“These novels testify to the extraordinary range, profound intelligence, and indefatigable weirdness of ’50s American science fiction. A must-have for anyone interested in one of the most vital periods of our literature and for anyone who wants a wild wild tumble down the rabbit hole.”—Junot Díaz
Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth, The Space Merchants
Theodore Sturgeon, More Than Human
Leigh Brackett, The Long Tomorrow
Richard Matheson, The Shrinking Man
Robert A. Heinlein, Double Star
Alfred Bester, The Stars My Destination
James Blish, A Case of Conscience
Algis Budrys, Who?
Fritz Leiber, The Big Time
Although you have to wait for the books, you don’t have to wait for LOA’s online companion to same. Gary Wolfe has curated a wonderful set of bonus materials, including audio and video snippters (interviews of the authors, broadcasts) for each novel–including short appreciations by living writers: William Gibson, Kit Reed, Tim Powers, Michael Dirda, Connie Willis, Peter Straub, James Morrow, Neil Gaiman, and me.
My piece is about Leigh Brackett. Those who have been reading this blog for a while know I also wrote the introduction to her Sword of Rhiannon. The more I learn about her and her work, the more I wish I could have met her. (As soon as I post this I’ll be listening to her hour-long interview, recorded in 1975.) So I was delighted to have the excuse to reread, and then reread again more thoroughly, The Long Tomorrow. As a result, it wouldn’t shock me to discover that this novel was a formative influence on the young Carl Sagan. Go read the piece to find out why.
I might have to buy this set. It’s a hell of a collection–and I’m not sure I’ve ever read the Heinlein…
16 thoughts on “The indefatigable weirdness of ’50s American science fiction”
Double Star is Heinlein's take on the Prisoner of Zenda.
I love The Long Tomorrow, and the Space Merchants is an interesting read at a time when Mad Men is playing on television.
I have all of these already. Worth the money if you are thinking about them and like old sf.
The Space Merchants is almost timeless – I had no idea it wasn't written in the late 80s.
Then I most definitely have to read it. I can't imagine how it slipped through my reading net. But, hey, cool, something to look forward to.
I am. I do.
Good books are like that–but it's rare to find 'timeless' sf, yes.
As told by Bob Silverberg. I paraphrase:
Bob, Harlan Ellison, Leigh Brackett, and Edmond Hamilton (Hamilton was also a successful writer and married to Brackett) are dining. This was when Barry Goldwater was running for President. Goldwater described his constituency as “Little Old Ladies in Tennis Shoes.” So Bob relates that Harlan, who adored Leigh, went on a liberal political rant. In the middle of it, Leigh stopped the young writer and said, “Harlan, I’m one of those little old ladies in tennis shoes.” Harlan stopped talking.
Harlan stopped talking?? Wow. Brackett had powers other than writing…
Sounds like a great collection. If you've never read Heinlein, then you've treats from the past waiting for you.
Oh, I've read Heinlein, just not that one.
The Stars My Destination was very nearly the first piece of sci-fi I read, about 45 years ago, when I was 10 or so. I don't think I ever got over the experience.
I'm not sure I could have read that book at age 10. But if I had, I'm pretty sure I'd be a different person. I am who I am based to a stunning degree on what stories I've read and lived in.
Reading this post made me get out Double Star and read it again. I have an old Signet paperback copy, and I'll be glad to get a good L of A edition, though I'm not happy with their recent tendency to put out volumes in the series in different, less appealing bindings and formats: the Joe Brainard, for example, or the collection of movie criticism.
Double Star still seems to me one of Heinlein's best, certainly his best non-juvenile. I first read it as a young adolescent, and was put off at first by the noirish feel of its opening chapters; now I see that as one of its virtues. It sort of straddles the line between the juveniles and his later adult-ish books in its sexual politics. I found its account of the life of a working politician fascinating, and still do; it's a good book to read in an election year. (Heinlein wrote a book on how to do politics that was only published posthumously; he had some experience in that area, though little success.)
One thing that struck me on this reading, aside from the giggle-making references to slide rules (still must-haves in the 22nd century!), was how off his politician's speechifying was. Like his show-business vocabulary, it comes (I think) from the 1920s or 1930s. I wasn't as inspired by Bonforte's high ideals as I was supposed to be, but the book is still a good read. Let us know what you think when you get to it.
That's an intriguing and thoughtful precis. Thank you.
That's an interesting point. I didn't read Lord of the Rings, for example, until I was 50. Compare my niece, whose parents read it aloud to her repeatedly, and who has read it on her own numerous times. I'm often reading books now that I “should” have read earlier, but I find I'm usually content to be reading them now. I think I appreciated LOTR as a 50 year old in ways that I couldn't if I'd read it in my teens. I tend to trust my sense of the right time to read a given book. The flip side of your good observation is that the person I am chooses the stories I read and live in, and I choose those I need to be the person I am.
One of the things I enjoy about great books ('great' to me) is how they change as we change. I get entirely different things from reading LotR today than I did reading it when I was 11. Yet that first reading still echoes through and informs today's reading. Delicious.
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