Thursday, October 24, 2019

Frederik Pohl, Digits and Dastards (1966)

Pohl, Frederik. Digits and Dastards. New York: Ballantine Books, June 1966. (my edition)

Digits and Dastards at ISFdb
Digits and Dastards at Goodreads

Overall Rating:     5/10

With the exception of "Fiend," published in Playboy, the short stories and novelettes in Frederik Pohl's Digits and Dastards were originally published in Galaxy Magazine and Worlds of If. Four of these five were published during the 1960s when Pohl himself was editor of both. Of the six total stories, five were published in 1963 or 1964, with the sixth in 1955. The stories are largely forgettable, though I did like "Father of the Stars" to a point. Not terrible, but as average as these are, none are memorable.

Alongside the stories are two essays on binary numbers, and a brief introduction that explains their conception. Dated but somewhat enjoyable to speed through.

The Children of the Night     6/10
Galaxy Magazine, October 1964. pp 158-194
Not too long after a war with the Arcturians, a race of aliens who decimated a human colony on Mars, a public relations firm takes on the challenging job of easing the aliens' bid to build a port in the town of Belport. (Yes, Belport, as in the unsubtle "beautiful port.") Relations chief Odin "Gunner" Gunnarsen must navigate the tense political and social realities of small-town America, made more difficult when he learns of the children living in the local hospital, who were permanently maimed by the alien race. An interesting read and perhaps the strongest story in the mix.

The Fiend     5/10
Playboy, April 1964.
The titular subject is Dandish, the sole crew of a ship transporting frozen colonists. He awakens a young woman, thinking he could have his way with her. An interesting enough idea, but unfortunately the female character is dated and not at all engaging, and the story does not do very much with its material.

Earth Eighteen     4/10
Galaxy Magazine, April 1964 (as "by Ernst Mason"). pp 106-119
A tour guide takes the alien traveller across a post-apocalyptic USA, where the human inhabitants are few. A cutesy idea which for me was not at all funny. After a couple of pages I admit I skipped some paragraphs.

Father of the Stars     7/10
Galaxy Magazine, April 1964. pp 110-127
Norman Marchand has spent his life devoted to space exploration and the dream of colonizing other worlds, and has succeeded years ago to raise the funds to send some ships carting colonists into deep space. Now elderly and nearing death, he is given a chance to visit deep space and catch up with one of the ships, thanks to a recently developed FTL drive. Depressed that someone can steal his glory and downgrade his life-long endeavor, he nonetheless allows his brain to be transplanted into an ape in order to make the trip.

Despite the sentimental ending, I did like this one, primarily because I found myself sympathizing with the protagonist, something I could not do for Pohl's other characters in these stories. Also, and I liked the brain-to-monkey transfer thing, as comical as it sounds, and thought Pohl did well in characterizing Marchand in ape form. Though it cross my mind we'd encounter a three-quarter submerged Stature of Liberty somewhere along the way. My favourite story from the collection.

The Five Hells of Orion     6/10
Worlds of If, January 1963. pp 6-31
A navigator in deep space finds himself captive on an alien vessel, with no recollection of how he arrived. The aliens, meanwhile, are letting loose a series of tests on the man. The story begins with back-and-forth point of view, and is interesting until the human fully takes over the narrative. The first third is quite good and suspenseful, whereas the middle section drags, and the last portion is rushed through. Oddly, the story's tone takes a major shift, beginning with a light humourous take on the aliens, and at the half-way mark maintaining a solely dramatic tone. The story reads as though Pohl was nearing a deadline and did not present the final draft he had originally intended.

With Redfern on Capella XII     5/10
Galaxy Science Fiction, November 1955 (as "by Charles Satterfield). pp 120-146
About to be set on fire by the local Fnits, Redfern is freed and becomes allied with a foursome hoping to dupe the planet's gullible inhabitants. The story starts off interestingly enough, but soon the characters do not transcend their comical stereotypes, and the story, dated as it is, is both sexist and ageist.

How to Count on Your Fingers     (essay)
Science Fiction Stories, September 1956. pp 85-102

On Binary Digits and Human Habits     (essay)
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, December 1962. pp 69-80

I have the first 1966 Ballantine edition, in terrible condition, and am getting rid of it along with a stack of other old sci-fi books I had kept only to read. If anyone wants this mailed to them in a plain envelope, let me know.

For more of this week's Friday's Forgotten Books, please visit Todd Mason's blog.

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