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Galactic Cluster Paperback – 1968

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Paperback, 1968
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1st New English Library Four Square Science Fiction paperback In stock shipped from our UK warehouse

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Amazon.com: 4 reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Just your typical run-of-the-mill 1950s themes 22 Jun 2010
By 2theD - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Mass Market Paperback
After reading Cities in Flight, which left me wondering why most people in SF highly regard it, I wanted to delve into some more of what some consider a brilliant SF mind. When I found Galactic Cluster, I thought a book of eight unlinked short stories would give a decent snapshot of an author's style and general mindset and finally reveal Blish's elusive brilliantness. Mmm, I didn't find it. All the stories are of somewhat 1950s typical blandness: Cold War themed xenophobia, reminiscing about the homeland or better times, and psychic powers. Pass.

Tomb Tapper (1956) - 3/5 - A grounded aircraft is found in a tunnel, where two investigators probe the wing-less wreck. When a bizarre brainwave pattern is found within, the team set to enter and interrogate the possible Soviet or alien. 20 pages

King of the Hill (1955) - 3/5 - The lone member of an orbital missile platform hallucinates other people aboard his vessel, who shout commands yet to be passed. He consults the civilian agency in charge of such emergencies. When the civilian boards the vessel, who is the unintentional hermit to say what is real and what is imaginary? 11 pages

Common Time (1953) - 3/5 - Travelling at 22.4 times the speed of light, a pilot begins to experience a time difference in relationship to the ship; ten months for the ship is six-thousand years for the pilot. When the time starts to swing in the opposite extreme, the pilot has a sort of outer-body experience. 21 pages

A Work of Art (1956) - 4/5 - The persona of composer Richard Strauss is reincarnated in the year 2161 where the music of the day is automatically created. Richard is asked to compose a piece of the modern audience, where the mind sculptors and contemporary music maestros have eager ears. 15 pages

To Pay the Piper (1956) - 3/5 - Post-war underground society develops a treatment to withstand the harsh condition found on the plague ridden surface. The policy makers grapple with whom to `immunize' first- soldiers or citizens. With the enemy sabotaging allied cities, the process must be found acceptable to the population. 14 pages

Nor Iron Bars (1957) - 3/5 - A new interstellar drive is being tested with passengers aboard. When the turn it on they find themselves within an atom, orbiting an electron, which they try to land on. It's a matter of finding out how they got there, how to get out and how to get back. 38 pages

Beep (1954) - 4/5 - The secret Dirac transmitter has created real-time communication between the stars. At the same time, a videographer approaches the government with a document predicting the transmitter's existence and specific details of future events. When it comes down to boy-meets-girl, everything must go on as usual. 36 pages

This Earth of Hours (1959) - 2/5 - Stranded war ship around alien planet makes contact with psychically connected worm-like species from the galactic center. From a previous confrontation, a captured crewman gives thought provoking evidence to the origins of the worms and the human species, too. 20 pages
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
With all the Flavor of the Fifties! 9 Jan 2008
By Maximiliano F Yofre - Published on Amazon.com
James Blish (1921-1975) was a well known sci-fi writer. Here we have a very representative collection of short tales; this is the original Signet edition from 1959, collected from stories printed in sci-fi magazines between 1953 and 1959.

These narrations have the very special "flavor" of the `50s that I fondly remember from my teens.

There are several typical products of the "Cold War Era" stories; "Tomb Tapper" is one of them and the weakest of the collection.
"The King of the Hill" also pertains to this kind, but is far more interesting, dealing with people under stress and how they channel it.
"To Pay the Piper" here again we are presented a "Cold War Era" scenery with Hot War still raging after fifty years.

"Common Time" is an excellent account about the consequences of piloting a starship faster than light. A kind of tale that the reader regrets it's only a short story, bursting with interesting issues that may deserve a full length novel to develop them completely.
"Nor Iron Bars" is situated is the same universe as "Common Time" telling about a new flying method... and its consequences. This is a great story!

"A Work of Art" explores a recurrent sci-fi theme: what happens when a persona is revived into a new body by scientific method?

"Beep" is a very good story about communications, intelligence services and being able to know the future.
In "This Earth of Hours" Blish is at his best, unbounded, he describes a far future universe with intricate new social forms and puzzling aliens.

I wholeheartedly recommend this collection to sci-fi lovers!
Reviewed by Max Yofre.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Nice Collection 22 Jun 2010
By Mithridates VI of Pontus - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Mass Market Paperback
James Blish, famous for his Hugo winning novel, A Case of Conscience, early Star Trek novelizations, and the Cities in Flight series also wrote some interesting short shorties. This volume includes a selection of his work from the 1950s: `Tomb Tappers', `King of the Hill', `Common Time', `A Work of Art', `To Pay the Piper', `Nor Iron Bars', `Beep', and `This Earth of Hours.`

Some spoilers to follow -- kind of unavoidable since they are short stories...

(4/5) `Tomb Tappers' (1956) is a wonderful and haunting story set sometime during Cold War with a spine chilling twist. McDonough, a member of the Air Intelligence arm of the CAP (Civil Air Patrol) has the unfortunate job of reading the minds of recently dead Russian pilots who crash during bombing runs over the United States. A mysterious rocket/plane is found in a train tunnel somewhere in the Northwest USA and McDonough is sent to investigate....

(3/5) `King of the Hill' (1955) is another tale set during the Cold War. The culmination of the US government's foreign policy is a weapons satellite which has the ability to drop atomic bombs at precise parts of the world at a moment's notice. However, in an effort to save cost, the lone officer in charge of the platform stays over his allotted time with grave consequences. `King of the Hill' is an interesting study of a man under stress but rather banal.

(3/5) `Common Time' (1953) describes early attempts at faster-than-light interstellar travel. Here, Blish explores a bizarre formulation of time dilation. The main character Garrard slowly figures out that time around him is moving infinitesimally slow in comparison to his mind. Also, his body functions are also infinitesimally slow... As a result Garrard has to control his his emotions (since the glandular reactions last hours) and movements (which exert extreme force). Blish is fantastic in ploting Garrard's slow realization of his surroundings. However, the story is weakened by a rather timid/silly introduction of aliens into a fascinating example of early hard science fiction.

5/5 `A Work of Art' (1956) is by far the best story in the collection. Mind sculptors sculpt famous human minds on otherwise talentless individuals in an attempt to one-up each other. The mentality and ability of the famous composer Strauss is sculpted on the mind of a musically ignorant individual. The story is actually quite touching and sad as this new Strauss realizes his fate and the circumstances of his creation when he is unable to compose anything but a hollow shell of his previous works -- likewise, the music produced is only well received since it shows the expertize of the mind sculptors. This fascinating story reminded me of Philip K. Dick's works which explore the mind, consciousness, and individuality.

4/5 `To Pay the Piper' (1956) is another gem. I've always been a fan of sci-fi stories about humans retreating to fallout shelters and other underground installations because of various apocalyptic events. This particularly disturbing take develops the problems that arrive when the survivors get wind the potentially of returning to the surface. The most disturbing aspect is the continued hatred of the enemy despite the virtual annihilation of the two parties.

3/5 `Nor Iron Bars' (1956 and 1957) is one of the weaker stories in the collection. Blish describes Earth's continued attempts at faster-than-light interstellar travel. Here, time dilation doesn't occur, instead matter becomes expanded and more porous. The most interested section is definitely Blish's inclusion of interracial relations. One of the passengers is a super famous white explorer whom all the other female characters fawn over. We eventually learn that his fiance is a young African-American woman who is dieing. Even the main characters have to question their own racial prejudices (which they thought they had expunged years before). Other than that, the story is forgettable.

2/5 `Beep' (1954) is by far the worst of the the bunch. The Service has developed a way to look into the future using an instantaneous interstellar communication device (here, once again, time dilation makes this possible). A new recruit uncovers this secret and as a result is promoted. Boring and just plain silly.

2/5 `This Earth of Hours' (1959) is another poor entry. Interstellar travel is finally become a practicality and an unintelligent telepathic alien race in the core planets of the galaxy is discovered. Blish tries to make this premise interesting by interjecting randomly some tidbits of the Matriarchy government on earth an its colonies created as a result of the ability to chose the sex of one's children. This story is forced and unexciting and its conclusion is anti-climatic.
Dated 24 Feb 2010
By Jacob Glicklich - Published on Amazon.com
Collection of science fiction short stories. A bit tricky to assess at this point, while they contain a lot of neat ideas they're also ideas I've seen used a lot since, and in many cases a lot better. Blish is pretty good at executing a story and his prose is competent, but there's not enough humor, raw creativity or bite to his descriptions to make his short fiction stand the test of time like an Asimov or a Philip K. Dick. While I liked Blish's A Case of Conscience quite a deal, this particular anthology left me much colder, and is probably part of the reason I didn't get around to read it until four years after I bought this volume.

Still, if I was reading this in 1959 I'm sure I would have had my mind blown several times, and none of the stories stand out as bad, or even boring. I was most found of Beep. Overall, I'd say this collection was worth the look.

Similar to and better than: Fritz Leiber's Gather, Darkness!
Similar to and worse than: Isaac Asimov's The Early Asimov
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