Archive for the ‘Surviving’ Category

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Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne

January 17, 2012

The Book: Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne. Originally published in 1864, the edition read was published by Ace (D-397) in 1956. In English.

The Setting: Germany, Iceland, and underground. 1863.

The Story: An eccentric old professor and his plucky nephew find and translate a message leading them to the a gateway into the center of the earth. Adventure and danger ensues.

The Science: Verne is a big fan of science, but I got a little bored about the whole “is it hot inside the earth or not?” debate that continued throughout the novel.  Science says…. It gets hot. Like really hot.  These characters would have died.

The Reaction: I was delighted to find that there was less listing of things than in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. But the first 100 pages are just about the journey from Germany to Iceland, which is less exciting than the underground adventures. Once they were underground, I found it really exciting and fun. It’s clear why this is a classic.

The Cover:  Oh this cover.  It’s a very nice cave with some bones and a boy scout in a baseball cap. Wait. What? This book is explicitly set in 1863, and plucky nephews weren’t wearing jeans and a baseball cap at that time. We are very amused. Otherwise…. it’s a fine cover.

Next Up: “There is No Defense” by Theodore Sturgeon.

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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.

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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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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.

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“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.