Tag Archives: 1950s

Space Science Fiction Magazine – August 1957

spaceI picked this little gem up from a Yerdle swap a few months ago and have finally gotten around to reading it. I’m not trying to do a book report here but do want to jot down a few notes just to jog my memory in the future.


“Flying Saucers Do Exist” – Steve Frazee
This 48-page novella is simply the standard narrative of a young man who shows up in town with a wild story about aliens and the townsfolk have a hard time swallowing his tale. As time goes on more evidence comes to the fore but not until… well, I don’t want to be a complete spoiler but needless to say it’s not a happy ending.

One item of note is that Frazee’s aliens are pretty unique in their creepiness.  It’s rare that non-humanoids make an appearance in space lit but in this case they’re weird H-shaped creatures that cartwheel around their craft.  The imagery is a bit jarring.


The Thing From Outer Space – Jean Martin
At about 18 pages this one is very brief. I’d categorize it as a weird mix of gardening, alien visitation and a love story. If my grandfather were to summarize it he’d probably say something along the lines of “Alien critters came down and got in the punkin’ patch”. The overall moral pitch of this tale though is a not common one. Didn’t God make all of us, even aliens? It points out.


The Star Dream – Raymond F. Jones
I’d summarize this 25-page story as a love-triangle with sides that span space and time. Our protagonist is building a massive device to fling himself to the nearest star in hopes of finding his long-lost love. This is all well and good except that his Earth-wife isn’t terribly happy about the competition. The narrative flows along well enough until it reaches its horribly maudlin conclusion and bows out with the line (paraphrasing) “I’ve found something so much faster than the speed of light: an angel’s wings”


An Experiment in Gumdrops – Russ Winterbotham
At under 10 pages this was one of the briefest stories in the edition but to me it was one of the most pointedly apropos. A businessman travels to an alien planet and recruits a life form with a very helpful skill to assist with his newest business venture. He pays for this unique talent with the most minimal of remittances and all seems well until the alien wises up… in a manner of speaking.

This one has a strong undercurrent of that old adage that you never know what you’re missing until you have it. Ignorance truly is bliss even if you’re on a barren rock digging your way through solid stone for a living.


A Practical Man’s Guide – Jack Vance
At a mere 7 pages this one hits fast and quick. Our protagonist is the editor of a DIY magazine and he’s come across a real doozie of an idea from one of his readers. The submitter’s description of the idea is vague enough that we never really do find out for sure what it is but when the editor follows the submitter’s incomplete instructions he finds himself…. well, we don’t really know where. This one is a delightfully open-ended little story that might end up a thousand different ways. Almost everything is left to the reader’s imagination.


Slow Djinn – Mack Reynolds
As you might guess, this little story revolves around that most ubiquitous and troublesome of magical servants, the Djinn. Rather than being a malevolent beast though this one is just downright idiotic. He certainly does try but despite the intent all goes to rot and ruin until his clever master finally figures the right way to utilize this slave’s exponential ignorance.


Critical Mass – Arthur C. Clarke
Who knows what horrendous thing will happen if Clarke’s main character can’t contain the destruction that’s rumbling down the road in this tiny story. Excitement builds to a fever pitch until nobody can stand it any longer in this honey of a tale.


OK, so that’s the 2-minute overview. On to the next book!

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Peanuts Every Sunday: 1952-1955 (Peanuts Every Sunday)

Click the cover to view the review on Amazon and vote it helpful if you find it so!

If you’re here then I don’t need to tell you about the content of this particular book because you’re probably already a fan. This is some of the very earliest work in the series and for more casual readers these may not seem like the Peanuts they grew up with in later decades. Despite that difference these are true classics that belong in any collection.

Since I don’t need to tell you about the content, I will go on at some length instead about the quality of the publication itself. Firstly, be careful reading other reviews on this title as they refer to much older editions. If you buy the book from Amazon today you’ll get a huge coffee-table book with startlingly crisp printing and vibrant graphics. This book is what I had hoped for from the ‘Complete Peanuts’ series and is just about everything you could ask for in a reprint series.

The only negative I’ll bring up is that it’s almost too nice to actually read. The paper is thick stock; the dust jacket is pristine; it’s a durable hardcover. It’s like having a new car that you park far from the front of the lot so nobody parks near you. I feel guilty sitting down to actually read it for fear that I’ll get something on it or some simple mischance will mar its perfection. If you have no such compunctions then you’ll be fine.

In summary, this is the book you want and makes a breathtaking gift for any fan of the comic. I live in fear that the binding may give out after years of reading but if a few pages make their way lose then they’d all be suitable for framing. It’s just THAT high quality.

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May 25, 2013 – Of Books, Bradbury, Artichokes and Teeny Tiny Theatres

So what are these posts about…?

From time to time I tell myself that I’m going to sit down each day and write about the various and sundry inputs that pass through my life and record some of the random rot that goes on from day to day.  In general, I don’t expect this to be especially interesting to anyone else unless they have a hidden streak of curiosity or voyeurism but both of those things represent a large proportion of what the blogging world is about, so mayhaps I err in my assertion.

On Books

As anyone who’s read this blog for a while will note, I have spent the past several months reading very current publications.  Thanks to GoodReads and publishing houses who are eager for readers to talk (and write about) their latest, I’ve had no shortage of books piled up on my shelves… and my desk… and the floor… and other people’s desks, shelves and floors.  It’s been gratifying, to an extent, to have anyone give a hoot about what I had to say about a book and it has satisfied my material urges quite nicely.  There’s nothing quite like having things just show up in the mail seemingly at random.  However, as I was moving some stuff about the apartment in preparation for actual furniture to arrive, I happened upon the pile of books I was working on before the glut of new material started showing up about a year ago.  This was chock full of booksale finds, old editions of classic literature and lots of very deep non-fiction titles.  In a fit of nostalgia I pushed aside the new and shiny and sat down with an old copy of one of Ray Bradbury’s short story collections and I can’t help but feel the proverbial worm has turned and the fad of new and flashy has passed.

Looking back on my history a bit, there was a time when I refused to read anything less than 100 years old.  The reasoning went somewhat along the lines that if people still bother to read it after 100 years then it MUST be worthwhile.  I don’t think I’m ever likely to go quite to that extent again, I have revived my appreciation for the old musty, dusty and trusty.

On Bradbury

In general, when I think of Bradbury, I tend to lump him in with the pulp sci-fi writers from the 50s with their robots and rocket ships but this is a misconception drawn from my failure to read him often enough. It takes all of about 10 pages to realize that Bradbury isn’t writing about technology at all really. He’s writing about people (and societies) and the way they change as their world changes and becomes more technological.  That’s a much deeper and potent conversation to have than anything you might get from the average sci-fi writer of the period.  In particular, three stories from the first quarter of the book struck me today as relevant to us today.  It should be noted that anything I write below will be a complete and utter spoiler so consider yourself warned.

In ‘The Pedestrian’ the year is 2052 and a man is out for a stroll.  He walks through neighborhood after neighborhood and meets no one.  The streets are quite as a morgue, the entire population tucked up in their houses watching the television as he makes his way along.  Finally, the police, or what little is left of the police force since everyone is so well behave, find him and arrest him for his non-conformity, assuming that if he’s out on the street then he must be guilty of something.  The world today, while not descended quite to this situation, seems well on its way.  Children no longer play outside; they sit on the sofa and play video games.  What will the world be like in another 40 years when those children grow up to all be adults who are sitting on their sofas doing whatever people will do with their time?

‘The Flying Machine’ is set in China in 400 A.D. and reads more like an Aesop’s Fable than a modern short story.  The story begins as Emperor Yuan awakes to find a man flying over the countryside in a suit of his own making.  The man’s clever invention gives him the power of the birds and invokes considerable envy from the Emperor.  Fortunately (or unfortunately as you choose to see it), the Emperor sees that no good will come of this and orders the man and his suit destroyed before the populace can learn of the invention and do insane with greed to all own one.  One can see easily the historical backdrop of the story as mankind develops newer and more effective bombs to blow himself out of existence throughout the 50s.  Times haven’t changed much since, sadly.

Lastly, we have the story titled simply, ‘The Murderer’.  The time is, from Bradbury’s perspective, the not-so-distant future.  I would argue that in many ways Bradbury’s prophesied time has come.  The protagonist in our story is a typical man of his times.  Everywhere he goes he is treated to music and advertising.  His house talks to him each time he comes in the door to make sure he takes off his muddy shoes.  His wrist radio keeps him in touch with his wife and friends every few minutes tracking their every movement from their progress on the way home to what they had for dinner.  His world is one of simply too much connectedness in which there is nary a moment of quiet to be had.  Finally, in a fit of pique he begins to take his vengeance and win back his freedom.  He stomps on his radio; pours ice cream into his car stereo, pummels the computers in his home…. until he’s carted off by the police as a deviant.  All this brought to mind our current world.  We are now so connected that I know what people have  for dinner despite the fact that I haven’t seen them in 20 years.  Thanks to Facebook and Twitter and Foursquare and a million other services, I feel like I have some connection to people that in reality… I don’t.  Some of them tell me every day about what they did that day yet I wouldn’t recognize them if they walked straight past me on the street.  After this I deleted Facebook and Twitter from my phone and haven’t looked back since.  There’s a place for connectedness but it really has to be on one’s own terms and at a time of one’s choosing.

Artichokes

Now, of course, in a fit of irony, I will go on about what I had for dinner last night.  Before the play, we journeyed to “The Chatham Tap” on Mass Avenue and had the most marvelous artichoke and spinach pizza in the known universe.  I’ve heard it said that “artichokes will substitute for any meat” but I am increasingly convinced of the truth of this.  It is my hope that the artichoke remains unpopular, however, so that more are left for me.  It would be regretable if they should ever reach $20/pound.  I might fritter away my entire salary on these delectable and under appreciated vegetables.

Teeny Tiny Theatres

After the delightful ‘chokes, we took ourselves to Theatre on the Square.  I’ve been a fairly consistent visitor there for a while and it never ceases to amaze me that such places exist.  As a rather shy person, I tend to worship anyone who can get in front of a crowd and speak confidently.  Because of this, it’s rather giddy to go see a play that is so close to your seat that you have to keep your feet under your seat for fear of tripping the actors.  It also makes me happy to go somewhere that the LGBT community is embraced and welcomed with such open arms.  This is Indiana so it’s far from a given that people are going to accept such differences.  It’s nice to know there’s an island of openness and sanity even in the heart of the Midwest.

OK, that’s it.  That’s what made me think on May the 25th.  Any feedback or commentary is, as always, appreciated.

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The Summer of France by Paulita Kincer

The Summer of FranceThe Summer of France by Paulita Kincer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As is the usual opening for one of my reviews, I received this book for free. This time it was part of a GoodReads giveaway. Despite the fact that it arrived at my door for the princely sum of nothing at all, I shall give my candid opinions forthwith.

Our protagonist is a life-long Midwesterner who gets the call from an uncle, living in France, to come relieve him of his duties running a bed and breakfast. He invites her for a few months… or a year…. or forever. Dutifully, she uproots her family and moves across the rolling blue ocean of the Atlantic, but not long after her arrival she realizes there’s a sinister shadow hanging over her uncle and his dark history during the war.

Kincer’s novel is reasonably well written but her characters inspire in the reader some real annoyance. Without giving too much away in my commentary, the protagonist’s husband becomes an inspired ass not long after their arrival, her children are singularly self-obsessed and our main character is hopelessly helpless in any attempt to defend herself or her family. The world seems to fall apart around her and she chugs along mindlessly in her rut until it’s far too late. This book amounts to reasonably good writing wrapped around an incredibly predictable story.

The real problem here isn’t one of execution so much as the exercise of uncountable cliche situations. In many previous reviews I have summarily dispensed with authors because they were unable to execute technically on a chosen theme. In this case, our writer is an effective one. She writes in a very readable and very engaging manner. Unfortunately, she has chosen for her book the plot of at least a dozen movies from the 1950s. Again, I feel obligated not to illuminate in specific as a reviewer for fear of spoilers, but there’s just nothing original here. One could draw each of these characters from mid-20th century sitcoms verbatim.

In summary, the author is skilled and executes a good novel. The chosen story, however, is nothing even remotely original. This is a pity but it does give one hope for the future that some innovation will be brought to obvious technical expertise.

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The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks by Jeanne Theoharis

The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa ParksThe Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks by Jeanne Theoharis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As is usual, I received this book as part of a GoodReads drawing. Despite the kind consideration of receiving a free book I give my candid assessment below.

The main topical thrust of this book is to set the story of Parks’ life in its proper light from her initial involvement in the Civil Rights movement well before the famous Bus Incident until she finally received the Medal of Honor in 1999. Mythology paints Parks as a frail matronly figure who just happens to do the right thing at the right time. The reality that Theoharis paints is much more intriguing as it finds Parks involved in the movement for years before her epic stand and as a key figure in the leadership of the movement.

The reader is also introduced to the darker side of the story including Parks’ great personal , financial and psychological sacrifices. Highlighted too is the sexism rife within the organization that led her to be a silent participant in the early years. The Parks story is no fairy tale but instead a complex and interwoven narrative of a woman and a people who had finally just had enough of the injustice that surrounded them.

Beyond the content, the book is lavishly and intricately researched. Much of the text is provided through direct quotes from the participants. This is an exceptionally scholarly work but also one that draws the reader in and builds a deep sympathetic aura. The book concludes with 57 pages of index and appendices so it is a great research resource but unlike most books of that genre it is innately readable as well.

In summary, The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks is a elaborately painted picture of the battle against the injustice that sat sullenly over the Jim Crow South during the civil rights era from the viewpoint of one very courageous woman. Despite the common idea that racism has been expunged from American culture, this book is a great and timely reminder of those dark and tempestuous times that were not all that long ago and that still cast a shadow over us even today.

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Test Piece – Eric Frank Russell [1951]

Other Worlds Science Stories – March 1951

Other Worlds Science Stories – March 1951

(Below you will find a summary and my general interpretation of the short story ‘Test Piece’ written by Eric Frank Russell in 1951.  It is one of a multi-part series of posts devoted to the short stories appearing in the 1952 Omnibus of Science Fiction.)

Three hundred years ago, Fraser, a space-scout from Earth, hundreds of light years from his home, came upon a lonely planet named Shaksembender inhabited by a race of humanoids.  Having reached the end of his career he made his final report to Earth and chose to settle there for the rest of his life.  During his twilight years his hosts came to revere him as a God.  By the time of his death there was a shrine in his name and his teachings had become a legacy that remained woven into the culture of the planet.  When Harry Benton and his crew arrived to make official contact with the planet centuries later they had no idea what they were walking into.

Making first contact with a world is never easy but the inhabitants of Shaksembender are downright suspicious.  The delegation from the planet questions Benton and the crew closely but is nevertheless infinitely hospitable.  Before the end of the first day Benton and company have agreed, at the insistence of the Shaksembender delegation, to visit the shrine of Mr. Fraser on the following morning.  As the delegation departs, the crew begins the process of analyzing the meeting.  Their ship is equipped with a device that can read and record the thoughts of everyone on board.  Looking over the logs, they find that Fraser’s legacy is one of intense suspicion towards the people of Earth.  The Shaksembender people have laid a trap for them at the shrine to test just how far the human race has evolved since Fraser left it 300 years ago.  If they arrive at the shrine and are found unworthy, then it’s clear that they’ll never make it back to the ship alive.

The manner of the test is far from foolproof but does create much tension among the crew.  If the crew utters two specific words during their stay on the planet then they are to be branded as heathens and instantly destroyed.  Unfortunately, the thought recorder is unable to determine exactly what these two words are so the next morning a tense crew makes its way to the shrine thinking again and again what those words could possibly be that would spell their demise.  Once they arrive, the delegation from the planet reveals a portrait of Mr. Fraser, a black man with white hair, and many tense minute pass.  Finally, it’s clear that none of the crew has said the words that would spell their doom.  Relieved, the captain pulls the head of the delegation aside to tell him about the thought recorder and determine exactly what the words were that would have destroyed them all.

As it turns out, the two words could not actually be printed in a publication of the time and they will not be printed here.  The text refers to them simply as “two simple words of two syllables each” and I can only assume they refer to one grievous expletive and one derogatory word for a person of African descent.  The crew’s reaction is uplifting as they laugh at the silly “gabbledegook” while their tension wanes.  They all quickly realize that they could never possibly have been caught in the trap since it required the utterance of words they’ve never heard of in their lives.

For a story written in 1951, it really does give one hope that someday we may live in a world where words of such hatred are just gibberish from some by-gone age.  It’s been 60 years since this story was put to paper, but I like to think that every year we’re a bit closer to forgetting such epithets and learning to respect each other as human beings.

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Winner Lose All – Jack Vance [1951]

Galaxy Science Fiction 1951

Galaxy Science Fiction 1951

Thousands of light years from Earth three creatures arrive at the same spot with the same goal but very different ways of going about achieving it.

A human spacecraft has landed to mine a pitchblende outcropping.  Once they do so they can then prepare the planet for human colonization.  The Unigen, a creature composed of tiny energy ‘nodes’ loosely connected and spread throughout millions of light years of space, has discovered the deposit at the same time.  It can metabolize the uranium ore directly.  As the humans prepare to begin mining, they notice the Unigen’s nodes as mere pests and assume them to be indigenous insects.  Capturing one, they examine it microscopically but in doing so it explodes getting the attention not only of the humans but also of the suddenly wounded Unigen.

Meanwhile, a third creature, this one more plant-like, has arrived at the same deposit.  While the two sentient beings fight make plans to kill each other, the third quietly and patiently digs its roots deep into the rock face.  The humans and the Unigen fight themselves to stalemate until neither believes it’s useful to continue and eventually they both leave the planet.  Patience wins out for the third creature as its birthright is realized.  Refining the ore on which it feeds into volatile Uranium 253, the explosion which results is tremendous.  Tremendous enough, in fact, to eject the seeds of the creature into space to drift hopefully into the vastness of space until they find root on another suitable planet.

Personally, any story including panspermia is a winner in my book.  The thought that life could cross the frosty boundaries of space like a cosmic coconut to land on our planet is … well, intriguing as well as terrifying.  I hope it happens… but I also hope that when it does that it’s fairly friendly when it gets here and more importantly that it tastes good on pizza.

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