" In this universe the night was falling; the shadows were lengthening towards an east that would not know another dawn. But elsewhere the stars were still young and the light of morning lingered; and along the path he once had followed, Man would one day go again"

Arthur C. Clarke Against the Fall of Night

Thursday, October 18, 2018

New Arrivals, Anderson, Russell, Sheckly, Spinrad, (Murderbot) and others.

Fair's Fair, the used bookstore chain I frequent, has been holding a 30th Anniversary Sale with 30% off stock. Doug, my SF reading buddy, and I decided to drop by with our wives for books, then burgers at 320 Burger (the best in Calgary) and some other shopping. Things went well, I stayed on budget, basically by not looking any more once I reached it.  

But before we begin the survey I wanted to mention I just finished All System Red, the first of the Murderbot series by Martha Wells, and it was a very nice read.

I cannot resist the author issues of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

I am also a sucker for these idyllic portrayals of the future from the 1950's.  I wonder what the mortgage is on something like that. This issue contains not only Kornbluth's "The Syndic"  but "The Hanging Stranger" by Philip K. Dick and "Ground" by Hal Clement.

Ralph E. Vaughan did a lovely post on Mel Hunter's Lonely Robot covers for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction which began in the 1950's, I was hoping to find some and got lucky.  The Amazing Stories  cover is obviously similar it was done in 1953 and attributed to Gaylord Welker on the ISFDB website. The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, March 1964, is as expected by Mel Hunter.


I read the first book of the Hooded Swan series Halcyon Drift sometime ago and was delighted to find this compilation. Brian Stableford's introduction detailing the genesis of the series and its importance in shaping both his life and his career is worthwhile reading as well.

I read two volumes of Poul Anderson's Ensign Flandry series and was really surprised. I found it much better written and plotted than I had expected for a SF secret agent series of the period. The alien culture in The Rebel Worlds was particularly interesting. While I already have a copy with a lovely Powers cover I could not resist the ape with the cleaver.

 I am looking forward to reading these other volumes in the series and I love these somewhat mod covers. I really enjoy picking up British editions with different designers and cover artists. 

I have been looking for The Iron Dream for years and again I love the cover.

On a previous trip to Fair's Fair to pick up the Perry Rhodan books that I mentioned in my last post, I found Russell's "Dear Devil", a title and cover I have wanted for years.  Recently I had decided to try and find some Satellite Science Fiction, they tend to have great covers, and I like the fact they contain complete novels. This was one I had thought of ordering via ABE so it was great to find it locally. So money flows out, books flow in, and I continue to embrace a maximalist design philosophy when it comes to the written word.  

Cover Credits

'Ellison Issue', July 1977, cover by Kelly Freas.

Science Fiction Adventures, December 1953, cover Alex Schomburg.

Swan Songs, cover by Deirdre Counihan.

The Rebel Worlds, cover by Chris Achilleos

Ensign FlandryCoronet Books, 1976, cover uncredited

Flandry of Terra, Cornet Books, 1976, cover Bob Fowke

Agent of the Terran Empire, Coronet Books, 1977,  cover Bob Fowke

The Iron Dream, cover by Bob Haberfield

The Journey of Joenes, cover by Terry Oakes

No Direction Home, cover by Alun Hood

The Alchemical Marriage of Alistair Crompton, cover by Fred Gambino

"Dear Devil", Other Worlds Science Stories, May 1950, cover Malcolm Smith

Satellite Science Fiction, April 1958, cover by Mel Hunter

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Peter Nicholls, Perry Rhodan and some new arrivals

 This summer I went to the cabin with all sorts of books to read and ideas for posts. And as normal the experiences at the cabin, both good and bad, overwhelmed everything else and nothing happened here at Jagged Orbit.

So I wanted to post a bit of an update on some to the things I have read and observed over the last few months. 

First I was very sorry to read of the passing of Peter Nicholls.

"My father, Peter Nicholls, has died aged 78. He was an academic and literary critic, whose 1979 work The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction mapped the landscape of the field and remains the definitive reference work

The encyclopedia quixotically aimed at detailing every film, author and theme in the western tradition of science fiction. The entries were accessible and witty. More than a collation of facts, the encyclopedia passed judgments and advanced an argument: that science fiction was the literature of change, making it the truest literary response to the 20th century. " from


While Peter made a number of contributions to the field, it was indeed, as the editor of the 1979 The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction that I will remember him. I purchased my copy used and, while I rushed to buy the new hardcover editions of The Science Fiction Encyclopedia (1993) and the companion volume, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) when they were released, I have always kept my tape enhanced copy of the original. Paging through it introduced me not only to new authors, (and unlike the new editions, including the online version that I urge you to use, there were the occasional photos of authors Philip K. Dick, Hugo Gernsback, Ian Watson, Brian Aldiss, Joanne Russ among others, as well as book and magazine covers, movie and tv stills and other eye catching tidbits) I really enjoyed the theme articles. These allowed me to explore Cyborgs, Time Paradoxes, History in SF, History of SF, End of the World etc. leading me to even more stories and authors. It even had an entry for Dante.

So I do want to acknowledge the importance of Peter Nicholls in my experience of SF.

You can also check out Peter's entry at the link below.

Some time ago I joined the Kickstarter campaign for 2001 An Odyssey In Words so I was quite happy when this handsome copy arrived with my name among the supporters.

from the website: 

"Join the Odyssey

The Arthur C. Clarke Award has joined forces with NewCon Press to publish a new short story anthology that marks Sir Arthur's centenary and showcases new and exclusive work from some of the best science fiction writers in the world today.
A Story in 2001 Words

The Arthur C. Clarke Award is famous for its annual redefinition of that elusive term ‘science fiction,’ and Sir Arthur was always adamant that while the award may be named for him, it shouldn’t be styled on his work.

We wanted to make sure that the scope of the anthology was as broad as the fluid definition of science fiction for which the Clarke Award is renowned, while still retaining a direct acknowledgement of Sir Arthur’s own work.

The solution? A collection where every story has all the scope and freedom to imagine that an author might possibly want, but where the word count had to be precisely 2001 words (and we had rules about authors playing clever games with super-long story titles, just to make sure)."

I have only read a few stories so far, my favourites would be "Childhood's Friend" by Rachel Pollack and "Golgotha" by David Hutchinson. It is obvious that the authors in this collection are familiar with Clarke's body of work and that one can expect the stories to range widely in subject and focus.

I am always looking for new websites and posts where I can see what works and subjects interest other people about SF and perhaps introduce me to topics I will chose to explore in more detail. One such website is at the following link.


The first post I read was on Perry Rhodan a series I knew about but had never read. Looking over this website I also found a nice post with an editorial by Hugo Gernsback and entries on a number of SF artists including two of my favourites Bruce Pennington and Peter A. Jones. In a funny (spooky?) coincidence two days after reading the post we were laying in bed with our computers and my wife said "I just got an email from Jan, she wants to know if you are interested in Perry Rhodan because she just saw some at Fair's Fair". And it turns out I was.

Another new arrival was the next/last volume in Jonathan Strahan's Infinity series, Infinity's End. I have quite enjoyed the series, my only quibble would be the various size changes that have occurred over the course of the series. This is not the only series where this has happened but it always ticks me off, I have to shelve these, help me out here people. And really I have never understood the need for the large format paperback period. That said I have dipped in and liked everything I read so far with good stories by Seanan McGuire, Linda Nagata, Peter Watts and especially Foxy and Tiggs by Justina Robson. A fox and velociraptor security team working for an AI managed hotel to solve a murder, come on, I have to stop now and read it again.  

Photo credits

from The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1979)

- This marvellous cover by Frank R. Paul Feb 1933 , is the basis for the jacket illustration for the US edition of this Encyclopedia. Adapted by Dave Christensen, typography by Al Nagy.

- 2001cover Fangorn

- Perry Rhodan uncredited

Monday, June 25, 2018

Sleeping Planet and the Condé Nast Analog

In early May I posted on some new arrivals to my collection, including some large format Analog magazines. I was especially happy to get this copy with part one of Burkett's Sleeping Planet as I mentioned below.

  "Earlier, I mentioned how happy I was to get a copy of the SFBC edition of Foundation. It was the centre piece of many of the SF book club ads I had seen in my older books and magazines and it really struck a chord. When I saw this Analog with the Kelly Freas cover for William R. Burkett's Sleeping Planet, an image I have seen reproduced many times, I really had a similar feeling, that my collection had taken on a whole new shape and significance for me. "


Since then I have returned to the store on several occasions and picked up more issues including those containing parts 2 and 3 of Sleeping Planet. I also googled to see why the format changed. Wikipedia offered the following explanation. Analog's current publisher Condé Nast also published a number of "slick magazines". 

"All the advertisers in these magazines had plates made up to take advantage of this size, and Condé Nast changed Analog to the larger size from the March 1963 issue to conform. The front and back signatures were changed to glossy paper, to carry both advertisements and scientific features. The change did not attract advertising support, however, and from the April 1965 issue Analog reverted to digest size once again."

What I loved about them is that the covers held up better and the reproduction of the interior illustrations was great. I had only been lukewarm on Freas as an illustrator, but his work on the interiors here is magnificent. So I have included three of those interiors in this post. 

Another often reproduced Freas illustration from part one.

I had planned to do an extensive review of Sleeping Planet here. But Alan Brown, as part of his wonderful series on classic science fiction novels on Tor, has provided an excellent overview here. 


So I will just offer some comments. The plot concerns the invasion of Earth's solar system by a race known as the Llralans. The Earth at the time of the story, has colonies on Mars and Venus and the Terran Federation has expanded to a number of other star systems. At one time the two groups coexisted peacefully and movement between the two  empires was possible. Now a vicious war has broken out. The latest assault on Earth and the nearby planet sees the Liraions use a bioweapon that puts Terrans into a state of hibernation for an extended period. This leaves the Liraions free to occupy Earth and demand concessions from the larger Federation. A few humans are unaffected, the most important are Bradford Donovan a truck driver who lost his legs to a wild animal attack and James Rierson a lawyer who is hunting at the time of the invasion. Sleeping Planet is interesting in that an almost equal amount of the story is devoted to the Llralan side, primarily to the commander of their forces, Martak Sarno and their chief of security Drelig Sjilla. I read a paperback version and have to say I found it a bit long, especially the portions devoted to the Llralans which seemed a bit repetitive.   

However I was impressed when I found out that this was really the author's first published science fiction, novel or short story.

from Brown's post on Tor

"One of the remarkable things about this book is the fact that Mr. Burkett wrote it at age 18, and published it at age 20. But despite this auspicious start, he soon turned his attention from fiction to a career in journalism, and then to public affairs. He also did work related to his lifelong love of hunting and the outdoors. After retirement, he turned his attention back to writing SF."

I especially enjoyed the portion involving James Rierson and the robots and the more I thought about it the more impressed I was at the portrayal of Martak Sarno the Llralan commander and the deterioration of his personality over the course of the story, when faced with apparently unlimited power. A worthwhile read in my opinion. 

I also want to encourage you to read Alan Browm's other posts on Tor.com, (The one on Heinlein's Starship Troopers in one of the most insightful and even handed reviews I have read) I will return to Brown's comments on the various authors he encountered in the pages of Analog in another post. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Science Fiction and me, why I read what I read

Detail IlLL Richard Powers, for A Norton's The Space Rangers

   As part of creating and maintaining this blog I often find myself questioning why I like certain stories and novels more than others, or why certain periods or themes within science fiction attract me. I know that my tastes often differ from the science fiction my wife or my buddy Doug choose. Indeed part of the reading exercise that Doug and I have embarked on is aimed at exposing each other to works that we might not have chosen on our own. Also my wife reads novels and I prefer short stories, so while I may read the same authors, we both have a fondness for new space opera authors like Alastair Reynonds or Neil Asher, our reading diverges. Since Doug and I have a page limit (200 pages) for the works we suggest, we are limited to short stores or older novels and novellas, although I think Doug would gravitate more to longer novels in his own reading. My wife also reads new works whereas Doug and I read a combination of the old and the new.

   I have read a great deal about the history of science fiction and examined a number of best of lists as well as some theories of what constitutes science fiction. Judith Merrill for one seemed to have devoted a lot of thought to this and I recommend The Merril Theory of Lit’ry Criticism edited by Ritch Calvin, if you want to read the essays of an important science fiction editor who really tried to expand the definition of the field. I however tend to fall back on a statement Damon Knight suggested, "it means what we point to when we say it."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Definitions_of_science_fiction )

   So while I have had good natured arguments with Doug about whether Turtledove’s The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump or Randall Garrett’s Lord Darcy series are science fiction, Turtledove no, Garrett maybe, I am a reader not an academic and so while I reserve the right to occasionally examine definitions of science fiction in the future for now I will point to what I like and go from there.

   In reading for this blog I did come to realize that certain books struck me as science fiction, or what I expect or enjoy when reading science fiction. This is not to say they are for everyone or that they are better than any other books. It is not even a list (see below) of my favourites or the best books I have read. And it is obviously not to say that books not on the list are not science fiction. What I am describing is more of a feeling than anything else an idea in the back of my head that comes to the fore occasionally. Most science fiction books I read do not evoke this feeling. Often I do not add a work to this list until months after I have read it. I am not sure why there is a lag, possibly it occurs because over time the work begins to inform my subsequent reading, Foundation would be one such work. Other times it is more immediate, there may be is a feeling of familiarity or comfort, like sitting in a favourite chair, that occurs the minute I read a certain passage, as in “Epilogue ” by Poul Anderson when the robot gathers his spears and sets off on his quest. Sometimes it is not the text but the feeling the work leaves, say the exuberance I felt after completing Robert Sheckly’s somewhat silly, “Specialist". Some because I recognize them as part of a continuum, Niven’s Gil Hamilton stories for example lead me to Linda Nagata’s "Nahiku West".

   While every rule has exceptions I know, I prefer robots and aliens, space exploration and colonization and the expansion of life (I am not that human centric ) across the universe. I prefer the far future to the near. I enjoy animal allies, traders and space medics, catastrophes, mutants and the plucky survivors of nuclear war especially accompanied by giant cats. I am not that interested in religious or military themed science fiction, and the world is currently depressing enough without my reading more dystopian fiction. I enjoy the places where science fiction intersects other genre like the weird tale, the mystery or horror story. I even enjoy planetary romance. My science fiction is not predictive although life sometimes emulates it and it is not a cautionary tale, for no one listens. It can make me think but it should also entertain. I know nostalgia plays a big part in some of my choices but I have read or reread all these works in the last two years so my 12 year old self and the 60 something year old self can compare notes.

Also I want to thank Joachim Boaz at

for his post

   I have been pondering this post for quite sometime but reading his gave me the kick in the pants I needed to get it done.

In no particular order (and I may be adding titles)

The Lathe of Heaven, Ursula K. Le Guin
Foundation, “The Last Question”, “Victory unintentional”,
Isaac Asimov
Star Maker, Olaf Stapleton
Star Man’s Son, Andre Norton
World Soul, M. Emtsev and E. Parnov
A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L'Engle
“There Shall Come Soft Rain”, “The Pedestrian”,
Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
“Omniligual”, H. Beam Piper
Ralph 124C 41+, Hugo Gernsbeck
“Specialist”, Robert Sheckly
“Epilogue ”, Poul Anderson
“The Voices of Time”, J.G. Ballard

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Anthony Burgess: ‘Metropolis changed my childhood’ (Guardian Link)

In earlier posts I have discussed my love for the pulp covers of Frank R. Paul with their huge machines and sky scraping cities. I wonder how much images from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis has influenced science fiction illustration and indeed our visions of the future in general. I thought this link might be of interest.

 Anthony Burgess: ‘Metropolis changed my childhood’

A previously unpublished 1980s essay by the novelist and critic Anthony Burgess launches this year’s search for new critical writing


Cover credits

Pringle encyclopedia, detail from Metropolis.

A Clockwork Orange, Barbican edition.