Archive for the ‘Aliens!’ Category

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Beyond Infinity by Robert Spencer Carr

December 12, 2012

The Book: Beyond Infinity by Robert Spencer Carr. Copyright 1951. Published 1954 by Dell (#781).

Beyond Infinity

The Stories:

“Beyond Infinity” -1951 – Somewhat noir-y mystery/indirect observation of a space/time adventure. Good.

Morning Star” – 1947

Those Men from Mars” – 1949

“Mutation” – 1951 – Short but slightly tiresome story about survivors of an atomic blast and the mutations they deal with in their environment.

The Evaluation: I enjoyed “Beyond Infinity” and “Those Men from Mars.” The other two were not great stories. The quality of the writing was decent, and fun in places. This collection is a solid “meh” from me.

The Cover: A fine Richard Powers cover.  A man, a woman, and an alien environment. And possibly a sign post.

Next Up: Sentinels from Space by Eric Frank Russell.

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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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“And the Walls Came Tumbling Down…” by John Wyndham

February 10, 2012

The Book: “And the Walls Came Tumbling Down…” by John Wyndham. Originally published in Startling Stories, May 1951. The version read was in Beachheads in Space, edited by August Derleth, published by Berkeley Books in 1952.

The Setting: Earth, the desert, maybe in the Southwest US.

The Story: Invisible silicate life forms land in the desert and investigate.

The Science: It’s interesting to read stories written from non-human points of view. Particularly when the life forms in question break at individualized frequencies. I’m a little unclear as to which noises are destroying these life forms, but it’s cute.  Cute idea.

The Reaction: Cute idea, but I had a little trouble following the story. I get that the reader was supposed to put together a lot of the pieces on the way, but it was a kind of a difficult puzzle, and I’m not sure I got enough pieces to complete the picture.

The Cover: Still awesome. 

Next Up: “Here There be Tygers” by Ray Bradbury.

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“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.

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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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“Pictures Don’t Lie” by Katherine MacLean

December 30, 2011

The Book: “Pictures Don’t Lie” by Katherine MacLeanOriginally published by Galaxy Science Fiction in August 1951. Read in The Diploids and Other Flights of Fancy published by Avon (G-1143) in 1962.

The Setting: Earth, a military base.

The Story: Aliens are coming to Earth! They’re in contact, audio and video, plus they’ve sent some of their sitcoms along too. But once they’ve landed, no one knows where they are…

The Science: Spoiler: The aliens are tiny and move, speak, the whole works, much faster than we do. Though we both use radio waves to communicate.  I don’t see why it should be possible for other worldly organisms to perceive and interact with space and time in radically different ways than we do. Hell, it’s a major trope in sciencefiction and super hero stories.

The Reaction: A very good story. It has humor, it’s got a twist, and it’s just fun. I’m not surprised that it was widely adapted into other media. 

The Cover: Same as the first time.

Next Up: Foundation by Isaac Asimov.

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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