" 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

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Reading Exercise

I have been a bit lazy with my blogging, so lets start again. My buddy Doug and I (see his guest post here https://ajaggedorbit.blogspot.ca/2017/05/guest-post-comments-on-h-beam-pipers.html ) meet once a week to discuss among other things SF. So I suggested we create a reading list of novels and short stories that we would both read and then discuss the next week. The criteria is fairly open, except the novels cannot be over 200 pages. This is because my attention span and eyesight are not what they used to be and I like to be able to cover a few things in a week. Also if I left it open Doug would probably try to sneak in some enormous tome like one of Weber's Safehold novels and well let's not go there. Otherwise we mostly alternate picks, Doug and I both both started reading SF with material published in the 1940's and 1950's and that and the page limit may influence what we read but we will try to be somewhat inclusive. I am trying to suggest material or authors I have not read especially some that are considered important in the history of SF that I missed the first time. But we also consider items one or both of us have already read and want to discuss. Doug has suggested a number of short stories and while I have a goodly number of anthologies some of these were never reprinted, go figure. So Doug brings over copies from his extensive collection of Analog/Astounding, Galaxy and If and I geek out over the covers, the illustrations and things in the table of contents other than the suggested stories. So that works. I will put together post on some of the items but so far we have read.

The Space Merchants, Pohl and Anderson
Strangers in Paradise, Christopher Anvil
The Voyage of the Space Beagle, Van Vogt
Close to Critical, Hal Clement
Time is the Simplest Thing, Clifford Simak
"Epilog" (ss), Poul Anderson
"Specialist" (ss), Robert Sheckley
"Null-ABC" (ss), H. Beam Piper and John J. McGuire

Some items for the next couple of weeks.

I am enjoying the exercise. I read stuff I would not have picked, I go through my library and the web looking for other titles to suggest, I love the hands on with the old magazines and I get to hear Doug's observations and opinions on what we cover. While Doug has suggested that we don't have to finish something we don't like I am more likely to finish a work I have started once we have both agreed to put it on the list. It also reinforces what a diverse field SF is in both subject matter and style. Doug's approach to the exercise as well as his tastes and mine often diverge but that also gives me a better understanding of the field and what people are taking from it, it is good to be flexible.

Doug has kindly supplied his take on our experience so far.

"I am making an interesting discovery, in that much of the material that I have been reading over the last few years, has been stuff that I have read before. The most attractive stories were/are ones that allow me to transport my imagination into very familiar worlds even with new extensions to the story sequence. What this exercise you have given me has done has allowed me to either enter the old world's through a different door, or to read books that I have not read before, the sum of these approaches has been quite revealing."

Bud Webster, SF writer and essayist in his, Anthopology 101: Reflections, Inspections and Dissections of SF Anthologies, when discussing the anthologies of Groff Conklin (24) notes
"At the time I was eight or nine , I didn't always notice who wrote the stories I read, and, with a few exceptions, I didn't bother to remember from one time to the next which writer I'd liked best the last time, I simply read everything with a rocket ship or an atom on the spine, indiscriminately.
But I kept noticing that the stories I liked best, the ones I'd remember from one week to the next, the ones I thrust on my friends with the words, "You GOTTA read THIS one!","

this exercise is a bit like that.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

New Arrivals including Vance, Ellison, Hoyle and other

A trip to Fair's Fair Books Thursday surpassed my wildest expectations. The first book I found was one I have wanted ever since I knew it existed but never expected to find. The 1950 Hillman Periodicals edition of The Dying Earth by Jack Vance in very good condition. Shown with the appropriate page from John Clute's Science Fiction: The Illustrated Encyclopedia. Cover uncredited.

I also found a rather odd collection of collaborations by Harlan Ellison and everyone he could apparently talk into participating including one of my favourites Van Vogt. Should be interesting. Cover by the Dillions.

I am always a sucker for Hoyle (although his The Incandescent Ones  has to be the silliest SF book I have ever actually finished, think space skier, not surfer) but I loved this 1961 Richard Powers cover.

Here we have a transportation themed group, a space ark, (Thomas Hubschman) cover by Romas Kukalis. A zombie ship, cover by Paul Lehr and Edmund Cooper offers us a star ship carrying a small crew desperate to escape a dying Earth, cover by Jim Burns. 

My buddy Doug and I were discussing Lee Correy this week and I was interested in reading Space Doctor for a projected post on medical themed SF. 

Lee Correy was actually G. Harry Stine, wikipedia notes .

"Stine and his wife Barbara were friends of author Robert A. Heinlein, who sponsored their wedding, as Harry's parents were dead and Barbara's mother too ill to travel. Several of Heinlein's books are dedicated one or both of them, most particularly Have Space Suit - Will Travel.[1] "

Cover by Rick Sternbach.

I have been looking for this title by Geston ever since I read Ralph E. Vaughan's post on Lords of the Starship. Cover by H. R. Van Dongen.

Here we have a very, dare I say mod, cover by Karel Thole. For more on Thole I recommend a search of https://sciencefictionruminations.com/ by Joachim Boaz.

And something a bit more old school. A Pair from Space the cover is uncredited. The Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction the cover is from the always entertaining Ed Emshwiller. And did I mention I found the Hillman Periodicals edition of The Dying Earth?

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Ursula K. Le Guin, October 21, 1929 - January 22, 2018, The Lathe of Heaven

"What will the creature made all of sea drift do on the dry sand of daylight; 
what will the mind do each morning. waking?” (7) The Lathe of Heaven

Some time ago my wife mentioned that Ursula K.Le Guin had passed away, we read and enjoyed her science fiction and many years ago had the opportunity to attend a talk she gave in Calgary. She was a thoughtful and compassionate voice, within the libertarian sea infesting much of science fiction.

Helen also supplied to this link to a fascinating and wide-ranging conversation with Le Guin by John Freeman which appeared on The Literary Hub.

While I have read science fiction since I was a teenager I suspect I came to Le Guin rather late. I received an undergraduate degree in Anthropology in the late 1970’s and I knew of her parents Alfred Louis Kroeber and Theodora Kroeber, as well as Ishi the Native American of the Yahi/Yana culture who was the subject of some of their research, (including Theodora’s book, Ishi in Two Worlds: a biography of the last wild Indian in North America) before I read any of Le Guin’s work. One thing I enjoy about LeGuin’s work is the obvious knowledge of anthropology that she brings to her world building and the cultures that inhabit it.

"Christopher Priest has said all that needs to be said. I had never met her, nor read enough of her, but I regard The Lathe of Heaven as one of the greatest SF novels of the last fifty years."

Alistair Reynolds

From Tor

An interview with Wired from 2012

Which includes the following quote:

"Wired: I’m a big fan of Philip K. Dick, and when I attended the Clarion writers workshop, Tim Powers and Karen Joy Fowler assigned each of us a book to read that they thought would resonate with us, and the book that they assigned me was The Lathe of Heaven, which they described as an homage to Philip K. Dick, and I’ve always wondered if that’s true?

Le Guin: Oh yeah, definitely. You know, I couldn’t write a Phil Dick book, but I could steal some of his tricks, in a way. Pulling reality out from under the reader all the time, changing reality on them, the way he does. Well, I did it through dreams. Phil would have done it another way. But yeah, homage to Phil Dick is right."

Rather than look at Le Guin’s entire career, (I do not pretend to have read everything she wrote and I have not read any off her recent work), I want to focus on my favourite Le Guin novel, The Lathe of Heaven. The first step was to reread the novel to see if it held up to my memory and if I still enjoyed it. I enjoyed it even more and was even more impressed with Le Guin not just as a science fiction writer but as a writer and stylist is general.

The book is filled with bits of observation or description that illuminate the text like gemstones suddenly appearing within a stream bed.

“She had French diseases of the soul” (82)

It was no longer pleasant to exchange glances with the moon” (82) 

“At dreaming - at what dreaming is an aspect of. They’ve done it for a long time. for always, I guess. They are of the dream time. I don’t understand it. I can’t say it in words. Everything dreams. The play of forms, of being, is the dreaming of substance. Rocks have their dreams and the earth changes. “ 143 

‘I don’t know. Things don’t have purposes, as if the universe was a machine, where every part has a useful function. What’s the function of a galaxy? I don’t know if our life has a purpose and I don’t see that it matters. What does matter is that we’re a part. Like a thread in a cloth or a grass-blade in a field. It is and we are. What we do is like wind blowing on the grass.” (73)

‘“ “Sleeping people are so remote,” she said, still looking at Orr, where are they…”  (60)

On to the novel. George Orr is a draftsman living in Portland Oregon in 2002. When the book opens George is dreaming that he is walking through a bombed out Portland while dying of radiation poisoning. The dream is disturbing enough that the building medic has been summoned. As he treats Orr it is revealed that Orr has exceeded the amount of medication allowed on his government issued Pharmacy Card by borrowing from friends.  As a result Orr has been recommended for VTT (Voluntary Therapeutic Treatment), refusal to participate could result in a jail sentence or imprisonment in a mental institution. In time Orr’s case is referred to Dr. William Haber an oneirologist specializing in dreams because Orr has been using drugs in an attempt to suppress dreaming. Orr has done this because he is convinced that certain, particularly vivid dreams that he has, especially when he is stressed can actually alter reality. And as he tells Haber while Orr can remember the changes everyone else simply accepts the changed reality as normal. Hamer decides he can treat Orr’s delusion using hypnosis and a EEG machine fitted with a trance cap of his own design.

The America Orr and Haber inhabit has been changed radically, the world population is now 7 billion. The world has been altered by climate change with rising sea levels destroying major cities and Portland experiences  almost continuous rain. The poor including working poor like Orr are squeezed into tiny rooms and have inadequate food causing them to exhibit many of the symptoms of malnutrition. A huge war in the Middle East threatens to draw in the rest of the nuclear powers. 

I thought Le Guin’s strength at characterization was really on display in this novel. She vividly and concisely presents the personalities of the characters. Orr, unhappy with Haber’s treatment eventually turns to an attorney, Heather Lelache in the hope she can extricate him from Haber. Lelache views herself as having a personality very different from the rather passive Orr. 

 Lelache “ thought of herself as a Black widow. There she sat, poisonous, hard, shiny, and poisonous; waiting, waiting.
And the victim came.’’ (40) 

It is interesting that both Harber and Lelache see something feminine in Orr. The passage detailing Lelache’s first meeting with Orr quoted above continues,” A born victim. Hair like a little girl’s, brown and fine, little blond beard; soft white skin like a fish’s belly; meek mild, stuttering. “ (40) 

Haber during his first meeting with Orr notes “ there was a acceptant, passive quality about him that seems feminine or even childish. Hamer recognized in himself a protective/bullying reaction towards this physically slight and compliant man. To dominate, to patronize was so easy as to be almost irresistible.” (21)

Although later in the novel Lelache comes to see something else in Orr. 

‘the infinite possibility, the unlimited and unqualified wholeness of being of the uncommitted, the non acting, the uncarved: the being who, being nothing but himself, is everything.” (84)


Wikipedia has an excellent discussion of this novel. It discusses the various movements and philosophies that Le Guin may be examining as well as possible influences and is well worth reading. What I would like to do is simply to offer my reaction to the novel here. First I will say that since I have been reading science fiction with the intention of posting here, several books have come to represent for me the science fiction imagination or experience, I intend to develop this idea further in a future post but The Lathe of Heaven has definitely joined that list.

Note there are spoilers ahead. 

I enjoyed and got more out of this novel as an old duffer than I did as a more callow youth. As someone who has both insomnia and sleep apnea I emphasized with Orr's dilemma of not enough sleep, even though I rarely remember dreams and dreams were the source or Orr’s problems. I also loved that Orr was not the Van Vogt superman of much of science fiction but a typical human, sometimes a victim but often with unsuspected strength and depth. I really enjoyed the way the main premise of the novel allowed Le Guin, through Orr’s dreams, to examine so many of science fiction’s themes or tropes, utopias, dystopians, nuclear war, climate change, alien invasion, etc. 

Once the aliens appear ( you were warned about spoilers ) I appreciated how they continued to be a constant element and that they continued to interact with and support Orr regardless of subsequent changes to reality. This really was a nice personal take on the trope of benevolent aliens saving a damaged humanity. The character Mannie also seems to continue to exist throughout the various versions of reality, possibly a indication of how important he is to Orr. It is interesting that the Beatles tune " With a Little Help from My friends" plays an important role in one of Orr's bleaker realities.

“The Alien watched them from within the the glass-fronted shop, as a sea creature might watch from an aquarium, seeing them pass and disappear into the mist.” (156) 

This plot also allows Le Guin to look at the (possibly even more important issues today) of the unintended consequences imbedded in change and the moral responsibility (if one accepts it) of power.

“I have frequently wondered if the majority of mankind ever pause to reflect upon the occasionally titanic significance of dreams, and of the obscure world to which they belong. Whilst the greater number of our nocturnal visions are perhaps no more than faint and fantastic reflections of our waking experiences—Freud to the contrary with his puerile symbolism—there are still a certain remainder whose immundane and ethereal character permits of no ordinary interpretation, and whose vaguely exciting and disquieting effect suggests possible minute glimpses into a sphere of mental existence no less important than physical life, yet separated from that life by an all but impassable barrier.”

from Beyond the Walls of Sleep H.p. Lovecraft

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

New Arrivals from Digit and Pan

Before our trip to London in October, I pondered what I would find in the way of used SF Penguins, and the answer was not much. 

I was also hoping to find some books from the UK publishers Badger Books and Digit Books. Before I left I found some titles from Digit on ABE and wondered whether to buy them or hold off in the hopes of finding cheaper copies in London. I went ahead and bought them, which was good because I found none in London. 

As a Canadian I am always on the lookout for a Van Vogt cover I have not seen. This cover for Mission to The Stars by Ed Valigurskyion (Digit 1962) was also used for an Ace edition of Clifford D. Simak's City (ACE 1958).

The next four covers were purchased from ABE bookseller Raymond Tait and carried the description "From the collection of Derek Ingram, late Fellow of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge". In additional emails with Mr Tait, I found him to be a very pleasant and fair individual and I loved the idea of providing a home for a small portion of another collector's library. If you liked Harry Potter google Gonville & Caius College and take a look at the photo of the dinning hall

The Pawns of Null-A  (Digit 1960) cover by Ed Emshwiller.

The Weapon Makers (Digit 1961) cover by Ed Valigursky, this illustration also appeared on
Ace Double 457, for John Brunner's The Skynappers, (Ace 1960).

City Under the Sea, (Digit 1961) this gem of a cover is by Brian Lewis.

I could not resist this Heinlein collection from Pan Books in part because it depicted an older individual, something that seems rare on SF covers. That Man Who Sold The Moon, (Pan 1955) cover by Gerald Quinn. 

Thursday, December 21, 2017