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LAST UPDATE 3/31/20

Bring the Jubilee by Ward Moore, Ballantine, 1953

I believe this was the first important alternate history novel. The story is set in a much diminished US after it loses to the Confederacy, which annexes California and several other states, then conquers Mexico. The protagonist is a self taught historian living in a community of scholars in a rural backwater. His involvement with a brilliant but erratic physicist will eventually lead him to travel back through time. This is a beautifully written novel that moves smoothly from paragraph to paragraph, avoiding melodrama in favor of super characterization and prose in a novel setting. Moore was unfortunately not particularly prolific but I never read a bad story by him and this particular novel is a classic or the word has no meaning. 3/30/20

Blindsided by Dick & Leigh Richmond-Donahue, Centric, 1993 

After Walt Richmond died, Leigh remarried and published one new novel. It’s amateurish and delusional. The US, China, and Russia have supposedly been disrupting each other’s societies for years using vibrations that interfere with the natural planetary pulse that controls human evolution. Eventually they agree to stop but it’s too late, and the protagonists go off on a survivalist wet dream fantasy that is not remotely interesting. 3/29/20

The Probability Corner by Walt & Leigh Richmond, Ace, 1977

This is an almost incoherent novel filled with wingnut stuff. It has something to do with a secret government funded project that may or may not be the target of spies - except if so they are incredibly inept. They kill a man's family before issuing demands for him to betray his country, when they no longer have any leverage. Two teenagers are experimenting with a mathematic theory - I think - that allows them to project their personalities. The authors did not even understand how computers work. Awful. 3/26/20

Challenge the Hellmaker by Walt & Leigh Richmond, Ace, 1976

This was the best of the novels by this husband and wife team, although that is not saying much. All the countries of the world have turned over their weapons to the United Nations, whose security wing is planning a coup to take control of the world, along with its only space station. The station has for some reason been outfitted with a powerful laser cannon. So when the plotters fail to capture the station, the sort of multi-national force - no Blacks, Asians, or Muslims - fights back and uses the cannon to break up the coup on Earth. Serialized as Where I Wasn't Going.

Phase Two by Walt & Leigh Richmond, Ace, 1979 (expanded from the 1969 Phoenix Ship)  

This is an appallingly bad novel, particularly the tone deaf dialogue. A young man runs away from Earth to join the Belters, who have managed to win their independence. He was the subject of an experiment that created organic knowledge that could be injected into people so that they didn’t have to bother to actually learn anything. The authors appear not to have known the difference between knowledge and intelligence. Our young hero singlehandedly wins a war against Earth. 3/17/20

Gallagher’s Glacier by Walt & Leigh Richmond, Ace, 1970 

Positive Charge by Walt & Leigh Richmond, Ace, 1970

The first of these is a ridiculously bad novella about a man who converts a mass of frozen water in the asteroid belt into a spaceship, then helps free the colony worlds rebel against the evil corporations. There are not multiple inhabitable planets in the asteroid belt. The second is a collection of most of the short fiction by this husband and wife writing team, none of which are remotely memorable and some of which are just silly. Four of them are in the Willy Shorts series about an inventor who comes up with marvelous inventions, but none of the stories actually has a plot. Most appeared originally in Analog. “Prologue to..an Analogue” is the only one worth reading. 3/15/20

The Best of John Brunner by John Brunner, Del Rey, 1974 

Like most “best of” collections, the selections seem rather arbitrary. Most of the contents appear in other collections, and while all of them are worth reading, there are none that really stand out. Brunner wrote solid, sometimes clever short fiction but it never seemed to rise to the level of his better novels. A lot of them are light humor and a lot of the serious stories are essentially gimmick pieces with a surprise ending. The four Galactic Consumer Reports stories are all included, and they could hardly be considered among his best, and there are none of the Traveler in Black, which arguably were. “X-Hero” is an interesting short-short, not really SF. 3/13/20

The Man Who Was Secrett by John Brunner, Ramble House, 1992 

This was the most recent collection of Brunner stories, drawn from late in his career, but there are literally dozens from the 1980s and 1990s that have never been collected. The bulk of this collection is the Secrett sequence, in which a librarian tells the narrator stories which usually, but not always, have a fantastic twist. There are also two unrelated stories, one of which is reminiscent of Robert Aickman’s tales of remote communities with their own peculiarities.  The other is a somewhat tongue in cheek tale of the Cthulhu Mythos, sort of. None of these stories had been previously collected. 3/11/20

Golden in Death by J.D. Robb, St Martins, 2019

This is the 50th Eve Dallas futuristic mystery, although the SF element is almost completely absent this time. There is a brief mention of a colony on Mars but there isn't even a glimpse of a robot. Someone is sending packages of toxic gas to people and Dallas figures out the connecting link after the second murder. She knows who the killers are after a single interview, but it takes a while to prove it. Things go her way a bit too easily this time and the struture of the formula - though a good formula - becomes too obvious. I just pre-ordered the next in the series. 3/7/20

Foreign Constellations by John Brunner, Everest, 1980

A collection. “Pond Water” is a parable about an invulnerable robot that conquers the galaxy.  A telepath outwits a man who plans to make her his tool in “Out of Mindshot” is a duel between a telepath and a man who wants to enslave her. “The Easy Way Out” is a long story about two men stranded after their ship crashes on an uninhabited world. It has a nice twist at the end. “What Friends Are For” places a robot friend inside a dysfunctional family. “Protocols of the Elders of Britain” is a bitter story about the discovery of a conspiracy to keep the majority of the world’s population poor and without political power. “The Berendt Conversion” is just a conversation set against a backdrop of famine, not really a story at all. “The Taste of the Dish and the Savour of the Day” offers a man a much extended lifespan but only if he is willing to eat the same meal over and over again. “The Suicide of Man” describes efforts to alter humans into an immortal and invulnerable race. 3/5/20

Siva! by Walt & Leigh Richmond, Ace, 1979 

This is an expansion of The Lost Millennium, published in 1967 as half an Ace double. There is an introduction by Leigh – Walt had died – which reveals that she was the driving force behind their fiction. Alas, it also reveals that they were both wingnuts who believed Van Daniken and Velikowsky and thought the Pyramids were part of a solar tap. She also claims that the government suppressed their design for a modern version even though it would revolutionize energy production. The story takes place 9000 years ago, and portrays the fall of the Egypt based civilization which had telephones, interstellar travel, telepathy, and other modern conveniences, hence the “lost” millennium. It would be embarrassingly bad even if the author did not claim it was based on evidence. 3/2/20

Shock Wave by Walt & Leigh Richmond, Ace, 1967  

The first novel by this husband and wife team is pretty dull. A man stumbles into an alien device that transfers him to a deserted security station operated by a computer. Although he has been designated a galactic citizen, he is not authorized to give the computer orders so he has to find a way to trick it into complying. He is assisted by a malfunctioning robot that now considers itself independent, and an intelligent reptilian alien who is similarly trapped. I'm surprised this got published. 3/1/20

Time-Jump by John Brunner, Dell, 1973

A collection. “Death Do Us Part” is a light fantasy about a ghost seeking a divorce.  “Coincidence Day” is a comedy about an interstellar zoo that is more than it appears to be. “Speech Is Silver” concerns a company that provides counselling through sleep therapy. “Nobody Axed You” is a savage satire about efforts to encourage murder in an overpopulated future. There are three humorous sketches making up the Galactic Consumer Reports series. “The Warp and the Woof-Woof” is another silly story in which inimical Martians mistake a dog for a human being and get eaten because they smell like cheese. “The Product of the Masses” is an unconvincing story about a neurotic scientist who learns to be more human after a project fails. In “Whirligig” a band is hired to play for a private party, who turn out to be time travelers.  Three of the four Galactic Consumer Reports sketches are included. 2/28/20

Out of Time’s Abyss by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ace, 1953 (originally published in 1918)  w1135 

The third and weakest volume in the Caspak trilogy. A misguided rescue attempt results in a third outsider left alone in the jungles, where he is captured by flying men, meets a beautiful woman, has various routine adventures, and eventually escapes with his new love, determined to make a life in this lost world.  Mostly retreads of old plot lines and scenes. The flying men do not fit well into the explanation of active evolution on the island that was presented in the first two books. 2/26/20

The Book of John Brunner by John Brunner, DAW, 1976

A collection. “When Gabriel” is a fantasy about someone stealing Gabriel’s horn, which raises the dead. “The New Thing” is a kind of parable about the necessity of not knowing that something has already been accomplished so that humans continue to strive. “Who Steals My Purse” is an overly long surprise ending story in which what appears to be a military attack turns out to be an aid mission. There are a couple of mildly interesting essays, some poetry, and a completely pointless excerpt from one of the author’s expanded novels. This is by far the weakest of Brunner’s collections. 2/24/20

The People That Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ace, 1963 (originally published in 1918)

The second book in the Caspak trilogy is definitely inferior.  Tom Billings, a friend of the protagonist of the first book, locates Caprona, flies a seaplane over the cliffs, and is forced to crash by a pterodactyl. He then finds a beautiful local woman and has some pedestrian adventures that feel like leftovers from the Pellucidar series. They wander in caves, fend off cave bears, and get caught up in tribal politics. He doesn't find his friends until the end of the story. Our hero decides to remain behind when the rest return to civilization, because of course he is so much in love with the savage girl, who would be completely out of place in the outside world. Rather slow moving. 2/22/20

From This Day Forward by John Brunner, DAW, 1973

A collection. “The Biggest Game” involves a gigolo taken as a trophy by aliens posing as humans. “The Trouble I See” describes the fate of a prescient man who misinterprets a psychic warning. “Round Trip” tells us that every cycle of the universe merely repeats the same chain of events as the previous one. “An Elixir for the Emperor” is a very good story about an elixir of immortality in ancient Rome. “Wasted on the Young” is set in a future when young people can draw upon their future earnings to live a life of ease, and one wastrel discovers that his bill is due. “Planetfall” is an encounter between a spaceman from a rigidly organized society with a young woman from chaotic Earth. “Judas” is the story of a robot who decides it is God and “The Vitanuls” suggests that as the population grows, we might run out of souls.  “Factsheet Five” isa very good story about a clairvoyant who undercuts a villainous entrepreneur. Humans evolve after a nuclear was in “Fifth Commandment.”  “Fairy Tale” and most of the remaining stories are whimsically humorous but unmemorable. 2/21/20

No Future in It by John Brunner, Panther & Curtis, 1962   

The title story in this collection is a minor bit of humor about a wizard who conjures a time traveler. “Puzzle for Spacemen” is a nicely done murder mystery in space. “Fair” is a rather preachy story about reconditioning people out of their prejudices, without their knowledge. “Windows of Heaven” is an end of the world story with the last surviving human using his body to incubate a new wave of life. “Out of Order” is a humorous piece about an automated delivery system that takes a figure of speech literally. A human imprisoned by aliens is conditioned to self-destruction in “Elected Silence.” “Badman” is a parable about creating a bogeyman to keep people from hating other races of nations. “Report on the Nature of the Lunar Surface” is an anecdote about the moon being covered with an adaptable substance that changes when exposed to cheese. “Stimulus” ably examines the ethical questions about colonizing a world where indigenous intelligence is possible. “The Iron Jackass” is a cute but unconvincing story about miners resisting robot workers. “Protect Me from My Friends” is a minor bit about telepathy. The storied are fairly uniform in quality and generally quite interesting. 2/18/20

Entry to Elsewhen by John Brunner, DAW, 1972 

Three novelettes. “Host Age” involves a new plague sweeping the world, which turns out to have been brought to the future so that humans would develop an immunity to what was actually a bioweapon created by aliens. “Lungfish” describes a crisis when a forty year long voyage to another star system leads to conflict between those born on Earth and those conceived during the journey. “No Other Gods But Me” is a novella about an attempt by psi powered men from an alternate Earth to conquer our world. Their plans are foiled by a couple of humans who have powers of their own. 2/13/20

The Land That Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ace, 1963 (originally published in 1918)

First in the Caspak trilogy. The first half is a war story. The protagonist is on a cruise ship attacked by a German submarine. He is picked up by a tugboat, which is also attacked, but the crew manages to seize control of the enemy ship. Unfortunately, no one believes them when they fly the British flag and they are forced out into the Atlantic to avoid being destroyed. A saboteur damages their compass and they are lost for a while before the Germans suddenly regain control. The submarine heads to the South Pacific, where the hero - assisted by the woman he suspected of being a traitor - turns the tables yet again. They don't arrive on the island of Caprona until half way through the story. There are some dinosaurs, treachery, a kidnapping, and other brief adventures. 2/12/20

Not Before Time by John Brunner, New English Library, 1968 

A collection. “Treason is a Two-Edged Sword” is an entertaining piece about humans secretly assisting both sides in an interstellar war, but only so that they can guide them toward a lasting peace. “Seizure” is possibly Brunner’s worst short story – a colony world’s children are all supposedly permanently stuck in an infantile state, but they are actually all shamming. It originally appeared as “Children in Hiding.” The remaining stories all appear in other collections and none of them are particularly memorable except for “Coincidence Day.”. 2/11/20

No Other Gods But Me by John Brunner, Compact, 1966 

The title novella, which is about an attempted invasion of our world from an alternate Earth ruled by a caste with bizarre mental powers, and two longish, unrelated stories. “The Man from the Big Dark” is a planetary adventure set in the aftermath of the collapse of an interstellar empire and reads like the opening chapters of a novel. “The Odds Against You”  (aka "Against the Odds") is the shortest of the three, a fairly light hearted story about spacemen who discover among the relics of a dead alien civilization a method by which they can manipulate luck. A good collection, never published in the US. 2/8/2-

Out of My Mind by John Brunner, Ballantine, 1967 

A collection. “Eye of the Beholder” is a tragedy about an alien artist killed by humans who mistake him for a dangerous predator. “The Fourth Power” is a fascinating story about a man whose brain is altered such that he can literally perform acts simultaneously by projecting alternate versions of himself. I also liked “Prerogative”, which involves a scientist electrocuted just after he succeeded in creating life. The conflict between science and superstition is evident. “Such Stuff” is about a dream deprivation experiment that allows a subject to project dreams in other people’s minds. “Single-Minded” is about contagious telepathy. “The Totally Rich” is a not very good story about a woman seeking the recreation of her dead lover. “A Better Mousetrap” assumes we are vermin and that a super race has decided to exterminate is.  “SeeWhat I Mean” and “Fair Warning” are both minor gimmick stories. “The Last Lonely Man” is a very creepy story in which people are able to create links so that their personalities move to a friend’s body when they die, but an obsessive man traps the protagonist into a horrible fate.  “Orpheus’s Brother” and “The Nail in the Middle of the Hand” are both very brief stories about deities – the first a rock music manager who taps into Greek mythology, the second an account of the crucifixion of Jesus. A solid collection with no stories that really stood out. 2/7/20

Now Then! by John Brunner, Avon, 1965   

A collection of three longish stories. “Thou Good and Faithful” is the earliest memorable story by Brunner. A race that abandoned physical form leaves their planet to their robot servants. “Imprint of Chaos” was the first story in the Traveler in Black sequence and is one of Brunner’s very best stories. “Some Lapse of Time” concerns a doctor who has dreams of a post-holocaust future, after which an apparent denizen of that savage, distant future shows up and collapses outside his house. He eventually realizes that Armageddon is coming but his attempt to alter things is a complete failure. 2/6/20

Circus by Alistair MacLean, Doubleday, 1975   

Three brothers who are famous aerialists in a circus are recruited by the CIA for a dangerous mission. One of the brothers is genuinely clairvoyant. This was the book where MacLean started to lose his narrative ability. The plot is hopeless contrived and the CIA agents are incompetent. One of them does not seem to have any purpose other than to provide a hint of romance. The clairvoyance is ignored for most of the book – they don’t even arrive in Europe until the second half – and the brothers are never more than names. The plot does not bear close examination and the characters are flat and uninteresting. It was the first of his novels in a long time not to result in a movie. Only one later one, River of Death, would be filmed, and it was probably ghost written. 1/24/20

Return to Pal-Ul-Don by Will Murray, Altus, 2015   

This is a Tarzan novel set during World War II. Lord Clayton has begun a fighter pilot and while on a rescue mission in Africa, he is forced down by pterodactyls and finds himself back in the prehistoric land he visited in an earlier adventure by Burroughs. He is befriended by the turtle people, menaced by dinosaurs, and battles against a kind of poisonous spider that is highly aggressive. I enjoyed the book, but it did not feel to me like an actual Tarzan novel, although this is possibly because I haven’t read any of the original in something over forty years. Maybe I should rectify that. 1/21/20

172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad, Little Brown, 2012 

This young adult novel is translated from the Norwegian. In some ways it is quite good, but in others, it’s a complete failure. The pace is very slow initially. The author takes over a hundred pages to tell us that a secret base was established on the moon during the Nixon administration, but it was assembled robotically and while stocked with supplies, it has never been visited by humans. This is because something hostile was found on the moon, but no one except one man in a sanitarium seems to remember this. So a new expedition is sent, four adults and three teens, the latter chosen by lottery so that they are Japanese, Norwegian, and French. This is supposed to help revive human interest in space travel. Once they arrive, things go wrong almost from the first. There is some kind of alien intelligence – never explained – which does not want us there. Equipment fails, locks jam, power goes off, and a computer delivers cryptic messages. Ultimately disappointing. 1/19/20

The Mindblocked Man by Jeff Sutton, DAW, 1972  

The inhabited solar system is a dictatorship. The last ruler resigned and is undergoing treatment on the moon. His replacement discovers he has a fatal disease and has only weeks to provide for a smooth turnover of power. Meanwhile, it appears that the ex-dictator has developed the ability to teleport and is back on Earth with amnesia, causing trouble. Except that’s not what is really happening. Sutton’s early interesting near space fiction had given way to turgid, implausible dystopias during his later career, of which this is a sad example. 1/15/20

The Essential Captain America Volume 6, Marvel, 2011 

This is a collection of Captain America comics from the late 1970s and I found them to be decidedly inferior to his earlier adventures. The Red Skull and Magneto are the only major villains. Most of his opponents are minor ones like Constrictor, Americadroid, the Swine, the Night Flyer, and a robot version of himself. In many of the stories, he works with the Falcon. As usual Marvel finds convoluted ways to pit one hero against another, so he also battles the Hulk, the Human Torch, and Nick Fury. 1/13/20

Whisper from the Stars by Jeff Sutton, Dell,    

Two centuries from now the world is divided into Orwellian power blocs. A scientist who is looking into the basic nature of matter and human existence goes on the run when a mysterious government department decides to kill him, and does kill several of his associates. A science writer decides to track him down and find out what is going on. Slow moving, overly talky and technical, and so superficial that I never had any real concept of the world in which all of this was happening. There’s also a lot of nonsense about destiny and fate. The heroes escape by means of rationalized magic. Pretty bad. 1/11/20

Alton’s Unguessable by Jeff Sutton, Ace, 1970 

A very minor short novel about a survey ship that lands on a planet where a discorporate alien has been trapped and seeks to possess them in order to escape and spread its kind to supplant human civilization. It’s sort of The Thing, but without anything actually interesting taking place. The climax comes aboard the ship as they are heading home and realize they have been infiltrated. The characters are pretty much interchangeable and readers will not care which of them live and which do not. 1/8/20

Muddle Earth by John Brunner, Del Rey, 1993  

Brunner’s last novel. It’s a not very funny satire in which a man is revived from suspended animation to discover that Earth collapsed and is now being restored – not always very accurately – by an alien race contracted to recreate history. He has a series of episodic adventures, none of which are particularly interesting. It feels as though Brunner was trying to write a Ron Goulart novel but did not quite have the hang of it. Not the greatest end to a long and honored career. 1/7/20

The Programmed Man by Jean & Jeff Sutton, Putnam, 1968 

One of several decidedly bad SF novels packaged as for young adults even though there are sometimes nothing but adults in the story. This one is about attempts to steal the nova bomb which an interstellar empire uses to control its subjects. It is not clear who is the villain and even worse, you’re not likely to care about it. The plots within plots are not well constructed and the plot lacks any real momentum. Sutton seemed to lose all focus when not writing about near future space travel. 1/5/20

Embers of War by Gareth Powell, Titan, 2019  

This is an unabashed space opera that feels almost like a comic book at times. In the aftermath of an interstellar war, a self-aware starship is repurposed from military to more constructive purposes, but there is reason to believe there is some kind of hidden threat in the galaxy. There is,of course. The human characters never really piqued my interest and the situations were not novel enough to carry me along without them. I didn’t care for the ending at all and I gather there is a sequel out, so perhaps the author has taken care of that problem. 1/4/20

A Maze of Stars by John Brunner, Del Rey, 1991  w1231 

A self-aware seed ship is caught in a time loop that causes it to revisit its hundreds of colonies at various points in their history. Under certain conditions it is able to take passengers and resettle them on more appropriate worlds. Most of the novel is a series of generally depressing vignettes about failed colonies, often the fault of the settlers, with the ship trying to unravel the secret of its own programming along the way. There’s not enough real focus to make this successful. 1/1/20

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