Science Fiction Though the Decades

Friday, August 19, 2016

1972: The Metallic Muse (Biggle, Lloyd, Jr.)

Reflection on forms of art take predictable directions (3.5/5)

Prior to his death in 2002, Biggle, as a SF writer, had produced about twenty novels, three collections, about forty short stories. Though he’s not a well-known SF author, Biggle had two other facets to his habit of writing: mystery and music; neither of these is explored fully in his seven-story collection, but it’s obvious that some of his personal interests are imposed on the stories, as the back cover comments: “seven fine science fiction stories of what could happen in the world of music and art and television”.

This thematic collection of “art” comes right after my reading of Effinger’s thematic collection of “sport”, neither of which particularly suited me. I guess I prefer a broader range of topics by a single author (such as Tsutsui Yasutaka’s Salmonella Men [2006]) or a broader range of authors on a single sub-genre (such as Paul Kane & Stuart O’Regan’s The Mammoth Book of Body Horror [2012]).

Overall, the stories show a good streak of originality in regards to plot, but most—if not all—stories end on rather predictable notes. The first five stories are obvious inclusions to the theme of art, but this theme tapers away along with the flow of the stories: “In His Own Image” is more about religion, idolatry, and worship than any form of art; and “The Botticelli Horror” is named after an artist but is really about alien life-forms eating people on earth.

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“The Tunesmith” (novelette, 1957) – 4/5
Erlin Baque is the best at what he does but feels that it offers no personal enjoyment or even professional advancement. His commercial compositions sell well and are well remembered but Baque has his sights set on moving from the Tunesmiths’ Guild to the Performers’ Guild, thus getting work playing the multichord at the Lanky-Pank Out. Onbreak from performing old commercials, Erlin takes the stage by himself to play music without a visiscope or lyrics—and the crowd went wild for it as they had never heard anything  other than commercials in their entire lives. 41 pages

“Leading Man” (shortstory, 1957) – 3.5/5
Patient #1319 acts at the Duke of Wellington as he prepares to address the nation about the Spanish crisis; meanwhile, the Duchess who used to be Cleopatra when 1319 was Caesar, urges him to complete the speech. Immediately, 1319 beckons for his harem, whom he watches dancing as he sits upon a pile of rugs eating camel stew; meanwhile, the same woman—then Cleopatra and the Duchess but now a shy harem member—sits in the corner. When she drugs 1319 to sleep, she contacts her team on 1319’s progress, but 1319 also has time to contact his team. 13 pages

“Spare the Rod” (novelette, 1958) – 3.5/5
In a small town, there seemed only room enough for one violin teacher—Professor Oswald Perkins—who had about two dozen students, that is until a new teacher arrived on the scene: Sam Beyers’ robot. With Oswald’s tutorship, students make slow yet steady progress on their own; however, while listening to the robot’s lessons from outside a window, the students seem to be able to play perfectly from the very start. To investigate, Oswald himself takes a free lesson from the robot to learn from the very source. 21 pages

“Orphan of the Void” (novelette, 1960) – 3/5
When the “Homing Song” becomes a galactic hit, people from all over begin to feel the pains of homesickness that eventually take them back to the place they call home, including star-pilot Thomas Jefferson Sandler III; however, while he calls Earth his home, he’s not an Earth-native. When he inquires yet receives no answer about his original home prior to adoption, he digs deeper and finds himself in trouble with the authorities across the galaxy. He also finds a wandering drunk who shares more in common with him that first thought. 48 pages

“Well of the Deep Wish” (shortstory, 1961) – 4/5
Solar Productions has a quota to meet: write and produce ninety-six one-hour films per day. Only recently, however, they’ve been way behind on developing scripts because it seems that the writers have stopped writing and nothing can inspire them to return to their so-called art. Kalder is hired to get to the bottom of things, which isn’t hard to do since everyone lives at the bottom of their subterranean housing. The bottommost levels of their lives don’t inspire the writers as much as the virtual reality in the Tank where they often take respite. 19 pages

“In His Own Image” (shortstory, 1968) – 4/5
Nearly four-hundred people died in a spaceship explosion except for Gorton Effro, who was sleeping off stolen hooch in an escape pod. Lucky for him twice again is that he’s near an emergency station that hasn’t been inhabited by anyone for fourteen years yet can still house over a thousand. He’s stunned to meet one man who survives alone on the base who seems religiously inclined, quotes bible passages, and treats Gorton as a priest. The hermit also commands a flock of machines in worship of a god in contrast to Gorton who they see as a sinner. 13 pages

“The Botticelli Horror” (novelette, 1960) – 2.5/5

All imported biological Venusian items are fingered when children near a carnival are partially eaten, curiously leaving only their shoes behind. At first, the giant slug is blamed yet could hardly make the journey without leaving prints behind; finally, a type of chromatic moss is accused as it has recently taken flight. The area where the moss takes its victims keeps spreading as their number increases, too; regardless where the victims are, they leave their shoes behind. The army is quick to learn and battle the moss. 41 pages

Sunday, August 14, 2016

1971: Half Past Human (Bass, T.J.)

Inventive, unique, and bizarre yet tumultuous (4/5)

T.J. Bass (penname of Thomas Joseph Bassler, MD) is something of an enigma. He only wrote two novels—both of The Hive—which were met with intrigue, yet he never published another novel, leaving the start of his Hive series unfinished—fruit ripe for the picking; thus, he has left a minor yet indelible legacy on science fiction. The Hive is a wonderfully witty and unmistakably unique series that has little parallelism to any other novel written before or written since—it’s wholly original.

Rear cover synopsis:
“Deep in the Shaft-cities lived three trillion creatures, once human—and still calling themselves homo sapiens. But they were small, bred to size in fact, as they were bred for various kinds of ‘work’—for even in their almost totally automated culture they had to be kept busy. Like ants.

But things were going wrong. The machines weren’t getting it all right any more—they were even breaking down sometimes. While Outside, there were Others—who waited…”

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In a few thousand years, humans will have been genetically tampered with so that they could adapt to crowding; this adaptation, however, also deprived the Hive citizens of “immunoglobulin A, calcium and collagen, neurohumoral axis, [and] melanoctye” (8), rendering them soft and frail… they also live a full lifespan of twenty years and have a deeply set default to obey. Being barely four-foot tall, these feeble citizens—named Nebishes—are packed in underground spirals all across the globe, totally more than three trillion Nebishes. Their food source: planet-wide agriculture in which machines plant, pollinate, and pick the food to feed the ever dewindling supply of calories to the Nebishes. At the helm of this massive so-called society is C.O. or Computer One, who steers the course of the same society, governs all decisions, and has very little toleration for the tangents of humans… or toleration for any humans, really, as re-packaged cannibalism is common in order to meet calorie quotas with a particular streak of disregard for well-being.

Just as their forced evolution was de-evolution in regards to longevity, strength, and intelligence, the long-term stability of The Hive has produced other atrocities: recurring Hunts on the surface to kill and make trophies of the five-toed humans, the systematic destruction and reprocessing of the weak in order to feed the strong, the balance of morals based on calories rather than happiness, and the Nebish disregard for their heritage.

The four-toed Nebishes are surely the most dominate species on the planet as nearly every other lifeform has been made extinct. On the brink of extinction is the five-toes human, a smattering of whom live on the surface where the Nebishes find conditions deadly. The five-toes pillage the fields of calories and largely live a hand-to-mouth existence, among them are five-toed outcasts and non-conformists from The Hive. When one of these five-toes comes across an ancient piece of technology, the figurative wheels are set in motion to begin the uprising against The Hive—but the five-toes don’t understand their place in the upheaval and how are they supposed to battle three trillion Nebishes with their just-as-obedient machines?

The Hive is much too stable—evolving in terms of millions of years, and then toward death. It lives by the status quo—only becoming competitive when faced with another hive. Then it does only what is necessary for survival—no more. It can come into being wherever your species is too successful—a product of population density. (272)


Continually inventive and written with extensive medical English (i.e. edematous, seborrheic, edentulous, squamous), diagnostic English, and acronyms, the whole package is a bizarre and intriguing kaleidoscope of imagination. Ultimately, however, this strong current of invention is too swift for the inexperienced author as the plot takes on too much just prior to a mildly unsatisfying conclusion… but it was also ripe for its sequel, The Godwhale (1974).

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Lazy Book Reviews of July 2016

#50: Red Star Tales (2015) – Yvonne Howell (editor) (3.5/5)
This is the fourth Soviet/Russian short story collection I’ve read this year. The publisher, Russian Life Books, was kind enough to provide me with a copy after I mentioned by reviewing of Soviet SF. The other collections—Soviet ScienceFiction (1961), the aptly titled More Soviet Science Fiction (1962), and The Ultimate Threshold (1970)—all the stories were almost exclusively from the 1958 to 1970 (with the exception of Belyaev’s “Hoity-toity” [1930]). In Red Star Tales, fortunately, the spectrum is much, much wider—a hundred years in fact: 1892 to 1992, a period that spans, according to the rear cover, “the path-breaking Revolutionary period, through the difficult Stalinist era and into the post-war heyday of science fiction, to the first post-Soviet stories”. Just as the stories run the spectrum on age, they also span the width on topics (some heavily social, other very mechanical) and quality (some so dully written, others penetrating). The only unifying trait of the stories is their origin: Russian.

The most intriguing stories are the two unfinished pieces by Valery Bryusov: “Rebellion of the Machines” (1908) and “Mutiny of the Machines” (1915). Though very narrative in structure, they offer tantalizing glimpses at a future world obsessed with technology and a world where that technology begins to turn on them. The other story that caught my eye was Belyeav’s “Professor Dowell’s Head” (1926), which offers some mind-candy on social class and ability. Meanwhile, Kazantsev’s “Explosion” (1946) portrays much of what you’d expect from his other Tunguska-themed stories, Tsiolkovsky’s “On the Moon” (1893) is an unartistic jaunt on the moon, and Dolgushin’s “Rays of Life” (1939) is an excerpt from an unpalatable cross-genre novel of romance, spies, and science fiction. [full review coming]

#51: Sunburst (1964) – Phyllis Gotlieb (1.5/5)
New author, unknown novel… well, it was just $2 in 2014. I’m not one to shy away from anything in the form of a paperback novel for my genres of choice. Picking up this novel in 2016, I was immediately bitch-slapped by the terrible tagline: “A fiendish race of demonic children is spawned in the genetic chaos of a runaway reactor explosion” — dear god, why did I ever choose this novel?

Years after a reactor had melted down and spewed radioactivity in its vicinity (why the town wasn’t entirely evacuated—dunno), its residents continue to eke out a living while barricaded from the rest of America. Within its confines, a generation is brewing, whose genetics have mutated to give them the unnatural abilities of teleportation, pyro-generation, telekinesis, and telepathy. These budding teenagers, upon realizing their abilities amid their angst, wreak havoc on the town, only to be captured and cordoned off in a nearly impenetrable force field. Shandy Johnson—a thirteen-year-old girl—is just entering her abilities as she approaches her eventual menarche. Unlike the others, she is only able to deflect on telepathy, making her the only known Impervious. Soon, the governors of the fenced city take her in and enlist her to help with an ever-approaching disaster: the long-kept delinquents may escape. Sure enough, they do escape and Shandy finds herself at the middle of the action.

Though only 13, she certainly has a vocabulary of a university post-graduate, drinks coffee like an office worker, and understands human nature like a yogi. Perhaps she superhuman, but she’s impossible to relate to with her mismatched attributes. In compound with the trying and protracted intricacies of the plot, the tedious dialogue frustrates the reader. There’s little saving grace here aside from the interesting mix of characters.

#52: Inherit the Stars (1977) – James P. Hogan (3.5/5)
I chose this book to be a one-day read. Another new author for me, but the novel is fairly well known for being scientifically captivating—heavy on science and hypothesizing. When I read of this accolade, I immediately dreaded the thought of tackling a “hard SF” book in one day on my day off. The initial pages, as promised, were enticing and the following few chapters really drew me in; however, soon, the orations and far-out postulations begin and my interest in the deliver waned in parallel with my care for the protagonist who had no background, personality, or development aside from being smart, creative, and didactic… all too didactic along with another didactic character. Great ideas for a plot, but all too rushed, all too didactic, and all too catering to—what seems to be—the author’s own pet theories rather than his organic and artistic relationship with the story.

50,000 years ago, a human died on the moon and modern day humans—now around the year 2027—haven’t a clue where he came from. Speculation is rife as they study the corpse’s body, documents, and technology; the body is distinctly human, yet the language stumps linguists and the circuits mystifies engineers. Amid the competing theories, Vic Hunt is at the center of progressive thinking as he casts aside the popular assumptions of a lead professor. Soon, Vic is brought to the forefront of the theorizing: Who is the moon man? Where is he from? What circumstances took him there? These questions baffle the world, the world’s scientists, and create a fissure of agreement among experts. A huge variety of experiments are correlated with various measurements to produce wild theories that tend to stick with the facts given, which involve an alien species, their speculative and far home-planet, the decay of said planet, and the rift that created the war that brought the moon man to the our moon. Others disbelief is the face of fact highlights their adherence to assumptions, and with this Vic Hunt takes the progressive fight to Jupiter’s moon Ganymede.

#53: Mindbridge (1976) – Joe Haldeman (4.5/5)
I’ve read five Haldeman novels and one of his collections. According to my database, I was rather the fan of Haldeman in 2007-2008, when I ranked four novels five-star: The Forever War (1974), All My Sins Remembered (1977), Forever Peace (1997), and.Old Twentieth (2005). I had never realized that prior to picking up Mindbridge, but was pleasantly surprised what I ended up loving this novel, too!

Communication is an umbrella term for the means of transmission between people, and it’s this very topic that is probed in Mindbridge. Communication can be narration or dialogue, but it further extends to works of fiction, academic literature, music, memoranda, schedules, personal letters, screenplays, interviews, timetables, reports… all of which are used one way or another in Mindbridge.

Jacque is on his first mission across light-years of space in order to survey an unexplored planet. This instantaneous travel via energized crystal deposits him and his team on the muddy land if the yet-to-named rock, which actually supports an atmosphere, liquid water, and some forms of life. This rarity is compounded by their discovery of blob-like lifeform that allows them to connect telepathy while touching it. Earth is amazed at the discovery and requests more of the thus-named mindbridges. But out in the depths of space, another discovery is made: an odd gravity signature, a wonderfully beautiful planet, its hypnotizingly beautiful humanoids, and the same humanoids barbarous nature of killing the visited team with no remorse. Having learned from experience, another expedition is sent to defy the aliens’ attacks, in which several are brought back to earth, with grisly results. Jacque is soon to be in the middle of the perilous grounds of communication between the aliens and the humans, thanks to the mindbridge that he helped discover.

#54: The End of Man? (1966/1968) – Olof Johannesson (3.5/5)
Olof Johannesson was the penname of the Swedish man named Hannes Alfvén, who is still known today for his work in electrical engineering and plasma physics (he even has a phenomenon named after him: the Alfvén wave). His hard science background provides the foundation for this novel (alternate titles: The Great Computer: A Vision and The Tale of the Big Computer), which lacks dialogue in favor of historical conjecturing from a future perspective. Don’t confuse good theorizing about technology with stale delivery, because the author takes occasional witty shots at bureaucrats, the English language, and human society.

Forever has mankind wanted to lift its burdens from daily life. Long ago, the physical toil of farming was left to horses and buffalo; a little further on and the internal combustion engine did away with the horse. While the horse was entirely unnecessary in modern society, the horse never entirely disappeared. With its physical labor carried out by brute machines, why couldn’t mankind also cast off the burdensome yoke of thought?

When the crisis arises where computers are disabled, society returns to its barbaric roots and chaos ensues. Slowly, through the ashes of modern society, mankind again rises without a lesson learned and also resurrects the computers had that once failed it entirely. While mankind hadn’t learnt their lessons, computers take a different approach and ensure that they will never fail again, thereby severing the last tenuous cord with mankind. Now, it can program itself, maintain itself, reproduce itself, and govern itself—The End of Man? [full review]

#55: Fort Privilege (1985) – Kit Reed (2/5)
Her name isn’t new to me as I’ve seen it cross the screen dozens of times in conjunction with the recent trend of reading female science fiction writers. Surprising to myself, this is actually the first Kit Reed story or novel that I’ve ever read. As she’s better known for her short stories in the 1960s and 1970s, choosing a 1980s novel wasn’t the best option, alas…

Bart lost his lover in a tragic accident, unfortunately he doesn’t remember the circumstances that lead to it nor does he know why he has lost his ability to read. Regardless of his deprived recent history, Bart is still motivated by his deeper heritage in the form of a social party at his rich extended family’s home/castle/enclave in the middle of New York. The stone behemoth seems to be the only inhabited structure in the entire city, which has been deserted, derelict, and left in a dreaded state of decay (oops, on an alliterative roll, again). Teeming in Central Park’s haven, protesters/looters/anarchists seem to bubble at the castle’s very edge in anticipation of something bigger.

Bart senses this trouble even before entering the bastion of urban aristocracy. Once scheming his way inside, he confirms that the mansion has been converted into a shuttered, armored, well-manned, and well-armed fort. The high-minded and high-manner family members and guests don’t seem phased by the troubling brew outside the mansion’s walls, even the head of the family: Abel Parkhurst. A slew of characters impress their presence on the party, each of whom Bart keeps tabs on. When a harpoon is shot through the shutters, the tension slowly begins to escalate as arms are cached, secondary weapons are prepared, explosives are made, and tactical plans outlined.

I feel that whatever message or underlining morale was woven into the story was lost between the between (1) the complex array and changing statuses of characters and (2) the more glaring lesson that, rich or poor, people will fight tooth and nail in the dirtiest of ways to eke out their living, be it high- or low-living. There’s nothing satisfying in the meat of the book, nor is there anything satisfying about the conclusion.

#56: Waters of Death (1967) – Irving A. Greenfield (1.5/5)
I’ve been dreading this moment. Compound Joachim’s scathingly hilarious review with SFE’s brief bio of the author and my loathing is complete. Disregarding Joachim’s review, Greenfield’s novel sounds and reads a lot like Silverberg’s The World Within (1971) but instead of towering urban blocks of humanity with sex, Waters of Death is about deep marine plots of farming with sex…and sharks. Honestly, the words “cannibalistic orgies” was about my only shred of motivation to open this rather slim novel.

Dr. Robert Wilde is a conservative man in liberal times; not everyone treats their partner like a real wife, but Robert is at the end of his wits as he’s refused sex, respect, and dignity from his wife. Her one bloom of pleasure only comes when he finally hits her. She wanted to leave to become a government-sanctions prostitute, anyway. His son can take a punch, too—good kid though, just a shame that’ll go away to a government shelter.

After a brief sexual frenzy with a very willing girl, Robert is sent on assignment to the Caribbean to get down to the bottom of things in regards to the sea farmers, who are one of a few clans that harvest the world’s oceanic food source. He’s down to earth, so he’s eager for the challenge, but behind the scenes there’s an evil plotter who hopes to… cue dramatic music… take over the world! Robert also fights some sharks and scores a cute 20-something-year-old chick who’s quick on the rebound from her father’s death. That Dr. Wilde is one class act.

To put it briefly, the novel has to two-pronged attack: wow the reader with cool, futuristic oceanic farming methods and gratuitous breast groping. If you’re looking for anything more than that—well, if you want 10 pages fighting with sharks, this would do you well… or rather dry, obvious, and didactic dialogue, for that matter (pages 12, 33, and 40)… or advice on how to treat a woman (page 47)—then there are hundreds of better novels to choose from.

Best quotes: “[H]e would eventually become the total master of the world” (23), “‘You’re hurting me,’ she said in a tremulous whisper …. “‘I’d like that [to speak with you again]’, she said” (47), and “Then he died” (147).

#57: Idle Pleasures (1983) – George Alec Effinger (3/5)
Of course I’ve read Effinger’s Budayeen trilogy—the first two books, twice—but wasn’t terribly bowled over by the delivery of an otherwise enticing premise. The same can’t be said for Idle Pleasures as not even the premise sounded interesting, yet I still gave it a shot.

Prior to reading, my first thoughts of a science fiction collection about sports took two routes: (1) earthly sports taken to the extreme or (2) playing earthly sports with aliens. Surely, both of these types of stories are included in the collection, yet are actually the better of the eight-story bunch; respectively, “Breakaway” has enough hard science fiction to carry the weight of the sportsmanship theme while “From Downtown at the Buzzer” actually made me laugh aloud at its absurdity.


Certainly this isn’t the best snapshot of Effinger’s short work, which might be better captured in Mixed Feelings (1974), Irrational Numbers (1976), or Dirty Tricks (1978), none of which I own.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

1983: Idle Pleasures (Effinger, George Alec)

Only half successfully combine sports and SF (3/5)
Of course I’ve read Effinger’s Budayeen trilogy—the first two books, twice—but wasn’t terribly bowled over by the delivery of an otherwise enticing premise. The same can’t be said for Idle Pleasures as not even the premise sounded interesting, yet I still gave it a shot. The book’s rear-cover synopsis was pretty ugly:

The aliens’ first words were “Let’s play ball! [Sic: actually, the first word was “yes” and the aliens only answer yes or no]
·         Ice hockey with an entire planet for a rink
·         A chess competition where the rules change with every move
·         No-holds-barred basketball with the blue Cobae
And other stories from the Wide World of Sports by one of today’s most astonishing Masters of Imaginative Fiction

Prior to reading, my first thoughts of a science fiction collection about sports took two routes: (1) earthly sports taken to the extreme or (2) playing earthly sports with aliens. Surely, both of these types of stories are included in the collection, yet are actually the better of the eight-story bunch; respectively, “Breakaway” has enough hard science fiction to carry the weight of the sportsmanship theme while “From Downtown at the Buzzer” actually made me laugh aloud at its absurdity.

Effinger remarks upon the difficulty of combining science fiction with sports in the first story’s introduction:

Combing the two genres in one story is so formidable a challenge that unless one is truly in love with both forms, the finished product stands a good chance of cheating the reader: either the story will be a pure sports story with artificially applied science fiction gimmickry, or the story will be science fiction all the way through and the sports aspect is neither essential not relevant. The sports setting must be integral; the story should not be able to function without it. The same must be true of the science fiction—otherwise the author is not playing fair. (1)

Certainly this isn’t the best snapshot of Effinger’s short work, which might be better captured in Mixed Feelings (1974), Irrational Numbers (1976), or Dirty Tricks (1978), none of which I own.

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“Naked to the Invisible Eye” (novelette, 1973) – 4/5
In South Carolina, the stadium feels bleak as the season winds down for a minor league baseball team. Some kid from Venezuela named Rudy Ramirez is pitching and no one is expecting what’s about to happen: Rudy will win the game for his team in a total of twenty-seven pitches—all strikes, no swings. The Tigers’ manager, along with everyone else, is utterly baffled, but not as much as Rudy when he’s taken off the rooster for the remaining games. A deal is soon made against Rudy’s favor as he enters the major leagues and his first game. 27 pages

“From Downtown at the Buzzer” (novelette, 1977) – 4/5
When a green-skinned, blue-suited alien arrives under the US president’s nose while answering only closed questions, the administration is left stupefied without a contingency plan. In the end, the alien and eleven other members are shifted to a remote military base in Louisiana where only one representative of the aliens continues to answer only yes/no questions. Their interests remain neutral and nebulous until they become spellbound by a basketball game. They take to it quickly to the astonishment of the soldiers, but their secret is veiled. 19 pages

“The Exempt” (novelette, 1977) – 3/5
Wanting a change from New York, Hoyt Schermerhorn and his wife up and leave to New Orleans without any foresight aside from finding a home. There, he changes his name and the two must get used to the local ways of life, including the yet-to-be-explained “alternates” that everyone else to know about. At the center of their city—their universe—they are allowed to change certain aspects of their reality according to their home’s notebook of so-called alternates. In a reality where Hoyt is stimulated by running, mythological gods are also embodied. 17 pages

“25 Crunch Split Right on Two” (novelette, 1975) – 4/5
Having been widowed at a young age, a professional football player has never truly recovered from this tragic, abrupt loss. The memory haunts him until he finds a way to relive their moments together: through the haze of pain. On the field and in scrimmage, he gives his athleticism 100% so that when the pain comes, he can re-experience the look of her eyes and the lilt of her voice. In his next game, however, he’s disappointed that he’s unable to flashback; thus, he lets his guard down a little. 21 pages

“The Pinch Hitters” (shortstory, 1979) – 3/5
When five famous science fiction writers—Sandor, Norris, Larry, Dick, and Jim—awaken after a convention to find themselves inside the bodies of major league baseball players, chaos doesn’t ensue; rather, they carefully go about their baseball lives, stay in contact with one another, and figure out what had happened. Eventually, they pin their plight on the jealous, vengeful heads of the science fiction mainstream; thus, they meet again with only science fiction in mind and only science fiction in conversation as they live as they would have, 11 pages

“Breakaway” (novelette, 1981) – 3.5/5
As if the three-square-mile ice rink weren’t enough, the players of this particular form of hockey also have to contend with near zero temperatures—zero Kelvin, The isolated rocky body offers a unusual playing surface for the workers of humdrum deep-space life who otherwise lead a terribly dull life. Zajac is one of the best players on his team and in the league. As soon as the sprint for the punk begins, he’s strategizing and skating circles—both literal and figurative—around the competition, until he’s frozen into ice with an arm that needs amputating.

“The Horse with One Leg” (shortstory, 1974) – 3.5/5
On an Ohio farm, when a foal is born with only one leg, a girl instantly sympathizes with the unfortunate animal while her father wishes to shoot it dead. Against all odds, the foal teaches itself to hop upon its single hoof, undoubtedly to the amazement of everyone. The girl even takes to riding the animal, which thoroughly impresses a retired horse breeder that wishes to purchase the horse… to “run” in the upcoming derby.
As could be expected, the sad horse gets off to a slow start, but against all odds yet again… 9 pages

“Heartstop” (novelette, 1974) – 1/5

Chlorophyll is in all products nowadays and it’s Newby who begrudgingly has to be the traveling salesman who makes the pitch to such hick towns as Gremmage, Pennsylvania. In a diner, he’s exposed—again, begrudgingly—to the town’s folk, both simple and eccentric, the most eccentric of whom is Old Man Durfee who challenges him to a game of chess. After only a few tense and commentated moves, they wrap it up for the evening and Newby retires to his room. Therein, some strange dreams occur, strange incidences happen, and strange rules are added to the chess game. 47 pages

Sunday, July 17, 2016

1966/1968: The End of Man? (Johannesson, Olof)

The rise and fall: mankind goes on like the horse (3.5/5)

Introduction: Olof Johannesson was the penname of the Swedish man named Hannes Alfvén, who is still known today for his work in electrical engineering and plasma physics (he even has a phenomenon named after him: the Alfvén wave). His hard science background provides the foundation for this novel (alternate titles: The Great Computer: A Vision and The Tale of the Big Computer), which lacks dialogue in favor of historical conjecturing from a future perspective. Don’t confuse good theorizing about technology with stale delivery, because the author takes occasional witty shots at bureaucrats, the English language, and human society.

Book’s synopsis: “The great disaster…

Panic broke out. The computers had stopped working! There was no heat, no food, no communication. The death toll was long past the million mark.

No one knew what caused the breakdown. Was it human error, or a plot devised by the computers themselves?

Whatever the cause, when it was over most of the human population of the earth had perished. It was the dawn of a new era—when the computers ruled. And since the machines had learned to reproduce themselves without man’s help, there was no need for even a single human being.

So the nightmare battle began—between the few surviving humans and the super-being of their own creation—The Big Computer!”

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My Own Synopsis: Forever has mankind wanted to lift its burdens from daily life. Long ago, the physical toil of farming was left to horses and buffalo; a little further on and the internal combustion engine did away with the horse. While the horse was entirely unnecessary in modern society, the horse never entirely disappeared. With its physical labor carried out by brute machines, why couldn’t mankind also cast off the burdensome yoke of thought?

In the far future, a historical perspective is written about this very revolution, and in it, computers are seen as the end-all result of this conquest, which actually predates mankind’s existence by billions of years. It seems that evolution, itself, quested to create the most perfect processes of which only computers are capable. What were the dinosaurs and apes but dead ends toward the quest for ultimate computation? So, what of mankind? “His historical importance lies in the fact that he was medium whereby data machines came into being” (36), almost like a footnote.

Even with the advent of the machines, whose main clerical duties were accounting and translation, people was still needed to program and maintain the machines. Later, when machines took over education and medicine, again, people were still needed for the same tasks of programming and maintenance; thus, unemployment was never a factor in mankind’s disdain for the labor saving devices. The sole occupation left to the fleshy and fallible humans was that of governance, but the machines usurped the humans in this field, too and “and soon as the government was got rid of, society began to develop much more quickly” (69).

As mankind’s eternal quest had always been relief for toil of all kinds, it now realized that nearly all burdens had been lifted. They no longer had to choose what to purchase, attend compulsory education, endure waiting lines, or succumb to prolonged illness. So many of society’s burdens were relieved because ever since organized governance, it has always been obvious that mankind had flailed about and generally failed to progress to any great degree:

The fear of catastrophe and annihilation dominated the life of man from the Stone Age until the coming of computers.

But while people feared extinction they also feared the opposite: that the human race would become too numerous through the population explosion.

Basically, these two threats arose from the same cause: man’s inability to organize society. We know that the problem exceeded his brain capacity. Man has undoubtedly had many good qualities, but problems of organization have always been beyond him. (74)

With these incremental advances in freedom, computers allowed humans to finally experience what it had always wanted from freedom and democracy: Complete Freedom Democracy. But democracy being what it is, decisions need to be made and even this becomes tiresome, so finally the computers decide what must be decided on and, so they might as well, just make the decision themselves based on superior logic. And where, exactly, did this leave mankind? They had mastered nature, using or enslaving animals, killed off the ones they feared, and crowned themselves the lords of creation. With the computer, they though they had found themselves “faithful servants, to be treated like the various natural phenomena” (122), but, in the end, through its own superiority, the machines had surpassed everything humans could do without them evening being aware that they were driving themselves into the same extinction that that had pressed upon countless animals.

When the crisis arises where computers are disabled, society returns to its barbaric roots and chaos ensues. Slowly, through the ashes of modern society, mankind again rises without a lesson learned and also resurrects the computers had that once failed it entirely. While mankind hadn’t learnt their lessons, computers take a different approach and ensure that they will never fail again, thereby severing the last tenuous cord with mankind. Now, it can program itself, maintain itself, reproduce itself, and govern itself—The End of Man?

Analysis: In 1966, there were roughly 35,000 computers in the world, more than half of them produced by IBM—they were far from ubiquitous, user-friendly, or all-governing. Largely limited to big companies and professional services, computers were beyond the use of the everyday person.

Somehow, amid all this user-unfriendliness, Hannes Alfvén envisioned that computers will become more complex in design but more simple in interface, thereby not only becoming user-friendly but actually part of the user to the point where data is everywhere—the “teletotal”—and the devices are wearable—the “minitotal” (53-54). But with this rise in pervasiveness and ease of use come a double-edged sword: all users can be tracked and persecuted for a time by triangulation of location (59) but also saved from distress because of the same homing feature (62). Actually, people don’t even have to leave their homes any longer; when the computers reign, teleconferences are common, but to the extent that it has become virtual reality (51).

With leisure and resources aplenty, the cities are deserted as people populate the countryside where they get back to nature, or descend into their natural state of bucolic harmony; meanwhile, the computers rise. The cities die and, in the far future, are items of curiosity as to how they came into being (26-35). Why they crowded themselves in such a manner mystifies future historians and why they poisoned themselves in traffic also stumps them; even overtones of deities impregnate the past human’s worship of the city: “It is also known that those who seated in traffic jams invoked certain divine powers popular at the time” (34).

Most impressive in The End of Man? is Alfvén’s very forward thinking.

If people contain the ability to think and reason yet are bags of protoplasm and contain what is vaguely referred to as a soul, why can’t machines that also think and reason yet made of semiconductors host a soul: “[F]or some unknown reason the soul prefers protoplasm to semiconductors” (118).

And what is the end to all this advancement? Does progress have a finish line? As the author of the historical account writes on the concluding page:

We believe—or rather we know—that we are approaching and era of even swifter evolution, an even higher living standard, and an ever greater happiness than ever before.

We shall all live happily ever after. (128)

This finale is ominous as the “we” is vague. Is the story written by a human speculating on what past humans gone through while jubilating at the great progress of its computer overlords? Or is it a computer detailing the rise of its own kind with the humans being an entertaining addition to its history? I think the “we” refers to the machines as the author—and its kind or possibly embodying the whole as The Big Machine’—approaches the technological singularity, which was first postulated in 1958 by John von Neumann and Stanislaw Ulam. And after the singularity? Will The Big Machine eventually sublime à la Iain M. Banks’s Sublimed cultures that have left the physical world to reside beyond in higher dimensions without the hindrance of our own four dimensions?


Review: Though mostly delivered dryly, the account of the rise of the machines is oddly prophetic (a word I use very sparingly) in that it account for much of our modern society obsession with technology because of its pervasiveness and supposed user-friendliness (I get pissed off any my mobile, laptop, and/or work station every day). Though fifty years old, this novel hasn’t aged very much as it still feels relevant. With some humorous jaunts and jabs taken at politicians, city life, the English language, and society’s collective ignorance, the novel has some brief charms. The End of Man? is a curiosity that should be read by those who have a love of down-to-earth speculation of society’s future relationship with technology. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Lazy Book Reviews of June 2016

#44: Out of My Mind (US) (1967) – John Brunner (3.5/5)
I believe I’m on my thirty-fourth Brunner book. Reading Out of My Mind was spurred by Joachim Boaz’s comment on Brunner short story “Nobody Axed You” (1965). He loved the story and it reminded me how versatile (…or unpredictable) a writer Brunner used to me. He had some obviously brilliant “wheat” but also had the inevitable “chaff” mixed among it all. Out of My Mind, thankfully, doesn’t contain any of the chaff; nor does it, however, show any great ambition or artistry that Brunner later exhibited along the lines of Stand on Zanzibar (1968) or The Sheep Look Up (1972). The stories have an aura of whim exuded by the author—many of them aren’t serious in nature, yet are cleverly based on the kernel of an idea that Brunner ran with. This doesn’t always translate well as it feels just like that: this is my seed of my idea (which may be good or bad, depending on the reader) and this is the roughly textured chaff that surrounds it (sometimes good, sometimes bad, too). “Round Trip” (1959), one of Brunner’s early stories, may be simple at first glance but has a few depths of thought: one of science, one of humanity, one of alternative worlds, one of whim, and another of romance. In between these two sides of the spectrum, Brunner pens some stories that either evoke nods, smiles, or the raise of one or both eyebrows.

#45: The Wild Shore (1984) – Kim Stanley Robinson (4/5)
The 1980s hosted a spat of post-apocalyptic novels: Ridley Walker (1980), War Day (1984), The Postman (1986), Pilgrimage to Hell (1986), The Sea and the Summer (1987), Swan Song (1987), The Last Ship (1988). Tucked among them is Robinson’s The Wild Shore, which is part of his Orange County non-sequential trilogy. This novel—and the trilogy, in fact—doesn’t receive much praise from SF fans as it precedes his much more famous Mars trilogy (1993-1996).

In 2047, decades after the Soviets detonated several thousand neutron bombs in America’s largest cities, cityscapes have been largely turned into centers of scavenging while the suburbs have become the nexus of small bands of struggling survivors. On the smallest scale, each village is independent; on a large scale, America is no longer a union, nor is it free to progress at its own rate; in between these scales, townships find it difficult to band together to either fight off invaders or to recreate another union. San Onofre is content with their isolation and occasional swap meets with the scavengers, but when a scout teams tracks down from San Diego, the resulting news quickly polarizes the town: Should they remain independent or should they join the revolution again the Japanese blockading their shore? Relationships soon spiral out of control as young angst causes frisson among the delicately balanced community. In the background, Tom is the elderly unelected leader who casts his knowledge of the old times upon the canvas of their modern day, regardless of whether they heed his advice; he’s wise and wizened, and sits upon the cusp of death as his village, too, sits upon the cusp of anarchy.

#46: The Gold Coast (1988) – Kim Stanley Robinson (3.5/5)
I read two of the Orange County books in 2007 but had trouble getting a hold of the middle of the three: The Gold Coast. I found a hardback copy of the novel at a local library book sale, so it’s remained on my shelves for a while. When I drew the book to be read, I decided to read the trilogy in chronological order. It provided some decent airport and airline reading.

Youthful angst and the need to be heard—in everyday physical acts and in occasional clandestine acts—bubbles up through the hormones. Much of California and America has given way to rampant capitalism and development: so-called progress in a mild dystopia. Outlets for the naïve angst begin to take on a more destructive note as Jim is drawn to the casual bombing of American’s military industrial machine. He’s conflicted, however, as his own father is a high-level engineer for one such company. As Jim faces a complicated series of alliances to friends, Jim’s father knows one thing: the feasibility and physics of his company’s projects. Detail-oriented, he can peer deeply in to any plausibility of laser systems or guidance packages, but his boss only wants results, contracts, and money; these very things, however, become difficult to procure as the government is at their own game of cat and mouse. Jim’s dad plays the mouse at both the company and government level, but he’s soon to be targeted on a personal level by his own son. Amid the crazy bureaucracy at the professional level and lavish, free-wheeling lifestyle of the youth, there’s the recurring character of Tom to embody the ambiance of his time. Tom sits in the psych ward forgotten by his family for the most part, rambling on with stories that digress.

#47: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (2013/2014) – Haruki Murakami (4/5)
I like Murakami’s work, but I’m not a frequent reader. I read Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (1985/1991) in 2009 and later A Wild Sheep Chase (1982/1989) in 2011. Most often in Thailand, his books about 50% more expensive than other novels, so I was delighted to find a beautiful copy of one of his latest novels in a Florida secondhand bookshop for only $3. It’s not too heavy of a read, so I was able to read about 80% of it on a trans-Pacific flight.

In high school, a mere coincidence spawned a lasting friendship: Tsukuru Tazaki and four other volunteers clicked while on assignment and soon became inseparable; however, Tsukuru always felt a little excludes as the four others had colors in their surnames, thereby rendering him, in his own opinion, colorless. When he departed from Nagoya to attend university in Tokyo, Tsukuru still returned to frolic in the friendship that seemed eternal… until the day they banished him from the five-some without any explanation. He accepted this banishment, returned to Tokyo, and came close to suicide as he denied himself all good things. A small realization quickly turns his life around: he exercises, studies, graduates, and gets the job of his dreams—designed railway stations. Relationships still come and go, but the perfection of his once five-some still haunts him and he never received an explanation.

He meets Sara, whom he becomes increasingly attracted to in body and spirit, but it’s her mind that comes between them. In order for their relationship to progress, she suggests that he revisit his old friends in order to understand his banishment. Thus, he learns of lies and regret, but he shares this regret:

One heart is not connected through harmony alone. They are, instead, linked deeply through their wounds. Pain linked to pain, fragility to fragility. There is no silence without a cry of grief, no forgiveness without bloodshed, no acceptance without a passage through acute loss. That is what lies at the root of true harmony. (322)

This web of lies and regret also impinges upon his relationship with Sara, unknowingly to her. His pain folds upon itself, he sees himself as an island that can never know contact with another landmass. He was once bitten by the openness of his heart, and now he’s bitten again—does he whither again in suicidal thoughts or does he push ahead?

#48: Pacific Edge (1990) – Kim Stanley Robinson (3/5)
This was the first book in which I fell in love with one of the characters, was enchanted when the protagonist won her over… and I was genuinely heartbroken when they broke up. That relationship had always burned in my mind so brightly that I had completely forgotten the rest of the story. When I picked this novel up again, I was ready for the rollercoaster of love, so I could focus on the rest of the novel, which didn’t ring many bells nor win many points.

Kevin’s in his thirties. He’s uninvolved in love but very much involved in his renovation business, the softball league, and has recently become involved in his township’s political arena. While his business may continue its steady productive pace, the other three important aspects of his life are soon to change because of a girl and another boy: Ramona and Alfredo. The two long-time lovers have recently split and Kevin is quick to catch the rebound. He swims in all of her attention, he dances in the shower of shared time, he basks in her every word:

What do you talk about when you’re falling in love? It doesn’t matter. All questions are, Who are you? How do you think? Are you like me? Will you love me? And all answers are, I am this, like this. I am like you. I like you. (134)

At the same time, Alfredo—who is the acting mayor—tries to pass an item through a boring meeting, but Kevin is quick to call him out on its importance. Meanwhile, the softball season starts and Kevin is off to a great start by batting a thousand. His batting streak is his only charm as his other two affairs become entrenched with outside influences: Ramona, the once raven beauty and tinder of his heart, becomes distant with him; Alfredo keeps pushing his agenda while Kevin stands for the fight. All Kevin wants is a steady life for his community, but the future politics of California is deep in the business of water distribution and rights, a quagmire of legality that has him grasping at straws to outsmart his rival in politics and love.

Amid the turbulent life of Kevin, his grandfather Tom is late in his own life but also rides the choppy seas of what life has to offer. Love doesn’t grey like hair as Tom unexpectedly finds his spark in life, with which come options: stay to see out Kevin’s tribulations or set out into the world to see what comes.

#49: Ship of Strangers (1978) – Bob Shaw (2.5/5)
My seventh Shaw… and I have no idea what to make of it. It’s presented in chapters, so it’s a novel; yet there are five distinct stories, so it’s a stitch-up; yet not all of the stories had been individually published. The stories don’t interrelate, nor are they sequential. It’s not a novel, a stitch-up, or a collection…it’s poor editing and publishing, I think.

The Sarafand was made to venture to the untouched planets of the ever-expanding Bubble of human exploration. Aboard are members of Cartographical Service crewmen who see the lucrative short-term job stint amid the perpetual boredom of visiting dead, arid planets for the sake of science. Dave Surgenor, however, is someone who actually made a career of the service and he has stories to tell, which is compiled is this novel/stitch-up/collection: (1) An alien mimics the shape of their six scouts ships and AESOP—the artificial intelligence aboard the mother ship—must figure a way to distinguish among the real scouts; (2) The men’s private nighttime fantasies spill into their own relationships as a trouble maker begins to share the tape around, with emotion, lust, connotation and all. (3) Mike Targett is a bit of a gambler who bases decisions on odds alone, but when he takes a chance to investigate some metallic cylinders on a new planet, he gets much more than he bargained for. (4) Mirages upon another deserted planer spur a full-blown military investigation, but a kidnapping of an alien woman turns into a single-exit escape from a jungle. (5) An error in a beta-space jump causes the ship to become stranded millions of light-years away in a system that seems to be collapsing upon itself, yet the crew to seem to be folded upon themselves under the added pressure of having of a woman aboard and having no way to return home.


These stories have the same whim at George O. Smith’s Venus Equilateral series of stories: There’s a group of men on an isolated post who encounter strange problems in a world of order yet try to outwit the ensuing chaos. As the book is dedicated to A.E. van Vogt, is also rings of the latter’s The Voyage of the Space Beagle novel/collection. But the parallelisms aren’t true enough or significant enough to begin to compare the two.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

1967: Out of My Mind (Brunner, John)

Hearty kernels of concept sheathed in occasional chaff (3.5/5)

I believe I’m on my thirty-fourth Brunner book. I’ve only kept 70% of those titles, so while I’m an avid reader of Brunner’s work, it doesn’t always resonate with me. Reading Out of My Mind was spurred by Joachim Boaz’s comment on Brunner short story “Nobody Axed You” (1965). He loved the story and it reminded me how versatile (…or unpredictable) a writer Brunner used to me. He had some obviously brilliant “wheat” but also had the inevitable “chaff” mixed among it all.

Out of My Mind, thankfully, doesn’t contain any of the chaff; nor does it, however, show any great ambition or artistry that Brunner later exhibited along the lines of Stand on Zanzibar (1968) or The Sheep Look Up (1972). The best stories in this collection, comparatively, soar far above such dreck as “No Other Gods But Me” (1966). At the same time, they have an aura of whim exuded by the author—many of them aren’t serious in nature, yet are cleverly based on the kernel of an idea that Brunner ran with. This doesn’t always translate well as it feels just like that: this is my seed of my idea (which may be good or bad, depending on the reader) and this is the roughly textured chaff that surrounds it (sometimes good, sometimes bad, too).

“Orpheus’s Brother” (1965) dips into Brunner’s knowledge of mythology, a subject of which rarely hits me as enlightening, thereby rending it, for me, the weakest of all the stories. In contrast, “Round Trip” (1959), one of Brunner’s early stories, may be simple at first glance but has a few depths of thought: one of science, one of humanity, one of alternative worlds, one of whim, and another of romance. In between these two sides of the spectrum, Brunner pens some stories that either evoke nods, smiles, or the raise of one or both eyebrows.

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“Fair Warning” (1964, shortstory) – 3/5
Amid a fleet of naval ships in the middle of the tropical ocean, one island sits beneath the sun, but upon its surface, men are toiling over a structure, and within that structure is a device. Vliesser and Rogan have been charged with setting up the device prior to its test detonation. As they check parts and are about to toast to the first man-made carbon-nitrogen cycle fusion of the bomb, they are suddenly paralyzed as they witness an odd shifting in the air where something materializes. 8 pages

“The Nail in the Middle of the Hand” (1965, shortstory) – 3.5/5
Decius Asculus isn’t just an expert in his trade, but he’s widely known as the Expert, who’s admired by peers and loathed by his subjects. As he proudly prepares his nails in the courtyard, he thinks lecherous thoughts and displays his Herculean physique. His three subjects for the day shoulder their crosses to take to the hill where Decius takes to the stage to perform: nailing hands and feet to the cross. The first two fidget and scream, yet the last fellow looks placidly on Decius’s face. 8 pages

“Orpheus’s Brother” (1965, shortstory) – 2.5/5
In a moment of hysteria, hormones, or hell on earth, the superstar named Rock Careless was mobbed and torn apart by his fans. Rock’s brother knows one more person was involved in the murder—Rock’s own manger—who Laurie has come to confront. Mr. Wise, as he’s known, welcomes him but keeps him at an arm’s-length while he logically states the situation of the so-called murder, and the situation that Rock Careless was actually in. Laurie is unimpressed by the talk and wants some action. 10 pages

“Prerogative” (1960, shortstory) – 4/5
Dr. Welby was found dead in his room after a brief scream. His charred limbs indicate either electrocution or a lightning strike, both of which seeming highly improbable—borderline impossible. As his scientific team gives testimony in court regarding Dr. Welby’s unusual and unnatural death, they hit upon the nature of his investigations, a line of inquiry that fans the flames of the spectators’ anger. All he was trying to do was to create reproductive life in primordial earth-like conditions. 13 pages

“Such Stuff” (1962, shortstory) – 3.5/5
Everyone dreams, but the benefits of dreaming and the  drawbacks of its lack were always murky, so Harry and Daventry began a study to observe the effect on people who are able to sleep yet forbidden from dreaming. All the test subjects, save one, voluntarily quit before two weeks, each citing anger, stress, and borderline insanity; that one man, however, has gone through it for six months: Mr. Starling, “the malleable thing that filled the hole available to it, the thing without will of its own which made the best of what there was” (61)—an aberration. 18 pages

“The Totally Rich” (1963, novelette) – 3/5
Derek Cooper is just a man who has ideas, conversations, ambition, and a libido. He’s also a man with a fantastic original idea: “to deduce the individual from the traces he makes” (82). His kernel of an idea comes to fruition when a magnificently wealthy woman hires him to develop the machine for her own benefit, but she’s one step ahead of him: she also wants the machine to reproduce the same person it had deduced. With her life rich yet empty, Derek holds the power over her with a simple affirmation. 28 pages

“See What I Mean” (1964, shortstory) – 3.5/5
Four delegates had arrived to the Foreign Ministers’ Conference on the Resolution of Outstanding International Differences and Disarmament: the US allied with the UK, and Russia allied with China. The future of the world hung in the balance by their whims and tact yet the beautiful Genevan setting can’t compel them to agree, even after the conference’s ninety-third day. Progress is only made when the Chinese delegate has a car crash with Dr. Gerhard Hirnmann. The next day, the American delegate also has a fender-bender with the same doctor. 8 pages

“The Fourth Power” (1960, novelette) – 3.5/5
A curious but worthless and inapplicable effect from an experiment with silver wire has garnered the interest of a renowned Sythesist whose occupation revolved around combining seemingly unrelated areas of science. Smith synthesizes this scientific trial with a neurological one in which he himself is the experiment. Already an autodidactic polymath, Smith sees this experiment as a way to tap the multitudinous synopses of the human brain. The observers, however, weren’t expecting the seeming simultaneous activities at a such a rate of learning, which is only becoming more ludicrous. 29 pages

“The Last Lonely Man” (1964, shortstory) – 4/5
In this day and age, everyone has a Contact. Most have a few Contacts, such a friends, a spouse, or a sibling, but almost no one goes without a Contact—that’d instill a sense of mortality in the person, a surety that death is inevitable. A contact, however, is insurance that the imprint of your persona will live on through someone else when transferred. Hale takes pity on a man who had just lost his only Contact, so he also takes him aboard as a Contact, only later to receive news that the man is a budding burden. 18 pages

“Single-Minded” (1963, shortstory) – 3.5/5
In the remote mountains of the moon, Don Bywater crashlands his ship and holds little hope for rescue until a Soviet moon-walker comes into view aiming for his ship. His rescuer is an enthusiastic Russian woman bent on conversation and showing him around the vehicle that any American bureaucrat would love to get their hands on. Back at the Soviet base, Don understands that the scores of people there have been infected with a resonating virus that enables telepathy, expect for the “cured” woman. Don reflects that he has so much to steal. 21 pages

“A Better Mousetrap” (1963, shortstory) – 3.5/5
Colossal chunks of precious metals and rare gems—the chunks called busters—seem to appear instantaneously in the galaxy. The human crews who find the treasure troves don’t ask questions like, “Where did it come from?” or “What are they for?”; rather, they just rake in the money. Professor Aylward has been thinking about those questions, however. He strings together the dates and ships that find the busters with the same of the disappeared ships and reaches the conclusion that the busters are nothing more than bait. 20 pages

“Eye of the Beholder” (1957, shortstory) – 4/5
With two arms and two legs, Painter thinks himself an average being whose profession is also his name. As a hermit, he paints landscapes of a desolate planet. Nearby, a spaceship crashes and out come a few humans, who happen to also be bipedal. Wanting to help out, Painter begins to walk their way. Meanwhile, the humans discover a trove of painting in a shack and are amazed by the sheer depth that the paintings bring out of the otherwise boring planet. Painter sees their appreciation and approaches with pride. 15 pages

“Round Trip” (1959, shortstory) – 4.5/5
Darak bez Hamath pens a letter to his loving wife explaining his circumstances: He commands a large scientific fleet sent to study the center of all things—the source-point of the Big Bang. When the fleet arrives, they discover a huge reflective orb that oddly has no gravity. As they ponder upon the fate of the universe—ending in a Big Freeze or a Big Crunch—they also consider the object’s usefulness, its makers, and its origin in time. All this gets more complex when they enter under a “Welcome” sign. 11 pages