Bill, the Galactic Hero by Harry Harrison
I once met a woman in a bookstore who was in the process of buying Harry Harrison's 1965 classic Bill, the Galactic Hero. She told me that she'd read it many times already, and that it was the funniest book ever. Well, I've never forgotten that conversation, and had long been meaning to ascertain whether or not this woman was right. It took me almost 20 years to get around to this book, but having just finished Bill, the Galactic Hero, I must say that it is very amusing indeed.
In it, we meet Bill (no last name is ever provided), a simple farm lad on Phigerinadon II, who is shanghaied into the galactic emperor's army to fight in the war against the lizardlike Chingers. And what a grueling odyssey Bill goes through before all is said and done! He experiences a boot camp from hell, serves aboard the starship Christine Keeler and is almost killed, gets lost on the plane... Read More
Sandy FerberSandy Ferber is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough’s finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a “misspent youth” of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship — although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century – -and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror… but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle “ferbs54.” Film Forum is Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club….
Bill, the Galactic Hero by Harry Harrison
The House of Souls: The Best of Arthur Machen by Arthur Machen
I had been wanting to check out Arthur Machen's 1906 collection of short stories, entitled The House of Souls, for quite some time; ever since I had read two highly laudatory pieces written about this work and its author. The first was H.P. Lovecraft's comments in his widely referred to essay "Supernatural Horror in Literature," in which he claims "Of living creators of cosmic fear raised to its most artistic pitch, few if any can hope to equal the versatile Arthur Machen." And, in Jones & Newman's excellent overview volume Horror: 100 Best Books, T.E.D. Klein, in his essay on The House... Read More
Some of Your Blood by Theodore Sturgeon
In the 1978 horror movie Martin, writer/director George A. Romero presented us with a young man who enjoys killing people and drinking their blood, but who may or may not be a so-called "vampire"; the film is wonderfully ambiguous all the way down the line on that score. Seventeen years before Martin skulked through the dreary suburbs of Pittsburgh, however, another unconventional vampire was given to the world, in the pages of Theodore Sturgeon's Some of Your Blood. (Actually, an apology may be in order right now, as that last is a bit of a spoiler; the sanguinary habits of the central character of Sturgeon's novel are only revealed toward the story's conclusion. However, seeing that the back cover of the book's current incarnation, the one from Millipede Press, gives away even more spoiler details than this, perhaps I may be excused here.)
Theodore Sturgeon, of course, is a writer... Read More
Invaders from Earth by Robert Silverberg
There is apparently a marked difference in the novels that sci-fi great Robert Silverberg wrote before 1967 and the ones he penned from '67 to eight or nine years after. Those two dozen novels of the 1954-'65 period, it has been said, are well-written, polished, plot-driven tales reminiscent of the pulp era of sci-fi's Golden Age. But after author/editor Frederik Pohl gave Silverberg freedom to write as he chose in '67, a new, more mature, more literate quality entered Silverberg's work, and the two dozen novels that he wrote during this second phase of his career are often cited as his best. Having just completed seven books from this late '60s/mid-'70s period, I was curious to check out one of the author's earlier works, just for comparative purposes.
At random, I selected 1958's Invaders From Earth, Silverberg's... Read More
Deus Irae by Philip K. Dick
Of the 36 science fiction novels, nine mainstream novels, one children's book and over 120 short stories that cult author Philip K. Dick produced before his premature death at age 53, in 1982, only two creations were done in collaboration with another author. The first was 1966's The Ganymede Takeover, which Dick co-wrote with budding writer Ray Nelson. An alien invasion novel that deals with the snakelike telepathic inhabitants of the Jovian moon as well as the Terran rebels who resist them, the novel was marginally successful and remains one of the oddballs of Dick's oeuvre.
In 1976, following Dick's Campbell Award-winning Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said and the release of his mainstream novel Confessions of a Crap Artist, Deus Irae finally saw the light of day. This was a stalled novel of Phil's that had been started a good nine years before and finished ... Read More
Our Friends from Frolix 8 by Philip K. Dick
Unlike Philip K. Dick's previous two novels, 1969's Ubik and 1970's A Maze of Death, his 27th full-length science fiction book, Our Friends From Frolix 8, was not released in a hardcover first edition. Rather, it first saw the light of day, later in 1970, as a 60-cent Ace paperback (no. 64400, for all you collectors out there). And whereas those two previous novels had showcased the author giving his favorite theme — the chimeralike nature of reality — a pretty thorough workout, Our Friends From Frolix 8 impresses the reader as a more "normal" piece of science fiction... although glints of Dickian strangeness do, of course, crop up.
Of all the Dick novels that I have read, Our Friends From Frolix 8 seems most reminiscent of 1964's The Simulacra. Both books feature the downfall of entrenched, duplicitous governmen... Read More
Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick
Despondent over the failure of his fourth marriage and at the same time stimulated to fresh creativity after his first mescaline trip, cult author Philip K. Dick worked on what would be his 29th published science fiction novel, Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said, from March to August 1970. Ultimately released in 1974, an important year in Phil's life (the year of his legendary "pink light" incident), the book went on to win the prestigious John W. Campbell Memorial Award, was nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula Awards, and has been a fan favorite ever since.
Incorporating many of the themes, tropes and obsessions that would later be subsumed under the adjective "phildickian," Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said introduces the reader to Jason Taverner, a popular singer/TV variety show host in the Los Angeles of 1988. It is a typically dystopian Dick future, in whic... Read More
A Maze of Death by Philip K. Dick
In Philip K. Dick's 25th science fiction novel, Ubik, a group of a dozen people is trapped in an increasingly bizarre world, in which objects revert to their previous forms, reality itself is suspect, and the 12 bewildered people slowly crumble to dust, murderously done in, Ten Little Indians style, by an unknown assailant. In his next published novel, A Maze of Death, Dick upped the ante a bit. Here, we find a group of 14 people, seemingly marooned on a very strange planet, while a murderous force picks them off one by one, driving them to madness and homicide. But while the two novels have those elements in common, they are otherwise as different as can be, with different themes and tones. A Maze of Death has been called one of Dick's "darkest" books, whereas Ubik, despite the outré happenings, maintains a comparatively humorous tone throughout.
We Can Build You by Philip K. Dick
Although Philip K. Dick's 28th science fiction novel, We Can Build You, was first published in book form as a 95-cent DAW paperback in July 1972, it had actually been written a good decade before, and first saw the light of day under the title "A. Lincoln, Simulacrum" in the November 1969 and January 1970 issues of Amazing Stories. As revealed by Dick biographer Lawrence Sutin, the book was in part inspired by the centennial of the Civil War and by a simulation of Abraham Lincoln that Phil had recently seen in Disneyland.
In We Can Build You, we meet a pair of businessmen in Ontario, Oregon — Maury Frauenzimmer and (our narrator) Louis Rosen — who sell pianos and electric organs and who are about to branch out into a new line of endeavor: mechanical "simulacra" (think: robots) of various Civil War figures. When their Lincoln and Edwin M. Stanton creations come to the at... Read More
Galactic Pot-Healer by Philip K. Dick
Philip K. Dick's 24th published science fiction novel, the whimsically titled Galactic Pot-Healer, first saw the light of day as a Berkley Medallion paperback in June 1969, with a cover price of 60 cents. It both followed up and preceded two of its author's finest and most beloved works, 1968's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and 1969's Ubik, and if not in the same rarefied league as those two, remains a fine yet mystifying addition to the Dickian canon nevertheless.
In Galactic Pot-Healer, in the dystopian Cleveland of 2046, we meet a depressed individual named Joe Fernwright. A ceramics repairman in a world now largely gone plastic, Joe spends his useless days sitting in a cubicle, waiting for work that never comes and playing retranslated word games via computer with "friends" around the globe (a la the Internet games of today!). Joe's lot is... Read More
The Zap Gun by Philip K. Dick
Cult author Philip K. Dick's 20th published science fiction novel, The Zap Gun, was first released in book form (Pyramid paperback R-1569, with a cover price of 50 cents) in 1967, after having been serialized in the November 1965 and January 1966 issues of Worlds of Tomorrow magazine under the title "Project Plowshare." Phil's previously published book had been The Unteleported Man, later expanded as the largely incomprehensible Lies, Inc., but The Zap Gun is a completely understandable, reader-friendly novel that, as it turns out, is quite a winning satire on the arms race that was indeed so frightening back then.
In Phil's book, it is the year 2004 (OK, maybe he should have made it 2104!), and the two major world powers have reached a detente of sorts in this game of armament one-upmanship. Rather than actually creating weapons, the two sides (Wes-b... Read More
The Penultimate Truth by Philip K. Dick
Philip K. Dick's 11th science fictopm novel, The Penultimate Truth, was originally released in 1964 as a Belmont paperback (no. 92-603, for all you collectors out there) with a staggering cover price of... 50 cents. Written during one of Dick's most furiously prolific periods, it was the first of four novels that he saw published that year alone!
One of his more cynical depictions of a duplicitous U.S. government, the story involves yet another one of the author's post-atomic holocaust futures. Here, it is the year 2025, and the bulk of mankind lives underground in protective "cubbies," while a pitched atomic war is fought on the surface by the "leadies" (robots) of the opposing sides. What is actually happening, however (and this is not a spoiler; it is revealed in the novel's opening chapters), is that the war has been over for a full 13 years, and the government in charge — via Agency... Read More
The World Jones Made by Philip K. Dick
By 1956, the sensation of seeing his name in print was not a new one for author Philip K. Dick. Between 1952 and 1955, he had placed around 75 (!) short stories in the various science fiction magazines and digests of the day, and in 1955 his first novel, Solar Lottery, saw its first publication. That novel appeared in one of those cute little "Ace doubles" (D-103, for all you collectors out there), backed with Leigh Brackett's The Big Jump. The book sold passably well, Dick later wrote; around 150,000 copies' worth. (Today, that 35-cent paperback is likely to fetch 70 times its original price.)
Dick's follow-up novel came the next year, and that novel, The World Jones Made, also initially appeared as an Ace double (D-150), paired with Margaret St. Clair's Agent of the Unknown. Dick's second full-length work finds the future Hugo winner already displ... Read More
Clans of the Alphane Moon by Philip K. Dick
Clans of the Alphane Moon was one of six books that science fiction cult author Philip K. Dick saw published in the years 1964 and 1965. Released in 1964 as a 40-cent Ace paperback (F-309, for all you collectors out there), it was his 14th science fiction novel since 1955. This period in the mid-'60s was a time of near hyperactivity for the author. Under the influence of prescription uppers (like one of Clans of the Alphane Moon 's central characters, Chuck Rittersdorf, who takes extraterrestrial "thalamic stimulants of the hexo-amphetamine class" in order to work two jobs), his output during that time was both prodigious and wildly imaginative. Clans of the Alphane Moon, although it may be accused of being underdeveloped and shows signs of being hastily written, IS nevertheless as fun as can be, and a really wild ride.
In the book, we are introduced to some... Read More
Solar Lottery by Philip K. Dick
Although the Philip K. Dick novel Solar Lottery is correctly cited as being the writer's first full-length piece of fiction to see the light of day, it was hardly the first time the budding author saw his name in print. The 26-year-old Dick had already seen some 35 short science fiction stories published between 1952 and 1953, beginning with his first sale, "Beyond Lies the Wub," in the July 1952 issue of Planet Stories; he would see 27 stories go into print in 1953 alone! In addition, Dick, who only turned to science fiction when his several mainstream novels remained unpublished, had no less than four such works languishing in his files at home by 1955, including Gather Yourselves Together (written in 1949) and Voices From the Street (1952), not to mention his fantasy novel A Glass of Darkness (released in 1956 as The Cosmic Puppets).
... Read More