Whereas Vinge’s Psion was written in Andre Norton mode, and her Snow Queen was a Space Opera retelling of a fairy tale, Heaven Chronicles contains three works — a novel and two novellas that have been merged into one longer novella — that are all pure, hard SF. However, this volume contains features such as plot and characters not normally (well, not necessarily) found within slide-rule SF. The result is a solid collection of stories I would strongly recommend you purchase if only any of them were actually in print.
1980’s The Probability Broach launched Smith into what turned into a twenty-one-year-long career with such major publishers as Del Rey, Baen, and Tor1. It was the second novel to win the Prometheus Award, which Smith himself founded. He was a frequent nominee for that award and pretty much only that award. Smith would go on to win the Prometheus three more times2. The Probability Broach is the book that began it all. Follow me into a land of commodity-based currency, talking gorillas, and grade-schoolers with guns as big as they are!
This is intended, not just as a tribute to an author whose work I remember fondly, but also as a tribute to a line of single author collections that had a huge impact on me when I was a teenager. Under various series names, Ballantine’s Classic Library of Science Fiction collected the short works of various pulp-age notables, authors of whom I might otherwise have remained ignorant. I very quickly learned to snap up anything from Ballantine (and later, Del Rey) whose title was of the form “The Best of [Unfamiliar Author Name Here]”. This Eric Frank Russell collection was one of those books, and one of the better purchases I made in 1978.
Due to injuries and poor health, Joan D. Vinge has not been prolific as of late; her most recent non-tie-in novel was 2000’s Tangled Up in Blue. In the 1970s her body of work was not so large as some but that series of novellas was enough to establish Vinge as an author of note. 1980’s The Snow Queen was only her second novel, after 1978’s Outcasts of Heaven’s Belt and it earned Vinge the 1981 Hugo for Best Novel. For good reason.
The great war between the American-led allies and their enemies killed untold millions as cities burned across the planet. In the aftermath, victorious America resolved that the means to preventing another nuclear war was to prevent great concentrations of people. Accordingly, the 30th Amendment forbids communities of more than a thousand people and limits density to no more than two hundred buildings to the square mile.
On Thermonuclear War came out in 1960, a time when a world without nuclear weapons was something a lot of people had actually grown up in, rather than a peculiar fantasy of a few idealistic deviates. The years between 1945 and 1960 had seen some breath-taking advances in technology but sadly the doctrines available remained comparatively crude. This book was Herman Kahn’s attempt to address this gap. Since the outcomes are distinguishable, the US should chose policies that selected for the least bad outcomes and the only way to do that was through rational analysis.
While I know I read this when I was a teen, I was actually only ten when I first encountered it and while I didn’t like it much at the time – because I was ten and this isn’t really a book for a ten-year-old – I reread it several times that year. In part that is because even though I didn’t like it I did find it fascinating but the real reason was we were living in Brazil, we had gone three months without any books in English1 to read and this was in the big case of school books that finally caught up with us around Christmas. It was actually my brother’s allotment of course books for grade nine but I didn’t care. I read all the books in that box over and over, except maybe the math books.
1976’s Don’t Bite the Sun is apparently the first volume in a trilogy but while the second book, Drinking Sapphire Wine, saw print in 1977, the third volume was never published. I only just discovered there was even supposed to be a third one and I have no idea what it would have been about. My copy is the first printing of the mass market paperback and I read it in a way a reader coming to it could not today, on its own and without reference to the sequel. I am going to tried hard to replicate that experience here.
Eisenstein is probably better known for her Alaric the Minstrel stories, if only because that’s still an on-going series; the most recent Alaric story, “Caravan to Nowhere” appeared in 2014’s Rogues. As it happens, Eisenstein is one of those authors for whom I discover in retrospect I am a completist, so I could have reviewed Born to Exile, the first Alaric fix-in. Instead I decided to go with the considerably more obscure Shadow of Earth, a tale of a modern American woman who finds herself trapped in a backward world where her only value is as a brood mare of rare breed: a full-blooded white woman!
Some aspects of this novel have aged more gracefully than other elements.
Following the Soviet launch of Sputnik, Russian-born American Isaac Asimov (1920 — 1992) turned from focusing on fiction to a lengthy and extremely diverse series of non-fiction works. To quote Wikipedia, “Asimov’s books span all major categories of the Dewey Decimal Classification except for category 100, philosophy and psychology” (and he had essays and introductions that ventured into category 100).