Ben Bova’s most popular story, he tells us, is Escape! and it’s a great tale.  Part exploration of the surveillance state — not bad work for 1970 — part moral tale, and all-out prison drama, Escape! he tells us is the story that most people write to him about.  You can see why.  One of the most common heroes in all SF is the young man who thinks he knows best, and such is Danny Romano, the hero of this epic tale.

The weirdness of Vathek lives on.  Even in its day Vathek by William Beckford wasn’t strictly classifiable, although its author might have been.  Beckford himself is a fascinating historic figure, but Vathek’s getting the attention here and there is more to Vathek than meets the eye.  The story of how the story of Vathek came to light is strange and would make a good book in itself, but for the time being it’s best to concentrate on the horrific, heroic, archaic, verbose, religionist and occult facets of the novel itself.  It’s a shame that Vathek is often classed with the Gothic novels of its period, but it soars far above them.  Sure Vathek’s got Gothic elements, but it has a mountain more tricks than that.

Ray Bradbury produces particularly thin names for his Hollywood alter-egoes.  There’s the stop motion animator Roy Holdstrom and the director Fritz Wong, who are based on Bradbury's friends Ray Harryhausen and Fritz Lang — the latter combined with James Wong Howe.  Another character, the autograph collector Clarence, can be read as an autobiographical image of Bradbury himself, who as a young person hung about outside the old-time film studios for glimpses of movie stars.  It's a crazy gang, in a crazy business, in a poetic, Gothic and mysterious crazy town called Hollywood.

In his trilogy, Castle to Castle, North and Rigodon, Céline blew apart the last two years of the war, 1944 and 1945, showing himself wandering through the death throes of Germany. These books are the ultra-Célines, where the language is at its most shattered, most battered, most like poetry, and the hallucinations are constant, worse than they were in Guignol’s Band. Rigadon is my favourite I think, and loved or not, it must hold a special place in the canon as Céline was working on it the day before he died in 1961.

By the time you get to read High Citadel, you will be fair lapping up the Desmond Bagleys.  I was.   Speak to anyone who knows the works of the master and they will certainly agree with me that this is one of the better ones.  Knowing what to expect as a Bagleyite, I got much more b a thriller set in the high Andes, yes, the molten white hot centre of which is a fantastic bridge hold up / stand off, a component of the novel which is long and incredibly satisfying.

The opening of The Iron Thorn hints at dramatic action in the form of a violent encounter between man and alien. Instead of presenting alien encounter as a development of the plot, Algis Budrys addresses it as a function of test-tube living — the idea that when people are under the microscope, and are uncertain subjects in greater experiments, then this is no life at all. In fact, primitive living on this far away planet has created a kind of infantilism, where everyone gets by on the most base of motivations. Of course this violence leads to its natural home — the consumption of feminity as visual lure, as it tends to be in science fiction.

The Day the Machines Stopped by Christopher Anvil, issued back in the prophetic days of 1964, is a disaster story dealing with the kind of popular themes we’ve seen since Richard Jeffries published After London, back in 1885. The end of the world is an idea that’s never far from the surface. In the pre-industrial age, end of the world literature still abounded — only it was religious apocalyptic. Post industrialisation, end of the world literature has been scientific or political in nature — and although it’s sometimes aliens, generally it’s been science or nature or even politics that are going to bring an end to things — not the Hand of God.

Astra and Flondrix (1976) is a porn novel that doesn’t really manage to be sexy, and a fantasy novel that breaks one of the first rules of the genre, by having as its cement many base human functions which we prefer not to find in this sort of prose. All in all it’s kind of distasteful, and although Astra and Flondrix tries hard to express a massive libertarian universe of possibility, it doesn’t really work as it fails to set its own boundaries.