Science Fiction Though the Decades

Sunday, October 25, 2015

1970: Neanderthal Planet (Aldiss, Brian)

Previously unpublished stories from 1970, with good reason (2/5)

I’ve read seven of Aldiss’s novels and have been quite happy with six of them (barring Finches of Mars). This is the fourth collection of his that I’ve read and, like the other three, there’s a mix of the good and bad, the satisfying and the bizarre. Last Orders (1989) was an utter hodgepodge of material, unlike a mosaic because it wasn’t beautiful, but more like underside of a wooden school desk with scattered wads of multi-colored gum… it wasn’t pretty. The Book of Brian Aldiss (1972) wasn’t nearly as scatterbrained, but still held true to the bell curve of quality. A better collection is The Saliva Tree (1973), which has a much better selection. In Neanderthal Planet, there are only four stories but judging from the quality, it’s better that the collection isn’t any longer.

Three of the stories feel half-cocked, like they were dead-ends to novel-length ideas that fizzled. Sometimes, the stories feel like a patchwork of stories sewed together with the thread of desperation. The only coherent story is “Intangibles, Inc.”, which is speculative in nature but not sci-fi. This is a heartwarming story (those words I use sparingly) of motivation. The rest of the stories… bleh.

Neanderthal Planet (novelette, 1970) – 2/5
The robocratic authoritarian rule of the world has saved the remnants of humanity and wildlife after the human-driven Nuclear Week. Now, all are kept in a zoo, yet the intellectuals are allowed to colonize planets like Nehru II, which is exactly where Anderson is headed. On that mysterious planet, previous intellectuals have gone and visited but nothing has been heard back. Anderson’s mission dictated by the robots is to find out and return, but the manlike apes may hinder his progress. 48 pages

Danger: Religion! (novella, 1970) – 3/5
Humble historian Meacher is recruited by a parallel universe traveling man by the title and name of Captain Apostolic Rastell of the Matrix Investigation Corps. In a bid to save his own and all other parallel worlds, Meacher is taken to Rastell’s world where Edinburgh is the capital of Europe and where religion runs rampant while slavery is rife. With fellow “extra-matricials”, they revolt against the Church to free the slaves, or so Meacher thinks. Back in his home universe and hometown, he’s neither safe nor well-informed. 62 pages

Intangibles, Inc. (novelette, 1970) – 4/5
Arthur and Mabel are newlyweds and eking out a living with Arthur’s menial labor. Their love feels hollow with neither of them particularly set toward any goals, but all this changes when a wizened man with a beat-up truck enters their house. His truck—with Intangibles, Inc. painted on the side—holds only the intangible, which he also offers to the couple. As a test of Arthur’s willpower, he places two shakers on the table’s edge. As the weeks and years pass, Arthur finds he has both the will and the power… all thanks to those two shakers teetering on the table. 25 pages

Since the Assassination (novelette, 1970) – 1/5

The president of the United States was assassinated behind closed doors while being alone with a document in front of him; two things are missing from the scene, however: the document and the assassin. The former Secretary of State contemplates philosophy on his state but gets something more substantial as the current Secretary of State (and his skydiving wife) visit: men living once living on the moon have different circadian rhythms out of sync with earth time… and the vague yet earth-shattering project simply known as Project Gunwhale. 48 pages

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