Friday, April 24, 2009

Book review: The Counterfeit Man, by Alan E. Nourse

I've been read a lot of older SF lately. Stuff that I think has been called "golden age" SF - you know, the old, pure stuff before it got diluted by politically correct thinking and 'fuzzy' pseudo-science.

My hat's off to the readers of the golden age, for sticking with this genre until it actually got good.

(It's also possible that I haven't been reading the right stories from previous eras.)


The latest collection is The Counterfeit Man and Other Science Fiction Stories by Alan E. Nourse, who I had never heard of before picking up this book from a stack of possibles. The book contains 11 short stories published between 1952 and 1963 in magazines such as Orbit, Galaxy, and Imaginative Tales.

I had expected SF of that age to be more...bound to the limits of the possible, of scientific expansion. And indeed, four of the stories dealt with inter-planetary travel, while a couple others addressed medical science. But a good third of the stories dealt with psychic powers and other elements that (for me) tended to fall a good deal closer to fantasy than SF. (And here I go with labels again...maybe this has more to do with my expectations of what I thought the stories would be about than it does with the stories themselves.)

The use of scientific language was archaic (miles for distance, which is only to expected, I think, given the time) and limited (vague switches and 'controls', which I find an annoying short-cut that cheats the reader (this reader) of real immersion in the created world.) And at least one of the stories ("The Link") depended on a 'gotcha' at the end which I had to read three times before I figured out what the writer meant.

(Sometimes I have to do this because the writer's that good, and I'm that dense. This wasn't one of those times.)

Having said all that - I enjoyed 'The Canvas Bag' (about a traveling man who tries to settle down) quite a lot, and liked 'Circus' as well (a writer is approached by a man who claims to be from another world.) 'Canvas Bag' is probably going to stay with me for a while. I can't say that I reccommend the book to any one, but it wasn't a waste of time to read.

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