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

LAST UPDATE 3/29/17

Control by David Mack, Pocket, 2017, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-5011-5170-5

This is a Star Trek Section 31 novel, which is an apparent attempt to get away from the usual formulas. In this case, the protagonist is Dr. Bashir from Deep Space Nine, so it's not a complete departure. Although Starfleet has a well established code of conduct, there is a minority within that organization that feels that the rules are too binding and that exceptions have to be made. Dr. Bashir knows of their existence and he also has uncovered a secret that may provide the leverage he needs to expose and destroy them. But they're aware of his interest and intentions, and they're willing to risk a lot of damage to ensure that he fails. A few other familiar names put in lesser appearances - Captain Picard is implicated as well! - but truth prevails, of course. I thought this was a bit too contrived at times, and the political situation seems over simplified, but it was not unpleasant to read. 3/29/17

Hartinger’s Mouse by Philip McCutchan, Harrap, 1970 

More bad science in this Commander Shaw adventure. It appears that samples from the moon included a new organism. It was tested on mice but one of the scientists smuggled out one of the test subjects and a colleague isolated the organism, then uses it to seed an irreversible plague across all of England. Shaw figures it all out, and then discovers that they only way to cure the disease is exposure to salt water. Since the body consists in large part of salt water, this doesn’t make any sense at all. Fair adventure wrapped around the nonsense. 3/28/17

The Coming of the Terrans by Leigh Brackett, Ace, 1967

Leigh Brackett’s best SF was generally set on Mars, a decaying ancient civilization with science so bizarre that it often seemed like magic, and in fact many of the stories feel more like fantasy than SF. I actually thought this collection of five stories was drawn mostly from her minor work. “The Last Days of Shandakor” starts well but has a disappointing ending. “Purple Priestess of the Mad Moon” is obvious and more of a joke than a story “The Road to Sinharat” is pretty good but the other two stories are minor. At moments, however, her prose is so good that even mediocre stories feel better than they are. 3/26/17

The All Purpose Bodies by Philip McCutchan, John Day, 1969   

Commander Shaw battles another mad scientist. This time the villain has found a way to reshape human bodies so that he can create ideal thugs, servants, etc. The villain also has a remote viewer that requires no physical mechanism and his plot is to destroy Australia’s nuclear arsenal, which contains half of the non-communist nuclear missiles at one single site, where security is laughably lax.  Shaw stumbles his way through this one, winning through luck rather than skill, and keeping a straight face through some ludicrously stupid scientific revelations. 3/23/17

Warrior-Maid of Mars by Alfred Coppel, Armchair, 2017 (originally published in 1950)

There is a dying human civilization on Mars when humans arrive. The warrior cast decides to influence their government to exterminate the small party of scientists who have arrived, while the religious caste sees the newcomers as the only possible salvation for their world. The leader of the military faction is kidnapped by the latter group, during which period he meets an Earth woman and alters his views on the matter. Typical pulp adventure, though not badly written. 3/21/17

The Devil’s Triangle by Catherine Coulter & J.T. Ellison, Gallery, 2017, $27.99,  ISBN 978-1-5011-5032-6 

I am always suspicious of collaborations like this because they are usually sharecropping in some form but this appears to be a genuine collaboration. The two protagonists, one British and one American, are head of a special FBI team charged with investigating unusual crimes. They get a tip that a recent natural disaster was not a freak of nature but actually the result of a sophisticated weather control process, one that could wreak havoc across the world. The investigation takes them to various locations around the world and it is more of an adventure story than a mystery.  Technically it is science fiction because of the weather control machines, and there is a hint of fantasy as well. There were a couple of slow spots but for the most part this held my interest right through the end. 3/20/17

Revenger by Alastair Reynolds, Orbit, 2017, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-316-55556-2

Two sisters in a very distant future leave home against the wishes of their father to sign on as crew with a ship that retrieves artifacts of ancient and/or alien technology. They live in a system where there are literally thousands of worlds, not including the baubles – locked worldlets full of treasure. Aliens live among humanity but apparently there are no humans outside the system, although we are never entirely sure of that. Our protagonists are separated when their ship is attacked by a pirate so cruel and legendary that many refuse to believe she even exists. The sister who remains free vows vengeance and makes use of her talents to communicate with an alien skull to engineer a second meeting. High adventure, lots of interesting invented technology, and a likeable protagonist. There is no indication that this is the beginning of a series, but it ends with a minor cliffhanger and it seems likely that there is more to come. 3/19/17

Question and Answer by Poul Anderson, NESFA, 2017, $32, ISBN 978-1-51037-313-5

When I reread Poul Anderson a few years ago, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that he was much more entertaining and talented than I had remembered, which has not proven to be true of a number of his contemporaries. His short fiction is at least as good as his novels, which is also unusual. NESFA has been publishing a series of omnibus volumes - this is the seventh in the series - and the quality is excellent. The title story was an Ace double as Planet of No Return and is one of those stories in which the destiny of humanity is the main issue. Should we expand to the stars or not? Anderson's answer will not surprise you. "A Message in Secret" was also an Ace double as Mayday Orbit. There are also stories here featuring Dominic Flandry, secret agent of the Terran Empire, and David Falkayn, trader to the stars, along with a bunch of standalones like "To Outlive Eternity" and "The Big Rain." Anderson was one of the most reliable writers the genre has ever seen. I cannot recall reading a really bad story by him. 3/18/17

Infinity Engine by Neal Asher, Night Shade, 2017, $26.99, ISBN 978-1-59780

Third and final volume in the Transformation trilogy. The protagonist's long search for an AI that may have turned against its creators finally comes to an end. There are other players in the game now, including a criminally inclined AI which has recently escaped confinement. The battle to control the War Factory is well under way, with humans and aliens pitted against one another, and robot drones pursuing their own agenda. Who is pulling the strings and what are they connected to? And what role will the last survivor of another alien race play as the struggles play out and the mysteries are unraveled? Quite good space opera with a complex though accessible plot. 3/14/17

War Factory by Neal Asher, Night Shade, 2016, $15.99, ISBN 978-1-59780-882-8

Middle volume in the Transformation trilogy. The quest to track down an apparently rogue AI has run into difficulties, but it seems that the trail might lead to the factory complex where it was originally constructed as a starship. The protagonist is no longer entirely convinced that his recollection of event is entirely accurate, but who has been interfering with his memories? Elsewhere one of the alien Prador is also having an identity crisis, because he (it?) is undergoing a transformation to something neither human nor Prador but perhaps a bit of both. These divergent story lines are about to collide and the consequences for both races might be catastrophic. First class space opera. 3/13/17

Dark Intelligence by Neal Asher, Night Shade, 2016, $26.99, ISBN 978-1-59780-824-8

First volume of the Transformation trilogy, which is set in the Polity Universe Asher has explored extensively n the past. The protagonist has just been revived a century after his death. During the war with the alien Prador, an AI mysteriously went rogue and turned on the humans it was supposed to protect. Our hero is determined to hunt down the AI, which is resident in a starship, and find out why. His efforts lead to an unpleasant quasi-alliance with a particularly hostile woman and various adventures in multiple locations. This reminded me of a blend of Starship Troopers with Iain Banks, with lots of imaginative twists and exciting turns. Volume two is next on my list. 3/12/17

The Bright Red Businessman by Philip McCutchan, John Day, 1969

Commander Shaw has to thwart a plan to explode nuclear weapons under Antarctica and raise the sea level by two hundred feet. The Chinese are behind the plot, and they plan to escape destruction thanks to a power that turns water into elasticized membranes so strong that once seeded along the coast, they will hold the regular water back. This makes no sense because the weight of the water would just push the altered water back over the landscape and drown everything anyway. The British plan to create elastic water bags around Antarctica to contain the new water until it refreezes, but this wouldn’t work either, and for the same reason. As usual, Shaw finds this all out by being captured by villains who are all too willing to tell him their plans, but who don’t kill him for long enough to allow him to escape. 3/11/17

Lost Among the Stars by Paul Di Filippo, Wordfire, 2017, $14.99, ISBN 978-1-61475-464-0

A collection of eleven stories from the fiendish mind of Paul Di Filippo. Although the author's style is generally quite distinctive, there is quite a variety of tales here, everything from steampunk to cyberpunk. There is alternate history, weird futures, and a decidedly different take on several familiar themes. Most are science fiction but there's a little fantasy as well to liven up the brew. "Desperados of the Badlands," "The Via Panisperna Boys in 'Operation Harmony'", and "Ghostless" were my favorites this time. One story is original to the collection but the rest are reprints, most from unusual sources. Lively and witty humor is pervasive even when the themes themselves are quite serious. 3/8/17

The Screaming Dead Balloons by Philip McCutchan, Berkley, 1968 

This is a pretty outlandish spy novel. An evil biochemist has discovered an alien fungus in Brazil which he can breed and control. The fungus becomes an army of ambulatory blob creatures which kill everyone they encounter but which respond to his radio transmitter. He plans to invade London, which is evacuated, and after various adventures Commander Shaw figures out how to seize control and drive the creatures into the ocean. Salt water is poison to them. A little too far over the top. 3/7/17

The Reavers of Skaith by Leigh Brackett, Del Rey, 1976

This was the third and last book in the new Eric John Stark series, and also the last novel Brackett wrote. It continues the story of Stark's adventures on Skaith, with a slight jump as his good fortune at the end of the second has now been reversed. The offworld merchant he trusted has betrayed him and he has to escape another deathtrap and pursue another perilous journey across the dying planet. Some of those they meet are hostile some friendly, and many just curious. But the Lords Protector are determined to restore Skaith's isolation and their own power base. Episodic in structure and fantasy in tone, this is very similar to the first two books except that it ties up the various story lines at the end.

The Long Mirage by David R. George III, Pocket, 2017, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-5011-3297-1

A Star Trek Deep Space Nine novel. The prose universe has proceeded far beyond the original series. The original DS9 has been destroyed and a new one installed in its place. The new commander is Ro Laren. Quark is on a mission of his own, to track down an old friend who has gone missing, as also has the investigator Quark hired to find her. Kira returns from having been lost in the collapse of a wormhole to find politics back home have taken another turn. There is also another escaped hologram character to confuse things. This was a fairly routine novel in the series, with a few good twists but perhaps a few too many story lines. The author usually has a tighter focus in his novels. 2/27/17

Echoes in Death by J.D. Robb, St Martins, 2017, $27.99, ISBN 978-1-250-12311-4 

Once again, SF by courtesy only. There are robots, prisons are off world, etc. The story is otherwise a tense police procedural. After finding a naked woman wandering in a daze, Eve Dallas has to track down a rapist burglar who has apparently turned to murder. Much painstaking detection follows. This series is pure formula, but it’s like visiting old friends every few months. There is a minor contradiction. Dallas has a brief diatribe in which she criticizes efforts to reform professional criminals. Either she, or the author, have forgotten that she is married to a reformed professional criminal. A couple of the intuitive leaps seem like magic. Solid, but not the top of her form. 2/26/17

Seven Surrenders by Ada Palmer, Tor, 2017, $26.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-7802-6 

On a far future Earth, war has been effectively abolished and the wonders of technology have created a truly global community. The very concept of nations has altered dramatically and there are effectively no borders, although there are still distinct power centers. In order to maintain this stability, a secretive group at the top makes use of selective assassination and other methods to prevent any one side from achieving dominance or upsetting the equilibrium. But the system is human made and therefore imperfect and on the danger of collapsing entirely, even as it appears that psychic powers might be appearing at last. I have ambivalent feelings about this. Parts of the story were fascinating and even gripping. Other parts tended to lose my attention, in part because the author occasional uses a mildly artificial prose style that I found distracting. It’s certainly an interesting and promising novel - as was the first in the series, Too Like the Lightning, but it might take a bit of effort to get into the story early on, and it probably will make more sense if you've read the first. 2/24/17

Baker Street Irregulars edited by Michael A. Ventrella & Jonathan Maberry, Diversion, 2017, $16.99, ISBN 978-1-62681-840-8 v209 

This is a collection of alternate Sherlock Holmes stories, and almost half of them are science fiction or fantasy so I'm posting the review here rather than in mysteries to hopefully attract a different group of readers.. Mike Strauss casts him as host of a reality television show that decides to improve its ratings with an actual murder. Keith R.A. DeCandido presents Shirley Jones, a medical student who solves problems for friends. Jody Lynn Nye’s Holmes is a non-humanoid alien who investigates crimes and other things. The story is clever but it doesn’t feel much like Holmes. Ryk E. Spoor has a nice story in which Sherlock must accept the possibility of ghosts. Hildy Silverman’s Sherlock is a vampire. David Gerrold has a very clever story about a kind of AI Sherlock who investigates assaults on sexbots. Jim Avelli has Holmes arrested by Moriarty for the murder of Irene Adler. Heidi McLaughlin also makes Sherlock female. He’s a musician who prevents the murder of Beethoven in Austin Farmer’s contribution and he’s transgendered, but still a detective, in the tale by Gail Z. Martin. Martin Rose casts him as a robot. Jonathan Maberry puts him in a fantasy world, and Beth Patterson rather cleverly turns him into a parrot. Some of the stories are quite good, a couple are just okay, and the majority are certainly enjoyable. 2/21/17

The Hounds of Skaith by Leigh Brackett, Del Rey, 1974 

Volume II of the Book of Skaith. Eric John Stark has rescued Simon Ashton and overthrow the rulers of Skaith, but now he had to fight his way back to the spaceport among various warring factions, genetically altered humans, telepathic dogs, sandstorms, cannibals, and other dangers. Colorful scenery, large battles, conflicting loyalties, and smooth prose in this other worlds adventure that feels even more like fantasy than the first in the series. 2/20/17

The Iron Tactician by Alastair Reynolds, NewCon, 2016, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-910935-30-9 

This is a novella featuring the recurring character Merlin, who is seeking a weapon with which to defend human worlds from the alien Huskers. This episode involves his attempt to bargain for a new interstellar drive unit to replace his own, which is failing. The quest takes him to a system which has been locked in an interplanetary war for more than a thousand years. He is offered a trade. He must reacquire an artificial intelligence stolen by unaligned marauders. Merlin has no compunctions about doing this but the issue becomes more complicated as time passes. Pretty good space adventure although it relies an awful lot on some extraordinary coincidences. 2/19/17

The Ginger Star by Leigh Brackett, Del Rey, 1974

First volume of the Book of Skaith. Brackett reimagines Eric John Stark in a galactic civilization. His mentor has disappeared on a newly discovered but dying world and he is determined on either rescue or revenge. In a series of adventures that feel more like fantasy, he travels around the planet, fulfilling the role of the Dark One, mentioned in a prophecy. He deals with telepathic wolves, an evil aristocracy, and various physical dangers. He rescues his friend at the end of this one, but the story has just begun. Nicely told adventure story, but there is a succession of distinct adventures rather than one  2/14/17

Alpha Centauri or Die! by Leigh Brackett, Ace, 1963 

This is a very minor novella by Brackett in which a group of people build an illegal starship in defiance of a government that has restricted space travel to robots. They are pursued by a killer robot ship, which they disable, then find themselves menaced briefly by an unknown force on the planet where they land. A weak ending and slow pacing spoil this one, and the plot was overly familiar even back during the 1960s. 2/12/17

People of the Talisman by Leigh Brackett, Ace, 1964

Eric John Stark is trying to fulfill a dead friend’s dying wish when he is captured by a barbarian hoard planning to attack a nearby city. He escapes and carries a warning to the city, but they are not able to hold off the onslaught. Stark and some others find their way to an alien city built by a race that preceded the current Martian species, but they have all gone mad and what was hoped to be rescue is instead an even greater cause of danger. Excellent story. 2/9/17

The Secret of Sinharat by Leigh Brackett, Ace, 1964  

Eric John Stark becomes a government agent briefly when a charismatic leader threatens to plunge all of Mars into war. He infiltrates the group and discovers they are being manipulated by a pair of ancient Martians who are effectively immortal because they can jump from one body to another. Great stuff, and I had forgotten that Stark was a black man, possibly the first significant black hero in SF. 2/9/17

They Rise by Hunter Shea, Severed, 2015 

This is a rather typical killer fish novel in which a prehistoric fish reappears with violent consequences for anyone who comes within their reach. They begin attacking vessels in the area of the Bermuda Triangle and a marine biologist and others have to help the US Navy to destroy them before they can spread to the rest of the ocean. Adequately written but about as predictable as the average Sci-Fi Channel movie. 2/8/17

The Nemesis from Terra by Leigh Brackett, Ace, 1961

Brackett returns to her romanticized Mars for this story of a man whom a clairvoyant Martian recognizes as someone destined to rule the planet. To do so, he has to escape from the clutches of a rapacious mining company from Earth, then from various Martians who don’t want an Earthman to take over. Eventually he unites a rabble of Earthmen with the Martian rebels and almost singlehandedly breaks the company’s power. Efforts to send him back to Earth fail and he seems poised to cause more turmoil, but at the last minute he decides to ride off into the sunset with the woman he loves. Quite good, although the switch in characters in the last few pages does not ring true. 2/6/17

The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett, Ace, 1955

Following a nuclear war, primitive religious groups dominate North America, determined to prevent cities from ever rising again. The protagonist is a young boy who chafes at the restrictions upon what he is allowed to learn and fascinated by legends of a legendary town that keeps the old knowledge alive. After various adventures he finds his way there, and it is not at all what he expected. It is a small, ingrown community that hides its secrets in an underground installation, and even they have doubts about how knowledge should be disseminated and what society should do about dangerous technology. It was Brackett’s best novel and it reads as well today as it did nearly seventy years ago. 2/5/17

The Big Jump by Leigh Brackett, Ace, 1955

The first starship has returned but only one of its crew members is aboard. The protagonist wants to know what happened to the man who once saved his life and he forces himself into the business of a powerful family, eventually becoming a crew member on the follow up trip. They find an appalling secret when they arrive, but it’s rather low key and routine. Not one of Brackett’s better efforts. 2/3/17

The Sword of Rhiannon by Leigh Brackett, Ace, 1953 

Although this short novel has a plot that sounds like Edgar Rice Burroughs, its prose is so gorgeous that it another animal entirely. The hero is propelled back through time to a fertile Mars with the mind of an ancient Martian superhuman hidden inside his own brain. He is enslaved, sparks a rebellion, is condemned as a demon, and eventually destroys an evil empire and restores peace between two others. The story is fast moving and old fashioned and feels more like fantasy than SF, but it’s also excellent. 2/1/17

The Starmen of Llyrdis by Leigh Brackett, Ballantine, 1976 (formerly Galactic Breed, 1952)

This was Brackett’s first novel, also known as The Galactic Breed. Only one race – all the intelligent aliens in the galaxy are human – can stand the rigors of ftl travel. The protagonist is a half breed who convinces a crew to take him with them. He gets involved with the politics of the empire and is a major player in a plan to spread the secret of space travel to all the other worlds. A little clumsiness in the plot, but the prose is superb and a harbinger of more to come. 1/28/17

NYPD 2025 by Hal Stryker, Pinnacle, 1985  

George H. Smith’s final novel, written under a pseudonym, is so bad I am amazed that it was published at all. The new President is a televangelist who opens all the borders, disarms the police, dissolves most of the military, and allows public torture and other horrendous acts. A renegade judge organizes a militarized police force to combat the disorder and eventually restore the original constitution. Incredibly bad right wing clichés, poor writing, cartoon characters, and a self contradictory and legally nonsensical plot. It’s not surprising that Smith sold no further fiction in the last ten years of his life. 1/27/18

Edge by Koji Suzuki, Vertical, 2012   

Although the author is best known for his horror fiction, this is science fiction, or perhaps fantasy. Scientists discover one day that the value of pi has changed. This coincides with a flurry of mysterious disappearances. A journalist and a television producer investigate the disappearances and uncover the truth, that reality itself has undergone a significant though not obvious alteration. Interesting speculation but the story itself is quite slow to develop. 1/25/17

Boy by Dan Smith, Chicken House, 2017, $16.99, ISBN 978-1338065640

Velocity by Chris Wooding, Scholastic, 2017, $18.99, ISBN 978-0545944946 

 Two more YA SF novels. The first involves a boy who is kidnapped to a remote island where he has to survive against the odds not only external but internal, because he has been given an injection whose purpose he does not know. If he’s going to live, he may need to progress to being something more than human. I don’t want to reveal too much about the plot, but this is actually very exciting and well written and adults should find it quite enjoyable. The second is set in a post collapse world where the two main protagonists are rival drivers in a series of races that are a major form of entertainment for the recovering society. Wooding has been consistently entertaining and this is one of his better novels. 1/24/17

The Island Snatchers by George H. Smith, DAW, 1978 

The final Annwn novel is more funny than serious and less interesting than its predecessors. Dylan MacBride and his telepathic wife are en route to Hibernia/Ireland for a wedding when they discover that the entire island is moving away from them. It turns out that the island is hollow and that the legendary non-human Formorians and others have conspired to sale it away from the empire that rules it. MacBride eventually foils their plans after being their captive, fighting in an arena, etc. Readable but uninspiring. 1/23/17

The Second War of the Worlds by George H. Smith, DAW, 1976   

An Annwn novel. The Martians who failed to invade the England of H.G. Wells decide to target the alternate world featured in Kar Kaballa. Dylan MacBride returns and once more tries to alert an unresponsive government to the threat. His efforts are complicated by a secret cabal of humans who believe the Martians are superior beings who should be welcomed. The actual invasion doesn’t take place until quite late in the novel, and is defeated with relative ease despite some initial setbacks. Entertaining. 1/22/17

Headlong Flight by Dayton Ward, Pocket, 2017, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-5011-1131-0

A Star Trek Next Generation novel. Captain Picard and company are charting an unexplored region of space when they happen upon a very unusual planet. The planet is inhabited and the residents warn them off cryptically but Picard decides to investigate further and sends a party to look things over. That's when the planet winks out of existence. Worf is head of the away party, which discovers that the planet has an unstable relationship with reality and keeps moving from one dimension to another. Other ships are drawn to the phenomenon which turns out to be even more dangerous than initially believed, precipitating a crisis. Naturally everyone is going to get back to their own world at the end, but it's a bumpy road. This was about average for the series. 1/21/17

Kar Kaballa by George H. Smith, Ace, 1969 

 Set in the same parallel world as Witch Queen of Lochlann and first in a trilogy, this was a surprisingly good novel by Smith. The protagonist is trying to waken a decadent empire to the imminent threat of invasion by a horde of cannibalistic barbarians, but no one will listen. With the aid of a man from our world who has brought a Gatling gun with him, he sets out to save the empire and drive the invaders back. The dialogue is witty and the writing is crisp and clear. There is still a tendency to hurry the ending, but it is not as pronounced as in his earlier novels. This was his best piece of fiction. 1/20/17

The Lady of Light by Jack Williamson, Armchair, 2016 (originally published in 1932)

Although Jack Williamson wrote some interesting work later in his career, his very early stories are pretty bad. This is one of them. A race of pretty much human creatures reforms part of the asteroid belt into a new planet on which to live - becoming superhuman themselves somewhere along the way – following the destruction of their original planet. They have since become moribund except for a few, like a beautiful woman whose encounter with two doomed human explorers will change the future for both races. Trite, implausible, and boring. 1/20/17

The Pharaoh’s Secret by Clive Cussler & Graham Brown, Putnam, 2015 u1074 

I find Cussler’s prose unreadable but I’ve liked a couple of things by Brown, who probably wrote this from an outline. It’s a routine thriller in which frustrated rich men from North Africa plan to recover control of that area by draining all of the water out of the region – a system I didn’t find particularly plausible. They will divert outside interference through means of a particularly deadly gas that can be used in terrorist attacks. Our heroes stumbled into the early stages of the plot and kick and shoot their way to the ending. As I expected, the prose is much better and parts of the stories work very well, although I found the general situation hard to swallow. In fact, I took a break three quarters of the way through and didn't actually finish the last few chapters until I realized I hadn't finished it last night, so it was not a spellbinder. 1/18/17

Druids’ World by George H. Smith, Avalon, 1967 

Smith began mixing SF and fantasy with this book, following it with the three volume Annwn trilogy that has a very similar atmosphere. An empire is threatened by rebellion within the aristocracy and the infiltration by intelligent parasites that can seize control of their human hosts. The hero is an admiral who hoped to retire but who ends up becoming virtual dictator in order to deal with the crisis. Lots of battle scenes but not a whole lot of plot. 1/18/17

The Great Mirror by Arthur J. Burks, Armchair, 2016 (originally published in 1942)

This is another novel I’d heard about for years but never actually read. It starts as a fairly good adventure story in Tibet, but alas goes downhill rapidly. The Tibetans have secretly sent rockets to Mars, each carrying one end of a teleportation device. This allows them to travel back and forth between the planets. The Martians own the mirror of the title, which is a device that allows one to see whatever one wants, anywhere in space and time, simply by thinking about it. The Tibetans steal it and bring it back to Earth. The Martians cannot physically follow, so they mentally possess Tibetans, sometimes transforming their bodies in the process, as they seek to get back their property. The hero sides with the Tibetans, which is puzzling since they are clearly in the wrong. Forgettable. 1/17/17

The Swordsman of Pira by Charles Recour, Armchair, 2016 (originally published in 1949)

I recently reread Otis Adelbert Kline, so I’ve overdosed on Edgar Rice Burroughs style adventure stories. This is another one, and not even a fairly good attempt. The hero is almost magically transported into another world, with barbarians who are basically subhuman although there is a beautiful and perfectly normal looking princess for him to fall for and rescue from various perils. Tedious. 1/17/17

Empire Games by Charles Stross, Tor, 2916, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-3756-6

When the Merchant Princes series opened I thought it was more fantasy than SF, but with this latest installment it seems firmly in the latter genre. Trade between parallel universes is flourishing but some warn that there is also the possibility of encountering a reality with aggressive inhabitants and advanced weapons. America and France are engaged in a major war to determine the fate of the world, but they both be destroyed by an as yet unknown third force. Although the main plot involves espionage and information gathering as well as brinkmanship, Stross takes time to develop some real characters with complex interpersonal problems of their own. The author includes some closing notes that will be particularly useful if you have not read the previous books in the series. 1/16/17

Terror from the Abyss by John Fletcher, Armchair, 2016 (originally published in 1952)

This is a very badly written novelette about a planet that is originally thought to be ideal for human visitors, but which turns out to harbor a being that wants to prey on humans for sustenance. It’s not even really a monster story because the villain is so awkward and silly that it almost reads like a satire. Fletcher only produced four short stories, and if this is typical, I can understand why there were not any more. 1/15/17

The Coming of the Rats by George H. Smith, Digit, 1964 

The protagonist this time is a survivalist who has a stockpile of supplies hidden in a cave. When a nuclear war breaks out, he brings the scatterbrained woman he has been courting, along with the hot blooded seductress who has her sights set on him. There are the usual plot developments – looting, rape, and murder – before their cave is besieged by a horde of rats. They survive, but it’s clear this was just the opening skirmish. Neither that nor the sexual triangle among the three main characters are resolved. Minor even for a minor novel. 1/14/17

The Four Day Weekend by George H. Smith, Belmont, 1966 

Smith tried satire for this novel, and it doesn’t work very well. The basic plot is that automobiles are fitted with electronic brains and one day they all decide to kill off humans, running them down, causing accidents, or pumping carbon monoxide into buildings. The protagonist is a henpecked non driver who finds new courage after the vehicles murder his wife, and leads a group of survivors to an island where they find refuge from the machine revolt. More silly than anything else, and not remotely entertaining. 1/14/17

Scratch One Asteroid by Willard Hawkins, Armchair, 2016 (originally published in 1952)

Although not the smoothest prose I’ve ever read, this is a reasonable adventure about a convict who wants to escape from the prison ship taking him to be incarcerated on Ceres.  His efforts cross the paths of various others including a rich woman who never experienced much of life, a female space pilot with hidden qualities, and an obnoxious space pirate. Short and trivial but lightly entertaining. 1/13/17

Planet of the Knob-Heads by Stanton Coblentz, Armchair, 2016 (originally published in 1939)

Stanton Coblentz was in the running for worst SF writer of all time, but he was extraordinarily prolific and a lot of it was published in hardcover. This short novel never even made it to paperback before, and with good reason. A married couple find themselves kidnapped to the planet of the title where they are meant to be museum exhibits. We are told a lot about the completely implausible culture on that planet, but not much of anything else happens and the story is a real yawner. 1/13/17

The Unending Night by George H. Smith, Monarch, 1964   

An experimental reactor on Mars explodes and drives the planet out of orbit. It causes disasters all over Earth and diverts it so that it will go out beyond Pluto. This last can be averted if another reactor can be used to somehow harness Jupiter’s energy and swing Earth back into its original orbit. None of this makes any sense and on top of that, it almost all happens off stage, with the final half of the story compressed into three pages. Very talky. It is amusing to see the evil character who is transparently based on Ayn Rand. 1/12/17

The Forgotten Planet by George H. Smith, Avalon, 1965

The Terran Empire has collapsed and the planet Nestrond has fallen back to a feudal society. A race of alien traders has provided gunpowder, which has ramped up warfare, but they provide little else of use. The protagonist is the exiled ruler of one of the kingdoms who finds himself being manipulated by an unknown force in an attempt to regain the throne, but it is transparently the aliens who are behind everything. This was the best of Smith's novels, which admittedly is not saying much. 1/12/17

Fragment by Craig Russell, Thistledown, 2016, $19.95, ISBN 978-1-77187-111-2

News the past few years have mentioned the potential shattering of the ice sheet in Antarctica - and coincidentally there was a major news story the day I read this book. The premise is just that, a massive split has put the staff of a polar research facility at risk and an American submarine must brave the unsettled waters to effect their rescue. But there is more to the story than that, as we discover that there may be even vaster repercussions that would change the balance of world power and endanger large numbers of people who aren't aware that they are in danger. There is also a subplot about a school of whales trying to survive the turmoil. This was quite well written, although the dialogue is a bit awkward at times. Despite the scope of the story, the tone is relatively low key adventure. 1/10/17

The Secret History of Twin Peaks by Mark Frost, Flatiron Books, 2016, $29.99, ISBN 978-1-250-07558-1  

This is labeled a novel but it’s more of a novelty. It’s a fairly hefty imaginary history of the town of Twin Peaks cast in the form of a secret FBI report. As such, it is epistolary, consisting of journals, reports, newspaper and magazine articles – reproduced to look authentic, and other documents, with marginal notations and photographs. It’s actually quite impressive and parts of it are fascinating. It’s also science fiction, or maybe fantasy, since it involves alien visitors, giant owls, and other arcane phenomena seen or hinted at in the television show and movie. Since there is going to be a new television program, this is sort of an advance tie in. My only real complaint is that Frost wrote one of my all time favorite novels, The List of Seven, and I was hoping for something more in that line. 1/9/17

1976: Year of Terror by George H. Smith, Epic, 1961 

The Libertarians have taken over the country and the head of their secret police has assassinated the President. The Vice-President has been kidnapped by his minions and the protagonist has to rescue him so he can broadcast an alert and save the country. This is a completely implausible story whose plot is essentially crammed into the final twenty pages. The rest of it is endless talking mixed with some soft core pornography. 1/8/17

Like a Boss by Adam Rakunas, Angry Robot, 2016, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-85766-481-5 

Sequel to Windswept, which I mostly liked. The protagonist is a former labor organizer who previously outwitted an evil minded opponent. But years have passed, our hero is retired, and the villain has been released from prison, and he has managed to found a new religion to provide himself with a new organization. As such, he begins to interfere with the orderly flow of work on their colony world, even though the union leadership is opposed to his interference. So guess who gets called out of retirement to deal with the issue? Stronger on characterization than you might expect from the plot, and the story doesn’t rely as much on melodrama as you might expect either. I found this a bit slow, just like the first one, but ultimately rewarding. 1/7/17

Japan Sinks by Sakyo Komatsu, Dover, 2016 (from the 1973 Japanese)

An island off the coast of Japan disappears overnight. Scientists use submersibles to investigate and discover significant volcanic activity. As earthquakes and eruptions grow more frequent, it becomes obvious that a major seismic shift is underway. Casualties mount before they realize that the entire archipelago is about to disappear under the waves. Frantic plans are put in motion to evacuate the populace to China, Australia, and Namibia. The author has done his homework and there are detailed scientific explanations of what is happening, interspersed with vivid action scenes.  1/6/17

Vassals of the Lodestar by Gardner F. Fox, Armchair, 2016 (originally published in 1947)

Humans are kidnapped and taken to a barbarian planet for a series of adventures. Fox wrote some fair historical adventures but his SF was almost always awful. This was not one of the exceptions. The hero is a lumberjack who bulls his way through a series of encounters with evil aliens and rescues the beautiful princess. Almost fell asleep reading this one. 1/6/17

New Pompeii by Daniel Godfrey, Titan, 2016, $14.95, ISBN 978-1783298112 

Although I generally don’t care for time travel novels, this one caught my interest very early and I ended up reading it through in a single sitting. The protagonist is hired by a controversial company which has found a way to bring objects, and persons, forward through time, although travel in the opposite direction is impossible. They supposedly concentrate on people who were going to die anyway, to avoid altering the time line, but some suspect that they are disappearing people from the past who offended them in alternate versions of the present. They have built a replica of Pompeii and retrieved most of the citizens of that doomed country, but they underestimate the situation and a crisis is looming. Very well done. A sequel has been announced, but I can’t imagine how the story could be continued. 1/5/17

The Everlasting Exiles by Wallace West, Avalon, 1967 

This is actually the fourth and last novel in a very loose series in which humans interact with a dying Martian culture. Some Martian spies are mentally projected into human bodies to evaluate the race on the verge of its conquest of the moon. The simultaneous arrival of American and Russian ships has precipitated a crisis, since both claim ownership of the moon, and a trail at the World Court does not seem likely to avert a confrontation. The plot is slightly more complex than most of West’s other novels, but once again it meanders about and takes a naïve approach to the questions it raises. 1/4/17

Divided We Fall by Raymond F. Jones, Armchair, 2016 (originally published in 1950) u997 

Jones’ novel Syn is an expanded version of this novella. Almost half the population of Earth consists of synthetically created humans, and eventually the normal humans begin a program of extermination.  A returned spaceman doesn’t understand what the problem is, and since he has fallen in love with a female syn, his stance is hardly unprejudiced. So he becomes a vigilante to protect the downtrodden. Not memorable. The cover art is from an Ace Philip K. Dick book. 1/4/17

River of Time by Wallace West, Avalon, 1963 

The world is on the brink of nuclear war so a bunch of college students go back in time to try to prevent the civil war that erupted following Caesar’s assassination in Rome. Somehow they think this will lead to a peaceful world. After various interactions with historical characters, they return to the present and find that they were successful. War has been outlawed and the world is united under a single government. Tolerable, but illogical and frequently dull. 

The Time Lockers by Wallace West, Avalon, 1964 

This is an excruciating slow book in which nothing really happens. Earth is in communication with a parallel world where it is possible to bank boring time and experience it later doing something more interesting. But criminals have set up a scam and are stealing other people’s time. This causes a diplomatic crisis which everyone talks about for 150 pages but no one ever really does anything about it and the story sort of peters out when the author got as tired of it as his readers inevitably did. 1/2/17

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