Archive for the ‘Adventure!’ 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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Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne

January 17, 2012

The Book: Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne. Originally published in 1864, the edition read was published by Ace (D-397) in 1956. In English.

The Setting: Germany, Iceland, and underground. 1863.

The Story: An eccentric old professor and his plucky nephew find and translate a message leading them to the a gateway into the center of the earth. Adventure and danger ensues.

The Science: Verne is a big fan of science, but I got a little bored about the whole “is it hot inside the earth or not?” debate that continued throughout the novel.  Science says…. It gets hot. Like really hot.  These characters would have died.

The Reaction: I was delighted to find that there was less listing of things than in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. But the first 100 pages are just about the journey from Germany to Iceland, which is less exciting than the underground adventures. Once they were underground, I found it really exciting and fun. It’s clear why this is a classic.

The Cover:  Oh this cover.  It’s a very nice cave with some bones and a boy scout in a baseball cap. Wait. What? This book is explicitly set in 1863, and plucky nephews weren’t wearing jeans and a baseball cap at that time. We are very amused. Otherwise…. it’s a fine cover.

Next Up: “There is No Defense” by Theodore Sturgeon.

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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

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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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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