to SF Reviews

of SF Reviews

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


Forerunner Foray by Andre Norton, Ace, 1973

Unfortunately it appears that Norton had been taken in by fraudulent psychics and now believed in psychometry because she provides an introduction suggesting it is a legitimate scientific tool. Her protagonist is Ziantha, a thief who has psychic powers. She encounters an artifact which is sentient. It compels her to travel to another planet, mentally travel back through time – twice, inhabit other people’s bodies, and solve physical problems that prevent the artifact from being united with another of its own kind. The ending is quite exciting but the novel as a whole feels like a string of unrelated stories. 8/10/22

The Raid on the Termites by Paul Ernst, Armchair, 2022 (originally published in 1932) 

A man obsessed with the study of termites is given a chance to visit them more intimately when a friend invents a shrinking machine. The two of them have various adventures inside a termite nest before reaching the leader, and it turns out that termites are an intelligent specie with a distinct civilization. This was rather more entertaining than it might seem by the description. Ernst was one of those writers who always seemed to be on the verge of writing something memorable, but who never made it across the line. 8/8/22

Menace of the Saucers by Eando Binder, Leisure, 1969

Night of the Saucers by Eando Binder, Leisure, 1971 

The first of these is a superlatively awful book. The protagonist sees two flying saucers battling and takes pictures. Men in Black appear and try to seize the photos. He eventually discovers that they represent an evil alliance of races led by the Morlians, who want to enslave Earth. They are opposed by an alliance of benevolent aliens, the Galactic Vigilantes. Our hero is recruited by the latter and helps thwart the latest nasty masterplan. The prose is even worse than the absurd plot. In the sequel, our hero is engaged in discrediting UFO stories to conceal the truth when another alien race arrives, also determined to exploit humanity, and must be foiled without a public outcry. Marginally better. 8/6/22

Double Identity by Raymond Gallun, Armchair, 2022 (originally published in 1953) 

A so-so novella in which the inhabitants of the Moon – about whom Earth knows nothing – have decided that their civilization is dying, A prominent scientist develops a way to transfer their consciousness into human bodies so that they can visit and perhaps conquer the Earth. This ends surprisingly amicably with the two races reconciling and deciding to live together, with Earth helping the Lunarians compensate for the shortages in their environment. 8/5/22

The Impossible World by Eando Binder, Curtis, 1967 (Originally published in 1938)

An expedition lands on Iapetus, which has a breathable atmosphere! They explore a cave and all who enter fall into a coma. Bio-engineered humans live on ten planets and moons, including Jupiter. A reclusive scientist refuses to help. A second expedition is sent to investigate further and it is attacked en route by a mysterious spaceship. Eventually they discover that an alien race inside Iapetus is attempting to turn the entire moon into a kind of giant piratical spaceship with which they can plunder the wealth of the solar system. The good guys prevent them from doing so in typical pulp fashion.  8/3/22

The Moon of Doom by Earl L. Bell, Armchair, 2022 (originally published in 1928)

The rotation of the Earth speeds up and nobody notices anything except that the days are shorter! The moon is getting closer to Earth. Typical disaster story passages follow, not very well done. Finally a select few people are able to escape to the moon as the surface of the Earth becomes uninhabitable. The process of selecting the survivors is pretty elitist. The story ends rather than concludes with them deciding that the Earth will not actually strike the Earth so their future is assured, if rather different. Not remotely interesting.  8/3/22

Ice Crown by Andre Norton, Viking, 1970 

A small group of people are sent to clandestinely investigate rumors of alien artifacts on a planet closed to the rest of human civilization because it was founded as an experiment and has built a kind of feudal society. Although this is set on another planet, it is really a fantasy quest story. The protagonist and a local princess have to track down a missing crown that provides legitimacy to the ruling family of a major nation. There is superscience – both alien and human – which are virtually magic. The usual court politics are also involved. Some of the technology is frankly magic. 8/3/22

The Mummy! by Jane Webb, Poisoned Pen, 2022 (originally published in 1827)

The first English language story to feature a reanimated mummy was SF, not horror, and appeared only shortly after Frankenstein. It takes place in 2126. England is not all that different, actually, and is still illogically sexist. The protagonist goes to Egypt and participates when a battery is used to restore a mummy to life. The mummy refuses to be property, however, wins his freedom, and travels to England where he upsets a good many matters while sharing his insightful comments about human nature and modern society. The prose is not as dated as I expected, and some of the barbs are aimed at targets that are no longer of particular interest, but the novel is much better than I had expected. 8/1/22

Outside by Andre Norton, Camelot, 1974

The Day of the Ness by Andre Norton and Michael Gilbert, Walker, 1975 

Two novels for younger readers, both novellas actually. In the first, two young children live in a domed city in a distant future after pollution has destroyed much of the world. They discover the truth about the world outside the dome. The second is interesting chiefly for its illustrations – I actually own some of the original artwork by Gilbert.  A young boy helps mysterious aliens overcome their nasty enemy. The first is expanded from a rare short story, but neither of these has much to offer older readers. The Michael Gilbert artwork in the latter is its chief appeal - I actually own some of the originals. 7/29/22

Skies of Venus by Neal Romanek, ERB, 2022 

This is a pastiche of the Carson Napier novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs, but without Carson Napier. A falsely condemned man is magically transported to Venus where he has various adventures among the human inhabitants of that planet. All of the trappings are here and the story is mostly entertaining. I had recently reread the original series, which was better than I remembered, but while ERB was able to make me believe outrageous nonsense, this sometimes seemed to try too hard. I really didn’t care about the details of the various cultures that were patently ridiculous to start with. 7/28/22

Three Miles Down by Harry Turtledove, Tor, 2022, $26.99, ISBN 978-1-250-82972-8

A graduate student is recruited by the CIA to provide cover for a special mission on Howard Hughes' supership during the 1970s. Originally it had been planned to recover a sunken Russian submarine using a robotic arm, but there is a bigger prize - an alien spaceship apparently still at least partly functional. The story is logically presented without unnecessary melodrama. The protagonist gradually realizes that he is in more danger from his own government than from the crew of the spaceship. This is a plausible and entertaining alternate history novel that suggests how such a discovery might play out in the real world, although the consequences are left to the reader's imagination. One of Turtledove's best despite its relatively low key delivery. 7/27/22

Threshold of the Stars by Paul Berna, Black Knight, 1950 

This is a young adult novel originally published in French. Two young boys are living in the restricted community where plans are being made for the first trip to the Moon. Alas and inevitably, foreign spies wish to prevent the French from succeeding, and the two boys turn out to be instrumental in thwarting the sabotage. Surprisingly, the boys are not somehow included in the expedition – which is usually the case in this sort of book – but instead watch from Earth as it takes place. Minor. 7/26/22

Breed to Come by Andre Norton, Ace, 1972 

Humans abandoned Earth after an incurable plague threatened to kill them all. In their absence, cats have evolved into intelligent beings. So have dogs and rats. This all would have taken millennia, but somehow human equipment left behind is still functioning, tape recordings are still good enough to play, and a primitive culture of cats somehow knows how to both use them and to interpret human language. This reads more like cat fandom fan fiction than a serious novel. The humans are apparently coming back and the cats do not want to be enslaved. Ho hum. 7/26/22

Chrysalis by Lincoln Child, Doubleday, 2022

A kind of private investigator is hired by a secretive high tech company. They are on the brink of introducing a revolutionary new kind of virtual reality to the world, but someone has begun murdering their board members by remote control. Is this connected to the new product or is that just a red herring? There's really not much mystery involved. None of the villains are even introduced as characters until it is time to unveil their identity. Although there were times when I had trouble accepting some of the premises of the story, it is nonetheless an exciting technothriller. The protagonist doesn't have much personality, though, so it was a kind of sterile adventure. There are also suggestions that he has dealt with genuine supernatural phenomena in the past, which I felt was a jarring anomaly. 7/25/22

Echoes of Time by Andre Norton & Sherwood Smith, Tor, 1999

The alien Baldies have destroyed a Russian time base on a distant planet. Two American agents team up with the Russians and use a recovered starship to travel to that world in the present and then time travel back in search of survivors. It is important that the Baldies not realize that Earth humans have left their worlds because this might cause them to meddle in our own historical development. And naturally the Russians have a secret agenda of their own that makes the mission even more difficult. 7/20/22

Atlantis Endgame by Andre Norton & Sherwood Smith, Tor, 2002 

The final time trader novel returns to Earth. An excavation has revealed that the Baldies visited ancient Atlantis – just an island in this case – before it was destroyed. A team is sent back and, sure enough, the aliens are installing equipment designed to cause earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Thwarting their plans is the instinctive solution, but if Atlantis is saved, that could imperil the existing present. So instead the team must find a way to allow the island to be destroyed without letting that serve the purpose of the intrusive aliens. The logic is a bit convoluted but it was entertaining reading. 7/20/22

Firehand by Andre Norton & P.M. Griffin, Tor, 1994 

The first of three collaborative novels extending the Time Traders series. This one is a changewar novel. The alien Baldies have interfered in the history of another planet’s human population, preventing them from developing weapons that kept the Baldies at bay generations later. Ross Murdoch is part of a team that goes back through time in order to ensure that the aliens do not alter the results of a relatively small war in order to achieve their goals. This involves training one side to use guerilla tactics and other aspects of war that were previously unknown in this culture. A bit slow but not bad. 7/18/22

Phaedra: Alastor 824 by Tais Teng, Spatterlight, 2019

A novel set in the Whelm universe created by Jack Vance, by a Dutch author, although this appears to have been written in English rather than translated. A young man and his mother return to her mysterious home world following the death of his father. He quickly learns to fit in with his peers and eventually is drawn to investigate one of the planet's wonders. The planet was altered dramatically by a long vanished race with advanced technology, and one of the things they left behind are a kind of quasi-living ship, the Galleons, who occupy the rivers and with which the human population is careful not to interact. The author captures Vance's unique tone and language very well and this feels like a lost Vance manuscript. 7/17/22

Rats of the Harbor by Ray Cummings, Steeger, 2021 (originally published in 1932) 

Three related stories about two detectives in a future New York. In the first, they track down a master criminal planning to exploit the automated mail system. Badly written, alas. We are told that no one knows what the Chameleon looks like, but then the police discuss his description, which is very detailed. The second involves the disappearance of a prominent city official who may have been kidnapped. The third and best pits out duo against a gang of pirates who use a submarine to attack defenseless ships.  7/15/22

Android at Arms by Andre Norton, Ace, 1971 

One of the least interesting of Norton’s later SF novels, loosely related to Ice Crown. The protagonist finds himself on an unknown world and assumes that his throne has been stolen when someone used an android to replace him. Or is he the android? The evidence appears to favor the second proposition. He and some other prisoners escape, but some of their number betray the others and confusion reigns supreme. The interesting question raised by the situation is never really the focus of the story, which might have been a lot better if it had been explored. 7/15/22

Derelict for Trade by Andre Norton & Sherwood Smith, Tor, 1997

The Solar Queen is almost out of fuel when it nearly crashes into a derelict ship. They manage to avoid a crash and plan to salvage the ship, but a nearby space habitat operated by an alliance of aliens begins putting obstacles in their path. It is obvious that something illegal is going on behind the scenes. The aliens are actually very sophisticated pirates who seize ships for salvage after offloading their crews. Our heroes outsmart them, of course, and rid the galaxy of a scourge. 7/13/22

Wrong Side of the Moon by Francis & Stephen Ashton, Boardman, 1952 

This is another early “realistic” account of a flight to the moon, in this case actually just to fly around it. The ship does not even take off until well past the halfway mark in the novel. There is public opposition, practical problems, disagreements among the staff, and naturally a saboteur who almost causes the entire mission to fail. This seems almost consciously to be an updating of the Jules Verne duology about the first such trip. The problem with books of this type is that they all have pretty much the same plot. 7/11/22

Redline the Stars by Andre Norton & P.M. Griffin, Tor, 1993

The Solar Queen takes on a new, temporary crew member who has a penchant for landing in trouble. They arrive on an industrial planet in search of fresh cargo, and have to battle a plague of oversized rats that infest the spaceport. They subsequently discover that the chemical industry in the city has been careless and has created a situation that could destroy the city, the spaceport, and our heroes as well. Fortunately they find a way to avert the disaster and end up being heroes. 7/8/22

A Mind for Trade by Andre Norton & Sherwood Smith, Tor, 1997 

The crew of the Solar Queen begins to develop psi powers, which comes in handy when they try to exploit a supposedly uninhabited planet rich in ores. There are pirates in their ships and their allies on the ground. The miners, however, are plagued by dangerous life forms indigenous to the planet. The humans are able to contact the creatures telepathically and discover that they are intelligent, so they forge an alliance against the various villains. This results in the liberation of the planet and a profit for our heroes. 7/8/22

Magellan by Colin Anderson, Berkley, 1970 

 Hated this when it first appeared. Decided to give it a second chance. Decided I was too nice the first time. This is an extraordinary piece of incomprehensible drivel about a future dystopia that is facing the end of its existence. But doesn’t know it. The narrative is quite literally impossible to follow. John Russell Fearn was a better writer. A strong candidate for worst novel Berkley ever published. One has to wonder whether the editor involved even read the manuscript. 7/7/22

’48 by James Herbert, Harper, 1996 

Herbert tried alternate world SF with this story in which World War II led to the release of a deadly plague that brought an end to civilization. A small group of survivors in London has to learn to cooperate in order to protect themselves from a gang of fascists led by a maniac. I didn’t like any of the characters and found the series of battles, captures, and escapes more tedious than tense. It is also too tightly focused. We get hardly a glimpse of the world outside the viewpoints of the major characters. The early sequence where they escape through the subways is probably the best part of the novel.  7/6/22

Dread Companion by Andre Norton, DAW, 1970 

Another mashup of fantasy and SF. A kind of governess is puzzled when the two children she is teaching tell her that they have an invisible companion. The companion is a woman from another reality who can transfer them from one to another, where simply eating a piece of fruit can dramatically alter one’s physical form. They have a lot of not very interesting adventures before they finally return to their own universe. Norton’s abdication of actual SF for magical explanations that make her plots easier to manage was a major disappointment and by this point I had stopped looking forward to her new novels. 7/5/22

The Day of the Brown Horde by Richard Tooker, Jacobsen, 1931 

This is a fairly well written but not very interesting story set in an impossible past in which humans and dinosaurs co-existed. A small tribe of primitives are displaced by a larger group that is migrating and they have to find a new homeland, dodging plesiosaurs and pterodactyls along the way. Tooker either didn’t know or didn’t care that there was a gap of millions of years. If you can set that aside, it’s a fair adventure story, but even then the characters are neither particularly admirable or very well drawn. I’m not surprised this is so little known. 7/3/22

Uncharted Stars by Andre Norton, Ace, 1969 

Sequel to The Zero Stone. The search for the source of the nearly magical power stones continues. Our hero and his alien sidekick travel to several planets, deal with aliens, refuse to cooperate with the authorities, are captured by and escape from space pirates, visit a legendary lost space station, turn up alien technology from an extinct race, and generally have entertaining but not unusual adventures. This was another space opera that flirted with fantasy – including the idea that stones and other inanimate objects could be imprinted with mental images accessible to telepaths. 7/2/22