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Jack Zaleski, Published June 23 2012

Zaleski: Not a stranger in strange land of sci-fi

When science fiction/fantasy writer Ray Bradbury died early this month, I felt like I’d lost a friend. I never met him, but I knew him through his novels and short stories, which I began reading in the 1950s after seeing the 1953 movie “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms.” I was hooked. A startling segment in the classic black-and-white sci-fi film has a tyrannosaurus-like monster rising up from the sea to destroy a lighthouse. That scene, I later learned, was based on Bradbury’s short story “The Fog Horn.” The writer’s close friend, Ray Harryhausen, created the stop-motion animation for the movie.

I read the story and then took up Bradbury’s other works, including “Fahrenheit 451” and “The Martian Chronicles.”

After Bradbury, I discovered the novels and short stories of Arthur C. Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and, of course, H.G. Wells, Jules Verne and Edgar Allen Poe.

Looking for summer reading? For sci-fi/fantasy fans, the deans of the genre are hard to beat. Try these:

While Bradbury, Heinlein, Clarke and Asimov (never liked him much) rank as 20th-century giants of their genre, I’d add one more who never achieved the status or won the acclaim of the big four: Clifford D. Simak.

Most of Simak’s work is not well-known, but his masterpiece (by my reckoning) is “City,” a 1952 novel that incorporates several short stories he wrote from 1944 to ’51. The eight tales (he added a ninth in a 1980 edition) chronicle several thousand years of Earth history as seen primarily through the eyes of Jenkins, a robot of uncommon longevity and insight. The tales comprise a legend as understood by highly evolved dogs, who speculate about a mythical creature known as Man. Fascinating premise. Good read.

So, there you go. I’ve recommended a couple of the above books before; they are worth endorsing again. In fact, I’m rereading Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land.” It gets better every time.


Contact Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski at (701) 241-5521.