" 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

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Jerry Pournelle (August 7, 1933 - September 8, 2017)

  Jerry Pournelle has passed away at age 84. I suspect there was a lot we would not have agreed on, but one thing I think we could have, is that, The Mote in God's Eye , was a great read. 

from The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America website

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Sentinels of Space by Eric Frank Russell

  Eric Frank Russell is possibly, the science fiction author most indebted to the theories of Charles Fort for his plots. Indeed Ford’s statement, “ I think we are property", is used in Sinister Barrier, the Russell work that claimed the cover for the initial issue of John W. Campbell's pulp magazine Unknown. Certainly elements of Fort’s theories are also evident in Russell’s 1951 novel Sentinels of Space  (originally published as The Star Watchers in the Nov. 1951 issue of Startling Stories).  Space pilot Captain David Raven has been summoned before The World Council. It is obvious immediately that the Council is uncomfortable in Raven's presence and they avoid eye contact. They talk to him only long enough to tell him they have just discovered that Earth’s colonies on Mars and Venus have been responsible for a number of sabotage attacks on Earth industries and research institutions. The colonies are hoping to gain their independence. Earth does not wish to acknowledge the attacks, they feel a united solar system is needed in case they encounter aliens as they launch space expeditions further afield. Carson, the director of Earth’s Terran Security Bureau, has sifted all Earth's birth records to locate Raven, an exceptionally powerful telepath. Carson wants Raven to act as a secret agent tasked with thwarting the colonies. He meets with Raven and explains the problem in more detail. As citizens of Earth the colonists can move about Earth freely, using mutant agents to conduct the attacks. It seems that as the colonists traveled to Mars and Venus they were exposed to radiation in space. The radiation produced mutations with special powers. At present the mutants seem to be limited, each has only one power, for example telepathy, levitation, etc., there are 12 varieties in total. Raven will be sent out alone acting on his own initiative with no official status and reporting only to Carson to stop the undeclared war.

The attacks on Raven start the minute he leaves Carson’s office. Despite this, he returns home to his female companion Leina. It is obvious right away that this is not a conventional male female relationship, but then it is obvious that Raven is not simply a powerful telepath. Once he explains his role to Leina she reminds him that, “It is the unwritten law that we must never be tempted to interfere except with the prime motive of thwarting the Denebs. We might give ourselves away just sufficiently to frighten humankind…,” (19) Yes it seems that Raven and Leina are very powerful extraterrestrial observers stationed on Earth to alert their unnamed organization should an alien race called the Denebs detect the civilizations in our solar system. There are a pair of observers one male, one female on each inhabited planet. Despite the non interference directive, Raven, and Charles, the male observer, on Venus do interfere. They do this despite the objections of Leina and Charles' partner Mavis. 

And so you have a fairly pedestrian SF secret agent war with the colonies drama. It is interesting that Russell uses the theme of a lone agent taking on an entire planet several times. tor.com posted several discussions of Russell’s novel Wasp the most recent can be found here.

An earlier one appears here.


I think Wasp was a better novel although overall I probably enjoyed Sentinels of Space more because of several elements I will discuss below. However there were also elements I hated. Some of the dialogue is nonsensical rubbish, in describing a colleague mentally attacked by Raven, “It was mussed something awful. His think-stuff was like freshly stirred porridge.” (33)

It is incredibly sexist, Leina and Mavis, one can assume, are equally powerful beings but apparently according to Russell’s male characters fraught with female tendencies, Charles explains to Raven that “ Mavis got a call from Leina. As usual they gabbed an hour about personal matters before Leina remembered she’d come through to tell us you were on the Fantome. It seems she’d sooner you had kept to your proper job”
“Females remain females throughout the whole of eternity,” Raven offered. (67)

Also both Raven and Charles come across as incredibly egotistical. Normally we associate the villains with monologuing but they go on forever baiting a rebel named Thorstein, because as Russell explains later, they have to really be threatened before they can defend themselves. They are also fairly callous about individual human life, although it is not an overly violent book. Fletcher Pratt, in the Saturday Review of 6 June 1953[2] wrote: Exciting semi-classic, but is this the way super-minds work?” One hopes not, and Pratt really captures my misgivings here.

So what did I like. In one scene we see Raven and Leina reclined in chairs under a glass dome in their home. They are not looking at the night sky as much as listening to the fragments of the mental traffic of their colleagues' efforts against the Deneb race spreading across the universe, “scouting warily around Bluefire, a condensing giant. Twenty black ships of destroyer types.” "repeatedly, but complete lack of common ground makes it impossible to communicate with these Flutterers.” (150) the messages point to, a vast relatively peaceful campaign against Deneb expansion and conquest.

For most of my life I have had trouble falling sleep, so in my early teens I would lie in the dark with my transistor radio listening to the world or what bits of the world I could receive, so this passage struck a real chord. I have encountered this before in my SF reading, the signals from the lost starships in Starmasters' Gambit by Gerard Klein, or when reading about the seashell (thimble) radios used by the fireman Montag’s wife Mildred in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. These passages in Sentinels of Space
really resonate with me. Also the ending came as a pleasant surprise, I admit one of the things I liked least about Wasp was the ending. 

As a writer Russell can be a bit uneven but his story "Allamagoosa" won the short story Hugo for 1955 and his novella  "And Then There Were None" was selected by members of The Science Fiction Writers of America for inclusion in Volume IIA of The Science Fiction Hall of Fame. In his entry on Russell in Seekers of Tomorrow, Sam Moskowitz notes; “For good or bad, the astonishing bulk of Fortean phenomena and verging logically off into strange talents, stems from him. In fact, Russell virtually parodies the genre in his novel The Star Watchers …., which includes twelve mutations each enjoying a variation in special powers.” (150) My favourite mutant power here is 11, Insectivocals, and with that I am done.

(Sorry I did encounter some format issues I could not resolve in this post)

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Fun Read from the Guardian The Philip K Dick book I love most…

A fun read from the Guardian, 

Nicola Barker, Michael Moorcock, and Adam Roberts discuss their favourite P. K. Dick novel.

I have too much of Phil's oeuvre left to read to pick a favourite at this time; of the three listed here, I would pick Time out of Joint, I have not read Puttering About in a Small Land. I do wish they had included more authors.


Wednesday, August 23, 2017



My wife, knowing my love of all things Ray Bradbury sent me a link to "ON THE DARK, WONDROUS OPTIMISM OF RAY BRADBURY: GABRIELLE BELLOT DISCOVERS WORLDS WITHIN AND WITHOUT" by Gabrielle Bellot

Ray Bradbury through his short stories, "The Fog Horn", "The Pedestrian", and his novel Fahrenheit 451, even the Joseph Mugnaini covers of Bradbury's books, The Golden Apples of the Sun, The October Country and Fahrenheit 451 often defined science fiction for me as a youth, and often still does today, so I was interested in reading Bellot's essay. I was impressed, Bellot combines what seems like a fairly extensive knowledge of Bradbury's work with her own meditations on gender, identity, family and memory. Ballot highlights a number of Bradbury's works including, The Fire Balloons, "The Other Foot" and the very dark "All Summer is a Day" in discussing her own experiences in her relationship with her family, especially those concerning the death of her grandmother. This I think is a wonderful example of the power of story, of fiction, in our lives, in that it allows the reader to feel a kinship with others over shared experiences or allows one to see the world however briefly and tenuously through someone else's identity and experiences. For me, for example the very powerful Bradbury story "Long After Midnight" immediately came to mind as I read Bellot's essay. 

Monday, August 21, 2017

Who will replace this man? Brian Aldiss (1925-2017)

Brian Aldiss, SF author, anthologist and historian passed away Monday August 21st at 92.

Upon hearing of his passing I began to look for media discussions of not just, his death but his career. I did not find a lot in NA sources, Tor did have a nice post, and I did find some material from UK sources, here are some links I found informative.








For a full discussion of this career, please see his entry in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.


I had just completed my post when I found this remembrance on Battered, Tattered, Yellowed & Creased


Aldiss last book Finches of Mars came out in 2012 and he began publishing with the short story "Criminal Record "in 1954. He published some very significant science fiction novels including, Non-Stop (1958), Hothouse (1962), Greybeard  (1962), and Barefoot in the Head (1969). He was also an anthologist of note, producing among other titles, a Best SF Series with Harry Harrison that ran from 1968-1976. Aldiss and Harrison's comments on SF in these volumes are worth the purchase price by themselves. He produced one of the great histories of SF, the Billion, Later Trillion Year Spree (1986), which pointed me towards a number of writers. And while I am not in total agreement with some of his conclusions and omissions, it is a great read for anyone interested in SF. His career was a long and fascinating one, starting in the 1950's, when the field was dominated by the likes of Bradbury, Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, Sturgeon etc., on into the 1960's when he became a part of the New Wave, (see quotes below) and then continued up to the present day. And through it all Brian was not just writing SF but also promoting it and acknowledging it's importance both as a genre and in his career, I am a bit surprised his profile was not higher within discussions of the field.

"Aldiss was instrumental in obtaining a 1967 Arts Council grant for the magazine, which saved it for a few years. Though never fully at ease with New World's submission to an aesthetic dominated by J.G. Ballard, Aldiss published some increasingly unconventional fiction here, notably his novel Report on Probability A (short version March 1967 New Worlds; 1968; written 1962 but unpublishable until the times changed)"

Aldiss in these interviews does not shy away from discussing unpleasant aspects of the field.

"As for Ballard, “he fell in with a dreadful fellow, an artist who designed one of the Underground stations [Eduardo Paolozzi] and just ceased to be a friend. Perhaps because he didn’t like being associated with the label of science fiction. I don’t like the label, but I put up with it.”

As someone who loves the early Ballard but wants the time spent borrowing his later books from library, much less reading them, back I found these remarks interesting.

I have to admit I have gathered together a number of his works but read only a few. My wife has long enthused over his Helliconia trilogy so I will have to get busyWhen I get home I hope to take a closer look at his work, I may wait until we visit London, to see what I encounter there.

So today rather than raise a glass I picked up his 1965 collection Who Can Replace a Man and read the title story. It will not be the last. Goodbye Brian. 

Any thoughts on Aldiss?