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

LAST UPDATE 6/30/16

Captain to Captain by Greg Cox, Pocket, 2016, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-5011-2529-4 

First in a trilogy of Star Trek novels. For a very long time a secret has been concealed aboard the Enterprise. The reappearance of a mysterious woman suggest that it is time for the consequences of that secret to be finally worked out, and Kirk is not the man to shirk from his duty. The secret involves a remote and rarely visited world which has now been absorbed, more or less, into the Klingon Empire. Kirk’s mission, however, is put into jeopardy when he discovers – at the very end of this book – that one of his crewmembers is actually not what she appears but rather a sleeping agent placed by a hostile power. The story is incomplete, of course, since this is a three part novel rather than an actual trilogy, but the puzzle presented is interesting enough to lead the reader to the next in the series. 6/30/16

Panacea by F. Paul Wilson, Tor, 2016, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-8516-1 

A secret society is believed by some to have knowledge of a way to cure all diseases, a secret which they keep hidden from the rest of the world. A sinister organization knows of its existence and is determined to wrest it from its keepers. The protagonist is a medical examiner who gets caught in the middle of this when a pair of odd corpses and a contact from a powerful billionaire who also wants the secret coincide. Much of the story is her quest to stay alive, let alone fine the secret, accompanied only by the billionaire’s bodyguard and her own wits. Much of the story is conventional thriller even though the premise is based on the fantastic, but it’s a good conventional thriller. 6/29/16

Gladiator by Claudia Christian & Morgan Grant Buchanan, Tor, 2016, $26.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-3774-0 

Celebrity collaborations are always a mystery because we are not likely ever to know how much the two credited authors contributed respectively. That said, this was an interesting if not entirely smoothly written story. The premise is that the Roman Empire never fell and centuries later expanded into space, but without changing its fundamental nature. I’m not sure I was convinced that this is possible, but it was not a fatal problem. The primary protagonist is a woman whose family is killed as the result of a galaxy wide civil war. Her reaction is to become a gladiator because that way she can deal with some of the people against whom she has sworn revenge in the arena. Her plans go awry – they always do – and she ends up being sold into slavery instead. The story is not badly plotted although I had the aforementioned questions about how the society could remain unchanged over such a long period of time. The prose is okay, but occasionally feels artificially formal. It didn’t make me stop reading, but I occasionally found myself stumbling mentally. First in the Wolf's Empire series. 6/28/16

Savage Pellucidar by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ace, 1963   

Four stories set in the world inside a hollow Earth. In the first, David Innes is taken captive by a hostile tribe and has adventures while Dian is cast adrift in a hot air balloon. The second continues the story with Dian crashlanding and being mistaken for a goddess. In the third, Innes goes after her and gets captured by another tribe. The fourth mostly ties things up although not everyone has gotten home and Burroughs may have planned further stories in the sequence. The collection – which is actually one continuous story – was the least interesting of the Pellucidar novels. 6/27/16

Monstrum by Donald James, Arrow, 1997   

This longest hybrid of SF and mystery is set in a near future Russia after a second civil war. Constantin Vadim is a detective with the Moscow police. He is secretly employed as a stand in for the new vice president, and officially a homicide detective assigned to track down a brutal serial killer. He is also secretly helping his ex-wife, who is an anarchist proscribed by the government. But there are wheels within wheels. His ex-wife is not what she represents herself to be, and neither is the government. The identity of the actual killers - two people working in conjunction - came as a complete surprise. There is an impersonation, an assassination, several betrayals, a couple additional victims, and a surprising and dramatic change in the protagonist's personality when he realizes the truth about several issues. This was excellent, and the first in a trilogy. 6/26/16

The Patchwork Devil by Cavan Scott, Titan, 2016, $14.95, ISBN 978-1783297146 

I expected this to be a conventional Sherlock Holmes adventure, and for the first half or so, that’s pretty much what it is. Sherlock comes out of retirement to help Watson investigate a detached hand found on the riverbank which exhibits some odd features. Most noticeable is that the fingerprints are of a man known to have died some time previously. At first I thought the death had been faked but SPOILER ALERT but that’s not the case at all. A missing woman is discovered to be descended from a notorious German family that experimented with the reinvigoration of dead tissue, and you can probably guess where the story goes from there. This was a pretty good adventure despite its excursion into SF. 6/23/16

Land of Terror by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ace, originally published in 1944 

This was the last full length novel Burroughs set in Pellucidar. It really doesn’t present anything new. Innes goes on an expedition, is captured by a hostile tribe, escapes, and then falls into the clutches of another tribe. The same sequence repeats several times, aided by coincidences and unlikely escapes. The sequence in which he is captured by madmen is particularly bad. This was by far the weakest entry in the series, with nothing new and a plot that just rambles onward from one situation to the next, all of it tied up very quickly at the end. 6/21/16

The Fall of the Russian Empire by Donald James, Signet, 1982 

Near future political fiction often overlaps with SF, as it sort of does in this case, which is a chronicle of the collapse of the Soviet Union during the 1980s – which wasn’t off by much. Unrest because of the lack of consumer goods and a nationalist movement in Ukraine are the two main factors in the novel, along with a power struggle within the higher echelons of the communist party.  This is fairly long and reads more like a history than a piece of fiction. The characters are really just window dressing. It’s not the way it happened, but it’s a good description of a way in which it might have happened. 6/20/16

Devour by Kurt Anderson, Pinnacle, 2016, $9.99, ISBN 978-0-7860-3679-0   

Giant prehistoric sharks seem to be having a mini-surge recently. This is a first novel and a pretty good one.  The creature in question has been hibernating in the Arctic for generations and now it is awake and hungry and has a particular taste for humans. At first it attacks only small boats and no one except the victims know of its existence. But then it decides to feast on a cruise ship. A disabled fishing ship arrives in the middle of things and the quest to survive is underway. Although this is fairly long, it didn’t feel that way. The story is intense, well constructed, suspenseful, and quite well done, particularly for a debut book. I’ll be watching for the author’s next. 6/17/16

Back to the Stone Age by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ace, 1964 (originally published in 1937) 

One member of the expedition led by Tarzan to Pellucidar was lost and presumed dead. Wilhelm von Horst is separated from the others and wanders far afield. It’s the usual Burroughs formula – captures, escapes, pursuits, battles, etc. – and some of the individual incidents are repeats of things he had done in the past. There is only a single viewpoint character, however, which makes the story feel considerably less fragmented and episodic. There is a brief sequence in which we are introduced to the Forest of the Dead, in which evil people from the surface world are reincarnated in humanoid bodies, shun the sunlight, and feast on human beings. Lots of coincidences. Burroughs had a positive talent for description, however, and some of his settings really come to life. Also known as Seven Worlds to Conquer.6/15/16

Tarzan at the Earth’s Core by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ballantine, 1964 (originally published in 1929)

Tarzan visits Pellucidar in the fourth in that series, 13th in his own. He is separated from the others almost immediately, and Jason Gridley – who talked him into leading the expedition – wanders off as well. They both encounter the local people – human and otherwise – as well as fearsome beasts and other dangers. Burroughs had developed a formula for the Tarzan series and other books in which various characters have anecdotal adventures before converging for the climax, and that’s the case here. It is almost an afterthought when they rescue the imprisoned David Innes, which was supposedly the reason they visited Pellucidar in the first place. 6/14/16

Tanar of Pellucidar by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ace, 1962, originally published in 1929

The third Pellucidar novel is strikingly inferior to the first two, filled with plot contradictions, implausible situations, logical fallacies, inconsistent characterization, and poorly conceived plot elements. Tanar is a warrior taken captive by a previously unsuspected human tribe, the Korsars. He escapes fairly soon and then has a series of often illogical adventures while pursuing Stellara, the woman he loves, finding her and losing her multiple times. The story concludes with the two of them escaping but David Innes, hero of the first two books in the series, is a captive of the barbaric Korsar and has to wait for the next book to be rescued. 6/11/16

Spear of Light by Brenda Cooper, Pyr, 2016, $18, ISBN 978-1-63388-134-1  

This is the second half of the Glittering Edge, which began with Edge of Dark. The rise of artificial intelligence, cyborg bodies, and other means of varying the nature of humanity has led to conflict, divisions, and ongoing ethical and pragmatic debates about the future. The tension is ratcheted up by the appearance of a group of post-humans called the Next, who are functionally immortal. Some are envious and some are fearful and it is evident that actual conflict is growing more probable. Caught in the crossfire is a colony trying to make its own way. Just who are the villains and what is on the various agendas of the multiple participants in the struggle? You’ll have to read the book to find out, and it will be a pleasurable voyage of discovery. But read the first half before you do. 6/9/16

Nightstalkers by Steve Alten, Tor, 2016, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-8796-7 

Latest in the Meg series. The breach of an undersea cavern has released a handful of prehistoric predators into the Pacific Ocean. Some have been captured but have escaped and all are a menace to small boats and contemporary wildlife. This volume chronicles efforts to capture or kill several of the creatures by a variety of characters including a man who wants revenge for the death of his lover, a rich Arab who wants a tourist attraction, a scientist whose ambitions sometimes override her common sense, and others. The characters are generally well drawn but I think the author made a strategic error in having so many viewpoints involved. The story is constantly switching from one to another and rather than create momentum – which is often the result of this tactic – it begins to interrupt the story flow and disrupt the suspense. I still liked it a lot, but it felt like a movie with too many jump takes. 6/7/16

Judenstaat by Simone Zelitch, Tor, 2016, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-8296-2

Alternate history often deals with World War II and the immediate aftermath, but this very impressive new novel explores an entirely different possibility. What is a Jewish state had been created in 1948, but in Europe rather than the Mideast? The story is told from the viewpoint of a widow and historian forty years later who is writing a retrospective about the founding and evolution of her country. But her research takes a strange twist when she discovers that much of what she believed is a cleverly concealed lie and that there are dark secrets which might be dangerous if she were to reveal them. I read this in a single sitting. It only took a few pages to drag me into the story and I was held firmly right to the last page. 6/5/16

Pellucidar by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ace, 1962 (originally published in 1915)

The second Pellucidar novel has David Innes wandering around a remote part of the inner world for several opening chapters. The empire which he founded has disintegrated, in part because of the machinations of Hooja the Sly One.  His beloved Dian is also missing, believed to have fallen into Hooja’s clutches. She is being held captive in the only part of Pellucidar which is in perpetual darkness, thanks to its small moon. After many adventures, and a large number of improbable coincidences, he rescues Dian, avenges himself on Hooja, and regains his throne. Not quite as entertaining as the first, but close. 6/4/16

Artefact by Jamie Sawyer, Orbit, 2015, $9.99, ISBN 978-0-316-38637-1   

First volume in the Lazarus War series. I picked this up hoping for another interesting space adventure like James S.A. Corey, but this is really just routine military SF with a few minor twists. Humanity is fighting an inimical alien race, and much of the combat is done by means of remotely controlled avatars, which are less expendable than actual people. There is minimal characterization and not much story outside of the military encounters. Some of the battle scenes are well done but I am not tempted to order the two sequels, though I would probably read them if I stumble across copies. 6/3/16

Exiles of the Moon by Nat Schachner and Arthur Leo Zagat, Armchair, 2016, $12.95, ISBN 978-1-61287-298-8 (originally published in 1931) 

This dystopian novel crackles with age. An autocracy rules the Earth and the population at large is essentially a pool of slaves. There are some rebels, of course, whose progress is minimal until they finally escape to build a colony on the moon. This was a pretty longish novel for its time but it is pure pulp, with corny dialogue, cardboard characters, and sketchy science. It was actually fun for a while but by midway I was impatient to get to the end. 6/2/16

At the Earth’s Core by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ace, 1962 (originally published in 1914)

Burroughs was at his best when he was introducing us to an exotic society, which is why the first few volumes in his various series are usually the best.  It has been over fifty years since I read the Pellucidar books so I decided it would be interesting to see if they struck me the same way now as they had during the 1960s – entertaining through the first three, then gradually less so. The first two are quite short and resemble Jules Verne in some ways.  David Innes and Abner Perry are on an experimental drilling machine that takes them to the hollow center of the Earth where humans compete with the dominant Mahars - intelligent pteranodons, as well as various intelligent species of apes and other dangers. There are a couple of internal contradictions and the science is naturally absurd, but it’s an engaging story. 6/1/16

The Stone Rose by Jacqueline Rayner, BBC, 2006  

The Doctor and his companion Rose find a statue of the latter thousands of years in the future. To figure out why, they travel back through time to the Roman Empire. But they are a bit too early and it is still not clear why she is being commemorated. In the meantime, the Doctor gets involved with the search for a missing boy and Rose encounters another who apparently can predict the future. Are the two linked? Of course they are. This is a mildly entertaining Doctor Who adventure that doesn’t have a whole lot of adventure although the mystery element is all right. 5/30/16

The Fireman by Joe Hill, Morrow, 2016, $28.99, ISBN 978-0-06-220063-1 

Civilization has essentially collapses thanks to a new plague that causes people to erupt in spontaneous combustion. Harper is a young woman who gets pregnant just about the time she discovers she has been infected with the spores of Dragonscale. She wants to live long enough to deliver the child, but her husband wants them to commit mutual suicide, having deluded himself into thinking that he is infected as well, and that she did it deliberately to humiliate him. She escapes to a refuge where people are learning to live with Dragonscale and has various adventures thereafter.  I did have a problem with Harper’s character. It takes her far too long to realize how much of an idiot her husband is, even granting the blindness of love, particularly when she eventually realizes she has not been in love with him for years. The story also slows down dramatically once she has reached the refuge and it takes a while to get back up to speed. Comparisons with Stephen King’s The Stand are inevitable and justifiable, although the story is in many ways quite different. I had to take a break partway through and read something else, which is not true of Hill’s previous novel, so I would have to say that I was somewhat though not devastatingly disappointed. 5/29/16

Beyond the Ice Limit by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, Grand Central, 2016, $27, ISBN 978-1-4555-2586-7

This is a belated sequel to the 2000 novel The Ice Limit, as well as the latest in the Gideon Crew series. In the first book, a very large and very peculiar meteor was raised briefly from the ocean floor but then lost near Antarctica. Now we are told that the meteor is actually the seed of a dangerous alien plant that must be destroyed with a nuclear weapon, but only a select few know this, and none of them are connected to any government. Crew is an expert in nuclear explosions so he is enlisted in the group, but the situation takes a surprising turn almost the moment that they reach the site. They find an enormous undersea treelike creature whose mysteries are unraveled over the course of the novel. This is one of their best efforts, creepy, suspenseful, ingenious, evocative, and a whole lot of other complimentary adjectives.  I hated reaching the end even though I had raced to get there. 5/26/16

Tom Derringer and the Aluminum Airship by Lawrence Watt-Evans, Misenchanted, 2014, $12.95 

I believe this is the only book the author has written specifically for young readers. The protagonist discovers at age eight that his father was a professional adventurer so he trains to be the same. A few years later he encounters a villain reminiscent of Robur the Conqueror from Jules Verne, who has a revolutionary airship. With a female companion, he gets involved in subsequent events and helps to save the world from domination. A lot of this was fun but I suspect that I just was not in the mood for such a young protagonist because I found my interest wandering, and that’s never happened before with this author. 5/25/16

The Face Beyond the Veil by Rog Phillips, Armchair, 2016 (magazine appearance 1950) 

A woman is kept in suspended animation as her spaceship drifts across the universe. She is conscious, however, and can use her telepathic abilities to broadcast a plea for help to receptive minds. A space prospector and others are all drawn to her, but is this a rescue mission or are they being lured into a deadly trap? This was one of the author’s better novellas although perhaps a bit on the slow side. 5/23/16

The Black by Paul E. Cooley, Severed Press, 2014, $14.95, ISBN 978-1925225112 

First in a series. An oil drilling platform is using new robotic technology at a prospective site when they start to find anomalous results. The oil is there, but it doesn't analyze as normal oil and it seems almost to have a life of its own. And the normally docile tubeworms appear to have become aggressive. The truth is worse than that though. They have wakened a creature which is essentially the Blob, capable of absorbing organic matter into itself and also capable of changing its form to suit whatever situation is at hand. And it is loose on the drilling rig. Thrillers like this generally fall into three categories for me. The badly written ones that are vastly disappointing, the weapons porn ones that really aren't my cup of tea, and the good ones that balance characterization, suspense, and imagination. This one falls fortunately into the last category, although it's not quite good enough to rave about. I had some trouble keeping several of the characters straight because their personalities were not sufficiently delineated. It was not a major problem though and I liked this enough to order copies of the two sequels. 5/21/17

The Last Days of Thronas by S.J. Byrne, Armchair, 2016 (originally published in 1954) 

Prolific Stuart Byrne rarely varied from his formula stories, of which this is a good example. There’s a galactic empire that still engages in slavery, a handful of heroes who are on a quest for a better life, a rebellion, a romance, and lots of fights and chases. The end is pretty obvious early on and since it’s not a particularly good ride getting there, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain interest in the plot. 5/19/16

The Bone Labyrinth by James Rollins, Morrow, 2015, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-06-238164-4 

This is the latest in the author’s Sigma Force series, thrillers with undercurrents of science fiction. A secret Catholic chapel is found hidden near some cave paintings that appear to be by Neanderthals rather than their successors. Almost immediately a heavily armed force attacks the archaeological site, trapping some of the scientists inside the caves. Eventually we discover that the Chinese are conducting experiments in genetic engineering and don’t want anyone else to figure out what’s going on. This is tied into the rest of the story reasonably well, and there is some secret history stuff and other tidbits that make this marginally SF. Rollins writes this kind of story as well or better than any of his contemporaries, but I have found the last few including this one to be too repetitive. His earlier, pre-Sigma Force adventures were varied and engaging, but that spontaneity seems gone now. Still fun, but muted. 5/18/16

Bumsider by C.C. MacApp, Lancer, 1972 

This was MacApp’s second best novel, but also his last. It’s set on a colony world where the upper crust lives in a city surrounded by barriers, a flawed utopia that expels anyone who is antisocial. The hero is a young man from the outside who wins a job within the barrier. While investigating the disappearance of another man, he gets caught up in a web of intrigue, corruption, and conspiracy. The characters are actually fairly interesting in this one and the mystery subplot is engaging, though not great. 5/17/16

The Goddess of World 21 by Henry Slesar, Armchair, 2016 (originally published in 1957)  

This novelette has to have been written tongue in cheek. The experimental cure for a rare disease turns a young woman into a giant, so she is sent to an empty world where she can live on her own. A journalist tracks her down but feels sympathetic, so he refuses to write a story about her. Unfortunately another does and the publicity turns her into a freak show, so he has himself turned into a giant to keep her company. Just as he arrives, giant aliens from another galaxy show up to take them off to a planet where they will fit in. Silly but probably intentionally so, since Slesar was a good writer. 5/15/16

The Mother World by Bruce Wallis & George C. Wallis, Armchair, 2016. Magazine appearance 1933 

An eccentric millionaire builds the first working starship and takes an unlikely crew along for a tour of the universe. The aliens they meet are all human. There are some interpersonal problems that are handled with the usual simplemindedness of 1930s SF. Oddly, there is nothing approaching a sense of wonder in any of it. The story feels more like a tour guide’s bored narration of an uninteresting archaeological site. The science is outdated, of course, and the female characters are largely there to have things explained to them. Typical of its time and place, and not terribly written, but with nothing to set it apart. 5/14/16

Subb by C.C. MacApp, Paperback Library, 1971 

An alien race has provided a surgical service by which the brains of dying humans are transferred into artificial bodies, but some suspect that the personalities involved are changed, and not in a good way. A promising opening soon gives way to a routine and sometimes rather boring space adventure in which the first protagonist is kidnapped by devious spacemen and the second protagonist, his father and secretly a sub, tries to rescue him. MacApp was much better at shorter length and generally seemed incapable of constructing a longer plot that wasn’t loosely organized and episodic. 5/12/16

The Long Winter by John Christopher, Crest, 1962   

John Christopher wrote some very good disaster novels, of which this was probably his best. A decrease in energy output from the sun leads to a critical drop in temperatures on Earth. The primary protagonists are a television journalist and his romantic interest. They eventually relocate to Nigeria, where they discover they are second class citizens, forced to live in squalor. Eventually he takes part in an expedition back to England where he decides to stay. Impressively written, with some very complexly drawn characters, and a genuine sense of foreboding and gloom. 5/11/16

Somewhere in Space by C.C. MacApp, Dancing Tuatara Press, 2012   

C.C. MacApp had a short but productive career that included seven novels and a few dozen short stories, almost half of which are collected here. “All That Earthly Remains” is a good story about the discovery of an ancient alien base in South America. The title story involves aliens who intercept teleportation beams to acquire slaves. A couple of the stories are humorous but most are not. “The Mercuryman” describes a group of primitive colonists in a very strange environment on the planet Mercury. The ending is a bit weak but it is otherwise MacApp’s best story.  Although he was never an outstanding writer, he was reliably entertaining and it’s a shame that it took this long for some of his short fiction to be collected. 5/10/16

Dark Destiny by Dwight V. Swain, Armchair, 2016 (originally published in 1952)  

A space warrior pursues his destiny among the barbaric worlds of the galaxy, but his luck has gone bad and he is stuck on a backwater planet until he meets a beautiful woman who changes his destiny. This sets him off on a quest that feels more like fantasy than SF, in pursuit of a fabled woman with superhuman powers.  Swain was occasionally entertaining but more often not, and this is in the latter category, boring, implausible, and occasionally silly. 5/9/16

Recall Not Earth by C.C. MacApp, Dell, 1970 

Earth has been destroyed by the Vulmot Empire and only a few hundred men have survived. They are resigned to extinction until fugitives of a conquered race reveal that they rescued two hundred women. The catch is that they will not reveal their location until the humans do a few things for them, mostly military. Then an ancient spaceship turns up with technology beyond anything currently known and the humans use it to outwit and outfight their enemies, eventually founding a new planet with their female companions. The first half is okay but once the alien ship shows up, it’s just one gimmick after another. 5/8/16

Ice! by Arnold Federbush, Bantam, 1978   

Changes in weather patterns tip off a few people that we are on the brink of a new ice age, but no one does much about it and eventually civilization collapses. The deterioration of the environment in less than a year is dramatically effective but logically impossible. There are also literally scores of throwaway viewpoint characters so that we can see things from all over the world, but the central story is so weak that we never identify with any of them. Federbush also treated interpersonal relations awkwardly and his child character feels like he stepped out of a cartoon. Not another lost classic. 5/6/16

The Secret of Planetoid 88 by Ed Earl Repp, Armchair, 2016 (originally published in 1941)  

Although this is a rather old fashioned space adventure, it still manages to entertain. The hero has been exiled thanks to his opposition to the dictatorship on Earth. He finds himself on Io amidst a colony that is endangered by radioactivity generated from the surface of Jupiter. Convoluted adventures follow before he finds a solution to the problem, and in the process brings the repressive government on Earth to an end. Comic book adventure but at least reasonably plausible and well written. 5/5/16

Hwarhath Stories by Eleanor Arnason, Aqueduct, 2016, $19, ISBN 978-1-61976-095-0 

This is a collection of more than a dozen short stories which share a common background, a future in which humanity has begun exploring the stars, only to discover that the only other space traveling race within range is the Hwarhath, who have a very different psychology and social system. That necessarily leads to misunderstandings, tension, but also to occasionally interesting cross fertilizations. The stories vary a good deal despite the common setting, but they are almost all of very high quality. My favorites include “Dapple,” “The Lovers,” “The Woman Who Fooled Death Five Times,” and “Holmes Sherlock.”  Arnason, never a prolific writer, is sometimes surprising and always entertaining. She's one of those writers you wish would be more productive. 5/3/16

Worlds of the Wall by C.C. MacApp, Avon, 1969 

This is a very weak, episodic novel about a spaceman who lands on a strange world – it’s half a hemisphere – and gets involved with time loops and alternate realities. It feels more like fantasy than SF, and many of the episodes are tedious and uninteresting. The surprise ending – his first meeting on that world is his older self – is not a surprise at all. The cultures he visits are superficial and monotonous. The characters are not developed at all. Clearly written hastily and probably without a clear idea of the shape of the story in advance. 5/2/16

Nebula Awards Showcase 2016 edited by Mercedes Lackey, Pyr, 2016, $18, ISBN 978-1-63388-138-9  

The latest volume in this series skews decidedly to the literary side of the genre, although most of the stories also have very strong plots. Most of the contributors are newcomers – Sarah Pinker, Eugie Foster, etc. – but there are also stories by familiar names like Richard Bowes and Nancy Kress. The book contains excerpts as well as complete stories, which I believe is a mistake. Readers unfamiliar with them are going to be thwarted from reading a complete story, and those who know the stories and want them in book form are going to have to wait for another appearance. There are also some interesting essays and information about SFWA and the awards themselves. As with previous volumes, I am sometimes puzzling by stories that are included, although for the most part they are clearly superior. 4/30/16

Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer, Tor, 2016, $26.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-7800-2

This is apparently the first in a series - a second title will appear later this year. It is set in a future world where the overt practice of religion has been outlawed. The world has changed in many other ways as well. Everything is centrally planned. All speech and writing is subject to a system of classification. There is very little attention paid to gender differences. Spiritual needs are addressed by people who specialize in the psychology of it. Criminals are often sanctioned instead of imprisoned. Although this is a kind of Utopian world, there are dystopian elements as well. All of this might come to an end, however, when one individual begins displaying extrasensory powers that verge on the supernatural. I had considerable trouble getting into this world, but after a few chapters it began to feel more comprehensible and the story caught me up after that. This was very much unlike anything else I've read recently. 4/29/16

The Great Prince Shan by E. Phillips Oppenheim, Pocket, 1940 (originally published 1922)

This 1922 future war novel doesn’t actually have a war in it, just a lot of espionage and political maneuvering. The communists never took over Russia, which is now allied with Germany. China has become a major world power and is allied with Japan. France is heavily armed but England has become pacifistic and defenseless. A few people who realize this is suicidal try to find out what the arrival of the Chinese leader, Prince Shan, means. This is mostly very low key and it’s fairly long, but the plot moves well and it was surprisingly enjoyable. 4/28/16

Secret of the Sunless World by C.C. MacApp, Dell, 1969  

The plot of this early space opera isn’t bad and the prose is fine, but the structure of the story could have used some work. There are long sections were little happens and sometimes the plot is moved along by coincidences. The protagonist has contracted an alien disease. The Nessen offer to arrange for his cure if he helps them track down some missing technology and a kidnapped scientist. This leads him to a planet that has no sun – it is heated and lit from within – that is a haven for space pirates. He gets involved in some complicated efforts to raid a treasure house and eventually finds himself aboard an ancient alien starship launched to an unknown destination. The ending is quite weak and the story never really accelerates in the second half. 4/27/16

The Savage Machine by Randall Garrett, Armchair, 2016 (originally published in 1958)

This novelette is set in a future where computers are regulating almost every aspect of public life in a major city. Our hero however, discovers that one of the city officials has been quietly reprogramming the computers so that they become instruments of his own devious and criminal plot to seize power. The usual antics follow, well done as they always were with Randall Garrett, but the story really isn't one of his better efforts and feels very dated. For some reason the cover is from the Ace edition of Eye in the Sky by Philip K. Dick. 4/25/16

Bonded Agent by David B. Riley, Wolfsinger, 2016, $12.95, ISBN 978-1942450238  

This is a somewhat old fashioned and not entirely serious space adventure about a young woman who finds her new job more interesting than she anticipated. For one thing, she has to deal with space pirates who prey on ships conducting interplanetary trade. The Earth government isn’t entirely benevolent either, so she has to watch her step. But no matter how careful she is, she still finds herself caught in the middle of what could well develop into an interstellar war. This is fun even if it’s not to be taken entirely seriously. It’s a kind of story that seems to be disappearing from mainstream SF, and that’s a shame. 4/23/16

Prisoners of the Sky by C.C. MacApp, Lancer, 1969 

I remember this as being the author’s best book by quite a bit. It’s set on a lost colony where humans are confined to the tops of mesas in a world cut by canyons. They get around with blimps and one of the city states has used perfidy and military force to subjugate most of the rest of the world. One group holds out and a young blimp captain leads a perilous mission that helps to turn the tide of battle. The setting is wonderfully developed, the blimp travel sequences are evocative and fascinating, and while the characterization is rather shallow it is overall an excellent story. The ending is a bit rushed though.  Worth tracking down. 4/20/16

The Flying Threat by David H. Keller, Armchair, 2016  (originally published in 1930)

This one is a mad scientist story that is unusual in that it had a female scientist as the protagonist, very rare in the 1930s. She learns of the existence of a scientist who has been breeding giant sized versions of ordinary insects. First he sends hordes of oversized critters to threaten the world and eventually he attempts to seize global power. Naturally he fails. Keller was better than most of his contemporaries at this sort of thing, but the novella still falls short of what we would now consider acceptable plotting and writing. 4/19/16

The Fifth-Dimension Tube by Murray Leinster, Armchair, 2016 (originally published in 1933) 

Scientists have opened a gateway to a mysterious world in another dimension, but a crimelord has attempted to plunder that world and as a consequence, the mysterious denizens there are striking back at our own reality. The other worlders are considering using a poison gas to kill off the human race so that they can migrate through the gateway and take over. So our heroes have to foil both the domestic villains and the foreign ones, rescuing the female protagonist in the process of course. This was from early in the author’s career and he would become much better later on, but this is still one of the more enjoyable stories of its type. 4/16/16

We Who Survived by Sterling Noel, Avon, 1959  

Earth enters a cosmic dust cloud, so it begins to snow and doesn’t stop until most of the world is buried and the temperatures are below zero all the way to the equator. A group of people anticipate what is about to happen and lay in a large store of supplies in advance, after one of them – supposedly a scientist – explains by means of a bunch of factually challenged science that this will last precisely 102 years and then return to normal. (He can even predict when it will start snowing to the exact minute!)  The characters whisk out a new piece of technology whenever needed. Interpersonal tensions are described so badly they are laughable. Noel never wrote SF again, and it was probably a good thing. 4/15/16

Omha Abides by C.C. MacApp, Paperback Library, 1968   

MacApp’s first novel was technically a fixup since it contains two previously published short stories, “Under the Gaddyl” and “Trees Like Torches.”  Murno is a free human living a primitive lifestyle with his family while the alien Gaddyl run Earth as a game preserve, hunting humans and other prey. When escaping slaves steal some alien technology, it is passed into his hands and he and his family are on the run. Most of the novel consists of his journey across strange lands, but eventually he reaches his goal (Omha is Omaha) and is instrumental in a completely implausible uprising that frees humanity of the rule of aliens. The battle is compressed into the last few pages and is very rushed. Shows some promise but it's not very good overall. 4/13/16

The Tattooed Man by Edmond Hamilton, Armchair, 2016 (originally published in 1957)

There have been rumors of a treasure planet for a long time, but its location may be known by an apparently brutish man who holds a series of minor jobs. When our hero intercedes in a one sided fight, he is acting on impulse, but it leads to his becoming involved in an interstellar quest and conspiracy. Hamilton turned out short novels like this with amazing frequency and with a generally uniform quality level. This one is typical – not particularly memorable but fun while it lasts. 4/10/16

The Sound of His Horn by Sarban, Ballantine, 1952 

This is probably the most brutal portrayal of a world under Nazi rule. Young women are bred to be hunted by German aristocrats in their guests while other of the “lesser” races are turned into baboonlike hounds and otherwise degraded. A British prisoner of war escapes and somehow is transported for a time into this future where he sees its horrors, is eventually hunted himself, but returns to our world before they can kill him. Strong on atmosphere and with an almost dreamlike quality, but still revolting. 4/9/16

A Rescue from Jupiter by Gawain Edwards, Armchair, 2016 (originally published in 1930)

This is one of those stories in which humanity is extinct, or almost so, and denizens of another planet arrive on Earth to reconstruct the story of our demise. In this case the visitors are essentially humans with wings and come from Jupiter – clearly nonsense now – and they conduct an archaeological investigation. The revelations that follow are not very interesting and are narrated in a dry, clinical style that is not remotely entertaining. 4/9/16

Quantum Break: Zero State by Cam Rogers, Tor, 2016, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-9160-5

This is a tie-in to a new computer game about which I know very little except that the player has an avatar who can affect the flow of time. An experiment in time travel goes awry and the protagonist finds himself with new abilities and new enemies. There is time travel in this one and one of the characters oversees part of his own childhood. Then there are the mysterious Shifters and Juggernauts, and these probably reflect the game most closely – it’s a third person shooter – and only the hero’s special abilities give him a chance against them.  I suspect there is much less story in the game, although the introduction suggests that there is quite a large bit of text there as well. It’s a mildly atypical time travel story, and the obvious focus is on the mechanics of that and how the characters interact with their new abilities. A bit light on characterization and there are a few spots where the story slows perceptibly, but all in all a fun read. 4/6/16

Someone to Watch Over Me by H.L. Gold & Floyd C. Gold, Armchair, 2016 (originally published in 1959)  

The editor of Galaxy Magazine wrote quite a few short stories, some of them quite good. This collaborative novella is not among them although it has some interesting ideas. The protagonist is a spaceman who has a secret invisible friend, a denizen of the hyperspatial reality. He tracks down and marries a woman he once met for reasons that are not entirely clear and has some low key adventures, but the story just sort of meanders around and doesn’t have a real resolution. 4/4/16

Full Circle by Andrew Smith, Target, 1982 

This was the episode in which Romana – my favorite companion – left and Adric – my least favorite companion – arrived. The Tardis is diverted into E Space where they find a kind of alternate version of Gallifrey. Some of the locals capture the Tardis but Adric changes sides in order to protect Romana, while the Doctor tries to deal with an amphibian race with touchy personalities. There’s also a secret government within the government. I didn’t care for this installment when I watched it and the book is not an improvement. 4/1/16

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