Friday, November 22, 2013

Mixed reviews of novels by classic SF authors Heinlein and Simak

Over a year ago, but within the last three years, I read Robert Heinlein's Rocket Ship Galileo and Clifford Simak's Special Deliverance and then wrote reviews of them in which I leveled harsh criticisms at them but admitted I still liked them and would recommend them.  For whatever reason (laziness is a prime suspect) I never posted these reviews on Amazon.  I recently came across hard copies of these reviews in a box of old papers, and am posting them here before I lose track of them again.

My man Van makes a cameo in one of these reviews, as does the phrase "a pleasure to read," which I will have to retire for a while.

Rocket Ship Galileo by Robert A. Heinlein

Of the famous Heinlein juveniles which I have read, this one is the most "juvenile."  Written in 1947, and depicting the future of around ten years later, it tells the story of three high school seniors who are enlisted by a scientist to make the first trip to the moon.  In this version of the 1950s, in which the United Nations runs the world, rockets are regularly used to fly between continents, so the protagonists just buy a surplus rocket and improve its engine to the point at which it is powerful enough to get them to the moon.  When they get to the moon they soon discover that the moon has already been reached by a cadre of Nazis.

This is not a bad story, but it lacks the characters and human relationships that make books like Time for the Stars, Citizen of the Galaxy, and Farmer in the Sky so good.  The three teenage adventurers are really not that interesting, and the scientist isn't much better.  The head Nazi, who speaks English in a British accent he apparently learned by watching movies, is actually more interesting than our heroes.

Worth reading, but there are several superior Heinlein juveniles I would recommend over it.

Special Deliverance by Clifford Simak

In this1982 novel mysterious forces, via teleportation, gather together six people from alternate versions of Earth and strand them in a weird land, where they must search for some means of escape or at least some explanation for their bizarre predicament.

The six different characters are broadly drawn, and provide Simak the opportunity to express his (quite conventional) criticisms of society (people are too concerned with money, war is stupid, organized religion is a scam, etc.) and his pessimistic misanthropy ("The human race got off to a bad start and has not was doomed from the first beginning.)  The military officer and the cleric are hypocritical jerks with mental problems.  As you might expect from a novelist and newspaperman like Simak, the English professor is the most sensible and decent of the five human characters.  And as you might expect from Simak if you have read any other of his works, the sixth character, a self-sacrificing robot, is the kindest and wisest of all.

Simak has a smooth and easy-going writing style which is a pleasure to read.  This was particularly evident to me, as I have been reading a lot of A. E. Van Vogt lately, and Van Vogt's writing is often confusing and unsettling.

It is easy to find fault with Special Deliverance; its broad characters, the logic holes in the plot, the way the characters Simak likes are always right, even if their thinking makes no sense or is based on guesses and luck, but Simak's style makes it go down easy, and I have no reservations about recommending the novel.    

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