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


The Star Dwellers by James Blish, Avon, 1961 

Humans encounter an alien life form that is composed entirely of energy. The Angels seem benevolent, or at worst neutral, but a mission is sent to find out more about them before they are to be allowed to visit Earth. This is a YA novel and is clumsy, nonsensical, and laughably nave. It also contains a lengthy lecture about the evils of teenage sexuality, popular music, and other aspects of 1960s culture that is shockingly ugly and just plain dumb. It is hard to believe that the same person who wrote the intelligent and thoughtful A Case of Conscience also promoted such vile ignorance. The story contains multiple plot holes and implausibilities. 7/21/17

The Seven Jewels of Chamar by Raymond F. Jones, Armchair, 2017 (originally published in 1946)

Short novel set in the familiar solar civilization involving seven jewels which, if brought together, will provide the holder with unspecified powers to control the entire universe. The protagonist's father is killed during the theft of one and he has to team up with the woman he originally thought was the murderer in order to cross space and track down the killer. Jones wrote much better stuff than this. 7/21/17

The Sunless City by J.E. Muddock, Dodo, 2009 

This is another hollow Earth lost world quasi-Utopian novel. The protagonist and friends descend through a mysterious lake to gain entrance and then spend most of the novel getting a tour of the society. Our hero ultimately offends the locals and gets put on trial, but talks himself out of trouble. This is quite boring and I skimmed several chapters. Muddock was best known as author of the Dick Donovan detective series, which is much better written than this. 7/20/17

The Triumph of Time by James Blish, Avon, 1958  

Although the Okie city of New York has colonized a new planet successfully, John Amalfi is bored and wants to return to space. Then he discovers that the universe is about to collide with an antimatter universe, bringing about the end of time. He battles some religious fanatics, then manages to survive the collapse and becomes the god of the new universe. The novel is not only pessimistic but almost completely unengaging, with lengthy digressions, long technical discussions, and very little substantive plot. 7/19/17

Pacific Rising by John Dennehy, Severed Press, 2017, $12.95, ISBN 978-1925597813  

This is what is known as a kaiju novel, i.e., it's about an unrealistically large monster attacking human civilization, in this case the long suffering Tokyo. A hurricane has disturbed the very long sleep of a reptilian predator and conventional weaponry has proved ineffective in stopping it. But there happens to be a group of marines on a secret mission inside North Korea, and they may have the means to kill the beast. There is not a lot you can do with kaiju stories since they necessary focus on the creature and the havoc it wreaks. Dennehy does better than most I've read, making a real effort to bring his characters to life. There are even a few exciting scenes, although the formula remains predictable. 7/18/17

The Dark Moon Saga by Charles W. Diffin, Armchair, 2017 (originally published in 1931)

This collects the novella, Dark Moon, and the novel length sequel, Brood of the Dark Moon, although it leaves out the third in the series. Earth acquires a mysterious new moon whose surface is hidden. At the same time, giant space worms encircle the Earth and attack any high flying aircraft. The heroes have an experimental spaceship and they travel to the new moon, which is habitable and inhabited by giant spiders, cave men, giant bats, and other horrible things. In the second story, they are stranded there with a group of villains from Earth. Neither story is awful, and Diffin's prose was better than most pulp writers, but neither is very good either. 7/17/17

River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey, Tor, 2017, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-9523-8

There actually was a plan to introduce hippopotami to Lousiana at one point in US history, but it was abandoned. This novella is set in an alternate America where the project went forward. That leads to this quasi-cowboy adventure in which a small group of people are hired to clean up a lake that is home to feral hippos as well as a gambling casino owned by almost equally feral humans. The leader of the group also has a personal grudge against the man who burned down the ranch where he had been raising tame hippos. This might have played as humor but it's actually very serious and very well done. One of the more unusual alternate history novels you'll ever read. 7/16/17

A Case of Conscience by James Blish, Ballantine, 1957 

The high point of Blish's career was this superb story of a priest who is part of a four man mission to a planet whose alien inhabitants have no concept of sin and who do the right thing because it is logical. The priest assumes that a moral life cannot exist without faith, and therefore concludes that the planet was created by the devil to subvert religion among humans. The idea that the devil can create is heresy in the Roman Catholic faith, but the resolution is convoluted and ambiguous, leaving it to the reader to draw one's own conclusions. I've read this half a dozen times over the years and always find it impressive and thought provoking. 7/15/17

World of the Mist by Laurence Manning, Armchair, 2017 (originally published in 1953)

Three friends build an experimental spaceship to cross the dimensional barrier. Somehow they conclude that super dense materials can be found in space and that proximity to them will allow the ship to cross over. They eventually do and find a strange world of shifting shapes, but then realize they do not know how to return and their air is running out. Two thirds of the book consists of quasi-scientific jargon and theorizing. The last third is interesting Manning could write well when he put his mind to it but not worth the boring and lengthy buildup.7/12/17

The Land of the Changing Sun by Will N. Harben, Armchair, 2016 (originally published in 1919) 

This is a rather mediocre lost world novel that doesn't always make sense. Two men stranded on a deserted island are rescued/taken prisoner by a strange vessel that sails down into a hidden world inside the Earth. This appears to be a Utopian society at first, but in due course we see its dark underside. The scientific content was almost certainly nonsense even in 1919 a cold sun, an entirely different air that makes everyone who breathes it handsome, etc. Eventually the outsiders are instrumental in bringing about the end of the civilization and their reintegration with the surface world.  7/11/17

VOR by James Blish, Avon, 1958 

An indestructible alien arrives on Earth and demands to be killed. But can that be accomplished without destroying the entire Earth? The story alternates between members of a Civil Air Patrol unit where marital problems are mounting and a commission of government experts who have wildly differing opinions, and in some cases even different agendas. The alien seemed invulnerable and it threatens to destroy the world unless they grant its wish and kill it. This is generally considered one of Blish's minor novels, but I have always rather liked it and I thought it held up quite well sixty years later. 7/10/17

Journey into Limbo by Scott Michel, Armchair, 2017 (originally published in 1962) 

Although this is technically a lost world novel, it's not much of one. The protagonists are shipwrecked and forced to adapt to the local culture on an island that is isolated from the outside world and has developed some unusual customs. This is a mildly sexy and not very interesting novel that attracted little attention when it was published originally and its connection to SF is marginal at best.  I lost interest and skimmed the second half. 7/6/17

Year 2018! by James Blish, Avon, 1957 

This prequel to the Okie stories is better known as They Shall Have Stars. It follows the development of two separate but ultimately related scientific endeavors. One is the quest to find drugs which will prevent the human body from aging and thus lead to near immortality. The other is the construction of an artifact on Jupiter by remote control that will enable scientists to learn enough about gravity to create workable, large scale antigravity engines. The book feels more like filler than a novel as it jumps around without every actually establishing strong story lines. Nor can I accept that the US Congress would spend years and fabulous amounts of money building a structure whose purpose is withheld from them. But it did set the stage for the Okie series. 7/4/17

Earthman, Come Home by James Blish, Avon, 1955 

The story of the Okies, Earth cities that use antigravity to leave the planet and journey to the stars. This is actually made up of a series of four short stories. In the first, New York City finds itself caught in an interplanetary war just as forces from Earth show up to conquer both.  In the second, they help a planet menaced by a rogue city. The third involves a crisis that threatens the future of the star traveling cities, and the last ends the cycle with the cities settling down permanently on planets. The hero, Amalfi, is rather cavalier about killing people and some of his plots seem unnecessarily complex, but the stories are exciting and imaginative.  7/1/17