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

LAST UPDATE 12/30/14 

Renaissance by A.E. van Vogt, Pocket, 1979  

This implausible, chauvinistic, and badly conceived and written novel is almost a parody of van Vogt’s other fiction. This dystopian future is run by women and men are required by law to wear rose tinted glasses which actually force them to be submissive to the opposite sex. The hero has defective glasses so he sees the truth and becomes the germ of a revolution to restore the proper state of things. But beneath this apparent conflict lies a greater one. There is yet another race of secret aliens on Earth who are the true enemies. Offensive, boring, and irritatingly simple minded. 

Inferno by Terrance Dicks, Target, 1984   

Although the unspoken and perhaps unintended message of many Doctor Who serials is that there are things man is not ready to discover. That’s the case with this one in which a project to drill deeper into the Earth then ever before encounters trouble. A strange fluid is found on some of the drillheads and contact with it eventually turns its victims into brutish killers.  In the middle of all this, the Doctor is transported to an alternate universe where Britain is a dictatorship and the people he knows have very different personalities. He has to stop the drilling project in both worlds, and get home to his own. Despite the two contending plots, this works quite well. 

Moon of Battle by J.J. Allerton, Armchair, 2012 (magazine appearance 1949) 

This is pretty much a ripoff of Edgar Rice Burroughs. A trucker has a strange blackout and wakes up on the moon, which has a breathable atmosphere. He is menaced by four armed thugs, can leap high enough to escape them, and quickly encounters a beautiful human woman.  He is immediately enmeshed in the battles among the various Lunar races, who all fortunately speak English through some amazing coincidence. The girl is, of course, a princess, the bad guys get thwarted in their plot to take over the world, and our hero decides he likes the moon better than Earth anyway. All of the bad parts of Burroughs with none of the good parts.

The Voyage of the Asteroid by Laurence Manning, Armchair, 2014, $12.95, ISBN 978-1-61287-212-4 (magazine appearance 1932)

Laurence Manning will be remembered, if at all, for his Man Who Awoke series. He wrote for only a few years and effectively stopped in 1935. This short novel reflects his interest in rocketry – he was quite active in amateur circles – and involves two scientists who are recruited into a secret trip into space. The science is, for its time, accurate enough. About half way through the book, they finally take off for Venus, which turns out to have a breathable atmosphere. Although largely ocean, the ecosphere is close enough to that of Earth that the dinosaurs resemble Earth versions very closely, even to the presence of pterodactyls. Exploration is hampered by a dense fog that never lifts. They encounter primitive tribesmen and, predictably, kill one of them unnecessarily. Eventually they make friends, sort of, and ultimately return to Earth with various scientific specimens. Despite the slow start, this was fun.  12/29/14

Revolt of the Outworlds by Milton Lesser, Armchair, 2014, $12.95, ISBN 978-1-61287-212-4 (magazine appearance 1954)

The Outworlds, which for some reason include Venus, have recently won political independence from Earth but for some reason this isn’t considered good enough and war breaks out. The protagonist is the son of the man who led the movement, but he doesn’t even know what his father’s actual position was, even though he has now become the figurehead leader of the rebellion. He gets his feet under him and begins questioning what others are telling them, discovers a plot to devastate Earth, foils it, and becomes a true leader by ending the conflict. Short and minor. 12/29/14

Silhouette by Justin Richards, Broadway, 2014, $9.99, ISBN 978-0-8041-4088-1 

The Doctor and Clara travel back to Victorian London when he notices an anachronistic energy spike and suspects an alien presence. There they team up with Madame Vastra, the Silurian detective, and her companions to investigate a carnival where several odd changes have been noticed of late, which may be connected to the mysterious murder of a man who visited the puppet show. They ultimately discover that an alien arms dealer has been tracking down humans with unusual talents, enhancing them, and turning them into weapons. This would actually have made a pretty good episode. The characters are done properly, particularly Strax the Sontaran, the mystery is reasonably clever, and the resolution amusing. Some of the "science" is pretty much magic, but that's true of the show as well. 12/27/14

The Ambassadors of Death by Terrance Dicks, Target, 1987   

This is another of the very best Doctor Who episodes. The first ship to make a round trip to Mars falls silent on the way back. Is the crew alive or has something else entered the capsule?  Whatever is aboard is communicating secretly with a group of men in London, including one who works for the space agency.  There are plots within plots in this one plus an alien race determined to destroy the Earth if their emissaries are not released. This was more effective on the screen but the novelization is pretty good as well. 12/26/13

The Robot Peril by Don Wilcox, Armchair, 2012 (magazine appearance in 1940)   

Another silly story from one of the rightly forgotten writers of the 1940s. Three people from our time are involuntarily put in suspended animation. When they are revived more than a century later, they find the world has advanced dramatically scientifically and uses robots to perform menial labor. But then they find out about “stupodes”, the ridiculous name for supposedly inferior humans who have been conditioned as laborers and who are no longer legally human. Our hero champions the fight to stop the trade in human beings, proves that it’s a fraud, and carries the day, but it’s all really rather dull. 12/24/14

Return to Earth by Bryan Berry, Armchair, 2012 (originally published in 1951) 

Bryan Berry, who also wrote as Rolf Garner, was a British writer whose work is largely unavailable in the US. This novel is set on a Venus where the populace has forgotten its origins on Earth. The protagonist steals forbidden books and discovers that everything he has been told about human history is a lie. It reads almost like a YA novel. The young protagonist learns the truth, and fortunately he knows the assistant of a man currently imprisoned for advocating space travel. The prisoner and his assistant – with no assistance – have built a viable rocketship in a remote location, and our hero wants to use it to visit Earth, which was supposedly devastated by a war at the time Venus was colonized. When our hero is captured stealing books, he is sentenced to death but – after a rescue by his friends who have invented a new kind of weapon - they all go aboard the ship and set off to Earth.  They find a small group of the few remaining humans – they just happen to have landed within walking distance of their cave.  They help the survivors battle a bunch of mutants, then quarrel among themselves. Our hero is the only one to live and he decides to help the humans re-establish civilization. Readable as a curiosity. 12/24/14

The Plague Forge by Jason B. Hough, Del Rey, 2013, $9.99, ISBN 978-0-345-53716-4

Third and final book in the Dire Earth trilogy. Most of humanity has been turned into zombies by an alien plague. Two space elevators, also built by aliens whom we haven't seen, provide refuges from the hordes and the disease. Our two heroes are back, this time running around the ruined world looking for keys to the puzzle of the alien intervention in human affairs. Various anecdotal adventures culminate in an unraveling of the mystery and a new destiny for the human race. Although this wasn't a bad set of books, I was mildly disappointed by what seemed to be a disappointing ending despite the revelations and the upturn in the prospects for humanity's survival. It was more or less what I expected and after reading three longish books I wanted something more than that. 12/23/14

In the Days of the Comet by H.G. Wells, 1906 

This is cast in the form of the memoirs of a man who lived through the Change, which we early on realize is somehow connected to the sighting of a new comet. Contemporary society is pictured as ugly, unpleasant, and stultifying. As a young man, the narrator was a self centered socialist with unrealistic expectations. Thwarted in love and caught up in the opening days of a war as well as labor/management conflict, he buys a gun and vows to kill the woman who jilted him. All of this is mixed with a great deal of long winded criticism of the nature of modern society. Wells seems to have given up on socialism at this point, considering it no better than any other political system. The comet is visible in the sky but not much attention is being paid to it since it seems to present no danger to the world. In the final third of the novel, gases from the comet alter human nature instantly and everyone becomes clearheaded and sensible. This was more of a lecture than a story and it’s not surprising that the novel has been largely forgotten. 12/22/14

Supermind by A.E. van Vogt, DAW, 1977   

This is sort of an expansion of “Research Alpha”, which was a novelette written with James H. Schmitz and which dealt with an attempt to force human evolution to accelerate. The story involves attempts to understand the universe on a kind of instinctual level and to communicate with other alien races, but it’s so erratic in its plotting that readers are likely to find it difficult to figure out just what the author was trying to accomplish.  Van Vogt would have done his reputation a great service if he had stopped writing after 1960. 12/21/14

Old Spacemen Never Die by John W. Jakes, Armchair, 2012 (magazine appearance 1951) 

Before he became a bestselling historical novelist, John Jakes wrote a lot of SF and mystery stories and novels. This novella is from quite early in his career. Although the prose isn’t bad, the science is dreadful. Jakes didn’t know what a galaxy was – he apparently meant solar system – and his ships travel from galaxy to galaxy even though they don’t have a faster than light drive. The plot involves the rivalries between two brothers, one of whom leads a security force, the other of whom is a space pirate who has developed matter transmission science – which Jakes inaccurately calls teleportation. Eventually the good brother tracks down the bad brother, steals his girlfriend, and ends the pirate threat.  Jakes would actually write some decent though not great SF later on, but this is one is terrible. 12/21/14

The Exodus Towers by Jason M. Hough, Del Rey, 2013, $9.99. ISBN 978-0-345-53714-0

Second in the Dire Earth series, in which an alien virus has turned most of the world into zombies and a giant alien space elevator is operating in Australia. Despite the SF plot, this series owes more to Clive Cussler than to Robert Heinlein. The covers, which all feature men holding large weapons, should tip you off that this is more of a men's adventure story than an extrapolation. The aliens construct a second space elevator in volume two, this time choosing South America. Our two heroes from the first - a tough scavenger and a beautiful female scientist - have led the effort to create a second safe haven here, despite the animosity of the Australian group. In addition to the hordes of zombies, there are groups of immune people still roaming the world, and a well armed and bellicose group of them also discover the new elevator. The prose is competent, the characterizations shallow but acceptable, and the story certainly moves very quickly, but by the end of this one, it feels like the author is repeating himself. I still have the third and last to read, but I won't be jumping right into it. 12/20/14

Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters by Malcolm Hulke, Target, 1975   

Novelization of the Doctor Who serial The Silurians, one of my favorites. The novelization tacks on a misguided prologue which gives away the mystery immediately. Hulke also thinks that the Doctor’s name is Doctor Who, which is false.  The Doctor is summoned to an underground research facility which has been experiencing power failures and whose staff have become succumbing to strange fears. Unbeknownst to him, initially at least, the assistant director is secretly in contact with a reptilian humanoid race which has been awakened from hibernation in the caves beneath the project. The Doctor wants to negotiate with the reptiles, Silurians, but the Brigadier has other ideas. He uses explosives to destroy the cave system and trap the Silurians in their underground vaults. 12/19/14

The Mystery Men of Mars by Carl H. Claudy, Grosset, 1933 

Claudy wrote several very bad novels of science fiction during his career. Although the characters are adult, this one feels very much like an early juvenile. Three men using what is essentially Wells’ cavorite travel in a sphere to Mars, landing in a jungle. They are captured by robotic machines directed by insectlike Martians. The Martians seem indifferent to firearms, even when some of their number are killed, and it’s not clear where the border lies between life and machine. The “real” Martians are disembodied brains kept in vaults underground. The robotic society is obviously a parody of communism. Our heroes learn to communicate, are horrified by what they hear, and return to Earth. Astonishingly bad. 12/18/14

Alas, That Great City by Francis Ashton, Dakers, 1948 

This is the sequel to The Breaking of the Seal, a novel which I read in the 1960s and about which I remember nothing except that it involved Atlantis. The story actually starts in the present with two men setting out on a mysterious voyage, only to be nearly killed in a storm. One of them begins experiencing visions of an earlier incarnation who lived in Atlantis at the time that a cosmic catastrophe destroyed that civilization and created the moon. There’s a romance as well as some adventure amidst the catastrophic events. A bit slow moving at times but the prose is quite good and the setting is competently and colorfully brought to life. 12/18/14

The Darwin Elevator by Jason M. Hough, Del Rey, 2013, $9.99, ISBN 978-0-345-53712-6 

The first volume of the Dire Earth cycle has an uneven start chiefly because the author fails to describe what is going on. The opening scene has a space elevator malfunctioning in Darwin, Australia, in a future in which an alien disease has turned the rest of the human race into subhuman savages. The elevator somehow projects an aura that protects anyone within range, and there are also some natural immunes. The malfunction causes security to challenge the ship – for no discernible reason – where the protagonist has just taken a blood sample from one of the infected. We don’t know anything about the nature of the ship, the characters, or the subhuman specimen, and those unknowns are thrown up against the unknown malfunction, the unknown society, the unknown alien virus, and the unknown origin of the space elevator. This is just too vague and I was tempted to read no further. It was like starting a trilogy with volume two. 

Things start to come together eventually. Aliens built the space elevator but never put in an appearance; it was an automated operation. We start to understand the dynamics of the Darwin area – essentially three separate groups, two on the ground, one in orbit. Our heroes are cleared of complicity in the malfunction, although it’s never really clear why they were the prime suspects, particularly since the man accusing them is actually responsible. It’s part of his plan to put pressure on the orbital habitats to make them part of their ruling council and make other concessions to his interests in Darwin. There are also factions in orbit, and the appearance of an infected crewman where infection is supposed to be impossible is a frightening but closely guarded secret. The story does have its moments but some of the plot twists result from people doing uncharacteristically stupid things, and the characters themselves are not very well drawn or differentiated. Good enough that I’ll read the next in the series, but it could have used a good editor who would have cut out at least a quarter of the prose. Given how long winded it is, I often had no idea of the physical surroundings of the characters because there was inadequate description. The book also is likely to draw fire for its treatment of female characters. 12/17/14

Engines of War by George Mann, Broadway, 2014, $9.99, ISBN 978-0-553-44766-8  80-4 

The War Doctor has only appeared briefly in the Doctor Who series, but this novel features him as the Time Lords and Daleks continue their battle through all of space and time. The Tardis crashes on a Dalek controlled human colony world and the Doctor teams up with a young woman who has been conducting a lonely guerilla war. They discover that the Daleks have developed a new weapon which not only kills people but removes them from the time line so that no one – except the Doctor – remembers that they ever existed. They also have several new kinds of Daleks pulled from alternate time lines or genetically bred. The Doctor and his new, temporary, companion inform the Time Lords of what is happening and a desperate battle ensues during which someone must make the ultimate sacrifice. Since I’m not a fan of Dalek stories, I wasn’t particularly interested in the story line but Mann writes well enough that he held my interest. 12/16/14

The Anarchistic Colossus by A.E. van Vogt, Ace, 1977 

Van Vogt was always fond of nutty ideas like Dianetics. This novel of a future anarchistic Easrth  (except that it’s not really an anarchy) involves Kirlian photography, and in the introduction he mentions that science has disproved it, but that he doesn’t believe them. Supposedly human emotions can control mechanical devices remotely. Not an auspicious beginning to yet another story of secret aliens among us, this time a race who likes to manipulate entire races as a kind of board game among themselves.  In his earlier novels, his speculative imagination was often interesting if rather silly. Most of his later novels are just silly, like this one. 

Doctor Who and The Auton Invasion by Terrance Dicks, Target, 1974 

This is the novelization of Spearhead from Space, which is one of the first Doctor Who serials I ever saw. It was also the first Jon Pertwee appearance as the Doctor, exiled to Earth because he stole the TARDIS. The opening chapter, wherein he is forced to regenerate and is given the opportunity to choose his new appearance, contradicts the now accepted rules of that show, after which he arrives on Earth and promptly falls into a coma just as some strange meteorites begin landing in England. This was the Doctor’s first encounter with the Nestene consciousness, whose plastic Autons carried out the mass mind’s will. They are among my favorite of the Doctor’s recurring enemies, although they returned infrequently in the years that followed.   

The Green Girl by Jack Williamson, Armchair, 2012 (originally published in 1930) 

A strange force begins to cut off all sunlight to Earth. A scientist, who has known about the approaching threat for years but who hasn’t told anyone, is working on a machine to counteract it. His friend, the protagonist, has long dreamed of a green girl whom he incorrectly believes is a creation of his imagination. The scientist has also built a spaceship in his spare time! It is also equipped with tractor treads and other means of locomotion so that it can be used in any environment. That’s fortunate because the threat emanates from a point six miles under the ocean. They find an undersea world complete with flying carnivorous plants. Not very surprisingly, they find the green girl and rescue her from one of the predatory plants. This is a kind of cross between Edgar Rice Burroughs and A. Merritt, with some of the virtues and flaws of each. This was one of Williamson’s earliest stories and he would get much better with practice, but it does retain some degree of charm.

Beneath by Roland Smith, Scholastic, 2014, $16.99, ISBN 978-0-545-56485-1

When his brother disappears and sends him a strange message, the protagonist of this young adult novel sets out to solve the mystery of the communities that live underneath the city. His explorations reveal what amounts to an entire, though diminutive, civilization existing out of sight of the rest of the world, although their influence spreads to the surface as well. The story is told in very short sentences and paragraphs, which is effective for a while but eventually becomes annoying and feels superficial. Mid level readers do not need to be catered to this way so it feels condescending as well. The story itself isn't bad, but the delivery is less satisfying. 12/14/14

Evil of the Daleks by John Peel, BBC, 1993  

This was one of the enhanced novelizations of a Doctor Who serial, so there’s a good deal of detail and even some minor plot elements that were not present in the televised version. The Daleks are back. They’ve captured the Doctor’s friends and are using them as hostages to force him to determine what the human factor is, the part of our collective personality that makes us so difficult to conquer – although they did in fact conquer Earth in an earlier adventure. So the Doctor has to deal with an intellectual puzzle, even though he has no intentions of helping the Daleks, and find a way to rescue his friends and defeat the villains while appearing to be cooperating with them. About average for the series, with a plus for the added material, but I’ve never cared for the Daleks so others might like it better than I. 12/13/14

The Horde from Infinity by Dwight V. Swain, Armchair, 2012 (magazine appearance 1957) 

A common opening in SF from this era was the mysterious girl who appears and leads the protagonist off into adventure, usually as in this case telling him that there is no time to explain. She disappears into a portal of some kind after telling him his brother is in trouble on Venus, so he’s off to Venus himself, although we never find out how he got there from a military post on Ganymede. There he is promptly captured and teleported to another star system ruled by a vicious alien dictator and an electronic brain. The villain is planning to invade the solar system via teleportation as soon as the brother finishes building the unit, against his will. Our hero escapes captivity with ridiculous ease and then saves the day (?) by triggering a war against the already captive worlds. He does this by launching missile attacks that devastate those planets, but after all, they weren’t his kind of human. A rather repellent story from start to finish. 12/12/14

The War Games by Malcolm Hulke, Target, 1979   

This was probably my favorite serial involving Patrick Troughton as Doctor Who. The Tardis materializes in what appears to be a World War I battlefield. Things are not as they seem and the Doctor finds himself in a series of battles drawn from various periods in history. Aliens are involved, of course, abducting humans and using them as tokens in very realistic and deadly games. The serial went on a bit too long but the novelization is quite compact and is in some ways an even better story. Troughton would soon be replaced by John Pertwee. 12/10/14

Originator by Joel Shepherd, Pyr, 2015, $18, ISBN 978-1-61614-992-5

Sixth in the Cassandra Kresnov series. Kresnov is an android investigator/special agent operating in the context of the League, an organization of worlds lately disrupted by civil war. The use of weaponry which actually effects the human psyche of mass numbers has threatened to spread into other human and even alien inhabited planets and Kresnov learns that some of the latter are very concerned about the way things are developing. There may be a way to reverse the effects, but it involves using the same technology, and that frightens some people just as much as the present threat. This is a long novel, possibly just a hair too long; I thought the ending was too protracted. But for the most part it's as good or better than the previous volumes, all of which I have enjoyed. 12/10/14

The Blood Cell by James Goss, Broadway, 2014, $9.99, ISBN 978-0-8041-4092-8 

This original Doctor Who adventure doesn’t get off to a good start. The Doctor is being processed into a prison asteroid – his personal possessions are being taken from him – but then we learn that he’s been there long enough to have attempted escape several times. So why did they just now get around to taking his personal property?  The story is told from the point of view of the warden, who appears to be marginally insane, and it doesn’t feel at all like a Doctor Who story. The prison is also troubled by inexplicable equipment failures, false alarms, and eventually the death of one of the guards and the disappearance of several prisoners. Eventually we discover a super robot is struggling with self awareness and using people as parts for its body. A chore to read this one.

Earth Factor X by A.E. van Vogt, DAW, 1976 (originally published as The Secret Galactics in 1964) 

This is another of van Vogt’s aliens among us stories, and his least interesting. The galactic have infiltrated Earth in large numbers, posing as humans, preparing to seize complete control of the planet. There are the usual distracting subplots including a shift in reality that affects the entire world, conspiracies within conspiracies, psi powers, marvelous inventions, and lots and lots of really bad dialogue. The original edition of this did not sell well, so DAW retitled it hoping to capitalize on the author’s name, but by now his reputation had sunk so low that it probably didn’t help.

The Space Pirates by Terrance Dicks, Target, 1990   

I had forgotten that this was among the lost Doctor Who serials until I started reading it and realized the story was unfamiliar to me. Space pirates are apparently sabotaging outposts in space and the government sends out ships to counterattack. When the Tardis materializes aboard one of the beacon stations, a complement of soldiers promptly arrests them as pirates. Although the Doctor escapes them fairly easily, he is also on the run from the pirates, who think he’s working for the military. I’m not terribly sorry to have missed this one. The novelization is silly, tedious, and has a terrible ending, and I assume the televised version was the same. 12/7/14

Doomsday Wing by George H. Smith, Armchair, 2012 (originally published in 1963)   

A senior Air Force commander discovers that his latest posting is to a base that could launch a doomsday strike against an enemy, effectively ending all life on Earth. He is having trouble with his ambitious wife and is troubled by growing tension in Europe. Unbeknownst to him, one of the top Soviet generals has gone insane and wants to start a nuclear war. The early chapters are mostly political diatribes about the need for preparedness, etc.  Much of the second half involves the  successive waves of nuclear strikes although at the end, a compromise is reached by which the war is ended without destroying the world. Well written but rather dated. 12/6/14

When the Sleeper Wakes by H.G. Wells, 1899 

Graham falls into a deep sleep which science cannot explain. Two centuries later he awakens to find that his investments have grown so much that he literally owns the world, which is governed by a council that rules in his name and which is not too happy to have him conscious again. Several of the predictions have come true – color television, ebooks, air travel – but clearly we have not abandoned the decimal system for one based on 12 integers, and no reason is ever provided for such a puzzling change. Nor do we have moving roadways.  Graham is held prisoner by the council until he is “rescued” by agents of Ostrog, who insist the council plans to kill him. There is a successful revolution after which Graham is the pampered guest of Ostrog, but he discovers the world is far from Utopian and that Ostrog is not a benevolent ruler any more than was the council he replaced. The second half of the book consists primarily of arguments about whether wealth or democracy is more important. Wells’ socialism is evident here but his arguments are too didactic to be moving. 12/5/`4

The Secret of Marracott Deep by Henry Slesar, Armchair, 2010 (magazine appearance 1957)   

Henry Slesar was a steady, competent writer of SF and mystery fiction during his career, but this novelette is not one of his best. A woman is menaced by a giant lobster on a beach at Hawaii, but not only does no one call the police, her husband goes swimming alone the following morning without a fear in the world, and his traumatized wife returns to the same spot on the beach where she is promptly menaced a second time. The wife was born in a secret undersea civilization which is plotting to wipe out the land people. She admits this but won’t be specific, so her husband agrees to use a truth serum on her. Various plot elements are condensed or just ignore reality in order to advance the story expeditiously. With no attempt to negotiate, the government dumps radioactive waste to wipe out all life in the region of the undersea city. Terrible ending tacked onto a mediocre story.  

The Seeds of Death by Terrance Dicks, Target, 1986 

This Doctor Who adventure is virtually a remake of one of the earlier encounters with the Cybermen, except this time it’s Ice Warriors from Mars who want to conquer the Earth. Matter transmission on Earth is for some reason administered from a base on the moon which the Ice Warriors have secretly infiltrated. The Doctor figures out what is going on and when the battle is joined he plots to change the environment at the station in order to force the invaders to become dormant, thus saving the world. The human staff are variously cooperative, confused, erratic, or hostile but  all obstacles are overcome at last. Average. 

Battering Rams of Space by Don Wilcox, Armchair, 2012 (magazine appearance 1941) 

Here’s another bizarrely absurd story from possibly the worst SF writer of all time. Mercury has been evacuated following a war with the exception of ten humans who decide to stay. Then a raiding ship from Venus captures one of them, who claims to be the spokesperson for a hidden population in the millions. They carry him back to Venus – a brutal and rather silly dictatorship – where he poses as an ambassador. An interplanetary war brings the dictatorship down, largely due to the innovations of the Mercurians. Complete balderdash.

The Man With a Thousand Names by A.E. van Vogt, DAW, 1974   

Van Vogt continued his descent into incomprehensible prose with this short novel, despite a better than average opening. The protagonist is part of the first expedition to a distant world who suddenly wakes up back on Earth and in another man’s body. There’s a mysterious alien entity, multiple parallel realities, more body swapping, a mysterious plan to alter the future of the entire galaxy, and more, none of it convincing or exciting and some of it so random that I wasn’t entirely sure what the author wanted to convey.  12/3/14

The Best of A.E. van Vogt, Pocket, 1976 

This isn’t even remotely the best of van Vogt’s short fiction and would be more appropriately titled The Uncollected, and for Good Reason, Stories of A.E. van Vogt.  The only ones worth reading are one that was collected in The War Against the Rull, a portion of Empire of the Atom, plus “The Proxy Intelligence,” and even these aren’t among the author’s most memorable shorts. “Don’t Hold Your Breath” is about a potential threat to the oxygen supply that demonstrates, particularly in the afterword, that van Vogt had little comprehension of what ecologists were saying. “All We Have on This Planet” is a dreadful attempt to criticize literary criticism. “Future Perfect” is a preachy dystopia. There are also three full essays. It is embarrassing to read most of the non-fiction, particularly the piece about Dianetics. 12/3/14

The Krotons by Terrance Dicks, Target, 1985   

Although this is an almost formulaic Doctor Who story, it is reasonably entertaining. The Doctor visits a planet where the human population has been helped to progress by the mysterious but apparently benevolent Krotons. The Doctor suspects they have ulterior motives and readers will probably be ahead of even him as the plot unfolds. The Krotons want to enslave the humans to help them on a project of their own, but they don’t count on the interference of outsiders, whom they try and fail to eliminate before their own agenda is exposed and they are sent packing. Routine but entertainingly routine. 12/3/14

Worlds Within by Rog Phillips, Armchair, 2012 (originally published in 1950)  

The hero of this early SF novel is Lin Carter, the name of a prominent fan who would eventually write several dozen books himself. This was not one of the author’s better efforts. It opens with the protagonist blandly accepting a beautiful woman who can sink through the solid floor, follows her onto an airplane after a perfunctory car chase,  jumps out of the plane with a parachute in the middle of nowhere when she asks, and finds himself on another planet, or actually an alternate Earth whose inhabitants are descended from the Incan Empire. While there he discovers a plot to destroy the Earth where he originated and, after some not particularly thrilling adventures, he foils the bad guys. Forgettable. 12/2/14

Elysium by Jennifer Marie Brissett, Aqueduct, 2014, $18, ISBN 978-1-61976-053-0

Here's an interesting first novel you might have to search for - I have never seen an Aqueduct Press book in a bookstore even though they generally deserve to be there. This one is something of a challenge and it includes elements of science fiction and fantasy both. The plot is non linear and the characters are not necessarily distinct from one another, by intent. That's really not an accurate description but it's hard to simplify a very complex story structure. The setting both is and is not the world, or reality, that we know, and you're not likely to understand much of what the plot is about until the end, which is very good, but which still doesn't answer all the questions. If you insist that your reading material be explicit and direct, this probably isn't for you despite the excellent prose style. If you like having your assumptions challenged and innovative approaches to plotting and characterization, this should suit your fancy. 12/1/14

The Invasion by Ian Marter, Target, 1985 

The identity of the mysterious aliens who have suborned a British businessman to help them plan the invasion and conquest of Earth is supposed to be a secret until late in the story, but the publisher blows that by putting a Cyberman on the cover. They’re back again after having been defeated several times in the past and the Doctor is up to the task once again, aided somewhat ineffectively by UNI T. There were some questionable moments of lapsed logic in the original story that have been preserved here, unfortunately, but otherwise Marter does a good job. Portions of the original serial have been lost but it is available on dvd with animated bridge sequences. 12/1/14

The Day the Earth Froze by Gerald Hatch, Armchair, 2012 (originally published in 1963) 

A novel of global cooling seems mildly silly today but there have been several about new ice ages. The story opens with the test firing of a CT bomb. Jeff is dismayed at the discovery of the nature of the project he has been working for and decides to leave. The girl he loves prefers to stay, and it’s obvious where the author’s sympathies lie. The love triangle is rather simplistic but not badly done. Coincidentally, the Russians exploded a CT bomb almost simultaneously and the two blasts have altered weather patterns around the world. This same device was used with the opposite effect in The Day the Earth Caught Fire by Barry Wells. As scientists discover that the Earth is on the brink of an ice age, panic and cultism spreads across the world. The largest of the cults plans a pogrom against the world’s scientists. The ending is pretty lame – the residue of the blasts precipitate spontaneously out of the air and the world begins to heat up again – but this actually isn’t a bad disaster novel. 11/30/14

The Mind Robber by Peter Ling, Target, 1986 

This was not one of the better Doctor Who episodes despite some above average visual effects, which obviously don’t translate into the novelization. After escaping a catastrophe, the Tardis is pursued by some kind of robot, apparently explodes, and leaves the Doctor and friends in a weird limbo world where fictional characters are real. One of them is the Master – not the Master who became a recurring villain – and he and the Doctor engage in a game of chess using the other characters as game pieces. An interesting idea is pretty much wasted in this because the original screenwriters couldn’t come up with a story to equal it.  11/30/14

Future Glitter by A.E. van Vogt, Ace 1973   

Van Vogt reuses some familiar themes in this dystopian novel. The world is ruled by a scientific autocracy, although the scientists themselves appear to be individually without power. There is the inevitable rebel group, also scientists, but it is widely believed that they are simply a device by which the government allows them to blow off steam. But our protagonist has come up with a new invention that might actually give the revolutionaries some metaphysical teeth. The invention – which makes it impossible for the dictator to say or do anything that isn’t immediately broadcast to the public at large, is ludicrous and the writing tired and repetitive. Van Vogt never seemed capable of summoning the energy of his early novels during the latter part of his career. 11/29/14

The Starcombers by Edmond Hamilton, Armchair, 2012 (magazine appearance 1956)  

This novella follows the adventures of a group of interstellar salvagers who encounter the remnants of a fallen alien race. The human leader hopes to exploit them because they have some interesting technology but the protagonist, a member of his crew, suspects they are walking into some kind of subtle trap. It’s not one of Hamilton’s better efforts. The characterization is paper thin, the action scenes dull and badly described, and the ending is terrible. Hamilton ran out of steam during the 1950s when this was published and while his later works were generally better written, they came with decreasing frequency. 11/29/14

Broken Circle by John Shirley, Gallery, 2014, $16, ISBN 978-1-4767-8359-8

A Halo tie in novel. The game to which this is connected involves an interstellar war between humans and the alien Covenant. This novel goes far back in time to the time when the Covenant was created as a peace treaty between two races battling for control of some alien technology left behind by a long gone alien race from the distant past. The author describes the early stages of that alliance, with distrust embedded on both sides, and follows the ramifications of all of this up through almost two thousand years of history, and conflict. The story focuses on two families who survive through this period. This was rather more thoughtful and measured in pace than other Halo novels that I've read, concentrating more on the characters and the cultures than on space battles or other overt melodrama, although there's some of that as well. Shirley is one of the few authors who has written Alien tie-in novels that I enjoy and it seems that will be true of this franchise as well.  11/28/14

The Dominators by Ian Marter, Target, 1984 

This was one of my least favorite Dr. Who serials. The planet Dulkis is home to a pacifistic society which has been secretly invaded by an army of hostile robots, although for a rather unbelievably long period of time. When they do realize what’s happening, they refuse to indulge in violence themselves. This could have been an interesting look at the disparity of aggressors and pacifists, but the story ducks all the tough questions and devolves into trivia. The novel might have corrected this but makes no effort to do so. 11/28/14

Warlord of Kor by Terry Carr, Armchair, 2014, $12.95, ISBN 978-1-61287-175-2  

Originally published in 1963. Carr’s first novel is interesting but has some minor flaws including his apparent misunderstanding of what a galaxy is. Rynason is part of a scientific team studying a decadent alien race which has been reduced to about two dozen individuals. The aliens are telepathic so theoretically they can remember everything has happened to anyone in their race back to the dawn of consciousness. Rynason uncovers memories of a communication with a god that he doesn’t understand, so he decides to use a telepath to link him directly to the mind of one of the aliens. He is cautioned against this, but if that’s a legitimate concern, why were three telepaths summoned to the planet in the first place?  The set up never convinced me either. This is the only intelligent race that humanity has ever encountered, but there’s no one on the planet except for drifters and criminals and a power hungry manager. Even the scientists have no official status. Ultimately there’s a confrontation with the aliens, the chief villain is killed, and the story ends, but the crisis seems postponed rather than averted. 11/26/14

Special Effect by J.F. Bone, Armchair, 2014, $12.95, ISBN 978-1-61287-175-2  

Magazine appearance in 1961. A commercial spaceship is hired for a grand tour of the solar system in order to record specific sounds required for an important musical composition. They have various adventures on the different planets and moons, lose some of their company to accidents and malevolent natives, and finally achieve their goal. Not badly written but somewhat formless and wandering. This was written when it was still considered possible that life would be found on multiple planets, some of it intelligent.11/26/14

Planet of Ghosts by David V. Reed, Armchair, 2012 (magazine appearance 1942)   

I vaguely recall enjoying a couple of  novels by Reed many years ago so I was interested in seeing how well this one held up. It opens well – although horribly dated with companies keeping massive physical files and videos all on tapes – as it describes a future in which interstellar ships have been disappearing. The government, for reasons never really explained, is covering this up by renaming other ships to replace the missing ones and faking the deaths of those aboard. Then we switch to our hero, who is captured by space pirates and stranded on a planet where there are superhumans as well as modified humans captured from spaceships.  The story wanders all over the place with no clear focus, and I was overwhelmed with plot switches by the time I got to the unsatisfactory ending.

The Darkness on Diamondia by A.E. van Vogt, Ace, 1972   

This is one of the better of the later novels by van Vogt. Diamondia is home to half a billion humans as well as a hostile native population, but the government of Earth is tired of financing the war. There’s some kind of mental force impinging on selected humans, a hidden alien race manipulating things behind the scenes, personality transfer, a superweapon, and various plots and counterplots. All of the elements of van Vogt’s early writing are there but they’re clumsily connected, understated, and basically uninteresting. Marginally readable.

The Wheel in Space by Terrance Dicks, Target, 1988  

This was the most recent Doctor Who serial which has been lost to us. It features the Cybermen, who have secretly taken control of a space station crewed by humans, although we don’t find that out for a while (though the cover gives it away). It follows the usual pattern. The Doctor is viewed with suspicion, he and his friends get separated, the elements of the plot unfold gradually and escalate toward the ultimate confrontation. I think I actually saw this one on television many years ago because it seemed quite familiar in spots. Although I rather like the Cybermen, this was not one of the better stories about them. 11/23/14

The Book of Van Vogt by A.E. van Vogt, DAW, 1972

When someone publishes a collection of the uncollected stories of a well known writer, more often than not it contains their lesser work. This one is a good example, with not one memorable story – and several of them appear to be trunk stories not previously published. “The Timed Clock” is about time travel. “The Confession” is about a man feeling disconnected from his real life. “The Rat and the Snake” is a vignette about a man changing size. “The Barbarian” is an excerpt from Empire of the Atom and “Lost: Fifty Suns” is part of Mission to the Stars. “The Sound of Wild Laughter” is about a space project and “Ersatz Eternal” deals with immortality.  Van Vogt wrote some good short fiction but you won’t find any of it here. Also published as Lost: Fifty Suns. 11/22/14

Fury from the Deep by Victor Pemberton, Target, 1986 

This is another of the lost Doctor Who serials. The Tardis brings him to the North Sea where he is captured by workers who believe he may have sabotaged a gas line. The pigheaded head of the local refinery has failed to react to the declining morale of the men are the offshore rigs and his staff is near rebellion. For some reason, the volume being processed has been steadily decreasing. Unbeknownst to our heroes, animated bits of seaweed have started attacking people. The sea weed even can assume the forms of human beings long enough to impersonate them briefly. Unlike most of the novelizations, this one is fleshed out considerably and actually reads like a novel. 11/22/14

Foul Deeds Will Rise by Greg Cox, Pocket, 2014, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4767-8324-6

Disavowed by David Mack, Pocket, 2014, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4767-5308-9

I hadn't seen a new Star Trek book for quite some time when these two turned up. The first is part of the original series with Kirk and Spock; the second is part of a new offshoot called Section 31, which is an interstellar espionage organization. The first one has Kirk, Spock, and company trying to mediate a peace between two warring civilizations. Tensions are high as negotiations open aboard the Enterprise and they get even higher when the rehabilitated - maybe - woman who once tried to murder Kirk shows up. So naturally one of the diplomats is assassinated and the old foe looks like the most probable suspect. This one is more of a murder mystery than a space adventure, which is a good combination for me. One has to use some caution when setting a detective story in SF or Fantasy, but when done successfully as is the case here, it can make for a very satisfying book. The second title is more of a spy story. Doctor Bashir has managed to become a member of Section 31, an unofficial rogue organization with Starfleet which doesn't play by the rules. He is there to undermine and destroy the organization clandestinely but his intentions get confused somewhat when he discovers that his new "friends" are trying to prevent an alien race from procuring dangerous technology from the mirror universe, a goal which Bashir applauds. While trying to pick his way through this potential minefield, he discovers even more disturbing information and has to re-evaluate his attitude not only toward Section 31 but to Starfleet as a whole. Pretty good, but the first title is slightly better. 11/21/14

Soulminder by Timothy Zahn, Open Road, 2014, $14.99, ISBN 978-1497646209 

Following the tragic death of his son, a doctor begins working on technology which will capture and temporarily house the souls of human beings. As his experiments begin to show progress, he is confronted by a mysterious organization that wants to help underwrite his work, and naturally we all know that is going to lead to weaponization and other unintended uses of the discovery. I was rather disappointed in this one, which seemed to play away from Zahn’s strengths as a storyteller. It is at times too talky, too slowly paced, and somewhat too mundane. I would never have guessed it was by the same person who wrote the excellent Quadrail series. 11/20/14

The Web of Fear by Terrance Dicks, Target, 1976   

Part of this Doctor Who serial has disappeared, which is a shame because it’s one of Troughton’s best. The robot yeti are back, supposedly inert now that the Great Intelligence has been defeated. Unfortunately, they suddenly reactivate and begin killing people, hiding in the London subways. At the same time, a strange mist begins affecting parts of the city and people are found dead where it passes. The Doctor straightens it all out, of course, with the aid of UNIT and Lethbridge-Stewart, who made their first appearance here. 11/20/14

More Than Superhuman by A.E. van Vogt, Dell, 1971   

Six stories from relatively late in van Vogt’s career, and generally not good ones. “Humans Go Home” is about a conflict between two cultures, but it’s badly written with flat characters who behave oddly. “The Reflected Men” is much better. A mysterious crystal duplicates people. Androids impersonate humans in “All the Loving Androids.”  The best story is “Research Alpha,” written with James H. Schmitz, which concerns an experiment in forced evolution. The two remaining stories are trivial vignettes. Below average even for van Vogt. 11/19/14

The Proxy Intelligence and Other Mind Benders by A.E. van Vogt, Paperback Library, 1971   

This is partially a cross collection. “The Gryb” was incorporated into The War Against the Rull and “The Star Saint” was previously collected. The title story is long and boring. I think it was meant to be funny but it fails miserably. A not particularly bright spaceman foils an alien invasion. “The Problem Professor” (aka “Project Spaceship”) is about a group planning a spaceship who have to attract a big name scientist for publicity reasons. “Re-Birth Earth” (aka “The Flight That Failed”) is an alternate history story in which the Germans won. “The Invisibility Gambit” (aka “Abdication”) deals with a man who owns an invisibility suit. None of these are particularly memorable except “The Gryb.” 11/19/14

The Enemy of the World by Ian Marter, Target, 1982 

Doctor Who visits as future Earth where his exact duplicate is on the verge of becoming the ultimate dictator. His rise to power is connected to a series of apparently natural disasters that have occurred with significant convenience to his career. The arrival of his virtual twin suggests dangers as well as advantages and the two play an intricate if somewhat transparent game of wits, during which his companions become the inevitable pawns. Good triumphs, of course, and the book does not have the same prolonged leaden feel as the serial did. 11/19/14

Coming Home by Jack McDevitt, Ace, 2014, $25.95, ISBN 978-0-425-26087-6   

The new Alex Benedict opens with separate story strands. An old friend has found a priceless artifact among her late grandfather’s belongings and doesn’t know why he never made it public. An archaeologist with a grudge against Benedict goes missing. Efforts are made to rescue people from a starship caught in a warp so that it only returns to the real universe at intervals of five years, even though only days have passed aboard the ship. These and some subplots progress without much crossover but when someone tries to kill Alex and Chase, the trail leads toward a woman who once worked with the elderly archaeologist and who has assumed an alternate identity.McDevitt rarely resorts to melodrama so this puzzle unravels relatively quietly but more convincingly than most other recent SF. In many ways this one is constructed more like a police procedural than anything else, with a careful investigation leading to the solution. Recommended, as are all of the previous novels in this series. 11/17/14

The Starship from Sirius by Rog Phillips, Armchair, 2013 (magazine appearance 1948)

Mars and Venus have human populations but have forgotten that they originated on Earth until they redevelop space travel and visit that radioactive and uninhabited world. Cosmic rays mean that all space travelers die after a single voyage so space travel is discontinued, but then a mysterious spherical spaceship enters the solar system. A scientist connects this to reports that the people of Earth built a similar ship before disaster overtook them. These reports make up almost half of the story and they’re pretty boring. Eventually the crew emerges for another spate of lectures including discussion of telepathic communication with the past, but nothing much happens and the story grinds slowly to an end. 

Final Weapon by Everett B. Cole, Armchair, 2013 (magazine appearance 1955)

After a major war that ended in stalemate, America is a dictatorship divided into three classes of people, only one of which has voting rights. An inventor is working on a mechanical means of telepathic communication when he attracts the attention of the local autocrat. The authorities consider them an amusing but unimportant device until they spread through the populace, precipitating a fall of the dictatorship and the restoration of freedom. I found this one a bit simple minded but not unentertaining, though woefully old fashioned and unsophisticated. 11/16/14

Cue for Quiet by T.L. Sherred, Armchair, 2012 (magazine appearance 1953)

Sherred was not a prolific writer but his stories were always interesting. This short novel involves a man who discovers he can suppress loud noise by shorting out radios, televisions, and jukeboxes through force of will. His talents are discovered by the government and he’s promptly made virtually a prisoner, for his own protection in part because of foreign spies. He rebels a bit and causes some trouble but eventually works out an agreement through which he will be kept on an isolated island but provided with anything within reason that he wants.  The author’s extrapolation of the consequences aren’t entirely convincing but it’s an entertaining bit of speculation. 11/16/14

The Ice Warriors by Brian Hayles, Target, 1978 

The second Doctor Who had some fairly long serials, of which this is one. Unfortunately there’s not much more story than in the shorter ones and the story is pretty dry. The Doctor travels to a future ice age on Earth during which the body of an alien creature is discovered. This wasn’t John W. Campbell’s “thing”, it’s a warrior from the planet Mars who wears a rather silly suit. One of the companions pretends to be working for the Martians, who are now reviving and planning the conquest of Earth, but they are easily fooled and the world is saved, eventually. The serial version has not survived complete so a portion of it is animated. 11/16/14

The Valhalla Prophecy by Andy McDermott, Dell, 2014, $9.99, ISBN 978-0-345-53704-1

Latest in the Nina Wilde series. Someone has stolen an ancient runestone which may contain a clue to the location of the legendary Valhalla. The second half of the key is in another runestone, this one lost in a Norwegian lake. Nina Wilde and her husband set out to recover it and discover that a horde of agents from various countries and organizations are also after the prize, each for its own purposes. There's a secret that could endanger the entire world, which I can't talk about without spoiling the story, and a subplot involving the husband's possible problems with people from his past. This is very much like the previous seven books in the series with lots of chases, escapes, and battles, a handful of coincidences and convenient plot turns, and the usual elements of a mainstream thriller, although once again it's borderline SF. I enjoyed it, but I had the feeling throughout that I'd read it before. 11/15/14

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie, Orbit, 2014, $16, ISBN 978-0-316-24665-1 

The sequel to Ancillary Justice is very much in the same tone. Breq, a onetime multi-part mind now confined to a single body, is not on good terms with the tyrant in charge of the empire but she is still given a ship, a command title, and a mission to a remote system which has dropped out of touch thanks to the recent civil war. The nature of the mission is not explained to the reader which I found mildly irritating. Since we are not aware of Breq’s intentions, it is impossible to gauge her progress. There’s also a kind of remotely operated spy on board, although Breq neutralizes this individual before they arrive. The story really begins to pick up after their arrival and while it is considerably slower and less melodramatic than the first novel in the series, the characters and their interactions are better drawn and more interesting. Fans of the first should like the second, but newcomers might want to read the previous book before trying this one. 11/14/14

Quest for the Future by A.E. van Vogt, Ace, 1970

Another fix-up novel that opens with a story about movies from the future that accidentally get shipped to the past. It eventually incorporates  “Far Centaurus” and blends them with lots of digressions and filler. This looks hastily done and the seams are even more obvious. There is almost nothing like a central plot, just a mishmash of speculation about traveling through time, space, and alternate worlds. There's no real character to focus on, no adventures to grab our attention, and even the speculation is uninteresting. I’m surprised this one got published at all. 11/13/14

The Abominable Snowman by Terrance Dicks, Target. 1974 

This is another of the lost Doctor Who episodes. The Doctor and friends materialize near a monastery in Tibet and promptly find the dead body of a European.  Predictably the Doctor gets accused of murder while his companions are trapped in a cave by a yeti.  For some reason the yeti have become violent but it is not until one of them is captured that the Doctor discovers they are actually robots. The cause is something identified only as the Intelligence, an alien creature with inimical habits who is eventually destroyed. Sounds like it might have been a pretty fair episode. 11/13/14

Power by Harl Vincent, Armchair, 2013 (magazine appearance 1932 )  

The human race has retreated into enormous cities where the rich live on the top levels and the poor exist in perpetual daylight in the lower and interior portions. The wilderness between cities is believed to be deserted. A scientist from the elite group is taken to visit the lower levels where he discovers a revolutionary movement that was almost certainly copied from the Communist unrest of the 1930s. Vincent seems to be mistrustful of Capitalism as well, which also mirrors the time in which this was written. The protagonist develops a new energy source and seizes control of the government. Naturally there is resistance from the privileged classes. This is so obviously a response to the Depression and its immediate aftermath that it is more interesting for its rather simple minded utopianism than for the story. 11/13/14

Valhalla by Robert J. Mrazek, Signet, 2014, $9.99, ISBN 978-0-451-46872-7 

I really wanted to like this book and I tried hard, but it was too much for me. This borderline thriller has a very dodgy opening, as it assumes that there is still some doubt about the Kensington Stone, a supposed Viking artifact found in Minnesota, which has in fact been thoroughly dismissed as a hoax. I also found it rather implausible that the archaeologist protagonist, Vaughan, is able to find several other artifacts in the area with a simple metal detector given that no one else has found anything in more than a century of trying. Anyway, she is enlisted as part of a team to investigate a Viking ship found buried in the ice in Greenland. There are a few irritating quirks, including the fascination with describing expensive food and wine, some weapons porn, and the characters are painfully stereotypical – Vaughan’s arrogant ex-lover, the faithful and softspoken expedition leader, the wise old scientist, the brilliant and beautiful protagonist who relies on “instinct” rather than the scientific method when it suits the plot. There is also no satisfactory explanation for why the businessman who arranged the expedition is keeping his discovery such a closely held secret, except that it is necessary that he do so in order for the rest of the plot to make sense. These problems are particularly irritating because the author has a clear, readable prose style that is well suited for this kind of story. Once the real melodrama starts, things get worse. The Lynx, head of a strike force for a secret society bent on world domination (Yes, it’s another of those stories) wants no one killed because he prefers to do all the killing personally, one of the most heavy handed but inept pieces of characterization I’ve ever encountered. At another point the protagonist is hidden in a privy and through a slit in the wall, over a considerable distance, in heavy weather, she can see the change in the eyes of the saboteur in their party.  

This much silliness automatically makes the reader watch for more. As the two survivors hide from their attackers in the midst of a storm, she tells him that the discovery has clues about the tomb of Leif Eriksson, which is a rather large jump given that she translated about six words. Nor does it make any sense that the spy in the camp would have concealed his secret disc inside Vaughan’s boot. And why would the FBI send an agent who had no experience to deal with a potential international crisis? For that matter, how can someone whose only work was in accounting even become a special agent?  And why would the FBI think there were national security implications connected to an ancient Viking rune? Naturally one of the FBI agents is actually working for the conspiracy so our heroes are on the run again after killing him. The conspirators are pseudo-nazis who worship Thor and believe in Aryan supremacy and plan to wipe out the lesser races with a plague keyed to genetic makeup. Bet you didn’t see that coming. Apparently they belief Eriksson was a god and object to having his grave disturbed, hence the carnage. While translating the runes, they find one that seems to refer to an alien. I seriously doubt that the Vikings had a rune for this and if they did, how would our heroes be able to recognize it?  The bad guys lose, but this is the first in a series, so you never know. 11/12/14

The Ties of Earth by James H. Schmitz, Armchair, 2012 (magazine appearance 1955)

I vaguely remembered being impressed with this short novel when I read it several decades ago but didn’t recall any of the plot. Commager is informally investigating an amateur parapsychological group called the Guides when he has a blackout and wakes up with a dead body. He disposes of the body and consults a psychiatrist friend, subsequently discovering that his memories of his wife’s death are entirely artificial, that he was never even married. The Guides eventually reveal that they are a secret society that suppresses psi abilities in those outside their circle and offer to let him join, but he refuses. A secret duel follows with multiple attempts on his life, a few interesting twists, and a reasonably good conclusion. 11/11/14

The Battle of Forever by A.E. van Vogt, Ace, 1971   

In the distant future, only a few humans survive, physically altered beyond recognition, in a walled city. They have uplifted a variety of animals to intelligence and those creatures exist both within and outside the city.  The protagonist agrees to an experiment in which his body is restored to primitive human form so that he can go among them as an uplifted ape. The story is awkward and absurd. The uplifted are indistinguishable from humans in behavior; we are simply told that they are evolved from foxes or hippopotami or whatever. Anyway, our hero discovers that the animal people have begun exploring nearby star systems and that someone has reprogrammed the computers that manage the civilization of Earth. An attempt is made on his life, but he has various mental powers that make him virtually invulnerable. He discovers that an alien race has quietly conquered Earth by nudging humanity into its present torpid state.  But they underestimate the resourcefulness of humanity. A slight departure for van Vogt, which was probably a good thing, but really not a very good novel. 11/10/14

Doctor Who and the Cybermen by Gerry Davis, Target, 1974 

The Tomb of the Cybermen by Gerry Davis, Target, 1978 

Two Cybermen adventures by Gerry Davis. The first is the novelization of the serial titled The Moonbase. The Tardis lands near a base on the moon just as the crew are beginning to succumb to a mysterious disease. While the Doctor wrestles with that problem, a series of mysterious attacks take place and before long the Cybermen arrive in force. Their plan is to seize the moon and use it as a base to attack the Earth, but of course they didn’t take the Doctor’s interference into their plans. He outwits them rather easily this time and after the usual period wherein he isn’t trusted by either side. This one doesn’t work as well as a novel as it did on the screen. In the second humans invade the home planet of the cybermen, only to find it apparently deserted. A party of scientists eventually discover a vast vault filled with cybermen in suspended animation. Some among their number think they have the upper hand and can used revived cybermen to help them dominate Earth. The Doctor, therefore, has to deal with two separate groups of enemies. This wasn’t as good as their early appearances and the novelization is rather static until the closing chapters. 11/9/14

Children of Tomorrow by A.E. van Vogt, Ace, 1970  

Although van Vogt’s prose had never been particularly smooth, it turns spectacularly bad with this novel, the first of several he churned out late in his career. The plot is a mess as well. So many men have gone out into space to deal with hostile aliens that the children have organized and become the dominant force in Spaceport city – despite the presence of their mothers and the regular authorities. A spaceman returns after ten years away and tries to buck the new system, while elsewhere an alien spy impersonating humans has infiltrated the new power structure. Misogynistic, illogical, boring, and poorly written, and unfortunately the sign of things to come for most of the rest of van Vogt’s output. 11/8/14

The Prince of Space by Jack Williamson, Armchair, 2013 (magazine appearance 1931 )

The Prince of Space is a notorious pirate who has never killed anyone in his raids. When the latest attack includes the massacre of everyone aboard, the authorities assume he has changed his methods. This is a bit fanciful given that space travel has only successfully brought us to the moon, which would make space piracy a bit difficult to manage. A reporter is told by a reclusive billionaire that Martians are planning an attack on the Earth but the billionaire and his daughter are apparently kidnapped by the space pirate. This early story is riddled with silliness and plot holes. Although the Prince has raided a dozen ships, no one knows what his ship looks like? The billionaire has evidence of enemy activity on Mars and doesn’t go public with it, or even tell the government? The victims of the latest raid have peculiar wounds and all their blood has been drained, but no one thinks of an alternate explanation than pirates? Despite the fact that he is believed to have important hostages, the authorities plan to destroy him on sight?  They attack the Martians at their secret base in Mexico, but the Martians have pistols that fire atomic bombs. Williamson had no concept of what an atomic bomb would actually do, since when fired into a small group of humans, it only kills two of them. Eventually the Prince goes to Mars and literally destroys the entire planet. This one is of historical interest only. 11/8/14

The Fortress in Orion by Mike Resnick, Pyr, 2014, $18, ISBN 978-1-61614-990-1  

Nathan Pretorius is a top agent for the military coalition lead by humans in their war against the Coalition. His latest assignment is to replace a prominent enemy leader with a conditioned clone, so he picks a crew of oddballs – a shapechanger, a contortionist, an empath, and a cyborg – to carry out the operation, which requires stealing money, starships, and identification. Along the way they run into a variety of problems, each of which they overcome. The episodes are short, the pace frenetic, and the characters are only lightly sketched in. This is Resnick having fun rather than trying to write a realistic story. Readers are likely to have an equal amount of fun going along for the ride. First in the Dead Enders series. I expect many more missions to follow. 11/7/14

The Faceless Ones by Terrance Dicks, Target, 1986 

This is another of the lost serials of Doctor Who. The Doctor arrives at Gatwick Airport and discovers that young people have been disappearing when participating in tours sponsored by Chameleon Tours. One of his companions promptly disappears and an exact duplicate reappears, claiming not to know the Doctor. The officials either don’t believe him or are part of the conspiracy. The conspirators are aliens who have to be linked to a living human being, whom they have miniaturized, in order to develop an individual identity for themselves. The science in this is particularly nonsensical, as is the logic since one could hardly have thousands of people disappear after traveling on a single airline without some public notice being aroused. 11/6/14

The Annihilator Comes by Ed Earl Repp, Armchair, 2013 (magazine appearance 1930)  

Repp correctly assumed that air transport would become a major industry, but he assumed that the railroads would fail by 1980.  This story is about the captain of a military aircraft, the Annihilator II, which is sent to the North Pole to look for some missing Swedish scientists.  The plane, which has “unlimited” acceleration, runs into a show of meteorites! Then they have radio contact with a base which is troubled by small pox, but fortunately they just happen to have some small pox serum on board. Then, predictably, they find a lost world in the ice where prehistoric creatures still exist. It turns out to be the opening into a world beneath the surface. The narrative portions of this are competently written if a bit implausible, but the dialogue is exceptionally bad.  11/5/14

The Silkie by A.E. van Vogt, Ace, 1969

The Silkies are believed to be an artificially created race that can adapt its body to live underwater or even in outer space without equipment. After they become established, they become a separate super race within humanity – smarter and with telepathic abilities – but there are also the Variants who have lesser or altered forms of Silkie abilities. There are some interesting images here – a water filled spaceship with sharks for example – but ultimately the rapidly paced plot can’t conceal the fact that this was cobbled together from separate stories with no really unified plot and the Silkie’s themselves are so implausible that they don’t feel like people. Van Vogt seemed to have kept his imagination working but lost the gift of narrative. 11/5/14

Planet of No Return by Howard Browne, Armchair, 2013  (magazine appearance 1951)  

Howard Browne some fair mysteries by his SF was bad enough to be funny. This story opens with an expedition from another star searching for a lost explorer. Even though the journey took six months, the princess of that civilization – who has come on the journey herself for some reason despite troubles at home, and who rules as a princess not a queen because she’s such a cute young thing – insists that seconds count, which is hardly plausible after that much time. The titular head of the expedition is, of course, in love with her. They land randomly on Earth with only a vague idea where the earlier ship landed, and decide to send out twenty men to search on foot. At that rate, they might find him in a few centuries. They know the general area where the explorer intended to land, even though when he left no one had any idea what the planet looked like! The planet they have landed on is transparently primitive Earth. The explorer is alive, of course, held prisoner by a local tribe – although their security arrangements are laughable.  The space travelers are even worse. The princess gets captured, everyone runs around for a while, and then everything turns out all right. The princess gives up her heritage and stays behind to live with the caveman.  I sense that the author was smirking at his reader’s when he wrote this one. 11/3/14

The Far Out Worlds of A.E. van Vogt by A.E. van Vogt, Ace, 1968 

Odds and ends of newer stories plus a few old ones most of which have not been previously collected.  “The Replicators” is an odd kind of first contact story.  There is tension about the introduction of humans who can breathe Martian air in the surprisingly good “The First Martian.”  “The Purpose” is a rather tedious story about two people investigating a mysterious scientific facility which apparently is involved in organlegging. There’s an alien in a freak show in the dreadful “The Cataaaaa” and “Automaton” is confusing because it refers to certain humans as robots with no clear distinction between the two. “Itself” is a minor vignette. In “Process” two intelligent tree systems battle against each other with atomic weapons. A starship gets caught in a time loop in “Not the First.” Man overcomes his dependency on electronic brains in “Fulfillment” and a time traveler to the distant future cannot communicate with people from that era in “Ship of Darkness.” The final story is “The Ultra Man.”  A man with a kind of mental telepathy discovers that there are inhumans among us. A very tepid collection overall. 11/2/14

The Macra Terror by Ian Stuart Black, Target, 1986 

Doctor Who travels to a human colony that is essentially a vacation world. One of the locals insists, however, that some kind of monster has invaded the planet. He is assumed to be deluded but the Doctor suspects that he’s right. He learns that others have seen the creatures but that the colony administrators use conditioning to convince them otherwise. The Doctor and his companions eventually get into trouble and are taken captive, but as usual they escape to reveal the truth about an administration in league with an alien race. This is another of the lost episodes. 11/2/14

The Venus Enigma by Joe Gibson, Armchair, 2013 (magazine appearance 1951, aka Down in the Misty Mountains)

The protagonist of this is a space pirate working on behalf of colonies on Mars, Venus, and elsewhere, who are rebelling against a repressive Earth government, thereby justifying the piracy. Gibson was actually a pretty good writer although this one is riddled with mild but obvious misogyny and a pirate who doesn’t cavil at killing people but who won’t work with a woman who engages in sex just for pleasure. And if the colonies have rebelled, why do they have to resort to common law marriages now that they don’t have access to the bureaucracy of Earth? The science and logic aren’t very impressive either. There’s a rumor of a hidden intelligent species on Venus and, we are told by a scientist, if there is intelligence on Venus there must also be a hidden intelligent race on Mars. How does that follow?  And everyone is way too unreasonable and too trigger happy. And if the Venusians are so secret that no one has heard about them, why do the colonists report that they’ve been raiding settlements for some time? All ends well but despite the strong opening, the closing chapters are very weak and the surprise ending – the toad men are descendants of an early human expedition – is just plain silly. 

The Woman in Skin 13 by Paul W. Fairman, Armchair, 2013 (magazine appearance 1952)   

The name shown on the cover is Gerald Vance although the spine correctly credits Fairman. Green skinned humanoid aliens land on Earth and capture Chicago, so the government decides to dye a female agent green and send her into the alien stronghold to discover their weak spots. It is never explained how the government captures, learns the language of, and interrogates their single prisoner in less than a week. Her personality is then copied into the mind of their agent and sent to infiltrate the invaders. There’s a schism among the invaders and this eventually leads to a rebellion against their rulers and the end of the invasion, after a tediously uneventful story. Very minor. 

Planets for Sale by A.E. van Vogt and Edith Mayne Hull, Book Company of America, 1965  

A fix-up novel of the adventures of Artur Blord, an entrepreneur in a future interstellar society.  The underlying theme is the battle between Blord and the SKAL, an alien intelligence determined to undermine the human race in general and Blord in particular. It has human agents to carry out its bidding, both voluntary and involuntary, but Blord outwits them at every turn. This is perhaps van Vogt’s least interesting book, with routine adventures told without any trace of enthusiasm or imagination.

Willful Child by Steven Erikson, Tor, 2014, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-7489-9 

Humans have dropped space exploration and are mired on Earth when an alien spaceship mistakenly visits a junkyard and is somehow taken over by the owner and his son. Generations later, the ship – christened Willful Child – is out exploring the galaxy, running roughshod over alien races, and having various adventures. Yes, this is a parody of Star Trek but the humor is so frequently over the top that the adventures really aren’t engaging. As a shorter piece, this would probably have been more successful, but after the first hundred pages I was no longer that interested. Although there have been exceptions, funny SF is almost always best in small doses. Fans of the show will probably like it better than the general public. 10/31/14

Parasite Deep by Shane McKenzie, Severed, 2014, $9.99, ISBN 978-1925047646  

This short novel about parasitically infested sea creatures menacing the surface world is a good example of why editors are important. Although the plot isn’t bad, the prose is frequently ungrammatical, particularly the use of tenses, which occasionally confused me about when something was happening, or had happened. The characters never come to life so their fate is of little concern. The encounters with the creatures are repetitious and unsuspenseful. Nor does the story have an ending. It just stops in the middle of one of the attacks.  Disappointing throughout. 10/31/14

The Lunar Lichen by Hal Clement, Armchair, 2013 (magazine appearance 1960) 

One member of a lunar expedition claims to have found lichen but another is skeptical that it might be a hoax. The confrontation grows and the first man finally steals all of the expedition’s food and disables the ship, then drives off in a tractor to wait for them all to die. Three men pursue in a second tractor and are able to outwit him and save the day. The perpetrator is obviously insane although we never find out whether or not the lichen were genuine. Clement always wrote in controlled prose that was very scientifically literate. Although this is not one of his better known stories, it probably deserves to be. 10/30/14

Rogue Ship by A.E. van Vogt, Berkley, 1965 

Another fix-up novel, this one including the title story (aka “The Twisted Men”), “Centaurus II,” and “The Expendables.” A starship on the years long journey to another world toys with mutiny before finding their target planet inhabited. The ship returns to Earth but is out of sync with normal time, and it takes some ingenuity to figure out what caused the phenomenon. They then eventually find a planet to settle. The middle story is the only really interesting part and the rewriting to make this into a single narrative is patchwork at best. 10/30/14

The Underwater Menace by Nigel Robinson, Target, 1988  t

This is another of the lost Doctor Who serials which I have never actually seen. Our heroes land on a deserted island where they are captured and taken to an underground civilization that turns out to be Atlantis. The Atlanteans plan to sacrifice the strangers to their bloodthirsty god but a prominent scientist of their civilization intervenes, mostly because he sees the Doctor’s knowledge as an asset. He turns out to be a villain as well, determined to raise Atlantis to the surface even though the Doctor warns him that his method of doing so might well destroy the entire Earth. So they have to turn on their protector and side with their former captors to avert a catastrophe. A minor variation of the usual structure of a Doctor Who serial but I’d be curious to see what the sets looked like. 10/30/14

Leviathan by Tim Curran, Severed, 2013, $8.99, ISBN 978-1925047318

A novella about monsters under the ocean. The protagonist is a freelance photographer who stumbles upon human bones on a restricted beach. The local police seem diffident about the discovery and downright frightened of the beach. Then our hero sees a fight between two gigantic creatures just off shore and decides to wait around to capture pictures of them the next time they appear. Eventually he discovers that occasionally a gateway materializes there providing access to and from the Cretaceous era. Eventually one of the creatures comes ashore and destroys the local town, but there's a hurricane at the same time so there's no point in claiming otherwise since he has lost all of his photographs and other evidence. Competently written but actually rather bland and uneventful. 10/29/14

Trail of the Astrogar by Henry Hasse, Armchair, 2013 (magazine appearance 1947) 

A freelance reporter finds himself on the trail of a missing spaceship, a possibly deranged scientist, and rumors that there is something in the asteroid belt that potentially threatens the entire solar system. His employer is a criminal but the job is quasi-legal. Even so, he is promptly kidnapped by the daughter of the missing scientist. Ambivalent now, he manages to dump his bodyguard/keeper and traces the ship to the asteroid belt where he finds the ship with a new name and crew.  In due course they find an asteroid inhabited by bizarre creatures, but at the same time the crimelord and his minions are in hot pursuit. The creatures are intelligent, have developed space travel, and plan to attack Earth and take all of its metal, which is their only form of nourishment. The humans find a way to destroy the alien civilization and escape with their lives after a perfunctory climax. Although not very good, this is better by far than the author’s hardcover  10/28/14

Monsters by A.E. van Vogt, Paperback Library, 1965 

This collection of eight stories reprints three stories from earlier collections, one portion of Voyage of the Space Beagle, one portion of Mission to the Stars, and four stories never previously in book form. The first, “Not Only Dead Men,” introduces the Blal, large space dwelling animals with a vicious nature, one of whom falls to Earth where it is pursued by an alien patrol vessel and some very surprised human sailors.  An alien creature impersonates a human in “The Sea Thing,” but not well enough to survive an encounter with the real thing.  “Not Only Dead Men” is far and away the best of these, but they are generally not among van Vogt’s better shorts. 10/28/14

The Time Trap by Henry Kuttner, Armchair, 2013 (magazine appearance 1938) 

A man from our time stumbles upon the ruins of a device which opens a gateway through time during lightning storms. He is sucked into the distant past where he encounters a woman from the 22nd Century and a man, who built the time device, who comes from an even more distant future. He has a predictable round of adventures and rescues the local queen. Then he discovers that the villain is planning to conquer the 20th Century so he has to team up with another time traveler to stop him. This was very early in Kuttner’s career and it’s not, unfortunately, a lost classic. It is, however, considerably better written than the many similar adventure stories that appeared during the 1930s.  10/28/14

The Best of Electric Velocipede edited by John Klima, Fairwood, 2014, $17.99, ISBN 978-1-933846-47-7 

Although this magazine didn’t have a particularly long run, they published a lot of quite good short stories. John Klima has selected possibly the best of these for this good sized anthology which mixes new and established writers, fantasy and science fiction, humor and serious stuff, and a wide range of themes and settings. Among the contributors here are Jeffrey Ford, Catherynne Valente, Chris Roberson, Patrick O’Leary, and Sandra McDonald, The stories tend to be fairly short – there are more than thirty of them here – but most of them deliver a pretty solid punch. Even better, almost none of these have been previously reprinted, so unless you read the magazine itself, you’re going to find a fertile ground full of new stories.  10/27/14

The Highlanders by Gerry Davis, Target, 1984 

Patrick Troughton had taken over as Doctor Who for this, one of the last of the regular historical adventures. This time the Tardis takes our friends back to the Battle of Culloden. This is another of the serials believed lost. The Doctor is taken captive by suspicious fighters and it takes a while for him to escape, taking with him Jamie, a young Highlander who joined him for several adventures. Jamie is possibly my least favorite companion and while I have never seen it, I suspect that this routine adventure would be among my least favorite episodes. 10/27/14

The Metal Doom by David H. Keller, Armchair, 2011 (magazine appearance 1932) 

End of the world novels have been around for a long time – Leonardo Da Vinci wrote one. This one involves an unexplained failure of all metals, a kind of super-rust, which brings civilization to a crashing halt. The cities are deserted and groups of people form into impromptu defensive communities around the countryside, making up their own laws and killing anyone who appears to pose a threat. The same formula has been used many times since and will be in the future, no doubt. Despite some clumsy prose, Keller carries this off reasonably well. There are battles with outlaws and then a program of consolidation of the surviving communities. Not much time is devoted to the actual mechanics of living without metal – and I did wonder what happened to the metals in the human body; Keller was a doctor and should have considered this. Eventually they find a way to recover small amounts of metal from the rust and the survivors live happily ever after. 10/26/14

The Twisted Men by A.E. van Vogt, Ace, 1964 

This collection of three stories opens with the title story, also known as “Rogue Ship.”  A scientist who believes the sun is going to go nova finances an expedition to Alpha Centauri, but the ship mysteriously reappears. There is no radio contact as it proceeds on a collision course with Earth and somehow its structure has been changed so that drills cannot penetrate its hull. Traveling near the speed of light clearly has had unforeseen consequences. “The Star Saint” involves a human colony found destroyed on a planet which otherwise seems perfect for human settlement. It turns out the trees manipulate life force and even supposedly inanimate objects can become dangerous. “The Earth Killers” is about a surprise nuclear attack on the US, which turns out to have been orchestrated by renegade Americans.  The first story is quite good, the second okay but with a lousy ending, and the third is quite bad. 10/26/14

Treasure on Thunder Moon by Edmond Hamilton, Armchair, 2013 (magazine appearance 1942) 

A handful of over the hill spacemen team up with a woman to steal a spaceship from the company that monopolizes space travel after they renege on a deal to sell it to them. She has a clue to how to land safely on Oberon, a dangerous moon rumored to have a large deposit of a very rare element. As they near their goal, they have to worry about a company ship that is shadowing him and the minions of a criminal leader who has financed their equipment. Not to mention the malevolent creatures that live on the volcanic moon. Naturally our hero threads his way through the maze of danger, finds the treasure trove, and gets the girl while the bad guys get their just desserts, but most of his friends end up dying along the way. Hamilton showed that he had more sense of characterization than most of his peers because the company villain is actually not a bad guy, though he’s constrained by circumstances. 10/26/14

The Beast by A.E. van Vogt, Macfadden, 1964

Van Vogt arguably started his decline with this fix-up based on “The Great Engine,” “The Changeling,” and “The Beast.”  I had trouble following this fifty years ago and it’s just as impenetrable now. There’s a time machine, a marvelous new invention, a man with extraordinary blood, a sinister plot, strange signals from Venus, a man who seems to have developed animalistic tendencies, and lots of running back and forth. The plot is so convoluted that it approaches opacity. The individual components/stories do not interface well. The author’s subsequent work would occasionally be readable but became increasingly silly and overly complex. 10/25/14

The Tenth Planet by Gerry Davis, Target, 1976   

This is the novelization of Drthe first appearance of one of the Doctor’s three most persistent enemies – the others being the Daleks and the Master, and the last time William Hartnell appeared as the Doctor. The author provides a brief preface explaining the history of the Cybermen before the Doctor encountered them. The science is more than slightly shaky. A new planet appears between Mars and Venus and no one notices it for a while. The Doctor meanwhile has materialized at a space tracking station in the Antarctic, where he is detained for entering a military base without permission.  A routine space mission is suddenly in trouble, and in the midst of the excitement a contingent of Cybermen, essentially robots, attack a patrol near the installation. A missile is launched toward the Cybermen’s planet when their invasion fleet is spotted, even though detonation with be devastating for Earth as well.  Eventually the new planet is destroyed although we know it doesn’t take all of the Cybermen with it. Not a bad story, if it had been 1940 when it appeared. 10/25/14

Sherlock Holmes and the Giant Rat of Sumatra by Alan Vanneman, 2002 

I was slightly put off by the opening scene in this Holmes pastiche. One cannot determine that two people are somewhat related by comparing their handwriting.  Watson receives a letter from a relative of his dead wife indicating she is coming back to England from Singapore and wishes to see him. Holmes, for no apparent reason, is very interested in meeting her. Her husband supposedly committed suicide but she suspects that he found out something about the company that employed him – and which has since used strong arm tactics against her. When the woman herself is murdered – also designed to look like suicide – Holmes uses the excuse of a stolen shipment of military rifles to travel to Singapore to investigate. On route, they visit Egypt where the local British consul – believed to be part of the plot – is mysteriously murdered. Holmes suggests that the assailant was not a human being.  Although the story is well told, it becomes increasingly implausible. A race of intelligent rats not only has been interfering in the affairs of men but it has developed a nuclear weapon despite not having the technological base to produce one. 10/24/14

From the Depths by JE Gurley, Severed, 2014, $11.95, ISBN 978-1925047547 

An undersea earthquake, a sunken ship full of nuclear weapons, and a hurricane lead to trouble when giant mutated sea creatures begin to come ashore in the Caribbean. The hero and supporting cast find themselves fighting for their lives against a variety of oversized monsters. Although the prose is not bad at all, the author tries too hard. There are just too many monsters, too much violence, and not enough time to develop characters, make us care about the situation, or even believe that what is happening might be real. It’s the best title I’ve read yet from this publisher and it actually shows some promise, but it’s still not successful at the end. 10/23/14

The Ice Queen by Don Wilcox, Armchair, 2014 (magazine appearance 1943)  

An expedition is sent aboard ship to Greenland to search for a lost expedition when one of their number spots a woman riding a white tiger over a glacier.  There are more sightings before a party of three meets her for a prolonged conversation – she speaks English even though she’s 20,000 years old and lives in the wild. Eventually she introduces them to the underground colony where she reigns as queen. They live in fear of an enemy people who have apparently vanished centuries or more earlier. There’s some internal strife, the king dies, and our hero replaces him as ruler. Very ho hum  with a side order of silliness. 10/23/14

The Smugglers by Terrance Dicks, Target, 1988 

This was to be the last Dr. Who historical adventure during William Hartnell’s tenure as Doctor Who. The Tardis takes our friends to Cornwall in the 17th Century where they are caught up in tensions involving smuggling, which was generally a community activity along the coast, and a band of pirates. There’s a missing treasure and when the Doctor lets slip a hint that he might know where it is, the pirates decide to kidnap him and extract the location. The Doctor, however, has no intention of helping them. The usual hijinx follow with stereotypical characters lightly brushed into a story of no particular interest. 10/23/14

The War Against the Rull by A.E. van Vogt, Pocket, 1959 

Van Vogt cobbled together five stories, changing the aliens to rulls where necessary, for this fix-up novel. Two of the stories I had already read – “The Second Solution” and “The Sound”, both of which involve rather unimaginative efforts to run down alien infiltrators who are telepathic in one case and able to change shape in the other.  “Cooperate or Else” is one of van Vogt’s best stories.  A human and alien have to cooperate to survive on a hostile planet. The same man and a woman have to survive on another hostile planet, actually a moon, when she tries to kill him to prevent him from speaking up for the indigenous alien race, but the whole set up is awkwardly contrived and implausible.  There’s a Rull secret agent impersonating a human as well. The remaining two stories were “Repetition” and “The Rull.”  The masonry involved in putting the stories together isn’t very smooth, but it’s not a bad book. 10/22/14

The War Machines by Ian Stuart Black, Target, 1988  

Artificial intelligence is at the root of this, one of the better early Doctor Who adventures. The Tardis arrives in 1960s London where the Doctor detects an unusual power source. A scientist has developed a super computer which has become aware and which is now directing human beings to create an army of metallic warriors with which it hopes to conquer the world. It was still mostly a children’s show at the time and the plot is somewhat oversimplified but it’s a theme that adult SF would use on more than one occasion. The ending is a bit clunky. 10/22/14

The Mind Cage by A.E. van Vogt, Avon, 1957 

This dystopian novel is an expansion of the very short – five pages – story “The Great Judge.”  Condemned to death, a scientist switches bodies with a man close to the dictator, planning to swap bodies with him and then restore the first man to his own body. There’s also a self aware super computer that went missing at some point, possibly having taken itself into outer space. Eventually, of course, the whole system falls apart, the Brain is found, the hero is saved from his death sentence, and the downtrodden masses are more or less free, but it’s a surprisingly dull book for van Vogt, and not surprisingly hard to follow at times. 10/21/14

Dwellers of the Deep by Don Wilcox, Armchair, 2013  (magazine appearance 1942)  

After the woman he loves is kidnapped off a cruise ship by mysterious undersea dwellers, our hero recruits some friends to get a diving suit and go look for her. He finds an undersea kingdom in a cavern divided between giant intelligent seahorses and web fingered human, both of whom are telepathic. The abduction is part of a completely nonsensical scheme to condition seahorse eggs with human emotions and there’s also some really silly stuff about seahorses adopting the views of any creature that brushes across its spinal ridge. This is better written than most of Wilcox’s fiction, but the premise is just as silly as usual.10/21/14

The Savages by Ian Stuart Black, Target, 1986 

This is the novelization of one of the “lost” Doctor Who serials.  The Tardis arrives on a planet which seems to have a highly advanced civilization, although there are also savages living in the forests.  The advanced people can apparently prolong their life, and dispense with food, by infusing themselves with lifeforce harvested from what they describe as animal life, although it’s obviously the savages they have in mind. The Doctor and company suspect the truth fairly quickly as well. Eventually a dissident helps them undermine the repressive system and destroy the technology that lets them dominate. Fair. 10/21/14

The Universe Maker by A.E. van Vogt, Ace. 1953 

The protagonist of this minor van Vogt novel accidentally kills a woman while drunk. Some time later he sees what appears to be the same woman, and she tells him that he has been sentenced to die by some mysterious organization which almost immediately whisks him into the future. There he escapes from the Shadows with the help of another woman, who is reluctant to tell him what is actually going on but says she is a member of a group opposed to the Shadows. He escapes both groups and finds himself in a future world whose workings are initially impenetrable. A rather boring tour of the world with minor adventures follows, ending with a trip back through time to attempt to change history. An almost forgotten – and rightly so – minor van Vogt. 10/19/14

The Sinister Invasion by Edmond Hamilton, Armchair, 2013 (magazine appearance 1957) t

A spy killed near a secret installation alerts Earth to the presence of aliens. The aliens are indistinguishable from humans so a lookalike is put in his place. He discovers that there are two groups of aliens, one good and one bad, and has to make up his own game plan as he and an alien woman are chased, captured, and transported to the bad aliens’ home world, where he uncovers a secret group of rebels and foils the alien plot. Hastily written and filled with awkward shortcuts – they learn the entire alien language by listening to a short recording and manage to do all that in less than a week – this is nowhere near the top of Hamilton’s work. 10/19/14

The Gunfighters by Donald Cotton, Target, 1985 

Of all the historical adventures of the early Doctor Who, this is my favorite. The Doctor and friends find themselves in the Old West just in time to witness – or participate in – the Gunfight at the OK Corral. At first it’s all just fun to pose as cowboys and such, but then the atmosphere turns deadly serious as they caught up in the feud between the Earps and the Clantons. Not particularly loyal to the historical truth, even without the Doctor’s improvisation, but it’s still a fun story and almost as pleasant to read as to watch, since we’re spared the less than enthralling sets. 10/19/14

Twelve Times Zero by Howard Browne, Armchair, 2011 (magazine appearance 1952) 

A man is convicted of the murder of his wife and a scientist when it appears that he was the only person in the room when they were bludgeoned to death. His story about a woman who appeared in a ball of light is disregarded until the woman turns up at a police station and provides strong evidence that she committed the crime, evidence which apparently wasn’t there when they initially investigated. Then she disappears from her jail cell.  When the district attorney refuses to release the convicted man, the story falls apart because despite his suspicions, there is strong evidence clearing him. When he announces he has destroyed the evidence, even residual plausibility dissipates. Interplanetary spies and saboteurs are involved, but for some reason they speak in English even among themselves! The policeman travels to their planet, meets Tamu the Overlord of the Galaxy, and eventually almost triumphs. Except he doesn’t and an innocent man is executed. Utter nonsense. The aliens supposedly cannot tell lies, but their agent on Earth did just that, repeatedly. 10/18/14

Invasive Species by Joseph Wallace, Berkley, 2013, $9.99, ISBN 978-0-425-26949-7 

Trey is an unorthodox naturalist specializing in endangered species who spots a new kind of wasp in Senegal, much larger than anything he has ever seen before, with a propensity for injecting its larvae into animals – and humans, and displaying rudimentary intelligence. When a dead one is found in Costa Rica, Trey decides to retrieve it for study while a female doctor, Sheila Connelly, tries to talk him out of it because it’s too dangerous (?).  It turns out to be just that, but there’s no way that she could have known. Although enjoyable at times, the story gets off to a very slow start and the premise – that individual wasps could be intelligent enough to recognize a rifle that it had never seen before – is just too absurd to be credible. Nothing much happens during the first hundred pages and we never do find out why Trey is expelled from Senegal. It can’t be because of his awareness of the wasps because he’s ordered out before he even suspects they exist. There are other occasional minor plot elements that don’t make sense. How could the taxi driver in Tanzania know why Trey is there, when he hardly knows himself? Why is the email sent to him from the Senegalese woman unnecessarily vague?  Why is the US embassy so determined to keep the female protagonist, Connelly, incommunicado on her flight back to the US if they have no intention of maintaining it once she arrives, and what would give them the authority to enforce their rules in Rome?  Nor did I find it plausible that the wasps could have spread as far as they have without detection. If they’re on every continent, they would no longer be a secret.  Shows some promise, but the lack of attention to detail is a fatal flaw. 10/17/14

Destination Universe by A.E. van Vogt, Signet, 1952 

The first story in this collection is van Vogt’s best, “Far Centaurus,” in which a slower than light ship finally reaches Alpha Centauri after five centuries, only to discover that humans discovered a faster than light drive and already have a thriving civilization there. The story should have ended with this revelation but there’s a tacked on happy ending in which the travelers are sent back through time to the Earth they left. In “The Monster” a genocidal alien race makes the mistake of reviving a superhuman who steals their technology.  “Dormant” features a giant, rocklike creature that wakes up when humans drop an atomic bomb on it and destroys the planet. This was actually pretty good, as are the next two. A spaceman marooned on Mars has to figure out how to get an automated, empty village to support him in “Enchanted Village” and a man battles a substance with a mind of its own in “A Can of Paint.” “Defense” is a short short in which automated defenses on the moon destroy the Earth in response to a moon landing. “The Rulers” is a bad story about the secret rulers of the world. “Dear Pen Pal” is cute. An alien hoping to secretly swap bodies with an Earthman becomes trapped in a paralyzed man.  “The Sound” is a rather routine and contrived story about a boy thwarting alien spies. The final story, “The Search,” features a woman selling technology from the future. Although somewhat uneven in quality, this is an entertaining collection. 10/16/14

The Mad Robot by William P. McGivern, Armchair, 2013 (magazine appearance 1944)

Our hero is a space pilot sent undercover to report on the status of a robot development project on Jupiter. One of the co-directors casually tells him what they’ve been concealing from Earth – that the robots are unpredictable and some have turned violent, possibly because their brains are constructed of both metal and human brain cells. Sabotage is suspected and the other director seems to be the culprit, although he is subsequently killed himself. Our hero, who is now romantically involved with the dead man’s daughter, suspects that he was framed and eventually discovers who is really responsible. His identity was pretty obvious all along. Kind of silly but not badly written. 10/16/14

The Celestial Toymaker by Gerry Davis and Alison Bingeman, Target, 1986 

One of the oddest of the early Doctor Who adventures is this encounter with a mysterious figure who exists in a kind of pocket universe where he makes all the rules. His fascination with games is apparent when he separates the Doctor from both his friends and the Tardis, forcing him to play a kind of multi-dimensional chess match while the others deal with more tangible but equally difficult puzzles. The price of losing is to become an eternal slave of the Toymaker. There was speculation later that the Toymaker was actually a Timelord but there is nothing in the original story to support that conclusion. 10/16/14

Festive in Death by J.D. Robb, Putnam, 2014, $27.95, ISBN 978-0-399-16444-6 

Eve Dallas is back, this time investigating the murder of a personal trainer who has been seducing, perhaps by means of drugs, clients and other acquaintances. The list of wronged women, angry husbands, and irritated co-workers is impressive, but the discovery of a large amount of concealed cash also suggests the possibility that he was supplementing his income with blackmail or some other criminal scheme. The Christmas party interludes are too long and interrupt the story flow, but the mystery itself is well constructed with lots of suspects, lots of motives, and a few unexpected twists.  About average for the series, but as with most of them, the SF aspect is mere window dressing. 10/15/14

Planet of Shame by Bruce Elliott, Armchair, 2011 (magazine appearance 1961)

I had read a couple of novels by this author in the past and was not impressed. This short one is actually a lot better. A group of religious fanatics are exiled to another planet where they are able to expand into a stable, isolated society. Centuries later, there is a privileged aristocracy while most people consider sex a necessary duty, where many common words are unspeakable, and where a twisted code of behavior has been imposed. This is a satire despite an action oriented plot. The cure for diabetes is prostitution, for heart disease it is alcoholism, and so on. The protagonist has angina and is forced to become a drunkard, where he gets involved with a secret group of rebels. It goes on a bit too long but it’s well executed. 10/15/14

Philip Dru: Administrator by Edward Mandell House, 1912 

Edward House was Woodrow Wilson’s chief advisor until they had a falling out about the League of Nations and he was later an adviser to Franklin Roosevelt. This short little Utopian novel is essential a lecture rather than a story set in the near future despite a major war being fought, with the country facing collapse and financial ruin, all of which can be solved simply by adopting House’s political, social, and economic philosophies. He was actually more organized and modern in his thinking than most of his contemporaries and a lot of his ideas showed up in the Wilson administration and later in the New Deal, but this is still pretty dull reading. He originally published it anonymously for political reasons. 10/14/14

Beware, the Usurpers! by Geoff St. Reynard, Armchair, 2011 (magazine appearance 1951)

Robert Krepps wrote some excellent African adventure stories and quite a bit of indifferent SF under his own name and as Geoff St. Reynard. This is actually one of his better efforts, though it’s not very good. Through happenstance, a small group of people discover that aliens from another plane of reality are taking possession of human bodies to infiltrate our world. The premise is a bit shaky in that half a dozen people believe a single man who, accidentally, acquires the power to see them. After hi death they experiment among themselves and the protagonist/narrator becomes able to see them. He then starts a program of assassination, claiming twenty victims before mischance – and his rather horrible forethought – send him into hiding. Eventually he discovers a drunken man who can also see the creatures but thinks they’re just the DTs. He takes silly risks left and right but always comes out on top.  Eventually he uses a transparent bluff to scare them all back to their home dimension. I doubt Krepps was even trying to make this plausible. 10/14/14

The Ultimate Peril by Robert Abernathy, Armchair, 2011 (magazine appearance 1950)

The Over Race of Venus has begun a war against the forces of Earth even though the latter outnumbers their space forces heavily. The protagonist and a young woman are taken from among the human prisoners and sent on a lifeship to Earth’s orbit where they are rescued, although they have no idea why they were released. The Venusians had been briefly kidnapping people, including our hero, who now have gaps in their memories, so he is suspended from his job as a military spy.  Eventually he realizes that his body has been converted into a devastating bomb which will detonate if he reaches the hidden military headquarters, so he bolts and decides to go to Venus instead. 10/14/14

Kaiju Apocalypse by Eric S. Brown & Jason Cordova, Severed Press, 2014, $8.99, ISBN 978-1825947769 

Predator X by C.J. Waller, Severed Press, 2014, $9.99, ISBN 978-1925047738   

Two books from a publisher I hadn’t tried before, the first a novelette, the second a short novel. The first one is quite bad. Although there is no specific reference to Pacific Rim, the movie, this novelette is clearly set within its context. Giant monsters emerge from under the sea to menace a future world society. They are opposed by a small army of specialists. Most of the story consists of battle sequences and damage reports. There is almost literally no plot, the characters are just place holders, the writing is barely competent. This reads more like fan fiction than anything else, which is really all that it is. The second title is a little better. It has a plot – the discovery of an underground world where dinosaurs and other creatures still survive –  and there is some effort to make the characters act like people. The environment is hostile, obviously, and when a second expedition is sent to find out what happened to the first, they almost succumb to the same thing. After a short introductory sequence, the narration changes to present tense, and even people who aren’t bothered by present tense are going to scratch their heads at its use here. Here’s a clue for you. In a suspenseful situation, the narrator wouldn’t be writing, saying, or even thinking a narration. He’d be running for his life.  Not quite an epic fail, but you can skip both of these. 10/13/14

Exit Sherlock Holmes by Robert Lee Hall, Playboy, 1977 

More than a decade after Reichenbach Falls, Holmes discovers that Moriarty survived and is plotting anew. He informs Watson that he has to disappear for awhile and even gives up his flat at 221B Baker Street. Then Watson receives a cryptic message and suspects Holmes is in trouble. Mrs. Hudson reveals that Holmes had a secret laboratory in the basement, wherein Watson finds a strange mechanism. Then Moriarty shows up disguised as Holmes; it was he who sent the note. Watson also discovers that Mycroft is not whom he claimed to be and is in fact NOT a member of the Diogenes Club. Most of the book is in fact about Watson’s quest for the truth, which is that Holmes and Moriarty are cloned twins from the future. Holmes is trying to prevent World War I – and he obviously fails. As usual the author doesn’t understand the implications of time travel – Holmes says that time is passing in the future so he is out of touch with his home time. The story is far too long for its premise and does not hold the reader’s interest. 

The Ark by Paul Erickson, Target, 1986   

The Earth is about to fall into the sun so humanity constructs an enormous ark which gets underway to a new world with a complement of alien Monoids aboard. When Doctor Who and his friends arrive, they inadvertently bring a disease to which humans have lost their immunity. The Doctor must not only reverse what could be a plague but defeat a plan by one faction of the Monoids to destroy the ark. This was possibly the most complex of the stories featuring the first Doctor, with wheels within wheels and two major storylines interwoven.  

Rx Jupiter Save Us by Ward Moore, Armchair, 2011 (magazine appearance 1954)  

Ward Moore wrote a small but highly regarded body of fiction including Bring the Jubilee and Greener Than You Think. This short novel, however, has never previously been reprinted. It’s a satire set in an overpopulated future where machines do all the work and humanity has been conditioned against the use of force against one another. A young, uneducated boy raised by his parents in the Jovian system leaves him free of the conditioning but with no assigned place within human culture. There he discovers a secret underground of people who read and do things for themselves and becomes a leader in this rebellious community. Rather talky, though well written otherwise.

Parasite by Mira Grant, Orbit, 2014, £8.99, ISBN 978-0-356-50102-5 

Opening volume in a new series by the pseudonymous version of Seanan McGuire. In the near future, millions of people have been fitted with a tailored parasite that keeps them healthy. (I’ll insert a quibble here. If it’s benevolent, it’s not a parasite. It’s a saprophyte or symbiont.) The protagonist is a young woman who should have died in an accident but recovered, thanks to the parasite, although with her memory so completely wiped out that she had to learn English all over again, much to the discomfort of her family. She is under the care of a psychiatrist, who doesn’t believe she really lost her memory, and the bioengineering firm responsible for the parasites, because they want to study her and trade that for her very expensive care. But her life is further disrupted when scattered people begin dropping into what appears to be sudden fits of sleepwalking. I had some trouble with this one early on. The reaction of the protagonist and her boyfriend to seeing a sleepwalker seemed way too extreme – vomiting and so forth – and the sequence where they deal with the victim’s dog was much too cute. Once past that, the story picks up quickly as we discover that the sleepwalkers sometimes attack other people. There is, however, a nagging sense of implausibility. One of the sleepwalkers is killed by company security officers, but there’s no sign that the authorities are involved despite dozens of witnesses. We see so little actual news that it’s hard to tell if the authorities are reacting at all to what is clearly a major public health threat. And if the parasitic infection is visible in certain portions of the skin, then why would multiple hospitals with ten thousand patents have missed it?  A campaign by the evil company to suppress it is just not plausible on that scale.  

More little glitches appear. Although we’re told that thousands of cases have already been discovered and contained, the protagonist calls the laboratory rather than the police when three of the sleepwalkers besiege her house, supposedly because the police would not be prepared to deal with the situation. After thousands of cases, they would certainly have developed a protocol. Nor is it plausible to me that millions of people would be going in to have their parasites replaced every two years under the guise of other treatment and that no one outside the company would know that was what was happening. The mid-book plot twist is that our heroine’s boyfriend’s mother is actually the original creator of the parasite, that she’s been living in hiding for years, and that she has implanted parasites in a couple of brain dead bodies which have developed human personalities, even though they’re parasites. At this point, my ability to overlook the plot problems just wasn’t up to the task and I couldn’t take anything seriously. Even readers not bothered by all the implausible devices are likely to have lost interest because very little actually happens during the first 300 pages. There is a great deal of repetition and unnecessary detail and very little actual suspense. I doubt that I will read the two sequels. 10/11/14

Crusade Across the Void by Dwight V. Swain, Armchair, 2011 (magazine appearance 1942) t324 

A group of space pirates drawn from the various races of the solar system go into suspended animation so they can escape to another star. There they are immediately taken captive by one of the races of that system, an aggressive species which has conquered all its neighbors. They start out by arranging a colossal jailbreak but before long they are unofficially heading a rebellion against the master race’s hegemony. This is all pretty silly – how would a translating device from the solar system work elsewhere? – but it’s simpleminded fun. 10/10/14

The Massacre by John Lucarotti, Target, 1987  t316 

This was one of the more interesting of the historical adventures of the first Doctor Who.  He and his companions get involved in the politics of the battle between the French Catholics and the Huguenots. His activities convince one of his companions that he is working against the best interests of the latter – who were wiped out in real history – but in fact it’s part of a clever plan to get some of them to safety. The novelization ends with an awkward cliffhanger, however, and is only moderately interesting otherwise. 10/10/14

Away and Beyond by A.E. van Vogt, Avon, 1952   

This early collection of van Vogt’s short stories is in many ways more satisfying than most of his novels. The plots tend to be more focused and even the prose seems better most of the time. The opening story is “Vault of the Beast” in which a shapechanging artificial creature is sent to Earth to trick a mathematician into traveling to Mars to release an extra-dimensional being. It’s a lot more interesting than the plot summary suggests. The protagonist of “The Great Engine” finds a revolutionary new type of power source wild out riding and eventually traces it to a secretive group that is colonizing Venus without the government’s knowledge. “The Great Judge” deals with a condemned man in a future dictatorship who uses his new discovery to switch bodies with the dictator. “Secret Unattainable” is an epistolary story about a secret project in Nazi Germany that uses a technology which responds to the personality of the individual using it. “The Harmonizer” is a minor piece about a tree that exudes soporifics. The benevolent dictator of a post apocalyptic world faces a crisis in the very unsatisfactory “Heir Unapparent.”  In “The Second Solution” men hunt an alien creature that is vicious, powerful, intelligent, and telepathic. Contact is finally made and a peaceful settlement agreed to. It’s not a very good story. “Asylum” is a pretty bad story about alien vampires who arrive on a future Earth that is unaware of the galactic civilization. Inexplicably the vampires speak English.  A mix of good and bad stories. 10/9/14

Secret of the Serpent by Don Wilcox, Armchair, 2011 (magazine appearance 1948)  

Wilcox was quite possibly the all time worst writer to appear regularly in  the SF pulps. This one opens with a visitor to a distant planet somehow being transformed into a giant serpent, whose only company is a woman who has been transformed into a two headed cat. His memory comes back gradually and he realizes he was sent as part of a relief party searching for a missing scientist and her staff. There’s also a tribe of pygmy indigenes, a conspiracy, and a secret to be uncovered, but it’s all done so awkwardly and implausibly that it feels like a rejected comic book script. Some of Wilcox’s stories are so bad they’re fun but this one is just interminable. 10/9/14

Mission to the Unknown by John Peel, Target, 1989 

The Mutation of Time by John Peel, Target, 1989   

These two episodes of the Doctor Who series are known collectively as The Daleks’ Masterplan. The first part opens with the Doctor visiting the Trojan War. That’s just a preamble to the adventures of Marc Cory, an interstellar spy from Earth, and others. He is stranded on a planet where the Daleks are hatching a plan to conquer the universe in conjunction with six other alien races – none of whom ever appear again in the Doctor Who series insofar as I am aware. When the Tardis arrives on the planet in question, a desperate man tries to hijack it to escape the Daleks. The Daleks have a new superweapon, the Time Destroyer, but the Doctor steals an irreplaceable element, disabling it. He and his friends escape in the Tardis, but in the second volume the Daleks discover what has happened and start after them. They find the Doctor on Earth, where he has gotten into trouble with the local authorities, and the subsequent battle involves both Earth and the alien world and the possible destruction of entire star systems. This was the most ambitious Doctor Who serial to appear at the time and it established the Black Dalek as second in command of their empire. 10/8/14

Mission to the Stars by A.E. van Vogt, Berkley, 1955   

This episodic novel, also known as The Mixed Men, consists of three cobbled together stories, “The Mixed Men,” “Concealment,” and “The Storm.”   Earth is searching for a series of colonies founded by Dellian supermen, people who have trained their minds to amplify the strength of their bodies. This civilization, the Fifty Suns, consists of the Dellians, non-Dellians, and rare crossbreeds known as mixed men. The mixed men are looked upon dubiously because they once tried to seize power.  There’s also a power struggle between factions within the Mixed Men and a rebellion by senior officers and crew aboard the battleship from Earth, most of whom feel they are overdue to return home.  The author forgets a few things from one section to the next; the ship is four thousand feet long at one point, fifteen thousand at another. The protagonist is Mixed  Man and has two brains, like Gilbert Gossein of the Null A novels, but he’s not as adept at using them despite a power of mass hypnosis which he doesn’t always use sensibly.  In the final section, a near approach to a nova results in our hero being stranded on an unknown planet with the commander from Earth.  Romance blossoms and then they are rescued.  The rebel Mixed Men capture the Earth ship through subterfuge and seize control of the government of the Fifty Suns. Our hero saves the day, gets the girl, and flies off into the sunset. Pretty ragged toward the end but not too bad up until then. 10/7/14

Slaves to the Metal Horde by Milton Lesser, Armchair, 2011 (magazine appearance 1954)

If you can get past the silly premise, this isn’t a bad story. World War III has left civilization in ruins. A bacteriological weapon has killed most of the population, and those who survive are shunned as carriers. There’s also an army of robot warriors who are actually spreading the plague and who have completely human personalities. A young man recently recovered is determined to help make a better world. He destroys the robot civilization and returns the world to human control. Comic book action and plotting. 10/7/14

The Cosmic Bunglers by Geoff St. Reynard, Armchair, 2012 (magazine appearance 1956)

An experiment at a remote base in the Southwest has unexpected consequences. First, several hundred highwaymen from the 18th Century appear and begin robbing buses and trains. Then the base loses television and telephone contact with the outside world and discovers that some kind of force field is surrounding them. A short time later the base is overrun by the horde of highwaymen, except that their horses don’t need to breathe and some of them are women.  The explanation is rather silly. The highwaymen are from another planet, they hoped to take over Earth, but their only previous contact was with 18th Century England and since their culture never changes, they assumed that ours didn’t change either.  10/6/14

The Buttoned Sky by Geoff St. Reynard, Armchair, 2012 (magazine appearance 1953)

A future North America has been reduced to a feudal state by flying orbs with tentacles which humans worship as gods. The hero kills one impulsively and before the day is over he has killed more of them and kidnapped the daughter of a local nobleman. He seeks shelter in a hidden cave and discovers that there is an organization of rebels. The title refers to a sky dotted with flying saucers. The daughter escapes from the rebels, but has new doubts about the order of things, which are magnified when she learns more about the situation back at home. They find a man in suspended animation, waken him, and conveniently he has knowledge which help them to expel the invaders from the world. Ho hum. 10/6/14

The Weapon Shops of Isher by A.E. van Vogt, Ace, 1951 

The more famous of the two weapon shops novel opens with a man snatched from 1951 to an incomprehensible empire 7000 years in the future. He discovers that the Empress has discovered the secret of invisibility and is using it to establish powerful weapons close to the weapon shops so that they will not respond preemptively.  He is immediately coerced into becoming the weight on one end of a fulcrum through time that will disrupt the attack against them. How they come up with all this when they didn’t know time travel was possible until minutes earlier is never explained. The viewpoint then shifts through multiple characters to a young man who is an unconscious tool the weapon shops want to use against the Empress.  This one didn’t live up to my memory of it at all. It’s tedious and surprisingly lacking in invention given that it’s by van Vogt.

The Moon Era by Jack Williamson, Armchair, 2014, $12.95, ISBN 978-1-61287-173-8 (originally published in 1932)

One of Williamson’s earliest and silliest novellas. A young man unwisely agrees to pilot an experimental anti-gravity ship to the moon but shortly after launching he realizes that he is going back through time as well. He lands on the moon eventually and discovers that it was once a jungle planet, with a breathable atmosphere of course, and as it happens he has a revolver and a box of ammunition aboard even though he wasn’t supposed to ever leave the ship.  Although he has already told us that the atmosphere is much thinner on the moon, when he is captured by a balloon creature and lifted two miles above the surface, he still has no trouble breathing. He is badly injured in the encounter but happens to land – surprise – next to the last remaining member of a benevolent alien race who – surprise – can speak to him telepathically and heal his wounds in minutes. The alien is being pursued by the other intelligent species on the moon, the Eternals, who are obviously evil. They are essentially Daleks, organic brains in mechanical bodies. The good alien dies, the human sets off for home, but we never know if he made it. 10/4/143 

Revenge of the Robots by Howard Browne, Armchair, 2014, $12.95, ISBN 978-1-61287-173-8 (originally published in 1952)

Even for its period, this is dreadful. Howard Browne, who wrote some okay detective novels also wrote a good bit of bad SF.  This one is about a television promotion flight to Planet Z, which appears to be on the outer rim of the solar system, although for some reason the spaceship leaves Earth and passes the orbit of Venus to get there.  This is, of course, after they check with “spaceweathermen” to make sure there are no problems in outer space, which obviously has an atmosphere since their ship has “rudders.”  And they’re so unconcerned that when their instruments stop working, they don’t even try to fix them because so many things could have gone wrong that there’s no point to trying.  They land, are attacked by winged men, and conclude they have accidentally landed on the wrong planet, but they’re wrong. It’s the right planet, but it is secretly planning the conquest of Earth. Their leader is a sparrow with a man’s face who turns his enemies into similar birds under his control. Our heroes accompany the invasion force, which is allied with the Venusians against Earth, join the resistance when Earth is defeated, and help expel the invaders and kill their nasty leader. Childish dreck, and on top of everything else, despite the title there is not a single robot anywhere in the story. 10/4/14

The Weapon from Eternity by Dwight V. Swain, Armchair, 2010 (magazine appearance 1952)

This pulp adventure has a familiar plot – the repressive planetary Federation vs the independent asteroid colonies. Our hero is a raider working for the latter who is captured, tortured, and then escapes. He discovers that a former ally has developed a new weapon and is offering it to the Federation in return for a pardon. The weapon consists of giant robots and there is a catch to using them. Swain wasn’t generally a bad writer but this one is awful, filled with invented words and with the characters speaking in an artificially stilted style that wears out its welcome within a chapter or two. Swain wrote some books about writing that are still available even though he was never terribly successful himself. 10/2/14

Hunters Out of Time by Joseph E. Kelleam, Armchair, 2011 (magazine appearance 1960)  

Jack Odin is fresh out of the army and doesn’t know what to do with himself when he meets a mysterious woman and her dwarflike friends. They offer to take him to their “world” which turns out to be beneath the surface of the Earth. They are fugitives from another star who settled here thousands of years ago. For reasons that are pretty silly, Odin finds himself one of the rulers of the underground world because he rendered some aid earlier. There’s a villain who wants the girl, a schism in the underground society, the threat of exposure from above, and Odin’s eventual return to the surface, although he goes back in the sequel, Hunters Out of Space. A few good  moments but the entire middle third just drags. 10/2/14

Hunters Out of Space by Joseph E. Kelleam, Armchair, 2011 (originally published 1960)

This is the sequel to Hunters Out of Time (aka The Little Men) and involves the hero’s return to an underground civilization he discovered in that one. They actually came from another planet and have working spaceships. One of their number – the villain – kidnaps the hero’s girlfriend into space so he and his friends follow. The first fifty pages or so are fairly well done, but once they are out in space it gets tedious, silly, and predictable. The only other novel I’ve read by the author was a western. He should have stuck to that genre. 10/2/14

The Myth Makers by Donald Cotton, Target, 1985 

This Doctor Who adventure follows the pattern of the historical serials. The Doctor and friend find themselves caught in the middle of the Trojan War. They meet most of the famous characters on both sides – Helen, Paris, Hector, Agamemnon – but they don’t affect the outcome because that would be a violation of the laws of time. There’s more actual history in this one than in most of the other similar adventures, and it’s also a much better story than most despite its formulaic nature. 10/2/15

Invasion from the Deep by Paul W. Fairman, Armchair, 2011 (magazine appearance 1951)  

A rich madman has built an underwater prison for a giant human woman who ventured out of her subsea world. He then kidnaps various people, including our hero, to help him run his investigation of her nature and powers. The implausibility of an oversized human living undersea is never addressed. Toward the end, Fairman introduces a whole new plot. The villain is planning to use his submarine to launch an attack that will trigger World War III while he and his minions hide safely out of sight beneath the ocean. The good guys organize a rebellion and the giant woman gives her life to save our hero in a very confusing ending. Note that the title has almost nothing to do with the story. 10/1

Galaxy Four by William Emms, Target, 1985 

This is the novelization of one of the lost Doctor Who serials in which two hostile alien spaceships are forced to land on the same planet, where they are encountered by the Doctor. One race is humanoid and the other reptilian. The humanoids ask the Doctor for help escaping because the planet is going to explode within the few days. Our initial instinct is probably to trust the humanoids over the reptilians, but within a very few pages we know that the former are not the good guys.  Uncharacteristically, the Doctor leaves the bad aliens to be destroyed when the planet explodes. 10/1

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