Science Fiction of the 1950s

I have a lot of tattered old paperbacks on my shelves and some of the most forlorn are beloved copies of what I consider science fiction classics. Books that helped define the genre by authors who serve as inspiration for so many writers today. When drafting this post, this was the point where I started listing examples. The list got LONG, so I thought it might be better to link to the fantastic list compiled by Worlds Without End: The Defining Science Fiction Books of the 1950s.

Worlds Without End–aptly named, as I could get lost, have been lost, in that site for hours (without end)–has a neat feature called build your own reading challenge and currently they’re hosting one based on this list. Participants are asked to choose ten books from the decade (1950-1959), one from each year, and then to read them in order, from 1950 forward. After scanning the list and seeing so many of the books I always wanted to read, I decided to sign up.

My science fiction roots curled in pleasure as I checked off the books from that decade that I had already read, one of which has a place in my all time favourite top ten list: The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester. Before I start listing all the other books I have read, however, I’ll get to the point and list the books I’ve selected for my challenge.

 

 

 

 

 

1. I, Robot by Isaac Asimov (1950)

I’ve read a lot of Asimov, but not this one. Not sure how I managed to skip it, particularly as I liked the movie starring Will Smith–which really doesn’t do the book justice.

2. The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury (1951)

Another movie I have seen from a book I have not read. I have an interesting relationship with Ray Bradbury. His books are always so beautifully written, but they’re all really kinda scary. Something Wicked This Way Comes ruined carnivals for me for LIFE, well before Stephen King killed clowns for everyone, forever.

3. The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester (1952)

I’m really excited to read this as I picked it up a few months ago when it was an Amazon daily deal or something. I hope I like it as much as I did The Stars My Destination.

4. Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke (1953)

Never met a book by Sir Arthur that I didn’t like, so I’m sure I’ll enjoy this one. Added bonus: I’ve had a copy of this sitting on my To Be Read shelf for years.

5. I Am Legend by Richard Mattheson (1954)

This will be interesting as I did not enjoy What Dreams May Come. I loved the premise, but not the execution. Interesting that this one was made into another movie starring Will Smith, eh? That could almost be another reading challenge. Anyway, I really liked the movie and apocalypses are my thing, so…

 

 

 

 

 

6. The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett (1955)

A book I’ve never heard of by an author I’ve never heard of. This is a double bonus.

7. The Death of Grass by John Christopher (1956)

If this is anything like A Wrinkle in the Skin, I’m going to really enjoy it. On a side note, The City and the Stars and The Stars My Destination were also published in 1956. Talk about a great year.

8. The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham (1957)

This might be the only John Wyndham book I have not read. Time to rectify that oversight.

9. The Languages of Pao by Jack Vance (1958)

Another book I’ve never heard of and probably would never have picked up otherwise. I hope it turns out to be a pleasant surprise.

10. Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein (1959)

It’s got to be better than the movie, right? Heinlein is actually one of my favourite authors and I have heard that this book is a great example of his books written for a younger audience. I did consider reading Have Spacesuit – Will Travel for 1958, but wanted to choose a different author for each year.

Which brings me to the alternates list, four more books that I plan to take a look at, if and when I find the time:

 

 

 

 

 

The featured image for this post is the movie poster from one of my favourite novels of definitive science fiction by the always great John Wyndham.

 

 

Reading Challenge Update (December)

Of the fourteen titles I chose for the 2014 TBR Pile Challenge (one book a month, plus two alternates), I read seven. The seven books remaining are still on my shelf and I do plan to read them, but not any time soon. While I enjoyed the idea of the challenge, in practice I found that I prefer to choose my next book on a whim rather than from a prescribed list. I also figured out that just because I wanted to read a book seven years ago, that doesn’t mean I’m going to actually enjoy it when I get around to it. Sometimes it’s just been too long and I’ve lost interest in that series. In a couple of instances, the book didn’t live up to its personal promise to me.

I did read other books from the TBR pile that were not listed on my challenge. I didn’t think to make a note of those, though.

I have a mixture of success and failure to report from my other listed reading challenges:

Vintage Science Fiction Month: I read From This Day Forward by John Brunner.

Diversity on the Shelf: I read Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri.

The Sci Fi Experience: I read a number of books, all of which are listed at the review site.

“I’ve Always Meant to Read That Book”: I read nothing. I guess I wasn’t in a “classic” mood this year—and I know better than to say I might squeeze one in before the end of December. I’ve been saying that all year.

I am already listing reviews for the 2015 Sci Fi Experience. I am currently browsing my shelf for candidates for the 2015 TBR Pile Challenge. Those are the only two challenges I’ll be actively participating in next year.

On to my challenge for last month: I failed in my effort not to buy a book in November. I’d like to say I held out past the first week, but sadly, I did not. A book on my wishlist was reduced to 99c and the echo of my mouse click had long dissipated by the time I remembered my… I don’t want to call it a vow. My…personal challenge. Nope, no better, but it does sound less sacrosanct.

I did unsubscribe from several newsletters and that did reduce the temptation. But I sort the donations at my library every week. Books pass through my hands and so many of them are worthy. Also, Dreamspinner Press conspired to fill my ebook reader with free books by posting a daily tweetaway. At least I didn’t pay for those.

All in all, I bought four books, for which I paid less than ten dollars. That’s about ten fewer books than the month before and at a savings of about thirty bucks. Not a bad effort. I also culled the shelves again, pulling thirty-two books from my physical “To Be Read” shelf and packaging them up for the library.

Most months I acquire more than I read, which is why I have a…problem. This month, I read a lot more than I acquired. I read twenty-seven books. I don’t often read that many in a month, but that figure sure made a difference.

So, while I failed to stick to my word, I did make positive progress.

Coming later this month, my list for the 2015 TBR Pile Challenge and my annual round up of Favourite Things. Until then, happy reading!

Review: From This Day Forward

51nXbOiW2HL._SL500_SY344_BO1,204,203,200_From This Day Forward (1972) collects thirteen stories by prolific British writer, John Brunner . A lot of speculative short stories have a slight whiff of horror to them. The cover of my copy suggests the stories within are no exception, it features the calendar page for Friday the 13th.

I snatched this book out of the donation bin at my local library when I saw the name on the spine. I’d recently read through an anthology of short stories and had enjoyed John Brunner’s entry as well as the introduction by the editor, which suggested John Brunner had been a master of the art. His bibliography certainly indicates that. He published no fewer than sixteen collections. That’s a lot of stories. He is perhaps best known for his novel Stand On Zanzibar, however, for which he won the 1969 Hugo Award.

A lot of the stories in ‘From This Day Forward’ speculate on a future where humanity has reached a state of stasis. An equilibrium that doesn’t feel equal or a sort of frustrating utopia. Retirees are bored and the young have nothing more interesting than years to live for, and his characters often take what they have for granted. These are, quite obviously, Brunner’s comments on where he thinks our society is headed. It’s this theme that collects these stories together, almost more than the message of the introduction.

The introduction is short, by the way, and carries a tone of levity that infects the first couple of stories. In the few brief paragraphs, John Brunner warns the reader that the future can happen tomorrow, or simply a minute from now.

I really enjoyed a handful of the stories. I had to chew through a couple of others. One left me totally mystified, but that might have been the cocktail I drank before reading it. (It was Sunday afternoon, all right?)

When I review or otherwise write about an anthology, I usually choose my three favourites, which become representative of what I liked about the collection. Two stories really stood out here. The first was ‘Wasted on the Young’ (1965). Society has reached a point where the young can afford to be young for a lot longer than we can, today. Until their thirtieth birthday, men and women are not obligated to do anything other than enjoy their life. The assumption is that they will eventually become bored and turn to adult pursuits, or become a contributing member of society. The cost of the young is calculated in years. They can live frugally and extend their youth (or lack of responsibility) until they die. Or they can live richly and face a debt of years their work as an adult will repay.

Hal Page spends a fortune in years while he is young, regardless of the debt of years he will accrue. Unfortunately for him, his imagination is limited to how he’ll spend his credit and not how he’ll repay his debt. When he receives his notice that his life of youthful excess will end tomorrow, he throws one last party, hang the expense. At the end, he attempts to shirk his responsibilities, only to discover his three hundred year debt has been carefully considered and planned for.

‘Wasted on the Young’ is one of those stories that is entertaining in the reading, and satisfying in conclusion. The twist at the end is creepy and cool and really showcases the depth and breadth of Brunner’s imagination. I could have read on, but the story works just as well as a slice of a life we can only imagine.

The other story that stood out for me was ‘The Vitanuls’ (1967). During a visit to India, Dr. Barry Chance stops by the maternity ward of a busy hospital to observe a scene he likens to a factory floor, a production line of humanity, where thirty-six women are currently engaged in labour. He is introduced to the oldest and most revered of the attending physicians, Dr. Ananda Kotiwala. At the hospital, they call Kotiwala their patron saint. Chance watches the doctor work and soon comes to the conclusion Kotiwala is a living treasure.

Chance is disturbed to learn that Kotiwala plans to retire the next day, whereupon the elder doctor will shed his former life in pursuit of enlightenment. He will wander from village to village as a sunnyasi, a man in the final stage of his work. The West has discovered the cure to aging, and while the rich and furious line up for their anti-senility pill, Chance feels men like Dr. Kotiwala are more deserving. Regardless, he has no choice in the matter.

The last baby delivered captures Kotiwala’s attention. The old doctor notices something unusual about its eyes, but is unable to communicate exactly what it is he sees. Assuming his age and wandering mind play tricks on him, he relinquishes the baby to younger doctor.

Two years later, Chance tracks Kotiwala to a remote village in India to ask how he knew that particular baby, the first of the Vitanuls, was different. Koitwala is unsurprised to hear the baby suffers from a congentily imbecility and, in fact, remains unmoved by the revelation that over the past two years, the instance of such a defect has risen to claim eight out of ten newborns. I’m not going to give away the why, here. That would ruin the story. Suffice to say, this one stayed with me for a while after. I’m not a rigorously religious individual, but I do have a strong sense of spirituality. The core of this story, while fantastic, has yet to be disproven. We might all be waiting for this day.

The other stories are varied. Some were very simply written while others showed an eloquence I can only hope to one day attain. Most carried a thinly veiled warning, giving the story the feel of a parable. One such was ‘The Trouble I See’ (1959). Joe Mundy can see the future, but inexactly. He only knows when things are wrong and so has a chance to avoid them. He exploits his talent, making enough money to leave his small town and move to the city, where he enveigles an older man, taking the place of the son the man never had. When the man dies, Joe is left as his heir. Steadily, he continues to build his fortune until one day he awakens sickened and unable to concentrate. The impending doom of war clutters his thoughts, and he is unable to find the way out.

I decided this story was cautionary tale. Small worries can direct actions, but a larger, looming threat over which one cannot gain control is something that can drive people to do stupid and alarming things. Had Joe been abl

6094687762_d8887af405

Lastly, I’d like to mention ‘Judas’ (1967). God is a robot, but even though his form is visible and vulnerable, he is still more an idea than a body. It was Interesting story, one I thought to write off until the message at the end.e to step back, out of his own head, and consider the facts, rather than simply acting upon them, the ending might have been very different.

A lot of Brunner’s work has been re-released with snazzy new covers that recall the period during which they were originally published. I like my edition, though, despite its ugly yellow cover. Within, the type wavers across the page. It’s been set by hand and printed by machine. It’s an old book and holding it, training my eyes to ignore the uneven lines, is a wholly different experience to reading something on a stark white page or screen. As a reader, I traveled back in time with this book and revisited the reason I fell in love with Science Fiction.

Featured image is from the cover designed by Kelly Freas for DAW. Click the cover, right, to view some of John Brunner’s other book covers, painted by such well known artists as Michael Whelan and Jack Gaughan.

~^~^~^~^~^~^~~^~^~^~^~^~^~~^~^~^~^~^~^~~^~^~^~^~^~

Reading Challenge Review

This review was written for Vintage Science Fiction month, hosted by The Little Red Reviewer. 

From This Day Forward is the second book from my 2014 TBR Pile Challenge.