Four-Day Planet

Between “The Answer” and this story, Piper also published “Oomphel in the Sky”.

Review: Four-Day Planet, H. Beam Piper, 1961.

Probably my favorite Piper novel which is somewhat surprising because it’s a juvenile novel published by G. P. Putnam. According to John F. Carr’s Typewriter Killer, Piper was following the example of Andre Norton and Lester del Rey in producing juvenile novels in the wake of the successful Robert A. Heinlein’s juveniles from the same publisher.

Carr notes that it was a relatively painless effort for Piper who wrote it quickly and went through only two drafts as opposed to his usual false starts and frequent revisions. Jack Chalker, in an appreciation of Piper, said it was one of his best works, enjoyable for adults as well as teens. Putnam only edited a few words of “violent action” from Piper’s manuscript. 

The narrator is Walter Boyd, a 17-year-old reporter for his dad’s newspaper (actually written and then wired to several remote teleprinters) on the planet Fenris. 

Fenris is a hellish place where day and night are each 4,000 hours long, and the latter gets cold enough to freeze carbon dioxide out of the air. There are only four days in the planet’s year. The settlement on the planet is now only about 24,000. That’s down 90 percent from the original settlement. It went bust about a 100 years ago when the original Chartered Fenris Company and its mining operation went out of business. The Federation Navy evacuated most of the settlement, but a few people remained behind.

Eventually, a new industry arose—the hunting of large marine beasts, “monsters”, for their “tallow-wax”. That’s a substance of very large molecules (large enough to see in a microscope) which will stop radiation from penetrating anything coated with it. The wax is very inflammable and has its own oxygen, so, once it starts burning, you have to let it burn out. However, it also has a very high ignition temperature. 

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The Dark Beyond the Stars

Over at Science Fiction Ruminations, Joachim Boaz is talking about generation starship stories again.

It’s an interesting theme, one I always intended to read more of.

So, since I’m still working on new reviews, you get this.

Raw Feed (1992): The Dark Beyond the Stars, Frank M. Robinson, 1991. 

Cover by John Harris

Up until the last six paragraphs, I was impressed by how much Robinson got away with in this book. 

He gives us 408 pages of little physical action or violence bolstered with off the shelf sf elements of dubious plausibility:  shadowscreens whose operation is unclear as is how the falsies (virtual reality projections filtered out — not created — by eye masks) work; a centuries old scheme to breed traits of empathy, sensitivity, and nonviolence into a “new” crew (deliberate breeding for personality traits seems barely plausible) [29 years later, I don’t find either of those things improbable]; an obsessed captain whose personality is locked by millennia old “conditioning” (always a pulp favorite — I remember one review of this book emphasizing Robinson’s love of pulp sf and how it show up here); computers that require great manual dexterity to use effectively.

Yet, it moves, it’s thrilling. 

The book reminded me, with its central character of Captain Michael Kusaka, of Jack London’s The Sea Wolf or Herman Melville’s Moby Dick with their mad, obsessed, sometimes violent captains. 

The starship venturing for axons also reminded me of Poul Anderson’s Tau Zero

Robinson gives us a story relying on the quirks and interactions of personalities played (an interesting part is how the recombination of genes through the centuries produces, for Sparrow/Raymond Stone, an echo of previous crew members he’s known) played out (with the case of Stone, Kurasaka, and Thrush) over centuries, long term conspiracies of eugenics and mutiny, the loveliness of being the sole spark of life in the universe, a plausible ship’s culture (lots of sex in this book but it’s not graphic, contrived, or unnecessary), a starship never intended to voyage for longer than 80 years (40 out, 40 back), an Earth vacant of man (very probably, not definitely), the relations of a near immortal to the crew “mayflies”, Sparrow’s discovery of his past lives, constant revelations of intrigue, obsession, and personality. 

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On Pirates

The Tim Powers series continues with a little chapbook from William Ashbless, the shadowy figure who shows up in show many of Tim Powers’ and James Blaylock’s novels.

Raw Feed (2002): On Pirates, William Ashbless, 2001.On Pirates

Introduction“, Tim Powers — William Ashbless is the semi-legendary character originally created by Tim Powers and James Blaylock as a name for some parodies of modern poetry they submitted — and had accepted — to literary magazines. Since then the Romantic Poet Ashbless has shown up in several of Powers’ and Blaylock’s works (and others), most notably in Powers’ The Anubis Gates whose protagonist, Brendan Doyle, starts out as a would be biographer of Ashbless and, via time travel and bodyswitching, actually becomes Ashbless and writes the poet’s work from memory. Here Powers plays with the notion that Doyle aka Ashbless (and this is a supposition only a reader of The Anubis Gates would make) was somehow made immortal and really is the same Ashbless that is the ostensible friend of Powers and Blaylock in the twentieth century, an Ashbless who claims to not just share the name of the poet but be the Romantic Poet. Of course, Powers plays this straight and just mentions the latest disappearance and rumor of death of his friend Ashbless, scribbler and salt-and-pepper shaker collector. He doesn’t bring up the implicit suggestion that Ashbless here might be Ashbless of The Anubis Gates. Powers does describe Ashbless’ work as “crude . . . implausibly motivated, badly-rhymed, defective in craft”.

William Ashbless: A Clarification“, James P. Blaylock — The joke continues as Blaylock, friend of the vanished Ashbless, sets the record straight on Ashbless, who he thinks was too kindly treated by Tim Powers in his preceding “Introduction”. Blaylocks blasts Ashbless’ obvious plagiarism. Ashbless, claiming he’s the famous William Ashbless, claims Coleridge and Matthew Arnold stole from him. Also mentioned is Ashbless’ poverty and failure to repay loans, and the bribery attempts to get Ashbless’ poetry collection a Pulitzer. Blaylock starts his piece with several mingled clichés to good effect. Continue reading