural substance.  Way to go, elementary earth science!

The Reaction: OMG.  This story was so not written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and if he edited it, he did so very lightly indeed.  It has the ingredients of a John Carter story, but it lacks art.  It’s in the third person, so there’s no delightful John Carter internal dialogues.  The writing does a lot of little things ERB never does, and it’s just not as much fun.  It’s like fanfic written by an inexperienced writer for an inexperienced audience….  oh….

“Skeleton Men of Jupiter”

The Setting: Mars and, you guessed it, Jupiter

The Story: The skeleton men of Jupiter have conquered their own planet, and now they want to take over Mars, so they kidnap John Carter to make him tell them all his military secrets.  Needless to say, he refuses, Dejah Thoris gets kidnapped to Jupiter too.  There’s fighting and escaping and the ending is sort of up in the air.

The Science: In the story, Jupiter has an enormous surface lurking below the clouds.  The planet is lit and heated by constantly erupting volcanoes.  The gravity is actually less than that of Mars because of how fast the planet rotates.  All this is wrong, according to science.  Jupiter is actually a gas giant with little or no solid core and a gravity that would be about 2.4 times greater than that of earth.  But Burroughs heads this all off with John Carter spending a full page and a half talking about how fickle science is and how often he’s proved it wrong.  Good for a story, bad for science.

The Reaction: Just fun.  Especially after reading the prior story which was not much fun.  John Carter kicks ass and takes names, what more does a girl want?  I just wish that Burroughs had lived to finish writing the story.  The end is not really a satisfying ending – apparently this was supposed to be part of a story arc like that of Llana of Gathol.

The Cover: Cover art by Gino D’Achille.  Looks like we’ve got a planet, a snake dinosaur duck footed monster, Dejah Thoris, and John Carter.  John Carter, are you wearing socks with your sandals?  Tacky.  Also, I have no idea where that monster comes into play.  There were a couple random mentions of reptile monsters, so…  maybe?

Etc: Here ends the John Carter series.  And all I can see looming large in the future is Ray Bradbury, short story upon short story.

Next Up: “R is for Rocket” by Ray Bradbury.


“Proof” by Hal Clement

July 5, 2010

The Book: “Proof” by Hal Clement.  Story originally published in 1942 by Astounding Science Fiction.  Read in the anthology Where Do We Go from Here? edited by Isaac Asimov published by Fawcett Crest in 1972.

The Setting: The Sun

The Story: A solar being (Solarian) tells a scientist of a related species about a mysterious crash.  Spoiler: turns out the crash was on Earth.  The solar species are pretty sure that solid matter is impossible, so Earth can’t exist, logically.

The Science: Wait, what?  Organisms evolving on the sun?  Certainly not with life as we know it.  But life as we know it still gets pretty weird.  Take, for example, the hyperthermophile, a type of extremophile that thrives at temperatures between 140 and 212 degrees F.  Which is nothing compared to the 10,000 degrees F (or so) sun.  But still, science has only discovered these crazy little life forms recently, and they’re discovering more all the time in environments which are very inhospitable.

The Reaction: Nice story.  I like these stories that aren’t (primarily) from the human perspective.

The Cover: A generalized science fiction anthology cover with what may be planets or molecules or whatever.  But mostly, ASIMOV.

Etc: Second appearance of the term Solarians – the first referred to humans in Asimov’s “Homo Sol.” Bonus nerdage: Doctor Who did an episode involving solar life.

Next Up: “John Carter and the Giant of Mars,” in John Carter of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs


“-And He Built a Crooked House-” by Robert Heinlein

July 4, 2010

The Book: “-And He Built a Crooked House-” by Robert Heinlein.  Story originally published in 1941 by Astounding Science Fiction.  Read in the anthology Where Do We Go from Here? edited by Isaac Asimov published by Fawcett Crest in 1972.

The Setting: Hollywood, California, Earth

The Story: An architect builds a house in the shape of an unfolded tesseract, but does it a little too well and an earthquake shakes it into an actual fourth spatial dimension.

The Science: Tesseracts, as a geometric figure, are a thing.  And you could build a house in the shape of an unfolded tesseract.  But would is an earthquake capable of shaking such a thing into an actual fourth spatial dimension?  I very much doubt it…  UNLESS THE EARTHQUAKE WERE IN THE FOURTH DIMENSION.  Yeah, or not.  When has an earthquake ever shook an unfolded cube into a cube?  If that’s happened, maybe we can talk.

The Reaction: Neat idea, good characters, great story.  Lots of fun, and makes your brain hurt too.

The Cover: A generalized science fiction anthology cover with what may be planets or molecules or whatever.  But mostly, ASIMOV.

Next Up: “Proof” by Hal Clement


Llana of Gathol by Edgar Rice Burroughs

July 3, 2010

The Book:  Llana of Gathol by Edgar Rice Burroughs.  Originally published as novelettes in Amazing Stories in 1941, they weren’t published as Llana of Gathol until 1948.  The edition read was published by Ballantine Books in 1974.

The Setting: Barsoom/Mars

The Story: John Carter wanders off and gets in trouble.  He discovers his granddaughter, the titular Llana of Gathol, is also in trouble.  So he rescues her and loses her a few times, makes friends in lots of places, makes enemies in more, and saves the world.  Pretty much, he fights and wins, gets captured, fights and wins, repeat.  Rollicking adventure all over the place.

The Science: Let’s see.  In this book we have an undead hypnotist who hypnotizes people to sleep, then eats them or doesn’t (and when the ones who’ve been “sleeping” for millions of years wake up, they crumble to dust within an hour); we have a machine which takes a full body imprint and then can be used to kill an imprinted individual anywhere at anytime; we have people being frozen for decades and then reanimated; and we have community that has developed pills which render them (and anything associated with them) invisible for a day.  And those are just the major plot points.  Let’s talk…  freezing.

Cryogenics or cryonics, the freezing the freshly-dead, is nothing new.  That happens a fair amount here on earth.  Not a lot, because it’s expensive and the freezer needs to be maintained indefinitely.  But it happens.  It’s that revival part that’s tricky.  Death causes tissue damage.  So does being frozen. And earth-science, it ain’t good enough to deal with that yet.  Cryonics continue to be one of those more crazy realms where you can go in one side, but you can’t get out the other.

The Reaction: I love John Carter narrating.  Burroughs is getting a little more playful here, and it makes it tons of fun to read, except for those parts where we go over the Martian clock, or their origin stories.  And, as silly as all those Martian names are, bonus points go to Gor-don for least creative Martian name, which in turns makes it extra silly.

The Cover: Cover art by Gino d’Achille.  I presume the cover scene is supposed to be the frozen warriors from part three of the book.  But that was in the frozen north, where it was snowy and cold and everyone was wearing appropriate outer gear and no one was holding a sword.  So I’ve got to give points off for inaccuracy.  Otherwise, it’s an adventure cover, whatcha gonna do?

Next Up: “-And He Built a Crooked House-” by Robert Heinlein


“Homo Sol” by Isaac Asimov

July 2, 2010

The Book: “Homo Sol” by Isaac Asimov from Science Fiction Omnibus edited by Groff Conklin.  Story originally published in 1940.  Edition read was published by Berkeley Books in 1956.

The Setting: Earth, but mostly Arcturus University far far away.

The Story: Earth has developed interstellar travel, so the Galactic Federation asks them to join.  Earth says no, also, get off my lawn planet.

The Science: In an interesting development, this is psychological science fiction.  The scientists are psychologists, crucial to inter-hominid communication.  Psychology has become more equation based, less couch based.  The careful application of psychology results in Earth being driven to nearly world wide panic.   The Federation has mastered the art of psychological warfare, although it really only works on irrational species like Homo Sol (that’s us!).  But they use panic only to prove a point internally, then they turn to more benevolent means – using species that resemble classical deities to open trade with Earth.

It’s fascinating really – the story supposes that Earth will focus on weapons and defense (as we probably would) while the Federation is interested in integration.  I think the story seems reasonable – aliens might be confused by us but application of psychology would help to bridge that gap.

The Reaction: I liked it.  It’s different, it’s interesting, it’s pretty much a classic.  And it’s not written from the perspective of the Earth, so that’s excellent.  Thumbs up.

The Cover: It’s an anthology and clearly this cover has nothing to do with this story, but it’s gorgeous.  I mean, look at all those spaceships!  And they’re such space age spaceships of the future.  Love it.  But I’m a sucker for retro-future spaceships and rayguns.

Next Up: Llana of Gathol by Edgar Rice Burroughs