Archive for December, 2011

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“Pictures Don’t Lie” by Katherine MacLean

December 30, 2011

The Book: “Pictures Don’t Lie” by Katherine MacLeanOriginally published by Galaxy Science Fiction in August 1951. Read in The Diploids and Other Flights of Fancy published by Avon (G-1143) in 1962.

The Setting: Earth, a military base.

The Story: Aliens are coming to Earth! They’re in contact, audio and video, plus they’ve sent some of their sitcoms along too. But once they’ve landed, no one knows where they are…

The Science: Spoiler: The aliens are tiny and move, speak, the whole works, much faster than we do. Though we both use radio waves to communicate.  I don’t see why it should be possible for other worldly organisms to perceive and interact with space and time in radically different ways than we do. Hell, it’s a major trope in sciencefiction and super hero stories.

The Reaction: A very good story. It has humor, it’s got a twist, and it’s just fun. I’m not surprised that it was widely adapted into other media. 

The Cover: Same as the first time.

Next Up: Foundation by Isaac Asimov.

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“Feedback” by Katherine MacLean

December 26, 2011

The Book: “Feedback” by Katherine MacLeanOriginally published by Astounding Science Fiction in July 1951. Read in The Diploids and Other Flights of Fancy published by Avon (G-1143) in 1962.

The Setting: Earth, in the future. Everytown, USA.

The Story: In the future, everyone is free to be exactly like everyone else – it’s democratic.  Conformity bounces against conformity creating a feedback loop, with unfortunate consequences for individuals.

The Science: A social science problem. It’s not hard to imagine a world where anything outside the norm is met with swift reprisal. Or is that called middle school?  It’s a nice story that takes you to the end of a slippery slope and points and how nasty it is down there.

The Reaction: A good story, which is probably why it’s been retold many times in many ways.

The Cover: Same as the first time.

Next Up: “Pictures Don’t Lie” by Katherine MacLean

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Secret of the Black Planet by Milton Lesser

December 21, 2011

The Book: Secret of the Black Planet by Milton Lesser. According to the ISFDB, originally published as two shorter stories in June and July of 1951. The edition read was printed by Belmont in 1965.


The Setting: Earth, Space and Really really distant planets, all in a not that distant future.

The Story: A strong man in a circus is really a famous space archaeologist who has discovered a secret of eternal life and now people are trying to kill him. Then, the strong man/archaeologist’s son and a girl travel the universe trying to find who first found the secret of eternal life, and love.  Also Martians, Venusians, and competing planetary mobs.

The Science: Uh. Okay. So. You sit in this chair in this mysterious “black planet” hanging out in the asteroid belt, do some stuff, and you get infused with life, strength, the ability to heal, and, what the hell, you can even come back after being killed-but-good.  BUT! If you sit in that chair too long, you’ll age in reverse until you’re not even a twinkle in your daddy’s eye. In that second scenario, something is seriously wrong with the law of conservation of mass, because no energy seems to be given off in the reaction.

Don’t even getting me started on the teleportation issues.

The Reaction: I liked that it was an adventure story for a while. It was very much in the spirit of John Carter, and that was fun. When it’s fun, I don’t care that it’s not making much sense. But this book committed a cardinal sin, in the area of formatting. In many places, SECTION BREAKS ARE OMITTED. You might not think section breaks are important, but when you’re jumping between two scenes, and there’s no space between the paragraphs to alert you, it gets confusing. Confusing pulls you out of the story. It all ends in rage. Bad editor, bad bad editor.

The Cover: Formatting issues aside, this cover is awesome. Alas, no credit for the illustrator. There’s a spaceship, there’s a dude with a ray gun in his long johns, and there’s a girl straight out of the ’40’s hanging back. Also, that font. I love a font. The only problem is that the blurbs on the front and back cover seem to have been written by someone who read a different story.

Next Up: “Feedback” by Katherine MacLean

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“Mother Earth” by Isaac Asimov

December 16, 2011

The Book: “Mother Earth” by Isaac Asimov. Originally published in May 1949 by Astounding Science Fiction, the story was read in the anthology 3 from Out There published by Crest Books in 1959.

The Setting: A distant planet. Earth. In the distant future.

The Story: Planets colonized by Earthmen tell Earth where to stick it. Earth gives them the finger and takes the long view. Political intrigue, war, and robots.

The Science: This is what happens when you don’t blog for a long time. Let me go check the book…. Ah, okay. SO.  Working from home. In the outer planets, the population is very spread out. Everyone has a lot of room.  More than that, everyone is crowd averse. So non-family interaction is usually done by “community wave” which involves projecting a 3D hologram thingy of oneself to a common location to interact with other 3D hologram thingies and get business done. Sounds like the internet to me! Just more cumbersome. And it would, I think, discourage trolls.

The Reaction: I recall being bored and kind of confused by this even as I read it. I had trouble keeping characters straight and I wasn’t sure what was going on most of the time, or why. Not Asimov’s best.

The Cover: Same as last time.

Etc: Oh. Hi reddit. Nice of you to stop by. And here I thought most of my traffic came from panicked high school students who didn’t read their assigned Bradbury stories.

Next Up: Secret of the Black Planet by Milton Lesser.