Retrospeculative View: 1956

minority report movie photoSome of the short fiction:

Judgment Day, by L. Sprague de Camp

The Game of Rat and Dragon, by Cordwainer Smith

The Minority Report, by Philip K. Dick

Drop Dead, Clifford D. Simak

Exploration Team, Murray Leinster (Hugo Award for Best Novelette)

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ForbiddenPlanet_posterSome of the films released:

Forbidden Planet, a science fiction re-telling of The Tempest. This is a classic film; interestingly, I enjoy dated science fiction films more than dated science fiction novels.

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, inspired by the non-fiction book, Flying Saucers from Outer Space by Donald Keyhoe, an early leader in the field of ufology.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers, adapted from Jack Finney’s 1954 novel. Movie producers have an unusual attraction to this story; it was also adapted to film in 1978, 1993 (Body Snatchers), and 2007 (The Invasion).

Rodan, (Sora no Daikaijū Radon), the first kaiju (strange beast/monster/giant beast) movie filmed in color.

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Novels:

The Last Battle, by C.S. Lewis. The final installment in the Narnia series.

The City and the Stars, by Arthur C. Clarke. A good Clarke novel, but it is a rewrite of Against the Fall of Night (1953). Clarke wanted to improve the earlier novel and supplant it; oddly, both novels remained popular.

The Dragon in the Sea, by Frank Herbert. The characterizations are weak, but the novel presents themes of psychology and religion that are precursors to the core of Herbert’s classic novel Dune (Dune’s sequels were not (IMO) nearly as good).

The Shrinking Man (aka The Incredible Shrinking Man), by Richard Matheson. A man’s confrontation with masculinity, loneliness and mortality (it’s also about a radioactive cloud that makes a guy shrink). The novel was adapted into a movie in 1957.

The Stars My Destination (aka Tiger! Tiger!), by Alfred Bester. A rollicking adventure, often cited as one of the all-time classics of science fiction. After re-reading this novel, it didn’t strike me as a well written book: pulpy, disjointed, cardboard characters, et cetera. It may be a classic of the genre, but it hasn’t aged well. I couldn’t convince myself to name it as the best of the year.

The Naked Sun coverThe Naked Sun, by Isaac Asimov (serialized in 1956) gets my nod as best speculative novel of 1956 (another year without any strong literary candidates). It is not his best novel, but it’s a fun blend of science fiction, robots, and the mystery genre, and was a welcome addition to his robot mystery series (The Naked Sun is the sequel to The Caves of Steel (1954), which is one of Asimov’s classics). This is the second of three novels featuring Elijah Baley (a detective from Earth) and his robot partner, R. Daneel Olivaw. There aren’t enough murder suspects to make a first-rate mystery, but I read this when I was quite young, and it happened to be one of the novels that piqued my interest in ‘social’ science fiction, which became my preferred sub-genre. The setting is Solaria, a planet with a culture that is quite exotic to Earthman Elijah Baley (as the novel is based in the future, there are some interesting cultural changes on Earth as well). The events in the Naked Sun trigger further ramifications in the direct sequel, The Robots of Dawn (1983), and in Foundation and Earth (1986), the novel that connects these robot novels to the Foundation series, all of which are historically significant science fiction works.

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