Disturbing Scifi from the 1960s #sciencefiction #mentalhealthcare #scifi

I recently read a story by Philip K. Dick, a scifi author from the Golden Age. Buck Rogers it ain’t!

Science ficiton book cover - Martian Time SlipDick explored philosophical, social, and political themes, with stories dominated by monopolistic corporations, alternative universes, authoritarian governments, and altered states of consciousness. wikipedia

I read every word, all the way through, but “fun” is not the right description.  Mild spoilers follow.

The book comes from 1964. I think the right approach today is to view the story as the alternative history of a Mars colony in 1950s. Mars is barely habitable in shirt sleeves, with sparse plants and animals and a nearly-extinct race of Martians. Colonists use mimeograph machines and secretaries take dictation with a pad and pencil. Fascinating robotic teachers indoctrinate children in proper earthly culture.

Less adorably, one of the main characters makes remarks that are homophobic, misogynistic, and racist. He’s the villain, and casually cruel to everyone, but this can be off-putting. He uses the n-word to describe Martians who apparently look very much like African Saan people (another term for these people, Bushmen, is sometimes considered derogatory, depending on the usage.) There’s a brief suggestion that Martians and Humans were both seeded by some alien intelligence and so are related.

Despite the Martian setting, the story is about schizophrenia, which has become much more common on Mars than it is in real-life today. That term and “autism” are both used, and Dick presents his scifi interpretation of them – those effected experience multiple times in the past and future, which prevents them from relating to “normal” people. The visions these people experience (and we get to see through their eyes) are gruesome and apocalyptic, even for people with mundane lives. Dick gives a striking feel for such disconnects with repeated scenes, sometimes out of sequence, from different characters in the scene. The story shows sympathy for it’s characters, even the unsavory ones.

While it’s not an action-packed tale, terrible things happen in this story. There is guilt and shame from the father of an autistic boy. There is infidelity. There is suicide, and given Dick’s own dark life experiences, I wonder if this comes from something more real than imagination. That will keep me thinking about the book for a long time.

Cover of scifi magazine Galaxy

Dick wrote the cover story for this edition

I know a lot has changed in American culture since the story was written. I suspect a lot has changed in our understanding of schizophrenia and autism too, but I have no idea how readers familiar with these conditions will feel about the story. Please leave a comment and let me know.

The book, republished in 2012, is popular on Amazon and has 4 stars, where several reviewers find it’s look at mental illness to be kindly and sympathetic.

BTW, you know Dick’s work. The movies Blade Runner, Total Recall, and Minority Report are based on his writings.

Advertisements

Visit the True Golden Age of Scifi With These Zines # scifi #sciencefiction #magazine #goldenage

Peon magazine coverThe 1950s were the Golden Age of Science Fiction. You may recognize the names of zines like Astounding Science Fiction, Thrilling Wonder Stories, and Imaginative Tales. But there were many more.

I recently found a couple real gems: fantascience magazines Peon and LEER, both published by Charles Lee Riddle. Independent publishing didn’t start with ebooks and Amazon – it was well underway with only snail-mail to rely on. These magazines were true labors of love, since Riddle was active duty military and so forbidden to make a profit on his zines.

Peon and LEER could have been lost, but Riddle’s son Bob Riddle has posted their history and several almost-lost editions.

Peon magazine coverPublishing in those days involved typing the stories on a mimeograph stencil master with a manual typewriter. He had his own mimeograph machine and equipment but still had problems with the print quality or transferring artwork to the stencil, as he pointed out in several issues.

There were pen-like tools, with points and wheels and ball-shaped knobs on the ends that looked like they belonged in the hands of a dentist. Plastic templates were his source for clipart.

[Look for] some familiar names from the world of Science Fiction that appear as contributing authors.

Peon magazine cover

Hmm… Bela Lugosi?

Don’t spend another minute reading this blog post. Instead, download pdfs of these wonderful magazines with their articles and stories from scifi’s past. They’re delightful, and I thank Bob Riddle for sharing them with us.

Time Travel Without Wormholes, Historical Fiction from Science Fiction’s Golden Age #review #bookreview #history #fantasy #historicalfiction

Kindle cover, which is WRONG. My paperback has the 1882 picture in tinted color with black & white around it, the way the hero sees New York

Jack Finney wrote some classic science fiction. I’m most familiar with his book The Body Snatchers from 1950, a Golden Age story. But I recently found one of his later paperbacks in a used book store. It’s from 1970 but now on Amazon, Time and Again.

This is a time travel story, but there are no wormholes or flux capacitors. I’ll let you discover the method on your own. It may disappoint hard science fiction fans, but the detail put into the experiment is engaging.

The real point of this story is to contrast New York City today (remember, published in 1970) with New York in 1882. There are loads of real pictures from the era, though not all exactly from 1882. An apartment building is a key part of the story, and Finney admits in his author’s note that it wasn’t completed until three years after his story. Why didn’t he simply move his story a few years? There’s another building that figures in the story’s climax, where Finney uses a real event that was more important than the date the Dakota was completed. But the Dakota is such a magnificent structure I’ll forgive the little fudge.

The Dakota apartment building

I’ve got to show you the Dakota

The Dakota may sound familiar to you. It’s been a fancy abode for the rich and famous from its opening to today. Yoko Ono lives there now and John Lennon was murdered outside the building in 1980. So it’s infamous as well as famous.

If it seems odd to talk so much about buildings instead of the story, I think Finney would approve. Any lover of New York or the late 1800s will adore the detailed descriptions of places, people, and the way of life. Finney and his hero Si Morely love New York in 1882. The point of the book is to contrast the two times, and there are more period-correct illustrations than I bothered to count.

Si Morely is impressed at how he experiences 1882. He goes on about it quite a bit, and during his returns to today everyone wants to know how it feels. Si can’t truly put the feeling into words, but Finney tries. He’s impressed throughout the book and I thought he would have gotten a bit more used to the feel over time.

Okay, the story: Si is recruited for a secret time travel experiment, and at first his only goal is to successfully arrive in New York’s 1882. But an odd personal motive arises – a mystery. Half way through the book, it seems that his mystery is solved. He even says, my mission is over and I wish that it weren’t. At least in part, that’s because he’s falling in love with a woman as well as with 1882.

When he returns to today, a second mission arises and Si makes a decision that promises to cause trouble. It does. Towards the end, the placid tale picks up some real action. Lives are in danger and lives are lost. The original mystery turns out to have a second mystery inside, in a neat twist. Finally Si tackles the core paradox of time travel, how the past effects the present.

So if you read for action, be patient and you’ll get there. But this book is really for lovers of cities a hundred and thirty years ago. Especially New York.

What others are saying
A Kindle version came out in 2014 and has 4.2 stars from 882 reviewers on Amazon. Most readers love it, especially the vivid, brought-to-life history. “Masterpiece,” “brilliant,” and “awesome.” Of course, no book appeals to everyone. Others thought it was over-hyped, or that parts were tedious. I will admit that once I got to the action part of the story, I began skimming descriptions so I could find out what happens. The person who said “nothing ever really happened” must not have gotten all the way to the end, but if you want a fast paced story, this is the wrong book.

Best-selling Required Reading for Scifi Fans May Not Be What You Expect #review #bookreview #scifi #sciencefiction #space #classic

Ultimate Classic Scifi

Does this say “scifi” to you? Classics covers often strike me as odd.

You can’t claim to be well-rounded in science fiction if you haven’t read Foundation – a collection of stories written between 1941 and 1949, and assembled into a book in 1951. The second and third volumes followed quickly. This was the Golden Age, and the trilogy’s been called the beginning of modern science fiction, and the greatest scifi series ever. I’m sure this second accolade will be debated until the sun burns out.

In the first book, Foundation, don’t expect a lot of action. Each story is primarily conversations among the characters. The style is almost Socratic in its questions, answers, and explanations. It makes sense that Amazon ranks the book under Political and Literary Fiction as well as Science Fiction Anthologies.

Warning: I read the hardcover edition, and some reviewers claim the Kindle version has been re-edited and “butchered.”

Asimov used elements of science fiction that are still with us today: force fields, hyperspace, and holograms. Nuclear power was the epitome of high-tech and fills the books. Everything is nuclear from refrigerators to spaceships, run with nuclear generators the size of your thumb. But there’s also microfilm and – gasp – paper. The combination makes for an interesting setting.

Stories mean different things to readers in different times and places. Given America’s current billionaire occupation of the government and explosion of fake news’ influence on the public, I found Asimov’s vision depressing and cynical.

All his governments are dictatorships – usually kingdoms and empires – sometimes with worthless bureaucracies. There are trillions of humans (nothing but humans, everywhere in the galaxy) but they appear only in negative terms as mobs and oblivious fools. Even the heroes manipulate populations on a planetary scale without remorse, and religion is a cynical tool of “conquest by missionary.” The Foundation pushes its agenda by making technologies appear magical to the mobs, using priests who (mostly) embrace supernatural explanations. The Foundation gains control because “the chief characteristic of the religion of science is that it works.”

Regarding another modern concern, if you follow the War on Women in America, you’ll notice that Foundation heroes are all men. Few women appear in the stories, not even as decoration. It makes me wonder where the galaxy’s population comes from 😀 because the stories span centuries, jumping from one historic crisis to the next. This narrow social vision isn’t universal in Asimov’s works, by the way. One of my favorite Asimov novels, The Gods Themselves, could reasonably be listed under LGBTQ (though all alien.)

I recommend the book more for its historical context than for fun. But many people love it. With over 2,000 reviews on Amazon (yes – over two thousand!) Foundation rates 4.4 stars.

BREAKING NEWS: Skydance Television production company is bringing the Foundation trilogy to the small screen: “‘The Foundation Trilogy’ is a set of short stories which have been tried both cinematically and as a series for HBO but just hasn’t been able to get off the ground.” I bet I know why – the stories aren’t very photogentic, especially in the beginning.

Lots of Amazon reviewers mention they read the trilogy long ago and enjoyed finding the books again. Not everyone, however, recaptured their earlier enthusiasm.

Reading Foundation now, I was shocked at the novel’s simplicity… In fact, in comparing Foundation with [Dune, Reality Dysfunction, and Dark Forest], you would almost have to term it as a YA title… I would not recommend this series to anyone who has already read many of the other science fiction classics. I would however, strongly urge anyone with a teenager to purchase it as an introduction to science fiction. Steven M. Anthony

One more quibble: why do publishers put such awful covers on classics?

Looking ahead, I see more action and a female character in Book 2 – Foundation and Empire. I plan to push on to the end, when I have the time and motivation.

Join the first colonists https://books2read.com/u/bQZp1e

There’s a new cover! Click here to see the latest version. Better?

All my books, including the On Mars series, are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and other major online retailers, including Smashwords and Create Space for paperbacks. Four of my On Mars books are available now. I can’t claim to be a classic! but read one today.

You’re not stuck with Amazon. Also available at other favorite stores. Try the value-priced Box Set to read all five.

Interstellar Colonization or Soap Opera? Not the usual mashup #scifi #space #interstellar #review #bookreview

arkwrightArkwright – the name of a pivotal character and a wonderful title – is a story based on interstellar travel that is rooted in real physics, limited by the speed of light. No warp drives here. Author Allen Steele divides the story into four “books” plus one “interlude,” each separated by at least a generation. While the interstellar project spans the whole story, each “book” stands alone.

Book One, the first third of the story, follows a science fiction writer who gets rich and uses his money to create a private foundation dedicated to interstellar travel. This section is set in the world of 20th century scifi, though it could really be set in another industry, and – considering the money the writer must accumulate – probably should be. If you read classic scifi the name-dropping will be fun, but the famous names are only background noise.

The characters’ various relationship issues are featured but don’t follow through the entire story.

My favorite quote comes from a character complaining about science fiction stories.

Everyone who writes about space travel gets it wrong… the people who write it either pay no attention to science or simply get it wrong…if you want to distinguish yourself from all the other fellows who are writing science fiction… get the science right.

Steele embraces this advice and offers his fascinating premise for getting space travel right. It’s a grand idea backed up with awesome technology, which I won’t spoil here. This doesn’t mean the rest of the story’s science is ho-hum. Robotics, artificial intelligence, and especially bioengineering and terraforming exceed our current abilities, but don’t seem to violate getting the science right. There’s even a bibliography if you’d like to check for yourself.

Relationships and hook-ups are featured (Sex mostly occurs “off-screen”)
Given Steele’s nod to the early 20th century’s Golden Age of scifi, which is often considered short on characterization, it seems odd that he spends most of his writing on relationships. Discussions of the starship are fairly short and often feel incidental. This seems doubly odd since the book’s description calls Steele a “highly regarded expert on space travel and exploration.” I would have liked more from his space travel expertise.

If you’re keen to follow the starship plot, you can skip Book One and Book Three. There’s enough recap in the other sections that you won’t miss anything – perhaps this reflects the story’s beginnings as a serial.

Steele has a habit of shifting back and forth in time as he writes, using flashbacks or a structure where a character tells you the outcome and then goes back to relate the events. I got used to the style easily enough. It does result in characters “telling” their story which is a supposed no-no for modern fiction where “show, don’t tell” is the writing tip.

What others say
Arkwright has an Amazon Sellers Rank in the top 16% of its category of Hard Science Fiction – that’s a popular book. There are 65 customer reviews that average 3 1/2 stars – not bad. Complaints reflect my review – too much soap opera instead of the starship promised in the description.

Even reviewers giving the book 5 stars note that the “science fiction doesn’t start until well into the book,” but if they liked the cross-generational family dramas, they liked the book.

What is Hard Science Fiction?
Since both fans and critics notice the emphasis on relationships, it makes me wonder about the Hard Science Fiction category. Certainly the notion that hard science fiction is mostly about detailed technology is wrong. How many technical terms must authors throw in – or replace with common English – to gain or shed the category?

In my own series about a colony on Mars, I try to get the science

Join the first colonists https://books2read.com/u/bQZp1eright. Settlers have technical training to keep their life support equipment and robotics operating (the robots are rather cool if I do say so myself). Some have relevant university degrees, but they’re people, not walking technical manuals. Their mission is more like the real-life Mars One and less like NASA. They face danger, have conflicts, and explore the Red Planet as they try to build a home on Mars. Some of my readers today may step foot on Mars tomorrow – or morrowsol as Martians say – and will be able to tell me how well I did.

Reviewers who have commented on categories, though, call Glory on Mars hard science fiction, so I followed their lead and added that category on Amazon.

Subscribe to my readers’ club and I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

Check out all four of the On Mars books, post reviews, and let me know: are they hard science fiction?