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


Kong Skull Island by Tim Lebbon, Titan, 2017, $7.99, ISBN 978-1785651380

Novelization of the movie. Without all the visual effects, the paucity of the story line is more apparent, although Lebbon does a good job of filling in minor details and providing other bits and pieces to flesh out the story. He generally ignores the plot problems I noticed when I saw the movie and on balance this is an above average novelization, surprising given the nature of the source material. 4/28/17

The Soul Snatchers by Lee Francis, Armchair, 2017, bound with Doomsday Eve by Robert Moore Williams, originally published in 1952 

Lee Francis was a house name used by Howard Browne and others, so the authorship of this novella is unknown. It’s not very good. A prominent scientist has an extended period of blackout after which he discovers that someone has developed a machine that can remotely control the brains of human beings. He helps end the menace. Humdrum and overly simplistic. 4/27/17

The Midas Legacy by Andy McDermott, Dell, 2017, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-101-96531-3 

Twelfth, I believe, in the adventures of Nina Wilde and Eddie Chase. In earlier volumes, they discovered the ruins of Atlantis, among other lost civilizations. Now they have a new quest. The Atlanteans apparently visited the Himalayas at some point, and the dynamic duo want to find out why and what they discovered. That’s just the first step in an adventure that moves to England and eventually North Korea, that uncovers ancient secrets, and reveals a plot that could literally change the world. A bit bland despite the melodramatic plot, but a reasonable progression from the earlier books and generally a satisfying adventure story with SF overtones. 4/26/17

Envoy by Tobias S. Buckell, Gallery, 2017, $16.99, ISBN 978-1-5011-0687-3

A novel based on the Halo computer game. The setting is basically military SF although theoretically the interstellar war has ended. This particular story is set on a world jointly colonized by humans and an alien race, and tension between the two remains high despite the ceasefire. The aliens are split into two warring factions themselves, which adds to the troubles of the human who is supposedly in charge of the planet. There is a secondary plot involving espionage, just to complicate matters further, and naturally the planet has a surprise or two of its own to confound everyone involved. The novel rises above its rather tedious background material to present a genuinely interesting story. 4/25/17

The Jack of Planets by Paul W. Fairman, Armchair, 2017, bound with Gladiator At-Law by Frederik Pohl & C.M. Kornbluth, originally published in 1952  

This was a fair space opera which opens with an interesting puzzle. Two expeditions to Mars have been launched and both disappeared. But in each case, one of the crew members was found alive on Earth months or even years later, and neither man has any memory of having been involved with the space program. The solution is not spectacularly good, but it’s okay and the puzzle is worked out in a reasonable fashion. 4/24/17

The Ridge by John Rector, Thomas & Mercer, 2017, $15.95, ISBN 978-1503943933

This appears to be a crime novel but it is actually SF, and to explain that I’m going to have to issue a spoiler alert. A young couple move to a new, apparently idyllic community. But the woman soon begins to suspect that something is wrong, that the entire area is a gigantic experiment. The tension grows until in a moment of panic she stabs her husband and rushes out into the night. She is right, of course, and the solution is what makes it SF. So don’t read any further if you don’t like spoilers. All of the people in neighborhood have actually died and have been restored to life through nanotechnology. Lightweight but fast moving. 4/23/17

The Last Detective by Brian Cohn, Pandamoon, 2016, $15.99, ISBN 978-1945502-15-6

Earth has been invaded and conquered by an alien race. Most humans are confined to cities or sent to labor camps. The protagonist is a former police detective who is singled out by the new overlords when one of their number is killed. His job is to discover the identity of the murderer, human or alien. The trail and the investigation are convoluted and predictably lead to a situation much more fraught with danger than the simple death of one individual. This was fun – I like SF mystery hybrids – but it would have been better if it hadn’t been in present tense. 4/22/17

Forsaken Skies by D. Nolan Clark, Orbit, 2016, $15.99, ISBN 978-0-316-35569-8

I had high hopes for this one, first in a trilogy, because it looked like it might be similar to the Expanse series. A farflung human civilization is menaced when an armada of alien starships appears unexpectedly. Unfortunately, it very quickly turned into a rather routine military SF story with cookie cutter characters winning numerous space battles against ludicrous arms - a handful of fighter pilots manage to stave off an attack on a remote colony by derring do. The story frequently confused me about time scales. Supposedly the aliens are only a couple of weeks away when the heroes are enlisted, but they manage to construct a reasonably effective planetary defense system on a world of near pacifists. I was not inspired to pre-order the next in the series. 4/19/17

Corpse by Philip McCutchan, Magna, 1980 

A new group of international criminals plans to seize control of Great Britain by positioning cargo ships with nuclear weapons around its coast and threatening to detonate them. They kidnap Shaw in order to have him carry their demands to the government, but inexplicably they do this before the ships are in place, giving him plenty of time to thwart the plot. He does so despite a series of really amateur mistakes, thanks to luck and a few plot jumps that had me scratching my head. McCutchan no longer appears to be taking this series seriously. 4/14/17

The Naked Goddess by S.J. Byrne, Armchair, 2017 (originally published in 1952)

A narcotics agent goes to South America to track down a gang of smugglers and discovers instead a woman from another planet with extraordinary powers and a plot against humanity. Byrne churned out his short novels regularly and the plots varied a great deal but I have yet to read anything by him that I didn’t find clumsy and dull. This one was not an exception. By the time the fantastic element is going strong, I had already lost interest. 4/12/17

The Blazing World by Margaret Cavendish, 1666

This is a 1666 speculative essay that is seen as a precursor to SF, although it’s as much fantasy as anything else. The text is a kind of grand tour of an imaginary world with its various inhuman beings. The author was the Duchess of Newcastle. Lots of spiritualism and paragraphs that go on for multiple pages. I found this virtually unreadable but it has some historical interest. 4/11/17

Sunstrike by Philip McCutchan, Hodder, 1979

Someone has discovered a way to selectively thin the ozone layer and burn parts of the Earth’s surface. Shaw tracks down another evil scientist working with the Chinese. They have secretly launched a large number of satellites – not plausible – which contains gases that thin the layer when they are released by radio transmissions. We are treated to scenes of individual people melting in seconds when exposed to the sun – not plausible. This was probably the most horribly bad book in the series I’ve read so far. 4/9/17

The Best of Leigh Brackett by Leigh Brackett, Del Rey, 1977 

Leigh Brackett was one of the best writers of pulp SF adventure and this collection includes much of her best shorter fiction, including the Eric John Stark adventure, “Enchantress of Venus,” fantasies like “The Jewel of Bas” and “The Moon That Vanished,” and less typical but still interesting stories like “The Woman from Altair.” Brackett’s universe had few aliens who weren’t virtually identical to humans, but she was unsurpassed at evoking odd cultures and exotic settings. It’s a shame that like many writers of her time, she and her work seem to be passing into oblivion. 4/6/17

Lampreys by Alan Spencer, Severed, 2014 

Toxic Behemoth by David Bernstein, Severed, 2014 

These two novellas are from a publisher that specializes in zombie, apocalypse, giant monsters, and so forth. The first involves a secret scientific experiment that allows mutated lampreys to possess, control, and ultimately slaughter human beings. The plot is straightforward – a military mission is sent to wipe them out before they spread. The prose is quite amateurish. The author is inconsistent in his use of tenses and the sentences are frequently awkward. If it had been longer, I wouldn’t have finished. The second is somewhat better written, but the plot is inane. A gangster is thrown alive into the ocean with some toxic waste. This results in a giant monster whom the government cannot destroy and who wants vengeance against the men who betrayed him. Someone at Severed Press needs to hire a line editor. 4/5/17

Invasive by Chuck Wendig, Harper, 2015, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-06-235157-9 

Insects – specifically ants – as bioweapons. This novel has some fascinating speculation about the possibilities, although it is mostly about the suspense as ravaged bodies begin to turn up. An FBI investigator follows a trail of clues to a remote island where scientists are engaged in cutting edge research. They deny any connection, but of course there is, and of course she suspects it almost from the outset. The story is tense and exciting, but it would have been more so except that it is written in present tense, which gives it all an artificial atmosphere that for me at least drained away most of the entertainment value. 4/4/17

The Halfling and Other Stories by Leigh Brackett, Ace, 1973  

There are seven stories in this collection, two of them novellas. A couple are quite minor – alien children play truant and visit Earth, energy based aliens present a problem for explorers, and an alien disguised as human disrupts a carnival. “Enchantress of Venus” is a very fine other world adventure and “The Citadel of Lost Ages” is a well told adventure on a post-catastrophe Earth. For the most part, these lack the atmosphere of fantasy that is characrerisic of much of Brackett’s SF. 4/2/17

Luna: Wolf Moon by Ian McDonald, Tor, 2017, $27.99, ISBN 979-0-7653-7553-7

Sequel to Luna: New Moon, which introduced us to a lunar colony of the far future where five families control most aspects of the colony through their official commercial power and unofficial alternate methods. The sequel opens with the supposed death of the head of one of those families, although there is reason to believe that this might all be a sinister plot to put rivals off their guard. There is more intrigue, politicking, personal rivalries, treachery, greed, and conniving, much of which is complex enough that I'll make no attempt to describe it here. I'm a sucker for a lunar setting but even if I wasn't I would have been caught up in this complex and compelling story. Ever since his first novel appeared, I have been impressed by the feeling of intelligent, thoughtful construction that characterizes his work, and that is rarely more evident than in this one. 4/1/17