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


War With the Gizmos by Murray Leinster, Gold Medal, 1958

The Gizmos are invisible creatures that cover the faces of their prey and suffocate them. At first they only attack animals in the wild, but then they begin claiming human victims, and no one even suspects that anything odd is happening until the protagonist manages to survive one of their attacks. The balance of the book is mostly about him and his two companions as they find ways to fight back against the gaseous creatures. They give out a rotten smell when they die and when this first appeared, fans referred to it as War With the Farts. If Leinster were alive today, I suspect he would be a well known thriller writer. The end is rather perfunctory but the story is excellent. 8/22/18

City on the Moon by Murray Leinster, Ace, 1957  

The third and final Joe Kenmore novel is set in a permanent base on the moon. Saboteurs have forced the crash landing of a rocket from Earth as well as the complete evacuation of the main lunar colony. There is also a group of scientists who believe they have a doomsday reaction that could destroy the universe. Kenmore leads the effort to find and stop the saboteurs after rescuing the stranded travelers and surviving with a crippled moon vehicle. And the scientists turn out to be wrong. A Red Scare novel with one good sequence but otherwise more boring than not. 8/20/18

The End of All Our Exploring by F. Brett Cox, Fairwood, 2018, $17.99, ISBN 978-1-933846-71-2

This is a good sized collection - twenty-seven stories including a few vignettes- and while I'm listing it in science fiction it includes fantasy, supernatural, and even a few mainstream tales. I had only read a handful of these previously so the book was essentially completely new to me. The range of subject matter is impressive in itself - the far future, the historical past, the world of art, the world of science, lightly humorous and deadly serious. A couple of them are rather slight but the majority have considerable meat on their bones. I particularly liked "What They Did to My Father," "Where We Would End a War," and "Serpent and the Hatchet Gang." There is a sense of wonder in most of them, though not the Gosh Wow version that I found in SF when I first discovered the genre. Some of them have very nicely developed characters who sometimes seem more important than the plot. Definitely worth the time to track down a copy. 8/14/18

The Planet Explorer by Murray Leinster, Avon, 1957 

This is a fixup of four shorter stories, one of which won the Hugo. They all feature Bordman, an agent of the Colonial Survey, which evaluates safety problems for human colony worlds. He solves problems when a star starts a temporary but potentially deadly slow period of radiation, saves a colony whose ability to land ships from offworld is destroyed by a sand storm, prevents an over irrigated island from essentially slipping off its moorings and sinking, and teams up with an illegal colonist and his team of bears to rescue the survivors of another colony that was overwhelmed by local carnivores. Good collection, though not really a novel. The hardcover edition of this one was published as Colonial Survey. 8/13/18

The Sacerdotal Owl by Michael Bishop, Kudzu Planet, 2018, $15.99, ISBN 978-1-933846-72-9

This collection is composed of a novel and three novelettes drawn from various points in the author's career. The novel is And Strange at Ecbatan the Trees, in which the survivors of a destroyed Earth find fresh problems on a new world. Their rigidly hierarchical social system is less flexible than it should be. The title story is a quiet but effective sort of horror tale set in the midst of a Central American civil war. "To the Land of Snow" is a fascinating generational starship story in which the would-be colonists are Buddhists. The final story involves a non-human messiah and other religious elements and was considered rather controversial when it was first published. I believe all four stories have been somewhat revised for this edition. They are typical of Bishop's career in that they are so dissimilar. Bishop never fell into a niche and is always unpredictable, but never disappointing. 8/10/18

Chercher La Femme by L. Timmel Duchamp, Aqueduct, 2018, $19, ISBN 978-1-51976-147-6

One of my favorite devices for SF stories is the alien race whose society presents a puzzle to humans. In this case, an expedition of men arrives on a planet whose inhabitants all appear to be women, and unusually beautiful ones as well. But this is not a variation of some 1950s cheaply made SF exploitation film. There is some subtle and intelligent examination of gender roles as well as a touch of philosophy about the limits on human ability to comprehend the universe, but none of that detracts from what is also a nicely constructed puzzle story. This was a surprisingly fast read. 8/9/18

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, Brilliance Audio 

I hadn’t read this since before the first movie, so it was interesting to see the changes listening to the audio version. John Hammond is a total jerk and not at all lovable. Ed Regis and the lawyer were combined in the movie into a single character. Grant loved children rather than felt awkward with them. Malcolm is even more arrogant and ignorant of science than he is in the movie – mouthing Crichton’s uninformed misconceptions. The book never deals with the fact that we know some of the dinosaurs have reached the mainland, although we never find out how they did it, or how they overcame their lycene dependency. Lex is more obnoxious.  Hammond and Malcolm die, but Gennaro lives. There is a bad logical flaw. The raptors have never been allowed into the park because they are too dangerous, but they are found to be breeding in the park. There had to have been some originals. Where did they come from? The book’s ending – exploring an underground nest – was wisely left out of the movie. 8/7/18

The Other Side of Here by Murray Leinster, Ace, 1955   

American cities are suddenly struck by some force that incapacitates the entire population. Our hero discovers that it is a directed electrical phenomenon and find a way to shield himself against it, but he is soon pilloried in the news as a plague carrier. He and a sketchily described female companion discover that invaders from another reality are looting the cities. Repeated attempts to publicize the truth fail, so they finally have to take direct action, killing some of the invaders, sabotaging their equipment, and provoking a rebellion within their numbers. Although a bit clunky – the story originally appeared in 1936 as The Incredible Invasion – it ages pretty well. 8/3/18

Nebula Awards Showcase 2018 edited by Jane Yolen, Pyr, 2018, $18, ISBN 078-1-63388-504-2

The latest in this venerable series The short stories are from  a new generation of writers and are much more diverse than in the past. Contributors include Alyssa Wong, Sarah Pinsker, and David D. Levine. There are novel excerpts and articles along with the stories. Not every story was to my taste but most of them were, a reaction I imagine will be mirrored by most other readers. Present tense narration appears to be growing in popularity, and there are several examples here. I still find this intrusive and offputting but others will disagree. It is interesting to look back at stories included in earlier volumes in this series and note how the emphasis has changed. 9/2/18

The Invaders by Murray Leinster, Armchair, 2017 (originally published in 1953)

A novella in which the hero discovers that aliens are secretly living among us and are wearing people suits so that they will not be detected. Much alarm ensues when he convinces the government that he is telling the truth. The aliens have always acted benevolently, however, so it is no real surprise when they admit that they were studying us in order to prepare for open contact. Some of the plot twists are highly improbable. 8/1/18

The Anomaly by Michael Rutger, Grand Central, 2018, $26, ISBN 978-1-5387-6185-4

This first novel is a very engaging SF thriller in which an internet based film crew that specializes in the weird explores a hidden cave in the Grand Canyon. What they find inside is more than just remnants of an ancient civilization but something that could cost them all their lives and change the world forever. I can't say much about the plot without giving away too much. The characters are relatively vivid and the dialogue is generally witty and amusing. Some of the thrills are quite well done. I was mildly disappointed at the final explanation, but not enough to spoil the book and others might find it more plausible. The author gets added to my "watch for" list. Recommended. 7/30/18

Monsters and Such by Murray Leinster, Avon, 1959 

“Proxima Centauri” is a first contact story, with humans encountering an inimical race that views animal flesh as akin to gold. “De Profundis” is less substantial. A sea serpent rescues a bathyscape.  “The Lonely Planet” is one of my favorites. A single being covers an entire planet and communicates with humans telepathically. But then it is perceived as a potential threat, and so it becomes..” “If You Was a Moklin” is another of my favorites, a planet whose humanoid inhabitants can control their own evolution and decide to become human. “The Trans-Human” is about a child raised by aliens to believe he is one of them. “Nobody Saw the Ship” is about an alien that secretly visits Earth for nefarious reasons which fail because of insects. “The Castaway” is an excellent story about a fugitive alien on Earth, although its conclusions – that even a friendly alien must be killed to prevent contact with a higher civilization – is rather depressing. 7/26/18

Twists in Time by Murray Leinster, Avon, 1960 

This is a collection of stories with time travel as a plot element. “Dead City” is an excellent story about the discovery of traces of a lost, nonhuman civilization in the Yucatan. “The End” involves the literal end of the universe and a possible way to survive it. A man and a woman, separated by death, are reunited when their worlds overlap in “The Other Now.” “Dear Charles” is a humorous story about time travel paradoxes. “Sam, This Is You” is about a telephone lineman who gets a call from himself, and it’s pretty funny. “Rogue Star” is the weakest in the collection. A stolen spaceship goes back through time and introduces agriculture to primitive humans. 7/25/18

The Aliens by Murray Leinster, Berkley, 1960 

“Skit-Tree Planet” is an improbable but fun story about the last member of an alien race that uses forcefields rather than solid matter. “The Fugitive from Space” is an exciting adventure in which a malevolent shape changing alien criminal takes two humans hostage. “Anthropological Note” is a better than average story about efforts to study an alien civilization, in this case primitives on Venus. The title story is another first contact problem. A human and potentially hostile alien vessel collide and are welded together. Only cooperation can save their lives. "Thing from the Sky" is a quiet story about a secret alien who hopes to change Earth's ecology but fails. This was a very good collection and was the first book by Leinster that I ever read back when it appeared in 1960. 7/24/18

Predatory Instinct by Michael McBride, Factory V, 2012 

A previously unknown branch of hominids is found in Siberia. A Russian ship is found adrift off the coast of Washington. Its crew are all dead, but whatever attacked them has gone ashore. A police officer is faced with a serious of brutal killings starting at the water front, but she initially has no idea what she is facing. This is a pretty good thriller, but it was a lot like the previous two books I’d read by this author and I was hoping for something a little different. I have another of his novels waiting to be read. 7/19/18

Get Off My World! by Murray Leinster, Belmont, 1966  w038 

Three long stories. “Planet of Sand” has an interesting premise – a barren planet with a large structure still powered by unknown forces. The execution isn’t great. Too many coincidences, convenient compatibilities between alien and human technology, and too many unanswered questions. If the planet is known to have a breathable atmosphere, why didn’t anyone notice a structure that covers thousands of square miles on an otherwise featureless surface? "Second Landing" is a nicely told tale of adventure on a planet supposedly uninhabited but actually still clandestinely watched by an old enemy. The premise has some serious flaws, unfortunately. "White Spot" is about a crashlanding on a planet where a gigantic living creature tries to kill the four human intruders.  7/18/18

The Forgotten Planet by Murray Leinster, Ace, 1954

Leinster compiled this novel from two stories he had written during the 1920s with another from 1953. The seeding of a lifeless planet is interrupted before mammals can be introduced, so the local sea and insect life grow to disproportionate sizes within giant forests of fungi and other vegetation. A crashed lifeship introduces a handful of humans who lose all traces of civilization over the course of many generations of isolation.  Burl is a primitive who begins to have revolutionary thoughts, like using weapons and hunting, which will transform his tribe dramatically. This is a fixup of three short stories but the transitions are virtually seamless and while I doubt that insects this big are physiologically possible, it still makes a good story. 7/13/18

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal, Tor, 2018, $18.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-7838-5

This appears to be the first half of an alternate history duology. The change point is the 1950s when a giant meteorite destroys much of the east coast of the US. The environmental impact is so great that it seems likely that the human race will not survive the aftermath, at least not on Earth. So the survivors launch a desperate attempt to colonize space so that at least a few will be able to preserve the species. But that's not really what the story is about. The protagonist is a brilliant woman involved with the attempt to reach the moon, but she begins to wonder why there are no women among the prospective astronauts, and sets out to be the first. The story, of course, will not be fully resolved until the second book - The Fated Sky - appears a month from now. There's never any real doubt that the protagonist will succeed, but the story is pleasant and some of the background details are particularly interesting. 7/7/18

Operation Outer Space by Murray Leinster, Signet, 1957

A new discovery suggests that faster than light travel is possible. An advertising man quits his job to raise money for a new company that will send the first ship to the stars. It does so surprisingly quickly, with all of the major characters aboard, including a psychopath. Despite the melodramatic situation, the story is quite low key. There is an active volcano on the first planet they visit, but no one is injured despite a short period as castaways for the protagonist and his romantic interest. She is surprisingly positively portrayed for the time – she is intelligent, manages things behind the scenes, and even defeats the psychopath when he tries to take over. 7/6/18

Drop by  Drop by Morgan Llywelyn, Tor, 2018, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-88667

This is the first SF novel by a writer who has previously specialized in fantasy and historical fiction. It's a disaster story, but not a big flashy one. Civilization crumbles this time because all plastics suddenly begin to deteriorate, which essentially bring virtually all technology to a stand still. There is no real explanation for the change but it's unnecessary. Our focus is almost completely limited to events in a small American town, which allows the author to keep the plot tightly focused, although this also means that the really major consequences are only revealed at second hand, if at all. The muted approach to disaster provides an interesting variation, but questions kept occurring to me that no one was ever going to answer. Readable and witha few very nice scenes, but not memorable. 7/5/18

Space Tug by Murray Leinster, Pocket, 1953   

The sequel to Space Platform is more of the same, but in space. Unknown enemies are firing missiles at the US space station, and an insane station commander does not help the situation. Most of the story involves efforts to defend the station, but the last few chapters involve a off course moonship and our hero’s brilliant plan to save the day. Quite dated and not as good as its predecessor, which - like this one - feels like a young adult novel even though it has no teenage characters. I was pleasantly surprised that the only female character is competent and actually solves some of the problems that arise, which was unusual in 1950s SF. 7/3/18

Keepers by Brenda Cooper, Pyr, 2018, $18, ISBN 978-1-63388-421-2

Brenda Cooper's latest reflects her strong interest in environmental concerns and her passion for the subject is obvious. Future Earth consists of large environmentally conscious cities separated by wide expanses of undeveloped land. It is in many respects a Utopian setting. But as usual, there is a flaw in the ointment. There is a subset of humanity which longs for the days of rapaciousness and exploitation, and is determined to force the world to change to suit them. The story is told from the points of view of two sisters, one of whom lives in a city, the other tends to prefer a natural setting. But both are opposed to the Returners. The contrasts between the lives of the two sisters is particularly important to the telling of the story. I don't want to give away the ending, but I do expect a return to this world in the author's next book. 7/1/18