to SF Reviews

of SF Reviews

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

LAST UPDATE 3/31/13

Infestation by Timothy J. Bradley, Scholastic, 2013, $5.99, ISBN 978-0-545-45904-4

The ants are rebelling again in this young adult novel. Very young adult. It reminds me of the Goosebumps series, although it's somewhat better written. Our young hero goes to camp, which is infested by unusually aggressive ants. Then there's an earthquake and the bugs get bigger and stranger, including some that are articulated like cats and others as big as human beings.  Not to be taken entirely seriously, and the science is questionable, but it's not a bad story of its type.  I believe it's also a first novel, or actually novella. 3/31/13

Galaxy's Edge Issue #1 edited by Mike Resnick, Arc Manor, 2013, $5.99, ISBN 978-1-61242-125-4

This handsome looking magazine has some unusual formatting. For one thing its larger than a digest but smaller than bedsheet. For another it has an ISBN number, which makes it more like a recurring anthology than a magazine. Except it feels like a magazine, complete with the first installment of a serial - a reprint of Daniel F. Galouye's Dark Universe, which I reread a couple of years ago and enjoyed almost as much as the first time through. At least one other story is reprinted as well. The others are original and include work - not always fiction - by Robert Sawyer, Kij Johnson, Barry Malzberg, and Jack McDevitt among others. The stories seemed to me quite short although I enjoyed every one. The plan is for bi-monthly issues with a mix of new and reprints in each. It will be interesting to see if this format is successful. 3/30.13

The Curve of the Earth by Simon Morden, Orbit, 2013, $15.99, ISBN 978-0-316-22006-4

Although this is the fourth novel in a series, it's the first time I've ever seen anything by this author in an actual bookstore, so I read this in somewhat of a vacuum.  The protagonist is a Russian cyborg living in London in a post apocalyptic world where his unusual abilities - including access to an artificial intelligence - have helped him to save London from previous threats in the first three books. The heavy appears to be a reconstituted and rather repressive America, whom he has annoyed enough that they may be responsible for the kidnapping of his adopted daughter. Our hero smells the right rat soon enough and is off in pursuit. I think the author has made his protagonist just a bit too efficient and powerful, but I've never really been fond of superman stories so that might be my personal prejudice. The prose is brisk, clean, and fits the pace of the plot. I'll have to scratch around and find the earlier books. 3/24/13

The Explorer by James Smythe, Harper, 2013, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-06-222941-0

I have very ambivalent feelings about this book, which usually means I should have read it at a different time. On the one hand it's smart, has flowing prose, and involves a clever plot twist. On the other hand I found the pacing uneven, the characters sometimes indifferent, and environment - in this case an experimental spaceship - flat and uninteresting. A small crew including a journalist are sent on the first probe into deep space and a series of apparent accidents kills all but the journalist in short order. Contact with Earth is intermittent and perfunctory and it's not always clear just what is going on. A complicated plot structure with flash backs and such doesn't ease the narrative confusion. At times I found myself liking it very much, at other times I felt my attention drifting. You'll have to draw your own conclusions on this one because I'll need to read it again before I know my own. 3/23/13

Calculated in Death by J.D. Robb, Putnam, 2013, $27.95, ISBN 978-0-399-15882-7   

If I’m counting correctly, this is the 35th Eve Dallas novel, and like its predecessors it is a compulsive read almost from the first paragraph. An accountant specializing in audits is abducted and murdered on her way home from work. The evidence suggests that the killer or killers were professionally trained in killing but not in covering their tracks since their efforts to make it look like a mugging were very inept. Dallas and friends investigate the family, business connections, and the owners of the empty apartment where she was apparently killed before being dumped in the street.  Obviously the motive has something to do with the companies the victim was auditing but since all of them have managers who appear to have something to hide, it takes a while to sort through the camouflage and find the guilty party.  This one is SF by courtesy only. Other than being told that it’s 2060 and a fleeting reference to droids, it could be contemporary New York. On the other hand, I couldn’t put it down. 3/19/13

Slow Apocalypse by John Varley, Ace, 2012, $25.95, ISBN 978-0-441-01757-7 

A disgruntled biologist alters the genetic makeup of a form of bacteria so that it quickly solidifies the world’s oil reserves, precipitating a global crisis. Much of what follows is predictable – supplies run short, authority breaks down, the government tries to sugar coat things and tells lots of lies, civil rights evaporate, gangs run rampant. Some of it is less obvious. Areas near oil fields, and that includes Los Angeles, are devastated by explosions as the converted oil expand and explodes, and a series of earthquakes follows in short order. The protagonist, a television writer, initially plans to wait things out with his family but then decides to move to Oregon, which has effectively seceded from the US.  Unfortunately a major earthquake disrupts those plans as well. This is one of those rare disaster stories that is so plausible that I found myself interpreting events in the real world in terms of those in the book while I was reading it. Varley’s best book in several years. 3/18/13

Reaper’s Legacy by Tim Lebbon, Pyr, 2013, $17.95, ISBN 978-1-61614-767-9   

Sequel to London Eye. A mix of after the apocalypse and some rationalized horrors. Although the cover story is that the city was virtually destroyed, in fact the terrorist attack that precipitated things has actually caused a wave of mutations. People develop new and uncanny powers that sometimes feel more like magic than SF.  The authorities are planning to contain things by wiping everyone out, so our hero – who is on a two pronged quest already – must also find a way to avert the second, and in his terms, much greater catastrophe. Lebbon is a versatile writer who tends toward the darker side in his fiction, and this is no exception. It appears this series is being marketed as young adult fiction but don’t let that label dissuade you, regardless of your age. 3/16/13

The Steel Tsar by Michael Moorcock, DAW, 1981 

The third adventure of Oswald Bastable who finds himself in an alternate World War II fought with armored zeppelins. The first half of the novel consists of our hero escaping from one island after another as the Japanese country southeast Asia. He is eventually taken prisoner, then escapes and joins the Russians, one of whose leaders is Joseph Stalin, the tsar of the title, so named because he wears a metal mask and is rumored to be a robot. Civil war then disrupts Russia as well in this relentlessly depressing novel.  It feels as though it was written in a hurry – at one point Moorcock gets two of his characters confused with each other – and is easily the least interesting of this series. 3/13/13

A Messiah at the End of Time by Michael Moorcock, DAW, 1977   

This was published in England as The Transformation of Miss Mavis Ming and it’s one of Moorcock’s novels about a far future Earth where technology is indistinguishable from magic and the population is bored because of the lack of challenges or surprises. Moorcock indulges his fondness for borrowing characters from other novels, in this case the charismatic Fireclown from one of his earlier works of the same name. I found this somewhat more entertaining than the other end of time novels, possibly because the characters seemed to have more depth and the plot was a bit livelier but despite the high opinion expressed for these by some critics, I think they’re comparatively minor overall. 3/10/13

The Condition of Muzak by Michael Moorcock, 1977 

The fourth novel of Jerry Cornelius, although it’s a novel by courtesy only. It is actually a series of vignettes much like the preceding title, although in this case denser and more detailed. As usual, the decadent antihero is caught up in intrigue and open warfare. The individual episodes are sometimes very well done indeed, but the overall narrative is almost nonexistent. That makes it somewhat difficult to really describe what this is about, of course, but if you’re willing to forego the formal structure and just experience this as a kind of commentary on the human condition, you’ll probably like it better. You are not, however, likely to remember any of the details long after you finish. 3/5/13

Dying for Tomorrow by Michael Moorcock, DAW, 1976   

This collection of short stories, which includes the short version of “Behold the Man”, was published in the UK as Moorcock’s Book of Martyrs.  The stories involve the return of Jimi Hendrix, the secret life of Alexander the Great, and time travel. “Flux” is set in a future Europe on the verge of a catastrophic social and economic convulsion. A man travels a few years in the future to try to discover the proper course of action for the government to take, and finds a world sharply segregated between the genders. The rationale for all this is so absurd that I couldn’t take the story seriously. Not even close to the quality of Moorcock’s novels. 3/2/13

Devil's Bargain by Tony Daniel, Pocket, 2013, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4767-0047-2

A new adventure set within the original series, still my favorite, although the plot in this one requires some re-thinking. A remote planet is about to be rendered uninhabitable by a massive collision and the locals - who are not members of the Federation - send for help, which message is ignored until it's too late to do anything to evacuate the planet. Except that they couldn't evacuate either because they are incapable of living anywhere except on their world. Apparently there is still no way to divert a comet from its path so Kirk and company are helpless. They appeal for help from a nearby alien race - but instead of using their communications they travel there personally, wasting more time - and the plot gets less implausible but also less interesting at that point. Kirk has a completely unconvincing love affair and Spock gets involved in an odd relationship with the aliens. Daniel has written some good novels in the past but he seems to have sleepwalked through this one. 3/1/13

The Saber-Tooth Curriculum by J. Abner Peddiwell, McGraw Hill, 1939   

This brief little book by Harold Benjamin is a classic look at the ways education can go astray.  The book takes the form of a series of lectures in a bar in Mexico. An innovative caveman named New Fist devises courses such as fish grabbing with bare hands or wooly horse clubbing and decides to teach the young in his tribe so they don’t have to learn the skills as adults. There’s a conservative backlash from those who have religious objections to educating the young, but these are overcome. When environmental conditions change, new subjects need to be taught, but the schools resist any alteration to the traditional selection of classes. There’s some amusing spoofing of academic specialization and other peculiarities of that community and society at large. Every bit as biting today as it was originally. 2/27/13

The Lives and Times of Jerry Cornelius by Michael Moorcock, Dale, 1976   

A collection of related stories featuring Moorcock’s famous antihero, Jerry Cornelius. The stories are set variously in China, India, Czechoslovakia, etc. and most of them have little if any traditional plot. They are at least as experimental as the novels. “The Tank Trapeze” is a reasonably successful take on the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, but most of the others are less coherent. These were written at the height of the British new wave movement and reflect some of its strengths as well as some of its excesses. Readers approaching them for the first time now will probably simply be puzzled as they tend to be topical and don't date very well. 2/25/13

Earth Girl by Janet Edwards, Pyr, 2013, $17.95, ISBN 978-1-61614-765-5   

This is a rather unusual first novel whose protagonist is a young woman who is forced to leave her family and emigrate to Earth because she is literally allergic to other planets. The Earth presented here is rather different from most in SF – a world of ruined and still dangerous cities and other dangers. When the protagonist falsifies her identity so that she can join a group exploring, the usual train of events follows. She proves herself, saves the day, falls in love, and so on. This is a YA book and sports the somewhat simplified plot structure common to that format.  While not wildly original, it does have some unusual plot elements and is certainly readable for adults. It's not clear whether or not this is the opening volume in a series but it wouldn't surprise me. 2/23/13

The Office of Mercy by Ariel Djanikian, Viking, 2013, $26.95, ISBN 978-0-670-02586-2   

The blurbs from this refer to The Hunger Games to which it bears some thematic similarity although the story is very different. After some global wide natural catastrophe, humans retreated into underground enclaves where they submitted to a much more structured, repressive lifestyle but with vastly extended life expectancies. The survivors on the surface are to be eliminated to ease their suffering, at the direction of the organization in the title. The protagonist, not surprisingly, begins to have doubts about the motives and wisdom of her society after seeing at first hand what is happening outside the enclave. This is an old SF theme handled reasonably well in a debut novel without saying anything new on the subject. 2/22/13

Beyond the Doors of Death by Robert Silverberg, Phoenix Pick, 2013, $14.99, ISBN 978-1-61242-113-1

This consists of Silverberg's famous novella, "Born with the Dead", and a new sequel by Damien Broderick. I remembered the Silverberg vividly even though I hadn't read it in decades. Technology has been developed that will rekindle the dead, that is, bring them back to life but not as zombies. They are to all appearances perfectly normal with subtle exceptions, and they tend not to mix with the living, whom they consider vaguely inferior. A man whose wife has died young becomes determined to see her in her new life, despite being warned off repeatedly, with inevitable consequences. It's one of those pieces so powerful that I doubted anyone could create anything of matching strength in the same vein, but Broderick does a good job, although the tone and even some of the details of the dead society are rather different, but we only get a brief glimpse of this world before the protagonist finds himself in a very distant future en route to the stars.

When Time Stood Still by Ben Orkow, Signet, 1962   

I read this story of suspended animation fifty years ago and had only the vaguest recollection of what it’s about. A rich couple is devastated when the young wife comes down with incurable leukemia. The husband is determined not to let her die so the two of them arrange their disappearance while flying over the ocean in order to cover the fact that they are going to subject themselves to experimentation in suspending life for almost fifty years, at which time they assume a cure will have been found.  Orkow was a Russian born screenwriter and dramatist, but this was apparently his only novel.  The novel is oddly structured. There’s a long journal entry by a man who knew the couple and envied them almost pathologically. There are some problems of logic in the story. There’s a foundation that specifically helps people who came in second in their class or in competitions because they are so much more numerous than those who came in first – which is obviously untrue – and even if it were true, people who graduate second in their class are not likely to need any such assistance.  The story is very talky – they don’t even go into suspended animation until the second half.  The author also thinks the world will be so overpopulated at four billion that personal privacy will be almost unknown.  The year 2007 where they awaken has weather control, irrigated deserts, automatic automobiles, and has cured every disease except the common cold. Would that it were so although otherwise we’ve become a repressive dystopia. And the Soviet Union is still around – Orkow was born in Russia and became a naturalized US citizen during the 1920s.  Mildly interesting but not a lost classic. 2/16/13

Island 731 by Jeremy Robinson, Thomas Dunne, 2013, $25.99, ISBN 978-1250022592   

I should like this author’s books a lot more than I do. They’re contemporary thrillers with strong SF elements and they are intended to be suspenseful and even creepy. Nevertheless the first two that I read were only marginally interesting because they incline toward the men’s adventure end of the spectrum, with larger than life characters that had little real depth, lots of gunfire and fights, and little atmosphere. This one is quite a bit better and even does a fair job of creating its characters before the carnage starts. They’re the crew of a ship disabled adjacent to an uncharted island that unbeknownst to them was the site of Japanese bioengineering experiments during World War II.  And some of their subjects are still there, and hungry. Where writers like Robinson, Clive Cussler, and Matthew Reilly fail for me is that they feature two fisted “manly” men rather than people we’re likely to know. The result of this is that I cannot identify with them and therefore am not invested in their fate. And not even a seasoned forensics expert can pick up a bleached skull and tell its gender just by glancing at it. Nor could they conclude murder simply because the skull has suffered a fatal impact, particularly on a beach where they themselves were nearly shipwrecked. Robinson needs to read Beverly Connor or Kathy Reichs. The plot develops holes early on. For no good reason, the crew theorizes that one of their number might have murdered another. They also conclude after seeing a single rat that there is no rat colony on the island, so something must be killing them. I’ve seen single rats on more than one occasion – nothing about that suggests that they are an endangered species in this area. The venom of sea snakes is not “the most deadly natural substance in the world”. The galley, at least, was also filled with typos, “hear” for “heard”, “your” for “you’re”, “blok” for “block” etc. The second half of the novel is one encounter with a genetically altered animal after another and it gets a bit tiring after a while, but it certainly isn’t boring. 2/14/13

Farside by Ben Bova, Tor, 2013, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2387-3

When I first started reading SF it was full of stories of alien civilizations living  elsewhere in the solar system. Of course we know that isn't true now and at times it seems as though we've lost something of the imagination by discovering too much of the truth. Then a novel like this comes along and reassures me that it is just a different branch of imagination that has replaced the old one. There's a project on the dark side of the moon underway to build a giant telescope with which to study a potentially habitable planet in another star system. The enterprise is troubled by the usual problems - a hostile environment, differing opinions and priorities, the clash of personalities. But things are going a bit less well than can be accounted for, and it appears that someone is actively sabotaging the project. I read this in a single sitting. It's probably the best novel about the moon I've read since the last time Bova wrote a novel set on the moon. 2/9/13

Door to Anywhere by Poul Anderson, NESFA, 2013, $29, ISBN 978-1-886778-97-9

This is the fifth volume of NESFA's complete short stories of Poul Anderson. There are only a couple of uncollected stories in this one and I'd read everything here previously. It provides quite a broad view of Anderson's work, ranging from "Sargasso of Lost Starships" to "The Last of the Deliverers." There are stories about Hokas, the Time Patrol, and Flandry. For a long time I lumped Poul Anderson with Keith Laumer, Eric Frank Russell, and Gordon Dickson as above average adventures writers who never quite stepped up to the top level of SF. When I reread Anderson a few years back, I was astonished at how much better he was than I remembered, and he went up considerably in my estimation. Some of my favorites here are "Un-Man", "Gibraltar Falls", and "White King's War".  This set should be essential reading for anyone who professes to know the genre, or who just wants to read good short fiction. 2/8/13

Existence by David Brin, Tor, 2012, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-0361-5

I never even saw a copy of this in the local B&N so finally picked it up online. I've always liked Brin's work and this semi-near future epic is one of his best. Overpopulation and technological advances have both advanced dramatically and there is essentially no part of the world that is not in the public eye whenever anything interesting happens. When a salvager cleaning orbital debris stumbles across an alien artifact suggesting that things are not entirely as we thought they were, it sets in motion a chain of events that will transform the human race. As the title suggests, we may not know much about what it really means to be alive. 2/7/13

Allegiance in Exile by David R. George III, Pocket, 2013, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4767-0022-9

The original series of Star Trek is still my favorite. This new adventure follows the classic pattern. Kirk and company visit a new world and find a mystery, which they subsequently solve. In this case the mystery involves an abandoned spaceport full of crumbling starships and a deserted city that recently was inhabited. The planet itself shows no sign of a contemporary civilization. Who were they and where did they go? And why? Nothing too surprising in this one but a fairly crafted problem for our protagonists to solve. The author has produced a steady stream of pleasant books in this series, several of which could have stood alone without the television reference. 2/6/13

The Hollow Lands by Michael Moorcock, Avon, 1974   

The second End of Time novel, set in a distant future where technology is indistinguishable from magic and most people are bored with existence and engage in elaborate devices to amuse themselves. The protagonist is Jherek Carnelian, more competent than most, still pining for his lost love from the first book. Some are fascinated with recreating not quite accurate artifices from the past. Jherek pursues rumors of a working time machine. There’s also an alien seeking the secret of immortality. Nothing is taken seriously by either the characters or the author, and ultimately not by this reader either. 2/5/13

The Land Leviathan by Michael Moorcock, DAW, 1974   

This follow up to The Warlord of the Air isn’t nearly as good, hampered by the tedious, overly long introduction. The narrator is searching for Oswald Bastable, hero of the first novel, and finds a new manuscript from him about a quarter of the way into the book, which is when the real story starts. Bastable is in another alternate world, one in which Chile became a world power early in the 20th Century and a world war broke out shortly thereafter.  Much of the book is a tour of this world, which becomes increasingly hard to accept as real. Gandhi rules South Africa but his military has strict instructions not to respond if attacked, a secret which they manage to keep even though thousands must have known it. The story alternates between interesting and implausible toward the end and concludes with the conquest of America by the African empire but no real resolution to the problems of the protagonists. 1/31/13

The Cassandra Project by Jack McDevitt & Mike Resnick, Ace, 2012, $25.95, ISBN 978-1-937008-71-0   

A few years from now, NASA is moribund thanks to a prolonged economic downturn and lack of interest in space exploration. During what was supposed to be a routine publicity event, a fragment of a recording is released which suggests that there was another moon landing which was never made public. The chief protagonist is the spokesperson for NASA and he believes it to be a misunderstanding, but as time passes and more evidence emerges, he begins to wonder if in fact there were multiple secret landings, although he cannot understand why the government would suppress the information. Those involved who are still alive refuse to answer questions. A billionaire entrepreneur interested in developing a civilian space program is also interested. As more tidbits emerge, we discover that not even the President knows the truth, and that photographs of the dark side of the moon were doctored during those years to edit out one section. It has been a long time since I was so glued to a book that I stayed up well past my bedtime so that I could finish it. One of the best books of 2012. 1/28/13

Trafalgar by Angelica Gorodischer, Small Beer, 2013, $16, ISBN 978-161873032-9   

This collection of related short stories, originally published in Argentina, reminded me at times of the Pirx the Pilot stories by Stanislaw Lem and at other times the Callahan’s Bar stories by Spider Robinson. Trafalgar Medrano is a human who claims to regularly visit other planets, working as an interstellar trader. He relates his adventures while drinking coffee, and not all of his stories cast him in a good light. There are frequent misadventures, most of them on the humorous side of the scale. His narrations are sometimes delivered in relatively dense prose, but it’s never ponderous and the witticisms are worth the hunt.  This is the second fine book I’ve read by this author. 1/27/13

Cyberpunk edited by Victoria Blake, Underland Press, 2013, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-937-16308-2

This is a collection of nineteen stories written more or less in the cyberpunk tradition, as much as it is a tradition rather than just an inclination. Essentially they're about high tech, computers, connectivity, and in many cases alienation from the past and present. A few of the stories were new to me but since there is no credits page, I'm not sure if any of them are original to the book or were just published in places I haven't read. The usual players are here - William Gibson, Rudy Rucker, Bruce Sterling, and Paul Di Filippo, all with good stories, and there are newcomers like Paul Tremblay, Daniel H. Wilson, David Marusek, and Cat Rambo. There was only one story in the book I considered subpar, which is a pretty good percentage. I do wish the editor had come up with a better title. I think this is the third anthology with this one. 1/25/12

The Body Electric by David Mack, Pocket, 2013, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4516-5074-7

A Star Trek Next Generation novel in the Cold Equations subset. There have been considerably fewer tie in novels the past couple of years, particularly in the Star Wars/Star Trek universes, despite the restart on the Trek movie series and the announcement that Star Wars will also be continued. It has actually reached the point where I remember some of the characters better from the books than from television and the movies. Mack has done several previous novels in the Trek universe, all readable to good, and this is toward the upper end of his range, perhaps because the concept of berserker type machine the size of a planet appealed to me. Wesley Crusher and Captain Picard have to team up to stop the behemoth before it wipes out all of the inhabited planets in the galaxy. They succeed of course so there's no real suspense in the plot, but how they get from realization to triumph is entertaining. 1/23/13

The Sinister Researches of C.P. Ransom by H. Nearing, Curtis, 1954   

This “novel” is actually a series of linked short stories about a college professor who gets involved in various humorous technical problems. The stories appeared individually and were quite popular at the time, although the author never wrote anything else of which I am aware. Several further stories in the series remain uncollected. The first story is “The Poetry Machine”, in which Ransom tries to program a computer to write poetry, but the computer commits suicide after an attack of artistic angst. Second is “The Mathematical Voodoo” in which Ransom teaches math to a voodoo doll and transforms a bad student into a genius – until he loses the doll. A batch of timorous tissue infects an organ in “The Malignant Organ” and our hero manages to make himself luminescent in “The Actinic Actor.”  In the remaining stories Ransom opens a dimensional door to Mars, photographs subconscious images, and explores the dream world. Good fun. I love the blurb incidentally. “The chilling novel of a Tomorrow Machine that threatens to put modern man right back where he belongs.” Absolutely nothing to do with the contents of the book. 1/19/13

Impulse by Steven Gould, Tor, 2012, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-653-32757-0 

The latest in the Jumper series, in which a handful of people have the ability to teleport. This time the story centers on a teenage girl, a jumper with jumper parents who with good reason are terrified of being discovered by the government.  But Cent, short for Millicent, has been homeschooled and is lacking in interpersonal skills so they set up a fake home so she can attend a regular school. There she has the usual experiences but the ease with which she makes friends and thwarts the bad girl is so pronounced that it undercuts the notion that she lacks social skills. And if she’s trying to avoid being caught out, why does she jump multiple times the first week while under observation?  There’s also a story involving the parents, but that’s almost a sideshow. Not very plausible and a little too neatly done at times, but it’s a lot of fun if you ignore the contrivances. 1/17/13

Necessary Ill by Deb Taber, Aqueduct, 2013, $20, ISBN 978-1-61976-022-6   

One of the protagonists of this interesting novel is a neutered human whose job is to design methods to bring the population of Earth into balance with itself and the environment, even if that means killing off large numbers of people in cruel and brutal ways. This viewpoint is juxtaposed with that of a young woman who is shocked by the disparity between life on the small farm where she was raised and this more deadly world. The author speculates about how individuals and society might evolve if sex wasn’t such a potent part of the human personality. Some readers may find the sometimes dispassionate discussion of mass murder a bit unsettling but no one should find fault with the prose. Not the cheeriest book I’ve read this year but one of the more thought provoking. 1/12/13

Jimgrim by Talbot Mundy, Avon, 1930 

Jim Grim and company are pitted against a charismatic Asian leader who has a new technology, a hand carried bomb that reacts to the presence of electricity without direct contact and which then remotely sets off all explosives, including bullets, that are within range before burning itself up without a trace. Chaos grips the world as warships sink, ammunition dumps explode, and the infrastructure of the western world begins to crumble. In self defense, most countries suspend the use of electricity altogether and move their arms to remote places far from habitations. This is in effect Mundy’s only SF novel. Grim and his companions head to Cairo in pursuit of the criminal mastermind, Dorje, aided by a dubious French spy who thinks she’s the reincarnation of Anne Boleyn while Russia is caught up in a new civil war. There he acquires a good deal of information about the criminal organization, but most of it by means of outrageously implausible bluffs with real members of the gang. 1/11/13

The Crossing by Mandy Hager, Pyr, 2013, $16.95, ISBN 978-1-61614-698-6   

This is the first volume of the Blood of the Lamb series, another quasi-imitation of The Hunger Games. After the apocalypse, a theocratic society emerges on an island in the Pacific, whose leaders are worshipped as virtual gods. The young protagonist begins to have questions about the rightness of her society when she is forced to choose between imminent and rather pointless peril at the behest of those leaders or thinking independently even if that means disobeying them. This sets up the background and characters but we’ll have to wait for further volumes to get resolution to the story or answers to many of the questions. Not badly written but very predictable. 1/10/13

Power Under Pressure by Andrew P. Mayer, Pyr, 2013, $17.95, ISBN 978-1-61614-696-2   

Third in the Society of Steam series, set in a steampunk version of the world which might arguably be called fantasy. Although the evil genius was supposedly defeated in the previous volume, he is down but not out. A young woman has to rebuild a robot and forge an alliance between several reformed bad guys and a handful of good guys to prevent the world from falling under the sway of industrialized repression. The archetypes are so obvious that this one feels a lot like a fairy tale. Mayer does a commendable job of bringing to life a world that is recognizably steampunk but with a few interesting twists. A bit emotionally flat given the world shaking events taking place, but a respectable adventure story. 1/1/13

MORE REVIEWS