Book Review: First Step Outward, ed. Robert Hoskins (1969) (Asimov, Silverberg, Sturgeon, Heinlein, et al.)

3.25/5 (collated rating: Vaguely Good)

Published a few months before the Apollo 11 mission to the moon, Robert Hoskins’ anthology First Step Outward (1969) charts an imagined future history of humanity’s exploration of the galaxy. The stories, gathered from some of the big names of the day (Robert Heinlein, Robert Silverberg, Theodore Sturgeon, Isaac Asimov, Poul Anderson, etc.), are grouped as if part of the same future with headings such as “To the Planets” and “To the Stars.” As with most anthologies, this contains a range of gems (such as Sturgeon’s “The Man Who Lost the Sea”) and duds (Ross Rocklynne’s “Jaywalker”).

I’ve previously reviewed five of the thirteen stories in their own posts–linked for easy consultation.

Brief Plot Summary/Analysis

“Cold War” (1949), Kris Neville, 3/5 (Average): Previously reviewed in its own post here.

“Third Stage” (1963), Poul Anderson, 3.5/5 (Good): Previously reviewed in its own post here.

“Gentlemen, Be Seated!” (1948), Robert A. Heinlein, 2.75/5 (Vaguely Average): My first return to Robert A. Heinlein in around a decade is exactly like I thought it would be–thoroughly disappointing. Yes, yes, yes, I know this is far from what he was capable of. The number of reprints this misfire of a story receives mystifies (it appeared in the regularly reprinted The Green Hills of Earth and The Past Through Tomorrow).

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Short Story Reviews: Carol Emshwiller’s “The Coming” (1957), “You’ll Feel Better…” (1957), and “Two-Step for Six Legs” (1957)

Here is another post in my series exploring Carol Emshwiller’s science fiction and fantasy–published between 1955-1979 in genre magazines–in chronological order. And if you missed earlier installments, check out Part I and II.

I found Emshwiller’s next three science fiction stories, including the first in her new long-term home The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, polished fables utilizing standard genre tropes (alien mating rituals, a mysterious stranger, etc.) to highlight humanity’s encounter with itself in idiosyncratic and grim ways.

However, this batch presents a bit of a lull in overall quality. These are probably only recommended for Emshwiller completists like myself or fans of off-kilter 50s parables. The next post will contain one of her best known works of the 50s–“Pelt” (1958). I look forward to Part IV.

For those curious why I am conducting this series, check out my review of the intense power that is “Animal” (1968) (the best story of hers I’ve read so far).

As always, feel free to join the conversation!


“The Coming” in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (May 1957), ed. Anthony Boucher. 3.5/5 (Good). You can read it online here.

A mysterious stranger, “stick thin, and he walked as as scarecrow might walk” (102), comes into town like someone in a trance, his “lips parted, eyes half closed, head thrown back” (102). On cue, a young girl named Nina with her homework spread before her, slips into the same trance-like state. Her mom threatens “if you don’t keep your mind on your work you’ll be set back again this year” (103). But something about the stranger, the unknown, and the other world in which he seems to inhabit free from all care or obligation beckons.

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Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLXXIV (Suzette Haden Elgin, Paul Cook, Herbert W. Franke, Charles Eric Maine)

As always, which books/covers/authors intrigue you? Which have you read? Disliked? Enjoyed?

1. Furthest, Suzette Haden Elgin (1971)

From the back cover: “Coyote Jones, agent for the Tri-Galactic Intelligence Service, had been sent to a planet so unimaginably distant from the rest of the Federation that it bore the descriptive name Furthest. His mission: to find out why the total body of data about Furthest showed the world’s inhabitants to be absolutely average down to the last decimal place. That data had to be false.

Jones was permitted to live on the planet, but the natives were so wary of him that he could uncover nothing—until he chanced into a personal crisis faced by his young Furthest assistant. The boy’s sister had been sentenced to Erasure, and he wanted Coyote Jones to take the fugitive girl in and hide her.

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Short Story Review: Poul Anderson’s “Third Stage” (1962)

The following review is the 14th installment of my series searching for “SF short stories that are critical in some capacity of space agencies, astronauts, and the culture which produced them.” Some stories I’ll review in this series might not fit. And that is okay. I relish the act of literary archaeology.

As always, feel free to join the conversation.

Today: Poul Anderson’s “Third Stage” (1962) in the February 1962 issue of Amazing Stories, ed. Cele Goldsmith. You can read it online here.

Previously: Anthony Boucher’s “Star Bride” (1951) in the December 1951 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories, ed. Samuel Mines. You can read it online here.

Up Next: TBD

3.5/5 (Good)

Poul Anderson’s “Third Stage” first appeared in the February 1962 issue of Amazing Stories, ed. Cele Goldsmith. You can read it online here.

At first glance Poul Anderson’s “Third Stage” (1962) reads as an archetypal disaster-in-space tale of intrepid spacemen making courageous decisions under great duress. Around that central core, Anderson delves into far more sinister reaches–the media’s role in televising and manipulating grief. Anderson’s astronauts maintain their heroism despite the machinations of nefarious media men in pursuit of ratings.

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Short Story Review: Anthony Boucher’s “Star Bride” (1951)

The following review is the 13th installment of my series searching for “SF short stories that are critical in some capacity of space agencies, astronauts, and the culture which produced them.” Some stories I’ll review in this series might not fit. And that is okay. I relish the act of literary archaeology.

As always, feel free to join the conversation.

Today: Anthony Boucher’s “Star Bride” (1951) in the December 1951 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories, ed. Samuel Mines. You can read it online here.

Previously: J. G. Ballard’s “The Cage of Sand” (1962) in the June 1962 issue of New Worlds Science Fiction, ed. John Carnell. You can read it online here.

Up Next: Poul Anderson’s “Third Stage” (1962) in the February 1962 issue of Amazing Stories, ed. Cele Goldsmith. You can read it online here.

2/5 (Bad)

“Star Bride” (1951) first appeared in the December 1951 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories, ed. Samuel Mines. You can read it online here.

Anthony Boucher’s short “Star Bride” is a tepid condemnation of colonialism written in the immediate post-WWII stages of decolonization (the Philippines gained its independence from the United States in 1946 and India from the British Empire in 1947). While a deeply problematic and forgettable story, a handful of Boucher’s themes and observations are worth teasing out due to later SF formulations I’ll be exploring in this series.

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Updates: Recent SFF Purchases No. CCLXXIII (Avram Davidson, Joan D. Vinge, William Tenn, and Michael Kurland)

As always, which books/covers/authors intrigue you? Which have you read? Disliked? Enjoyed?

1. The Island Under the Earth, Avram Davidson (1969)

From the inside page: “In THE ISLAND UNDER THE EARTH, a master fantasist has created his most fabulous land of imagination, peopled with humans and not-humans who speak with characteristically different voices and pursue goals and philosophies that set them inevitably against one another.

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Short Book Reviews: John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids (variant title: Re-Birth) (1955), John A. Williams’ Captain Blackman (1972), and Gina Berriault’s The Descent (1960)

Note: My read but “waiting to be reviewed pile” is growing. Short rumination/tangents are a way to get through the stack before my memory and will fades. Stay tuned for more detailed and analytical reviews.


1. The Chrysalids (variant title: Re-Birth), John Wyndham (1955)

3/5 (Average)

John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids (1955), my first exposure to his science fiction, transpires in a standard post-apocalyptic cozy catastrophe scenario with a deeply emotional core. The narrative follows David’s childhood in the backwater territories of Labrador, Canada hundreds of years after a nuclear war. The Church, inspired by Nicholson’s Repentances—which along with the Bible are only surviving books–imposes a draconian theology that “only God produces perfection” (51). Mutations, a visual sign of diabolical influence, must be destroyed. David, the son of the local strongman and preacher, discovers a young girl with a terrifying secret–she has six toes. David starts to accumulate secrets including his own mysterious telepathic abilities and recurrent dreams of a city in a world without cities. He shares them with his sympathetic Uncle Axel, who attempts to protect him from the forces narrowing in.

There are some nice touches throughout. Uncle Axel recounts his travels and knowledge of the world as a seaman and the effects is that of a medieval map, filled with pseudo-legendary beings, historical fragments, and “real” flora and fauna that, at first glance, seems too fantastic to exist (54-57).

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Short Story Review: J. G. Ballard’s “The Cage of Sand” (1962)

The following review is the 12th installment of my series searching for “SF short stories that are critical in some capacity of space agencies, astronauts, and the culture which produced them.” Some stories I’ll review in this series might not fit. And that is okay. I relish the act of literary archaeology.

As always, feel free to join the conversation.

Today: J. G. Ballard’s “The Cage of Sand” (1962) in the June 1962 issue of New Worlds Science Fiction, ed. John Carnell. You can read it online here.

Previously: Charles W. Runyon’s “First Man in a Satellite” first appeared in Super-Science Fiction (December 1958), ed. W. W. Scott. You can read it online here.

Up Next: Today: Anthony Boucher’s “Star Bride” (1951) in the December 1951 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories, ed. Samuel Mines. You can read it online here.

4.5/5 (Very Good)

J. G. Ballard’s “The Cage of Sand” (1962) first appeared in New Worlds Science Fiction (June 1962), ed. John Carnell. You can read it online here.

Amidst the wreckage of Cape Canaveral, with its “old launch-gantries and landing ramps [..] like derelict pieces of giant sculpture” (140), three souls attempt to find meaning in the buried hotels and relics of a rapidly disappearing past.

Adrift, We Cast About

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Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCLXXII (James Tiptree, Jr., Allen F. Wold, Nova Anthology, and non-fiction on Drugs, Esoterica, and Visionary Experience in the Seventies)

As always, which books/covers/authors intrigue you? Which have you read? Disliked? Enjoyed?

1. Warm Worlds and Otherwise, James Tiptree, Jr. (1975)

From the back cover: “A DOZEN FABULOUS TALES OF INNER VISIONS AND OUTER SPACE…

LOVE IS THE PLAN, THE PLAN IS DEATH (Nebula-Award Winner—Best Short Story 1973)

Courtship rites can easily run amok, especially when that’s what’s supposed to happen… especially when the creatures are color-coded for passion as well as for death!

THE GIRL WHO WAS PLUGGED IN

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