Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Mushroom Planet

I have been blogging about juvenile SF books because books are my life.  Or at least an important part of it.  I started reading before Kindergarten thanks to my mother’s teaching me to. 
And books are my escape.  From a world that often is pretty crappy.  As I have said in previous posts, misfits read SF and that includes me.  The world is not designed for people like us and SF, juvenile SF in particular for me, was/is an escape. 
So  I am posting about what I love and hopefully others feel the same about.  I know the media is full of stories about the decline of the book business, but people still read.  How else did J. K. Rowling become a billionaire from the Harry Potter books?
Well, on to the next post.  I am going to leave the Heinlein juveniles for a while.  There still are several that I will post about like Farmer In The SkyPodkayne of Mars, etc.  But now I am writing about a series mostly aimed at younger readers, The Mushroom Planet books.
The first was The Wonderful Flight To The Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron.  In it a couple of boys respond to an ad in the paper by Mr. Tycho Bass who wants someone, a boy, to build a spaceship and bring it to him.
So they do. 
It turns out that Mr. Bass has discovered a small planetoid orbiting the Earth about 50,000 miles out.  Why hasn’t anyone else seen it?  You need the Stroboscopic Polarizing Filter which Mr. Bass has invented to see it.
Various adventures follow when the boys journey to the planetoid. 
While a bit fantastic, it serves as yet another example of the sense of wonder theory to me.  What boy would not be thrilled to have built his own spaceship and journey to an undiscovered planet?
Yes its not possible we now know (sadly) but back then it was at least conceivable.  And that desire to explore is still out there.  Witness the recent stories about a 14 year old Dutch girl who is sailing around the world alone.  Or Robin Lee Graham who did it years ago when he was 16 as was chronicled it The National Geographic and his book Dove. 
It was and is a great book for young people and there are several more in the series.  I will post about them also.  But I still think this is the sort of book that is not being written now and should be. 
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Monday, August 23, 2010

On The Value Of Science Fiction-Part 1

Obviously I am a Science Fiction fan.  I will be writing about other genres, such as Mysteries, eventually in this blog.  But I became a SF reader around the age of 8 and have been hooked ever since.
This is a good thing.  Most people have at best a brief fling with SF.  They may read a few books as teenagers, and the they ‘grow up’.  But some of us, the special ones, don’t lose our taste for it.
I am mainly talking here about written SF.  There are some good movies out there and a few TV shows, but most of visual SF is crap.  It's here comes the monster, scream, shoot him with your ray gun and kiss the girl.  There is little of the depth and thoughtfulness of written SF there on the screen.
The audience, or market, for written SF is different.  Yes some of us, some of the time, want mindless entertainment.  But a high percentage of SF has more going for it than just a good story.  It makes you think. 
People who like to think, who want to think are the audience for SF. 

 That makes it a ghetto.  Because 99 percent of the human race does not fall into this category.  People who think.  They tried it once, it hurt their brains, so they gave it up.

If you believe that people who think are important in this 21st century technological, complicated world, then you might agree with me.  About the importance of people who read SF. 
I am not the only one who has said this.  I remember reading a book,  a collection of essays by Isaac Asimov, that was making the same point.  Better than I am.
But the point I am actually trying to make is the value of juvenile SF.  Because if we are going to have at least some children grow up and be competent to run this world and maybe even make it better, then we need juvenile SF.
That is how they will get hooked into reading SF and that will expand their minds.  They will develop that Sense of Wonder that we seem to have lost here in America. 
Is juvenile SF being written and is it any good?  I know that Charles Sheffield, with some help from Jerry Pournelle, wrote a series of juvenile SF books not too many years ago.
And I have been somewhat absent from current SF for a variety of reasons.  Maybe there are Graphic novels or video games that fill the need for good, thought-provoking juvenile SF but I doubt it.  My opinion of most SF of that type is that it consists of blowing  things up as quick as you can and little else.
I could be wrong.  I have started to read SF blogs looking for information on this area but am finding little.
So if I have any actual readers out there I would like to know if there is any juvenile SF recently published. 
Maybe I am Chicken Little and the sky isn’t falling.
Anyway, this rant, or editorial will be continued occasionally.  But mostly I am going to write about the SF I love. 
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Space Cadet

One of the first Heinlein juveniles (published in 1948) is Space Cadet.  It suffers because of that I think.  It is the story of a boy, Matt Dodson, who joins the Space Patrol.  It’s a kind of solar system police force. 
But the problem with the book is how much of it is taken up with the minutia of boot camp and so forth.  Maybe young boys of this barely post World War II  era were into being soldiers.  So this large amount of detailed description of testing and discipline, etc.  was interesting to them. 
But I grew up in the Vietnam era and the armed forces don’t hold the same attraction for me.  I never wanted to be in the military so this sort of thing bored me when I read it.
The second half of the book, when Matt and his comrades go out into space and have adventures, in particular on Venus, is better.
Still, all in all, not one of Heinlein’s better efforts.
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Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Beasts and Children

The Star Beast

The Star Beast by Robert A. Heinlein is basically a fun read.  One of his juveniles that doesn’t really have a serious bone in its body. 
It’s the story of Lummox, the Star Beast.  Lummie was found on some nameless planet many years ago (over a hundred) by John Thomas’ great-great grandfather. 
Lummox keeps on living, and growing, through generation after generation.  He’s apparently slightly intelligent since he talks in a babyish way, and harmless except by mistake. 
He is also indestructible it seems.
The misadventures of Lummox and his owner, or pet depending on your point of view, are a way for Heinlein to have some fun. 
He pokes fun at small town life, the legal system, politics, and bureaucracy as we go along. 
There is some real honest emotion there too.  John Thomas and Lummox care for each other and that is what wins out in the end over the cynicism and manipulations of everyone else.
So a good light fun read.
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Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Red Planet

Another of my favorite juveniles by Heinlein is Red Planet.  This is more definitely a juvenile since the hero is Jim Marlowe, teenager, and most of the characters are his schoolmates and friends.
It’s another rebellion against authority type story the authority this time being the Mars Company. 
Mars in this novel has the aspect of a ‘Company Town’.  Something that was more common in the US in the 1950’s so quite familiar to his audience.  The company has become repressive and thus problems ensue. 
One thing that is a little odd to me.  Heinlein is known for his conservative politics.  He was a libertarian which is a different species of conservative to most of the current Republican party.  However, I would think he was more anti-government than anti-business. 
But in this novel, the bad guys are clearly this company.  Maybe he is against repression no matter the source or just against big powerful entities.  If so, I am more a fan of his politics than I thought.  Whatever. 
The company tries, through deception, to force the colonists to stay in their present location throughout the bitter Martian winter.  This is the main cause of the rebellion.
But similar authoritarian actions at Jim’s school precipitate the action. 
Heinlein does a great job describing the society on Mars.  The ancient Martians are truly alien, the landscape is Percival Lowell’s Mars, but believable for the time, and the character of Willis, a Martian bouncer or roundhead,is one of the better cute aliens ever created.
This particular Mars also fits into the Future History of Heinlein, and many of the other juveniles. 
But first of all it’s just a good story. 
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Friday, August 20, 2010

Like A Rolling Stone

The Rolling Stones by Robert A. Heinlein is about my favorite of his juveniles.  In some ways it is not a juvenile, since it is really about the Stone family, but the two twins Castor and Pollux are the main stars in my estimation.  And they are teenagers.
There are a number of things about this novel that I like.  Hazel Meade Stone, the grandmother, is the Hazel Meade from my favorite Heinlein book The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress.  She is an 11 year old in that book, and 85 plus in this one. 
There is not a direct connection, this is not a sequel, but it seems obvious to me.  Hazel is on of the founding fathers of The Luna Free State for instance. 
This book is part of the Future History of Heinlein.  The Moon, and Mars, as described in this book are similar to the planets in others, like Red Planet, another of my favorite juveniles.
The story is a lot of fun.  The Stone family, eccentrics all, buy a spaceship and start touring the solar system.  Various adventures occur along the way. 
Heinlein again gets into his thing about education being important, in particular mathematics. 
And that Yankee can-do spirit is pervasive. 
Whether or not Americans ever had this particular approach to life may be debatable, but it is an American myth.  And one that I think has some basis in fact.  And I am sad that in many ways it has disappeared from our culture. 
It may be more ‘mature’ or 'realistic' to look at the world in the cynical way we do now, but it’s a shame that we do. 
Yes we bumped up against reality in the late 1960’s with Vietnam, The Credibility Gap, and all the events that ended ‘Camelot’ and optimism.  But I remember it and wish for its return. 
Even in a modified, more useable form.  If we think that every time someone proposes a difficult, expensive thing for us to try it will fail, then we never try.  People need things bigger than themselves to believe in, and we suffer from a lack of them now.
OK, enough ranting. 
One last thing about the story.  Towards the end of the novel the Stones pick up as a pet a Martian Flat Cat.  On board ship this fuzzy, harmless, loveable creature eats too much as everybody feeds it.  So,it starts having babies.  And then, its babies have babies.  Soon the ship is overloaded with them.  They get into everything and are consuming all the families food. 
So, they lower the temperature and when they curl up like Martian wildlife does, they get put into the hold.
Sound familiar?  I wonder if Gene Roddenberry, or whoever wrote the episode The Trouble With Tribbles on Star Trek ever read this book. 
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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Spacesuits R Us

The next Heinlein juvenile I will post on is Have Space Suit, Will Travel.  This one has a more juvenile feel to it, so to speak.  Even though the main character Clifford is a high school student heading to college, if he can get there, it still seems aimed at a younger audience. 
Younger than the one for Between Planets anyway.
Clifford is an apparently average student having a normal life and going to Central High.  His father however, is rather eccentric, and as we learn, probably really smart. 
When his Dad becomes aware of how lightweight the curriculum at Central is, he lets Clifford know that if he doesn’t make the effort to get educated then he won’t be going anywhere.
This is a recurrent theme in Heinlein’s juveniles.  I remember if from one of my favorites The Rolling Stones
In the 1950’s it was an accepted dogma that education was the path to success.  With the GI bill, etc.  many returning veterans went to college and did well and then passed that belief on to their boomer children, like me. 
It has been called into question more recently.  Several sociologists have done research and are not finding the close link between education and higher salaries that apparently used to exist.
But when this book was written it was gospel. 
Cliff also is a space nut and wants to go to the moon.  So he enters a contest to win such a prize.  He doesn’t get first place, but wins a used spacesuit as a consolation prize. 
Being in the tradition of American tinkerers and do it yourselfers, he fixes it up and makes it space worthy. 
But needing money for college tuition he decides, reluctantly, to sell it.  One last walk around the woods pretending to be in space and talking to non-existent fellow spacemen.  He calls on his radio and gets an answer!  Suddenly an alien spaceship lands at his feet, he is captured, and the adventures begin.
Alien ‘wormfaces’, The Mother Thing, journeys to the Moon, Pluto, a planet orbiting the star Vega, and eventually the Lesser Magellanic Cloud, follow.
It’s a slam-bang adventure story with plenty of danger, and emotion to satisfy any reader.
Yes it’s a bit unbelievable, but that’s the nature of the beast.  A completely enjoyable read in my opinion. 
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Man Without A Planet

The next series of juveniles I want to post about are the ones that almost every SF fan knows about.  At least the fans of my age.  I know the younger fans still read Heinlein, but I don’t know if the juveniles still get read.  I think they are amongst his best works, and really are readable for adults.  At least most of them.
Heinlein wrote a number of them and in them you can see why he is a Grand Master of SF.  He knows how to write and they are interesting books in many ways. 
The first one I will post about is Between Planets by Robert A. Heinlein.  This is a story of growing up and becoming a man, and of rebellion against authority.  In particular authoritarian government. 
Those of you who know Heinlein’s politics are not surprised about this.  He was a Libertarian by most accounts and it shows in many of his books, including to a lesser degree, in his juveniles.
In this one, Donald Harvey gets caught up in the rebellion of the Venus Colony against the Federation.  The Federation is Earth, or the Earth government. 
We see how Earth has become repressive, even to its own people.  Security, the IBI, is everywhere.  Citizen’s rights are routinely violated or ignored.  There is a war looming, but apparently this has been developing for a while. 
That’s one of the things you will see in Heinlein’s juveniles that you don’t in many of the others.  He talks politics.  Whether or not you agree with his theories, it’s something that was unusual for 1950’s America. 
I grew up a little later on and it was the same.  Middle class American kids didn’t think about politics.  That only changed in the mid 1960’s with Vietnam and Civil Rights and everything else.
So Heinlein is kind of breaking a taboo here to my thinking.  And, unless I am misinterpreting it, he is making a point about McCarthyism, which was in full flower at the time.
Anyway, Don is (unknown to him) caught up as a courier in a conspiracy to change things.  Then he becomes a guerrilla fighter in the swamps of Venus. (The old solar system again)
Don is not a misfit or a junior scientist, just an ordinary kid caught up in events.  He handles them well and is a hero of sorts. 
All in all, a good story well written.  One I enjoyed then, and on re-reading. 
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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Trippies

The prequel to the Tripods trilogy is When The Tripods Came.  It is a very well written story of how the Tripods conquer the Earth.
Not through violence, or at least not entirely.  The initial attack is repelled successfully by the armed forces of the various nations that are invaded.  But the Tripods are subtle.
They begin using subliminal persuasion on  broadcast TV programs, and other methods of mind control.  This leads to the young being converted into ‘Trippies’ and they begin the illicit distribution of caps.
Slowly but surely the world is taken over, with some fighting here and there. 
The story is told through the eyes of Laurie whose family is involved in the initial Tripod attack in England. 
They flee to Switzerland eventually where the Tripods are resisted most strongly.  Eventually even that country falls and they flee to a remote mountainous part of Switzerland. (The White Mountains) where they start the resistance.
This 4 book series is one of my favorite juvenile SF readings. 
One interesting thing that I discovered while looking for the first time in a while at my copy of this prequel.  The blurb writer mentions that there was a BBC series called The Tripods and that it also played in the US. 
I have never seen or heard of this series.  Well, yet another thing I will have to google and look for on Amazon or eBay. 
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Monday, August 16, 2010

It Is Balloon !

The Pool of Fire is the third book in the Tripods trilogy.  In it the humans learn what Will Parker discovered in the previous book.  The aliens are sending a ship from their home planet to Earth with a machine for converting the atmosphere on Earth.  It will become like the home planet of the Masters, and all other life on Earth will die.
So, a daring plan to assault the three Tripod cities is devised. It involves poisoning the aliens.  It is successful in killing the Masters in two, but the attack fails in the third.
This leads to a further attack via a balloon born force. 
This book is much more action oriented, and perhaps a bit predictable, but still a good wrap-up of the trilogy. 
All in all a good trilogy of juvenile SF.  I will cover the prequel in my next post.
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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Turning Lead into Gold

The second book in the trilogy is The City of Gold and Lead.  In it Will Parker and his friends leave the safety of the White Mountains to enter The Games held in Germany.  The winners of these competitions will get the ‘honor’ of serving the Masters, The Tripods, in their city. 
This means living with them under their much higher gravity. But for the capped it’s an honor. 
For Will and his fellow rebels, it’s a chance to find out more about the city and its inhabitants.  Perhaps a way to free Earth and the Human Race. 
So Will undertakes the dangerous journey.  He is still uncapped and if discovered, all will be lost.  But, he is chosen and enters the city with others. 
A series of adventures and Will escapes again.  As he and his companions go, they vow to return to destroy the masters.
This book did suffer a little from being the middle book of a trilogy.  You know that the story is not going to end.  But the life of the masters inside the city is interestingly alien, and it still a good read. 
To me it’s a little hard to fit this series into any particular category other than juvenile adventure SF.  Will is not a scientist, and not really a misfit.  He is a hero which is an obvious draw for young people reading the story.  He is fighting against tremendous odds against a vastly superior foe.  So he is an interesting character. 
The books of this trilogy are a success.  And John Christopher has written other series for juveniles including a fantasy magic one that I read one book of The Sword Trilogy.  He and this Tripod series does seem to be ignored by a lot of SF fans. Maybe because the science in it is mostly in the hands of the aliens and the humans are primitive. 
But in the concluding book of the trilogy the earthmen make use of their inferior technology in interesting ways.  Next post. 
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The Tripods Trilogy

Another juvenile series I enjoyed was the Tripods series by John Christopher.  I believe originally this was a trilogy, but it has expanded to 4 with the addition of a prequel.
The first book in the trilogy is where I will start. It’s The White Mountains
Aliens, The Tripods, have invaded and conquered the Earth some time ago.  Limited numbers of humans survived the destruction and killing.  They now live as virtual slaves of the Tripods as the aliens go about their mysterious business. 
Mainly the Tripds live in 3 cities where conditions of gravity, and so forth are closer to the Tripods requirements.
Humans do not question their situation, they are under the control of the Tripods and accept their lives.
But this is maintained by everyone being ‘capped’.  A metal device is fitted to your head and the Tripods can then control you. 
Will Parker is about to undergo the ceremony of being capped since he has come of age.  Youngsters are not capped until old enough.
So he still can have rebellious thoughts.  But not for long.
 Will becomes aware of the resistance to the Tripods and after various adventures decides to journey to The White Mountains where the resistance is apparently located. 
I thought this was a real good story when I read it way back when.  I have re-read it since.  A nice twist on alien invasions with young people, because of the lack of caps, being the lead in the resistance.  And some interesting writing about the society of humans living under the Tripods.  A pastoral society, one that does not question the domination of the aliens.  Reminds me of feudal society
Next in the trilogy The City of Gold and Lead.  In my next post.
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Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Big Shush

Step to the stars, a science fiction novel. Jacket and endpaper designs by Alex Schomburg.

Step To The Stars by Lester del Rey is a working class juvenile.  At least its hero Jim Stanley is working class.  Yes he’s working his way through college, but he works as a mechanic repairing cars.
And eventually, building space stations.
Jim has nothing, and no family, so he gets, somewhat secretly due to the cold war, recruited to work on the first space station in its 1000 mile high orbit.
I guess a lot of kids of that era, the 1950’s, would have loved to be up there bolting and welding girders together to make a station.  Probably one that looked a lot like the Chesley Bonestell paintings for Colliers and Look Magazines.
The station we got, doesn’t look that pretty.  And as much as I am a big fan of going into space I think they were wrong about this. 
Pretty much everyone writing from the 1930’s on, Willie Ley, Arthur Clarke, many others, stressed the need for a space station in orbit.
Maybe there will  be future reasons for one.  Hotels for tourists, medical facilities, etc.  But they are not needed for science.  Automated satellites, etc can do the job. 
And all the money we spent on the current one could have gotten us back to the moon, or maybe Mars.
Well, the story itself is a good one, if not outstanding.  Plenty of adventures and perils.  And an interesting finish in that they are going to go on to build a station in the Clarke orbit for television broadcasts. 
I will have to look through my library at some point though.  I think there is another del Rey juvenile out there that I have read, but it doesn’t come to mind. 
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Intergalactic Olympic Games

Stadium Beyond The Stars by Milton Lesser is, as far as I can remember, the only book by him I have read.  I remembered it fondly enough that I searched for it a long time before finding it.
It’s the story of Steve Frazer a Spacesuit Racer for Earth’s Olympic team at the first Intergalactic Olympic Games on the planet Ophiuchus near the center of the galaxy.
On the way to the games they discover a derelict spaceship that should have held the team from Antares. Steve is sent over to investigate.  He finds, just like the Mary Celeste, it's abandoned with food on the tables, the escape pods in place, but no team, except Billgarr.
Bilgarr tells a tale of the Rollers, apparently the first non-humans to encounter the human race.  They have taken the Antares Team to be ‘measured’. 
Steve is alone when he meets Billgarr.  Then a Roller appears and takes Billgarr away with him. Steve returns to the ship and tells them what he found.

Political intrigue begins.  Earth is just a backwater planet now and the powerful former colonies of Antares and Deneb vie for power, including at this Olympics.  (Sound familiar?)
So, Steve’s story is dismissed.  And when he persists he is harassed and the Denebian Commissioner of the games tries to have him deported.
Steve and his teammate, wrestler Hunk, do their best to save the day, along with Billgarr.
Not a really serious story to my mind.  But a fun read.  And its interesting now comparing it to some of the other juveniles how its set in and near the Coal Sack Nebula, and other similarities to other books.  I guess a lot of these writers were reading the same magazines or books on Astronomy and using the same backgrounds. 
It’s a well written book to me,  Makes me wish I could find and read some of his other stuff. 
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Deep In The Heart of Malis

The second of the linked books is Mission To The Heart Stars.  In it the same crew, Jack Loftus et al, are sent on a journey to the center of the galaxy.  There exists a federation, The Heart Stars, of advanced and stable civilizations.  The Hegemony of Malis consists of million year old civilizations who have been watching Earth, along with other planets.
Earth has 50,000 years to measure up or else.  And the Hegemony is ruthless enough and powerful enough to enforce their rules.  Mars was being observed when they decided to commit racial suicide and the Hegemony just let them. 
But the earth has a hole card, its alliance with the Angels. 
Again I have a divided opinion on this novel.  The alien civilizations that are in the book are interesting.  When this was written the existence of aliens superior to Earthlings in SF stories was rare.  John Campbell was not able to enforce his edict against superior aliens everywhere, but many writers followed it anyway.
Blish also seems to come down more on the side of individual liberty being important than in the first book The Star Dwellers.  But this is mainly in contrast to the tyrannical political system of the Hegemony.  There are still to many things about this future society that make me uneasy.
He also writes in the foreword, and in the novel, about a High Energy Civilization.  This was a concept that was prevalent at the time.  SF writers who were often fans of Atomic Power would talk about electricity too cheap to meter.
And if we ever get to that state it will change our society drastically.  But Blish never foresaw the oil crisis, and the problems that developed with Atomic Energy.
In these books its actually some form of fusion that exists and that potential is still with us.  But its been many years in development and seems no closer.
Neither of these books are as good as the first two- Welcome To Mars and The Vanished Jet, but they are worth a read.
Next up, a juvenile by a lesser known writer, and the only thing by him I have read I believe.
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Angels In The Coal Sack

Star Dwellers

The Star Dwellers by James Blish is one of two linked juveniles he wrote.  Neither is a really good book, but they have their interesting points.
Jack Loftus is a cadet for the Secretary of Space Daniel Hart.  The current crisis involves the violent discovery of The Angels, beings living in the Coal Sack Nebula that are not life as we know it.  They are apparently similar to ball lightning in appearance, but very old, and very powerful beings.
So Jack, trouble-shooter Dr. Langer and his cadet Sandbag Stevens go off to visit them to conduct treaty negotiations.
Blish was apparently working out some political agenda in these books for the society he has set up is rather different.  It seems to me to be somewhat elitist in ways similar to the Lensmen novels of E. E. “Doc” Smith.  You can’t vote unless you are employed, and many people are not allowed to have children since they are not intelligent enough.
I am aware of the problems that other authors have pointed out in this area.  It does seem as if the smart and ‘successful’ people of the world do not have many children, while the poor do.  See The Marching Morons by Kornbluth for example.
But this society seems vaguely fascist to me .  I am very in favor of the rights of individuals and this society seems to have trampled on them a bit too much. 
But the story is pretty good, there is a lot of action, and the Angel are an interesting alien life form.  I wish he had spent more time developing and describing them, rather than the society on Earth.
All in all a reasonably good book.
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Friday, August 13, 2010

I’m Leaving On A Jet Plane

The vanished jet

The Vanished Jet is the next juvenile by James Blish that I read all those years ago.  It’s the story of Stan Dorman and the Sub-Orbital Transport. 
Now even Blish says in the foreword it’s not a SF novel.  And to some degree it isn’t.  But, I think it mostly is.  It’s about a rocket powered jet plane that goes into space as it travels to its destination.  This was a technology of the future when the book was written, and I guess still is.  Blish thought this story would take place in 1975.  No such luck.
It’s mostly an adventure novel with lots of travel color and scenery .  Stan travels to Lithuania to find his missing parents (on the vanished jet) and almost gets captured by the MVD.
He then joins the Hajj to Mecca and at least this time has some help from the US Government come along.
Yes it’s a bit improbable that a teenager would get used by the Air Force as a spy, but you are supposed to suspend your disbelief.  And I think it works.
It’s very well written and I guess either Blish had traveled to these lands, or did a lot of research because the local color, etc comes off well to me. 
Stan,of course, is the hero, and Louise a potential girlfriend is duly impressed. 
A very good read that again shows how major writers like Blish did these books and the results were usually superior.  This is how SF fans got started.  Are the kids of today reading books like this?  Is anyone writing them?  Or is everyone playing video games online? 
Well now you know why I am sometimes known as a curmudgeon. 
Next post, more James Blish juvenile fiction. 
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Mars Here We Come

Welcome to Mars
The first James Blish juvenile I am going to post about is  Welcome To Mars.  Its also my favorite of the 4 he wrote that I have read.  It’s in the junior scientist mold, but almost Heinlein-like it its main character. 
Dolph Haertel is the classic lone genius, garage inventor that is one of the major myth archetypes (see Jung and Campbell) of America.  There have been plenty of them in real life and they were popular in both juvenile and adult SF
But, as far as I can see, this type of character has left SF.  Maybe it’s a more real depiction of how science and engineering work, but I always liked this kind of character. 
Dolph works out anti-gravity from a flaw in Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and builds a spaceship disguised as a tree house. He then goes to Mars, but crash lands and is unable to return. 
His girlfriend, Nanette, figures this out and uses his first test rig to go after him.
They are on a Mars that is survivable, if barely, and the story becomes a survival story.  And there is intelligent life on Mars and adventures follow.
This is a classic example of the Hero’s Journey as described by Joseph Campbell.  This type of story is endemic throughout many cultures here on Earth.  There is something within us that makes this sort of story successful in its various forms. 
I think its one of the best juveniles out there and despite the dated picture of Mars its still a good read.
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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Pluto Was A Planet

The third of the Donald Wollheim juveniles is The Secret Of The Ninth Planet.  This is a better book than the Saturn one previously posted, although not up to the level of the Martian Moons book. 
It is discovered that someone is tapping the suns energy as it reaches earth and sending it somewhere else.  And the same is happening on all the other planets apparently.  Young Burl Denning is in on the destruction of the Earth station and has apparently been ‘charged’ in some way so he is taken along on the expedition to destroy the other stations and find out who is doing this. 
On a conveniently just ready anti-gravity spaceship. 
But the action is good, and I did enjoy voyaging in the old solar system.  As I mentioned in the Lucky Starr books posts, I do wish the solar system was more like we thought it could be in the 1950’s and 60’s.  At least a chance for life on many of the planets and moons.  And in these stories there is life of some sort everywhere. 
 Now we have possible conditions for life on Europa, Enceladus, Titan, and more possible signs on Mars.  But none of these possibilities include actual intelligent life in the solar system. (I leave out Earth as the abode of intelligent life for obvious reasons)
Ah well maybe I should grow up.  Or maybe not. 
Anyway it’s a pretty good book.  Maybe someday I will find the others that Wollheim wrote. 
Meanwhile, the next posts are going to be about juveniles from James Blish.
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Ring Around Saturn

This post is about the second of the Donald Wollheim juveniles I have read.  Unfortunately its not a really good one.  I collected it later on in my reading mainly because of my good memories of The Secret Of The Martian Moons (previous post). 
This one is called The Secret of Saturn’s Rings.  Its another young scientist type story Bruce Rhodes and his father and crew battling greedy businessmen and UN-type corrupt officials to save the Earth. 
The overall story is good enough, but I find it hard to get past the obvious flaws in the science.  I am not an expert in orbital mechanics, and maybe in the 1950’s they didn’t know better, but I doubt it. 
The explanation of how they use asteroids to hitch a ride to Saturn is very flawed in my opinion.  There are a few other science flaws in it too.
But, the story is not terrible, and I guess not every novel is great anyway.  So on to the next one, slightly better, in a future post.
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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Moon Over Mars

Now we come to 3 books by Donald Wollheim.  They are not part of a series, but are set, more or less, in the same solar system.  The one that was known in the 1950’s and is somewhat similar to the one in Isaac Asimov’s Lucky Starr series of books. 
I have read these three, and there appear to be others such as The Secret of Saturn’s Rays .  Some of these were written under the pen name of David Grinnell.  I have never read these others. 
He also wrote a series of books about Mike Mars which also appear to be juveniles, although again I have not read them.
Donald Wollheim was one of the Golden Age writers.  If you consider that age the 1950’s which for me it was.  Books written then are ones I like and remember a lot,not just the juveniles.  And yes a lot of fans consider the golden age the 1930’s but some of that stuff is too dated for me. 
Anyway, Wollheim was an editor, publisher, writer, fan, convention goer, etc.  And this first book I will post about is one of my favorite juveniles.
It’s The Secret Of The Martian Moons.  To me at the time I first read it, and still upon re-reading it’s a great story.  There’s an abandoned civilization on Mars.  The Mars of Percival Lowell, with plants and sort of canals and an atmosphere. 
But where are the Martians?  Their houses are here, and storerooms and evidence of an advanced civilization all sealed in vaults and inaccessible even after a century of trying.
So Earth abandons the Mars Colony as a lost cause, and too expensive. But, Nelson Barr, young hero, and his father and others secretly stay behind. 
Because there have been mysterious goings on.  They fly to Deimos to set up observation of Mars and wait. 
Soon aliens are in evidence,but are they the Martians?   Further adventures with them, and the invading Marauders ensue. 
One of the better juvenile SF adventure novels in my opinion.  I wish I could say the same about the other two, but that will wait for my next posts. 
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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Billions and Billions

Across A Billion Years

Another favorite book of my is Across A Billion Years by Robert Silverberg.  It’s in the junior scientist category but the twist is its about Archaeology, not Space Science, or Engineering like so many of these books. 
Tom Rice is our young scientist going out to Higby V on his first dig to find out about The High Ones, a race of beings that flourished more than  billion years ago.  Most people think they are gone from the galaxy, but are they?
Tom has a Telepathy endowed, paraplegic twin sister and telepathy does play a role in this story. 
But its basically a well-done story by someone who can write, as various Nebula and Hugo awards attest.
Tom and the other archaeologists make many exciting discoveries and solve the mystery of The High Ones.  This story even has a little romance along the way. 
A real good read, and something that apparently is not happening in current SF.  The writing of juvenile SF by established authors in the field.  As I will show in the posts to come, this used to be the case.  If it is not true any more, the field of SF is in trouble. 
We need the young readers that are attracted by this sort of story.  And as good as the Harry Potter and other fantasy books are, SF is a valuable genre as far as I am concerned, even more so in today’s technologic world.  It’s a way of developing interest in science and we definitely need that.
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Monday, August 9, 2010

Jovian Adventures

Now I will digress into a different type of juvenile SF.  We will leave the misfits behind for the moment.
One of the more prevalent types of juvenile SF is the young scientist.  Since a lot of youngsters that read SF either become scientists, or at least are interested in it, having them appear as heroes is a way to get them to read these books. 
There have been several successful series of such books written by non-sf writers.  Tom Swift, Jr. and the Rick Blaine novels for example.  While I read and enjoyed those books, I will be concentrating on the books by SF novelists. 
To start we have Jupiter Project by Gregory Benford.  Gregory Benford is a scientist, a physicist I believe.  He has written a fair amount of SF, and I think this is the only juvenile he wrote. 
Its pretty good.  Matt Bowles lives in The Can, an space station that orbits Jupiter at the LaGrange point of Ganymede’s orbit.  The scientists there, including Matt’s father, are trying to study Jupiter despite the intense magnetic and radiation fields that surround the planet.  And they are looking for life on Jupiter.
This is the sort of life that many a boy, like me who read this book years ago, wished he could lead.  Flying a shuttle to repair satellites, actually living in orbit around Jupiter! 
But, of course, problems ensue.  The cost of maintaining the base is high and they have been there for years and not found life.  So they are being recalled to Earth and the station will be shut down.  In rides Matt to the rescue. 
This is the sort of basic adventure story that I liked at the time, and still have some fondness for.  Sadly, with the disarray that our space program has been in since Apollo the chances of even the grandchildren of today’s teenager’s living such a life is remote. 
Unless we change the way we do things in this area it will be decades before we get to Mars, let alone Jupiter.
Remember the movie 2001?  Well, its 2010 and we aren’t even close to that kind of voyage.  It makes me very sad to see how we have botched it all after the promise of the moon landings. 
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