Month: May 2016

High Vacuum

High Vacuum

“High Vacuum” – C. E. Maine; Ballantine, 1957

“It could happen! A taut, authentic tale of tomorrow’s headlines.” – the tagline on the front cover of my 1957 Ballantine Books edition of High Vacuum by Charles Eric Maine (1921 – 1981).  The cover art is by Richard Powers.  This entire novel is about a lunar landing by a developing space program. The first manned lunar landing (Cp. Armstrong and Aldrin – Apollo 11) was in 1969, but the first spacecraft to reach the moon was in 1959 (the CCCP “Lunik 2” craft).  My parents were alive quite prior to there being any sort of lunar landing. I have never lived in such a time. I have met Sen. John Glenn, who is (at the time of this entry) ninety-four years old. Space flight/lunar landings have never not been (peripherally) a part of my existence.

So, it is interesting from a sociological perspective to imagine what it was like to witness major milestones (……a heavily terrestrial word for something relating to the words “space flight”…..) in astronautics.  As the tagline of this 1957 novel says: “It could happen!” – which I take to mean, both a manned lunar landing and the way that landing plays out.  But having been published in 1957, it is right on the cusp of some big milestones and so that tagline might not have seemed so far fetched.

Alpha rocket and its four official crew-members experience Moonwreck.  So, unlike the Apollo 11 event, this mission is considered a failure.  The rocket carrying the crew crashes on the moon. The novel begins (the very first sentence, indeed) with the crew regaining consciousness after the crash.

He remembered now the long deceleration through space toward the eroded silver mass of the moon, and Caird’s increasing uneasiness as the fuel meters ticked off the tons, and the flashing of the servomechanism pilot lamps as the rocket responded to the precise indications of the radar altimeter, and above all he remembered the sudden quivering silence as all the jets cut out together while the Alpha was still more than a quarter of a mile above the lunar surface; then the brief, too brief, fall through space, uncontrolled and uncontrollable, the last moment rush to check pressure suits and adjust helmets……… pg. 3

Well, it is only a little spoiler when I say that, as hinted at in the above excerpt, Alpha rocket ran out of gas. Further, the crash-damage was extensive enough to change the mission from one of exploration, experimentation, construction into one of survival. Unsurprisingly, there are further complications:  all of the crew did not survive the crash and the Alpha rocket also landed in a lethally radioactive crater. According to the Ministry of Astronautics handbook, memorized by the crew:  “Vacuum is the first and last enemy of the astronaut.  Every aspect of the problem of survival in space devolves from this basic consideration.”  Hence the novel’s title.

The science of the novel is not always the best. Some of this can be excused simply because it pre-dates actual lunar landings and activity. However, it should be noted that the author himself was a pilot and probably possessed at least a rudimentary understanding of aeronautics. Generally, I feel like the science was tolerable (again, this is not a scientific treatise on astronautics), but in many places the general logical/reasonability level was off-kilter.

The storyline focuses on the need to reduce time spent in the radioactive zone and on acquiring/keeping oxygen. Basically, the crew is left to constantly wear their spacesuits, which have removable-replaceable oxygen tanks.  The only time the crew can remove their enclosures is when they are in the Alpha rocket’s cabin, where they have created a sealed non-vacuum.  It is in here where the astronauts relieve themselves and take nutrition.

Very early on in the novel I disliked almost all of the characters. For one thing, they are all trained under the Ministry of Astronautics, but they seem to be lacking in a lot of skills. And not just skills, but actual psychological characteristics.  The commander of the mission is level-headed, but he also seems the most whimsical and wandering.  Patterson is an absolutely miserable character.  He is the source of what I think is the worst element of the storyline. There are other characters that exhibit similar distasteful psychologies.

To me, speaking in a world in which manned lunar landings are not unheard of, the crew of Alpha rocket is too ornery and difficult to be on this mission.  Would a space program assemble a team that does not completely work together without friction?  Would not teamwork and coordination be among the highest regarded attributes for a team trying to land on a different celestial body? Further, Patterson has a bizarre personality and through the course of the story, various amoral/immoral tendencies present themselves. However, Patterson is also the only crew-member that seems capable of any mechanical or technical knowledge and skill.

I would think that on a team that was landing on the moon, because there is limited number of persons, each member would be highly trained in a multitude of skills and areas of interest.  I really felt that the survivors were narrowly trained or that they lacked basic engineering skills. Each crewman can quote the Handbook, but they are not cross-trained on radar or communications?

I suppose Caird is the character I most liked. I really did appreciate his efforts to keep the crew united and focused. I also really appreciated his efforts to at least provide some value to the mission by doing a limited amount of research and exploration. I like that he had the foresight to keep a logbook.  However, he failed at being a good leader because he failed to truly understand the crew under him. His end is due to his abundance of trust.

Overall, the story involves a lot of traipsing around a section of the moon and jockeying for possession of the oxygen tanks.  There is some concern about lunar night and radiation poisoning, but the story is driven by the concept of a vacuum.  To me it seems like this crew did a lot better than they should have based on their lack of knowledge and the challenges faced. So, the novel has an unevenness to it.

Some of the scientific validity and technical scope of the novel could be mitigated if the author chose to focus on the psychological scenario of the survival attempt.  Letting readers watch the changes and adaptions of the crew as they undergo the various trials of the event would have been interesting.  After all, being the first humans on the moon lends itself to an eerie and abstractness.  This, the author did do well.  I admit I liked his presentation of the setting – he describes the moon and the terrain effectively.  It is not over-written in purple-prose, nor is the writing empty and vague.  Very functional and it probably could have been expanded even more.  For example, when Maine describes the difficulty the crew has with sleeping in their spacesuits, I really did imagine it to be difficult and miserable.

The storyline is fairly well-paced, but the imbalance between the characters’ skills and the challenges seems too much.  Also, I truly hate the particular “crime” Patterson commits. But there is a lot to like about the concept of this novel.  Though the ending is ridiculous and the outcome rather quite unlikely, I guess it is a valid imagining of a lunar landing.  And we cannot go back to 1957; we cannot return to a time when manned lunar landing was un-happened. Authors cannot really rewrite this story without at least some influence of knowledge of lunar landings.  It did not happen like this, thankfully.

2 stars

One Step From Earth

One Step From EarthOne Step From Earth is a collection of vignettes by Harry Harrison and published in 1970.  The collection presents a possible timeline in human history that follows the development of “matter transmission” technology.  I read the Macmillan hardback edition with cover art by Carl Titolo.

Harry Harrison (1925 – 2012) is known for his Stainless Steel Rat and Bill, The Galactic Hero series. He was a fairly prolific writer – besides his own works, he wrote many reviews and essays as-well-as editing a number of anthologies. The only other item that I have read by Harrison is The Stainless Steel Rat (1961), which I rather enjoyed. In contrast to the SSR novels, this collection is more serious-minded and was better than I expected it to be.

I admit that I was skeptical of this endeavor by Harrison. I might have been suspicious because I was thinking that such a collection of stories would be very forced and heavy-handed. All of the stories are on “matter transmission,” so I did wonder how much interesting stuff could be plumbed from this topic. One always hopes the authors are creative and insightful, but there is always the worry that the stories will be awfully boring and tedious. Or, worse, that the stories are more like “etudes” and practice-writing than fully developed pieces. After all, anything can be a writing prompt, but very little of what gets written is quality.

Luckily, all of these stories are decent enough works. Overall, the entire collection ends up with an average feel to it. I gave the whole thing three stars.  However, there are several stories that rated a bit higher because they were well done. Nothing here is something extraordinary or vastly superior to the great stock of science fiction writing, but there was not a story that was so wretched that it tanked the whole group. This ended up being a great read for mellow evenings. So, no pulse-pounding, action-thriller, pulp pandemonium here!

  • Introduction: The Matter Transmitter (essay)
  • One Step from Earth – (1970) – 3 stars
  • Pressure – (1969) – 4 stars
  • No War, or Battle’s Sound – (1968) – 3 stars
  • Wife to the Lord – (1970) – 2 stars
  • Waiting Place – (1968) – 4 stars
  • The Life Preservers – (1970) – 3 stars
  • From Fanaticism, or for Reward – (1969) – 2 stars
  • Heavy Duty – (1970) – 2 stars
  • A Tale of the Ending – (1970) – 4 stars

As expected, the vignettes here are glimpses into the usage of the matter transmitter technology.  Naturally, I assumed Harrison would try to present a variety of aspects of the technology, and Harrison did do this, but I feel there were also many other points of view that could have been used for even more stories. The ones here are decent and do present a variety so that the reader does not feel like the same story is being retold. The introductory essay is good enough, letting the reader understand some of the purpose behind this collection.

Most MT stories have been of this fun-and-games variety, all involved with building the machine and seeing what it does to the first victims who are fed therein.  All of which can be very interesting, but is by no means a complete picture of the possibilities of MT.  Let us think ahead a bit.  If we can imagine an operating MT we can certainly consider the possibility of the widespread use of MTs.  If the machine works it can be made to work cheaper and better and soon we might be using MTs the same way we use telephones now.

But what is the effect on man and his institutions when this happens? – pg. x

Well, what Harrison refers to as MT is something very like a portal in a videogame that allows the player to “zone” to a new area. Where have we seen things like this? Sliders TV show (1995 – 2000), portals in EverQuestII and in World of Warcraft, Nether portals in Minecraft, etc.  But most obviously, we are all thinking of the transporter in Star Trek, which is the one example I have listed here that predates this collection by Harrison. It is 2016 and so we (particularly looking at pop culture and entertainment) are so familiar with MT that it really does not impress us at all. But in 1970, this would be a far more interesting subject to ponder. And, yes, Harrison’s MTs do not operate like Star Trek‘s (this is not a molecular dissolution via energy source, but rather like doorways Cp. Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series).

All of this background stated, I do not think that Harrison really does present the effect on mankind and his institutions. Maybe just peripherally, but not to the depth or with the facets that a scientifically/philosophically-minded reader would want from such an investigation.  In the end, most of these stories are more on the superficial side of that investigation, instead of giving a deep examination of repercussions and reactions. Still, let us also recognize that Harrison is writing fiction – meant to entertain, so it is probably a good thing that we are left with entertaining stories that are not desperately boring, which is how scientific investigations could have turned out.

Anyway, it is no sweat or work to get through this comfortable-reading collection.  The couple of slips are the stories I gave two stars. Those pieces were ones that I felt just did not carry enough purpose or value. The three stories that I rated four stars are really the ones readers should focus on, but there really should not be any challenge to just reading all of the collection regardless. I liked the setting of Pressure the best and while I feel it is not the most realistic set-up for the story, the setting is exciting enough to carry it through. Plus, Harrison gives props to Yuri Gagarin (hero!). The overarching setting is the planet Saturn (a far under-used planet in science fiction, in my opinion).  Another disturbing element of this story is the cigarette smoking, which, by 1970, Harrison should have known not to include here.

The story A Tale of The Ending was one I was very worried about. It takes place (as one can surmise on its place in the contents) in the far, far, very super-far future. Obviously, it takes a vast imagination and good writing skill to pull off any kind of story that takes place so far in the future. Generally, writers who attempt such settings usually fail and their stories seem either straight out of an LSD-trip or cannot maintain the futuristic-ness of their original insight. So, I must admit I was really surprised that this one came out so very nicely done. I like the little hints of academic fields, I liked the hints of communication protocol, and overall, I liked the characters – for as short a time as I got to know them.

In some stories (e.g. One Step From Earth) Harrison puts a lot of the story’s weight on the actual MT. In other stories (e.g. Wife to the Lord) the MT is in the background as a foundation element, but not highlighted. Overall this balance holds throughout the collection. Sure, the stories are about the MT, but not always an MT crammed in our face. A gentle, mellow read; above pulp, below “hard scifi.”

3 stars


The Lotus Caves

The Lotus Caves

“The Lotus Caves” – John Christopher; Collier, 1974

The Lotus Caves by John Christopher (1922 – 2012) is a “stand-alone” novel published in 1969.  Christopher (the pen-name of Sam Youd) is generally known for writing a young-adult science fiction series The Tripods and for his adult science fiction novel The Death of Grass (1956).  The Lotus Caves is the first piece I have read by Christopher and I am somewhat saddened that I did not get to read this novel about forty-years ago. I think I would really have enjoyed this one as a young reader.  Anyway, this week I read the 1974 Collier/Macmillan edition of the novel of 214 pages.

I have struggled for some time to find the precise way of explaining how I feel regarding young adult and/or juvenile fiction. I think this book jarred some cells around in my brain and I am able to give a little bit of a better explanation after having read it. So, contemporary publishing is mass-barfing what is known as “young-adult” fiction – and I have said before that I am not entirely sure who is buying and/or reading it. I have mixed feelings, generally, on the matter.  I do suspect that many readers believe that “young-adult” fiction is something new to the fiction world; that this genre has just been created, as it were, in the last ten years or so.

There is an element of truth to that. It my estimation, contemporary “young-adult” fiction is new – because this version of it has morphed considerably from what it used to be. It seems to me that juvenile fiction (so, somewhere between Hardy Boys and Dune) used to be different – and here is where I often fail at description. Let me posit Hal Clement’s Needle and this Christopher novel as two examples of older juvenile fiction. Immediately, I will share that I think these two are qualitatively, markedly better (???? in what way???) reading than contemporary examples.

The striking difference for me is that contemporary novels are cacophonous.  They are very loud, busy, overwhelmingly relying on dialog, and hectic.  I think that there was an understanding, in the 1950s and 1960s, that juvenile fiction was made so because the authors pared down the writing. This is key – they pared down the novel in ways that made it a more simple read, but not simplistic. Also, the authors did not idiotize the story.

The Lotus Caves is actually a rather meaty story. There are all sorts of dimensions a reader could explore here and the depth of the novel is also quite surprising.  For a pared down juvenile novel of a mere 214 pages, this book has all kinds of worthwhile, thought-provoking ideas.  It is not an action-thriller, it does not bludgeon the reader with “the moral” or “the key concept.”  It does not have teenage angst, though it does have relevancy for young-adult readers. Frankly, this ought to be mandatory reading for aspiring young-adult fiction authors.

The story takes place entirely on the Moon – there is a human colony there that lives in a domed structure called the Bubble.  The main character is Marty and the story begins with us learning that Marty’s best friend, Paul, is absent because he is being sent back to Earth.  In this iteration of lunar colony, transportation and resources are quite realistic.  Supplies and transit do not occur often or quickly and everything about the colony is conserved, reserved, and guarded.  Life without Paul is something that Marty must quickly adapt to and this leads to his new friendship with Steve.  Steve is something of an anomaly in the Bubble because he is an orphan.  Is he a “troubled youth”? The stodgy adults of the Bubble might consider Steve to be a bit of a rebel, though, in all honesty, Steve is a normal kid.

(We meet Steve as he is sitting in a library writing a pirate novel………..)

There is a lot that can be appreciated about Marty’s reaction to all of these things. How he reacts to Paul’s departure and how the adults react to his friendship with Steve. This is not some emo, drippy novel, though.  Christopher very nicely presents the story and the reader is left to sympathize with characters as they choose without being forced into grinding along some trope/stereotype.

Well, one of the main challenges with living in the Bubble is dealing with boredom. Events and choices lead Steve and Marty to leaving the Bubble on-board a “crawler” (a moon surface vehicle that utilizes tracks). Steve and Marty go exploring without the permission of the authorities.  One of the most important features of the story is that Steve and Marty are not just stupid kids who act impulsively and randomly.  Both Steve and Marty think and talk things through – the act of choice-making is highly relevant in this novel.

Eventually, the fellows find themselves in caves wherein they discover sentient alien life – in the form of flora. It is not native to the moon (or Earth), but it has been on the moon for a long time. The trouble is, Marty and Steve’s crawler crashed through the surface of the moon and fell into these caves where the plant dwells.  So, the characters must cope with being stuck in an unfamiliar place with an alien lifeform. Notably, both Steve and Marty are brave; reading along with their adventures would have been quite gripping, I think, when I was a youth. I like how they think about things before they take action, I like how they are brave – acting even when they are terrified. Anyway, it is Marty who gives the title to the novel, really, when he refers to the lotus-eaters of Greek mythology (Cp. Odyssey).

They tried to work out the mechanism of the raft’s motion but got nowhere.  It was at least comforting to talk in objective terms, as a means of forgetting the strangeness of the journey. -pg. 150

If you have ever been frightened before, you know this process, too.

Overall, I like that the story has so much depth, but without an expanded page count. There is not a whole backstory to learn while having to keep an eye on an entire galaxy.  This is one event that occurs and in a contained setting. I like the characters because they explore the moon while they explore the virtues/vices of willfulness, stubbornness, determination, leadership.  Now, there is a touch of melancholy in this novel, but I think that aids in keeping it serious and thoughtful.  This is not some goofy comical story garbaging up young minds.

4 stars



“Shield” – P. Anderson; Berkley, 1963; cover: R. Powers

Shield by Poul Anderson was first published in novel form in 1963. I read the edition with the neat Richard Powers artwork. I like Powers’ interpretation of the shield (ink spots and lines) with the “figures” inside. Typical awesome. So, as I mentioned, this story is from 1963, I actually decided to read something more recent than the usual 1950s fare I have been reviewing.

I have previously read a couple of other things by Anderson.  I associate him with NOT-FUN. I mean, he is definitely an ideas man and he sure does have a pile of intelligence, but the novels that I have read thus far were drained of their fun like a carcass hanging from a slaughterhouse beam. Honestly, I have felt that Anderson should have stopped playing with science fiction and just settled into write articles and papers on his political/sociological opinions. Because, I believe, science fiction should be scientific, futuristic, exploratory, questioning, wondering, and imaginative….but it should also still maintain some core of entertainment value. It should give the reader something more than just a shell for diatribes and rants. The previous novels I read by Anderson were lacking in fun. They were such bores….

However, Shield is a very well written novel.  Finally, Anderson is able to write a fun/entertaining story that is nuanced and focused and interconnected AND contains some of his best trademark political/sociological discussions.  Indeed, this would definitely make a good movie for some enterprising politically-minded producer. Now, I will not say that this was just overflowing with fun, but compared to his other novels, this one seemed like Anderson remembered that he was writing a novel throughout the novel.

Sidebar:  I am one of those cantankerous Aristotelians, so my mind sharply searches for the “end.” I think this has some bearing on my general dislike toward “agenda fiction” (as I call it). Sure, there are a couple of exceptions in which “agenda fiction” is successful, but overall, I find it suspicious. Surely, this has colored my opinion when it comes to novels that have a hugely obvious “political” content wedged into their plotlines. If the sole purpose of a novel is didactic or prosthelytizing, I will call the author out. Entertain me, first. End Sidebar.

All of that being said, the key point here is that this is a polished novel containing a variety of facets that all work together. Good things include:  the novel is not overly lengthy.  At 158 pages in my edition, the story is contained, resolved, and packaged nicely. No abominable page count here.  Another item:  the influences of the Martians/Mars expedition is meaningful to the story, but does not weigh it down with either undue adoration for itself or rampant xenophobia. It is entirely balanced and it connects very well with the plot generally.

An example of this Martian element is in chapter 9 wherein the main character utilizes the communication he learned on the Mars expedition to subvert the machinations of the opponents. Very nicely written chapter.

The entirety of the novel is based on a single piece of technology referred to as a “barrier” or “shield.”  Basically, it was developed by the main character and Martians. There is a somewhat unwieldy generator box that is sometimes worn via harness. This generator produces a “field” that creates a barrier around the generator box. This field can be enlarged as needed and it is, more or less, indestructible – although not completely so. (Certain types of things can get through, however bullets and sound cannot.) This is fun tech and is used well in the storyline.  It is also the basis for Anderson’s political discussion because he contextualizes this piece of technology in a world in which “national security” is all the rage.

Chapters eleven through seventeen are mightily political.  Anderson has some really intensely developed discussions on politics going on in these chapters. Some of his famous “libertarianism” is included, of course. But he also examines things like national defense, international cooperation, economics, and egalitarianism. The discussions include brief shots at rebellion/revolution, method and result, and concerns about weapon proliferation and oversight.  In the world in which this novel takes place, the Earth has already seen much nuclear destruction and the USA is strongly positioned as a “watchdog.” Anderson’s one failing is his absolute panic regarding China. I do not wish to delve into politics on this blog, but it can be said that in this novel Anderson does present a variety of arguments that are relatively well thought out and actually are integral to the storyline, as opposed to being tacked on without subtlety or care.

Not that any of the above is insufficient for a novel, but there is one other element that readers will focus on.  The female lead character, Vivienne, is an enigma. Let us all admit that in the past women characters were not always treated kindly. Most of the time they are plastic, bizarre, and stereotyped. They are sex objects or “motives” for the heroic male. Female characters were never:  scientists, independent, thoughtful, or brave. Now, I am not saying that Vivienne is the best female character of all time. (Anderson introduces her as a quadroon, for heaven’s sake! Sheesh!)  Still she is such an anomaly for the 1950s/1960s science fiction female character set that she is becomes enigmatic and surprising. Maybe, and this is only my speculation here, Vivienne is such an enigma because she is not a forced character – she seems almost natural or “real.” Some of the “strong female lead” examples tend to be so strong that they are overpoweringly extreme. In Shield, Vivienne (and her history) is so surprising that she really is the star of the novel. (I must insert here that the last chapter totally surprised me. I expect it will surprise no one else….)

Anyway, this is a very good novel. It has an inviting level of action-thriller in it that balances the political/sociology. The characters are not complete rubbish and the page count is reasonable. It may not be the masterpiece of all science fiction, but it definitely earns four stars in my rating.

4 stars

Search the Sky

search the skySearch the Sky is a jointly-authored novel by C. M. Kornbluth and Frederik Pohl.  I am not a very big fan of Pohl’s writing, so at the outset, I  was probably not giving a totally fair shot to the novel.  It was published in 1954.  I read the paperback version with Richard Powers artwork. I bought my copy for a $1 at a local book hovel.

Well, overall I do not think this is a very good novel. The book really takes some time to get started; I feel like the first three chapters are very much spinning their wheels and not really directed anywhere specific. The reader is introduced to the main character, Ross, and his restlessness and struggle with living on Halsey’s Planet and working for Oldham Trading Company. Straightaway in the novel, we are told how disgruntled Ross is with his life and how the civilization on Halsey’s Planet is in “decay.”

Now, when I think of “in decay” I am thinking of some post-apocalyptic scene with weed-grasses growing in pavement, deserted buildings, mushrooms growing out of ex-living things, and nary a human in sight. I suppose some of that is sort of what is being described, but not to the same extent.  Basically, we are to understand that this planet’s civilization seems to have peaked and is now in a decline – how steep that decline is, is rather unclear.  Ross (who is melodramatic as all get out) seems to think it is very steep.

So the first 45 pages, or so, of this novel seem to not have a proper direction. We meet melodramatic Ross, but there are little scenes that take place that do not advance the storyline and sometimes seem to derail it. Several times I figured that a particular trajectory would be taken but it was ignored or forgotten. Penguin, Bantam, and Baen also republished this novel – though, one of the authors was deceased by then, the other author may have had the opportunity to edit it. Frankly, I would want to see this whole opening chunk edited and anything not truly related to the storyline should be excised.

Finally in chapter five, the storyline picks up and marches along what the reader has been expecting all along:  the faster-than-light spacecraft headed to exotic planets. Of course, not too exotic, this version of the kosmos seems to be populated mainly by humans. So, Ross and his ship head spaceward to visit a predetermined list of planets.  His mission is to discover the status of these planets – for the purposes of trade and for monitoring the “level of civilization” of humanity. We do not even get to see the first planet and join Ross as he lands on Gemser, the second planet on his list.

Everything the Internet says about the remainer of this novel is more or less true. Yes, the rest of it does seem like little, loosely-connected segments that show the reader interesting “infographics” of the planets that Ross visits. And if there is anything one reads on the Internet about this novel, it is that it is so very satirical.  Most of the people commenting on the novel online are people who have read the novel since 2000. So, there is a bit of a timeline scenario in that most reviewers did not read this when it was originally published. Living in the 1950s may have given this novel a different reader response; faster-than-light spacecraft, human civilizations stagnating, and gender equality all have a very different feel to them in 1955 versus 2016. Therefore, I think that this novel, being read nowadays, needs to be read with a sort of nuanced viewpoint.

The overarching premise is quite interesting to me. I like the idea of launching a character out into the galaxy to learn/re-learn about the status of human civilization on distant planets and to re-establish FTL science or jump-start their trading/commerce. Okay, this is a little ridiculous because this is a tall order for one fellow. And yes, it is a bit space opera-esque, zooming around the planets in this way. However, given a little tidying, this is not a horrific story-starter.

Instead, the authors approach these distant planets via Ross with a remarkably heavy-handed style. Certainly, we should all read this as satirical (Cp. Gulliver’s Travels or something), but I have never liked satire that was like a bludgeon.

So, the next two planets Ross visits are treated with all the subtlety of a bulldozer. In places, the writing is even cringe-worthy. There are, of course, some sections that are interesting and have potential for something more, but generally, this is heavy-handed direct satire that does not really pause to ever ask “what if?” or “how come, Hoss?”

One of the wretched things about this novel is that Ross, though he does not start off as a favored, honorable, awesome character, seems to degenerate into an impulsive, juvenile, melodramatic clown.  It is really wearying by the last few chapters and I rather wanted to punch his teeth out.

The last segment of the novel is not very good whatsoever and I had to muscle through it. It is confusing and disjointed throughout.  The “resolution” is really vague, idiotic, and also heavy-handed. The characters by the end are insufferable. And even if the reader considers some of the novel’s satirical points favorably, there still is not enough depth to make this a meaningful heavyweight of science fiction.

It has some good points. It has a lot of bad areas. Ultimately, it has not really aged well and does not give a lot of reason for recommendation. I blame it all on Pohl.

2 stars