A hungry child on the brink of manhood is hunting powerful and oblivious beasts with his father. The environment is cold, the time ''dimday.'' ''In general, the view, with its lack of shadow and constant level of suffering, might have appeared to anyone scrutinizing it for the first time to represent not so much a world as a place waiting formal creation.''
Brian W. Aldiss takes this scene as the starting point for a novel in which he creates an extraordinary world that gradually becomes brighter, warmer, more hospitable, as vast amounts of time pass. The world is called Helliconia; the novel, ''Helliconia Spring,'' tells of a planet beginning its first springtime in 2,600 Earth years.
Observed enigmatically by a space station, the Avernus, sent from earth, Helliconia is a remote and mysterious world, one of four planets that revolve around one of a pair of binary stars. About 15 human generations come and go from one season to the next on Helliconia. In his handling of this imposing span of time we find Aldiss a master of portraying the eternal human struggle to transcend the apparent insignificance of individual life against the vast cosmic backdrop.
A strong narrative drive carries readers through the story of the boy hunter, Yuli, who loses his father and must find shelter to survive. This is the saga that begins with the maturing of a man in a world where people spend lifetimes cowering in dark caves under the unsympathetic gaze of an idol. The story also spans the struggles of Yuli's heirs.
Aldiss shows remarkable talent for making this alien land vivid, both in the natural world where freeze, then flood predominate, and in lively market bazaars and colorful portrayal of beasts, priests, hunters, leaders, women, and mothers.
A strong female character, Shay-Tal, embodies the message that one hope for this world is to overcome its ignorance. Through other characters, Aldiss shows the capacity for love, companionship, and communication as one of humankind's greatest assets.
Aldiss's vigorous, expansive book will appeal to readers who like to immerse themselves in a completely unfamiliar and fully developed world on a grand scale , while following the engaging lives of courageous individuals.
Clifford D. Simak's ''Special Deliverance'' recounts the adventures of a sensible, believable young English professor delivered into another world, where he struggles with enigmas and falls in love.
Prof. Edward Lansing's adventures begin when a student's explanation for apparent plagiarism in a paper leads Lansing to a slot machine that not only produces term papers but fulfills other wishes. Soon Lansing finds his longing to escape the university suddenly and alarmingly realized.
In a mysterious other world, the professor joins a group of equally perplexed time travelers who don't know where they are or what to do. Urged to action by a brigadier, the pilgrims - who include a didactic parson, a dreamy artist, a pensive engineer, and a winning robot who prepares tea and behaves like an English valet - face environmental and intellectual challenges.
One by one, the pilgrims succumb to a fatal fascination with the strange phenomena of this new world: A singing tower, a door into an apple-blossom world of endless springtime, a complex machine matrix, a vision of chaos - all act as snares to Lansing's companions. It is up to Lansing and his engineer sweetheart to face the final challenges of this land.
The story is full of surreal scenarios connected by an an unlikely plot and held together by the likable Lansing, whose perseverance wins him a place in a galactic society of the future.
Recognizable by an unabashedly garish cover that sports a toothy dinosaur backlit by an erupting volcano, ''The Science Fictional Dinosaur'' stands out among the plethora of similar paperback anthologies as a volume packed with entertaining and well-crafted stories. These show that prehistoric life can be used in wildly varied ways to make interesting reading.
In one story, Paul Ash has his protagonist confess: ''I do not like pterodactyls. No doubt they have their good points. . . . But as a result of personal and unfortunate experience, I have taken a dislike to them. . . .'' This humorous account traces the adventures of a doctor working in a mining camp that has been somehow ''displaced'' into the Cretaceous Age. After saving a baby pterodactyl from starvation, the doctor finds himself saddled with a reponsibility he does not desire.
In a ''A Statue for Father,'' a time-travel tale with a twist, Isaac Asimov asks to what purpose we would put dinosaurs if we had them here today.
Robert Silverberg's story, ''Our Lady of the Sauropods,'' shows a woman stranded on a lonely island inhabited by dinosaurs created by scientists of the future from ancient DNA. With its Glossary, a classification of reptiles, and a further reading list, this volume provides intriguing leisure reading.
''Laughing Space,'' an anthology of science fiction humor edited by Isaac Asimov and his wife J. O. Jeppson, proves that science fiction can be a rich medium for laughs. Besides stories, the book contains cartoons, poems, and essays. It's ideal for reading on the bus or the subway, or in that gap between the late news and bedtime.
In ''Silenzia'' Alan Nelson tells a tale of a man obsessed with a need for silence, who finds his panacea in a ''sound wick,'' which absorbs unwanted noise in the way the familiar household wick soaks up odors. When the protagonist overuses the ''sound wick'' to turn down the volume on his wife, his boss, and the world at large, he finds his access to the device threatened.
Charles Beaumont and Chad Oliver offer a parody titled ''I, Claude,'' and Russell Baker provides a wry sense of perspective in his subtle essay, ''Spaced Out.''
From subtle irony to hilarious puns, ''Laughing Space'' provides light-hearted and lively reading.