There are some books that completely "blew my mind" when I was younger, but very few people I talk to about this sort of thing have heard about them...
Before we start, we can divide the world into those who like science fiction (these are the folks who are typically associated with positive attributes like strong, tall, handsome, noble, and so forth) and those who don’t, but this latter category really is a shiftless mob of no account, so we won’t waste any time on them here (they probably wouldn’t have the wit to read this column anyway :-)
If you ask any science fiction buff to name the classics in science fiction, some titles will always be present, such as the Foundation Trilogy (Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation) by Isaac Asimov and Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein.
As two tidbits of trivia, I was once informed (by someone who lectures there) that Starship Troopers is required reading at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Also, in 1965, the Foundation Trilogy beat other science fiction and fantasy series (including The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien) to receive a special Hugo Award for "Best All-Time Series." (It is still the only series so honored.)
In previous blogs we pondered the best Time-Travelling, Post-Apocalyptic, and Generation Spaceship books and films (and songs). But what about the “unknown” gems in science fiction? The reason I mention this is that there are some books I ran across when I was younger that completely “blew my mind” and very much “expanded my horizons,” but which very few (if any) people I talk to about this sort of thing have heard about.
Thus, in this blog and some follow-up columns I'm planning, I would like to offer a few titles that immediately spring to mind. I still have all of these on the bookshelves in my office (which is fortunate, because I just found that some of these little rascals are selling for more than $50 secondhand on Amazon.com).
Candy Man by Vincent King (1971)
This tale is set some indeterminate time in our future – anywhere from several hundred to several thousand years. The world is covered by a single colossal city that covers the entire globe – even the oceans. There is music playing everywhere. Humanity is dependent on "The Machines" – but who controls the machines and why? We follow the progress of someone known as the Candy Man and his dog. The Candy Man has no recollection of his origins and he really doesn’t know who he is.
Eventually we go below the surface of the world to discover that everything we’ve seen thus far rests on an artificial surface that is suspended hundreds of feet above the surface of the Earth. We also discover who the Candy Man really is – how it is that he’s been around for hundreds of years ever since the world was transformed into its current state – and what is role is with regard to…
...but I fear I can say no more. Suffice it to say that as soon as I finish this blog I’m going to pull this little beauty off my shelves to take home and re-read over the holidays.The Joy Makers by James Gunn (1961)
This book is composed of three novellas. The first story takes place in in contemporary USA when a new company called Hendonics Inc. advertises that they will guarantee “True Happiness” – all you have to do is assign them all of your property and possessions and all of your future earnings. We see all of this through the eyes of one man who joins – and then leaves – and then realizes that he wants to re-join… but finds that they won’t let him...
The second story takes place in the far future. By now Hendonics Inc. has formed a world government that is dedicated to making sure that everyone is happy. The problem is that you aren’t allowed to be unhappy … if you are then they will “cure” you. In this story we see everything through the eyes of a “social worker” who falls in love with one of his wards. Our hero really is dedicated to the true principles of Hendonics, which makes him a threat to the people who are actually in charge, because al is not as it seems to be...
The final tale starts off on Mars, where a colony of people who refused to accept the now computer-managed earth has taken refuge. These rugged individualists would be happy to mind their own business, but they discover that they are being infiltrated by robotic agents from Earth – it seems that the Computers in charge want to ensure that the people on Mars are “brought into the fold” and made to be happy (shades of “We have ways of making you enjoy yourself!”
In this story, our new hero is sent back to Earth, where he discovers that the entire population is now living in womb-like containers being fed by the machines and living lives of happy dreams (this part is very similar in concept to the Matrix
). Of course our hero wins the day and the beautiful girl and all is as it should be … unless the computers won and our hero has actually been condemned to his own “pod” and his triumph is actually an artificial dream (reminiscent of Total Recall
).Songs from the Stars by Norman Spinrad (1980)
I really love this tale. The action takes place hundreds of years in the future following an atomic war (in our time) that the survivors refer to as the “Big Smash”. The only remaining civilization (as far as we know) is located in a thin “sliver” on the west coast of the United States. This civilization is formed from groups of people (“tribes”) whose lifestyle is a cross between hippy communes and traditional Native American. They live by The Way, which is based on the use of “white magic” in the form of the Law of Muscle, Sun, Wind, and Water. (They also live a somewhat raunchy lifestyle featuring sex, drugs, and rock and roll … minus the rock and roll). The important point is that no one is supposed to use “black magic” in the form of the old technologies that lead to the Big Smash.
The problem is that "Black Science" is trickling into the community from the Great Waste beyond the Sierra Mountains. Our heroes – Clear Blue Lou (a young, hip, Perfect Master of the Way) and Sunshine Sue (the sexy leader of the Sunshine tribe) – discover that far beyond the mountains living in a secret base is a small enclave of scientists. These scientists are using “Dark Science” to support the vestiges of civilization while working to launch a space shuttle to reach a space station called the Big Ear
. It seems that in the final days before the Big Smash, the crew of the Big Ear
detected messages from alien civilizations, and that these messages may hold a message of hope for the future...
See also Part 2...
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