Archive for the ‘Outer Space’ Category


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


“There is No Defense” by Theodore Sturgeon

January 23, 2012

The Book: “There is No Defense” by Theodore Sturgeon. Originally published by Astounding Science Fiction in February, 1948, the edition read was in 3 in 1: Three Science-Fiction Novels, (by which they mean somewhat longer short stories) edited by Leo Margulies, published by Pyramid Books (F-899) in 1963.

The Setting: Space, sometime in the future.

The Story: An unknown ship enters the solar system. Big, dark, scary, and it kills everything that attacks or scans it. Nothing seems to hurt it. A coalition of governments from Earth, Mars, and Jupiter, decide to use their ultimate weapon on it (a weapon long outlawed because of its effectiveness). But that doesn’t really work.  Blah blah blah, political intrigue, cross species suspicion, and the whole thing wraps itself up tidily.

The Science: The solar system fights the invader with what they call The Death. The Death is an ultimate weapon which destroys life and from which There Is No Defense… Anyway, it works by focusing a very powerful and random vibration on an enemy. This vibration then breaks down all organic matter and spins out into space. Can a vibration be so strong that it breaks down life at the cellular level? Uh, maybe. Personally, I feel vibration strongly – at a loud concert, I can feel it in my core. Extrapolated, I think it could do serious harm. So this seems plausible. Also, kudos to Sturgeon for creating good sounding explanations of many of the scientific elements of this story.

The Reaction: Not a fan of this story. Didn’t hate it, but wouldn’t mind never reading it again. I can’t put my finger on exactly why, because I appreciated some items, like Sturgeon’s science-y bits. But overall, it just didn’t come together for me. Hard not to read this story without thinking about it in a post WWII context.

The Cover: Cover art by EMSH. This cover is pretty cool. We’ve got three different species all trying to fix a space thing, and they’re all in specialized spacesuits. Different from a lot of other cover art I’ve seen and I like it.

Next Up: “West Wind” by Murray Leinster.


Stowaway to Mars by John Wyndham

January 10, 2012

The Book: Stowaway to Mars by John Wyndham. Originally published as Planet Plane in 1936 under the name John Beynon. The edition read was published by Fawcett (T2646) in 1972.

The Setting: Britain, Earth. Space. And Mars. Go figure. The year is 1981.

The Story: A rich daredevil jet pilot, in the spirit of Lindbergh, builds a jet plane/rocket to Mars. His small crew is carefully chosen, but there’s a stowaway… a stowaway to Mars! And the stowaway is a woman! Oh women, always stowing away to Mars, always driving men crazy by their mere presence and inviting rape by being alive. Anyway. After 6 months in space, they land on Mars and things are not what they expect. Oh, and is that a Russian rocket landing over there?

The Science: Early in the voyage, everyone is very concerned about fuel. The weight of the stowaway increased the amount of fuel used on take off, and since everything was carefully calculated, there was great concern about whether their would be enough fuel to launch them on their return journey. Turns out that a few people don’t return from Mars, so it’s really no big whoop after all. But I appreciated that bit of realism.

The Reaction: In general, this is an okay book. It’s amusing to read about going to Mars in 1981. But, somewhere during that space journey, things go south. There are a few attempted rapes on the stowaway (and there are only 5 crew members…) and then there’s a few page lecture from a sympathetic non-raper about how women are, pretty much, trouble. And I was really hopeful that the woman would get a strong rebuttal, but no. Just a very short, “no I don’t think so.” Which is something, I guess. At least the woman was strong and self reliant and smart.

The Cover: No art credit. I’m bored by this cover. It’s a space vehicle of some sort, but doesn’t seem to have any relation to the one described in the book. Yawnville.

Next Up: Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne


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


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


Cosmic Engineers by Clifford D. Simak

February 2, 2011

The Book: Cosmic Engineers by Clifford D. Simak. Originally published in 1950 as a novel (based on a serial in Astounding published in 1939), the edition read was published by Paperback Library (52-498)  and printed in 1967.

The Setting: Space, Pluto, and a planet at the far end of the Universe. The year: 6948.

The Story: Oh good golly, where to begin. Two newspaper men, somewhere near Pluto, find a thousand year old prison ship and a lovely young scientist in suspended animation within it. They wake her and learn that her lovely smart brain has been working for those thousand years and is now way beyond most normal human brains. Just then! A call from Pluto where scientists have intercepted signals from across the universe – thought signals! And the young woman, Caroline Martin, is able to communicate with the advanced brains! These advanced creatures, the Cosmic Engineers, need help. So the humans build a stargate and get to the Engineers to learn that our Universe will collide with a different Universe, destroying both. As they try to work out what to do, they come under attack from the Hellhounds, a hateful race that would just as soon have the Universe end. The humans have to travel forward in time to a distant future earth to get some science answers, which they do, but are sidetracked on their way back by an insane, omnipotent intelligence. Then they get back, defeat the Hellhounds, and save the Universe. Phew.

The Science: The science in this book all seemed pretty sketchy as presented. The idea of multiple universes is something that physicists are pretty cool with, but have no way of proving, since, of course, they are not within our universe. So that’s something. But I’m afraid that’s all I feel like talking about.

The Reaction: At first, I was really excited about this book. Oh! Another smart female scientist! How lucky! But then the book became one insane incident after another. I was forced to step back and realize what a mess this book was. There was too much story and not enough craft. The front cover has a quote “…enough thrills for five sequels.” Enough thrills for five separate short novels, more like. It was like a series of unfortunate Star Trek episodes, but without the characters.

The Cover: The cover is a definite high point. There’s a metal man with a ray gun, rocket ships, and people in space suits. It’s pretty awesome. That metal man? That’s a Cosmic Engineer, depicted quite nicely.

Next Up: NSF: “The Great Fire” 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.


The Skylark of Space by Edward E. Smith

May 20, 2010

The Book: The Skylark of Space by Edward E. Smith.  Originally published as a serial in 1928, the edition read was published by Pyramid Books in 1958.

The Setting: Earth, Outerspace, Planet Osnome

The Story: A brilliant scientist, Richard Seaton, from humble beginnings accidentally discovers the secret of space travel.  His arch-nemesis, De Quesne,  steals it from him and kidnaps his girl into DEEP SPACE.  Seaton and his millionaire best friend, Martin Crane, set off to rescue the girl.  They do, narrowly escaping a black hole at the far reaches of the universe.  They also rescue De Quesne and another dame he’d kidnapped.  They team up, reluctantly, and try to get home to earth, for which they need more copper.  They try a few planets, encountering only terrible danger.  They find a copper bearing planet with inhabitants suspiciously like Barsoomian red men except kind of greenish, beat the bad guys, marry the girls, and become Overlords of the planet.  Then they make it make to Earth just fine.  But super rich from jewels and stuff.

The Science: The author is actually a Ph.D in chemical engineering, so there’s a lot of science in this book.  How much of it is good science…  I don’t know.

  • Space travel: Seaton discovers the mechanism for space travel by accident.  There’s this element X, you see, found by accident.  He’s examining it and put some into solution.  When he went to throw it out, the solution sloshed over the side of its copper tub and the tub accidentally came into contact with some electric current and then… it busted out through the wall.  Small bits of copper wire had the same result.  Turns out, a machine in the next room was the key, in addition to the solution of X and the electricity.  The X somehow turned the copper into pure energy, no radiation by products.  So naturally, into space they go! Honestly, I have no idea if something like this is feasible.  I mean, I kind of doubt it.  Especially since it relies on Chemical Element X, only ever found on Earth once.  But it works well enough for a plot device for the story.  It’s a hell of a reaction – complete transfer  of matter to energy.  Certainly nothing we’re even close to achieving on earth.
  • Otherworldly food: One thing I really appreciated in this book is that, when invited to a feast on a planet very different than their own, the human protagonists (geniuses, all, except for the women who are merely spunky and fast learners) have the presence of mind to examine the food and determine if it will kill them or not.  It will.  How exactly they can tell, I’m not sure, but it’s a good effort.  Later, the aliens make them food they can eat, something which is not fully explained.  But, in so many books, humans eat whatever they find and it very rarely disagrees with them, much less poisons them.
  • Education machines: At one point, an alien prince rigs up a learning machine MacGyver style in order to teach the humans how to speak.  And, accidentally, he imprints his entire brain on Seaton, and Seaton’s brain imprints on the alien.  But it’s cool – their normal brains are still there, they just have bonus knowledge.  An education helmet is a pretty classic science fiction idea, as are education pills.  At this point in time, the brain is still a very mysterious thing, so a machine to imprint knowledge is pretty much not gonna happen.  However, science is reaching a point where it knows what you’re thinking.  I’m not kidding.  It’s pretty crazy.

The Reaction: I tried to read this book once before.  The prose is…. not so good.  Smith has this unfortunate habit of not really fleshing everything out – I kept having to go back to try and figure out what was happening or why it was happening, and not finding an answer.  Once I got past the prose, I hit the misogyny.  Sure, the broads are spunky, but the men are always amazed at their spunk and the women are always off dressing up and making sandwiches for the men somewhere out of scene.  I can assign it as a function of the times and the genre – the main characters in this book are hyper-idealized; the men are manly and the women are beautiful and good at making sandwiches.  Or something.  Anyway, I guess it’s a classic and one of the first space operas and all, but…  I’m not inclined to be at all interested in reading this again.

The Cover: Cover art by Richard Powers.  The cover (what hasn’t been damaged) shows a super cool, kind of organic-y building and a couple of flying spaceships, of which I assume one is meant to be the Skylark (that’s the name of the spaceship, by the way).  Problem is, the Skylark is just a great big sphere.  But that wouldn’t look nearly as awesome.  So I’m okay with the cover.  In fact, I kind of love it.

Up Next: A Fighting Man of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs.