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


Beyond Eden by David Duncan, Ballantine, 1955

A major project to purify sea water and irrigate parts of the western US runs into trouble. Even though nothing can be detected in the water, it stimulates the growth of plants and has unusual and sometimes fatal effects on humans who drink it. The project is also imperiled by a malevolent but powerful politician with a personal grudge. The explanation is that they have tapped into a kind of living water, the substance which gave rise to all life on Earth. A solution – no pun intended – has to be found before the project is shut down, or even worse, before the living water is set loose to change the world. There is not much overt action in the novel but it was quite suspenseful and the villain reminds me of someone who is currently in the news every day. 1/21/19

The Way to the Stars by Una McCormack, Gallery, 2019, $16, ISBN 978-1-9821-0475-7

Tie-in to  the Star Trek Discovery television series. This one focuses on Sylvia Tilly, who played a crucial role toward the end of the first season. This is mostly about her background, her efforts to compete with her famous parents, her early struggles and self doubts when she joined Starfleet, and some minor adventures early in her career. It is in some ways a much quieter novel than most Trek tie-ins, but that actually makes it more interesting than most of them. I had a mixed reaction to the show's first season, but she was one of the more interesting characters and it's nice to see her have her own book. 1/20/19

The Venom Factor by Diane Duane, Boulevard, 1994

Spiderman has a problem. Two of them actually. First of all, Hobgoblin is stealing the parts to make a nuclear bomb. Second, Venom – who hates Spidey – appears to be killing innocent people. As it happens, Venom is being impersonated by an escaped alien creature who looks like him – rather an odd coincidence, so the two long time foes are forced to join forces to thwart both the alien and the supervillain. A bit high on the side of coincidence, but otherwise an entertaining Marvel adventure. 1/19/19

Dark Dominion by David Duncan, Ballantine, 1954

A secret project to launch the first space station – for military purposes – inadvertently makes an unusual discovery. Alas, the story and the politics are horribly dated, which probably explains why this has never been reprinted. Duncan, who wrote mostly screenplays, was an excellent novelist and this was much better than I remembered despite its anachronisms.  The ending is a bit weak – we don’t really learn what is going to happen with the now launched station, which is actually a self contained ship and which has an entirely new kind of propelling force.1/16/19

The Mean City by James Bradwell, World, 1969  

This was the final novel set in the world of Land of the Giants. The displaced humans have more routine adventures on a planet where they are tiny compared to the local human inhabitants and they continue to escape capture. This one differs only in that their latest attempt to return to their own world appears to have succeeded at the end, although we are never absolutely sure that they are really back. Very, very minor. 1/16/19

The Amsirs and the Iron Thorn by Algis Budrys, Gold Medal, 1967  

I was not impressed by this odd little novel when it first came out and I don’t think much better of it now. A small human colony on an inhospitable world is locked in warfare with the Amsirs, who also appear to be interlopers. He manages to access the control room of a spaceship where the computers quickly educate him about his situation and the history of humanity. He returns to Earth and the story sort of wanders away. None of the characters are even remotely interesting, the environment on Mars is only sketchily described, and the motives behind the whole experiment are never adequately explained. 1/15/18

Irontown Blues by John Varley, Ace, 2018 

Varley returns to the Eight Worlds for this blend of noir and SF. Aliens have taken over Earth and exterminated most of humanity. The protagonist is a private investigator in the surviving lunar colony, whose partner is a genetically enhanced bloodhound. The dog narrates a big chunk of the story. His latest case involves a woman who was deliberately infected with an engineered form of leprosy and she wants to find the man responsible. But small as it is, the human population is sufficiently large that this is not easy. And our hero is going to discover much more than he bargained for along the way. This was deceptively easy to read and sometimes feels like a light mystery adventure, but Varley is often up to more than is apparent. 1/13/19

The Man Who Stole Tomorrow by David Michelinie, Pocket, 1979 

The Avengers lineup for this adventure includes the Beast. Captain America is in danger from the distant future when Kang the Conqueror comes up with his latest plan for universal domination. Our heroes have to leave their own time in order to confront and defeat the villain, which they manage in due course after some lackluster adventures. The author did a couple of other Marvel tie-ins but doesn’t appear to have written anything original. This wasn’t awful, but this entire series from Pocket seemed to emphasize the less literary aspects of comic book adventures, which may be why it ended fairly quickly. 1/12/10

And Call My Killer Modok by William Rotsler, Pocket, 1979 

An early Iron Man adventure. The evil organization AIM has forced Tony Stark to build a power suit superior to his own and he ultimately has to battle his own creation. And then he tracks down and punishes those responsible for the situation. Very lightweight reading with a couple of cameo appearances. It doesn’t feel much like the Iron Man from the movies although it is loyal to the comics of the time. Superhero stories are rather limited in that we know they will triumph in the end. 1/12/19

The Secret of the Earth by Charles Willing Beale, Armchair, 2018 (originally published in 1897) 

Lost world novels have been around since Jonathan Swift and a great many of them are pretty awful. This is close to pretty awful. The writing is awkward, particularly the dialogue, and the author has no sense of pacing. Worse, his plot contradicts itself and frequently depends upon people acting totally inappropriately for the situation, simply to keep the reader guessing about what is going on. This one involves two brothers, one of whom has invented an antigravity airship, and their flight to the North Pole where they find an entrance to the hollow Earth that turns out to be the birthplace of humanity. They fly all the way through and crash in the South Pacific. Almost no tension at all and on balance quite dull.  1/11/19

Rogue Moon by Algis Budrys, Gold Medal, 1960 

One of the classic SF novels, although most of it is not SF at all. An artifact has been found on the moon which kills people if they don’t adhere to a system of unknown and arbitrary rules. A matter duplicator is used to send a man into the structure to die multiple times, in each case solving a bit more of the puzzle. Although this is clearly SF, the story really isn’t about the artifact but about the four main characters, their interactions and internal conflicts, and how these are resolved. It is beautifully written, a fascinating set of character studies, and it touches on themes of destiny, fear of death, free will, identity, and other matters. This is about my sixth time reading it and it probably won’t be my last. 1/9/19

Vector Borne by Michael McBride, Factor V, 2011 

Another thriller about a sudden human mutation, in this case set off by exposure to unknown life forms disturbed by undersea tectonics. A research vessel is swamped in a tsunami and the rescue ship finds the crew trapped inside, but all disemboweled. A few survivors reached a nearby island but so did the altered human responsible for the mutilations. This was quite good although a little over the top in terms of violence. If primitives were able to stop these mutants with knives and spears, how come the special forces people can’t do it with high tech weaponry?  And the existence of a second creature – though I expected it – does not seem plausible under the described conditions. 1/7/19

The Falling Torch by Algis Budrys, Pyramid, 1959 

Although this story is about a man who returns to Earth to try to organize a rebellion against an invasion force, there is very little about the rebellion, which does not even start until the final few pages. It is mostly about the protagonist’s realization that people spend a lot of time fooling themselves as well as others, that politics are more important than patriotism in the long run, and that sometimes the ideal person to lead an effort is not the kind of person one would imagine in that role. I suspect much of this was related to the author’s personal connections – his father was a member of the Lithuanian government in exile following the Soviet occupation. Good reading, but more intellectual than adventurous. 1/6/19

Stalker from the Stars by Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, and Joseph Silva, Pocket, 1978  

Despite the multiple credit line for this book, I suspect the first two only contributed the concept for the Hulk’s origin and that Silva (Ron Goulart) actually wrote the novel. It covers Bruce Banner’s irradiation and subsequent escape from government custody, this time to rescue Rick Jones – notably missing from the movies – who has ventured into a small town where an alien that looks like a giant octopus is using mind control to turn the residents into puppets. The Hulk doesn’t like that much and smashes the creature. Tolerable. 1/1/19

Cry of the Beast by Richard S. Meyers, Pocket, 1979 

This is a rather dull Hulk novel in which a foreign dictator orders the kidnapping of a prominent scientist who happens to be a friend of Bruce Banner. Banner goes to the rescue, but of course it is his incarnation as the Hulk that does the rescuing. There is lots of bashing but not much in the way of characterization and the plot is bare bones and of no particular interest. 1/1/19