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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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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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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Short Story Review: Charles W. Runyon’s “First Man in a Satellite” (1958)

The following review is the 11th 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.

Preliminary Note: I am getting a bit carried away by this project. The historian in me rears its obsessive head. I experience intense enjoyment reading any and all stories on the theme regardless of their quality. I know my readers might want me to feature some higher quality stories. Right? While I have a few average to solid stories in the docket read and waiting for reviews, I plan on tackling some harder-hitters in the near future (more Malzberg, Ballard, Sturgeon, etc.).

I had fun writing about this one! As always, feel free to join the conversation.

Today: 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.

Previously: Roger Zelazny’s “Halfjack” in the June 1979 issue of Omni, ed. Don Dixon. You can read it online here.

Up Next: 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.

2.75/5 (Vaguely Average)

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

For two years of my youth in the early 1990s, I lived in Washington, D.C with the National Air and Space Museum a few blocks away from our tiny home in Dupont Circle. While I could not yet read, I knew how long it should take for my parents to read each and every exhibit label to me. And, agape at Able the monkey’s space couch and preserved body, I asked the predictable question: “did she survive the voyage into space?” “She did,” my mother would said, “she died soon after.” “And the monkeys before her?”

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Book Review: At Midnight on the 31st of March, Josephine Young Case (1938)

3.5/5 (Good)

Preliminary note: This review is a slightly different version of the article I wrote for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction‘s “Curiosities” column in the recent March/April (2021) issue. I received permission from C. C. Finlay to post it on my site after the magazine hit shelves. You can read the article on the publisher website here. An index of earlier installments of the column can be found here. It makes fun browsing if you are interested in the more esoteric reaches of the genre.


Josephine Young Case (1908-1990), the daughter of pioneering industrialist and the first chairman of General Electric Owen D. Young (1874-1962), crafts a novel in blank verse. Released in the ninth year of the twentieth century’s worst economic crisis, this speculative epic poem is a strident call to return to the soil and reaffirm the value of work.

As if hermitically sealed, the town of Saugerville—a distillation of rural Americana newly electrified—remerges in a pre-Beringian wilderness of loneliness and endless trees. Roads evaporate into forests, electricity flickers off. A new cartography intrudes with its center on the clustered houses, two steeples, and roughhewn fields. Tracing an ensemble cast over one year, Case unearths a traumatic tapestry of severed horizons and grim survival.

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Short Story Review: Roger Zelazny’s “Halfjack” (1979)

The following review is the 10th post in 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: Roger Zelazny’s “Halfjack” in the June 1979 issue of Omni, ed. Don Dixon. You can read it online here.

Previously: Frederik Pohl’s (as Paul Flehr) “The Hated” (1958) in the January 1958 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction, ed. H. L. Gold. You can read it online here.

Up Next : Charles 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.

3.5/5 (Good)

Roger Zelazny’s “Halfjack” first appeared in the June 1979 issue of Omni, ed. Don Dixon. You can read it online here. I read the story in the The Last Defender of Camelot (1980).

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