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Author: Mark R. Kelly

“Is There Anybody There?”: James Gunn’s The Listeners

“Is There Anybody There?”: James Gunn’s The Listeners

The Listeners by James Gunn
First Edition: Scribner’s, October 1972, Jacket design Jerry Thorp
(Book Club edition shown)

The Listeners
by James Gunn
Scribner’s (275 pages, $6.95, Hardcover, October 1972)
Jacket design Jerry Thorp

The late James Gunn, who died just last year, became an SFWA Grand Master in 2007 and was inducted into the SF Hall of Fame in 2015, both recognizing his achievements in science fiction. His individual awards include an Eaton Award for lifetime achievement as a critic (1982), a Pilgrim Award for lifetime contribution to SF and fantasy scholarship (1976), and a Clareson Award from the Science Fiction Research Association (1997).

So while Gunn wrote a good amount of fiction, some fifteen novels and a similar number of story collections, it’s fair to say his profile was higher as a nonfiction writer and critic than for his fiction. His critical work includes Alternate Worlds: The Illustrated History of Science Fiction (1976), which presumably triggered the Pilgrim Award (but predated the Hugo category for nonfiction or related book), and Isaac Asimov: The Foundations of Science Fiction (1982, which did win a Hugo Award). He also edited the prominent series of anthologies The Road to Science Fiction (1977 to 1998), and was closely associated with the Campbell and Sturgeon awards organized at the Center for the Study of Science Fiction in Lawrence, Kansas, where spent most of his life in academia.

The closest he got to major awards recognition for his fiction was the novel considered here, The Listeners, from 1972. It came in second for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, in that award’s first year, to Barry Malzberg’s Beyond Apollo, though it was not nominated for a Hugo or Nebula award. (Neither was the Malzberg.)

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Isaac Asimov’s Fantastic Voyage from Film to Novel

Isaac Asimov’s Fantastic Voyage from Film to Novel

Fantastic Voyage by Isaac Asimov
First Edition: Houghton Mifflin, March 1966, Cover art Dale Hennesy
(Book Club edition shown)

Fantastic Voyage
by Isaac Asimov
Houghton Mifflin (239 pages, $3.95, Hardcover, March 1966)
Cover art Dale Hennesy

Isaac Asimov’s early novels were published over a period of just eight years, from Pebble In the Sky in 1950 to The Naked Sun in 1957, with linked collections like I, Robot and the Foundation “novels” along the way. Some of his early short stories, published in magazines as early as 1939, weren’t collected into books until the 1960s, but for the most part Asimov had stopped writing science fiction by the late 1950s, perhaps because of the collapse of the SF magazine market, or perhaps because he’d discovered that writing nonfiction books was more lucrative and easier. As Asimov fans were painfully aware of at the time, a spell of some 15 years went by before he published his next original novel, The Gods Themselves in 1972, to great acclaim and awards recognition. (And then yet another decade went by before Asimov returned to regular novel writing, with Foundation’s Edge and a string of following novels derived from his Foundation and Robot universes.)

—Except for a book called Fantastic Voyage, in 1966, which was a novelization of a movie script.

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Incredible, In More Ways than One: Richard Matheson’s The Shrinking Man

Incredible, In More Ways than One: Richard Matheson’s The Shrinking Man

The Shrinking Man by Richard Matheson
First Edition: Fawcett Gold Medal, May 1956. Cover art MH.

The Shrinking Man
by Richard Matheson
Fawcett Gold Medal (192 pages, $0.35, Paperback, May 1956)
Cover art MH

I think it safe to say that Richard Matheson is best remembered today for his novels and stories that were adapted into films and TV scripts, including the dozen plus scripts he himself wrote for Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone TV series in the late 1950 to early ‘60s. (An ironic exception is Matheson’s first-published short story, “Born of Man and Woman” (1950), which remains in print in the first volume of The Science Fiction Hall of Fame.)

Matheson’s first six novels, at least, from I Am Legend (1954) to What Dreams May Come (1978), were all adapted into films. (Among short stories adapted into film was 1971’s “Duel,” which became a TV movie under Steven Spielberg’s direction). The earliest film adaptation came from his second novel, The Shrinking Man (1956), becoming the striking if dubiously plausible 1957 film dubbed, Hollywood-style, The Incredible Shrinking Man. I suspect more people have seen the film than have read Matheson’s novel. Yet while I’m reviewing the book here and not the film (which I last saw decades ago), I will compare the two on a few points, mainly because Matheson himself wrote the screenplay for the film. So the differences between novel and film may be instructive.

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Up and Down Again: Robert Silverberg’s Up the Line

Up and Down Again: Robert Silverberg’s Up the Line

Up the Line by Robert Silverberg
First Edition: Ballantine, August 1969. Cover art Ron Walotsky.
Also shown: Fourth printing, June 1981. Cover art Murray Tinkelman.

Up the Line
by Robert Silverberg
Ballantine (250 pages, $0.75, Paperback, August 1969)
Cover art Ron Walotsky

Having discussed Isaac Asimov’s The End of Eternity last time, I thought to move forward a decade or so and look back at a similarly recomplicated tale of time travel and time paradoxes: Robert Silverberg’s 1969 novel Up the Line.

Silverberg has written numerous novels and stories concerning time travel (there are photos of some of them lower down on this page), but there are different kinds of time travel stories, and Silverberg has focused on only a couple. Some involve simple trips into the future (Wells’ The Time Machine) or past (Silverberg’s own “Hawksbill Station”) with or without return tickets; others involve interfering in history and creating, inadvertently or intentionally, alternate timelines; others involve preventing such alternate timelines; and so on. Of Silverberg’s time travel stories, Up the Line is an example of the most complex type, about the potential paradoxes inherent in time travel, how to avoid them or deal with them. And so it’s his one novel most directly comparable to Asimov’s The End of Eternity.

The book was published as a paperback original by Ballantine Books, during Silverberg’s prolific middle period, in 1969. So far as I can tell, it has never been reprinted on its own in hardcover. (Per isfdb, it’s included in a 2003 Book Club omnibus with three other novels, and a 2011 Subterranean press omnibus with two other different novels, both of these omnibuses hardcovers. The most recent individual reprint of this novel is an ibooks trade paperback in 2002. None of these three volumes are available in new condition except at exorbitant prices.) So page references here are to the original Ballantine edition, last reprinted in 1988.

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Eternity vs. Infinity: Isaac Asimov’s The End of Eternity

Eternity vs. Infinity: Isaac Asimov’s The End of Eternity

The End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov; First Edition: Doubleday, 1955.
Cover art Mel Hunter.

The End of Eternity
by Isaac Asimov
Doubleday (191 pages, $1.95, Hardcover, August 1955)
Cover art Mel Hunter

Just as Arthur C. Clarke’s The Deep Range, which I reviewed here last time, was one of the latter novels of Clarke’s early period (which I defined as everything from his first novel Prelude to Space in 1951 to 2001 in 1968), so is The End of Eternity one of the latter novels of Isaac Asimov’s early period (which I’ll define as everything from his first books I, Robot and Pebble in the Sky in 1950 through the 1960s, before Asimov “returned” to writing science fiction with the first of his later novels, The Gods Themselves, in 1972). (We can see that Asimov’s and Clarke’s early and later periods were virtually contemporaneous, since Clarke also “returned” to SF with Rendezvous with Rama in 1973.)

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Notes and Quotes: Arthur C. Clarke’s The Deep Range (1957)

Notes and Quotes: Arthur C. Clarke’s The Deep Range (1957)

The Deep Range (Signet, 1974). Cover art uncredited

Here’s a relatively quick take on a 1950s novel I reread this past week — not as long or as polished as my other Black Gate reviews have been. (I’ll be resuming those in February.)

The Deep Range was the 8th of 11 novels of Clarke’s early period, which I’ll define as everything before 2001 in 1968. (The 11 counts both Against the Fall of Night and the revised version The City and the Stars, and includes his non-SF novel Glide Path.)

This is Clarke’s major novel of the ocean, set in a future that herds whales and farms plankton for consumption by humans. I think the theme of harvesting whales for their meat would make the novel awkward to reprint today, but I see there have been editions from Warner Aspect in 2001 and from Gollancz as recently as 2011. There are countries that still harvest whales, of course, but they do so to the condemnation of many other nations.

Clarke was of course an avid diver and had moved to Sri Lanka in 1956 (according to Science Fiction Encyclopedia), a year before this novel was published. So the descriptions here of diving, of exploring the coral reefs, are likely drawn from first-hand experience.

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Life, Death, and Different Kinds of Men: Algis Budrys’ Rogue Moon

Life, Death, and Different Kinds of Men: Algis Budrys’ Rogue Moon

Rogue Moon Gold Medal-small Rogue Moon Gold Medal-back-small

Rogue Moon by Algis Budrys; First Edition: Fawcett Gold Medal, 1960.
Cover art Richard Powers. (Click to enlarge)

Rogue Moon
by Algis Budrys
Fawcett Gold Medal (176 pages, $0.35 paperback, 1960)
Cover art Richard Powers

Algis Budry’s 1960 novel Rogue Moon is an unusual book. It’s relatively short, even for SF novels of its era. It’s heavily character focused. And while it deals with a fascinating mystery concerning an alien artifact, on the Moon, it’s also about the bureaucracy behind the scientists and engineers, and as much about how different kinds of men react differently to the challenges of life and the inevitability of death. The story also features two women, who use analogous means to get what they want.

There are two central science fictional premises. First, humans deal with a kind of alien strangeness that cannot be comprehended, and which in this case is usually deadly. Second is the consideration of the implications of a matter transmission device, an idea treated casually in most SF (especially in Star Trek), but that raises profound concerns about matters of the “soul” or, setting that notion aside, the consequences of simple duplication. (James Blish, to his credit as transcriber of Star Trek episodes, took on this question in his one original Trek novel, Spock Must Die! (1970).)

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Arthur C. Clarke on the Moon: A Fall of Moondust and Earthlight

Arthur C. Clarke on the Moon: A Fall of Moondust and Earthlight

ClarkeMoondust1st

A Fall of Moondust by Arthur C. Clarke; First Edition: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1962.
Cover art Arthur Hawkins. (Click to enlarge)

A Fall of Moondust
by Arthur C. Clarke
Harcourt, Brace & World (248 pages, $3.95 hardcover, 1962)
Cover art by Arthur Hawkins

Earthlight
by Arthur C. Clarke
Ballantine (186 pages, $2.75 hardcover, 1955)
Cover art by Richard Powers

Arthur C. Clarke is best known for his visionary, philosophical tales of human destiny, with their explorations of the depths of time and space, their brushing contact with godlike aliens: Childhood’s End, The City and the Stars, “The Star,” “The Nine Billion Names of God,” and of course 2001: A Space Odyssey. But another type of story turns up regularly throughout his career: the near-term technological puzzle story. Prelude to Space (covered here) has its philosophical overtones, but is basically about the technical and political issues of launching a rocket to the moon. And of course the center section of 2001 is all about diagnosing a malfunctioning part, and dealing with a malfunctioning supercomputer. Famous early stories like “Technical Error” and “Superiority” dealt with issues of problematic future technology.

Clarke’s 1962 novel A Fall of Moondust is very much a story of technical problems and how they are solved (and the resolution is a happier one than those in the other titles just mentioned). Specifically, it’s about a search and rescue mission, anticipating the spate of “disaster” movies (and associated novels) about groups of civilians trapped in some situation (burning skyscraper, disabled passenger jet, and so on) and the parallel efforts of rescuers to save them, that were popular especially in the ‘70s. (In fact, Wikipedia notes this novel’s similarity to a 1978 film about a stranded submarine, Gray Lady Down.)

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Recomplicated Realities: Philip K. Dick’s Eye In the Sky and Two Others

Recomplicated Realities: Philip K. Dick’s Eye In the Sky and Two Others

PKDEye1st

Eye in the Sky by Philip K. Dick; First Edition: Ace, 1957.
Cover art likely Ed Valigursky. (Click to enlarge)

Eye in the Sky
by Philip K. Dick
Ace (255 pages, $.35, paperback, 1957)
Cover art (likely) Ed Valigursky

Solar Lottery
by Philip K. Dick
Ace (188 pages, $.35, paperback, 1955)
Cover art unidentified

Time Out of Joint
by Philip K. Dick
Lippincott (221 pages, $3.50, paperback, 1959)
Cover art Arthur Hawkins

I confess I’ve never warmed to Philip K. Dick. His stories can be dazzling in their ways, in their reversals of premises, in their recursiveness, in their variations on overturning the assumptions we make about the nature of reality. It’s been a while since I’ve read much PKD, but I read three of the early novels in the past two weeks: his first, Solar Lottery (1955); his fourth-published, Eye in the Sky (1957), and his seventh-published, Time Out of Joint (1959). And my impression from these three early novels is that despite PKD’s characteristic virtues just mentioned, his characters are rarely sympathetic, his pacing and plotting are uneven to the point of being haphazard, and his  science-fictional components are standard SF furniture at best, comic book nonsense at worst. And these are three of his best early novels — the best three, apparently, until he published The Man in the High Castle in 1962.

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Are Some “Classics” Best Neglected?: Eric Frank Russell’s Sinister Barrier

Are Some “Classics” Best Neglected?: Eric Frank Russell’s Sinister Barrier

SBarrierUnknown

Sinister Barrier by Eric Frank Russell; Magazine version: Unknown, March 1939.
Cover art H. W. Scott. (Click to enlarge)

Sinister Barrier
by Eric Frank Russell
UK: World’s Work (135 pages, 5/-, hardcover, 1943)
US: Fantasy Press (253, $3.00, hardcover, 1948)

Here’s an early “classic” of science fiction that I came across in a used bookstore in Oakland early last year. I say “classic” with quotes because I had heard of the title for years, but hadn’t recalled ever seeing a copy. Indeed, the invaluable isfdb.com indicates that while it was included in an omnibus from NESFA Press in 2001, there hasn’t been a separate English language edition of the book since Ballantine Del Rey issued it in 1986, nearly 35 years ago. Hmm, why would this be?

Well, because it’s a terribly written book, dated both in language and in plotting and in its sexual and racial attitudes, exhibiting all the worst features of pulp writing, and far worse than the works of, say, Asimov and Heinlein that have survived from that era. That would be the reason modern publishers haven’t kept it in print. If it’s a classic in any way, it’s for its striking conceptual premise, and then only in its historical context. More on that in a bit.

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