Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions N. XVII (Asimov + Silverberg + White + et al.)

I somehow forgot to post these four…..

Because I thoroughly enjoyed James White’s The Watch Below (1966) I procured his first novel, The Secret Visitors (1957).  My expectations are low….

Despite the egregious cover of Silverberg’s The Masks of Time (1968) (“white firmament congregating, emanating?, from floating man’s manhood,” or, “Ball Lightening” as a particularly witty individual posted on Good Show Sir after I submitted the cover), I’ve found that virtually everything that Silverberg wrote in the late 60s and early 70s is on the whole top-notch so I couldn’t help but pick up a copy.

I’m no Asimov fan but I found an old copy of The Currents of Space (1952) at my parents’ house and purloined it —  I read it when I was 12 so it has intense nostalgic value, one of my first science fiction books!

1. The Currents of Space, Isaac Asimov (1952)

(Uncredited cover for the 1953 edition)

From the back cover a different edition, “What he knew about the future could destroy a solar system… …so they seared the memory from Rik’s brain, and left him for dead, a whimpering, thumb-sucking half-child.  Then Valona, a young, lonely peasant girl, adopted him.  And gently turned him into a man again.  Hunted by kings and spies, caught in a web of interplanetery intrigue, Rik struggles with his own numbed mind and his unknown enemy in a desperate and one-sided race with time.”

2. The Secret Visitors, James White (1957)

(Bob Schinella’s cover for the 1967 edition)

From the back cover, “When the World Security Organization asked Doctor Lockhart to treat their mysterious prisoner, they hadn’t known that the dying old man would reply to their questions in a totally unknown language.  They had expected the stranger to reveal something about the world war which seemed imminent.  But they had been thinking in terms of foreign spies — not alien beings!  Not suddenly they found themselves confronted with a gargantuan task.  They had to find another world, a means of communicating with creatures they could barely imagine.  They had to stop a war which was originating in the farthest stars — or else surrender the Earth unconditionally to THE SECRET VISITORS.”

3. The Masks of Time (variant title: Vornan-19), Robert Silverberg (1968)

(Robert R. Foster’s cover for the 1968 edition)

From the back cover, “the year is 1999.  The century is about to turn.  The civilized world is prosperous but tense with fear about the still existing possibility of a major war.  While in the large area that used to be called “underdeveloped” there is a hysterical conviction that the world will come to an end with the arrival of the new century.  Into this explosive situation floats a creature calling himself Vornan-119 — and claiming to be a visitor from 1000 years in the future… The world is ready, indeed rive, for a sign, an omen, a new cult.  But no one realizes exactly what Vornsn-19 is in his own right!”

4. Five-Odd (variant title: Possible Tomorrows), ed. Groff Conklin (1964)

(Ron Walotsky’s cover for the 1971 edition)

Five short novels — Isaac Asimov’s ‘The Dead Past’, Kingsley Amis’ ‘Something Strange’, James H. Schmitz’s ‘Unit’, J. T. McIntosh’s ‘Gone Fishing’, F. L. Wallace’s ‘Big Ancestor’.

From the back cover, “A five-headed “superman”.  A spaceflight from nowhere.  A “nowhere” that was everywhere.  A time bomb for time travelers. A date with destiny on a distant planet.”

10 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions N. XVII (Asimov + Silverberg + White + et al.)

    • Too bad the edition I lifted from your place isn’t the same one as the cover I posted! A delightful cover! Excitement! Wonder!

      Well, I haven’t read him in a while — I thought the Foundation trilogy was overrated.

  1. What do people get out of Asimov? Why has he been so successful?

    I tried to read that first Foundation book a few years ago and it was dreadful. As a kid I read some of his mystery-style stories, and thought them boring. (Of course, I don’t like any story with a final scene that consists of all the characters together in a room, listening to the smartest character explain who the criminal among them is and how he figured it out.)

    Asimov seems to lack any kind of writing style, any ability to create believable and interesting characters, or any skill at generating excitement via plot, pacing, or atmosphere. Asimov’s “big ideas,” psychohistory and the Three Rules of Robotics, strike me as outlandish gimmicks you could use in one or two stories, but not base an entire career on.

    I suspect that Asimov appeals to smart misfits, because the premise of Asimov’s work is that smart people can and should use their superior brains to dominate and manipulate other people.

    I have not read much Asimov, so maybe I am all wrong. It would be interesting to hear what people think are the sources of Asimov’s appeal, his strengths, his best work, etc.

  2. Paul Krugman also is a Hari Seldon wannabe.

    I don’t think that Gingrich’s and Krugman’s fondness for Foundation does anything to weaken my argument that it appeals to smart people who want to run our lives.

    • Finally! Time for a more detailed answer!

      I’m not completely sure why I don’t like Asimov. I read the Foundation Trilogy when I was quite young so I should have enjoyed it before I became much more critical — haha… Perhaps it’s because I read it RIGHT after Dune — which is genius (yes, I agree with almost everyone on that one — besides 2theD — who hates it).

      I found the series very simplistic (especially the nuclear power section) — and the multi-generational nature meant that all the characters are fleeting/boring. However, the concept of providing for future generations DID prove to be one of my favorite themes — I wrote a sci-fi novel when I was 18 or so on the concept.

      The Currents of Space (1952) is pretty good for an early 50s work. I remember scenes despite it being one of my first ever sci-fi reads. So, I guess I like that one.

      The Gods Themselves (1972) — readable but NOT deserving of the Hugo Award — felt like a “well Asimov hasn’t won enough Hugos for a so-called great” awarding. The premise would have been intriguing in a 50s work — if it came out around Sturgeon’s More Than Human (1953)….

      Nemesis (1989) — complete crup, I don’t remember anything about it — I just hated it and could barely get through.

      So, nothing of his I’ve read so far merits the praise it has received — in my opinion. A very middling sort of figure — perhaps historically for the genre he isn’t, but I definitely prefer other 50s/60s/70s writers.

  3. I should try Dune again; I tried it in my teens and stopped after a dozen pages or so. I’m 40 now; it is very possible that whatever it was that pissed me off over 20 years ago wouldn’t piss me off now.

    Maybe I’ll try The Gods Themselves someday. The Wikipedia article on Asimov says it was Asimov trying to extend himself, do things he had never done before, and that it constituted the work he was most proud of.

    • Dune is wonderful — try again — yes, it is complex, contains many different view points (inner monologues of all the characters, etc), and most people are neither good nor bad (there are real villains but lots of in-between figures) — no real classic Hero per se — especially as the series goes on and Paul Atreides transforms.

      The Gods Themselves is his best, without doubt — a genuine attempt at social sci-fi (kind of). But, it doesn’t feel like a 70s work — it feels like something from the late 50s or early 60s.

  4. Well, I think robotics and the three laws are pretty cool ideas considering that they were conceived during early 1940s (in a short story called Runaround). The foundation novels are kinda overated. I like Elijah Bailey novels more; The Caves of Steel, The Naked Sun, and The Robots of Dawn are classic robot stuff.

    And I dare say, Dune, though a masterpiece, was pretty slow stuff. It took me three months to finish the book. It was worth the effort, but it needed an effort to finish, which shouldn’t be the case when you are reading a SF book.

    • I do like some of Asimov’s works — perhaps his later novels are just off-putting.

      Why shouldn’t it be the case when reading a SF book? They are not only for vacuous entertainment. My favorite sci-fi novel, John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar (1968) is an experimental and incredibly dense work of literature…. If I remember correctly, I read Dune in a few days, and I was quite young, 13 or so… I loved it and was transfixed by the world utterly and completely.

      So, perhaps it has more to do with what you want science fiction to be…. Or what you prefer. Rather than a statement about the genre as a whole….

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