Friday, January 17, 2014

How many of these "great" science fiction stories have you read?

This is what the last page of my copy of Edmund Cooper's The Last Continent, Dell 4655, printed in 1969, looks like.  I love these kinds of ads, with just the title and author; your mind is filled with wonder at the possibilities of what each book could be about.  Like young Marcel in Proust, looking at the train schedule and fantasizing what a town is like based only on its name, you can construct characters and a plot in your mind for each book that, who knows?, may be more exciting than what the book truly contains.

I also like to wonder why the titles are presented in the order they are, and why one book is more expensive than another.  Did A. Bertram Chandler piss somebody off?  Were his books poorer sellers than Emil Pataja's?  I've never even heard of Emil Pataja!

<UPDATE JAN 30 2014: I read a book by Emil Petaja, who doesn't necessarily spell his name the way Dell does in its advertising.>

I have read five of the listed books, but I'm not willing to say any of them are great; I'm counting three OK/averages and two lame/Idon'tgetits.  Opinions do differ, though, as we shall see.

Deathworld 3 by Harry Harrison
I've read this twice and enjoyed it both times, but damned if I can remember anything about it.  It's an adventure story in which guys on horses kill astronauts that land on a planet, then an agent goes to the planet to make peace with the horse riders, or something like that.

The Cosmic Rape by Theodore Sturgeon
Earth people are cursed with individualism, but luckily an alien entity, the Medusa, comes to Earth and connects all our minds together.  There are lots of these collective consciousness stories out there, like Clarke's Childhood's End, Holly's The Green Planet, the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion, and so on.  The Cosmic Rape was later published under the title To Marry MedusaJoachim Boaz liked this a little more than me, and gave it 4 stars out of 5; I think it deserves an "acceptable/average" score of 3.   

The Killer Thing by Kate Wilhelm
Earth people are cursed with a lust to exploit the environment and primitive natives, but luckily some aliens with a powerful space navy come along and force us to behave.  There are lots of these "we are a bunch of jerks and would be better off if there were nice aliens to tell us what to do" stories out there, like Robert Crane's Hero's Walk and the film "The Day the Earth Stood Still."  Back in 2008 I wrote a hostile review of Killer Thing on Amazon.

The Status Civilization by Robert Sheckley
I read this many years ago and remember thinking it was a boring bunch of cliches: the tyrannical Earth government sends a guy to a prison planet where he fights a robot in the arena and then leads the resistance, or something.  Joachim Boaz at sfruminations read it years after I did and thought it a brilliant satire.  What can I say?  Maybe I'm dense.

Spartan Planet by A. Bertram Chandler
This is one of the many books chronicling the career of space navy officer John Grimes.  I've read a bunch of these, totally out of order, and liked most of them.  As I recall, this is the one in which Grimes comes upon a planet where all the women are hidden in a secret lab, and an entire civilization has developed consisting solely of men who, not even knowing women exist, turn to homosexual behavior for love and sexual satisfaction.  Grimes's ship includes female crew members, and the whole society undergoes a revolution when they show up.  This would be a good book to read if you were writing a dissertation about attitudes towards gays in SF.   


Five out of 19 doesn't sound like a lot, but the page says if you ordered five or more of the listed books from Dell then shipping was free, so I am considering five to be a passing grade.  And until I hear differently, I am considering myself king of the science fiction mountain for having read five of the books from this list - feel free to report how many of these books you have read in the comments, especially if you have read six or more and are in a position to dethrone me, or think I'm out of my mind and some of these books really are great. 

1 comment:

  1. Well, I've read less than you....

    Although, I've consumed quite a few Sheckley short story collections over the last year and they were amazing (although you didn't enjoy The Status Civilization as much as I did you should definitely pick up his collections Store of Infinity or The People Trap).

    As for Harrison, I've only read one of two of his short works--but I have at least four of his novels on my shelf including the Deathworld trilogy (in one volume).

    So, along with Sturgeon's The Cosmic Rape my number is even smaller than yours... But then again, I've read quite a few short stories by the authors on the list (Aldiss, Silverberg, Merril, etc) but not those specific collections.