This second of two volumes surveying the best science fiction novels of the 1950s presents works by five of the field’s most admired and influential practitioners. In Robert A. Heinlein’s Double Star (1956), an actor forced to impersonate a twenty-second-century political leader intent on forging bonds between Earthlings and Martians learns hard lessons about the nature of power. Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination (1956), which Neil Gaiman has called “the perfect cyberpunk novel,” is a classic revenge tale set in a nightmarish future dominated by corporations.
In James Blish’s A Case of Conscience (1958), space voyagers on the remote planet Lithia find themselves challenged by the values of an alien civilization. Algis Budrys’s Who? (1958) unleashes Cold War anxieties about technology and human identity with its story of a scientist rebuilt beyond recognition after a devastating accident. Set in “the Place,” a bar and bordello in the backwater of time’s stream, Fritz Leiber’s The Big Time (1958) explores the implications of the “Change War,” an endless cosmic struggle in which shadowy antagonists dart in and out of history in a contest to control destiny.
The range of styles—by turns adventurous, satiric, incisive—is as varied as the themes addressed by these novels, all now acknowledged as American classics. Together they mark an explosively entertaining era in modern fiction.
(Synopsis taken from Goodreads.)
While not an elegant title for a book, it is quite accurate. Once you crack it open you find quite a few stories in it. The running time on this book if you are going to read it from cover to cover is quite long. You’re looking at a little over 20 hours of reading, possibly more.
The first story in this collection is Double Star by Robert Heinlein. It follows the life of a has been actor who takes on a role of a lifetime. Quite literally it seems. While slow paced, it has a knack of keeping you interested to find out what happens to ‘The Great Lorenzo’. Overall, the story seems quite credible for science fiction. It keeps away from anything too exotic like light speed travel and all the other staples of sci-fi stories like giant star ships etc. The only thing unrealistic about it is the presence if aliens on Mars, but as this was something written back in the 50’s it’s to be expected seeing as how practically all planets in the solar system were perceived as being inhabited. I give this story in the collection a 4/5.
The second story in this collection is The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester. This covers an alternate history where sometime after man began to colonize other planets in the solar system and the asteroid belt, they discovered how to teleport (jaunt). This has a huge impact on how the world economy works. Cities spring up in unlikely places. Roads are left in disrepair. Telepathy becomes a thing with some people as well. This story focuses on the life of Gully Foyle who is left to die in space only to eventually track down and get his vengeance on those who left him to die. This story is much faster paced than the last one, which was a nice respite. I give this one as well a 4/5.
The third story in this collection is A Case of Conscience by James Blish. This one follows the story of three men contacting an alien race for man for the first time. They aren’t nearly as advanced as man is in some aspects of technology because the planet they evolved on didn’t have enough heavy metals to do much with. But they had managed to develop flight with what was available to them. The three men observe and collect information on the aliens up until they have to leave. Upon leaving they are gifted with one of the alien young to take back to Earth with them. While I enjoyed this story somewhat, it left me wanting more from it I think. I can’t explain what. Anyways, I give this one a 3.5/5.
The fourth story in this collection is WHO? By Algis Budrys. This one follows a cold war scenario with more technology than was available in our history. A man who was thought to have been dead was brought back from Russia, but his identity can’t be confirmed because all his identifying characteristics have been replaced by mechanical items. No teeth, no fingerprints, even his eyes have been replaced. As such, he is under suspicion for the whole rest of his life on whether he is an American or in reality a Russian spy. I also give this one a 3.5/5.
The last story in this long winded collection is The Big Time by Fritz Leiber. It covers something called the Change War. It follows an entertainer who is stuck outside of space and time along with several others. They ostensibly ‘entertain’ time travelers who combat different scenarios in history where things could have gone horribly wrong. To be honest, I thought it was a quite boring story and was just glad to be done with this collection. I give this one a 2/5.
Seth gives American Science Fiction 1956-1958: 3.5/5.
Want to know where to buy this book?
- Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/159853159X/ref=x_gr_w_bb?ie=UTF8&tag=x_gr_w_bb-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=159853159X&SubscriptionId=1MGPYB6YW3HWK55XCGG2
- Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/american-science-fiction-gary-k-wolfe/1111399782?ean=9781598531596&cm_mmc=AFFILIATES-_-Linkshare-_-GwEz7vxblVU-_-10:1
I received this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. Neither Seth nor I were compensated in any way for this review.