The Book: Pebble in the Sky by Isaac Asimov. Originally published by Doubleday in 1950, the edition read was published by Fawcett-Crest sometime much later.
The Setting: Earth, the distant future.
The Story: An unsuspecting tailor catapulted into a distant future where language has changed so greatly he can’t communicate by speech. Not to mention that Earth is the radioactive backwater of a vast Galactic Empire. The people who find him take him to the nearest city where he undergoes an experimental procedure to enhance his ability to learn. And it works! In fact, he not only learns to talk, but develops mind powers which allow him to kill by thought. Meanwhile, planet Earth is about to launch a deadly attack on the rest of the known universe, and someone has got to do something about that.
The Science: A major part of the story hinges on the procedure which makes people smarter (or kills them, or drives them crazy until they die). The procedure does this by decreasing the spaces between neurons (the synapses) so that electrical impulses may move more quickly through the brain resulting in faster thought and faster learning. Makes sense to me. What I don’t get is how accelerated thought translates into the ability to control and kill other human beings. But maybe that’s the fiction side of things.
The Reaction: While I enjoyed this book, I wouldn’t characterize it as great. There is a lot going on in the book. It’s notable that the central character is just some guy, while the daring interstellar archaeologist is a supporting character. Actually, now that I think of it, the characters are decently rounded. And there’s interesting stuff going on. I certainly wouldn’t discourage anyone interested in reading this.
The Cover: Wait, what? I have not the faintest clue what’s going on in this cover. It certainly doesn’t appear to relate to the novel. There were no people dancing around an encapsulated city with floating orbs. It’s bizarre and ridiculous, and not even in a very interesting way. Alas.
Etc: Apparently Asimov’s first published novel.
Next Up: “Spectator Sport” by John D. MacDonald.