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1958 - Year in SF&F: Reviews



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

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Robert Sheckley
"Time Killer" (nv)
(also as "Immortality, Inc")
©1958, Galaxy, Oct
1959, Bantam Books
(abridged version as "Immortality Delivered")
© 1958, Bourgy Books
Filmed as Freejack (1992)
--novel : 1959 Hugo
--/ cool sf novel

I thought this is a mediocre novel, but others might find it amusing. Here is a synopsis I found on the web: Man killed in the past in a car accident finds himself revived in the future. In this future, they've proven the existence of a soul, but most people don't have the mental discipline for their soul to survive after death. There are mechanical methods of strengthening the soul, but they're *expensive*. One way to get immortality cheaply is to participate in deadly "reality" games (manhunts to the death, etc. It's legal, if the particpants are made immortal, first.) This is recurring theme of Sheckley's ("The Prize of Peril", et al)
review: 06-Jul-06 (read in 1986)

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Clifford D. Simak
"Leg. Forst."
©> Infinity Science Fiction, Apr 1958
So Bright the Vision, 1968
--/ cool sf story
--/ wonder award

What is the other attribute of the pastoral life of middle-aged middle-class all-American person in the fifties? Right, stamp collecting. Simak could not leave this important theme out of science fiction treatment, and wrote this curious piece about an alien postal stamp alive and kicking in the most amazing directions and ways... Nothing earth-shaking, though. Hey, check out that pulp's cover though - an alien-head transformation straight out of "Men in Black", totally twisted.
review: 25-Jul-06 (read in 1997)

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Clifford Simak
"The Sitters"
© Galaxy, Apr 1958
All The Traps Of Earth, 1962
--/ cool sf story
--/ wonder award

Small-town sf about aliens living among humans, and trying to impove humanity by saving the essense of childhood. Generally cozy and nice. Although, could be a little "too sweet" for some.
review: 07-Jul-06 (read in 1983)

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Theodore Sturgeon
"The Cosmic Rape" (nv)
(also as "To Marry Medusa")
© Galaxy, Aug 1958
book : Dell Books, 1958
The Joyous Invasion, 1965
--/ fourth place sf novel
--/ wonder award
--/ style award

Good science fiction is fun to read. Great science fiction says something. Fantastic science fiction changes the way you think.

The Cosmic Rape by Theodore Sturgeon is good, great, and – most of all – fantastic. Sturgeon’s writing is (as always) fun and engaging, the story addresses identity and individuality, and – best of all -- Sturgeon changes the way you’ll think about one of the most common science fiction bug-a-boos: the idea of collective consciousness, a human hive mind.

Originally published in Galaxy Magazine as a novella called To Marry Medusa, the Cosmic Rape is initially told through a series of characters, each one separated from everyone around them and the rest of the world by shame, miscommunication, guilt, fear, and inexperience. Paul Sanders is a empathy-less sexual opportunist, Guido is a teenage musical genius trapped by an abusive history into a life of violence against the music he subconsciously craves, Dimity Carmichael is a self-satisfied abstinent getting off on the sexual sufferings of others, Mbala is a tribesman fighting his own fears along with the demon stealing yams from his family’s scared patch, Henry is a boy living a life of unrelenting fear, and Sharon Brevix is a little girl lost in the middle of the desert.

Flowing, separately at first, between these characters is the skid-row loser Gurlick who just happened to have bitten into a discarded hamburger – a hamburger containing a scout seed from a galaxy-spanning hive mind called Medusa.

But Medusa has a problem: every other lifeform it’s absorbed into itself has been in some way a shade of its own collective consciousness. Humanity, though, is different: here everyone is separated and alone, disconnected and unique.

So, thinking that humanity must have been together at one time but then broke apart, Medusa the alcoholic out to find a way to "put people’s brains back together again" by promising the smashed-up and broken Gurlick whatever he wants.

Like everything of Sturgeon’s, The Cosmic Rape is brilliantly written: the characters are rich and full and alive, the language is equal parts lyrical, poetic, and carefully structured and classical. Also like everything else of Sturgeon’s, the story is bright and clear, a sneaky trick that takes you completely by surprise without ever resorting to cheap devices.

Here too are Sturgeon’s favorite subjects: the explosion of what is sex and sexuality (as in Venus Plus X), the careful and perceptive look at humanity (as in Godbody) and especially the reinvention of what consciousness is and could be (as in More Than Human).

There is a part of The Cosmic Rape that lays it all out: the fun reading, the perfect ‘something’ that great science fiction has, and especially the way Sturgeon changes how we think but I won’t just excerpt it here because that would be … well, wrong. Like – maybe, just maybe overdoing it a bit -- pasting in Michelangelo’s God Creates Adam without the whole of the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling. You have to read it yourself, but to give you an idea of what happens in that chapter, as well as the whole conclusion of the book, just think about the idea of a hive mind, a united human consciousness.

It’s an old science fiction cliché, from Star Trek’s borg to the Flood of Halo: "resistance was futile" and all that. Lots of folks lay awake at night and shudder at the thought of being merged, combined with something else, of losing their identity to some monstrous and hungry collective. But what Sturgeon did with The Cosmic Rape is to take that idea and twist it, turn it upside down and make it not hideous and frightening but warm, welcoming and wonderful: a humanity without judgment or fear, loneliness or shame, a united mankind of acceptance and understanding.

I can’t recommend The Cosmic Rape enough. It's fun to read like all good science fiction, it says something important like all great science fiction, but best of all it’s fantastic because Sturgeon manages to change the clichéd terror of a collective humanity into something that, like the book itself, is brilliant and wonderful.

(review by the author M. Christian)


(cover art by Paul Lehr, 1968 edition)

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Jack Vance
"Ullward's Retreat"

© Galaxy, Dec 1958
Future Tense, 1964
--/ fourth place sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ emotion: stuck-up aristocracy

Can you imagine a "real estate spiel", a multi-colored brochure - how only Vance could write it? Of course the piece of a real estate described here is gorgeous, in a prime location on another planet (Vance also throws in descriptions of planet ecology, landscapes, etc). However, visuals aside, this story is about the aristocratic, "stuck-up" attitude of one upper-class family, displaying a kind of sophisticated bored indifference. I would recommend this story to anyone considering moving up in the world - to dwell on consequences of acquiring just such an attitude. Overall, quite enjoyable novelette.
review: 06-Jul-06 (read in 2006)

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