Archive for the ‘The Outer Planets’ Category

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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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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

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I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

February 1, 2011

The Book: I, Robot by Isaac Asimov.  Originally published in 1950, the edition read was published by Fawcett Crest (M1966) in 1970.

The Setting: Throughout the Solar System, around 2057

The Story: An interviewer convinces the world’s foremost robopsychologist to tell him tales about the development of robotics. She obliges.

The Science: Robotics is a science which is all around us and yet still the stuff of legend. New robots and smarter computers are being developed every year, and yet we cannot hope to match the expectations set by this book in our life times. I think we are still a long way from robots which are self aware, or which serve as nannies, but the spark is there, and it will probably come. Someday.

The Reaction: At its core, this is a book of short stories held together by the life of a character. And I loved it. I loved the stories within the book; I loved that the central character is a strong, smart woman (finally!); I love the imagination of the situations of the various stories. If this book was three times as long as it is now, I would love it as much. Asimov really has his shit together.

The Cover: Not actually that thrilled by the cover. There are some random robot looking things, but they’re not doing anything and they don’t even look that cool. An enthusiastic Meh is the best you’re going to get from me on this one.

Etc: I was trying very hard to remember the move I, Robot starring Will Smith, but I was unable to identify more than a passing resemblance to the book. Which is a darn shame. There are some good films to be made from these stories.

Next Up: Cosmic Engineers by Clifford D. Simak.

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“Repetition” by A. E. Van Gogt

October 16, 2010

The Book: “Repetition” by A. E. Van Gogt. Originally published in 1940, Astounding Science Fiction. Edition read in Beachheads in Space, edited by August Derleth, published by Berkeley Books in 1952.

The Setting: Europa, Moon of Jupiter.

The Story: A famous statesman and former explorer named Thomas is to evaluate the colony on Europa, but finds himself in a struggle for life, just the same as his ancestors did, except also against a man as well as brutal natural forces.

The Science: The title of the story is the point of it – man keeps doing things the same way, so the social science is much more relevant than the hard science. In one episode, Thomas has to escape from a blood thirsty, ridiculously deadly extraterrestrial beast. So he takes a blade, cuts his hand and smears the blade with his own blood. Thomas wedges the handle of the blade into rock and hides. The beast starts licking the blood stained blade, gets excited by the taste of what is now its own blood from its lacerated tongue, and then dies. Thomas says the Eskimos killed wolves in this way.

I looked it up. The internet says this is true. Which is totally bad ass. So, 2 points for accurate ethnographic tidbits in science fiction!

The Reaction: I have a very high tolerance for poor writing. Very high. But I had a hard time getting past the second paragraph of this story. That paragraph commits many many sins against the written word. But I persevered and the writing calmed down to a more normal level. I’m intrigued by the incorporation of accurate ethnographic information into the story, but mostly I can’t recommend it. The writing is pretty poor and it’s too long for what it is. What a shame.

The Cover: Alas, no cover art credit for this book. Because it has got a really awesome spaceship on the cover, and an outpost on a hill, and is very lovely science-fictiony in general. Awesome.

Next Up: “Metamorphosite” by Eric Frank Russell.  Oooohh… An interesting made up word from an author with three first names? Count me in.