I never got around to reviewing the second volume of the Library of America’s science fiction anthology! Here you go.
Robert A Heinlein
Wow. Robert A Heinlein was such a bullshit-artist.
The Stars My Destination
Alfred Bester, on the other hand, wrote preposterous space opera with more panache than anyone, before or since. Forget Heinlein: Bester does science fiction libertarianism as it should be done, a tattooed teleporting madman with a fistful of sub-atomic dynamite.
A Case of Conscience
Father Ruiz-Sanchez, the thoughtful Jesuit scientist who reads Finnegans Wake when he’s not pondering the theological implications of the peaceful, religion-free inhabitants of the planet Lithia, is still one of my favourite characters in literature. The first half is a beautiful first contact story: the second half, which moves to an overcrowded and decadent Earth, is much less convincing. The satire is shrill and dated, and the Lithian ambassador to Earth is an unconvincingly camp false prophet in the centre of a bad Wyndham Lewis pantomime.
I wasn’t particularly looking forward to this, as projections of the Cold War into the 80s from the 50s rarely satisfy, but it was surprisingly good: a controlled and deliberately ambiguous story of a scientist who is returned from East to West after a lab accident, having been rebuilt as a cyborg by Soviet scientists.
The Big Time
A short and impressive novel which deals with an aeon-spanning time war in an elegant and effective way: by setting the action in a pocket universe/bordello used by the agents of one faction for shore leave. A bit marred by the narrative voice – the story is told by one of the girls in a corny sub-Judy-Holliday-in-Born-Yesterday vernacular – but if you consider that Leiber’s parents were touring Shakespeareans of the old school, and treat it as farcical theatre, the whole thing snaps into focus. (Curiously, the narrator of the Heinlein novel is an actor, and he is, somewhat mystifyingly, given that it’s set on like the Moon or something in the 21st century, and that Heinlein is supposed to be a master of social world-building, an incredibly corny caricature, just the sort of old stager who was disappearing in 1956, so, yeah, as I said. A bullshit-artist.)