It has been so long since I have read Asimov… Currents of Space (1952)—or Bradbury’s 1953 masterpiece Fahrenheit 451)—was the very first SF novel I ever read. And I did not enjoy it. In my later teens I read quite a few of Asimov’s works including the average The Gods Themselves (1972) in a Hugo-winning novel marathon that really got me into SF. He has never blown me away. But, I have a soft spot for the robot stories!
Gotlieb’s novel has simply the worst back cover blurb ever. Suspicious.
I do like Philip José Farmer stories although I wish the inside blurb would not give away the entire plot of two of the seven stories. I have never read the original “Riverworld” (1966) short story—perhaps it’s much better than the later novel version.
1. Eight Stories from The Rest of the Robots, Isaac Asimov (1966)
(Paul Lehr’s cover for the 1969 edition)
From the inside page: “THE ROBOTS. Mechanical servants, doing the work too hard—or too boring—for men to handle. They brought mankind a new era of freedom and leisure. And every robot was completely incapable of harming a human being. Or so they thought…”
2. O Master Caliban!, Phyllis Gotlieb (1976)
(Uncredited cover for the 1979 edition)
From the back cover: “THE ERG WARS. It’s all-out combat, Man & Mutant vs. Machine in a gigantic battle for survival and control of GalFed’s trash planet, Barrazan V. Years ago, Dahlgren, the genetic scientist, arrived with 100 humans and 1000 ergs. Then, their intelligence expanded by Dahlgren;s experiments, the robot-ergs took over. They rebelled and slaughtered their masters. Now, it’s a war for possession of Dahlgren’s World, the brutally hot, highly radioactive and barely habitable jungle in space. THE ERGS, sophisticated man-serving machines VS. THE MUTANTS, including a talking goat, a mothering gibbon and a four-armed youth & THE HUMANS, Dahlgren & others including Shirvanian, a crybaby boy prodigy who is telepathic with machines, man’s last hope for regaining the planet.”
3. Down in the Black Gang, Philip José Farmer (1971)
(Gary Viskupic’s cover for the 1971 edition)
From the inside flap: “The many-faceted talen of Philip José Farmer encompasses both the satirical and the serious sides of science fiction, and this action-filled collection of seven short stories and a novelette is a marvel of diversity and originality. here the Hugo Award-winning author gives an exciting demonstration of the unflinching style and imagination that have gained him such a large, enthusiastic following.
Prometheus is set in the 23rd Century and relates the misadventures of one John Carmody, a monk of the order of St. Jairus. Attacked by hoodlums in a zoo on Earth, Carmody has the misfortune to fall into the enclosure housing a horowitz—a giant bird from the planet Feral—which holds him down with one foot and proceeds to lay an egg on his chest! Carmody manages to escape from the enclosure, but discovers that the egg has put out tendrils and attached itself permanently to his chest.
Carmody’s plight becomes a golden opportunity for zoologists, who believes the horowitzes to be the Galaxy’s most intelligent non-sentient being. Not only can they now study the embryo’s development in the egg, but they can also convince the hapless monk to go to Feral and impersonate a horowitz to help gather scientific data.
Dressed in feathers and wearing a false beak, Carmody is set down on the alien planet and begins to make friends with the horowitzes. He soon learns just how intelligent they really are and, before the eyes of the amazed zoologists, Carmody single-handedly proceeds to advance the horowitzes a million years up the evolutionary scale!
In a more serious vein, Down in the Black Gang presents an incredible view of the universe and the role human beings play in it. It tells the story of an all-powerful group of aliens who, throughout history, have secretly manipulated the actions of human beings. Their purpose is to extract a special form of energy from human emotions. To the aliens, humans are merely “engines” in their spaceship—and their spaceship is the entire universe!
Among the six other stories you’ll find—A Bowl Bigger than Earth, which concerns a man who finds himself trapped on a ghastly world of sexless, totally identical beings; The Shadow of Space, a hair raising account of the first men to travel faster than the speed of light, and the first to discover the frightening dangers; and Riverworld, where every human who ever lived is reincarnated on the banks of a river on a vast and unknown planet.”
4. Frostworld and Dreamfire, John Morressy (1977)
(David Wilhelmsen’s cover for the 1977 edition)
From the inside flap: “On the desolate frostworld of Hragellon, the inscrutable Onhla tribe—half human, half animal—has flourished for centuries. Then, suddenly, a mysterious plague wipes out the entire Onhla population, leaving only one survivor, a youth named Hult.
But is Hult really the last of his kind? According to ancient legend, a small group of Onhla, valued for their hunting prowess, had been taken away long ago to hunt on another world. If Hult can find them and bring them back to the homeland, the Onhla will live again.
To get to Insgar, Hult must, for the first time in his life, bargain with city people and beings from the “other worlds.” They will do almost anything to obtain the shimmering silver pelts of the gorwol, a beast which only the Onhla can hunt—and with enough gorwol pelts, Hult can buy passage to anywhere in the universe.
It is a perilous bargain at best. For the Onhla know nothing of the dangerous power of human emotions. How can he protect himself and his mission from the awesome forces of greed and hatred?”