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


To Conquer Chaos by John Brunner, Ace, 1964   

Civilization has collapsed in a distant future. A more progressive local ruler wants to investigate the Barrenlands, a large area where nothing grows and out of which periodically appear monsters never seen on Earth. There is a legend that people used to literally walk to the stars, so itís obviously some kind of teleportation center that is still functioning. The story takes some unexpected turns and includes a trek across the blasted land, the solution of a centuries old mystery, and the description of two different surviving cultures. This was one of the best of Brunnerís early novels. 7/17/19

The Whole Man by John Brunner, Ballantine, 1964 

This was originally three separate stories. In the first, a deformed infant grows to maturity in the aftermath of some unexplained nationwide collapse. He discovers that he is a powerful telepath and is taken into their ranks. After overcoming some problems, he becomes a curative telepath, using his talent to help people come to terms with trauma and other psychological problems. After dealing with another telepath who captures other people in a mental fantasy world, he revisits his home town in search of a way to fulfill his own life and makes new friends who show him the way. The book made it onto the Hugo ballot and was clearly among Brunnerís best early fiction. 7/14/19

Endless Shadow by John Brunner, Ace, 1964 

The Bridge system teleports people and freight among forty planets, but is headquartered on Earth. Two lost colonies have just been discovered, one a matriarchy, the other harboring a dark cult. This was serialized as Bridge to Azrael and later expanded as Manshape. The head of the project has a nervous breakdown after meeting the representative from a system which worships pain and death. If that planet refuses to join the system, this will cause a wave of disillusion that will result in mass suicides on other planets. Brunner never really explains this. But although that is their plan, the government of Azrael is hypocritical and gets tricked into agreeing to join. Not very convincing. 7/12/19

Listen! The Stars! by John Brunner, Ace, 1963  

This is a very disappointing novella that is similar to Brunnerís The Dreaming Earth. People are using a new invention to listen to strange sounds which appear to have an intelligent origin. Some of them suddenly vanish. Although it is neve really explained, apparently the noises are from an alien intelligence that passes on the knowledge of how to use teleportation and telekinesis. A secret group of users destroy all of the nuclear weapons in the world. Silly, not well thought out, and implausible. This was later expanded as The Stardroppers. 7/9/19

The Transcendent Man by Jerry Sohl, Bantam, 1953  

A journalist agrees to help investigate sabotage at a secret project to develop regeneration of limbs, pretending to be writing a profile of the scientist in charge of the project. But it appears that the man may himself be the saboteur. There are also hints of superhuman powers Ė a young boy who appears capable of teleportation, and the scientist, who telepathically invades the protagonistís dreams. The story falls apart in the second half when we learn that discorporate aliens from another plane of existence create human bodies to occupy for a while so that they can harvest thought energy from people who die. They have enhanced human intelligence so that we have more devastating wars and thus release more thought energy. The last eighty pages are a real struggle to get through. 7/8/19

Trapped in the R.A.W. by Kate Boyes, Aqueduct, 2019, $20, ISBN 978-1-61976-159-9

I like occasional forays into unusual writing formats. These often provide a new perspective in how the writing process works. This novel mixes a conventional format with other sections that use no paragraph indentation, part of it is epistolary, and occasional it seems almost surreal. The protagonist is a woman shocked when an unidentified invasion force conquers her community. It is likely that they are aliens. She barricades herself in the library, determined to protect the books. It is an interesting experiment, and parts of it are quite powerful, but I don't think it would really hold together as a narrative for many readers, particularly those who want to understand everything that is happening right from the outset. 7/7/19

Alien Main by T.L. Sherred and Lloyd Biggle, Doubleday, 1985

When Sherred had a stroke, Biggle finished this sequel to Alien Island. Unfortunately it is a complete disaster. Two hundred years after the war destroyed Earth, descendants of the few survivors return, hoping to rebuild civilization. They discover that the war was caused by agents of an unknown alien race. Boring, implausible, badly written, and sometimes rather silly. 7/6/19

Knight by Timothy Zahn, Tor, 2019

Second in the Sibyl's War series. Humans and other aliens have been abducted to serve as maintenance crews and to serve other purposes aboard a gigantic alien starship. Factions battle for control of parts of the ship, which appears to be engaged in battle with external forces as well. The protagonist is a woman who discovers she has more power than do her peers, and she is determined to become more than a piece on the chessboard where these conflicts are resolved. I didn't like this as much as I did Pawn, first in the series, probably partly because much of the fun of discovery is over with, and partly because it only advances the plot to a limited extent. Will still read the next, however, as soon as it appears. 7/3/19

The Haploids by Jerry Sohl, Lion, 1952   

Although the science in this authorís first novel is not very accurate, the writing is otherwise very competent. A newspaper reporter inadvertently stumbles into a conspiracy which sends several men to the hospital with a fatal disease that attacks every cell of their bodies. A mysterious young woman is on the periphery of the case, but he can never quite catch up to her. He eventually discovers that a group of parthenogenetically created women, the haploids, are using a special kind of radiation to kill off all the males in the world. Degenerates into misogyny, and the female protagonist changes sides immediately when our hero forcibly kisses her. Hopelessly dated. 7/1/19