Archive for the ‘Venus’ Category

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Sentinels from Space by Eric Frank Russell

December 17, 2012

The Book: Sentinels from Space by Eric Frank Russell. Alternatively Sentinels of Space.  Copyright 1953, based on a story published in 1951, “The Star Watchers.” Published by Ace (First in Science Fiction), D-468.

Sentinels from Space

The Setting: Earth, Venus, sometime in the future.

The Story: David Raven, daredevil pilot, is recruited by the government to secretly end the secret war that Mars and Venus have not-declared on Earth. But Raven has other things on his mind as well. Like the fate of all mankind!

The Science: In this story there are mutants. Twelve types of mutants, each with special powers. And mostly, it seems, they use their powers for crime. Mutants, it is explained, developed especially on Venus and Mars because their folks were bombarded with cosmic rays. Fair enough. Radiation tend to have a mutagenic effect on cells. Superpowers, eh, maybe not so much.

The Reaction: I was impressed with this story. It kept me guessing, the writing didn’t distract me, and the plot felt pretty solid, if a bit jumpy. For a book with a different title on the spine and cover (of/from), I wasn’t expecting a lot. But I found myself staying up late to read more.

The Cover: Cover art by Robert E. Schulz. A man with lots on his mind – planets, black rocketships, and lots of clouds. Also, more groovy fonts. I’m a fan of this cover. Nice work.

Next Up: The Outer Reaches edited by August Derleth.

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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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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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“History Lesson” by Arthur C. Clarke

January 31, 2011

The Book: “History Lesson” by Arthur C. Clarke.  Originally published by Startling Stories in 1949, the story was read in Science Fiction Omnibus edited by Groff Conklin.  Edition read was published by Berkeley Books in 1956.

The Setting: Earth and Venus in a distant future.

The Story: A devastating cooling of the sun has caused a final ice age. The last humans carry with them pieces of the mid-20th century as sacred relics. As the end descends, they hide the relics away on the highest peak before they die. Later, Venusians come to Earth and discover these relics, seeking to interpret their meaning and learn of this lost culture.

The Science: The central relic found by the Venusians is a reel of film. At the time of this story, most movies were on nitrate film, a highly flammable and dangerous type of material (the fire at the end of Inglourious Basterds? Nitrate film.). So the idea that a reel of film would survive until the end of time, and then survive the environment of Venus is highly questionable. Although the cold of the ice age would be optimal for preservation of such materials.

The Reaction: ooh, I liked this one. Archaeology and the end times, all in one? Lots of fun.

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: I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

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Destination Infinity by Henry Kuttner

October 14, 2010

The Book: Destination Infinity by Henry Kuttner.  Originally published in 1947 as Fury, the edition read was printed by Avon in 1956.

The Setting: Venus, 600 odd years in the future.

The Story: Sam Reed, short squat and bald, lives in the undersea domes of Venus and makes a pretty good living as a criminal. He gets mixed up in some bad business with the Immortals, a race of long-lived genetic mutants, and disappears for 40 years. Wakes up and finds he’s immortal too! Hey, how about that? Through intrigue, bullying, and keen instinct he gains power and influence. He colonizes the violent, Jurassic-type surface of the planet, and gets power mad. And deposed. And put into a sleep state until he’s “needed” again…

The Science: We’ve already discussed how earlier perceptions of Venus were pretty much wrong. It’s not ocean-y. There are no jungles. And the plant life won’t eat you because there is no plant life. Kuttner also draws on the theme of plant life that’s just as vicious as animal life if not more so. Because Kuttner’s Venus is so violent, people live in undersea domes which are pretty much just cities.

Some of the story involves a metal, korium, which seems to be a very important radioactive power source, but isn’t really involved except for being demanded as ransom. The science-y bits of this book are more incidental than anything.

The Reaction: I had some trouble getting into this book. But about a third of the way through I was really drawn in. The writing in this book varies tremendously.  There’s a lot of pointless foreshadowing (something like “this would be the last time he saw her alive”) and a couple instances that made me laugh out loud (“Sam searched and pondered, pondered and searched.”). But the intrigue is pretty intriguing and the character in the central part of the book is really where it comes into its own. And the epilogue might be great, or it might be horrible. I can’t tell. Worth the read, I think.

The Cover: I wish there was an art credit for this cover because I love it, even if it’s a tad inaccurate for the story. City in dome, check. Space bombers, check. Dynamic use of italics, check. Love it.

Etc: Fury is a much better title for this book.

Next Up: “The Blinding Shadows” by Donald Wandrei

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Perelandra by C. S. Lewis

July 17, 2010

The Book: Perelandra by C. S. Lewis.  Originally published in 1943, the edition read was published in 1975 by Macmillan Publishing.

The Setting: Venus

The Story: Ransom, hero of Out of the Silent Planet, is sent to Venus to do… something.  He encounters a watery world of floating islands with only a very few instances of fixed land.  And on them, all manner of spectacular and wonderful things.  Not least among these is the green woman who he encounters and who is the first woman on Venus.  Ransom and the woman converse.  Then Weston, villain of Out of the Silent Plant, shows up.  But he’s possessed by the devil.  Or a force of evil so pure that it doesn’t really matter what its name is.  Anyway, ex-Weston attempts to corrupt the woman by talking to her.  A lot.  And Ransom, representative of the good forces, tries to counter his arguments.  This continues for some time.  Then Ransom says, the hell with it, and proceeds to kick the shit out of ex-Weston and get his own shit kicked in the process.  They fight across the planet, ending up in a cave where Ransom chokes the ex-Weston.  Ransom climbs out of the cave which turns out to be inside a volcano, more or less, and is followed by ex-Weston, who’s not quite dead yet.  Ransom disposes of him, finds his way down the mountain, praises God (for PAGES) and heads back to earth.  The end.

The Science: The point of this book is not so much science, but theology.  Theology, however, is not our concern.  So let’s talk a little bit about what science supposes Venus to be like.  In the book, Venus is a world mostly of water, with floating mats of vegetation which can be quite massive and support a wide variety of plant and animal life.  The fixed land portions of the planet seem to be mostly very tall and mountain-y.  Light is diffused by a cloud barrier.  Lewis wrote this book during a time when science knew that Venus was covered in clouds, but not what lay beneath.  Turns out, Ransom would die of asphyxiation pretty quickly on the rocky surface, since the atmosphere is mostly carbon dioxide.  It’s supposed that Venus may have once been covered in oceans, but those evaporated and the hydrogen flew out in to space.  Or that’s what Wikipedia told me, anyway.  Lewis had some decent guesses, based on the science of his day, but it wouldn’t work out well based in today’s science.

The Reaction: I really like most of this book.  Ransom is having a grand old time discovering a world which hasn’t fallen from grace, then he has to stop it fall from grace, then there’s a nerd fight.  Then there’s a perilous journey.  The part that I didn’t like was the four page praising of the force of good.  Maybe it’s because it’s tedious, or maybe I was just really tired and wanted to go to bed.  But it’s well worth reading, even if you need to gloss over a couple bits.

The Cover: Cover painting by Bernard Symancyk.  The cover depicts a rocky landscape with a hand thrusting up through the ground.  The hand has long nails, painted red, and is holding an apple.  The hand and apple are inside a gazebo, presumably facing the gazebo alone.  Above the gazebo is a pink circle with a pink circle with a female figure in it and a green circle with a male figure in it to the right and left of first pink circle, respectively.  These side circles are inside lines of white which give the impression of being ovaries.  Pretty much…  wtf?  This cover is an artistic rendering of the theme of the novel, plus a gazebo.  I mean…  wtf?  Giant hand, apple, ovaries, gazebo, rocky landscape – none of these things are a part of the book.

Next Up: “Plague” by Murray Leinster