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


Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy, Modern Library, 1888 

This is the most important American utopian novel, although like its European cousins, it assumes a fundamental change in human nature in order for the socialist society it depicts to exist. All of the businesses in the world are united into a single corporation administered by the government for the good of the population. The world is revealed through the eyes of a man who has been in a mysterious coma for more than a century. The novel was very influential when it first appeared, even though it has virtually no plot. I read this back in high school and was bored. For the most part I was this time as well. 5/24/20

Network Effect by Martha Wells, Tor, 2020

This is the fifth in the Murderbot series. Murderbot is the narrator, most of the time, and it's a cyborg which has hacked its own programming in order to take control of its life. In the latest adventure, Murderbot and some human clients are kidnapped into the system of an abandoned colony where there are mysterious attacks, dangerous alien technology, and other dangers. There are the usual pitched battles - much more interesting than one might expect - but the real joy of the series is Murderbot's personality and its methods of dealing with humans and other artificial intelligences. Extremely enjoyable and it looks like there are more adventures to come. 5/15/20

Dark Designs by Stefan Petrucha, Titan, 2019

This is a Captain America novel, featuring the Red Skull. Captain America discovers that both he and the Red Skull - whose personality now resides in a clone of Captain America - carry a deadly virus against which the world has no resistance. Sound familiar? Anyway, Rogers is willing to be put back into suspended animation until and unless a cure can be found, but the Red Skull is much less obliging. So the old enemies clash again, and the fate of the world is once more hanging in the balance. I liked the effort to do something a bit out of the ordinary with the Marvel characters without making them unrecognizable. The novel, however, may hit a bit too close to home for some under the present circumstances. 5/6/20

Bone Silence by Alastair Reynolds, Orbit, 2019 

Third in the Revenger series. The Ness sisters are pirates in a far future solar system where the planets were all broken up to create thousands of much smaller habitats. They are still trying to figure out what the alien visitors are up to, are still on the run from the authorities, and one of them is still dealing with an infection that could change her personality. The mystery surrounding the purposes and intentions of the aliens among the human worlds moves forward dramatically and the fate of the sisters and the people around them become more important than ever before. Filled with rich, inventive detail, the story moves forward surprisingly quickly. It is possibly the shortest six hundred page novel I’ve ever read, and certainly one of the best. 5/3/20

A Traveler from Altruria by William Dean Howells, Hill and Wang, 1958 (originally published in 1894)

A typical Utopian novel from a socialist whose other fiction has now largely fallen into obscurity.  The traveler comes from a distant Utopian country and most of the book consists of him asking discomfiting questions about American society of his host. A bit of this is quite dated but other aspects remain valid. There is no real plot and not much of any characterization. Of curiosity value primarily. He wrote a couple of even less well known sequels. 5/1/20

Automatic Reload by Ferrett Steinmetz, Tor, 2020, $16.99, ISBN 978-1-250-16821-4  

I confess that I had to struggle with this one because the present tense narration made it feel even more like a comic book than it was intended to be. It involves a tempestuous love affair between two near-super heroes who have a series of violent adventures, the nature of which is not particularly relevant to the real story. At times it is quite funny. There are large chunks of the book that consist of short bits of sometimes quite witty dialogue.  The general idea is clever and for the most part done very well. But it’s in present tense, which isn’t quite as bad as it usually is for me because the story was never supposed to be taken seriously. But it was still distracting. 4/29/20

Liberation Run by Tess Sharpe, Titan, 2019  

This is a Captain Marvel novel in which she, Ant-Man, and a couple of lesser known superheroes are off to another planet to deal with a repressive government. I was rather disappointed in this one, which reads more like a comic book for teenagers than an adult novel – perhaps intentionally. The author's previous work has been for young adults. There are some prose anomalies as well, like changing tense in the middle of a long sentence. The alien planet setting did not feel at all like it belonged in the Marvel universe. 4/28/20

The Hidden Girl and Other Stories by Ken Liu, Saga, 2020

I have never read a story by Ken Liu that I didn't like. I had only read about one quarter of the stories in this collection so this was a treat. And I still haven't read a story by Liu that I didn't like, although obviously I liked some better than others. There are lots of superficially familiar themes here - conflict with aliens, virtual reality, marvelous inventions, and others. A few are fantasy. Three of them are actually a short series exploring the consequences of uploading personalities into cyberspace. Liu's treatment of these concepts often varies from the traditional - sometimes subtly, sometimes broadly. The title story and the mini-series were my favorites. 4/26/20

Rambunctious by Rick Wilber, Wordfire, 2020, $14.99

This is a collection of nine short stories drawn from anthologies and magazines. Most of them are fairly recent but a few are drawn from the 1990s, including one of my favorites, "Hope As an Element of Cold Dark Matter."  I remembered enjoying three of the other stories as well - and two others were new to me. The stories are predominantly about people dealing with psychological conflicts, usually having to do with something that happened in their past. I had never noticed this recurring them until I reread the stories in closer proximity. Which is not to say that there is not plenty of action as well. There are a couple of alternate history stories, of which "Something Real" is the better, though not by much. This is a long overdue collection and well worth your time and money. 4/24/20

Joyleg by Ward Moore and Avram Davidson, Pyramid, 1962   

Two opposing members of Congress decide to investigate a man who has been drawing a pension for decades. They travel to a remote part of Appalachia where they discover that he is a veteran of the Revolutionary War, and that he credits his long lifespan to the moonshine that he bathes in. He becomes a national figure, controversial because of his wayward youth, and then an international one when his age is revealed. This is a broad but not very clever satire, mostly directed against politicians, and there is very little plot. Both authors were much better elsewhere. 4/17/20

Flame Jewel of the Ancients by Edwin L. Graber, Armchair, 2014 (originally published in 1950)  

A small but belligerent interstellar government has somehow found a weapon so powerful that a small ship can defeat gigantic battleships. Various spies debate how to delay their inevitable conquest – by sacrificing an expendable ally – while they try to duplicate the weapon orfind a way of neutralizing it. Lots of action, not terribly written, and lots of scientific doubletalk. One of the spies, predictably, is a beautiful woman but also predictably, she is not the protagonist. Not as bad as I had expected, but not a lost classic. 4/16/20

Caduceus Wild by Ward Moore, with Robert Bradford, Pinnacle, 1979

This is the rewritten version of a novel serialized in 1959 but never previously published in book form. It’s a typical Dystopia. In this case, the doctors have taken over the world following a war that made extensive use of biological weapons. They have robot policemen with disintegration ray. Our heroes are three dissidents trying to escape to England, the only free country. There is an interesting but overlong discussion of the right of a small minority to rebel on behalf of a majority that may not want to be free, and in fact the first half of the novel plods along rather slowly, and is only slightly faster paced after that. Not nearly the quality of Moore’s other work. 4/12/20

Pulp Adventures #16 edited by Audrey Parente, Bold Venture, 2015 

One of a series of reprints from the pulp magazines, which in this volume are predominantly SF. There’s a novella by Arthur Burks called Survival, in which the US is invaded, essentially conquered, but manages to rebel. There is also a slightly shorter sequel in which a new nation is formed. The three shorts accompanying it include a short SF story by Charles Fritch, a pretty bag non-SF story by Johnston McCulley, and an innocuous one by L.H. Hayum. 4/11/20

Greener Than You Think by Ward Moore, Sloane, 1947 

Moore’s first SF novel was an over long satire in which a scientist unwittingly releases a nutrient that makes devilgrass grow so quickly it is visible. It begins to overwhelm California despite all efforts to stop it and eventually leads to the invasion of the country by the Russians, although they too are ultimately defeated by the grass. We see most of this through the eyes of a mendacious salesman turned journalist turned entrepreneur. Moore takes pokes at various institution, most of them obvious targets, and leaves us with the end of the world. I understand why the Ballantine edition was abridged. 4/9/2-