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

LAST UPDATE 6/23/17

Frankenstorm by Ray Garton, Pinnacle, 2014 

A secret quasi-government project is kidnapping homeless people and injecting them with a virus that turns them into violent killers. A nut with his own private army suspects the truth and decides to raid the facility. A super-hurricane is bearing down on near future California and strikes just as the infected prisoners begin to escape. Yes, this is basically a zombie novel variant, although the hurricane provides some extra innings. Enjoyable, but the characters running the laboratory are not convincing. The head of the operation is a drug addicted hedonist who seems far too incompetent to be given such a responsible position, and the woman who eventually blows the whistle – too late – does not seem the kind who would have participated in this clearly illegal and horrifying activity for months before speaking up. 6/23/17

Horizon by Tabitha Lord, Wise Ink, 2015m $15.95, ISBN 978-1-940014-79-1 v148 

The protagonist of this somewhat interesting first novel is an empath who also has healing powers. She comes to the aid of a dying spaceman who crashes nearby and eventually they are off together to visit the starship from which he is based. There they both become involved in some low key intrigue and equally low key romance. Although the plot is relatively mild, the characters themselves are fairly interesting and the prose is quite readable. 6/20/17

Phantom Out of Time by Nelson Bond, Armchair, 2017 (originally published in 1943)

Bond was an excellent short story writer, particularly of near future SF and contemporary fantasy. His space operas were not so great, and this is a good example. The galaxy is ruled by this one guy, see, and he's a real jerk, which naturally means that a group of rebels springs up. But the bad guy has a new weapon. There is no sense of anything happening on a galactic scale, the society feels exactly like today's except with spaceships, and the characters are flat and uninteresting. 6/20/17

Wilders by Brenda Cooper, Pyr, 2017, $18, ISBN 978-1-63388-265-2

Brenda Cooper has slowly but steadily established herself as a writer to watch in SF. Her newest is possibly her best yet. She lives in a semi-Utopian future Earth where a serious effort is being made to reverse the damage caused by generations of environmental neglect. The protagonist is an orphan after her parents commit suicide and when she is old enough to make her own decisions, she decides to track down her sister - who is working somewhere in the countryside. She sets out accompanied by a sentient robot. Life outside the megacity is not exactly what she expected. There is more conflict and definitely more crime. The fact that her robot is a valuable commodity puts her in jeopardy for that reason alone. Eventually she does find her sister, but life after that is not at all what she expected either. There are secrets to be uncovered, some of which could affect the futures of both the countryside and the cities, and those who threaten to reveal those secrets are in danger of their lives. Coming of age novels have always been popular in SF and I doubt this one will prove to be an exception. I liked the characters and the setting was more complex than this brief summary is likely to suggest. 6/19/17

Enigma Tales by Una McCormack, Pocket, 2017, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-5011-5258-0

This is the first Deep Space Nine novel I've read for a while. The Cardassians have chosen a new leader, but his possession might be in jeopardy because of an imminent report on crimes committed during the war with Bajor. Two human visitors - not characters from the television series - have coincidentally arrived on other business, but their presence becomes inextricably entwined with Cardassian political intrigues. Another prominent Cardassian also faces disgrace, although in his case it is unjustified, and the outsiders decide to intervene on his behalf. This leads, as you might expect, to a complex web of intrigue, clandestine attacks, and the possibility of revelations that will affect the entire civilization. McCormack is a practiced hand at these tie in novels and this is one of her best. 6/19/17

The Courier by Gerald Brandt, DAW, 2017, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7564-1207-4

I rarely see a new DAW book nowadays but this one showed up. It's a first novel and first in a series set in a future when corporations have taken over the world, much of which is enclosed in gigantic buildings segregated by wealth with the rich on top. The protagonist is a courier who carries routine messages around the city of San Angeles, but when she stumbled into a murder, she finds herself on the run from shadowy hit teams. I had some minor reservations. There is not enough background description and I could not picture the environment at all. Parts are in first person and parts in third, which I found jarring. The evil corporation with hit squads is also a pretty worn out cliche. That said, however, I was thoroughly immersed in the story. It moves quickly and the courier's escapes from various traps are reasonably convincing. I liked it well enough that I pre-ordered the next two in the series. 6/16/17

Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom by Bradley W. Schenck, Tor, 2017. $25.9, ISBN 978-0-7653-8329-7 

I've been re-reading a good deal of vintage SF lately so this quasi-pastiche was well timed. It draws on a number of disparate sources like Metropolis by Fritz Lang and various pulp series. A mysterious new technology replaces all of the switchboard operators of a futuristic city. This is just the first step in an elaborate plan, of course, and our hero's investigation into what seems a minor matter turns out to have much greater implications. This is all done with tongue firmly in cheek, of course. I particularly liked the smallest giant robot ever. There is a large cast of idiosyncratic characters, a good deal of unlikely science and technology, and plenty of light hearted adventure. My only complaint is that it goes on a bit too long. The modern publishing model of longish novels does not generally work well with humor. But mostly it's a fun trip. 6/13/17

The White Invaders by Ray Cummings, Armchair, 2016 

Invasion from another dimension. At first there were just insubstantial ghostly appearances, but then people began to disappear. Eventually the protagonist finds out that we are being invaded from another dimension. He ends up being kidnapped there – it's pretty much like our world – and he helps the good guys to defeat the bad guys and end the threat against our world. Minor. 6/11/17

Around the Universe by Ray Cummings, Armchair, 2016 (originally published in 1923)  

This is a really awful early novel by Cummings about two men in a spaceship who are off to visit Venus, where they find out that Martians and evil Mercutians are planning to attack the Earth. They try to convince the good Mercutians to help them, but without success, so they're off to Jupiter, whose ruler refuses to get involved. The story line is filled with boring scientific lectures, much of which is outdated, and feeble attempts at humor. 6/7/17

Gateway to Infinity by Milton Lesser, Armchair, 2016 (originally published in 1956)

A spaceman down on his luck hears rumors of a planet which possesses a literal fountain of youth. When he is approached by a woman who claims to have a chart showing the way to that world, he gives up everything to help her reach it. They don't find immortality, but he ends up better off at the end. Short and mildly silly, but readable. 6/6/17

The Insect Invasion by Ray Cummings, Avalon, 1967 

This was a slightly different take on the shrinking drug stories that were Cummings' trademark. This time they only get small enough to interact with insects. A villain and his gang are controlling ants and kidnapping people, but when the good guys get some of the drug, the days of their secret predation are numbered. There is no serious effort to explain why a drug would shrink clothing and other items along with the bodies of those who take them, but Cummings never was very strong in logic or consistency. 6/5/17

Baron Munchausen's Scientific Adventures by Hugo Gernsback, Armchair, 2017 (originally published in 1915)  

This is an episodic piece in which the Baron encounters a number of futuristic devices and concepts, from antigravity to telepathy, and deals with each in a sometimes awkward and mildly humorous fashion. Gernsback may have been an excellent editor, but he was a terribly bad writer, so this is more of a historical novelty than an entertainment. They're amusing at times, but only in a comic book sort of way. 6/4/17

The Revolution of 1950 by Stanley Weinbaum and Ralph Milne Farley, Armchair, 2017 (originally published in 1938)  

I had wanted to read this for some time because of Weinbaum, but it doesn't feel like the work of either writer. A future American president turns into a dictator and he has some other secrets that our heroes must ferret out before democracy is restored. Boring and not very logical, but at least it is quite short. Oddly, it doesn't read like either author's solo fiction. Farley wrote mostly pulp style other worlds adventures and time travel stories while Weinbaum is noted for his innovative short fiction. This must have been an off day for the two of them. 6/2/17

War-Nymphs of Venus by Ray Cummings, Black Dog, 2016, $19.95, ISBN 978-1-884449-71-0 

During the 1940s, Ray Cummings wrote thirteen stories for the magazine Planet Stories, all of which are gathered together in this thick collection. They mostly involve space travel, although there is one of his typical miniature world tales as well. The science is hokey and the plots are very repetitive, often involving strange planets venturing into the solar system on missions of conquest, and impossibly habitable asteroids. There are also space pirates and wrecked spaceships. One gets the sense that Cummings was just churning out desired word counts and no longer really had any interest in the stories themselves. These are very dated and Cummings had long since passed his prime. 5/31/17

Hearts and Minds by Dayton Ward, Pocket, 2017, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-5011-4731-9

A Star Trek Next Generation novel. This one is sort of a secret history novel. In our own near future, aliens from a potentially doomed world come to Earth looking for a new home and are shot down by Earth defenses and secretly held prisoner. The authorities predictably have seen a lot of SF movies and know this might be the preamble to an invasion. Three centuries later, Picard and company are about to visit an unexplored planet when they receive a message The nefarious Section 21 is involved and a secret from Picard's past is about to become public knowledge. There are a number of interwoven plots in this one although much of the book deals with original characters not from the television series. I had mixed feelings about this one. Some parts were interesting, others struck me as awkward. About average for a tie-in, but the author has done better in the past. 5/30/17

Jetta of the Lowlands by Ray Cummings, Scifi Classics Library, 1930 

The oceans have largely disappeared and new nations are springing up in the newly revealed Lowlands. An American detective is sent to find out who is smuggling ore from one of the new states. He falls in love, uncovers the plot, is menaced, rescues the girl, kills or captures the villains, and ends the smuggling. Not only was this very minor even for Cummings, but this edition is so badly formatted that it is very difficult to read. Mercifully, it is relatively short. 5/29/17

The Exile of Time by Ray Cummings, Ace, 1964 

A future villain builds a time machine and for some reason establishes himself in 1777 and 1935. From the former he kidnaps a young woman, who is rescued by two men from 1935, who find her locked in an abandoned house. Then there is the robot who rebelled against humans and is also traveling through time. And then there are two people from the future who ostensibly want to foil the villain. Lots of chasing back and forth through time, a robotic attack on 1935 New York City, and a tour through time from prehistory to the distant future. Despite all that, the story is slow moving and rather dull. 5/28/17

Wandl the Invader by Ray Cummings, Ace, 1961 (originally published in 1932)

Sequel to Brigands of the Moon. A rogue planet has entered our system, inhabited by a race of naked brains and humanoid giants. They plan to seize control of all three inhabited planets and our heroes must return to foil the plot. Not as good as its predecessor, but still one of the few times that Cummings varied from his usual preoccupations. The alien are thwarted and their planet falls into the sun after the usual chases and battles.  5/28/17

Brigands of the Moon by Ray Cummings, Ace, 1931 

This was the longest and best of Cummings' novels. It is a space adventure in which a band of space pirates from Mars plots to seize a valuable mineral deposit on the Moon. The hero is taken prisoner and forced to help until he finds a way to sabotage their plans and join the contingent on the Moon in defending their base from attack. It is far more original than his other work, and the prose feels much smoother, although the dialogue is still rather cornball. 5/26/17

The Illusion Seekers by P.F. Costello, Armchair, 2017, bound with Orphans of Atlans by William L. Hamling. Magazine appearance 1950.

This is a house pseudonym used by Rog Phillips and others. As far as I know, this story's author has not been identified. Mutations are spreading across the country and an increasingly draconian winnowing process is being used to kill off all "tainted" infants. Our hero objects to the whole procedure, eventually determines that it is pointless because even those judged normal have diverged from the original model, and goes off seeking refuge. The ending is very abrupt and inconclusive. 5/25/17

The Man Who Mastered Time by Ray Cummings, Ace, 1956 (originally published in 1929)

Cummings repeats scenes from his earlier books in this story of a journey into the future to rescue a beautiful woman. Two quasi-nations, one slightly repressive and the other barbaric, are on the brink of war. The time travelers help the scientists seize power in the first, reform the government, and defeat their enemies. The good guys end up with the beautiful women. The chief bad guy gets killed. The victorious nation decides to liberalize its own laws in response to the presence of the time travelers. Numbingly boring at times, and vehemently racist in several spots. 5/23/17

The Princess of the Atom by Ray Cummings, Avon, 1950 (originally published in 1929)

Another adventure in the microuniverse, repeating most of the same tropes as appeared in the other novels in this informal series. Inhabitants of the microscopic world make themselves giants and invade our Earth, defeating the military in a series of battles. Our heroes try to rally the opposition inside the atom, but that world is doomed and it may be that ours is as well. But the good guys prevail in the end, get the girls, and live happily ever after. 5/23/17

Orphan of Atlans by William L. Hamling, Armchair, 2017, bound with The Illusion Seekers by P.F. Costello. Magazine appearance 1947

A time machine crashes in the present and an infant is rescued by a scientist. He determines that the child comes from Atlantis, which is in Earth's future rather than its past. Eventually the boy grows up and finds a way to return to his own time. Very dull and predictable. The actual title is Orphan, singular, but the cover shows it as plural while the spine remains singular. Not worth your time in either case. 5/22/17

Into the Fourth Dimension by Ray Cummings, Armchair, 2016 (originally published in 1926) 

Ghostly figures begin appearing all over the Earth, but luckily an unknown chemist has figured out that these are invaders from the fourth dimension. He also has a method of traveling to that other dimension where he confronts a typical Cummings situation – a society split between good and evil. Good triumphs, but only after a lot of mayhem and the destruction of much of New York City. Re-reading Cummings all at once, I am amazed at how often he repeats scenes from one book to the next. 4/20/17

Tarrano the Conqueror by Ray Cummings, Burt, 1930

This is a rather silly interplanetary adventure in which a minority group on Venus assassinates all of the leaders of Earth, Mars, and Venus in order to take over Venus and gain recognition from the other powers. Killing their leaders seems an odd way to make friends. The journalist hero and others foil Tarrano's plot, which for some reason has its headquarters in a Venusian exile community in Brazil. This is a very racist book which may explain why it was never published in paperback, but it's also very badly written so there may have been multiple reasons. 5/19/17

The Fire People by Ray Cummings, Wildside (originally published in 1922) 

Cummings later rewrote this novel as Tama of the Light Country, and while the details differ, the plot is very much the same. Invaders from Mercury attack Earth. A winged woman from that planet comes to warn about  the capabilities of the invaders, the leader of whom wants to marry her and clip her wings. Mayhem follows, a human becomes king of Mercury, the villain is killed and the invasion ends. It wasn't very good at all, and the rewrite a decade later did not improve it. 5/17/17

The Monarch of Mars by John Pollard, Armchair, 2017 (originally published in 1956)   

The peaceful people of Mars – humans of course though Earth is unaware of their existence – are in danger from the barbarians of their planet. Since they lack the skills and drive to defend themselves, they recruit a handful of Earth people and teleport them to Mars to fight their battles for them. Naturally they succeed. Dreadful, but mercifully quite short. 5/16/17

Beyond the Vanishing Point by Ray Cummings, Ace, 1958 

This novella really just recapitulates The Girl in the Golden Atom. A villain kidnaps a young woman and takes her into the subatomic world, and two friends follow and rescue her, kill the villain, make new friends, and have some brief and not very interesting adventures. It felt like Cummings wrote this over a weekend when he didn't have any new ideas. 5/12/17

A Brand New World by Ray Cummings, Ace, 1964

This is perhaps the least interesting of Cummings novels despite the melodramatic plot. A new planet enters the solar system, alters the Earth's axis causing a worldwide catastrophe, and launches an invasion force, which mysteriously is withdrawn despite being virtually invincible. Almost all of this happens off stage, however, and there is nothing remotely interesting until our heroes reach the rogue planet about two thirds of the way through. Silly and boring. 5/12/17

Explorers into Infinity by Ray Cummings, Avalon, 1965 

Another novel of shrinking and enlarging people into alternate realities, with almost exactly the same plot as several similar books by Cummings. The heroes rescue the fair maidens and dispatch a group of villainous invaders, but most of the book consists of pointless discussions of how the universe is constructed – almost all of it entirely bogus. Cummings seemed determined to write the same story over and over again, and somehow it kept selling. 5/12/17

Beyond the Stars by Ray Cummings, Ace, 1963 

One of the author's least interesting novels, an inversion of the premise of The Girl in the Golden Atom. A scientist launches a ship that becomes larger and larger until it breaks into a greater universe in which our solar system is just an atom. There the newcomers become instrumental in bringing about the reform of a repressive regime. Most of the story consists of lengthy lectures in pseudoscience and nothing much happens until the final twenty pages. 5/10/17

Rollerball by Philip McCutchan, Hodder, 1983 

This discovery of some apparently indestructible metal balls in England leads Commander Shaw to Australia, where he is briefly the prisoner of a group of Japanese nationals who are clearly involved in some sort of international conspiracy. The rollerball is a giant sphere that rolls across England, destroying everything in its path, until it either malfunctions or self destructs at the end. We never find out which, and our heroes had nothing to do with it. Terrible ending. 5/9/17

Mirror at the Heart of Time by Mark Laporta, Chickadee Prince, 2017, $12.99, ISBN 978-0991327485

This is the final novel in a young adult trilogy that includes Heart of Earth and Heart of Mystery. The trilogy chronicles the adventures of a visitor to Earth from another world, a spoiled rich kid named Ixdahan Daherek, who has been sent here against his will and is determined not to enjoy himself. Along the way he has overcome a number of adversities, saves Earth from being conquered, and has fallen in love with an Earth woman, so his character has begun to evolve to a more acceptable mindset. But this time he finds himself in the middle of a battle to control time itself. The story is mildly satirical and generally humorous, despite some moments of solemnity. The scientific content is, probably by intention, minimal and frivolous. The prose makes few concessions to less sophisticated readers, but the tone is so light that it sometimes feels that way. 5/8/17

The Shadow Girl by Ray Cummings, Ace, 1962 

A short and rather silly time travel story. Cummings did not bother to think things through and the book is filled with nonsense about where time travelers are “right now” and similar nonsense. A villain has kidnapped a woman and wants to take her to the year 2445 where he has established himself as a dictator, but time traveling rivals and the woman’s boyfriend are in pursuit. The naiveté is refreshing at times but the story is nonsense. 5/6/17

Werewolf by Philip McCutchan, Hodder, 1982 

Hitler’s brain has been preserved and hidden in Chile. Now the Nazis believe the time is ripe to smuggle it back into Germany and stir up a rebellion in pursuit of the Fourth Reich. Commander Shaw is after them, however, in one of the best of the late novels in the series. The author’s concept of international politics is more than a little shaky but outside of that this was a fairly entertaining thriller and Shaw is not nearly as incompetent as he has been in the last few books.  5/5/17

Tama of the Light Country by Ray Cummings, Ace, 1965 

Tama, Princess of Mercury by Ray Cummings, Ace, 1966

These two short novels involve the conflict between Earth and the humanoid inhabitants of Mercury. In the first, a battle between the sexes on Mercury – where the women have wings – results in raids on Earth to kidnap Earth women. Earth learns the truth when a long lost astronaut sends a message from Mercury, after which a spaceship is sent to deal with the bad guys. In the sequel another group from that planet has designs on Earth. They kidnap some of the group from the first book and have to be pursued back to Mercury for a final reckoning. These are vaguely similar to the interplanetary novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs, but not nearly as well told or inventive. 5/4/17

Nebula Awards Showcase 2017 edited by Julie E. Czerneda, Pyr, 2017. $18, ISBN 978-1-63388-271-3

The latest in the annual series of anthologies showcasing the Nebula nominees and winners from the previous year, with commentary and other material. There are a lot of new names this time, along with more familiar ones like Nnedi Okorafor, N.K. Jemisin, and Ken Liu. There are a couple of novel excerpts – I have never found excerpts to be either useful of entertaining – but the short stories are obviously the highlights. A list of all previous winners is also included. Given their popularity, few of these are likely to be unfamiliar to genre fans, but it’s nice to have them all together in book form.5/2/17

Escape from Doom by John Wilstach, Armchair, 2017, originally published in 1945 

Other than this novel, only one short story appeared under this byline that I know of. The prose is good enough that he might have been an interesting writer to watch otherwise, although this particular piece is not to my taste. The protagonist discovers an artifact that is indicative of an entire new form of technology and which can transfer personalities from one body to another. A bit talky and not very plausible, but entertaining enough. 4/30/17

Loch Ness Revenge by Hunter Shea, Severed, 2016

This is a pretty average monster novella about a man and his sister whose parents were killed by the, or at least a, Loch Ness Monster. Now adults, they return to Scotland to track down the creature(s) but naturally that’s not as easy, or as safe, as they anticipate. Everything works out without any major surprises. Warning: Present Tense Narration Syndrome. 4/30/17

The Girl in the Golden Atom by Ray Cummings, Hyperion, 1974 (originally published in 1923) 

Ray Cummings’ first published story and its book length sequel. A scientist discovers shrinking pills and enlarging pills – shades of Lewis Carroll – and visits the world inside the atom.  The original novelette is quite obviously an imitation of The Time Machine and copies many of its details. The author’s casual approval when his heroes kill their enemies, often with no valid reason, is rather disturbing, and his description of the society inside the atom is frequently contradictory and nonsensical. It is rather a shame that the story for which he is most likely to be remembered is one of his least competent efforts. 4/29/17

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

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