to SF Reviews

of SF Reviews

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


Architect of Memory by Karen Osborne, Tor, 2020, $17.99, ISBN 978-1-250-21547-5

The protagonist of this space opera is a salvage pilot working in one of these fairly common SF futures where the corporations effectively rule space and many people have become indentured servants/slaves trapped into perpetual servitude. She has a unique problem in that she suffers a terminal illness which will probably not be cured unless she gets out of her indenture. Then she and her co-workers salvage an enigmatic device from the wreckage about a colony world that was devastated by enigmatic aliens. This changes everything, and not just for the protagonist. This was an entertaining first novel about which I have only minor quibbles. The first few chapters felt a bit rushed, as though the author was in a hurry to present the premise. The romantic element feels a bit self-conscious, particularly early on. Both of these become less of an issue as the story progresses. 8/8/20

High Vacuum by Charles Eric Maine, Ballantine, 1957

The first spaceship to the moon crashes because there is a stowaway aboard and her weight throws off the fuel consumption rate. She came because she didn’t want to be separated from her boyfriend, who is killed in the crash. There is a good deal of questionable science even for the time, and the first half of the book in particular is slow moving and uninteresting. The characters are flat and there are some amazingly tone deaf scenes. For example, when the first landing on the moon is about to happen, mission control is manned only by two bored technicians. An unusual but not entirely successful variation of survival in space. 8/5/20

The Man Who Couldn’t Sleep by Charles Eric Maine, Lippincott, 1956 

Also published as Escapement.  Another mostly dull and sometimes unbelievable SF thriller. The protagonist invents a method of recording and playing back emotions. He does this at a major hospital, but no one but this one man knows how to operate the equipment. A movie producer decides this is not only the key to a fortune but also the means by which he can elevate his cult following to dominate the world. Boring and unconvincing. There is a reason why several of Maine’s novels never saw a paperback edition in the US.  8/3/20

Timeliner by Charles Eric Maine, Bantam, 1955  

I didn’t like this when I read it in high school and it hasn’t improved with age. An experiment causes a scientist to mentally travel into the future and occupy another man’s body until he commits suicide, at which point he jumps to another even farther from his home time. But then he spends a lot of time switching bodies in that world for no apparent reason before going forward again. Each time he is involved with a woman who is the exact duplicate of his wife from his original time. There are no sensible rules and the individual episodes are quite boring. 8/2/2-

Crisis 2000 by Charles Eric Maine, Corgi, 1955 

The magazine version was called Wall of Fire. This is a really bad novel about a future world’s fair that is disrupted by the arrival of a flying saucer full of aliens from Saturn. They want to exhibit as well. Their early activities are interpreted as hostile even though they aren’t - although frankly despite Maine’s excuses they actually are. It all gets sorted out finally and we become friends with them. The account of human responses is at the comic book level. A colonel is given full authority to deal with the aliens, including attacking them with nuclear weapons in the middle of Manhattan. Really? Far and away the author’s worst book. 7/31/20

Uranus by Ben Bova, Tor, 2020, $27.99, ISBN 978-1-250-29654-2

I really enjoy hard SF, at least when it has a decent story to provide structure and good characterization to convince me that it could be real. Bova has been doing this for decades now. As On a Darkling Plain was one of my early favorites and the Grand Tour series and associated works have been consistently among my favorites in recent years. This welcome new novel is the first in the Outer Planets trilogy, so I'm guessing Neptune and Pluto are on their way. A manned landing on Uranus is impossible, so the story largely takes place in an orbiting habitat that is involved with studying the planet below. The habitat has other functions, however, being key to a religious leader as well as a nexus for various criminal activities. And the people responsible for the last are less than welcoming when the habitat becomes a place of popular interest throughout the solar system. Predictable danger and unrest follow with several innocents caught in the middle. Realistic, evocative, and as always entertaining. 7/30/20

Spaceways by Charles Eric Maine, Pan, 1953   

A novelization of Maine’s teleplay. A newly appointed security officer at a facility building a ship designed to take a permanent orbit around the Earth is troubled by a love triangle among the staff.  Eventually the errant wife and her lover disappear and the spaceship drops into a lower orbit than expected, as though there was some extra weight aboard. Hmmm. The protagonist is, despite Maine’s attempt to make him look good, incredibly incompetent. No guards on the perimeter, no guards on the spaceship itself, no investigation when a major scientist disappears until the next day, no query about why the wronged husband is showing signs of having been in a fight, and he also disobeys direct orders to beef up security.  7/29/20

The Breach by Edward J. McFadden III, Severed Press, 2018 

A vicious hurricane apparently wakens a monster from the deep, a giant scorpion. A somewhat disreputable police officer specializing in activities on the water is instrumental in destroying it, although at the end we discover that it laid eggs. This isn’t badly written, but the kaiju stories from this publisher seem to follow a pretty set pattern so there is one cliché after another. If you like SyFy channel monster movies, this should be right up your alley.  7/28/20

Island by Aldous Huxley, Bantam, 1962

A man arranges to be shipwrecked on a forbidden island with a utopian civilization. As usual, he gets a grand tour and discovers that his original purpose, to convince the local people to sell oil rights, is no longer appealing. Alas, utopian societies would not be allowed to exist in our world and the book ends with their conquest by a neighboring country. This was much more interesting than most utopian novels and the society considerably more plausible. It was Huxley’s final novel. 7/27/20

The Martian Menace by Eric Brown, Titan, 2020 

A second invasion of Earth by Mars is more peaceful, but the Martians are clearly in charge. Holmes solves a murder mystery for the Martians – actually he contrives a fake story to cover up something else – and that sets the stage for his invitation to travel to Mars and look into the murder of a prominent Martian philosopher. Holmes goes to Mars accompanied by Watson and Professor George Challenger. There is also a mysterious woman who works as a steward aboard the Martian ship and who warns them that they are in danger. The intrigues on Mars are more amusing that adventurous. Rubber Martian suits as disguises? Moriarty turns up, conspiring with the Martians and ultimately betrayed by them. This is more of a spoof than a serious mystery. 7/25/20

After Many a Summer Dies the Swan by Aldous Huxley, Bantam, 1939 

This is one of my favorite Huxley novels. A British academic provides us with a satirical look at California when he is hired to examine some centuries old papers purchased by a very rich but totally immoral businessman. The latter is obsessed with finding a way to extend his lifespan and has hired a team of scientists to work on the problem. It is the academic, however, who finds the solution and leads them to a man two centuries old who survives entirely on raw fish guts. He has gone mad in the process. The story ends with the businessman inclining toward following in his footsteps. 7/22/20

Stargonauts by David Garnett, Orbit, 1994 

Humorous SF has mostly gone out of style in recent years, maybe because there is so little to be amused about in real life. This is the story of a rich man’s quest to become even richer, set against a background of interstellar travel. His plans go awry almost immediately, of course, because he has not properly anticipated the machinations of his ex-wives as well as business rivals. There are swindlers and aliens and befuddled lawyers and space pirates. It is actually a frequently funny send up of various things, including science fiction itself. There are a couple of loosely related sequels that I have not seen.7/20/20

Master of Light by Maurice Renard, Black Coat, 2010 (originally published in 1933)

Although I found this slow moving and occasionally out of focus, it’s an interesting novel in that it anticipates slow glass, which Bob Shaw used to great effects decades later. The premise is that there is a dense form of glass that can retard the passage of light, in this case for a full century. The protagonist is able to use some of the glass to prove that an old family feud is based on false information, which removes the bar to his romantic interest in the daughter of the rival family. Much more concerned with the characters than are the other Renard novels that I have read. 7/15/20

Ape and Essence by Aldous Huxley, Bantam, 1948  

This dystopian satire is primarily the text of a script embedded in a contemporary frame. The script is set after a nuclear war. New Zealand sends an expedition to California to find out what happened there. The survivors are savage and worship the devil. One of the scientists is captured but eventually escapes. There are thematically related anecdotes sprinkled through the narrative. I had difficulty slogging through this one even though it is quite short. 7/14/20

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Bantam, 1932

After Orwell, this is probably the best known dystopian novel. It's set in a future where human reproduction is mostly conducted in a laboratory through cloning and children are raised and conditioned by the state. It was the author's extrapolation of trends he detected in society. A naturally born human, a kind of noble savage, becomes a celebrity but is eventually driven to insanity and ultimately suicide. When I read this in high school, I thought the ideas were fascinating but that the story was boring. My second reading more than fifty years later comes to the same conclusion. 7/9/20

The Blue Peril by Maurice Renard, Black Coat, 2010   (originally published in French in 1910)

Brian Stableford adapted this novel, which I don't believe has been previously available in English. The French countryside is terrorized by a series of thefts and abductions, which include sightings of objects and persons flying off into the sky. There are sightings of balloon-like objects and eventually an astronomer spots a floating island high in the atmosphere. There is an alien form of life living there which considers our atmosphere as a kind of ocean and they are collecting samples for their museum. It's a bit long winded but generally quite entertaining, although the ending kind of fizzles out. 7/6/20

Anthems Outside Time by Kenneth Schneyer, Fairwood, 2020, $18.99, ISBN 978-1-933846-92-7 

I had only read five of the stories in this collection before and there is no list of credits so I am not sure where the others appeared. Some of them are probably original to the collection.(CORRECTION:  A couple of pages were stuck together and there is a list of sources.)  I confess I had no recollection at all of the stories which I had read, so obviously I had no pre-existing impression of the author. They vary quite a lot in structure and tone as well as plot, although all are done well. A few are extended jokes. Others are deadly serious. Some are written in a non-traditional format, which might put off some readers who prefer conventional narration.  Authors willing to experiment are almost always interesting to watch, even less skilled ones than Schneyer. “Selected Program Notes” and “Keepsakes” were the two I liked best, and “The Plausibility of Dragons” is quite amusing. I think this is one of those collections that most people should read in small doses rather than straight through, even though all of the stories are individually good to very good. They do often require you to pay close attention. The extra effort is worth it. 7/3/20