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book reviews by Althea

Early Days: More Tales from the Pulp Era – Robert Silverberg

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Early Days: More Tales from the Pulp Era
Early Days: More Tales from the Pulp Era by Robert Silverberg

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

9 • Introduction (Early Days: More Tales from the Pulp Era) • essay
Great intro, definitely not one to skip. Silverberg gives a vivid glimpse into his youth and what it was like writing for the legendary pulp magazines of the 1950s.
The introductory/biographical notes for each story are also great – chatty and fascinating, really opening a window into this little bit of history. This volume is worthwhile just for that!

17 • The Inquisitor • (1956)
Kafkaesque. In the future, enemies of the state are brutally interrogated with the assistance of robotics. But they are still overseen by a human agent. But one dissident’s final words open a chink in the state employee’s surety in his righteousness. And sometimes, a chink is all it takes…
Superb irony, in this one. I think I may have read it before, long ago – but it might’ve been something similar.

31 • The Ultimate Weapon • (1957)
Delivers on the promise of the collection’s title: this is pure pulp fiction. It bears quite a few similarities to an original Star Trek episode. Earth is under threat by the vicious Starlords. One bold young man, a spy, is captured and spirited off to a planet where an advanced civilization (including an attractive young woman) lives in peace, having harnessed the powerful energy of the stars. Could this planet hold the key to saving humanity?
I can’t say the story is actually any good: it has logical holes you could blast a starship through – but it’s decent fun.

73 • Harwood’s Vortex • (1957)
Bit of a silly story, with a classic 1950’s feel to it (almost to the point of feeling like a modern satire). At the center of the story is a young woman. Her fiance is a brilliant engineer; her father, an amateur scientist who’s always been dismissed as a crackpot. However, when her father achieves the unlikely, and somehow opens a vortex to another dimension, it becomes clear that he’s not just an eccentric, but a raving megalomaniac who’s opened the Earth to destructive Invaders. It’s up to our hero to see if he and his invention can save his fiance from her evil father – and preserve Life on Earth while he’s at it!

87 • Quick Freeze • (1957)
Inspired by a sci-fi illustration, as explained in Silverberg’s very entertaining notes to the story.
On a time-sensitive rescue mission, a jet-powered rocket lands on a cold planet with the aim of picking up survivors – and gets ignominiously stuck in ice when the material their jets melted re-freezes around them. Are the people aboard both ships now doomed? Or will ingenuity save the day?

103 • Six Frightened Men • (1957)
A scientific team on an unexplored planet are plagued by a terrifying monster that appears and disappears without warning. How can it be manifesting, when all their instruments show no sign of its presence?

117 • Puppets Without Strings • (variant of Call Me Zombie! 1957)
The Twilight-Zone style of this one was right up my alley.
Released from his military service a couple of days early, a young man rushes home to surprise his wife. But when he glimpses her – for just a moment – staring blankly, standing there like a decommissioned robot, that odd moment combines in his head with a peculiar statement his Army buddy made. What if everyone around him is artificial, and only he is ‘real’?

131 • A Time for Revenge • (1957)
After receiving a call informing him that his estranged brother has been murdered, a man journeys to the hot and dusty planet of Vordil IX in search of vengeance. However, soon he finds himself swept out of his (rather shallow) depth by the customs and taboos of an alien culture. For one thing, his brother was actually legally executed for his transgressions. And it’s hard to avoid running afoul of rules that you neither understand nor respect.
I liked this one- some good stuff running under the surface.

147 • Housemaid No. 103 • (1957)
Silverberg pretty much admits in his introductory notes to the story that this one hasn’t aged well – and it’s sadly true. A futuristic movie star has no interest in the legions of female fans and colleagues who are constantly flinging themselves at him in attempts at seduction. When even the domestic staff get in on the act, he thinks he has the solution: a robot housemaid.

155 • Rescue Mission • (1957)
Very short, very by-the-numbers, with no extra frills. It meets the minimum standards for a science fiction story. As the title implies, one expedition has to rescue another on an alien planet.

167 • Planet of Parasites • (1958)
Quite good! When a relief team arrives to switch off with the one who’s been on a research base for a couple of years, they do notice that the scientists they’re replacing are acting a little odd. Maybe they’re just stir-crazy after their isolation. Or MAYBE they’re pod people infected by something alien and bizarre! Is the new team doomed? Can they save humanity from the alien threat?
(PS, YAY lady space scientists, even in 1958! [In this one, married teams are considered to be the most efficient for long-term missions, and the wives are equal partners, with equal education and training as the men.])

197 • Slaves of the Tree • (1958)
Interesting, and more complex than one might expect from a pulp publication. A team has been sent to check in on a far-flung colony planet. After 200 years, are they successful enough to begin to open to trade and tourism? What they find is unexpected, and unprecedented: the human colonists have apparently interbred with an intelligent native species, and even adopted a native religion.
Our POV character, a member of the survey team, although one who is apparently not generally liked by his co-workers, finds this miscegenation disgusting. However, he’s the only member of the team who seems to have a problem with it.
Silverberg manages to pull off this story with a delicate ambiguity about where the reader’s sympathies should lie.

225 • Frontier Planet • (1958)
Silverberg states in the introduction that this was a standard pulp Western transposed into space. And indeed, it is. The colonists are homesteading on an alien planet, and hostile aliens attack. Stereotypes abound.
As a modern reader, it’s fairly mind-boggling to think that anyone could ever read the presented scenario, whether the natives are “Indians” or extra-terrestrials, without considering that maybe the local residents are at least somewhat justified in their attempt to repel invaders.

241 • The Aliens Were Haters • (1958)
Well, the aliens might be haters. The reader doesn’t really get to find out what their motivations might be. But the real hater here is the super-misogynist main character. The sole survivor of a commercial expedition, he accidentally discovers a downed alien ship at the same time as a rival Brazilian team, headed by a forceful military woman. Maybe if the main character was more concerned about the situation at hand, rather than her personal appearance and perceived lack of femininity, everything would’ve worked out better. Or maybe not. But he doesn’t learn his lesson here.

257 • The Traders • (1958) • (variant of The Unique and Terrible Compulsion)
Rapidly rising through the corporate hierarchy of Earth’s galaxy-spanning trading network, a young man’s career plans are thrown for a loop when he’s given a new assignment: he’s to become a company spy in the guise of an assistant. It’s suspected that an employee who’s been running a one-man outpost for the past few decades has violated one of the prime rules by supplying native aliens with addictive narcotics. But before they can fire him, they need evidence of the crime.
But once our young man arrives for his new assignment, the complex reality of the situation makes things appear in more shades of gray than they did from a safe distance.
The core of this story is actually really good. With a more balanced view of the native culture and a bit more development of its ideas, it could’ve been great.

285 • Waters of Forgetfulness • (1959)
Responding to an SOS after a ritzy space liner disaster, a one-man rescue ship expects to be greeted with gratitude and relief by the millionaire survivors. However, what greets him is the opposite situation. The survivors have actually killed the crewman who sent out the SOS and insist that they don’t want to leave the planet. As a matter of fact, they just might kill their rescuer, too. Something about this planet has turned them into lotus-eaters, and they’ll brook no interference with their path to blissful self-destruction.
Good space adventure!

313 • You Do Something to Me • (1959)
A couple of humorous pieces round off this collection. In this one, a talent scout is proud as can be of the Miss Universe he manages – and delighted at the prospects of the income her lucrative contracts will surely be bringing in. But when he decides to show her off to aliens as an example of the beauties of Earth, the end result is not quite what anyone expected – because, of course, alien standards of loveliness are not quite the same…

331 • There’s No Place Like Space! • (1959)
A civil servant loves his job on a quiet, idyllic and relaxing planet. But when it comes to his superiors’ attention that he hasn’t taken a vacation in years, the bat comes down. He MUST take his vacation days, and he MUST take them on Earth. Rules are rules. Never mind that he has no interest in the hustle and bustle and the crazy urban hijinks of Earth. Vacation is duly taken – and the bureaucrats kind of get what they had coming.

Many thanks to Subterranean and NetGalley for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinions are solely my own.

View all my reviews

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