" 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

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Sentinels of Space by Eric Frank Russell

  Eric Frank Russell is possibly, the science fiction author most indebted to the theories of Charles Fort for his plots. Indeed Ford’s statement, “ I think we are property", is used in Sinister Barrier, the Russell work that claimed the cover for the initial issue of John W. Campbell's pulp magazine Unknown. Certainly elements of Fort’s theories are also evident in Russell’s 1951 novel Sentinels of Space  (originally published as The Star Watchers in the Nov. 1951 issue of Startling Stories).  Space pilot Captain David Raven has been summoned before The World Council. It is obvious immediately that the Council is uncomfortable in Raven's presence and they avoid eye contact. They talk to him only long enough to tell him they have just discovered that Earth’s colonies on Mars and Venus have been responsible for a number of sabotage attacks on Earth industries and research institutions. The colonies are hoping to gain their independence. Earth does not wish to acknowledge the attacks, they feel a united solar system is needed in case they encounter aliens as they launch space expeditions further afield. Carson, the director of Earth’s Terran Security Bureau, has sifted all Earth's birth records to locate Raven, an exceptionally powerful telepath. Carson wants Raven to act as a secret agent tasked with thwarting the colonies. He meets with Raven and explains the problem in more detail. As citizens of Earth the colonists can move about Earth freely, using mutant agents to conduct the attacks. It seems that as the colonists traveled to Mars and Venus they were exposed to radiation in space. The radiation produced mutations with special powers. At present the mutants seem to be limited, each has only one power, for example telepathy, levitation, etc., there are 12 varieties in total. Raven will be sent out alone acting on his own initiative with no official status and reporting only to Carson to stop the undeclared war.

The attacks on Raven start the minute he leaves Carson’s office. Despite this, he returns home to his female companion Leina. It is obvious right away that this is not a conventional male female relationship, but then it is obvious that Raven is not simply a powerful telepath. Once he explains his role to Leina she reminds him that, “It is the unwritten law that we must never be tempted to interfere except with the prime motive of thwarting the Denebs. We might give ourselves away just sufficiently to frighten humankind…,” (19) Yes it seems that Raven and Leina are very powerful extraterrestrial observers stationed on Earth to alert their unnamed organization should an alien race called the Denebs detect the civilizations in our solar system. There are a pair of observers one male, one female on each inhabited planet. Despite the non interference directive, Raven, and Charles, the male observer, on Venus do interfere. They do this despite the objections of Leina and Charles' partner Mavis. 

And so you have a fairly pedestrian SF secret agent war with the colonies drama. It is interesting that Russell uses the theme of a lone agent taking on an entire planet several times. tor.com posted several discussions of Russell’s novel Wasp the most recent can be found here.

An earlier one appears here.


I think Wasp was a better novel although overall I probably enjoyed Sentinels of Space more because of several elements I will discuss below. However there were also elements I hated. Some of the dialogue is nonsensical rubbish, in describing a colleague mentally attacked by Raven, “It was mussed something awful. His think-stuff was like freshly stirred porridge.” (33)

It is incredibly sexist, Leina and Mavis, one can assume, are equally powerful beings but apparently according to Russell’s male characters fraught with female tendencies, Charles explains to Raven that “ Mavis got a call from Leina. As usual they gabbed an hour about personal matters before Leina remembered she’d come through to tell us you were on the Fantome. It seems she’d sooner you had kept to your proper job”
“Females remain females throughout the whole of eternity,” Raven offered. (67)

Also both Raven and Charles come across as incredibly egotistical. Normally we associate the villains with monologuing but they go on forever baiting a rebel named Thorstein, because as Russell explains later, they have to really be threatened before they can defend themselves. They are also fairly callous about individual human life, although it is not an overly violent book. Fletcher Pratt, in the Saturday Review of 6 June 1953[2] wrote: Exciting semi-classic, but is this the way super-minds work?” One hopes not, and Pratt really captures my misgivings here.

So what did I like. In one scene we see Raven and Leina reclined in chairs under a glass dome in their home. They are not looking at the night sky as much as listening to the fragments of the mental traffic of their colleagues' efforts against the Deneb race spreading across the universe, “scouting warily around Bluefire, a condensing giant. Twenty black ships of destroyer types.” "repeatedly, but complete lack of common ground makes it impossible to communicate with these Flutterers.” (150) the messages point to, a vast relatively peaceful campaign against Deneb expansion and conquest.

For most of my life I have had trouble falling sleep, so in my early teens I would lie in the dark with my transistor radio listening to the world or what bits of the world I could receive, so this passage struck a real chord. I have encountered this before in my SF reading, the signals from the lost starships in Starmasters' Gambit by Gerard Klein, or when reading about the seashell (thimble) radios used by the fireman Montag’s wife Mildred in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. These passages in Sentinels of Space
really resonate with me. Also the ending came as a pleasant surprise, I admit one of the things I liked least about Wasp was the ending. 

As a writer Russell can be a bit uneven but his story "Allamagoosa" won the short story Hugo for 1955 and his novella  "And Then There Were None" was selected by members of The Science Fiction Writers of America for inclusion in Volume IIA of The Science Fiction Hall of Fame. In his entry on Russell in Seekers of Tomorrow, Sam Moskowitz notes; “For good or bad, the astonishing bulk of Fortean phenomena and verging logically off into strange talents, stems from him. In fact, Russell virtually parodies the genre in his novel The Star Watchers …., which includes twelve mutations each enjoying a variation in special powers.” (150) My favourite mutant power here is 11, Insectivocals, and with that I am done.

(Sorry I did encounter some format issues I could not resolve in this post)

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Fun Read from the Guardian The Philip K Dick book I love most…

A fun read from the Guardian, 

Nicola Barker, Michael Moorcock, and Adam Roberts discuss their favourite P. K. Dick novel.

I have too much of Phil's oeuvre left to read to pick a favourite at this time; of the three listed here, I would pick Time out of Joint, I have not read Puttering About in a Small Land. I do wish they had included more authors.


Wednesday, August 23, 2017



My wife, knowing my love of all things Ray Bradbury sent me a link to "ON THE DARK, WONDROUS OPTIMISM OF RAY BRADBURY: GABRIELLE BELLOT DISCOVERS WORLDS WITHIN AND WITHOUT" by Gabrielle Bellot

Ray Bradbury through his short stories, "The Fog Horn", "The Pedestrian", and his novel Fahrenheit 451, even the Joseph Mugnaini covers of Bradbury's books, The Golden Apples of the Sun, The October Country and Fahrenheit 451 often defined science fiction for me as a youth, and often still does today, so I was interested in reading Bellot's essay. I was impressed, Bellot combines what seems like a fairly extensive knowledge of Bradbury's work with her own meditations on gender, identity, family and memory. Ballot highlights a number of Bradbury's works including, The Fire Balloons, "The Other Foot" and the very dark "All Summer is a Day" in discussing her own experiences in her relationship with her family, especially those concerning the death of her grandmother. This I think is a wonderful example of the power of story, of fiction, in our lives, in that it allows the reader to feel a kinship with others over shared experiences or allows one to see the world however briefly and tenuously through someone else's identity and experiences. For me, for example the very powerful Bradbury story "Long After Midnight" immediately came to mind as I read Bellot's essay. 

Monday, August 21, 2017

Who will replace this man? Brian Aldiss (1925-2017)

Brian Aldiss, SF author, anthologist and historian passed away Monday August 21st at 92.

Upon hearing of his passing I began to look for media discussions of not just, his death but his career. I did not find a lot in NA sources, Tor did have a nice post, and I did find some material from UK sources, here are some links I found informative.








For a full discussion of this career, please see his entry in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.


I had just completed my post when I found this remembrance on Battered, Tattered, Yellowed & Creased


Aldiss last book Finches of Mars came out in 2012 and he began publishing with the short story "Criminal Record "in 1954. He published some very significant science fiction novels including, Non-Stop (1958), Hothouse (1962), Greybeard  (1962), and Barefoot in the Head (1969). He was also an anthologist of note, producing among other titles, a Best SF Series with Harry Harrison that ran from 1968-1976. Aldiss and Harrison's comments on SF in these volumes are worth the purchase price by themselves. He produced one of the great histories of SF, the Billion, Later Trillion Year Spree (1986), which pointed me towards a number of writers. And while I am not in total agreement with some of his conclusions and omissions, it is a great read for anyone interested in SF. His career was a long and fascinating one, starting in the 1950's, when the field was dominated by the likes of Bradbury, Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, Sturgeon etc., on into the 1960's when he became a part of the New Wave, (see quotes below) and then continued up to the present day. And through it all Brian was not just writing SF but also promoting it and acknowledging it's importance both as a genre and in his career, I am a bit surprised his profile was not higher within discussions of the field.

"Aldiss was instrumental in obtaining a 1967 Arts Council grant for the magazine, which saved it for a few years. Though never fully at ease with New World's submission to an aesthetic dominated by J.G. Ballard, Aldiss published some increasingly unconventional fiction here, notably his novel Report on Probability A (short version March 1967 New Worlds; 1968; written 1962 but unpublishable until the times changed)"

Aldiss in these interviews does not shy away from discussing unpleasant aspects of the field.

"As for Ballard, “he fell in with a dreadful fellow, an artist who designed one of the Underground stations [Eduardo Paolozzi] and just ceased to be a friend. Perhaps because he didn’t like being associated with the label of science fiction. I don’t like the label, but I put up with it.”

As someone who loves the early Ballard but wants the time spent borrowing his later books from library, much less reading them, back I found these remarks interesting.

I have to admit I have gathered together a number of his works but read only a few. My wife has long enthused over his Helliconia trilogy so I will have to get busyWhen I get home I hope to take a closer look at his work, I may wait until we visit London, to see what I encounter there.

So today rather than raise a glass I picked up his 1965 collection Who Can Replace a Man and read the title story. It will not be the last. Goodbye Brian. 

Any thoughts on Aldiss?

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Godzilla giant passes, Haruo Nakajima

Sad news, Haruo Nakaijima the actor that played the original Godzilla has passed. I love Godzilla movies, with the exception of a few very obviously aimed at children like All Monsters Attack, and the abomination starring Mathew Broderick, okay I am not so cool on the whole Minilla (baby/son of Godzilla idea) but I have some 20+ Godzilla CD's, books my favourite being Godzilla on My Mind: Fifty Years of the King of Monsters by William M. Tsutsui. I have limited myself to one figurine however. I did not bother to see the latest movie from Toho after reading reviews but I am enjoying the latest American reboot.  A link to my comments on Kong Skull Island appear below. So i was saddened to hear of the death of  Haruo Nakajima. It is fun to watch the original Japanese version and then the American version with Raymond Burr to see how he is inserted into the film. I just love the nuclear theme, the models (even the wires), the huge number of alien threats and the general look of the early films. 

They also led me to other, rather cheesy Japanese films like AragonThe Mysterians, Warning from Space etc. I still re-watch my favourites when I need a break from reality.  Since the number of films I brought to the cabin is limited I think tonight I will re-watch The  Mysterians an alien invasion story (they want our women) featuring Haruo Nakaijima as Moguera one of the oddest looking giant robots ever seen in SF films. Now that's entertainment 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

I live my life surrounded by books. Books I have read, books I mean to read, books I bought largely for the covers, or illustrations, books I bought because I remember them from other people’s libraries. Like the hard cover book club edition of Will and Ariel Durant’s The Story of Civilization, with it’s brightly coloured covers, which my brother owned and which I got as my free gift when I joined the book club. I suspect I thought owning them meant you were quite smart, it doesn't, I suspect most copies go unread. I occasionally dip into them but really, they exist somewhere in the intersection of nostalgia, my search for “lost time” and what I think constitutes a library. And yes, for me books have to be physical books.

A Wrinkle in Time, Scholastic Book Services 1962, cover by Ellen Raskin

So when I packed up books for my woefully neglected deep dive back into the genre I love, I brought A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. I am not 100 percent sure how old I was when I read it, I was probably a bit older than the target audience but still a teenager. What is more important to me is that the book conjures up memories that are intrinsically bound up with the subject matter of the book itself. At the point I read the book I still had some interest in, if no aptitude for mathematics,  (it faded, I simply did not study hard enough) but the interest was there then and stories like “And He Built A Crooked House” by Robert Heinlein or “A Subway Called Moebius” by A.J. Deutsch and A Wrinkle in Time fuelled it, ( Flatland remains sitting in my TBR pile) . I have to say I remembered little about the novel, mainly bits from the planet Camazotz, the newspaper boy, the child with the ball and the brain, but the description of the highly regimented town has remained with me through the years.

A Wrinkle in Time is very much a young adult novel, but as a retiree with an Andre Norton blog, who feels Robert Heinlein's best novels were his young adult works that does not dissuade me. 

The novel focuses on 13 year old Margaret Murray (Meg) and her family. As the novel opens Meg is upset about school, a pretty typical scenario for a YA novel. Meg is, in her words unattractive, a poor student and a disruption in class. Her only interest is in mathematics but while she can solve the problems, she does it through the use of intuitive leaps (something she learned from her scientist father), instead of the correct classroom procedure. Her latest misdeed was beating up an older boy who called her younger brother Charles Wallace a name. Charle Wallace is a five year old, who did not start to talk until four but immediately began to talk at an adult level. He also has a  strong empathic sense that allows him to monitor the moods of Meg and their scientist mother. Meg also has annoyingly well adjusted twin brothers but they do not play a significant role in this novel. The family is struggling at present, Mr Murray a physicist at the Institute for Higher Learning in Princeton University has gone missing while engaged on a secret government project. The family can get no information on the project or his whereabouts due to national security. The community is convinced he has run off with another woman and the family is subjected to snide remarks and unwanted advice. It is on a dark and stormy night that Meg, who cannot sleep, joins Charles Wallace and her mother in the kitchen. Charles Wallace has just admitted he recently made the acquaintance of a Mrs Whatsit and her two friends, who are living in a nearby abandoned, i.e. haunted house. At this point Mrs. Whatsit appears out of the storm, a rather strange and comedic character, who Meg does not trust. As she is leaving she tells Mrs Murray that there is such a thing as a tesseract, a revelation that distresses Mrs Murray. The next day Charles Wallace convinces Meg to pay a visit to Mrs Whatsit and her friends, Mrs Which, and Mrs Who. On the way they encounter Calvin O’Keefe, a boy who attends the same school as Meg, Calvin is a bit older and Meg does not really know him. Calvin is a gifted athlete and student but considers himself a biological sport, he has come to the woods due to a compulsion, a feeling he has learned not to disregard. After a quick trip home for supper and a vetting by Mrs Murray the three are off to visit Mrs Whatsit and her friends, who are obviously powerful beings masquerading as witches. The six of them then start off on a trip to rescue Mr Murray, whose disappearance is related to a universe wide conflict between good and evil. They travel by tessering, using folds or winkles in space and time to cover immense distances. Wikipedia has a lengthly summary of the novel, as well as it’s publishing history, information on the novel's reception, it won several awards etc. so I will not go into a great deal of detail here. 

Several things struck me upon rereading A Wrinkle in Time, the strongest was the use of Christian symbols and thought. I had a tendency as a youth, not entirely lost now, to disregard or skip an author’s philosophical or moral digressions or bias to get to the resumption of action. I am trying to do a better job of close reading but it is a struggle. So a lot for things I would notice now, tended to go over my head then. On page 108 a list of fighters for good starts with Jesus Christ and then includes a fairly obviously western based list of artists and scientists although it is nice to see Madame Curie, Buddha and Gandhi are included. The Christian religious focus, similar to that in the SF and Fantasy novels of C.S. Lewis I was reading at the same time, was of course everywhere then, at least, in my life, my public school and the church (United) that I attended. It was also fairly common in the Western media of the day. On rereading as an adult, the scene that takes place on the planet Uriel, where winged centaur-like beings, it turns out that Mrs Whatsit is once of these beings, stars who lost their lives in the struggle against the evil darkeness, sing the praises of God 

“Sing unto the Lord a new song,
and his praises from the end of the earth, 
ye that go down to the sea,
and all that is therein:


This scene really reminded me of the scene in Dante’s Purgatory where Dante and Virgil visit the Valley of Rulers, where the rulers sing hymns to God.

Dante, Purgatory Canto 8.13-19, Cover artist?

"Creator of all things, before the end of light, we beg you to guard and protect us with your usual compassion. Let the dreams and fantasies of night retreat; " etc.


Given this quote " She said "I cannot believe that God wants punishment to go on interminably any more than does a loving parent. The entire purpose of loving punishment is to teach, and it lasts only as long as is needed for the lesson. And the lesson is always love."[I suspect that  L'Engle was not a fan of Dante, maybe she just skipped the Inferno.

Reading the wikipedia article on her life it was interesting to note that some secular readers found her books too religious and some Christian readers found her version of Christianity too inclusive. Sometimes you cannot win.

Even before rereading A Wrinkle in Time the religious focus of the series was underscored when I picked up a sequel in the Value Village in PA. Entitled Many Waters it narrates the adventure of the twin Murray brothers Sandy and Dennys who go back in time and meet Noah. I know I read at least two other sequels years ago but I don’t think they ever made the same impression on me as the first book. The wikipedia entry also notes that 

Dell Laurel-Leaf 1987 edition, cover by Rowena Morrill.

“Nearly every novel by Madeleine L'Engle connects to the Murry-O'Keefe series either directly or indirectly with appearances by recurring characters" 

I enjoyed rereading the novel for many of the reasons I enjoyed it the first time, the nod to mathematics, the idea of jaunting around the universe meeting aliens, and the horrific regimentation of the planet Camazotz. In my mind I have always envisioned Camazotz as a beautifully laid out suburb of the model communities that appeared in the 1950’s and 1960’s media when I was  a child. The novel brought back memories of my life and feelings at the time I read it and the people and places that were part of this period. I still take the religious focus with a grain of salt and skip onto the adventure, as I did at the time, but it did not impact my enjoyment of the novel then or now.

Friday, August 4, 2017

New Arrivals the sequel Popular Mechanics

When we last meet our bemused narrator he was checking out of Westgate Books with a handful or two of paperbacks. While at the counter he noticed a collection of Popular Mechanics in a glass display case. On determining that the average price of $7.50 CDN would not impoverish him, much more, he dug in. As I mentioned earlier I love the pulp era and have always been intrigued by the, some might say brightly coloured, some might say garish, covers of early Popular Mechanics. They really remind me of the wonderful Frank R. Paul covers for Gernsback's magazines Air Wonder Stories, Science and Invention etc. These magazines all dated from 1941 and 1942, the magazine itself started in 1902. These dates obviously gave the magazine a more martial flavour than the covers I prefer which have a more SF focus with rockets and flying cars and such, but these were still neat and in great condition and since I did not own any Popular Mechanics I could not resist. 

Looking at the articles I was surprised at the wide range of topics covered and the sheer number of snippets per page amid the longer articles. Of course, especially in articles concerning resource extraction at home and abroad you get the imperialism, colonialism, and lack of environmental awareness one might expect from this period. Publications like these are time capsules and should of course be thought of as such.  But they are also a great window on the technological focus of the first half of the century that engendered a lot of the early science fiction, when every problem had a solution and the solution was always the application of science and technology.

I have not located information on the cover artists, any hints would be appreciated.

Yeah!!!! Science that somewhat beleagured pastime.

My favourite cover features neat welding masks, I think.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

New Arrivals, Russell, Aldiss, Collins and others

I came to the cabin with great intentions to update my blogs regularly and as normal a lot of small jobs, photographing critters and general farting around has happened and I don't. Mostly I post to my nature blog. I am working on several new posts but in the meantime some new arrivals. Last week we took the dogs to be groomed in Saskatoon, a city with lots of beautiful trees, including Elms which are rare in the prairies. On arriving at the groomer we discovered Nina had chewed through her very expensive carrier. While all three dogs were getting haircuts, we went in search of a new carrier and discovered Westgate Books a cool used bookstore. I of course bought lots, my wife looked at lots but practiced restraint and left empty handed. Nina returned to the cabin in a brand new, relatively, inexpensive metal crate.

As a devotee of Fortean SF, whose wife receives The Fortean Times every month how could I resist. Cover by Schultz?

This very odd cover is by Don Punchatz.

This title by Clarke started as a novella in 1948 in Startling Stories, was revised and expanded to a novel in 1951, was revised again in 1956 and released as The City and 
The Stars. Cover by Ron Walotsky.

You know I am going to buy something that suggests a mixture of horror and SF. Cover by Walter Rane.

Bit of a gamble, but I liked the cover by Jerome Podwill.

My favourite cover of the bunch, for the 1956 printing, cover by Bob Lavin.
Tros covers by Chris Achilleos.

As I love pulps I also picked up the first four volumes of this series by Talbot Mundy (to reread) originally published in Adventure in 1925. He did not seem to write much if any SF but his work is much better written than most of the pulp SF of the same period. He was an interesting fellow, who seemed to change countries, professions, wives and religions with an equal facility. The wikipedia article on him is quite detailed and he was a very prolific writer.

And because I cannot resist, Sandhill Cranes photographed this morning near Lac Le Peche Saskatchewan.