Science Fiction Though the Decades

Monday, December 31, 2012

1972: From This Day Forward (Brunner, John)

Ripe talent offers diverse pickings (4/5)

Aside from Entry to Elsewhen (1972), I haven’t been exposed to much of Brunner’s short work. Entry to Elsewhen was hit and miss (with once big, big miss) and made me leery of pursuing a larger Brunner collection of shorts. Being a big Brunner fan, however, led me to enthusiastically pick up From This Day Forward, with its thirteen morsels of Brunner talents between its covers. It thought it’d be a nice treat to end the year 2012 with a menagerie of Brunner-generated ideas to inspire my own writing in the coming year. Thankfully, many of the stories range from pretty good to great, and even the sestina at the conclusion is ripe with imagination.


The Biggest Game (1956, shortstory) – 4/5 – Royster is a narcissistic predator of rich, lonely women. Proud of his body and skin, he seeks women with husbands away, to coddle the women into including him in their living wills. Recently, at the gym, out at night, and outside his home, he has seen mysterious men in black watching him. On his date, spinning a tiger hunting story, Royster bores the lady and soon leans in for the kiss only to hear a shriek and commotion. His eyes widen. 12 pages

The Trouble I see (1959, shortstory) – 2/5 – Having premonitions of coming trouble since a young age, Joe is able to assume a “good boy” aura while stealing petty cash for a perfect gambling streak. Bored with small town life, he steals the money from a bar and heads to the city to make something of his premonitions. His style impresses a widower and eventually makes him heir to his fortune while the man’s daughter receives a trust fund. One day, Joe’s luck turns sour as he experiences fear—a rarity for Joe. 10 pages

An Elixir for the Emperor (1964, novelette) – 3/5 – Saved from a certain death in an arena of wolves, Apodorius walks free from Rome care of Caesar’s reprieve. To show his gratitude during a time when longevity elixirs being sought in the kingdom, Apodorius offers his much researched concoction, only to be fed his own mixture. Stabbed and pushed into the river, Apodorius returns to Rome a younger man and offers to mix the elixir again with the wealth of a Roman senator—the same who had fed it to him. 21 pages

Wasted on the Young (1965, shortstory) – 5/5 – Human society has become so rich that every person is allowed a 30-year free credit period to spend as they see fit. Some lavish lifestyles fizzle over time, but Hal Page is a party animal who throws ridiculously expensive parties with exorbitantly priced foods and destroyable relics. His 300-year debt to society is allowed to continue until his 32nd birthday when he’s notified of his credit off-cut. To stave the massive debt, he considers suicide. 13 pages

Even Chance (1965, shortstory) – 3/5 – In northern Burma during WWII, a plane crashed and its pilot inspired the Kalang tribespeople as he sailed down on white wings (a parachute). Years later, the village men sick and depressed, a boy searches for the white men and discovers a UN inoculation team who discern that the now passed out boy is struck with radiation poisoning. The Burmese government brings helicopters in, but the UN staff gather that the boy was in contact with something alien. 13 pages

Planetfall (1965, shortstory) – 3/5 – Stranded on Earth, Lucy dreams of the cities which dart amid the galaxy. Forever confined to his interstellar city, save from the one day of leave he currently has on Earth, Valeryk dreams of the open space and infinite possibilities Earth has to offer. Lucy and Valeryk meet atop a knoll, exchange ideas of romanticism for each other’s life. With time winding down, romantic visions can be shared or shattered. 17 pages

Judas (1967, shortstory) – 4/5 – Karimov sits in the steely back pew waiting for the mass of the metallic wheel to come to a close. Having spoken with the steely God before, Karimov requests God’s presence to the priest, who ignores his urgency and is attacked by Karimov for his disobedience. About to leave the church, a steely voice beckons Karimov to the altar, where his confession is heard, yet no penance shall be served. 8 pages

The Vitanuls (1967, shortstory) – 4/5 – Barry Chance from the WHO visits a maternity ward in India to witness the “patron saint” obstetrician named Dr. Ananta Kotiwala. Having been in the medical practice for sixty years and retiring on the next day, his love for the profession and the respect from his colleagues and has drawn the WHO’s attention because of their recent anti-aging drug. Destined to be a sunnyasi, Kotiwala may be a loss. 20 pages

Factsheet Six (1968, novelette) – 4/5 – Selectively sent to hundreds of investors and other business people, a recent factsheet, the fifth being the most recent, outlines injuries and deaths caused by faulty consumer products. Published by a single unknown person outside of any official capacity, the information is invaluable to a magnate like Mervyn Grey. His eager search for inclusion to this list and the specific name of its printer leads him from the Bahamas to London. 27 pages

Fifth Commandment (1970, shortstory) – 5/5 – Simply one of the seven hundred ninety-two Retirees at Kannegawa, Philip Grumman isn’t content with the retirement lifestyle. A hydroponics engeineer after the war, he and his wife were a childless couple and Philip reflects on this as he sees his friends in the retirement community are also childless. Consulting the doctor directors, Philip gets an impossible answer to his rather innocuous question. 17 pages

Fairy Tale (1970, shortstory) – 4/5 – Penning a letter to his professor friend seven years after the occurrence, Barnaby Gregg recounts his impossible tale while camping in Dartleby, Devonshire. While asleep, Barnaby hears his milk jug being disturbed and sees a miniature man of sorts, who becomes inebriated on the swills he takes. This leads Barnaby to a cave where another fairy spins an extraterrestrial tale of planetary envy and solar rapture. 13 pages

The Inception of the Epoch of Mrs. Bedonebyasyoudid (1971, shortstory) – 5/5 – Across the city of New York, four people put into motion their plans. Timed to cause great panic yet announced on the news as mere accidents, their greater plan of war retribution has begun. Free-fall ball-bearings, exploding gas tanks, and a subway gas attack are only three methods which the shadow organization will implement for just revenge on a country’s war and a people’s ignorance. 7 pages

The Oldest Glass (1972, poem) – 4/5 – A sestina about the alluring and truthful nature of the mirror and its earliest counterpart—water. Considering that the reflection is also a reverse image of its source, a mirror at once represents reality yet skews it; a ship’s departure from port, thence, also becomes its arrival from at sea. The lexical repetition of the six end-words reads: “All men, set back, long water.” 2 pages

Friday, December 28, 2012

1973: Deep Space (Silverberg, Robert)

Beyond Sol lie the immensity and the inexplicable (4/5)

Robert Silverberg’s Deep Space anthology aims to distance science fiction from its terrestrial roots, where stories on Earth tend to feel dated due to the progress scientific advancement. Composed of eight stories set in deep space, these stories aim to probe the “inexhaustible treasure trove of virtually unbound possibility” (8) which lay in the “uncharted and all-encompassing realm of infinity known as deep space” (8).

I had read this anthology five years ago and kept it on my shelves because I gave it a 4-of-5 rating, yet I couldn’t recall any of the stories in the collection. To refresh my memory and rediscover the wonders of stories set in deep space, I read some of the stories like the first time yet others beckoned a distant memory like a forgotten flavor or familiar tune. There aren’t any out-right duds in this collection, where Silverberg’s own story is among the weakest and Chad Oliver with the best.


Chad Oliver: Blood’s a Rover (1952 - novella) – 4/5 – With a great machine guiding the fate of mankind and his galaxy, Conan Lang is an Agent who abides by its directives. He is sent to a planet named Sirius Ten to lift the underdeveloped humanoids there by planting fertile seeds of fruits and corrupted seeds of the resulting agricultural society. Only a pawn in the greater game, his wizened age brings about questions which only the machine can answer. 60 pages

Jack Vance: Noise (1952 - shortstory) – 4/5 – Howard Evens has been rescued from solitude on a planet with his lifeboat as shelter. His existence on the planet is characterized by the passage of untimed days, the revolutions of a number of suns with varying colors, and the wispy figures which haunt his vision. Alone, besides his visions of specters and villages, rescue was once his hope, not his fate. 17 pages

Harlan Ellison: Life Hutch (1956 - shortstory) – 4/5 – His ship disabled and knocked out early in the fleet’s battle with an alien space flotilla, Terrence seeks shelter in an asteroid’s “life hutch” where he’ll await rescue, but the robotic attendant strikes him down as he enters. The smallest movement beckons the brutal force of the robot even after three days. His broken ribs make him suffer, awaiting death on the floor listening to the bussing of the robot’s circuitry. 15 pages

Damon Knight: Ticket to Anywhere (1952 - novelette) – 3/5 – Falk is a stowaway on a frigid freighter bound for the surface of Mars. Convinced that the world was going to pits and everyone with an “analogue program” was going to become a maniac, Falk looks to the alien relic on Mars—an interstellar transportation system. The hollow cuboid of topaz diamond has been testes but deemed unreliable, yet it’s still Falk’s desire to travel the stars alone. 32 pages

Robert Silverberg: The Sixth Palace (1965 - shortstory) – 3/5 – Bolzano stole a computer and gave it to Lipescu for the sole reason of loading as much information onto the machine as possible. With this hoard of answers, Lipescu steadies himself to approach the robotic guardian of a fabulous treasure which many have died in front of. After answering eighteen questions flawlessly, he is killed, so Balzano’s turn is next, where he answers with Zen-like detachment. The gate opens, the treasure is his… 15 pages

Gordon R. Dickson: Lulungomeena (1954 - novelette) – 4/5 – The conflictual Kid accuses his elder of dishonesty about his history of gambling and, more painstakingly, about his home of Lulungameena. To intermediate, a Dorsai man places himself between the two but concedes the mediator position to a visitor to the asteroid where they are on their ten year stay—a naturally honest member of the Hixabrod species. This conflict may tear them apart or resolve it all together. 24 pages

Terry Carr: The Dance of the Changer and the Three (1968 - shortstory) – 3/5 – The distant planet of Loarra is filled with exotic metals which Earth-based company Unicentral would really like to take advantage of. Loarra is also home to an energy-based lifeform whose pulses of light and color can be filtered for a sort of translation. The mediator/translator for the mining expedition recants a famous Loarra tale of sacrifice and avenging, yet also tells how the company lost forty-two of its men. 21 pages

A.E. van Vogt: Far Centaurus (1944 - shortstory) – 4/5 – In 2180, the first interstellar ship leaves Earth for Alpha Centauri with four men aboard with each using “Eternity”, which keeps them in stasis for scores of years at a time. But one man has perished within fifty years of the 500-year journey. The group psychology shifts even though each man awakes by himself for a period of less than a day. On arrival, radio signals are detected and an escort is sent. Their hosts are generous yet unwilling. 28 pages

Thursday, December 27, 2012

1972: Clone (Cowper, Richard)

Pointless exercise in humor, action, cloning, and psychics (2/5)

Richard Cowper (alias of John Middleton Murry, Jr.) has written thirteen novels, only some of which have found popularity at their time of publication. Clone is said to be Cowper’s first entry into the American science fiction market, Cowper being an Englishman. Later, his White Bird of Kinship trilogy (starting with The Road to Corlay [1978]) also made his name somewhat familiar to the worldwide readers of speculative fiction. SFE says that Clone is an “amusing near-future satire” but besides a bit of silly dialogue and a tired play on the homophones gorilla and guerrilla, there’s very little else to attach itself to the “satire” label and wholly takes itself too seriously for also being labeled “amusing”; something was lost somewhere between concept and product... not to mention to cover.

Rear cover synopsis:
“Alvin was a weirdo.
He claimed to be able to remember the future…but he couldn’t see ahead into his past. He led a dazed, happy life as a manual laborer in a crew of apes.

But then he felt strange awakenings in his mind—and his body. He suddenly knew that somewhere there were three other boys exactly like him, clones grown from a single ovum in an illicit laboratory experiment.

And Alvin knew he had to find them (and the beautiful girl he kept having disturbingly erotic fantasies about). His quest plunged him into the middle of the insane urban chaos of 2072.”


Content with his work in rural England, Alvin is the only human among ape workers. Often the buff of their jokes Alvin’s naivety spurs one religious ape named Norbert into protecting the boy. Alvin’s earliest memory is waking up supine on a table overlooked by a man and a woman. The time “Before” simply never existed for Alvin, but his hallucination of a beautiful, buxom lady echoes back to a time before his eidetic memory is capable of reaching back to. Norbert’s concern for Alvin drives him to contact the scientists in charge of Aldbury Station, where they work. When one sultry scientist takes advantage of the poor androgynous boy, another scientist assumes that Alvin’s non-sexual nature has been compromised and sends him to London with Norbert.

Little does Alvin know, he was once an experimental subject of cloning four males. Professor Poynter dispatched the boys to different areas in the past, but a recent clairvoyant remark from one of them is repeated by another, and yet another. Each unknowingly a twin of the others, the clones are gathered into one room where they physically manifest a nude image of Professor Poynter. Embarrassed and amazed, she tries to temporarily wipe their memories but induces them with too much gas so they all forget everything in their eidetic memory.

With 100 million people filling the city every working day, the streets are cramped with humans and apes alike. Though granted intelligence and capable of speech, many apes are subject to persecution and lead difficult lives in the city’s slums. When Alvin and Norbert arrive in London, the streets of are alive with two protests being conducted by apes: (1) Hampstead and Highgate Protestors Rally and (2) Crewys Road Anti-Vasectomy League. Weaving through the crowds to their destination, the Ministry of Procreation, the two are caught up in a flash riot where hundreds are left dead but the unexpected rise in violence between the protestors.

Dr. Crowe, associate of Professor Poynter, conducted the test which unleashed the experimental gas upon the rival crowds, their respective conditioning making them ripe for the violent effects of the gas. Alvin and Norbert, unconditioned, are left reeling and inured in the wake of the outburst of needless violence. Alvin is in need of help when he spies a sign which reads, “Desperate? Life proving too much for you? Call Samaritans 0000.” Cheryl is the Samaritan who descends on her anti-gravity belt to assist Alvin in his time of need, but the need Alvin wishes for and the need Cheryl wants to grant are two very different ends of the spectrum—the Samaritans assist suicides. A puppy-dog-eyed Alvin is relieved at their mutual understanding and follows the girl home while leaving Norbert behind.

Professor Poynter doesn’t believe her eyes when she see Alvin in the streets, so she comes to the park only to find Norbert there, injured and pontificating the greatness of the Lord. The two realize that they both know Alvin and are desperate to make contact with him, but little do they know that Cheryl and Alvin have been captured by gorilla guerrillas in the city. Slow-witted, the guerillas allow Cheryl to conduct her own ransom with her influential father while Alvin is slowly regaining his memory for the time “Before”. He know remembers his three clone twins and must seek them out to understand the nature of his power of projecting hallucinations and if his twins share and amplify the same power.


I recognize the humorous elements in Clone, but they just don’t seem to come together enough to verify the “amusing’ label of the novel or even glimpse the “satire” label. Like I said, something must have been lost between its inception and its production. Where there’s a love struck boy pining for attention there are also references to rape. Where there’s a fanciful quest of reunion, there is also scenes of strong determination and fortitude. Where there’s an underplayed bombastic scientist, there’s also Alvin and his tame underdevelopment.

Cowper becomes sesquipedal when displaying his humor, a trait which is uplifting at times but also tedious at other times:
Bent low over her work she presented an impressive expanse of bare pink buttock to the world at large and to the male apes in particular. At such moments atavistic impulse tended to re-emerge from the depths of the anthropoid hypothalamus, elbow its way through the Zobian-cultured cortial tissue, and flaunt itself vividly in the anthropoid anatomy, while across the simian faces conflicting emotions of wonder, doubt, and despair flitted like shadows. (p.15)
Cloning, as a theme in science fiction, hadn’t been run into ground by 1972 but the entire psychic and psychokinetic trope had always been a favorite theme of science fiction authors—little if any of those same books I enjoy. Cowper is found of using psychic powers, to one extent or another, in his novels, which I can tolerate to a point. But when the power is left unexplained, the psychic power becomes more of a plot crutch than a plot pillar—it happens because it happens! Why the clones have their powers isn’t explained; it’s accepted.

The four person romp of collecting the other three clone twins is well and good in itself, but the slow build-up to the cavalcade weakens it dearly. So too does the resulting conclusion, an ending which is as shoulder-shrugging and out of the blue as the very powers the clones use when united. Actually, when taking the pointless powers, the pointless build up of events, and the pointless conclusion, one could infer that the book, as a whole, is pointless in itself. One would be correct.


Besides writing one pointless book bordering on humor and action that Americans seemingly enjoyed back in 1972, there is no reason not to be perturbed by Cowper’s widest read novel when played against the rest of his library: twelve other novels and five collections. The novels I’ve read (including Profundis [1979]) and one of his collections (Out ThereWhere the Big Ships Go [1980]) haven’t been bad, but have been middling with a glimmer of talent in humor and romanticism. Does Cowper have a singularly great novel where he pulls out all the stops? I’m beginning to think that answer is no.

Monday, December 24, 2012

1971: One Million Tomorrows (Shaw, Bob)

Futuristic romanticism slightly marred by lazy pot-boiler (4/5)

My earlier readings of Bob Shaw revealed a writer of two skill sets: one with a carefree ease of penning a simple novel (Vertigo [1978]) and another penning a novel with solid impact (Ground Zero Man [1971]). Both of these novels shared one common theme: Shaw’s gift for emitting humanization through the characters’ plight. It’s this human element which I wanted to return to in Bob Shaw’s writing.

Rear cover synopsis:
“In the 22nd Century, no one had to die of old age: an immortality drug was available to all. Its only drawback was the side-effect that ended a man’s sex drive, so most men waited till their youth was fading before they took the final step and became ‘cools.’

But Will Carewe became the first man to test a new variety of the drug, one without any side-effect at all. The limitless future, a million tomorrows, stretched before him with golden hope… until a series of ‘accidents’ made him realize that someone was trying to murder him.

As an immortal Carewe had an infinitely greater stake in remaining alive. So he began the battle to find out who was after him, and why…”


Uneasy with the sudden focus on him, Will Carewe, a lowly accountant for the company who manufacturers the ubiquitous immortality drug, is unsure why he was called to the company president’s chambers. Proud of his work for Farma incorporated and swallowing a cocktail of anti-handover pills, Will approaches the office with reluctance and foreboding. Will’s common sense earns him the attention of the president for a drug trial which allows him to become immortal and maintain the “benefits.”

When men take the common immortality drug, their loins which had once burnt with passion become impassive and flaccid, a sexual void which many wives find a way around. Therefore, many of the men who eventually take the immortality drug do so after their life’s prime state, but Will is over 40 now and unwilling to take the plunge to become a “cool”, a term used for a man who has undergone immortality and lacks the fire in his loins. With the promise of keeping his libido, Will accepts the new and improved immortality drug.

During his honeymoon, Will injects himself with the immortality drug thereby “tying off” at his present age but still able to produce a few thrusts before he “cools”… and so he does, much to his wife’s enjoyment. However, not everything is perfect in the Carewe household—soon after the honeymoon, his wife admits she’s pregnant, but seeded by another man’s passion. His anger drives him away from his wife and away from his accountant work; he decides to voluntary leave from his position to African continent. His work, he soon discovers, involves demoralizing the Malawi natives and forcing immortality/sterilization upon them. His stomach isn’t weakened by the deed, but his immortality is being tested by actions to take his life.

Chased by “random” accidents and eager to make up to his wife, his perilous life becomes more complicated when he discovers his wife is missing—presumed kidnapped. With the assistance of Farma Incorporated and their hired detective, the two track down the location of his wife and her captors, though a slippery notion plagues Will’s instincts in the frictionless ball-bearing factory. Who would want him dead and what do they want with his wife?


“Who would want him dead and what do they want with his wife?” – that’s the tiny mystery behind the otherwise wonderful plot with social and ethical considerations abound. Rather than take the high road and explore these facets of immortality and sterility, Bob Shaw takes the low road and takes the reader through chase scenes and man-on-man fist fights. What “could have been” was boiled down to “what it wasn’t meant to be”, but this reader wasn’t too terribly disappointed.

Shaw mentions time and again the “cooling” effect of the immortality drug. He also goes further into the martial affection of this “cooling” – if the women aren’t serviced by their man, where can they go to slake their libidinous passions? There are further ethical dilemmas: Is immortality a basic human right? Should immortality be forced upon the unwilling? These are intriguing humane questions to consider, but this remains the only human element in One Million Tomorrows. As Joachim has said, the pot-boiler in the last entire half of the novel drags down some (though not a majority) of the wonderment experienced in the initial half.

As mentioned in the introduction, the novels Vertigo and Ground Zero Man have distinct differences. Among those differences is the prose Shaw has penned. Ground Zero Man had elegant sections with vivid descriptions while Vertigo was largely stale in flowery language. One Million Tomorrows is reminiscent of the insightful language and flowery depictions. Aside from the tiresome attempts on Will’s life, the world around Will is rich with detail: private transportation in “bullets” (with futuristic carphones) via pneumatic cross-country tubes, household appliances with domed abodes housing self-chilling glasses, and industrial Idaho producing frictionless ball-bearing (and the hazards such an invention poses).

Class the above as retro-futuristic uninhibited reverse peristalsis or eager-to-meet-the-future-with-wide-eyes optimism, but I’m a sucker for it all. I love the romanticism of glorifying the future’s luxuriousness and inventiveness; the more uninhibited and the more exotic, the better. Perhaps this is why I rate the novel a 4 rather than Joachim’s 3. I can look past the pot-boiler plot filler and weak ending for guilty pleasure found in futuristic potential and gadgetry.


My third book by Bow Shaw and he yet he still manages to show another facet to his middling talent; good, not great, with some decent imagery and romanticism, but failing to tie everything together into one wholesome package. The perfect Shaw hasn’t been found, but two more line my shelves (Fire Pattern [1984] and Orbitsville [1975]) and others await my lustful sci-fi eye.