Darker Than You Think

A while back I did a Jack Williamson series and I found a few more related reviews in the archive, so I’m taking a brief detour from the H. P. Lovecraft series.

And I am working on some new material.

Raw Feed (2002): Darker Than You Think, Jack Williamson, 1940, 1948.Darker Than You Think

I originally read this novel because Fortean Miriam de Ford listed it as one of the sf works influenced by Charles Fort.  I see no evidence of that.

Fort is not mentioned or even obliquely alluded to.

I think, amongst other things, Williamson was clearly influenced by the work of Rhine on psychic powers, and the notion that these strange powers (which are mentioned in, partially, Fort’s Wild Talents) may be studied scientifically almost certainly comes from there.

If there is any Charles Fort influence, it may be by way of Eric Frank Russell’s Sinister Barrier.

Both novels were published in John Campbell’s Unknown magazine, Russell’s in 1939, Williamson in 1940.

Both novels feature a broad battle between humans and non-humans, Russell’s Vitons and Williamson’s witch-people, with the evidence of those battles showing up in human psychology and odd events. Continue reading

The Listeners

I’m off working on reviews of new books, so you get old stuff.

The choice was between a review of an economics book or more James Gunn.

I think we can all agree I made the right choice.

Raw Feed (1994): The Listeners, James E. Gunn, 1968.The Listeners

A very good novel especially considering, like most of Gunn’s novels, it is a fix-up with all chapters, except Chapter 5, being published originally as stories. That format works very well for a novel spanning 97 years which deals with the issues of interstellar communication between man and an alien race. Gunn has said that, at least in the short story and novelette form, sf must first stress the primary of idea over character.  Another of Gunn’s critical tenets, that sf is racial fiction, is followed here as the dialogue with an alien race greatly alters human society. There is, in fact, a counterpoint to the idea of communication between sentient races in that most of this book is filled with troubled, failed communication between characters and, each chapter usually concludes with the Project overcoming another hurdle by not only solving interstellar communication puzzles and problems but also communication advanced – or at least instrumental in changing minds – between human minds.
The first chapter has legendary Project director Robert MacDonald failing to recognize the despair of his wife Maria before she attempts suicide. The third chapter has Robert MacDonald convincing Solitarian (a new religion whose central creed is “We are alone.”) leader Jeremiah Jones that the Project is not a theological threat to him and gives him an opportunity to be one of the first to view the first message from the alien Capellans (which he interprets as a haloed angel). Andrew White, protagonist of the fourth chapter and the U.S.’s first black president, can’t understand his son’s disdain for politics, can’t communicate his zeal for maintaining the progress blacks have made in society, that the progress can be reversed, that inequality exists. The fifth chapter has Robert MacDonald and his memories of his failed communications with his now dead father, the Project Director. The chapter concludes with him leaving to read unopened letters from his father.
The larger scope of this book involves two things.

Continue reading

North by 2000+

A retro review from January 8, 2013.

Review: North by 2000+, ed. H. A. Hargreaves, 2012.North by 2000

There are four possible audiences for this collection.

Fans of Hargreaves or admirers of North by 2000 will want this book. It adds four stories to that earlier volume to make it a complete collection of Hargreaves’ science fiction.

Students of Canadian science fiction will definitely want it. As editor Runté notes, North by 2000: A Collection of Canadian Science Fiction, published in 1975, was the first collection of science fiction stories to be explicitly marketed as belonging to a Canadian. In his very useful and interesting afterword, Runté talks about the themes and their implications which set Canadian science fiction apart from that of the British or American variety. Like so many Canadian science fiction writers, Hargreaves was an immigrant – from the Bronx, specifically. He lived and taught literature at a Canadian college and eventually became a Canadian citizen. While Hargreaves submitted stories to the American magazine Analog, its editor, John W. Campbell, never accepted any. All the stories of the original volume were published in British publications, and some of the additional ones first saw light in non-genre Canadian magazines. Runté shows how the Canadian preoccupation with the polar world, national disaster (even if only of the political sort), and alienated outsiders plays out in specific Hargreaves’ stories, stories whose protagonists are often “victims, or losers with occasional wins”.

If you like to read old science fiction, however technologically dated, for insights into the time it was written (here 1963-2011), you’ll probably like this collection. Most share a common world, a future Americanada (which, as Runté notes, could be construed as a national political disaster for a Canadian) administered by vast computer banks, a universal welfare state where people carry their resumes and bank information on AP punch cards aka All Purpose Cards, where penal systems have been greatly modified (including, in one instance, mandatory hockey lessons), people live in Efficiency Living Spaces with fold up furniture, pipelines cross the wilderness and cities are being built in the Arctic waste. Yes, these stories are from that era in science fiction when vast national and international projects were dreamed, central planning and administration was the vogue, and the psychological sciences were thought to be able to solve old and new problems. Continue reading