The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Off The Shelf

Posted on | August 15, 2014 | 13 Comments

— by Wombat-socho

This week we have something old (but repackaged) something new (but also repackaged) and something else new that isn’t repackaged, all from the shelves of the Fairfax County Library. Let’s start with the oldest of the three, A.E. van Vogt’s Transgalactic, which is interesting for a number of reasons. First, van Vogt himself was one of the premier authors of SF’s Golden Age, with classics such as Slan, The World of Null-A, and The Weapon Shops of Isher. Many of these were “fix-up” novels, cobbled together from short stories originally published in Astounding, and Transgalactic inverts that in an interesting way by reprinting the stories that made up Empire of the Atom and The Wizard of Linn as the separate short stories they once were. Harshly criticized by Damon Knight, Empire of the Atom and its sequel are of course riffs on Robert Graves’ classic I, Claudius, except that Clane Linn’s world is a post-apocalyptic “Rome” where atomic science has become a religion, examples of lost technology are everywhere, and the barbaricum is on Mars and Venus. In my opinion, this is the best part of the book; the other two parts – two short novels about men and the extremely lethal ezwal of Carson’s World, and three more from The Mixed Men weren’t nearly as interesting. Still, if you enjoy old-fashioned SF where the Big Idea tends to drown out the plot and the characters now and again, you could do a lot worse than pick up Transgalactic.

Hugh Howey has become one of the authors on the front lines in the current kerfluffle between Amazon and legacy publisher Hachette, and his novel Wool is one of the reasons. Originally rejected by major publishers, Howey published Wool with a small press and then on Kindle Direct Publishing, which is where it took off, selling so well that Simon & Schuster eventually offered him a contract to publish Wool – which he took, but wisely retained the e-publishing rights. The book itself is a fascinating dystopic tale of a city built in what sounds very much like a scaled-up missile silo, with tight controls on behavior and breeding and the ultimate punishment being assigned to “cleaning” – going out into the uninhabitable outer world and cleaning the lenses that give the silo its view of the outside. The wheels start coming off when several people discover that IT has been sabotaging the cleaners’ suits and faking the views of the outside. The first two citizens to find out that IT’s been faking the view -the silo’s Sheriff and his wife – are sentenced to cleaning and die, but the third one, a new Sheriff appointed from the ranks of the maintenance technicians, figures out the sabotage and manages to get a suit prepared that doesn’t break down…and not only refuses to do the cleaning, but manages to make her way to another silo that seems to be abandoned – or wrecked by rebellion. It’s a compelling story, and although Howey paid attention to his readers’ reactions as he was writing, the book definitely doesn’t seem written by committee. I enjoyed it, and I expect you probably will too.

Finally we come to Mark Van Name’s One Jump Ahead. I wasn’t sure what to expect, since my only previous exposure to Van Name’s work had been “A Clear Signal” in the anthology Foreign Legions, and that hadn’t moved me much one way or the other. Still, David Drake seems to think highly of him, so I figured I’d give it a try. It’s about a man (Jon) with the ability to create and coexist with nanobots in his body (something the science in this book holds to be impossible) who comes into possession of a light cybertank with spaceflight capability (Lobo) after taking care of a kidnapping for a corporate exec. While trying get the parts to bring Lobo up to 100%, Jon becomes aware that a bounty’s been placed on his head, and he spends the rest of the novel -in contrast to the title – one jump behind, saved on several occasions by his cybernetic partner and a former comrade he’s hired for the job of snatching the exec he thinks is trying to have him killed. It was an okay novel, definitely passable brain candy, but it didn’t make me want to run right out and grab the sequel.

And if science fiction doesn’t interest you, there’s always this. 😉


13 Responses to “Off The Shelf”

  1. BMG71
    August 15th, 2014 @ 4:13 pm

    Wool was a great read along with the Shift books afterward!

  2. Quartermaster
    August 15th, 2014 @ 4:25 pm

    That last link should have been preceded by “Shameless Plug Warning.” 😛

  3. Wombat_socho
    August 15th, 2014 @ 4:40 pm

    That would be redundant, don’t you think? 😀

  4. JackAfter6
    August 15th, 2014 @ 5:07 pm

    I have a real problem with old sci-fi. At the age of seven my uncle gave me Have Space Suit Will Travel by Robert Heinlein, and I absolutely loved it!
    I’ve been a sci-fi junky ever since. That said, old sci-fi lacks today’s possibilities. FTL starships and lasers are nice, but how—in the age of computers, can you read a book of the far future that doesn’t have computers, sentient robots, etc. Worst of all is sci-fi that’s already been debunked or dated? I.E. life on the moon or mars or dates that have already passed and without those epochal events depicted.
    The [possibly] coming AI singularity is hard for a SCI-FI writer to account for. When humans no longer control the future there’s no way to predict it. I thought Frank Herbert’s work-around was pretty neat. Simply outlaw computer tech. Yeah, see there was this war and humans almost lost it. So now no more robots allowed, etc.
    There’s lots to read at the library but if you haven’t read Dune, WTF!

  5. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    August 15th, 2014 @ 6:31 pm

    Will Smittypalooza also be Wombat’s Beverage and Book Club?

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  7. Wombat_socho
    August 15th, 2014 @ 10:52 pm

    I think you can still enjoy old, dated SF for its plot and characters even though the political and technological context is hopelessly obsolete. To cite just one example (reviewed last week), Frank Herbert’s THE DRAGON IN THE SEA is still a good read even though the Cold War with the Soviet Union never turned into an eternal hot war.

  8. Wombat_socho
    August 15th, 2014 @ 10:52 pm

    If people want to talk about books, I’m willing, but I’m not forcing it on anyone.

  9. richard mcenroe
    August 16th, 2014 @ 2:08 am

    It’s like Wally Wood’s SF comics for EC back in the fifties. His spaceships were all gleaming modernism on the outside and diesel-electric fleet subs on the inside. You loved it anyway.

  10. Wombat_socho
    August 16th, 2014 @ 12:08 pm

    ISTR a clip from the old “Flash Gordon” serials showing somebody in the engine room of Flash’s rocket shoveling coal into the engine. About forty years later, the clip reappeared in a Star Trek blooper reel, and was just as funny.

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  12. richard mcenroe
    August 16th, 2014 @ 6:10 pm

    BTW been reading this book, The Last Falangist, by some guy. Some strong stuff in there.

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