Feb 13, 2016

Sci Fi Nova

cover art by Carl Lundgren
Some science fiction writers become the darling of a book publisher. Others briefly flare up like a nova and then just fade away. Robert A. Heinlein is a good example of a science fiction grand master who is impossible for a science fiction fan to avoid.

Along with Clarke and Asimov, Heinlein was among the first science fiction authors whose work I read. Heinlein taught me a valuable lesson: to avoid fictional politics.

cove art by Vincent Di Fate
When I was in my "golden age" of discovering science fiction, I was subjected to book covers such as that on the Berkley Medallion edition of Time Enough for Love (image to the left). Later, Heinlein's novels were re-issued with new covers such as the one shown to the right.

A Sci Fi Nova
My example of a science fiction nova is M. A. Foster. Michael Anthony Foster is probably the only science fiction author for whom I purchased every published novel.

cover art by Michael Whelan
Today I was surprised to discover that a German language edition of The Gameplayers of Zan was published using the same cove art as had already been used for Heinlein's Time Enough for Love.

Foster imagined a future in which a human variant, the Ler, was crafted and sent forth into the universe. Foster was one of the many science fiction authors who came to my attention by way of DAW Books which began publishing just when I reached my personal golden age of science fiction.

Carl Lundgren
In the end, Foster's novels helped drive me away from science fiction that has even a tinge of fantasy. I remember one scene in the Ler trilogy ( I have not read the books for decades) in which a toy made from wires is used to capture the mind of one of the characters. As I recall, the wire toy is then blasted into atoms in order to make sure that the extracted mind could not return to its body. This kind of silliness eventually prompted me to toss all my M. A. Foster books into the trash. Still, for a 12-year-old they were quite an adventure.

Of course, Carl Lundgren's painting has nothing to do with the Ler or the "game players". In Foster's novel, the Ler are masters of a mathematically complex game. Eventually the Ler escape from the confines of Earth and spread to other planets of distant star systems. Genetically engineered humans, mathematical games, interstellar travel... tinged with a dose of 1970s pop culture metaphysics.

cover art by George Underwood
The cover for the Hamlyn Paperbacks edition of The Gapeplayers of Zan shows an interesting morphological feature of the Ler: they have two thumbs on each hand.

What I liked best about Ler biology was their greatly expanded period of pre-adulthood. Our own unique human brains show evidence of delayed brain development and it makes sense that an engineered human variant might be pushed even further in that direction.

Next: Babylon
1979: more re-used Carl Lundgren cover art. Science Fiction? Fantasy? Who cares; we all have swords!

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