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

LAST UPDATE 6/28/23  

Drunkard’s Walk by Frederik Pohl, Ballantine, 1960 

A 22nd Century college professor has attempted to commit suicide several times when he is half asleep and he has no idea why. He also dreams that people are watching him and giving him orders. He is further confused when he discovers that this new syndrome is not uncommon and that all of its victims eventually succeed. The secret – readily obvious to the reader – is that an elite group of telepaths has decided to eliminate any potential rivals and he has latent telepathic power. This is a fairly restrained melodrama with a happy ending and a surprisingly small cast of characters given the scale of events. Not quite as good I remembered but still very readable.  6/28/23

Slave Ship by Frederik Pohl, Ballantine, 1957 

Pohl’s firsr solo SF novel was unremarkable. The world is caught up in a global war thanks to the rise of a fanatic religion in Asia. The protagonist is assigned to a secret project in Florida that is developing communication with animals so that they can be used as crew members in submarine warships. There are long digressions about the nature of language. There is also a mysterious plague of inexplicable deaths, initially ascribed to a new superweapon, but actually somehow linked to the rise of telepathic communications among humans. This one felt disjointed and at times tedious. 6/25/23

Day by Night by Tanith Lee, DAW, 1988 

Although this is technically SF, it reads more like a fantasy. A woman “creates” fictional narratives in conjunction with a computer – how topical this would be today – while living in an underground city on a non-rotating planet that has dark and light sides permanently. The story is set on the day side and has numerous parallels to her own life. It is in fact just as real a world, though the characters are not aware of that. In both cases, failing technology puts a family in jeopardy and they use devious methods to falsely convict more fortunate people and confiscate their property. Both dispossessed people discover that life among the poor is not as bad as they had expected. The first third of the novel moves quite well, but it bogs down at that point and never really recaptures its momentum. 6/24/23

The Singers of Time by Frederik Pohl & Jack Williamson, Doubleday, 1991 

The last collaboration between these two writers is barely readable and contains some remarkably bad dialogue. The plot involves the domination of Earth by aliens dubbed Turtles. The entire race has only a single female, the Mother, and when she disappears, they are forced to rely on the despised humans to help them recover her. This rather implausible situation introduces a small group of varied characters who never rise above the level of stereotypes. I had forgotten how bad this was and three decades later it is no better than when I first read it. 6/21/23

The Expediter by J. Brian Clarke, DAW, 1990 

A fix up incorporating stories about humans meeting and integrating with the only other intelligent race in the galaxy. The opening segment has a flaw. The aliens are on a world studying alien artifacts when they encounter humans, which is traumatic because they believe they are the only intelligent race. But they’re studying alien artifacts, so clearly they know this is not true. The next segment shows how the aliens were forced to accept humans as equals. The two races have to team up against a third which finds all life inimical. The final three stories in the series were not included in the book. 6/18/23

 The Spark of Modernism edited by William Gillard, James Reitler, and Robert Stauffer, McFarland, 2023. $39.95, ISBN 978-1476691091

This is an annotated anthology of short stories published between 1886 and 1939 which were chosen to illustrate the dramatic cultural and technological changes taking place. The selection is interesting and includes science fiction, fantasy, and supernatural horror. Some of the authors chosen are obvious - H.P. Lovecraft,  Ambrose Bierce, and Rudyard Kipling, though oddly no H.G.Wells. Some are mildly surprising but well suited for the purpose, including Clare Winger Harris, A. Merritt, E.M, Forster, and Robert E. Howard. There is a William James story that was new to me. The stories vary in quality a great deal, but they were not selected for their literary merit as much as they were for their reflection of the environment in which they were written. The only real oddball seemed to me to be Joseph Kelleam, whose story was inoffensive but distinctly minor. The commentary is generally valid and unobtrusive. I was pleased to see that the editors did not choose just the usual handful of "significant" stories that have been discussed many times before. 6/16/23

Wall Around a Star by Frederik Pohl & Jack Williamson, Del Rey, 1983 

Sequel to Farthest Star. A linguist is sent to the giant planet Cuckoo to try to interpret information that could reveal the artificial world’s origin and purpose. He has a series of adventures among the myriad races native to Cuckoo as well as inhabitants of our own galaxy before determining that there is a super intelligence from a dead galaxy in charge and that it has come to save our galaxy from a similar fate. But its rescue mission is not necessarily a benign one. Although this has some of the same problems as the first book, it is considerably more focused with fewer characters and better development. The conclusion seemed a bit perfunctory to me but it was still a pleasant read. 6/16/23

Tendrils by Simon Ian Childer, Granada, 1986

This is actually a collaboration between John Brosnan and Leroy Kettle. It's a rather typical monster story, though well enough written. A deep drilling project turns into a disaster when acidic goo is expelled explosively. The government is still investigating when a handful of people are found who have been hollowed out - only their stiffened skin and hair remains. Then people begin seeing what appear to be worms and suddenly an entire community virtually disappears. The thickheaded authorities are convinced it is a rash of mutated worms, but the protagonist is convinced that it is a single creature with an amorphous body, and that it is alien to Earth. It may in fact have wiped out the dinosaurs before cocooning itself to wait for a new food supply to evolve. The usual adventures in the sewers and so forth. Trite but not uninteresting. 6/15/23

The Road to Roswell by Connie Willis, Del Rey, 2023, $28, ISBN 978-0-593-49985-6

If someone asked me to read an alien abduction novel, I'd generally be looking for excuses desperately. But Connie Willis never really does what you expect. The alien in this case is essentially a mass of tentacles. He is accidentally stranded on Earth and abducts a young woman who never believed in aliens and was only in Roswell to attend a friend's wedding. The alien cannot speak and has no human vocabulary, but communication proceeds from pointing and pushing to actual exchanges of information as the story proceeds. The alien also adds to his collection of humans - a confidence man, a UFO nut, and others, usually accidentally. But once they know of its existence, they cannot be set free until the alien has accomplished its mysterious quest - which I cannot tell you without spoiling the story. The humor is genuinely funny and the characters are more than usually vivid. It's a fairly long novel but the snappy dialogue and constant twists and turns make it feel much shorter. This was good fun from beginning to end. 6/14/23

Electric Forest by Tanith Lee, DAW, 1979 

Not my favorite by Lee. This is the story of the only ugly woman on a planet of beautiful people. She allows a man to transfer her consciousness into a beautiful artificial body and spends much of the book learning to act accordingly. But her benefactor is hardly an altruist, so it is obvious that he wants something in return. She is meant to impersonate another woman, but things go wildly awry. This is really only a novella. It;s a variant of the Pygmalion story with a decidedly darker tone. 6/10/23

Farthest Star by Frederik Pohl & Jack Williamson, Ballantine, 1975

A variation of the Big Dumb Object story. A mysterious planet is approaching our galaxy and a mixed group of humans and other races transmit duplicates of themselves to the area in order to explore. The first third, published separately as “Doomship,” is about troubles aboard the remote probe they are using as a staging area. The remainder, published as “The Org’s Egg,” is set on the planet, which has natives from a variety of alien races and harbors a secret. I’m generally fond of this sort of thing, but there were too many different characters, races, mutants, and situations. None of the characters is developed very much, and I never had a real sense of place about the setting. There is a sequel. 6/8/23

Starchild by Frederik Pohl & Jack Williamson, Ballantine, 1965 

The solar system is ruled by the Machine and the Plan of Man, but many humans have escaped to the reefs on the edge of the system. Now a new player seems to have appeared. The Starchild can make the sun go dark and the stars blink and the Plan is beginning to have problems. For a time we are led to believe that the Starchild is actually a rival Machine built to provide some interesting conflict for the one on Earth, but eventually we discover that the galaxy is in a sense a living creature and humanity as a whole is intended to fill the same role. I found this rather implausible early on and nothing made me change my mind. 6/5/23

Rogue Star by Frederik Pohl & Jack Williamson, Ballantine, 1969

Last and weakest in a weak trilogy. A human has decided to create a Rogue Star, a self aware star that is not constrained by the rules of the community of sentient suns. A few humans are aware of the danger and are determined to prevent the disaster. They fail, actually, and it is other forces which save the day. For some reason the authors inserted humorous interludes into the narrative, mostly involving bureaucratically inclined robots. Nothing much happens until the closing chapters. The setting is so chaotic and the characters so shallow that there is nothing to engage the reader and a lot that is likely to confuse anyone trying to find a satisfying conclusion to the series. 6/5/23

Land’s End by Frederik Pohl & Jack Williamson, Tor, 1988 

A not so near future disaster novel that takes place after several undersea cities have been established. I had forgotten how boring this one was and re-reading it - it's rather long - was a chore. Earth has split into two cultures - those on the surface and those living in domed cities under the ocean. The latter are pretty close to utopian while the former are rather pedestrianly dystopian. Then a comet enters the system. The surface people blow it up, but the debris causes an electromagnetic pulse that kills all electronics and destroys the ozone layer. All life on the surface is doomed to extinction. Two protagonists - a woman who lives undersea and her lover, who commands a submarine - have various adventures during the ensuing chaos until they are reunited. Thrown into the mix is the Eternal, a godlike immortal alien entity who decides to take a hand in things, The novel would have been better without this element. Caricatures rather than characters, simplistic politics, and too many digressions. 6/4/23

The Reefs of Space by Frederik Pohl & Jack Williamson, Ballantine, 1963 

First in a trilogy set in a future solar civilization ruled by machines supporting the Plan of Man. They have recently discovered spaceborn lifeforms living in a kind of coral reef on the edge of the system. The only known successful rebel against the system is believed to be hiding there. Our hero is a scientist who has been judged a risk against society – although he has no idea why – and whose status changes back and forth almost randomly. I was not fond of this series sixty years ago and it does not seem any better the second time through. The society is just too constrained to be completely plausible.  5/30/23

Undersea City by Frederik Pohl & Jack Williamson, Del Rey, 1971 (originally published in 1958) 

Final volume in a trilogy. A new domed city has been established in a part of the ocean where earthquakes are common. But someone appears to be setting off explosions to cause unnatural seaquakes. Our hero investigates and discovers that his uncle and his best friend are responsible and there is some running around before we find out that the small quakes were designed to forestall a much larger and more devastating one that would have destroyed the city. I never cared for this particular series, which is repetitive, and where the action is always confined to the last few chapters. Nor does the undersea environment ever seem real. 5/27/23

Undersea Quest by Frederik Pohl & Jack Williamson, Del Rey, 1971 (originally published in 1954) 

First in a young adult trilogy set mostly undersea in domed cities. The young protagonist is briefly a cadet, is forced to resign, and then learns that his uncle/guardian has disappeared, leaving him as the only heir. And a very rich but unscrupulous person wants to buy his share in a small company, and is willing to resort to fraud, kidnapping, and murder in order to get his way. I wasn’t thrilled by the deus ex machina ending, but this wasn’t bad for its type.  5/24/23

Undersea Fleet by Frederik Pohl & Jack Williamson, Del Rey, 1971 (originally published in 1956) 

The middle volume of this trilogy has a partially doubtful premise. Polynesian divers evolved the ability to breathe underwater and at great depths and there is a colony of them living there. A businessman was using them to harvest pearls but his control over their population has been slipping. They also have some friendly sea serpents to help them. They can secretly move about on the surface and try to sabotage any efforts to interfere with their independence. 5/24/23

Preferred Risk by Frederik Pohl & Lester Del Rey, Dell, 1962 (magazine appearance in 1955) 

This originally appeared as by Edson McCann. There was a competition sponsored by Galaxy but the submissions were all ruled to be subpar, so Pohl & Del Rey pseudonymously produced a story that could pass muster. That always struck me as cheating, actually. It’s set in a future where an insurance company virtually rules the world. The hero becomes a traitor to the company and then a traitor to the underground. The ending was disappointingly implausible, alas.  The company has built suspended animation vaults large enough to house the entire human population until deadly radiation is no longer a threat. 5/21/23

The Wonder Effect by Frederik Pohl & C.M. Kornbluth, Ballantine, 1962 

This famous writing duo collaborated on seven novels and about forty short stories, most of the latter of which have never been reprinted and Pohl himself refers to them as awful. This is one of two collections of those he thought were salvageable – Baen did a third many years later that selected from both and added a couple of new stories.  The opening novelette is set during a still raging Cold War and is dated as well as uninteresting. There’s a short piece about a man who loves children just a bit too much. There are deathtraps in the Martian ruins, a strange form of time travel, a secret history in which a nuclear explosion occurs in the 19th Century, uplifted dogs that still serve a decadent humanity, and much more.  These are mostly below the standards of the two men at their best but they reflect a time when SF was just beginning to shake off its pulp origins. My favorite here is “The Quaker Cannon.”  5/17/23

Before the Universe by Frederik Pohl & C.M. Kornbluth, Bantam, 1980 

A collection of their early collaborations, including a trilogy of novelettes. These are more of interest as historical objects than stories. They are heavy on scientific speculation of the wildest sort and don’t spend much time on character. One of the stories had Robert Lowndes as a third collaborator. A few of the stories had already been collected in The Wonder Effect. Pohl provides some interesting commentary on the stories. Both writers turned out much better work on their own, particularly Pohl, but it is interesting to see what they were doing when they first started out. The title story was their first collaboration. 5/17/23

Wolfbane by Frederik Pohl & C.M. Kornbluth, Ballantine, 1959 

A rogue planet inhabited by sentient pyramids steals Earth from its sun and turns the moon into a renewable mini-sun while it harvests human beings as components in its technology. They periodically transport humans to their planet and install them as cogs in their machinery, until one of them wakes up from his trance and organizes a rebellion that eventually finishes off the pyramids and gives the human race an entire new technology. This was pretty good except for a couple of slow spots where the story seemed to flounder around a bit, possibly because it was originally somewhat shorter. 5/10/23

Gladiator-at-Law by Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth, Ballantine, 1955 

An excellent satirical adventure set in a depressing future of decaying cities, blood sports, and corporate domination of the world. A small time lawyer is hired by the disenfranchised owners of a major share of stock in one of the largest corporations. His maneuvers to assert their rights are nicely portrayed – and they are far more successful than they expected. Lots of backbiting, corruption, petty revenge, and conflict although almost all of the physical confrontations take place off stage. The major subsidiary character is a browbeaten event planner who loses his job and finds his true self when faced with poverty. This aged quite well 5/8/23

Search the Sky by Frederik Pohl & C.M. Kornbluth, Ballantine, 1954 

Earth’s many colony worlds are falling out of touch with one another and recent evidence suggests that some long established colonies have collapsed. The protagonist has a rare ftl drive spaceship and goes to take a look. He finds one world destroyed by wear, one dominated by elderly dictators, one a brutal matriarchy, and one obsessed with conformity. He eventually realizes that the dispersion has weakened the gene pool – I don’t think the science here holds up at all – and that the general intelligence on the colonies has been declining for generations. He eventually returns to his homeworld, sadder but wiser. 5/6/23

Drinking Sapphire Wine by Tanith Lee, DAW, 1977 

Sequel to Don’t Bite the Sun. The protagonist – never named – continues to be bored by her utopian society of immortals and finally finds a way to break a rule so serious that it ends up with a sentence of exile. The cities are scattered around a kind of desert and that’s where he/she ends up, but not alone. A new society begins to arise despite the active opposition of the city rulers. A bit more optimistic than the first book, but what was once an innovative new prose style does not seem so fascinatingly original forty some years later. 5/6/23

Red Planet by H.J. Campbell, Panther, 1953 

The red planet in this case is not Mars but one circling a far star. The planet has intelligent inhabitants and is largely covered by red grass, which the natives believe is sacred and untouchable. Two humans are stranded on the planet and the red grass is the only thing that they can eat. But if they do so, they will be executed. Eventually they use their scientific knowledge to convince the local rulers that they need to loosen their prohibition if they want to improve their own circumstances. Pretty boring stuff, mostly talking. 5/2/23

The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl & C.M. Kornbluth, Ballantine, 1953 

A simple description of the world described in this undeniable genre classic is that the advertising agencies have taken over the world. The current big project is to convince people that colonizing the inhospitable planet Venus is an appealing prospect. The world is overpopulated, undernourished, dominated by repressive government agencies that are actually arms of the big corporations. The protagonist is firmly established in her hierarchy, but he begins to question things when he is shanghaied into a forced labor unit, discovers that the supposedly violent underground is peaceful, and begins to see through the exterior personalities of the people with whom he works.  The novel ages quite well. 5/1/23

The Last Mutation by H.J. Campbell, Hamilton, 1951

This is a pretty depressing story, narrated in present tense. The human race has begun to degenerate – congenital diseases, shorter lifespans, diminished intelligence. The protagonist is a mutant who is employed at a facility attempting to solve the problem. His solution is to breed a race of mutants who will be free of those human defects. Technically he succeeds, but at the end he discovers that his new race is sterile, that there will only be a single generation. He dies hoping that another natural mutant like himself will be able to solve the problem before it is too late. 4/29/23

Chaos in Miniature by H.J. Campbell, Hamilton, 1952

Campbell was never a particularly good writer but this one is downright silly. First the House of Commons disappears, and people more or less forget about it within a few days. Then more structures begin to vanish. The title telegraphs the solution – someone is using a new invention to shrink them and spirit them away. No explanation for the change of mass. The villains must be thwarted. The missing people must be saved. The mystery must be solved. Fortunately it’s really just a novella. 4/29/23

Don’t Bite the Sun by Tanith Lee, DAW, 1976 

The first of two short novels set in a far distant future where death is almost unheard of and it is possible to change your body into almost any other form that you desire. The protagonist grows increasingly bored with a life of perpetual pleasure and entertainment and attempts to find meaningful work, only to discover that even there she is subordinate to the judgment of machines. Ultimately she resigns herself to her lot in life, though not without resentment. Makes considerable use of invented slang. With the passage of years, this seems like a lot less daring a stylistic variation, but it's still a very good story and one of my favorites by this author. 4/26/23

Brain Ultimate by H.J. Campbell, Panther, 1953 

In a repressive interstellar society, a scientist conducts a project to preserve the brains of dying experts so that their knowledge can be used even after their bodies are dead. The brains find a way to merge into a gestalt and decide to undercut the interstellar dictator. The scientist in charge has mixed feelings and lapses into some metaphysical nonsense that culminates in the destruction of the empire. I remember liking this when I was fourteen – it was the first British SF paperback I had ever seen.  4/26/23

Beyond the Visible by H.J. Campbell, Hamilton, 1952 

In a dystopian future state, a scientist is compelled to use an experimental machine on the head of state. It malfunctions, killing the patient and temporarily blinding the scientist. But then he realizes that one of his eyes can now discern energy creatures invisible to everyone else – creatures created as a byproduct of electromagnetic devices. And they are hostile to humans. Naturally he cannot convince anyone and when he tries to duplicate the effect with a second person, it fails and he becomes a fugitive.  4/24/23

The Taking of Satcon Station by Barney Cohen & James Baen, Tor, 1982 

This is one of the better blends of SF with the tough detective story format. The protagonist is sent to an aging habitat to investigate the disappearance of a journalist. He finds much more than that, starting with murder, blackmail, and a money laundering scheme.  The resolution, although a bit confusing, has an interesting twist about who is supporting the criminal organization. The protagonist is a reasonably interesting character, and Cohen wrote a sequel, then never wrote SF again. 4/22/23

Blood on the Moon by Barney Cohen, Tor, 1984 

This is the sequel to The Taking of Satcon Station. A mass murder in a bar on the moon is investigated by a task force that includes the protagonist of the first book and his new partner. Much of it is a police procedural and the tone is rather different. The victims have a bewildering number of connections – prostitution, political dissidence, attempts to create an artificial intelligence, a sex cult, a religious cult – and it is not clear which of these provided the motive for the mass murder. The resolution is not very satisfactory and Bockhorn’s character is considerably less interesting this time. 4/22/23

Devine War by Dennis R. Caro, Arbor House, 1986 

This author’s second and final novel was an improvement on the first, a space opera of sorts, although the story is not entirely serious. This tone had gone out of style in the genre during the 1980s, which may explain why he was never published again. The plot involves a plan by an ambassador to a backward colony world who wants revenge against the military officer whose actions resulted in the death of her lover. She manufactures an incident to lure him, into range, but naturally things do not go as planned. A fairly large cast of characters keeps the viewpoint jumping around. I didn’t really care for this – it seemed to constantly escape the author’s control.  4/21/23

The Night of the Toy Dragons by Barney Cohen, Berkley, 1977 

This was one of the better nature gone mad novels, popular at the time. A worker is attacked and mauled in the sewers under New York City. Initially it is believed to have been rats, but eventually the conclusion is that alligators are living there. But these are mutant alligators – the adults are only a few inches long – and there are a lot of them. They hunt in packs. Disturbed, they begin to explore new territory, which leads to more human deaths. The usual escalation follows along with the predictable discovery that they are no longer confined to the sewers. The book ends in the middle of a battle, with no hint of what will result. 4/21/23

Harilek by Ganpat, Grosset, 1923

Another lost world novel. Outsiders following an old diary and find a lost civilization in central Asia. There is a war between two tribes and a beautiful woman. There are hints of forgotten technology so this is only marginally SF. No magic, so it's not fantasy. The outsiders eventually turn the tide of battle against the bad guys thanks to their superior sense of strategy. Ho hum. Although the prose in this one is better than in most similar novels from this period, the story is completely formulaic.  

The Moon Is Heaven by H.J. Campbell, Authentic, 1951 

Yet another early imagining of the first trip to the moon, this time by a fairly large crew launching from Ecuador thanks to a mix of public and private financing. They have the usual adventures en route and land successfully. Unfortunately one of their number is a saboteur and he twice attempts to kill the others. Not awful but with nothing in particular to recommend it. Uncharacteristically, the story is written in present tense, one of the earliest examples I have seen in the genre. 4/19/23

Hero’s Walk by Robert Crane, Ballantine, 1954 

Crane wrote spy novels and adventure stories, and this early SF novel has largely been forgotten. It is horribly dated though not badly written. A century or so in the future, Earth is at peace and is colonizing Mars when enigmatic signals are received from outer space. They are indecipherable but some scientists believe they are a kind of warning not to explore further. They are ignored and eventually unknown aliens begin bombarding the Earth missiles. Part of the novel concerns the protagonist’s walk through the beleaguered city of New York but most of it is about the political and personal conflicts among the ruling council which has replaced the United Nations. A mildly interesting period peace. 4/17/23

Secret of the Buried City by John Russell Fearn, Venture, 2016 (originally published in 1938) 

The title novella is rather inferior even for Fearn, who generally told interesting if often implausible stories. This one is about a man who is digging a hole on some newly acquired property and uncovers access to a secret city left over from a previous civilization. It is still inhabited by people who prefer not to have contact with the contemporary world. The other two stories included to pad out the book are a bit more imaginative, and futuristic, but Fearn was not at his best at shorter lengths and the collection is quite forgettable. 4/15/23

The Siren Stars by Richard and Nancy Carrigan, Pyramid, 1971 

This was originally a serial in Analog, and there was a book length sequel that never was reprinted. After rereading this, I had no desire to reread the continuation. An intelligence based radio signal has been received by Earth, obviously of alien origin. One of the scientists involved becomes to suspect that it is not entirely benevolent, but he is too late to avoid a tragic death. The signal, when translated, becomes a source of addiction, a device I did not find particularly convincing. Even worse, the characters talk the issue to death, and then talk some more, and the actual plot is tenuous and diluted. The authors never wrote anything else insofar as I can tell. 4/14/23

The Man Who Sold the Earth by John Russell Fearn, Venture, 2017 

A collection of seven stories, five of them originally published around 1940.  Two of them are collaborations with Sydney J. Bounds.  The stories are generally scientifically inept but include some fanciful speculations. They deal with a woman trapped in another dimension, aliens observing human expansion into space, a runaway asteroid, the discovery of abandoned cities on the moon, and a couple of greedy businessmen who engage in extraordinary attempts to seize political power. They read like scripts for comic books from the 1950s. And not very good comics either. 4/14/23

The Man in the Darksuit by Dennis R. Caro, Pocket, 1980

This was a satire that appeared just as satire was going out of style in SF. The darksuit bends light and thus renders its wearer invisible. The villain has one, engineers a kidnapping, and then plots further mayhem when the abductee is rescued by our hero, a kind of private detective. There are intelligent, mobile plants from another world, various weird characters, a pair of likable thugs, and problems chiefly involving taxes, investments, and cash flow. There is perhaps a bit too much dialogue, not witty enough, and entirely too much detail regarding uninteresting aspects of the novel. 4/9/23

War with the Newts by Karel Capek, Bantam, 1955 (originally published in 1937) 

I’ve read this several times over the years. A sea captain encounters the newts, who live in the water near an isolated island. He teaches them to use tools and helps them spread throughout the oceans. They are as bright as humans and eventually speak, read, and ultimately wage war against the surface world. The story satirized xenophobia, racism, human propensity for belligerence, and other attitudes that Czech writer Capek felt offensive. It still reads quite smoothly although a few things are rather dated. Capek is most famous for having invented the term “robot” in another work. Several of his books involve SF themes, but this is far and away the best of them. 4/9/23

Wine of the Dreamers by John D. MacDonald, Gold Medal, 1951 

Aka Planet of the Dreamers. A distant world holds only a few hundred survivors of its original race, and these devote themselves to manipulating the lives of people on three other planets to prevent them from developing space travel. Their society is decadent and they no longer remember the purpose of their activities, actually believe them to be harmless illusions. One of the three planets – all colonized from the dying planet – is Earth where a project to travel to the stars is beset by incidents of sabotage.  The colonization bit is complete nonsense but the story is otherwise not bad at all, though somewhat dated.  4/7/23

Ballroom of the Skies by John D. MacDonald, Gold Medal, 1952 

Earth has barely recovered from the first nuclear war when a second one threatens to break out. A minor government agent discovers that there are aliens among us, and that they are provoking conflict in order to limit the growth of human civilization. Various predictable although sometimes implausible adventures follow. I did not like this one at all. The aliens have too many powers, the hero really has no realistic chance, and the plot is unusually slow for a MacDonald novel. He wrote no SF novels after this, and only one fantasy. 4/7/23

Encore in Death by J.D. Robb, St Martins, 2023

Eve Dallas futuristic police procedural #56. Other than none brief mention of a robot and a kind of flimsy body armor, this really isn't SF. A popular and well liked actor is poisoned by a cocktail at a party. The cocktail was meant for his wife, so it is not clear which of them is the real victim. She is a famous actor as well, her career having been kickstarted as a teenager when she was understudy to a troubled young woman who committed suicide. Or did she? Dallas makes her way through the usual suspects - the deranged stalker, the jealous mother with a long standing grudge, the furious rival from whom the widow stole her husband, etc. Robb - actually Nora Roberts - is a bit too cute this time. The killer is so wonderfully nice and blameless that I suspected her from the outset. 4/6/23

Into the Tenth Millennium by Paul Capon, Digit, 1956

This is a very slow moving novel about three people who take a drug that allows them to live through thousands of years in what is subjectively only a few weeks. They find themselves in a more primitive future England after the collapse of technological civilization. Not much happens there either and most of the first half of the book is a description of their preparations and the second half just describes the society they find. Not much of any conflict and the characters are flat and uninteresting. 4/4/23

Salamander War by Charles Carr, Digit, 1955 

This is a sequel to Colonists of Space, which I have never managed to acquire. Earth has been destroyed in a nuclear war and the only survivors have settled on the planet Bel. The planet always keeps the same side to the sun so there is no night where the colony is growing. For some reason, this means that no one ever sleeps. There are rumors of salamanders – creatures who live on the hot side – but they are considered fables as the story opens. They turn out to be real and their nature is difficult to understand. They are also potentially dangerous. Some of the humans try to hypnotize them using hand movements that are supposedly effective on humans – which is absurd nonsense – but it doesn’t work. It does, however, provide a means of communicating with them at the end, and it is even more nonsense.

The Wonderbolt by Paul Capon, Thunderchild, 1955 

Although the story opens with the arrival of a superdense meteorite, the balance of the novel is a routine and not very interesting spy story. The meteorite is stolen by persons unknown and a variety of people from different countries are all engaged in hunting it down. The chief protagonist is a private detective, who gets abducted early on and is absent for a chunk of the story, before re-emerging to bring it to a conclusion. Only SF by courtesy. 4/3/23