" 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, August 11, 2016

Frank Herbert #1, Hellstrom's Hive

  Hellstrom's Hive, Bantam Books,  1973 (1982) cover by Paul Lehr

I mentioned in my last post my intention to look back at the works of some of the authors that were important to my teenage years. Frank Herbert was my first choice. I will concentrate on non-Dune work. I loved Dune, the vast implied history provided in the epigrams, the replacement of computers with mentats, the limitations on projectile weapons that gave it an archaic Planet Stories vibe with it’s duels, ornithopters and worms, the ecological message with its water reclamation and stillsuits. I did not really care for the two subsequent books or the franchise that grew out of them. As an archaeology prof once said, he used Dune to build up Paul and the next two to undermine much of book one, and I agreed. I know now there was a reason and I will discuss it as it relates to Hellstrom’s Hive later.

A friend recommended I read Hellstrom;’s Hive, I think as much to get my impressions as based on any fondness for the book. It follows that well worn SF path of insects and insect based societies, this is not a spoiler as the title and the first epigram both give this away

“ Words of the brood mother, Trova Hellstrom. I welcome the day when I will go into the vats and become one with all our people. 

                                               (Dated October 26, 1896)” (1)

The book begins with Carlos Depeaux observing The Farm, the location in Oregon where Nils Hellstrom creates nature documentaries on insects. Carlos and his partner Tymiena Grinelli work for a shadowy government or quasi-government body called the Agency. They have been dispatched to learn the fate of a previous agent Julius Porter who disappeared earlier while observing Hellstrom’s activities. The Agency is not the FBI or CIA  and appears to be motivated as much by commercial advantage as credible security threats. Indeed that initial investigation of Hellstrom’s activities began when an Agency operative copied a file that was left unguarded by a Hellstrom staff member in the MIT library. It described their work on Project 40, “a toroidal field disrupter” a electron (or particle) pump capable of influencing physical matter at a distance. (10) While experts tell the Agency that if it works, under certain conditions, it “could shatter the earth’s crust with disastrous consequences for all life on our planet.” (11) the  Agency is primarily interested in forcing Hellstrom to share this technology with them for use in metallurgy, the potential destructive power of the device does not seem to be a concern. Dzule Peruge the manager who eventually takes over the investigation is told by a board member “ You will inform the Chief that there must be profit in this somewhere.” (32) The Agency is painted in the most unflattering terms, once enlisted or sometimes coerced into joining, agents cannot leave. Utter secrecy about their work is required, they cannot quit, personal relationships are frowned on and children are forbidden. Upon retirement the best agents can hope for is to live out their lives in a Agency run retirement community. Peruge is an incredible misogynist and the organization incredibly mercenary, with little regard for the live of others including their own staff. Arrayed against the Agency we have another organization, Hellstrom’s Hive, while this is a hive society with a ruling council, Nils Hellstrom, the “prime male”, is very much in charge. He can call on all the resources of the hive, including a group of super scientists we meet later in the story. These “physical workers” have created technology, stun wands, advanced radio gear, nutritional additives etc. already superior to that of the Outside as the non-hive world is called. This enables hive members to potentially live hundreds of years. There are also a number of hive members working in positions of authority in the outside world, a senator, a judge, a deputy in Fosterville, the nearest town, among others, who have used their authority to protect the hive and it is this pro-hive network who has forced the Agency to work clandestinely.  Many hive members whose duties require a knowledge of the Outside are released temporarily from the hive for formal education or life experience among the Outsiders and their world. Other appear human but are mute, since the hive relies on hand signals and other non-verbal communication. The story moves quickly, the suspense is handled well as the conflict between the Agency and the hive intensifies as more agents disappear and more security organizations become involved. The tension grows and more and more details of the hive (mostly unpleasant) are revealed as we move towards what was for me a bit of a  Deus ex machina ending.

Interspersed with the action are Herbert’s signature epigrams, most are hive generated , Hellstrom’s journal entries, hive manuals, meetings of board meeting etc. However I did not find these as useful or engaging as those provided for Dune.  We learn the hive, it appears to be the only one, was founded by Trova Hellstrom in April of 1876, after 300 years among the Outsiders (47) but that is all the history Herbert provides, we don’t seem to have the same devotion to world building we see in Dune.  Trove mentions the “blessed Mendel” (48) but this does not seem to go anywhere either and Herbert’s passion for new or modified religions is not evident here.

I did enjoy Hellstrom’s Hive and anyone interested in societies modelled on insects should find it worth reading. It also provides a great look at Herbert’s creative process as a simple google search would demonstrate, more on that in the Spoilers and Quibbles section.

Spoilers and Quibbles

Herbert’s thought process in writing Hellstrom’s Hive can be seen in this quote from Wikipedia.

"David L. Wolper's quasi-documentary film The Hellstrom Chronicle, released in 1971, was the inspiration for Herbert's novel.[1] In an interview with Tim O'Reilly, Herbert stated: "I said, 'In terms of what we want now, as we think of our world now, what would be the most horrible kind of civilization you could imagine?' And then I said, 'Now I will make... [the members of that civilization] the heroes of the story, by taking negative elements of the surrounding society and treating them as the villain.' That creates a very peculiar kind of tension.”

In both goals I think Herbert was successful, to some extent the hive does fulfill the role of hero, after discussing the book with the friend who recommended it, we both agreed we found ourselves siding with Hellstrom against the Agency early on. This does create the tension Herbert talks about because you know the hive is a dangerously regimented society with no personal liberty for its members who are recycled for food when their usefulness ends. By pitting them against the Agency whose agents may be “swamped” murdered and disposed of in swamp if they prove troublesome there is little to choose from and no personal liberty on either side. The fact that the Agency is acting from a profit motive rather than a security focus also helps create the tension Herbert was seeking.

It is interesting to see Herbert’s writing is sometimes inspired by specific pre-determined goals rather than the plot alone, Damien Broderick in The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction (51) states “The deep irony of Dune’s popular triumph, and that of its many sequels, is Herbert’s own declared intention to undermine exactly that besotted identification with the van Vogtian superman-hero.” so we can see that the same impulse was working in Dune,  Herbert treats his novels as a form of intellectual exercise . Whether this  sometimes hurts the end product depends I guess on the reader but it certainly encourages Herbert to colour outside the lines of the expected tropes now and then. 


Hellestrom pays his film staff (hive members) but doesn’t collect income tax, we know where that gets you. Also certain things like the hive members wandering around the farm scantily clad or naked seem like a poor way of deflect attention. 

But my main frustration is the fact that we are not provided with any extended history for the hive. With the exception of the physical workers, stunted humans with large heads that are carried from place to place or ride in little cars, similar to the man of future beloved of early SF pulps, the hive members seem distressing human. Herbert makes no attempt, I am not sure how he would do it but I would like to see an attempt, to show us the view point of a worker with a little self realization or personal autonomy. I wonder if having satisfied the conditions he set in the quote above he did not bother to devote the energy needed to develop the hive concept fully. Certainly I want to know how group that (founded?) the hive started, how this all worked. In discussing the physical workers, Hellstrom says, “ They had proved their worth countless times and were a major reason the first colonists had ended their secretive migrations.” (198) what times? what other reasons? what migrations? I want details mister!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Tuesday we took Shaun, our Shih Tzu cross, to Prince Albert 
for a haircut. Every trip to PA includes a stop at Value Village 
for T-shirts, hoodies etc. to wear around the cabin.
 While at the cabin my SF collecting mostly stops
so I was delighted to see some great SF books for 1 to 2 
dollars. Some I already have but most of these have different 
covers and some can stay  at the cabin.
 I see SF cover art as time capsules to the societal and 
artistic trends and/or concerns of the period and if 
the price is right I will buy a second copy.

cover by Barclay Shaw

I decided to read or reread some of the SF authors of 
 my teenage years I am starting with Frank Herbert but
 I will follow with Niven who produced 
some of the great SF of his generation.

cover by Walter Velez (1966) 1981

Very different, more modern and futuristic than the other
covers I have seen for The Dream Master.

cover by McMacken (1965) Avon 1979
I thought my favourite would always be the 
Powers cover for "Bill" but we now have a tie.

Next A couple of okay Paul Lehr.



Then couple of okay Richard Powers.



Not sure, The Alien Way, Lou Feck.

(1965) 1977

The gem, I had never even seen photos of this cover for 
The Caves of Steel  by Ralph Brillhart. I think Pebble in the Sky
is my favourite Asimov but "Caves" is certainly the runner up.  
This copy will not be staying at the cabin.

(1954) Pyramid 1962

Monday we went south to photograph the shorebirds
on the sloughs before they migrate. We stopped in Hafford,
 for lunch, a small town pop. 360 where one old store now
 hosts a community garage sale. We got a great and cheap oil 
painting of grain elevators, hey this is the prairie folks, an Old
Virginia Smoking Tobacco can, an ex libris copy of 
The Phantom Tollbooth and an Ace Double for 50 cents with 
two wonderfully frantic covers by Emesh. Book publication 1962
 but the short stories were first published in 1954. Ace F-165.
Also saw some great birds and had a nice lunch.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

I had thought I would have lots of time to post to my various SF blogs while at the cabin. However I have posted mainly to my nature photo blog "That's Just the Wild Wood". While I collect my thoughts on Herbert's Hellstrom's Hive, I thought I would share this link a friend sent me to the work of Shigeru Komatsuzaki on Pink Tentacle. I enjoy this sort of Popular Mechanics, Air Wonder Stories, Frank Paul style illustration updated for the 1960's. I love the fact that it includes the rocket ships from Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's Thunderbirds, one of several SF series they did using Supermarionation, certainly one of the stranger SF entertainment offering of my childhood. I have to admit I did buy the first diecast Thunderbird 2 I saw, what fun is adulthood if we cannot buy the treasures we could not afford as kids.

Sci-fi illustrations by Shigeru Komatsuzaki
21 Jun 2010

"Here is a collection of sci-fi illustrations 

by the prolific Shigeru Komatsuzaki 
(1915-2001), whose fantastic work 
appeared on plastic model kit boxes 
and in magazines and picture books in the 
1960s to 1970s.


Sunday, June 5, 2016

I have been remiss in not featuring the wonderful Christmas gift I received from my mother-in-law last year. She knew exactly what I would love. Thanks Rigmor

A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Ontario Trip 3, Stuart Cloete "The Blast"

Congo Song, Stuart Cloete, 1944, Collins, Toronto

This is the final post on the books I picked up on a recent trip to Ontario to visit family. I have to admit my purchase of Congo Song, was based entirely on the lurid cover and the equally lurid synopsis on the back cover. While I could see it falling in line with my interest in gene or pulp fiction the SF element seemed absent. Then I looked Stuart Cloete up join Wikipedia and found the following information.

"Cloete was among the pioneers of the by-now voluminous literary subgenre depicting the aftermath of nuclear war. His 1947 novelette The Blast is written as the diary of a survivor living in the ruins of New York (published in 6 Great Short Novels of Science Fiction, ed. Groff Conklin, 1954)."

Wikipedia also noted that "He was educated in England at Lancing College, a school which at present gives out a yearly prize in his honour to a student who excels in literature and creative writing."

In 1943 Cloete also published a short story called "Congo", which appeared in the anthology Things With Claws, I mentioned this title in my post on horror anthologies with covers by Richard Powers on my HPL blog,


I was born in Windsor so a review from the Windsor Star on the back of Congo Song is an added bonus. I did notice editions with a more Harlequin inspired cover by George Meyers for anyone offended by Congo's sailor cap. Having read the two short stories, I suspect I will not read Congo Song anytime soon, if ever.

"Congo"; reprinted from Story Mar.-Apr., 1943 "Congo " seems not unlike the typical scientist goes to the jungle, odd stuff happens tale, that could often be found in early pulp magazines like Argosy, Amazing Stories or Weird Tales. Professor Le Grand, his assistant, our unnamed narrator, and the Professor's young blonde, pregnant wife, Helena Magrodvata, who we are told is of Graeco-Russian extraction have come to Africa to study rubber trees. In due course Helena has a baby boy who unfortunately dies of a snake bite. Helena is inconsolable, on the verge of madness until a female gorilla is trapped by the natives. She is pregnant and Le Grand, who is something of a man of all seasons, he has also been experimenting with a serum against tropical diseases on himself, his assistant and his wife, delivers the baby by Cesarean. Of course Helena immediately decides to raise the gorilla. At this juncture the narrator notes "Again, what did we know of Helena, with her mixed blood, her strong instincts, and her veins full of experimental serums?" (142) Within the year the entire party returns to Brussels and some 8 years pass. The gorilla now named Congo has been raised as a human infant complete with sailor suit. I think we can all see where this is going.

Congo as noted above is pretty typical of the pulp tales of the period, marred by hints of misogyny and racism which would probably become even more intrusive in a longer work. The characters are fairly one dimensional and despite the fact that Cloete is South African the description of Africa lacks the depth of atmosphere we might get in other stories set in exotic locations in works by Rider Haggard, Robert Howard, Henry Whitehead or Jack London.

"The Blast", 1947 original version published in COLLIER'S, April 1946. It is interesting to read a nuclear war story written within a year of the end of WWII. Certainly Cloete, at least for the purposes of his story, saw things very differently that an author writing in the 1960's or 1990's might. " Immediately after the war, an arms race begins, " There was only a state of fear. There were only rumors-stories that Russia and Spain were only a year behind us in the atomic race. These two countries were, of course, at opposite ideological poles and were a constant threat not only to each other, but to the world. "(10) as well there are Nazis in South America, and an ineffectual UN monitoring program that is stymied because countries have begun to produce miniaturized atomic weapons. Our unnamed narrator, a writer of South African descent, living in New York at the time of the blast is starting his record of events some twenty years after the blast. By his estimate the current year is 1972. The actual blast damage he witnessed was quite localized with damage outside the area caused mainly by falling debris or fires so much of the city is left intact. After the initial explosions, retaliatory attacks are launched until the entire world in involved. Shortly after the nuclear attacks, a disease called the Red Death, possibly an out of control bacteriological weapon, wipes out most of the survivors. Now the narrator, a man in his seventies lives alone in New York. The first half of the story is quite interesting. One quibble I would have is that it appears once the bombs dropped a version of prohibition era Chicago appears. "For forty-eight hours, cars roared through the streets and tommy guns spat from the cars." (14) but this chaos ends as the population crashes. The narrator although saddened by the death of his wife, and the fact he ate his pets, a dog and a kinkajou, seems mostly untouched by the demise of everyone else, indeed a cozy catastrophe soon breaks out. The term cozy catastrophe was coined by Brian Aldiss in The Billion Year Spree, when I reread Aldiss’s description in the now The Trillion Year Spree he characterizes it this way “ The essence of cosy catastrophe is that the hero should have a pretty good time (a girl, free suites at the Savoy, automobiles for the taking) while everyone else is dying off.” (316) And except for occasional bouts of loneliness Cloete's New York seems cozy. He has moved to a cave located beneath the Chelsea Hotel for warmth, where he has accumulated great paintings including a Poussin, Renoir, Vermeer etc. books and wine. New York has come to resemble the island in Swiss Family Robinson where every animal Cloete has ever heard of, mostly escapees from local zoos roam freely leopards, tigers, polar bears etc., have all successfully multiplied. Colette obviously has given his world building a lot of thought and he likes lists. There are also mutants, enormous mink five feet at the shoulder and eighteen feet long and gigantic wolves weighing half a ton. Since our narrator likes to hunt he has breed packs of huge dogs that he rules with an iron fist and makes the best it. "Everywhere there are small woods, clumps of trees, and little streams and rivers. There are large numbers of flowers, many of them completely new, at least new as wild flowers. Varieties of roses which usually had to be budded now grow wild, as do gladioli, dahlias, tulips and every other kind of bulb. Hyacinths, daffodils and crocuses cover large patches in solid mats of color; they lie like scatter rugs on the green floor of the city; and nothing more beautiful could be imagined than coming across a great striped Bengal tiger asleep on a carpet of purple crocuses in the first warm afternoon of early spring, or seeing a red and white wild ox standing belly-deep in orange gladioli." (22) It does sound nice, but into this Eden a worm or rather two appear for in our narrator's seventy-third year, he sees two young blonde girls, early twenties actually, armed with spears and mounted on horses, the one animal his New York lacks. He avoids contact but it is the knowledge that he is not the only survivor that encourages him to begin writing down the record of his experiences.

Spoilers and Quibbles.

It is with the introduction of the young women that things really go south for me. They are travelling as part of a all male Native American hunting party in case interpreters are needed. The girls, daughters of the white Indian agent and his wife who died in the blast where adopted by an "Indian squaw". Later a prospector joined the tribe and "instructed the girls in their mother tongue and in his version of history, geography and mathematics. They knew the multiplication tables and could add subtract, divide and multiply-arts which made them valuable to the Indians, who called them in when such obscure calculations were necessary." (59) Our narrator is captured but eventually wins the natives over in part because of his skill with large calibre hunting rifles something they apparently lack the intelligence to master. "I was, faced with an ethical problem. The Indians, who had discovered heavy rifles similar to mine in some of the stores they had entered, wished me to instruct them in their use. I could see nothing to be gained by such instruction, so I tried to explain to them that this was white man's magic and so strong that it had destroyed all the white men in the world but me, turning its forces against them in retribution for their own misuse of its power." (63) When the recoil from one of the rifles breaks the collar bone of a young men they learn their lesson and make our narrator a member of the tribe. This also apparently entitles him to the "girls' who despite having been raised in the tribe since infancy, prefer a seventy-three year old racist jerk to any of the young men they grew up with. I think my problems with the second half of Cloete's "The Blast" are pretty clear. Written in 1946 it treats the Native tribe as first contact savages meeting Columbus or Cortez for the first time, no war veterans here, its all bows and arrows, spears and a few Springfields. In Clifford Simak's A Choice of Gods, the earth is also mostly unpopulated and one of the Native American tribes has returned to a more traditional lifestyle. But this is depicted as a conscious choice, a young woman of the tribe unhappy with this lifestyle is allowed to leave to begin using the last remaining library to further her education. Colette's native's are apparently incapable of learning by observation, the rifle, or picking up concepts like mathematics, content to leave the intricacies of such magical knowledge to whites. There is also an element of middle aged wish fulfilment, Heinlein anyone, and, I suspect, a real fear of racial mixing that insists that the old white guy gets the girl(s).