All Flesh is Grass (1965) by Clifford D. Simak

allfleshisgrass I want to take back what I said in my monthly review about this Simak novel being more wacky than contemplative. Looking back, I see no reason why I would say such a thing. In a way, it reminds me of his Time is the Simplest Thing (1961), which is wacky–or whacked out, rather–with a giant pink alien blob and meat plants and a kind of Halloween motif, but All Flesh is Grass isn’t quite that ridiculous, so maybe what I meant to say was that it’s ‘colorful.’ Continue reading

The Clone (1965) by Theodore L. Thomas & Kate Wilhelm

TheClone1One night, beneath the streets of the city, four ingredients found their way into the same collector box in the underground sewer system. There these ingredients–muriatic acid; trisodium phosphate; a bit of meat; and a fleck of silica gel– combined in a warm, seething liquid and gave birth to a hideous, destructive force: the clone…


If you pay attention to any B-movie film analysis–which I don’t, so I assume it’s entered the realm of common knowledge ever since SF clickbait sites have gotten hold of it– you are likely aware that the sci-fi and horror B-movies of old have been interpreted as figurative embodiments of subconscious social fear, usually of communism, but sometimes of sex. The Blob (1958) is a classic example of this idea, where theorists have posited that the pulsating, slithering, red glob of taciturn goo from outer space is actually a metaphor for America’s uninformed terror at the spread of the Soviet state. The Blob is the embodiment of the Red Menace.
Continue reading

The Slightly Alternate History of The Man in the High Castle (1963) by Philip K. Dick

thmnnthhgh1982Throughout all my writing (including TMITHC especially) there is a preoccupation with fakes and the fake: fake worlds, fake humans, fake objects, fake time, etc… Again and again I attempt to formulate critieria for what is fake and what is not fake. (21:22, Part Two, The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick)

TMITHC is a fascinating adjunct to all this, i.e., to the Gestalt. Fakes are discussed. Alternate universes exist. Fascism is the topic, and a book is reality, which seems to have some connection with Tears. TMITHC seems to be a subtle, even delicate questioning of, what is real? As if only the 2 books in it, Grasshopper and the I Ching, are really the only actual reality. Strange. (19:35, Part Two, The Exegesis…)

Juliana’s bra size is thirty-eight, signaling the 38th hexagram in the I Ching, ‘opposition is a prerequisite for union.’ The ongoing bra references are a metaphor for our own irreality, an effort to lift-and-separate the converging realities, the borders of which we cannot otherwise perceive.” (Archer Maytree, controversial PKD scholar and author of The Grasshopper Lies: The Philip K. Dick of the I Ching, p. 38)


This year’s Exegesis with a side of fiction PKD challenge hosted by BookPunks means that I have officially overdosed on Philip K. Dick and it’s a lot worse than just seeing a pink light while an AI satellite channels God or something into my brain. I’ve temporarily postponed The Three Stigmata of Timothy Archer because I simply could not do with more quasi-religious psychedelics, and moved ahead to his politically-charged alt-history The Man in the High Castle. This was a good decision. Continue reading

Back to the Hugos: 1966

It’s Hugo Week! And I’m just not that into it! So you know what that means… it’s time to go… Back to the Hugos!

Hugo Year: 1966

Fifty years ago: Muhammad Ali defied the draft, Indira Gandhi headed India, and the Miranda Rights were born (remember those?).

Meanwhile, Isaac Asimov announced a tie at Tricon in Cleveland when Hugo voters couldn’t decide between an ecological sand opera and a jaded god. (Also notable: A little story called “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman” won the Hugo for Best Short Fiction. As much as I complain about Harlan Ellison, I do adore this story.)

The list:

Screenshot 2016-08-13 at 8.26.51 PM

A tie! THE WINNERS: DUNE by Frank Herbert & THIS IMMORTAL by Roger Zelazny! Followed by THE SQUARES OF THE CITY by John Brunner, THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS by Robert Heinlein, and SKYLARK DUQUESNE by EE Smith.

My own time traveling ballot: Continue reading

Skylark Duquesne (Skylark #4) (1965) by E. E. Smith

SkylarkDuquesneI’d like to preface this by pointing out that this book was first serialized in 1965. I know that doesn’t mean much to a lot of SF readers who assume that everything old is “bad” and everything new is either fresh, progressive, or in some way worth reading, and who balk at the minor suggestion to dip into the vintage pond occasionally, if only to gain a new perspective on the modern things they’ve been reading and perhaps expand on the historical timeline we have in our heads, but reading old SF will at least confirm that yes, a lot of old SF is not very good, though for a variety of reasons and to varying degrees, but it will also likely demonstrate that it isn’t much different from a lot of the stuff being churned out and popularized today.

The thing is, this story feels like it should have been published in the 1930s. Although the ‘60s gave us plenty of stilt and cringe, it’s a different kind of stilt and cringe, and Skylark Duquesne just isn’t that, er, hip. As Doc Smith’s final installment in his decades-long Skylark series, the story style doesn’t mature along with its fans (assuming they matured) and the rest of SF, but I guess fans were fine with it because it was nominated for a Hugo award (never a sign of quality in any year, as you know from my constant bitching, but this one feels more like a retro Hugo contender, i.e. an old fan favorite based on unreliable, fuzzy memories and childhood sentimentality). Continue reading

The Sword of Aldones (1962) by Marion Zimmer Bradley

TheSwordofAldones“There is– MORE? No, no, dear Marion. This is the part of me you never knew would come. My telepathic powers have–” I shook my head tersely as I haltingly explained what I have had to explain too many times before. I sighed. “Must I say this again if only to say it once more? Marion, when we were in rapport, it was only as a duty– I was blocking you from truly entering my mind because… because–” I broke off interjectingly. I just could not do this to this poor, young, beautiful girl. But I had to. “Marion, it is because your book is not good for me.” Continue reading

Solaris (1961) by Stanislaw Lem

Solaris2Somehow, somewhere in my readings, I mistakenly picked up on the idea that Olaf Stapledon’s Star Maker (1937) and 1961’s Solaris by Polish writer Stanislaw Lem (whose name is the worst kind of tongue twister*) are novels of similar substance. I’m not sure what misled me to that assumption, but while they both share the “sapient celestial object” concept that is central to both novels, they are entirely different, with Solaris being a traditional sci-fi story in the generic tradition, gleaning elements from sci-fi pulps and Lovecraftian horror, while Star Maker‘s greater scope functions strictly as an existential examination of humanity. While Solaris also does the whole “existential examination” thing, it’s not monopolized by that conceit– it easily functions as a just-a-story. What similarities do exist are likely due to Stapledon’s influence on Lem, as is the case for a large segment of science fiction writers who grew up under the legacy of sci-fi’s staple don.

In Solaris, we meet Kris Kelvin, who arrives on the Solaris Station after years of space travel, only to discover the station in disarray, with one colleague dead, another isolated in his lab, and another drunk and making vague, ominous threats. Continue reading

Ubik (1969) by Philip K. Dick

Ubik 1Are you bored with writing yet another Philip K. Dick book review? Do you sometimes have a hard time distinguishing between PKD stories? Do you worry that everything that can possibly be said about PKD has been written already, even by PKD himself? Well fret no more! Perk up your PKD blog posts with a quick game that everybody’ll love! With PKD Bingo, you’ll make your point in the half the time, and without all those extra words. Your readers will say, ‘Christ, I used to think your SF blog was only so-so. But now, wow! With PKD Bingo, I feel like I really know Dick!’ And remember, blackout winners will receive a lifetime supply of empty aerosol cans! Continue reading

The Drowned World (1962) by J.G. Ballard

TheDrownedWorld1…which you start on the couch, nose scrunched at the outmoded tone, then a chill settles in, so you swaddle yourself in a blanket, but that’s not enough, so you migrate to the bedroom and burrow beneath the comforters, but the bed feels scratchy, so you finish it submerged in the bath, towels draped over to capture the steam, and the book is disintegrating, but it’s no matter because your hands have become flippers…

The Squares of the City (1965) by John Brunner

TheSquaresoftheCity1To borrow Robert Silverberg’s erroneous phrasing about James Tiptree’s gender, there is something “ineluctably” American about British author John Brunner’s style (or variety of styles, rather). Last week, I said as much about Charles Stross’s format when compared to his British author peers, but with Brunner, this isn’t about American formula, it’s about feel—a consciously American feel— which heightens his work, impressing itself into the pages with brash entitlement, bold statements, and clean prose. This consistency in feel is all the more striking considering the range of styles his novels explore.

It’s all the more noticeable in The Squares of the City, his 1965 Hugo-nominated novel about an Australian traffic planner commissioned by the city of Vados, capital city of the fictional South American nation of Aguazul, to do the near-impossible: make the perfect city of Vados more perfect by solving its minor traffic problems. But controversy surrounds the project when the traffic troubles take on a human aspect, and what at first appears to be an innocuous Latin American city transformed by wealth, reveals a more sinister agenda of politics and game-playing. Continue reading