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

AST UPDATE 3/26/18

Colossus by S.J. Byrne, Armchair, 2018 (originally published in 1950)

 I read this in an old magazine years ago and even though I was gobbling up all the SF I could find at the time, I barely finished it. A typical manly hero is off exploring remote parts of Asia when a world war erupts. He is not aware of it until he returns to civilization. He is, however, made aware of an alien infiltration to Earth and their presence in an underground city. A kind of kitchen sink novel with an alien invasion, a lost world, a world war, and other bits and pieces torn from other subgenres. It never really comes together at all as a story. 3/26/18

Isle of Doom by Robert Moore Williams, Armchair, 2018 (originally published in 1948) 

This is a surprisingly good novella that uses a plot employed in many later thrillers. The protagonist travels to a remote part of Louisiana to find out what happened to his brother, who disappeared years earlier while doing research. He soon hears rumors of strange lifeforms and then rescues a man from a glowing ball of light. This leads him to an island, a sinister scientist, two frustrated Nazis, a beautiful woman, and a confrontation with a form of life whose deadliness has been enhanced by the scientistís irresponsible experimentation. No prize winner but engaging. 3/25/18

Architects of Infinity by Kirsten Beyer, Pocket, 2018, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-5011-3876-8

A Star Trek Voyager novel. Exploration of a new sector of space reveals a planet where a new element has been found (is this even possible any more?) as well as separate enclosed ecosystems each supporting a different variety of lifeforms. Obviously there were intelligent beings on the planet at some point, although there is no trace of them now. If so, this might be the most powerful species in the entire universe. There are several subplots mixed with the main story line. I like the unraveling of scientific mysteries, but the Trek universe is, I think, a bit overcrowded with super races. 3/23/18

Planet of Exile by Edmond Hamilton, Armchair, 2018 (originally published in 1956) 

This is a pretty minor novella set after Earth has virtually destroyed itself in a nuclear war. There is a colony of survivors on Mars, but their society is not as benevolent as it first appears. The protagonist wakens from suspended animation, providing a way for the world to be introduced gradually, and he uncovers the truth. Not awful. Not memorable.  3/20/18

The Osilans by Arthur J. Burks, Armchair, 2018 (originally published in 1953) 

This rather dated novella starts off reasonably well. An amateur working with an oscilloscope makes contact with an alien race who put information into his mind that gets him into inadvertent trouble with the authorities. But then it disintegrates into a chaotic story about shapechangers, competing alien races, time travel, and other distractions and the reader is likely to be dazed, confused, and even irritated by the end. 3/17/18

Brain Twister by Randall Garrett and Laurence Janifer, Armchair, 2018 (originally published in 1962)

This was the first in the Kevin Malone trilogy, originally published under the name Mark Phillips in shorter form as "That Sweet Little Old Lady." A telepathic spy is stealing secrets so the FBI has to recruit other telepaths to track him down. The problem is that they are all insane and only one of them is really functional. Alas, she believes herself to be Queen Elizabeth I and immortal, insists that everyone around her where 16th Century clothing to secure her cooperation, and leads agent Malone on a merry adventure before the spy is captured.  Despite a couple of serious scenes, this is actually a very funny novel - it even made the Hugo ballot - although there are lots of plot holes. How, for example, does the FBI know that the spy is a telepath? Still great fun though. I haven't read the two sequels in more than fifty years, but I'll get to them. 3/12/18

Elysium Fire by Alastair Reynolds, Orbit, 2018, $15.99, ISBN 978-0-316-55567-8

This is a standalone novel related to Chasm City and other novels by the author. The setting is a system consisting of thousands of small worlds which form a disparate but more or less united culture under an organization of peacekeepers. Although the latter are doing their best, there is a certain amount of resentment and a rabble rouser is stirring up sentiment to withdraw from the covenant. As if that wasn't bad enough, people have started dying when their brains and the implants almost universal among the populace suddenly fry. There have only been a few, widely scattered cases but the frequency is increasing and threatens to eventually lead to a complete breakdown of commerce and civilization. Reynolds does his usual admirable job of creating a realistic far future society and posing an interesting puzzle. I'd rate this somewhere in the middle of his output in terms of quality but it's also one of the best books I've read so far this year. 3/9/18

Dawn to Dusk by Eando Binder, Armchair, 2018 (original appearance 1935) 

A group of men decide to use suspended animation to travel 20,000 years into the future. They awaken and the bulk of the story is our tour of this new society, in which humans have physically evolved. But the race is doomed and in fact one of the time travelers becomes the last living human being. Mostly boring and ultimately depressing. And the future world does not make a lot of sense. The Binder brothers were better when they were writing fast paced action. This meandering commentary is a snoozer. 3/3/18

The Beast-Men of Ceres by Aladra Septama, Armchair, 2018 (original appearance 1929) 

Ah, the good old days when evil but basically human inhabitants of the asteroid belt can be described as secretly kidnapping women from Earth. An interplanetary detective is hot on their trail and finally exposes the plot and brings an end to their perfidious wrongdoing. Wildly overwritten, scientifically illiterate, and implausible on multiple levels. The pseudonymous Septama wrote only a few longish stories like this one and none of them are memorable. 3/1/18

Dark in Death by J.D. Robb, St Martins, 2018, $27.99, ISBN 978-1-250-16153-6

The 44th Eve Dallas futuristic police procedural follows the usual successful pattern. A frustrated wannabe writer decides to recreate the murders in her favorite author's mystery series in real life. Dallas tracks the killer down a bit more easily than usual and there is not quite as much tension as usual, but all the other elements of the series are in play. There are several very unpleasant people in the story, not all of whom get their just desserts. The SF trimmings are minimal, mostly in the form of offhand references. There's not even an interview with a droid. SF fans may be less than thrilled but mystery fans will find themselves drawn in quickly. 2/28/18

The Essential Iron Man Volume 3, Marvel, 2008  

Tony Stark has just introduced Life Model Decoys at the beginning of this run of the comic, and has decided they are too risky to use. He is sort of romantically involved with Janice Cord. He defeats a lot of villains in the course of the book Ė the Controller, the Night Phantom, the Red Ghost, the Unicorn, Madame Masque, Midas, Lucifer, the Crimson Dynamo, Titanium Man, the Mercenary, the Minotaur, the Firebrand, the Overseer, the Monster Master, the Mechanoid, the Spy-Master, Ramrod, Jonah, and the Smashers, not to mention a giant flying lizard. Itís an array of second tier villains and none of the stories are particularly memorable. Stark gets replaced involuntarily by one of his LMDs for a while. He also has to battle the ambiguous hero, Sub-Mariner. Nick Fury, some of the Avengers, and Daredevil make guest appearances. 2/26/18

Holmes Entangled by Gordon McAlpine, Seventh Street, 2018, $13.95, ISBN 978-1-63388-207-2

This is really a Sherlock Holmes mystery from late in his career. Watson has died and Sherlock finds himself temporarily partnered with his friend's widow, the former Mrs. Hudson. Arthur Conan Doyle has approached him insisting that attempts have been made on his life following the appearance at a sťance of a version of the current prime minister from an alternate world. Holmes soon discovers that anyone who tries to publicize information about parallel universes dies or disappears. A witty and clever series of small adventures follow before he discovers who is behind the mysterious Eureka society and what their purpose is. I was slightly let down by the ending but not disastrously so and read the entire book in a single sitting - in bed with a glass of wine. Recommended. 2/25/18

Forever We Die! by Milton Lesser, Armchair, 2018 (originally published in 1956) 

A Terran archaeologist on the planet Kedak discovers ancient tablets, which he steals and hides. He is taken prisoner and interrogated by the local authorities until an earthquake shatters the prison and he escapes. The shock has, however, left him with amnesia and he does not even realize that Kedak is not his homeworld. The authorities conclude that he survived and set out to find him, and his memories eventually return. The tablets reveal that the structure of the planetís culture was deliberately contrived to keep a small group in power. Okay but not distinguished. 2/21/18

The Cructars Are Coming by Paul Lawrence Payne, Armchair, 2016 (originally published in 1952.) 

This is of the sillier stories from the 1950s. The protagonist witnesses an alien abduction and soon he and his romantic interest are on the run from aliens who want to preserve their secrets and humans who are in cahoots with the invaders. They have various adventures before reaching powerful people and influencing them to save the world from this secret aggression. Payne was not one of the lost masters of the pulp era, needless to say. This was an hour Iíll never get back. 2/19/18

The Girl Who Read Minds by Robert Moore Williams, Armchair, 2018 (originally published in 1949)

Although this was very predictable, itís not badly written. A woman who does a mind reading act has real powers if there happens to be a local thunderstorm. She is hired by a millionaire to entertain his guests, but she begins revealing terrible crimes including income tax evasion, blackmail, embezzlement, and murder. The protagonist fears that one of those exposed will kill her so he sneaks her out of the house, but the storm takes out the only bridge to the mainland. They return to the house where a series of strange events including suicide and murder threaten everyoneís life. Minor but readable.2/14/18

The Secret Martians by Jack Sharkey, Armchair, 2016 (originally published in 1960)

A bunch of Boy Scouts disappear from a spaceship on their way back from Mars. The protagonist is a unique problem solver sent to figure out what happened to them, which naturally he does, and it involves survivors of a mysterious Martian civilization. I generally liked Sharkey's short fiction but at greater length he often became less than serious at the wrong moments. This is a good example of that. It mixes a good mystery with tongue in cheek humor that is not very well done and which spoils the mood almost from the outset. I didn't care for this when I read it in junior high school and it hasn't improved with age. 2/12/18

Secret of the Flaming Ring by Rog Phillips, Armchair, 2018 (originally published in 1951)

There is a god like being on the planet Venus but his continued existence depends on the actions of our hero, a normal human. Phillips was quite popular while he was active, but only in the magazines and most of his work was never anthologized, collected, or published in book form. This is a good example of why not. Wildly implausible, lots of coincidence, not much effort to develop either the plot or the characters. His work today feels awkward and sometimes sloppy. His best work was at much shorter length. 2/11/18

Drastic Measures by Dayton Ward, Gallery, 2018, $16, ISBN 978-1-5011-7174-1

I believe this is the first tie in to the new Star Trek Discovery tv show, which I have not seen and which is apparently set a few years before Kirk and Spock make the scene. A distant colony world is on the verge of famine - so I guess the nearly instantaneous travel between stars in the movies has wisely been ignored in the novels. A small advance group is sent ahead to prepare for the massive relief effort, but the colony's dictator has already initiated draconian measures to reduce the population, an act which will make him an interstellar criminal. Decisions have to be made about the possible evacuation of the planet, and at least one of the protagonists is undergoing serious reconsideration of a future in Starfleet. This is a fairly long novel, although the story moves along quickly. I can't say it made me curious about the show, but it did entertain me. 2/9/18

Martian Nightmare by Bryce Walton, Armchair, 2018 (magazine appearance 1951)

Other than a single Winston YA novel and a handful of entertaining short stories, Bryce Walton was never a particularly noted SF author. This novelette therefore is no lost classic. Earth has been pacified and turned into a peaceful Utopia - although it sounds like a nightmare world where personalities are erased if they clash with the status quo. Three men who resisted the mind modifications are sent to Mars to deal with some self exiled oligarchs who supposedly pose a threat. Things are not as they seem. Mostly boring. 2/4/18

Essential Avengers Volume 6, Marvel, 2010

A reprint of a sequence of adventures from the middle of the 1970s, which was after I stopped reading the original comics. Captain America and the Hulk are off on their own adventures, while the Mantis and the Swordsman have joined the Avengers - although the latter dies during this period. A couple of major movie premises arise here. Ultron 5 is created and in turn creates the Vision. Thanos shows up and nearly destroys the world. There are guest appearances by the Fantastic Four and the Inhumans. Other villains include the Zodiac Gang, Kang the Conqueror, and Count Zemo. This was a pretty nice run of stories. 2/2/18

Persepolis Rising by James S.A. Corey, Orbit, 2017, $28, ISBN 978-0-316-33283-5

The seventh book in the Expanse series takes a new turn but in some ways it's a reverse. A splinter group that cut itself off from the rest of humanity after the creation of the stargates has learned to use alien technology to build weapons with which it plans to establish a single galactic government by force of arms. They are not cookie cutter villains - they honestly believe in their cause although only by conveniently ignoring what they are actually doing. Predictably there is resistance everywhere and their plans do not go entirely smoothly, but at the end of the book - obviously setting up the next in the series - they are still the top dogs. Some of this is reminiscent of the conflict in the first two books. Fans of Jim Holden and the crew that have been the focus of the novels might be disappointed. Although a considerable portion of the novel is about them, most of these interludes could have been left out entirely without affecting the story as a whole. It's really about the usurping officer commanding the captured starbase, the head of the transport union, and various supporting and in many cases newly introduced characters. Still fun, but the ending left me up in the air. 1/30/18

Smoke and Shadow by Kelly Gay, Gallery, 2018, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-5011-5540-6

This is a Halo novel, or more accurately a Halo novella. The protagonist is a young woman who makes a living by salvaging parts and equipment from the ruins of ships scattered around the galaxy in the wake of an interstellar war. But her latest discovery in a human vessel which contains information which may point to an explanation of the fate of her father, who disappeared during the war. Naturally she decides to temporarily delay business and look into the matter, and naturally there are interests who would prefer that she not uncover the truth. She perseveres and I won't tell you what she finds out. Not bad at all and the story went by very quickly. A distantly related short story is also included. 1/26/18

The Stone House by A.K. Benedict, BBC, 2017

Another tie in novel to Class, from the Doctor Who universe. Despite some rationalization, this is essentially a ghost story. A teenager realizes that there is a personality held captive within the framework of an empty house. If the prisoner cannot be freed from this psychic imprisonment, her personality may be extinguished when the house is torn down, which is scheduled for the near future. So naturally she and her friends have to do something about it. Okay prose, not very interesting plot. The show was cancelled so I think this will be the last book in the series. 1/14/18

What She Does Next Will Astound You by James Goss, BBC, 2016

This is a tie in novel to Class, a short lived spinoff from the Doctor Who universe. A group of high school students has to deal with aliens from outer space and other dimensions. This one involves another invasion but it never really gets interesting, the characters are flat, the situations are not believable, and the climax is rather dull. In one sense at least, it reflects the television show, which had similar problems. 1/7/18

Arachnosaur by Richard Jeffries, Lyrical Underground, 2017,  $15, ISBN 978-1-5161-0502-1   v906 

Lyrical Underground is an imprint of Kensington Publishing that I had not previously heard of. I really wanted this to be a promising new thriller mixing SF and adventure but Iím going to say upfront that this is a terrible book. I donít enjoy the ďkillerĒ style review, but I think this time itís necessary to justify that label and if the author ever reads this, maybe it will suggest some improvements. The two worst mechanical problems are a lack of transitions between scenes Ė like a video game it is choppy and is missing explanations Ė and occasional murky writing. There were instances when I just couldnít figure out what the author was attempting to describe. But worst of all are errors of fact and logic. As the story begins, a corporal and a sergeant are the only survivors of an operation in Yemen which was an utter disaster. Somehow they transition to an out of country hospital because the corporal had a concussion. The marines are considering him for a battlefield commission, which makes no sense at all since these are only awarded for extraordinary combat leadership Ė which was not displayed Ė and generally only when there is a shortage of the higher rank, usually due to combat losses, which also does not apply. The corporal/protagonist has also been a marine for a long time, over ten years, but has never been promoted despite a spotless record. This does not seem possible due to the systematized promotion system which is now in effect, and the corporal himself says that he was denied promotion because he was unpredictable. That suggests insubordination Ė and he is in fact frequently insubordinate Ė and he would long since have been denied the right to re-enlist on that basis. One of the marines, a woman, was captured by the evil terrorist leader during the mission. We meet her as she is tied naked to a chair and mildly tortured, then left alone. First, since she is firmly gagged, her interrogation makes no sense at all. Second, the terrorist actually wants her to escape into a warren of tunnels where the monsters live so that he can observe their attack. But if thatís the case, why the elaborate charade? He could simply have ordered her to enter it at gunpoint. And why nude except to provide some cheap titillation? And why was there no air support for a mission involving a full marine battalion? Further, the Black Death affected Europe but did not almost wipe out the human race, who were largely unaffected in Africa and Asia, not to mention the Americas and Australia. And when a soldier wears civilian clothes and a false cover to infiltrate another country in search of military secrets, that IS being a spy, despite the authorís insistence otherwise. I could go on but the point is that these errors could easily have been fixed by googling the subject, and the flaws of logic should have been pointed out by the editor. And finally, while the title may be euphonic, giant spiders would never be referred to by this term. Saurians are reptiles, not spiders. 1/2/18

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