The following review is the 8th 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.
Today: Philip K. Dick’s “A Little Something For Us Tempunauts” in Final Stage: The Ultimate Science Fiction Anthology, ed. Barry N. Mazlberg and Edward L. Ferman (1974) [You can borrow this anthology online in one-hour increments]
Previously: Kris Neville’s “Cold War” (1949) in the October 1949 issue of Astounding Science Fiction, ed. John W. Campbell, Jr. You can read it online here.
Up next: 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.
Philip K. Dick wrote “A Little Something For Us Tempunauts” (1974) after a two-year hiatus. He explains that a friend brought by a copy of John T. Sladek’s brilliant “The Poets of Millgrove, Iowa” (1966) that spurred him to write again: “the first sf story in years that galvanized me into new life—like Kant reading Hume.” He further explains that Sladek’s satirical deconstruction of the cult of the astronaut “can stand in the ranks of the all-time great short stories in the English language” and that it “changed in a flash my entire conception of what a good sf story is” (source). I, too, adore Sladek’s story. Along with Barry N. Malzberg’s general characterization of astronauts and the space agency, it inspired this series.
I while back I put out a call for SF novels/short works on immortality to add to a preliminary list I put together. Due to my lack of knowledge of newer SF and uncanny ability to forget relevant previously read works I eagerly added your suggestions. And Marta Randall’sIslands(1976) motivated me to finally post it…
Everyone likes lists! And I do too…. This is an opportunity to collate some of my favorite (and least favorite) novels and shorter SF works I read this year. Last year I discovered Barry N. Malzberg and this year I was seduced by…. Well, read and find out.
Top Ten Novels
1. We Who Are About To…, Joanna Russ (1976): A scathing, and underread, literary SF novel by one of the more important feminist SF writers of the 70s (of The Female Man fame).
2. A Funeral for the Eyes of Fire, Michael Bishop (1975): A well-written anthropological clash of cultures novel. Slow, gorgeous, emotionally engaging….
MPorcius, a frequent and well-read commentator on my site, has started transferring his numerous amazon reviews and writing new reviews of classic SF (a substantial portion is pre-1980s) to his blog. Please visit him and comment on his posts!
queue rant: I’ve noticed a surprising lack of frequently updated classic SF blogs online. Yes, many bloggers occasionally dabble in the distant era of SF glory or publish yet another review of the obligatory masterpieces because they appear on a some “best of” list (Dune, The Left Hand of Darkness, etc). However, few are devoted to the period and make it a point to write reviews of books that very few people will ever actually read due to their obscurity i.e. blogs that don’t sell out by churning out reviews of new Tor releases (I have declined their offer) or endless 4/5 or 5/5 starred let’s pat each other on the back reviews of self-published (and generally awful) ebooks Continue reading →
(Diane and Leo Dillon’s cover for the 1970 edition)
D. G. Compton has long been one of my favorite SF authors. Regrettably, his readership remains small and he has ceased publishing SF. Novels like The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe (variant title: The Unsleeping Eye) (1973) and Synthajoy (1968) are first rate masterworks with Farewell, Earth’s Bliss (1966) and The Steel Crocodile (1970) close behind. All of his works have a distinctly English feel with solid, and occasionally beautiful, prose.
Chronocules (1970), with its outrageous variant title Hot Wireless Sets, Aspirin Tablets, the Sandpaper Sides of Used Matchboxes, and Something that Continue reading →
I have long been a fan of Poul Anderson’s functionalist yet engaging SF adventures. He is one of the masters at integrating social commentary (often on the impact of future technology) into the framework of the early Cold War influenced SF story without unduly weighing it down. Brain Wave (1954) is a good example of both his virtues and faults.
Brain Wave in a nutshell: a fascinating premise, a somewhat frustrating ending, dubious social commentary, while the incredibly brief length (even for the 50s) and uneven pacing suggest heavy cuts by editor… That said, I suspect other famous works — such as the Daniel Keyes’ Flowers of Algernon (novelette: 1959, novel: 1966) and perhaps even Continue reading →
I recently received a copy of Modecai Roshwald’s Level 7 (1959) from 2thD at Potpourri of Science Fiction Literature (his enthusiastic review of the novel here). Roshwald’s novel should be considered along with Walter Miller, Jr.’s A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959, published 1960) as one the best nuclear disaster sci-fi novels of the late 50s (and all time). Unlike Nevil Shute’s On the Beach (1957) or Pat Frank’s Alas, Babylon (1959) the allegiance (Soviet or American) of the protagonists of Level 7 remains Continue reading →
David Duncan, most famous for writing the screenplay to George Pal’s film The Time Machine (1960), produced a handful of genre and non-genre novels in the 1950s. Bluntly put, the Dark Dominion (1954) was one of the more disappointing novels I’ve read this year. It is worthwhile for one thing alone, Richard Powers’ gorgeous cover. Duncan’s novel is characterized by an incredibly painful strain of melodrama even for the 50s, downright preposterous science Continue reading →