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

Thursday, July 30th, 2020 | Posted by Mark R. Kelly

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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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Vintage Treasures: Digits and Dastards by Frederik Pohl

Sunday, July 26th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Digits and Dastards by Frederik Pohl (Ballantine Books, 1966). Artist uncredited.

Frederik Pohl was something of a science fiction renaissance man. He was a fan, agent, publisher, editor (of both Galaxy and If magazines, from 1969-79), and multiple Hugo Award-winning writer. His career spanned over 75 years, from his first publication (a poem in 1937) to his last novel, All the Lives He Led (2011). He received the SFWA Grand Master Award in 1993. He died in 2013, at the age of 93.

Along with Asimov, Heinlein, Campbell and Wollheim, he was such an integral part of 20th Century SF that you can honestly say that without him, the field would have been dramatically different. Like Campbell and Wollheim, he was a taste-maker, a keen-eyed editor who loved discovering talent, and he won three Hugo Awards in a row as best editor. Like Asimov, he wrote extensively about science fiction, pointing many young readers (including me) towards the folks they should be reading, and enriching the history of the field with numerous non-fiction articles.

And like Heinlein and Asimov, he was hugely respected as a writer, winning numerous awards for his fiction, including a Hugo and Nebula Award for Gateway (1977), the John W. Campbell Award for the novella collection Years of the City (1984), and the coveted National Book Award for Jem (1979). In 2010 he won the Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer for his long-running blog, one of the earliest (and still one of the best) SF blogs, The Way the Future Blogs. He was a pioneer in the field to the very end.

I’m very fond of Fred Pohl. Like Asimov, he wrote about science fiction not as some higher and more enlightened branch of literature, but as a quirky business practiced by a small community of highly likeable individuals who shared common roots, and a common love of and fascination with science. It was that characterization, as much of my love of the stories itself, that filled me at a young age with an enduring desire to become an SF writer.

And, very much unlike Asimov, Pohl was a high-school dropout in a genre that celebrated hard science, and that gave him– critically, I think — a refreshingly different viewpoint on what science fiction could (and should) mean to the average reader. He was also a local SF writer, a fixture at the major Chicago SF conventions, and was just as delightful in person as he was on the page. He was an entertaining and self-deprecating writer, as you can see from the following excerpt from the introduction to his 9th collection, Digits and Dastards (1966).

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Vintage Treasures: The Stochastic Man by Robert Silverberg

Saturday, July 18th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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The Stochastic Man (Warner Books, 1987, cover art by Don Dixon)

Back in May I started a Vintage Treasures post about Robert Silverberg’s 1975 novel The Stochastic Man, and it wasn’t long before I’d unearthed nearly a dozen different editions. Pretty soon I got distracted comparing the art and author branding for each, and that led me down a deep rabbit hole that ended up with a very long article titled The Art of Author Branding: The Paperback Robert Silverberg.

That was fun, and very satisfying. But it never mentioned The Stochastic Man.

So today I grit my teeth, committed myself to a lot more focus, and started in again. Wish me luck.

The Stochastic Man was one of Robert Silverberg’s most popular and successful novels. It was originally serialized in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (April to June, 1975), and then published in hardcover by Harper & Row in September 1975. That year it was nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and Campbell Memorial Award. After that it was packaged up by many publishers in the 70s and 80s, and enjoyed a long life and fruitful life in reprint editions from Fawcett Gold Medal, The Science Fiction Book Club, Coronet Books, Gollancz, Warner Books, Gateway/Orion, and others. It was reprinted in trade paperback just last year by ReAnimus Press.

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

Thursday, July 16th, 2020 | Posted by Mark R. Kelly

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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Vintage Treasures: The Aliens Among Us by James White

Saturday, July 11th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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The Aliens Among Us by James White. Ballantine Books, 1969. Cover by Paul Lehr

I’ve read very little by James White, and that’s a serious oversight.

White was an Irish SF writer who’s not very well remembered today, but he was a big deal in SF circles in the 80 and 90s. He began writing professionally in 1953, and published some 20 novels and five collections in a career than spanned nearly five decades. His last novel Double Contact appeared in 1999, the year he died.

White’s most popular creation was Sector General, a deep space medical installation that treats all the races of the galaxy. It was the setting for a long-running series — a dozen novels and collections — published between 1957-1999. Most of the stories were fairly light fare, low-stakes galactic hospital drama, but their enduring popularity earned White a solid rep. A total of four omnibus collections were published, one by the Science Fiction Book Club (Tales of Sector General, 1999), and three by Orb, Beginning Operations (2001), Alien Emergencies (2002), and General Practice (2003). Believe it or not, all three of the Orb volumes are still in print, nearly two long decades later. That’s an impressive legacy.

If White can keep omnibus editions in print for 20 years, why do I say he’s not well remembered? Because while Sector General remains popular among older fans, White’s star has otherwise dimmed significantly. How little demand is there for his work? Five years ago when I won a nearly complete set of James White — 24 vintage paperbacks — on eBay, I was the only bidder. The price? $5.

I still think White speaks to modern audiences, and that’s why I’m still talking about him. Today I want to point you towards his second collection, The Aliens Among Us, published by Ballantine in 1969.

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Vintage Treasures: Dark Stars edited by Robert Silverberg

Sunday, July 5th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Dark Stars (Ballantine Books, 1969). Cover by Ronald Walotsky

I’ve lamented before (more than a few times, as some regular readers have wearily noted) about the death of the mass market SF anthology.  They were a fixture on bookstore shelves a generation ago, and were a great way to discover new writers. In fact, I discovered virtually all of my favorite writers — Roger Zelazny, Clifford D. Simak, Isaac Asimov, James Tiptree, Jr. — in paperback anthologies in the 70s and 80s.

Well, if I can’t celebrate new ones, I can still tell you about the old ones, and encourage you to hunt down a few. At least as long as vintage SF paperbacks remain cheap, plentiful, and easy to find — which looks like forever, if AbeBooks and eBay are any indication. Today’s subject is a neat little one-off anthology by Robert Silverberg from 1969, with an unusual theme: dark science fiction. Here’s Silverberg from the introduction.

In the Soviet Union, I understand, science fiction is supposed to be a positive literature full of positive ideals. Its function is to dramatize the coming triumph of the socialist philosophy and the extension of that philosophy into the universe…. In the United States, too, there are those who prefer their science fiction to be a literature of ideals, demonstrating the heroic fortitude of mankind under stress and depicting the glories of the future… The purpose of the writer of fiction, I think, is neither to glorify not to abuse, but to set down his vision of the universe as he sees it. He should not be a propagandist for the space program, at least not as his basic item of concern….

Once upon a time the bulk of science fiction was written by cheerful Rotarians eager to leap into the lovely future. That was in the 1930’s, when the future still looked pretty good (especially in contrast with the present) and in the 1940’s, when the defeat of the bestial Axis foe was supposed to open the gateway to Utopia. But a good chunk of that future has already unveiled itself since those days of s-f’s innocence, and what has appeared has not been so inspiring. The stories in the present collection reflect that look into the future that is now our present. By measuring the fictional “1963” of 1938 against the real 1963, s-f writers have of necessity suffered a darkening of vision. Hymns to the miracle that is color television become less meaningful when that screen is so often reddened by the blood of those who were our best.

Here, then, is a book of dark dreams for a dark time.

If you don’t mind reading yellowing pages from high-res photos, you can see Bob’s complete 3-page intro to Dark Stars using the pics I took with my new iPhone here and here.

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Humanity Uplifted: Poul Anderson’s Brain Wave

Thursday, July 2nd, 2020 | Posted by Mark R. Kelly

Brain Wave Poul Anderson

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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Vintage Treasures: Crossroads in Time edited by Groff Conklin

Monday, June 29th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Crossroads in Time (Permabooks, 1953). Cover by Richard Powers

Modern science fiction is top notch, and I’d hold today’s best writers — John Scalzi, N.K. Jemisin, Mary Robinette Kowal, Martha Wells, Nnedi Okorafor — up against the greats of yesterday without hesitation. If I were to be stranded on a desert island (or, more likely, locked in my basement during a pandemic) and could only bring a dozen books, my choices would be heavily weighted toward SF published in the last ten years.

Except for anthologies. For whatever reason — nostalgia, maybe? — during those times when I have only a few minutes to read before bedtime, my hand still wanders towards Raymond J. Healy and J. Francis McComas’s monumental Adventures in Time and Space (1946), or The Hugo Winners, Volumes I and II (1972) edited by Isaac Asimov, A Treasury of Science Fiction (1948), edited by Groff Conklin, or The Good Old Stuff: Adventure SF in the Grand Tradition (1998), edited by Gardner Dozois.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of great modern anthologies. I spent much of last weekend reading Neil Clarke’s terrific The Final Frontier, and I really enjoyed it. But the sight of newer anthologies doesn’t make my heart jump like the old ones do.

Partly I think it’s the contributors. There’s just something about opening a yellowing paperback and seeing a table of contents packed with names like Clifford D. Simak, Theodore Sturgeon, Murray Leinster, Jerome Bixby, Fritz Leiber, Margaret St. Clair and other favorites. And also, of course, it’s the cover art. Take Crossroads in Time, the eleventh SF book by the great SF anthologist Groff Conklin. It was released as a paperback original in 1953 by Permabooks with a gorgeously colorful cover by Richard Powers which — even today, nearly seven long decades later — speaks of wonder and adventure on faraway worlds.

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Vintage Treasures: Cold Hand in Mine by Robert Aickman

Wednesday, June 24th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cold Hand in Mine by Robert Aickman. Berkley Books, June 1979. Cover by Wayne Barlowe

Robert Aickman was not part of my early genre education, and even today I’ve read only a handful of his stories. But he had a fine reputation; one that hasn’t faded at all since he died in 1981. Today he’s highly collectible, and his collections are tough to find, especially in the original paperback editions. I recently came across a copy of the 1979 Berkley edition of Cold Hand in Mine on eBay — tucked away in a lot of 11 SF paperbacks offered for $8 — and snapped it immediately.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a copy before.

Aickman has plenty of fans even today, and it’s not hard to find modern commentary on his 40-year old paperbacks. That’s fairly unusual (trust me on that). Will Errickson at Too Much Horror Fiction has one of my favorite recent reviews; here’s an excerpt.

Another word I’d use to describe his stories is “uncanny,” since they rarely adhere to generic conventions but instead move subtly around them, hinting at unconscious drives, highlighting how the real world and the real people in it may be illusions obscuring darker forces at work. Odd occurrences do not add up; the killer does not remove a mask and identify himself, because we aren’t sure there’s a killer at all, but only time and chance and that what might be called fate. You might not be surprised when I suggest Aickman is a bit of an acquired taste.

Aickman has long been a favorite of adventurous readers who search high and low for the forgotten or the overlooked, the challenging and the obscure; in recent years his reputation has grown and grown, and his books have been brought back into print by several publishers. After years of fruitless search myself, I recently bought, for a few dollars more than I generally like to pay for old paperbacks, a copy of Cold Hand in Mine (Berkley Books reprint 1979…) these are quiet, literate tales of creepiness; the front and back ad copy oversell it and I wonder of buyers’ remorse back in the day…

These stories generate little heat; no melodrama, no generic twist, no jump scares, no slow dawning of horrible realization. When the “horror” occurs, rarely does it overly alarm or unduly concern anyone. The polite thing seems to be to ignore it… for that whisper of other worlds, or even an intimation that our perception of this world is flawed and incomplete, not up to the task, is simply intolerable. Characters view these things askance, never head-on.

Cold Hand in Mine contains eight long stories, all but one of them novelettes, including the World Fantasy Award-winning “Pages from a Young Girl’s Journal.” Here’s the complete Table of Contents.

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Vintage Treasures: Skinner by Richard S. McEnroe

Friday, June 19th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Skinner by Richard S. McEnroe. Bantam Spectra, June 1985. Cover by Enric

One of the advantages of writing up at least one Vintage Treasure every week is that it gives me an excuse to read a lot of the forgotten and overlooked classics I missed out on over the decades. And occasionally, to indulge in a guilty pleasure.

Take Skinner for example. It’s the fifth (and last) science fiction novel by Richard S. McEnroe, a literary agent turned author who began his career writing Buck Rogers novels in 1981. Skinner didn’t make much of a splash when it first appeared; it had a single paperback printing in the US, a UK edition from Orbit a year later, and then went out of print forever. But I don’t care. It’s got a dinosaur on an alien planet right there on the cover, and I want to read it, damnit.

When I went looking for contemporary reviews, I was surprised to find a few. And they only sharpened my interest. Here’s the most popular review on Goodreads, by Scott Schmidt.

What an odd, unique and refreshing work of science fiction. Well worth the fifty cents I paid for it at Goodwill. While I initially picked it up for the content depicted on the cover, this is only a part of a bigger plot that essentially boils down to interstellar shipping economics. I really loved the ending, which came about just as I was beginning to wonder where the story was headed. Great to read a piece of science fiction that didn’t have to be an epic, seven-part space opera. If I happen upon more of McEnroe’s works, I won’t hesitate to pick them up.

It might not be part of a seven-part space opera, but Skinner is the third book in a trilogy (which I didn’t learn until about 30 minutes ago… thank you, ISFDB). Here’s the first two.

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