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1953 - Year in SF&F: Reviews



THE WONDER TIMELINE: SF&F RETROSPECTIVE
Read other issues here

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Poul Anderson
"Brain Wave" (nv)
(exp. from "The Escape")
© Space Science Fiction, Nov 1953
novel: Ballantine Books, 1954
--/ second place sf novel
--/ wonder award
--/ idea award
--/ style award
--/ emotion award
--/ awesome scale


Hands-down the most enjoyable Poul Anderson and one of the most classic extrapolations of "the mind" in science fiction - it is also the most unusual apocalypse for the human race: gradual increase in IQ world-wide, total "genius" epidemic. What the people would do when they realize the ultimate futility of most of our conventional tasks, goals and aspirations? Not to mention the downfall spiral, when they begin to lose the heightened intelligence and return to previous "dumbed-down" state. Sort of like "Flowers for Algernon", but on the global scale. Plus has the signature poetic prose of vintage Anderson.
review: 04-Jul-06 (read in 1985)

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Poul Anderson
"The Troublemakers"
(Psychotechnic League series)
© Cosmos Science Fiction, Sep 1953
Cold Victory, 1982
--/ cool sf novella
--/ wonder award
--/ rare find


A "generation ship" story: long journey to the stars produces - you guessed it - troublemakers. An ensign on a generation ship is demoted down to the level of a crew member and fights back up the ranks all the way to become a captain.
review: 01-Jul-06 (read in 2002)

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Alfred Bester
"Star Light, Star Bright"
© F&SF, Jul 1953
Starburst, 1958
--/ cool sf story

A group of government officials vs. group of little children. Each child is reported to have a unique ability to create marvelous technical gadgets - And there is one kid who quietly does absolutely nothing...wishing...
review: 04-Jul-06 (read in 1986)

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Jerome Bixby
"One Way Street"
© Amazing, Dec 1953
Space by the Tail, 1964
--/ third place time sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ style award


This is a "definitive" and classic treatment of the parallel worlds, and is quite delicious. I read it more than 20 years ago and still remember it with pleasure. Something in the way the story is told, not in spectacular action or ideas.
review: 04-Jul-06 (read in 1983)

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L. Sprague De Camp
"The Gnarly Man"
© Unknown, Jun 1939
Fantastic Story Magazine, Jul 1953
The Wheels Of If, 1948

A humorous story about an immortal Neanderthal. He goes through life avoiding trouble, so he has a lot of knowledge about the small things in history.
review: 01-Jul-06 (read in 2002)

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Leigh Brackett
"Alpha Centauri or Die!" (nv)

(exp. from "The Ark of Mars" and
"Teleportress From Alpha C")
© Planet Stories, Sep 1953
novel: Ace Double, 1963
--/ cool space sf novel
--/ wonder award
--/ adventure award
--/ emotion award

I am not sure in what way the original story "The Ark of Mars" (see review below) got expanded into a novel - maybe the psychedelic esp cuddly aliens got added - but the overall impression now is of conflict between technology (robotic spaceships) and nature - and the final wish is "to live in peace" - overall a harmonious whole. Brackett at a good example of her more-feminine style of writing. Still, the first part of a novel (and a shorter novella) has way better suspense. + Holds the dubious award of one of the silliest titles for a good novel in sf.
review: 30-Jun-06 (read in 2006)

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Leigh Brackett
"The Ark Of Mars"
(exp. into "Alpha Centauri or Die!")
© Planet Stories, Sep 1953
novel: Ace Double, 1963
--/ fourth place space sf novella
--/ wonder award
--/ adventure award
--/ emotion award
--/ style award

Last manned spaceship is launched by free men, hunted by sinister robotic spaceships; great adventure and atmosphere; the first part (chase to the nearest star) simply sizzles, desperation mixes with hope, great emotion there. The second part after the landing is a bit of a let-down, but still contains big depictions of truly alien mind processes, cuddly ESP alien herd, and pretty cool people politics. Solid novella, enjoyed it.
review: 30-Jun-06 (read in 2006)

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Philip K. Dick
"The Builder"

© Amazing Stories, Dec 1953
Beyond Lies The Wub, 1987
--/ second place apocalyptic sf story
--/ emotion award
--/ idea award
--/ style award

Talking about "subtle" - this story is a definition of it. Walk softly and carry a big stick. Loved the understatement: the sense of total breakdown in our everyday life, echoed by the sense of unease inside the protagonist's heart - all depicted through "perfectly normal" (breakfast, office, etc) scenes. Leaving biblical analogies aside, this is as much a study in psychosis as a science fiction narrative. A confused father is building a boat in the backyard, as a perfect american family and a cold-war society rushes toward extinction.
review: 04-Jul-06 (read in 2006)

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Philip K. Dick
"Colony"
© Galaxy, Jun 1953
A Handful of Darkness, 1955 UK
Beyond Lies the Wub, 1987
--/ fourth place space sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ adventure award
--/ shock value


"And then there were none..." - a creepy but hilarious set-up. Inhabitants on an alien colony are exterminated one-by-one in a most classic way. Fear and gleeful entertainment shake hands in this one. "A survey team exploring a new colony planet finds that even everyday items can be lethal and that life can take many forms."
review: 04-Jul-06 (read in 2001)

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Philip K. Dick
"The Defenders"
(exp. into "The Penultimate Truth")
© Galaxy, Jan 1953
The Book of Philip K. Dick, 1973
--/ third place apocalyptic sf story
--/ idea award
--/ style award
--/ wonder award


"The Penultimate Truth" is an ultimate Cold War nightmare, and this story proves it in a concentrated form. It starts with Dick's usual "mundane breakfast with hidden sinister overtones" dialogue in the kitchen, where we learn that war is raging on the surface (by the hands of the combat machines), and the population is underground, busy making weapons. Of course, the paranoia rules of Dick's writing demand that this set up be turned upside-down very soon. Good chilling feeling of "civil defense" bunkers etc.
review: 04-Jul-06 (read in 2006)



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Philip K. Dick
"The Great C"
(novel: with Roger Zelazny)
(exp into "Deus Irae")
© Cosmos, Sep 1953
SF Monthly, Jul 1957 (Australian)
book: Doubleday, 1976
--/ fourth place apocalyptic sf novella
--/ wonder award
--/ style award


A supercomputer rules the earth after a nuclear holocaust and demands a yearly human sacrifice. Could be depressing, you know.
review: 04-Jul-06 (read in 1990)

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Philip K. Dick
"The Indefatigable Frog"
© Fantastic Story, Jul 1953
A Handful of Darkness, 1955
--/ fourth place sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ humour award
--/ adventure award


Special-effects story: radical changes in size plus entertaining dispute on Zeno's paradox - about whether a frog can escape from a tunnel if each step it takes is half the length of the previous one... Entertaining and deft.
review: 04-Jul-06 (read in 1999)

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Philip K. Dick
"The Infinites"

© Planet Stories, May 1953
Beyond Lies the Wub, 1987
--/ third place space sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ idea: runaway evolution
--/ adventure award
--/ awesome scale
--/ style award
--/ rare find

A ship's crew begins to evolve (suddenly and rapidly) into a more advanced form of life, one member slightly faster than the other two. Nothing better than PKD writing in the best of Sheckley's hilarious style. I am afraid, I can eat such candies for a looong time - a guilty pleasure. This story has a breathtaking idea and great pacing, a little skewed humor and a general feeling of cosmic fun.
review: 04-Jul-06 (read in 2006)

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Philip K. Dick
"The King Of The Elves"
(also as "Shadrach Jones and the Elves")
© Beyond Fantasy Fiction, Sep 1953
The Golden Man, 1980
--/ fourth place f story
--/ wonder award

Oh yes, very special - Philip K. Dick fantasy. Starts with a mundane scene at a gas station, and grows into something apocalyptic, in fact, the wars with trolls. Sense of profound change in the life of Shadrach Jones. From gas station attendant - to the Elf King... this is whimsical, I admit, but also quite funny. You never are sure at the end whether the elves were real or not.
review: 06-Jul-06 (read in 2005)

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Philip K. Dick
"Mr. Spaceship"

© Imagination, Jan 1953
Beyond Lies The Wub, 1987
--/ cool space sf story
--/ wonder award

Disembodied mind in control of a spaceship...Not a new idea, but it is just plain "nice" to read something by vintage PKD. I remember the time, when you glimpsed his name among the contents of the pulp, it was a wondrous thing. Nowadays all of his stories are reprinted. This is still a less-known piece.
review: 04-Jul-06 (read in 2006)

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Philip K. Dick
"Paycheck"
© Imagination, Jun 1953
The Best of P. K. Dick, 1977
--/ fourth place time sf story
--/ idea award
--/ adventure award


Lots of people have seen the film, but not everyone read the story. It's a real thriller, with intense (though quite dry) dialogue and manic-paced action. It has a winner of an idea - cheap little things acquire a huge value because of time-travel/memory loss combination. + very nice urban NY environment, & vintage Dick "detached-cool" mood.
(30-Jun-06)


Artwork courtesy Tim Warnock

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Philip K. Dick
"Piper in the Woods"
© Imagination, Feb 1953
Beyond Lies the Wub, 1987
--/ fourth place sf story
--/ idea award
--/ wonder award


Exploring personal identity, combining cool planetary colony background with psychological twists, very competent "inner-mind" story.
review: 04-Jul-06 (read in 2004)

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Philip K. Dick
"The Preserving Machine"
(Doc Labyrinth series)
© F&SF, Jun 1953
A Handful of Darkness, 1955
--/ fourth place sf story
--/ idea award
--/ wonder award
--/ humour award


Wow, a really wild idea: to synthesize monsters as spawns and "representations" of classical music compositions - various characters for various composers - seems like PKD had to bring his classical music radio background into the story sooner or later. But this is a blast.
review: 04-Jul-06 (read in 1999)

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Philip K. Dick
"Roog"
© F&SF, Feb 1953
The Preserving Machine, 1969
--/ fourth place sf story
--/ wonder award

Funny little dittie about "what the dog is barking at". Perhaps the dog sees something that we don't. Entirely different class of monster.
review: 04-Jul-06 (read in 2003)

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Philip K. Dick
"The Variable Man"
© Space Science Fiction, Sep 1953
The Variable Man and Oth Stories, 1957
--/ third place sf novella
--/ idea award
--/ wonder award


A happy chunk of PKD vintage writing deals with the usual stuff: unrealistically lethal weapons, never-ending wars with paranoid aliens, time paradoxes and a fight of individual against "the amoeba-like whole". I loved it when I read it, but have to confess that I do not remember what it's about after a few years. So for those who are interested, here is a link to a synopsis: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Variable_Man
review: 04-Jul-06 (read in 1999)

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Horace L. Gold
"No Charge For Alterations"

© Amazing Stories, Apr 1953
Authentic Science Fiction, Jul 1956

The Old Die Rich and Other Science Fiction, 1955
--/ third place sf story
--/ idea award
--/ emotion award
--/ shock value
--/ rare find

A shocking story for any freedom-lover and independent thinker. On rural backwater planets local doctors "heal" adventurous traits and excessive imagination in colonists with a wicked personality adjustment procedure. What's more, they routinely tamper with our God-given bodies in the most unholy way: changing them according to anybody's whim. One husband ended up changed a hundred times by his wife who could not make up her mind (the guy only wanted her to be happy). The resulting nightmarish culture is maintained by the matter-of-fact brainwashing of all newcomers. And this is not a repressive totalitarian regime, either. All is done in the name of EFFICIENCY (here, the creepiest word!) and seems to be a logical extension of pioneer agricultural economics. It only makes sense to suppress the desire of exploration when all you have to do is tend the land you're given, to be satisfied with soup and potatoes and your contribution to society. I had to shudder... And Gold put all of his "fist in a velvet-glove" irony into this story, as though he had to exorcise his own deep fears...
review: 10-Jan-08 (read in 2008)
Read more reviews for this writer

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Robert E. Howard
"The Black Stranger" (nv)

© written 1935;
© Fantasy Magazine, March 1953

Echoes of Valor II, 1984
--/ rare find

This is pretty flat written; a run-of-the-mill adventure (Howard's attempt at western background, with a long-winded battle-infused story unfolding pretty much forever) I can see why it was originally rejected by "Weird Tales". For completists only; the magazine itself though - "Fantasy", edited by Lester Del Rey, is a wonderful item, just check out the cover!..

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James Schmitz
"We Don't Want Any Trouble"
© Galaxy, Jun 1953
Eternal Frontier, 2002
--/ fourth place sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ shock value


Suspenseful and strong. Aliens are among us; and they can do mimicry very well. Idea is not fresh, but the gutsy, hard-boiled treatment of it in this story makes it one of the best for Schmitz.
review: 04-Jul-06 (read in 2000)

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Robert Sheckley
"The King's Wishes"
© F&SF, Jul 1953
Untouched by Human Hands, 1954
--/ cool sf story

An entertaining, very light-weight story about college of magics, pre-Harry Potter stuff. Forgettable.
review: 04-Jul-06 (read in 1986)

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Robert Sheckley
"The Perfect Woman"

© Amazing Stories, Dec 1953
--/ cool sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ rare find

The basis for "Stepford Wives" movie? Here is the synopsis: a man is at a party, and several references are made to "new women". They gossip about a guy who is married to an "old woman" who makes him do the dishes. The guy goes home to his "stepford wife", who suffers some sort of routine, irreparable breakdown. The story ends with some line about "new woman" having all of the desirable characteristics of "old woman", except durability, as he takes her back to the shop.
review: 07-Jul-06 (read in 1989)

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Robert Sheckley
"The Hour of Battle"
© Space Science Fiction, Sep 1953
--/ cool sf story
--/ wonder award

Quite an amusing piece: humans send robots to fight against the devils of Hell at Armageddon in order to avoid any human deaths, only to find that the robots get raised from the dead and sent to heaven instead of the humans.
review: 04-Jul-06 (read in 1999)

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Robert Sheckley
"Warm"
© Galaxy, Jun 1953
Untouched by Human Hands, 1954
--/ fourth place sf story
--/ idea award
--/ style award


Very strong, and unusual for Sheckley story - its all about perceptions. Loved every bit of it. “Basically there is no form. Man produces gestalts, and cuts form out of the plethora of nothingness.” The protagonist goes on to accept that there is no such thing as man. “There are only humanizing features that we-myopically- attach to it.”
review: 04-Jul-06 (read in 2001)

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Evelyn E. Smith
"The Last Of The Spode"
© F&SF, Jun 1953
--/ cool sf story
--/ humour award
--/ emotion award
--/ rare find


Funny, with some nice fifties household "paranoia" overtones. Great afternoon mix. Do you remember "the pod people" from "Invasion of the Body Snatchers"? More subtle than this, but also creepy.
review: 04-Jul-06 (read in 2002)

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Margaret St. Clair
"Prott"
© Galaxy, Jan 1953
The Best of Margaret St.Clair, 1988
--/ cool f story
--/ style award
--/ wonder award
--/ humour award


"Prott" is a "boring" alien race, who did nothing but bore humans. They looked like gigantic space-going fried eggs. The story begins with a Prott discovering a human in a spaceship; the Prott enthusiastically begins telling the human about "--ing the --." However, the man can't make out what the noun and verb in the telepathically transmitted phrase mean, so the Prott explains some more... and more... and brings equally enthusiastic friends
review: 04-Jul-06 (read in 1993)

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Theodore Sturgeon
"A Saucer Of Loneliness"
© Galaxy, Feb 1953
E Pluribus Unicorn, 1953
--/ third place sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ style award
--/ emotion award


The story uses first contact (introducing pretty neat life form along the way) to speak about the sadness of isolated souls, the bitter-sweet rewards of drawing close to each other - all in a soft, warm voice that is hard to forget, once you let it into your heart. The classic of classics, possibly the best inspirational story ever written.
(review by Avi Abrams)

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