" 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, November 29, 2018

The Bicentennial Man, Stellar, Custom Fitting, James White, Isaac Asimov

  As I mentioned in my last post I am currently reading Astounding, Alec Nevada-Lee's book on John W. Campbell and some of the writers most associated with Astounding, Isaac Asimov,  Robert A, Heinlein, and L. Ron. Hubbard. When I read any books on the history of science fiction I make note of works it mentions and often I look to see if I have copies in my collection. Once I begin scanning shelves and pulling things out, other items also catch my eye and soon I am holding/reading something totally unrelated to my initial query. In this case it was a small collection of of anthologies entitled Stellar, edited by Judy-Lynn del Rey. Once there I had to at least thumb through one of my favourite stories in the collection, "Custom Fitting' by James White. I then scanned the TOC and noticed " The Bicentennial Man" by Isaac Asimov. Since I could not remember reading it, and Asimov obviously figures prominently in Nevada-Lee's book I opened it and began  reading. This demonstrates the somewhat circuitous route my thought processes take and also why it takes me so long to finish a book like Astounding. 

"Custom Fitting" by James White is a charming story of Earth's first contact with a vast intergalactic federation. The protagonist George L. Hewlitt is a old fashioned tailor who lives above his shop in London with his crippled wife, referred to as Mrs. Hewlitt.  

Hewlitt " used to read a lot of science fiction, before it became to soft-centered" (13), which is good because Mr and Mrs. Hewlitt are about to receive a very unusual commission. 

Any science fiction story involving tailors makes me think of Robert Heinlein's comment of potential plots. 

"The little Tailor--this is an omnibus tot all stories about the little guy who becomes a big shot, or vice versa. The mg is from the fairy story. Examples: "Dick Whittington," all of the Alger books, Little Caesar, Galactic Patrol (but not Grey Lensrnan), Mein Kampf, David in the Old Testament. It is the success story or, in reverse, the story of tragic failure. "

"On The Writing Of Speculative Fiction," by Robert A. Heinlein.


I enjoyed "Custom Fitting", it was a slight but imaginative tale. White's depiction of Mrs. Hewlitt could have been a bit more well rounded and generous, but White is the same author who never allowed human females to rise to the rank of doctors in his Sector General novels.

 " The Bicentennial Man" by Isaac Asimov is the story of Andrew, a robot belonging to the wealthy Martin family. Andrew seems typical of the robots turned out by U.S. Robotics and Mechanical Men, until Little Miss, the youngest of the Martin children, jealous of a pendant her older sister has received from a suitor asks Andrew to carve her one. He does and this makes it clear to everyone that there is something very different about Andrew's positronic brain. He still adheres to the three laws controlling robots but Andrew is anything but ordinary. 

As I read this story I was really struck by similarities to Clifford Simak's All the Traps of Earth the first work I discussed in this blog. It tells the story of Richard Daniel, the 600 year old robot servitor of the Barrington family. 


In both stories Simak and Asimov have presented their robot protagonists as humanoid vanity objects serving the function of domestic servants rather than the industrial robots we see today.

Both robots serve multiple generations of the same family and both families are wealthy and politically powerful.

Both robots exist long after the average robotic life span or even legal regulations controlling robots.

Both stories could be considered non-traditional takes on coming of age stories.

Asimov's Andrew remains largely on earth, interacting with the family, U.S. Robotics and Earth society in general. The concerns of the story are cultural and legal, dealing with the position of robots within the larger society. If one positions this story within the larger body of Asimov's works it takes place centuries before the events of The Caves of Steel when robots are despised by the majority of Earth society.

Simak's Richard Daniel interacts with people as little as possible and abandons Earth for a spiritual odyssey across the galaxy developing strange powers along the way. Humans play almost no part in the story.

The Encyclopedia of Science fiction states "The Bicentennial Man" (in Stellar #2, anth 1976, ed Judy-Lynn del Rey) was his finest single Robot tale and won both a Hugo and a Nebula.


I have to agree, most of the robot stories that Asimov published early in his career, with the exception of those dealing with R. Daneel Olivaw, The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun are puzzle stories typical of early science fiction. The author presents a puzzle (in this case odd behaviour by a robot) that the protagonist must resolve. In "The Bicentennial Man" Asimov looks at the ramifications of Andrews actions in more detail, the effect they have on the people who encounter him and society as a whole. The story is longer and more fleshed out, the characters and scenes somewhat more developed. In the end, it turns out that there is no puzzle to be solved at the heart of the story, rather it is an account of a life and the people it touches. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Reading, Astounding, Alec Nevada-Lee, Caitlin R. Kieran

Yesterday was a great reading day. I had finally began to read Astounding, Alec Nevada-Lee's book on John W. Campbell and some of the writers most associated with Astounding, Isaac Asimov,  Robert A, Heinlein, and L. Ron. Hubbard.  As I read, the dogs let me know that our postal worker had dropped by and I  got up hoping that "it" had finally come. And it had.

Anyone who has followed my Lovecraft blog, HPL: Beyond the Walls of Sleep, http://dunwichhorrors.blogspot.com/, (where this will also appear) will know I am a huge Caitlin R. Kieran fan. Her work effortlessly inhabits the intersection of so many genre, horror, fantasy, mystery and science fiction that I am always interested go see where she will take me next. I also have a life long love of palaeontology especially dinosaurs, so the minute I saw the Subterranean Press announcement of the collection The Dinosaur Tourist with a stunning cover by Ray Troll, I had to order it. Then a long wait occurred. Then the announcement came, copies, including mine were shipping. Oh no, a job action by Canada Post. Mail from outside Canada has piled up to the extent that international partners are asked to hold items. The Dinosaur Tourist (trade edition) is sold out. Will my copy appear or be lost to some inter-dimensional gateway to be lovingly perused by the shades of the Whateley brothers, or shelved among the tomes at the Misatonic University Library. No, there it was right in front of me, I hugged the box.

from Subterranean Press

"Almost nothing is only what it seems to be at first glance. Appearances can be deceiving and first impressions often lead us disastrously astray. If we're not careful, assumption and expectation can betray us all the way to madness and death and damnation. In The Dinosaur Tourist, Caitlín R. Kiernan's fifteenth collection of short fiction, nineteen tales of the unexpected and the uncanny explore that treacherous gulf between what we suppose the world to be and what might actually be waiting out beyond the edges of our day-to-day experience. A mirror may be a window into another time. A cat may be our salvation. Your lover may be a fabulous being. And a hitchhiker may turn out to be anyone at all."


I am including this post on Jagged Orbit because, while Kiernan is associated with horror, she does write very good science fiction. PS Publishing in the UK is distributing the collection A is for Alien, containing many of her science fiction stories as part of a four volume set of her work. I was also really impressed by another Subterranean Press offering, her (2004) novella entitled The Dry Salvages. As I described it on my Lovecraft site.

"A SF work rather than a typical mythos tale, it combines her love of palaeontology with the rather enigmatic tale of a doomed expedition investigating the remains of an extraterrestrial mining colony on the moon of the gas giant Cecrops. It has a subtle, haunting flavour I often associate with European SF and I recommend it. "


Cover art Richard Kirk 


Monday, November 12, 2018

New Arrivals - Badger Books, Lion Books, Harlequin

We have just returned from two weeks in Saskatoon. Helen's family lived near Westgate Books, so I visited it several times. I found their science fiction section uninspired with nothing terribly old and no magazines. The last time I almost literally bumped into the owner as he came out of the back room. He asked what I was looking for and when I asked about Analogs he said we might have a few, went to the front and put two file books labeled collectable SF on a stand. I had assumed the boxes where books waiting to be sorted. But they were not, they were the good stuff. A number of interesting items had to be returned to the box as I tried to rein in my spending a bit. I still failed.

Westgate has an interesting history which is related here.


Someone obviously liked Fritz Leiber as there were a number of his titles. I loved the Jack Gaughan cover and it also contained the first appearance of Niven's Louis Wu character. 

A lovely cover by Russell FitzGerald for Patrick Meadows "Pater One Pater Two". A review of "Barbarella" by Samuel Delany and "The Cave" by Yevgeny Zamyatin

Who doesn't like a domed city, cover by Frank R. Paul for his conception of "Glass City on Europa". It also contained "The Revolt of the Pedestrians" by David H. Keller, a very old fashioned vibe for 1966.

I am always on the lookout for Harlequin SF as they began in Winnipeg Manitoba. Cover by Friede?


I became interested in Badger books after following the unsubscribedblog's Badger Book on Sunday, posts. The cover is by Ed Emshwiller and as is not uncommon with some British SF, the image has appeared elsewhere.


I have never seen a title by Lion Books before, if anyone has any information on them I would love to know more. The Haploids (1953) cover is by Rafael DeSoto.

My initial thought was that this was a Badger Book, Pel Torro is one of their house names and the unattributed cover's style is similar. But this title was released by Tower Books and ISFDB did not indicate a Badger Book edition.

Four Square Books (1961) cover unattributed.

Cover by Vincent Di Fate.

More Leiber, R cover by John Schoenherr L cover by Jack Gaughan
The unsubscribed blog also posted some lovely images of the wrap around covers done by 
Chris Yates for titles by E.C. Tubb.


Two covers by Robert Foster that I was looking for.