Review: The Cosmic Computer, H. Beam Piper, 1963.
Published in 1963 under the far better title Junkyard Planet, this was an expansion of Piper’s “Graveyard of Dreams”. Like Four-Day Planet, it’s a juvenile novel though with a protagonist older than the usual works in that genre. While Piper did not find the writing of it quite as easy as Four-Day Planet, it was a relatively easy process for him and, to his surprise, it sold well as that other novel.
Besides the System States War with the Federation, which John F. Carr in Typewriter Killer sees as an American Civil War analog, the main historical analogy here is the Melanesian cargo cults which sprang up after Allied armed forces left various Pacific islands after the completion of World War Two. (I wonder, before Steven Barnes’ and Larry Niven’s Dream Park, if this is the first use of cargo cults in science fiction.)
The story is set on the planet Poictesme. The planet’s name is an allusion to one of Piper’s favorite authors, James Branch Cabell. (In the story, we’re told that the Surromanticist Movement, which was rediscovering the “romantic writers of the pre-Atomic Era”, named a bunch of planets after literary works.)
The hero is Conn Maxwell, returning to Poictesme after a six-month voyage from Terra where he was at university studying computer science for six years.
Things have changed on Poictesme in his absence. On the penultimate stop at the world’s capital of Storisende, Conn learns there is mass unemployment on the planet, ten men for every job. Gangs armed with shotguns and tommy guns raid merchants coming to pick things up at the spaceport. Some have also taken to piracy like Blackie Perales’ gang which even stole the spaceship Harriet Barne six months ago, and it hasn’t been seen since. The town of Storisende has offered a reward, dead or alive, for pirates in their city limits, and hasn’t been troubled since.
Continue reading →
The look at James Gunn’s Modern Science Fiction: A Critical Analysis continues with “plots of creation”, specifically ones where life is created.
Gunn is no vitalist, so he draws no distinction between “chemical life” and “mechanical life”. The former is based (as far as we know) exclusively on carbon, the former is based on inorganic compounds. Chemical life is “vitalized in the cell; mechanical life is vitalized in the ‘mind’ and power center”.
Of course, the creation of artificial life and seemingly sentient machines has a history before sf. It features in legend and folklore. There’s even a flying brass horse in The Canterbury Tales.
Creating “chemical life” seems more magical, a veritable resurrection of the dead according to Gunn. By doing that, humans assume God-like powers as opposed to creating “mechanical life” which has more the air of supreme artisanship or mechanical skill though, especially when creating machines that seem or are sentient, it can also seem God-like. Continue reading →
Review: Saving the World Through Science Fiction: James Gunn, Writer, Teacher and Scholar, Michael R. Page, 2017.
Before I move on to the inevitable quibbles, let me say that anyone who is a James Gunn fan should buy this book. People who are curious about Gunn and his work should buy this.
Actually, since it’s the first and only book about Gunn, there’s not a lot of choice in the matter anyway.
I’ve long thought, even before starting this blog, that Gunn was an author unjustly neglected and that I should write a series on him. However, while I’ve done some posts on Gunn and read all his novels and most of his shorter works, I didn’t make notes on a lot of them. I’d have to do a lot of rereading and make careful notes.
Page has largely saved me the trouble. He says many of the things I noticed about Gunn. He also says many things I didn’t notice. Continue reading →
Bierce, as mentioned in the first installment in this series, is a Fortean phenomena — not for his art so much as his mysterious death. (I recently learned that science fiction and mystery author Fredric Brown wrote an entire novel on the idea of an “Ambrose Collector”.)
But was Bierce a proto-Fortean, a man who collected oddities?
He did do serious, non-fiction pieces on mysterious matters. Continue reading →