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

LAST UPDATE 10/22/18

Forsaken by Michael McBride, Pinnacle, 2018 

Sequel to Subhuman, which was my least favorite of McBride’s books until this one, which I liked even less. There’s just too much kitchen sink stuff, ancient ruins, civilization in Antarctica, instant mutation of adult humans, an alien visitor with superhuman powers, a crack team of soldiers, mysterious deaths, crop circles, etc. And too many viewpoint characters. I have thorough enjoyed several of the author’s novels, but these two just try to do too much at once. And this is obviously not the final book in the series. There is certainly plenty of violent action, some of it quite well done and suspenseful. 10/22/18

Zero A.D. by Robert Wade, Armchair, 2018 (originally published in 1948) 

A scientist claims that Earth is only a few years old, that everyone’s memory is false and that history is just make believe because it is all part of an experiment conducted by a superior intelligence. Of course he has no evidence, no reason to have come up with the theory, and it proves to be true. We only discover that after a newspaper reporter loses his job and starts an informal investigation that turns up the highly improbable truth in a highly improbable fashion. The novel originally appeared as by Lee Francis. Wade was also half of Whit Masterson and wrote alone as Wade Miller. 10/21/18

Civil War by Stuart Moore, Titan, 2018 

This is a novelization of the graphic novel and it involves a much larger number of the Marvel universe characters than were in the movie. It is also much darker in tone. Ironman/Stark wants to register all metahumans, expose their secret identities, and regulate how they act. Captain America/Rogers is vehemently opposed. All of the other characters take sides, sometimes changing, except that Dr. Strange and the X-Men stay neutral, the Hulk is somewhere lost in space, and both Thor and Nick Fury are dead. The story is pretty well done until the end, which is not Moore’s fault, but which concludes with the fascists winning, Rogers imprisoned, Sue Richard unaccountably going back to her husband, and Tony Stark the unspoken world dictator with control of Shield, the Avengers, and fifty other superhuman groups. I found the set up horribly contrived and making Stark a raving fascist didn’t help. I found the end appalling. 10/20/18

Botanica Delira edited by Chad Arment, Coachwhip, 2010  

A collection of stories about cryptobotany, i.e. plants that never existed. There is a lot of repetition in this one. Almost half the protagonists are hunting orchids when they have strange encounters. And there are a lot of stories about carnivorous plants that grow large enough to eat people. A couple of them are quite good: “Lamparagua” by Mary Crommelin and the anonymously written spoof, “A Flesh Eating Plant.” One of the stories involves Sherlock Holmes and another Dr. Fu Manchu. There is also a story by Louisa May Alcott. Good, but not as even as the editor’s cryptozoological anthologies. 10/18/18

Creatures of the Abyss by Murray Leinster, Berkley, 1961

An electronics whiz is enticed aboard a yacht that is investigating the appearance of strange fish and other anomalies in the vicinity of the Luzon Deep. Readers will be way ahead of the characters in guessing that aliens are visiting the ocean depths for some reason and their presence is causing the unusual phenomena. Although the plot sounds like a B SF horror film, the story is actually very restrained and low key. There is a structural problem in that everyone is keeping secrets even when there is no point to it, primarily to deprive the reader of information. One of my favorite Leinster novels. 10/15/18

Creature Features edited by Chad Arment, Coachwhip, 2018 

This is the most recent in a series of anthologies about cryptids, animals that don’t really exist, or at least not any more. Since the stories are all public domain, recent ones like yetis, Chupacabra, and even the Loch Ness Monster are missing. This time we have a few different invisible creatures, another that lives high in the air, sea creatures, swamp critters, and one from another dimension. Nelson Bond, Edmond Hamilton, and Robert Moore Williams are among the contributors. The Williams story is one of his best and the Bond is "The Monster from Nowhere," his most famous. 10/14/18

Who Is the Black Panther? by Jesse J. Holland, Titan, 2018

This is an absolutely awful tie-in to the Black Panther movie. The prose is okay but not great. The plot is insultingly bad. The premise is that the US government wants to subjugate Wakanda, so they hire Klaw, who recruits a neighboring nation’s army, buttressed by Batroc, the Black Knight, and the Rhinoceros to conduct an invasion and change of regime. The US general behind this is cartoonish even in the age of Trump. That would be bad enough, but the Black Panther suddenly decrees that his traditional bodyguard will suddenly be changed into an espionage organization despite tradition, their objection, and their almost complete lack of training in that area. The invasion proves to him that he should reverse his decision. Boring, irritating, silly, and drawn out. 10/12/18

Mayhem in Manhattan by Len Wein and Marv Wolfman, Pocket, 1978

The first ever Spider-Man novel is pretty minor. A mysterious villain is forcing the heads of all the oil companies into a single entity under his control. Spidey, who has unjustly been accused of murdering a man who tried to resist the arch-villain, has to figure out what is going on and foil the plan. It is supposed to be a mystery who is behind everything until very late in the book, but it is obvious in the opening chapter that the chief bad guy is Dr. Octopus. Not much appeal for minimally sophisticated readers. 10/12/18

Everybody Wants to Rule the World by Dan Abnett, Titan, 2018 

The Avengers have a lot on their hands in this original adventure. Hydra has a new plague, AIM launches a new campaign using nanotechnology, Dormammu invades and transforms Siberia, the High Evolutionary is at large, and Ultron is on the verge of becoming a superintelligence so powerful that it will command the universe. Thor, Hulk, Ironman, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Captain America have their work cut out for them as all communications around the world are blocked, making it impossible to coordinate. This was a surprisingly engaging adventure for a tie-in novel and perhaps more so because I had distinct images and voices for most of the characters. The hardcover edition of this novel was in 2015. 10/11/18

The Avengers Battle the Earth-Wrecker by Otto Binder, Bantam, 1967

The writing in this very early Avengers novel was not as good as in the comic books and the story is ridiculous. The Avengers consists of Captain America, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, Iron Man, Goliath and the Wasp, and Hawkeye. They are opposed by Karzz, a shapechanging alien from the far future whose plan of conquest was foiled by humans five thousand years from now. So he has come back through time to destroy the Earth using four methods – a comet drawn by a magnet, melting the ice caps, setting off massive volcanic eruptions, and creating superhurricanes. The Avengers naturally object but Karzz has a rather ineffective force field and is not too bright. They eventually cause time to run backward so that all of the damage is undone. Terrible book. 10/11/18

Beyond the Walls of Space by S.M. Tenneshaw, Armchair, 2018 

This is a house pseudonym and the author in this case has never been identified. I wouldn’t admit to having written it. A large collection of bad clichés thrown together. There is a hidden planet whose population menaces Earth. A domineering woman from another race. Mysterious eents in space. Battles. Silly arguments and sillier plot developments. Encompasses all of the bad things that mainstream readers thought about SF at the time. I'm not surprised no one admits to having written it. 10/10/18

Zoologica Fantastica edited by Chad Arment, Coachwhip, 2013 

Another collection of stories about animals that never existed, quite a variety of them this time including white gorillas, deadly butterflies, prehistorical survivals, invisible cave monsters, creatures living in the upper atmosphere, and so on. The authors are mostly minor or even virtually unknown but most of the stories are quite readable. All but one were published before 1940. For some reason the last four in the book are of much lower quality than the rest, all routine and sometimes inept pulp adventures. Since all of the stories are in the public domain, the editor had a limited pool from which to choose.10/9/18

The Wailing Asteroid by Murray Leinster, Avon, 1960

A strange signal from the asteroid belt stimulates memories buried in a man's mind and he develops a new space drive so that he can investigate. He finds an abandoned fortress in space with weapons he does not know how to use, and the instruments suggest that a hostile alien fleet is en route to the solar system to destroy humanity completely. This is rather old fashioned and relies on coincidences and short cuts, but the scenes where they explore the empty battle station gave me the same feeling of wonder that I felt when I first read this almost half a century ago. It was filmed - rather horribly - as The Terrornauts with a screenplay by John Brunner. 10/7/18

Exit Strategy by Martha Wells, Tor, 2018, $17.99, ISBN 978-1-250-19185-4 

The fourth and I think last of the Murderbot stories. Murderbot discovers that his human friend and benefactor has been taken hostage by the evil corporation it has been fighting throughout the series, so this adventure takes place in and around its corporate headquarters. Although all four novellas have very similar plots, the protagonist makes all the difference. Having hacked its own code to prevent being controlled, it now passes for human, mostly, and it’s favorite pastime is watching the equivalent of television programs. The first in the series won a Hugo last year and I would not be surprised to see a repeat. 10/5/18

Bestiarium Cryptozoologicum edited by Chad Arment, Coachwhip     

The fourth in a series of anthologies about creatures that never were. There is more variety in this one than in the other volumes. Mammoths, giant bears, giant pumas, sewer monsters, humanoids, oversized snakes, etc. The authors include Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, William Fryer Harvey, H.G. Wells, and Jack London, although there are also good stories by people I’d never previous heard of, particularly Alexander Ricketts. The settings are well scattered across the world and the prose styles are quite varied as well. I was familiar with several this time, but still fewer than half of the entries. Lots of fun. 10/3/18

Design for Doomsday by Bryce Walton, Armchair, 2018 (magazine publication in 1947)  

I vaguely recall having enjoyed some of this author’s short stories, but this novella is definitely not one of them. The Martians have a dictatorship which has imposed a repressive regime on Earth and elsewhere. Our two fisted hero has to escape incarceration and overthrow the evil overlords, which he accomplished without much difficulty. The writing is choppy and sometimes silly. It feels more like a 1950s comic book story. The cover art is from Bow Down to Nul by Brian W. Aldiss 10/2/18