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

LAST UPDATE 4/25/19

The Moon Maid by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ace, 1923  

The first of two books in a series vaguely related to the Mars novels. An attempt to travel to Mars is sabotaged and the crew find themselves inside the hollow Moon, where two intelligent races – one human and one quadruped – battle each other. There is the mandatory beautiful princess and one of the humans is the mandatory lecherous human. Lots of captures, escapes, perilous journeys, betrayals, savage beasts, and the like. There is also a brief but racist glorification of Anglo-Saxons and the charge that educating the lower classes will lead to a destabilization of the government.  I had never noticed before that the gorgeous Krenkel cover on this edition is completely wrong. He depicts the savage nomads as having four legs and two arms where they actually only had four limbs and could stand upright or down on all fours.  4/2/19

Keeper by J. Hunter Holly, Laser, 1976 

In a repressive, overpopulated future, all emotions are conditioned out of human beings. But the protagonist begins to feel sympathy for a young boy and that eventually leads to an unsuccessful attempt to recondition him. The novel is quite boring. Half of its content consists of arguments about his reconditioning. The other characters, all of whom are supposedly emotionless, express fear, anger, affection, jealousy, etc. throughout, as if Holly had no idea what a lack of emotion would actually look like. There is a sequel. 4/24/19

Shepherd by J. Hunter Holly, Laser, 1977 

The sequel to Keeper shares all of its problems. The protagonist and his adopted son are on the run from the evil government that conditions people not to have emotions – even though they clearly do – and they eventually find a community of dissidents who shelter them until a worldwide revolution whose possibility seems remote based on what we have been told topples the villains. Holly never seems to have spent the time to examine the ramifications of her premises. 4/24/19

Father of Lies by John Brunner, Belmont, 1968 

This is an amusing but minor novella, one of the few times Brunner incorporated fantasy into his work although there is a kind of rationalization in this one. A small area of England has remained in the past and is home to a dragon and an ogre. A group of college students discover its existence and have some adventures while discovering its nature and rules. 4/22/19

The Ladder in the Sky by John Brunner (as Keith Woodcott), Ace, 1962 

One of Brunner’s lesser works. A young man from a slum on a remote planet is forcibly pledged to serve an extra-dimensional creature analogous to a demon who gives him some unusual abilities in the process. Not much really happens, however, and the text is irritatingly padded with repetitious conversations and pointless ruminations about his situation. This was the least interesting of Brunner’s early Ace double entries and it appeared just as he was beginning to show considerable ability in some of his other books. 4/20/19

The Gray Aliens by J. Hunter Holly, Mayflower, 1963 

Mysterious shadows with no physical bodies begin to dissolve human beings in large numbers. Despite the title, they are not aliens at all but a different form of life that has long concealed itself. They are trying to achieve some kind of telepathic unity and want to wipe out humans, whose closed minds hinder them. But the hero discovers that he is telepathic. Unable to convince the shadows to stop, he then proves that ghosts are real and that they are a third form of “life” which the shadows must take into account, and this somehow smooths everything over. Truly awful. 4/20/19

The Dark Enemy by J. Hunter Holly, Avalon, 1965  

Another pretty bad novel from this author, this one involving the search for a telepath. The scientist involved and his fiancé are plagued by swarms of insects, poltergeists, and threatening telephone calls. The source is rather transparently the next door neighbor. The premise is based on a misunderstanding of newspaper procedures and police authority, and the two supposedly sympathetic male characters are both such assholes that I was on the side of the paranoid man with psi powers – he can also levitate, teleport, command insects and rats, move things with his mind, and read thoughts. This one never had a paperback and with good reason. 4/19/19

Empyre by Will Murray, Boulevard, 2000 

SHIELD battles HYDRA in this Nick Fury novel. For some reason, there has been a high incidence of airplane crashes, one of which also put an end to Fury himself. He suspects that HYDRA is behind the sabotage, and Fury is almost always right. But not this time. There is actually another evil genius at work, one who plans to take control of multiple aircraft, fill them with explosives, and use them as missiles against unprotected cities. To avert the threat, he must forge a temporary alliance with HYDRA. Lots of action, but I found the villains disappointingly mundane. 4/16/19

Operation A.I.M. by Greg Cox, Boulevard, 1996  

Ironman has long battled A.I.M. and their mentally enhanced creation, MODOK, but that battle takes an unexpected turn when the latter decides to dispense with his masters, massacres the staff of an undersea lab, and escapes to initiate his own plan of world domination. This time Ironman cannot fight the battle alone, so he recruits Captain America, Blank Panther, and War Machine help to prevent MODOK from threatening the entire world. Predictable, of course, but nicely done. 4/16/19

The Running Man by J. Hunter Holly, Monarch, 1963  

Slightly better than the first few novels by Holly but still difficult to accept the plot, which involves yet another alien invasion. This time they are using a fake world peace organization to gain power over the world, using a slave race that looks sufficiently humanoid to pass. The slaves use machines to brainwash people. The hero is recruited by them, although he is faking, but the faking doesn’t last long and given the background, there is no reason why they would not have brainwashed him anyway. Readable, but just barely. 4/15/19

Tiamat’s Wrath by James S.A. Corey, Orbit, 2019,  $30, ISBN 978-0-314-33287-3 

I had thought that this was to be the final book in the Expanse, but it clearly is not. The Laconians have used alien technology to establish a dictatorship over the entire human race, and their leader is incorporating alien matter into his body in order to become immortal. But he is also determined to face down whatever mysterious alien menace killed off the race that developed the technology and some of the methods he is using are unwisely provocative. Meanwhile, our cast of heroes is scattered across the galaxy and facing individual problems of their own. I was a bit disappointed by the previous book, but this one is back up to speed. We have to say farewell to some of the recurring characters, and good riddance to at least one of them. But there are lots of unanswered questions at the end, as well as new story lines, and I imagine there are at least a couple more books in the pipeline. The series has been great fun right from the outset and I’ll be looking forward to them. 4/14/19

The Flying Eyes by J. Hunter Holly, Monarch, 1962 

Giant disembodies eyes begin to hover over a small town, hypnotizing residents and leading them off to a mysterious hole in the earth. The eyes can reconstitute themselves even if blown apart.     When I read this at 15, I found it mildly entertaining. Rereading it now, I am stunned by how implausible it is. An alien invasion is to be handled by the National Guard and not the Army? No one bothers to evacuate the town? Individual drivers in isolated cars can be captured but not the people rioting? Despite the rioting, there is a wide variety of food available in the stores? Two random men are admitted to the meetings of the military commanders despite having no special talents? Holly routinely failed to consider the consequences of her own plots. The aliens are finally destroyed by running an anti-gravity device in reverse, which crushes them with heavy gravity. 4/13/19

Meeting at Infinity by John Brunner, Ace, 1961

This was the first of Brunner’s novels to suggest that he would become a major talent. It’s set within a mesh of alternate worlds, one of which believes it has a monopoly on travel between realities. But a village of primitive people on one of those worlds is in fact the outpost of a secretive, advanced civilization which is determined to rule what we would now call a multiverse. Several well drawn characters engage in a power struggle that is convincingly done and presents a complex situation in fairly straightforward and understandable terms. The ending is a bit weak and inconclusive, but it’s still an excellent adventure. 4/12/19

The Dark Planet by J. Hunter Holly, MacFadden, 1962  

I’m sorry to say that this is an awful book. Earth has been conquered by an alien race that used germ warfare to kill half the population. But subject races are allowed to appeal to an interstellar organization for relief. The hero manages to free Earth by pretending that his people have invisible rockets orbiting all of the inhabited planets in the galaxy containing the same virus. There is so much scientific nonsense in this story that I was shaking my head, and the plot and interpersonal events are appalling naďve and illogical.  4/9/19

I Speak for Earth by John Brunner (as by Keith Woodcott), Ace, 1961  

This is a pretty dull short novel about the arrival of aliens on Earth. They tell humanity to choose one individual who must spend thirty days on their headquarters world, after which it will be determined whether humans should be welcomed or quarantined. The authorities decide to transfer five personalities into the body of the protagonist so that he will have access to their knowledge and abilities. But the test seems to be rigged against them and the aliens were lying about what was actually going on. 4/9/19

Sanctuary in the Sky by John Brunner, Ace, 1960  

Waystation is an artificial world that serves as neutral territory between two rival interstellar empires. A strange visitor arrives who seems to have intimate knowledge of the station and whose purpose attracts the interest of all the parties involved. This was quite good, the best of Brunner’s early novels, even though the ending leaves a lot of unanswered questions. Brunner seems to have forgotten that he described it as having almost a million inhabitants since he later has it completely evacuated in less than two hours. 4/7/19

The Armor Trap by Greg Cox, Boulevard, 1995 

Tony Stark has been kidnapped and is being forced to build a new armored suit for the bad guys. In his absence, War Machine takes up the slack, but is unable to figure out who took Stark or where he is being held. Stark eventually tricks his captors and escapes, but only after solving some intricate puzzle/problems. One of the better of this round of Marvel tie-in novels, though it does not closely resemble the versions of the characters we have seen in the recent movies. . 4/6/19

Available Space by Dayton Ward, Gallery, 2019, $16, ISBN 978-1-9821-1327-8

A Star Trek Next Generation novel. This takes place after the nefarious Section 31, a rogue unit within Starfleet, has been exposed and supposedly scattered. The arrests are widespread and it is not always clear who was directly involved and who was unwittingly implicated. Among the latter is Captain Picard himself. Picard and crew are currently in a relatively unexplored part of the galaxy when they encounter an alien artifact, a derelict spaceship that was part of an effort by an alien race to find a new home. As Picard and a rather troubled crew try to deal with that aspect of the situation, their lives are made more complicated by the arrival of a band of unruly and undisciplined salvagers who want to claim the derelict for themselves, regardless of the consequences to others. Although the series characters are present and pivotal, much of the story deals with the various new characters created for the novel. For me at least, this made it more interesting.  4/5/19

The Green Planet by J. Hunter Holly, Monarch, 1961   

A repressive interstellar government – we actually never see any sign of its oppression – dumps a handful of dissidents on a supposedly garden planet. But the latest group finds that their predecessors have died mysteriously. This was a very clumsily constructed story whose opening chapters are so filled with silly flaws and contradictions that it never really has a chance to engage its readers. They eventually find intelligent aliens who just happen to have learned to speak English. More tension ensues as the aliens, who claim to have no prior experience of violence, brandish weapons and conduct a small scale war before the human interlopers are able to coerce/negotiate a mutually agreeable solution. Terrible book. 4/5/19

Slavers of Space by John Brunner, Ace, 1960 

A bored dilettante on a far future Earth finds a dead body, after which he is mysteriously challenged to a duel. This leads him to investigate the dead man’s past – he was highly praised by several planetary governments – and also to his involvement in efforts to come to the aid of androids, who are held as slaves on Earth and elsewhere. They are actually all humans who are conditioned and dyed blue to make them seem artificial.  The story moves well but there are so many contrived situations and logical inconsistencies that it is impossible to take it seriously. 4/4/19

Inland Deep by Richard Tooker, Armchair, 2018 (originally published in 1936)

This is a fairly short lost world novel expanded from an earlier story. Three people explore a giant cave system and find a race of frog people living beneath the surface of the world. They formerly had a higher civilization but a natural disaster had catastrophic consequences and they are now barbaric. There are also dinosaurs. The threesome wanders around for a while before finding a  way back to the surface, but nothing is really resolved and it is on the whole neither particularly good nor particularly bad. 4/3/19

Luna: Moon Rising by Ian McDonald, Tor, 2019, $29.99, ISBN 968-0-7653-9147-6

Concluding volume in a trilogy set in a moon colony a hundred years from now. Only a writer of McDonald's caliber would have kept me reading a present tense narrated story that stretched over three books. The moon is dominated by five major families, and the interplay among them is rightly described in the blurbs as similar to that in the Game of Thrones series. There are virtually no rules and most of the characters are ruthless and pragmatic. As the conflict finally appears to be headed toward its conclusion, the conflict takes a not entirely unsuspected twist. One family emerges as dominant, but that only makes the rivalries and treacheries more concentrated as sibling battles sibling for influence about the future of the colony. I'm a sucker for lunar settings even in mediocre novels, and these are far from mediocre. Not for the faint hearted, however, because McDonald's take on the kind of humans who emerge at the top of the pecking order is neither reassuring nor unrealistic. 4/1/19

 

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