Ah, The Classics!

John Hertz invites fans attending Westercon in San Jose and Renovation in Reno to join in the discussion of selected classics of science fiction.

As John defines it, “A classic is a work that survives its own time. After the currents which might have sustained it have changed, it remains, and is seen to be worthwhile for itself.”

Now’s the time to pull out the copies in your collection or check whether they’re available online, read them and come prepared.

The three works being discussed at Westercon 64 are:

Poul Anderson, Brain Wave (1954): Humankind didn’t invent it; we escaped it. The Solar System suddenly moves out of a cosmic cloud after hundreds of millions of years. It was a suppressor field, so everything that has a brain is about five times smarter – people and animals. Now what?

Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle (1962): This won Dick’s only Hugo. The Allies lost World War II; Nazi Germany controls the east coast of North America, Imperial Japan the west, where most of the story is set. Avram Davidson, who was no dope, said “It’s all here, extrapolation, suspense, action, art philosophy.”

Murray Leinster, “The Ethical Equations” (1945): Here are hostile aliens we can’t take advantage of, astounding technology ditto, bureaucrats who get their noses pulled, neatly and deftly shown. Leinster coined “first contact” for the first meeting of humans and aliens; the Sidewise Award for alternative history is named after a Leinster novella. He was one of s-f’s best craftsmen.

They’ll be discussing three of John’s choices at the Worldcon:

Thursday: The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron. The New York Times said “scientific facts are emphasized in this well-built story,” Mushroom Planet was applauded by Ellen Datlow and Walter Moseley and found on dozens of children’s-book lists, it has strangeness and charm. Discussion led by John Hertz.

Saturday: From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne. We did go to the moon, a century later; we did leave from Cape Canaveral, with a crew of three; the Apollo XI command module was the Columbia, and the command-service module was the size and shape of Verne’s projectile. But never mind; science fiction is not in the prediction business. What a storyteller Verne was! Discussion led by John Hertz.

Sunday: The Wanderer by Fritz Leiber. Here are a host of viewpoints, a first contact with aliens story as we learn a third of the way in, a look at some favorite notions like “Rovers are free and good” and “Love conquers all” and a breathtaking exercise in climax and perspective. Leiber’s second Hugo-winning novel. Discussion led by John Hertz.

[Thanks to John Hertz for the story. Item descriptions, written by John Hertz, have been copied from the convention websites. Thanks to Reno for the added links to Wikipedia entries and participant information.]

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3 thoughts on “Ah, The Classics!

  1. @Mike: It’s a close call, but just possibly I am not going to run out and learn French so I can read Verne in the original.

  2. @Mike G: No need to learn French!

    There’s a very good translation – and it comes with annotations! – by the late Walter James Miller. Inexpensive copies are available online. Do a search for isbn: 0517148331.

    A few details about the translation here: http://www.najvs.org/works/V003_TL.shtml

    Reading a bad translation is sort of like reading the “The 1000 Year Plan” and thinking one has read “Foundation”.

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