Archive for March, 2011

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“The Pyramid in the Desert” by Katherine MacLean.

March 31, 2011

The Book: “The Pyramid in the Desert” by Katherine MacLean. Originally published by Astounding Science Fiction in February 1950 under the title “And Be Merry.” Read in The Diploids and Other Flights of Fancy published by Avon (G-1143) in 1962.

The Setting: New York, Earth.

The Story: An endocrinologist spends the summer attempting to find the secret of bodily rejuvenation and succeeds, with psychic consequences.

The Science: A mold by-product has the ability to become any sort of cell and a new sort of cell. Anti-aging ‘science’ is a big deal, what with all the Boomers aging and all. But so far, no science has done a replacement therapy as complete and radical as this. The best thing about the science in the story is that most of the story is the scientist’s notes. And she experiments on herself in a most interesting manner.

The Reaction: Hooray for female scientists! Competent female scientists! Even if she does lie to her husband to avoid spending the summer on an archaeology dig (which is irrelevant to her pursuits as an endocrinologist). Her science is fun to read, but her break with reality at the end is a bit hard to take. Still, totally worth it.

The Cover: Same as before.

Etc:

Next Up: “A Subway Named Mobius” by A. J. Deutsch.

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“Incommunicado” by Katherine McLean

March 29, 2011

The Book: “Incommunicado” by Katherine McLean. Originally published in Astounding Science Fiction, June 1950. Read in The Diploids and Other Flights of Fancy published by Avon (G-1143) in 1962.

The Setting: Space stations near Pluto. The future, obviously.

The Story: During a time of chaos, a guy discovered that a space station population has unconsciously developed a musical rapport with their computer. 

The Science: Musical tones, etc, in the story facilitate knowledge and learning. And it seems true enough that music works in a unique way with the human brain (ear worms anyone?), but I’m not sure about the science of this story. Although I don’t recall it very well. Apparently, according to the story on the author’s Wikipedia page, electronic engineers loved it though, so that’s a good sign.

The Reaction: I loved how pulpy this story felt but, for one reason or another, I had trouble following it around.  I’m not sure if it was me or the story that was the trouble.

The Cover: Same as before

Next Up: “The Pyramid in the Desert” by Katherine MacLean.

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“Silence Please” by Arthur C. Clarke

March 27, 2011

The Book: “Silence Please” by Arthur C. Clarke. Originally published as “Silence, Please!” in Science-Fantasy, Winter 1950. The story was read as part of Tales from the White Hart published by Ballantine Books in 1957.

The Setting: The White Hart, England, Earth.

The Story: A man at a pub tells a story about a man who invents a machine that cancels out sound and is used, naturally, by a spurned love.

The Science: To cancel out sound, the target sound is captured, amplified, and inverted, effectively canceling it out. That’s in the story. Which is pretty much exactly how it works in reality. Well done, Mr. Clarke.

The Reaction: A nice enough little story, but not very memorable as evidenced by the fact that I completely forgot it between reading it and blogging it – a period of a month or so.

The Cover: Same as before .

Next Up: “Incommunicado” by Katherine McLean.

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The Synthetic Man (The Dreaming Jewels) by Theodore Sturgeon

March 26, 2011

The Book: The Synthetic Man (The Dreaming Jewels) by Theodore Sturgeon. Originally published in 1950, the edition read was published in 1957 by Pyramid Books.

The Setting: The United States, Earth, a mid-century present.

The Story: A young boy runs away from a cruel adoptive family with only the broken remains of his toy jack-in-the-box and ends up joining the circus where he hides from the mean circus-master by disguising himself as a female midget. He reads voraciously and is loved by Zena, a real female midget, for many years. Meanwhile, the circus master is conducting research on sentient crystals which produce life. His aim is to destroy mankind by forcing the crystals to create evil and poisonous things instead of, say, little boys *coughcough*. After a decade or so, the boy (now a young man who, as the product of the crystals is able to control his shape) and the circus master face off in a battle which may determine the future of mankind. Or not.

The Science: The crystals, or dreaming jewels of the original title, represent a truly alien form of life. The crystals can work singly or in pairs, and create life, copies of other life (not always very accurate or pretty). But creating life is merely a by product of whatever sort of thought life they lead. Horty, the boy in the book, is ultimately able to enter into that thought life and force his impressions on the crystals, but they’re not all that interested. Definitely an original life form for a novel, and one which we would not be able to recognize if we were to encounter one.

The Reaction: I liked this story. It’s original and readable. The evil characters are REALLY evil and the good ones are REALLY good, but it’s a sort of fairy tale that centers on the idea of what it really is to be human. And Horty, in the middle, has to decided what that means to him. Not a stellar book, but enjoyable.

The Cover: Cover art by Art Sussman. Crazy looking broken face, guy holding up red hand missing three fingers. Important plot elements and a cover that makes you go WTF? Seems to be out of the mystery novel school of covers. I’m not in love, but I’m not complaining.

Next Up: “Silence Please” by Arthur C. Clarke