Archive for the ‘Invasion!’ Category

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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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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

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“The Blinding Shadows” by Donald Wandrei

October 15, 2010

The Book: “The Blinding Shadows” by Donald Wandrei. Originally published in the May 1934 edition of Astounding Stories. Edition read in Beachheads in Space, edited by August Derleth, published by Berkeley Books in 1952.

The Setting: New York City, Earth.

The Story: A scientist proves that a four-dimensional world overlaps with ours, with disastrous results. He gets eaten by a three dimensional shadow of a four dimensional creature.

The Science: This story starts out great, with real science that makes sense. Can something exists in the space between? After all, matter is less solid that we suppose – atoms are mostly empty space. (I once read that all the matter in the human body could be condensed to a point the size of a pin head.) So, the scientist expects, there are worlds that exist there. Four dimensional worlds. With three dimensional shadows. And he makes a mirror to see them. The whole mirror thing seems a bit sketchy to me. I don’t buy it. But it starts out all sciencey.

The Reaction: I liked it. It was explicit science fiction which gets a bit spook story at the end. But worth the read.

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.

Etc: A note on the title – beachhead is not a word in my vocabulary. I would have guessed in was like “deadhead” or maybe a synonym for lighthouse. But no, it’s a military term. Not likely to be understood these days.

Next Up: “Repetition” by A.E. Van Gogt.

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Short Story: The Empire of the Ants by H.G. Wells

March 19, 2010

The Book: “The Empire of the Ants” from The Time Machine and Other Stories by Herbert George (H.G.) Wells.  First published in 1905.  The edition read was published in 1969 (copyright 1963) by Scholastic Book Services.

The Setting: The Amazon River, South America, Earth

The Story: A Creole boat captain and his British engineer are sent upriver to investigate claims of giant ants (2 inches or so) destroying a village.  On they way, they find a boat, with its dead crew, floating in the river, infested with ants.  A crewman goes over, and the ants attack him.  He dies.  They find the village, can see that it’s overrun with ants, and freak out a little. They fire their cannon at it a couple of times and go home.  The engineer swears that some of the ants were using their front legs like arms and wearing some sort of clothes…

The Science: The premise here is that there is a kind of ant that is not only an intelligent social insect, but an insect with greater intelligence and an eye toward empire.  Now, while there are lots of kinds of ants, and there are probably undiscovered species in the Amazonian interior, so far there are no clothes wearing, tactics using giant ants.

There are ants with venom.  There are, according to the internet, really big freaking ants.  And ants have complex social mechanisms.  But so far, no brain ants have evolved.  Le sigh.  But it’s a really neat idea, especially in the world of 1905 when the world of species had been less fully explored and such a thing was closer to the realm of possibility.

The Reaction: I like this one.  The first half of it is a fantastic exercise in the building of suspense.  The ants are an unknown menace that can’t be communicated with.  Sure, the whole “these ants have big heads, wear clothes, and use their forearms like we do” bit is a little hokey, but in the 1905 context it would have been super awesome and as it is, it’s still fairly awesome.

The Cover: See The Time Machine.

Etc: The second Wells book I’ve read where there’s an insect like species with different types of the species doing different jobs – the other being The First Men in the Moon.

Next Up: In the Days of the Comet by H.G. Wells

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The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

February 17, 2010

The Book: The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells.  Originally published in 1898.  The edition read was published in 1966, copyright in 1964 , by Berkley Highland Books.

The Setting: England, greater London area, early twentieth century

The Story: A man, a science writer, witnesses the invasion of the earth by the Martians.An enormous cylinder falls to earth near Woking.  People, including the narrator, investigate.   Martians emerge from the tube and kill lots of people.  They build super suits of death and destruction. The narrator narrowly escapes with his life at several points.  The narrator tells how his brother escaped London.  Chaos is everywhere.  The Martians seem to be unbeatable.   The narrator teams up with a stressed-out curate.  They get trapped in a house together near a Martian base.  They spend a lot of time watching Martians.  The Martians drink human blood.  The curate snaps; the narrator knocks him out.  The Martians find them in the house and take the curate.  The narrator hides in some coal.  Days later he emerges and the Martians are gone.  They were all killed by viruses and bacteria.  The narrator and his wife are happily reunited in the end.

The Science: Wells likes to make stuff up.  We know that.  And he made up some darn good stuff, in my opinion.

  • Space travel and Martians:  Wells wrote this book before heavier than air flight was invented.  He imagines the Martians coming to Earth in enormous cylinders shot out of some sort of enormous Martian cannon.  It’s a pretty neat idea, but the physics involved in making something like that work must be mind boggling.  Not to mention the sort of force needed in the cannon.  So I’m not sure that’s a go.  The Martians came across, to me, as a sort of jellyfish shaped creature – all head and tentacles.  The narrator imagines that the Martians are a reasonable evolutionary outcome of man, and the brain grows and the hands are all that continues to be needed.  I can buy that.  I’m not so sure about Martians sustaining themselves directly on blood.  Wells’ premise is that the Martians had no digestive system to process food into blood, which is not precisely how it works.  I’d be curious to see a learned treatise on Wells’ Martian biology.  Seems to me that the exterior form of the Martians is possible, but not the internal structure as described.
  • Heat rays and black smoke:  Killing devices.  The Heat Ray which kills men on contact and heats whole rivers to boiling.  It sounds a lot like a super powered laser – a pretty awesome idea for 1898.  The black smoke is more insidious – a heavy gas which rolls over towns and kills all who breathe it.  It dissipates in water or jets of steam.  The black smoke is almost eerie in its description, given that World War I breaks out less than two decades later and makes real the threat of a weaponized,  deadly gas.
  • Viruses and bacteria:  Ultimately, man doesn’t defeat the Martians – they are wiped out by everyday viruses and bacteria.  I totally buy this.  How many humans succumb to these tiny creatures everyday?  How much more deadly would completely unfamiliar viruses be to an unexposed population?  Very.

The Reaction: This is a great story.  A fantastic adventure with interesting aliens, enough detail to make the threat believable, and a credible ending.  It is, however, another story where Wells doesn’t name his protagonist and spends a sizeable portion of the book having the narrator tell the story of a second person (the brother in this story).  Not necessarily a bad thing, but very much seeming to be a hallmark of Wells.

The Cover: Wait.  What?  What the heck is going on with this cover?  It’s like they grabbed the cover for some other story and stuck it on this book.  Only two things relate to the story:  the color red, and a sense of chaos.  No where in the story did Wells describe the citizens of early twentieth century Britain as wearing tube-heavy space suits and pointy pointy helmets.  It’s a great cover…  but not for this book.  I mean, honestly.  Who gave the go ahead on that?

Etc: My only prior experience with The War of the Worlds prior to reading this book was watching the Tom Cruise movie version.  And I was constantly comparing the two while reading.  I was pleasantly surprised by how well the movie interprets the book.  Except for the child drama, it’s surprisingly faithful.  Certain changes are made to account for our more advanced science, but they’re changes I think Wells would have approved of.

Next Up: The First Men in the Moon by H.G. Wells (who else?)