12 Followers
43 Following
philfriel

Tales from the Infinite Horizon

The Endless Universes of Space and Time

Berlin, Book 1: City of Stones, by Jason Lutes

Berlin is written and drawn by the extremely talented comics creator Jason Lutes, who also previously brought us Jar of Fools. It is one of the true classics of modern comics, on a par with the "greats" of the medium, such as Art Spiegelman's Maus. So far, there have been nineteen issues out of a projected twenty-four, and two trade paperback collections, taking us up to Issue 12, the half-way point of the story.

 

Berlin: City of Stones is the first of the two trade paperbacks, published by Drawn & Quarterly, and collects the first six issues of the series. The level of attention to realistic detail in this story is remarkable. For history buffs (and the historical accuracy in this series is also spot on), Berlin is set in Germany during the final years of the Weimar Republic (end of the 1920s - start of the 1930s), as things start to go down the tubes, and the various factions (Jews, communists, nationalists, socialists, republicans, First World War veterans, and others) are battling it out in a vicious near-civil war to see who comes out as top dog in this cut-throat grab for power.

 

The narrative details the tragic inability of the German government and society in the chaotic inter-war period to adjust to and sustain their fragile fledgling democracy in the face of determined extremists. Starting in September 1928, the story follows the hopes and struggles of a small group of people, normal everyday folk of various ethnic groups, all trying to live their lives in a turbulent Germany, as the future becomes ever darker and grimmer against a background over which looms the ever-growing menace of Nazism.

 

Lutes always concentrates on the people first, the dreams, hopes, emotions and personal suffering of the average man and woman, the groups and individuals comprising the citizens of the city of Berlin, as their plight grows ever worse. The reader, aware of the dark chapter of history that is about to unfold, cannot help but feel sympathy for the various characters trapped in this ever-worsening situation, amidst all the conflicts, demonstrations, and the rapid, spiralling descent into lawlessness and chaos, as democracy is overthrown and ruthless dictatorship takes over.

 

I've often heard many "enlightened" types criticize the German population, and their inability to see where things were heading. How could they ever let animals like the Nazis come to power and get away with the atrocities that they committed? Were they stupid? Did they not see how things would turn out? It's all too easy for anyone to look back from our cosy vantage point of more than eighty-five years after the events, and ask accusing questions like this. But we weren't there. We didn't live through those dark days. And everyone's a genius in hindsight, right?

 

Berlin: City of Stones is a remarkable piece of work, a perfect example of comics at their best, as both a work of art and "literature". If you want to impress someone who is not a fan of comics (or is positively derogatory about them), you don't hand them Spider-Man, X-Men, Batman or Superman. These people will laugh in your face, as the guys and gals in tights are a particular focus of their ridicule. Instead, you give these people something like Maus or Berlin, or A Jew in Communist Prague, and watch the amazed expressions grow on their faces. This is serious stuff, the comics equivalent of real literature/art, the "real deal".

 

What we don't have here is your typical, silly, mindless superhero crap published by Marvel or DC. If you don't like to tax your mind too much, and that kind of thing is your limit with comics, then Berlin is most likely not for you. This type of graphic storytelling is aimed at readers who prefer comics of a more realistic, intelligent, and serious nature, and who aren't fans of the more juvenile examples of the medium. People who like their reading material to be something a bit more substantial than endless moronic superhero punchfests.

 

And if you're like me, and read all kinds of comics, and like to read something different from mainstream superhero stuff every now and again, Berlin is a perfect change of tone. As a huge history fan, I can't recommend it highly enough. It's easily one of my favourite comic books, ever.

New SF Books - Some Cordwainer Smith Short Fiction Collections (Part 2)

Last time out, I was talking about receiving my first batch of Cordwainer Smith books in the post, and that I was waiting for another batch. Well, the second batch has now arrived, three books. Actually, two separate books, and an extra copy of one of them.

 

The two books are We The Underpeople and When The People Fell, both published by Baen Books. The reason that I have an extra copy of one of them is simple: I ordered both books and didn't realise that they were different editions, different sizes. The original Baen 2007 edition was a trade paperback, and the 2012 edition was a much smaller mass market paperback, so they don't go together too well on the bookshelf. I'd mistakenly ordered one of each, so I had to rectify my mistake, and immediately ordered a copy of the 2007 trade paperback edition of When The People Fell. The smaller mass market paperback edition will serve as a reading copy, while the two trade paperbacks go on the bookshelves. Extra copies never go to waste. :)

 

The good news for hardcore Cordwainer Smith fans, or those just wanting to try him out, is that these two books contain ALL of the science fiction writing of this great author. There's no need to track down any of his other books, unless you're one of those OCD obsessives (like myself), who has to have all the different editions, with the different introductions and different covers.

 

We The Underpeople contains not only an excellent Introduction by Robert Silverberg, but also Smith's only SF novel, NORSTRILIA, and five of his best short stories. When The People Fell contains an equally excellent Introduction by Frederik Pohl, the remaining twenty-two stories in his Instrumentality of Mankind future history sequence, plus six non-Instrumentality stories.

 

That's all of Cordwainer Smith's SF stories in two books. Awesome, truly awesome. And required reading for anyone who considers themselves true, hardcore SF fans. All I can say is: Go get 'em!

New SF Books - Some Cordwainer Smith Short Fiction Collections

I'm back on a book binge at the moment, all sorts of books from Amazon, Ebay and other sources. From the SF lit side of things, I've been concentrating on one of my favourite authors, Cordwainer Smith, and the first batch of four Smith books has recently arrived on my doorstep.

 

The first of the Smith books is the original 1968 Pyramid Books paperback edition of The Underpeople, which is the second half of Smith's only SF novel, NORSTRILIA. The first half was The Planet Buyer, which I already have in it's original Pyramid 1964 paperback edition. I've had the Sphere Books 1975 UK paperback edition of The Underpeople for years, but I wanted the original US Pyramid edition to go with my US original edition of The Planet Buyer.

 

The other three books are interesting in that they are three different editions of the same book, namely The Best of Cordwainer Smith. First we have the July 1975 hardcover Book Club Edition edition, published by Nelson Doubleday Inc, then the September 1975 Ballantine Books 1st paperback edition. Aside from the larger size and different dustcover art of the hardcover edition, everything is exactly the same, except for a couple of things. Two of the stories are reversed in order for some inexplicable reason, and J.J. Pierce's excellent Future History Timeline is in a much easier to read vertical format in the hardcover, whereas in the paperback edition it's in a harder to read horizontal format spanning several levels.

 

The third version of the book is actually a UK edition, trade paperback format, No.10 in the SF Masterworks series, published by Gollancz/Orion. Aside from the larger size and beautiful cover art, the internals of this edition are exactly the same as the Ballantine 1st US paperback edition, including the horizontal format Future History Timeline. This one is worth having for the lovely cover artwork and the fact that it's one of the SF Masterworks series.

 

I've still got several more Cordwainer Smith books due to arrive soon in the post. I'll list those when they arrive.

The Invention That Changed the World by Robert Buderi

I've always been fascinated by history, and in my other (non-SF geek) life I'm actually an historian by profession (I used to be a history teacher, believe it or not). So, for a change, I'm going to recommend not an SF book, but this really fascinating technological history book that I picked up a few years ago, and which has been sitting in my "to read" pile for donkeys ages now. The book is The Invention That Changed the World, written by acclaimed author Robert Buderi. I've at last finally gotten around to digging it out for a proper read, and it's long past time that I did.

                                    

One of the main things that attracted me to this book is the fact that it not only covers World War II (one of my favourite historical periods), but also does so from a perspective that I rarely see in history books. I have to admit that I'm finding it both unusual and refreshing to read a WWII history from a different, technological perspective, rather than a social or military one, which is what you see in the vast majority of history books.

 

World War II and the post-war period has always been one of my favourite historical eras, and I've also always had a fascination for science and technology from any era, past or present. Any book which mixes technology with history has a great chance of being a winner with me. And this one does it in style. So it wouldn't be too far wide of the mark to say that I'm enjoying The Invention That Changed the World, and I'm enjoying it a LOT.

 

The importance and implications of the development of radar and the part it played in the Allied victory during the war simply cannot be stressed enough. It was absolutely pivotal in the victory of the RAF over the Luftwaffe in 1940, and, in the later stages of the war, the non-stop Allied aerial bombing campaign that helped bring Germany to its knees would not have been nearly as effective but for radar, which allowed bombing flights to be continued in all types of weather, day and night.

 

I think that this blurb from the back cover sums it up nicely:

 

'The Invention That Changed the World is a technological thriller better than Tom Clancy's best. It will introduce you to wonderful characters you will never forget. The atomic bomb was a sideshow in World War II compared to radar - and finally Robert Buderi tells the amazing story of radar's invention in the heat of war and its equally amazing elaboration across the years.'
                  RICHARD RHODES

 

'Nuff said. I can't recommend this book highly enough. Go out and get it from your local bookshop or library, right now. You won't regret it.

A MARTIAN ODYSSEY AND OTHERS (1949) by Stanley G. Weinbaum

A Martian Odyssey and Others by Stanley G. Weinbaum

This time out, I'm going to take a brief look at one of the oldest and most valuable SF books in my collection, the earliest collection of short fiction by classic 1930's SF author Stanley G. Weinbaum. I bought this book a long time ago from a UK used book dealer, must've been thirty-five years ago or more, way back when I was just becoming an obsessive book collector for the first time. It actually came as part of Weinbaum two-book set by the same publisher, Fantasy Press, the other book being The Red Peri, another collection of Weinbaum's short fiction, which I'll also be looking at sometime in the future.

 

TITLE: A MARTIAN ODYSSEY AND OTHERS
AUTHOR: Stanley G. Weinbaum
COVER ARTIST: A. J. Donnell
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Single-Author Collection
FORMAT: Hardback (with dustjacket), US 1st Edition, 289 pages
PUBLISHER: Fantasy Press, Reading, Pennsylvania, US, 1949.

 

Contents (12 stories):

 

  • "A Martian Odyssey" (novelette, Wonder Stories, July 1934)
  • "Valley of Dreams" (novelette, Wonder Stories, November 1934)
  • "The Adaptive Ultimate" (novelette, Astounding Stories, November 1935)
  • "The Mad Moon" (novelette, Astounding Stories, December 1935)
  • "The Worlds of If" (short story, Wonder Stories, August 1935)
  • "The Ideal" (novelette, Wonder Stories, September 1935)
  • "The Point of View" (short story, Wonder Stories, February 1936)
  • "Pygmalion's Spectacles" (short story, Wonder Stories, June 1935)
  • "Parasite Planet" (novelette, Astounding Stories, February 1935)
  • "The Lotus Eaters" (novelette, Astounding Stories, April 1935)
  • "The Planet of Doubt" (novelette, Astounding Stories, October 1935)
  • "The Circle of Zero" (short story, Thrilling Wonder Stories, August 1936)

 

This collection is notable for containing Weinbaum's most famous short story, "A Martian Odyssey" and its sequel, "Valley of Dreams". There are also a few other good ones, including "Parasite Planet" and its sequel "The Lotus Eaters", "The Mad Moon", "The Worlds of If" and "The Adaptive Ultimate". "The Adaptive Ultimate" has also been (if you'll pardon the pun) adapted to film, television and radio a number of times over the years.

 

Overall, A Martian Odyssey and Others contains most of the best of Weinbaum's short fiction, and, combined with the eight stories in The Red Peri contains almost all of the short fiction that Weinbaum wrote, with the exception of a handful of stories.

 

The dustjacket is in pretty good condition, considering its age, showcasing some lovely artwork by A. J. Donnell. As an aside, the edition that I have also bears a very interesting hand-written inscription/dedication on the front inside page. The inscription goes as follows:

"FROM SCIENTI-CLAUS 1955
FOR ALF GREGORY'S HG WELLSIANS
IN RESPECT OF THE MEMORY
OF THE GREATEST*
OF THEM ALL.

*HGW: 1886-1946"

It's an extremely sobering thought that, at the publication date of this book (1949), the Great Man (H.G. Wells) had only been dead a mere three years. :(

 

It looks like this book was bought as a Christmas gift for someone, and this dedication is a tribute to a H.G. Wells fan group active in the UK, possibly in the late-1940s and the 1950s. At least that's the assumption that I'm making from this. I know that it's a long shot, as we're talking more than sixty years ago here, and this group may or may not have been anything more than a small local fan group. But does anybody out there have any information on an old UK-based SF/HG Wells fan group by the name of ALF GREGORY'S HG WELLSIANS? If so, I'd be very appreciative if you'd let me know the details.

STORIES FOR TOMORROW (1954) edited by William Sloane

Here's a repost of a posting that I made to my Blogger blog recently.

 

I've got an interesting anthology in front of me at the moment. Actually, I've got two different editions of it, the original US 1st Edition hardback, and the UK 1st Edition hardback, which is slightly different. The US edition first...

 

TITLE: STORIES FOR TOMORROW
EDITED BY: William Sloane
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Anthology
FORMAT: Hardback, 628 pages
PUBLISHER: Funk & Wagnalls, US, 1954

 

CONTENTS LISTING:

 

About This Book by William Sloane

 

PART I: THE HUMAN HEART

 

  • "The Wilderness" by Ray Bradbury (Today, April 6th 1952, revised for Fantasy & Science Fiction, November 1952)
  • "Starbride" by Anthony Boucher (Thrilling Wonder Stories, December 1951)
  • "Second Childhood" by Clifford D. Simak (Galaxy, Feb 1951)
  • "Homeland" by Mari Wolf (first published as "The Statue", If Magazine, January 1953)
  • "Let Nothing You Dismay" by William Sloane (written for this anthology)
  • "A Scent of Sarsaparilla" by Ray Bradbury (Star Science Fiction Stories #1, February 1953

 

PART II: THERE ARE NO EASY ANSWERS

 

  • "The Exile" by Alfred Coppel (Astounding Science Fiction, October 1952)
  • "The Farthest Horizon" by Raymond F. Jones (Astounding Science Fiction, April 1952)
  • "Noise Level" by Raymond F. Jones (Astounding Science Fiction, December 1952)
  • "First Contact" by Murray Leinster (Astounding Science Fiction, May 1945)

 

PART III: SWEAT OF THE BROW

 

  • "Franchise" by Kris Neville (Astounding Science Fiction, February 1951)
  • "In Value Deceived" by H. B. Fyfe (Astounding Science Fiction, November 1950)
  • "Okie" by James Blish (Astounding Science Fiction, April 1950)
  • "Black Eyes and the Daily Grind" by Milton Lesser (If Magazine, March 1952)

 

PART IV: DIFFERENCE WITH DISTINCTION

 

  • "Socrates" by John Christopher (Galaxy, March 1951)
  • "In Hiding" by Wilmar H. Shiras (Astounding Science Fiction, November 1948)
  • "Bettyann" by Kris Neville (reprinted from New Tales of Space & Time, edited by Raymond J. Healey, 1951)

 

PART V: THE TROUBLE WITH PEOPLE IS PEOPLE

 

  • "The Ant and the Eye" by Chad Oliver (Astounding Science Fiction, April 1953)
  • "Beep" by James Blish (Galaxy, February 1954)
  • "And Then There Were None" by Eric Frank RussellAstounding Science Fiction, June 1951)
  • "The Girls from Earth" by Frank M. Robinson (Galaxy, January 1952)

 

PART VI: VISITORS

 

  • "Minister Without Portfolio" by Mildred Clingerman (Fantasy & Science Fiction, Feb 1952)
  • "The Head-Hunters" by Ralph Williams (Astounding Science Fiction, October 1951)
  • "Dune Roller" by Julian May (Astounding Science Fiction, December 1951)
  • "Disguise" by Donald A. Wollheim (Other Worlds Science Stories, February 1953)
  • "The Shed" by E. Everett Evans (Avon SF&F Reader, January 1953)

 

PART VII: THREE EPILOGS

 

  • "The Nine Billion Names of God" by Arthur C. Clarke (Star Science Fiction Stories #1, ed. Frederik Pohl, Ballantine, 1953)
  • "The Forgotten Enemy" by Arthur C. Clarke (King’s College Review, December 1948)
  • "The Answers" [also as “...And the Truth Shall Make You Free”] by Clifford D. Simak (Future, March 1953)

 

This is an ex-library copy, which came without a dustcover, when I bought it from a dealer on Amazon. Otherwise the book itself is in excellent condition.

 

There are a few stories here that I'm familiar with, either being old favourites of mine, or having vague but fond memories of them - all of the stories by Clarke, Bradbury, Simak, Russell, Leinster and Blish. The rest I've either not read at all or read so long ago that I can't remember them. Personal favourites among these are Blish's "Beep", Leinster's "First Contact", Russell's "And Then There Were None", Simak's "Second Childhood", Bradbury's "The Wilderness", Robinson's "The Girls from Earth", and both of the Clarke stories.

 

As I've already said, the UK 1st edition is slightly different to the US edition:

 

TITLE: STORIES FOR TOMORROW
EDITED BY: William Sloane
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Anthology
FORMAT: Hardback, 476 pages
PUBLISHER: Eyre & Spottiswoode, London, 1955.

 

CONTENTS LISTING:

 

About This Book by William Sloane

 

PART I: THE HUMAN HEART

 

  • "The Wilderness" by Ray Bradbury
  • "Starbride" by Anthony Boucher
  • "Homeland" by Mari Wolf
  • "Let Nothing You Dismay" by William Sloane
  • "A Scent of Sarsaparilla" by Ray Bradbury

 

PART II: THERE ARE NO EASY ANSWERS

 

  • "Noise Level" by Raymond F. Jones
  • "First Contact" by Murray Leinster

 

PART III: SWEAT OF THE BROW

 

  • "Franchise" by Kris Neville
  • "In Value Deceived" by H. B. Fyfe
  • "Black Eyes and the Daily Grind" by Milton Lesser

 

PART IV: DIFFERENCE WITH DISTINCTION

 

  • "Socrates" by John Christopher
  • "In Hiding" by Wilmar H. Shiras
  • "Bettyann" by Kris Neville

 

PART V: THE TROUBLE WITH PEOPLE IS PEOPLE

 

  • "The Ant and the Eye" by Chad Oliver
  • "Beep" by James Blish
  • "And Then There Were None" by Eric Frank Russell
  • "The Girls from Earth" by Frank M. Robinson

 

PART VI: VISITORS

 

  • "Minister Without Portfolio" by Mildred Clingerman
  • "The Head-Hunters" by Ralph Williams

 

PART VII: THREE EPILOGS

 

  • "The Nine Billion Names of God" by Arthur C. Clarke
  • "The Forgotten Enemy" by Arthur C. Clarke
  • "The Answers" by Clifford D. Simak

 

As with many anthologies from that period, a number of the stories have been cut from the UK edition that were in the original US edition. There are seven fewer stories, and the UK edition is 152 pages shorter. My UK edition also has a nice dustjacket, although the one on my copy is a bit on the tatty side.

 

Overall, another very interesting anthology. I'm looking forward to working my way through this one.

Merry Christmas, Ho Ho Ho!

It's the very early hours of Christmas morning over here in Ireland, just after 2am. So before I sign off for the night, I'll finish off here by wishing everyone on BookLikes a Very Merry Christmas. Have a great Christmas Day and Boxing Day! :)

 

 

Madame Xanadu Vol. 2: Exodus Noir

Madame Xanadu, Vol. 2: Exodus Noir - Matt Wagner, Michael W. Kaluta

This is the second volume of four collecting the excellent Madame Xanadu series from Vertigo/DC.

 

The writing from Mike Wagner is excellent, as usual. I've liked pretty much everything he's ever done, from Grendel to Mage. And what can be said that hasn't been said before about William Michael Kaluta, one of the all-time greatest artists in the comics biz? This is up to his usual high standard, it's gorgeous and gritty, which definitely suits the noir tone of the story.

 

However (and this may sound like sacrilege, as Kaluta is rightfully considered a supergiant among comics artists), as lovely as the art is, l didn't like it quite as much as I did Amy Reeder Hadley's beautiful art in the first volume. Don't get me wrong, Kaluta's art is gorgeous, but I just have a sneaking preference for Hadley's, which is strange indeed, as she's a newcomer whom I've never come across before (maybe it's because she's new, and I've never seen her stuff before), and Kaluta has always been one of my favourites. Their styles are completely different, but both of them are beautiful, far superior to the average bog-standard comic book art usually found in superhero comics.

 

Overall, Madame Xanadu Vol. 2: Exodus Noir is a very enjoyable read. I've already collected four volumes in trade paperback (I don't think there are any more, which is a great pity), and I'm really liking this series.

 

I'll get around to reviewing the other three at some point. I really should've started with Vol. 1, but this was a random impulse posting, and I was reading it at the time. :)

Before the Golden Age: A Science Fiction Anthology of the 1930's

Before the Golden Age: A Science Fiction Anthology of the 1930s - Isaac Asimov, Edmond Hamilton, Murray Leinster, Raymond Z. Gallun, Stanley G. Weinbaum, Henry Hasse, Leslie F. Stone, John W. Campbell Jr., John D. Clark, Nat Schachner, Ross Rocklynne, Neil R. Jones, S.P. Meek, P. Schuyler Miller, Clifford D. Simak, Charles R. Tanner, J

Isaac Asimov could sure put together a mean anthology, and this has to be one of his best. There are so many great stories in this book that I won't list them all, but my favourite has to be Jack Williamson's classic Wellsian tale "The Moon Era". This is an absolute gem of a story, which featured a complex and sympathetic alien protagonist (the "mother") several years before the first appearance of Tweel, in Stanley G. Weinbaum's classic SF short story "A Martian Odyssey". But, then, Jack Williamson was often ahead of everybody in SF, wasn't he? :)

 

With what seems to be a recent resurgence in popularity of classic Golden Age and pre-Golden Age SF and the growth of specialist SF publishers such as Haffner Press, who concentrate on collectible editions of golden oldie classics from the same era, BEFORE THE GOLDEN AGE is an absolute "must have" for all fans of this kind of SF.

 

This is one of my favourite SF anthologies, EVER. A mammoth hardcover of over a thousand pages, which is broken up into three (sometimes four) books when published in paperback, this book collects some of the best SF stories of the 1930s. Bursting at the seams with nostalgia and sensawunda, I'd recommend this gem of an anthology to all fans of early SF.

 

This huge hardcover, the original edition, is the most desirable for true collectors (and I'm totally thrilled to have it). But if you can't find it (or afford the expense), track down the much cheaper paperback volumes, which seem to be found easily enough on Amazon or Ebay. You won't regret it.