Archive for the ‘True Love’ Category


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.


“The Fog Horn” by Ray Bradbury.

September 16, 2011

The Book:  “The Fog Horn” by Ray Bradbury. Originally published in 1951 in The Saturday Evening Post.  Read in the anthologyGolden Apples of the Sun, edition read was published by Bantum Books in 1961.

The Setting:  A lighthouse.

The Story:  A sea monster falls in love with the fog horn of a light house.

The Science:  The story suggests that a marine dinosaur, the last of its kind, hibernates/suspends its animation at the bottom of the ocean. While this is very unlikely, some birds (birds being a relative of the dinosaur) can initiate torpor, a sort of “hibernation lite,” with one species actually hibernating. To the extent that a single creature can survive for millions of years is, however, not likely.

The Reaction: This is a nice story, romantic almost. There’s a strong sense of place, and of loss. One of Bradbury’s better pieces.

The Cover:  Still the same.

Next Up:  Outpost Mars by Cyril Judd


“The Pyramid in the Desert” by Katherine MacLean.

March 31, 2011

The Book: “The Pyramid in the Desert” by Katherine MacLean. Originally published by Astounding Science Fiction in February 1950 under the title “And Be Merry.” Read in The Diploids and Other Flights of Fancy published by Avon (G-1143) in 1962.

The Setting: New York, Earth.

The Story: An endocrinologist spends the summer attempting to find the secret of bodily rejuvenation and succeeds, with psychic consequences.

The Science: A mold by-product has the ability to become any sort of cell and a new sort of cell. Anti-aging ‘science’ is a big deal, what with all the Boomers aging and all. But so far, no science has done a replacement therapy as complete and radical as this. The best thing about the science in the story is that most of the story is the scientist’s notes. And she experiments on herself in a most interesting manner.

The Reaction: Hooray for female scientists! Competent female scientists! Even if she does lie to her husband to avoid spending the summer on an archaeology dig (which is irrelevant to her pursuits as an endocrinologist). Her science is fun to read, but her break with reality at the end is a bit hard to take. Still, totally worth it.

The Cover: Same as before.


Next Up: “A Subway Named Mobius” by A. J. Deutsch.


NSF: “The Great Fire” by Ray Bradbury

February 3, 2011

The Book: “The Great Fire” by Ray Bradbury. Originally published in 1949 by Triangle Publications. Story was read in The Golden Apples of the Sun by Ray Bradbury published by Bantum Books in 1961.

The Setting: Middle America.

The Story: A young lady enjoys going on dates.

The Science: Meh.

The Reaction: Meh.

The Cover: Same as usual.

Next Up: “The Blue Bottle” by Ray Bradbury


John Carter of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

July 7, 2010

The Book: John Carter of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs.  Consists of two stories published under the name Edgar Rice Burroughs.  “John Carter and the Giant of Mars” was published as a Whitman Big Little Book in 1940 and then in Amazing Stories in 1941.  The story was written by Burroughs’ son Jack and possibly revised by ERB.  “Skeleton Men of Jupiter” was published by Amazing Stories in 1943.  The two were combined into the book John Carter of Mars in 1964.  The edition read was published by Ballantine Books in 1973.

N.B. I’ll be addressing both stories in a single post.  I’ll try to keep it brief.

“John Carter and the Giant of Mars”

The Setting: Mars

The Story: Dejah Thoris is kidnapped by a synthetic man with a synthetic giant.  John Carter goes to rescue her, gets in trouble, gets out of trouble, saves Helium (his city) from an army of the horrible white apes.

The Science: There’s more genetic engineering in this book, but this was a Big Little Book story, so aimed more at kids.  My favorite moment of science in this book is when John Carter is about to be crushed by sliding glass walls, he remembers that he is wearing a diamond ring and that diamond will cut glass.  So he etches a circle in the glass and punches through.  This is accurate.  Diamonds are the hardest natural substance.  Way to go, elementary earth science!

The Reaction: OMG.  This story was so not written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and if he edited it, he did so very lightly indeed.  It has the ingredients of a John Carter story, but it lacks art.  It’s in the third person, so there’s no delightful John Carter internal dialogues.  The writing does a lot of little things ERB never does, and it’s just not as much fun.  It’s like fanfic written by an inexperienced writer for an inexperienced audience….  oh….

“Skeleton Men of Jupiter”

The Setting: Mars and, you guessed it, Jupiter

The Story: The skeleton men of Jupiter have conquered their own planet, and now they want to take over Mars, so they kidnap John Carter to make him tell them all his military secrets.  Needless to say, he refuses, Dejah Thoris gets kidnapped to Jupiter too.  There’s fighting and escaping and the ending is sort of up in the air.

The Science: In the story, Jupiter has an enormous surface lurking below the clouds.  The planet is lit and heated by constantly erupting volcanoes.  The gravity is actually less than that of Mars because of how fast the planet rotates.  All this is wrong, according to science.  Jupiter is actually a gas giant with little or no solid core and a gravity that would be about 2.4 times greater than that of earth.  But Burroughs heads this all off with John Carter spending a full page and a half talking about how fickle science is and how often he’s proved it wrong.  Good for a story, bad for science.

The Reaction: Just fun.  Especially after reading the prior story which was not much fun.  John Carter kicks ass and takes names, what more does a girl want?  I just wish that Burroughs had lived to finish writing the story.  The end is not really a satisfying ending – apparently this was supposed to be part of a story arc like that of Llana of Gathol.

The Cover: Cover art by Gino D’Achille.  Looks like we’ve got a planet, a snake dinosaur duck footed monster, Dejah Thoris, and John Carter.  John Carter, are you wearing socks with your sandals?  Tacky.  Also, I have no idea where that monster comes into play.  There were a couple random mentions of reptile monsters, so…  maybe?

Etc: Here ends the John Carter series.  And all I can see looming large in the future is Ray Bradbury, short story upon short story.

Next Up: “R is for Rocket” by Ray Bradbury.


The Skylark of Space by Edward E. Smith

May 20, 2010

The Book: The Skylark of Space by Edward E. Smith.  Originally published as a serial in 1928, the edition read was published by Pyramid Books in 1958.

The Setting: Earth, Outerspace, Planet Osnome

The Story: A brilliant scientist, Richard Seaton, from humble beginnings accidentally discovers the secret of space travel.  His arch-nemesis, De Quesne,  steals it from him and kidnaps his girl into DEEP SPACE.  Seaton and his millionaire best friend, Martin Crane, set off to rescue the girl.  They do, narrowly escaping a black hole at the far reaches of the universe.  They also rescue De Quesne and another dame he’d kidnapped.  They team up, reluctantly, and try to get home to earth, for which they need more copper.  They try a few planets, encountering only terrible danger.  They find a copper bearing planet with inhabitants suspiciously like Barsoomian red men except kind of greenish, beat the bad guys, marry the girls, and become Overlords of the planet.  Then they make it make to Earth just fine.  But super rich from jewels and stuff.

The Science: The author is actually a Ph.D in chemical engineering, so there’s a lot of science in this book.  How much of it is good science…  I don’t know.

  • Space travel: Seaton discovers the mechanism for space travel by accident.  There’s this element X, you see, found by accident.  He’s examining it and put some into solution.  When he went to throw it out, the solution sloshed over the side of its copper tub and the tub accidentally came into contact with some electric current and then… it busted out through the wall.  Small bits of copper wire had the same result.  Turns out, a machine in the next room was the key, in addition to the solution of X and the electricity.  The X somehow turned the copper into pure energy, no radiation by products.  So naturally, into space they go! Honestly, I have no idea if something like this is feasible.  I mean, I kind of doubt it.  Especially since it relies on Chemical Element X, only ever found on Earth once.  But it works well enough for a plot device for the story.  It’s a hell of a reaction – complete transfer  of matter to energy.  Certainly nothing we’re even close to achieving on earth.
  • Otherworldly food: One thing I really appreciated in this book is that, when invited to a feast on a planet very different than their own, the human protagonists (geniuses, all, except for the women who are merely spunky and fast learners) have the presence of mind to examine the food and determine if it will kill them or not.  It will.  How exactly they can tell, I’m not sure, but it’s a good effort.  Later, the aliens make them food they can eat, something which is not fully explained.  But, in so many books, humans eat whatever they find and it very rarely disagrees with them, much less poisons them.
  • Education machines: At one point, an alien prince rigs up a learning machine MacGyver style in order to teach the humans how to speak.  And, accidentally, he imprints his entire brain on Seaton, and Seaton’s brain imprints on the alien.  But it’s cool – their normal brains are still there, they just have bonus knowledge.  An education helmet is a pretty classic science fiction idea, as are education pills.  At this point in time, the brain is still a very mysterious thing, so a machine to imprint knowledge is pretty much not gonna happen.  However, science is reaching a point where it knows what you’re thinking.  I’m not kidding.  It’s pretty crazy.

The Reaction: I tried to read this book once before.  The prose is…. not so good.  Smith has this unfortunate habit of not really fleshing everything out – I kept having to go back to try and figure out what was happening or why it was happening, and not finding an answer.  Once I got past the prose, I hit the misogyny.  Sure, the broads are spunky, but the men are always amazed at their spunk and the women are always off dressing up and making sandwiches for the men somewhere out of scene.  I can assign it as a function of the times and the genre – the main characters in this book are hyper-idealized; the men are manly and the women are beautiful and good at making sandwiches.  Or something.  Anyway, I guess it’s a classic and one of the first space operas and all, but…  I’m not inclined to be at all interested in reading this again.

The Cover: Cover art by Richard Powers.  The cover (what hasn’t been damaged) shows a super cool, kind of organic-y building and a couple of flying spaceships, of which I assume one is meant to be the Skylark (that’s the name of the spaceship, by the way).  Problem is, the Skylark is just a great big sphere.  But that wouldn’t look nearly as awesome.  So I’m okay with the cover.  In fact, I kind of love it.

Up Next: A Fighting Man of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs.


The Chessmen of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

May 8, 2010

The Book: The Chessmen of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs.  Originally published in 1922, the edition read was the edition read was published by Ballantine Books in 1975.

The Setting: As the title suggests, it’s set on Mars.

The Story: Tara, daughter of John Carter, gets swept away in her flier by a horrible windstorm.  She finds herself in a distant and unfamiliar land inhabited by strange people with weird heads.  But wait!  It’s just inhabited by heads and bodies.  The heads are the hyper-logical, but crablike kaldane.  The bodies are simply beasts of burden and, later, snacks for the kaldane.  Meanwhile, Gahan of Gathol follows Tara into the storm, but falls off his flier and manages to find her anyway.  He rescues her with the help of one of the kaldane, Ghek, who has been affected (infected?) by Tara’s singing.  They escape and soon find themselves in bigger trouble in the kingdom of Manator where they are captured and escape (more than once!) and play the deadly, life-size, Martian version of chess.  Intrigue and danger follow.  Eventually the day is saved and the boy gets the girl.

The Science:

  • The Kaldane and the Rykor:  Mars must be a poorly explored place, because the heroes of these books are always blundering into undiscovered civilization.  In this case, it’s the kingdom of Bantoom, where the terrifying crab-like brain creatures, the Kaldane, use the human-like bodies (without heads!), the rykor, for riding, working, and eating.  As is explained, the perfect symbiotic relationship between the two species is the end result of a long and directed process of co-evolution.  It seems quite terrifying, particularly because the bodies have become very human like (including secondary sexual characteristics!), but it’s fairly reasonable.  Species evolve in relation to each other all the time, though most examples I can think of are parasitic, and not on the scale of the example in the book.  So, I think it’s not beyond the realm of possibility.  Though I strongly doubt that the Rykor would evolve into human-like bodies, particularly retaining secondary sexual characteristics (when they no longer have eyes), as the most useful form for the Kaldane.
  • Human Taxidermy:  I don’t know that this is really science, but this is visceral shock number two of the book (after the Rykor).  In Manator, the dead are preserved via taxidermy.  Privileged warriors are shrunk, but most are rendered exceedingly lifelike.  Taxidermy is certainly not just a modern invention, but has existed for a long time.  And the idea of preserving human bodies is not new – it’s essentially what embalming is, and what exhibits like Body Worlds takes to extremes.  As for actually practicing taxidermy on people, I didn’t have the nerve to go beyond the first page on a google search.  I’m sure it’s possible, and probably has been done, but is probably not legal in many places.  One thing we can examine empirically, is the longevity of taxidermy specimens.  The book indicated that one grouping was, at minimum, 5000 years old.  Currently, no Earthly taxidermy survives from before the 1620s, and I really doubt our chemicals are good enough to withstand 5000 years of tenacious pests.

The Reaction: It’s kind of the same thing again, isn’t it?  This time with new characters and more shock value.  But, Burroughs did totally invent a game that works, both in the story and in real life.  So that’s pretty cool.  I’m not gonna knock it too hard, but it wasn’t as good as those original books.  Burroughs just isn’t taking the same sort of joy in writing – nothing has come close to matching the Dead Monkey line.  But it’s a good, fun, novel adventure story, and I’ll take it.

The Cover: Cover art by Gino D’Achille.  My husband was hoping that this cover was accurate when he first saw it, and it is!  Okay, except that the people are supposed to be naked, just wearing a leather belt and “harness” which I imagine to be like the top of lederhosen.  But the Kaldane?  Looking pretty close to the description in the book.

Next Up: “The Color Out of Space” by H.P. Lovecraft.  Short story!


Warlord of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

April 30, 2010

The Book: Warlord of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs.  Originally published in 1913-1914 as a serial, the edition read was the edition read was published by Ballantine Books in 1973.

The Setting: MARS! or BARSOOM!

The Story: John Carter fights his way from the south pole to the north pole in pursuit of his kidnapped princess, who is NOT dead.  Although most everyone else that John Carter meets ends up dead.  At the north pole he finds the lost Lemon Colored People of Mars, who all have big black beards and are fierce fighters (aren’t they all?).   He kicks more ass without taking names.   He rescues the princess, saves the jeddak (king), kills the bad guys, and is named supreme ruler of all Mars.  Who’s the warlord of Mars?  JOHN CARTER!

The Science: “I am a fighting man, not a scientist,” says John Carter in my second favorite line from the book.  (First favorite line: “…and before I had half a chance to awaken to my danger he was like to have made a monkey of me, and a dead monkey at that.” Emphasis mine.)

Anywho, science!  John Carter’s ultimate victory is secured by disabling a magnetic tower (which is situated upon the magnetic north pole) which irresistibly attracts all the airships of Mars.

The shaft was a mighty magnet, and when once a vessel came within the radius of its powerful attraction for the aluminum steel that enters so largely into the construction of all Barsoomian craft, no power on earth could prevent such an end as we had just witnessed.

The fact that this device can be disabled by a switch suggests to me that the tall tower is some sort of enormous electromagnet.  Which is fine and well on it’s own, but here’s the problem:  airships can’t escape it, but none of  the other metal the Barsoomians use (which is a lot, since everyone seems to be wearing metal and fighting with it) is attracted to the tower.  If it’s that’s powerful, there’s going to be other stuff that sticks to it…  Moreover, aluminum is not magnetic under most circumstances, although we can suppose that the aluminum steel is some sort of fancy martian contrivance.

Magnets are cool though, and magnets as uberweapon is cool, even if it was used against the good guys.

The Reaction: Fightin’ around the world! So… how will life on Mars continue when John Carter has killed all men of reproductive age?  Because, seriously, the body count in this book must be higher than in Return of the King.  Which is probably why this book is a ton of fun.  Burroughs’ prose is fantastically wonderful in it’s sheer pulpiness.  I mean, that dead monkey line had me in stitches.  I felt the need to read choice tidbits outloud to my husband almost constantly.  Now that the initial trilogy is done, I wonder what they’ll do in the next seven books.

The Cover: Cover art by Gino D’Achille.  What we have here is another example of “things that didn’t exactly happen in the book.”  The image is thematically correct – some weird looking green guy is running off with a mostly naked girl while a white guy, also mostly naked, wields a sword.  The major problem here is that the kidnapper appears to be Green, and the kidnapper was actually Black, or White, or even Yellow.  But definitely not Green.  Besides the green guy on the cover does not look like the green men of Barsoom.  Good effort, exciting, and thematically correct, but lacking accuracy in terms of the story.

Next Up: Thuvia, Maid of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs


The Gods of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

April 25, 2010

The Book:  The Gods of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs.  Originally published as a serial in 1913, the edition read was published by Ballantine Books in 1973.

The Setting: MARS!  Okay, okay…   BARSOOM!

The Story: John Carter returns to Mars and finds himself in the Martian afterlife.  He fights his way out and then back in again against: blood sucking tree men of Mars, white apes of Mars, white priests of Mars, black pirates of Mars, more black men of Mars, green Warsoon of Mars, red men of Mars, the black and the white men of Mars at the same time, and Issus the Goddess of Eternal Life and Death of Mars.  And maybe some other stuff.  He fights till he passes out, alone and with friends.  He finds his son, discovers his wife is missing, seeks his wife, finds her, then loses her at the very end.  WILL HE FIND HER AGAIN??

The Science:

  • The Blood Sucking Tree Men of Mars:  Carter encounters these fiendish devils first in this book.  They are bipedal with wiggly arms that graze the top of the tall grass, and end in mouths hungry for blood.  Also, they sprout new tree men from their arm pits.  I’ve got to say, these creatures are pretty terrifying.  Because they will pursue you and suck out all your blood.  And, scientifically, I think there’s a basis for them.  Not the bipedalism, mind you, but vegetables evolving mechanisms to catch animal prey is not unknown.  Additionally, plants move all the time anyway, even if we don’t notice it: they bend toward a light source.  So to imagine a vegetable that evolved a way of moving across the landscape while still alive is not unfathomable.  But I doubt they would have two legs – more likely a root structure wherein the plant develops new roots in a particular direction, abandoning those at the rear.
  • The Martian Year: In an important plot point of the book, Carter is positively giddy to remember that the Martian year is 687 earth days long.  And Burroughs did his homework, because that figure is correct.  Dull, yes, but accurate.

The Reaction: Pew pew pew.  Bang bang!   Biff pow whammo! Zzzzzz…  That’s what the book is: Fighting until you pass out from fighting.  And that’s fine by me!  Lots of fun, lots of action, a really quick read.  Burroughs was clearly feeling a little disillusioned with organized religion when he wrote this book; it shows.  And I really love how John Carter is straightforward about when he’s an idiot.  The one really tedious point was the “suspense” about who the young Martian was that turned out to be his son.  Burroughs was not so artful about that.  Carter: “Say, who’s your father?”  The boy: “My father is – ” They were interrupted by some ridiculous thing to draw out the suspense.  But it’s okay, I don’t mind too much with the rest of it being a rollicking good time.

The Cover: Art by Gino D’Achille.  Hey look at that!  Carter is hanging on the anchor of an airship wielding a gigantic sword while a black man wields a sword at him from above.  THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENED IN THE BOOK.  Yes.  It did.  Really.  It happened at night, but I’ll forgive that.  It’s an exciting cover, except that Carter is posed like a 1940’s pin-up on the anchor, which is a tad ridiculous.

Next Up: Warlord of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs


Gulliver of Mars by Edwin L. Arnold

April 22, 2010

The Book: Gulliver of Mars by Edwin L. Arnold.  Originally published 1905.  Edition read was the 1964 reprint by Ace Books (F-296).

The Setting: MARS!

The Story: Lt. Gulliver Jones goes for a magic carpet ride.  To Mars!  He gets drunk, gets married, his wife gets kidnapped.  He travels the planet in a leisurely fashion to rescue her, being very lucky along the way (in that he does not get himself killed).  He saves the girl, survives a comet not hitting Mars, returns her to her people, fights the bad guys again, is losing, and hightails it out of there on his carpet (which was lost, but found at the moment of utmost need).

The Science: Ha.  What science?  Dude goes to Mars on a flipping magic carpet (DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME), finds the almost-Eloi and the much nicer Morlocks.  Mars is a fairly lush planet, with lots of water and creatures similar enough to earth creatures that it’s all pretty much the same.  Arnold does take an interest enough in making the planet seem strange and weird by incorporating some novel sorts of plant life.  There are two sequences describing predatory plants which use a scent based bait, some sort of all-species pheromone maybe, to catch and devour animal life.  Also, the Eloi type people that live near the sea use mold to shape enormous melons as they grow to use for boats, which is clever as all get out.  And totally plausible.

The Reaction: This book gets a solid MEH from me.  I bought it because I’d never heard of it, and yet here was a book that the back cover was claiming had influenced the Barsoom series.  It’s an interesting book to read for the project – the Mars folk are clearly derivative from Wells’ Time Machine creatures and Burroughs was no doubt familiar with this book when he wrote the Barsoom books.  I mean, Mars+Martian Princess+River of Death=come on now.  But Gulliver is a sorry sort of character, lacking in consistency.  The action is okay, but all very superficial.  It wasn’t painful to read, but I’m rather looking forward to getting back to the Burroughs series which at least has the courage of its convictions.

The Cover: Oh my, that looks exciting.  Ragged man with sword flees..  what are those?…  an enormous rat fighting a protoceratops with a pterodactyl in the background?  Yeah, that didn’t happen in the book.  Gulliver heard a couple of huge beasts fighting in the night, but never saw what they were.  File under: Didn’t happen.

Next Up: The Gods of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs