The Long Tomorrow (1955) by Leigh Brackett

Len Colter sat in the shade under the wall of the horse barn, eating pone and sweet butter and contemplating a sin [7].

That’s a killer first line. And now I want some cornbread.

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With its bucolic setting and unsophisticated characters, as well as some rambunctious river moments with two growing boys, it’s as though The Long Tomorrow invites the tradition of Mark Twain into the realm of SF, supporting the success of Ray Bradbury’s nostalgia stories and setting the stage for Clifford Simak’s pastoral entreaties for peace in the following decade. (Yes, I know Twain wrote sci-fi. I saw that episode of Next Gen, too.)

An excellent example of a post-WWII attempt at post-apocalyptic fiction, a tradition that has endured and endured and endured. I often wonder if, after we finally suffer the apocalypse that humanity seems to crave, will we then sit around the campfire telling gripping stories about copy machines, fast food tacos, and skyscrapers. Continue reading

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The Space Merchants (1953) by Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth

TheSpaceMerchants1It’s a jarring experience to read ‘50s SF after devoting a month to the ‘70s. After a set of socially critical, sometimes psychedelic reads with Pohl, Silverberg, Dick, and Farmer, even a sophisticated 1953 satire like The Space Merchants feels stodgy and quaint. I often turn to ‘50s SF when my brain is tired of broody and sullen plots, because that Golden Age lightness feels fresh and inviting in comparison… especially when you recognize that every decade (even our own, omg!) has its own brand of whitewashed, gender neglect. Continue reading

Fahrenheit 451 (1953) by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit_451_1st_ed_coverIn 9th grade, I was assigned Fahrenheit 451 in English class. I don’t think I ever made the connection that it was written by the same author who blew my mind in a group reading assignment in the 5th grade (I suspect the book was The Martian Chronicles). It was an assignment, which means everything about it was stored in my short-term memory– other than the moral of the story (“Don’t burn books or you’ll go crazy wondering what Shakespeare was on about”), and the sixties aesthetic of the perfunctory film viewing is burned on my memory forever. I don’t even think we read the entire book. Continue reading

More Than Human (1953) by Theodore Sturgeon

MoreThanHuman(1stEdPB)Between the cover art and the title, Theodore Sturgeon’s More Than Human might first appear to be about cybernetic- or genetically-enhanced human potential, in which the main character, maybe an athlete, is endowed by science to be stronger and smarter than the rest of humanity. At least, that’s what I was expecting. Perhaps something similar to its infamously terrible contemporary, the 1954 Hugo winner They’d Rather Be Right, in which people become perfect after interface with a machine. Instead, Sturgeon gives us something even more quintessentially fifties– an exploration of the paranormal mental powers of humanity. Continue reading

Mission of Gravity (1953) by Hal Clement

MissionOfGravity(1stEd)Clement’s acclaimed 1953 novel Mission of Gravity reminds me of a song we used to sing in my Girl Scouts Brownie troupe: Goin on a squeegie hunt… Oh, no, it’s a tall tree! Can’t go over it… can’t go under it… have to go through it… (Repeat the verse with a new obstacle… and it goes on and on and on. I dropped out soon after. The song may or may not have had something to do with it.) And thus it’s the same for our missioneers, human and alien alike, who encounter new obstacles in each chapter, but overcome those obstacles with sensible, pragmatic solutions, talking out every detail in a calm, relaxed manner that may be just a wee bit boring to witness. Reading this book is like eavesdropping on a housing development planning committee, with the engineer and the architect doing most of the talking. I would totally go on an adventure with these people because I know I would be safe, but I don’t think anyone would want to read about it afterward. Continue reading

Childhood’s End (1953) by Arthur C. Clarke

ChildhoodsEnd(1stEd)To my continued bafflement, it seems like every SF recommendation list and message board suggests Arthur Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama as a highly enjoyable and critical must read. My experience with that novel was less than satisfactory, so I thought I might have hit an overall author dud in terms of taste. But its twenty-year predecessor, Childhood’s End, has always looked like something I would like to read, and the experience was far more entertaining than I expected. I’m surprised Rama gets more online discussion.

Thirty years after the end of WWII, alien ships fill the skies of the world’s biggest cities. The aliens will not reveal themselves, but lead Overlord Karellen communicates his expectations through one perplexed bureaucrat, Rikki Stormgren. Over the next eighty years, the world changes due to the Overlords’ indirect peaceful, yet intrusive rule, but their interest in Earth’s affairs remains a mystery. Continue reading

The Big Time by Fritz Leiber

A Nazi, a Roman, and an English poet walk into a bar set in the Void of the Universe…

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— Stop me if you’ve heard this one…–

That’s where Leiber starts his surreal tale about chronologically mismatched barroom patrons unwinding after a battle in the destructive Change War. It gets more bizarre as his Time Soldiers alternately carouse and argue with some lady “ghosts”, a fuzzy-tentacled moon alien, a satyr, and a Minoan warrior chick, with a devil horn hairdo and an atom bomb. Escorts are provided for amusement, one of whom narrates the story, in her unsophisticated and puerile way.  

The Change War is fought between cryptic rivals, the Spiders and the Snakes, within the Void of the universe. Leiber’s stage is the Void bar, his cast are the patrons, and, naturally, (although nothing about this book is natural), the hijinks ensue. Continue reading