Archive for the ‘Disease’ Category


The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

August 26, 2011

The Book: The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham. Originally published in 1951, the edition read was published by Crest (TI322) in 1970.

The Setting: Great Britain, sometime in a near past or present.

The Story: Civilization is destroyed and carnivorous walking plants begin the mopping up. Survivors band together and try to figure out a successful society and a potent herbicide.

The Science: The story hinges on two catastrophes. It is hypothesized in the novel that the catastrophes were not natural, nor alien in nature, but rather that they were orbital weapons accidentally detonated by one or the other of the super powers.  At a time when the Cold War was underway, it was not unimaginable for the super powers to be placing horrible, novel weapons in orbit around Earth. Both the US and the USSR had planned such devices, but the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 explicitly disallows them. So it is unlikely that we will all be destroyed by our own space guns. 

The Reaction: This is a good book. A genuinely good story, an interesting confluence of ideas, characters that are worth their salt, and angry plants. The social science of it is strong as well. Highly recommended.

The Cover: No art credit. Plant tentacles, green and yellow, and zombie looking people. It certainly sets the mood of uncertainty and fear. Not my favorite, personally, but very effective. 

Next Up: The Illustrated Man  by Ray Bradbury.


“To People a New World” by Nelson Bond

April 10, 2011

The Book: “To People a New World” by Nelson Bond. Originally published in Blue Book Magazine, November 1950. The version read was inBeachheads in Space, edited by August Derleth, published by Berkeley Books in 1952.

The Setting: Earth, the future.

The Story: A family lives an isolated life without any metal.

The Science: Something happens which disrupts the atoms in metal, making them, I presume, highly radioactive and making those who come into contact with them highly sick. This is a nice bit of pseudo-science. It’s hard for me to imagine that any sort of chemical reaction that resulting in unstable and radioactive metals would affect only metals and not other materials. So I think it’s just a convenient plot device, not really science.

The Reaction: I was interested in this story – a family lives in a strange new world with strange new rules – until the end. Then it got biblical. A boy killed his brother. The boy’s name? Cain. Oy. So cliche. Not even a twist. Just something that’s supposed to make you go “oooh… what a clever thing this is.” But it’s not. The ending ruined it for me.

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: The Stars Like Dust by Isaac Asimov.


The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

April 4, 2011

The Book: The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. Originally published by Doubleday in 1950, the edition read was published by Bantam Books in 1966.

The Setting: Mostly Mars, the future. Also, a little, Earth.

The Story: A series of short stories and vignettes chronicles the fall of Martian culture, then the rise and fall of human society on Mars.

The Science: Science is not really the strong point of this book. It’s much more social. That said, the Martians fend off/murder several expeditions of human explorers with/because of their mind powers. However, the humans ultimately win because of disease. Chickenpox wipes out nearly the entire Martian race – near enough so that it doesn’t matter if any are left. The people can come and take over. Interestingly enough, no disease travels in the opposite direction.  Decimation (understatement: decimate technically means only 10% reduction) by disease is common on earth, and would probably be a very serious issue if mankind ever encountered biologically similar alien life forms.

The Reaction: A good set of stories with an interesting variety of focuses. Classically Bradbury with an interest in the social and lack of interest in exactly how and why things work the way they do. 

The Cover: Elegant, simple, evocative of Mars and Earth. Two thumbs up.

Next Up: Pebble in the Sky by Isaac Asimov


“The Pyramid in the Desert” by Katherine MacLean.

March 31, 2011

The Book: “The Pyramid in the Desert” by Katherine MacLean. Originally published by Astounding Science Fiction in February 1950 under the title “And Be Merry.” Read in The Diploids and Other Flights of Fancy published by Avon (G-1143) in 1962.

The Setting: New York, Earth.

The Story: An endocrinologist spends the summer attempting to find the secret of bodily rejuvenation and succeeds, with psychic consequences.

The Science: A mold by-product has the ability to become any sort of cell and a new sort of cell. Anti-aging ‘science’ is a big deal, what with all the Boomers aging and all. But so far, no science has done a replacement therapy as complete and radical as this. The best thing about the science in the story is that most of the story is the scientist’s notes. And she experiments on herself in a most interesting manner.

The Reaction: Hooray for female scientists! Competent female scientists! Even if she does lie to her husband to avoid spending the summer on an archaeology dig (which is irrelevant to her pursuits as an endocrinologist). Her science is fun to read, but her break with reality at the end is a bit hard to take. Still, totally worth it.

The Cover: Same as before.


Next Up: “A Subway Named Mobius” by A. J. Deutsch.


Earth Abides by George R. Stewart

January 10, 2011

The Book: Earth Abides by George R. Stewart. Originally published in 1949. The edition read was published by Fawcett Crest in 1971.

The Setting: Earth, San Francisco.

The Story: A young graduate student gets bitten by a rattlesnake while a plague wipes out nearly 100% of America’s (and presumably the world’s) population. He survives, establishes a community, and maybe, just maybe, saves the human race. Or maybe they save themselves.

The Science: Plague is a real thing and a real threat. There’s no question in my mind that a plague on the level of Stewart’s is a possibility. So I won’t talk about it. Instead – population science! Ish, the main character finds maybe a dozen people in his hometown of San Francisco. Yet a small community of seven adults forms. Pairs form (in one case, a trio) and babies start popping out like crazy. The second generation marries each other, and, by the third generation, a second group is identified and they begin to intermarry with them. Still, the population group is no larger than a few hundred. A few hundred individuals, isolated for a few generations will become very closely genetically linked. This can lead to a bringing forward of previously recessive traits, like hemophillia, and can decrease a population’s ability to resist diseases. Which is not good.

Stewart mentions that there are other population groups left, and eventually they will probably start to communicate and intermarry, which will increase the genetic variation of the groups. Nonetheless, a genetic bottleneck as described in this book has the potential for a profound impact on the future of the human race. But the science is quite good in this book.

The Reaction: I owned this book as a teenager. I’d read the first part more than once, but never read the whole thing. I’m not sure why. It’s a good book. It has interludes where it describes the changes in the land, or animal populations, or man’s inventions. It is written solely from the view of one character, from the moment of crisis until he draws his last breath, which seems unusual considering the epic scope of the novel. It is a solid book, and a clear inspiration for later post-apocalyptic novels.

The Cover: No credit for the artist. The cover depicts a small man wandering a street next to some piles of cars with a city of bubble structures in the distant background. It adequately conveys a sense of smallness and desolation, but darned if I know what those bubble things are supposed to be. Pretty sure they’re not mid-century San Francisco. Still, I kind of like it.

Etc: Apparently, this book was an inspiration for Steven King’s The Stand. I’m not at all surprised. A lot of the first part of the book is re-imagined in King’s book.

Next Up: “Defense Mechanism” by Katherine MacLean. Holy carp. The author is a woman.


“Pillar of Fire” by Ray Bradbury

November 2, 2010

The Book: “Pillar of Fire” by Ray Bradbury. Originally published in the September 1948 edition of Planet Stories. The edition read was published in S is for Space by Bantum in 1970.

The Setting: Earth, 2349.

The Story: The last corpse on earth wakes up, is pissed about it, and starts blowing shit up.

The Science: Um. Well. There’s your problem. I’d like to talk about the walking dead here, but there’s no reason given as to why this corpse wakes up except that he his filled with hate and rage. Hate and rage are not scientific concepts, and are certainly not the very spark of life, particularly if the spark of life has already died from the brain. So… that makes no sense.

The Reaction: It’s not a bad story. It’s a bit in the vein of a lamentation for the loss of all things gritty and creative, a theme which crops up here from time to time. Plus, it’s a hate filled zombie wandering around, blowing stuff up. AND he goes to the library too.

The Cover: Same as before.

Next Up: “The October Game” by Ray Bradbury


“Fever Dream” by Ray Bradbury

November 1, 2010

The Book: “Fever Dream” by Ray Bradbury. Originally published in the September, 1948 edition of Weird Tales. The story was read in A Medicine for Melancholy printed in 1963 by Bantum Books.

The Setting: A present, small town America.

The Story: A very sick boy is taken over by germs.

The Science: I read once that 90% of the cells in the human body belong to non-human microbes. That’s a lot. And the idea of some sort of spontaneous (r)evolution wherein the microbes gang up and take over is interesting, but not really plausible, given what I know about  such things. Sure, some little organisms can change the behavior of the carrier, but this story implies a great deal more coordination and intention than that.

The Reaction: A nice short story, with a nice idea, and a chilling ending. I feel like I’m hitting Bradbury at his stride just now.

The Cover: Well, I suppose a medicine for melancholy would be whimsical, and this cover has whimsy, in that old fashioned clip art sort of way. But I’m not delighted overall, and am downright confused about that naked lady.  It’s like the cover designer had 15 minutes to put it together.

Next Up: “Pillar of 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 Color Out of Space” by H.P. Lovecraft

May 9, 2010

The Book: “The Color Out of Space” by H.P. Lovecraft from Science Fiction Omnibus edited by Groff Conklin.  Story originally published in 1927.  Edition read was published by Berkeley Books in 1956.

The Setting: Earth, rural New England

The Story: A meteor falls to Earth and infects? hunts? destroys a family and their land, manifesting itself as a color no one can quite describe.

The Science: Meteors fall to earth all the time, bringing with them bits of the universe, which is what makes this story so effective – it’s plausible!  The universe is a big place, and we can’t know everything that does or does not exist in it, so the possibility of something otherworldly falling to earth and not being totally compatible is there.  The color out of space cannot be described, but it was carried within the meteor and spread when it came to earth.  It got into the water supply and poisoned plants, animals, and people, sucking the life out of them until they turned to grey, crumbling dust.  I don’t know of any earthly analogy other than certain wasting diseases specific only to plants or animals, not both, but, hey, the universe is a big place…

The Reaction: Great story.  I read stories like they’re movies, and this one was a great story.  I had to see if it had been made into a film.  And it has.  Three times.  Must be hard to capture something like an indescribable color on film.  The story also struck me because I’ve been reading so much Burroughs lately.  In Burroughs, the characters are relentlessly active.  In this story, the characters watch in terror that which they can do nothing about.  Super.

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 UpThe Master Mind of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs


Short story: “The Country of the Blind” by H.G. Wells

March 8, 2010

The Book: “The Country of the Blind” from The Time Machine and Other Stories by Herbert George (H.G.) Wells.  First published in 1904 in Strand Magazine.  The edition read was published in 1969 (copyright 1963) by Scholastic Book Services.

The Setting: An isolated mountain valley in the Andes of Ecuador.

The Story: A mountaineer, Nunez, falls off a mountain side into a valley.  And lives!  The valley is inhabited!  Inhabited by people who have met no one from outside the community in 15 generations.  And they’re blind!  For 14 generations, the entire populous has been blind.   Nunez remembers that “in the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”  He sets about trying to take over.  He fails, and gets smacked down.  The people of the valley can hear and smell him; they have the advantage.  Plus, they have no idea they’re missing anything.  They figure Nunez is crazy for using the weird words “sight” and “blind.”   He gives up, becomes a villager, falls in love with a local girl.  He wants to marry her, but her father figures Nunez is too stupid.  The doctor thinks maybe those lumpy things in his eye sockets are the problem and proposes to remove them.  He eventually agrees.  At the last minute, he changes his mind and begins to climb out of the valley.  And then he died.  But he saw how pretty it was as he was dying.

The Science: The people of the valley have lived for fifteen generations after a disease afflicted them so that their children were born blind.  Reasonable enough.  All the genes were somehow affected by this disease, to the point of physically making the eyeballs shrivel in their sockets.  It seems unlikely, but it’s a useful enough premise.  The people become completely isolated by a terrible earthquake, or something.  They develop a way of living, with lined pathways and tactile stimulus.  They work at night and rest during the day.  The develop a system of belief wherein the valley is all that exists and is covered by a smooth stone ceiling.  Weird, but totally plausible.  More a social science, but I give this story a thumbs up for plausibility.

The Reaction: I liked this story.  An anthropologist by training, I was intrigued by the cultural adaptations made by the people of the valley.  I was really put off by the hubris of the main character.  I mean really.  What kind of person shows up somewhere, sees a town, and says “I’ll be having that, thank you very much”?  It seems ridiculous.  And maybe it’s supposed to be a ridiculous lesson in imperialism.   But I liked it.  Short, and fun to read.

The Cover: See The Time Machine

Etc: According to Wikipedia, the story has rewritten in 1939 to have a totally different ending.  One which sounds less good.

Next Up: The Food of the Gods by H.G. Wells