Absolution Gap by Alastair Reynolds, Gollancz, 2003, £12.99, ISBN 0-575-07434-5

Alastair Reynolds grabbed my attention with his very first novel, Revelation Space, and now he provides a fresh new adventure set in that same universe.  The ancient killing machines are preparing to eradicate humanity, a planet that periodically disappears has spawned a variety of new religions, and fugitives discover that an old enemy has returned to complicate their lives.  As with the previous books, there's a large cast of characters including an uplifted pig, a young girl determined to discover her missing brother's fate, an obsessive and possibly insane space explorer, a starship captain who has physically merged with his ship, an infant with extraordinary powers, and many others.  The novel is as inventive as its predecessors, with interesting characters, well realized exotic settings, and a nicely developed sense of wonder, but I thought the plot moved a bit too slowly this time.  I read the earlier books compulsively, but had no trouble putting this one aside from time to time, although I didn't stay away from it for long.

For Us, the Living by Robert A. Heinlein, Scribner, 2004, $25, ISBN 0-7432-5998-X

This is, if you didn't know already, a very early Heinlein novel recently discovered among his papers.  If you were hoping for another Methuselah's Children or Revolt in 2100, you're going to be greatly disappointed, I'm afraid, because this one is barely readable.  The protagonist wakens from an accident to find himself propelled into the year 2086, and spends most of the balance of the book learning about the political and social changes that have occurred during the interim.  There's not much plot, and the speculation is pretty minor, but it is interesting at times to notice the difference in some of the stated views as opposed to those in his later work.  Interesting for historical purposes, but not particularly entertaining. 

Virtual Life by David Hitchcock, IUniverse, 2003, $16.95, ISBN 0-595-28445-0

The protagonist of this apparent first novel stumbles across a missing piece of virtual reality equipment that opens up an entire new universe to him.  Drawing upon its almost magical powers, he eventually begins to create what amounts to an artificial intelligence.  Unfortunately, the government agents who lost the equipment are hot on its trail, and they're prepared to take drastic steps to prevent anyone from using the technology.  I found the set up for this one a bit too implausible for me to suspend my disbelief, but the prose is good, some of the virtual reality stuff is interesting, and if not entirely successful the novel is still good enough to merit some attention.  I wouldn't be surprised to find Hitchcock's byline show up again.

Julia and the Dream Maker by P.J. Fischer, Traitor Dachsund Books, 2003, $13.95, ISBN 0-9744287-0-1

Opening volume of a new SF series from a publisher I've never heard of by an author I've never heard of.  It didn't sound very auspicious when I sat down and opened this one, but the novel was considerably better than I expected.  A pair of scientists begin experimenting with DNA and are soon in trouble with a variety of organizations for a variety of reasons.  Eventually they're being pursued by the local law authorities, as well as elements in the government that want to suppress their discoveries.  There's some didacticism but it's not too intrusive.  It won't be on the Hugo ballot next year, but it's certainly good enough to warrant some attention.

Burden of Proof by John G. Hemry, Ace, 2/04, $6.50, ISBN 0-441-01147-0

When a fatal accident takes place aboard a military spaceship, it appears at first that the dead man was at fault, performing work under unsafe conditions.  But as the investigation unfolds, a young military lawyer becomes convinced that the real culprit is another young officer, who ordered the activity in dereliction of his duties.  Unfortunately, prosecuting the case is difficult not only because there were no witnesses to the incident, but because the accused has friends in high places, friends who are willing to intervene on his behalf.  This is a nicely understated and very effective novel of investigation and trial, with a convincing military backdrop that doesn't fall into the excesses of most military SF.  With this new series, of which the present title is the second, Hemry has made the transition from potentially interesting to very interesting indeed, as his novels continue to show a steady improvement in plotting and background.

The Human Edge by Gordon R. Dickson, Baen, 12/03, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-7174-1

Here's a new selection of Gordon Dickson stories, all previously collected elsewhere but reassembled this time along a common theme – each story deals with the contact between humans and aliens, and always with humans getting the best of the deal, hence the title.  Some of Dickson's best stories are included here, like "Brother Charlie", Danger – Human", and "On Messenger Mountain".  Hank Davis has done a good job choosing these, because even though they all have very similar themes, they're uniformly upbeat and entertaining, and they sadly remind me once more that there will be no new stories under this byline. 

The Separation by Christopher Priest, Gollancz, 2003, £9.99, ISBN 0-575-07002-1

I've been told that the British Scribner edition published in 2002 sold it so quickly that this became a collector's item, and since I'm particularly fond of Priest's work, I was annoyed by my inability to find a copy.  Thankfully, Gollancz has chosen to reprint it, and hopefully a US publisher will follow suit quickly, although it is sufficiently unlike the genre's usual run of alternate histories that it may have difficulty finding the right audience.  Essentially this is the story of two brothers during World War II, one a bomber for the RAF, the other a conscientious objector who drives an ambulance during the blitz.  The brothers were former Olympic participants, during which period they met Rudolf Hess personally, but their lives have grown apart since the outbreak of hostilities and they are barely on speaking terms.  Priest leads us straightforwardly for long enough to establish the setting and the characters, then starts to lay hints that this isn't a straight historical novel after all.  The brothers seem to drift back and forth between two realities – one our own, the other an alternate history in which Churchill signed a separate peace with Germany in 1941.  One of the brothers is directly involved in the negotiations, providing us an inside look at the proceedings.  Priest provides a balanced and sometimes realistically ambiguous look at the motives of the brothers, one a soldier troubled by the indiscriminate nature of the bombing, the other an objector who nevertheless feels tugs of patriotism and a violent antipathy toward the Nazi excesses.  The novel is an understated tour de force, and if I had been able to read it prior to compiling last year's Best of the Year essay, there is no question that it would have figured very near the top.

The Astonished Eye by Tracy Knight, Five Star, 12/03, $25.95, ISBN 1-5941-4066-9

When there are rumors that a UFO has crashed in Elderton, Illinois, journalist Ben Savitch is assigned to cover the story because that's the town where he grew up.  Upon his return, he discovers that things have changed, although the changes aren't immediately apparent.  Several of the local citizens have developed unusual powers, some becoming specialized prodigies, and that may be even more important than the fate of a theoretically stranded alien.  His investigation will reveal an even greater secret however, for the very nature of reality is changing in Elderton, and the world may never be the same afterward.  The plot is quite unusual and full of surprises, although the ending wasn't completely satisfying.  A promising first novel, however, from an obviously talented newcomer.

The Skinner by Neal Asher, Tor, 4/04, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-30737-5

Three very different people arrive on the planet Spatterjay, each with his or her own mission.  One of them has been sent to gather information, and doesn't know himself what he is looking for.  Another is in search of a new meaning in her life.  The third is looking for a criminal who is hiding somewhere in the hostile lands beyond settled territory.  Asher's planet is a well designed, exciting, colorful, and exotic creation, and I was at times more interested in the setting than in the characters, although sooner or later the author always drew me back to their plight.  A bland of old fashioned action adventure and more contemporary literary sensibilities.

The Twentieth Century by Albert Robida, Wesleyan, 3/04, $29.95, ISBN 0-8195-6680-2

The protagonist of this 1888 French novel, translated into English for the first time by Philippe Willems, is a young woman who resists the inclinations of her parents in order to pursue a job as a journalist.  What follows isn't very strongly plotted, it's more of a grand tour of the future, describing in detail various aspects of daily life as the author thought they might be.  Some of his guesses are surprisingly accurate, others – not surprisingly – are not.  What really makes this one stand out is the numerous black and white illustrations sprinkled through the text, portraying various ideas and devices described in the story.  Although this is more of a curiosity than an interesting novel, the story isn't bad and it's fun comparing the real 1952 to this imagined one.

Acorna's Triumph by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, Eos, 3/ 04, $24.95, ISBN 0-380-97900-4

This is the seventh and apparently final adventure of Acorna, a young girl with unusual powers who has saved her planet a few times in the past but who must do so once again.  A race of malevolent aliens is the primary and obvious enemy this time, but there's a more insidious threat as well.  A one time friend who disappeared under mysterious circumstances has returned, but his personality has been altered.  He doesn't remember everything he should, his emotional connections have changed, and most serious of all, he is involved in something mysterious and devious.  Both authors have written far better stories in the past, I'm afraid, and this entire sequence has felt very lightweight and superficial from the outset, so I'm not sorry to see it end and hope for something more substantial in the future.

Eastern Standard Tribe by Cory Doctorow, Tor, 2/04, $23.95, ISBN 0-765-30759-6

There was a time when broad satires had an honored place in SF, but that has changed over the course of years, and now novelists have to slip their satire in around an otherwise serious story most of the time.   Cory Doctorow pushes the envelope a bit, because very little of the present story is particularly serious, but the satire is done with so light a touch that it's not intrusive at all.  The story is set only a few years in the future, but already the world has changed dramatically, with corporations growing more aggressive and political structures altering.  The protagonist is secretly a member of the tribe of the title, actually a secret organization stretching around the world, each of whose members choose to live by Eastern Standard Time.  What follows is funny and superficially lightweight, but when you're done, you might find yourself subject to troubling afterthoughts.

The Collected Short Fiction of C.J. Cherryh, DAW, 2/04, $23.95, ISBN 0-7564-0217-4

Although C.J. Cherryh has written short fiction with some regularity over the course of her career, she has always concentrated on novels, and is much more entertaining when she has time to develop her backgrounds and characters.  This collection, which incorporates two previous ones – Visible Light and Sunfall – along with fifteen other stories, is predominantly SF, with a few fantasy, and covers the bulk of her short fiction, excluding several shared world contributions.  The best short story is "Cassandra" and most of the others are entertaining as well, although none of them are even close to the stature of her longer work.

Inventing Memory by Anne Harris, Tor, 03 /04, $25.95, ISBN 0-312-86539-2

This unusual historical fantasy has two protagonists.  The first is Shula, a slave girl in ancient Sumer who is chosen by a goddess to be her personal witness.  Freed from slavery, she nevertheless finds the work a perilous and complicated place and has soon run afoul of the local authorities.  In the present, Wendy Chrenko is a graduate student who recently broke up with Ray, her ambivalent boyfriend, and has now become involved with a group of women who are using mystic practices to try to send their consciousness back through time.  With Wendy, they succeed beyond their wildest expectations.  Or do they?  Although a little too slow paced for me at times, the sections set in ancient Sumer were particularly well done, and there are a couple of nifty surprises as well

Resnick at Large by Mike Resnick, Wildside, 2003, $19.95, ISBN 1-59224-160-3

I was actually quite surprised at the volume of Mike Resnick's non-fiction, published both here and elsewhere recently.  This new volume collects more than sixty pieces, including reviews, commentaries, introductions, and odds and ends.  Resnick's style is informal and usually wryly humorous, but that doesn't mean there isn't considerable meal under the dressing.  The best selections are from The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and galaxyonline, and the speech "Why Africa?".  A few pieces are rather trivial, but the preponderance is quite good.

George Orwell's Guide Through Hell by Robert Plank, Borgo, 2003, $19.95, ISBN 0-89370-413-X

This is a reprint of a book originally published in 1986, now back in print by way of Wildside Press.  It's a study of Orwell's 1984, placing it in an historical context, analyzing the psychology not only of its characters but of the mindset that Orwell was criticizing in its pages.  Although this is serious literary criticism, the prose is a lot more accessible than in most similar works, and the book provides some interesting perspectives on an acknowledged classic.

Isolation by Christopher Belton, Leisure, 12/03, $6.99, ISBN 0-8439-5295-4

Most of the novels in Leisure's new thriller line have been borderline SF, but this one strays pretty far across the border.  It's another of those novels where a government project gets out of control, spreading a terrible plague across the world.  To contain the spread, which originated in Japan, that entire nation is put under quarantine.  The protagonist is an American who was working at the laboratory that developed the plague, and he now finds himself caught up not only in the consequences of the disaster, but also in a web of political intrigue and efforts to cover things up that include the use of lethal violence.  An okay thriller with a few awkward spots, but nothing out of the ordinary.

The Doomsday Brunette by John Zakour and Lawrence Ganem, DAW, 2/04, $6.99, ISBN 0-7564-0090-2

I had a great deal of fun with The Plutonium Blonde a couple of years ago and have been looking forward to the sequel ever since.  Well, it's finally here, and it's a good one.  Detective Zachary Johnson is on the case again, this time the mysterious murder of one of four artificially created superwomen.  Their creator/father was the inventor of the ultimate doomsday device, whose secret was supposedly lost forever some years back, but the killing is the first sign that the knowledge isn't quite as lost as it's supposed to be, and someone wants to possess it.  This is more humor than detective story, although Johnson and his artificial intelligence friend HARV are a pretty good pair of investigators as well as downright funny.  If you like your humor slapstick and inventive, you need look no further for a good fix.

Omnifix by Scott Mackay, Roc, 2/04, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-45960-1

I like alien invasion stories, particularly those that are cleverly done.  This one is quite cleverly done.  Aliens have assaulted the Earth with waves of a kind of nanoplague, which destroys humans either immediately or after a period of years, disassembling their bodies.  Scientists struggle to find a cure, or a counter agent, but internal politics are just as self destructive as ever.  Then a new space vehicle enters the solar system, and humanity fears that it is about to face a new and even more massive assault.  Very suspenseful, a good scientific puzzle, and enough plot twists to give the entire novel an original feel.

Starship by Kevin Randle, Ace, 1/ 04, $5.99, ISBN 0-441-01128-4

Volume two of the Exploration Chronicles has the human race using recently acquired alien technology to build a generation starship.  This is the story of its voyage, which takes so long that the entire structure of human society changes aboard the vessel, so much so in fact that it is not entirely clear whether or not the passengers will still be recognizably human by the time they reach their destination.  The plot is fairly typical.  A highly regimented society begins to break down, rebels wish more freedom and a change in the power structure, and chaos threatens to overwhelm them all.  Not badly written, but it's been done so many times before that I felt like I was re-reading rather than reading something for the first time.

White Devils by Paul J. McAuley, Tor, 2/04, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-30761-8

With genetic engineering showing up in the real time news every few days, it's not surprising that it is an increasingly common plot element among SF writers.  Paul McAuley's latest is a thriller set in the not particularly distant future that explores one possible outcome of this new field of research.  The protagonist is the only survivor of a group attacked by a band of previously unknown apelike creatures while conducting a fact finding mission in an Africa that has been ravaged by uncontrolled experimentation.  When he tries to raise the alarm, he runs into the predictable government efforts to keep him from making their transgressions public, but unlike most thrillers of this type, McAuley makes us really believe in the situation, the mixed motives and desperate actions by those involved.  One caveat, however.  Readers like myself who find present tense narrative distracting may have difficulty getting involved enough to persevere to the end.  In this case, the story was strong enough to overcome my prejudice, but I had to give it a chance to pull me in.

Brain Ships by Anne McCaffrey, Margaret Ball, and Mercedes Lackey, Baen, 2003, $24, ISBN 0-7434-7166-0

Back in the early 1990s, Anne McCaffrey sharecropped the world of The Ship Who Sang for six collaborative novels, the first two of which are published together in this new hardcover.  The Ship Who Searched, written with Mercedes Lackey, is the more interesting of the two plots.  A young girl with a serious physical disorder attempts to make a new life for herself by becoming the operator of one of the sentient starships and exploring other worlds.  She also has a more specific purpose, which will naturally be fulfilled by the end of the book.  In Partnership, written with Margaret Ball, a man of uncertain integrity is partnered with a more scrupulous intelligent starship, a relationship which will see considerable strain as they set off into uncharted space.  The story isn't as interesting in this one, but the prose is just as good and the characters are better drawn and more interesting.

Nano by John Robert Marlow, Forge, 2/04, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30129-6

The CEO of a major corporation is murdered just as he is about to announce a major breakthrough in nanotechnology.  The head of his research project and a journalist find themselves running for their lives when they discover that the assassins were agents of the US government, which has its own nano program and acted to prevent the technology from spreading.  The situation worsens when the government's project gets out of control and badly programmed nano machines are released, causing a disaster that could overwhelm the entire world.  This first novel isn't the first to examine this scenario and probably won't be the last.  It's not the best – which is currently Blood Music by Greg Bear, and it's certainly not the worst.  The government as villain theme has been rather overdone lately, thanks in part to the X Files I suppose, but if that doesn't bother you, this is a quite gripping suspense novel, and the ending is very intense and satisfying.

World Out of Step by John Russell Fearn, Gryphon, 2003, $15, ISBN 1-58250-054-1

The Shadow People by John Russell Fearn, Gryphon, 2003, $15, ISBN 1-58250-055-X

I have to confess that I enjoy the occasional John Russell Fearn.  I've read a considerable chunk of the Vargo Statten and Volsted Gridban SF adventures over the years, and while I would never claim that Fearn has any notable literary talents, and while admitting that his science is bad at best and howlingly funny at its worst, I also have to say that he had a strong storytelling ability similar to that of Edgar Rice Burroughs.  No major publisher is ever likely to reprint any of them, and that's a shame because they deserve better than oblivion.  Gryphon Books has, however, been publishing the Golden Amazon series, of which these are numbers 16 and 17 respectively, originally published in 1946-1947 and never to my knowledge previously in book form.  The Golden Amazon is a kind of superhero who, along with her companions, travels from planet to planet solving mysteries.  In both of these, she rescues a world's population from an alien menace.  In the first, and better of the two, she finds a planet which appears to be unstuck in time.  People and events age or transpire in jumps and starts.  The second, which is more action packed but also more predictable, alien creatures threaten to destroy an entire civilization.  These aren't exactly lost classics of the genre, but if you're in the mood for a nice, lazy, undemanding read and don't care about fancy prose or plausible plots, these are just the thing for you.

A Journey in Other Worlds by John Jacob Astor, University of Nebraska Press, 2003, $16.95, ISBN 0-8032-5949-2

The Eternal Savage by Edgar Rice Burroughs, University of Nebraska Press, 2003, $11.95, ISBN 0-8032-6216-7

I'll bet you didn't know that a science fiction writer went down on the Titanic.  Yes, John Jacob Astor wrote a rather turgid SF novel before its death, and now it's available again thanks to the University of Nebraska's Bison line of classic SF reprints.  It's set in a future when humans can roam the solar system in ships powered by antigravity, although the scientific content is not particularly convincing.  It's just the set up though for a series of other worldly adventures that are inventive but now known to be quite implausible.  Astor's prose is not particularly smooth, and even the passage of time isn't responsible for its awkwardness at times.  Interesting as an historical document, but of limited value to casual readers except as a curiosity.  The second title is one of Burroughs' infrequent singletons, not set in any of his series although it's set in Tarzan's Africa.  A caveman awakens from his long sleep, falls in love with the reincarnation of his ancient mate, and has a series of adventures in the modern world.  Not really one of my favorites from this author, but it has its moments.

Open Space edited by Claude Lalumiere, Red Deer Press, 2003, $16.95, ISBN 0-88995-281-7

Path of the Just edited by James Lowder, Guardians of Order, 2003, $14.95, ISBN 1-894525-82-5

These two all original anthologies both originate in Canada and neither contains any stories by big name writers, but that shouldn't deter you from considering them.  The first is a general anthology of fantastic fiction, including SF, fantasy, and a bit of horror.  There are good stories by Drew Karpshyn, Catherine MacLeod, Derryl Murphy, John Park, and others, and the remaining stories are all at least readable, although not all to my taste.  This is for people with eclectic tastes. The second title is more specialized, and is designed to appeal to comics fans, particularly those familiar with he Silver Age Sentinels, which I confess I am not.  The result is a shared universe filled with human and alien superhumans, reminiscent in some ways of the Wild Card series although not as closely integrated.  There are pretty good stories by Ed Greenwood, Robin Laws, and Stephen Harper, among others, but I think the collection would resonate more with those already familiar with the background.

At Risk by Phil Meade, Speed of C, 2003, $9.99, ISBN 0-9716147-3-3

This is the first volume in a projected series of young adult novels about the PsiScouts, a group of teenagers with psi powers who band together against bad guys six hundred years from now.  They're essentially comic book style superheroes, controlling magnetism and electricity, and their adventures are comic book as well.  Pretty lightweight, even for young adult, and the cover art is atrocious.

The Helverti Invasion by John Dalmas, Baen, 11/03, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-7169-5

This sequel to The Lizard War is set in a kind of alternate history in which Earth has been devastated by a massive war but has developed a corps of psychic warriors with the aid of some interstellar visitors.  They repelled the reptilian invaders of that earlier book, but they have a more formidable foe this time.  The Helverti are essentially mammalian, but they have a very advanced technology and they are determined to wipe out the last vestiges of government and societal structure on Earth, regardless of the cost.  But they aren't prepared for the most unconventional war of all.  Technically I suppose this is military SF, but it's so different that I'm reluctant to use the term.  One of Dalmas' best novels.

GermLine by Nelson Erlick, Forge, 11/03, $7.99, ISBN 0-765-34031-3

This mainstream thriller hinges on a science fictional device and uses the two-edged sword as its plot.  A scientist has developed a new method for dealing with genetic defects that could prevent most birth defects.  That sounds great, but there's a flip side.  The same technology could be used to alter the human gene type dramatically, perhaps creating a new order of beings.  That aspect attracts the attention of numerous parties, some of them rather nasty, and the race to master the secret is on.  A taut, exciting, and very plausible near future thriller, although I found the ending a bit flat.

Microcosms edited by Gregory Benford, Ace, 1/ 04, $6.99, ISBN 0-7564-0171-2

Space Stations edited by Martin H. Greenberg and John Helfers, DAW, Ύ, $6.99, ISBN 0-7564-0176-3

I've always been fascinated with the worlds within worlds device, ever since I first read The Girl in the Golden Atom by Ray Cummings more than thirty years ago.  It's not a device frequently used in SF, but it pops up from time to time, and now we have an entire collection of new stories on that theme.  In the first of these two new anthologies, Jack McDevitt, Robert Sawyer, Robert Sheckley, Mike Resnick, Tom Purdom, Pamela Sargent, and eight others explore the possibilities in stories that range from hard SF to adventure stories to humor.  A collection designed to give you a new sense of perspective.  Also among my favorites are stories set aboard space stations, particularly those in orbit around the Earth, like Islands in the Sky by Arthur C. Clarke and Station in Space by James Gunn, both of which I still find enjoyable even though they're a bit dated now.  The second title here provides fourteen new stories, some in that setting, others aboard stations in other solar systems.  There's a little bit of everything here – military, humor, technical problems, first contact, artificial intelligences, disasters.  I'd rate this one slightly higher than the first, with stand out stories by Jack Williamson, Pamela Sargent, Timothy Zahn, Brendan Dubois, and Gregory Benford.  You'll more than get your money's worth with either of these.

And Now the News by Theodore Sturgeon, North Atlantic Press, 2003, $35, ISBN 1-55643-460-X

The ninth volume in the complete stories of Theodore Sturgeon includes fifteen stories, most of them well known, but with a few new to me, mysteries primarily.  The stories are accompanied by very extensive notes compiled by Paul Williams, including information new to me involving the collaboration of Robert A. Heinlein in two cases.  "The Other Man", "And Now the News", and "The Girl Had Guts" are my favorites in this volume, and reading them again reminds me once more how powerful a writer Sturgeon was and how great a loss it was to the field when he died.  These stories were written during the 1950's, although in one case not published until much later.  As was the case with the previous volumes in this series, the book is handsomely produced as well as a joy to read.

The Pleasures of a Futuroscope by Lord Dunsany, Hippocampus, 2003, $32.95, ISBN 0-9721644-8-0

Apparently this was the last novel Lord Dunsany completed before his death, science fiction rather than fantasy, and never published until this edition.  The protagonist uses the device of the title to peer into the future and discovers that the world has been devastated by a nuclear war.  He spies on some of their survivors, who have fairly typical adventures of a post apocalyptic nature.  The story itself is no great shakes, the plot moderately well done but with no surprises.  Its greatest strength is the prose, which is powerful enough to keep us interested in the relatively flat characters and simplistic situations.  It's a cautionary novel, obviously, and it contains some images vivid enough to be memorable even if the plot isn't.

Business Secrets from the Stars by David Dvorkin, Wildside, 2004, $34.95, ISBN 1-59224-606-0

There was a time when near future satires were quite popular in SF, but that time has apparently passed, although every once in a while one pops up.  This is one such case.  The protagonist is a not very successful writer who is inspired by the idea of writing about secrets conveyed to him by alien intelligences.  Things get increasingly strange after that, and he discovers that rather than just make a bundle for himself, he has started a chain of events that could alter the entire nature of American society.  Dvorkin pokes fun at politics, media, writers, the public, and just about every other target that comes to mind.  At times the book is quite funny, but the tone seems more bitter than amused and the trends he lampoons are not as amusing as they were once upon a time.  This is a pretty good book, but it could really ruin your mood for a while.

A Chance to Remember by Ramona Louise Wheeler, Wildside, 2004, $34.95, ISBN 1-59224-602-8

There was a time when space operas dominated SF.  Lately they seem almost a sideline, with Star Trek and Star Wars novels filling the space opera gap.  But there are still a few of them appearing from time to time, some deadly serious, others – like this one – mixing adventure and light humor.  The protagonists are on the run from an old enemy, hopping about the galaxy, getting mixed up with a diverse collection of characters, attempting to rescue dinosaurs from extinction, battling space pirates, interacting with intelligent aliens, surviving disasters in space, and exploring the galaxy.  This one isn't meant to be taken too seriously, and I recommend it for a hot summer day rather than a cold winter night.

Dear Abbey by Terry Bisson, PS Publishing, 2003, $16, ISBN 1-902880-75-7

Terry Bisson's new novella is in many ways an old fashioned tour of wonders reminiscent of Lawrence Manning's The Man Who Awoke or even Olaf Stapledon's histories of the future.  Environmental activists have found an odd way of traveling into the future, where they hope to find the secret that will enable them to permanently prevent the human race from destroying the world's ecology.  The two travelers observe various stages of the evolution of human society and discover that their mission is not as straightforward as they originally believed it to be.  An oddly gripping story despite the almost inconsequential plot.

Planets of Adventure by Murray Leinster, Baen, 10/03, $7.99, ISBN 0-7434-7162-8

Murray Leinster was one of my favorite writers when I was first discovering SF, and most of his better work ages quite well.  This latest omnibus collection from Baen includes some of the very best of his best work, including the three part novel of adventures on other worlds, The Planet Explorer, and a second novel, The Forgotten Planet, in which human colonists struggle to survive in a jungle filled with giant insect forms.  Editor Eric Flint has also included five of Leinster's short stories, but other than "Assignment on Pasik", they aren't really drawn from the author's best work.  The two novels more than make up for that lack, however, and this is easily one of the very best reprint omnibuses of the year.

A World Divided by Marion Zimmer Bradley, DAW, 12/03, $7.99, ISBN 0-7564-0167-4

These three early Darkover novels appeared from Ace books between 1965 and 1970.  In The Bloody Sun, one of my favorites, a half breed returns from offworld to take his place in the local hierarchy, with predictable but entertaining results.  A visiting Terran disobeys orders and fraternizes with the locals, causing an interstellar incident in Star of Danger, also one of Bradley's better early adventures.  The Winds of Darkover isn't up to the level of the first two.  Another Terran visitor wanders into a remote part of the planet after a series of strange dreams.  The novels are pretty short by current standards, but as a package they make a pretty good set.

Zoonauts: The Secret of Animalville by Richard Mueller, Shangri-La, 2003, $14.95, ISBN 0-9719496-6-2

Earth is being invaded and the only ones standing in the way are a teenager and the group of intelligent Earth animals whom she considers her friends.  The aliens are thwarted but not defeated, which isn't surprising since this is the opening volume of a series.  The story is cute and sometimes amusing, but not at all plausible and certainly not sophisticated enough for adult readers or even most young adults.  Younger kids are probably the target audience, and it has a thinly disguised message about the need to protect the environment that is admirable in intent but a bit heavy handed at times.

Beast Master's Circus by Andre Norton and Lyn McConchie, Tor, 2/04, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30042-7

I was rather disappointed with the first of these new sharecropped novels set in the Beast Master universe, since the original books are among my very favorites of Norton's work.  Fortunately, the second one is considerably better, although it still feels as though it is set in a universe similar to but not the same as the first two Hosteen Storm novels.  A mysterious organization is attempting to gain the power of the Beast Masters, who can communicate telepathically with their teams of animals, and has moved from planet to planet, killing and maiming each team it encounters.  When a circus comes to the planet Arzor, it appears innocuous, but a young woman enslaved by its owner has observed things she wasn't meant to see and uncovers her master's mysterious and deadly secret.  Considered on its own, it's a more than passable space adventure, and there is probably more to come.

Berserker Prime by Fred Saberhagen, Tor, 1 /04, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-30625-5

I believe this is the thirteenth Berserker book from Fred Saberhagen, and it's another good one.  Two human civilizations are locked in an interplanetary war, and there's a kind of Romeo and Juliet romance going on between two of the protagonists to complicate matters even further. The governments involved aren't particularly benevolent and the animosity between the two sides is steadily building, a situation that becomes even more critical when Berserker's kidnap members of both planetary governments and recondition their brains to aggravate the situation even further.  The Berserkers are among my favorite SF villains and it's always nice to see old friends back, or at least it is when they appear in an exciting and well conceived adventure story.

Memoria by Adam Pepper, Medium Rare, 2003, $14.95, ISBN 0-9729157-7-X

A scientist conducts bizarre experiments designed not only to increase our usage of the capacity of our brain but also to discover the truth about the existence of the human personality, perhaps even the soul.  The result is discorporation, the ability of the personality to exist outside the physical body, but what might have been a revelation becomes instead a source of mystical revelation and even horror.  This is one decidedly strange novel, intense and sometimes disturbing, and probably a bit much for more timid readers.  Those with stronger sensibilities will find it a diverting change from what they are likely to find at the local Borders.

The X President by Philip Baruth, Bantam, 11/03, $11.95, ISBN 0-553-80294-1

Let me warn you up front that this is a political satire, so those who don't like the form, or who get upset when their cherished political ideas are spoofed should avoid it.  On the other hand, those of us who have a healthy disdain for our elected officials should really enjoy the book, particularly because it's that very attitude that is being satirized here.  The time is the middle of the 21st Century and things aren't going well for the USA in a major world war.  Intelligent, insightful, wickedly funny at times, this is likely to be one of those rare books that you remember long after you've put it away.

Kris Longknife, Mutineer by Mike Shepherd, Ace, 1 /04, $7.99, ISBN 0-441-01142-X

Military SF continues to be popular, so fans of that type should be happy to see this, the first novel in a new series featuring a female protagonist.  Unfortunately, Shepherd does very little new or interesting with the concept.  Longknife discovers early that she is more sophisticated and knowledgeable than her superiors, which makes her unpopular as well as dissatisfied, but eventually events are manipulated so that she is elevated to acting captain and proves herself to be something of a military genius.  The plot is painfully predictable and the battle scenes completely unmemorable, which is rather a shame because interspersed within all of the standard scenes are bits of very good writing.  I'd like to see what the author did with a more original plot and a more imaginative setting, but if this does well, I suppose we'll see further adventures of the title character instead.

The Shores of Tomorrow by Roger MacBride Allen, Bantam, 12/03, $6.50, ISBN 0-553-58365-4

The third and final volume of the Chronicles of Solace trilogy is one of the best space operas I've read this year, which isn't surprising since Allen's novels almost always fall into that category.  This time we have increasing revelations that the military force designed to protect time past from time future are actually suppressing knowledge that has nothing to do with their primary mission.  The various human colony worlds continue their slide toward chaos and collapse, and two former enemies – an admiral in the space navy and an architect and businessman responsible for the design of some of the colonies – must become allies if human civilization is to survive.  Ties up all the loose ends neatly and provides an exciting and satisfying climax to an excellent series of novels.

The Life Eaters by David Brin and Scott Hampton, Wildstorm, 2003, $29.95, ISBN 1-4012-0098-2

This full color, hardcover graphic novel is set in a kind of alternate history.  In this one, the Nazis were successful in their efforts to explore the occult arts, and when the Allies invade at Normandy, they find themselves opposed by supernatural creatures as well as more mundane enemies.  Can the Norse gods be evoked to stem the tide and bring an end to the Nazi tyranny?  You'll have to read this to find out.  The artwork is okay but unrelentingly dark and not visually striking enough to be remarkable.  I'd say pretty much the same for the plot, actually.  It's better than most graphic novels I've read, but still far below the quality of Brin's conventional fiction.

Tales of the Grand Tour by Ben Bova, Tor, 1/ 04 $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30722-7

Ben Bova has specialized in recent years in near future space travel oriented stories, dealing with exploratory trips to Mars, Venus, and other planets in the solar system.  Most of these are in a loosely described shared setting, and employ characters who cross over from book to book, some of whom have appeared in short stories as well, both recently and much earlier in his career.  This is a collection of those loosely related stories, many of them previously collected, now gathered together as a kind of companion volume to the recent novels, a couple of them new to me.  Although his novels are generally much more successful than his shorts, Bova provides a few gems here including "Sam and the Flying Dutchman", "Leviathan", "Fifteen Miles", and "The Man Who Hated Gravity".  The stories are all well grounded scientifically without being disrupted by lectures and other distractions.  Bova hasn't explored the entire solar system yet, but I suspect he'll get there sooner or later.

Ilium by Dan Simmons, Eos, 2003, $25.95, ISBN 0-380-97893-8

Novels which are set so far in the future that the world is almost completely unrecognizable are very difficult to write convincingly and effectively, partly because they require so much invention that it is easy to introduce implausibilities, and partly because it's difficult to establish identification between readers and what, in this case, are often characters evolved beyond humanity or created artificially.  That said, Dan Simmons proves himself more than up to the challenge.  This very long novel follows three separate story lines, which I can only describe in the broadest of terms, since the setting is too complex and radically different to be summarized briefly.  First there's a 21st Century historian whose persona has been reconstituted by a group of evolved superhumans who live on a terraformed Mars in the guise of Zeus and the other gods, and who employ him to observe what appears to be the real Trojan War.  Second is an expedition by artificially created beings who inhabit the Jovian system who wish to find out what is happening on Mars, and who find themselves fighting just to survive.  Third are a handful of apparently "normal" humans living on Earth, or rather, living in clusters around matter transmission points with little understanding or even curiosity about their environment.  Simmons folds these disparate threads into a coherent and engrossing saga, but reader be warned, this is only the first half of the story, so you'll have to wait for the sequel to find out what's really happening.

Dawn Crescent by David and Daniel Dvorkin, Betancourt, 2003, $34.95, ISBN 1-59224-613-3

A very large portion of alternate history novels take as their point of divergence a war, probably because the outcome of wars are obvious areas of speculation.  That's true of this new father and son collaboration, but what's unusual in this case is the war they've chosen.  It's the first Gulf War, and things don't go as planned.  President Bush doesn't enjoy as much support from Arab leaders as happened in our own history, and the result is a wider, messier, and lingering war that puts a substantial drain on the US.  As a consequence, Bush is replaced by Dan Quayle, who is heavily influenced by a secretive group behind the scenes that has considerably less respect for the rights of the public they're supposedly trying to protect.  Why does that sound familiar, I wonder?  Anyway, throw in some provocative Russian agents, international intrigue, back room political maneuvering, and you have a tense, sometimes chillingly convincing thriller.

Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve, Eos, 10/03, $16.99, ISBN 0-06-008207-0

A very unusual SF novel, ostensibly for young adult readers, but well worth the time of readers of any age.  It's set in a future where cities have themselves become mobile, and where smaller communities can be gobbled up and absorbed.  The protagonist is a young boy cast off from London and trying to survive outside of the city that is the only life he has known, accompanied by a young girl the same age.  The mechanism for the moving cities is implausible, but given that background as a given, the story is engrossing and quite original.  I believe I sequel has already appeared in the UK.

Terminator Dreams by Aaron Allston, Tor, 12/03, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30852-5

Another tie-in novel to feed off the popularity of the film series.  This is another one following the adventures of a young John Conner in a future when a renegade artificial intelligence has seized control of the weapons systems of the world and has launched a campaign to subjugate or eliminate the human race. He and a close friend are involved in another major effort to defeat the machines when he begins to suspect that one of his closest allies may somehow have become a threat rather than a friend.  Competently written but without adding anything significant to the existing storylines.

Mandibles by Jeff Strand, Mundania, 2003, $15.99, ISBN 1-59426006-0

In both films and paperback originals, writers have ravaged the Earth with revolts by every conceivable animal and bug – leeches, slugs, mosquitoes, ticks, spiders, grasshoppers, praying mantises, and ants.  This is another of the latter, but it's not just another variation of Them or Kingdom of the Ants.  Oh, the plot resembles them, with the population slowly wakening to the fact that ants are getting bigger and bigger and more dangerous by the moment, but Strand doesn't take any of this seriously.  His spoof of the form isn't entirely successful, because he has to provide enough serious plot to keep the story moving, and the serious stuff is hardly new or scintillating.  But on balance, this was still a good bit of fun, and genuinely funny SF isn't all that common.

Unit Omega by Jim Grand, Berkley, 12/03, $6.99, ISBN 0-425-19321-7

The protagonist of this first novel thriller is a United Nations officer charged with investigating phenomena that fall outside normal science.  He and a magazine staffer travel to Scotland when a prominent scientist indicates that, contrary to her own expectations, she has seen the Loch Ness Monster.  In due course, they're diving to investigate in what I had hoped would be a nice, taut, slightly creepy thriller.  Alas, it was not.  The explanation – which I won't reveal – is definitely SF and even interesting at times, but it took too long to get there.  The story seems to go on endlessly during the buildup, and the jaunty repartee between the two travelers isn't jaunty at all; it's awkward, unnatural, and unfunny.  Grand writes well enough to be potentially interesting, but his first effort just isn't tight enough or clever enough to be memorable.

Gunpowder Empire by Harry Turtledove, Tor, 12/03, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30693-X

I sometimes get the impression that Harry Turtledove turns out alternate history novels almost like extruded product.  The results are of good quality, but they are all pretty much alike.  This opening novel in a new series breaks that rule, and for the better.  Jeremy and Amanda Solters are two teenagers who are accompanying their parents on a secretive expedition to an alternate universe where the Roman Empire never fell.  A major mishap separates them from their parents and leaves them stranded in that alternate reality just as a major war is about to break out, and the twosome will have to rely on their own ingenuity to survive until they can be rescued.  I really enjoyed this one, which had lively characters and events, and whose setting seemed much more interesting and better realized than that in the author's other recent novels.

The Footprints of God by Greg Iles, Scribner, 2003, $25.95, ISBN 0-7432-3469-3

Mainstream author Greg Iles turns to an old SF theme for his new thriller.  A group of scientists, working under government auspices, have created a supercomputer unlike anything that has gone before.  They have used elements of their own personalities to shape its artificial intelligence, but unfortunately the darker side of their identities is imprinted as well.  Although the protagonist urges an end to the project, they persevere and eventually create an entity that could ultimately destroy the human race.  The novel incorporates the main character's religious visions, which might put some readers off, but it shouldn't because it's handled intelligently and logically as part of the plot.  A better than average SF thriller.

The Solar Queen by Andre Norton, Tor, 12/03, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30054-0

Back before Andre Norton wrote Witch World and switched most of her output to fantasy, she was noted as a writer of fast moving space adventures.  One of her short lived series was the Solar Queen, an itinerant commercial starship that runs into one problem after another.  This is an omnibus of the first two novels in the series.  Sargasso of Space pits the crew against a device leftover by an ancient civilizations that traps passing starships.  A rival trader convinces the authorities that the Solar Queen is carrying a deadly plague and must be destroyed in Plague Ship.  Both novels are nearly fifty years old now, but they seem as fresh as ever, and they're still as good as most contemporary space opera.

Rough Beasts and Other Mutations by Thomas F. Monteleone, Five Star, 10/03, $25.95, ISBN 0-7862-5344-4

Thomas Monteleone is best known for his horror fiction, including several of the best horror novels published in the last decade.  When he first started writing, his output was chiefly SF, several adventure oriented novels and a handful of short stories.  This retrospective collection, which incorporates most of the stories in the earlier collection, Dark Stars, spans more than two decades of his work.  There is some fantasy and horror, but the majority of the stories are SF.  The best in the collection are "Mr. Magister", "Off to See the Wizard", and "Please Stand By".  The author's reputation is not going to rest on the stories in this collection, but that doesn't mean they aren't enjoyable and worth reprinting, and several of them have appeared in hard to find places and have not been previously available.

Omega by Jack McDevitt, Ace, 11/03, $23.95, ISBN 0-441-01046-6

Over the course of several books including Chindi and Deepsix, McDevitt has been building to a climax that is now upon us.  The mysterious waves of nanomachines that are spreading through the galaxy, attacking and destroying anything that appears to be artificial, are still almost a thousand years away from Earth, and no one seems much concerned about the future.  But then explorers discover a primitive and intriguing alien culture on a planet that is going to be attacked in a matter of weeks, and a desperate effort is launched to either divert the menace or convince the local inhabitants to evacuate their cities.  But first contact is rarely easy, and this one presents unusual and sometimes amusing problems.  As with his previous novels, McDevitt manages to evoke a sense of wonder about the universe that is rare in much contemporary SF, and his aliens are an interesting and memorable culture.

Time's Eye by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter, Del Rey, 2003, $26.95, ISBN 0-345-45248-8

The latest Baxter/Clarke collaboration will be accompanied by a CD containing an interview and other material which I have not seen.  The novel itself is described as a kind of perpendicular sequel to the Space Odyssey series, but that's quite a stretch.  The story will be completed in a second book to be published later, but the set up is fairly straightforward.  Something has caused a number of humans to be scooped up from various periods of time from prehistory through the middle of this century and dumped them into an Earth that is a kind of cross section of history.  There we see the interactions among protohumans like Grasper, astronauts, United Nations peacekeepers, Mongols, 19th Century British soldiers, and others.  The chief attraction of this plot is the interfacing among the various characters from different eras, and that's done pretty well.  The plot otherwise is pretty much what you'd expect, with conflicts, sometimes resolved, and turmoil and confusion on every side. 

Peace & Memory by Mark W. Tiedemann, Meisha Merlin, 2003, $16, ISBN 1-890065-96-7

Here's the third novel in a series set in a future when human civilization has schismed into two separate civilizations.  The protagonist is a commercial space pilot who runs into trouble when she encounters a message from an old friend, a wealthy man who wishes to be buried on Earth even though it is illegal for him to cross the border between the two civilizations.  As if that wasn't enough of a problem, she also learns that he has uploaded his personality into the memory banks of a starship in an attempt to survive his own death.  An intricate and well plotted space adventure that succeeds largely because of the appeal of its central character, although the tightly controlled plot doesn't hurt any either.

The Deprivers by Steven-Elliot Altman, Ace, 12/03, $13, ISBN 0-441-01093-8

A new syndrome has affected a number of people scattered among the human race, a condition which allows them to incapacitate normal humans for a brief period with just a brief touch.  The protagonist learns that someone is recruiting people with this ability into a secretive organization, and it doesn't take a genius to figure out that Deveraux, the mastermind, is plotting to create an empire commanded by the Deprivers.  The interplay among the characters and forces is pretty sophisticated and the novel reads unusually well for a first attempt, a sort of low key version of the Wild Cards series.  Good enough to mark the writer as one to watch in the future.

The Galactic Comedy by Mike Resnick, Farthest Star, 2003, $28, ISBN 1-57090-219-4

Although this might seem to be a hefty price for a paperback, it's not as high as it might seem.  Included here are three of Resnick's best novels, each of them a thinly disguised parable of the history of an African nation.  In one the alien culture is completely ruined by well meant outside intervention.  In the second, the local inhabitants rebel against the changes in their world, and conflict escalates rapidly and violently.  In the third, a clever indigenous native manages to out-maneuver the interlopers and restore some semblance of autonomy.  The novels were published previously as Paradise, Purgatory, and Inferno, and they are all well worth reading, for education as well as entertainment.

Nobody Gets the Girl by James Maxey, Phobos, 2003, $14.95, ISBN 0-9720026-2-6

Richard Rogers discovers one day that he has the power to make himself invisible, so what else is there to do but to turn himself into a superhero and fight evil?  In due course he finds himself teamed up with two female superheroes, and in mortal combat with an international terrorist and his organization.  Sounds like just another imitation Marvel tie-in novel, right?  Well, it's not that exactly.  For one thing, the novel is quite funny, a light and clever satire on the form, although it manages to provide an entertaining adventure story in the process, which is no mean feat.  There aren't any real guffaws but there are plenty of chuckles.

Storyteller by Amy Thomson, Ace, 12/03, $14, ISBN 0-441-01094-6

Amy Thomson's newest is a story set on an alien world and with non-humans as most of its protagonists.  On Thalassa, there is no written history.  The lore of the past is communicated by itinerant storytellers who relate it as they travel around the world.  The chief protagonist is one such storyteller, and her relationship with her young and somewhat restive apprentice is the centerpiece of this very touching and gripping story.  There's a human as well, the first one to arrive on that world, but the story is really about the two indigenes and the ways in which they change each other over the course of years.

Deathstalker Return by Simon R. Green, Roc, 2004, $23.95, ISBN 0-451-42821-8

The seventh installment in the Deathstalker series, space opera on a grand scale, is set long after the supposed death of the legendary Owen Deathstalker.  His descendant, Lewis, has become a fugitive after running off with the woman pledged in marriage to the ruler of the empire.  There's a third party in the game as well, apparently loyal to the empire but actually working behind the scenes to undermine its stability.  Lewis knows the truth, but his status makes him rather ineffectual.  And there's another threat as well, one which dwarfs the rivalries of ordinary humans.  It might have been too much for Lewis and his compatriots to deal with, but aid is coming out of the very past itself.  I like space opera even when it's done with average skill.  When, like this, it's done with great talent and a sense of adventure, I like it even more.

Blood and Fire by David Gerrold, Benbella, 2004, $14.95, ISBN 1-932100-11-3

When I first read Yesterday's Children, many years back, it was obvious that it had been intended as a Star Trek story.  When it was later rewritten and re-issued, followed by a sequel, the similarity was equally obvious, and this, the third volume in the series, is identified by the author as a modification of a Star Trek Next Generation plot.  The Star Wolf has had more than its share of bad luck, but just as it is about to experience a change of command, things get worse than ever, including a bacteriological infection that affects the crew and a fault in the artificial intelligence system that runs their ship.  Gerrold has always had an obvious talent for this kind of space adventure, and the Star Wolf series should satisfy Trek fans and non-fans alike. 

The Wrong Reflection by Gillian Bradshaw, Ace, 9/03, $6.50, ISBN 0-441-01097-0

Although this near future thriller was published in England in 2000, it is only now appearing in a US edition.  Dr. Sandra Murray finds a badly injured amnesiac and takes a personal interest in his recovery, particularly when he insists that despite the papers found on his person, he is not in fact Paul Anderson, employee of Stellar Research.  He continues to argue this point even when his supposed co-workers identify him, and despite every reason to doubt him, Murray believes the man is right.  Their joint investigation will put them in great danger and eventually reveal the secret of Stellar Research, which I won't mention here lest I destroy the suspense, but suffice it to say it is definitely SF in nature.  Nothing out of the ordinary but certainly a solid mystery adventure.

Battle at Zero Point by Mack Maloney, Ace, 2003, $6.50, ISBN 0-441-01096-2

The author must have a fabulous agent because this, the fourth in a series of wretchedly bad space operas, is the worst yet.  Hawk Hunter, leader of the rebellion, hides his battle fleets in an alternate dimension, but the empire has also found a gateway to other realities and is recruiting new allies.  The prose is incredibly bad; you can find unintentionally funny lines on almost every page, and that doesn't even mention such glaring logical errors as when our heroes, upon first entering an alien city, can tell that there is nothing resembling a church.  I had thought that the days of Robert L. Fanthorpe style space adventures was long over, but I was wrong.

Scores by John Clute, Beccon, 2003, $27, ISBN 1-870824-48-2

Here's a big collection of John Clute's science fiction and fantasy reviews from 1993 to 2003, covering literally scores of books.  "Review" is perhaps the wrong term here, since most of these are in fact detailed critical essays.  Forty years as a reviewer have made Clute one of the few who retain a lengthy perspective of the genre and who are therefore in a position to place individual titles within the context of the field.  Clute doesn't pull any punches either, and you won't have any trouble determining which of the books he really liked, and which ones he thought unworthy of his time.  A fascinating journey through ten years of contemporary SF.

A Star Above It by Chad Oliver, NESFA, 2003, $24, ISBN 1-886778-45-0

Far From This Earth by Chad Oliver, NESFA, 2003, $24, ISBN 1-886778-48-5

The latest classic SF writer to be given new life by NESFA Press is Chad Oliver, whose background in anthropology was evident in many of his stories.  Each of these two volumes contains twenty stories, all originally published between 1950 and the early 1990s, and although they don't include the author's complete short fiction, they contain most of them and certainly all of the significant ones.  There were only three that I hadn't read previously, and they were minor, but there are lots of others that remain classics, including "Blood's a Rover", "Between Thunder and the Sun", and "Didn't He Ramble".  As always, NESFA has produced two handsome books, with excellent artwork and a nice sturdy hardcover format.  Another good addition to your library of classic SF.

Tango Midnight by Michael Cassutt, Forge, 11/03, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-30645-X

New plagues or diseases have long been a staple of SF, and one that has been popular in mainstream thrillers as well, most notably Michael Crichton's The Andromeda Strain.  Michael Cassutt, who has written about the space program previously, provides a new twist.  A very rich businessman has finagled himself a trip to an orbiting space station where he is to conduct research into a new disease strain.  Regrettably, something happens shortly after his arrival that isolates him from the rest of the station's complement, and sets loose a deadly disease at the same time.  What follows is the usual – through extremely well done – race against time to find a solution before the spores infect the rest of the people aboard, and possibly endanger the human race as a whole.  A nice, taut thriller with a good feel for what life aboard an orbiting habitat might really be like.

The Golden Transcendence by John C. Wright, Tor, 11/03, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-30756-1

John Wright brings his trilogy about Phaeton Prime to an apparent conclusion with this wild and woolly space opera.  Phaeton has already made many enemies because of his rebellious attitudes, and his acquisition of a ship capable of interstellar flight increases their numbers because some of the immortals who dominate the solar system are convinced that humanity should not venture out to explore other stars.  Phaeton thinks otherwise, however, and the clash of opinions is about to result in violence.  Wright uses an unusual remixing of traditional space opera devices and events and witty, sparkling prose to make this more than just a light adventure story.  Phaeton's career might have finally reached its end, but Wright's is only beginning.

For More Than Glory by William C. Dietz, Ace, 10/03, $24.95, ISBN 0-515-01091-1

William Dietz returns to the universe of the Legion of the Damned for this new military space adventure.  A massive interstellar war has finally ground to a close, but it leaves behind chaos, ruined planets, shattered governments, disrupted trade, and displaced races let alone individuals.  Bill Booly is the military commander trying to deal with all this, but as if he doesn't have enough trouble already, an ex-mercenary and a devious diplomat are dreaming up another scheme likely to further the confusion for their own benefit.  This one's a little more thoughtful and plot conscious than some of the previous volumes in the series, and spends less time dwelling on the details of battle and more are the interactions of the characters.  Not surprisingly, it's also much better than the earlier volumes as well.

Reading the Bones by Sheila Finch, Tachyon, 2003, $14.95, ISBN 1-892391-08-2

Although I found Finch's earlier novels readable but unmemorable, I have always enjoyed her shorter fiction much more actively.  This short novel is expanded from one of those stories, a Nebula winning novella, and the result is her best novel to date.  The setting is the planet Krishna, whose indigenous aliens have a complex and somewhat obscure social and linguistic structure.  The protagonist is a linguist who finds himself running for his life when the situation turns violent, thrown into the company of a pair of sisters who don't seem particularly well equipped for survival.  Nicely plotted, with characters who don't fall into the usual stereotyped roles, and with a satisfying resolution. 

Beyond Those Distant Stars by John B. Rosenman, NovelBooks, 2003, $15.95, ISBN 1-59105-136-3

The protagonist of this adventurous space opera is a female soldier, part of the human empire which is currently at war with a daunting alien menace.  Following an accident, she is provided with artificial parts which turn her into a superhuman cyborg, which works out well when she is given a unique opportunity to discover some of the secrets of the adversarial aliens, eventually leading to their defeat.  This is a blend of old style space opera with galactic empires and the usual trappings, mixed with a heavy dose of military SF, and some interesting speculation about alien cultures.  I had some difficulty identifying with the central character, but otherwise it was an exciting and entertaining journey.

The Rhinoceros Who Quoted Nietzsche and Other Odd Acquaintances by Peter S. Beagle, Tachyon, 2003, $15.95, ISBN 1-892391-09-0

Cigar-Box Faust and Other Miniatures by Michael Swanwick, Tachyon, 2003, $14.95, ISBN 1-892391-07-4

Here are two very attractively packaged collections from an imprint new to me but one that won't remain obscure for long, judging by the quality of their early offerings.  The first is a retrospective look at the short fiction of Peter S. Beagle, containing three of his very early stories plus four more that are much better known including one of my personal favorites, "Come Lady Death".  There are also four essays, a bibliography, an introduction by Patricia McKillip, and a great cover.  Next is another collection, mini-stories and articles by Michael Swanwick, some familiar, some completely new to me, and this one also has a first rate cover.  It would not have surprised me to see either of these books appear from a major publisher, and their very high quality bodes well for the future of this new West Coast publishing house.

New Voices in Science Fiction edited by Mike Resnick, DAW, 12/03, $6.99, ISBN 0-7564-0168-2

George R.R. Martin edited an anthology series with this name more than twenty years ago.  It was a good idea then and a good idea now, a showcase for the latest crop of SF writers, those whose names have just begun to appear.  Among those included this time are Kay Kenyon, Julie E. Czerneda, Kage Baker, Michael Burstein, Cory Doctorow, and James Van Pelt, all of whom have good solid stories here.  No word on whether or not this is a projected series, but an annual volume along these lines would not be amiss.  Non-thematic anthologies almost always have a higher average level of readability because of the diversity of themes and settings.

Rivets!!! By Mark M. Keller and Sue Anderson, NESFA, 2003, $16, ISBN 1-886778-40-X

Back in the late 1970s, a group called the RISFA Players put on three satirical plays at successive Boskones, consisting of Mike Ado About Nothing, Rivets Redux, and The Decomposers.  All three plays were written by Mark M. Keller and Sue Anderson, and mixed Gilbert & Sullivan, wacky humor, and the latest foibles of SF and SF Fandom into an entertaining and often hilarious mix.  Now all three of the plays have been collected in this trade paperback volume, with commentary by the authors and others, illustrations by Keller and Stu Shiffman, and you now have the opportunity of experiencing Wilbur Whately, Superstar, Richard Deadwood, the Providence Worldcon, Barry Herovit, Chester Deth-Ray, Perry Rhodent, Isabella Figholler, and Helminth of Boskone all over again, or for the first time.  This is an authentic piece of SF history, and even if some of the issues are no longer relevant, they'll still entertain you.

Envisioning the Future edited by Marleen S. Barr, Wesleyan, 9/03, $22.95, ISBN 0-8195-6652-7

This is a collection of fiction and essays designed to demonstrate some of the possible futures that SF describes and some of the ways in which it uses speculation both as a serious thought process and as a form of entertainment.  The stories are all quite good – reprints by Harlan Ellison, Pamela Sargent, and others – and the essays are much more entertaining, informative, and less prone to jargon than in most academic collections.  A nice balance of fiction and description.

The Slaves of Aphrodite by Steven Burgauer, IUniverse, 2003, $33.95, ISBN 0-595-74795-7

Centuries from now, techniques have been developed to restore human bodies to youth and extend lifespans indefinitely.  Unfortunately, the down side of that is that if you've been enslaved, you may have to work at hard labor for multiple lifetimes.  The protagonist is one such person, who escapes his masters and treks across a primitive Venus of jungles and their associated dangers.  This is an old fashioned other worlds adventure set on a Venus that obviously doesn't exist.  The story is fun and enjoyable as long as you don't think too much about the setting and ignore the occasional lapses into commentary about the failings of human nature and the abandonment of the true work ethic.

The Wunder War by Hal Colebatch, Baen, 8/03, $21, ISBN 0-7434-3619-9

The Man-Kzin War series reaches its tenth volume with this single author collection.  The four long stories that make up the book all center on the planet Wunderland, a human colony world caught up in the war between humankind and the belligerent Kzin.  The stories span the entire history of the conflict, from the first warning that trouble was coming, to occupation, liberation, and eventually cooperation.  It's nice to see what was always an entertaining series continue, and the idea of restricting the story to the effects on a single world is a good one, but unfortunately I didn't find any of the individual stories particularly memorable.

Caesar's Column by Ignatius Donnelly, Wesleyan, 11/03, $65, ISBN 0-8195-6665-9

This is one of the earliest dystopian novels and one of the few of any note that I hadn't previously read.  It takes the traditional form of the Utopian novel, a visitor from outside taken on a grand tour, in this case of a future New York City that has become a technological wonder.  But then things start to smell bad and we realize that the glitter is maintained by exploiting the mass of the people for the benefit of an aristocracy, an unstable situation which eventually leads to a disastrous revolt.  The social message is obviously somewhat outdated and the occasional heavy handed didacticism doesn't help any, but if you don't mind the rather stiff prose, the story is actually a pretty good one, and the unusual shape of the future as imagined back in 1890 when this first appeared is an interesting one.  There's also a trade paperback edition of this for $22.95.

Phobos by Ty Drago, Tor, 11/03, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-30544-5

I was reading murder mysteries before I discovered science fiction, and I still read them periodically, although there hasn't been as much time as I would have liked in recent years.  So I feel like I'm getting double for my money when I read an SF novel that is also a murder mystery, so long as it's a good murder mystery.  This first novel fits the bill.  The protagonist is a soldier who inadvertently gets caught up in a political firestorm on the planet Mars.  Rather than deal with it directly, he arranges for a temporary transfer to a base on Phobos where he hopes to let things die down.  Shortly after his arrival there, a murder is committed, and our hero must not only discover who is responsible but determine whether or not it is linked to the same problems he was attempting to avoid.  Some first novels feel tentative at times, but that's not true in this case.  The author keeps firm control of his story and even though his protagonist is a bit generic, it's a good enough tale to make me overlook that.

A Voice in Every Wind by Don Sakers, Speed of C, 2003, $7.50, ISBN 0-9716147-5-X

This is either a two part novel or two linked novelettes, depending on how you look at it.  The first section introduces us to an alien world where the indigenous lifeforms communicate in unusual ways and where intelligence and self awareness is just beginning to appear.  A single human visitor finds himself in the midst of wonders.  The second half takes place a couple of generations later, with a well established human colony interacting with the very alien world around them.  Sakers has created a fascinating alien ecology, and the first half is much more interesting than the sequel, although both are quite readable.

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines by David Hagberg, Tor, 7/03, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30839-8

The Terminator movies all share pretty much the same plot, which doesn't prevent them from being spectacular and successful films.  The sameness doesn't transfer well in literary form, however.  I haven't seen the film version yet, and I expect to enjoy it thoroughly because of the special effects and the thrilling ride.  The novelization has traces of that same rush, but without the visuals, it comes across as flat, predictable, and basically not very interesting.  I don't fault the author; I don't think anyone could have turned the script into a first rate novel, but if you have a choice between book and movie, grab some popcorn.

Ice Hunt by James Rollins, Morrow, 2003, $24.95, ISBN 0-06-052156-2

The first four novels by this author have all been lost world adventures, and this one strays away from that theme, although not very far.  An American submarine discovers a Russian scientific base, abandoned since World War II, stuck inside a floating ice island in the Arctic.  Within days, Russian and US soldiers are fighting a clandestine war for control of the facility, which conducted experiments in suspended animation on involuntary human subjects, and which also uncovered still surviving creatures that are a kind of land going killer whale.  The action is fast and furious in this one, and features a very exciting aerial chase sequences.  The rapid pace is good because there are bits and pieces of the plot that don't make tremendous sense,  particularly the unlikely assault on a nosy reporter that was so improbable that it revealed to me one of the "surprises" I wasn't supposed to know until much later.  Don't expect serious speculation or rigorous science, but most of the plot is plausible and good action adventure stories aren't all that plentiful lately.

Mockymen by Ian Watson, Golden Gryphon, 10/03, $26.95, ISBN 1-930846-21-5

Ian Watson's novels have always been difficult to characterize and this new one is no exception.  It blends reincarnation, ceremonial magic, and an invasion of Earth.  The opening section follows the adventures of two photographers who are hired to take some mildly erotic photographs at a particular location, after which they are haunted by nightmares and discover that human reincarnation is possible.  We then jump more than ten years into the future, when the mockymen arrive on Earth.  They are disembodied aliens who are vague about their nature and motives, and who move around by occupying the bodies of physical creatures.  They bring with them Bliss, a more acceptable alternative to human addictive drugs, and conveniently Bliss very occasionally leaves a user brain dead, a perfect host vehicle for another mockyman.  Readers are going to realize what's going on sooner than the authorities, but that hardly matters.  A renegade mockyman, a reincarnated human, and things quickly start to go awry.  Very few writers could mix aliens and the occult and produce a satisfying story, and Ian Watson is definitely among that small number.

Scatterbrain by Larry Niven, Tor, 10/03, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30137-7

This is a new collection of Niven's work, but it's not really a collection of short stories, although there are some of those as well.  The bulk of the book consists of novel excerpts and non-fiction, including background material on the Man-Kzin anthology series, musings on science and science fiction, a trip report, introductions to other writer's work, and other odds and ends.  I was particularly pleased by the Beowulf Shaeffer story, whose earlier exploits are among my favorite works by Niven (or anyone else for that matter).  It's nice to have these bits and pieces pulled together, but for those of us who read Niven regularly, the novel excerpts only remind us that it's past time for a new one to hit the shelves.

Lazarus Rising by David Sherman and Dan Cragg, Del Rey, 12/03, $19.95, ISBN 0-345-46000-6

The latest in the Starfist series pits the battered survivors of a military unit against even more dangers.  Although they have successfully helped the planet Kingdom to remain free, they suffered heavy casualties in the process and hope for a lengthy period to recover and regroup.  In the aftermath of that battle, an amnesiac struggles to regain his memories, and unravel a mystery, while a fresh military threat arises which challenges the will of the planet's citizens to retain their newfound independence.  There's still plenty of combat for fans of the earlier volumes, but the authors also seem to be spending more time developing characters and concocting a less straightforward plot.

In the Presence of Mine Enemies by Harry Turtledove, New American Library, 11/03, $24.95, ISBN 0-451-52902-2

The genre's most prominent writer of alternate histories turns to an old standby for his latest.  The Nazis have won the second world war and control most of the world, biding the time until even their former allies can be brought to heel.  Theoretically, Jews have been wiped out, at least in the homeland.  But reality is somewhat different.  There is a secret underground and they haven't given up the hope for freedom.  There's considerably more story and much better developed characters in this one than in some of Turtledove's other unchronia fiction, and the result is a novel much more engaging.  Some alternate histories get so caught up in speculation about the course of history that they forget to tell a good story, but this one manages to escape that trap.

Firefight by Thomas A. Easton, Betancourt, 2003, $32.95, ISBN 1-59224-780-6

Ecological terrorists have sabotaged a nuclear facility, covering  a large portion of New England with a deadly radioactive dusting.  The area is evacuated and quarantined, but the government decides to construct a new highway around the contaminated zone to reach that part of Maine that was unaffected.  A string of assaults, attempted murders, arson, and other criminal activity suggests that someone has taken an unhealthy interest in the project.  Is it another band of terrorists, or is our world about to intersect with another reality entirely?  The novel has a nice set up and for the most part is suspenseful and exciting.  The resolution may be a bit far out for some readers.   The insights into the life of professional firefighters are also quite interesting.

Aliens by Hayford Peirce, Betancourt, 2003, $32.95, ISBN 1-59224-611-7

Hayford Peirce was labeled as a "writer to watch" when he first started selling short stories back in the 1970s, and again when his novels began appearing in the 1980s, but he never quite crossed the line that separates promising from accomplished.  This collection of shorts, which includes three collaborations with David Alexander, opens with a pretty good first contact story that pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the stories.  There's more contact with aliens, followed by a comparatively weak problem story.  Then "Finder's Fee" picks up the pace again, a well above average other worlds adventure, and "The Aliens Among Us" is also quite good, as is "Elephants' Graveyard".  The remaining two are pretty minor.  A large enough portion of this collection is good to make me regret that Peirce wasn't more prolific, and I still have fond memories of at least one of his novels.  It remains to be seen whether or not he will one day re-emerge as a "writer to watch".

First Meetings in the Enderverse by Orson Scott Card, Tor, 10/03, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30873-8

The four related novelettes in this collection are all set in the Ender universe, and in fact one of them is "Ender's Game" which started the whole series, while two others are original to this volume.  The book is labeled as being for young adults, which I suppose is fair given the age of most of the main characters, although two of the stories were originally published in adult markets.  I never quite understood the appeal of the Ender series, which I thought was far less interesting than most of Card's other work at the time it appeared, but then again, I haven't been a young adult for quite some time.  The new stories will undoubtedly entertain fans of the series, but I didn't think they added anything really new.

A Place So Foreign and Eight More by Cory Doctorow, Four Walls, Eight Windows, 10/03, $13.95, ISBN 1-56858-286-2

Cory Doctorow first caught by attention with a short story, "Craphound", published in 1998 and included in this book, and he has quickly followed that tale up with at least a half dozen even better stories, plus one of the most entertaining first novels of the past few years.  There are eight other stories included here, one that was published electronically and was completely new to me, the others from various magazines, some of which are probably unseen by most SF readers.  That doesn't mean the stories aren't every bit as good those published in mainstream SF magazines, as this collection proves more than once.  The title story, as well as "To Market, To Market" and "Home Again, Home Again" are of exceptional quality.  His stories are set in outer space, or involve time travel, computers, mind control, supermen, and other traditional SF themes, but in contradiction of the title of this collection, he makes these strange places seem real and immediate, and that's what makes them so memorable.

Kalpa Imperial by Angelica Gorodischer, translated by Ursula K. LeGuin, Small Beer Press, 2003, $16, ISBN 1-931520-05-4

Secret histories of mythical countries have been a kind of peripheral interest in American SF, confined largely to Utopian tales like Austin Tappan Wright's Islandia.  This translation by LeGuin is just such a novel, from a highly regarded Argentinian writer who I knew only from a brief excerpt from this novel previously published.  She relates the history of a mythical land, the story of its royal family, its expansion into an empire, its eventual fall.  Spanning generations, it is unavoidably episodic, but each episode is constructed to illustrate the character of not just one person, but of an entire nation.  It is so markedly different in structure and tone from most contemporary SF that comparisons are almost meaningless, but if you're fond of Gene Wolfe, Ursula LeGuin, or Jeffrey Ford, this is one to put near the top of your shopping list.

Best in Show edited by Fred Patten, SofaWolf Press, 7/03, $19.95, ISBN 0-9712670-1-4

Back in the 1980s, a subset of SF fandom championed the talking animal story, creating original and mostly forgettable works that appeared in fanzines and semi-prozines for a while, before the tide went out and most of the interest went with it.  I knew about the phenomenon only peripherally, and had completely forgotten about it until the appearance of this collection of twenty-six of the best stories published during that period.  As you might expect, most of the names are totally unfamiliar to me, although Lawrence Watt-Evans has a very amusing tale, along with those by Michael H. Payne, Jefferson Swycaffer, and a few others.  This collection is definitely aimed at a particular audience, but even casual readers should like at least a few of the stories, so if you were ever curious about furry fiction, here's your chance to sample the cream of the crop.

Philip K. Dick: Exhilaration and Terror of the Postmodern by Christopher Palmer, Liverpool University, 2003, $29.95, ISBN 0-85323-628-3

Although there are some interesting insights sprinkled through this scholarly examination of Philip K. Dick, they are largely buried in a wave of obfuscation.  We are told that some of the author's work has "a pellucid knowledge of itself", that The Man in the High Castle demonstrates that history is "an accretion of discrete chances", and so forth and so on.  It's nice to see that one of the genre's best writers is still attracting serious literary analysis, but there's no reason why that analysis has to be written in a style more complex than its subject matter. 

Out of Time's Abyss by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Wildside, 2003, $27.95, ISBN 1-59224-781-4

Here's the third volume of the Caspak trilogy, which in its entirety is very near the top of Burroughs' fiction in terms of quality.  Originally published in 1918, this is the final exploration by outsiders on the island where evolution takes place within a single lifespan, so that if a character lives long enough, he or she becomes more intelligent.  The explorers this time strike deeper into the unknown, tracking down a winged race that knows some of the secrets of the island, and why life develops there so differently than anywhere else.  It's easy to dismiss Burroughs prose, which is adequate at best, but one shouldn't overlook the fact that he was a consummate story teller, and this is one of the best of those stories.

Pit Planet by David Dvorkin, Betancourt, 2003, $32.95, ISBN 1-59224-831-4

I haven't seen a new title from David Dvorkin in entirely too long, so I greeted this new space adventure with open arms.  Although it's not his best, it's a nicely told other worlds adventure pitting its protagonist against a mesh of sinister plots surrounding the production of a particularly valuable mineral, one upon which the entire human civilization is largely dependent.  Readers will have no trouble anticipating what follows his arrival on a planet dominated by a company, home to a simmering rebel movement, and the hero's shifting allegiances are straightforward and unsurprising.  It's a familiar destination, but the journey is as much fun as ever.

Deus X and Other Stories by Norman Spinrad, Five Star, 9/03, $25.95, ISBN 0-7862-5350-9

The largest portion of this collection is the title novella, in which the ecological situation on Earth has become so terrible that the bulk of humankind is considering escaping into a variation of virtual reality where they can reshape things to a more pleasant environment.  It was a powerful and effective tale when first published ten years ago, and the passage of a decade hasn't dulled its effect at all.  The novella is packaged with two short stories about vampires, both new to me.  These aren't your father's vampire stories.  They're quirky, untraditional, gritty, funny, and clever.  I'm tempted to call them vampire stories for people who don't like horror, but people who do like horror should find them just as amusing and entertaining.

The War with Earth by Leo Frankowski and Dave Grossman, Baen, 2003, $24, ISBN 0-7434-3615-6

Leo Frankowski returns to the world of A Boy and His Tank in this new collaborative novel.  Mickolai Derdowski rose to become a highly regarded officer in the mercenary forces of New Kashubia in the first volume, but in the sequel he discovers that all was not as it seemed.  The battles in which he fought were only virtual reality, and his fallen comrades are still alive and ready to fight again.  But this time the warfare is for real, and the enemy isn't another quarrelsome colony world, it's Earth itself.  The skills he learned in the false war will have to work for real this time.  The result is a reasonably entertaining quasi-military SF novel, but it's not as good as its predecessor, and lags seriously behind Frankowski's best work.

The Killing of Worlds by Scott Westerfeld, Tor, 10/03, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-30850-9

Part Two of the "Succession" is a galaxy spanning space opera that mixes traditional interstellar adventure with thoughtfully developed characters and rationales.  The empire bases its power in part on the ability of the emperor to extend human lifespans.  His reign is endangered, however, by an organization of cyborged humans who have become numerous and powerful and whose warships threaten the stability of the galaxy.  The protagonist is a dishonored space captain who hopes to restore his prestige by saving the day, using a mysterious new weapon.  Unfortunately, the weapon may have a mind of its own.  Throw in some deftly done if not surprising court intrigues and you have a thinking reader's space opera. 

Dune: The Machine Crusade by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, Tor, 9/03, $27.95, ISBN 0-765-30963-7

I was rather slow to warm to this enhancement of the original dune series, but I have to admit that it's captured my interest more with each volume, perhaps because the authors are becoming more at ease with their own version of the future created by Frank Herbert.  This is the middle volume of a trilogy that began with The Butlerian Jihad,  all three of which are set generations before the Dune series.  Only part of the story actually takes place on Arrakis, featuring the adventures of a petty criminal.  Much of it involves the ongoing battle against artificial intelligences, the growing rebellion on subject worlds emboldened by the spreading chaos, and elsewhere the imminent development of a new form of interstellar travel.  Middle volumes are often low points, and certainly this one ends with a feeling of incompleteness, but it's richly conceived, elaborately described, and provides enough excitement to make readers anticipate the conclusion yet to come.

Skyfall by Catherine Asaro, Tor, 9/03, $24.95,  ISBN 0-765-30638-7

Asaro's Skolian saga seems to be a hit among SF readers and certain romance readers alike.  This new title in the series, which is actually a prequel to the others, is certain to please both groups as much as the others.  Roca is a secret agent of sorts, whose visit to a minor planet has unintended consequences.  She becomes emotionally involved with the local governor, and their dalliance becomes the flashpoint for an interstellar war.  I guess you'd call this a romantic space opera.  Whatever you call it, it's a good one.  Asaro manages to blend the tropes of these two very different genres more skillfully than anyone else I've read.

Spin State by Chris Moriarty, Bantam, 10/03, $11.95, ISBN 0-553-38213-6

I usually experience a sense of anticipation when starting a first novel.  Is it going to herald the onset of a fabulous career, or reveal the occasional embarrassing lapses on the part of editors?  Most of the time, of course, the result falls somewhere halfway in between.  Spin State falls somewhere on the happy end of that scale.  The protagonist is a United Nations peacekeeper of the future, sent to a distant world noted for mining and unrest.  She has a secret of her own; she's an illegal clone.  Her personal situation becomes magnified when she finds the dead body of another version of herself, and that leads her into a more intricate web of murder, political maneuvering, and interstellar intrigue.  This is a nice, solid other worlds adventure with a better than average mystery and a genuinely interesting protagonist.  I look forward to more titles by Moriarty.

The Sterkarm Handshake by Susan Price, Eos, 2003, $6.99, ISBN 0-06-447236-1

Originally published in 1998 in the UK, this is a time travel story that should appeal to SF fans but which also functions as a time travel romance, although it breaks the mold of that form.  Researchers from the 21st Century are studying the Scottish clans of the 16th Century, and one of their number is an anthropologist who inadvertently falls in love with one of the local warriors.  When he is seriously wounded, she maneuvers things so that he is brought back to our time for treatment, and he is obviously as out of place here as she is in the past.  Their relationship is obviously doomed, which will dismay romance readers, but it's all handled intelligently and reasonably and the story is quite compelling.

The Phoenix Exultant by John Wright, Tor, 4/03, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30432-5

The sequel to The Golden Age finds our hero, a relative superhuman, exiled from the society of far future human civilization.  He finds himself among the dregs of civilization, an environment so full of innovative ideas and playful little details that I occasionally found myself more interested in the setting than in the plot.  Eventually he learns to deal with his new status, even turn it into a kind of victory, but his old enemies haven't forgotten him and he still has not recovered all of the memories that were stolen from him.  This is one of those novels that is difficult to review succinctly without slighting the intricate and inventive details that make it such a joy to read.

Doctor Who: Short Trips: Zodiac edited by Jacqueline Rayner, Big Finish, 10/03, $24.95, ISBN 1-84435-006-1

Doctor Who: The Audio Scripts, edited anonymously, Big Finish, 10.03, $22.95, ISBN 1-84435-005-3

BBC books appears to have canceled most if not all of the Doctor Who tie-in novels, so fans searching for new adventures have been gasping for air for the past few months.  Here are two bits of provisioning, although perhaps not enough to sustain life for long.  The first is a collection of new stories by a host of writers mostly unfamiliar to the SF community at large.  They cover all eight Doctors and a variety of companions, and explore all of time and space.  Some are amusing, some more serious in tone.  No award winners but no clunkers either.  The second title contains four complete scripts of the radio program, each with an introduction by the author, dialogue that was cut from the program, and other incidental material.  The scripts are in many ways more interesting than the story collection, but both should find an audience among the Doctor's legion of fans.

The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Gide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases edited by Dr. Jeff Vandermeer and Dr. Mark Roberts, Night Shade, 10/03, $45, ISBN 1-892389-53-3

The term "collectors' item" is muchly abused, but here's a book that falls into that category right from the outset.  It's a limited edition compendium of maladies such as male menstruation, Tuning's Spasm, and many others, all delightfully and amusingly described, frequently illustrated with small insets, and embellished with references and other anecdotal material.  The contributors to this very amusing collection include such luminaries as China Mieville, Michael Moorcock, Neil Gaiman, Jeffrey Ford, Gahan Wilson, Paul DiFilippo, Michael Bishop, Brian Stableford, and many others.  I can't imagine this not selling out in a flash even at this price, since it is limited to 650 copies, and it deserves a place of honor in any collection.

Shatterpoint by Matthew Stover, Del Rey, 6.03, $25.95, ISBN 0-345-45573-8

Generally speaking, tie in novels suffer from the fact that their authors cannot really break the mold that is set for them.  The major characters must survive unchanged, the history of the shared world is preset, and even the tone is pretty much dictated by the original.   The Star Wars universe sometimes gets around this because the history is loosely defined and because the authors are allowed to take minor characters and run with them, as is the case with this one, which follows the adventures of Mace Windu.  Windu is off to his homeworld in this one, a jungle planet until recently controlled by separatists in the midst of the Clone Wars, searching for another Jedi who disappeared there under mysterious circumstances.  The background is set, but you could almost forget about it and just treat this as an independent SF adventure story, and a good one.  Included, incidentally, is a chronology of the Clone Wars that incorporates graphics as well as novels yet to be published.

Crown of Slaves by David Weber and Eric Flint, Baen, 9/03, $25, ISBN 0-7434-7148-2

David Weber's "Honor Harrington" universe always reminds me of the space adventures I read when I was first discovering SF, the kind of place where early John Brunner, A. Bertram Chandler, and Murray Leinster would have felt right at home, although with a more military bent than was usually found in their work.  This new collaborative novel doesn't involve Honor Harrington, but it's set in that same setting, and like the others, it evokes the spirit of early space opera.  Berry Zilnicki is a young girl who agrees to help serve as a double for the daughter of a star traveling notable, and she and her father find themselves in the middle of interstellar politics, troubled alliances, and possibly even a shooting war.  A satisfying light adventure from two writers who seem to be hitting their stride.

The Course of Empire by Eric Flint and K.D. Wentworth, Baen, 9/03, $$22, ISBN 0-74347154-7

Up until the days of Star Trek, if you had asked non-SF readers what the field was all about, the answer would probably have featured alien invasions prominently, even though they have never been – numerically – a particularly large portion of published SF.  In those days, alien invaders were usually betrayed as malevolent or even unknowable, as in H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds or William Tenn's Of Men and Monsters.  They were rarely dealt with as people whose motives might be mixed.  That trend has changed over the course of years and most alien invasion stories today are either military adventures or involve the clash of cultural philosophies.  This new collaboration is a bit of both.  The alien Jao have conquered the Earth, or most of it at least, planning to incorporate it into their empire.  The human protagonist is drafted into performing liaison work, which has the potential of providing information that would help the human resistance forces.  The interplay between the human and alien characters is interesting and the resolution, although a familiar one, holds up well anyway.

The Ethos Effect by L.E. Modesitt Jr., Tor, 10/03, $27.95, ISBN 0-765-30802-9

This fine, old fashioned space opera reminded me of early Poul Anderson, and that is definitely meant as a compliment.  The protagonist is a military space captain who is forced into retirement after an injury and takes a job working for a mysterious interstellar organization.  During the performance of his duties, he discovers that his employers are more influential than he initially believed, and also finds hints that a major change in interstellar relations is in the works, with a theocracy and a technocracy rapidly polarizing the many inhabited worlds.  This is a prequel to the author's earlier novel, The Parafaith War.

Hybrids by Robert J. Sawyer, Tor, 9/03, $24.95, ISBN 0-312-87690-4

The third and presumably final adventure of Ponter Boddit is here at last.  Boddit is a scientist from an alternate reality where Neanderthals inherited the Earth and developed a sophisticated culture very much unlike our own.   Mary Vaughan, his lover, is a human scientist.  The two of them are planning to have a child as a symbolic way of uniting the new species, as well as because they just want one, but there are cultural differences between the two that cause serious problems.  Given the premise of the Neanderthal culture, which never developed the concept of religion, the consequent conflict is interesting and involving.  The secondary conflict is an imminent disaster on our Earth, which unfortunately suggests to some the possibility of moving to the other reality.  This leads to a more melodramatic conflict, complete with gunfights, which will entertain those who prefer their action more physical.  There's a little bit in this one for everyone, but I think Sawyer has drained this well and I don't expect to see Ponter and friends again.

Up Through an Empty House of Stars by David Langford, Cosmos, 2003, $34.95, ISBN 1-59224-054-2

Here's a collection of book reviews by Dave Langford cover more than two decades, interspersed with some additional essays and oddities.  He covers everything from the sublime to the ridiculous, and his reviews are usually witty and amusing and sometimes sidesplittingly funny.  Don't be fooled into thinking these are superficial, however.  Langford knows the field, and he dissects the works covered here with a sharp blade, pointing out what is good, what is bad, and what is truly dreadful.  This fairly large collection of material belongs right on the same shelf with James Blish's The Issue at Hand and Damon Knight's In Search of Wonder.

One Lamp edited by Gordon Van Gelder, Four Walls, Eight Windows, 9/03, $15.95, ISBN 1-56858-276-5

Although alternate history stories have become extremely popular in recent years, they've been a part of the SF world for a long time.  This is a collection of fourteen such tales, all of them but one originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, the oldest being C.M. Kornbluth's "Two Dooms", one of the earliest tales of what might have happened had World War II ended differently, which appeared in Venture.  Others deal with the Civil War, the recent past, A Roman Empire that never fell, pre-Revolutionary America, a changewar story, time travel paradoxes, a different fate for the British Empire in India, and other changepoints.  Authors include Paul Di Filippo, Poul Anderson, Alfred Bester, Maureen McHugh, Harry Turtledove, and others.  It's a nice selection, not just because the quality of the individual stories is so good, but because the periods of history, the plots, and even the gimmicks differ a great deal from one to the next.

Amazonia by James Rollins, Avon, 7/03, $7.99, ISBN 0-06-000249-2

James Rollins is one of a handful of recent mainstream thriller writers who have discovered the lost world adventure format and blended it with SF tropes.  This one in fact is in many ways virtually a rewrite of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World.  The expedition in this case is searching for something in the Amazon that allowed a man to regenerate a missing arm.  They set off to track down a missing expedition and find their way to a plateau where prehistoric lifeforms still exist.  There's even a saboteur among their number, secretly working for a party of mercenaries that is following them.  There are also lots of chases, captures, escapes, and gruesome deaths, a moderately interesting surprise, an unnecessary and distracting back story about a disease spreading through the US, and an over the top villain who gets his just desserts.  This one doesn't bear too close scrutiny as far as mechanics, and the science is often suspect, but for a light adventure story, it's quite entertaining, and long enough that you'll get a lot of bang for your eight bucks.

Honour of the Grave by Robin D. Laws, Black Library, 6/03, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-4354-3

Blood & Steel by C.L. Werner, Black Library, 7/03, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-4356-X

These two Warhammer novels are set in the Empire, a loosely described entity that sprawls across a violent, barbaric future Earth where demons and magic and such are back in force.  I believe this is Laws' first novel, and despite some rough spots, it's a surprisingly interesting one, more concerned with the tension among the characters than the physical action.  A couple of survivors of the latest round of battles find their lives intertwined with two enigmatic brothers.  There's still plenty for the thud and blunder fans, but there's some serious stuff going on as well.  This is Werner's second Warhammer novel, and it reprises his bounty hunter character, Brunner, this time pitting him against a sinister rival as well as his quarries.  This one's got a lot more action, but it's also a step forward from his previous work, with noticeably better characterization (but the worst cover art I've seen in this series).

The Essential Daredevil Volume I, Marvel, 2003, $14.95, ISBN 0-7851-0949-8

Daredevil was one of Marvel's most interesting superheroes, a blind man with no real superpowers except that his other senses are extraordinarily well developed.  He's a lawyer in his day job, with the usual misfiring romance.  Unfortunately, in the early issues at least Daredevil had some of the worst villains to fight.  A few of them are outright silly – Stiltman, Frogman, the Leap Frog, and the Matador – and the rest were pretty minor, Catman, the Gladiator, the Owl, the Purple Man.  Only the Masked Marauder and Electro were particularly memorable.  And as with all Marvel superheroes, events are contrived so that he battles a few good guys as well, Spider-Man, Sub-Mariner, and Ka-Zar.  Daredevil deserved better than this, and the stories did get better later on.  Let's hope there's a volume 2 somewhere in the near future.

Singularity Sky by Charles Stross, Ace, 8/03, $23.95, ISBN 0-441-01072-5

Earth has been changed into a sort of organized anarchy after an artificial intelligence achieved self awareness and faster than light travel allowed expansion through the galaxy.  A group of colonies have been organized as an independent republic of sorts, but the government is repressive and autocratic, prohibiting most of its citizens from enjoying the advanced forms of technology available to other worlds.  Then comes a mysterious trading entity which bombards one of their worlds with devices that allow citizens to acquire whatever they want, and the ensuing unrest results in some rather inept military action and other efforts to keep things under control.  Caught in the middle of this are two spies from Earth, each with a separate agenda, and each in danger of never returning home.  I've been enjoying Stross' short stories for a while now and was pleased to see his first novel appear.  I thought the opening chapters meandered a bit, but once the plot settled down, it held my attention to the very last page.

Budayeen Nights by George Alec Effinger, Golden Gryphon, 2003, $26.95, ISBN 1-930486-19-3

The late George Alec Effinger wrote several acclaimed novels toward the end of his career, but I always felt that his best work was at shorter length.  This posthumous collection includes two previously unpublished stories, plus some of his best uncollected work.  "Shrodinger's Kitten" and "King of the Cyber Rifles" are worth the admission price alone.   The stories all share the common background of the Budayeen, although Marid – his most familiar character from that setting – doesn't appear in all of them.  The stories are witty, inventive, and the setting is one of the most interesting backdrops in recent SF.  I remembered several of these separately, but they're much more effective when read as a group. 

Changing Planes by Ursula K. LeGuin, Harcourt, 7/03, $22, ISBN 0-15-100971-6

Although a few of the stories in this new collection have been published separately, they were really meant to be part of a single book.  The title refers to the ability to change planes of reality, a practice taken as granted in the premise for this satirical look at humanity by a grand tour of various alternate realities.  We are introduced to a new race in each story, ones with violent habits or ones who deliberately make their world dull and uninteresting, people who share their dreams or people who don't dream at all, people who celebrate Christmas all year round and people obsessed with bloodlines and nobility, people who are reluctant to use language and people who get to cast more than one vote when they get older and "wiser".  The stories are much of a type and no single one stands out, but I think this is a book you'll enjoy more if you dip into it a little bit at a time rather than read it straight through.  LeGuin provides a lot to think about with most of these stories and you need a chance to recover.

Flinx's Folly by Alan Dean Foster, Del Rey, 11/03, $24.95, ISBN 0-345-45038-8

The ninth adventure of Philip Lynx and his minidragon, Pip, is another episodic segment of the latest multi-book story arc.  He is still having his visions of an almost supernatural force of evil that is menacing the galaxy and is still being manipulated by opposing forces whose identity and nature he cannot discern.  After escaping yet another attempt on his life, he looks up an old friend, hoping for companionship and perhaps advice, but in the process he winds up in the middle of a romantic triangle that proves even more dangerous than the obsessed cultists trying to kill him. The device by which he ends up alone again for the next book is a bit forced, but other than that, this was a refreshingly straightforward, convincing told story with moderate tension and some clever maneuverings by both Flinx and his new enemy.  

In This World, or Another by James Blish, Five Star, 8/03, $25.95, ISBN 0-7862-5349-5

Tangled Strings by Adam-Troy Castro, Five Star, 8/03, $25.95, ISBN 0-7862-5342-8

Uncanny Tales by Robert Sheckley, Five Star, 8/03, $25.95, ISBN 0-7862-5341-X

Fantastic literature is to a great extent the last refuge of the short story, but even within the genre, single author collections have declined in number for the past several years, and most of those that do appear have come from small press publishers.  Five Star is a comparative new imprint that has been reversing that trend, with a mix of old masters and newer writers, sometimes including original material never previous published.  The quality of the line has ranged from good to excellent, and these three new titles are right near the top of that scale.  First up is a retrospective of James Blish, drawing stories from several of his early collections, covering a range of plots involving time travel, adapting humans to life on other worlds, alternate history, and other standard SF motifs.  Blish's novels tended to be better than his short fiction, but this is certainly a selection drawn from his very best work.  Next we have comparative newcomer Adam-Troy Castro, one of the few writers who still produces novella length work with some regularity.  Both of his Marionette stories are included here, with three unrelated tales.  If you haven't already read some of his work, you're in for a treat.  He takes standard SF themes and stands them on their heads, and he has a unique and wonderfully twisted viewpoint that makes even the most implausible situations seem credible.  Finally we have a collection from one of the steadiest and most reliable writers in the field, only one story of which has been previously collected.  This is mostly stories from the past ten years, but they're still full of the sardonic, satiric humor that is a trademark of much of Sheckley's fiction.  Combined, these three titles raise the overall quality of what was already a very strong line of titles.

Noise by Hal Clement, Tor, 9/03, $23.95, ISBN 0-765-30857-6

Hal Clement is widely regarded as one of the most skillful creators of new worlds and alien civilizations, and his latest novel won't spoil that reputation at all.  There are no real aliens this time, but rather an ocean planet that was settled by disgruntled Polynesians who live on boats and in floating cities that aren't always in the same location.  Although they are generally indifferent to outsiders, they allow Mike Hoani, a linguist, to land and travel on a small trading vessel so that he can study the way their diverse languages have changed and converged.  Along the way he discovers a great deal about their culture, about his shipmates, about the planet's ecology, and even about himself as he survives in a world of undersea volcanoes, violent storms, pirates, and other dangers.  There's a fairly active plot, but you may well find yourself more fascinated with the background and setting than with the actual story.

Imagination Fully Dilated: Science Fiction edited by Robert Kruger and Patrick Swenson, Fairwood Press, 8/03, $26.99, ISBN 0-9668184-8-2

This is the third in an informal series of anthologies, each story of which has been inspired by a painting by Alan M. Clark.  The paintings are included here as well, and although the artwork is very good, sometimes the link to the story is rather tenuous.  On the other hand, most of the stories are quite good as well, so it really doesn't matter.   They tend toward traditional SF themes and situations, and the contributors include Melissa Scott, James Van Pelt, Ray Vukcevich, Patrick O'Leary, Jerry Oltion, Tom Piccirilli, and others.  Among the better entries are the stories by Scott, Elizabeth DeVos, Vukcevich, and Van Pelt.  The general quality is certainly enough to grace a professional publisher's line, so this one's a bit of a coup for Fairwood Press.

Hideous Beauties by Lance Olsen, Eraserhead, 2003, $13.95, ISBN 0-9729598-0-7

This is more properly surrealist fiction rather than SF, but if you feel nostalgia for the days of New Worlds in its more experimental form, this might be just what you're looking for.  Olsen has written a series of short stories, each inspired by a different painting, and used a wide variety of prose styles to capture the mood of each piece.  There are fantastic images and mundane ones, and often there is very little of what we would consider a linear plot, but the prose is seductive at times and conveys images that would not be possible more conventionally.

A Forest of Stars by Kevin J. Anderson, Earthlight, 2003, £10.99, ISBN 0-7434-6121-5

Kevin Anderson continues his wide scale saga of interstellar conflict with this sequel to The Hidden Empire.  The human race is reeling in the face of attacks by a previously unknown alien race which remains uncommunicative and relentless.  As the surviving human worlds fall under an increasing restrictive set of rules, other races begin maneuvering to forge allies of their own.  Against that backdrop, a team of investigators is sent to investigate the disappearance of two scientists, an investigation which may turn up a way to salvage humanity's future, or which might unleash and even more dangerous enemy.  A rip roaring space opera full of treachery, mystery, adventure, intrigue, suspense, aliens, superscience, space travel, and just about everything else you can imagine.  Anderson packs a lot of story into a long but deceptively fast moving novel.  You'll probably be frustrated when you reach the end, because it isn't really the end, but you won't be cheated along the way.

Polyphony 2 edited by Deborah Layne and Jay Lake, Wheatland Press, 2003, $16.95, ISBN 0-9720547-1-5

The second volume of this new anthology series is, if anything, even better than the first, and the first was very good indeed.  You should be cautioned up front that this is a collection of "literary" as opposed to adventure oriented stories, and they aren't even all science fiction.  Although there's none of the extreme experimental writing of the New Wave, these stories all have strong mainstream literary values including strong characterization, intelligent and thoughtful prose, and the stories are more about how people react to their world than in how they alter it.  The lead story by Lucius Shepard, one of his Central American stories, a Lisa Goldstein fantasy about a man who sells curses, and Alex Irvine's wry look at a future where most women have become infertile are my favorites in the book, closely followed by the contributions by Michael Bishop, Carol Emshwiller, and Honna Swenson.  There are also a pair of very good first stories, by Sally Carteret and Brendan Day, and a handful of merely very good stories to round out the collection.  Don't expect blasters, spaceships, aliens, or super science but be prepared for serious, well crafted fiction.

Freedom Run by Richard S. Drake, Writer's Club, 2003, $14.95, ISBN 0-595-24507-2

Alternate history fiction has enjoyed a heavy burst of popularity in recent years, covering a variety of historical periods.  Harry Turtledove has covered the Civil War in considerable detail, but that hasn't prevented first novelist Drake from trying a different track.  The secession worked and after several generations, the Confederation has renounced slavery and become a humanitarian state, while the remnants of the USA have become increasingly industrialized, repressive, and subject to regressive religious influences.  There are some cameo appearances by famous personalities, but for the most part this is a story of ordinary people and what they might face in such a setting.  Much of the fun in uchronian novels is picking out the differences, but Drake does a competent job of making us interested in his characters as well.  There are a few rough spots, but they're small and the result is a much better than average small press title.

Orbital Burn by K.A. Bedford, Edge, 9/02, $13.94, ISBN 1-894063-10-4

When R.A. Lafferty was publishing his quirky SF novels some years back, he was almost alone in that niche.  Trends have come and gone since, and now here's a first novel that has much the feel of early Lafferty, although the prose is not quite as ethereal.  The plot is about a private detective who is approached by a biological enhanced talking dog.  The dog wants to employ her to track down a faulty android in the form of a child, a child with very special talents.  Throw in a suitable villain and you have the makings for a clever and engaging story, and Bedford delivers almost everything that he promises.  There's every sign here that we're seeing the initial effort of a genuinely talented writer, a name we're almost certain to see again.

Way of the Wolf by E. E. Knight, Roc, 9/03, $6.50, ISBN 0-451-45939-3

The opening volume of the Vampire Earth series postulates that vampires are actually alien beings whose past presence on Earth gave rise to the legends with which we are familiar.  About twenty years from now, the aliens return in force, seizing control of most of the world, preying on human beings.  The protagonist is a military officer who is part of a guerilla force based in Louisiana and dedicated to opposing the alien advance and perhaps even driving them from the planet, although nothing that dramatic happens in the opening volume.  The feel of the book is much more SF than horror despite the nasty nature of the invaders, and in fact much of it feels like conventional military SF.  Readers who enjoy vampires as romantic figures aren't going to like this one, but fans of violent adventure fiction will certainly get their money's worth.

Wyrmhole by Jay Caselberg, Roc, 10/03, $5.99, ISBN 0-451-45949-0

Jack Stein is a private investigator with an unreliable psychic power.  He is hired by a large corporation to find out why a party of miners on a distant world disappeared without a trace, but shortly after accepting the assignment, he is approached by an employee of that company who insists that upper management is stonewalling.  Initially skeptical, Stein eventually comes to the same conclusion, particularly when his psi abilities become even less reliable than usual and more overt attempts are made to prevent him from accomplishing his mission.  This is a pretty good space adventure, and a pretty good first novel as well.  No real surprises in the plot, but it's fast paced enough that you won't mind, and might not even notice.

Zandru's Forge by Deborah J. Ross and Marion Zimmer Bradley, DAW, 2003, $24.95, ISBN 0-7564-0149-6

Here's volume two of the Clingfire trilogy, a continuation of the story of Darkover.  Although Bradley is listed as co-author, I doubt she contributed anything more substantial than notes, and it will be interesting to see if there are additional volumes once this trilogy is completed.  It's actually a pretty good story, better than the first in the series.  Two young Darkover telepaths are brought together during the training process for their psychic powers, and despite their differing backgrounds and temperaments, they grow to be friends.  Unfortunately, one of their fellow students is hiding behind a secret identity, and is actually a tool of a man who was responsible for devastating calamities in times past.  The story has even more of the feel of fantasy than it did while Bradley was writing the novels, and unlike most middle novels of a trilogy, it has a pretty well defined ending, although there's obviously more devilment in the works.  I'm rarely fond of continuations of a series by new writers such as this, but Ross does a good enough job that I'm happy to go back to Darkover once again.

Trading in Danger by Elizabeth Moon, Del Rey, 10/03, $24.95, ISBN 0-345-44760-3

Elizabeth Moon kicks off a new series with the first adventure of Ky Vatta, who was dismissed from the military academy and has taken over the captaincy of one of the family's trading ships.  Her first flight is a good initiation into the problems of interstellar trade.  She has problems with her spaceship drive, can't get credit on her own name, and on top of everything there's a colonial war brewing that is likely to catch her up before she can move on.  A likeable protagonist and an almost equally well drawn crew help make this one of the better of the traditional interstellar trading stories, and a propitious start to a new series.

The Pixel Eye by Paul Levinson, Tor, 8/03, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30556-9

Phil D'Amato returns for his third case, this time initially just to find out why squirrels are mysteriously disappearing from Central Park.  Since I'm currently trying to evict a family of squirrels from the eaves of my attic, I was paying particular attention, but he didn't give me a workable solution.  Anyway, D'Amato's investigations soon involve the discovery of a new technology and the battle to control it, terrorist attacks, the growing tensions between those who want more security and those who want to protect individual freedom, and the use of holograms to stand in for living, and vulnerable, people.  The story meanders a bit and takes a while to develop, but the speculations are interesting and the questions raised by the plot are ones that we should all be considering much more carefully.

The Orion Protocol by Gary Tigerman, Morrow, 12/03, $23.95, ISBN 0-380-97670-6

I would have thought that readers and publishers alike would have had their fill of X-Files type conspiracy novels by now, but apparently that's not the case.  This debut novel features a journalist who teams up with an ex-astronaut to uncover evidence that aliens have been observing and interfering with human progress for centuries and that they're still out there now, their presence known only to a secretive subset of the various governments of the world.  They eventually unearth enough evidence to shake the governments of the US and Russia, and the author has provided a fairly lengthy appendix in which he explains the "factual" basis of most of the novel.  It's reasonably well written and I was moderately entertained, but I kept having this feeling of intense dιjΰ vu when I wasn't finding the conspiracy mania boring and unconvincing.

Callahan's Con by Spider Robinson, Tor, 7/03, $23.95, ISBN 0-765-30270-5

The regulars at Callahan's are settling into their new life in Florida when they attract the unwelcome attention of the local chapter of organized crime.  As if that wasn't bad enough, one of their number has gone off in a time machine that she cannot control and will die unless rescued.  So it's time for the entourage to recreate the telepathic union that saved the day last time.  There's the same light humor and light adventure of the previous books in the series, but even though it was a pleasant enough read, it was a bit light weight and a bit too familiar to be completely satisfying.  Although I would really like to see more good humorous SF, I always though Robinson wrote much better when he was tackling serious themes, and it would nice to see Callahan's take a vacation while he turned out meatier fare.

Monstrocity by Jeffrey Thomas, Prime, 7/03, $29.95, ISBN 1-894815-61-0

It isn't often that you find a Lovecraftian story set in the future on a distant planet, but that's exactly what this is.  The protagonist is struggling with the relationship between himself and his girlfriend when he stumbles across an occult book – yes, it's the Necronomicon – and correctly interprets it as more than just myths.  The monsters to which it refers are in fact a repulsive and aggressive alien race with unprecedented powers, and they're still intent upon invading our universe, no matter what planet we happen to be on.  Before he thwarts them – if in fact he really does – Christopher will commit murder and have his entire view of the world turned end over again.  Atmospheric, inventive, original, witty, and sometimes very creepy.

Saturn by Ben Bova, Tor, 6/03, $24.95, ISBN 0-312-87218-6

Ben Bova continues his history of the exploration and settlement of the solar system, having already visited Mars, Venus, Jupiter, the Moon, and the asteroid belt.  Now the religious fervor that has made Earth a place of repression and conformity has shown what appears to be a benevolent side.  Rather than persecute dissenters, it encourages them to find a new home elsewhere.  A massive colonization effort is started aimed at the moons of Saturn, but there's more to things than meets the eye.  Some among the company have a hidden agenda, and there's a surprise waiting in the rings of Saturn that could change the way humans think of themselves and their universe.  This loosely connected series has been far and away the most impressive work Bova has done, and the latest is so good I can hardly wait for Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto.

The H.G. Wells Reader edited by John Huntington, Taylor, 8/03, $19.95, ISBN 0-87833-306-1

Here's an unusual sampling of the works of H.G. Wells.  There are four complete short stories, and excerpts from most of his major SF novels, plus Tono-Bungay and Wheel of Chance, plus the complete text of the novel, The History of Mr. Polly.  The last, although not SF, is probably the biggest attraction to SF readers, since the novel has been very hard to find for many years and is one of his more interesting social satires.  The excerpts and stories have been selected to illustrate the breadth of Wells' writing and the wide variety in his subject matter and attitude.  With luck, it might inspire people to go out and find copies of the complete novels that are sampled here.

Space Inc. edited by Julie E. Czerneda, DAW, 7/03, $6.99, ISBN 0-7564-0147-X

Live Without a Net edited by Lou Anders, Roc, 7/03, $14.95, ISBN 0-451-45925-3

Low Port edited by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, Meisha Merlin, 2003, $16, ISBN 1-59222-013-4

Although all three of these original anthologies have a theme, it's loose enough that they might just as well be called general collections.  The first is the loosest, dealing with the future of humankind in space.  The stories tend to be more adventurous than in the other two, and there are good ones by Robert Sawyer, Alison Sinclair, Nancy Kress, and others, most of which are also quite entertaining.  The Anders collection is considerably more speculative, dealing with the ways that we might create an intercommunicative society in the absence of a computer network.  The authors include Paul Di Filippo, Rudy Rucker, Mike Resnick, David Brin, Michael Swanwick, Charles Stross, and many others.  Very high quality throughout this collection, both in thoughtful development of their respective premises and in the writing itself.  Last but certainly not least is a collection of unusual stories, a mix of sf and fantasy this time, that concentrate on the less outstanding characters in most stories.  Cargo handlers, kitchen help, mechanics, and other less glamorous jobs are used to create unusual stories, the best of which are by Mark Tiedemann, Nathan Archer, and Lee Martindale.  Most of the contributors to this one are newcomers, but the stories are all very workmanlike and most of them are quite good.

Thunder 33 by Johnny Lee Dawkins, 1stbooks, 2003, no price listed, ISBN 1-4033-3798-5

After the collapse of civilization, a murderously violent form of football becomes the most popular entertainment form.  Although this didn't look very promising, I'm sufficiently football deprived that I sampled it.  Some of the writing is awkward and there's not much character development, or even a whole lot of plot, but I enjoyed the detailed accounts of the actual games enough that I kept on through the rough spots and actually made it to the end.  Primarily for SF football enthusiasts but not without some merit, and the packaging on what I suspect is a self published book is very nice.

Future Imperfect by Keith Laumer, Baen, 2003, $14, ISBN 0-7434-3606-7

The Creatures of Man by Howard L. Myers, Baen, 2003, $14, ISBN 0-7434-3607-5

Two more titles in Baen's omnibus reprint series.  The Laumer collection is pretty good, with five long stories, the very good short novel The Day Before Forever, and unfortunately one of his weakest novels, Catastrophe Planet.  A Lafayette O'Leary omnibus would have made much more sense.  You'll get your money's worth from this even so, and one of the stories has never been previously collected to my knowledge.  The second title is by a name that will be unfamiliar to most, although some may recall Verge Foray, the name under which most of these stories originally appeared back in the 1970s.  His entire Econowar series is included, plus just about all of his unrelated stories.  They're a little dated, but not much.  On the other hand, they weren't particularly remarkable when they first appeared, and they're certainly nothing out of the ordinary now.  Not a bad collection, but if you have to choose, pick the Laumer for more consistent entertainment.

Dante's Equation by Jane Jensen, Del Rey, 8/03, $15.95, ISBN 0-345-43037-9

Sometimes the border between science fiction and fantasy is hazier than at other times, and this is one of those that mixes so much mysticism in that it could be shelved on either side of the border.  A research physicist discovers evidence that there is a way to objectively define good vs evil, a revelation which parallels the conclusions of a Holocaust survivor who was also a physicist.  She sets out to compare notes with the man, who has disappeared, eventually with the assistance of a journalist and a rabbi.  Unfortunately, the government has gotten wind of her work, and sinister agents who believe there is a potential weapon inherent in the discovery begin to follow them.  Most of the rest of the book is a slow motion chase wrapped in a mystery.  If you can accept the central premise, it's a pretty good story.  If you have difficulty swallowing the hypothesis, you may have trouble getting caught up in the otherwise well drawn suspense.

Deluge by Sydney Fowler Wright, Wesleyan, 8/03, $22.95, ISBN 0-8195-6660-8

I was in high school when I read this 1927 disaster novel, and had only the faintest recollection of it.  Now there's a new edition, the first since the 1975 Arno limited omnibus with its sequel, Dawn, and I finally got around to reading it again.  To my surprise, it holds up very well, following the adventures of various survivors – three in particular – in the aftermath of a worldwide flood that destroys civilization.  It's a bit didactic at times – Wright clearly thought our society was headed in the wrong direction and the flood provides an excuse for starting over again without making the same mistakes.  It rarely interferes with the story, however, which is powerfully told and quite engrossing.  It would be nice if Wesleyan or someone brought some of Wright's other novels back into print, particularly Spider's War and The Island of Captain Sparrow.  This new edition has a long and very informative introduction by Brian Stableford, and there's also a more expensive hardcover version.

Trampoline edited by Kelly Link, Small Beer Press, 8/03, $17, ISBN 1-931520-04-6

The problem with publishing an anthology that consists primarily of relatively unknown authors is that most readers tend to look for familiar names and use them to make their decisions.  That doesn't always mean they've gotten the best buy of the batch.  A case in point is this new collection of disparate fantastic fiction from a relatively unknown publisher.  There are a few established writers here – Maureen McHugh, Jeffrey Ford, Carol Emshwiller, Karen Joy Fowler, and Greer Gilman – but most of these names are new to me, or I've read only one or two pieces by them in the past.  There are some outstanding stories here – particularly Gilman's long contribution, but also tales by Glen Hirshberg, Karen Joy Fowler, Rosalind Palermo Stevenson, and a few others, and the bulk of the collection is surprisingly good for newcomers, although there is a definite tendency toward the literary and little overt action and adventure.  A collection for more thoughtful readers, for connoisseurs of the unusual in short fiction, and for people who want a taste of what might be the writers yet to come.

The Digital Dead by Bruce Balfour, Ace, 7/03, $6.99, ISBN 0-441-01084-9

Immortality is possible in the near future, or at least a variation of it.  When your body is wearing out, simply have your personality transferred into a computer network.  You can even continue to manipulate the external, physical world.  A researcher and his archaeologist girlfriend stumble into a plot that has already sent an assassin to kill the President of the US  and which is planning to seize control of the government.  But are the perpetrators living in the real world or the digital one, and if the latter, how can they be tracked down and exposed?  Some interesting speculation in this one, and plenty of tension, intrigue, and suspense.  Balfour has gotten better with each new book.

The Scoundrel Worlds by Chris Bunch, Roc, 8/03, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-45936-9

This is the second adventure of Star Risk, Ltd, a group of mercenaries although at least in this case they act more as security professionals.  They are hired by a remote planet to look into the potential for violence in their sporting industry.  Recent competition among several teams has become so intense that murder, riots, and other mayhem are in the offing, and the government doesn't want the competition to dissolve into chaos.  I'd like to say that the set up is unbelievable, but given the evidence of the violence that surrounds some of our own sports – particularly soccer – it sound all too credible.  The story itself is above average adventure with a hint of mystery, and just a suggestion of satire.

Artifact by Kevin J. Anderson, Janet Berliner, Matthew J. Costello, and F. Paul Wilson, Forge, 5/03, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30063-X

This novel is episodic and I suspect that each of the four authors was responsible for the exploits of one of the subsets of characters, with someone integrating everything into the final story.  An entrepreneur discovers a set of stones which, if combined, create a power source that will make conventional fuels obsolete.  Obviously it's to his advantage to suppress knowledge of their existence or exploit it himself, but before he can do so, one of his employees sends the stones to different locations.  The entrepreneur enlists the aid of the Daredevils Club to recover them, sending a disparate group of adventurers around the world for a series of adventures.  The gimmick is good and most of the episodes are interesting, but the integration wasn't always convincing for me.  On the other hand, the bad guy gets his just deserts and some of the adventures are neatly done.  A bit uneven, probably inevitably so, but still worth a read.

The Essential Spider-Man Volume 5, Marvel, 2002, $14.95, ISBN 0-7851-0881-5

The fifth and so far last of the Marvel retrospective Spider-Man collections doesn't do a whole lot to advance the underlying plot.  Aunt May's frequent collapses had become rather tedious by now, as had the stupidity of Peter Parker and Gwen in maintaining their on again off again relationship.  We do see the death of Gwen's father, who had been an ongoing character, and there's an amusing sequence in which Spider-Man briefly has six arms.  Old enemies are back, Kraven the Hunter, the Lizard, the Green Goblin, and the Beetle, along with new enemies the Gibbon and Morbius, both of whom are basically misunderstood and not evil at all.  Many of the issues pit our hero against mundane crooks, terrorists, robots, and even a prison riot.  The usual trickery is involved in his battle with fellow heroes the Prowler and Iceman, and there are guest appearances by Kazar and Doctor Strange.  All in all, a fairly humdrum period in the wall crawler's career.

Blind Lake by Robert Charles Wilson, Tor, 8/03, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30262-4

Blind Lake is one of two scientific centers using a revolutionary new technology to spy on the citizens of other planets.  The device was discovered almost by accident and no one really understands what is happening.  There is even a theory that the scenes they are viewing are not objectively real.  Everything seems to be going routinely when the site is suddenly quarantined from the outside world by the government, which uses robotic devices to kill anyone who tries to escape.  As tensions mount inside the project, a child's imaginary companion turns out to be very real indeed.  The larger story is wrapped around the tension between two scientists, formerly married, not bitterly separated and divided over custody of their daughter.  As with all of Wilson's novels, the characters are well drawn and credible and it is their tensions and problems that command our attention rather than the mysterious events which occur around them.  Unlike many other writers, Wilson avoids reprising his earlier themes and plots, so this one is unlike anything he's written before.

Cities edited by Peter Crowcroft, Gollancz, 2003,  £12.99, ISBN 0-575-07504-X

This is the latest in a series of collections of novellas, each of which was previously published separately by PS Publishing.  Like the others, the quality level is extraordinarily high, not uncommon at this length since only the very best efforts are able to find a publisher.  The opening story is "A Year in the Linear City" by Paul Di Filippo, and it's one of his strongest stories.  The setting is an enormous city in some fantastic alternate reality, a reality where fate hovers physically in the skies and the city itself goes on so far that it may not really have an end.  Next up is China Mieville's "Tain" in which the city of London is under siege by creatures that live on the other side of mirrors.  Mieville's fantasy is unlike that of anyone else currently writing.  Michael Moorcock brings by Jerry Cornelius in "Firing the Cathedral", a surrealistic spy spoof, and Geoff Ryman winds things up neatly with "V.A.O.", the shortest and least fantastic of the entries.  More than worth the weight for overseas postage.

Anise by Maren Henry, Wildside, 2003, $32.95, ISBN 1-58715-699-7

Dystopian futures come and go in popularity in SF circles.  George  Orwell's 1984 told us that big government could even triumph over love, and a number of writers since then have been saying otherwise.  The latest of these is first novelist Henry, whose novel is set in a future in which a terrible plague has deepened the divide between the rich and the poor.  Although the rich are supposedly enjoying a Utopian lifestyle while the genetically suspect live in horrible ghettos, the protagonist discovers that things aren't quite so clearcut.  She is about to be forced into a marriage she doesn't want, so she becomes a fugitive instead, and the only place to hide is among the lower classes, where she discovers the truth about the world and herself.  Somewhat predictable, but not at all badly written.

Jack London: Star Warrior by David Bischoff, Wildside, 2002, $14.95, ISBN 1-58715-816-7

Although this novel was published in different form on the internet in 1998, this is its first appearance as an actual book.  The title is rather misleading, since it isn't about Jack London, or at least not the Jack London you're probably thinking of.  This one is a female warrior on a future Earth that has been conquered by alien invaders.  She adopted the name and is on a quest to steal technology from a disabled starship, aided by her friendly raccoon companion, with whom she has a telepathic link.  Shades of Andre Norton.   It's a comic book style adventure, and actually so short it might only qualify as a novella rather than a novel.  It's fun while it lasts, though, and there's not a whole lot of high quality SF adventure stories being published lately, so grab it while you can.

Skylark 3 by E.E. "Doc" Smith, University of Nebraska Press, 2003, $12, ISBN 0-8032-9303-8

Despite the number, this is the second of four novels Smith wrote about Richard Seaton and the Skylark of Space.  Seaton is off to a distant planet to help its residents resist an interplanetary war while an alien race seeks to conquer the galaxy and his old human enemy, Blacky Duquesne, is on the prowl as well.  By today's standards this is a pretty standard old style space opera, in which the hero reaches into his black bag at opportune moments to find the solutions to his problems.  But if you first encountered Doc Smith when these stories were first appearing, you would have known how revolutionary his concept of the universe was.  Smith invented galactic empires and established the forms for much of the SF that was to follow, and he will always be an important historical figure in the field.

Jupiter Magnified by Adam Roberts, PS Publishing, 2003, $16, ISBN 1-902880-56-0

In Springdale Town by Robert Freeman Wexler, PS Publishing, 2003, $16, ISBN 1-902880-52-8

PS Publishing in England has been producing a steady crop of very fine novelettes and novellas for their high quality trade paperback and limited edition hardcover line.  These are two of the most recent titles, the first of which is a strange story wherein a greatly magnified vision of the planet Jupiter suddenly appears in the skies of Earth.  We see events from the viewpoint of a poet who is currently involved in an unhappy romantic relationship, and the book also contains a collection of "her" poetry.  Very atmospheric and evocative, but purists might object to the lack of a definite explanation.  The second title, by an author new to me, is even more bizarre and marginally better.  A bitter lawyer and a troubled actor separately interact with the town of Springdale, but in the case of the latter, without much luck making connections.  The identities of the two are strangely intertwined, the townspeople are enigmatic and remote, and there's a secret world lying concealed just beneath the otherwise mundane exterior. 

The Essential Spider-Man Volume IV, Marvel, 2002, $14.95, ISBN 0-7851-0760-6

Spidey's back for another round of adventures, mostly recapitulating older ones this time.  There's very little of the background plot advancement.  His relationship with Gwen is still on and off, interrupted by various contrived situations to cause friction.  We do find out about Peter Parker's parents, and Aunt May continues to collapse at the slightest provocation.  Most of his battles are against old enemies, Doctor Octopus, Mysterio, the Lizard, the Shocker, Electro, and the Chameleon, and we learn a good deal about Kingpin's family.  New villains include the Prowler, Man Mountain Marko, the Kangaroo, and a special guest appearance by the Red Skull, Captain America's arch enemy.  There are as well the usual plot corkscrews to have him battle good guys, including the Torch, the Black Widow, and Quicksilver.  A good, workmanlike collection with a few odd features thrown in, but only Doctor Octopus provides a really good battle.

Forge of the Gods by Steve White, Baen, 6/03, $22, ISBN 0-7434-3611-3

Derek Secrest thinks he's on a perfectly ordinary track for a successful military career when he is shunted aside to a secretive organization and told that he is a latent telepath.  Even more stunning is the revelation that the use of psychic powers actually alters the quantum physics of the universe, changing the nature of reality, and therefore it is quite possible to have "magic" which is still a part of the natural universe.  And shortly after that, he's off on an important and dangerous mission as part of his new duties.  This worked for me on one level, so long as I didn't think too closely about the consequences of the set up. The possibility of complete chaos nagged at me all the time, but if you can ignore that, there's an exciting adventure story here.

The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner, BenBella Books, 6/03, $28, ISBN 1-932100-05-9 or trade paper, $15.95, ISBN 1-932100-01-6

John Brunner was one of our best writers of adventure oriented SF, but somewhere in the late 1960s he also began to prove himself capable of more serious, larger scale works, with Stand on Zanzibar, The Jagged Orbit, and others including this 1972 title.  It's not one of his more cheerful novels.  Pollution and ecological damage have progressed so far that the end of life on Earth appears irreversible.  Already the Mediterranean is dead and plagues and starvation are reducing the population dramatically.  It was one of the novels he did in somewhat the style of John Dos Passos, with quick shifts of perspective, interpositions of non-narrative sections like newspaper stories or advertisements.  The tone is somewhat more bitter and somber than his other work, but it's still a powerful and entertaining novel, perhaps even more relevant with each passing year.

Bright Segment by Theodore Sturgeon, North Atlantic Press, 2002, $35, ISBN 1-55643-398-0

This is the eighth volume in the planned ten volume series of the complete short stories of one of the most talented writers the SF field ever produced.  These are stories written at the top of his form, and almost every one in this volume is a classic.  There's "To Here and the Easel" and "Granny Won't Knit" and "Cactus Dance" and "Bulkhead" , and there are also two minor but interesting short pieces I've never seen before.  A handsomely produced hardcover edition and a welcome sight for those of us who thought Sturgeon was the best writer the field ever produced.

The Anguished Dawn by James P. Hogan, Baen, 6/03, $26, ISBN 0-7434-3581-8

Back in 1999, James P. Hogan gave us a detailed, believable story of the destruction of Earth in Cradle of Saturn.  He returns to the scene of the crime to show us what happened in the aftermath.  Some of those who survived the catastrophe on Earth have joined forces with the colonists living on the moons of Saturn.  The proto-planet that broke loose from Jupiter is still wreaking havoc in the solar system, and may yet wipe out the entire human race.  Scientists plot its course and theorize about similar incidents in prehistoric times, while the usual conflicts among the various human groups who remain poses almost as much of a threat to survival as the natural catastrophe.  Complex, gripping, convincing, and entertaining, Hogan's latest disaster novel is one to rank with When Worlds Collide and other classics.

Felaheen by Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Earthlight, 2003, £12.99, ISBN 0-7434-6117-7

Here's the third adventure of Ashraf Bey, one of the more interesting characters in recent SF.  I'm astonished that Grimwood hasn't picked up a US publisher yet for this very fine series set in an alternate universe where Germany won the first World War and North Africa has become a prosperous part of the world.  Bey has an odd relationship with the man reputed to be his father, a man he has never met and is strangely unwilling to deal with, even when he hears rumors that an assassination attempt may have left him on his deathbed.  It's the third nicely plotted mystery Grimwood has produced against this setting, an alternate universe so unusual in its own right that the books would be of interest even if the plots and characters weren't so engaging.  It can only be a matter of time before these are available on this side of the Atlantic, but if you're impatient for some really good writing, you might try importing copies.

Brighten to Incandescence by Michael Bishop, Golden Gryphon, 6/03, $24.95, ISBN 1-930846-16-9

The seventeen stories in this collection span most of Bishop's career and the only thing at all surprising is that the quality level is so consistently high right from the outset.  If you haven't read it before, the book is worth its price just for the novelette "The Tigers of Hysteria Feed Only on Themselves".  The stories are predominantly SF but there's some fantasy and even a bit of supernatural horror, a story of the reanimated dead, although not the lurching zombies you might expect, as well as an unconventional ghost story.  There's a story about dinosaurs and another about the connection between love and death and another about murder in an alien habitat and yet another about an afflicted actor.  One original story is a speculation about the terrorist attack on New York City.  Most of these stories appeared in markets not accessible to most readers, so the bulk of the collection should be new.  Whether you're experiencing them for the first time or visiting with old friends, you won't find many collections as uniformly superior as this one.

The Green Ray by Jules Verne, Wildside, 2003, $35, ISBN 1-59224-035-6

Here's a Jules Verne novel – albeit a very short one – that I had never even heard of before.  It's not fantastic really, although there's a hint of the fantastic in the premise.  The protagonist believes that under just the right set of conditions, one can see a green ray of light on the horizon that has extraordinary properties.  She sets out on a cruise through the British Isles in search of a vantage point, accompanied by a cast of characters some of whom are infatuated with her.  Every opportunity goes awry as fate interferes with her plans, and when ultimately they reach a favorable position, Verne provides a surprise ending.  It's kind of cute, and there's some actual adventure in the final chapters, but clearly this one doesn't rank with his better known work.

Putting Up Roots by Charles Sheffield, Starscape, 4/03, $5.99, ISBN 0-765-34569-2

Another Heaven, Another Earth by H.M. Hoover, 4/03, $5.99, ISBN 0-812-56761-7

Tor's young adult line continues its mix of recent and less accessible SF and fantasy with these two new titles.  The first is from 1997 and uses an old SF theme, the colony world supposedly on a planet devoid of intelligent life, and the discovery that the survey was wrong, in this case demonstrated by a pair of teenagers.  Sheffield's young adult work was always sophisticated enough for mature readers and this is one of his best.  H.M. Hoover wrote several young adult novels during her career, of which this is one of the better ones, dating from 1981.  It's another familiar theme.  The survivors of a colony that collapsed under the strain of their new environment clash with a fresh load of colonists who have different ideas about the future of the planet.  Both are great for teens, and both are good enough to entertain adults as well.

Under the Moons of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs, University of Nebraska Press, 2003, $16.95, ISBN 0-8032-6208-6

Edgar Rice Burroughs is one of my guilty pleasures.  Every once in a while I pull out one or another volume of implausible, awkwardly written, but wonderfully amusing adventure stories.  After Tarzan, his most famous creation is John Carter of Mars, and the latest volume in the University of Nebraska's program of classic SF reprints is the omnibus volume of the first three novels in that series.  The first two end with cliffhangers that are tied up in the third, so this is a logical unit for a single book, and a steal at the price.  So follow John Carter to the red planet and help him look for the beautiful Dejah Thoris, befriend the four armed Tars Tarkus, and foil a bevy of villains and monsters in the process.

Images Conceits & Lollygags by Michael Kurland, Gryphon, 2003, $20, ISBN 1-58250-048-7

If anyone had asked, I'd have said that Michael Kurland doesn't write short stories.  Imagine my surprise when this turned up, a collection of his short fiction written over a period of thirty five years.  It contains almost all of his short SF, and a few stories that aren't fantastic, and covers most of his short story output, so my error would have been understandable.  Even better, though, is the fact that the stories are generally of very high quality.  The plots are everything from locked room murder mysteries to matter transmitters and vampires and the settings vary from ancient Rome to the distant future.  There is a definite tendency toward puzzle stories and a mild undercurrent of satiric humor.  Best bets are "A Brief Dance to the Music of the Spheres" and "Spadework".

Extremes by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Roc, 7/03, $6.50

The second chronicle of the Retrieval Artists is a deft blend of science fiction and mystery devices.  Miles Flint makes his living tracking down people who have disappeared, often because they've run afoul of alien laws, sometimes for reasons of their own.  This time he's involved with two deaths, both of which appear to be of natural causes, but both of which seems suspicious to him.  His investigation finds a common link, a man who disappeared some time before, and then a connection to a sports business where accidents seem to be a lot more common than might ordinarily be expected.  This very fine novel incorporates a nice puzzle and a well realized lunar setting, and the interplay between the protagonist and another detective are convincing and entertaining.

Messiah Node by Lyda Morehouse, Roc, 6/03, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-45929-6

Lyda Morehouse brings her debut trilogy to a rousing climax in her newest book.  The world has been transformed by a variety of religious movements, some honestly believing themselves to be right, others manipulated by shadowy figures working behind the scenes.  Artificial intelligences have matured and have become players in the game rather than simple machines.  Then an asteroid strikes, an event interpreted by many as a sign from Heaven that the final revelation is about to be made.  Morehouse weaves an intricate and absorbing web blending nanotechnology, mysticism, adventure, intrigue, speculation, and satire, all moving inevitably toward the final crisis.  Morehouse's world may not be one you'll want to live in, but it will draw you in and hold your interest from the first page to the last.

The Essential Spider-Man Volume 2, Marvel, 2002, $14.95, ISBN 0-7851-0989-7

Thirty more adventures of Marvel's popular teenaged superhero.  The background plots are sillier than usual during this span, with Peter Parker falling in and out of love almost at random, with the animosities between him and his fellow students so artificially contrived that they're laughable.  But the battles are as good as ever as he battles the Beetle, the Rhino, the Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, Xandu, Kraven the Hunter, and a few others.  Not many crossovers during this period – just one adventure with Doctor Strange and a brief stint when he is considering joining the Avengers and has to track down the Hulk to qualify.  Aunt May continues to grow sick, Betty Blake is finally out of his life, and at long last we get to see the mysterious Mary Jane Watson, who comes across in her debut as an airhead.  We also see the Green Goblin unmasked but he loses his memory in the comic rather than dying as he did in the film.  It's amazing that in the Marvel world a master criminal can be caught, tried, imprisoned, and paroled, all during the course of one high school student's senior year.  Unintended joke of the issue.  One imprisoned superhero pretends to be depressed, so the prison authorities give him back his suit and weapons as therapy.  He promptly escapes.  Duhhh!

The Essential Spider-Man Volume 3, Marvel, 2002, $14.95, ISBN 0-7851-0658-8

A nice solid collection of more than two dozen adventures of Spider-Man, from one of the best periods in his career.  There are relatively few supervillains this time.  The Lizard reappears along with Doctor Octopus, Mysterio, and Kraven, and he battles new enemies like Kingpin and the Shocker.  The Vulture is back as well, although he apparently dies, is replaced by a new Vulture, and then both appear together.  And there are the usual elaborate ruses to make him fight fellow superheroes Medusa and Ka-Zar.  Spidey has some hard times; he suffers amnesia, shrinks to six inches tall, is injured a couple of times, and his love life and personal finances go through their usual gyrations.  Mary Jane Watson finally appears, and I had forgotten how annoying she was, but his romance with Gwen Stacy moves forward quite nicely.  Foswell, the reformed gangster, dies saving J. Jonah Jameson and it appears that the Green Goblin is about to regain his memory.  A great collection of one of my favorite superheroes.

Snake's Hands: The Fiction of John Crowley by Alice K. Turner and Michael Andre-Driussi, Wildside, 2003, $49.95, ISBN 1-58715-509-5

John Crowley is one of the most respected writers in fantastic literature and one of the few to have a significant mainstream following as well.  This new non-fiction title from Wildside is a very large collection of essays about his work, written by the editors and others including Crowley himself, Thomas Disch, John Clute, and others.  The essays are uniformly good and quite varied in subject matter and approach, and together they provide an informative overview of Crowley's work.  It's a major critical work dealing with one of the major writers in modern speculative fiction.

The Year's Best Science Fiction Twentieth Annual Collection edited by Gardner Dozois, St Martins, 7/03, $35, ISBN 0-312-30859-0

If you buy this volume every year, and the companion volume for fantasy and horror edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, you could almost forego subscribing to the SF magazines.  They don't include every good story, but it's not likely they'll miss any of the outstanding ones.  There are twenty five stories this year, plus the usual extensive list of honorary mentions.  They're drawn from the prozines, from electronic publishing, and from original anthologies.  Although the tend toward the literary side of the field, they're all well told stories with actual plots.  The contributors this year include Ian McDonald, Nancy Kress, Alastair Reynolds, Charles Stross, Michael Swanwick, Gregory Benford, Kage Baker, and many others.  There's also a trade paperback edition for $19.95.

American Beauty by Allen Steele, Five Star, 6/03, $25.95, ISBN 0-7862-5339-8

Allen Steele is one of those rare writers who can write a story of hard SF without sacrificing story telling or characterization, as he has demonstrated in a steady string of novels.  Steele also manages to produce a steady stream of high quality short fiction as well, of which this is his third collection.  The themes and plots here are wide ranging – robots, a visit to the planet Mars, a story set in Philip Jose Farmer's "Riverworld" setting, and satire.  Two of the stories were entirely new to me and a third only appeared previously under a pseudonym.  There's also a very funny satire titled "Tom Swift and His Humongous Mechanical Dude".  If you haven't read this already, you're in for a treat.  If you've read them before, they'll entertain you just as readily the second time through.

Aye, and Gomorrah by Samuel R. Delany, Vintage, 4/03, $14, ISBN 0-375-70671-2

It's very difficult to explain to new SF readers how great the impact was back when Samuel R. Delany and a handful of other innovative writers transformed the field back in the 1960s.  Each new book or story was discussed and debated in fanzines and in person.  Delany actually produced a fairly small body of short fiction during this period, but the impact was much greater.  Tales like "Driftglass" and "The Star Pit" and the title story remained etched in my memory even after more than thirty years have passed.  This new collection brings fifteen of the best of Delany's shorts back into print, and it's a book that is long overdue.  They may not be as groundbreaking now as they were when they first appeared, but they're every bit as good and anyone who wants to experience the potential of SF as a literary form as well as entertainment should be familiar with these.

The Road to Science Fiction Volume 3 edited by James Gunn, Scarecrow Press, 2002, $32.50, ISBN 0-8108-4245-9

Scarecrow is the third publisher for this massive anthology, this one covering the period from Robert A. Heinlein to 1979, when this volume originally appeared.  Most of the greats of that period are included here, Tenn, Leiber, Clarke, Bradbury, Bester, Clement, Ballard, Laffery, Ellison, LeGuin, and many others.  More than 550 pages of fiction with Gunn's lengthy commentaries.  A great way to introduce SF to new readers as well as to visit old friends in print.  No word on whether or not this publisher will be doing the rest of the volumes in the series.

The Cold Equations & Other Stories by Tom Godwin, Baen, 4/03, $14, ISBN 0-7434-3601-6

Interstellar Patrol by Christopher Anvil, Baen, 4/03, $14, ISBN 0-7434-3600-8

Two more retrospective collections from Baen, although these aren't quite big enough to be called omnibuses.  Tom Godwin was a minor writer who struck it big once with the title story of this collection, which puts a space pilot in the position of having to choose between the life of one sweet young stowaway and the future of an entire colony.  Where most writers would have found an engineering miracle to save the day, Godwin's protagonist must make the hard choice.  It's a very effective story.  The remaining eight shorts in this collection are readable, but nothing out of the ordinary.  They're packaged with his first novel, The Survivors aka Space Prison.  It was an okay story of people stranded on a hostile planet at the time, but it's pretty creaky nowadays.  Christopher Anvil was more prolific, and a considerably better writer.  Oddly enough, I don't think this volume includes much of his better fiction though.  It starts with the three novelets that were later cobbled together as the novel, Strangers in Paradise, and I never thought much of them even when they were first published.  The others range from just okay to pretty good, but there's obviously room for at least another solid volume of his short fiction.  The Anvil is worth the money if you enjoy good Analog style short stories, but if you don't care for old fashioned SF, you'll want to pass on the Godwin.

McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales edited by Michael Chabon, Vintage, 2/03, $13.95, ISBN 1-4000-3339-X

Technically this isn't really a science fiction title, although several of the stories contained herein are fantasy or SF.  The unifying theme here is adventure, so whether it's a murder to be solved, a supposedly extinct fish to be located, a quest to be completed, or some other obstacle to be overcome, the adventure is the most important thing.  What puzzled me is that most of the stories are pretty low key, even though they're from a talented lot of writers.  Michael Crichton's rather depressing tale of a private detective is one of the best, as is Michael Moorcock's amusing further adventure of the Von Beks.  Stephen King has a short adventure of Roland, the Gunslinger, and there are pretty good stories by Laurie King, Chris Offutt, Neil Gaiman, Carol Emshwiller, and Karen Joy Fowler.  Other plots involve zeppelins, witches, mummies, Nazis, graverobbers, fugitives, bank robbers, and vengeful elephants.  A good book for a lazy hot summer day.

Women Writing Science Fiction As Men edited by Mike Resnick, DAW, 6/03, $6.99, ISBN 0-7564-0148-8

Back in the pulp era, several female SF writers wrote under male or asexual pseudonyms, like Andre Norton, C.L. Moore, and more recently James Tiptree.  Mike Resnick has challenged sixteen contemporary female writers to do something similar, write an SF story from a male viewpoint.  That restraint seems, frankly, irrelevant to most of the stories collected here, from writers including Severna Park, Jennifer Roberson, Mercedes Lackey, Kay Kenyon, and Kristine Kathryn Rusch.  Rusch, Park, and Roberson have the best entries in a pretty good field, so even if you're not interested in the premise, you should find a treat or two in this one.

Bitter Waters by Wen Spencer, Roc, 6/03, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-45922-9

Ukiah Oregon, part human, part alien, all private detective, returns for his third adventure, and this time it's even more complex than before.  Initially he takes on an interesting and unusual case about a missing boy who may have been kidnapped.  Then he discovers that agents of the federal government are investigating him, possibly because of rumors of the unusual powers he has tried to conceal in the past.  At the same time, he attracts the attention of a bizarre religious cult who seem to have taken an unusual and potentially unhealthy interest in his activities.  Then his own son is kidnapped, and the other complications make it difficult for him to track down the missing boy.  Hovering behind all that is fear that inimical aliens may still be planning their revenge against him.  Spencer demonstrates that she knows how to mix mystery and science fiction deftly and entertainingly, and she continues to develop her protagonist into a multi-leveled and interesting character.

Edgar Rice Burroughs and Tarzan by Robert W. Fenton, McFarland, 2003, $35, ISSBN 0-7864-1393-x

I knew that Edgar Rice Burroughs had had a varied and not particularly successful career before he created Tarzan and hit the big time, but I hadn't realized until I read this biography how varied it was.  He worked in the retail book business, as a policeman, a treasure, a gold miner, an accountant, a clerk, a salesman, and in advertising all in the span of just over ten years. Fenton's biography, which includes a large selection of photographs, concentrates on the Tarzan books and only mentions most of his other work in passing, but it also covers the films, comic strips, and other sidelines that Tarzan brought to his creator.  The book is filled with fascinating little tidbits and occasional insights, and helps to put the man's work into focus. 

Kingdom River by Mitchell Smith, Forge, 6/03, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-30008-7

The second volume of the Snowfall trilogy continues the saga of a warrior tribe trying to make a new place for itself after an ice age destroys much of the old civilization.  Sam Monroe and his people have settled in what was once known as Mexico, but they find themselves surrounded by more powerful entities.  Their best chance at survival is to forge an alliance with the power least likely to turn on them.  There's less of the man against nature theme this time around than in the first novel.  Now the focus is on the political struggle, as Sam finds himself promised in marriage to the daughter of his would be ally, and himself growing increasingly frustrated by the burden of leadership.  Considerably more complex than its predecessor, with the feel of a chilly Road Warrior.

Black Hole Planet by Hayford Peirce, Betancourt, 2003, $32.95, ISBN 1-59224-935-3

Hayford Peirce has three interesting novels and a larger number of less interesting short stories to his credit.  Now he's back at novel length, with an offbeat space opera that proves he's more effective as a writer when he has enough space to move around.  The protagonist is a space captain whose wife is in suspended animation because of medical problems that can only be solved if he returns to human controlled space and finds a medical facility.  Unfortunately, that's easier said than done, because he finds himself caught in the middle of a battle between aliens who use a black hole to propel their planet around the galaxy and the descendants of humans they kidnapped in the past, and who now have nearly superhuman powers.  Throw in some disembodies intelligences, a bit of a murder mystery, some sardonic humor, and you have a nicely entertaining interstellar romp.

The Cold Road by Rick Wilber, Forge, 6/03, $25.95, ISBN 0-312-86621-6

Melissa, the protagonist of this intriguing first novel, has recently taken up a new job on a tropical island.  There is mystery surrounding the man to whom she is romantically attracted, possibly including murder, and back in her original home in Minnesota, her father is also troubled by a series of unsolved killings.  As both pressures begin to build, she also discovers that she has a psychic power that might reveal the truth or might bring about her own destruction.  Wilber writes with a strong, involving prose style and this feels more like a mainstream novel that a genre work.  I wouldn't be surprised if this one attracts a wider readership, both from fans of the fantastic and those who like mainstream suspense.

Tatooine Ghost by Troy Denning, Del Rey, 3/03, $25.95, ISBN 0-345-45668-8

The Star Wars franchise hasn't been very active recently, but that seems to be changing.  This one's set shortly after the death of Emperor Palpatine.  The Empire is reeling but not defeated, and their agents are on Tatooine to recover an artifact which will reveal the identity of rebel agents among their ranks.  Han and Leia are there to thwart them, but there are other parties involved as well, and the outcome remains in doubt.  Even more unsettling, Leia has had a vision of Luke's corruption, and fears that the Dark Side will seize another victim.  Stripped of the Star Wars clothing, this would be a pretty fair other world's adventure, but the suspense just isn't there because we know Luke isn't going to turn evil and that Han and Leia will survive whatever danger they face.  Okay for fans, pretty light for other readers.

Jumping the Jack by Clayton Emery and Earl Wajenberg, Betancourt, 2003, $29.95, ISBN 1-59224-935-3

The protagonists of this space adventure are a husband wife team of engineers who find themselves on an enormous enclosed habitat in space, faced with myriad problems.  First there's the mythical race of lizard warriors who turn out to be not so mythical after all.  Then there are the human colonists, who aren't much more friendly than the lizards.  And then there's the fact that the space station itself is likely to self destruct at any moment if they can't figure out how to stabilize its environment, assuming they can stay alive long enough to address the problem.  This is a lightning paced adventure story that, alas, just didn't work for me.  It was too much like reading a comic book adventure without the pictures.  The characters were just names, the dangers obviously not nearly enough to foil our heroes, and I found myself nodding off in the middle of battles, chases, and moments of supposed tension.  It's okay if you like your adventure REALLY light, but not if you want to get your teeth into anything solid.

Strangers by Gardner Dozois, Ibooks, 2003, $12, ISBN 0-7434-5846-X

Gardner Dozois is best known now as the long time editor of Isaac Asimov's SF Magazine, but back in the 1970s and early 1980s he was better known as the author of a number of first rate short stories.  This is his only solo novel, a story set in the far future when humankind has spread throughout the galaxy.  The protagonist is living in a small human enclave on a world inhabited by more advanced humanoids when he falls in love with one of the local women and undergoes surgical alteration in order to avoid the proscription against interspecies love.  Things are never quite that simple, however, and they discover that there are more than physical differences between them.  This is a love story, and a story about what it means to be human, and most of all it's a novel filled with genuine emotion, so effective that I can't help wondering what would have happened if Dozois had remained a writer first and an editor second instead of the opposite.

Gullivar of Mars by Edwin L. Arnold, University of Nebraska Press, 2003, $15.95, ISBN 0-8032-5942-5

This novel was first published in 1905 and saw an earlier paperback edition, now long out of print, from Ace novels.  It's a Burroughsian planetary adventure, but with a difference; it actually preceded Edgar Rice Burroughs first John Carter adventure and is a likely influence on that novel and its many sequels.  Arnold's plot is just as inventive, adventure filled, and hopelessly but amusingly unlikely, although he was not quite as good a story teller as Burroughs.  There were no sequels, and if there had been, we might be referring to the John Carter books as an Arnoldian adventure story instead of vice versa.  The title character battles inhuman warriors, wins a beautiful princess, and visits many strange and exotic lands.  Nice to see it available again.

Eden 459 by Martin J. Stab, GMA, 2002, $16, ISBN 1-59268-007-0

First off, I have to admit that I was put off by the publicity material that stated this novel was inspired by the author's "personal" UFO sightings while serving in the Air Force.  I gave it a try, however, and had a very mixed reaction.  On the positive side, Stab is a good storyteller, has a nice sense of pace, his prose style is certainly readable, and he does a fairly good job of creating characters.  On the negative side, I found parts of the plot unbelievable and others all too familiar.  There's a bit too much packed into it for everything to fit.  We have a mutiny aboard a space station, aliens secretly living on Earth, a gigantic asteroid on a collision course with the home world, a group lost in space, and various other dangers and adventures.  I think if Stab had narrowed his focus he might have ended up with a pretty good novel, but unfortunately he reached too high.

Remnant by Sean Williams and Shane Dix, Del Rey, 2/03, $6.99, ISBN 0-345-42870-6

Williams and Dix manage to insert some fresh life into the Star Wars franchise with this, the opening volume of a trilogy.  The Empire is essentially gone, Luke Skywalker is married, and fresh conflicts and turmoil continue to upset the galaxy.  In an effort to find a way to defeat a belligerent alien race, Luke and several other Jedi go off into unknown space in search of a sentient planet believed to have defeated them in the past.  Other than the familiar names, this doesn't feel at all like a routine tie-in novel.  It's inventive, action packed, and intelligently constructed  Michael Kube-McDowell and Timothy Zahn have already contributed mini-series within the overall framework that rise above the basic subject matter, and it looks like this collaborative team is about to join them.

X-Men 2 by Chris Claremont, Del Rey, 2003, $6.99, ISBN 0-345-46196-7

Considering the fact that Claremont is probably the best writer the X-Men has ever had, it's altogether fitting that he do the novelization of the second film.  Not that it's quite the X-Men he wrote about, of course, since Hollywood decided to pick and choose and ended up with a combination that never really existed in the comic book series.  Our old friends from the first film are back, along with new heroes and villains including Cerebro.  It's more of the same, good mutants against bad ones, the fate of the world in the balance, with lots of battles and chases.  The film isn’t out yet, but based on the book, it seems likely to be an even bigger hit than the first.

Whodunnit by Dean Wesley Smith, Aspect, 3/03, $5.99, ISBN 0-446-61216-2

An odd alliance is featured in this new Smallville novel.  Lex Luthor's father has been kidnapped at just about the same time that an apparently innocuous family is murdered.  Clark Kent is determined to solve the murder and Lex is equally determined to rescue his father, but neither may succeed unless they set aside their differences and act together.  Standard adventure fare here, well written but offering nothing new to readers who aren't interested in the television program.

The Ruins of Power by Robert E. Vardeman, Roc, 4/03, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-45928-8

The Mech Warrior series is a kind of subset of the Battletech universe.  The setting is an interstellar empire where wars are fought by giant robots piloted by humans.  This particular story involves a planet whose pacifist governor has dismantled most of the local defensive system just as a crisis threatens the population's liberty.  As an industrialist begins refitting commercial robots as weapons, civil war seems about to break out.  Most of the novels in this and the parent series seem to be restatements of one another, political struggles interspersed with battle scenes.  If that's what the readers want, then Vardeman serves them up a good dose, and his machinations are more believable than those in most of the others in the series.  That said, there's nothing particularly intriguing here for more general readers.

Science Fiction: The Best of 2002 edited by Robert Silverberg and Karen Haber, Ibooks, 2003, $7.99, ISBN 0-7434-5816-8

Future Wars edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Larry Segriff, DAW, 2003, $6.99, ISBN 0-7564-0129-1

Title number one is the first in a new series of annual best-of-the-year anthologies.  Although taste is subjective, the opening volume is of extremely high quality and I have no doubt that the editors will be equally perceptive in years to come.  The contributors this time include Ted Chiang, Brian Aldiss, Christopher Priest, James Morrow, Charles Stross, Geoffrey Landis, and others, and are drawn from primarily from the mainstream SF prozines.  This doesn't have the scope of the annual from Gardner Dozois, but the quality is certainly comparable.  Title number two is an original anthology, the theme of which is obviously future war, fortunately a theme broad enough that the stories don't tend to repeat one another.  Barry Longyear is included here, a byline I've seen far too infrequently these past few years, as are Robert Sawyer, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and several others, including a few writers not ordinarily linked to SF.

Warriors of Ultramar by Graham McNeill, Black Library, 4/03, $6.95, ISBN 0-7434-4352-7

This is one of the science fictional Warhammer novels.  A military officer defending a highly developed planet discovers that an alien race is about to descend upon his forces, a race which wipes out all civilizations they encounter.  In order to defeat them, he has to violate his own personal code of conduct and use more savage tactics, even though he feels uneasy about the compromise.  I'm afraid this one didn't catch my interest at all.  The characters were flat, the menace never built up any suspense, and the battles were more of the same old thing.  For Warhammer fans only.

Reference Guide to Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror by Michael Burgess and Lisa R. Bartle, Libraries Unlimited, 2002, $75, ISBN 1-56308-548-8

This is a reference work not about genre fiction itself but rather a guide to other reference works, over seven hundred of them in fact.  There's a detailed description of each explaining its scope and specific areas of concentration, comparing various editions, and in most cases there is an evaluation of the accuracy, completeness, and usefulness of the work in question.  This is obviously aimed primarily at libraries, but serious students of the genre might also find this useful in tracking down or evaluating other sources.

Hulk by Tom DeFalco, DK, 2003, $24.99, ISBN 0-7894-9771-9

With the movie of the Marvel superhero coming out soon, it's no surprise that the tie-in are starting to appear.  This one sets a high mark for the others to maintain, not surprisingly a beautiful looking booking from a publisher whose catalogues are better than some publishers' offerings.  This is the usual compendium  with full color art on every page.  There are images of Hulk as different artists have rendered him over the years, a history of the character, studies of some of his chief opponents, as well as a well written general overview of the history of the Hulk himself, his fate, and the alternate realities into which he has been inserted.  Perfect for Hulk fans everywhere and informative for those who are not.

The Happiness Code by Amy Herrick, Viking, 2003, $24.95, ISBN 0-670-03197-6

If you're looking for a science fiction novel that's a little bit out of the ordinary, you might just want to take a look for this one.  The story is about a typical family whose lives are changed when they take in a foundling baby who is invariably happy.  What we know and they don't is that a scientist has recently discovered the gene controlling happy natures.  You can sort of figure out what's going to happen after that, but it's unlikely that you'll anticipate the clever twists, humorous consequences, and the smooth prose style that the author uses to tell her story.  Although the speculation is rather lightweight for experienced SF readers, the story is clever and amusing and it makes a nice change from the latest interstellar epic or quantum physics extrapolation.

Forbidden Wasteland by Jim Branger, Creative Arts, 2002, $13.95, ISBN 0-88739-394-2

Jack Carson finds himself stranded on a savage planet where there are slavers, primitive barbarian warriors, beautiful women, flying lizards, swordfights, and so forth and so on.  It's a pastiche of Edgar Rice Burroughs, written with rather better prose, and slightly more plausible in terms of plot, but only slightly.  This one's right for you if you want a nostalgic trip back to the days when the protagonist was a real hero, the villains were obvious and always got what they deserved, and the action was fast and furious if not always completely believable.

The Aftermath by Samuel C. Florman, Thomas Dunne, 3/03, $13.95, ISBN 0-312-31112-5

Fans of disaster novels won't find anything particularly new or interesting in this one, except one of its idiosyncrasies.  A comet has hit the Earth and caused the destruction of the human race with the except of the region of Natal.  Fortunately, several hundred engineers were meeting in a conference so it falls upon them to set about rebuilding civilization, using their abilities and shaped by their rather unusual viewpoint.  There's a bit of stereotyping here, but the story quickly progresses to the usual internal squabbles, problems solved, mysteries unraveled, and hardships endured.  The prose is certainly readable enough to hold your interest and the unusual viewpoint is fairly interesting.

Babylon Sisters and Other Posthumans by Paul Di Filippo, Prime Books, 2002, $17.95, ISBN 1-894815-81-5

Paul Di Filippo's short fiction has almost always been right on there on the edge, pushing at the borders of SF, combining some pretty wild speculation with biting satire, sharply crafted prose, a seriously disturbed sense of humor, and consistently good writing.  This is, I think, his best book since The Steampunk Trilogy.  It includes fourteen short stories, most from the 1990s, several of which have not been available in the US before now. 'Stone Lives", "Phylogenesis", "Otto and Toto in the Oort", and the title story are my favorites, but there are so many good stories here that it's hard to spotlight just a few.  Nanotechnology, genetic manipulation, alien intruders, interstellar civilizations, urban decay, and the cultural future of humanity are just a few of the subjects covered here.  A few of the stories are so far out that they are probably fantasy rather than SF, but it doesn't really matter what you label them so long as you read them.  This is a major collection from one of the major talents in short SF and you are cheating yourself if you don't treat yourself to some of his fiction.

Portrait in Death by J.D. Robb, Berkley, 3/03, $7.99, ISBN 0-425-18903-1

Although this series is set more than fifty years from now, about half of the books – sixteen to date – have virtually no SF content.  That's the case with this one, which could have been a contemporary police procedural murder mystery with minimal changes.  It would be a pretty good one though.  Eve Dallas is after a serial killer who chooses certain physical types and who photographs them after death.  She is aided by her trusty sidekicks, and to a lesser extent by her husband, about whose past he and we learn a great deal this time.  The banter among the characters is extremely good this time, the mystery was good, and I didn't much care that the references to technological advances and space travel were irrelevant this time.

The Essential Hulk Volume 2, Marvel, 2002, $14.95, ISBN 0-7851-0795-9

The green skinned alter ego of Bruce Banner returns for another two dozen adventures.  He spends most of his time escaping from traps and fights as many superheroes as supervillains during this period.  The most notable fellow good guys he encounters are the Silver Surfer, Ka-Zar, Black Bolt and the Inhumans, Sub-Mariner, and Nick Fury. There are plenty of villains as well, including Rhino, the Mandarin, Sandman, the Leader, and the Puppet Master.  He visits a couple of other planets and Asgard along the way.  The only major change during this period is that everyone finds out that the Hulk and Bruce Banner are one and the same.  I  found the stories more repetitive than usual this time, and there were occasional minor inconsistencies, particularly in General Thunderbolt Ross and his attitude toward the Hulk, and the usual frequent vacations from logic, but they're still good fun of their type.

X-Men: The Ultimate Guide by Peter Sanderson, DK Books, 2003, $24.99, ISBN 0-7894-9258-X

This is a new, updated version of the guide I reviewed a couple of years back, incorporating stills from the movies and some other odds and ends.  The book covers various aspects of the X-Men, their changing membership, their villains, Xavier's estate, and so forth.  All of it is illustrated in full color, and if you've seen other books from this publisher, you'll have an idea just how gorgeous it is.  An oversized hardcover that's just what the deprived X-Men fan needs, but if you own the earlier edition, there's not really enough new material to justify an upgrade.

The Twilight Zone Scripts of Earl Hamner by Earl Hamner and Tony Albarella, Cumberland House, 3/03, $16.95, ISBN 1-58182-330-4

Earl Hamner, who would later create The Waltons and produce Falcon Crest also wrote eight scripts for the original Twilight Zone, hosted by Rod Serling.  This is a collection of all eight of those scripts, which sometimes vary slightly from the finished product.  Each script is accompanied by notes from Tony Albarella, and there's a number of black and white photos included as well, and there's a short story by Hamner that was intended to be an episode but which never made the transition.  These aren't the most memorable episodes of the series, frankly, but they aren't the least memorable ones either, and at least one, "Black Leather Jackets", is quite good.

Dark Angel: The Eyes Only Dossier by D.A. Stern, Del Rey, 2/03, $14.95, ISBN 0-345-45185-6

This is a kind of companion volume to the recently cancelled television series set about twenty years from now.  It consists mostly of documents mentioned or referring to the incidents in the program, with a handful of black and white photographs of cast members and so on.  If you were a fan of the show, you'll probably want this, but it really doesn't provide any useful information for the casual reader or viewer.

Hitchhiker by M.J. Simpson, Hodder & Stoughton, 2003, £18.99, ISBN 0-340-82488-3

There are any number of humorists who are funny for the moment, but whose jokes and even names we cannot remember a few weeks later.  On the other hand, there are a handful of comedians who find such a unique vein of what's funny that they become part of the common experience of humanity.  Abbott & Costello, the Firesign Theatre, Monty Python, and Groucho Marx are a few of these giants, and another is Douglas Adams, who will be remembered forever for his Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series.  Here's what I believe is his first biography, detailing his interactions with the cast of Monty Python, with the Beatles, and with the various radio and television productions of his work.  I found the part about his writing of Doctor Who scripts of particular interest, and the book as a whole is comprehensive, entertainingly written, and informative.

The Amazing Spider-Man Volume One, Marvel, 2002, $14.95, ISBN 0-7851-0988-9

Spider-Man has always been my favorite Marvel superhero, at least partly because he has the neatest set of supervillains, including the Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, and the Lizard.  In this volume, which covers his first two dozen adventures, and which varies significantly from the film version, he battles them as well as the Vulture, Sandman, Doctor Doom, Mysterio, Electro, Kraven, the Scorpion, and the Ringmaster, including the first convocation of the Sinister Six.  He also gets tangled up with several of his fellow good guys including Daredevil, the Fantastic Four, Thor, the Avengers.  His rough love life includes Liz, the high school girl who admires him as Peter Parker, and Betty Brant, secretary to irascible J. Jonah Jameson, but we never see Mary Jane Watson, though she is mentioned.  With the possible exception of the X-Men, this was the best written series in Marveldom, and some of the classic adventures are included here.

Zulu Heart by Steven Barnes, Warner, 3/03, $24.95, ISBN 0-446-53122-7

When I read Lion's Heart last year, I thought Steven Barnes had finally crossed the threshold from good to excellent.  That seems to be borne out by this new title, a sequel, also set in an alternate history where North America was colonized from Africa and whites are held as slaves.  One of the two protagonists is a senator in the nation that arose in place of America, an earnest and thoughtful man who is sympathetic toward his slave, the second protagonist, and concerned about the threat of war between two powerful countries, Egypt and Ethiopia.  When he dares to oppose the war openly, death threats are made against his family, and he must choose which path to travel between self interest and service to his ideals.  Marginally better than its predecessor, and with something to tell us about events in our own world, this is further proof that Barnes is no longer just another name on the paperback rack.  He's now a writer to be reckoned with.

Cosmos Latinos edited by Andrea L. Bell & Yolanda Molina-Gavilan, Wesleyan University Press, 7/03, $70, ISBN 0-8195-6633-0 (or trade paper for $24.95, ISBN 0-8195-6634-9)

Considering the enormous growth of the Hispanic population in the US, it's surprising that there has been very little effort to find SF that originates in Spain or Central and South America.  The editors have attempted to address that issue with this collection of twenty seven stories, arranged chronologically to illustrate the evolution of the form in that culture.  The earliest stories are closest to mainstream American SF in subject matter and atmosphere – space travel, robots, etc.  The prose becomes more literary in the more recent stories, just as it did in English language SF, but they have a very different feel and even standard SF devices feel mildly different.  So here's your chance to sample stories from Spain, Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Mexico, and even Cuba.  They're every bit as good as the ones you'll find in contemporary anthologies, and it's unlikely you will have read any of them before.

The Yellow Wave by Kenneth Mackay, Wesleyan University Press, 6/03, $60, ISBN 0-8195-6631-4 (or in trade paperback for $19.95, ISBN 0-8195-6632-2)

Back in the early 20th Century there was considerable concern about what was seen as the "yellow menace", the hordes of Asians who were viewed as a threat to Western Civilization.  Writers like M.P. Shiel and others including the original Buck Rogers stories envisioned Asians plotting the conquest of the world.  Australia was the one country that had a good excuse for worrying about China, because it was already seeing an influx of Asian immigrants.  This early novel, published in 1895, has Great Britain preoccupied by a war in India.  Left on its own, Australia eventually finds itself beset by legions of Chinese soldiers following Russian officers in their invasion.  We see most of the action from the points of view of a typical fictional adventure hero, but also from the eyes of some of the Russian characters, who are not portrayed as one dimensional villains.  The prose is a bit awkward, the style occasionally preachy, the undertones somewhat racist at times, but it's still a rousing adventure story that – in the context of its time – was probably one of the better examples of Australian SF.

Berserker's Star by Fred Saberhagen, Tor, 6/03, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30423-6

Although there are individual novels by Fred Saberhagen that stand out from his substantial and generally excellent body of work, he is most famous for creating the universe of the berserkers, oversized starships with artificial intelligence left over from a war preceding human history, their continuing mission the destruction of all organic life in the universe.  He returns to that series with this new adventure, set on one of the strangest worlds in SF, a quasi-plant that is home to a mysterious and dangerous cult.  The protagonist is a space pilot who agrees to help a woman attempt to recover her husband from the cult despite his suspicion that she isn't telling him the whole truth and despite reports that Berserker ships have been sighted near their destination.  When they arrive, he discovers an even deeper mystery surrounding the fanatics and their world, as well as the threat of the berserkers, whom the reader knows must be involved somehow.  An exciting climax, an interesting puzzle, and the return of a familiar menace.  It's not the best of the Berserker books, but it's one of the better ones.

Witpunk edited by Claude Lalumiere and Marty Halpern, Four Doors Eight Windows, 2003, $16, ISBN 1-56858-256-0

Mojo: Conjure Stories edited by Nalo Hopkinson, Aspect, 4/03, $13.95, ISBN 0-446-67929-1

There was a time when SF satire was popular, but in recent years the form has been used less frequently, and certainly the term hasn't been a selling point.  But that doesn't mean that it isn't still being written, and written well, and in the first of these two new anthologies – half reprint, half original – illustrates the point quite well.  The stories are by such diverse hands as Bradley Denton, William Browning Spencer, James Morrow, Paul DiFilippo, Robert Silverberg, Pat Cadigan, and many others.  There's a strong lean toward the literary in these stories, but never at the expense of storytelling.  This is a good book to use against the charge that SF can't be good literature as well as entertaining.  The second title is all original, and most of the writers aren't names familiar to SF and fantasy fans.  At least not yet.  The common theme here is the survival of African customs and beliefs in the new world, chiefly voodoo in one variation or another.  The more familiar names – and generally the better stories are by Tananarive Due, Steven Barnea, Barbara Hambly, Andy Duncan, Gerard Houarner, and Neil Gaiman.  Unusually high quality in this one as well.  It's turning out to be a better than average year for anthologies, at least to date.

Norstrilia by Cordwainer Smith, Ibooks, 3/03, $12, ISBN 0-7434-5834-6

A Plague of Demons and Other Stories by Keith Laumer, Baen, 2/03, $15, ISBN 0-7434-3588-5

Here's a couple of very noteworthy reprints.  Cordwainer Smith is rightly considered one of the best SF writers of all time, even though he produced a relatively small body of work.  This is at least the fifth appearance of this combined edition of The Planet Buyer and The Underpeople, both of which appeared separately as well.  Each new generation of readers has found this to be one of the best books the field has ever produced, and so will generations to come.  The second title is another massive collection of reprints, starting off with Laumer's first full length novel, A Plague of Demons, combined with seven other stories, all of them longer than average.  Laumer used a simple, direct prose style and plots filled with high adventure, and his stories almost always swept me up and carried me along when I first read them.  A couple of them seemed a bit clunky this time through, but most of them were as fresh and invigorating as ever.

Guardians of Alexander by John Wilson, Big Engine, 2002, £9.99, ISBN 1-903468-09-4

John Wilson is a British thriller writer with whose previous work I'm unfamiliar.  This, his first SF novel, is the first in a loosely constructed trilogy involving an alien intelligence who starts manipulating humans in the time of Alexander the Great.  What follows is an historical novel set in the time of Alexander's conquests and immediately afterward, a story which covers a great deal of the ancient world before it's done.  It involves alien artifacts, subtle mind control, politics, historical characters, and some nicely executed action sequences.  The story seemed a little bit rushed at times but it's never boring.

Garth of Izar by Pamela Sargent and George Zebrowski, Pocket, 3/03, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-0641-9

I hadn't read a Star Trek novel in a while and I've always enjoyed the ones by this particular collaborative team, so I decided to try this one.  The title refers to a hero of the Federation who, unfortunately, was subjected to an alien medical treatment that left him with the ability to change shape, but with a ruined mind subject to megalomania.  It is believed that he has cured so he is sent with Kirk and company on a diplomatic mission, but it isn't long before suspicions arise that his mind is still not right and that he might have a hidden agenda.  The answer is complex and the plot raises more questions than is usual in Trek fare.  If you want to try a Trek novel, you'd be hard put to find a better one. 

Steel Helix by Ann Tonsor Zeddies, Del Rey, 3/03, $6.99, ISBN 0-345-41873-5

Ann Tonsor Zeddies has taken on the Frankenstein theme in her new interstellar adventure story.  A group of individuals envisions a new, improved race of humans, genetically engineered individuals who will be better adapted than their forebears and able to help them.  Unfortunately, and rather predictably, a significant portion of the new race promptly decides that since they are superior, they have a right to rule the destiny of their inferior predecessors.  The protagonist is a geneticist who is pressed into service aboard one of their starships, supposedly cowed into cooperation, but secretly waiting for an opportunity to seek revenge for their slaughter of his friends.  This is a good but unremarkable space adventure.  Dr. Rameau, the geneticist, is quite well done, but the premise was overly familiar to me. 

The Essential Hulk Volume I, Marvel, 2002, $14.95, ISBN 0-7851-0712-6

The Hulk was always a bit of an ambivalent hero.  Misunderstood, ugly, and more powerful than any force on Earth, he sometimes seemed almost as much a villain as a hero.  But the writers always managed to maneuver him into doing good.  Unfortunately, the only one of his recurring opponents that was at all interesting was General "Thunderbolt" Ross, head of the army unit sent to destroy him.  In these first two dozen adventures, he battles the Leader – also mutated by radiation but in his case made more intelligent rather than stronger, Boomerang, Tyrannus, Mole Man, the Executioner, and the Abomination, as well as one bout with superhero Hercules.  Hulk's nature changed constantly.  Sometimes he turned because of the passage of day into night, sometimes after being treated with a machine, sometimes by force of will.  On occasion, he retained the intelligence of scientist Bruce Banner, but most of the time he did not.  I never understood why he was considered such an interesting character by Marvel fans, but he was, and here's your chance to read his early career.

A New Dawn by John W. Campbell, Jr., NESFA Press, 2/03, $26, ISBN 1-886778-15-9

John W. Campbell is best known for his role as editor of Astounding/Analog magazine for many years, during which period he is considered responsible for the rise to popularity of many of the pillars of the SF writing community during those years.  He is less well known for his own fiction, which he ceased writing shortly after taking that position.  Many of those stories appeared under the pen name Don A. Stuart, and the latest NESFA collection brings all of these together in one volume.  Most had been previously collected, but four are uncollected.  They include such classics as "Who Goes There?", basis for two films under the title The Thing, "The Cloak of Aesir", "Twilight", "Forgetfulness", and thirteen others stories plus an essay and a foreword by Barry Malzberg.  There are 450 pages of classic fiction from the 1930s, and if the prose is a bit clunky at times and some of the concepts are outdated, these faults are more than compensated for by Campbell's wide ranging imagination.  Although he never achieved the stature of his peers, had he continued to write and develop his skills, that might not have been the case.  So suspend your disbelief, settle down with this book, and slip back through time to an age when science was unreservedly wonderful and prospects for the future looked bright.

Custer's Last Jump and Other Collaborations by Howard Waldrop, Golden Gryphon, 4/03, $24.95, ISBN 1-930846-13-4

This is the second collection of collaborations I've received recently.  Must be the start of a new trend.  Collaborations are tricky sometimes and it's often the case that neither author's style survives identifiably.  That's not true here.  Each of the stories feels very much like Waldrop.  A recurring theme is alternate history, including the classic title story, written with Steven Utley, and the much more recent "One Horse Town" with Leigh Kennedy.  I was particularly fond of rereading "Black As the Pit, from Pole to Pole", a fascinating anachronistic story, and "Willow Beeman", a retitle of "Sic Transit…?, also with Steven Utley.  The other collaborators include Bruce Sterling, Buddy Saunders, George R.R. Martin, and A.A. Jackson.  This one would be a treat at twice the price.

Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days by Alastair Reynolds, Gollancz, 2003, £6.99, ISBN 0-575-07526-0

I've reviewed the two short novels that make up this book separately already, but it's worth mentioning that they can be obtained in this combined edition.  Diamond Dogs first appeared from PS Publishing and involves attempts to solve the mystery of an alien artifact.  Turquoise Days is set on a colony world on the brink of a crisis after the arrival of a starship.  Both are excellent adventures, each revolving around a thorny problem requiring a solution.  Not as rich in texture as Reynolds' longer novels, but quite nice in their own right.

Kaspar's Box by Jack L. Chalker, Baen, 4/03, $24, ISBN 0-7434-3563-X

The third volume in Chalker's new Three Kings series is another fine traditional space opera.  Most of the story involves Captain Patrick Murphy, a freelancing space trader who operates among several of the colony worlds left more or less on their own after the collapse of humanity's interstellar civilization.  His ship is seized by one of the remaining military warships, one whose crew has made their former job into an obsession such that they are blinded to the fact that they are being the oppressive illegal force against which they claim to be fighting.  More importantly, his cargo is seized, three young pregnant women who claim to be witches, and who somehow have developed the power to communicate mentally with artificial intelligences, affecting the ship's computers.  The interplay among the three sided crisis that develops, crafty but crusty Captain Murphy, the irreverent and largely ignorant young women, and the stuffy, inhibited, and unimaginative military crew alternates between chuckles and adventure.  Not as ambitious or clever as some of Chalker's other novels, but a guaranteed fun ride.

Wasteland of Flint by Thomas Harlan, Tor, 4/03, $27.95, ISBN 0-765-30192-X

A scientific expedition on a remote planet has stopped communicating after it discovers relics of an ancient alien civilization.  A fresh team is dispatched with a military escort, and it isn't long before some of the newcomers begin to suspect that one of the survivors of the first expedition may be complicit in the disaster.  The truth turns out to be far stranger, much more complex, and infinitely more dangerous, and not just for the expedition.  The artifacts aren't completely dormant, and they possess an ability that could make them dangerous to the entire human race.  Having already established himself as a significant new talent in the fantasy field, Harlan has turned his sights toward SF as well, and while his first effort doesn't break any new ground, it's a good, solid scientific mystery with a plausible plot, credible characters, and a richly textured background. 

Nebula Awards Showcase 2003 edited by Nancy Kress, Roc, 4/03, $14.95, ISBN 0-451-45909-1

The latest volume in this long running series of "best" of the year anthologies demonstrates the changing trends in SF because one of the winners here included, a good tale by Severna Park, was originally published online rather than in hard copy.  The other stories included are by Jack Williamson, Kelly Link, Shelly Shapiro, and Mike Resnick.  There's also a list of all the finalists, commentary by Harry Turtledove, Geoffrey Landis, and others, an excerpt from Catherine Asaro's best novel of the year, The Quantum Rose, and a list of past award winners.  All the stories are good, but I thought that overall they were not as noteworthy as in most other recent years.

Dark Heavens by Roger Levy, Gollancz, £10.99, 2003, ISBN 0-575-07245-8

The sequel to Reckless Sleep is set in the same overpopulated and polluted future England as its predecessor.  A habitable planet has been discovered, but efforts to colonize it have proved disastrous, and the government is contemplating exterminating an indigent species which may be intelligent.  Back on Earth, suicide has become legal, an expedient way to help reduce population growth, but people like Cy Auger are employed to make sure that the suicides are voluntary.  He is investigating a clandestine criminal organization working under the guise of a church, but that's just the tip of the iceberg.  Levy writes in an engaging, lively prose and his technologically advanced civilization doesn't seem at all alien to the reader, who will become quickly absorbed in his well realized if rather depressing future.  Dystopian fiction may be coming back into fashion, and if it does, Levy will certainly be one of its leading practitioners.

 A Just Determination by John G. Hemry, Ace, 4/03, $6.50, ISBN 0-441-01052-0

Ensign Paul Sinclair has some problems adjusting to his new posting to a US military spaceship.  The captain seems to be a bit of a showoff, some members of the crew are engaged in dubious activities, and the language in the military code governing their conduct is vague and subject to interpretation.  Predictably, they find themselves in an ambiguous situation and the captain makes a decision which results in the destruction of a civilian ship belonging to another power.  He is recalled to face court martial, and Sinclair may be the key figure in determining the outcome of the proceedings.  The crisis is nicely set up and executed, and Hemry makes sure that even the reader isn't quite certain of the correctness of the decision until late in the game.  My only minor gripe about this is that Sinclair is a little late coming to the realization that the military code is ambiguous, since presumably he'd studied the documents at length in preparation for his military legal posting.  Otherwise, it's a nice, absorbing story, and apparently the beginning of a series.

Gemini by Mike W. Barr, Pocket, 2/03, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-0074-7

It had been a while since I read a Star Trek novel, particularly one featuring James Kirk, so I picked this one up with some curiosity.  The formula is pretty restrictive for these, since you can't kill any of the major characters – at least not permanently – or alter the rules of the universe in any significant way.  So this was a familiar though not unpleasant story, with Kirk and crew sent to a planet to attend as it votes to join the Federation.  Unfortunately, and predictably, there is a faction that wants to derail the proposed changes, and the fact that the local rulers have a skeleton in the closet doesn't help much.  Then Kirk's nephew becomes the target of violence and the rules on non-intervention change a little bit.

Hidden in Sight by Julie E. Czerneda, DAW, 4/03, $6.99, ISBN 0-7564-0139-9

The third volume of the Web Shifters series has our human and alien partners once more risking their safe hiding place as business people on a remote world when they hear rumors of interlopers on Picco's Moon.  Despite their misgivings, they set out to see what they can do about things, and find themselves in the middle of a crisis that could result in a massive slaughter or even an interstellar war.  The human/alien team is well portrayed once again in this latest space opera, which also includes some interesting and imaginative new races and situations.  This one becomes exciting very early and doesn't let up until the last few pages are turning beneath your fingers.

Enemies by Lee Hogan, Roc, 4/03, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-45919-9

Lee Hogan continues the story begun in Belarus with this sequel, which is in fact much better than its predecessor  Belarus was a lost colony which fought a catastrophic battle against an alien race.  Now contact has been re-established, but the visitors from offworld are not universally welcomed by the repressed, technologically declined colony.  Although it appears that the offworlders are there in the best interests of the colony, the reader knows and the Belarussians suspect that they have an ulterior motive, one connected to the existence of the continuing alien menace.  We see much of this through the eyes of a young local woman who is forced to wear a veil because of a disfiguring affliction.  Her story, and that of her world, is intriguing, complex, and very well conceived, and the planet Belarus grows more real to the reader this time than in the first volume.

The Essential Ant-Man, Marvel, 2002, $14.95, ISBN 0-7851-0822-X

Ant-Man, also known as Giant Man and later Goliath, is another of Marvel's superheroes whose origin changed when they decided to make a one shot adventure into an ongoing series.  Henry Pym initially changes size by use of pills, although he is later able to do s mentally thanks to a telepathic helmet, flies – by means of catapults, then flying ants, becomes an Avenger, trains the Wasp to be his partner, and defeats the usual variety of villains, most of them petty criminals and communists at first.  Later he acquires a few arch nemeses of his own, like the Porcupine, Egghead, and the Human Top, and is tricked into battling fellow heroes like the Hulk and Spider-Man.  He also tangles with the Eraser, the Black Knight, and others including Sub-Mariner's arch enemy Attuma and his undersea army.  Pym has fewer bouts of self doubt than most of Marvel's heroes, but the Wasp is an airhead despite Pym's insistence that she's very intelligent.

Empire from the Ashes by David Weber, Baen, 3/03, $25, ISBN 0-7434-3593-1

Baen continues its line of omnibus reprints with this, which includes all three of the Colin McIntyre novels from about ten years back, Mutineer's Moon, The Armageddon Inheritance, and Heir of Empire.  McIntyre is a run of the mill astronaut who is chosen by a self aware alien battleship buried in the moon to be its new captain.  With the aid of his new command, he saves the Earth from a horde of alien invaders, helps establish a newborn galactic empire, and then has to deal with troubles caused by some of his relatives.  These are old fashioned space operas, not meant to be entirely plausible, but lots of fun anyway.  They're lighter than Weber's later military SF, but in some ways more refreshing.

The City Trilogy by Chang Hsi-kuo, Columbia University Press, 5/03, $27.50, ISBN 0-231-12852-5

I'm actually rather surprised that no one has looked into Chinese science fiction before this; Russian SF appeared quite frequently in English for several years and there has been a smattering of translations from other languages.  This book comprises a trilogy of three novels, none of which have previously been published in English, all translated by John Balcom for this edition.  They're a kind of dystopian political intrigue that isn't enormously different from the vision of many Western writers, but the feel and details are quite distinctively different.  The first two thirds involve the efforts by one group to overthrow the tyrannical Shan and later keep them from regaining power, and the two are almost one single continuous story.  The third novel takes place after a gap of years, with the new free government in danger of being subsumed by an ambitious dictator.  Readers may have trouble with some of the names, which are occasionally unpronounceable, but should have no difficulty following the story or the motivation of the various characters.

Night Lives by Phyllis Eisenstein, Five Star, 4/03, $25.95, ISBN 0-7862-4958-7

Visitations by Jack Dann, Five Star, 4/03, $25.95, ISBN 0-7862-4961-7

These two collections are by authors who are quite different stylistically, but whose themes – at least in these two volumes – are surprisingly similar.  The two collections both share another commonality – they are blends of SF, fantasy, and even horror fiction, mixed enough that it would be hard to put them into a single category.  Most of Eisenstein's stories previously appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and several of them explore the world of dreams.  The nine stories lean more toward fantasy, but there are stories of time travel, teleportation, and other SF themes as well.  "The Island in the Lake" and "Subworld" were my favorites, and there was one story published in a mainstream magazine I hadn't encountered before that was also quite interesting.  Dann's collection leans slightly more toward SF, but he also plays with the fairy tale format, provides a humorous story about a ghost that's worth the price of the book alone.  Also of note are "Vapors", "The Dybbuk Dolls"  and "Between the Windows of the Sea".  Dann's stories tend to be slightly more introspective, but there are some priceless lighter moments as well. 

For Love and Glory by Poul Anderson, Tor, 3/03, $24.95, ISBN 0-312-87499-9

Back in the 1960s there was friction in SF fandom between those who liked the experimental style and "higher" literary values of the New Wave and those who doted on Doc Smith and Edgar Rice Burroughs.  Neither side seemed willing to accept that the field had room enough for both.  Well, the SF field has changed dramatically since then, and it seems like more and more of the action adventure oriented SF is consigned to the media tie-ins, Star Trek, Star Wars, and the like, with mainstream SF dominated by more serious fiction.  Some of the standard bearers of the field, while not embracing the New Wave, also turned to more serious themes and longer books, and some of them like Robert Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke seemed to have forgotten how to tell a good story in the process.  Poul Anderson never abandoned his storytelling although some of his later novels contained distracting lectures that interrupted the flow of his plot.  That's not true of this, one of his last, expanded from two stories previously published in a shared universe anthology series.  The story follows the adventures of a young woman from a human colony world who gets involved in rescues in space as well as the probing of unprecedented astronomical phenomena and enigmatic alien artifacts.  The story is necessarily a bit episodic, but Anderson ties everything together nicely and I found it to be one of his more enjoyable later novels.

Red Thunder by John Varley, Ace, 4/03, $23.95, ISBN 0-441-01015-6

There was a time when it was possible for SF writers to imagine spaceflight being achieved by talented amateurs working in their basement laboratories.  NASA and the space program pretty much eliminated that as a serious plot, but perhaps not quite as completely as we imagined, because that's the premise for John Varley's new novel.  The first half of the novel introduces us to a group of unlikely space explorers including a cashiered astronaut, two part time students, and a prodigy who was severely abused during his childhood.  The prodigy has, however, developed a new energy source, and believes it possible to create a working spaceship from salvaged tank cars and other debris.  That turns out to be very important because the American flight to Mars has run into disastrous trouble and it appears that the Chinese expedition will not only be the first to land on the planet, but perhaps the only one.  Predictably, our heroes ride to the rescue and win the race in an implausible but fun filled adventure.  Varley matches a serious literary style with an outrageous plot and he's one of the few writers in the field who could make it work. 

Beyond the Last Star edited by Sherwood Smith, SFFNet, 2002, $14.95, ISBN 0-9669698-5-5

This is the latest in a series of anthologies put together by subscribers to the SFFNet and available from their site or from most online booksellers.  This one has the theme of the end of our universe and the beginning of the next one, which is wide open enough for a diverse selection, and that's exactly what you get.  All of the stories are readable, but a lot of them are pretty minor.  There are some good entries by Kiel Stuart, Gregory Feeley, Richard Parks, Lawrence Connolly, Lisa Silverthorne, and a few others, enough that you'll get your money's worth.

The Best Time Travel Stories of All Time edited by Barry N. Malzberg, Ibooks, 2/03, $14, ISBN 0-7434-5814-1

Time travel has been a staple of SF for a long time, a theme made popular by H.G. Wells and taken up by many others since.  Editor Malzberg has put together fourteen of the best of these in this ambitiously named reprint anthology, which includes among other things a full color graphic adaptation of Ray Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder", which really is one of the best time travel stories of all time.  I'd quibble about some of the other choices – De Camp's "A Gun for Dinosaur" and the short version of Michael Moorcock's "Behold the Man" are only a couple that better merit inclusion, but on the other hand, all of the stories included are quite good and some of them are not generally available elsewhere and certainly deserve a wider audience than they've had in the past.  This is a good, solid anthology even if it doesn't live up to the hyperbole of its title.

The Measure of the Universe by Ellen Larson, Saga SF, 8/02, $12.95, ISBN 0-9669877-4-8

As far as I know, this is the author's first attempt at SF, and frankly this short novel is surprisingly good.  A century from now, Earth is in contact with a very advanced alien race which has sent several scientists to study our culture.  One of these is investigating the history of writing and has been paired with a brilliant human scientist who has been very successful despite having been blind since she was a child.  The bulk of the book consists of the interplays between those two characters, and it might well have been a talky, uninteresting exercise.  But it isn't.  Both protagonists are quick, bright, complex, likable, and interesting, and their practical and philosophical discussions are every bit as intriguing as a fast paced action sequence.  Were it not for the story's unusual length, I suspect it could easily have found a place with a mainstream publisher.  This is one that is definitely worth the time to ferret out.

Give Me Liberty edited by Martin Harry Greenberg and Mark Tier, Baen, 1/03, $7.99, ISBN 0-7434-3585-0

This collection of reprints ostensibly explores the future of freedom, and certainly the stories do generally fall into that category, but the definition if pretty loose in this case and what we really have is a collection of mostly action adventure stories that deal with various governmental forms, including anarchy.  Several of these are classics – "And Then There Were None" by Eric Frank Russell, "Monument" by Lloyd Biggle, "The Weapon Shop" by A.E. van Vogt, among others.  In fact, of all the contributors, only Vernor Vinge is still active in the field and only one other, Katherine MacLean, is still alive.  They're all good stories, but I'm surprised that there are no viewpoints expressed from more recently than 1985.

The Essential Thor Volume I, Marvel, 2002, $114.95, ISBN 0-7851-0761-4

Thor was always one of my least favorite of the Marvel Superheroes, and re-reading the first couple of dozen of his exploits confirmed my opinion.  He allowed himself to be hypnotized into doing evil an awful lot, and he was gullible at other times, and since he often appealed to Odin for help, he had a genuine deus ex machina.  Marvel was also confused about his origin; at first he was a mortal who acquired the powers of Thor, but later he became the manifestation of Thor exiled to Earth.  The stories were often clunky and sometimes hinged on stupidity or a false fact, e.g., a gland which, when struck by a powerful blow, reverses one's personality.  Anyway, he battles his arch nemesis Loki several times in this collection, and other recurring supervillains include Mr. Hyde and the Human Cobra.  He also tangles briefly with the Hulk, Magneto, the Grey Gargoyle, and others baddies, and has brief guest appearances by fellow superheroes Doctor Strange and Ironman.  I'd say this was the weakest of Marvel's retrospective collections.

Utopia by Lincoln Child, Doubleday, 12/02, $$24.95, ISBN 0-385-50668-6

The publisher isn't pushing this as SF apparently, and I had to buy my own copy.  I've enjoyed Child's collaborations with Doug Preston immensely, and was curious to see what he'd do on his own.  The result is different, neither better nor worse, but different.  And in many ways it doesn't feel like SF, although it is.  It feels more like Die Hard in Disneyland.  The setting is a state of the art amusement park in Nevada, which features robots as well as advanced holographic technology to create the right atmosphere for its multi-themed attractions.  Unfortunately, a handful of high tech criminals have bypassed the park's security system and infiltrated its computer systems, and threaten to sabotage rides if they don't receive a copy of some highly advanced and valuable software programming.  The protagonist is a scientist specializing in robotics who just happens to be in the park at the right time to spoil their efforts.  The plot relies a bit too much on coincidence, but you probably won't notice that until the end of a wild ride through violence, double crosses, tension, and a rousing climax.

The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume One: 1929-1964 edited by Robert Silverberg, Tor, 4/03, $27.95, ISBN 0-765-30536-4

This reprint deserves at least a brief mention.  Although the stories contained here are familiar to any hardcore SF reader, this is the perfect book to use to introduce new readers to the field.  Almost every one of the twenty-six is a classic, and while a few of them are a bit clunky in spots, they all share the asset of being wonderful stories.  Includes work by Ray Bradbury, Stanley Weinbaum, Roger Zelazny, Theodore Sturgeon, James Blish, Robert A. Heinlein, Judith Merrill, and many others.  Presumably the subsequent volumes will also appear in due course.  The stories were chosen by voting within the SFWA at the time, and I can't help wondering if the outcome would be much different if the outcome would be different three decades later.

Jovian by Donald Moffitt, Ibooks, 1/03, $24.95, ISBN 0-7434-5277-1

I really enjoyed Donald Moffitt's novels back in the late 1970s and 1980s, but more than a decade has passed since the last one.  Now he's back with a new twist on a familiar story.  The protagonist is Jarls Anders, a young human whose home is in the upper reaches of the atmosphere of Jupiter.  Conditioned by heavy gravity, he is a giant by the standards of other worlds, prized labor, and he signs an agreement to work on Earth.  Unfortunately, and rather predictably, the contract is written in a way that makes him a virtual slave of the economic system, and he is immediately sold to a consortium doing dangerous work on Venus.  Jarl rebels, with some success, but eventually gets into trouble that could spell his doom.  Then a fortunate turn of events improves his fortunes. I liked the portions of the novel that take place on Jupiter best; they're intriguing and original where the main plot after Jarls leaves home is merely entertaining.  Hard science fiction seemed to drop off somewhat in 2002, but this might be an early sign that it will be springing back in 2003.  Moffitt has been silent for too long.  I hope this is just the first of many new adventures.

Windowpane by Steve Perry, Five Star, 2/03, $25.95, ISBN 0-7862-5050-X

Steve Perry's newest is quite a change of pace for him.  The protagonist is a street musician, but he's also a lot more than that.  Flint is a mythic figure on a quest to find the secret heart of America.  He acquires a group of unlikely fellow seekers along the way, including a nurse, a businesswoman, and a biker thug, and he's opposed in his quest by the Logician, a larger than life figure who prefers to keep things going just the way they have been.  This is the kind of fantasy that often gets called "magic realism" nowadays.  It distantly resembles a more gentle version of Stephen King's The Stand, and does a very fine job of making the reader re-examine the world from a fresh viewpoint.

Snare by Katharine Kerr, Tor, 4/03, $27.95, ISBN 0-312-89045-1

Although Katherine Kerr is best known for her fantasies, she has also produced a handful of very good SF novels during her career, of which this is easily the best.  The planet Snare has lost touch with the rest of humanity and devolved into a less technological society practicing a modified form of Islam.  The population has lived peacefully for generations, peace among themselves as well as with the indigenous aliens who occupy other portions of the planet.  But times are changing.  There's the possibility of a civil war, a schism in the religious structure, and even conflict with the alien natives.  Against this elaborate and intricate backdrop, Kerr traces the lives of several characters, each of whom has his or her own preoccupations, and each of whom will ultimately affect the future of their world.

The Earthborn by Paul Collins, Tor, 4/03, $23.95, ISBN 0-765-30307-8

Tor continues to be the most active publisher of young adult SF, under both their own and their Starscape imprints.  This new one by Australian writer Collins is certainly worthy of sitting on the same shelf with early Heinlein and Norton.  A large generation starship was launched to colonize another system, but it returns to Earth instead after a global war has left civilization in ruins.  Most of the spaceborn culture believes itself superior to the barbaric survivors and feel that their destiny is to exterminate and replace the genetically inferior survivors.  The protagonist has doubts about that even before he crashes on Earth, is taken in by members of a local tribe, and eventually learns that superiority is a matter of perspective.  A likeable, straightforward adventure story that delivers its message about tolerance without preaching.

Ten Years After by Arthur Byron Cover, Ibooks, 12/02, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-5276-3

The second Rising Stars novel is even more engrossing than the first.  Based on a graphic story by J. Michael Straczynski, it involves an alternate America where a meteor strike in the late 1960s resulted in various mutations, some of which resulted in superheroes and others supervillains.  In the first book, many of the Specials were persecuted and attempts were made to quarantine them all, but the government lost the battle.  The Specials essentially went into hiding after that, but when one of their number uses his extraordinary powers to menace an entire city, it's time for them to go public again and battle one of the strongest of their number.  It's a comic book story, of course, but Cover makes it seem almost real.

Shadow of the Storm by Kurt R.A. Giambastiani, Roc, 3/03, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-45916-4

The third volume in this alternate history series sees further tensions brewing between the United States government, headed by President George Armstrong Custer, and the Cheyenne nation, befriended by George Custer Jr.   The author's alternate America is not entirely logical, since it assumes that dinosaurs survived in the new world, but that human history was otherwise unchanged until the 19th Century.  Adding to the mix this time are the adventures of Cesare Uccido, the son of a ragpicker, who becomes a fugitive after killing the man who was despoiling his sister, a man who turns out to be an important European ambassador.  Tensions on the border rise but aren't resolved in this fast paced continuation of the series, which I suspect has not ended yet.

The Wellstone by Wil McCarthy, Bantam, 3/03, $6.99, ISBN 0-553-58446-4

In his follow up to The Collapsium, McCarthy examines the downside of immortality.  If the first generation of immortals never dies, then there are few places in society for the next generation to rise to prominence.  A small group of the latter are so irritated at the situation that they seize a nearly miraculous device which enables them to build a working spaceship.  But what at first seems to be almost a prank turns more serious as their actions become the first steps of a virtual revolution against the established order.  The tension between generations in the novel is an exaggerated reflection of the conflict that really does exist, so the novel manages to work some pointed satire into what is actually a very good adventure story.

The Essential Fantastic Four Volume 3, Marvel, 2002, $14.95, ISBN 0-7851-0782-7

The third set of Fantastic Four adventures has three major subplots that run through most of the issues included.  One is the discovery of the Inhumans, a race of mutants isolated in another universe.  The Human Torch has fallen in love with one of their number, Crystal, and much effort is expended trying to find a breach in the barrier between worlds.  Second is the wedding between Reed Richards and Sue, the invisible girl, accompanied by some very obvious male chauvinism that wouldn't cut it today.  The third is the introduction of black superhero the Black Panther, and his arch enemy the Klaw, a villain who uses sound as a weapon.  There are some other super villains as well, including appearances by Dr. Doom, the Mad Thinker,  and the Frightful Four, but most of the conflict is contrived so that the heroes fight one another, or other good guys like the Silver Surfer who – along with Galactus – makes his debut here, Gorgon, Prester John, the original Human Torch, and the Black Panther.