The Portable Universe 2

Originally published in The Elkhart Truth, December 1982

It’s traditional for publishers to hold what they hope will be their blockbuster hardback books for the pre-Christmas buying season. Two SF (speculative fiction) titles are among those that publishers are counting on this fall.

It might well be that any novel by Arthur C. Clarke would receive such attention, considering that Clarke is at once the inventor of the communications satellite and one of the “Big Three” from science fiction’s golden age. But when the novel is “2010: Odyssey Two” (Del Rey/Ballentine, $14.95), a stir is inevitable. Stanley Kubrick’s classic film. “2001: A Space Odyssey” was based on a Clarke short story, and Clarke co-wrote the film’s screenplay.

Now he has gone back to answer the unanswered questions that have plagued even fans of the film since its premiere in 1968, and which were not dealt with in Clarke’s novelization of the film. Was HAL, the computer, under orders or insane when it killed the crew of Discovery? Who were the aliens that guided and observed human evolution? And what lay ahead for the Starchild who formed phoenix-like in the film’s closing sequence? Clarke takes us on another expedition to Jupiter to find out.

The second big book this fall is Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation’s Edge” (Doubleday, $11.95). Asirhov is another of the ‘Big Three” (the third is Robert Heinlein), and like Clarke he has picked up the threads of his best-known work and carried them forward. “Foundation’s Edge” becomes the fourth book in what for 30 yearS has been known as the Foundation Trilogy, a saga of empire-building breaking which echoed Ancient Rome and anticipated “Star Wars.”

Big in another way is “Yesterday’s Tomorrows” (Berkley, $9.95) edited by Frederik Pohl. This collection of works from 1933 to 1979 was to have been published in hardback last year as “Frederik Pohl’s Favorite Stories,” but was cancelled at the last minute. Too bad. The outstanding writing contained herein–including work by virtually every major writer in the field–deserves the permanence and protection of hard covers.

A worthy collection of more recent works is “The Year’s Best Fantasy Stories: 8” (DAW, $2.50), edited by Art Saha. Included is the winner of this years fan-voted Hugo Award for best novelette, Roger Zelazny’s “Unicorn Variation,” as well as Hugo nominee “The Quickening” by Michael Bishop.

The cover of Mike Resnick’s “Sideshow” (Signet, $2.50) hearkens back to the pulp magazine covers that made science fiction something kids hid from their mothers. It features both a three-breasted stripper and an assortment of BEMs (bug-eyed monsters). But Resnick resists several opportunities to bring the book down to the level of the cover, and this slim tale about aliens observing us by traveling as circus sideshow freaks has both spark and humor.

Back in print again is the late Leigh Brackett’s “Outlaw of Mars” (Del Rey, $2.25) in which she introduced what became her best-known character, Eric John Stark. Stark, along with his literary contemporary Conan the Barbarian, shaped the conception of a generation as to what a true sword-and-sorcery hero should be like. Brackett’s writing elevates these tales above their face value; she was a screenwriter on such classic films as “Rio Bravo” and “The Big Sleep.”

Finally, the surprise’book of the month: “The Jedi Master’s Quizbook” (Del Rey, $1.95), an assortment of trivia questions about the first two Star War films. The surprise? The author (or “compiler”, as the cover says) is Rusty Miller, a red-haired freckle-faced seventh grader from Satellite Beach, Florida.

But then, what else would you expect from someone who named their dachshund Frodo?

Michael Kube-McDowell is a member of The Truth staff.