American Science Fiction: Five Classic Novels 1956-1958
Double Star, Robert A. Heinlein
The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
A Case of Conscience, James Blish
Who?, Algis Budrys
The Big Time, Fritz Leiber
“A sublime reading experience.” — Junot Díaz
This second of two volumes surveying the best science fiction novels of the 1950s presents works by five of the field’s most admired and influential practitioners. In Robert A. Heinlein’s Double Star (1956), an actor forced to impersonate a twenty-second-century political leader intent on forging bonds between Earthlings and Martians learns hard lessons about the nature of power. Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination (1956), which Neil Gaiman has called “the perfect cyberpunk novel,” is a classic revenge tale set in a nightmarish future dominated by corporations.
In James Blish’s A Case of Conscience (1958), space voyagers on the remote planet Lithia find themselves challenged by the values of an alien civilization. Algis Budrys’s Who? (1958) unleashes Cold War anxieties about technology and human identity with its story of a scientist rebuilt beyond recognition after a devastating accident. Set in “the Place,” a bar and bordello in the backwater of time’s stream, Fritz Leiber’s The Big Time (1958) explores the implications of the “Change War,” an endless cosmic struggle in which shadowy antagonists dart in and out of history in a contest to control destiny.
The range of styles—by turns adventurous, satiric, incisive—is as varied as the themes addressed by these novels, all now acknowledged as American classics. Together they mark an explosively entertaining era in modern fiction.
Gary K. Wolfe, editor, is Professor of Humanities in Roosevelt University’s Evelyn T. Stone College of Professional Studies and the author, most recently, of Evaporating Genres: Essays on Fantastic Literature and Sightings: Reviews 2002–2006.
Visit the companion website for more on 1950s science fiction and these works and writers, including jacket art and photographs, additional stories, author interviews, and new appreciations by Michael Dirda, Neil Gaiman, William Gibson, Nicola Griffith, James Morrow, Tim Powers, Kit Reed, Peter Straub, and Connie Willis.
Also of interest:
Philip K. Dick: Four Novels of the 1960s
H. P. Lovecraft: Tales
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