Posts Tagged ‘first contact’

James E. Gunn – Station in Space and The Listeners

January 2, 2008

Gunn is clearly embracing the ebook age, making him only one of a dozen or so sf authors who are; 9 of his novels and his short story collection Future Imperfect are available as Kindle ebooks.  I mentioned his first story in Station in Space, “In the Cave of Night,” as a memorable one for me in an earlier post.  The two novels by him that I recommend are:

Station in Space (Kindle ebook) surprised me as a child in the 1950s reading these stories.  These were not the altruistic heroes of my beloved boys-adventure series, but hard-bitten men, working in a dangerous, unforgiving environment, keeping secrets, waging bureaucratic battles, and far past the romance of it all, with —-ing language [censored then] to match.  Raw, brutal, real.

The Listeners (Kindle ebook), on the other hand or grasper, is a slow patient tale of long range purpose by Earth’s cultures and the McDonald family, trying to establish a lightspeed-limited radio dialogue with the alien Capellan culture lightyears away.  Like most of Gunn’s novels, the narrative was originally published as magazine short stories.  Instead of distracting/detracting from the structure of the novel, this enhances the episodic nature of his story as we meet five generations of McDonalds at pivot points in the tale, while messages and responses crawl between stars at light’s limit.

Carl Sagan’s Contact and Jack McDevitt’s original version of The Hercules Text (Ace Special, No 7) are two other good SETI novels.

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In the Ocean of Night – memorable

December 28, 2007

I’m not doing my memorable sf phrases/scenes in chronological order, but by one jogging another loose from my memories.  My early love of astronomy and spaceflight also colors my choices, then and now.

So thinking of “In the Cave of Night” immediately recalled a memorable sf scene from a story with a similiar title, 17 years later, also in an sf magazine.  This time the magazine was Worlds of If, the May/June 1972 issue.

A visiting space probe communicates with the human race, receives all of our knowledge, and eventually moves towards Earth. So astronaut Nigel Walmsley is lofted on an intercept course looping around Luna and ordered to prevent the ship from leaving the solar system. Coming out of the sun to mask his ship’s signature, flying blind to avoid alerting the Snark with his radar, Nigel is lining up his missiles when:

‘A voice said:

“I wish you the riding of comfortable winds.”

Nigel froze.  The odd, brassy voice came from his helmet speakers, free of static.’ And the computer AI starts to converse with him … [Part Four, chapter four, page 189 of the original Dell pb.]

And I was gripped by awe at seeing a far superior tech level in such a small detail as no static; I assumed the probe was directly manipulating his speakers without using radio. But our mileage varied, because I had read the original If version, which varied in the dialogue. I can’t refer to the issue, but I recall Nigel hesitating to launch, and the static-free voice asking, “are you all thus so double?”

All 4 of these Walmsley stories [including one that happened to a different character, rewritten to be Walmsley in the novel] were collected as In the Ocean of Night in 1977.

Seven years later, it became the first of the sweeping Galactic Center six novel series, when Across the Sea of Suns (Galactic Center 2) was published.

At the same time in Galaxy magazine, Dr. Ernest Taves was showing me The True School of Modesty in his Luna series, in my next memorable sf scene.


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