Archive for the ‘Unrelated Cover Art’ Category

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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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Man of Two Worlds by Raymond F. Jones

July 28, 2010

The Book: Man of Two Worlds by Raymond F. Jones.  Originally published as a serial in 1944, then as a novel titled Renaissance in 1951.  The edition read was published in 1963 by Pyramid Press.

The Setting: Kronweld (a distant planet?) and Earth

The Story: A man tries to prove that the religion of his society is all hocus pocus, and gets embroiled in much more than he bargained for.  This includes, but is not limited to: cross dressing, political intrigue, epic journeys, military training, and leading a new and better world.  Yeah, there’s a lot of story in this book.

The Science: So, a lot of this book involves hopping back and forth between Kronweld and Earth.  And the mechanism that allows the hopping between the two places is called a Gateway.  The book never really bothers to explain how it works, except to say that a gauge is crucial to it.  It seems to be device that can rip holes in the fabric of space and allow you to step directly from one planet to another.  And they do that a lot.  Initially, it mostly sends babies from Earth to Kronweld.  Then, at the end, there’s a lot of space hopping by war machines in both directions.

I don’t think I need to point out that this is technology which we do not possess.  I do worry, based on reading stories and watching movies, that the citizens of Kronweld and Earth are possibly doing irreversible damage to the spacetime continuum, ripping it all open like that.  It’s very much the same sort of holes in space as in Philip Pullman’s The Subtle Knife.  It’s an awesome idea, but a hard one to really explain without magic.

The Reaction:The back matter on this book really had me worried.  It declared “CALL ME KETAN” at the top, and went into a first person thingy.  It sounded awful.  Thank goodness it seems to be just a misguided marketing attempt.  The story itself is complex, interesting, and unpredictable.  Even 20 pages from the end, I had no idea what was going to happen.  There’s even a female character who spends a fair amount of time being a good character before pleading with her daddy and asking Ketan for a baby.   I declare this worth reading.

The Cover: Cover painting by John Schoenherr.  I love this cover because there’s a big crazy bug machine on the front and a close up of the human chaos on the back.  The bug machine, alas, seems to be only a product of John Schoenherr’s imagination, as it doesn’t match anything in the book.  But it is an awesome machine.  Points for coolness.

Next Up: “The Invisible Boy” by Ray Bradbury


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The Legion of Space by Jack Williamson

June 9, 2010

The Book: The Legion of Space by Jack Williamson.  Originally published as a serial in 1934, the novel is a revised version first published in 1947.  The edition was published by Pyramid Books in 1969.

The Setting: Mostly on a distant planet, orbiting Barnard’s Runaway Star.

The Story: Young John Ulnar, just out of the Starfleet Legion Academy, is assigned (through family connections) to protect a (beautiful, blonde, young) woman who holds the secret to an ultimate weapon, AKKA.  Turns out his family wants to overturn the current government, but John is having none of it.  He and “a fabulous trio of swashbucklers” (according to the back of the book) set off to rescue the girl from a hideous race of evil black jellyfish who want to take over the Solar System and from his relatives who want to rule the Solar System.  The rescue is hard, many horrible dangers are faced, but John and his team win in the end.  Although, I suspect, a lot of people die in the Solar System before they manage to save it.

The Science:

  • Barnard’s Runaway Star: When I was reading this, I totally thought it was made up.  I mean, Barnard’s Runaway Star?  You’ve got to be kidding me.  Except, it’s real!  In the book, the star is a dying red dwarf star which no longer gives off enough heat to sustain the lone planet that orbits it.  Although it was once thought to have a planet or two larger than Jupiter, scientists are now only able to confirm that certain planets do not exist around the star.  The star itself is thought to be one of the oldest in the galaxy, which is kind of a big deal.  And it certainly appears to be running away, if you check out the .gif in the linked wikipedia article.  Great fodder for science fiction.
  • Geodynes: The spaceship the quartet travels in uses “geodynes” to traverse the light years in a speedy manner.  They, somehow (they hum, I guess), manage to bend space time about the ship, getting it there faster.  The author used geodynes in more than one book. They’re certainly convenient.  Sort of little worm hole generators, I guess?  And no nasty fuel to explode and muck everything up.  Honestly, they don’t make any sense to me.

The Reaction: I read this once before and I didn’t like it anymore this time.  I was able to recognize the Burroughsian theme of beautiful girl+kidnapping=fighting and falling in love.  The prose certainly didn’t improve with time.  And I am just annoyed by Giles Habibula, the talkative muskateer.  I don’t see a good reason to read this book.  Except the prologue, which I assume was added for the novel version.  The Prologue has a great idea and it’s interesting and intriguing, and then it all goes downhill.

The Cover: Cover credit to Paul Lehr.  There’s a very nice flying saucer on the cover.  It even has something orbiting it.  But it resembles nothing in the book.  It’s a generic sci-fi cover – not related to the book, but not intrinsically ridiculous.

Etc: If you read the back of this edition, you have NO IDEA what this book is about.  “FORTUNE HUNTERS OF THE STARWAYS!” the back proclaims.  Except they are not seeking fortune.  They are seeking survival.  The back matter tries to tell you it’s about the three muskateers characters, but they’re just there to make any of what happens remotely plausible and bulk out the book with several pages of unnecessary nattering away.  I AM ANNOYED.

Next Up: Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis.  Lewis – now there’s a guy who can tell a story.

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The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

February 17, 2010

The Book: The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells.  Originally published in 1898.  The edition read was published in 1966, copyright in 1964 , by Berkley Highland Books.

The Setting: England, greater London area, early twentieth century

The Story: A man, a science writer, witnesses the invasion of the earth by the Martians.An enormous cylinder falls to earth near Woking.  People, including the narrator, investigate.   Martians emerge from the tube and kill lots of people.  They build super suits of death and destruction. The narrator narrowly escapes with his life at several points.  The narrator tells how his brother escaped London.  Chaos is everywhere.  The Martians seem to be unbeatable.   The narrator teams up with a stressed-out curate.  They get trapped in a house together near a Martian base.  They spend a lot of time watching Martians.  The Martians drink human blood.  The curate snaps; the narrator knocks him out.  The Martians find them in the house and take the curate.  The narrator hides in some coal.  Days later he emerges and the Martians are gone.  They were all killed by viruses and bacteria.  The narrator and his wife are happily reunited in the end.

The Science: Wells likes to make stuff up.  We know that.  And he made up some darn good stuff, in my opinion.

  • Space travel and Martians:  Wells wrote this book before heavier than air flight was invented.  He imagines the Martians coming to Earth in enormous cylinders shot out of some sort of enormous Martian cannon.  It’s a pretty neat idea, but the physics involved in making something like that work must be mind boggling.  Not to mention the sort of force needed in the cannon.  So I’m not sure that’s a go.  The Martians came across, to me, as a sort of jellyfish shaped creature – all head and tentacles.  The narrator imagines that the Martians are a reasonable evolutionary outcome of man, and the brain grows and the hands are all that continues to be needed.  I can buy that.  I’m not so sure about Martians sustaining themselves directly on blood.  Wells’ premise is that the Martians had no digestive system to process food into blood, which is not precisely how it works.  I’d be curious to see a learned treatise on Wells’ Martian biology.  Seems to me that the exterior form of the Martians is possible, but not the internal structure as described.
  • Heat rays and black smoke:  Killing devices.  The Heat Ray which kills men on contact and heats whole rivers to boiling.  It sounds a lot like a super powered laser – a pretty awesome idea for 1898.  The black smoke is more insidious – a heavy gas which rolls over towns and kills all who breathe it.  It dissipates in water or jets of steam.  The black smoke is almost eerie in its description, given that World War I breaks out less than two decades later and makes real the threat of a weaponized,  deadly gas.
  • Viruses and bacteria:  Ultimately, man doesn’t defeat the Martians – they are wiped out by everyday viruses and bacteria.  I totally buy this.  How many humans succumb to these tiny creatures everyday?  How much more deadly would completely unfamiliar viruses be to an unexposed population?  Very.

The Reaction: This is a great story.  A fantastic adventure with interesting aliens, enough detail to make the threat believable, and a credible ending.  It is, however, another story where Wells doesn’t name his protagonist and spends a sizeable portion of the book having the narrator tell the story of a second person (the brother in this story).  Not necessarily a bad thing, but very much seeming to be a hallmark of Wells.

The Cover: Wait.  What?  What the heck is going on with this cover?  It’s like they grabbed the cover for some other story and stuck it on this book.  Only two things relate to the story:  the color red, and a sense of chaos.  No where in the story did Wells describe the citizens of early twentieth century Britain as wearing tube-heavy space suits and pointy pointy helmets.  It’s a great cover…  but not for this book.  I mean, honestly.  Who gave the go ahead on that?

Etc: My only prior experience with The War of the Worlds prior to reading this book was watching the Tom Cruise movie version.  And I was constantly comparing the two while reading.  I was pleasantly surprised by how well the movie interprets the book.  Except for the child drama, it’s surprisingly faithful.  Certain changes are made to account for our more advanced science, but they’re changes I think Wells would have approved of.

Next Up: The First Men in the Moon by H.G. Wells (who else?)