Short Book Reviews: Fredric Brown’s The Lights in the Sky Are Stars (variant title: Project Jupiter) (1953), M. A. Foster’s Waves (1980), Eric Frank Russell’s The Great Explosion (1962)

My “to review” pile is growing and my memory of them is fading… hence short—far less analytical—reviews.

1. The Lights in the Sky Are Stars, Fredric Brown (1953)

(Mitchell Hooks’ cover for the 1955 edition)

3/5 (Average)

Frederic Brown’s The Lights in the Sky are Stars (1953)  is a slick 1950s vision of the fanatical men and women who take America by the scruff of the neck and yank it, without letting the law get in the way, towards space and the deep beyond. As a rumination on radicalism,  The Lights in the Sky are Stars succeeds—I’m not entirely sure if it was entirely intentional as Brown tells it in a straight-laced and serious “man must explore–NOW” manner. Does Brown understand how insane his washed-up/injured/criminal main character comes off? And how impulsive Senator Ellen Gallangher is in trusting him?

As a narrative, the novel gets bogged down in laborious (and downright silly) lectures on basic science and politics and the misguided view that designing a mission to Jupiter can be hashed out over a few nights. The mystery genre takes over where one man can solve everything vs. a serious attempt to understand the complexity of an epoch-defining scientific enterprise.

I admire its attempt at realism. I chuckled at Brown’s self-referential passages—Max Andrew reads Brown’s What Mad Universe (1949). Ultimately, the relentless optimism doesn’t mesh with the plot twist/characters. It’s a short/punchy afternoon read.

For a more detailed/analytical review check out this one over at the sadly defunct Battered, Tattered, Yellowed, & Creased.

(Kohs’ cover for the 1st edition)

(Uncredited cover for the 1963 edition)

(Wayne Pagram’s cover for the 1954 edition)

2. The Great Explosion, Eric Frank Russell (1962)

(Chris Foss’ cover for the 1975 edition)

3/5 (Average)

Overwhelmed by M. John Harrison’s entropic visions (attempting to finish A Storm of Wings at the moment) and the horror of Covid-19, I decided to find a work of humorous science fiction to help get my mind off things—and it worked! In a teenage bathroom humor sort of Libertarian SF way…

Eric Frank Russell’s The Great Explosion (1963)–a satirical skewering of the foibles and follows of Terran explorers,  military might, and fringe social movements—is an expansion of his short story “…And Then There Were None” (1951).

The Blieder drive, named after a myopic inventor desperate to levitate a coin, facilitates “The Great Explosion”—the mass uncontrolled exodus of fringe societies outward into space. Eventually, when the chaos of outward movement abates, the Terrans attempt to reconnect with their accidental colonies using a nameless possible “threat” as an excuse.

The story follows the “exploits” of a sad excuse for a crew of a massive warship, as they encounter—and are bamboozled each time—the spectrum of unusual societies created by “The Great Explosion.” They encounter the descendants of a penal planet, who have created a decentralized society of small towns that relentlessly prey on each other. Unable to effectively leave a Terran representative, they head off to Hygeia, populated by body-obsessed nudists (queue giggle inducing sequences of military men forced to go on shore leave “in the nude”).

It’s funny. It’s trite. I’ll forget it in a few days.

3. Waves, M. A. Foster (1980)

(Ken W. Kelly’s cover for the 1st edition)

4/5 (Good)

M. A. Foster’s Waves (1980) cast a moody and mysterious spell from the first page. As Fraesch approaches the planet Mulcahen, he speculates on the nature of the storms that cover its surface: “He wondered how they looked from the ground. They look unreal: swelling bulbs of what unknown flower, sprung from the leaf mold and moss of the forest floor” (6).

The reader is immersed within a deceptive morass–every character hides their motives, the planet contains secrets that will only slowly be revealed, the society itself is a strange conglomeration of immigrant groups and foreign linguistics. The ominous feel, as Fraesch gathers the details of his mission and approaches the research station where he is to take over as director after an accident, is almost that of Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris (1972). There’s the underlying uncertainty of it all, the unknowable specter of planetary powers, and secretive cabals and combines following, shadowing, conducting their own investigations….

Recommended for those who want to sink into a SF world that only gradually coalesces. Moody and evocative.

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13 thoughts on “Short Book Reviews: Fredric Brown’s The Lights in the Sky Are Stars (variant title: Project Jupiter) (1953), M. A. Foster’s Waves (1980), Eric Frank Russell’s The Great Explosion (1962)

    • Ah, in Waves? There are two main women characters.

      1) The woman he thinks is shadowing him from the very beginning of the story. They end up meeting up and heading to the same research station to investigate the mysterious occurrences.

      2) He meets another woman when he’s heading to the research station. She seems to be something of a local revolutionary…. She piloted one of the striders in the strider battle.

      • Butbutbut
        1) is a complete cipher, seen, then spoken to, but never active
        2) is a glancing plot-bunny bounce
        How does either merit a cover shot?

        • I think the answer is simple — to sell books.

          Which wasn’t successful as it received a grand total of three English language printings between 1980-1983 and hasn’t seen print since….

          Love Karel Thole’s cover for the 1986 Italian edition.

            • Thole’s cover illo is artistically superior, but to my eye still fails to convey the important point about the story: it’s a puzzle to be solved. The US cover looks like it belongs on one of James Rollins’s Sigma Force novels (which I guiltily gulp down whole as soon as they appear, don’t hate me), the Thole is gorgeously surreal…but the book is a high-stakes brain-game!

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