Episode 37: One Hundred Years of Cyberitude

(29 September 2020)

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David: Hello and welcome to episode 37 of the podcast we call Two Chairs Talking. My name is David Grigg and I’m joined as always by the irrepressible Perry Middlemiss.

Perry: Irrepressible? Hmmm.

David: What have you been up to, Perry?

Perry: Same old stuff. We’re still in lockdown. We’ve got another three weeks of slightly milder lock down, but still in lockdown as announced yesterday. But same old stuff.

David: The numbers are looking very good.

Perry: Numbers are looking good, which is which is great, good to see that the numbers are coming down into single digits now, which is fantastic, but still got a bit of a ways to go. But we’re hopeful that by the time we get to well, November December. So for Christmas we might be able to get out and about and catch up and have a nice quiet beer and a pizza or something. And catch up with a few friends, that would be excellent.

David: Certainly would be excellent indeed.

Perry: So what else you been doing other than just hanging around the house, David?

David: I’ve been keeping myself busy. Now, I wanted to ask you, Perry, whether you knew that 2020 is the centenary of the word “robot” entering the English language?

Perry: Oh, this is the Czech play by... by the author whose name... I’m going to get it completely wrong. Oh no, I hadn’t. I hadn’t realized it was the 100th anniversary. So that’s interesting.

David: Yeah it is interesting and I’m probably not going to get the name right either, but it’s Karel Čapek. But the C has got little symbol over the top of it, so it probably is pronounced Chapek or something like that. I should have looked at it before the episode, never mind. [Chapek is correct]

Yeah, now this I’ve been doing this for Standard Ebooks. I’ve mentioned Standard Ebooks a few times on the podcast and we put together really nice looking ebooks based on public domain materials. And in fact R.U.R. by Karel Čapek has entered the public domain in America, which is where Standard Ebooks is based, and so we can reproduce it on our site.

So it’s quite interesting. It’s actually not a very good play, in terms of a drama, but it has some interesting science fictional ideas in it. Apparently Čapek wrote quite a few plays and novels, which have got science fictional or dystopian themes. But, R.U.R. is probably the most best known of all those becaused of the fact that it brought the word “robot” into the language. So “robot” is derived from the Czech word meaning worker, and that’s indeed what these things are, they’re artificial humans that the R.U.R. Corporation is creating. Oh R.U.R. by the way stands for Russom’s Universal Robots because the company was set up by a gentleman called Mr. Rossum. It’s all established on this island and they are manufacturing these artificial beings. They are not like the mechanical metallic robots that we think of these days when we think of the word “robot”, but they’re kind of more like what we’d call androids, I think.

Aanyway, it’s interesting because it brings up sort of the issues of the post-scarcity world, where these robots can do all the hard work, and they can work for no pay, and they can crank out huge amounts of food and huge amounts of clothing and so on, so no one will have to work again in the future. So it sets up this kind of utopian scenario, but in fact things go badly wrong. You know, countries around the world start to use their robots as soldiers, and there’s wars and sort of turns into typical human mess. But it’s worth reading, so I just thought I’d bring it up to, given that it was the centenary. And if anyone’s interested in actually reading the play, it’s on standardebooks.org.

Perry: I assume you’ll put a link into the show notes.

David: Indeed I will, OK good idea. You know it was written in 1920 but translated into English in 1923, OK?

Perry: Well, there you are. You see I was thinking of 1923...

David: Yeah, Well you had that in mind.

Perry: Actually, no, actually I didn’t know when it was to be perfectly frank. Anyway, that’s a very interesting centenary. We had a the bicentenary of Frankenstein a couple years back in 2018, so that’s also a monumental work in the field. Brian W. Aldiss considers it to be the first science fiction novel, and I think he has a point to make there in many ways.

The other thing that happened during the week or within the last fortnight, David was the Arthur C. Clarke Award was announced. The award winner was announced. Now the Arthur C. Clarke Award is... probably I put it as about number three or four in the hierarchy of science fiction awards for novels for the year it is given to. Well, it’s a jury award given to what is considered to be the best novel published in Britain in the previous year. So this is for 2019 and this year it was won by a book called The Old Drift by a woman called Namwali Serpell. She is a an African writer, first novel and it’s been called the Great African novel of the 2first century. I haven’t heard of it before, I must admit, but I put it down to the fact that there’s so many books being published I can’t keep up with all of them, but so she’s come as a complete shot out of the blue. I don’t know whether this was included on the Locus Recommended Reading List. I’ll have to go and check that, but anyway, she beat out at least three Hugo Award nominees. Charlie Jane Anders’ The City in the Middle of the Night. Cameron Hurley’s The Light Brigade and the winner of the Hugo Award, Arkady Martine for A Memory Called Empire. The other two that were nominated because they some reason they seem to have six nominees, the other two nominees were David Wellington for The Last Astronaut and Adrian Tchaikovsky for Cage of Souls. Tchaikovsky’s won the award previously, but I don’t believe any of the others have. I’m probably going to get that wrong. But I’ll look back quickly... No, I don’t think any of the others had so this is a brand new one.

I will try and read this before the end of the year. We’ve got a possible slot for other reading later in the year, and I’ll throw that into what I hope will be discussion of the non-Hugo winners. That is the awards that are not Hugo Awards. Like the Nebula. This one I’ll see if I can get my way through this, so yeah, so it looks like an interesting book, goes to show that there are a lot of other voices out there which are finally being published and it’ll be interesting to see what this one’s like.

David: Yeah, that looks interesting.

Perry: Yeah, just different. In a different perspective and then from that point of view, it’s worthwhile having a look at if you like it, you like it, you know that’s the way it goes. You can’t like everything.

David: No, no indeed.

Perry: So to today’s episode, David.

David: Today’s episode we’re going to bring out the Hugo Time Machine again; dust it off and tune it up a little bit and we’re going to send it back to 1964.

The Hugo Time Machine

David: OK, so the Hugos for 1964. Perry usually knows where these things were given out, and what the convention was. Do you want to start with that?

Perry: Yeah, well, basically they’ve started to settle down, the Hugo Awards. At this point, they’re still only dealing with novels, and shorter fiction and a number of other little categories which we’ll get to later. But the ones we’re going to be dealing with today for the awards for best novel and best shorter fiction. And these are for works that were published in the calendar year 1963.

Now, the 1964 Hugos were presented at the 22nd World Science Fiction Convention Pacificon held in Oakland in California between the 4th and the 7th of September 1964. The Guests of Honor were Leigh Brackett and Edmond Hamilton. Leigh Brackett therefore becoming the first woman Guest of Honor at a Worldcon. The Fan Guest of Honour was Forry Ackerman, Mr. Science Fiction as he was referred to for a long period of time. The toastmaster was Anthony Boucher. Much better known for mystery stories, but he did write a number of science fiction stories, and he actually edited Fantasy and Science Fiction I believe, for some time. The attendance was about 520 people and interesting to note, they were only lasting four days at that time, David, not the five days, which is the common standard in our present time.

Yeah, so anyway novels and short fiction. What I think we’ll do is we’ll just work our way through the nominees, and then we’ll get to the winner at the end. We won’t announce that until we get to the end.

Glory Road, by Robert A. Heinlein

Perry: So I’m first off I believe and my first one that I’m looking at is Glory Road by Robert A. Heinlein which was published in Fantasy and Science Fiction, July, August, December 1963 and also by Putnam’s Publishing.

It’s about here that Heinlein really starts to goes off the rails and, uh, this comes across as a teenage wish fulfillment fantasy. It’s sort of nothing else really, and it’s not really a very good one at that. There’s far too much talking in this and far too much lecturing by the main character, which is what he got into. And there’s also far too much sexist commentary, disguised under a “hail fellow well met” sort of approach that Heinlein used to sort of throw out. Thinking that this was, you know, nice and funny and you could do this.

Anyway, this is a science fantasy novel, so it mixes elements of both genres. There’s a bit of science fiction in it, and there’s a bit of a bit of fantasy, and it follows the adventures of a gentleman by the name of Evelyn Cyril Gordon who is recruited by a woman he calls Star, who is a stunningly beautiful woman. Of course, because this is a Heinlein novel. And he’s recruited to accompany her and her companion Ruffo on a quest to retrieve the Egg of the Phoenix from some different distant planet. Now I could go into a lot of detail about what happens in this particular novel but I will spare you that ordeal, David.

David: Thank you!

Perry: Now, along the way I said—look, some interesting little bits and pieces along the way—but along the way they talk and talk and talk and occasionally fight a few dragons and other exotic creatures and then talk some more. This is a dire book, David, just not really very good at all. This is not to my style. Didn’t like it much. I gave it 2.4 out of five. I think I gave that .4 because I think he did get the spelling OK.

David: Yeah, that’s interesting actually. I did read this many, many a long year ago. But it’s interesting. I can remember the stories of most of the Heinlein books I’ve read, and I know that I read this one, but I could not tell you a thing about it. I looked it up on Wikipedia and it sounded vaguely, very vaguely familiar, but I must have suppressed it after I read it. I think it didn’t really, didn’t really didn’t take with me, so yeah, it wasn’t great.

Perry: Hardly surprising.

David: Nope.

Perry: Look if you’re after a quick light read where you’ve really got to put all your a lot of your sensibilities off to one side and you’re trying to be a Heinlein completist, then read this. If you’re trying to read all the nominees for this particular year then read it. Other than that, don’t bother.

Witch World, by Andre Norton

David: Well I’ll take the next one which is Witch World by Andre Norton. Now this was interesting. This was another novel nomination for a female author. We mentioned Marion Zimmer Bradley, I think, last time we did the Hugo Time Machine. So Andre Norton’s full name is Andre Alice Norton, but she also wrote under the pen names of Andrew North and Ellen West. She wrote a heap of books but this is the first one of hers I’ve read.

Andre Norton did very well. Because she wrote so many books and they’re pretty well regarded she was inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame and she was inducted as a Grand Master of the Science Fiction Writers of America. So she achieved certainly a very high level of success.

Anyway, as I said, this is the first one of hers I’ve read, and I hadn’t expected to like it at all because I’m not at all a fan of what you might call, I don’t know “pure” fantasy, sword and sorcery, that kind of that kind of fiction, but I was pleasantly surprised. And in fact, this also fits into that category of science fantasy, because it’s quite a clever mix of science fiction and maybe magic, maybe psi powers, whatever you like, but she does a pretty good job of combining the two sorts of genres.

Anyway, we start with the protagonist, who is called Simon Tregarth and when we encounter him he’s in hiding, in some kind of trouble. Seems to be with an organized crime group that he’s fallen afoul of and we find out that he was—he fought during the Second World War. But after the war he got involved somehow in the black market in Berlin. And he was caught and given a dishonorable discharge from the army and then he fell into the hands of this organized crime group. And now he’s on the run from them. He’s obviously done something wrong that they’re going get him for.

This kind of whizzes by very quickly and he’s helped to escape by this mysterious man called Doctor Petronius, who essentially uses some kind of magic and a Stone of Power to open a portal out of this world into another one. And Tregarth doesn’t hesitate, just pays Petronius a bunch of money and goes through. This is all in the first chapter, so that’s all pretty good, and so he’s in this new world, and he finds himself on a moor in the midst of a deep mist. And it doesn’t take long before he sees this young woman running desperately away on foot from a mounted party of men and their hunting dogs who were chasing her.

Of course, like any good hero, Tregarth intervenes and helps her escape, although she’s speaking a language he doesn’t understand. She is of course beautiful and scantily clad, as these things are in these kinds of works, and soon afterwards she is able to bring help and her own people pick them up. He finds himself among the Estcarp people which is a matriarchal society controlled by women who have magical or psychical powers, whatever. But they call themselves witches so let’s go with magic.

So Tregarth very quickly learns their language. It’s amazing in these books how quickly the heroes pick up the language of the place they went to. So he quickly picks up the language and becomes a member of their military. Estcarp we find out is threatened by many enemies, but none more dangerous than a new group from a place called Kolder who have taken over a nearby land called Gorm. And in an early skirmish with the Kolder forces, the Estcarp troops, along with Tregarth, discover that they’re fighting essentially zombies. The soldiers from Gorm have been turned into these mindless fighting machines. And they try and kill them and they don’t stop while they can still move.

Eventually we find out that the Kolder are in effect alien beings who are trying to take over the planet which Tregarth has travel to and they’ve got technology greatly in advance of anything the locals have. The locals at a medieval sort of level technology, but these aliens from Kolder have got aircraft and submarines and energy weapons and an ability to convert people’s minds to into these kinds of zombies. So there’s lots of good action. There’s interesting characters, including a young woman who is going to be married off to someone she doesn’t like, an unscrupulous Duke, and she escapes and adopts male clothing and a male persona. And in doing so, she helps rescue one of the Estcarp witches from imprisonment and threatened rape.

Look I enjoyed this. It was well written, the story was compelling and as I said, it has good characters. The ending is a bit mushy and a bit overly romantic, but you can forgive it that. I don’t know that I’m very keen to go on and read the entire series of sequels to this, in this particular world, but it was a pretty good read as a one off. I thought it was not bad.

Perry: Yeah, I’d agree with that. I’m quite interested in now that we’re talking to those about those two books one after the other. The similarities are quite striking really because you have the main character in Glory Road has been fighting in a war somewhere in Southeast Asia—I think it’s probably Vietnam. Here in Andre Norton’s, he’s been fighting in the Second World War and then afterwards, and they both get into trouble. And they both decide that they are going to move through a portal into a sort of fantastical world that is not the same as this, and they meet a woman on the other side who then guides them along in terms of their adventures afterwards. So there’s a lot of similarities between the two, but Witch World is a hell of a lot better than Glory Road. I gave this a 3.4 out of five. I mean, I wouldn’t want to put it up to a level of a four out of five. It’s a good, it’s a good solid three. It’s a good solid read. Like you, I’m not really overly keen on reading the rest of the Witch World Series, of which I believe there are multitudinous volumes, many volumes, and it branches off all over the place as well. But it’s competent stuff and yes, worth reading. Of this type, the better of the two without a doubt for sure.

Dune World, by Frank Herbert

Perry: So my next book that I’m going to be looking at David is Dune World. I should first introduce this as Dune World by Frank Herbert which was published in Analog in December 1963 and then January and February 1964. Now I’ve always gone with the idea that a book is not finished until the serial’s finished, and therefore it really should have fitted in in 1964’s books. But for whatever reason, maybe things weren’t codified as much as they are now, and it got picked up as having started in 1963. Anyway, I suppose the January 1964 issue would have come out in December ’63 anyway. So anyway, this is a bit of hand wavy stuff.

Now Dune World is actually the first part, the first book of three books I believe of the final version that is Dune. Dune won the Hugo Award in 1966 and it was finally published in 1965 after the sequel to Dune World, which is Prophet of Dune, which came out in Analog in ’65.

So this is the first part of that big final novel and the interesting thing about this particular part is that it looks like it is the basis for the new [movie] version of Dune. At least the first part of it that is going to be coming up. The trailer was released within the last two or three weeks. This is a film by Denis Villeneuve, who did Blade Runner and Arrival, so he’s got his science fiction chops down pat. Happy enough about him doing it. The trailer looks pretty good. Be interesting to see what he does with it.

Anyway, for those one or two people in the universe who have never read Dune this is the first part as I said of the final book. The overall theme is that basically House Atreides is part of a hierarchical Galactic Empire. So you have—it’s in the far future that humans have spread across the whole of the Galaxy. The Galaxy is being ruled by an Emperor at the top and below him at the sort of Duke or Baron level, the Houses. The two that we’re interested in here in this particular book, are House Atreides and House Harkonnen. House Atreides has been ordered by the Emperor to take over the planet of Arakis from House Harkonnen and therefore control the production of melange, I think that’s how you pronounce it, which is a spice which is only found on Arakis and which is critical to the functioning of the empire. It allows the navigators on large spaceships, which are run by the Space Guild which is sort of like a third wheel of this particular Empire, so you’ve got the Emperor, the Houses, and then the Space Guild; and the Space Guild looks after all interstellar travel, and the only way that the navigators are able to work their way through interstellar travel is to be completely addicted to this particular spice.

So House Atreides moves in and takes over planet of Arakis from the Harkonnens. but the Harkonnens really don’t want to give this up, and right from the start, you fully will realize that this is a trap. This is a very interesting structure to this particular book.

The young son of House Atreides, Paul, is obviously the Messiah that has been prophesized by a group of people in the Galaxy. This is a group of, well, it’s like it’s like a female church and I’m probably going to pronounce this wrong. I pronounce it as Bene Gesserit and these are the women that act as sort of a fourth wheel in this particular Galaxy. They look after the religious side of things, but they have a long term plan where they know of the prophecy of the Prophet or the Messiah coming about and they have been working for centuries, if not thousands of years, on a breeding program, which would lead to this particular Messiah appearing. But then the very first chapter you’re told about all this and the questions are asked, is Paul this particular person that is being prophesised, so you get that side of the whole of the plot.

In the second chapter of the book, it cuts to a point of view from Baron Harkonnen who was explaining to one of his minions what’s happening behind the scenes in terms of why House Atreides has taken over this particular planet and what he’s going to do about it and how he’s actually going to kill them all. So it’s quite peculiar in the first two chapters you’re given the whole of the book, the whole of the plot of the book, and you should theoretically know what’s going to happen and yet I think that Herbert is still able to carry this through. There’s always questions there as to whether Paul really is this One that has been prophesized, whether the Harkonnens are actually going to do it and how they are going to do it.

I think it’s pretty good. I really, I really like this. This is one of my one of my father’s all time favorite books, and one thing he said to me at some point about 10 years ago was—he thought he might have been aiming towards getting dementia—was he said, the one good thing about getting dementia is that you forget all those books you’ve read and you can go back and read things like Dune again as if you really reading for the very first time. And I thought, yeah, that was pretty funny anyway. Look, I think I think this is a cracker. I really liked Dune. It would have to be up there as one of my favorites all time. So, I’m quite happy to give this one 4.5 out of five. What are your views, David?

David: Well, I’m going to play Devil’s Advocate because—I must have read the original Dune several, several times because on reading this part of it again it was very, very familiar. I mean, I knew everything that was going to happen, so I’m very familiar with the book, but this time around it irritated me.

So there are a number of things. For a start, it’s full of all these pious statements, a lot of them, from the Bene Gesserit or someone quoting from the Life of Muad’dib who is the Messiah character, and there are so many statements like, “the world is like this”, you know. It’s just like Robert Heinlein stuff, you know “this is this is the way things are done, don’t argue, this is just the way things are”, so that bugged me.

The other thing with the start of it, where he’s subjected to a kind of torture “to see whether he’s human or not”, so he sticks his hand in this device, which creates incredible pain and he’s not allowed to move. Otherwise he’ll prove that he’s not human. Now for a start, is this really what distinguishes the human from the animal? The fact that you can withstand a lot of pain for a little while? I think animals can survive a lot of pain for some time.

Anyway, leave that aside and then there’s this whole thing of “Is he, is he the Messiah”, “Is he the One?”. It’s just a bit like The Matrix. “Am I the One?” He keeps referring to this Sense of Terrible Purpose, in capitals, Terrible Purpose that he has. So then right at the very last few pages of the story we discover, “Yes, yes, he’s the One”. “He’s the One”. “He’s the Muad’dib”. “He’s Kwisatch Haderach”. “He’s the One” so OK.

And the other thing is that we have this villain, Baron Harkonnen, and he’s just completely unbelievable. He’s a complete cartoon villain. You know, grossly obese, so much so that he has to have little gravity-lift things to carry his bulk around. Now when you’re writing some fiction, you’re told that if you want to indicate that a character isn’t a good character, you have him do something like kick a cat or something. And if he kicks the cat, you know he’s not he’s not really a very good character. Well Baron Harkonnen, I mean, you can imagine him biting the heads off kittens. I mean, he’s just unbelievably awful.

So and the other thing about it which I felt wasn’t great was that the first two parts of the three parts in the magazine, in the first two parts nothing happens. As you say, it’s all set up. It’s all about predicting what’s going to be happening and sort of filling in the background. But there’s actually almost no action. They move from the old planet to the new planet, but if you look at it, it’s not until the start of the third part that anything really starts to actually go on.

So yeah, I actually got really irritated with it this time around. And then the end of it, because it’s only part of the book it leaves you wide open in the air. It sort of comes to a screeching halt. And it really is begging for something to continue it because it really... He and his mother are just abandoned in the desert, and you’ve got no idea whether they’re going to survive or not.

Yeah, so that was my statement about why it irritated me this time around.

Perry: That’s interesting, the way you could look at a book differently. As we said this in the past, what we thought was fantastic 30 years ago, you go back and re-read and it can be exactly the other way.

David:This was the Suck Fairy here. We’ve talked about the Suck Fairy. Yeah, I’ve read this, I thought “Now the Suck Fairy’s here”.

Perry: Yeah, but I thought this was all right. I enjoyed this and I’m sort of looking forward to the second part. I can’t remember the last time I read this book. I think it must be 20, 25 years ago I don’t think no, I don’t think that. I’ve written quite a long time, so a lot of it I’d forgotten and so from that perspective I was sort of reliving my father’s dream of having the dementia as I came towards this one oh it look, I liked it. I liked.

David: No, that’s fine. It’s absolutely a matter of taste.

Perry: In comparison to Glory Road it’s a bloody masterpiece.

David: That’s fair enough. That’s fair enough. And yeah, looking at it I admit it’s better, better than Witch World. It’s reasonably well written. I know that.

Perry: That’s damning with faint praise if ever I heard any!

Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut

David: All right never mind. OK, so my next one is one I think that Perry is going to have a go at me back, I don’t think he likes it. Never mind, let’s see. So this is Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut.

Now I have to submit this as one of my favorite books as shown by the fact that the Penguin paperback which I re-read has been in my collection since my late teens. And I know this because I used to have this sort of silly coding scheme I used to put into books, which I gave away when I got grown up and sensible, but it has my funny code in the start of it, so I’ve had it since I was probably 17 or 18 and so it’s one of my favorite books.

The first thing to say about it is that it’s really a satire. It’s not so much science fiction as a satire about science and human nature and on religion. It’s actually quite a funny satire on religion because Vonnegut invents this whole religion called Bokononism and the holy book of this religion was written by man called Bokonon and it has on its title page: “Don’t be a fool, close this book at once. It is nothing but foma.” Foma is a word we find out, which means lies. In other words, it’s nothing but lies, right at the very start of the book.

So where do we start? We never in fact find out the last name of the first person protagonist. He tells us that his first name is John, but the very first words in the book are “Call me Jonah”, which is a bit of a reference to Moby Dick, I think, which starts “Call me Ishmael”.

So we discover that he’s a writer who’s researching a book to be called “The Day the World Ended”, which is going to be about what various important people were doing on the day that the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. And as part of this, he wants to research a scientist, Dr. Felix Hoenikker, sometimes called the father of the atomic bomb. Hoenikker is dead by the stage, but he’s left behind him three children and the protagonist seeks them out to try and ask them about what their father was doing on that fateful day for his book.

Now all three of Hoenikker’s children are rather strange. The protagonist tracks down two of them initially, who are Angela, and Newt, which is short for Newton. Angela is a tall unattractive woman who is was nevertheless married to a very handsome man. Newt, by contrast, is a midget and his mother died when giving birth to him. And there’s a strong suggestion that Felix Hoenikker wasn’t actually his biological father. And then there’s Frank or Franklin, who was the oldest son. He’s been missing for some time. No one knows where he is but he’s remembered as being rather a nerd who was obsessed with building model railways and things like that.

So Dr. Felix Hoenikker is depicted as having been one of those kind of scientists who are excited by scientific problems without thinking through what might be the unfortunate consequences of the solutions they come up with. So as well as the Atom bomb, we found out that he was asked at one stage by the military to come up with a solution to their troops and vehicles being bogged down in mud. It’s not long before we discover that he did come up with a solution to this, which is a particular crystalline arrangement of water molecules, and he calls it ice-nine. And so it’s just a particular structure of ice in this particular form. And because it’s kind of like a crystal, if ice-nine is dropped into a pool of water we’ll immediately convert it all to ice-nine. It’s like dropping a crystal of, you know, copper sulfate or something into supersaturated solution, it all crystallizes instantly. And the important thing about ice-nine is that it’s solid at room temperature. And he was playing with this material he had managed to create on the night that he died.

The protagonist eventually reads a magazine article which reveals the location of Frank Hoenikker and he’s living on the Caribbean island of San Lorenzo, and he’s been appointed there as a Major General by the dictator of the island Papa Manzano. The article also features a stunningly attractive young woman Mona Manzano, who has been adopted as Papa’s daughter. The protagonist sees this picture and instantly falls in love with her.

He gets a journalistic commission to go to the island and write a feature story about it. And so off he heads. But on the way he discovers that both Angela and Hoenikker, are on the same plane, and they’re going off to reunite with their brother, who they’ve only just discovered where he is.

All the way through this book, right from the very start, we’re treated to excerpts of the teaching of Bokonon, a black man whose birth name was Lionel Boyd Johnson and Johnson was one of the co-founders of the Republic of San Lorenzo and who has now become a religious teacher, and he writes many volumes of the Books of Bokonon on, which are full of a really sardonic, very humorous view of humanity and God. I’ll just give you a bit of an example of that if I might. So here’s the Creation according to Bokonon:

In the beginning, God created the earth, and he looked upon it in His cosmic loneliness.

And God said, “Let Us make living creatures out of mud, so the mud can see what We have done.” And God created every living creature that now moveth, and one was man. Mud-as-man alone could speak. God leaned close as mud-as-man sat up, looked around, and spoke. Man blinked. “What is the purpose of all this?” he asked politely.

“Everything must have a purpose?” asked God.

“Certainly,” said man.

“Then I leave it to you to think of one for all this,” said God.

And He went away.

I think that’s very funny, anyway.

Eventually, we discover that each of Hoenikker’s children took a sliver of ice-nine the night their father died, and each has used its potential value to secure things they wanted: Angela a good-looking husband, Newt an affair with a Russian midget, and Frank his official position on San Lorenzo.

OK, now we’re going to have some spoilers, so if you want to read the book then you might want to skip from here. So on the island. Papa Manzano is dying in terrible pain from cancer, and eventually they find him dead, frozen solid, having touched a sliver of ice-nine to his lips. He touches it to his lips and all the water in his body becomes converted to this form of water called ice-nine.

So without going into too much more detail, there’s a an air display happening and there’s an accident and one of the aircraft crashes into the building where Papa’s body is lying. The body falls into the ocean, and because his body is seeded with ice-nine the ice propagates throughout the seas, the entire seas of the world, freezing them into solid blocks of ice-nine. The book ends with the protagonist setting off to climb the island’s only mountain, and he’s planning to go there to lie back and thumb his nose at God before swallowing a piece of ice-nine himself.

Look, I really like the book, it’s just... I know it’s not to everyone’s taste, but it’s got a lot of Vonnegut’s cynicism about humanity in it. And it’s, I think it’s very funny. It’s a really clever satire. I like it a lot.

Perry: I would have liked it back in the 70s I think. Not so much now.

David: Not so much now. That’s fair enough.

Perry: I’m just old and cynical.

David: Well, this is a cynical book.

Perry: Yeah I know it’s a cynical book, but I don’t know. It just doesn’t do a lot for me. It’s sort of no... I always kept thinking he was trying to get it something, but I couldn’t work out what the hell it was and, yeah some very amusing pieces in it, I will admit but not overly for me. Not my favorite.

David: A matter of taste.

Perry: Absolutely a matter of taste, absolutely.

David: OK, so where do we go next?

Way Station, by Clifford Simak

Perry: Well, next we move to the winner. I’ve got to tell you that Way Station by Clifford Simak, which is also titled Here Gather the Stars—which I think is bloody awful—when it was published in Galaxy in June and August of 1963. Way Station is much better in my view.

This is one of my all time favorite SF novels. I reckon that if I was to make a list of the top 10, top 20 it would be in it without any problem. Dune would probably also be in there, Cat’s Cradle, I’m sorry to have to tell you, David, would not. Way Station: is.

Now, I’ll give a basic background to this and then a fair bit of talking about it. The main character Enoch Wallace is an old man when the book starts. It’s set in 1960 but then you get the back story: a few years after returning from fighting for Lincoln with the northern forces in the American Civil War, he returns to his family farm, works there for a while, his father dies. He buries his father next to his mother in their family plot on the farm, and as he’s mourning his parents, somebody walks up the road and comes in and sits next to him and starts talking to him and ask for some water so he gives him some water and Enoch says to him, “So have you come a long way?”, “Yeah a very long way”. “You got very far to go?” “No, I think I’ve got to where I was aiming.”

Enoch looks at him and thinks, what’s this guy talking about? He says “You’re the man that I’m looking for” And it comes about that the person that he’s talking to is an alien and the alien is here on a mission on Earth in the 1860s to set up a way station, which is going to be a hub of a wide galactic network of matter transmission stations, the idea being that you can’t transfer your matter from one side of the Galaxy to the other because there’s lots of gas and dust in the way, and therefore you’re going to get interference, so you have to make shorter jumps. Sort of basically you move from one to the next to the next to the next, and you have to get transferred each time

So this particular alien, who Enoch calls Ulysses after the union general, gets Wallace to look after this particular station that all works very, very well. A hundred years later, we’re back into the 1960s. Now for those of us who are of that particular age, will remember that the early 1960s were a bit of a fraught time in the world diplomatically. Both the Soviet Union and the USA had nuclear weapons and they were basically going head to head in a very Cold War that was rapidly heating up over Cuba and various other little flashpoints around the world. So that’s what’s happening on Earth, but also what’s happening in the Galaxy is that galactic diplomacy is also starting to disintegrate in pretty much exactly the same way.

Somewhere in the past there’s been this thing called a Talisman. This particular Talisman and its custodian have gone missing. The Talisman is this particular object which radiates peace wherever it goes. The custodian’s job is to take this particular Talisman and take it around to the Galaxy and spread a sense of peace and goodwill everywhere the Talisman goes. But it’s gone missing and so there’s lots of problems with the particular things that are going on in the Galaxy.

There’s lots going on back here on Earth, but at the same time, Enoch Wallace realizes that he’s being watched. There’s a group of men that are basically set themselves up around his particular farm, that are keeping track of it, they finally figured out that there’s this guy that’s been sitting in this particular farm for 120 years and he’s not getting any older. He still keeps subscribing to magazines and still keeps getting them. Nobody seems to visit except for the mailman who brings everything during the day. He doesn’t seem to require huge amounts of food from anybody and they have no idea what the heck is going on. So they are keeping an eye on him. At some time slightly in the past, one of the particular aliens that was passing through the way station died overnight in the way station. Enoch Wallace contacted galactic central, who are the ones that handle all of the travel network and they tell him that the body needs to be buried on the land in which it died, utilizing the customs of the people that are there. So he takes the body out and he buries it next to his mother and father.

Ulysses turns up sometime later after, Enoch realizes that there are particular people that are watching him and tells him that the body’s been taken. And this is a bit of a problem because Ulysses says there’s a large group of factions inside the galactic central that are actually trying to close down the Earth Station because they think it’s a backwater and they want to basically push out into other parts of the Galaxy. So it’s a matter of, we’ve only got a certain amount of resources is why are we putting it into this backwater that’s not of use to anybody? Let’s go out here where we think there’s a legend from about where our ancestors came from. So you have a number of things going on here. You’ve got galactic diplomacy going on in the background. You’ve got the Earth diplomacy coming apart. You’ve got the fact that Enoch’s under surveillance and has to try and get the body back.

Also, he’s made a bit of a mistake because a young woman who’s deaf and mute who lives on the nearby farm has come running on to his particular farm and she’s being chased by the father with a bullwhip. She’s done something: she has this ability to be able to do slight mending of broken things. Wallace at one stage sees her mending the broken wing of a butterfly. One of her brothers says something to her or grabs her and she puts some sort of a hex on him, and he basically clams up, and he can’t move. He folds up into a fetal position. The father doesn’t like this and goes after the woman and hits her a few times and leaves a few marks on her, but she takes off. She hexes him and rushes off and she ends up rushing on to Wallace’s farm. He takes her into the house. Now he’s not supposed to take anybody into this particular house with the way station is because this is a separate area where when he is in this particular house he does not age and it is sacrosanct. He’s the only one that’s supposed to be there but she comes in and stays there, he fixes her up and then goes back out and confronts the father and the two sons that have come together and tells him all to go away, he doesn’t know where the woman is, but if he finds out he will bring her back. But they are not to do anything to harm her because she’s under his protection if you like.

So there’s all these things coming together. Enoch gets in contact with the people that are surveilling him and says they have to get the body back which they end up doing and things need to be resolved all the way right across the board. You can see where a lot of this is heading right from the start. It’s fairly well telegraphed in terms of the fact that Ulysses says they need a new custodian. Well, we all know who the new custodian’s going to be, I’ve already mentioned the person in this particular spiel, we know that’s going to happen, and it all does, and everything works out well and Wallace is going to end up being Earth’s representative for the Galaxy, which is pretty much the way that it was always going to be.

Now. There’s a very interesting article that was written by David Pringle close to 50 years ago in 1972 in Foundation. He says a few things about Clifford Simak and says that in Simak’s truest fiction, the season is always autumn and the hour is always evening, which is perfectly apt for this particular book, because that sort of this rural sort of view that he gives. Now he also says that he’s discovered that there are 12 fundamental themes in all of Simak’s fiction and he’s labeled them as follows. And you can pretty much take these off as you go: The old man. The house. Listening to the stars. The neighbor. The alien. The pastoral. Animals, well, that’s the one thing that’s missing [here]. The evils of the city? Yeah. The servants, no. No servants in this. The Frontier. Bartering. And the artifact. So he thinks [there are] 12 of those [themes], and they pretty are all covered in this. And if you remember back to the when we were discussing The Big Front Yard by Clifford Simak awhile back in one of the previous episodes, that’s very much an earlier version of this particular book.

This is, I think, one of Simak’s best. I think it’s got everything in it that I really like. It’s a quiet book. It’s very narrow in focus because even though the Galaxy and all the rest of the stars are out there, the whole of the action takes place in this house and around a small little farm area and a little bit adjacent to the other farm and that’s in. There’s a very rural, pastoral sort of feel to it. It’s beautifully written. I just love this book. I really do and I gave it 4.7 out of five. I think it’s fantastic.

David: Yeah, you’ll be pleased to know that in this case I totally agree with you. It’s one of my favorite science fiction novels too. Simak certainly has a very unique writing style. Sometimes it gets a bit irritating. You see how often he starts a sentence with the word “for”, it’s very characteristic of him, but nevertheless he has a beautiful writing style. It’s very light and he does have interesting themes. I’m surprised that David Pringle left out one obvious common thing in Simak’s work and that is the value of someone who’s disabled or considered to be stupid or deficient in some way. Certainly one of those in The Big Front Yard, and it turns out to be a person who everyone thinks is just a village idiot, but in fact is the only one who can communicate with the aliens. And here we have this young woman who’s deaf and dumb. But she’s the one who... Well, we’ll give the spoiler away: she’s the one who becomes the custodian of this Talisman. So that’s also very common kind of theme in his books. I think I like all of these books. The other thing that’s worth saying, I think, about his books is that they haven’t dated. You can read Way Station today. It could have been put out today with just a few little tweaks to it and nobody would have raised an eyebrow because it really hasn’t dated in almost any sense. So yeah, I really like it. I think it was a deserving winner. Certainly think probably Dune would have come second, should have come second.

You actually have the results, don’t you? The scores of...

Perry: There’s somebody, yeah, somebody found this. Well these days all of the voting statistics are all over the place. You can get everything. You can get a list after all of the voting is completed and all the awards are handed out. If you know where to go to, you can get details of every single work that was nominated, how many votes they got and you can also get the details of all the voting in terms of who came first in the first round, and so on. Back in 1964 it was basically first past the post so whoever got the most votes was going to be the winner, but a lot of the voting stats from the early years have been lost. They were probably just typed up, handed out, put into some papers, the papers were lost or misplaced, and they’re no longer with us. But for 1964 we do have the final Hugo results.

Now obviously we know that Way Station won, that got 63 votes. Second was Witch World with 54, and Glory Road with 54.

David: Oh good God!

Perry: Dune World 51. Cat’s Cradle 30. No vote, 15. No Award 7. So it’s interesting that one of your favourites Cats Cradle came fifth.

David: Yeah, but it’s one of those books which only appeals to a certain slice of people. That’s fine, but it’s fascinating that Glory Road came above Dune. That’s amazing.

Perry: Yeah, well Heinlein was flavor of the month at that point, wasn’t he? I mean, he was considered to be the Dean of Science Fiction or the best science fiction writer ever. And as you and I know around this time, it was basically—no, he wasn’t really going very well. So that’s interesting. I think. I certainly think they made the right choice here with picking Way Station and I was quite happy with that. Now, just as a point of something that I’ve been looking into and which I like to do is have a look at other possible novel nominees. I’m not going to discuss them, but if you want to make a comment, David, please feel free to do. So the ones I’ve got, I’ve only got another four which might have made the final ballot list. Walter Tevis, The Man Who Fell to Earth.

David: Oh yes, that’s a good book.

Perry: I yeah, I wonder whether that picked up more because of the David Bowie film rather than because of the novel. I don’t know. I haven’t ever read it, don’t know.

David: I have. Well worth a read.

Perry: Pierre Boulle with Planet of the Apes. H Beam Piper Space Viking. [We discussed] Little Fuzzy a while back. And Phillip K Dick The Game Players of Titan. I can’t place it, I know I’ve read it but I can’t place it. I’ve got this thing in my head about Phillip K Dick where I’ve got this long stream of books that I read in a fairly close time frame and they all just merge into each other and I can’t... I have to go back and reread them and figure out which one it is, but anyway, so those are those four I think. Look probably the Dick, the Walter Tevis, if it was known all that well could probably have got on, well, certainly should have got on instead of bloody Glory Road, that’s for sure.

David: Oh yes, yeah.

Perry: Yeah, if Heinlein put a book out, it was always going to make the final ballot and that was it.

David: There you go.

Perry: So moving on.

David: Moving on to the shorts.

Perry: Right. Short fiction. Again, what we’ll do is we’ll work our way through the nominees and then get up to the winner. Now there were five nominees on the ballot for the novel. There’s only four for the short fiction, which seems a bit strange, I don’t know why they did that.

Code Three, by Rick Raphael

Perry: But anyway, the first one that I’m going to deal with is a novella called Code Three by Rick Raphael. I don’t know anything about this writer and never [read] anything else by him. This was published in Analog, February 1963, so you’re getting quite a lot of Analog stuff here.

Now this is set in the future in North America, the North American continent is crisscrossed by these huge throughways miles wide, allowing car speeds of up to 500 mph. This story Code Three follows one night shift for a three person throughway patrol vehicle. They send these big vehicles out, which are sort of these massive things that have three people in them. They’ve got sleeping, eating, washing facilities and also a medical kit because their job is to keep the throughways running. Now these lanes that they have for these three ways are about a mile wide and people move between one and another. And of course moving at that speed things are gonna go wrong and when they do there’s huge accidents and the job of the Throughway Patrol vehicles is to clean them up and to keep everything moving. But the bulk of the story is really taken up in set up in terms of how all this stuff works and how it all comes together, and showing the crew at work. There’s hints about what is going to happen. There’s this car that’s been stolen that is taking off going at fast speeds when it’s in the wrong particular lane. Zigzagging around all over the place and so you know that’s what the thing is going to be at the end of what they’re going to have to deal with. But the final payoff is really very rushed and it’s poorly handled from a tension point of view, you get all this stuff, building up to something: oh it’s all finished. All done. There’s not much to this. It’s competent but fairly forgettable, and I only gave it a 3.2 out of five. Really wasn’t much to it.

David: Yeah, there’s so much about it, which I thought was really odd. I mean here you are in the far future, well, not the far future, but in the future anyway, and you’ve got all this fantastic technology which allows all these throughways. But you know, they’ve still got human beings driving these cars. There’s no automation of the vehicles. There’s no method of controlling them within particular lanes on the freeway, they just get out there traveling 500 miles an hour and smashing into other cars. I mean it seems crazy.

Perry: Death Race 2000 is what I thought of all the time. I thought, oh, it’s just going to be a Demolition Derby all the way right through.

David: Absolutely. So there was that. And the other thing I should say, it just sort of peters out at the end. Even this budding romance... because it’s full of misogynist stuff isn’t it. Yeah, but there’s this budding romance between the lady who’s running the medical clinic on board this vehicle. And you start to get this impression that she’s actually gone for the guy who drives [it], this slightly older guy who drives this vehicle and then that also just peters out. Now, I wasn’t very keen on the romantic part of it anyway, but the fact that just completely peters out, you think yeah, OK. So no, I didn’t think this is very good at all, so no I wouldn’t have given it very many points, so I don’t know why it end up on the ballot.

Perry: No, it’s hard to work out, but looking ahead there’s another one utilizing the same group in the same thing, gets nominated later on in a couple of years time.

David: OK, well that’ll be interesting. So that’s interesting.

Savage Pellucidar, by Edgar Rice Burroughs

David: Now the next one we’ll talk about. We’ve talked about why things got on the ballot that shouldn’t have got on the ballot... Well? What do we have? We’ve got this story. This is I would say a novelette, sort of length?

Perry: Yeah, no, I’ve got it is novella, but a novelette is sort of up around that length.

David: Yeah, a novella length work by Edgar Rice Burroughs, called Savage Pellucidar.

Now a bit of background. Edgar Rice Burroughs died in 1950 and after he died there were rumors that he left behind a bundle of unfinished stories or unpublished stories but it wasn’t until the 1960s that his son Hubert confirmed that yes, this was the case. There was a bundle of stuff left behind, and among that material was this story, Savage Pellucidar, which was apparently written in 1942. Now, as far as I can tell, work out, from research on Wikipedia, as far as I can gather, Edgar Rice Burroughs stopped writing fiction entirely once the Pacific War began after Pearl Harbor. He became an official war correspondent and after that, after the war was over, his health was pretty precarious and he died of cancer in 1950, so it’s pretty much 1942 when Savage Pellucidar was written, is about the end of his time as a writer.

So Pellucidar is Burroughs’ imagined world on the inner surface of a hollow earth, and he set six full length novels in this place, including one which is titled Tarzan at the Earth’s Core. Well, I haven’t read that one, I’ve gotta read that one. Tarzan at the Earth’s Core!

Needless to say, this hollow earth is highly implausible and scientifically impossible, but nevertheless, but I’ve read the first couple of books in the series because I actually produced them for Standard Ebooks. They’re now in the public domain, and I read the first couple which are At the Earth’s Core and Pellucidar, and they’re entertaining, pretty entertaining really, but I don’t want to talk too much about them because we’ll be talking about them in fact, in a future episode coming up, but suffice it to say that in the Earth’s interior as imagined by Burroughs is this vast land, it’s almost the same surface area as the outer surface of the Earth. In fact more of it is land than sea, so it’s a very large area and it’s populated by prehistoric creatures like Mesozoic reptiles like pterosaurs and paleolithic beasts like saber-tooth tigers, and various races of primitive humans.

So Savage Pellucidar begins very abruptly, and it seems right in the middle of action as a complete direct continuation of whatever had been happening in the previous story. So we’ve got these two groups of people who are sailing around on one of these vast seas, hunting for each other, because they’ve been broken up by events that happened in the previous story. And the characters in this story apart from two people from the outer world who are called—get this David and Perry—they have names like Ah Gilak. O-oa, Hodon the Fleet One and of course Dian the Beautiful. They’ve apparently been split up by this accident in the previous episode. There was a hot air balloon at the end of the previous story that got cut down or whatever, whatever happened, so you’re already right in the middle of this and you really needed to read the previous story to get anywhere with it.

But even setting that aside, this really seems like it was written when Burroughs’s creativity was in decline. He was only 67, but I think he had really run out of things to say. It really feels like in this he was hardly trying. There’s a couple of reasonable scenes of action, but everything gets wrapped up in the last few paragraphs, really as a total of highly improbable coincidences where all these separated people suddenly discover each other by accident. Everybody lives happily ever after.

I think it’s a pity this very inferior work was published at all, and I can only imagine that it got nominated and on the ballot, purely on the basis of nostalgia for Edgar Rice Burroughs’ previous work. I would rate this two out of five if I have to give it a rating at all, so yeah, it wasn’t great.

Perry: Yeah, I gave it 2.2 out of five. I’m not sure why I added the .2. I agree with you, I mean you can understand publishing it 13 years after his death, but for it to appear on the Hugo Ballot, God no, not just that. Doesn’t make any sense whatsoever, for sure.

David: Yeah, so where do we go next?

A Rose for Ecclesiastes, by Roger Zelazny

Perry: OK, well next up we’ve got A Rose for Ecclesiastes by Roger Zelazny, published as a novelette in Fantasy and Science Fiction, November 1963.

This is a magnificent story, it really is and it’s always in any reckoning of the best science fiction stories ever written.

It’s the story of linguist and poet Gallinger, who travels to Mars with a scientific expedition in order to gain an understanding of the Martian language. Yes, there are Martians, ancient Martians living on Mars. Mars is inhabited by an ancient dying race and seems to have breathable air. Yeah, I know there’s problems with this, but putting all that aside, Gallinger’s exploration of the Martian myths and traditions, his discoveries of their use of language, art and dance and his uncovering of their dark secret is really beautifully handled by Zelazny in this. You could argue that the story’s assumptions about Mars you know the fact that there’s anybody living there, there’s a breathable atmosphere are all basically ridiculous and should blow the thing out of the water but this is just sheer brilliant piece of work. Absolutely fantastic in my view.

This should have been an absolute runaway winner. It had a fantastic Hannes Bok cover on the front of the issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction. It’s hard to know what to say about this because I would have thought that just about everybody who’s read any science fiction should have read this particular story. A lot of people think that Zelazny sort of sprung up out of nowhere, but he’d already published about 20 or 30 stories prior to this. But he just let everything flow in this one. It’s just it’s wonderful. Galinger starts off as being well, a real pain in the bum, he’s really egotistical, he picks up languages at the drop of a hat, is a world well-known poet who people think is right up there with the top half dozen poets that have ever lived in the whole of Earth’s history. He lives off that and he runs with that all the time, and you can tell that he’s basically very off-putting and practically nobody likes him at all, but his slow interactions with the Martians and the young woman that he meets who he then has sex with, that he interbreeds with, is another assumption that you might go, “Well you know that throws that out of the water”, but it’s all handled incredibly well. And I just really, really liked this story. I just think it’s got everything going for it, that I think that anybody reading science fiction would really like.

So you’re going to tell me you hated it. David are you, is that?

David: Obviously I’m in a grumpy mood this episode. Because this again, was an effect of the Suck Fairy for me. I remember this story fondly, and reading it again, I’m thinking hmmmm...

So I suppose that the things that irritated me about it are these: the scientific nonsense of the atmosphere, the fact that the people on Mars are really basically humans and he’s able to have sexual intercourse and in fact impregnate this young woman. OK, I sort of see that but the other thing is, is that as you say, the character himself is so annoying and irritating to begin with, it’s a bit hard to get past that. And I’m reading it, and there are so many references to classical literature or whatever which are just thrown off in a sort of really snobby way. I mean like there’s a bit where he refers to, “I felt like Ulysses in Malebolge”. Now I had to look this up, trying to work this out. Now this is a reference to Dante’s Inferno where Virgil and Dante are introduced to the hero Ulysses in Hell and he’s in the circle of Hell which deals with fraud. Why is he there? Because he committed this huge fraud with the wooden horse at Troy you see, so he’s been condemned to hell for fraud. But you look this up and try to make sense of how Ulysses felt, “I felt like Ulysses in Malebolge” but you’re not getting any impression from Dante what Ulysses was thinking or feeling at the time. You think, well, OK. It’s a bit strange, and there’s quite a few other little references like that. You know, “I swallowed my comments and followed her, like Samson in Gaza.” Now the story of Samson in Gaza if you look it up is Samson went off and had, spent a night with a prostitute. so “I swallowed my comments and followed her, like Samson in Gaza.” I mean it’s obscure and it doesn’t kind of gell.

Perry: That to me to make this just basically builds up his character in this because...

David: Well, yeah, I mean he’s a real prick and...

Perry: He’s pretentious, he’s just completely pretentious.

David: Yes, very pretentious, and he’s a snob. Yeah, OK so that’s fair enough, but the culminating incident is where he’s translated the Book of Ecclesiastes from the Bible into Martian and he reads this to them. Now the Book of Ecclesiastes is the one that begins: “Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher, all is vanity”, everything is, you know “There’s nothing new under the sun”. “Every day is like every other” “People are always the same. They’re always bad and they’re never going to get any better”. But he reads this to them and somehow he’s trying to convince them that this is inspiring because someone on Earth came out with this misanthropic bit of prose, but we somehow survived and went on beyond that. So now that the Martians are in this dire state, then by following Earth’s example and ignoring this Ecclesiastes guy, they can go on... it doesn’t make sense.

Perry: No I can. I can see that.

David: And then the young woman... They’ve discovered that human beings can impregnate the Martians. And so the Martian race can continue because their dark secret is that their men are no longer potent or able to impregnate women. So we’ve discovered that at least one Earth human can impregnate a Martian female. So you’d think that the Martians would be keen to get more male humans back so they can increase, can continue the race, but they take this young woman away and he convinces them not to kill her but that’s it. I just couldn’t make sense of it this time around. I just couldn’t. So well, maybe it’s just me this time.

Perry: Again, I can’t remember how long ago was that I read this, again it must be 20, 25 years and so I’d forgotten quite a lot of it. And yes I take your point about the fact that there are a lot of those basic assumptions that he makes about the interbreeding, the Martian atmosphere, all the rest of it. But I still liked it. I just like this story. Yeah, that’s just it. I mean...

David: It was well written, yeah, yeah, I grant you that.

Perry: Of a lot of what I get, I think is an emotional response to the stories. And then I that I try to work out why. I’m not sure why I had such a strong emotional response to this one. It was hard for me to articulate properly, but not. I liked it. You didn’t, that’s cool.

David: Of all of the nominees. I think this one should have won. I grant you that but...

No Truce With Kings, by Poul Anderson

David: Now I’m going to go into the story which did win. So and this is called No Truce With Kings, by Poul Anderson. The cover of Fantasy and Science Fiction that this is in calls this a short novel, but it really only fills about 50 pages in the magazine, so I imagine that the best you could call it would be a novella.

Yeah, so anyway it’s set on the Pacific coast of America after a major war, probably a nuclear war. I think has happened. They talk about Texas being sort of these black lands which had been devastated, but it hasn’t really resulted in the destruction of the major cities. But it’s left America broken up into a patchwork of States and the focus in this story is on a region whose capital is San Francisco.

As the story begins we’re treated to the mess room carousing at a place called Fort Nakamura, which is a fortress in the rock of the Sierra Mountains and the commander there, Colonel Mackenzie. Colonel Mackenzie receives a telegram from San Francisco saying that the current Judge—you can read that as President—the current Judge, who is Owen Brodsky has been impeached and that Mackenzie is hereby ordered to turn over his command to the forces of the new Judge, Humphrey Fallon.

Now Mackenzie eventually decides not to accept this order or to pretend they haven’t received it and fight on in the name of Judge Fallon but his daughter, Laura, however, is married to a captain, Thomas Danielis, who’s a Fallon supporter, and Mackenzie allows his daughter to leave to rejoin her husband, knowing that soon they are going to be on the opposite sides of a civil war. And indeed there is a civil war between these two factions, and most of the story is really following the progress of the Civil War, which ebbs and flows and we’re not quite sure who’s going to win for quite a while.

Now an additional important factor is the role of the Espers group, which appears to have great psychic powers, including the ability to deliver these powerful destructive psi blasts. They however claim to be peaceful and they intend to remain neutral. Nevertheless, Captain Mackenzie suspects they’ll be on the side of the Fallon forces because Fallon’s promised them protection and support. So most of the story is about the progress of this war, but we have these intervening passages in italics, which are discussions between individuals who appear to have a long term plan for the future of humanity, and they are prepared to push this plan forward despite it involving violence and death. They seem to have... it’s a bit like Asimov’s Foundation, where they are able to predict the future and they can see that there’s a path that humanity has to follow and they’re trying to make sure that it does follow this path. Anyway, we began to understand these individuals in these passages are associated with this group of Espers. The balance of war eventually turns toward the side supporting the previous Judge Brodsky and Colonel Mackenzie is responsible for a raid on an Esper settlement, during which he discovers that their supposed psychic powers are in fact the result of alien technology, the aliens having a plan to tame mankind before they are able to get off the earth and encounter the galactic community.

So in the end Mackenzie’s command enters San Francisco, destroys the Esper headquarters and reveals the aliens’ plot. So here again, like a number of stories we’ve talked about on the podcast, here’s another story where mankind is somehow able to overcome the superior alien technology by, the sheer force of arms and human courage and bravery and all that stuff.

So this was, I thought it was OK, but not great. You could call it piece of military SF, with the emphasis on the military and there’s a fairly interesting scenario of this shattered United States trying to put itself together again. But that’s about all. It didn’t deserve to win. Yeah, I don’t know.

I really think. Yeah, out of the five, I think even with my criticisms, I think I would have voted for A Rose for Ecclesiastes. And Savage Pellucidar didn’t deserve to be on the ballot at all, and Code Three was very ordinary. So yeah, it was a pretty poor year, I think for candidates.

Perry: The thing about No Truce With Kings, the one thing that I picked up on it that I thought was in it is that one side of the civil war wants a bigger government and the other side wants a smaller government where it’s run by smallish clans, they want it to be a more person based, you know more at much lower level, so a lot more sort of libertarian sort of style. It’s pretty obvious which side Anderson was onto on this one. He didn’t like big government and that comes across pretty obviously in this particular story.

You would have to think that maybe Zelazny’s story was a bit out there, and that Anderson’s stuff was... It’s competent but not overly inspiring. And maybe that was just enough for them to be able to go with that.

David: Well, it’s got all this rah-rah military stuff in it, you know fighting stuff you know. I mean a lot of readers really like that sort of stuff.

Perry: So if you look at the voting again. As I said first past the post so there’s no, there’s no runoffs or anything of that sort like we have now. No Truce With Kings comes in with 93 votes. Code Three is second with 67, I don’t know why. A Rose for Ecclesiastes with 47 only just pipping Savage Pellucidar at 44.

David: Oh, good grief. Oh well, that is that is very... that’s inexplicable.

Perry: It’s odd, it’s just very odd.

David: So even with my criticisms of A Rose for Ecclesiastes, it’s certainly a far better written than any of the other things in the ballot.

Perry: Yeah, that’s right and so people I think look at the Zelazny story as being the start of his exploding outwards in terms of his style and his subject matter, and so maybe that’s where they sort of say, Oh, this is the one where after this he kicks off and The Doors of His Face and a whole lot of other things that come out later on, Lord of Light and everything sort of basically starts from here. Up until now, he was sort of a journeyman, and then he just basically decided to let her rip from here, he just took off but odd, odd voting. That’s all I can say is just very odd voting.

David: Very odd indeed.

Other possible short fiction nominees

Perry: Now looking at what other possible short nominees should be on there because most of these I don’t remember or don’t know, but I’ve heard of most of these people, Michael Morecock, had a couple of Elric novellas, Black Sword Brothers and Dead Gods Homecoming, both of which would probably be better than some of the stories on this. Fritz Leiber had a story, a novella, in the change war [series]. Remember The Big Time? So from that one, Aldiss had a couple. Murray Leinster had a Med Service novella called The Height Disease, A. Bertram Chandler The Winds of If, in the John Grimes series.

David: Is this the first time an Australian... oh, mind you, he didn’t appear on...

Perry: But anyway, yeah, that was just ones that might have got there. There’s another Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser story by Fritz Leiber, Bazaar of the Bizarre a Cliff Simak, there’s Deluge by Zenna Henderson, a People story and of course there’s, as it was at this stage there’s a Cordwainer Smith novelette in the Instrumentality of Mankind series called Think Blue, Count Two now Cordwainer Smith on a really, really bad day is going to be better than at least two of the stories that are on this [ballot].

David: Nothing could be as bad as Savage Pellucidar.

Perry: Absolutely, and so look, I think they think this one, I reckon in this particular category they got it wrong. I think A Rose for Ecclesiastes to me is clearly the better of the stories. But yeah, that’s the way it goes.

David: I thought we should say that, it can be quite tricky to track down some of these pieces of short fiction, particularly in the magazines in which they originally appeared. But Perry has been doing his research and he was able to find copies of these magazines all on the Internet archive, which, if you don’t know about, this is archive.org the website, which is a tremendous organization, not for profit, one of the great treasures of the Internet, and I think both Perry and I have donated money to them in the past. They have their appeals every so often to support them, and if you get the chance, we urge you to do the same. They deserve to be supported.

Perry: And a couple of other websites which are run by fans, I believe, which are of great use to us in this particular podcast, and if anybody is interested in looking at the history of genre in the field, both of these other two websites are quite useful and that is the Internet Science Fiction Database which allows you to search for stories under the titles and also the author’s name and also the other one which I use a lot in this particular series of the Hugo Time Machine which is the Science Fiction Award Database which has listings of all of the all of the major awards, the nominees, the winners, and where possible has copies of the book covers from the originals, which is excellent stuff and I will make sure that we have links to both of those in the in the show notes. All three of those particular sites are valuable for us to be able to do this research and read these because as David said, some of these things are hard to find. Some of them never get reprinted and don’t ever turn up in any collections of an author’s works for whatever reason, or if they do, the books are out of print and of course not we’re allowed to go to the library at the moment, David, are we?

David: No.

Perry: So we can’t get there. We can’t get to book shops and most of the SF specialty book shops are gone, so we can’t get this stuff any more. And a lot of it’s out of print, so we’re very, very grateful for all the help we’ve been able to get from those three particular websites, indeed.

Other Awards

Perry: Now later on in 1964 there were there were other awards that were presented. We only look really at the fiction awards, because that’s all we’ve got time for, and we’re already coming up to and hour and a half on this particular episode. Now, the Best Professional Artist at that time, Ed Emshwiller. Best Professional Magazine Analog. Yeah, well, that was always a perennial. Not always, but it had a fair number of stories on this year’s ballot, 1964’s ballot. Best Amateur Magazine was Amra edited by George Skitters. That was a sword and sorcery fanzine, and the best SF book publisher was Ace books. Of the books of the books on this particular ballot. I believe that again, I could have a quick look. I think it was Witch World? Yeah, Witch World was an Ace. Now I don’t know whether it was an Ace Double. No, I don’t think it would have been because I think it was probably a 190 to 200 pages. So would have been too long, too long, for an Ace Double.

David: We should tell people what Ace Doubles were. People won’t remember, but there were two novels within a single bound paperback volume, so printed that you read your way through the first novel and then you flipped the whole book the other way up and on the other side of the book was, with the cover, and everything, was the other novel, so there were these back to back forms of novels, called Ace Doubles.

Perry: A lot of them were the short novels that we’ve been talking about here on the novellas, so you could have a novella of 80-odd, 90 pages, and have two of them together, either by the same author, or different authors. Ace produced a heck of a lot of stuff from this. And as I’ve said, a lot of times, David, I think that the novella length is quite an excellent length for good size science fiction stuff. People don’t go out of control when they’ve got that, that length, they have to sort of make everything concise and keep it all together but as I said, 1964 was, an, interesting, interesting year. It’s got, as I said, a couple of my favorite ever novels on the list, or parts thereof, and also has what I consider to be one of the great science fiction stories with A Rose for Ecclesiastes. So interesting stuff, a couple of duds, but a couple of real good ones.

David: Yeah, that’s fine. That’s true. Yes, very true. So yeah, interesting. All right, very well. I think we might sort of wind up there. I think we’ve been talking more than long enough. We’ll see you a couple of weeks. Oh, do we have plans for next... I think that we do have plans for the next one.

Perry: We do have plans for next one.

David: Have a theme? Do we tell them what the theme is?

Perry: I think we should tell them what the theme is.

David: Yeah, so we’re going to have a theme of megastructures in science fiction. These are those bigger than Ben Hur-type creations of physical worlds or physical places to be to set a story. So that we will have fun with that one I think yeah.

Perry: We’re trying to find some examples which are not necessarily all that well known, shall we say.

David: OK, we’ll see you in a fortnight.

Perry: Yeah, that’d be cool. Thanks. See you then.

David: See you then OK.

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