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


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