Tag Archives: robert heinlein

Book Review: 50 Short Science Fiction Tales edited by Isaac Asimov and Groff Conklin

Typically when I review an anthology, I will enumerate my favorite stories and briefly provide a blurb about each one. In the case of 50 Short Science Fiction Tales—edited by the legendary Isaac Asimov and renowned anthologist Groff Conklin—that would be a daunting and tedious task.

50 Short Science Fiction TalesSuffice it to say that like any collection, certain stories are better than others and this one is no exception. However, the majority of the entries are some combination of witty, engaging, chilling, thought provoking, or amusing. Of course, how could it be otherwise with such luminaries as Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, C.M. Kornbluth, Robert Sheckley, Theodore Sturgeon, and A.E. Van Vogt, just to name a few.

Most of the stories here are no more than 3,000 words. The book opens with a short poem by Poul Anderson and closes with six haiku written by his wife, Karen. I highly recommend this anthology both to aficionados of the golden age of SF or as an introduction to many of the top talents of the time.

Book Review: Great Science Fiction Stories edited by Cordelia Titcomb Smith

Great SF StoriesWith few exceptions, most of my 2017 reading consisted of classic SF and speculative fiction primarily from Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke with a dash of Rod Serling, Alfred Hitchcock, A.E. Van Vogt, and H.G. Wells.

It stands to reason that if you read enough vintage genre anthologies, some will overlap and offer one or two stories in common. Such was the case with Great Science Fiction Stories compiled by Cordelia Titcomb Smith.

In  this case, I had previously read “The Stolen Bacillus” by H.G. Wells (about an anarchist who pilfers a vial of cholera bacillus from a bacteriologist, initiating a frantic taxi chase through London) and “History Lesson” by Arthur C. Clarke (after an ice age has wiped out humanity, Venusians land on Earth and discover artifacts of our civilization, including a strip of film that they believe accurately depicts human culture).

It was a pleasure to finally read Isaac Asimov’s legendary short story, “Nightfall,” wherein a civilization that lives in constant daylight provided by three suns nervously anticipates an eclipse that will shroud their planet in complete darkness for the first time in 500 years… and possibly throw society into madness.

When the Martian crown jewels are stolen from a robotic space craft sent from Earth to Phobos, Inspector Gregg questions everyone involved. Before the case explodes into an interstellar scandal, Gregg travels to Mars to request the help of Martian’s famous private detective, Syaloch, in Poul Anderson’s “The Martian
Crown Jewels.”

In “The Sands of Time,” P. Schuyler Miller channels H.G. Wells and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. When a young man named Donovan presents a paleontologist with photographic and physical evidence of his
encounter with dinosaurs, the scientist rebuffs him—until Donovan asks for his help in launching his one-man time machine back to rescue an alien woman he encountered in a prehistoric age.

Money is no barrier when a wealthy businessman decides to be the first man in space. He hires engineers to construct a vessel, but they still require a propulsion system. The businessman takes out ads in
newspapers offering millions to anyone who can design and create a means of propelling the vessel beyond Earth’s atmosphere. After being presented with proposals from the ludicrous to the insane, the
businessman meets an unassuming young man who might just have the answer… but he wants more than money. We find out what that is in Nelson Bond’s “Vital Factor.”

In a future where city streets are massive conveyor belts that transport people and vehicles at varying speeds, the mechanics decide to strike under the leadership of Deputy Chief Engineer Van Kleeck. To emphasize their power and ensure their demands are met, they stop the machinery beneath one of the streets—with fatal consequences. It’s up to Chief Engineer Larry Gaines to negotiate with Van Kleeck, because as Robert Heinlein tell us, “The Roads Must Roll.”

A teacher rethinks her decision to quit the profession, but the only available position is in a one-room schoolhouse in a remote rural town called Bendo where the reclusive inhabitants have no sense of humor and no interest in music or art. It is not long before the teacher uncovers the astounding otherworldly secrets of Bendo and the dark history that forced them into seclusion in this beautifully crafted tale called “Pottage” by Zenna Henderson.

Jules Verne provides a brief glimpse into man’s first attempt to reach the moon as three men volunteer to venture “Into Space” inside a giant aluminum capsule shot from a 900-foot gun. Although they survive the shock of launch and enjoy a view of Earth from beyond the atmosphere, it’s unclear whether they survived
the journey—or how they plan to return.

A new star appears in the vicinity of Neptune, disrupting the planet’s orbit. As this new star’s light intensifies in the sky each day—blotting out the moon and rivaling the sun—it isn’t long before astronomers
realize that it’s on a direct course for Earth in “The Star” by H.G. Wells.

A 13-year-old student named Timothy is sent to school psychologist Dr. Welles. At first, it’s clear that Timothy is nervous,  uncommunicative, and possibly holding something back. As trust grows between the young man and his counselor, it becomes apparent that the boy is a prodigy… and he may not be alone in Wilmar H. Shiras’s “In Hiding.”

Overall, this was an entertaining anthology with tales from writers I had not heard of previously (Zenna Henderson, Wilmar Shiras, P. Schuyler Miller, and Nelson Bond). My favorites included “Nightfall,” “Pottage,” “The Martian Crown Jewels,” and “The Roads Must Roll.”

Book Review: Beyond This Horizon by Robert Heinlein

Three centuries into the future, the human race has become a product of artificial selection through genetic engineering. The world has conquered poverty, crime, and most diseases and while there are still natural-born humans, they are generally considered inferior.

Despite this alleged Utopia, wealthy game designer Hamilton Felix questions whether mankind should even continue as a race. Felix is from a “star line”, the product of 300 years of tightly controlled genetics. Yet, when the District Moderator for Genetics, Mordan Claude, calls Felix to the Central Clinic to suggest that he take a wife and produce offspring, Felix balks.

Refusing to be easily dissuaded, Claude steers the attractive and willful Longcourt Phyllis in Felix’s direction, but while Felix slowly warms up to her, he comes into contact with a dangerous revolutionary known as McFee Norbert who is gathering forces to overthrow the government and institute their own version of a perfect world.

Despite Claude’s objections, Felix infiltrates the group, but can he and Claude stop the revolution when the rebels send forces to invade the Central Clinic?

A master storyteller, Heinlein does a deft job of revealing this new world as the plot develops, although the Beyond This Horizonstory is occasionally stifled by several pages—and an entire third chapter—of purely scientific (or pseudo-scientific) discourse in the form of dense info-dumping. This is something that would never make it past a contemporary editor, of course, but as an avid reader of golden age SF novels, I’m accustomed to it. At that time, it was fairly common in the genre. Modern readers might also stumble over Heinlein’s occasional use of what would now be considered archaic grammar, but, in such cases, meaning can easily be derived from context.

Published in 1948, Beyond this Horizon is one of Heinlein’s earliest novels and offers a glimpse into the imaginative and prescient mind of one SF’s legendary visionaries.

Book Review: Robert A. Heinlein’s Orphans of the Sky

Traveling aboard a generational ship and with no memory of Earth, the human race has devolved into a class system, pitting the privileged Crew against the abhorrent “Muties” who live on the upper decks where few crewmembers dare venture under fear of death. The Muties are cannibals, infamous for taking prisoners who are never heard from again.

As far as the crew is concerned, the Ship is the entire universe. There is nothing beyond. Their god is Jordan, creator of the Ship. The Regulations, written by Jordan, are law. Engineering manuals written by Jordan are considered sacred texts.

Enter young Hugh Hoyland, an imaginative and curious student of the sciences who occasionally joins his friends for escapades into Mutie country—until he, too, is taken prisoner. However, while in their company, Hugh learns the true purpose of the Ship and the destination of the human race. He is led to the Control Room on the highest deck and begins to learn the instruments for operating the vessel he comes to know as the Vanguard.

Returning to the lower decks, Hugh reveals what he’s learned to those he considers allies, only to be arrested for heresy. After a daring rescue by the Muties, Hugh forms a new strategy for convincing the Crew of the truth, but will his mission result in a bloody civil war?

At 128 pages, Orphans of the Sky is a fast and easy read that maintains a steady pace. Hoyland and his comrades are likable and the lead Mutie with whom they ally, the bicephalic Joe-Jim, displays a remarkable mélange of savagery, sympathy, and intellectualism.

My only complaint is the treatment of women as less than second-class citizens. The few that are mentioned are portrayed as mere burdens or distractions. This struck me as a lazy way of reminding the reader that “yes, we have women around here somewhere”, while making it clear that they contribute very little to this society.

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