Tor.com content by

Paul Weimer

Robinson Crusoe of Tschai: Jack Vance’s Planet of Adventure Tetralogy

Adam Reith is a scout aboard the Explorator IV, a research and scouting vessel of a future Earth that is expanding into the stars.¹ A scout, to quote Chief Officer Deale, is “half acrobat, half mad scientist, half cat burglar” and more: “A man who likes change.” Reith gets his fill of that last, as his ship investigates a planet around the star Carina 4269, 212 light years from Earth. A faint radio signal has reached the vicinity of Earth from the planet, a signal that ended abruptly. So, someone sent a signal 200 years ago, but who? And why did the signal end?

The Explorator IV is destroyed by a surprise attack of space torpedoes from the planet. The only survivors turn out to be Reith and his fellow scout Paul Waunder, who were sent in a separate vessel to get closer to the planet. One crash landing later, Adam Reith is stranded on the torpedo-firing alien planet. An alien planet that has not only aliens on it, but, unexpectedly and shockingly, humans, as well—humans that were brought there long ago, in human prehistory. Therefore the aliens on the planet know about Earth, and are a threat to humanity. Adam Reith’s mission is to find a way off of this strange world, find a means to get back home, and warn Earth of the alien threat.

The four novels of Jack Vance’s Planet of Adventure Tetralogy, tell the story of Reith’s crash landing on Tschai, the eponymous Planet of Adventure, and his unceasing, relentless efforts to find a way to escape it and return home. His fellow scout Paul Waunder is quickly killed, leaving him as the sole Earthman on the planet.

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Keeping Telepaths in Mind: The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester

Eight, sir; seven, sir;
Six, sir; five, sir;
Four, sir; three, sir;
Two, sir; one!
Tenser, said the Tensor.
Tenser, said the Tensor.
Tension, apprehension,
And dissension have begun.

With the Hugo winners recently announced for 2016, it’s the perfect time to look back to the novel that was awarded the first ever Hugo Award. That novel was The Demolished Man, a book that stands with The Stars My Destination as one of the two masterpieces of SF author Alfred Bester.

[How does it hold up for readers today?]

Robots, Time Travel, and Social Experiments: Why You Don’t Have to Be An Expert on Plato to Enjoy The Just City

If you know anything about Jo Walton’s The Just City, the first book in her Thessaly trilogy, it’s probably the inescapable fact that Plato’s Republic is a cornerstone of the novel. The titular city that is constructed and that the characters come to inhabit is modeled explicitly on the society that is outlined in Plato’s foundational text of Western Philosophy. It’s the most intimate mixing of a classical text and science fiction that I have ever read, and in a very real way, The Just City is in dialogue with The Republic in a way that Plato himself, I think, would have approved.

What if, however, you’ve never read The Republic, and the only thing you know about Plato is that he’s the guy who came up with the Allegory of The Cave? Or perhaps even that is news to you. Can you still derive pleasure and value from tackling The Just City? Should you even try? Can you read The Just City without a course on Plato, first? Absolutely!

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Of Dogs and Men: Clifford Simak’s City

What to make, in this day and age, of Clifford Simak, an SF writer born in a mold uncommon in this era, and uncommon even in his own? A midwesterner born and raised, living his life in rural Wisconsin and the modest metropolis of Minneapolis, Minnesota. That sort of environment gave him a midwestern, pastoral sensibility that infused all of his SF work, from Way Station to “The Big Front Yard,” both of which were Hugo winners and both merged the worlds of rural America with the alien and the strange. Simak’s fiction also featured and explored artificial intelligence, robots, the place of religion and faith, his love of dogs, and much more. There is a diversity of ideas and themes across his expansive oeuvre. It can be bewildering to find an entry point into the work of older writers, especially ones like Simak. Where to begin?

There is a simple, best place you can start though. A suite of stories that merges Simak’s love of dogs, his interest in rural settings and landscapes, use of religion and faith, and his interest in robots all in one package: City.

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