segunda-feira, junho 19, 2017

Some Old SF Stuff I Bought on eBay

(some of the books I got in my eBay box)

Some random thoughts...

I do like old science fiction book covers- not just Penguin, but all the more lurid publishers as well. And then there's the feverish world of the pulp magazines etc. For me the classic era is the 1960s and 70s- the move away from quasi-imperialistic and rather conservative fantasies involving spaceships and aliens towards more warped, anarchic visions of disturbing dystopias and chaotic chronicles of inner space. But still - some great art produced in the 80s - with it's characteristically airbrushed look- and more recently as well.

That Harry Harrison book is a superb novel of interspecies conflict in a time of climate change. The 'toothy dolphin' on the front is in fact a reptile rather than a mammal-it's, ahem, a genetically modified plesiosaur used as a marine transport vehicle by highly evolved and human-hating saurians. I'd definitely recommend getting the first book in the trilogy-this is my copy in the same series:

They're illustrated throughout with superb woodcuts, which bring this alternative Pleistocene world to vivid life. The best stuff on the list is fairly far from the magazine SF novels which would have been the likely contenders for a Hugo equivalent at the time -- it'd probably have been a competition between E. E. 'Doc' Smith's Galactic Patrol and Jack Williamson's The Legion of Time. 1938 is just before John W Campbell made Astounding Science Fiction a less pulpy magazine, and some years before the average quality of prose in magazine SF really rises.

Panther books also had some nice SF covers in the 60s and 70s. These days, publishers seem to either go with a generic bit of spaceship art which bears no relation to the contents, or to pretend that it isn't really SF at all - I had to chuckle when I came across the new edition of Brian Aldiss's 'Hothouse', which features, inter alia, a trip to the moon in a gigantic vegetable spider. The blurb describes it as a 'landmark novel of the climate in crisis'

Penguins are nearly always great, I've an annoyingly large collection of Classics and Modern Classics and so on, many bought due mainly to beautiful designs (they tend to be good books too!). It'd be great if more SF made the Penguin Classics line now; they've started bringing back a few like Aldiss, The Death of Grass. I guess they no longer have the rights to people like Ballard (but if they do, I'm sure they're rushing out some new editions as we speak), PKD - I'd love to see them in shiny new Modern Classics sleeves. Really like the Gollancz books too - the last range were really nice, textured designs and these are just as striking.

Clarke is a strange writer. I've read almost all of his novels, and each  was a totally different sort of book. "The Sands of Mars" is just a sequence of events, without any real arc to it. "A Fall of Moondust" is a cracking thriller. "Rendezvous with Rama", while very readable, is not really a story. And "2001: A Space Odyssey" is just something else entirely. That's a blast from the past... I used to be a huge fan of Clarke and read anything by him I could find, including the non-fiction. No idea how he 'aged' as a writer but I'm sure I would still admire him for the ideas (that were almost always closer to the world of science than I, as a hard sciences poster boy, could have imagined - like that bloody space elevator: something I thought was a bit over the top... Till I later read it was in theory perfectly doable.)

Why do I love old SF? "Blindsight" by Peter Watts comes to mind. It contains an absolute howler of bad science where the crew of the spacecraft take potassium iodide as a general purpose treatment for radiation exposure. As any fule kno, KI is used for preventing thyroid damage from exposure to radio-iodine, it does sod all if you're exposed to gamma rays.

One thing that really annoys me is when authors take a perfectly good SF setting and later decide to randomly introduce something else they've seen in SF. Often psychic powers. Nothing wrong with with psychic powers as a SF subject (though frankly they're on the implausible end...lmao!) but why tack it on to a plausible story featuring, say, a generation ship? Isn't there enough excitement in the first idea? Obviously you can totally reinvent a whole universe with both psychic powers and generation ships, but it irritates me when a story has just two non-real-world components.

One of my all-time favourite definitions of Vintage/Old SF goes something like this: fiction about science. I grew up reading it. By that definition, any writer of science fiction must do the proper research to make a scientific meme as credible as possible. Since I'm an engineer, I concentrate on those aspects of the science which makes the scenario of human interaction with science as plausible as possible. For example, I allow for light travel, but not faster than light travel. The only exception to this rule is with Star Trek, since the science hums in the background while the human interaction with it is not the primary consideration. The science is deus ex machina to the scene. But I do object to cinema or literature which violates the laws of physics. As for telepathy, I explained in one of my books that it is a factor of genetic evolution, not magic. Incidentally,  in the box from eBay no Bradbury. He predicted a future of Mobile Phones, Flat Screen Wall Mounted TV's, Soap Operas & Reality TV shows dominating many peoples lives & Western Governments fighting permanent wars, in the Nineteen Fifties!

When I was young, I read Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke, Niven, Pournelle, Heinlein, Moorcock, and many other science fiction authors. But in the end, I found myself delving more deeply into the actual science to find my direction. They influenced my thinking about science, but since technology and science are evolving every day, I question that they "predicted" anything. I prefer to think that readers of science fiction are inspired to develop tech based on what they read, rather than attach the power of prediction to any science fiction. It is the chicken and egg conundrum which makes science so remarkable in itself. The one builds on the other, if you know what I mean.

I am also a huge TH white fan, yes. Remember the scene where the two knights in full armour failed to duel? Obviously something the Monty Python team also remembered...Dorothy Quick's book could be fun. Retro SF erotica: what's not to love? If it's only half as bad (and amusing) as Barbarella it would be worth spending a few pennies on it at Amazon. It is certainly remarkable that anyone caught between the sandwich of the two world wars would think women ruling the planet would be such a disastrously bad idea - but then enough people think so still. (Funny how something can be remarkable and predictable at the same time.) I also had the whole Oz series. Terribly disappointing stuff, I am afraid (but I have to admit I wasn't wildly enthusiastic about the first book, so the series might be more fun for those who were. I was very much a Boy Reader and into Tarzan, John Carter et cetera - till I discovered the Alice books, which came relatively late to me. Being Portuguese meant that English & American books arrived in my greedy little hands in chronologically 'challenged' ways...)

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