Archive for the ‘A Distant Planet’ Category

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Alien Planet by Fletcher Pratt

December 7, 2012

The Book: Alien Planet by Fletcher Pratt. Published in 1962 by Ace Books (F-257), this book is an expansion of the novella “A Voice Across the Years”  (written with I.M. Stephens) published in Amazing Stories Quarterly, Winter 1932.

Alien Planet

The Setting:  Earth, Venus, and Murashema, around 1920-1924

The Story: A couple of guys are hanging out at their remote cabin in the woods when a meteorite strikes the nearby lake shore.  Not actually a meteorite, some guy eventually emerges from the rock. This is Ashembe, space alien, smart guy, and transmuter of metals. Stuff happens. A quick escape is necessary and one of the guys, Alvin Schierstedt, ends up in the space capsule with Ashembe, ready to blast off for adventure. However, adventure ends up being stuck in a space capsule for a couple of years… Then adventure! They land on the alien planet, Murashema, and Alvin has to learn the language (guess he didn’t have time on the way there) and learn how to live in a new society on an ALIEN PLANET.

The Science: One of the things I liked about this book is that it acknowledges that space travel can take a really long time and might, actually, be really boring once you’re doing it. Alvin takes the time to learn a Murasheman game from Ashembe, and to get really good at math, but not to learn anything about Murasheman society or language. Sigh.

The Reaction: Not bad, but not great. Definitely out of the 1930s mold. And it has footnotes, sometimes saucy footnotes. I like that. In fact, that’s one of my favorite things about this book.

The Cover: Cover art by Ed Emshwiller. I love this cover. Dude in a space suit, wibbly wobbly city, and giant-headed human-faced sky-octopus.  Imagine my disappointment when there was never a terrifying sky-octopus in the story. Beautiful cover with a spunky font, but misleading.

Next Up: Beyond Infinity by Robert Spencer Carr

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Beyond the Stars by Ray Cummings

October 6, 2012

The Book: Beyond the Stars by Ray Cummings.  The story was originally serialized in Argosy Magazine during February, 1928. The book was published in 1963 by Ace Science Fiction (F-248).

The Setting: Earth, 1998, and somewhere beyond the stars, in a place called Kalima.

The Story: Two strapping young pilots, an elderly scientist, and his two granddaughters (one of whom is blind) venture “beyond the stars” where they get caught up in the politics and adventures of a different planet.  

The Science: I’ve got to give it to Cummings for inserting a lot of explanation of his various gadgets and who-bobs throughout the book. Unfortunately, there’s still a lot of head scratching. The journey which starts off the adventures is not a journey by rocket, but by expansion. See, according the book, maybe the earth is just one of those things stuck in the space between atoms, so if you expand, you’ll end up in another world. Which is what they do. It almost makes sense, but… not quite.

The Reaction: I wanted to like it, really I did. It definitely suffers from some of the problems that serialized stories suffer from – disjointedness, a forgetfulness of earlier characters, exclamation points, and weary adverbs.  Cummings had a lot of decent ideas for sciencey gadgets and, apparently, a strong love of the Barsoom books (who doesn’t?), because what starts of as a promising science-fiction adventures turns into a fantasy battle romp with hideous monsters and the occasional gadget.  It’s a product of its time and it doesn’t age well.

The Cover: Cover by Jack Gaughan. The cover is neat. The title is in some wacky font, and I’m a sucker for wacky fonts. The man on the cover has some sort of ray gun (probably the Frazier ray, which plays a large role in the story), and it’s all yellow and action looking. I like it!

Next Up: Alien Planet by Fletcher Pratt. 

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“Here There be Tygers” by Ray Bradbury

February 15, 2012

The Book: “Here There be Tygers” by Ray Bradbury. The story was first published in the anthology New Tales of Space and Time  in 1951. The edition read is in R is for Rocket, published by Bantam Books in 1978.

The Setting: A planet far far away.

The Story: Prospecting space men find a planet which provides them with all their wants and desires, unless it’s threatened…

The Science: Sentient planets? Or at least reactionary eco-systems? Eh, why not?

The Reaction: Like so much of Bradbury, it’s vivid and fun to read. And, in this case, classic. So many others have ripped this idea off – paradise with a bite.

The Cover:Still not impressed. 

Next Up: “The Pumpernickel” by Ray Bradbury

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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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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.

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The Alien by Raymond F. Jones.

October 31, 2011

The Book:  The Alien by Raymond F. Jones.  Originally published in 1951, the edition read was published by Belmont in 1966.

The Setting: Earth, space, a distant planet, in the future.

The Story: Scientists bring an alien creature back to life and then fight said alien creature when it takes over planet Earth with charisma and mind powers.

The Science: Space archaeologists find the craft holding the life force of the alien, but have to decipher the language to learn more. Which they do, using a made up linguistic principle called Carnovon’s frequency. Which I think has to do with the frequency of concepts in a language, but it’s kind of unfortunate that the author didn’t explore actual properties of language. Also, that the so called language experts didn’t realize that one set of characters represented numbers and mathematical principles. It took the main character to realize that.

The Reaction:  Not a fan. I had hope for the book, briefly, early on, but that hope was dashed for good when a motley crew of scientists who hate everyone else fight their way out of the solar system and then procure amazing mind powers. The societal side of the story is very unfortunate. Not a classic of science fiction, despite what the cover asserts.

The Cover:  No cover art credit. A bunch of folks in bubble helmets look at a great big naked guy. Of note is the fact that there are two women on the cover and only one woman in the entire book. And I don’t think she, an important scientist, was running around in that outfit.

Next Up: “Son of Two Worlds,” by Edmond Hamilton.