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

AST UPDATE 5/23/18

The Essential Captain Marvel Volume 1, Marvel, 2008

I decided to reread these early issues in preparation for the upcoming Captain Marvel movie, although clearly they will have abandoned much of the original story. Marvel was actually Mar-Vell, a Kree spy on Earth who only gradually comes to sympathize with the local population. He takes on the identity of Walter Lawson after the latter is killed, and Lawson was a bit of a supervillain himself. These episodes mostly pit our hero against his own superiors and a succession of giant robots – a Sentry, Manslayer, Quasimodo, etc. – although he does get to battle Sub-Mariner, the Hulk, and Iron Man. These were generally very well scripted and drawn, although it is sometimes difficult to tell one robot from another. 5/23/18

Ring of Swords by Eleanor Arnason, Aqueduct, 2018, $290, ISBN 978-1-61976-140-7

This is a reprint of the 1993 Tor edition. It's a first contact story, among other things. It's a first contact story in which humans encounter the Hwarhath, a race that practices very rigid gender differentiations. The females run the planet while the males, all warriors, go out among the stars looking for someone to fight. And naturally they run into humanity. Although this sounds like a setup for a military SF adventure, the book is actually much more about the negotiations between the two races and, because of the very different cultural rules about genders, the story examines issues related to that from a fairly fresh perspective. The book is more than worthy of a new edition and should be wider known than it apparently is. 5/22/18

Under Venusian Flags by Nelson S. Bond, Armchair, 2018 (magazine appearance 1942) 

Originally this was called “Where Freemen Shall Stand.”  It’s a full length novel, and Bond was at his best at much shorter lengths. A man from our time finds himself in a distant future where Earth has long been a conquered subject of the Venusians. Through happenstance, he finds himself as the figurehead leader of a revolutionary army and then, quite implausibly, leads Earth in its battle for freedom. Predictable, occasionally silly, and very much dated. 5/21/18

Black Galaxy by Murray Leinster, Galaxy, 1954

This is a pretty primitive work by Leinster. Earth’s first spaceship malfunctions and sends a handful of people out into the galaxy. Rod Cantrell is in charge and he suspects, rightly of course, that an alien race is watching for emerging space traveling races and wiping them out. Our hero invents a whole new technology in a matter of days, destroys entire enemy fleets, rescues the survivors of a devastated planet, survives exposure to a death ray, changes the course of galactic history, destroys a sun, and successfully returns to Earth. Unrealistic but grandiose SF in a tradition now gone forever. 5/19/18

Strange War by Donald E. Keyhoe, Age of Aces, 2011

This is a collection of World War I battle stories published in the 1930s featuring a character named Strange who encounters very unusual enemies and situations. In the first, he has an aerial dogfight with what appears to be a giant pterodactyl, although it turns out to be a German aircraft designed to look like one. It’s never explained why they would go to the trouble. Some of the stories are relatively mundane, while others involve some fantastic elements. They are all pulp level writing, but of better quality than I expected. There are more collections in this series, which ran for quite a long time. 5/17/18

Destroy the U.S.A. by Murray Leinster (as Will F. Jenkins), 1950 (originally published 1946)

Also known as The Murder of the USA, this is the story of a sneak attack with nuclear weapons that wipes out much of the country. No one knows which nation is responsible because the attack came from the North Pole. Spies are picking out the hidden military bases that might be able to launch a counterattack. Most of the story consists of rather boring descriptions of how the defenders manage to fool incoming rockets and prevent themselves from being destroyed. Eventually the nation responsible is identified and the rest of the world teams up to destroy them. Very much dated and not at all interesting. 5/16/18

The Long Sunset by Jack McDevitt, Saga, 2018, $27.99, ISBN 978-1-4814-9793-0   

Priscilla Hutchins returns to pilot another interstellar expedition, this one to investigate what appears to be a signal from an intelligent race. Humanity has become paranoid about the stars, so there are attempts to prevent them from going. Equipment malfunctions cause difficulties. The planet they are to investigate is missing when they arrive, and this eventually takes them to another world where a pleasant intelligent species is about to suffer a planetary catastrophe. McDevitt uses a very relaxed narrative style and since there are no real villains in the story, there is danger but no serious conflict. Coincidence plays a large part in the story and the end is no surprise, but the journey to get there is a pleasant one. 5/14/18

Murder Madness by Murray Leinster, Fantasy Press, 1949 (originally published in 1930) 

Although this was first published in Astounding, it’s only marginally SF. The protagonist is a secret agent sent to South America who discovers that a mysterious figure known as the Master is using a drug that induces homicidal insanity to control people in positions of power in various governments. The Master controls much of that continent and has his eyes on North America as well. Our hero and a beautiful young woman become fugitives whose only hope is to track down and eliminate the Master. Our heroes go through a series of captures, chases, and escapes that rely entirely too much on coincidences, some of them quite impossible. Although the prose is fine, this was really not  a very good novel. 5/13/18

Cross Fire by Fonda Lee, Scholastic, 2018, $17.99, ISBN 978-1-338-13909-9

The sequel to Exo, in which an alien race occupies Earth. A terrorist group has left the continued occupation in jeopardy, which has mixed consequences since the aliens had brought an era of peace to the Earth. Unfortunately this leaves a power vacuum which means that less benevolent alien races might take advantage of the situation. The galactic civilization is not entirely plausible, but within the context of the story it isn't a significant problem. I found this a bit rather simplified but still readable, even though I was never particularly interested in the protagonist. 5/12/18

War of the Planets by Harl Vincent, Armchair, 2018 (originally published in 1929) 

Although the prose in this early novella was pretty good, the story gets progressively sillier. Earth has long since abandoned all weapons, but a dissident group has fled to Venus, which turns out to have essentially human inhabitants. The dissidents convince the Venusian to construct a giant war fleet and attack Earth, but in slow motion so that there is time for our heroes to devise an invisible spaceship and other weapons. Neither the Venusians nor the Earthmen had previous knowledge of the existence of the others, despite having space travelling technology. 5/10/18

Cities in the Air by Edmond Hamilton, Armchair, 2018 (originally published in 1929)

This is actually a rather boring novel of future war. For some reason never really explained, all of Earth’s magic cities now float in the air. When the Asian and European cities all gang up on those of the United States, an all-out war is underway. Things look bad for the good guys until new weapons and new tactics are introduced, after which the enemy forces are severely beaten. One long battle scene. Not much of any story. 5/6/18

Blood Orbit by K.R. Richardson, Pyr, 2018, $18, ISBN 978-1-63388-439-7 

I've always been fond of SF/Mystery blends, so I was all primed for this police procedural set on another planet. The chief protagonist is a rookie cop on the planet Gattis who is partnered with a cybernetically enhanced forensic specialist and set to investigate the mass murder of sixteen people in a nightclub. But things get complicated pretty quickly. There is more to the case that meets the eye and the detectives may be risking their own lives by pursuing it further. Nor do they get much support from their superiors, who just want the case closed and forgotten, in part because it happened in a poverty stricken area that they neglect habitually. And there are some who are opposed to the use of new technology and who want the forensics specialist to be humiliated. I confess I'm a bit tired of planetary governments run by corporations, which has become something of a cliché, but otherwise this was quite good and certainly held my interest. 5/2/18

Enemy of the Qua by  Dwight V. Swain, Armchair, 2018  (originally published in 1956)

Swain wrote a few entertaining novellas, but this novelette is not near the top of his quality. An alien race has conquered the solar system. Our hero is a prisoner on Mars until he escapes and then, after the usual antics, finds the secret to undermining their rule over humanity. Rushed, implausible, awkwardly written, and uninteresting. 5/1/18

The Operative by Gerald Brandt, DAW, 2017

This is the sequel to The Courier, which I really liked. The follow up is enjoyable as well, although perhaps not quite as much. The protagonist from that book is now training to work for the underground resistance against a government effectively administered by corporations, which are also waging undeclared wars on each other while suppressing the general population. But resentment and support for a rebellion is growing. Unfortunately, a raid is conducted that leaves our heroine on the run while also determined to rescue the man she loves, who has been taken prisoner by the bad guys. In order to do that, she has to rely on some not necessarily reliable allies. Good dystopian adventure in a more traditional mode than its predecessor. 4/29/18

The Timeless Man by Roger Arcot, Armchair, 2018 (originally published in 1956)

This was the only novel by a writer who usually appeared as Robert Donald Locke. It's a rather confusing story about a man who gets a message from the future that allows him to relive his own past, but it's all an elaborate trap designed by a creature that wants to subvert human history. It really doesn't sustain the reader's interest for long and the prose is just so-so. 4/28/18

Return of Creegar by David Wright O’Brien, Armchair, 2018 (originally published in 1942)

This competent but uninspired space adventure originally was called Creegar Dares to Die. Creegar was wrongly convicted of a crime and barred from ever returning to Earth. But the woman he loves and the man who framed him are both there, so he is determined to do so. Unfortunately, a highly skilled bounty hunter is on his trail. Fortunately, he rises to the occasion. O’Brien’s short stories are often interesting even though he never quite made it to the point where he was appearing in reprint anthologies. This short novel is not badly done, although the plot is too predictable. 4/23/18

Science Fiction Trails 13 edited by David B. Riley, 2018, $6.95

The latest issue of this irregular magazine that blends science fiction with the Old West.  There are eight stories here of gunmen and lawmen, dinosaurs and strange technology. There is a good deal of humor sprinkled through, as you might expect, but some serious stuff as well. I learned to read with paperback westerns as my primers, so I've always had a soft spot for the form. The contributors include Cynthia Ward, J.A. Campbell, and Sam S. Kepfield. You won't find many better deals for the low cover price. 4/20/18

These Are My Children by Rog Phillips, Armchair, 2018 (originally published in 1952)

Phillips wrote a lot of very melodramatic fiction filled with fights and violence, as well as a few short stories that were actually memorable. This fairly long novel does not feel like it was written by the same author. It is restrained and thoughtful most of the time, spends a good deal of effort on characterization, and eschews the usual drama of pulp fiction. The plot? Several hundred foundlings are scattered around the country, each of whom begins to develop unusual mental abilities. As they grow older, some fear that they could become a positive threat, while others simply want to understand who is responsible. 4/18/18

The Essential Captain America Volume 7, Marvel, 2013

Another compendium of comics from a rather low point in Captain America’s career. He fights mostly Nazis, neo-Nazis, and mobsters in this volume, and is twice brainwashed into working for the enemy. He also runs for President briefly, and in another story fights a genuine vampire. Traditional villains who show up are relatively minor – Batroc, Dragonman, and Mr. Hyde. Daredevil and the Punisher make guest appearances. His girlfriend Sharon Carter is killed. I found this volume a bit dull. 4/13/18

The Essential X Factor Volume 1, Marvel, 2005 

I was never much of a fan of the X Men, and I stopped reading comics about the time Jean Grey became Phoenix. So I didn’t know that it wasn’t really her but an alien shapeshifter, and that she was later found in suspended animation, revived, and went on to reunite the original X Men as X Factor, an organization with a never particularly clear plan for helping mutants by hunting them down. Even that doesn’t work well as the Angel is killed after losing his wings. The villains are invariably minor – Frenzy and Tower and even Apocalypse. The Avengers – I never knew Sub-Mariner was a member for a while – and the Fantastic Four – and I never knew She Hulk joined them – have cameos. Most of their enemies are combinations of other villains. Power Pack was new to me as well, and struck me as terribly silly. I was not impressed. 4/10/18

The Veiled Woman by Mickey Spillane, Armchair, 2018 (originally published in 1952)

This novella is only really SF in the last few pages. A millionaire who has recently returned from Africa with a mysterious wife has to hunt down her kidnappers, foreign agents, and rescue her. Most of the story consists of shootings and fist fights. At the end we discover that she is a Martian colonist from a secret underground city and that her skin is green. In typical Spillane fashion, the bad guys kill her at the end, and then the protagonist gets his revenge. Very minor and scientifically illiterate, but the prose is not all that bad. 4/9/18

Mistress of Machine-Age Madness by Jack Williamson, Armchair, 2018 (originally published in 1940)  

A somewhat atypical novelette from this author, in that it includes some rather juvenile kinky sex. A mad scientist keeps a beautiful woman prisoner while his minions – troglodytes, etc. – help to keep the hero at bay. This was really, actively awful and dates from very early in his career. Fortunately he outgrew most of the bad habits displayed here. 4/6/18

The Impossibles by Randall Garrett and Laurence Janifer, Armchair, 2018

FBI Agent Ken Malone returns for a new case. Someone is briefly stealing red Cadillacs and witnesses give accounts ranging from the invisible man to shadowy figures that blink in and out of existence. This is a comedy so Malone rather too easily tracks down a gang of juvenile delinquents who have somehow learned to teleport themselves. But how do you capture someone who can vanish instantaneously? Lots of fun even if the plot fails to make sense – like, how is it that the only eight teleports in the world are all about the same age and live in the same neighborhood? 4/4/18

The Metal Monster by E.K. Jarvis, Armchair, 2018 (originally published in 1943) 

Jarvis was a house pseudonym and it does not appear that anyone knows who wrote this particular story. I can see why no one ever claimed it. The Uighurs somehow conquered the world and installed a regime of global repression that is unparalleled. But there is a giant robot. Is it a new invention of the conquerors or is it the salvation of the human race?  I didn’t care and if it hadn’t been relatively short I would not have finished reading about it. 4/1/18

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