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.

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

Up Next: J. G. Ballard’s “The Cage of Sand” in New Worlds Science Fiction, ed. John Carnell (June 1962). 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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Article: List of Historical Events and Invented Scientific Articles in William Kotzwinkle’s Doctor Rat (1976)

(Ken Laidlaw’s cover for the 1977 edition)

I have fallen victim to hidden encyclopedic desires and delusions…

William Kotzwinkle’s Doctor Rat (1976) was so compelling that I went through and marked each and every historical event and invented scientific article. Kotzwinkle might have believed one of the historical events was real (allegations of chemical warfare involving spiders and anthrax by the US in the Korean War) although most likely it’s a fabrication.

I examined at length in my review Kotzwinkle’s use of these two categories to create a “substrate” underpinning the world. This well-realized background causes the reader to, in my words, “increasingly wonder what is possible, what is happening, and what has already happened.” I suggest “Doctor Rat derives its power from not only the brutality of what unfolds but also the careful integration of both the historical and the imaginary.” Simultaneously, as the scientific citations are mentioned as part of Doctor Rat’s own “contributions” to the scientific world, they tend to operate as satirical indicators of cruelty done in the name of scientific progress.

These citations also add to the “compulsive syndrome” (175) of the novel’s conclusion as scientific tidbits, pseudo-scientific citations, historical events (both real and imaginary) collide….


Invented Scientific Articles

“It’s a 12-inch metal disc (for more, see my learned paper, “Rats on the Wheel,” Psy. Journal., 1963).” (10)

“Thank you, friends and fellow supporters, thanks for your confidence. As you know, the rat is man’s best friend. You’ve seen the advertisement in Modern Psychology magazine: “The Rat is Our Friend.'” (17) Continue reading

Book Review: Memoirs of a Spacewoman, Naomi Mitchison (1962)

(Vincent Di Fate’s cover for the 1973 edition)

4.5/5 (Very Good)

Naomi Mitchison’s first science fiction novel, Memoirs of a Spacewoman (1962), is a brilliant episodic rumination on the nature of non-violent interaction with alien species that challenge (and transform) conceptions of ourselves and others.  Although R. S. Lonati’s cover for the 1964 Four Square edition suggests a pulp adventure—replete with flashy spaceships, explosions, and traditional adventure—Memoirs is cut from an altogether different cloth.

The first sentence of the novel narrows in on Mitchison’s central themes:

“I think about my friends and the fathers of my children.  I think about my children, and I think less about my four dear normals than I think about Viola.  And I think about Ariel.  And the other.  I wonder sometimes how old  would be if I counted the years of time blackout during exploration (5).”

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Book Review: The Eyes of Heisenberg, Frank Herbert (1966)

(Paul Lehr’s cover for the 1970 edition)

4/5 (Good)

Frank Herbert, known to most science fiction fans for his classic six book Dune sequence, published an extensive catalogue of other novels and short story collections.  A trademark of so many works of Herbert’s corpus is his near immaculate world-building skills.  As in Dune, the true extent of the world and all its hidden powerplays are slowly uncovered over the course of the narrative.  Although the basic premise is standard for the genre, Herbert’s multi-faceted world combined with his ability to develop characters and the pure hysteria/sheer hopelessness that permeates every page makes Continue reading

Book Review: The Florians, Brian M. Stableford (1976)

(Michael Whelan’s cover for the 1976 edition)

2/5 (Bad)

Even after the underwhelming Journey to the Center (1982) I decided to give Brian M. Stableford a second chance.  Unfortunately, The Florians (1976), the first in a six novel series about the adventures of the starship Daedalus, is even less impressive.  Both works contain a potentially fascinating premise around which the barest framework of a story is cobbled.  At least Journey the Center maintained some sense of wonder and excitement despite its incredible brevity, poor prose, disappointing ending, and dull characters.  The Florians, on the other hand, fails to conjure Continue reading