Chuck Foster was raised on horror and science fiction by his late-night horror host father, Grimsley. In his early teens, he discovered punk rock and became an avid music collector while allowing his obsession with horror movies to flourish. Since 2002, he has written about music for such publications as The New York Waste, Under the Volcano, The Big Takeover and Bigtakeover.com and he is the music editor for Secondflightstudio.com. He has explored various styles of music with his own projects and has written a screenplay, which is currently under option, with co-writer Christian Ackerman. He also contributed to Ackerman's film, Elwood Carlisle Superstar. Visit Chuck's MySpace page at www.myspace.com/mrphreek or his music blog, Mr. Phreek's Anokist Emporium.
With "Blood Sausage," Chuck plans to focus less on music (although it will certainly make up a significant part of his articles), and more on books, television, video games and online content. He is open to submissions and he promises to give an honest, fair assessment of the work at hand.
Please send all submissions to:
217 Spencer St.
Brooklyn, NY 11205
SUPERSPACE: THE UNIVERSE OF CLASSIC
SCIENCE FICTION LITERATURE
Several months ago, I had a conversation with a computer geek friend of mine about cyberpunk culture. Hours later, as I sat at my computer, I realized that I hadn't touched the cyberpunk anthology that sat under my monitor. I read The Ultimate Cyberpunk, edited by Pat Cadigan, rather quickly and, while I enjoyed most of what it had to offer, I was especially fascinated by the pre-cyberpunk stories that dated back to the 1950s and 60s.
Around the same time, I re-discovered an old science fiction radio show called X Minus One that my dad used to play for me when I was a kid. (You can read more about it HERE. http://www.bigtakeover.com/essays/the-astounding-science-fiction-radio-of-x-minus-one)
I also found my unread, neglected copy of Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? I read it in two days and hungered for more, so I sought out the now-forgotten names of the writers from both the anthology and the radio show that most completely captured my imagination.
The Demolished Man
by Alfred Bester
I first heard of Bester in The Ultimate Cyberpunk; his brilliant, but disturbing take on psychotic cybernetic paranoia, "Fondly Farenheit," opened the collection. However, this, his first novel, is nothing short of genius. Though it was written nearly 20 years earlier, Bester's depiction of an extravagantly futuristic New York City seems as if could coincide with the rundown, decrepit Los Angels in Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. Here, an ultra-paranoid CEO, Ben Reich, decides that the only way to beat his competition is to literally destroy him. The only problem is that NYC is run by Espers, mind-reading psychics whose duty it is to report any suspicious thoughts that may arise in anyone's mind. Under this system, guns are obsolete and murder is a thing of the past, which makes Reich's job all the more difficult, not to mention that the punishment for such a crime is "Demolition." Eventually, the novel becomes an exciting cat-and-mouse game between Reich and his nemesis, Esper detective Lincoln Powell.
Bester's ability to create compelling characters within a vibrant future environment is reason enough turn the pages, but, of course, there's much more: an obvious love of wordplay permeates the novel. For instance, when Espers congregate at parties with other Espers, their main mode of entertainment are mental word games, essentially, creating thought sculptures that build and transform into marvelous structures. Bester's depictions of these parlor games are as experimental as William Burroughs, while nodding to the word-as-art-on-page aesthetic of Richard Meltzer. Keep in mind that The Demolished Man was first published in 1951, eight years before Naked Lunch and a good 16 years before Meltzer put pen to paper as a rock scribe. Needless to say, this is an excellent read by one of the best authors science fiction ever had to offer.
We the Underpeople
by Cordwainer Smith
Smith is an intriguing character. His real name was Paul M.A. Linebarger. According to his Arlington National Cemetery bio, his father, Paul M.W. Linebarger, was legal advisor to Sun Yat Sen, who is widely acknowledged to be the father of Chinese nationalism and who acted as Smith/Linebarger's godfather. Smith joined the army and became heavily involved in intelligence operations, later writing the definitive text, Psychological Warfare. Apparently, science fiction writing was, for him, a form of self-entertainment, although he obviously cared about it as he actively sought publication.
We the Underpeople compiles five short stories and his sole novel, Norstrilia, all of which take place on Earth between 14,000 and 16,000 AD and mark the end of the Instrumentality of Mankind with the revolt of the underpeople. It may sound complicated, but it's really not once you get into the "future history" element of Smith's writing. The Instrumentality is almost like the Roman Empire set thousands of years into the future. Underpeople, manmade genetic mutants that are half human/half animal, are their slaves. Essentially, the short stories collected here serve to provide background information while leading up to the exquisite, exciting novel, Norstrilia.
Norstrilia is a dry, dusty planet similar to the Australian outback, but it's also the wealthiest planet in the colonized universe because it is the sole producer of stroon, a drug grown in giant diseased sheep that causes immortality when taken in small, regular doses. Rod McBan, Mister and Owner of a stroon farm, is restless and, with the help of an illegal computer, he becomes the wealthiest man in the universe. Meanwhile, Lord Redlady, taking a cue from Lord Jestocost in "The Ballad of Lost C'Mell," pushes the proverbial snowball down the hill in order to liberate the Underpeople from slavery, including the most beautiful cat-woman, C'Mell, a futuristic escort/stripper of sorts, in his rebellious plans.
Unfortunately, merely reciting the plot of Norstrilia can do no justice to the book itself, which is rife with quirky, loveable characters, odd, futuristic landscapes and a profound knowledge of classic languages, not to mention an impish obsession with wordplay. There is also a strong sense of social commentary, but it comes across in the least preachy way possible. Fans of Douglas Adams and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series will especially appreciate Smith's attention to detail and his oddball sense of humor.
Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Treasury
edited by Isaac Asimov, Martin Greenburg and Joseph Olander
This nicely bound hardcover not only compiles two excellent anthologies assembled by the editors in 1980, but it also sells for a very low price. (I bought it brand new for $11.99.)
The Future in Question consumes the first half of the volume and centers around the theme of questions. All but one of the titles has a question mark in them. "What's It Like Out There?" by Edmond Hamilton asks the first question with a captivating tale told in a hard-line Raymond Chandler noir style about an astronaut who returns from the disastrous first mission to Mars, only to encounter this fateful question everywhere he goes. Arthur C. Clarke delivers an outer-worldly ghost story in "Who's There?" Robert Sheckley, a favorite author of mine from X Minus One, tells of a stalker vacuum cleaner in "Can You Feel Anything When I Do This?" James Tiptree, Jr.'s "Houston, Houston, Do You Read?" is an unsettling novella about a small crew orbiting the sun that loses contact with Earth, only to be rescued by a suspicious female dominated crew. (Tiptree was actually Alice Sheldon, a feminist science fiction writer who beat many men at their own game). "Where Have You Been, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?" by Kate Wilhelm weaves a Burroughsian nightmare that veers between George Orwell and Kurt Vonnegut. Theodore Sturgeon's profound "If All Men Were Brothers, Would You Let One Marry Your Sister?" describes a paradisiacal planet that's shunned for its unorthodox ideas about sexual relations. Alfred Bester makes an appearance with "Will You Wait?" -- a hilariously witty tale about trying to make a deal with the devil over the phone. "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell, Jr. is rarely anthologized, which is a shame because it was the basis for both film versions of The Thing and it stands firmly on its own as an extended short story. Frederik Pohl, another favorite of mine from X Minus One offers "I Plinglot, Who You?" which depicts an alien with sinister plans who speaks before a US Senate committee. The only story without a question for a title is Asimov's "The Last Question," an interesting take on pre-biblical creation. These aren't all the stories in the anthology, but they were the ones that stayed with me long after I read them.
The second half of the volume is Space Mail, a collection of stories written as letters, diaries and memos. C.M. Kornbluth begins with "I Never Ast No Favors," an amusing letter from a tough Brooklyn street kid who falls into some mysterious circumstances during a court ordered work-release program. Chan Davis tells an unsettling story about discovering one's heritage in "Letter to Ellen." Judith Merril's "That Only A Mother" is a frightening collection of letters from a new mother to her soldier husband. "Computers Don't Argue" by Gordon R. Dickson is a bureaucratic nightmare. Howard Fast's fascinating story "The Trap" serves as centerpiece to the collection. The letters tell of a former American World War II soldier who is enlisted by his scientist sister to examine some odd cases of strangely behaving children. As the plot unfolds, the events gradually become more bizarre, eventually leading to seriously dire consequences. Daniel Keyes' classic "Flowers for Algernon" begins the diaries, and is followed by George R.R. Martin's futuristic take on lighthouse psychosis, "The Second Kind of Loneliness." The memos include A.E. van Vogt's version of a top secret Nazi plot, "Secret Unattainable" and Christopher Anvil's chilling take on internal defense memos during a change of administration after an election, "The Prisoner." "Request for Proposal" by Anthony R. Lewis is yet another bureaucratic nightmare and "The Power" by Murray Leinster (another author who graced X Minus One) closes the book with a translation of recently discovered 15th-century Latin documents that describe interaction with what the local people probably considered to be a demon. Again, these are not all the stories in Space Mail, but they are some of the best.
My science fiction reading hasn't ended here. I'm 40 pages into Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers (yes, the inspiration for the Paul Verhoeven movie) and I'm hanging on to every word of its cynical take on army life. Delving into these books has revealed new and exciting worlds that provide an excellent escape from the dreary, mundane existence of everyday life on Earth. It was a pleasure to read them and I hope others will get as much enjoyment from these books as I did.