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

LAST UPDATE 5/15/21

Fistful of Digits by Christopher Hodder-Williams, Coronet, 1968 

The author continues his staccato writing style in this very disappointing novel. None of the dialogue actually flows the way a real conversation might, and at times it is impossible to follow the chain of logic. One of two partners in an electronics business is opposed to selling out to an enigmatic businessman who has some connection with the British government. The author does not understand how computers work so the menace is less than convincing. The prose also consists mostly of contentious conversations. The climax ends with a standoff which is never resolved, and which is meant to suggest that computerization could literally lead to the extermination of humanity. A very irritating novel. 5/15/21

Shakespeare’s Planet by Clifford D. Simak, Berkley, 1976

This is certainly the worst of the author’s latest novels. The lone survivor of a spaceship crew finds himself on an earthlike planet with an intelligent alien who is also not native to that world and an odd robot. Later a human woman shows up, as well as a kind of monster. The alien, Carnivore, tells them that it used to have a human for company, a man named Shakespeare, but that he ate him at the human’s request. They have some experiences – they don’t rise to the level of adventures – before the story comes to an abrupt and inconclusive ending. I suspect Simak started this without a clearcut destination and never found one while writing it so just stopped. 5/11/21

The Egg-Shaped Thing by Christopher Hodder-Williams, Putnam, 1967 

This frequently incomprehensible  novel may well explain why none of the author’s subsequent novels found a publisher in the US. The plot involves some scientists who secretly develop a machine that can alter the laws of probability. Somehow this leads to a time warp and the disappearances of people and animals – none of this is ever explained. The conversations are infuriating. Characters experience leaps of logic and intuition that are impossible to follow. Frequently an exchange fails to make sense. The climax comes when the protagonist concludes that the device could explode and destroy the universe, but instead a generates a time warp that appears to restart the story. At least I think that was what happened. We never really know for certain. 5/9/21

The Main Experiment by Christopher Hodder-Williams, Ballantine, 1964 

The protagonist is pressured into monitoring the activities of his boss, director of an experimental research facility that has built the largest magnet in the world. A nearby farmer develops minor radiation burns which have no logical explanation. This was probably the author’s best novel. The mystery unravels slowly and comprehensively and the weird events are nicely done. There are a couple of minor points that are never really made clear, but they don’t affect the central plot. The characters are reasonably well drawn. This could actually have been a bit longer in order to explore more of the implications. 5/7/21

Our Children’s Children by Clifford D. Simak, Berkley, 1974 

There’s an absurd premise to this disappointing novel. Five centuries from now hostile aliens are on the verge of wiping out humanity, so time tunnels are built so that two billion people can return to our time and build new tunnels to go much further back. But at least one of the aliens gets through as well, and it can breed at a prodigious rate. Politics and greed complicate matters – and we never do find out how the newcomers could possibly be fed, before the aliens mutate, learn to travel though time organically, and go back to hunt dinosaurs. Since forward time travel is impossible, this solves the problem. Pretty awful. 5/3/21

The Molecule Men by Fred & Geoffrey Hoyle, Harper, 1971 

Two novellas. The first is about a shape changing alien invader who runs rings around the British government. The completely unsatisfactory ending concludes that there is nothing to be done and that the alien is here to stay. The second is “The Monster of Loch Ness,” which is also about an alien invader. The Loch Ness monster is a robot it uses to spy on the surface world. When the government drops depth charges into the loch, the alien uses fireballs and tidal waves to drive back the enemy. It is ultimately defeated, but by natural conditions rather than human efforts. 5/2/21

Worlds of Light & Darkness edited by Angela Yuriko Smith & Scott Noel, Uproar, 2021 

This is a selection of stories from two highly regarded small press magazines, Space & Time and Dreamforge. There are twenty stories collected here, a good mix of lesser known but promising authors and more familiar names. There are quite good stories from Jane Lindskold, Jonathan Maberry, Gordon Linzner, and Scott Edelman, plus variously competent tales by the rest of the contributors. The themes are quite varied and include fantasy and even horror, everything from zombies to time travel. There are no bad stories although your taste may vary. There’s plenty of room here for differing expectations given the thematic variety. I haven’t seen issues of either publication in recent years, and if these are representative then I’ve been missing some excellent fiction. 4/29/21

Element 79 by Fred Hoyle, Signet, 1967 

This is a collection of completely forgettable short stories – none of which appear to have been previously published. There are several that are not even fantastic, some are fantasies, and the rest are mediocre SF. Themes involve deal with the devil, the Greek gods returning to the world, bizarre accidents, dream worlds, the first landing on Venus, and a benevolent conquest by Mars. I doubt this would have been published if he had not been a famous person. 4/27/21

Chain Reaction by Christopher Hodder-Williams, Corgi, 1959

A marginal SF novel in which an accident at a nuclear plant leaks radioactive water that is not noticed until two years later when it results in dangerous sugar, which is dispensed throughout the world in a variety of food products. Much of the book consists of technical discussions of how radiation works and a prolonged investigation to figure out if it is the food or the packaging that carries the danger. There are some minor side plots involving two different romantic triangles, but neither is particularly important to the plot. This was the author’s first venture into SF. 4/26/21

Mutation by Michael McBride, Pinnacle, 2020

Third in the Area 51 series. A truly scary alien has gotten loose in Antarctica and is on its way to some unknown destination elsewhere on Earth. Crack military teams are unable to kill it because, among other things, it can suborn animals and people and turn them into its mindless allies. It also has a once human companion whose nature is puzzling and troublesome. There are lots of bits about archaeology, mythology, astronomy, and other subjects, all drawn together to explain what is happening. Tense and compulsive reading as always but there were a few too many characters this time and I occasionally had trouble keeping them separate in my mind. 4/22/21

Cemetery World by Clifford D. Simak, Berkley, 1972

An artist visits Earth, which was turned into a gigantic cemetery after a war virtually destroyed the planet ten thousand years earlier. He discovers that the company running the planet is concealing a lot of things about the operation, and the humans who have survived there for millennia. The first half is okay despite the presence of ghosts, but it goes downhill rapidly after that, with immortality, mutants, time travel, aliens, a variety of robots, grave robbers, and other complications all thrown together rather haphazardly. The story peters out with no climax and with questions unanswered. 4/20/21

Comet Halley by Fred Hoyle, St Martins, 1985   

In some ways a rewrite of The Black Cloud, this very long novel is a tedious description of university politics, government obfuscation, murder, and the receipt of intelligent signals which originate inside Halley’s Comet. There’s no real world disaster, just endless posturing and arguing. The alien is much smarter than humans and forces us to create a more rational civilization. This was one of Hoyle’s recurring sentiments. I suspect it also reflected his disgruntlement with the scientific academic communities with which he had to deal during his career. It was his final novel. 4/20/21

The Pirate Planet by James Goss, BBC, 2017  

The novelization of the Douglas Adams story for Doctor Who. This was part of the six part quest for the Key of Time and is one of the best episodes in the show’s long history. They find themselves on a planet that repeatedly exhausts its resources, but then somehow finds a fresh source for a new golden age. But is there something sinister behind the periodic renaissance? Of course there is. Theirs is a parasite world preying on others. Fun. Made me want to watch the tv show again. 4/19/21

A Choice of Gods by Clifford D. Simak, Berkley, 1972  

I really disliked this preachy and often obscure novel. Almost the entire human race vanishes overnight and are transported to different planets around the universe. Everyone is now virtually immortal and telepathic as well as now being able to teleport. There are signs of an alien intelligence elsewhere in the galaxy, but it seems to be emotionless and unwelcoming. After thousands of years, many of the involuntary emigrants are talking about returning to Earth and our heroes are concerned that they bring back the profit motive and other unsavory human conceits. Too much of the story is never explained, and the author slyly lectures us about the virtues of simplicity and cooperation. Actively annoying. Leaves lots of unanswered questions. 4/18/21

Krikkit Men by James Goss, BBC, 2018

There is no explanation but this appears to be based on an idea that Douglas Adams was developing for a Doctor Who adventure during the Key of Time sequence. The Doctor and Romana find themselves at a far future cricket match when a team of odd looking men appear whose bats are actually energy weapons. They want the Key of Time for nefarious purposes. The tone of this is madcap and reminiscent of Adams, though perhap not quite as witty, One of the more amusing of the prose adventures of the Doctor. 4/17/21

The Westminster Disaster by Fred & Geoffrey Hoyle, Penguin, 1978 

Father and son Hoyle try their hands at a near future political thriller. A business deal is likely to present South Africa – still under apartheid – with nuclear weapons. The Russians are determined that this not happen and are secretly behind a move at the UN to sanction the country. So the Soviets smuggle the parts of a nuclear device into London and threaten to set it off. The government buckles and complies but the spies set it off anyway.  This was probably their best written novel, although there are too many viewpoint characters. 4/15/21

The Incandescent Ones by Fred & Geoffrey Hoyle, Signet, 1977 

Another nonsensical novel which even has questionable astronomy, despite that being Hoyle’s field. Aliens have imposed peace on Earth by providing unlimited power, but they control it and can turn it off at will. The protagonist is a college student who accepts a mission to smuggle a super battery out of the Soviet Union. The battery would make humans energy independent. There is no explanation of why the aliens would have brought two of them to Earth in the first place. And why would they smuggle it out by means of a week long skiing excursion from Armenia to Turkey? Our hero discovers that he is one of the aliens and not an Earthman at all. The reader is unlikely to care about any of this. 4/12/21

Destiny Doll by Clifford D. Simak, Berkley, 1971 

A really inane novel that feels like an insult rather than an entertainment. Four people land on an unknown planet for a series of very silly and generally dull adventures. There are sentient hobbyhorses - who all speak the same language as the space travelers, trees that shoot their seeds, bugs that encase visiting spaceships in impenetrable coatings, gnomes, doorways to other worlds, an abandoned city, and lots more. I interrupted this three times to read something else, and it’s not that long a novel. The ending suggests that it is making a profound point but if so, it’s completely opaque. 4/11/21

One Love Chigusa by Soji Shimada, Red Circle, 2020 

I have enjoyed two nice detective stories by this author, so I decided to try this SF novella. The premise is that the protagonist is so badly injured in an accident that he is virtually a cyborg by the time he has been reassembled. He has some difficulties adjusting to the world afterward because he has lost some memories and his senses do not work exactly as they did before. He falls in love with an unusual woman, and the big reveal is that she is actually a robot. An interesting story that has a distinctly non-EuroAmerican feel to it. 4/11/21

Into Deepest Space by Fred & Geoffrey Hoyle, 1974   

An incredibly lethargic sequel to Rockets in Ursa Major. The alien menace tries to attack Earth again, and naturally it fails a second time. Our hero and some of the good aliens embark on a space voyage during which they have some incredibly boring adventures and learn some not particularly interesting things about the hostile aliens. This reads like a space adventure written by someone who had never actually read a space adventure, which might well be the case. 4/6/21

Out of Their Minds by Clifford D. Simak, Berkley, 1970 

This is one of my least favorite Simak novels. The protagonist discovers that all the creatures of our imagination exist after reading a document that theorizes about this, and they decide to kill him by sending werewolves, sea serpents, and other creatures to kill him. He eventually meets the Devil, who seems to be on his side. The story wanders aimlessly with a long episode in a fantasy world with castles and the ending is wishy washy. Blending SF and fantasy does not often work and this was not one of the occasional exceptions. Unfortunately most of the author’s subsequent work was only slightly better. 4/4/21

The Inferno by Fred & Geoffrey Hoyle, Penguin, 1973  

In many ways this is a redo of The Black Cloud. A physicist discovers that a supernova is going to inundate the Earth with radiation. There are only days remaining, so preparations are minimal. Weather is disrupted, the oceans freeze, and most of the human race is killed. We are saved when some unidentified alien intelligence intervenes to reverse the new ice age and restore livable conditions. And the story ends there. The first half is almost entirely filler with a couple of subplots that never get resolved. Not remotely interesting. 4/3/21

Seven Steps to the Sun by Fred & Geoffrey Hoyle, Crest, 1970

Mike Jerome is struck by a taxi and wakes up in an ambulance, ten years later. He has apparently been missing during the interim. He spends the rest of the book going through several more time jumps into an increasingly repressive future. Along the way he somehow stumbles upon a mystery about the death of a friend. The details are completely bogus. He never has trouble with passports or other documents and his bank account is always readily available to him. This sort of gets cleared up when we discover it is all a dream, but by that point I had dismissed the novel as nonsense and a waste of time. 4/1/21

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