Archive for the ‘Isaac Asimov’ Category

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The Outer Reaches edited by August Derleth

December 22, 2012

The Book: The Outer Reaches: Favorite Science-Fiction Tales Chosen by their Authors  edited by August Derleth.  Originally published in 1951. The paperback edition contains 10 of the 17 stories from the hardback edition. Published  by Berkley Books, G-116.

The Outer Reaches

The Stories:

“Co-Operate—or Else!” –  A. E. van Vogt, 1942 – A man and his mortal enemy, a super-intelligent, telepathic, space panther, must survive on an extremely hostile planet.

“Good Night, Mr. James” – Clifford D. Simak, 1951 – A clever little story about a scientist who made a mistake and now must remedy it. Much fun.

“The Critters” – Frank Belknap Long, 1945 – An old man lives high up in the hills, away from an alien invasion. Didn’t care for this one.

“Death Sentence” – Isaac Asimov, 1943 – The government takes over the operations of a rogue archaeologist who has discovered an ancient civilization of robots-who-don’t-know-they’re-robots.

“This Is the Land” – Nelson S. Bond, 1951 – The children of the last survivor of a nuclear holocaust bury him on the surface.

“Ylla” –  Ray Bradbury, 1950 – From The Martian Chronicles. I skipped it here.

“The Green Cat” – Cleve Cartmill, 1951 – No one questions that there’s anything weird about a green cat with leaf-shaped ears.

“Pardon My Mistake” –  Fletcher Pratt, 1946 – A man, mad with jealousy, makes a mistake.

“The Plutonian Drug” –  Clark Ashton Smith, 1934 – Space travel leads to new medicines and drugs, including one that might just let you see into the future…

“Farewell to Eden” – Theodore Sturgeon, 1949 – A man and a woman, awakened from a long cryo-sleep, leave a bomb ravaged earth for a better home.

The Evaluation: These stories are all pretty good. And, if not, they’re pretty short. The idea of authors choosing a favorite tale is quite nice. “Good Night, Mr. James” is my favorite of the group as it hits a nice balance of clever, pacing, and length.

The Cover: No credit for the cover art. Sadly, the scene on the cover isn’t from any of the stories, but it is a fine science fiction scene. Though, I have to say, is seems a bit dangerous to have pick axes in a low atmosphere environment.

Next Up: The Weapon Shops of Isher by A.E. Van Vogt.

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Beachheads IN SPACE

October 3, 2012

The Book: Beachheads in Space, edited by August Derleth, published by Berkeley Books in 1952.

The Stories:

“The Blinding Shadows” – Donald Wandrei

“Repetition” – A.E. Van Vogt

“Metamorphosite” – Eric Frank Russell

“To People a New World” – Nelson Bond

“The Years Draw Nigh” – Lester Del Ray (read in a different book, but featured in this one as well)

“Breeds There a Man…?” – Isaac Asimov

“And the Walls Came Tumbling Down..” – John Wyndham

The Evaluation: Worth having!  There are a lot of fascinating ideas in this book, and even a few well written stories. I remembered about half of them, which is a pretty darn good ratio.

The Cover: Cover by Richard Powers. And, like so many of his, it’s excellent. It has a really awesome spaceship on the cover, and an outpost on a hill, and is very lovely science-fictiony in general. Awesome.

Etc.: This is the second and last short story wrap up wherein all the stories of a volume are linked, as I am now moving to a new model of reading books of short stories when that volume was originally published, and blogging it as a volume.

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“Breeds There a Man…?” by Isaac Asimov

February 4, 2012

The Book: “Breeds There a Man…?” by Isaac Asimov. Originally published in Astounding, June 1951. The version read was in Beachheads in Space, edited by August Derleth, published by Berkeley Books in 1952.

The Setting: Contemporary Earth.

The Story: A scientist on the edge of a breakthrough becomes relentlessly suicidal. Because of aliens?

The Science: Well. Huh. So the scientist in question invents a force-field. And it works. The story doesn’t much go into why, and frankly I’m getting a bit bored trying to be scientific in this science section. I’m a pretty well informed lay person, so I can hoot and holler when stuff is just ridiculous, but some folks, like Asimov, make the explicit stuff seem pretty plausible.

The Reaction: A good story. The idea that humans are the experiment of some other force is a pretty old one. Actually, isn’t that the idea behind a lot of major religions…?

The Cover: Still a truly lovely cover. 

Next Up: “And the Walls Came Tumbling Down…” by John Wyndham

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Foundation by Isaac Asimov

January 4, 2012

The Book: Foundation by Isaac Asimov. Originally published by Gnome Press in 1951, the edition read was published by Avon in 1966 or so.


The Setting: Some really distant planets. Trantor, Terminus, others.

The Story: Humans really kicked some ass in the Universe. But stuff is gonna fall apart. One guy can see that (mathematically), and creates a situation which will help to make the Intergalactic Dark Ages suck a lot less.

The Science: The obvious idea to focus on is that of psychohistory. That by applying history, sociology, and mathematics to societies, one can statistically predict the future. It is an awesome foundation for these stories. But I don’t think anyone is going to come along who can map out the next 1000 years of the human race with any sort of accuracy. It’s not really plausible. But it’s plausible enough to buy into totally.

The Reaction: Loved it. Loved it. Wanted more. Wanted lots and lots more. Great stories, great writing. There’s a reason this is a classic of the genre and other-books-I-could-mention-but-won’t-because-you-can-just-scroll-down-a-ways aren’t.

The Cover: No cover art credit. I’m not a fan. It’s the cover art I associate with these books, but it’s kind of dull. Though it does succeed in being enigmatic and probably highly symbolic, though I’m not paying that much attention because I’m bored already.

Next Up: Stowaway to Mars by John Wyndham

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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.

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The Stars Like Dust by Isaac Asimov

April 11, 2011

The Book: The Stars Like Dust by Isaac Asimov. Originally published by Doubleday in 1951, the edition read was published by Lancer Books in 1968.

The Setting: Outer Space! The Future!

The Story: My name is Biron Farrill. You killed my father. Prepare to die. Or, prepare to run around the galaxy and participate in incomprehensible political intrigue of the highest order.

The Science: There’s a fair amount of science-y things in this book. One item, established for the sole purpose of using it to get away later is a device called the Visionor. The visionor impresses electrical impulses directly on the brain – apparently only visual and auditory impulses. The inventor supposes it can be used like a piano – to create future-symphonies, but it also freaks out a brain not accustomed to dealing with stimuli that don’t exist in the physical world. As for the question of whether such a device is probable or even possible, I couldn’t even begin to guess. Well, I will, I suppose. It seems rather like something people would invent for “defense” purposes, which is the end to which it is used just a few short pages after its introduction.

The Reaction: When I finished this book, I put my head in my hands and wept. No, I sighed heavily. It took me a while to get in the groove of this book, and it ended like an Encyclopedia Brown story – the main character explains everything that happened. Except that he makes some leaps that are completely impossible, given the story. It’s ridiculous. And there’s this mysterious Earth document that everyone wants for some reason, but no one knows what it is. They think maybe it’s coordinates to a secret planet. But no. It’s a plan for how planets might rule themselves when they’re freed from the rule of the Tyranni – it’s the US Constitution! *headdesk* Oh, and Tyranni? Really? Tyranni. Well, that’s one way to establish the character of a race. I can’t think of a good reason for anyone to run out and track down a copy of this book. Sorry, Isaac.

The Cover: What? What is that? Some guy holding “the stars like dust?” Is that what that is? Lame. And I’m not even sure the guy on the cover is supposed to be a character in this story. No one in this story is happy like that guy is happy. I am not impressed.

Next Up: The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

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Pebble in the Sky by Isaac Asimov

April 6, 2011

The Book: Pebble in the Sky by Isaac Asimov. Originally published by Doubleday in 1950, the edition read was published by Fawcett-Crest sometime much later.

The Setting: Earth, the distant future.

The Story: An unsuspecting tailor catapulted into a distant future where language has changed so greatly he can’t communicate by speech. Not to mention that Earth is the radioactive backwater of a vast Galactic Empire. The people who find him take him to the nearest city where he undergoes an experimental procedure to enhance his ability to learn. And it works! In fact, he not only learns to talk, but develops mind powers which allow him to kill by thought. Meanwhile, planet Earth is about to launch a deadly attack on the rest of the known universe, and someone has got to do something about that.

The Science: A major part of the story hinges on the procedure which makes people smarter (or kills them, or drives them crazy until they die). The procedure does this by decreasing the spaces between neurons (the synapses) so that electrical impulses may move more quickly through the brain resulting in faster thought and faster learning. Makes sense to me. What I don’t get is how accelerated thought translates into the ability to control and kill other human beings. But maybe that’s the fiction side of things.

The Reaction: While I enjoyed this book, I wouldn’t characterize it as great. There is a lot going on in the book. It’s notable that the central character is just some guy, while the daring interstellar archaeologist is a supporting character. Actually, now that I think of it, the characters are decently rounded. And there’s interesting stuff going on. I certainly wouldn’t discourage anyone interested in reading this.

The Cover: Wait, what? I have not the faintest clue what’s going on in this cover. It certainly doesn’t appear to relate to the novel. There were no people dancing around an encapsulated city with floating orbs. It’s bizarre and ridiculous, and not even in a very interesting way. Alas.

Etc: Apparently Asimov’s first published novel.

Next Up: “Spectator Sport” by John D. MacDonald.