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Books for Review should be sent to: Don D'Ammassa, 323 Dodge Street, East Providence, RI 02914


Lost Everything by Brian Francis Slattery, Tor, 2012, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2912-7

This post-apocalyptic novel is a mixture of uplifting and thoroughly depressing.  Climate change and human foibles in general have resulted in a reduced and somewhat chaotic America. Against that backdrop, the protagonist conducts  trip up the Susquehanna searching for the son he has not seen in years. Unfortunately the violence of the man's past cannot be left behind, and there is new violence ahead as well. This is a kind of quest story, although the real goal is more internalized than objective. It is beautifully written and full of colorful imagery and acutely penetrating observations of human nature. It reminded me at times of George R. Stewart's classic Earth Abides and, like that novel, it leaves the reader with a bittersweet feeling at the end. 4/22/12

Pax Omega by Al Ewing, Abaddon, 2012, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-907992-91-9

A Pax Brittania book, set in an alternate version of Earth where the British Empire continued and where superheroes and supervillains of a sort are loose in the world. This is more of a collection than a novel and features the equivalent of Doc Savage, the Shadow, and other almost familiar figures battling an array of bad guys. It's a pastiche, of course, but it does occasionally poke fun at the pulp era while emulating it quite successfully - and considerably more grammatically than was common in those days. This is fluff, but it's amusing and very readable fluff. 4/21/12

Empire of Gold by Andy McDermott, Bantam, 2011, $9.99, ISBN 978-0-553-59365-5

Seventh in the Nina Wilde series. Wilde and her bodyguard/boyfriend are together a kind of Indiana Jones who have in the previous volumes found Atlantis and other lost civilizations, while thwarting a variety of menacing criminal organizations and fanatics. This one follows the same formula and it's not likely that anything in the plot is really going to surprise you. They're after the lost city of El Dorado this time, and as always there are forces lined up opposing them. Some of the adventure sequences are quite well done and even though this is actually a pretty long novel, it all goes by surprisingly quickly. As long as you're flexible about the plausibility of the longevity and luck of the heroes, this makes a very nice book for a lazy summer day. 4/20/12

The Emperor's Gift by Aaron Dembski-Bowden, Black Library, 2012, $24.99, ISBN 978-1-84970-190-7

A Warhammer military SF novel. A group of professional soldiers are the last line of defense against the hordes of chaos. This happens a lot in the Warhammer universe. I believe this is, however, one of the very few written in first person. It's also a coming of age story in which a young man joins the Grey Knights and eventually learns and earns a place among them while an interstellar war rages around them. It's not badly done, although the story has been told many times before, but it fits nicely into a niche of this particular shared universe and it's better than several of the author's previous books for this series. 4/20/12

Leviathan by Ian Edginton & D'Israeli, 2000 AD, 2012, $16.99, ISBN 978-1-907992-69-8

This is a graphic novel, black and white except for the cover. The artwork is competent and illustrative without being outstanding - other than the very nice cover. The premise is that the world's largest cruise ship disappears in 1928, having been transported to another reality. During the 1940s, a detective tries to find out what happened and discovers something much stranger than he anticipated, and naturally I can't tell you what that is. The story is accompanied by extra materials including the original story outline and a lot of sketches for the final artwork. I was a little disappointed in the ending, but this was still one of the better graphic novels I've seen recently. 4/20/12

The Night Sessions by Ken MacLeod, Pyr, 2012, $17.95, ISBN 978-1-61614-613-9

I have found this author's work to be consistently very good although as yet he has not written one of those novels that I know I'm going to be rereading. This is another example, a nice solid story with some interesting ideas that I enjoyed thoroughly from cover to cover, but which doesn't quite make it into the upper tier of the genre. It is structured somewhat like a murder mystery - a church is bombed and a bishop killed, apparently by a terrorist. The time is a future when disillusionment has driven most people away from organized religion, so the detective in charge assumes that it's a hate crime. He suspects a group of militant atheists, but then they are targeted and he realizes the solution is stranger than he realized. I won't give it away but it's a very nice twist. 4/16/12

It Canít Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis, 1935 

The scary thing about rereading this book chronicling the shift of the US to a dictatorship is not that itís so convincing but that so many of the talking points of Buzz Windrip, the dictator, are being repeated by politicians during this election cycle.  Sure we can lower taxes on the rich, the national debt, and raise the incomes of the majority all at once. We can make up facts to support our arguments and disregard scientific experts. We can use dummy corporations and other tricks to get around campaign finance rules. We can talk in vague generalities without ever suggesting an actual plan, since the principles we campaign on will not be the ones we use when in office.  We can point to the banks as the bad guys while privately telling them they have nothing to worry about so long as they contribute to our campaign. And of course we can assert that the US has an obligation as well as a right to tell the rest of the world how to conduct its affairs.  Any of this sound familiar? Windrip, based in part on Huey Long, pretends to be for the common man but is actually planning to neutralize Congress and the Supreme Court, disenfranchise minorities and women, seize the banks and utilities, and enrich himself and his cronies. The novel is depressing because so much of it is plausible even today. 4/13/12

Space & Time 116, Spring 2012, $5.00

Interzone 238 & 239, 2012,  £3.95 each

A nice array of large format magazines, one from the US and two from England. Both have been around for a long time, not always in the same format. Space & Time is less specifically SF sometimes, but both have demonstrated a consistently high level of quality with very few exceptions. This issue has a very good story by Scott Edelman, and one almost as good by John Fultz. There's also an interview with Kevin J. Anderson and some odds and ends. This is about an average quality issue. The two issues of Interzone have stories by a lot of names unfamiliar to me, but several of them were quite good and I hope to see more of Ben Baldwin and Suzanne Palmer in particular. There's also a good story by Steve Rasnic Tem, a more familiar name, and several columns and news items. The layout is considerably fancier and there is about 50% more fiction than in S&T. You're probably not going to see either of these in your local bookstores - if you even have local bookstores any more - but they're available to order online as well.  Worth your time. 4/12/12

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson, Grove, 2012, $25, ISBN 978-0-8021-2020-5

This is a very entertaining debut SF novel that I fear might not get much attention within the SF community because it isn't packaged as SF and is from a publisher probably unfamiliar to most fans. Alif is the codename for a hacker active in the Mideast - we're never told exactly where - who helps a variety of people including potential and actual revolutionaries. Unfortunately, his cover is blown just about the same time his lover jilts him in favor of the head of cybersecurity - a bit of a strange coincidence there, obviously. On the run he turns to ancient mythology for a new perspective on information technology that might prove to be a powerful weapon, if anyone can control it. There's lots of snappy dialogue and the plot is lively and inventive. I enjoyed this one a lot and hope that it doesn't turn out to be the author's only foray into the genre. 4/12/12

Immobility by Brian Evenson, Tor, 2012, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-3096-3

The protagonist of this grim novel is revived from suspended animation and told that he is paralyzed below the waist but that he is still needed for an important mission. His hosts are members of a hivelike community in a world so devastated that the surface world is deadly even with protective suits, but our hero is virtually impervious to these and can heal from any hurt. He is sent with two companions to steal a capsule whose real contents are concealed from him, although the reader should be able to figure it out easily, but the plan goes awry as he learns more and more about himself and the world around him. This is a well written but relentlessly depressing look that is a bit too talky for my taste but otherwise impressive. 4/6/12

Void Stalker by Aaron Dembski-Bowden, Black Library, 2012, $8.99, ISBN 978-1-84970-149-5

A Warhammer novel. I have found this series to vary quite a bit in quality, and sometimes even within the work of a single author.  This is one of the more disappointing ones. Battles between various interstellar legions are the basis for most of them, like this one, and the details of the plots are generally so similar that they are in large part irrelevant. There's more of a religious theme in this one - the human empire is a kind of theocracy - and there are prophecies and curses and suchlike. There is a good deal of violence, as you might expect in military SF, and not much characterization, as you would also expect. The prose this time seems forced and artificial, particularly much of the dialogue, is unnecessarily melodramatic. When you have characters with names like Variel the Flayer or Lucoryphus of the Bleeding Eyes, you might well expect that, but by halfway through the book I was rolling my own eyes. The author has done better in the past. 4/4/12

Three A.M. by Steven John, Tor, 2012, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-3116-8

Although this is science fiction, it doesn't feel like it. A pandemic wipes out much of the world. Years later, one particular city is trapped under a perpetual fog. Therein lies an anti-heroic private detective who meets a woman and gets involved in a murder case, a classic noir set up. The story is quite claustrophobic but it proceeds otherwise quite predictably until the closing chapters, in which we discover that something very strange is going on - if we hadn't already noticed that very thing. There are some good things mixed with occasional clunkiness. The slightly surreal setting - vaguely reminiscent of the movie Dark City - sometimes works well but sometimes jars, and the characters are somewhat stereotyped and flat. An interesting debut but not a spectacular one. 3/29/12

Storming Heaven by David Mack, Pocket, 2012, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4516-5070-9

This appears to be the final volume in the Vanguard subseries set in the Star Trek universe. The author brings together some familiar strands from that setting, and from space opera in general. There's an alien invasion of Federation space which seems likely to overcome the good guys unless they can acquire the secret of an ancient alien technology. At the same time, Romulan agents are working to undermine the Klingon government. Can the human characters overcome the obstacles in time to avert the looming catastrophe? Well, of course they can. This is a Trek novel after all. Mack has written a few of these and they are invariable good adventure stories, and familiar enough to satisfy the cravings of fans of the various television series. 3/22/12

Celebrity in Death by J.D. Robb, Putnam, 2012, $27.95, ISBN 978-0-399-15830-8

As usual with the Eve Dallas series, it is SF in name only - set in the fairly near future but one virtually indistinguishable from the present. Eve and Peabody are attending a dinner with the cast and crew of a movie based on one of her cases when a very obnoxious young actress, soon discovered to be a serial blackmailer, is murdered by being coshed and thrown into a swimming pool. Despite the oddity involved in investigating people who are made up to look like them, Dallas and crew are soon uncovering secrets that were not meant to see the light of day. This one is a bit more like a conventional detective story than police procedural, but not so much that it is a radical departure. The ending is a bit weak, since we've known the identity of the killer for over one hundred pages already, and guessed it even earlier than that, but it's still well worth your time. 3/16/12

Legion of the Damned by Rob Sanders, Black Library, 2012, $12.99, ISBN 978-1-84970-143-3

Phalanx by Ben Counter, Black Library, 2012, $8.99, ISBN 978-1-84970-147-1

I probably should not have read both of these military SF novels from the Warhammer universe on the same day as they had very similar plots. On the other hand, almost all of the novels in this series have similar plots, so that may be less of an issue.  In both cases, the tensions comes from the schism among the various legions of space marines, some of whom remain loyal to the empire and some of whom have taken up an arcane religion. I didn't have much sympathy for either side so the overall outcome was pretty much irrelevant. In the first one, the action takes place in a remote part of space where a planetary garrison is besieged by the defectors. In the second, a renegade legion has been captured and is about to be tried and presumably executed, although there are some surprises for the over confident inquisitors. The second title is also the final volume in a subset of the series about the Soul Drinkers, the renegades in question. Both are full of individual and group combat scenes, flowery language, and the plots are generally predictable. Counter's story is a little more interesting, but both are about equally well written. 3/9/12

Blood Ocean by Weston Ochse, Abaddon, 2012, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-907992-87-2

Part of the multi-author Afterblight Chronicles series, set after a plague wipes out most of the population of the world. This one is set in a kind of floating city off the coast of California. The survivors are a disparate lot and within this society exists a subset descended from Hawaiians who have maintained their own separate culture. The protagonist is a young member of the latter group who gets caught up in the struggle when a secretive group begins to experiment with the blood of other survivors, without their permission obviously. There's a fair amount of quasi-martial arts violence and a moderately puzzling mystery, but the real merit of this particular novel is the fine writing and the evocation of the protagonist's subculture. The best in this series that I've read so far. 3/7/12

That Which Divides by Dayton Ward, Pocket, 2012, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4516-5068-6

A Star Trek novel, based on the original series. This time Kirk and crew are on a rescue mission to a unique system containing a rift that is only navigable every three years, but which is host to a mining colony of significant importance. When a scientific team is stranded, time is short to rescue them, but Kirk's people discover that the rift is not a natural occurrence but something constructed by a superior alien technology. This also attracts the attention of the nearby Romulans, who naturally wish to seize any advantage. The "remnants of a superior alien technology" plot has gotten pretty old in general and particularly in the Star Trek universe. The author doesn't do a bad job of it, and the book is readable enough, but I'm really getting tired of the same old plots being polished up and presented to us once again. 3/3/12

Know No Fear by Dan Abnett, Black Library, 2012, $8.99, ISBN 978-1-84970-135-8

A Warhammer novel, set during the Horus Heresy subseries in which elements of the human interstellar empire split off and start a civil war at the same time as they both battle evil aliens. A unit which is unaware of the schism is preparing a new campaign against the alien orcs when their supposed allies turn on them. Even worse, their newfound enemies are drawing upon the same evil forces that empower the aliens and it might not even be a three sided battle. Abnett is probably the most consistently entertaining of the Warhammer military SF writers but I think this is one of his lesser efforts. Maybe that's because the plot is pretty much a retread. 3/3/12

The Man from Primrose Lane by James Renner, Sarah Crichton/Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2012, $26, ISBN 978-0-374-20095-4

The first two thirds of this debut novel are extremely good, and there's not a trace of science fiction in them. Then some of the odd goings on are explained by what might have been a typical SF device - an invention in the future that allows people to look back through time - except the explanation is complete nonsense. You cannot reverse the flow of light, whatever that means, and look several years into the past simply by focusing on a reflecting surface.  All those images are composed of information and the information would have to be stored someplace in order to be retrieved, and there's no media involved that could store it. This nonsense is really irritating because up until then this had been a riveting novel about a man investigating the mysterious suicide of a reclusive man after he received a non-mortal gunshot wound, interspersed with flashbacks to the suicide of the investigator's wife, which turns out to be related, his own arrest for murder, and several other subplots, all told with remarkably intense feeling. I had suspected some form of time travel early on, actually, but the reverse light business was deeply disappointing. This is followed by a completely implausible sequence in which the future version of the protagonist steals a time machine - from a room filled with hundreds of them - in order to go back through time to solve and eventually prevent a murder. But time travel only works one way so he's stuck back in our present. There's also a problem with his wife's death. She drove her car into the side of a building at seventy miles per hour. But years later, they accuse the protagonist of having strangled her and faking the suicide, with no explanation of how he could have achieved such a miraculous fraud, or why the original autopsy would not have shown that she was strangled. And finally we have a supernatural manifestation in the closing scenes, for no purpose whatsoever. The first two thirds of this book are so good that I'll read his next book, but hopefully next time he'll let someone read the manuscript first and tell him where he's gone off the rails. 2/29/12

Arctic Rising by Tobias S. Buckell, Tor, 2012, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-1921-0

The latest from this author is an ecological thriller set some time from now when the Arctic has largely melted, altering the balance of commercial and political power in the world. Presumably there have also been disastrous effects but these are only alluded to. The Arctic Ocean is patrolled by various parties including the protagonist, Anika, who is shot down when her aircraft spots a ship carrying proscribed radioactive materials. There is evidence of a cover up shortly thereafter and her determination to find out who is responsible for the death of her co-pilot leads her into a bewildering web of spies, military people, politicians, and environmental engineers. It is rarely clear whose loyalty lies where. There's a plan to orbit millions of reflecting objects which can congeal into a focusable mirror, ostensibly to shade and cool the Earth but also potentially a powerful weapon, and there are others determined to stop the project as risky or as politically unsuitable. The action is hectic and violent and there are some surprising twists along the way. I liked this a lot even though it has one of those contrived scenes where it is okay to torture and maim someone in a good cause, which I always find unsettling, particularly when as in this case, it really wasn't necessary. 2/26/12

Three Science Fiction Novellas by J.H. Rosny aine, Wesleyan, 2012, $35, ISBN 978-0-8195-6945-5

I have fond, though distant, memories of Quest of the Dawn Man by this early Belgian SF author. The three novellas collected here were all new to me and all three are quite interesting. The first recounts the meeting and subsequent battle between prehistoric humans and a very bizarre kind of alien. I liked this best of the three. The second involves an entity whose differing system of perception effectively places him/her/it in another reality. Although I didn't like this as much, I was surprised at how sophisticated the concepts were. The last is an interesting variation on the end of the world story. All three of these hold up well. There is a lengthy essay about the author included. An interesting counterpoint to American and British SF from that same era. 2/21/12

Fountain of Age by Nancy Kress, Small Beer, 2012, $16, ISBN 9781931520454

I think of Nancy Kress primarily as a novelist, but she has also written a fairly robust number of very good shorter works as well. Two of those included here are award winners, the Hugo for "The Erdmann Nexus" and the Nebula for the title story. They're probably the two best in the book, but the others are for from being filler and several of them are excellent. I particularly liked "Safeguard" and "Endgame." Kress blends the accuracy of hard science fiction with well developed characters and thoughtfully constructed plots, a combination that is absent in the work of many of her contemporaries. She also has the rare ability to infuse her stories with a sense of wonder about the universe, the element which drew many readers to the genre in the first place.

Living Proof by Kira Peikoff, Tor, 2012, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2930-1

Given some of the frightening nonsense being promulgated by some current politicians, the premise of this dystopian novel was more than slightly disturbing. Less than twenty years from now, destruction of an embryo is first degree murder and the government rigidly controls what happens in fertility clinics and elsewhere. A scientist suffering from a fatal disease uses one such clinic as a screen to experiment with stem cells in search of a cure. An agent investigating the clinic has conflicting emotions, complicating his efforts.  The author tries to present the conflicting attitudes without coming down on either side and usually succeeds. Nicely written, suspenseful, well constructed, but rather depressing 2/18/12

Article 5 by Kristen Simmons, Tor, 2012, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2958-5

Inspired perhaps by the success of the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, this is a post apocalyptic dystopian novel for teens. We don't really learn exactly how it was that democracy failed and the major cities were all abandoned, apparently because of a war, but now the Bill of Rights has been replaced by a theocratic code and the police enforce the laws in the fashion usual in theocratic military dictatorships. The protagonist is a teenaged girl who manages to survive with her mother until the latter is arrested for political crimes and the arresting officer is the man to whom the daughter is emotionally attached. Although there's more or less a conclusion to the story, it clearly leaves an opening for sequels. Not badly written and while the plot has a few clunky spots, it was pretty good overall. It's also a first novel. 2/15/12

The Liminal People by Ayize Jama-Everett, Small Beer, 2011, $16, ISBN 978-193152033-1

I'm afraid a plot description of this one will make it sound like the X-Men or the Heroes television series, both of which it superficially resembles. It's actually more like the Wild Card series, but even that's not really right. Various mutations have given some people extraordinary powers including the protagonist, whose ability to heal the sick also works the other way, as a potential invisible weapon. Taggert, the hero, is involved in the search for a missing girl, who turns out to have powers of her own. There's also someone trying to organize the mutants for reasons not immediately clear. The novel is very well written and I enjoyed it despite my prejudice against present tense narration, which for some reason seemed far less intrusive than usual. Or perhaps I'm just getting used to it. 2/15/12

The Advance Team by Will Pfeifer and German Torres, Tor, 2012, $15.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2712-3

Judge Dredd: Crusade & Frankenstein Division by Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, Carlos Ezquerra, and Mick Austin, 2000 AD, 2012, $16.99, ISBN 978-1-907992-67-4

Here we have a couple of SF oriented graphic novels. The first is primarily humorous - a pizza delivery man discovers that various popular celebrities are actually alien invaders and he sets out to eliminate them before they can call in the full invasion force.  Or is he just nuts? I can't tell from the galley whether or not the finished product will be full color throughout but the black and white version is visually okay but not eye grabbing. The story is kind of cute, but can't decide whether or not we're supposed to take it seriously.  The Judge Dredd title contains two separate stories and they are definitely full color. In the first, a scientist returns from space convinced that he has been contacted by God himself. The second involves a reanimated corpse in the mode of Mary Shelley. Some of the graphics in these two stories are quite striking although the stories are fairly bland. 2/14/12

Blueprints of the Afterlife by Ryan Boudinot, Black Cat, 2012, $14, ISBN 978-0-8021-7091-0

There was a time when broad satires of the not so distant future were a staple in SF, but satire went out of style some time ago, perhaps because the real world seemed to be taking on the semblance of one. This one is set in a post apocalyptic future when a sentient glacier has destroyed much of North America and various other unlikely events have come to pass. As humanity faces the possibility of extinction, it finds new and sillier ways to spend its time, including building a replica of the devastated Manhattan.  The author mixes a crew of idiosyncratic characters with a variety of outlandish situations and the novel quite frankly doesn't flow in a concerted direction, although it ultimately doesn't matter. Comparisons with Kurt Vonnegut and Philip K. Dick are inevitable, and with some justification. This is likely to be overlooked by a lot of regular SF readers - the cover doesn't draw the eye either - and that's a shame. 2/13/12

After the Fall Before the Fall During the Fall by Nancy Kress, Tachyon, 2012, $14.95, ISBN 978-1-61696-065-0

This relatively short novel follows two connected sets of characters. One is a mathematician who has analyzed a series of abductions for the FBI and can predict where the next one takes place even though the kidnapper and his victims literally disappear into thin air. The second involves a small group of survivors of the death of Earth's ecology who were imprisoned in an alien structure. They believe that the aliens were responsible for the disaster but we know better because we've been shown incremental changes in the ecology that led to the devastation. Eventually the two sets of characters intersect, changing the worlds of both. I didn't really buy the concept that the Earth would spawn earthquakes and super tsunamis to get rid of human polluters, but otherwise this was a neat little story. 2/9/12

Boneyards by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Pyr, 2012, $16, ISBN 978-1-61614-543-9

Boss is back for her third adventure in outer space. This series reminds me slightly of the Alex Benedict novels by Jack McDevitt, and I enjoy them almost as much. Boss and her crew salvage technology from derelict ships and installations while the authorities conducting dangerous research encounter one frustration after another. Boss is persona non grata with the Empire conducting this research, and she knows some of the secrets they are desperate to uncover. Her main effort gets derailed this time when one of her friends commits an act of sabotage and gets into big trouble. There's a puzzling anomaly in the writing this time - toward the end of the book the author switches to present tense narration, I suppose in order to provide a greater sense of urgency. If so, it doesn't work, but it's brief enough not to be too great a jolt to the story line.  I could do without the cute names - Squishy and Boss and Turtle - but otherwise this continues to be some of the most entertaining SF being published lately. 2/3/12

The Rings of Time by Greg Cox, Pocket, 2012, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4516-5547-6

This Star Trek novel is based on the original series and I enjoyed some pleasurable nostalgia as I read it, even though Kirk is taken out of his normal environment. Back in 2020, an expedition to Saturn encounters an alien probe which transports a man from that time into the future, swapping him with Kirk, who finds himself back in the early days of human space exploration. Each man then faces a crisis, but the two events are linked and unless both succeed, it won't matter if the other does. There's some occasional humor and a lighter touch than in some of the other tie-ins to this series that I've read during the last few years, perhaps an attempt to return to the roots of the series. Sure it's derivative, but it's fun derivative. 2/2/12

Moonbase One by Raymond F. Jones, Abelard, 1971

I don't believe this ever had an American edition. It's one of Jones' young adult novels, and he was generally better in that format. This one features an experimental moonbase that is danger of failing when an accident wipes out most of their water supply. It has the usual features of YA books of its time. Teenagers allowed more latitude than they would be in real life, and coming up with solutions the adults miss. The one short sighted, not quite villainous kid and his equally obstructive father. The coincidental discovery of a water bearing rock only minutes before the crisis. It turns out there's a saboteur but everything comes out right in the end. None of this is particularly plausible but it was mostly necessary to make the teenager the protagonist and the hero. Not badly written but with nothing outstanding to make it memorable. 1/27/12

Under the Moons of Mars edited by John Joseph Adams, Simon & Schuster, 2012, $16.99, ISBN 978-1442420298

I never read the John Carter novels until I was in college, but I still enjoyed them while recognizing that they weren't the world's greatest literature. There have been a few imitations since then but this is the first in a while, a collection of original stories set on Barsoom. Some of them feature John Carter, others subsidiary characters from the original series, and still others new characters entirely, some of them other visitors from Earth. Some do an excellent job of capturing the feel of Burroughs, particularly those by Joe R. Lansdale, Garth Nix, and L.E. Modesitt Jr. Peter S. Beagle has Tarzan visiting Mars and encountering a John Carter who comes across as a villain rather than a hero. One story involves Martians ethereally transported to Earth. Other contributors include Chris Claremont, S.M. Stirling, and Catherynne Valente. This was a lot of fun and made me nostalgic for the originals. 1/22/12

The Whisper by Emma Clayton, Scholastic, 2012, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-545-31772-6

Despite some minor plot problems, I thought The Roar - to which this is the sequel - to be a pretty good young adult SF novel in an era when most YA fiction is either fantasy or horror.  The setting was a walled city, the plot involves the conspiracy to keep the residents from knowing that Earth is not dangerously polluted, and the main device involves a pair of twins who are telepathic. They're back for their second adventure, this time opposed to a would be dictator who wants to steal the secret of immortality so that he can rule forever. There are mutants and space stations and lots of other embellishments as well.  I find Clayton's prose style a bit sparse at times, particularly the dialogue, but she tells her story well and paces things nicely. This should appeal to fans of of Suzanne Collins. 1/21/12

Snapshots from a Black Hole & Other Oddities by K.C. Ball, Hydra House, 2011, $14.95, ISBN 978-0-9848301-0-7

A debut collection from an author whose name was unfamiliar to me. Most of these stories are SF; a couple are more properly fantasy. They range from full length to flash fiction, and vary considerably in theme, mood, and subject matter. The humor is sometime sharp at the edges, which is always nice. There are touches of alternate history, space travel, and other familiar icons of the genre, but the stories are much more about the characters than the situations, although generally without sacrificing storytelling. They are much more polished than I would have expected from a new writer and a new publisher. I think "Flotsam" was probably my favorite. As I said, I hadn't really heard of this author before now, but I expect to hear from and about her again. 1/21/12

Deliverance Lost by Gav Thorpe, Black Library, 2012, $8.99, ISBN 978-1-84970-062-7

Another novel in the Horus Heresy subset of the Warhammer series involving a civil war among the various factions of space marines and others in the distant future.  This one involves a unit which has suffered devastating losses and has withdrawn from combat in order to regroup and reinforce itself. Although this is military SF there is an element of mystery this time around because some of the new recruits are actually agents of the opposing forces determined to undermine its cohesiveness and battle effectiveness. This series is entirely about action and Thorpe certainly doesn't stint on that element despite the relatively low level of violence.  About average for this series. 1/20/12

Lightspeed Year One edited by John Joseph Adams, Prime, 2011, $16.95, ISBN 978-1-60701-0304-4

I don't read online fiction very often so while I was aware of this particular website, I had never actually visited. After reading through this large collection over the last few days, I am aware that I missed a lot of good stories by doing so. There are almost fifty stories here, and they cover a very large number of themes, styles, and plots, everything from adventure to humor.  The vast majority are good stories, a handful are very good stories, and there were only a couple that I thought fell short.  The authors include Stephen King, Ursula K. Le Guin, George R.R. Martin, and Alastair Reynolds, along with a bunch of newcomers like Catherynne Valente, Nnedi Okorafor, and Ken Liu, who has one of the most interesting stories in the collection. There are too many good stories to cite individually, so suffice it to say that you can dip into this one almost at random and find something worth your time. The selections are diverse enough that there is something for even the most jaded tastes.  I'm still not planning to read online fiction, but I'll be looking forward to Lightspeed Year Two.  1/19/12

Sisterhood of Dune by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, Tor, 2011, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2273-9

The latest addition to the Dune saga takes place well before the original series by Frank Herbert and concentrates on that mysterious order of women, the Bene Gesserit, and other matters. The various great families of the empire have been established but any trace of unity has long since dissipated. There are rivalries, alliances, animosities, and aggressions among them now and that is the source of most of the conflict in this installment, but of more interest to fans of the series are the stories of the establishment of the Bene Gesserit, the creation of the first Mentats, the beginnings of spice assisted interstellar travel, and other early moments of movements and families who will reverberate through the future, or in this case, the previously published books in the series. I've had mixed reactions to this amplified series which sometimes seems quite good but sometimes seems rather flat.  This is one of the former, a complex but neatly told story, although as always there seems much more yet to come. 1/17/12

Power Play  by Ben Bova, Tor, 2011, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-1786-5

One of the most interesting subsets of SF is the marvelous invention story.  You know, what would happen if we could make glass so dense that light passed through it very slowly, or what are the implications of workable matter transmission? Ben Bova takes up this theme in this mix of SF and political intrigue as a new method of generating electricity is discovered, although it has potentially unfortunate side effects. The discovery becomes a pressure point in a political rivalry which turns ugly when two people are found dead. There are some good moments in this one, but I never understood why an ambitious politician would hitch his star to such an abstruse scientific issue and the supporting characters are uniformly uninteresting and vapid. Bova has written some very good near future technothriller style SF, but this isn't one of them. 1/15/12

Blindspot by Michael McBride, Dark Regions, 2011, $14.95, ISBN 978-1-937128-21-0

This novella is marketed as horror but it's really SF. The North Koreans have set off a nuclear explosion in a situation likely to lead to all out war as part of their effort to cover up some genetic experiments that have escaped and are wreaking havoc. A crack team of Americans is sent in to discover the truth, and they get to see and experience some of the subsequent carnage before discovering that they are just pawns in a bigger game.  The suspense scenes aren't bad, but the whole international political set up is so hokey it had me scratching my head. No one's motivations made any sense, including the doublecross with the insertion team, and why would the Americans send in the team in the first place when they had no prior suspicion of what was going on? This just didn't work for me. 1/10/12

New York to Dallas by J.D. Robb, Putnam, 2011, $27.95, ISBN 978-0-39915778-3

Like most of the previous Eve Dallas novels, this one is SF by courtesy only. We are told that it is 2060 and there are allusions to robots and other planets, but otherwise it reads like a contemporary police procedural. The enemy this time is the first big arrest of her career, recently escaped. He is a predatory violent pedophile and he wants revenge against the woman who caught him.  Most of the strong points of the series are here - very logical and progressive analysis of facts, escalating suspense, a distinctly unpleasant villain, and some plot twists to keep us guessing. Dallas goes to Dallas, Texas, without Peabody, so there is less of the usual byplay, and unfortunately there is more of the stock Eve vs Roarke sparring. There is also an incredible coincidence in this one - one of the suspects turns out to be Eve's long lost Mom - and the angst factor is rather overdone. The long counseling session with Dr. Mira is superficial and boring. Still an exciting read, but there are uncharacteristic interruptions in the story flow this time around. 1/7/12

Unpossible and Other Stories by Daryl Gregory, Fairwood, 2011, $17.99, ISBN 978-1-933846-30-9

This collection runs the gamut from SF to fantasy to surreal, so let's put it here.  I confess that I have been lax in reading short fiction these past few years and hadn't realized that Gregory had written so many, particularly so many good ones. I've read two of his novels, both supernatural, and liked them both, so I probably shouldn't have been surprised. There are several very good stories in this book, the best of which are probably "Second Person, Present Tense" and "The Continuing Adventures of Rocket Boy." Gregory is unpredictable and each story stands on its own, often in contrast to the ones preceding and following. They embrace a variety of themes - how the mind works, a nostalgic look at one particular past, superheroes, new drugs, etc.  Gregory has not been prolific at this length, but he has been consistently excellent. 1/6/12

Salvation's Reach by Dan Abnett, Black Library, 2011, $26.99, ISBN 978-1-84416-821-7

In the SF branch of the Warhammer shared universe series, there is no doubt in my mind that Dan Abnett is the most consistently entertaining writer. While most of the novels by his peers fade into a blur after time - they do after all share the same few plots, same setting, even have overlapping characters - the few that actually stick out in my memory are almost all by Abnett. This one is about average for him. A unit that has not seen action in so long that they have lost some of their edge is sent on a dangerous mission into a strange region of space which holds secrets that could potentially change the course of the war. Gaunt is one of the more interesting Warhammer characters, if not always one of the more likeable, and this is the kind of novel in which he usually stands out. It helps if you have some rough background understanding of the Warhammer future. 1/5/12

Phobos: Mayan Fear by Steve Alten, Tor, 2011, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-3033-8

I have become progressively less satisfied with this trilogy and am happy to see it end, which is not to say it isn't worth reading. I've always felt that Alten's assets were his ability to take a small group of characters and put them through a very intense sequence of adventures - as in the Meg novels - and that his talents became diffused in his grander scale technothrillers like Goliath. This series, if you couldn't guess by the awkward title, involves the supposed Mayan prophecy that the world will end in 2012 - this year in fact.  If so, then I suppose I don't have to do my income taxes next month. Anyway, there's too much in this book, from apocalyptic aftermath to multiple disasters to the discovery that we have had alien visitors. Reality is just a game and we don't understand the rules.  I couldn't invest any interest in the characters at all and while some of the individual episodes were very effective, as a whole this just didn't make it.  1/5/12

Thomas World by Richard Cox, Night Shade, 2011, $14.99, ISBN 978-1-59780-308-3

Here's a novel that is inevitably going to be compared to the work of Philip K. Dick, although it actually reminded me more of some early Fritz Leiber. Thomas is a troubled man who thinks he's losing touch with reality until someone tells him to consider the possibility that perhaps he's the only one in the world who is actually aware of reality as it is. His life begins to disintegrate and, perhaps most frightening of all, he begins to believe that someone is following him. Readers who want their explanations all neatly laid out at the end should avoid this because the whole point is probably that there really isn't a whole point. The prose is clear and crisp and the madness is wild and unpredictable. It goes by surprisingly quickly and you'll be sorry to reach the end. 1/5/12

Weeping May Tarry by Raymond F. Jones and Lester Del Rey, Pinnacle, 1978

I was inclined to suspect this was mostly Jones given Del Reyís tendency to have other people ghostwrite under his name, but itís much better written than most of Jonesí work so I suspect now that it was probably at least heavily edited by Lester. The story involves an alien race that is governed by a very rigid theocracy. An expedition to investigate an interstellar war that has been detected in the region is hindered by the resident priest, who is a stickler for protocol and more than slightly paranoid. The story goes on for too long, however, as they get stranded on the ruins of Earth Ė where the human race is now extinct Ė and are saved through the realization that humans had the true religion.  Muddled, unsatisfying ending. 1/1/12