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

LAST UPDATE 8/20/19

More Things in Heaven by John Brunner, Dell, 1973

This is the expanded version of The Astronauts Must Not Land. The premise struck me as improbable in the original and nothing here changes my opinion. There is more talking, the relationship between the two main characters is somewhat more developed, and the prose is improved, but the new material is almost invisible and was likely added because the shorter version could not be reprinted given the longer word count requirements.  8/20/19

Polymath by John Brunner, DAW, 1974 

This is the expanded version of Castawaysí World.  This was one of the best of Brunnerís Ace doubles but once again the extended version really doesnít add anything noteworthy to the original story. The two groups of stranded refugees interact in the same ways, the villains try the same tricks, and they are thwarted in the same fashion. A very enjoyable story in either version. 8/20/19

Swords Against the Moon Men by Christopher Paul Carey, ERB, 2017

This is an addition to the Moon Maid series by Edgar Rice Burroughs, taking place after the Kalkars from the moon have conquered Earth. Our hero disguises himself as one of the invaders in order to reach the moon and rescue a party of Martian diplomats that includes John Carter. He has various adventures, but of course we know that the invasion continued for many more generations. The author does a good job of copying Burroughsí story structure and prose style, so this should be quite pleasing for fans. 8/18/19

The Odious Ones by Jerry Sohl, Rinehart, 1959 

A group of college friends begin to die, one by one. Some commit suicide. Others are murdered. Somehow each of the victims has somehow become infected with something that makes all living things fear or hate them. The protagonist, who is eventually infected himself, eventually figures out that someone is doing this on purpose and he has to figure out who it is before he attracts another unfavorable attention to become the next to die. Low key but better than a lot of the authorís other, better known, novels. 8/17/19

The Antares Maelstrom by Greg Cox, Gallery, 2019, $16, ISBN 978-1-9821-1320-9

A Star Trek novel from the original series. The discovery of some valuable minerals on a remote planet sets off a rush by multiple parties to exploit them. Although it is outside of Federation space, the increased traffic, chaos, and even threats of violence cause trouble for nearby installations and colonies. Starfleet decides to send Kirk and crew to handle the situation, but the challenge facing them would be too much for the entire fleet. A series of near disasters follows while Kirk and Sulu play major roles in restoring order. The planet causing all the trouble agrees to join the Federation, which helps lead to a peaceful conclusion. There is also a strange phenomenon in space nearby - see the title - which contains more than anyone expected to find there. Reasonably standard Trek story and nicely told. 8/16/19

The City and the Cygnets by Michael Bishop, Fairwood Press, 2019, $19.99, ISBN 978-1-933846-78-1

This is an omnibus of the Domed Atlanta stories from early in the author's career, significantly rewritten for this edition. The series was previously published as the novel, A Little Knowledge, and a collection, Catacomb Years. These number among my fondest memories from the late 1970s. Together they describe a mega-Atlanta of the future which is enclosed under a dome and becomes in due course a kind of theocracy. Naturally that results in inequities among the inhabitants, but since the cities are more or less independent nations, there is no outside force to which they can appeal. The eventual arrival of aliens who are somewhat strangely absorbed into this civilization is the crisis point. Several of the episodes remain vividly in my memory, although it has been so long since I last read them that I couldn't begin to guess which parts had been rewritten. And while the author wasno more a prophet than were his peers, there are several elements in the book that are eerily reminiscent of some of the things that are happening in this country today. A new edition was long overdue. 8/15/19

The Girls with Kaleidoscope Eyes by Howard V. Hendrix, Fairwood Press, 2019, $17.99, ISBN 978-1-933846-77-4

I was aware of Hendrix as a novelist but for some reason was less conscious of him as a writer of short stories, although he has published more than four dozen. This selection of ten is dominated by the title story and all of them, I believe, first appeared in Analog. Although Hendrix has something of a reputation as a writer of "hard" SF, I found that less accurate in reference to this collection, which is at times playful with themes and science as well. I had read all of these stories when they first appeared. About half of them I remembered, generally quite fondly, and a couple seemed fresh enough that I either inadvertently skipped them or hadn't been paying sufficient attention at the time. They run the gamut from fun to thoughtful, but they are invariably readable. I was particularly struck this time through by "Monuments of Unageing Intelllect," plus the title novella. More than worth your time and money. 8/15/19

Enigma from Tantalus by John Brunner, Ace, 1965 

A human team is exploring the nature of a gestalt organism on a distant world that creates new forms of itself to accomplish various tasks. They discover one day that the alien has created a duplicate of one of the people on a starship that recently landed and may be sending an extension of itself to Earth. An expert from Earth tries to figure out which of them is bogus. He eventually does, but the alien wins after all. Thereís a small but irritating flaw in the plot, too complicated to explain easily, but it involves the rationale for why the doppelganger was accepted despite no record of his existence. 8/14/19

The Avengers of Carrig by John Brunner, Dell, 1969 

This is the expanded version of Secret Agent of Terra. Although there is much more detail and the prose is improved, this isnít really very different from the shorter original version. Offworlders try to exploit a lost colony world. The interstellar police have an agent look into the matter and she, with the help of a young local person, thwart the villains, who are all killed, and restore the independence of the colony. As with Star Trekís Prime Directive, I have significant ethical questions about the supposedly benevolent hands-off policy, but given the context, this is still one of Brunnerís better adventure stories.  8/14/19

The Time Dissolver by Jerry Sohl, Avon, 1957 

This was one of the authorís best works despite a somewhat weak ending. A man and a woman wake up in a hotel room. Neither of them recognizes the other, but they are apparently man and wife. Both have lost eleven years of memories. Separately at first and then together, they retrace their missing lives to find out how this could have happened. The solution, of course, is a memory wiping machine, which it turns out he invented only to have it stolen by his boss, who then used it against him. At the end, they decide not to have their memories restored because they are happy as they are. I thought that was nonsense. 8/13/19

One Against Herculum by Jerry Sohl, Ace, 1959 

Cheated of a high paying job by a corrupt official on a distant colony world, the hero takes out a one day license as a criminal, his crime to be the murder of his enemy. But the entire police force is determined to prevent him from succeeding. He conveniently runs into a gang of discontents living in the sewers and rather improbably becomes their leader. They launch a rebellion that has even far wider reaching consequences than the removal of a single man. Implausible but kind of fun. 8/11/19

The Squares of the City by John Brunner, Ballantine, 1965  

A novel based on a famous chess match. The setting is a modern city in a mythical South American country where the president uses subliminal perception and other propaganda to influence the population, which has a large percentage of naturalized foreigners. The people displaced when the city was built have been living in slums and the protagonist is hired to eliminate the slums, not by replacing them with better facilities but by redesigning the traffic pattern to make their continuation impossible. He finds himself caught in a battle between two factions who use murder, arson, intimidation, and others means to get their way. This is only marginally SF, but it was far and away Brunnerís most ambitious and best written novel at that point in his career, much better than his Hugo nominated The Whole Man. There is an appendix with the moves from the game and a chart showing who is which piece. For some reason I liked it a great deal more this time than when I originally read it. 8/10/19

The Repairmen of Cyclops by John Brunner, Ace, 1965 

One of the ďcivilizedĒ worlds is home to an organization that is harvesting organs from the inhabitants of a lost colony world. The Corps Galactica is ordered to leave the planet when it appears possible that the plot will be uncovered, but an agent and a local fisherman set out on a secret mission to find proof of what is going on. This was one of the better of Brunnerís early other worlds adventure stories, part of the Zarathrustra Refugee Planet series. There is a nice set of villains and while not particularly deep, it is thoroughly entertaining. 8/8/19

The Mars Monopoly by Jerry Sohl, Ace, 1956  

After running into trouble with a powerful man on Earth, the protagonist decides to become an asteroid prospector based on Mars. Unfortunately, he discovers that corruption up to and including murder are the order of the day and even when he makes a major strike, he is prevented from selling his ore. He finally teams up with a widow who tends bar to uncover the truth and foil the bad guys. Quite old fashioned but not without its charm. 8/8/19

Into the Slave Nebula by John Brunner, Lancer, 1968

This is the expanded version of Slavers of Space. The protagonist is drawn into the murder of an interstellar diplomat and decides to investigate. Eventually he discovers that the androids that are sold on countless planets are actually human beings treated to make their skins blue and conditioned to think they are artificial. The premise for this one is so implausible that even a major rewrite couldnít help. 7/31/19

Catch a Falling Star by John Brunner, Ace, 1968 

This is the expanded version of The 100th Millennium. A rogue star is on the way to destroy Earth and a man sets out to find a city with the technology to avert the disaster.  The world has become largely decadent and/or deserted so he doesnít have much luck, but fortunately people from unsuspected human colony worlds are coming back to save the day. The expansion adds a lot of detail but does not change the plot at all. 7/31/19

Worms by James R. Montague, Valancourt, 2018 (originally published in 1979)  

I thought this was going to be just psychological horror until late in the book. A henpecked man murders his wife and settles in a coastal community where he quickly develops a phobia about worms, which he apparently connects to his wifeís death, though for no obvious reason. He becomes involved in the opposition to an experimental nuclear reactor being built nearby, and thatís when the story changes dramatically. The reactor causes all of the worms in the area to become aggressive. Quite well written. This was the pseudonym of Christopher Wood, who did the screenplays and novelizations for two of the James Bond movies. 7/30/19

Earth by Ben Bova, Tor, 2019, $29.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-9719-5

Bova's Grand Tour of the solar system would not be complete without including our own planet. The initial premise has been done before. A distant even has unleashed a wave of deadly radiation that is approaching the Earth at the speed of light. An alien race has provided a kind of force field that can protect the whole system, but they ask humanity to help protect other races in a similar fashion. Unfortunately humans have become divided among themselves. The prosperous areas are content to enjoy themselves and send discontents out to harsher environments to survive, and naturally that leads to bitter resentment. It appears that humanity's self generated problems might present nearly as great a threat as the radiation, and it certainly diverts their attention from any greater purpose. I can't help wondering how much of this novel reflects current events. 7/29/19

The Enterprise War by John Jackson Miller, Gallery, 2019, $16, ISBN 978-1-9821-1331-5

A Star Trek novel featuring Captain Christopher Pike. War has just broken out between the Federation and the Klingons, so naturally Pike wants to return to Earth to receive new orders. Unfortunately, things don't always go as they are planned. They happen to be in a contentious area of space and when Spock prevails upon Pike to delay their return slightly while he continues an investigation, it has consequences far beyond what either of the men had anticipated. And Spock might be risking his very self. I had a little trouble accepting that Pike would make the decision to delay his return, but after that point the story was well told. 7/29/19

Point Ultimate by Jerry Sohl, Bantam,   

A very bad Red Scare novel which Damon Knight famously tore to shreds when he reviewed it. The ďcommiesĒ have conquered the world and have released a plague that requires everyone to get a monthly inoculation. The protagonist discovers that he is immune and sets out to find the resistance. He gets caught by a depraved communist Ė who actually doesnít appear to be remotely communist Ė escapes, finds the band of good gypsies, and discovers that the resistance has somehow built a secret base on Mars where they train people to undermine the conquerors. Bad from start to finish, and full of dumb speeches. 7/25/19

Costiganís Needle by Jerry Sohl, Bantam,  1954

An irascible scientist stumbles on a discovery that makes instantaneous travel between worlds possible. The problem is that only living things can pass through, not clothing, ropes, cameras, or anything else. No one who has gone through ever returns. Then a saboteur causes an entire city block full of people to be sent into an alternate Earth where they eventually build a settlement and recreate the needle. But at the end, they all decide that they prefer to stay there than return to Earth. Stupid ending and some of the details of how the scientists and politicians deal with the discovery had me scratching my head wondering what the author was thinking. 7/23/19

Give Warning to the World by John Brunner, DAW, 1974

This is the expanded version of Echo in the Skull. There is a good deal of added material and several incidents in the original are changed or rearranged. The protagonist still rescues a woman from a pair of alien possessed people who have murky motives. She still has visions of life on other worlds. Most of the really awkward moments in the earlier version have been altered or smoothed over, and there is some variation in the order in which events take place. The aliens are still not particularly believable, however, and while some of the characters are more realistically depicted, others are just as flat as they were before. 7/21/19

The Altered Ego by Jerry Sohl, Pennant, 1954 

In the future, selected people of importance can have their personalities recorded so that if they die, their bodies can be reconstructed and the recorded version transferred into the brain. Unfortunately, an industrialist who undergoes this process wakens with some significant alterations of his personality. Another personality has been loaded into his brain, and itís up to the son to find a way to prove this to the police. The climax cheats Ė the hero gets killed and is only restored because the police have been secretly monitoring the situation. The villains are all apprehended offstage. 7/19/19

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

 

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