Archive for the ‘Politicking’ Category

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The Weapon Shops of Isher by A.E. Van Vogt

December 27, 2012

The Book: The Weapon Shops of Isher by A.E. Van Vogt. Copyright 1951, printed in 1961 by Ace books, D-482.

The Weapon Shops of Isher

The Setting: Earth, 1951 and 4784.

The Story: The Weapon Shops sell guns. Guns which cannot be used against others, except in self defense. The government of Isher wants to destroy the shops. Things get a little timey-wimey. Also, a boy doesn’t want to go into the family business, goes to the big city, and gets in some deep trouble.

The Science: Clarke’s third law states that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” This is the case with the Weapon shops. Their existence, their infrastructure, and their guns are all basically indistinguishable from magic. Apparently, the founder of the shops was a super genius who figured out how to imbue objects with the ability to determine the intent of an individual when an individual touches them. Magic. The rest of the Isher-world has to get by with corruption and not-a-little-bit of seediness.

The Reaction: Here’s another book I had a good time reading. I would stay up late just to read some more. There are a lot of points of view, and a few jarring moments, not to mention, the author seems to have a man-crush on one of his characters. But it was fun.

The Cover: Cover art by Harry Barton. Boy howdy, do I love this cover. Two guys in jeans and t-shirts are fighting in front of some super-neat device (a ray gun of some kind?), against a future-city backdrop. There’s so much energy in this cover. And you know the guns are from the future because they have those three little rings around the muzzle. And did I mention they’re wearing jeans and t-shirts? So awesome.

Etc: According to wikipedia, this book apparently is a bringing together of three stories from the same universe –

“The Seesaw” (Analog Science Fiction and Fact, July 1941)
“The Weapon Shop” (Analog Science Fiction and Fact, December 1942)
“The Weapon Shops of Isher” (Wonder Stories, February 1949)

This explains some of the slight jarring I felt while reading, but they are sewn together pretty darn well.

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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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Beyond the Stars by Ray Cummings

October 6, 2012

The Book: Beyond the Stars by Ray Cummings.  The story was originally serialized in Argosy Magazine during February, 1928. The book was published in 1963 by Ace Science Fiction (F-248).

The Setting: Earth, 1998, and somewhere beyond the stars, in a place called Kalima.

The Story: Two strapping young pilots, an elderly scientist, and his two granddaughters (one of whom is blind) venture “beyond the stars” where they get caught up in the politics and adventures of a different planet.  

The Science: I’ve got to give it to Cummings for inserting a lot of explanation of his various gadgets and who-bobs throughout the book. Unfortunately, there’s still a lot of head scratching. The journey which starts off the adventures is not a journey by rocket, but by expansion. See, according the book, maybe the earth is just one of those things stuck in the space between atoms, so if you expand, you’ll end up in another world. Which is what they do. It almost makes sense, but… not quite.

The Reaction: I wanted to like it, really I did. It definitely suffers from some of the problems that serialized stories suffer from – disjointedness, a forgetfulness of earlier characters, exclamation points, and weary adverbs.  Cummings had a lot of decent ideas for sciencey gadgets and, apparently, a strong love of the Barsoom books (who doesn’t?), because what starts of as a promising science-fiction adventures turns into a fantasy battle romp with hideous monsters and the occasional gadget.  It’s a product of its time and it doesn’t age well.

The Cover: Cover by Jack Gaughan. The cover is neat. The title is in some wacky font, and I’m a sucker for wacky fonts. The man on the cover has some sort of ray gun (probably the Frazier ray, which plays a large role in the story), and it’s all yellow and action looking. I like it!

Next Up: Alien Planet by Fletcher Pratt. 

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“West Wind” by Murray Leinster.

January 30, 2012

The Book: “West Wind” by Murray Leinster. Originally published by Astounding Science Fiction in March, 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:  Some alternate Earth, most likely.

The Story: A journalist stays behind when a province is evacuated to allow a neighboring country to take it over. He is, not surprisingly, captured and treated as an enemy agent.

The Science: The story ends with one side of the conflict becoming suddenly, horribly ill from radiation. Turns out, the wind blows west, and one country released radioactive uranium dust into the wind, causing the other forces to die. Radioactive dust causes the enemy army to die, literally, overnight. I’m not sure about the timeline and the ability to focus the dust the story claims, but acute radiation exposure sure can cause death.

The Reaction: I spent the whole story feeling like I had read it before, which is possible. The main character is a little, shall we say, hammy? There’s a thing about coffee in the story which seemed pretty cheap to me. But it’s okay.  Just like the previous story from this volume, I was feeling the whole WWII vibe pretty strongly here.

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: “Breeds There a Man…?” by Isaac Asimov

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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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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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“Mother Earth” by Isaac Asimov

December 16, 2011

The Book: “Mother Earth” by Isaac Asimov. Originally published in May 1949 by Astounding Science Fiction, the story was read in the anthology 3 from Out There published by Crest Books in 1959.

The Setting: A distant planet. Earth. In the distant future.

The Story: Planets colonized by Earthmen tell Earth where to stick it. Earth gives them the finger and takes the long view. Political intrigue, war, and robots.

The Science: This is what happens when you don’t blog for a long time. Let me go check the book…. Ah, okay. SO.  Working from home. In the outer planets, the population is very spread out. Everyone has a lot of room.  More than that, everyone is crowd averse. So non-family interaction is usually done by “community wave” which involves projecting a 3D hologram thingy of oneself to a common location to interact with other 3D hologram thingies and get business done. Sounds like the internet to me! Just more cumbersome. And it would, I think, discourage trolls.

The Reaction: I recall being bored and kind of confused by this even as I read it. I had trouble keeping characters straight and I wasn’t sure what was going on most of the time, or why. Not Asimov’s best.

The Cover: Same as last time.

Etc: Oh. Hi reddit. Nice of you to stop by. And here I thought most of my traffic came from panicked high school students who didn’t read their assigned Bradbury stories.

Next Up: Secret of the Black Planet by Milton Lesser.