First Encounters of the Vintage SciFi Kind

Kristen Brand’s latest post about an old-school Sci-Fi comic book heroine reminded me that January is Vintage Sci-Fi (and/or Fantasy) Month. Heather @ Froodian Slip did an excellent series of posts last year and I’m considering reading at least one pre-1985 story each January, starting next year.

In the meantime, as a token of my enthusiasm for the challenge, I’d like to share two old reviews — one from my former Livejournal and one from my Goodreads collection. The first, which can also be found @ Same Story, is Andre Norton’s 1963 Ocean-Girl-esque time-travel adventure, Key Out of Time. The second is Ray Bradbury’s 1949 dystopian saga, The Martian Chronicles (review originally posted here as well as a brief synopsis here).

My present-day ratings are based on my memory of said books, and I’ve slightly edited the reviews for grammar, flow or design’s sake, as well as to add a few present-day insights.

Clipart of a grey flying saucer with a blue glass dome in the center and a blue beam of light underneath.  There are three lights on the underside of the saucer.  They are red, yellow, and green.
Key Out of Time, by Andre Norton.  The cover shows a scuba diver passing through a water tunnel, nearly reaching the circular exit.

Through the exit, you see a beachside castle with a spherical spacecraft rising out of the water and a very small moon or large star shining in the pitch black sky.

Andre Norton. Key Out of Time. New York: Ace Books, 1963.

Rating: 3 out of 5 hours* it took for Ross to become practically fluent in the Hawaiikan language (*hyperbolic estimate).

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Originally posted in my LiveJournal on August 27, 2011.

During my last visit to Half Price Books, I was wandering through the SF/Fantasy section when I saw this intriguingly ocean-themed book.

Honestly, though I’m a huge fantasy reader, I’ve never been interested in any of the books I’ve seen in the genre SF/F section.  But the front cover image and the back cover summary set off my Ocean Girl radar, and, after all, it was only about $3.

My "Ocean Girl Radar" logo: a picture of an auburn-haired girl looking up at the viewer from the water, with a radar target in the foreground and the words "Ocean Girl Radar TM" at the top.

The nutshell:  A pair of Time Agents is studying a mostly-ocean planet which was once home to a feudal civilization, but now seems devoid of any intelligent life.  Intending only to view the past through a time portal, the agents – along with a young Polynesian woman and her two dolphins, with whom she has a telepathic bond – are accidentally sucked through and caught in the middle of a potentially cataclysmic war. 

It was a fun read overall, though it took a bit of suspension-of-disbelief for certain concepts and plot points.

The good points:  I loved the descriptions of the Foana, and the telepathic bond among Karara, Loketh, and the dolphins.  In terms of plot, the most exciting and intriguing parts were towards the end.

The issues:  The story is mainly action/plot-oriented, so characterization and background got a bit of the shaft.  Especially toward the beginning, it felt like there was more “telling” than “showing” re: the main characters and the history of the Time Agent program. 

The description of Ross Murdoch, for instance, was very cliche: “Ross had been a loner–living on the ragged edges of the law, […] too ruthless, too individualistic for [his] own age” (p. 9). 

And the whole concept of the Time Agent program was treated almost like a given — the summary of how it began left me still wondering what the point was.  Why did Earth’s government decide to invest in this project in the first place?  What was the necessity?

Edit: I realize now that I jumped into Book 4 of a series, which explains why Norton didn’t feel the need to explain the Time Agent program too deeply.

Even some plot elements didn’t feel adequately explained.  I didn’t understand how Ross could have learned enough of the ancient Hawaiikan (Hawaiika is what his people call the planet) vocabulary, in such a short time, to carry on all the conversations he did with Loketh and the Rovers.

The most annoying thing, though, was how often the narrator refered to Ross as “the Terran.”  After the third time I kept thinking, Enough already!  I know he’s from Earth – you don’t have to keep reminding me!  Plus, it distances Ross from the reader, making him seem less like an individual, unique character.

Not having read much (well, any) genre SciFi/Fantasy, I wonder if some of these issues – especially the plot vs. characterization focus – are common, at least for older works (Key Out of Time was published in 1963)?  In any case, my next vintage SF/F foray may be into the Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan books.  The Moon Maid and The Cave Girl also sound like interesting titles.

Page Two: The Martian Chronicles

12 comments

    • Fair enough! By the time I remembered, I figured it was better to plan for next year instead of rushing to find a book for this one. In the meantime, I can re-read your previous SF posts! I forgot that you said The Illustrated Man inspired Elton John’s “Rocket Man”!

  1. I love Andre Norton! I read almost all of her books when I was a teenager. She was writing SF during the 1940s and 50s when almost no other women were writing it (hence the nom de plume). They were “pulp novels” then, and some of the conventions that you mention were common to SF stories/novellas of the era.

  2. It’s been a while since I read some science fiction. I think the last one I read was one by Asimov and it involved the dying of the universe. It was beautifully done. Ah, it was called The Last Question. It’s a short read, but a great one. I highly recommend it!

    • Ooh, I haven’t heard of many universe-level apocalypse stories other than The Restaurant at the End of the Universe 😉, but I bought an indie book called Parasites, by Matthew Samuels, early in 2020. It’s about two teens living in the universal end-times, and I’ve been meaning to get to it.

      Thank you for the rec! 😃

  3. “During my last visit to Half Price Books. . . ” Wow, remember when we could go places and do things? LOL. Well, at least we have time for reading and some recommendations. Thank you!

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