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

LAST UPDATE 12/30/12

An Alien Heat by Michael Moorcock, Harper, 1972 

First volume of the Dancers at the End of Time, which series I frankly never cared for, although I decided to give it another try. My opinion hasn’t changed. It’s set in a future Earth where virtually everything is impossible. Everyone’s immortal, no one is interested in space travel or time travel, though both are possible. A visitor from another world warns them that they are doomed, but they’re merely bored and consider him a curio to be collected rather than a person with rights of his own. Jherek Carnelian attempts to find ways to reduce the boredom, some of them quite inventive, but the lethargy of the society is too great. Unfortunately, I found the novel lethargic as well and even though it is relatively short, it seemed far too long. I'm sure it very cleverly lampoons the self indulgence of modern civilization, but I didn't need to have it pointed out to me. 12/30/12

The Hydrogen Sonata by Iain M. Banks, Orbit, 2012, $25.00, ISBN 978-0-316-21237-3   

The latest Culture novel gets off to a rather slow start. The Gzilt race is on the brink of leaving the “real” universe en masse to migrate into the Sublime, an extra-dimensional realm where most species eventually end up. With only days to go, one military factions launches a devastating attack on another, all under a cloak of secrecy, following the mysterious destruction of an envoy ship from another civilization. There are multiple viewpoint characters including several Culture ship minds but the chief protagonist is the only person to survive the attack, who has been given a mission to track down the recorded persona of an extraordinarily long lived person to find out the truth about the holy book of the Gzilt. The usual Banks witticisms abound but the story takes more time to gain momentum than in most of his previous books. Eventually the plot does take hold and accelerates but perhaps a bit too late. Enjoyable but not up to the author’s usual very high standards. 12/29/12

The Fractal Prince by Hannu Rajaniemi, Tor, 2012, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2950-9 

I notice that I forgot to review The Quantum Thief when it first appeared, although I read and enjoyed it. It was  not an easy book to read, complicated and sometimes almost abstruse, and set in a far distant future when human civilization has changed so dramatically that it is hard to identify with some of the situations, a setting I sometimes find troublesome with less talented writers. This sequel is no less fascinating and dense. This one seemed a bit slow getting started as our hero sets out on a quest that is connected to events affecting the future of humanity. It picks up fairly soon though and travels at high speed thereafter. Some readers may get vertigo along the way because the story loops and twists unexpectedly. At least as good as its predecessor. 12/23/12

Fridgularity by Mark A. Rayner, Monkeyjoy Press, 2012, $15.99, ISBN 978-1927590003  

Satirical humor used to be popular in SF but it has become less so over the years, perhaps because we’ve lost the ability to laugh at ourselves. This frequently funny novel tries to fill in the gaps a bit.  The protagonist has connected his refrigerator to the internet, but with unexpected consequences since the fridge seems to have a mind of its own. The unusual kitchen appliance gains power over the internet and through it can control energy sources and other elements of the world’s infrastructure, which leads to the establishment of a new world order with our hero as its most critical figure. I thought this all went on a trifle too long but for most of the book I was caught up in one of the more unusual roller coaster rides in recent SF. 12/22/12

The English Assassin by Michael Moorcock, Avon, 1972   

The third Jerry Cornelius novel. It has an unconventional narrative structure similar to A Cure for Cancer, but more coherent. Actually, there are several parallel storylines involving alternate versions of Cornelius, the assassin, as well as Una Persson from his steampunk series and a cameo by Oswald Bastable. It is also considerably more interesting to read, even though I usually wasn’t sure just exactly what I was supposed to be gleaning from the unfolding events, which include Cornelius retrieved from the sea as an apparently undead victim, and  his involvement in various wars in alternate times and places. His mother is a significant character as well, although her personality isn’t consistent from one thread to the next. I’d still list this as a minor effort, but it is certainly interesting. 12/20/12

Tempest by Julie Cross, Thomas Dunne, 2012, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-250-01120-6   

Although the device is different, this felt very much like Steven Gould’s Jumper stories. The protagonist is a teenager who can jump back and forth in time, although nothing he does in the past can apparently affect the future. Then his girlfriend is killed and he jumps back to 2007, only to find himself stuck there and pursued by an organization of time travelers who want to eliminate any competition. The mechanics of the time jumps didn’t make much sense to me, but they’re basically a McGuffin so it doesn’t matter. Otherwise this is a well written adventure story. First volume in a series. 12/18/12

A Cure for Cancer by Michael Moorcock, Penguin, 1971 

The second Jerry Cornelius book is not a conventional novel. It doesn’t have more than a hint of a unifying narrative and consists of lots of vignettes and other material woven together. The author manages to convey a vision of a decadent, immoral man in a quasi future that is equally decadent and immoral, except that he’s not always the same person at all, and sometimes the world around him seems equally fluid. As with Breakfast in the Ruins, the prose is fine and the individual segments hold together, but I don’t think that this one is nearly as successful and it certainly had to struggle to hold my interest on more than one occasion. 12/15/12

The Inexplicables by Cherie Priest, Tor, 2012, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2947-9   

Fourth in the Clockwork Century series, American steampunkish novels with a flavor distinct to themselves. We return to Seattle, the city sealed off from the outside world after the advent of the Blight, which released gas that turns people into rationalized zombies. The protagonist is a young man who has drifted through life in an orphanage into crime and drug addiction, but who finds a new kind of focus when he ventures into the encapsulated city. There he learns that someone has created a new entrance/exit, that some of the zombies are disappearing, that the locals are making more zombies in order to discourage immigrants, and that a new kind of creature – more terrifying even than the walking dead – has lately begun to claim victims in wholesale lots. Priest has made her way steadily upward in my estimation and now certainly falls within my top dozen favorite writers. You won’t read anything else like this. 12/13/12

Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold, Baen, 2012, $25, ISBN 978-1-4516-3845-5  

A new Vorkosigan novel, according to the cover, but Miles makes only a cameo appearance. Captain Vorpatril is a somewhat rudderless military officer who gets roped into a clandestine operation by an agent who is also his cousin of sorts, and which ends with his being married to an expatriate from a world where her family’s commercial empire was seized violently by rivals. Their subsequent plans, never well established or thought out, are disrupted when most of her family – including those assumed dead – show up unexpectedly on Barrayar after a rather slow moving hundred pages or so. Happily, I was in the mood for a more sedate novel and found the interplay among the characters entertaining, though I never really believed in the budding romance.  Should please McMaster’s fans and bring her some new ones. 12/6/12

The Warlord of the Air by Michael Moorcock, Ace, 1971   

Moorcock had previously done pastiches of Edgar Rice Burroughs, but this one is more generic, an old time SF novel about a man who gets lost in a mysterious temple and wakes up in an alternate future Earth where the world wars never happened, the British Empire remains strong, and zeppelins have become the dominant craft of the air. Initially he thinks he has stumbled into a Utopian society, but then he begins to see the flaws, although only after a brief job on a luxury airship – during which time he meets an obnoxious Ronald Reagan.  He falls into the company of Joseph Conrad, a revolutionary, but is initially at odds with him until he discovers that the empire is hardly the benevolent edifice he believed it to be. He becomes a prisoner in a Chinese warlord’s city, meets Joseph Stalin, and Conrad’s daughter, Una Persson, who will appear in later novels.  This remains one of my favorite of Moorcock’s novels. 12/5/12

Silent Weapons by David Mack, Pocket, 2012, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4516-5073-0  S178 

The middle volume of a trilogy following The Persistence of Memory. Following the Borg war, the galaxy settled into an uneasy balance of terror that is proving costly to both sides. A major technological breakthrough could tilt the balance in either direction and there are spies watching to make sure the other side doesn’t get the jump on them. A distress call draws Picard and company off their planned course and into a diplomatic situation fraught with danger and uncertainty. Even worse, what appears to be a chance juxtaposition of events proves to be something far more sinister. Fairly standard Star Trek fare, but Mack is one of the better writers working this corner of the genre. 12/3/12

Earthlight & Other Stories by Arthur C. Clarke, Fantastic Audio, read by various.  

This is an audiobook that opens with “Guardian Angel”, the early version of the opening section of Childhood’s End, in which benevolent aliens establish hegemony over Earth. The second title is “Silence Please”, a humorous White Hart story about the invention of a device that neutralizes sounds.  “Holiday on the Moon” is an extensive travelogue about a family at a moonbase, one of Clarke’s specialties.  A would be world conqueror inadvertently lies in suspended animation for millions of years, awakening only to be killed by another exile in time in “Nemesis”, one of Clarke’s lesser stories. “Time’s Arrow” is a cute gimmick story about time travel. “Trouble with the Natives” is a mildly cute story about aliens trying to contact humans. “Hide and Seek” is one of my favorite Clarke stories. A man avoids a spaceship by hiding on a Martian moon. “The Road to the Sea” is a long and I think rather pointless story about life on a far future Earth. The final story is “The Sentinel”, first part of 2001. 11/30/12

Interzone, September-October 2012, £3.95

Interzone, November-December 2012, £4.99 

The September issue has some format changes – slightly smaller but thicker and with somewhat more content. The stories are all good as well, particularly those by Ken Liu and Lavie Tidhar. There’s an interview with David Brin and lots of review of books and movies. The interior artwork is predominantly color. The overall appearance is very professional and the content matches it. There’s a price increase the following month, although subscription rates remain unchanged. The stories are pretty good this time as well but none of them were outstanding. News and reviews are entertaining and informative as always. 11/29/12

The Steam Mole by Dave Freer, Pyr, 2012, $16.95, ISBN 978-1-61614-692-4 

Follow up to Cuttlefish, which I liked a lot, set in an alternate world where the British Empire never fell. Most of the action takes place in what we know as Australia, although the climate is much warmer in this alternate and people generally live underground and travel through tunnels in the steam moles of the title. The plot involves a fugitive woman carrying a secret that could shake the empire to its roots – the empire is the big bad in this series. Her father is a prisoner and the villains are trying to use him to bait her out of hiding. Her own plans are disrupted by the absence of her closest ally and the need to find him quickly. Lots of adventure, a good backdrop, and plausible characters. I look forward to the next in the series. 11/28/12

The Hermetic Millennia by John C. Wright, Tor, 2012, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2928-8  

The sequel to Count to a Trillion reminded me vaguely of The Man Who Awoke by Lawrence Manning. The protagonist is wakened from suspended animation periodically so that the reader can be given a tour of progressive stages of human cultural evolution. There is at the end the threat of an alien force which plans to enslave humankind, and there are also purely human enemies and rivals as well as friends, all of whom hope to reshape civilization to conform to their own hopes and desires. By its very nature, this is a rather episodic novel but it gives the author the opportunity to serve up various different social structures, although they are mostly undesirable ones. Wright is famous for his wide ranging imagination and that’s on display throughout.  11/26/12

A Red Sun Also Rises by Mark Hodder, Pyr, 2012, $17.95, ISBN 978-1-61614-694-8 

Here’s one of those books that you could call SF or fantasy depending on your outlook. An alien race has created a version of Victorian London on another planet, filled with anachronisms to give it a steampunkish feel. Two misfit humans are transported there for a series of adventures and their thoughts are what give the city is form. But the planet has an inherent problem of its own. As the title suggests, there are two stars and when the second one appears in the sky, it signals the arrival of a kind of demonic alternate race. This newly created London becomes a mix of the familiar and the very unfamiliar. More original in concept than Hodder’s earlier books, and more ambitious, but with very much the same tone. At times this felt like an Edgar Rice Burroughs adventure, although obviously with better prose. 11/25/12

The Creative Fire by Brenda Cooper, Pyr, 2012, $17.95, ISBN 978-1-61614-684-9   

First in a series set aboard a generation starship. The planned society has devolved into a kind of armed standoff with the protagonist’s group on the short end of the stick. She’s a teenage girl who finds a hint of romance as she tries initially just to make a place for herself but eventually rises to a position of power as the two sides move toward more open conflict. I found the pacing a bit uneven at times but otherwise this was very good and I’ve liked this sort of setting ever since reading Starship by Brian Aldiss way back in my high school days.  This doesn’t appear to be intended as a YA novel, but the thematic similarities to the Hunger Games series is evident. 11/21/12

Tears in Rain by Rosa Montero, Amazon Crossing, 2012, $14.95, ISBN 9781612184388 

This first novel says that it is inspired by Bladerunner, presumably the movie rather than the Philip K. Dick novel it is based on. It’s set in Madrid about a century from now and was originally published in Spanish. The protagonist is a replicant who knows that she only has a few years left to live, but who is even more disturbed by a rise in the number of violent acts committed by others of her kind. Replicants have artificial memories implanted in their brains, and some of these have apparently been engineered to cause them to erupt into violence for some mysterious purpose. These false memories show up during autopsies – a bit of scientific doubletalk I find completely implausible – and a group of people decide to discover who is behind the conspiracy. Not badly done despite a few minor problems, and an interesting variation of the situations from the original.11/20/12

The Lazarus Machine by Paul Crilley, Pyr, 2012, $16.95, ISBN 978-1-61614-688-7   

The first in the Tweed & Nightingale series, set in an alternate late Victorian England where steam power and technology invented by Tesla dominate the world. England has become rather more repressive than in our world and a secret government agency ruthlessly oversees the interests of the British Empire. Our heroes are drafted into action when a sudden change in the underworld of criminals results in a threat to the status quo, masterminded by an evil genius named Moriarty. Fans of Sherlock Holmes – who also shows up - may or may not enjoy his conscription into this alternate world. A bit uneven – I liked some parts much better than others – but promising overall. I’m sure the two protagonists will be back before long. 11/19/12

Breakfast in the Ruins by Michael Moorcock, Avon, 1971   

Although this is in many ways quite well written, it’s one of my least favorite of Moorcock’s novels. Properly speaking, I’m not sure it’s even a novel, nor is it really fantasy or science fiction. It is in fact a series of sketches, the central character of each of which is Karl Glogauer – protagonist of Behold the Man – each fragment showing us another example of inhumanity, war, torture, cruelty, etc. One fragment does take place in the future, but there really isn’t any overall plot and the message is trumpeted so many times that it loses its impact after a while.  The individual pieces are very well done but there’s nothing to hold our interest from one to the next. 11/18/12

Silhouette by Dave Swavely, Thomas Dunne, 2012, $24.99, ISBN 978-1-250-0014908   

A first novel and the first in the Peacer series. The setting is a future San Francisco which suffered a devastating earthquake and is now managed/governed by a private corporation. The head of the corporation is villainous and ambitious and a new technology devised by his minions may make him the most powerful single person in the world. One of his subordinates who remains loyal to him begins to have second thoughts after he looks into a mysterious murder case, which makes him look further and uncover even more unpleasant truths. A promising first effort that mixes a detective story, shades of cyberpunk, and dystopian fiction around a gripping story line. Will be looking forward to the follow up. 11/12/12

Empty Places by Gary Raisor and Jeff Austin, Crossroads, 2012 

This is a short story by Gary Raisor presented as straight text, followed by an illustrated version in black and white. The story is set on a distant Earth where two men left on a world whose uplifted animals have moved on to the stars witness the return of a ship full of them to perform a kind of homecoming ritual. The visitors, descended from buffalo, have suffered the loss of their home world and consider returning to Earth, but you can never go home again and they realize that at last. A rather sad story though well written and the illustrations are pretty good as well. 11/12/12

The Black Corridor by Michael Moorcock, Ace, 1969 

When I first read this forty years ago, I was very impressed. Today I found it quite good but not nearly as captivating as I remembered.  The human race has succumbed to a kind of mass paranoia and xenophobia that leads to international and civil wars, racism, rioting, and a variety of other antisocial activities. It is no longer psychologically possible to even share a meal with another person and all the restaurants are gone. A small group of people try to escape on the planet’s only functioning starship and the story alternates between the ship in flight and the pilot’s memories of Earth. Except that something is wrong. He has begun hallucinating and it is not clear what is real and what is not. Obviously they have carried the paranoia with them and are just as doomed as the people they left behind. There are occasional bits where Moorcock experiments with the layout of the printed page, but they aren’t very effective and could have been left out without damage to the story. It’s a fascinating, if depressing, look at a possible future. 11/9/12

Over the Darkened Landscape by Derryl Murphy, Fairwood, 2012, $15.99, ISBN 978-1-933846-35-4

Flying in the Heart of the Lafayette Escadrille by James Van Pelt, Fairwood, 2012, #17.99, ISBN 978-1-933846-34-7   

These two single author collections are both similar and very different.  Van Pelt has produced a very large body of work and I’ve enjoyed several previous collections. This is Murphy’s second collection and while I had read about half of the stories previously, I confess that I only recalled two of them upon rereading. Their prose styles strike me as quite similar, but their plots and overall effects are generally quite different. Van Pelt ranges further with stories of SF, fantasy, and horror all mixed in, many of them employing very clever and sometimes striking plot elements like bizarre alien encounters, a revenant of Tokyo Rose, and so on. The stories here were drawn from Analog, Realms of Fantasy, and Weird Tales, so they obviously vary considerably in tone.  Murphy is much more consistent from one story to the next, although he also mixes SF and fantasy here, though the tone doesn’t vary as much. The fantastic content is less important in several of these. Both collections are quite good, but in markedly different ways. 11/7/12

The Ice Schooner by Michael Moorcock, Berkley, 1969 

Moorcock produced one of the best after the ice age novels in this early novel, his longest at this point. Konrad Arflane is an out of work iceship captain in a culture which hunts land traveling whales across a planet they believe to be completely covered with ice. Their religion suggests that the Ice Mother is claiming the planet and that entropy cannot be reversed. When indications arise that the planet is in fact warming again, Arflane refuses to believe it. Yes, he’s a global warming denier. Anyway, he undertakes a dangerous mission to find the legendary city of New York, accompanied by the woman he loves, her husband, and her peculiar brother. They face crevasses, volcanoes, landwhales, barbarians, and other dangers before finally achieving their goal. The conclusion doesn’t live up to the rest of the book. It’s rather rushed, not entirely plausible, and rather downbeat, but the adventure leading there is one of the most exciting in the genre. 11/6/12

Apollo’s Outcasts by Allen Steele, Pyr, 2012, $16.95, ISBN 978-1-61614-686-3 

Although this is technically a young adult novel, you’re not likely to notice. James Barlowe and his sister are sent to the moon by their father in the wake of a coup at the White House. Jamey was born on the moon and therefore was physically fragile in Earth’s atmosphere, but more adaptable in the lower gravity of our satellite. A big chunk of the book involves Jamey’s escape and his adjustment to life on the moon, which is standard fare for YA SF, although Steele does it better than almost anyone. The science is interesting and well presented, the story is engaging and well constructed. I thought the political maneuverings were a bit simpleminded, but they’re really almost peripheral to the plot so it didn’t matter that much. 11/4/12

The Time Dweller by Michael Moorcock, Berkley, 1969

This is a collection of Moorcock’s early short fiction, about half of it drawn from The Deep Fix. Although he improved at the short form later, most of these are minor.  There are two stories set in a future where politics stretch through time and space, a short version of the fantasy novel The Golden Barge, and a few others. The prose is fine but none of the stories involves a particularly interesting plot and the characters don’t have the complexity of those in his far superior novels. “The Treasure Garden of Felipe Sagittarius”, one of his best shorts, is included. 11/1/12

The Thursday War by Karen Traviss, Tor, 2012, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-3363-6  

A new installment in the game inspired Halo series, which pits humans against an inimical alien race. In order to prevent the defeated aliens from regrouping, humans have been sabotaging their civilization which has degenerated into a civil war. But there is dissent among the human worlds as well, and it comes at a very inopportune time for our protagonists. A cache of alien technology might save the day, but only if it can be kept in the right hands and understood in time to make a difference. Unfortunately, an escaped alien captive may know too much. And there’s a rescue operation to be mounted as well. Traviss juggles her subplots well and you don’t need to be familiar with the game – I am not – to understand what’s going on here. 10/30/12

The Persistence of Memory by David Mack, Pocket, 2012, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4516-6072-3  

A Star Trek Next Generation novel.  Someone has stolen, or abducted, Data’s brother, another android, and Captain Picard wants to get him back. Worf, now a captain, has troubles of his own. Data will soon discover that the woman he considers his mother, who is supposedly dead, is alive after all. Parts of the story are told from the point of view of Data’s “father”, and for some reason the author has decided to tell that part of the story in present tense while the rest is in conventional past tense. This does make it easy to tell which viewpoint you’re sharing, but the transitions are often jarring. This is the first of a trilogy so you won’t be surprised to discover that while we have revelations at the end, there is no true climax. 10/29/12

Behold the Man by Michael Moorcock, 1968 

The shorter version of this novel won the Nebula Award. Karl Glogauer travels back through time to the time of Christ and makes a startling discovery. There was no historical Jesus. His experiences two millennia ago are interspersed with glimpses of his earlier life, in which he never seemed to fit with other people and developed multiple neuroses that made him unhappy and socially distant. He’s also desperate to find religion, which is why he agrees to travel back in time to witness the crucifixion. But his arrival is considered a miracle and he finds himself inexorably being pushed toward becoming the historical Jesus, because the real one is a deformed imbecile. Head and shoulders above anything else Moorcock had written at this point. 10/21/12

The Final Programme by Michael Moorcock, 1968

The first and most accessible of the Jerry Cornelius novels, which broke with traditional SF narrative styles. Cornelius is an enigmatic figure, neither gay nor straight, brilliant but obsessed. The first third of the book – which was published as shorter pieces originally – involves his failed attempt to invade the family home, fortified by his insane brother, to rescue his sister, whom he inadvertently kills instead. There’s also a mysterious tape, a message from a one-time astronaut, which interests others besides Cornelius, and an abandoned Nazi base in the Arctic.  The protagonist is amoral, sometimes out of touch with reality, and one of his confederates – Miss Brunner – literally absorbs her lovers into her own body. Enigmatic, idiosyncratic, and decidedly unusual, this isn’t to everyone’s taste.  There was a movie version which I haven’t seen in almost forty years so I don’t remember how loyal it was to the book. 10/16/12

Disciple/Merge by Walter Mosley, Tor, 2012, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-3009-3 

Two novellas published back to back in the style of the old Ace Doublebooks. The first is a rather depressing story about a man with prescient abilities who is vaulted from a humdrum life to one in which he is the potential savior of the world, or have of it anyway. A military strike and germ warfare still manage to wipe out half the population of the Earth. The second half is more mystical. After winning the lottery, a reclusive man sets about accumulating knowledge and in the process encounters an entity that shows him the secrets of multiple realities and ultimately a kind of social justice. I didn’t like the second half nearly as much as the first, mostly because I felt like I was being lectured rather than entertained. 10/12/12

The Twilight Man by Michael Moorcock, 1966 

An expansion of The Shores of Death.  There’s an amusing goof in the prologue. “For several generations no children had been born to the daylight people.” I’m sure Moorcock meant generations as a measurement of time, but if no children were born, there couldn’t be any generations. Anyway, the story is set after an alien attack leaves Earth like Mercury with a dark side and a bright side. The discovery that the remainder of humanity is sterile leads to disillusionment and hedonism. There are rumors that a colony survives in the Jovian system but no one has confirmed this. Our hero believes there is substance to the rumor, and he is troubled by the presence of a mysterious man who might not be human. Science was never Moorcock’s strong point, and it’s frequently bad in this one although he rewrote the original story to remove some of the errors in the original.  10/12/12

The Deep Fix by Michael Moorcock, 1966 (as by James Colvin)  

This is a collection of short SF published under the James Colvin pseudonym. The title story is the longest piece, a disjointed bit about a catastrophe brought about by well meant methods of broadcasting sanity. Moorcock’s short fiction rarely approached his novels in quality, even later in his career. “Peace on Earth” describes two immortals seeking purpose in life, and the purpose they find is death. Trite. “The Lovebeast” involves an alien encounter just as humanity is about to die of radiation poisoning. “The Pleasure Garden of Felipe Sagittarius” is much better. Time is all mixed up and a metatemporal agent is sent to investigate a murder in the garden of Otto von Bismarck, chief of police for Berlin. It’s quite good in a chaotic sort of way. “The Real Life Mr. Newman” is a novelette. It’s a surreal tale of a man in a transformed London, or maybe it is only in his mind that it has changed. “Wolf” is a brief and forgettable parable. One good story cannot support an entire collection. 10/12/12

Bowl of Heaven by Gregory Benford and Larry Niven, Tor, 2012, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2841-0  

First in a series of novels designed to evoke the old style sense of wonder with new style writing sensitivities. Earth has sent a ship to explore another star system, most of its crew in suspended animation, but two problems arise. The drive is underperforming and it appears that the supplies will not last long enough should be crisis enough, but there’s also the discovery of an enormous bowl shaped artificial world half circling a star, and inhabited by a number of alien species. Part of the crew decides to investigate and thereupon lies the story. I thought the authors made a mild strategic mistake by giving us a glimpse of the masters of the artificial world so early, but it’s still a journey through multiple wonders. Looking forward to the next. 10/11/12

Delusion in Death by J.D. Robb, Putnam, 2012, $27.95, ISBN 978-0-399-15881-0 

There are as usual several predictable things about the new Eve Dallas futuristic thriller. It will have two sex scenes involving the protagonist, she will experience angst about her childhood experiences, Roarke will be inscrutable, and Dallas will solve the crime. Best of all, it’s predictable that the reader will be pulled in quickly and find it difficult to disengage. In fact there are 83 murders in the first few pages, the result of a mass murderer releasing an hallucinogenic toxin into a bar. The byplay is witty and rapidfire, the plot develops logically and smoothly, and the resolution includes a surprise twist at the end that I didn’t see coming. I will quibble about the profiler who can come up with a detailed analysis of the killer after one attack, despite no communication from him and in fact no clear idea of how he operated.  Looking forward to the next, as I always do. 10/8/12

The Fireclown by Michael Moorcock, 1965   

A Moorcock space opera, also published as The Winds of Limbo. The title character is an enigmatic and charismatic figure who preaches a return to a simpler way of life from his headquarters beneath the city of Switzerland a couple of centuries from now. The authorities want to shut him down because they fear he endangers the status quo, but they are also split among themselves. A cache of leftover nuclear weapons suggests that the Fireclown has sinister plans, but it’s possible they were planted to buttress the government’s position. Our hero finds the now fugitive Fireclown in an orbiting colony of Scientologists, then discovers he has an interstellar capable spaceship. The second half of the novel is far less interesting and much more talky.  There’s some not very believable political maneuvering, religious fanaticism, and pointless arguments. The end involves a plot to wipe out human intelligence, a criminal blackmailing the government, and sundry crises, none of which are very convincing. Very minor Moorcock. 10/7/12

Brinkmanship by Una McCormack, Pocket, 2012, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4516-8782-8 

A Star Trek Typhon Pact novel. The Typhon Pact is an alliance of star systems opposed to the Federation and its allies, although it would not be fair to say that either side was the good guys or the bad guys. An unaligned system becomes a point of contention between the two, and a couple of characters from the various television series are sent to help mediate a compromise. Unfortunately the Cardassians are not amenable to diplomatic solutions and begin rattling sabers, which are quickly taken up by other parties. Can our heroes defuse the situation and find an equitable solution? Well of course they can and do, but how they get there is the point of the story. Nicely done. 10/6/12

Warriors of Mars by Michael Moorcock, 1965  

This is the first of three Edgar Rice Burroughs Mars pastiches that Moorcock wrote under the name Edward P. Bradbury, and it was reprinted as The City of the Beast. Michael Kane experiments with a matter transmitter and ends up on Mars in the distant past, where he meets the beautiful princess Shizala and helps her defend her city from a horde of barbarian Blue Giants. He also befriends one of the latter and becomes a mediator between the two sides at one point. All of the storytelling shortcuts of ERB are here, coincidences, offhand explanations, a translator machine – even though everyone on Mars speaks the same language – and an ancient technology that the Martians use but don’t understand, given to them by a nearly extinct race about which they know even less. It’s pure popcorn, but nicely roasted. 10/2/12

Blades of Mars by Michael Moorcock, 1965   

The second Michael Kane adventure, pastiching Edgar Rice Burroughs, also known as Lord of the Spiders. Returning to the planet Mars, Kane is caught up in a civil war between two factions of the Blue Giants, who share the world with normal humans. Kane befriends the leader of one group, and is troubled when his friend is forced to break off an unwanted romantic attachment on the eve of the great battle to come. Predictably the spurned woman betrays her people with disastrous consequences. After the battle, Kane and friends stumble into an ancient city of a now apparently extinct race and have to fight for their lives yet again. They visit another city ruled by a giant spider, travel by balloon, return to their own country, rescue imprisoned comrades, confront an old enemy, and finally overthrow the bad guys. Lightweight but fun. 10/2/12

Barbarians of Mars by Michael Moorcock, 1965

Third and final Michael Kane Mars adventure, also published as Masters of the Pit. Kane runs into trouble with the Flowers of Modnaf (try spelling it backwards). “They are attractive at a distance but dangerous if you come close to them…Many have been trapped by these flowers and their vitality sapped, leaving them dry of anything human…”  Another dangerous land is Golana (reverse that one as well). There is also Blemplac the Mad, an anagram of Campbell, who had a vision that became warped with the passage of time. Then there’s Drallab, an artistic island nation that has great influence on its neighbors, and L’cocroom, an emerging land of mystery. Brian Aldiss and Harry Harrison also get backwards Tuckerized. The story involves a quest for ancient technology which brings Kane to a city that has undergone a transformation into a bizarre dictatorship. Despite an epilogue that suggests more stories to come, this was the end of the series. Amusing, but Burroughs was a better storyteller. 10/2/12

London Eye by Tim Lebbon, Pyr, 2012, $16.95, ISBN 978-1-61614-680-1  

First in the Toxic City series, which the blurb compares to the X-Men but which I thought more closely resembled the Wild Cards series. A massive terrorist attack on London results in its isolation from the rest of the world, enforced by a large military force. They are concealing the truth, that survivors within the city are beginning to mutate and display freakish powers never before seen on Earth. Four teenagers sneak into the city to look for relatives and discover that the military is experimenting on some of the survivors and suppressing the truth. Inevitably the toxins causing the change begin to affect our heroes as well. This is quite short and dark enough in tone that it doesn’t feel much like a YA title. Lebbon’s novels are always worth reading, regardless of what genre he works in, but both his fantasy and his science fiction have tinges of his origins in the horror field. 9/24/12

The Sundered Worlds by Michael Moorcock, 1965 

I recalled not liking this when I first read it nearly fifty years ago and it hasn’t improved with age. Three fairly flatly presented characters decide to visit a solar system that moves from one universe to another – I think this is the first time Moorcock used the term “multiverse” – and find a society composed of visitors from different times and universes, all trapped in the roving system of Entropium. There’s precognition, aliens, space battles, and other devices from both space opera and fantasy, but none of it holds together very well.  Not one of Moorcock’s better efforts.  Also published as The Blood Red Game. 9/21/12

The Eden Prophecy by Graham Brown, Bantam, 2012, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-345-52780-6  

The third in the Danielle Laidlaw/Hawker series has a James Bond style plot. A brilliant biochemist has second thoughts after creating a virus that dramatically reduces cell life, cutting the life expectancy of those infected by half. Laidlaw and ex-CIA agent Hawker are off to Paris to discover the identity of the evil mastermind who plans to unleash the plague on the world, with car chases, gunfights, exploding buildings, and battalions of thugs to overcome in the process, to say nothing of the suspicious Paris police force. There’s a cult of atheist terrorists, the possible secret of immortality, and other plot elements to complicate matters. Action packed and exciting, but I didn’t find it as gripping as the first two books in the series. 9/20/12

Black Sun by Graham Brown, Bantam, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-553-59242-9  

The second adventure of Hawker, a cashiered spy, and Danielle Laidlaw, who works for a fictional science based government agency. She’s investigating Mayan artifacts uncovered in the first book, Black Rain, when agents of a Chinese megalomaniac kidnap her. Hawker is prevailed upon to go to her rescue in Hong Kong.  He does so but the artifacts that she was hoping to collect have an unusual property – they create matter spontaneously and have periodic surges which knock out nearby power supplies. They are also counting down to the end of the Mayan calendar – yes, it’s one of those. Add in a malevolent Russian spy, a boy surgically altered to have unusual perceptions, a restless President, a jealous CIA chief, and a number of thugs and mercenaries, as well as an imminent nuclear war. Stir well. Not quite as good as the first – the larger scale of events didn’t appeal to me - but still pretty good. 9/18/12

The Wrecks of Time by Michael Moorcock, 1965 (aka Rituals of Infinity)

There are more than a dozen alternate earths, each in its own universe, each menaced by an organization that uses weapons to alter the history/physical structure of these worlds, a change which affects the memories of the inhabitants in most cases so that they adjust to their new reality, and when totally successful leads to the complete destruction of the planet. Opposed to them is the organization which includes our hero, Faustaff, which attempts to provide stability.  There’s a fairly interesting mystery involved but this was one of Moorcock’s earliest efforts and it sometimes feels awkward and unpolished, nor do any of the characters rise above the level of stick figures. The hero’s reluctance to use violence is admirable but in this context rather silly since failing to resist leads literally to billions of deaths. The last third of the novel is much better than the rest and shows signs of the better books to come. 9/16/12

The Eternal Tide by Kirsten Beyer, Pocket, 2012, $7.99, ISBN 9781-4516-6818-6 

I was never a fan of Star Trek Voyager, although I watched the other manifestations of Star Trek.  Frankly some of the novels are better than the television series, which I found morally confused at times. In this one several Federation ships are investigating a region formerly under the sway of the Borg, now free of that influence. One of the captains is diverted to an obscure planet to investigate a genetic anomaly and this trip has unintended and far reaching consequences. Naturally these consequences are unlikely to be reflected in other novels in the series, which is one of the endemic problems of tie-in novels. A fairly complex story for a Trek novel, and better than average for a tie in. 9/15/12

Black Rain by Graham Brown, Dell, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-553-59241-2  

Although I greatly enjoy contemporary thrillers with SF overtones, many of them are badly written or spend too much time on weapons porn, lengthy descriptions followed by detailed firefights that go on endlessly.  This is the first novel I’ve tried by this author and while there are a few minor problems, for the most part it’s good story telling and nicely balanced.  There is one conference early in the book that needs a complete rewrite but otherwise the prose is fine. An expedition is sent by a secret government agent to find a Mayan city in the Amazon – there is a rationale for their being there that almost works – and a criminal organization with a small private army is on their trail. The city is believed to be the repository of the secret of cold fusion, which I never found plausible but it’s not particularly germane to the plot. Eventually they find hostile natives, well armed mercenaries, and the ruins themselves, which are populated by a race of creatures that bear no resemblance to any strain of life we know of, and they’re deadly and hostile, though implausibly they dissolve when they touch water. It does tend to rain in the Amazon. I’ll reveal the secret here because it’s not really important. Humans from a polluted future came back in the remote past and died out, leaving the creatures behind. This made no sense to me at all. The author would have been better off suggesting alien visitors. Still a good read though and I’ve already ordered a copy of the sequel. This has also been published as The Mayan Conspiracy. 9/14/12

Be My Enemy by Ian McDonald, Pyr, 2012, $16.95, ISBN 978-1-61614-678-8   

Sequel to Planesrunner, which I enjoyed although with some reservations. There are no reservations this time around. It’s a young adult novel but also a wonderful romp through parallel universes. Everett Singh is on a quest to find his kidnapped father, while avoiding capture himself by the evil Charlotte Villiers and her cohorts. This one is mostly a chase story jumping from one version of Earth to another, ones visited by aliens or locked in an ice age or fallen into post apocalyptic chaos. It’s a coming of age story as well with Everett and his allies learning more about themselves and each other. Villiers is an interesting villain, although it’s the exotic settings that really hold the reader’s attention. I was dubious about this series initially but I'm much more hopeful now. 9/13/12

Branegate by James C. Glass, Fairwood, 2012, $17.99, ISBN 978-1-933846-33-0   

I sometimes have problems with novels that indulge in too much imagination. Either the kitchen sink effect prevails and I find myself distracted, or the setting and situations are so divorced from the present that I have trouble immersing myself in the story. This ambitious novel drifts somewhat in the latter direction. A group of immortals find a way into another universe and found colonies on several planets which, predictably, want to become independent. The chief protagonist is a young man who is actually reincarnated and who is destined to lead his people to victory. Not badly written but it exceeded my strangeness quotient. There is a point beyond which is is very difficult for me to suspend my disbelief and accept events as realistic. Your own parameters may vary. 9/10/12

Bloodstar by Ian Douglas, Harper, 2012, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-189476-3  5623 

First in a new military SF series by William Keith. Our hero is a member of a kind of space marine unit sent to a harsh world colonized by religious extremists who want to punish themselves by living in a hostile environment. It turns out the world they chose was even more inhospitable than they anticipated because some bellicose aliens show up. What seems a minor conflict at first has deadly implications that extend to other human worlds and the military expedition finds itself in position to save or lose the day. Pretty much a rehash of a score of other similar stories but Keith always does a good job of keeping things moving and believable enough to hold our interest. 9/6/12

Alexander Outland: Space Pirate by G.J. Koch, Night Shade, 2012, $14.99, ISBN 978-1-59780-423-3  5560 

At first I thought this was a pastiche of space operas, which might have been entertaining, but that’s not the case. Then I assumed it was a parody of space operas, which might have been funny, but that’s not it either. The title character is a randy space pirate who has a series of not very convincing adventures in pursuit of loot and sex. In the course of this he encounters a previously unsuspected fleet of rivals, against whom he strives, but there’s no suspense and very little adventure. The dialogue reads like something that a high school kid would use to impress his friends and it might have worked in shorter doses. Koch, who also writes as Gini Koch, has done better and hopefully she will consign Alexander Outland to the stack of bad ideas. 9/4/12

Science Fiction Trails #9, edited by David Riley, 2012, $8.00 5628 

When I was in high school, I once was assigned to do a book review, but to describe the story I read in a different setting. The book I had read was The Searchers by Alan LeMay, a western classic, and it immediately occurred to me that I had to move it to Mars for the assignment. Mars, as we used to think of it, was as close to the Old West as you could get, and that’s in part the basis for this selection of western style SF set on Mars. This issue is a special that varies from the West, so long as the setting is within the 19th Century and the story involves Martians. There are good stories here by Lyn McConchie, David Lee Summers, and others involving first contacts and other aspects of interplanetary commerce. Nice cover art on this issue as well. 9/4/12

The Deadly Sun by Richard Macgregor, Digit, 1964   

Intelligent ants in armored nodules land on Earth just as a series of astronomical events throws the future of the human race into question. Various people struggle to solve the problem and to survive the coming cataclysm. This is without doubt the most scientifically illiterate novel I’ve read in decades. The Earth is perturbed in its orbit by the passage of a giant planet which astronomers have never noticed and still can’t locate because it moves so fast! They also can’t decide if the Moon is approaching Earth or vice versa. The passage pulls Earth away from the sun, which would have made things chillier except that the friction of Earth’s passage through the solar system generates enough heat to compensate. On the other hand, there are heavy winds because of the increase in speed. Although there is some amusing satire about bureaucracy scattered throughout, this is a thoroughly hopeless book. 9/2/12

Blue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds, Ace, 2012, $26.95, ISBN 978-0-441-02071-3 

I’ve been a fan of Reynolds since his first book and have thoroughly enjoyed all but one of his titles since. This one is up to his usual standards, first in a trilogy set in a solar civilization where various causes have resulted in the emergence of China and Africa as the two main influences in the colonization of the solar system. Two members of a powerful family who have chosen to opt out of the roles assigned to them become involved anew when the reclusive matriarch dies, leaving a cryptic message that sends them on a kind of treasure hunt throughout the inner planets. They discover secrets which some of their relatives would rather not have revealed and others which will change things for the entire human race. Some of the reasoning struck me as a bit sketchy, but it doesn’t matter as we are carried along an exciting and wonderful journey through one possible future. I anxiously await the sequel. 9/1/12

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