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Author: Mark R. Kelly

The Fate of Intelligence: Chad Oliver’s The Winds of Time

The Fate of Intelligence: Chad Oliver’s The Winds of Time

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The Winds of Time by Chad Oliver; First Edition: Doubleday, 1957.
Cover art Dick Shelton. (Click to enlarge)

The Winds of Time
by Chad Oliver
Doubleday (192 pages, $3.95, hardcover, April 1957)
Cover art Dick Shelton

This science fiction novel from 1957 is by an author known for anthropologically informed works (Wikipedia; SFE). He was an anthropologist himself, and thus one of the few science fiction writers who was also a scientist.

Oliver published nine novels from the early 1950s into the 1990s, not all of them SF. His work is currently in print only through several titles in the UK Gateway line and in three omnibus volumes from NESFA Press.

The present volume is currently available as a Gateway e-book (not listed on the SF Gateway page linked above), and in a 1997 omnibus of three “time travel” novels for White Wolf/Borealis, Three in Time, edited by Jack Dann, Pamela Sargent, and George Zebrowski, which is currently available on Amazon. I note this because generally I try to cover in these reviews only books that are readily available in some current, unused edition, and the last title serves to qualify this Oliver novel. (Though I broke this rule with my look back at Silverberg’s Collision Course a few months back.) In any event, I think it’s fair to say that Chad Oliver, while still remembered, isn’t remembered as among the Great SF Authors of all time, or even of the 1950s. Yet this novel is interesting nevertheless for its display of the standard SF furniture of the 1950s (as I discussed with Silverberg’s novel), and also for its anticipation of the quandary behind Fermi’s celebrated Paradox.

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The Responsibility of Progress: Leigh Brackett’s The Long Tomorrow

The Responsibility of Progress: Leigh Brackett’s The Long Tomorrow

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The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett; First Edition: Doubleday, 1955.
Cover art Irv Docktor. (Click to enlarge)

The Long Tomorrow
by Leigh Brackett
Doubleday (222 pages, $2.95, hardcover, 1955)
Cover art Irv Docktor

This novel, first of all, is one of a handful of highly regarded 1950s novels that deal with the aftermath of nuclear war, a theme very much of concern in that post-World War II era. Others include, of course, Walter M. Miller Jr.’s A Canticle for Leibowitz; John Wyndham’s Re-Birth aka The Chrysalids; Pat Frank’s Alas, Babylon, and Nevil Shute’s On the Beach, not to mention analogous novels about life after pandemic (George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides) or alien invasion (John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids and The Kraken Wakes/Out of the Deeps), and so on.

Second of all, this novel is by a writer otherwise not known for serious science fiction; Brackett wrote some detective novels and did some notable film work (see for details SFE), but she was known in the SF field for a large body of “planetary romances” in the Edgar Rice Burroughs mode, tales of sword-and-sorcery and romance on Mars or equivalent worlds. (Several volumes of these stories have been published by Haffner Press.) The Long Tomorrow, in contrast, is a sober post-apocalypse novel about rural survivors of nuclear war, a couple generations on, and how they deal with that legacy.

The novel was a Hugo finalist in 1956 (Heinlein’s Double Star won). If it were published today, it would be classified as YA, young adult, since the protagonist, as the story begins, is 14 years old; even though the themes of the book are about the most adult conceivable — the fate of the human race in the face of unavoidable technology.

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These Two Books Are Not the Same: John Wyndham’s The Kraken Wakes and Out of the Deeps

These Two Books Are Not the Same: John Wyndham’s The Kraken Wakes and Out of the Deeps

The Kraken Wakes

The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham; First Edition: Michael Joseph, 1953
Cover art uncredited

The Kraken Wakes
by John Wyndham
Michael Joseph (288 pages, 10/6, hardcover, 1953)
Cover art uncredited

Out of the Deeps
by John Wyndham
Ballantine (182 pages, $2.00, hardcover, 1953)
Cover by Richard Powers

John Wyndham was an English author, popular for five or six major novels published in the 1950s and 1960s, among numerous other books. The first of his famous novels was The Day of the Triffids (1951), about murderous walking plants and a meteor shower than causes most of humanity to go blind. Several following novels were also catastrophes of various sorts, and were published both in the UK and the US, though sometimes with variant titles. The second of these was The Kraken Wakes (UK 1953), about aliens who settle into Earth’s oceans, attack cruise liners, and subsequently wreck the climate and the world economy. It was published in the US by Ballantine as Out of the Deeps (also 1953). What I discovered only recently was that the two books are of course very similar but not identical, and nothing in either edition (in particular the US edition, presumably the second published), indicates any such differences. In fact Ballantine’s copyright page claims “This novel was published in England under the title The Kraken Wakes” which is, in fact, not literally true.

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Humanity Uplifted: Poul Anderson’s Brain Wave

Humanity Uplifted: Poul Anderson’s Brain Wave

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Brain Wave by Poul Anderson; First Edition: Ballantine Books, 1954
Cover art by Richard Powers

Brain Wave
by Poul Anderson
Ballantine Books (164 pages, $0.35, paperback, June 1954)
Cover by Richard Powers

Poul Anderson was a prolific writer of both science fiction and fantasy from the late 1940s to his death in 2001. He was especially known for a couple space opera series, one about the Psychotechnic League and others about Dominic Flandry and Nicholas Van Rijn (I have not read any of these). But his best novels, reputedly, were his singletons, like Brain Wave (1954), The High Crusade (1960), Three Hearts and Three Lions (1961), and Tau Zero (1970), and later works like The Avatar (1978) and The Boat of a Million Years (1989), from decades when everyone’s novels got much longer.

Brain Wave was Anderson’s third novel, after juvenile SF Vault of the Stars in 1952 and fantasy novel The Broken Sword earlier in 1954. The first part of Brain Wave appeared in Space Science Fiction in 1953, but the magazine went out of business before serializing the remainder.

I reread this book recently not to extend a series of reviews of first — or almost-first — novels, but because I wanted to revisit its striking premise. I think I’ll revisit Tau Zero soon, for the same reason.

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We Have Launch: Arthur C. Clarke’s Prelude to Space

We Have Launch: Arthur C. Clarke’s Prelude to Space

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Prelude to Space by Arthur C. Clarke; First Edition: World Editions, Inc. (Galaxy Science Fiction Novel #3), 1951
Cover art by Bunch (click to enlarge)

Prelude to Space
by Arthur C. Clarke
World Editions, Inc. (Galaxy Science Fiction Novel #3) (160 pages, $0.25 in magazine digest format, 1951)

Having in my two previous columns here covered Isaac Asimov’s first proper novel (Pebble in the Sky) and Robert A. Heinlein’s first-written novel (For Us, the Living), it’s appropriate now to revisit Arthur C. Clarke’s first novel, Prelude to Space. (Asimov, Heinlein, and Clarke were regarded as the “Big Three” science fiction writers for several decades beginning in the 1950s.) This is a novel about the launch of the first spaceship to go to the moon. Clarke had a background in radar and aeronautics — he famously anticipated the use of geosynchronous satellites for communications — and so one might expect a more truly scientifically authoritative novel compared to those from Asimov (whose background was only in biochemistry) and Heinlein (military service and politics). Indeed, Clarke’s novel is a better guess about how a launch to the moon would work than were those of other writers of the time, who clung to the vision of heroic lone inventors and single enormous rockets that would take off and return intact. Still, some of Clarke’s guesses were misses.

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Future History, First Draft: Robert A. Heinlein’s For Us, the Living

Future History, First Draft: Robert A. Heinlein’s For Us, the Living

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For Us, the Living by Robert A. Heinlein; First Edition: Scribner 2004.
Jacket illustration by Mark Stutzman (click to enlarge)

For Us, the Living: A Comedy of Customs
by Robert A. Heinlein
Introduction by Spider Robinson; Afterword by Robert James, Ph.D.
Scribner (263 pages, $25.00 in hardcover, 2004)

Almost on a lark, I picked up the first novel by Robert A. Heinlein a few days ago, and read it through. It’s a fascinating book on several levels.

First, it’s Heinlein’s first novel in that it’s the first one he wrote, way back in 1938 and 1939, when he hadn’t yet broken into print. But it didn’t sell, was never published at the time, and went unknown for decades. In fact the manuscript was thought lost; Heinlein and his wife had destroyed copies in their possession in the approach to Heinlein’s death. Yet another copy of the ms. was found years later, after Heinlein’s death in 1988, and, as Robert James explains in an afterword here, was published in 2004, with an introduction by Spider Robinson. (Spider Robinson would later publish Variable Star, based on a Heinlein outline, in 2006; I have not read that, though I believe I’ve read every other Heinlein book at least once, albeit some not in decades.) I read For Us, the Living when it first came out, in late December 2003, but didn’t remember the details of its future society, and wanted to refresh myself on them, until rereading it this week.

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Isaac Asimov’s First Actual Novel: 1950’s Pebble in the Sky

Isaac Asimov’s First Actual Novel: 1950’s Pebble in the Sky

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Pebble in the Sky by Isaac Asimov; First Edition: Doubleday 1950.
Cover by Richard Powers (click to enlarge)

Pebble in the Sky
by Isaac Asimov
Doubleday (223 pages, $2.50 in hardcover, 1950)

Isaac Asimov’s most famous works are likely the Foundation Trilogy and I, Robot, but these are story cycles, not novels. Concurrently with the publication of those books, Asimov published his first three actual novels: Pebble in the Sky; The Stars, Like Dust; and The Currents of Space, from Doubleday in 1950, 1951, and 1952. They share a common future history background (presaged by earlier short fiction like “Black Friar of the Flame” and “Mother Earth”), in which humanity has colonized many planets across the galaxy, while Earth, for reasons of apparently having suffered a nuclear war, is a backwater, despised by the outer worlds. Yet the books vary in the degree to which they are science fiction, and not merely space opera (that is, melodramas with good guys and bad guys fighting for dominance) or historical incidents translated into future settings. Asimov was a sophisticated writer, and all three of these early novels offer complex mysteries in which problems must be solved and villains identified. But in terms of their speculative content, they vary: the middle book, The Stars, Like Dust, is the weakest; the third, The Currents of Space, the strongest; and this first, Pebble in the Sky, somewhere in between.

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A Scientist’s Science Fiction Novel: Fred Hoyle’s The Black Cloud

A Scientist’s Science Fiction Novel: Fred Hoyle’s The Black Cloud

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The Black Cloud by Fred Hoyle First Edition: William Heinemann, 1957.
Cover by Desmond Skirrow (click to enlarge)

The Black Cloud
by Fred Hoyle
William Heinemann (251 pages, £1.50 in hardcover, 1957)

Fred Hoyle’s 1957 novel The Black Cloud was the first novel by the renowned, perhaps now forgotten (because his big ideas turned out to be wrong), astronomer of the mid-20th century. It’s still his most famous, and likely best, novel, out of some nearly 20 novels he would subsequently write, some in collaboration. Hoyle’s novels are significant because they are science fiction novels written by a real scientist, perhaps the most famed scientist to have ever written science fiction. Hoyle is remembered as an advocate, in the 1950s, of the “steady-state” theory of the universe, in contrast to the “big bang” theory that would eventually prevail. (Ironically, Hoyle created the term “big bang” as a derisive term for an idea he didn’t like.)

The Black Cloud is memorable for its depiction, more or less successfully, of a truly alien intelligence. But it’s as much a disaster novel, of the “cozy catastrophe” variety (i.e. most of the death and devastation occurs off-stage), and a novel of scientific manners, as a first contact story. We see the sharp contrast between how scientists understand the world with how politicians try to manipulate it, and we see a milder contrast in the rivalry between an American group of scientists and a British group.

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Cycles of History and the Eternal Church: Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s A Canticle for Leibowitz

Cycles of History and the Eternal Church: Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s A Canticle for Leibowitz

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A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. First Edition: J.B. Lippincott, 1959.
Cover by Milton Glaser (click to enlarge)

A Canticle for Leibowtiz
by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
J.B. Lippincott (320 pages, $4.95 in hardcover, 1959)

This 1959 novel is one of the most popular and celebrated science fiction novels of all time. It won a Hugo Award and has a long list of critical citations. It’s set in the years following an atomic war, it portrays religion in a relatively favorable way (in contrast to the dismissive attitude of much other SF), and it dwells on the theme of man’s destiny, and its possibly inevitable fate in cycles of building and self-destruction. It’s sober and deadly-serious in parts, and it’s also quite funny in parts, which I hadn’t remembered since reading it decades ago. Something else I discovered when rereading recently: it doesn’t end the way I remembered that it did.

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A Fascinating, Ordinary 1950s SF Novel: Robert Silverberg’s Collision Course

A Fascinating, Ordinary 1950s SF Novel: Robert Silverberg’s Collision Course

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Collision Course by Robert Silverberg. First Edition: Avalon Books, 1961.
Jacket design by Ed Emshwiller (click to enlarge)

Collision Course
by Robert Silverberg
Avalon Books (224 pages, $2.95 in hardcover, 1961)

Robert Silverberg needs no introduction to readers of Black Gate, I should think — author, over six or seven decades, of dozens of novels and hundreds of short stories, editor of rows of reprint and original anthologies, winner of four Hugo Awards, five Nebula Awards, and numerous career awards including induction into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, an SFWA Grand Master, and the First Fandom Hall of Fame — yet it’s easy to come across unfamiliar titles from along the twists and turns of his long and varied career. He began in the 1950s, a prolific author of short stories and of standard genre SF novels that he was able to write and sell quickly, and while some of them have been reprinted several times in decades since, this early body of work has been eclipse by the high quality work of the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, for which he won many of those awards, and by later popular works such as his Majipoor novels and stories.

The novel at hand is one of those earlier works, and it’s interesting precisely because it’s not a major work of science fiction in any way.

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