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

LAST UPDATE 10/19/20

Biddy and the Silver Man by Harlan Ellison, Armchair, 2020 (originally published in 1957)

One of the authorís early, unsophisticated but mildly entertaining stories - a novelette rather than a novel. A young girl whose leg was stunted by polio finds an alien outpost in a remote hilly region. The apparently human occupant is clearly from an interstellar civilization which is planning to prevent a major world war, which is imminent. It does so in The Day the Earth Stood Still fashion and the girlís malformed leg is made whole.  10/19/20

Avengers of the Moon by Allen Steele, Tor, 2017 

Steele has here produced an impressive homage to the Captain Future novels of Edmond Hamilton, producing a detailed origin story explaining how he came to have a hidden base on the moon where he lived with a self aware robot, an android, and a human scientist whose brain resides in a kind of drone. They meet his ongoing rival in the original books, the Magician of Mars, and avenge the murder of the protagonistís parents. Steele improves the science and plausibility, but this is still just a fun story that echoes a simpler time in the genre which is for the most part gone forever. 10/17/20

Believing by Zenna Henderson, NESFA Press, 2020, $32, ISBN 978-1-61037-338-8 

This is a collection of all of the non-People stories by Henderson, including some previously unpublished work. The People stories are in a companion volume, Ingathering. A large number of stories involve children or their teachers. As the title suggests, the theme of several is that believing something can make it real. I connected her so closely to the People stories that I had forgotten how much excellent fiction she had written outside that series. Most of her stories deal with young children and/or their teachers, and some of them are fantasy. Henderson rarely visited other planets or alien civilizations. This contains both of her previously published short story collections, plus some odds and ends and unpublished work.  There are only a couple I didn't like, and several of them are very good indeed. This is a really nice volume, as is its companion book. 10/15/20

The Eskimo Invasion by Hayden Howard, Ballantine, 1967 

This rather subtle alien invasion story was originally published as a series of short stories. A scientist who sneaks into a preserve inhabited by eskimos discovers that they are breeding at an inhuman rate. They have a legend of a sky god and it is clear that they are not human. They give birth regularly every month, and only need to be inseminated once. The scientist concludes that they will drive the entire world to starvation, but no one listens to him. He is a prisoner first in Canada, for trying to sterilize the Esks, then in the US when the CIA wants to use him against China, and then in China. Ultimately, the alien intelligence that seeded the Esks returns and harvests them. 10/14/20

In the Black by Patrick S. Tomlinson, Tor, 2020, $19.99, ISBN 978-1-250-30275-5

Although this is technically military SF, it is more about diplomacy than combat, which makes a nice change. There is a neutral zone between human controlled space and alien territory, and it is clear that the aliens have more advanced technology. They are not aggressive, however, and there is a chance that the two races could become allies rather than enemies. There is some sophistication to the plot, which deals with complicated issues - including some inherent flaws in human society. I'd say that the one weak point in the book is that the dialogue does not always feel authentic. This is the first in a series and even though the surprise development of the end was very predictable, I won't reveal it here. 10/11/20

Possess & Conquer by Wenzell Brown, Warner, 1975 

A group of astronauts on the moon see a flash and then begin acting with unnatural hostility. Back on Earth, one of them commits a violent murder, although he is not positively identified. A series of violent events follows, but there is no protagonist and the book feels like a series of disconnected incidents. The astronauts are possessed by disembodied aliens who have unique powers of persuasion and the ability to make duplicates of themselves and impersonate influential humans. Eventually the one uninfected astronaut reappears and manages to convince the government of the truth. Not very good. Brown wrote mostly mysteries. 10/8/20 

Corpus Earthling by Louis Charbonneau, Zenith, 1960 

The protagonist thinks he is going crazy because he hears voices that claim to be Martian invaders occupying human bodies, but he decides it is real when attempts are made on his life. He has to figure out who among his acquaintances is actually a hostile being from another planet, and then convince someone that he is telling the truth before they arrange a full-scale invasion of Earth. He eventually develops powers of his own and kills the two invaders Ė but Charbonneau forgot to deal with the fact that a second, unwarned expedition is about to depart for Mars. This became an episode of The Outer Limits. 10/7/20

Pursuit by Lester Del Rey, Armchair, 2020 (originally published in 1952) 

A standard though well told novelette about a man with amnesia in a near future world who knows that he is being pursued by members of a secret organization, but does not know who they are or why they are interested in him. Naturally the future of the entire planet is at stake. This was fun though rather dated. 10/7/20

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini, Tor, 2020, $29.99, ISBN 978-1-250-76284-9

The first SF novel by a fantasy writer whose work did not impress me shows some improvement here, although at nearly nine hundred pages, this is far too long for its story. The protagonist encounters an alien parasite whose existence involves Earth in an interstellar war with mysterious aliens. Humanity is definitely outclassed as the war develops. This reminded me vaguely of Star Wars. The feel of the story is much more that of a movie than of a novel. The characters are not noticeably well drawn, although not entirely flat, and the adventures are exciting if somewhat predictable. Some scenes are far too long and provide a great deal of unnecessary detail, which is particularly obvious in the action sequences, which should be snappier to keep the reader involved. I actually broke off twice to read something else before finally finishing. This probably sounds worse than I intended, because it is not a bad novel. But it is a ponderous one.  It appears to be the first in a series.

Shadows in Death by J.D. Robb, St Martins, 2020 

The latest in this long running quasi-SF detective series has quite a bit of gadgetry in it, but other than being told that it is forty years in the future, we would likely not fail to recognize the New York City where Eve Dallas is a homicide detective. This time itís personal. A contract killer who grew up with her husband Roarke has decided that it is time to pay back for old resentments. They methodically track him down and eventually capture him, but he actually seems relatively incompetent, makes a lot of obvious mistakes, and his apprehension is rather anticlimactic. Not one of the stronger books in the series but still very readable. 10/1/20