Return to K-Mac's home pageThe Portable Universe 11
by Michael P. Kube-McDowell

originally published in The Elkhart Truth
February 3, 1984

British-born Arthur C. Clarke dominates this month's speculative fiction bookshelf with four reissues, the first paperback of a hardback bestseller, and a new collection of the author's own favorites.

Leading the list are "The Fountains of Paradise," a stirring and potentially prophetic tale of man's most outrageous engineering challenge, and "Rendezvous With Rama," the tale of a brief visit to the solar system by a alien spaceship the size of a small moon. Both were named best novel of the year when originally published.

Also back for an incredible 48th printing is the classic "Childhood's End," an awe-filled novel of mankind's encounter with a decidedly superior alien race. "Imperial Earth," Clarke's leap of imagination to America's Quincentennial, rounds out the reissues. All are from Del Rey at $2.95, and all are recommended.

New in paperback is last year's "2010: Odyssey Two" (Del Rey, $3.95), the book Clarke wrote to answer the questions raised by the pioneering Stanley Kubrick film "2001: A Space Odyssey." Clarke's sense of awe and wonder sets the mood for "2010," which sets out the destiny of Star-Child Dave Bowman, the psychology of the murderous HAL 9000, and the purposes of the beings which changed mankind's future millions of years ago.

But if you're just cutting your teeth on Clarke, he'd like to see you begin with "The Sentinel" (Berkley, $6.95). It includes ten stories which first appeared between 1946 and 1979, specially selected by Clarke as representative of his craft and imagination and illustrated for the first time by Leb Woods. The title story is the original incarnation of the idea that grew into "2001," which makes this an even better place to start.

Damon Knight is highly respected within the SF community but almost unknown outside it, the consequence of a 40-year career built primarily on short fiction and perceptive criticism. The stylish fantasy "The Man in The Tree" (Berkley, $2.75) is only Knight's second novel, and all I can say is that he's been holding out on us all these years. You will not quickly forget Gene Anderson, the poetic, telekinetic giant whose miracles draw both love and hate.

The space cadet theme has been worn a little thin by time, but F.M.Busby has patched most of the weak spots in "Star Rebel" (Bantam, $2.50). Continuing the story of the matriarchal Hulzein family which Busby began in "Rissa Kerguelen," "Rebel" tells of Bran Tregare's struggle to survive a hiding place that became a prison: the space-going military force of his family's sworn enemies.

Is there honor among thieves? Perhaps not, but Gyll Hermond in Stephen Leigh's "A Quiet of Stone" (Bantam, $2.75) wanted there to be honor among assassins. When he created the Hoorka Assassin's Guild on Neweden, he established a strict code controlling how they would kill and for who. But much of that discipline left with Hermond, and when he returns to find the Guild compromised by the planet's harsh ruler, it falls to him to repair or destroy his creation. This is Leigh's third novel about Neweden, and first-timers may struggle a bit with the nuances of its culture.

"The Nebula Awards #18" (Arbor House, $16.95) serves the commendable purpose of preserving in hardback the best short fiction of each year as chosen by the members of the Science Fiction Writers of America. The concept of preservation even extends to the acid-free paper on which this book, edited by SF giant Robert Silverberg, is printed.

But the eight stories and novel excerpt gathered here deserve to be read, not preserved, since they're splendid examples of today's speculative fiction and darned good entertainment, too. It's as hard to choose between the winners and runners-up now as it was in 1982 when these stories first appeared.

The creative talents of the artists and modelmakers employed by the Lucasfilm empire are on display in "The Art of Return of the Jedi" (Ballantine, $30 cloth, $17.95 paper). This oversized volume is as slickly produced as the film itself. Page after page of storyboard frames, production mattes, and sketches make clear the importance of the people whose names appear in small print in the closing credits to what went before.

From the evolution of Jabba to the creation of the Ewok village, all of the film's stunning imagery is captured at the moment of invention. A complete script of "Jedi" is included as well, but it only makes plain that the film works first as a sheer visual experience and only secondly as a story.

--Michael Kube-McDowell is a member of the TRUTH staff and the author of the SF novel Emprise (Berkley).

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Last Revised: 04 March 2014