Archive for the time warp Category

Charles Dickens, Hard Times

Posted in books, time warp on July 1, 2009 by Matt

I won’t say much here, since I can hardly expect to add anything worthwhile to 150 years of prior criticism.

This was Dickens’ 15th novel, according to Wikipedia. It’s a social commentary on the lives of industrial mill-town laborers. The notes in this edition mention that this book is widely read in schools. I imagine its chosen for school reading because while it has many of the characteristic Dickens elements (noble young ladies; young men fallen in dissipation; ignorant, selfish men of property; social commentary against the lot of the poor; …) its relatively short, at under 300 pages in this copy. Compared to Our Mutual Friend, for example, thats substantially less ponderous build-up from the time I figured out who the mysterious stranger would turn out to be to the final revelation. On the other hand, it hasn’t got quite the wit of Bleak House, which remains my favorite Dickens novel.

Amazing, July 1971

Posted in magazines, sf, time warp on March 11, 2009 by Matt

What we have here is a time capsule magazine. Everything here seems to fit very well in its time.

First, and taking up nearly half the magazine, is the first half of a two-part serialization of Robert Silverberg‘s novel, The Second Trip. The first thing that shocked me about this story is the deja vu effect, since I’d read it before and utterly forgotten about it. A second amusing point is that the protagonist’s birthdate is stated as March 11, 197<cough><mumble>, making him exactly my age (Happy Birthday, Nat Hamlin!). I remember when I read this before thinking of it as just the kind of “adult” (How long ago did I read this thing? Must have been a long time) science fiction I didn’t really get. To me then it was overly concerned with clinical psychology and the emotional consequences of the sexual revolution. Now, the story still seems dated, and I still can’t appreciate the ’70s’ fascination with psycoanalysis. But I do have a better appreciation of why the sex and sexual politics were, and still are, an edgy commentary on changing social norms. I don’t know if I’d call this a recommended read, but its at least achieved the status of an interesting historical document.

The second story is James Tiptree, Jr.’s “The Peacefulness of Vivyan”. This one is pretty much the reason I bought the magazine, since I have the idea that Tiptree wrote a ton of good stuff that I haven’t gotten around to reading. The story is about a kind of child-like or otherworldly character poking about the wilderness areas of a couple of neighboring planets. Vivyan seems to wander about, investigating biological curiosities here and geology there. Meanwhile the fate of a third neighbor world is darkly hinted at, but not revealed. Finally, some of the mystery is cleared up, but more with hints and nuance than with bright arc-light clarity. The mysterious story and conclusion are somewhat preminiscient of the Gene Wolfe style, which would only really make itself known a year later. A good story, but it didn’t really live up to my hopes for all that undiscovered Tiptree I should be reading.

“Bohassian Learns”, by William Rotsler, is a short piece on the birth of what seems to be an example of that sf staple, a superman, or successor to homo sapiens. This story is professionally written, but its such a well-worn premise that even the wild destructive potential of Rotsler’s superman doesn’t really make the story stand out.

Pg Wyal’s story “Border Town” has a kind of counter-culture vibe, and a gonzo attitude that reflects a whole different aspect of 1971 than the rest of the magazine. Something like Firefly, if it had been written 35 years earlier and seen through psychedelic glasses. A troupe of three interstellar crooks are trying to pull a fast one on the natives of a backwater border town. The story’s nothing special but the enthusiastic (acid-fueled?) prose makes it a fun read.

“The Worlds of Monty Willson” by William F. Nolan is a very short alternate-worlds story with a fairly clever ending. Probably even when it was new, it would have been written and read as a stylistic throwback to the golden age.

The final story is a true throwback, a reprint of David H. Keller’s “The Lost Language” from 1934. The story is about a boy who grows up silent, but apparently intelligent. Eventually he begins to write in an unknown language, which is finally decoded by means that could only have been super-science (meaning, pure fantasy) when the story was written. It’s a fairly readable story despite the archaic tone, but one central premise, that no written language can exist without a correspondence to a spoken language, is easily refuted, and should have been even in 1934, by anyone aware of the use of Chinese characters by numerous east Asian cultures whose spoken languages are utterly unrelated.

New Worlds Science Fiction June 1960

Posted in magazines, sf, time warp with tags , , , , , on February 16, 2009 by Matt

Another time warp post, for a flea market find. This isn’t, apparently, the New Worlds magazine that led the British new wave. This New Worlds was published in New York, and appears to have carried reprints from the British New Worlds. A fanzine listing including “Eustace #1” produced by a Mike Moorcock out of Surrey, England.

The first story is “Grapeliner”, a “short novel” by James White. The story is in the golden age style, with technology exploration taking center stage, and minimalist characters. The technological question here is how to build a space ship out of plastic, so as to avoid the medical effects on crew and passengers of cosmic radiation interacting with metals. The solution reached skirts the border between far-out thinking and silliness. There’s very little here that can still capture the imagination today.

Next is Robert Presslie‘s “Confession is Good”, a typical early artificial intelligence story, in which its assumed that AI will always draw perfect logical conclusions from muddled human inputs, in this case leading to the most horrible kind of error. Another story that doesn’t resonate today as it might have when written.

“Aberration” by Roy Robinson and J. A. Sones looks at a perfect computer-operated society that is threatened from within by a telepath. As in much SF (and political thought) from this time, the authors seem to assume that if government can just get more information and power, it could run the lives of its subjects to perfection. Telepathy, also seen in “Grapeliner” seems to have been in the air when this was written. In both stories, the protagonists make amazing conclusions about the abilities of telepathic opponents who in fact they know almost nothing about. Here its a flaw that’s harder to overlook, since the telepath is the central point of the story.

“Almost Obsolete” by Donald Malcolm is a short piece about a kind of epidemiological study that leads to the revelation of a coming radical trend in human evolution — women are beginning to reproduce without the help of men, and men will soon become extinct. The revelation would probably have seemed bold in 1960, and would indeed be a dramatic change for human society. This story is certainly interesting as a historical marker in the development of this sf-nal idea.

Finally comes the reason I bought the magazine, a story by J. G. Ballard; an author I’ve heard plenty about, but never read. “Waiting Grounds” appeared well before the new wave was recognized, but does show Ballard’s leadership in bringing literary themes and style to sf, especially by contrast to the other, entirely old-school, stories in the magazine. The story is about a technician sent out to monitor a radar station on a distant planet or moon. There he discovers an alien artifact that implies mankind will soon join an interplanetary society. The story presages Arthur Clarke’s 2001 in the nature of the artifact, even naming it a monollith, and somewhat in the revelatory end-sequence in which the protag is mentally transported by the object into a mind-bending dream sequence. It would be interesting to work out the relationship between this and Clarke’s work (including the even earlier “Encounter in the Dawn“, which I can’t remember reading, so I don’t know if it includes the monolith or dream sequence.) The writing is clearly a cut above the other stories here, and I’ll definitely be looking in to Ballard’s later work after reading this one.

Satellite, October 1956

Posted in magazines, sf, time warp on February 11, 2009 by Matt

I’m inaugurating a new “time warp” category with this magazine that I found at the flea market. I haven’t been able to find much about this magazine on the ‘net, except that its entire run was 18 issues from 1956 to 1959.

The inaugural issue starts out with some big names: Asimov, de Camp, and Clarke. A Philip K. Dick story at the time didn’t merit listing on the cover.

Satellite‘s gimmick was “a COMPLETE science fiction NOVEL in every issue!”. In this premier issue, that complete novel is “The Man from Earth”, by Algis Budrys. I mostly bought the magazine because I’ve been hearing Budrys’ name a lot recently, so I thought I’d give him a read. This is basically a story of its time — a milksop financier loses everything and opts for a complete “personality change” by medical means, to escape prosecution. This rebuilds his personality into a classic SF super-man, although there is some amusement as the protag himself doesn’t realize what he’s becoming. The new super-man is able to defeat the space aliens who have locked humans up in our own solar system, and double cross organized crime, and get the girl. A good retro story, but nothing exceptional.

Isaac Asimov’s entry, “The Watery Place”, is a classic twister. First contact is rejected because the aliens choose to land on tax filing day and make their overtures to an official who is too preoccupied with accounting to take them to his leader.

“Publicity Campaign”, by Arthur C. Clarke’s, is similar — in this case the first contact turns out badly for earth when the aliens land in the middle of a promotional campaign for a movie about alien invaders.

L. Sprague de Camp’s story, “The Egg”, is lighter in tone, about a babysitting job (for the dinosaur-like alien ambassador) gone awry, and ages better than the others so far, but still carries few surprises today.

Craig Rice (I’m not sure this is the same author written up in Wikipedia) presents “The Golden Flutterby”, a story similar to Eugene Mirabelli‘s recent “Falling Angel” (F&SF, Dec. ’08), but of course told much more sedately. Dal Stivens’ “The Iconoclastic Koala” is forgettable, but probably wouldn’t take much freshening up to make it into print today.

But the standout story, at least as read 40 years later, is the Dick. This story shows Dick in development, with most of his characteristic staccato surrealist style in place; but with the disconnected, schizophrenic themes of his other work only a shadow beneath the surface. In a post-nuclear-armageddon America, society has been held together by benevolent aliens who can “print” or reproduce the artifacts of civilization. Now the aliens are dying and only a few people have the wherewithal to relearn the skills of actually building things for themselves. Although the message is somewhat transparent, its also still relevant today.

The blurbs for issue two promise Dick’s “A Glass of Darkness” as its COMPLETE NOVEL. I’ll be looking out for more Satellite‘s when I’m browsing the used racks.