Archive for the ‘IMPENDING DOOM’ Category

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Foundation by Isaac Asimov

January 4, 2012

The Book: Foundation by Isaac Asimov. Originally published by Gnome Press in 1951, the edition read was published by Avon in 1966 or so.


The Setting: Some really distant planets. Trantor, Terminus, others.

The Story: Humans really kicked some ass in the Universe. But stuff is gonna fall apart. One guy can see that (mathematically), and creates a situation which will help to make the Intergalactic Dark Ages suck a lot less.

The Science: The obvious idea to focus on is that of psychohistory. That by applying history, sociology, and mathematics to societies, one can statistically predict the future. It is an awesome foundation for these stories. But I don’t think anyone is going to come along who can map out the next 1000 years of the human race with any sort of accuracy. It’s not really plausible. But it’s plausible enough to buy into totally.

The Reaction: Loved it. Loved it. Wanted more. Wanted lots and lots more. Great stories, great writing. There’s a reason this is a classic of the genre and other-books-I-could-mention-but-won’t-because-you-can-just-scroll-down-a-ways aren’t.

The Cover: No cover art credit. I’m not a fan. It’s the cover art I associate with these books, but it’s kind of dull. Though it does succeed in being enigmatic and probably highly symbolic, though I’m not paying that much attention because I’m bored already.

Next Up: Stowaway to Mars by John Wyndham

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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.

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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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“Critical Mass” by Arthur C. Clarke

December 24, 2010

The Book: “Critical Mass” by Arthur C. Clarke. Originally published in Lilliput in March 1949 according to the ISFDB. Copyright on the story is listed as 1957. Whatever the case, the story was read as part of Tales from the White Hart published by Ballantine Books in 1957.

The Setting: Earth, Southern England.

The Story: A truck carrying boxes, possibly from a radiation research establishment, crashes. Some boxes break open and something emerges…

The Science: Not really applicable here, unfortunately.

The Reaction: Very short, builds a sense of suspense quickly and effectively, with a cute ending. It’s alright.

The Cover: Cover appears to be signed “Powers.” I like this cover a lot. Very fitting for the book. Whimsical and delightful, with a nice spaceship and a drunken octo-alien.

Next Up: “Dark They Were and Golden-eyed” by Ray Bradbury.

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The Big Eye by Max Ehrlich

December 23, 2010

The Book: The Big Eye by Max Ehrlich. Originally published in 1949, the edition read was published by Bantam Books in 1958.

The Setting: Earth, 1960, New York City and Palomar, CA

The Story: David Hughes is an up-and-coming astronomer who wants to get it on with his actress lady friend, but the world is on the brink of nuclear extinction and strange things are happening… Like a planet headed for collision with the Earth and no chance of escape!

The Science: David Hughes works at the Palomar observatory, which houses “The Big Eye,” a 200 inch telescope. What I did not realize is that this telescope is real! The telescope opened the same year the book was published. That’s pretty cool. Moreover, the telescope is still in use for science, which is super awesome. Built to last!

Most of the story, however, is concerned with the impending collision of an extra-solar planet-like body on a collision course with Earth. At the beginning of the book there are mysterious tremors and other things being caused by the interference of this body, even though it is not even near Earth yet. But, when the body is practically filling the sky, there’s hardly any gravitational interference with the planet. So that doesn’t make any sense. I mean, the main characters were living in an apartment building at the end of the book! I don’t get it.

The Reaction: I actually finished reading this book a few weeks ago. But it took me a long time to get through it and just as long to temper my resentfulness of the book with time. Because, oh my god I hate this book. It’s part melodrama, part attempted social commentary, and part dude only thinking about sexing it up with his lady friend. The story has potential, but way too much of the book is spent talking about what is happening the world over. It’s very ineffectual. Also, the casual misogyny is annoying – it’s not even tempered by awesome storytelling. This book is so not worth the effort.

The Cover: The cover is probably the thing I like best about this book. It’s got an awesome font going, and AN EYE! Above a city! There’s a very strong mid-century vibe in the painting which I like. Although the front blurb “with only two years left for all the laughing and loving of a lifetime” puts me on the fence between loving the camp and rolling my eyes so far that it hurts.

Next Up: “Critical Mass” by Arthur C. Clarke