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

LAST UPDATE 12/31/15

Emissaries of Space by Nathan Schachner, Armchair, 2015 (magazine version 1932) 

I found this tale of aliens secretly manipulating human society better than I expected. They cause atmospheric upheavals, after which one character invents a device that could replace all rivals in the energy business. They decide to reorganize the world’s economy around their invention, but is it actually their plan or are they being controlled unknowingly by outside forces? Somewhat uneven and not entirely plausible, but entertaining. 12/31/15

The Creature from the Pit by David Fisher, Target, 1982  

The Tardis arrives on an unknown planet and the Doctor and Romana are promptly charged with trespassing in forbidden territory. Romana is carried off by a tribe of primitives while the Doctor escapes by jumping into the pit where the condemned are thrown to be eaten by whatever lurks within. This doesn’t seem like the wisest move, but everything works out. Romana gets free but is recaptured by the planetary dictator while the Doctor begins communicating with an intelligent alien, the last of its kind. There is also a band of inept criminals for some comic relief. About average for the Tom Baker era. 12/31/15

Black Oxen by Gertrude Atherton, Burt, 1923 

This is an early non-genre SF novel by a prolific writer who dabbled in fantasy and supernatural fiction as well as the mainstream. It tells the story of the appearance of the Countess Zattiany in New York followed the war, a woman who bears a remarkable resemblance to Mary Ogden, who would be in her sixties by then and who is supposedly confined to a sanitarium in Austria. It turns out that she has had her youth restored by a new medical treatment that only works for females. This is old fashioned and very talky and doesn’t really deal with the consequences of the discovery, but Atherton had a gift for characterization that does show through. 12/20/15

Jesse F. Bone Resurrected by J.F. Bone, Resurrected Press, 2011 

J.F. Bone only wrote a handful of stories and novels, all of which are out of print now except for this collection and a copy of novelettes. He was never a major name although he wrote competently and occasionally produced some interesting work, particularly at shorter length. The first story, “Assassin”, takes place after an alien race has effectively conquered Earth with benevolence. The protagonist suspects that they have ulterior motives and exposes them as robots, at which point humanity recoils in horror. Although the author seems to applaud the results, the story itself suggests that the aliens were benevolent and the protagonist a bigoted madman. “Insidekick” is a pleasant adventure in which a government spy on an alien planet picks up a parasite that provides him with unusual powers. “The Issahar Artifacts” describes a stranded spaceman’s encounter with an intelligent algae. “Noble Redman” is a pretty bad story about humans developing advanced mental powers because they have to deal with a radioactive environment. An infestation of oysters triggers a crisis on an alien world in “To Choke an Ocean.”  “A Question of Courage” is military SF about a ship commanded by a cowardly, by the book commander.  “A Prize for Edie” is a joke story about a computer winning the Nobel Prize. “Pandemic” is longer but still a joke story – heavy smokers are the only ones immune to a new fatal disease. Not an outstanding collection, but a good one. 12/27/15

Ascendance by David R. George III, Pocket, 2016, $7.00, ISBN 978-1-5011-0370-4

Deep Space Nine is now commanded by Kira Nerys, whose tenure is threatened when a fleet of warships emerges from a wormhole. She calls for help and prepares to defend against the unidentified attackers, unaware that a long time personal enemy of hers is aboard one of the ships. The enemy plans to wreak revenge first on the defenseless population of the nearby planet before finally attacking the station. But there are complications for both sides as the deadly game gets underway. I was not particularly fond of the set up for the television show and the few dozen novels that have appeared since then have struck me as much less varied than in the other versions of the Star Trek universe. That said, George has written some of the more interesting of these tie-in novels and he has done a pretty good job with this one as well. 12/26/15

Barton’s Island by Harl Vincent, Villainous, 2013 (magazine appearance 1929) 

Two centuries from now, an America ruled by a corporate dictatorship dominates the world. Barton is the head of a group that is being exiled to an island in the Antarctic, but he fakes the deaths of all concerned so that he can establish a secret outpost of how own and use his inventive genius to overthrow the dictatorship. Conveniently a lush new island has appeared near Africa whom no one has bothered to explore. Although crudely written, the story seems oddly prophetic given corporate dominance of the present US. 12/25/15

Xenowealth by Tobias S. Buckell, 2015, ISBN 978-0692553268 

This collection was published via a kickstarter project and is available through Amazon, although when last I checked only an ebook version was listed. The stories are often in present tense, which generally works despite my aversion to that artifice because the stories are short. They are set in a common future and have overlapping characters.  “Manumission,”  is present tense second person, and I found it unreadable. The opening story is about intrigue surrounding the receipt of messages from outside the solar system and it's pretty good. Another satisfying story deals with a mission to destroy an artificial intelligence.  The next is also present tense, second person, slightly more readable than the first but so artificial that it had no immersive quality for me.  “The Loa” is set on a colony world with a primitive, superstitious culture and it describes a deadly hunt for a dangerous life form. It was my favorite in the book. The remaining stories explore other facets of the setting. “Ratcatcher” and “Plaza del Fuego” were the ones I enjoyed most but there are no clunkers here. I think the author is much more effective at novel length and while I liked a few individual stories in the collection, they seem almost like an afterthought to his longer work. 12/24/15

Beyond the Green Prism by A. Hyatt Verrill, Armchair, 2015 (magazine version 1930)

Sequel to Into the Green Prism, in which a scientist visits a microscopic world.  The man’s fate is unknown, so another scientist finds a similar prism and sets out to find him. The initial problem is that he doesn’t know which mote of dust hosts the particular world he seeks. Although the science if flaky, Verrill was a good storyteller and I liked the first novella quite a bit. This one isn’t nearly as good but it’s still a pleasant way to spend an hour. 12/23/15

The Man With Six Senses by Muriel Jaeger, HiLo, 2013 (originally published in 1927)

The sixth sense in this instance is the ability to perceive molecular structures. A young man has the ability but it troubles him. A young woman is determined to help and the two become romantically involved while the narrator, who loves the woman, looks on in frustration. There is some mild speculative content but the focus of the novel is the relationships among the three characters. It is quite well written but sadly not a very interesting story. 12/21/15

The Golden Gods by S.J. Byrne, Armchair, 2015, $12.95 (magazine appearance 1952)   

Michael Flannigan is stranded on the moon and likely to die but is transported through an alien artifact. When he wakens, he is in the body of an old enemy – from another story – and has to fight his way to freedom as well as recovering his original body and returning to Earth. But this time he has an added incentive because an alien civilization menaces the freedom of all humanity.  Typical superheroics and pseudoscience from Byrne, who churned it out with a broad but unimaginative brush. 12/20/15

The Return of Michael Flannigan by S.J. Byrne, Armchair, 2015, $12.95 (magazine appearance 1952)    

Flannigan is back after his adventures on the moon, trapped in the body of a robot. He arrives just as Russia and most of Asia declare war on America. Their armies are augmented by a new technology never before seen on Earth. Can our hero neutralize this sudden menace, acquire a flesh and blood body, and live happily ever after? Of course he can and after a series of implausible and sometimes unintentionally funny adventures. 12/20/15

The Genius Beasts by Frederik Pohl, Armchair, 2014, bound with This World Is Taboo by Murray Leinster. Magazine appearance 1951

This is an early and not very good novella by an author who soon be much better. Three men are kidnapped to Ganymede by impish looking creatures who serve the native race, which disastrously accelerated their own evolution and got caught in a biological trap. There’s some light humor, but it’s not very funny, and the story really has nothing to recommend it. The difference between this and the work Pohl would be doing only two years later is astonishing. 12/17/15

After London by Richard Jefferies, Dover, 2015 (originally published in 1885)  

This Victorian novel was one of the influences on William Morris. It opens in a post apocalyptic London which has descended into near barbarism. The forest has reclaimed most of the city and the human race has been largely wiped out. After a very long and rather dull description of the fauna, flora, and geography, the story finally opens with the introduction of Sir Felix, a scholarly type in a society that is more interested in martial abilities. Felix sets out by canoe for a voyage of discovery in which he meets various peoples, friendly and unfriendly, and survives dangers including a storm and poisonous vapors. The novel concludes with him deciding to return to his home. It is difficult slogging through this because of the wealth of tedious detail, but the novel was actually influential in its time. 12/16/15

Big Bang Generation by Gary Russell, Broadway, 2015, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-101-90581-4 

A time rift opens near Sydney, Australia, and a giant pyramid appears, along with a bunch of oddball characters most of whom seem to have a decided disrespect for the law. The Doctor shows up as well, involved in a quest to find a mysterious sentient artifact that may have wakened from its ages long sleep. This one starts off pretty well but I lost interest half way through and had to plod my way to the end. 12/14/15

Windswept by Adam Rakunas, Angry Robot, 2015, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-85766-478-5  

I haven’t seen an Angry Robot title in a bookstore for almost a year and I picked this one up on Ebay. This one – a first novel I believe – is set on a backwater planet in a universe that appears to be dominated by three large corporations that use indentured labor. The protagonist is a union organizer who needs to recruit 33 more deserters from the indenture system in order to qualify for a pension and retirement. She gets a tip about some imminent deserters but it turns out to be a lot more complicated than she expected. Eventually this segues into a secret company conspiracy to eradicate a disease that could affect crops throughout the settled worlds, but it takes rather too long to reach that point. This would have been a much better novel if it had been more tightly edited and perhaps twenty percent shorter. As it stands, it’s still pretty good, particularly for a first effort. 12/12/15

The Destiny of the Daleks by Terrance Dicks, Target, 1979 

The Doctor battles his old enemies the Daleks again when they attempt to recover and reanimate the body of Davros, who created them. The Doctor and Romana land on the Dalek world, which they don’t recognize, become separated, and Romana suffers radiation poisoning and is captured by the Daleks. The Doctor meanwhile has joined some other alien visitors, but he suspects their motives as well. The aliens turn out to be a rival race of robots who supposedly are a big force in the universe although they are never mentioned again. Routine. 12/9/15

The Machine That Floats by Joe Gibson, Armchair, 2015 (magazine version 1953) 

Although this is pretty well written, it is also rather dull. A scientist discovers what is effectively antigravity, but he is afraid to make his breakthrough known because he fears it will just make another and more deadly war inevitable. So he gradually withdraws from society, quits his job, and builds his invention in a remote area, then makes use of an old SF ploy. He constructs a fake alien spacecraft using the antigravity device and allows it to be spotted around the world, uniting the various nations against a perceived alien threat. This has been done much better by others. 12/8/15

The Golden Age by Constantine Fitzgibbon, Norton, 1975

World War III wiped out much of human civilization and a dictatorship that followed eradicated most records of human history. Some years later a poet who was an adult before that final war is ordered to go to Oxford to collaborate on a book with an odd academic.  She turns out to have a very distorted memory of the past and he is swept up in a bizarre mix of confusion, malevolence, and surrealism. This is more fable than realism. The premise is totally implausible, as is the hundred mile tall wall of endless wind that separate the northern and southern hemispheres. England has working televisions and some automobiles, but no firearms, radio, or books. 12/7/15

Runner by Patrick Lee, St Martins, 2014, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-250-03074-0

Although this isn’t packaged as SF, it is – along with the author’s first three novels – clearly in that genre. Sam Dryden is an ex-special forces operative who encounters a terrified twelve year old girl while out walking. She is a telepath and she’s on the run from a super secret government agency that wants her dead and has all the resources of the federal government to run her down. The story is a more macho version of Stephen King’s Firestarter until the second half and some of the escape management is very well done. There’s a quite surprising reversal part way through and I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the ending, but it’s an exciting and well paced story. 12/6/15

King of the Dinosaurs by Raymond A. Palmer, Armchair, 2015, $12.95 (magazine appearance 1945)   

In this vaguely Burroughsian adventure story, humans and dinosaurs co-exist in a world that never was. The dinosaurs are intelligent enough to have negotiated a peace with humans, but recent events have sundered that relationship. The humans themselves have allowed a brutal dictatorship to arise, so there’s no relief from either side. And then things start to get worse. This is a pretty dreadful novel with uninteresting characters, a setting that makes little sense, badly paced, and ultimately boring. Palmer was a mediocre editor but he was also a pretty awful writer. 12/3/15

Royal Blood by Una McCormack, Broadway, 2015, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-101-90583-8

Deep Time by Trevor Baxendale, Broadway, 2015, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-101-90579-1 

Two Doctor Who novels featuring the eighth Doctor, part of a three part episodic story about the Glamour, neither of which I particularly liked. The first has the Doctor and Clara visiting a planet that appears to have a feudal society, but the swords are lasers and there are other inconsistencies. The local ruler is moving toward war with a rival, but he is also facing unrest from within, and the two visitors are pulled into the local politics. The second has our heroes traveling through a kind of wormhole highway built by a supposedly extinct race that the Time Lords sanctioned and essentially exterminated, possibly in order to keep the Glamour – a kind of sentient anomaly – from influencing the universe at large. The second was marginally more interesting, but I was disappointed by both. 12/2/16

Battle Out of Time by Dwight V. Swain, Armchair, 2015, $12.95 (magazine appearance 1957)    

A scientist develops a time machine and decides to go back to the age of Theseus and the Minotaur to ensure that his thesis is accurate. There he discovers that Theseus is more thug than hero, that the political situation is not what he anticipated, that a beautiful princess might fall in love with him, and that the minotaur is not a magical creature but an alien visitor whose spaceship lies not far from the city. One of Swain’s better, though lightweight, romps. 12/1/15

Ghosts of Forgotten Empires Vol II by Michael J. Foy, Telamachus, 2014, ISBN 978-1-941536-29-2

Brightness Calling by C.B. Williams, Alchemy Ranch, 2015, ISBN 978-0-9881814-9-6

Both of these novels are the second in their respective series and both involve interstellar cultures, although in much different contexts. The first involves the discovery of ancient alien technology on Earth which - not surprisingly - is connected to certain historical mythical systems. These discoveries have a considerable impact on a near future political situation that is slowly percolating toward open conflict. It's a bit of a kitchen sink novel and flits from one device to another a bit cavalierly at times, although the story is not an unpleasant one. The second is set on a kind of matriarchal world in the far future when communication exists even between galaxies. A starship traveling to a reclusive planet runs into trouble. I found this one very difficult to read. The formatting is atrocious - each paragraph is separate from the next by considerable white space and the paragraphs themselves are very short and not indented. This disrupts the rhythm of reading and is so artificial that I found it impossible to get into the narrative at all. 11/30/15

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey, Speak, 2013, $10.99, ISBN 978-0-14-242583-1 

I was really impressed by Yancey’s Monstrumologist series, so I was looking forward to the first volume in his alien invasion trilogy. Aliens have hit Earth with a series of attacks – plague, tsunamis, etc. – and now have taken possession of some human bodies to track down the rest. The two protagonists are a teenaged human girl and a teenaged possessed boy whose lives cross in the ruins of Earth. The characters are well drawn and the writing is fine, but I had to struggle to finish it. Part of it is peculiar to me – present tense narration is NEVER going to work in a fast paced scene. It’s too artificial and self conscious and inappropriate. But even if that hadn’t been the case, the story is too slow paced and the premise is flawed. Why didn’t the aliens just use overwhelming force at the outset? I will probably read the two sequels at some point, but I won’t be in a hurry to do so. 11/27/15

Three Against the Roum by Robert Moore Williams, Armchair, 2015 (magazine version 1951)  

An Earthman has stolen an advanced hand weapon from the Roum, an aggressive Venusian humanoid race, but he is being chased through the jungles along with his companion, a typical airheaded pulp fiction female. A member of a more benevolent race befriends them, but eventually he and two small time criminals are captured and forced to work for the Roum until they find a way to seize control of a secret weapon and foil the bad guys. Humdrum. 11/25/15

The People of the Ruins by Edward Shanks, Hilo, 2012 (originally published in 1920)

The protagonist is accidentally put into suspended animation in 1924, just as the fabric of society in England is beginning to collapse. He wakes one hundred and fifty years later in a country that is deteriorated to an almost pre-industrial culture, but which has experienced a century of peace. That peace is about to be broken when the northern part of the country attempts to break off and our hero is prevailed upon to help create the only artillery unit in the world to bring the rebels back into the fold. The author is intentionally ambivalent about the future society, which has its good and bad points, presumably the effect of a distrust of modern technology resulting from World War I. It’s slightly old fashioned in construction and prose but still quite readable. 11/23/15

The English Corridor by John Gilchrist, Hale, 1976 

An odd and fairly short British SF novel in which the communists defeated NATO and the US and England have become fascist dictatorships connected by the air corridor, a never well defined anomaly that allows transport back and forth immune to enemy attack. The protagonist is a journalist who discovers that there is a plan to launch a new world war to reclaim Europe from the Soviet forces that occupy it, but are the fascists any better? Downbeat ending as the protagonist surrenders to the inevitable. Prose is good but the premise is never credibly presented and the story is rather dull. 11/23/15

Beast or Man? By Sean M’Guire, Dancing Tuatara, 2009 (originally published in 1930).  

This very obscure quasi-lost race novel involves the conflict between an expedition hunting gorillas and a band of the latter who are led by a hybrid human/ape. When they capture one of the apes, it is rescued by a disciplined raiding force that eventually wipes out an entire native village. The leader is himself captured eventually and becomes civilized. There really isn’t a villain in this one except the missionary who dies very early in the story. This holds up surprisingly well and has a more nuanced viewpoint about racism and other matters than one would expect from the 1930s. 11/20/15

Victims of the Vortex by Rog Phillips, Armchair, 2015, $12.95 (magazine appearance 1950) 

A spaceman is fated to drift permanently in space after his ship is sabotaged by a jealous rival. While awaiting his doom he encounters an alien – who naturally looks like a beautiful woman – who is trapped in a kind of space warp. This leads him to an alien civilization where he becomes involved in yet another romantic triangle when all he wants to do is return to Earth and get revenge on his former friend. Wildly implausible. 11/19/15

Child of Two Worlds by Greg Cox, Pocket, 2016, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4767-8325-3

I hadn't read a Star Trek novel in quite a while, particularly one set in the earliest incarnation of the television show. Spock is a young man serving under Christopher Pike when the ship is ravaged by a deadly disease for which there is no known cure. The ship's medical officer has developed an experimental drug but it requires a rare mineral which can only be found on a planet within the nebulous border between Federation and Klingon space. You can probably figure out most of the rest of the plot. The difficulty of writing a tie in novel is, of course, that you are bound by the dictates of the original. We know that Spock is going to succeed and that the crew of the Enterprise will not be wiped out. The pleasure in these things is more in the ability to relive the kind of story that made the show so popular when it first appeared, and Cox is one of the best at invoking the kind of nostalgia and making it interesting. 11/18/15

Nebula Awards Showcase 2015 edited by Greg Bear, Pyr, 2015, $18, ISBN 978-1-63388-090-0

Latest in the annual series of anthologies. This one includes the usual array of stories, nominees and winners, plus a few articles. Included is the somewhat controversial "If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love" by Rachel Swirsky, which incensed the Sad Puppies. Best in the collection - which is almost entirely by newer writers - is the entry by Ken Liu, not counting the reprint of a Samuel R. Delany story. There are also novel excerpts and a poem. This is a generally reliable series reflecting the tastes of their time and this volume in particular leans more to the literary side than usual, but I found all of the stories entertaining. 11/18/15

The Universe Wreckers by Edmond Hamilton, Armchair, 2015, $12.95 (magazine appearance 1930)   

Someone is using a ray to increase the rotation rate of the sun, which will destroy the solar system. Scientists determine that the ray originates on Neptune, the only planet which will survive the disaster. Unrealistically, the planets are all in a straight line so that the ship can see each of them on its journey. They arrive to find Neptune almost completely encased in metal, but the cities below the roof are deserted. Predictably Neptune is a dying world and the survivors are trying to split the sun into a double star to save their civilization from freezing to death. They escape, Earth launches a fleet of ships, and the Neptunians are defeated. Very old fashioned but readable. 11/16/15

The Prison in Antares by Mike Resnick, Pyr, 2015, $18, ISBN 978-1-63388-102-0

The second Dead Enders novel has our crew of humans and aliens off on another mission. This time they have to penetrate into an enemy system and recover a kidnapped scientist or, if that proves impossible, kill him before he can spill the secrets of a new defense system. There are the usual interactions among the crew, which has a new member, and some peripheral adventures along the way. As always, Resnick provides an entertaining story of high adventure with touches of humor, but I confess that this seemed an awful lot like the first in the series so I kept waiting for something new to happen. I don't think the series has as much potential as others Resnick has done recently. 11/15/15

Made to Kill by Adam Christopher, Tor, 2015, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-7918-4 

The last robot in an alternate 1960s America where science leaped forward far beyond what it actually did makes a living as a private detective. Actually, he and his partner/controller - a computer personality named Ada - have been making more money as a killer for hire. The robot can only retain twenty-four hours of memory, so he doesn't really know what he's been doing, but he has more or less figured out that Ada's programming maximizes profit regardless of legality. There current job is to locate and kill a popular actor, but before long there is a communist plot to displace personalities, a takeover of Hollywood, leaked radiation, and other thrills and chills. This is openly meant to mimic Raymond Chandler and while the prose is a good deal leaner, the story line is nicely constructed and the unique qualities of the character shine through. This is fairly short and I read it in a single sitting, wanting there to be more. And apparently there will be. 11/14/15

Dynasty of the Lost by George O. Smith, Armchair, 2015, $12.95 (magazine appearance 1950)   

This novelette anticipated both the Terminator movies and D.F. Jones’ Colossus series. An American and a Russian supercomputer combine forces and seize control of all of the automated equipment, including missiles, in both country’s armories. The two protagonists are abducted by the sentient machines to help answer questions still unclear to the computer. Although the story is perfunctory and lacks detail, it is a good example of the distrust of science that existed even within SF stalwarts of the 1950s. 11/13/15

Death Wave by Ben Bova, Tor, 2015, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-7950-4

Sequel to New Earth. Humans have found the remnants of an alien civilization among the stars including an artificial intelligence which advises them that an explosion at the center of the galaxy will wipe out all life, including Earth when the effects reach that far out. They return to Earth to warn that preparations must be made to avoid the catastrophe, but the time differential means that centuries have passed and the society there bears little resemblance to the one they left. And with predictably human pigheadedness, the authorities are reluctant to believe that they need to act. Is human destiny to reach a fiery conclusion or is there a different path available? As always, Bova delivers a well paced, convincing story with interesting characters and an understanding of the forces - physical and psychological - involved. 11/12/15

Scratch One Asteroid by Willard Hawkins, Armchair, 2015, $12.95 (magazine appearance 1952)    

There’s a whole lot of plot in this novella. The protagonist is sent to a prison planet where he escapes, although only by cooperating with a bloodthirsty space pirate who becomes his temporary partner. They end up on a spaceship with a beautiful heiress en route to a privately owned asteroid where they hope to find breathing space. Unfortunately, the owner of the asteroid is missing and his planetoid has been invaded by hostile Venusians. Although the plot is rather outlandish, Hawkins wrote reasonably good prose and this was pleasant if lacking in substance. 11/9/15

The Princess of Arelli by Aladra Septama, Armchair, 2015, $12.95 (magazine appearance 1930)   

This was the rather silly pseudonym of Justin Reeves, who published only a half dozen short stories including this one and a sequel. This is another of those stories of a trip to the moon and the discovery of an underground civilization. The first half takes place on Earth and is a series of discussions of scientific issues, only some of which are actually accurate. The inhabitants of the moon are human, of course, so there’s romance and adventure in the second half, both fairly stilted. The original illustrations by Wesso are included in this edition and are very nice. The writing is palatable but uninspired. 11/8/15

Old Mars edited by George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois, Bantam, 2013, $28, ISBN 978-0-345-53727-0  1772 

This collection of stories set in variations of the habitable and often inhabited Mars and Venus of midcentury SF opens with a very nice story by Allen Steele. Matthew Hughes tells the story of a human who is seduced by the ruins of an extinct Martian civilization.  David Levine’s story of Captain Kidd on Mars was a bit too fanciful for me. S.M. Stirling’s story is okay and Mary Rosenblum’s is quite good. Mike Resnick catches the spirit of the old SF perfectly, as does Liz Williams. Howard Waldrop contributes an odd but pleasing story. James S.A. Corey contributes a Burroughsian tale, but the tone is very modern. Melinda Snodgrass has an entertain piece followed by Michael Moorcock’s quite good story of an outlaw on Mars. Phyllis Eisenstein, Chris Roberson, Ian McDonald, Joe R. Lansdale all provide good stories to round out the collection. I liked this a lot more than the more recent Old Venus, perhaps because the mystique of Mars still affects my perception of fiction.11/6/15

In the Second Year by Storm Jameson, Trent, 204 

This 1936 novel was one of several from that era that speculated about a fascist state in England. Andy Hillier has returned from an extended stay in Norway to visit his sister and her husband. The husband is related to one of the main government officials and was active in the violent revolution that displaced the old government. Andy is not sympathetic to their policy of forced labor camps and political indoctrination but he also detects a schism between two power factions. This grows more obvious during the course of the book and eventually results in a pogrom in which the political figures eliminate the popular heroes who actually were responsible for the revolution. The story presents a rather bleak view of the human race, not surprising in novels of this type. 11/5/15

The Gold Tooth by John Taine, Burt, 1927 

A confrontation between two Japanese men in Boston attracts the interest of an adventurer about to set off an expedition to recover fossils in Asia. The first half of the novel is mostly jockeying for information among the US, Japanese, and private interests to discover the nature of the secret that a mysterious Japanese chemist apparently possesses. Eventually this causes most of the characters to travel to a remote part of Japanese dominated Korea in search of a stock of a mineral which gives off a radiation that promotes human health. The adventures are standard and rather understated and in fact the second half of the novel is only moderately more interesting than the first. This is probably the least known of Taine’s novels, and deservedly so. The virulent racism probably would keep it out of print even it was more interesting. 11/4/15

Flesh & Wires by Jackie Hatton, Aqueduct, 2015, $19, ISBN 978-1-61976-085-1  

Aliens unsuccessfully tried to conquer the Earth but did manage to leave it in ruins and largely depopulated. As civilization starts to recover, chiefly in small enclaves, news arrives that the battle once thought won might be starting again, except this time among groups of humans. The author is taking aim at colonialism and other forms of exploitation, but at times she is crushing ants with a sledgehammer. The message sometimes interferes with the narrative because it replaces the plot and characters as the focus of our attention. A more subtle approach would have been more effective. The prose itself is fine and I'd be curious to see what the author tries next. 11/3/15

It Waits Below by Eric Red, Samhain, 2014, $16, ISBN 978-1-61922-421-6 

A private salvage company is using experimental gear to investigate a sunken Spanish galleon which, unbeknownst to them, was destroyed when a meteor bearing an alien life form crashed into it. They are also menaced by a shipload of Russian pirates. Predictably one of the divers gets infected with an alien parasite after an accident strands them on the ocean floor. This is horribly badly written. The prose is awkward and stilted, the characters inconsistent and frequently sexually obsessed, the background contradictory in its details as though the author forgot what he had previously said, and the science is absurd. The author does not seem to understand how undersea pressure works – deep sea crabs would explode if suddenly exposed to surface pressures -  and there is no suspense whatsoever. The prose frequently consists of long series of sentence fragments – each presented as a separate paragraph for no apparent reason. The author is a successful screenwriter but this one reads like the script for a made for video cheapie. 11/2/15

He Fell Among Thieves by Milton Lesser, Armchair, 2015, $12.95 (magazine appearance 1952)   

This is a rather dated spy novelette in which an agent is sent into Russia to discover what Stalin is up to in a remote part of the country. After some very routine adventures, he reaches the critical area and discovers that the Russians have made contact with Martians, who have very advanced technology. Filled with stereotypes and implausible situations. Our hero thwarts an attempt to destroy the US and everyone except that bad guys lives happily ever after. 11/1/15

Conception: Zero by Gerald Vance, Armchair, 2015, $12.95 (magazine appearance 1956)   

As part of a plan to reduce the population, most women are supposed to be sterilized and can only become pregnant with the proper permit. Someone is reversing the process illegally and the protagonist is a detective hired to track him down. He finds a young woman who is willing to pose as an incipient lawbreaker, but both of them have second thoughts about the job and the laws, despite the fact that the world is overpopulated to the point of starvation. The author really doesn’t deal with the problems he posits and decides that procreation is more important than any other consideration. Not badly written but a bit simpleminded. 10/30/15

Enslaved Brains by Eando Binder, Armchair, 2015, $12.95 (magazine appearance 1951)   

The world has become one nation, ruled by a group who practice eugenics and other method of population control. A man who spent most of his adult life among the less civilized peoples of Africa is appalled when he returns to discover what has happened to the outside world. He gets involved in an effort to induce a coma in a young woman so that she won’t have to participate in a scheduled impregnation visit. It turns out that the wondrous machines directing society are human brains that have been removed from their bodies. Naturally there has to be a revolution. Not bad, and this edition includes the Frank R. Paul illustrations from the magazine. 10/29/15

Saturn Run by John Sandford and Ctein, Putnam, 2015, $28, ISBN 978-0-399-17695-1 

I’ve been reading the Lucas Davenport mysteries by Sandford for years, so I was very curious about how he would handle this collaborative novel about the discovery of an alien starship orbiting Saturn. The US and China are both determined to reach and evaluate the object before the other, particularly in view of the obviously superior technology.  The Chinese launch first so the American ship has to take some risks to get there sooner. Meanwhile, the alien ship has left the system, but the object with which is rendezvoused is still there. Almost a third of the 500 pages elapse before the American ship leaves orbit, but it doesn’t seem that long because the cast of characters and their mild adventures are intriguing enough to hold the reader’s interest during the preliminaries. The presence of a saboteur on board is so tired a cliché that I had to put the book down for several hours before I could resume. And there are spoilers from this point on. The two human ships discover an automated alien refueling and supply facility, which they are welcome to use and which is the source of very advanced technology, but politics and human distrust results in damage to the deport and the expulsion of the Chinese expedition - the Americans are already on their way back, and further disaster is brewing. A couple of slow spots but overall well plotted and executed. 10/27/15

Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie, Orbit, 2015, $15.99, ISBN 978-0-316-24668-2 

The third in this popular series nudges one of my pet peeves in the opening chapters. How does one pronounce “Tstur”? Or “Kalr”? I know that exotic names are often useful, but random assembly of letters like this just slows down reading comprehension and draws attention to itself, which throws the reader out of the narrative. If they are pronounced Testur and Kalar, why not spell them that way?  Why the double “a” in Anaander Mianaai? What purpose does it serve? How does it affect pronunciation, if at all? Anyway, the story picks up right away although I suspect that I’d have been lost if I hadn’t read the first two in the series. The gestalt mind that ruled a galactic empire is still at war with itself, and our protagonist still distrusts both sides. There are two plot threads introduced early on. One is the discovery of a mysterious person – not necessarily human – living hidden within a major station and the other is the arrival of the Presger, an alien race whose technology is far superior to that of any human power.  I enjoyed the first two books in this series, but the third was very disappointing. It’s talky and slow paced at times, nothing much new is revealed about the characters, and the Presger weren’t particularly interesting. 10/26/15

Magnanthropus by Manly Banister, Armchair, 2015, $12.95 (magazine appearance 1961) 

Even back when I devoured SF uncritically in my youth, I knew Manly Banister was a bad writer. This was the first of two novels (the second is Seed of Eloraspon) set on an alternate Earth separated by a dimensional rift. It opens with a mysterious disaster The protagonist crosses into the other world, has various adventures, discovers that a greater disaster is approaching both worlds, falls in love with a beautiful woman, and does all this while he and the other characters utter a stream of inane dialogue. Some writing is best forgotten. 10/25/15

Beyond the Fearful Forest by Geoff St. Reynard, Armchair, 2015, $12.95 (magazine appearance 1951)    

A young hunter from a primitive tribe goes on a quest to kill a kind of sabre tooth bear that has been raiding his village. At first it appears to be the distant past, but it is actually the far future. One branch of humans has become much hairier and there are the usual taboos and misunderstandings. Our hero discovers that they are simply people who look a little different and who have salvaged a bit of the old knowledge. I’ve generally liked this author (Robert Krepps under a pseudonym) and this is nicely written but not my cup of tea. 10/25/15

The Corianis Disaster by Murray Leinster, Armchair, 2015, $12.95 (magazine appearance 1960) 

A spaceship carrying some interplanetary bigwigs runs into a freak encounter in space as a consequence it is duplicated. There are two of every passenger except for the protagonist and a half dozen others. Elsewhere, obviously in an alternate universe, alarm is raised when the ship fails to arrive as scheduled. Consternation obviously reigns and tensions grow heated. Our hero finally figures out how to propel the ship back to his own timeline, but has to trick the crew into taking the chance. It’s always a pleasure to find a Leinster novelette I haven’t already read.  10/20/15

The Man Who Lived Forever by R. DeWitt Miller & Anna Hunger, Armchair, 2015, $12.95, originally published in 1956   

This was half of one of the earliest Ace doubles, and except for a handful of short stories by Miller, neither writer wrote further SF. The premise is that a world government has been united for a thousand years under the Master, a man who never dies – as long as he is able to sap the vitality from another person every thirty years or so. This is considered reasonable given that he is therefore able to live long enough to absorb all human knowledge and provide solutions to any problem that arises. Except that he cannot cure a new fatal disease which is affecting the population, and which arises from the ennui caused by a non-violent, non-competitive environment, a presumption of questionable validity. This is very well written and although some of the science is hokey, the story is strong and well told. Too bad they didn’t write more. 10/1/15

Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente, Tor, 2015, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-3529-6

It's sometimes a big mistake to pigeonhole a writer. Catherynne Valente, author of several very impressive fantasy novels, often with a literary bent, veers in another direction for her latest. This one is set in an alternate universe where talky movies are still something of a rarity but travel throughout the solar system - which bears a strong resemblance to that of the pulp era - is fairly common. The protagonist is a young film maker who rebels against her father's traditional material - historical gothics - in favor of documentaries about life on other worlds. But what she discovers on Venus, where a colony has recently vanished, will change her life forever. The text consists of traditional narrative, epistolary sections, and other formats, so it is a pulp setting but definitely not the old, familiar approach to storytelling. It's a kind of serious novel involving wild adventure related in varying styles about interesting but sometimes unusual characters in an alternate version of history. So it's not like anything else you've read lately. 10/16/15

The Uncanny Experiments of Dr. Varsag by David V. Reed, Armchair, 2015    

This consists of two stories, of which the second and longer is definitely by Reed. The first is problematic because it first appeared under a house name, and the real author has never been absolutely identified, although it may also be Reed. In the first, a scientist transfers certain attributes of a mongoose into a prize fighter. The animal part of his nature begins to take over.  The second has a very similar plot and is much longer, but both stories have very predictable outcomes and minimally competent writing. Reed occasionally wrote interesting material but this is not an example. 10/15/15

Callisto at War by Harl Vincent, Armchair, 2015,  Magazine appearance 1930   

Although no human has crossed, radio messages prove that both Venus and Mars are inhabited. When strange signals begin to arrive from the moon, three men are so intrigued that they build the first spaceship so they can investigate. They land, beat off an attack, and then rescue a beautiful girl from other Lunarians – who are human, of course.  Except they actually come from the Jovian moon Callisto and they are planning the conquest of Earth. They return to Earth, build a fleet, and thwart the invasion. Rather silly. 10/15/15

The Moon Pirates by Neil R. Jones, Armchair, 2015, magazine appearance 1934  

An interplanetary liner is captured by space pirates and its passengers taken hostage and brought back to a hidden base on the Moon. Jones was not a very good writer and is virtually unknown today, and this story is a good example of why he has been forgotten. The characters are pencil thin, the dialogue is creaky and corny, and the plot doesn’t even make sense a good deal of the time. The pirates experiment on their captives and kill some of them, but the rest escape and are eventually rescued by forces from Earth. Pretty bad. Jones is best known for the Professor Jameson stories, which are marginally better than this. 10/15/15

Founding Father by J.F. Bone, Armchair, 2015,  Magazine appearance 1962    

This is a well written but somewhat overly long story about two aliens who find themselves stranded on Earth. They use mind control to force two humans to help them repair their ship, but in the process they develop a kind of friendship with their slaves, who eventually offer their help voluntarily. Bone was a minor but generally entertaining writing whose career never really took off, perhaps because his stories, like this one, were merely competent and not really interesting. 10/13/15

The Clockwork Man by E.V. Odle, Hilo, 2013 

I had never heard of this 1923 novel, although it is obviously SF. A mysterious figure appears in the middle of a cricket match and announces that he is a clockwork man with machinery in his head which is malfunctioning. He is in fact from a very distant future in which humanity’s baser instincts are regulated by the installation of stabilizing technology. This was a satire so there are a good many humorous situations, although it often becomes silly rather than funny. We get a glimpse of the future as well as a look at the present from a different perspective. Interesting and relatively short. 10/12/15

Gideon Smith and the Mask of the Ripper by David Barnett, Tor, 2015, $15.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-3426-9

Third in this steampunkish series set in an alternate 19th Century where the British Empire rules most of the world, including North America. The title gives you an idea of the focus of this one. Gideon Smith is the heroic figure in the series, although perhaps a bit tarnished around the edges, and he is in love with a mechanical girl who has shared his adventures. His reputation may diminish, however, if he is unable to help the police track down the serial killer known as Jack the Ripper. And just when it looks like he may be making headway, he is attacked and loses his memory and wanders off into the less reputable parts of London. This series is young enough that it still  feels fresh and exciting, where other steampunk writers have started to drop into formula. And the Ripper himself always has a strong attraction for fans of creepy suspense. 10/10/15

Gateway to Limbo by Chris Lampton, Doubleday, 1979 

Fortunately this rather silly novel is quite short. The dictator of a colony world that mixes humans with indigenes discovers a gateway to another dimension where there is a race made up of electronic beings. They promise him rewards in return for the lives of all the aliens on his world and he plans to satisfy them, but our hero opposes the genocide and after some rather dull adventures he disrupts the plan. Very minor. 10/10/15

Symzonia by Captain Adam Seaborn, Moonglow, 2009, reprinted from 1820 

This is the very first novel about a hollow Earth, long before Burroughs created Pellucidar. The first half is an adventure story in which a ship finds its way through the ice fields that surround an otherwise hospitable continent, then cross into the opening into the interior of the Earth. The second half is a lame Utopian story about the society that lives inside. It holds up pretty well considering its age. The real author was probably John Symmes, who championed the theory that the Earth was hollow. 10/9/15

And the Stars Remain by Bryan Berry, Armchair, 2015. Original appearance 1952   

I read the British paperback edition of this back in the 1960s. The prose isn’t bad but the science is wonky. The first interstellar ship disappears. Two years later a piece of wreckage has been located. The protagonist, a reporter, is sent to Mars with the object because the Martians have the Time Brain, a device that can trace a material object back through time and communicate its history telepathically to the operator. The Martians never let humans use the device, but our hero’s boss has made a deal with a government official. The experience takes him back to observe as the crew of the ship find their dreams alien and their instruments malfunctioning. The ship apparently lands by itself on a lifeless asteroid with no atmosphere, but they can breathe normally, suggesting it is an hallucination. Not surprisingly, it turns out that galactic guardians forbid interstellar travel to races that have not learned to control their violence. Surprisingly readable. 

Secret of the Lost Planet by David Wright O’Brien, Armchair, 2015,  Magazine appearance 1941 

The protagonist is returning to Earth and the girl he loves when he is framed for treason by his former best friend. After a mock trial, he is sent to a prison planet where he meets a scientist who was condemned because he wouldn’t reveal the location of a valuable planet. Except that he has papers providing that information in his pocket. No one bothered to search him? This very implausible story gets progressively worse. Our hero steals a small spaceship and travels to the mystery planet, then to Earth where he rescues the girl and defeats the villain, who planned to install a dictatorship. Comic book level writing. 

Television Hill by George McLociard, Armchair, 2015,  Magazine appearance 1931  

The science if pretty shaky in this story of scientists who have invented what they call television but what we would call remote viewing. Their machines can probe into any place in the world, even the interiors of buildings, to see what is happening inside. The first third is very expository and descriptive and nothing much happens. Eventually they uncover a secret society on a remote island and these people have advanced technology as well. Very slow going and even the action sequences are pretty tame. Not a classic, obviously.

Wanderers of the Wolf Moon by Nelson S. Bond, Armchair, 2015,  Magazine appearance 1944   

Nelson Bond would develop into one of the better short story writers in the genre during the 1940s, but at longer lengths – particularly stories set in space – he was often clumsy. This novella is a good example. Although his characters are more diverse and realistic than in most pulp stories, the science is bad enough to be comical. A spaceship is caught in some kind of distortion field and crashlands on Titan, which unbelievably has a breathable atmosphere. There’s a schism among the survivors about how to proceed and they break into two parties. They survive attacks by the Titanian wolf men and eventually join forces again. The haughty young beauty undergoes a transformation and falls for our hero. Trite and silly though nicely written. 10/4/15

All Heroes Are Hated by Milton Lesser, Armchair, 2015,  Magazine appearance 1950    

A simple minded novelette in which humans have been banned from interstellar space because of a careless accident that wiped out an entire race. Years later, while starmen are hated by the general population on Earth, one of them encounters an odd little man who turns out to be a representative of the galactic government who wants to find a way to allow humans out among the stars again. Not awful, but not memorable. 10/4/15

A Long Walk to Wimbledon by H.R. F. Keating, Chivers, 1978   

London, and presumably the rest of the world, has collapsed into chaos. The protagonist is called upon to travel by foot across a fractured city to visit his dying wife. Along the way he meets a variety of people including a repressive dictatorship, hippies, a religious cult, and a madwoman, not to mention wild dogs and crumbling buildings. His journey takes up the entire novel, covering two days and a lot of territory. He ultimately concludes that it is an advantage to be insane in a world that has gone insane. Not exceptional but readable. 10/3/15

The Strong Man by H.R. F. Keating, Heineman, 1971 

This quasi-SF novel is about what it means to be a leader. The island nation of Oceana has come to be ruled by a dictator who uses booze and voodoo to keep the population under control. A simple farmer becomes the leader of a rebel group, ostensibly subordinate to a revolutionary council in Ireland although they actually act independently. Although the rebellion is ultimately successful, it is evident that the new government is not going to be noticeably better than the old one. The pacing is not great, with small islands of action separated by long discursive passages. Keating is best known for his Inspector Ghote murder mysteries. 10/3/15

The Moment of Truth by Storm Jameson, MacMillan, 1949 

This odd little book tells the story of a group of people vying to be on the last plane out of the British Isles before the Russians take over. Some want to go, but have no place on the plane, some want to stay, but have been ordered to seek exile in America. Not much physical happens; the story is about the interplay of personalities and viewpoints. It’s relatively short and certainly well written but of little interest to most SF readers. 10/2/15

Harl Vincent Resurrected by Harl Vincent, Resurrected, 2011 

Harl Vincent wrote mostly during the 1930s and 1940s and his work resembles that of the early Jack Williamson, although he never really improved with practice. This is a large collection of his short fiction which opens with “Old Crompton’s Secret,” in which a man develops an immortality ray but through convoluted circumstances loses the secret. It has a remarkably bland ending. “Terror of Air-Level Six” is about a Venusian spaceship using high tech to destroy aircraft in a bid to conquer the world. “Silver Dome” is set in an underground civilization. “Vagabonds of Space” is a kitchen sink story. After encountering a malevolent spacegoing creature, explorers are shipwrecked on Europa, where they learn that the inhabitants of Ganymede are planning to conquer the Earth. There’s a rebellion in a dystopian future in “Gray Denim” and invisible robots in “Terrors Unseen.”  An aggressive moon plant spreads on Earth in “The Moon Weed” and a disabled spaceship finds a mysterious civilization in “The Copper Clad World.” “Creatures of Vibration” is the sequel to “Vagabonds of Space” and isn’t nearly as interesting. “Vulcan’s Workshop” is about an escape from a prison planet. “Wanderer of Infinity” is about the discovery of another dimension. None of these are classics and the science is often dreadful, but the prose isn’t bad for its time and place. 9/30/15

Devil’s Planet by David Wright O’Brien, Armchair, 2013. Magazine appearance 1943  

The author died while still in his twenties, killed in World War II, but he had already written a number of stories, some of which were quite good for their time.  This short novel starts off reasonably well with a missionary and his daughter receiving a chilly lack of welcome when they arrive on a mining planet. They are followed shortly by a band of space pirates who plan to steal the minerals waiting for transportation back to Earth. Eventually the missionaries and the two mining agents have to team up to thwart the bad guys. A few clumsy moments but this was quite readable. The cover art, oddly, is from the Ace double edition of To the End of Time by Robert Moore Williams. 9/29/15

Into the Green Prism by A. Hyatt Verrill, Armchair, 2015,  Magazine appearance 1929   

Although the science in this novel is laughable, it’s an old fashioned scientific adventure story that has a kind of charm of its own. Two scientists in Ecuador discover the remnants of a prism which not only acts as kind of microscope but can actually change the size of atoms. They discover that there is a tiny universe invisible to us, and naturally one of them eventually decides to visit it. The first half is a bit slow – there is way too much talk about the properties of atoms and prisms, most of it incorrect – but it’s a short enough book that most readers probably won’t mind. 9/29/15

Rising Tide by Rajan Khanna, Pyr, 2015, $17, ISBN 978-1-63388-100-6

Sequel to Falling Sky, in which a new virus turns most of the population into a kind of intelligent strain of zombies. Some of the survivors have flocked to a hidden city where they believe they will be safe from attack. But then a new disease appears, and this one simply kills its victims. Our hero has to deal with pirates, shortfalls of supplies, odd technology, and a major attack against the stronghold by outsider forces as well as dissension within. And is it possible that the disease did not develop naturally? Like the first novel, this is full of action, sprinkled with clever but not always fully developed ideas, wrapped in the shroud of a zombie apocalypse. Khanna is potentially a very interesting new writer in the genre, but for me the use of present tense was particularly ineffective in a story that relies so much on immersing the reader in action sequences. I did manage to finish it, which is not true of most present tense novels I start, but it was a relief to reach the end. 9/28/15

Devoted in Death by J.D. Robb, Putnam, 2015, $27.95, ISBN 978-0-399-17088-1 

I’ve been a real fan of the Eve Dallas series all along, but this one is considerably below par, including an argument scene between Eve and Roarke that is almost painfully out of character and contrived. The villains this time are a couple who get off on torturing random people, which makes them very hard to track or identify, even though they’ve killed a couple of dozen people. The victims’ backgrounds and motive are largely irrelevant, and there are no witnesses. Dallas succeeds in large part because of luck and coincidence. This one felt rather forced but it’s still good enough to be worth the cover price. Although there are more robots this time around, this is still only SF by courtesy. 9/27/15

The Omnibus of Time by Ralph Milne Farley, Fantasy Press, 1950  

A collection of early SF, mostly dealing with time travel. In “The Man Who Met Himself” a hunter in Cambodia finds a time machine and loops backward into his own past. “Time for Sale” concerns a device that allows one to step outside of time so that years can pass in seconds, or seconds can stretch out for years. “Rescue into the Past” is about a trip back to the Revolutionary War and “The Immortality of Alan Whidden” is about an immortal who develops cancer, but cannot die. He goes back in time to kill his own grandfather and ends up taking the man’s place. “The Time-Wise Guy” is a really minor piece about a time loop. “A Month a Minute” is about using time differential to power a spaceship. Time travel is used to create an invisible aircraft in “The Invisible Bomber” and “The Time Traveler” is a trivial vignette, as is “I Killed Hitler.” “Stranded in Time” is just what the title suggests, a lost time machine. “The Man Who Lived Backward” is the best story in the book. One man experiences time in the reverse direction from that of the rest of us. “The Revenge of the Great White Lodge” mixes time travel with Nazi conspiracies. The book ends with another vignette, a poem, and a brief essay. Only the one story is particularly memorable, but the book also contains a missing chapter from The Radio Man, which may be of some interest. 9/25/14

Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald, Tor, 2015, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-7551-3

The moon has been colonized and a new kind of society has evolved there, although it has not escaped the drawbacks of the old. It's a kind of corporate feudalism when even air and water are commodities and not human rights. Prospectors hope to make a fortune finding mineral deposits but that doesn't happen very often. Possibly the most powerful of those corporations is going through a crisis. Not only are competitors using fair means and foul to undercut their profitability, but the head of the organization has five adult children, all of whom are effectively locked in a battle for power and influence with one another. As always, McDonald creates a fascinating setting and peoples his story with unusual characters. That said, I have to point out that this one runs into trouble with my personal peeve, present tense narration. It was so conspicuously an artifact that I found it impossible to slip into the story and in fact, I broke off twice to read something else before finally finishing it. 9/24/15

Microcosmic Buccaneers by Harl Vincent, Armchair, 2013. Magazine appearance 1929   

This novelette makes use of a once popular SF theme , primarily associated with Ray Cummings, in which atoms are actually tiny solar systems. In the far future, a scientist discovers an inhabited micro-world and decides to shrink down and visit it. They are captured by hostile aliens, who hold sway over a more benevolent race, and since they all communicate telepathically, there is no communication problem. The bad aliens decide they want to conquer Earth, but they get thwarted. Rather silly, but fun in an old fashioned way. 9/21/15

Forty Days Has September by Milton Lesser, Armchair, 2013. Magazine appearance 1951  

Milton Lesser was a decent pulp writer but his knowledge of science was minimal and his SF work often felt rushed and superficial. In this one an alien race that lived on Earth before humans arose – absurd on the face of it – returns and issues an eviction notice. They want the planet back but they will condescend to transport the entire human race to any place in the galaxy that they want to go. None of this makes any sense. Nor does the assertion that the law of gravity is simply an observational error. The hero is hired by a mysterious – and obviously alien – woman.  She turns out to be acting on her own in defiance of her government and our hero saves the day. Rather silly. 9/21/15

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, Vintage, 2014, $18.95, ISBN 978-0-8041-7244-8 

A new plague essentially destroys civilization with a single year. Two decades later, North America consists of isolated villages and few travel among them. One group that does is the Traveling  Symphony, the remains of an orchestra and a theatrical company that travel around and give performances in return for supplies. They have a regular circuit, but when they stop at one of their regular places this time, they find the town very much changed, thanks to the presence of a self proclaimed prophet. The story alternates between episodes in our present and episodes in the post-apocalyptic future. A young girl promised to the prophet stows away in their caravan, which invites trouble. When two members of the group disappear, it is logical to think that they were taken against their will. Nicely written, though more than slightly depressing. The title refers to an obscure comic book that the chief protagonist treasures from the past, which has some metaphorical relevance to her present. 9/18/15

The Metamorphs by S.J. Byrne, Armchair, 2013. Magazine appearance 1957  

Stuart Byrne wasn’t so much a bad writer as just an uninteresting one. This short novel is a case in point. It involves a mysterious alien race that can change to look like humans, but there is no attempt to provide an explanation of how this works, and the aliens themselves are essentially human beings, which robs them of any aura of menace. A survivor of one race already devastated by the metamorphs comes to Earth to save us from a similar fate, but has he come too late? And what do the shapechangers really want? Unfortunately, the answers to the various questions are as uninteresting as the questions themselves. 9/17/15

A Borrowed Man by Gene Wolfe, Tor, 2015, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-38114-9 

Gene Wolfe’s newest novel is interesting but sometimes puzzling. It’s set in a future in which the old civilization is gone and a highly technological new one has arisen. The protagonist is a clone into which the recorded memories of a long dead mystery writer have been uploaded. He lives on a shelf in a library and if he isn’t consulted or taken out long enough, he will be burned to death. That glimpse of this society alone makes it seem like a horrible place so it’s very difficult to empathize with Colette, a woman who takes him out because she thinks that a book his original persona wrote is the key to some great secret. Her brother has already been murdered in an attempt to acquire it after he inherited it from their father. Colette never really feels like a genuine human – she chastises the protagonist for going into her kitchen to get a knife with which to free her after she had been tied to a chair, and the society never seems to make sense either – she can’t call the police because for some reason, we are told, she would be arrested herself if she could not produce the book. The mystery is interesting and the prose is wonderful but the world never seemed quite real enough for me. 9/15/15

The Two Suns of Morcali by Evelyn E. Smith, Dancing Tuatara, 2011 

Evelyn Smith was a regular contributor to the magazines during the 1950s, but with the collapse of that market she turned to mystery novels and YA fiction for the balance of her career.  Most of her work was humorous. A settler from Earth gets romantically involved with an intelligent tree, for example, or a familiar fairy tale takes a peculiar turn. There’s even a talking horse. The best in the collection is “Once a Greech” but for the most part these are light and easily forgotten. 9/14/15

The Man Who Annexed the Moon by Bob Olsen, Armchair, 2013. Magazine appearance 1931  

This is an early tale about the first expedition to the moon, complete with a detailed explanation of how rockets work. They also have some kind of four dimensional hyperdrive. After surviving a cave in, they claim the moon for the US, which wouldn’t have worked even back in the 1930s. They have subsequent adventures and while well told – although in a very dated fashion – they never evoke any sense of wonder or excitement about the moon or what they might find there. The lecturing gets very boring very quickly. 9/12/15

Badge of Infamy by Lester Del Rey,  Armchair, 2013. Magazine appearance 1957    

This early Del Rey novel feels very current. The uneducated masses voted in accordance with how their unions, political parties, and organized lobbies told them to and as a consequence voted away their own freedom. The protagonist is a former doctor, his license revoked for not towing the official line. He operated on a dying man outside a sanctioned hospital. He eventually gets stranded on Mars where his ex-wife becomes his bitter enemy. He discovers a new plague, a Martian virus that can attack humans, but the rest of the medical lobby is unaware of it. Although he is vindicated at the end, his opponents are so evil an nasty that they really aren’t plausible and the tension of the story is diminished. 9/8/15

The Cyberene by Rog Phillips, Armchair, 2013. Magazine appearance 1953  

Anticipating the Terminator movies, this is about a kind of organic computer in the far future that reaches back through time to control all of human history. Naturally its plans are thwarted in the present after some routine adventures and a not very convincing theory about how cause and effect and time travel would work.  Phillips was at his best in short stories and the longer the work, the less likely it is to be worthwhile reading. 9/8/15

Supersymmetry by David Walton, Pyr, 2015, $16, ISBN 978-1-63388-098-6

Sequel to Superposition. Scientists have made use of quantum physics to develop new technologies that make soldiers virtually invulnerable. Unfortunately, the operation of this technology empowers the inhuman quantum intelligence which plotted against our heroes in the first book in the series, so its back. This time it uses mind control to manipulate a leading scientist and pursue its plot against our world. It also wants to destroy its old enemies, one of whom was split into two separate individuals in their original fight. This one gets really abstruse because as the world is pushed toward a sudden armageddon, artificial intelligences who might have the ability to reverse time itself seem to be the only hope. Lots of stimulating ideas in this one. 8/7/15

The Thinking Engine by James Lovegrove, Titan, 2015, $14.95, ISBN 978-1783295036   

Sherlock Holmes faces two challenges in this one. On the one hand, a scientist has invented a calculating machine which appears capable of solving crimes just as quickly as Holmes himself. On the other hand, someone is manipulating other people into committing crimes, and then killing his puppets before they can reveal the truth. Although I pretty much suspected what was going on, it didn’t detract from my enjoyment at all. Holmes novels employing SF concepts are rarely particularly good, but Lovegrove gets the best of both worlds in this very entertaining pastiche. 9/4/15

Last Light by Troy Denning, Gallery, 2015, $16, ISBN 978-1-5011-0336-0

This is a tie-in to the Halo computer game which involves an interstellar war between humans and aliens. The actual war seems to have ended except for an occasional simmer as this story opens. Unfortunately, that leaves an opening for fracture lines among the human worlds, who begin to compete for scarce resources. A roving detective is sent to one planet where the conflict is tense, but her job is simply to track down an apparent serial killer. To her dismay, her visit coincides with the discovery of a cache of alien technology, and the various factions begin to turn on one another, even enlisting the aid of their former enemies. The detective finds herself in the middle of not just a murder investigation, but at the focus of a crisis that could set off another major interstellar war. For some reason this felt more like a Star Trek novel than a Halo novel, but it was nicely constructed and well written. I have always had a soft spot for novels that blend the detective story with SF so this was right up my alley. 9/2/15

The Conquest of the Planets by John W. Campbell Jr., Armchair, 2013. Magazine appearance 1935   

Mars and some of the outer moons have been colonized by a strict selection process that takes only those mentally and physically above average. When they unilaterally announce their independence, there is talk of war, but the impracticalities seem insurmountable. The colonies therefore announce that they are breaking off all relations with Earth, for reasons that don’t see particularly compelling. This for some reason causes Earth to find itself in a few generations with a population of near superhumans, since all of the weaker specimens have been bred out of the race. None of this makes any particular sense. Eventually, after another near war, the two races are reconciled. Campbell wrote some interesting fiction before turning to editing, but this is not an example of one. 9/1/15

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