I’ve been reading old science fiction. Not old as in classic, just old as in old.
If I were looking for this stuff I’d go to sci-fi/fantasy specialty book stores, very odd independent stores, chi-chi used book stores. Occasionally I do but more likely, the pulp finds me when it’s discarded in dark alleys, on the clearance shelf of the thrift store, or at the garage sale of the damned. Either I seek it and know not that I do, or it seeks me.
What is it about our science fiction heritage? As an aspiring writer, I feel a pressure to know what’s current in my genre. Yet I’m romantically inspired by an emotionally-degenerate megalomaniacal writers’ cult of decades past. And today’s readers need something new, if we want a new sci-fi golden age or whatever. Given how fast stuff gets forgotten, 1960s sci-fi is hella groundbreaking anew.
I read four old novels lately:
Roadmarks by Roger Zelazny
How is anything by Roger Zelazny not classic just old? I didn’t read just any Roger Zelazny when I was young, I read stuff when a friend said I hafta read this. So his not-so-classic novels got overlooked.
Red, a guy with strange powers, who doesn’t know who he really is, drives a beat-up pick-up truck on a road connecting different times in Earth history, while 10 beings take turns trying to kill him.
One Goodreads critic summed my not-so-classic opinion well. I tried to paraphrase it but gave up:
Amber in miniature. We have a gifted caste who can traverse the multiverse, but the multiverse is smaller — world history plus some alt-history forks… Characters diffidently want to kill each other for no very clearly defined reason, and abruptly stop wanting to kill each other and make equally diffident alliances…There are lots of cool ideas and cool scenes, but they don’t hang together much.
But once I get over it not being so classic, it’s a lot of fun. It’s a bit like “Bill and Ted” even if it wants us to take it a little more seriously; Red travels time and probability and meets all kinds of historical and fantasy tropes: ancient Greece, Babylon, crusaders, dragons, Doc Savage, Marquis de Sade…
Time Traders by Andre Norton
Andre Norton, born Alice, is one of the earliest successful women in science fiction, and Time Traders is one of her early works. She used the name “Andre” to hide her gender, and what’s more intense, Time Traders contains no women characters.
The hero is a mid-tier criminal given a chance to avoid punishment by volunteering for a secret military project. Involving time travel. This project looks for such primal men to function well in Earth’s wild prehistory. The Russians also have time travel, and have been retrieving mysterious artifacts from the past. America must time travel too to put a stop to this and get strange super-objects of our own.
I hope I’m not giving anything away, but check this out: at first I assumed that the Russians had discovered time travel from an archaeological site, and the Americans had stolen the secret. Near the end, I realized that this is not so—while the ray guns and stuff the Russians brought back were a serious concern, why everyone is capable of time travel is never explained. While time travel seems like a more remarkable and dangerous technology than anything they discover, all the cold warriors seem bound by a gentleman’s agreement to avoid changing the past, thus creating paradoxes and making their own existence in doubt.
Yes, this was fun. But rather than fun like in Roadmarks, lighthearted and superficial, I really got into making fun of this for being from 1959. Cold war space race + Outer Limits + Pulp Barbarians/Savages. A good airport read, she wrote five sequels.
So those were both time travel stories. I’m biased against time travel stories. No one has overcome the aspect where anyone can change anything, so you’re omnipotent but so is your enemy. Unless there’s no conflict between time travelers; HG Wells did fine, and the “When I’m 64” passage of “Yellow Submarine” was good.
The next two novels don’t involve time travel, are by more obscure authors, and are hella WEIRD, meant in the best sense.
To Challenge Chaos by Brian Stableford
I found this at “The Book Zoo,” a classic used-book store in Oakland, and shelled out $2 because I try to read anything I find with the word chaos in the title.
The planet Chaos X has a sun-facing side in our universe and a dark side in the parallel universe called Ultra:
“Blackside is in the ultrauniverse where the star ships go to be free of the restrictive laws of physics that determine the time they should spend in their traveling. In ultra the so-called laws are merely irrelevancies. Energy can be created or destroyed; no rules determine its flow. Time is not necessarily unidirectional and not necessarily there at all.”
The guide Julius Watchgod takes seven passengers on his “gondola” that slides on the weird terrain of blackside, each with a special reason to risk madness, slavery or annihilation to meet the insane chaos-ruler King Fury. The main protagonist is Craig Star Gazer:
“Craig Star Gazer wandering the ruined city of Lyrex, looking for beauty and wanting to be loved.”
And for another of the travelers, we see Brian Stableford’s outlandish omniscient narrator perspective:
“Heroines were made to be rescued. Heroines are trite but good theater even now.
For Donna Teredo there was unlikely to be any rescue available. But Donna was a heroine and forever willing to put her faith in the artistry of cosmic injustice. If only the universe had been created by Richard Orpheus… “
Yes, the whole book is written in this flowery, self-parodying prose, but then you get used to it, but… a bunch of weird people go to the weirdest place in the universe, everything there is weird, and then everything is going okay until… something incredibly weird happens! And when they reach their destination, things get really weird!
I like this, and if you’re reading my blog you probably do too.
Silent Galaxy by William Tedford
This is the closest on today’s list to actual pulp. The author has no Wikipedia page, much less so the novel. It is more like To Challenge Chaos than the first two novels in that it does not involve time travel, but invokes utter weirdness!
After Earth is decimated by wars of civilizations, space colonies vie for control of the solar system. An alliance based on the moons of Jupiter controls minerals, while an Earth’s Moon based federation does photosynthetic food.
A Jupiter group pilot crashes on good old Earth, which is inhabited by (1) Throwback tribes people, and (2) cloned women in touch with cosmic consciousness, who want the errant space traveler to be enlightened, so that humanity’s first contact with alien intelligence with be fruitful rather than disastrous. An interesting attribute of these women; they like to have a lot of sex with errant space travelers.
I know what to expect: a union of cosmic opposites creates trans-Terran optimism beyond verbal understanding.
I didn’t know what to expect: that while such optimism is a hard sell, this time I would buy. A lot of anti-matter nonsense leads to a harmonious conclusion and I like it.