Archive for the ‘O' Pioneers’ Category


Sands of Mars by Arthur C. Clarke

December 2, 2012

The Book: Sands of Mars by Arthur C. Clarke. Originally published in 1951, the edition read was published in 1954 by Pocket Books, Inc.

Sands of Mars

The Setting: Space and Mars. Mostly Mars.

The Story: A science fiction author and popular journalist travels to Mars for a story, but finds himself.

The Science: Aside from the complexities of space travel and living on Mars (which feel realistically addressed in this book), there are a couple of notable science-y things that happen. One is that the protagonist discovers a species of Martian plant which releases pods of oxygen into the atmosphere. Widespread cultivation of the plant is planned as a long term method of re-forming the atmosphere to make it comfortable for human life. This is neat. I liked this a lot.  Plants do exchange gasses regularly, so it seemed both plausible and convenient.

The Reaction: Not what I was expecting from a book that proclaims “An interplanetary adventure!” on the cover. Sure, there are aliens. Sure, the protagonist finds himself in mortal danger a couple of times. But mostly, the main character is learning about himself and discovering new interests and old connections. Yet it was still a very good read. It felt genuine. Reasonable, even.

The Cover: Cover painting by Robert Schulz. A dome, a rocket taking off, a couple of guys in tin-can spacesuits, a rocky alien landscape… what more can a girl ask for? Dreamy. Just dreamy.


“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


Outpost Mars by Cyril Judd

September 23, 2011

The Book:  Outpost Mars by Cyril Judd (pseudonym of C.M Kornbluth and Judith Merril).  Originally published as a 3-part series in Galaxy Science Fiction in 1951, the edition read was published by Dell in 1952.

The Setting:  The future. Mars, obviously.

The Story:  A colony of idealists are accused of stealing drugs from a drugs processing plant. Also, psychic, murderous Martian dwarves.

The Science: Okay. So. Sometimes babies die, right? Sometimes it’s genetic. Well, this book says that some people have a lethal gene, and that when two people who carry a lethal gene love each other very much and make a baby, that baby dies. On earth. On Mars it lives, eats a drug, and is psychic. The doctor in the book theorizes that cosmic rays, maybe, or gravity, contribute to the ability of the mutant baby to survive. But, frankly, it all sounds like a load of bull hockey so that there’s some cheap explanation in the closing pages of the books.

The Reaction:  Oh boy. This book. It’s something. I think there’s probably too much going on here. Too much us vs. them, too much random weirdness (oh, you’re also psychic? That’s handy for the plot!). I don’t have any good reason why you should read this book.

The Cover:  Cover art by Richard Powers. And certainly a redeeming aspect of the book. Sure, I’m not sure it makes any sense in terms of the story, but check out that landscape, and that spacesuit. Far out.

Next Up:  The Screaming Woman” by Ray Bradbury.


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.


“Repetition” by A. E. Van Gogt

October 16, 2010

The Book: “Repetition” by A. E. Van Gogt. Originally published in 1940, Astounding Science Fiction. Edition read in Beachheads in Space, edited by August Derleth, published by Berkeley Books in 1952.

The Setting: Europa, Moon of Jupiter.

The Story: A famous statesman and former explorer named Thomas is to evaluate the colony on Europa, but finds himself in a struggle for life, just the same as his ancestors did, except also against a man as well as brutal natural forces.

The Science: The title of the story is the point of it – man keeps doing things the same way, so the social science is much more relevant than the hard science. In one episode, Thomas has to escape from a blood thirsty, ridiculously deadly extraterrestrial beast. So he takes a blade, cuts his hand and smears the blade with his own blood. Thomas wedges the handle of the blade into rock and hides. The beast starts licking the blood stained blade, gets excited by the taste of what is now its own blood from its lacerated tongue, and then dies. Thomas says the Eskimos killed wolves in this way.

I looked it up. The internet says this is true. Which is totally bad ass. So, 2 points for accurate ethnographic tidbits in science fiction!

The Reaction: I have a very high tolerance for poor writing. Very high. But I had a hard time getting past the second paragraph of this story. That paragraph commits many many sins against the written word. But I persevered and the writing calmed down to a more normal level. I’m intrigued by the incorporation of accurate ethnographic information into the story, but mostly I can’t recommend it. The writing is pretty poor and it’s too long for what it is. What a shame.

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: “Metamorphosite” by Eric Frank Russell.  Oooohh… An interesting made up word from an author with three first names? Count me in.


The First Men in the Moon by H.G. Wells

March 7, 2010

The Book: The First Men in the Moon by H.G. Wells.  Originally published in 1901.  The edition read was published in by Ballantine Books (F687) in the early 1960s (no publishing date).

The Setting: Britain, the Earth.  The Moon.

The Story: A failed businessman, Mr. Bedford, plans to write a play to pay off his debts.  An eccentric scientist, Mr. Cavor, distracts him.  The two team up for fun scientific discovery and profit.  Cavor invents a material which neutralizes gravity.  They build a glass sphere/spaceship with cavorite (the anti-grav material) shutters all around it.  They get in and travel to the Moon.  They arrive just as day breaks.  They find a desolate plain, just as expected, but then are astounded to see vegetation sprout before their eyes.  They start jumping around, have a jolly old time, and lose the spaceship.  A terrible rumbling is heard, followed by the appearance of moonmen (Selenites) and mooncows (enormous maggot looking things) in the area.  Terrified by the insect looking Selenites, Bedford and Cavor hide in the undergrowth and try to find their sphere.  No luck.  Starving, they eat some moon mushrooms, proceed to trip balls and get themselves captured.

Waking, they discover themselves chained in a room deep inside the moon.  Freaking out about their situation, they break free from the Selenites.  Bedford leaves carnage in his wake as he leads the escape.  They get to the surface and find it’s nearly nightfall.  They separate to search for the sphere.  Bedford finds it.  When he tries to find Cavor, he discovers a note suggesting that Bedford has been captured or, more probably, killed by the Selenites.  Bedford gets in the sphere and somehow manages to get back to earth despite a total psychotic break en route.

Back on earth, and in Britain even!, he changes his name (to Wells), and writes up his moon experiences and gets it published (thus the book).  But then he finds another scientist who has built some kind of radio receiver and is getting messages!  From the moon!  In English!  And thus we learn the fate of Cavor… more or less.

The Science: Lots of stuff to talk about in this book, but I’ll just address three topics.

  • Cavorite:  A substance which neutralizes the effect of gravity.  I’ll readily admit, I’m still not 100% clear on how this stuff works.  But, apparently, the production of a slab of cavorite neutralizes the effects of gravity for any material atop it.  Thus, when the first slab of the stuff was made, all the atmosphere above it went rushing off into space, causing a gap, followed by a rushing of air to fill the void.  Now, this sounds great if it can be produced for commercial use – and that’s Bedford’s thought exactly.  But when it comes right down to it, I don’t get it.  I went back and reread the bit where Wells explains how the sphere works, and I cannot wrap my brain around it.  It is another interesting example of how pre-heavier than air flight individuals conceived of the possibility of flight.  But the stuff just doesn’t make sense to me.
  • The Selenites: The Selenites are an insect looking, hive type race.  The individuals are bred and molded (quite literally!) so that each Selenite has a distinct purpose in life and wants nothing more than to achieve that purpose and, moreover, finds it amazing that anyone could want something out of life than what they want.  Cavor’s final missives include a lot of amazement (and not a little bit of revulsion) at the diversity of appearance in the species.  Also, they are less dense creatures than humans, as Bedford discovers when he punches clean through one of them.  More amazingly, there seems to be only one other form of animal life on the planet – the mooncow which they herd and butcher for food.
  • Life on the moon: In and on the moon.  Bedford and Cavor arrive on a desolate wasteland, just before daybreak.  As daybreaks, the frozen atmosphere once again becomes a gas and plants begin to sprout from the surface at an amazing speed – literally before their eyes.  That is a pretty neat little adaptation.  It’s sensible, too, although what would be involved in shielding a seed from lunar night would be very extreme indeed.  All other life exists primarily inside the planet.  The interior of the moon is pitted and hollowed, with an ocean at the center.  Since the interior is shielded from the extremes of the surface, most life has developed within.  The Selenites, the mooncows, and some unknown, but terrifying, fish are all the animal life the moon has to offer.  It’s a precarious eco-system.  The real question is, why didn’t anyone see this from earth beforehand?

The Reaction: I didn’t love it.  I felt like the narrative structure was weird.  You have the story arc which ends with Bedford in Italy trying to write that play again, but then you get a kind of second ending with Cavor’s messages from the moon.  Although Cavor’s messages have the interesting effect of calling the reliability of Bedford’s narration into question, which gives the book a whole new twist.  It probably doesn’t help that I wasn’t able to wrap my head around the whole cavorite thing, which was essential to the story.  I appreciate it, but I don’t anticipate turning back to read this book in the future.

The Cover: Two men, presumably Bedford and Cavor, appear to be captured and escorted by four or five Selenites.  I think this is the scene right at or before Chapter the Fourteenth.  One Selenite has a prod that looks rather like a fireplace poker.  Really, I think this is a pretty good literal style cover.  The humans aren’t in quite the right outfits; they were wearing Clint Eastwood style ponchos over their usual British clothes.  And the Selenites look perhaps too normal and not weird enough, but these are quibbles.  This is a perfectly acceptable, if not over exciting cover.

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