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

LAST UPDATE 12/3/21

The War-Nymphs of Venus by Ray Cummings, Armchair, 2021 (originally published in 1941)

A novelette in which one faction of the inhabitants of Venus – who are humans naturally – send an envoy to Earth to request aid in a civil war. Minions of the evil other side capture our heroes and take them back to Venus for reasons that are never quite clear. There the involuntary visitors from Earth  have various adventures involving beautiful warrior women and nasty people who want to rule the world before becoming the means by which freedom is restoed. Decidedly minor. 12/3/21

Micro by Michael Crichton and Richard Preston, Harper, 2011 

This is a Crichton manuscript completed by Preston, but there is nothing to indicate how much Crichton wrote. Although entertainingly written, it did not remind me of Crichton at all. His ability to bring a scene to life as notably absent. The plot involves another evil corporation. This one has found a way to use a magnetic field to shrink object, including people, down to the point where they are almost invisible. The protagonist and some others get reduced after he discovers that the top managers murdered his brother. The diminutive people escape and eventually bring about the downfall of the villains. I found the concept rather silly and never was able to take the story seriously.  12/2/21

Dark Invasion by Frederick A. Kummer, Armchair, 2021 (originally published in 1939) 

The planet Mercury is slowly falling into the sun, so the Mercurians (humanoid of course) send instructions to Earth for construction of a matter transmission receiver. One is built, but the first Mercurians to arrive make it clear that they plan to transport their entire population and displace humanity. They also kidnap some humans back to their world as slave laborers. Battles follow but the story is actually rather dull. The invaders are eventually defeated and the world is saved. 11/29/21

The Great Stone of Sardis by Frank R. Stockton, Armchair, 2021 (originally published in 1897) 

This is a rather dull and not very focused quasi-lost world novel. An inventor in the future develops a submarine with which he plans to send a team to the North Pole, which subsequently happens. They have some dull adventures, including the discovery that one of their crew members is a madman whom they eventually have to capture and confine. At the same time, the inventor has developed a disintegration ray with which he bores through the Earth’s crust, discovering a hollow world occupied by a single gigantic diamond. The madman somehow manages to go down the tube and dies of fright. Dull.11/27/21

Tomorrow Lies in Ambush by Bob Shaw, Ace, 1973 

A substantial collection with several excellent stories. “And Isles Where Good Men Lie” causes a man to obey orders in order to avert the continuing destruction of an alien race. “Pilot Plant” reveals that aliens have been manipulating key humans to develop a specific technology. “Call Me Dumbo” is about two stranded space travelers and the way one of them chooses to deal with the situation. A computer opens communication with the afterlife in “Communication.”  “Invasion of Privacy” starts as a ghost story and ends up with an alien invasion. “The Cosmic Cocktail Party” explains how technicians lure back disembodied intelligences when they create their own universes inside a computer. There’s a shapechanging alien in “Repeat Performance.” “The Weapons of Isher II” is an amusing story set on a world where weapons cannot be used against other people.  11/24/21

Dark Night in Toyland by Bob Shaw, Gollancz, 1989 

This was Shaw’s fourth, last, and weakest collection. Most of the stories are quite short, generally less than serious, and are variations of familiar themes. There is a rationalized story about the three wishes that go wrong, a giant insect that mimics a human being, an overly controlled future that unwisely brings a science fiction fan forward through time, and pacifistic aliens that discover how vulnerable the human body is. There are a couple of fantasies but most of the book is science fiction. I believe Shaw only wrote one additional story after this was published. 11/24/21

A Better Mantrap by Bob Shaw, Granada, 1982    

Shaw’s third collection contains some very good stories. A family decides to forego a promotion so that they can keep their robot dog in “Crossing the Line.” Other stories involve life aboard an orbiting habitat, a bizarre alien creature that lives underground, a very strange execution system for murderers, and mutants who can generate holographic projections. “Frost Animals” is an interesting blend of murder mystery and SF, specifically time dilation. The only bad story is the very silly “The Kingdom of O’Ryan.”  These seem to be much less original and enthusiastic than his usual work. 11/22/21

Cosmic Kaleidoscope by Bob Shaw, Dell, 1979 

Short stories. “A Little Night Flying” is related to the novel, Vertigo. “Unreasonable Facsimile” is a rather silly story about aliens building a replica of Mount Everest. “Deflation 2001” is a rather nasty satire about labor unions. Aliens clandestinely ship human art off planet in “A Full Member of the Club.” There is a stranded, hostile, shapechanging alien in “An Uncomic Book Horror Story.” The novelette “Skirmish on a Summer Morning” is one of Shaw’s best. A time traveler takes refuge with a crippled cowboy in the Old West. “The Gioconda Caper” is a not very funny spoof of private eyes stories. “Waltz of the Bodysnatchers” is a cleverly twisted story of a murder plot that has an unexpected outcome. Another solid collection from Shaw. 11/22/21

Boundary by Eric Flint & Ryk E. Spoor, Baen, 2006

First in a series that is now six books long. It’s hard SF, although not too hard. A paleontologist makes a discovery that suggests there has been contact between Earth and Mars in the distant past. This leads to her being accepted as a member of the first expedition to the red planet, where her expertise now seems relevant. They will ultimately find confirmation when they excavate a long buried building and find a dinosaur on display. The story is slow in spots – it could have shed almost a hundred pages without materially affecting anything – but it appeals directly to the sense of wonder, which is why I read SF in the first place. 11/17/21

The Land of the Lost by Roy Norton, Armchair, 2021 (originally published in 1909 as The Toll of the Sea

A disaster novel mixed with a lost race. A series of tidal waves in the Pacific not only devastates all the coastal lands on four continents but also causes a new land to rise from the sea. When ships begin disappearing, a Navy cruiser is sent to investigate. They discover that an ancient race of South Americans who once ruled the entire world with their super science have been hiding in the Andes and have now claimed the new land as their home. Why they didn’t use their very advanced knowledge to create a country earlier is never explained. A bit slow and the prose is clunky at times, but not awful. 11/16/21

Warren Peace by Bob Shaw, Gollancz, 1993     

Aka Dimensions. Sequel to Who Goes Here? It’s a broad farce in which the hero loses his immortality and becomes human again, pisses off the worst villain in the galaxy, visits alternate worlds, encounters a mysterious drug, and has other rather silly adventures in an interstellar society. I have never understood the appeal of this kind of story. It doesn’t engage the reader, the jokes aren’t memorable, and it goes on for far too long. Pretty much the same faults as its predecessor. 11/15/21

Killer Planet by Bob Shaw, Gollancz, 1989 

A novella for young adults in which a pair of teenagers break quarantine to visit a planet from which no one has ever returned. Abandoned alien cities and giant slugs follow in due course. They discover that an alien invader wiped out the former inhabitants because it could control complex machinery, so they attack it with swords and destroy it. Not remotely memorable. 11/15/21

Mission to Marakee by Bryan Berry, Armchair, 2021 (originally published in 1953) 

Although nothing special, this was a fairly enjoyable low key adventure story set after a nuclear war has laid waste to most of the Earth. An ex-soldier is recruited by a team of scientists to help them track down and destroy a dangerous mutant whose powers are so great that he could bring about the extermination of ordinary humanity. Naturally things are not exactly as they appear to be. Originally a Panther paperback, never before available in the US. 11/12/21

The Rebel by Gerald Brandt, DAW, 2017 

Final volume in a trilogy. The corporations have taken over the world but there is a resistance movement and the protagonist is a member. Her life has been downhill recent – having lost family, job, freedom of movement, and her lover. When the corporations begin fighting each other, it brings further distress but also an opportunity to bring to an end the stranglehold they have over the city. So she sets out to help exploit the schism for the benefit of the oppressed, only to discover that she is pregnant and now has even more to lose. Quite well done, as were the first two books in the series. 11/11/21

Martian and Troglodyte by Neil R. Jones, Armchair, 2020 (originally published in 1933) 

This is just a novelette and not a particularly good one. Jones enjoys popularity in some quarters but I have always found him marginally readable at the best of times. The Martians send an expedition to Earth and kidnap a cave man in order to study humans and decide whether or not we are likely to evolve into a benevolent race. The captive escapes and takes a Martian weapon with him, with which he kills his rivals and menaces others. The Martians decide against us. I would have done the same. 11/11/21

Shadows of Hyperion by Ryk E. Spoor, Ring of Fire, 2021, $16.99, ISBN 978-1953934847

The fourth in the Arena series. Our heroes have triumphed over their adversaries inside the Arena, a gigantic construct in space, and humanity has become one of the most powerful races lodged there. But that doesn't mean they don't have enemies, some of them serious. Their alien rivals have not gone away just because they have been thwarted, and new enemies arise even as the protagonists discover their own powers are flagging. Throw in a rogue artificial intelligence, a puzzling murder mystery, and some idiosyncratic new characters and you have a nicely told space opera. And this time the action extends all the way back to Earth and threatens to disrupt the situation at home as well. 11/10/21

Orbitsville Judgement by Bob Shaw, Gollancz, 1990

The third and final book in this series is also the weakest. The gigantic habitat has mysteriously moved to another part of the universe. An itinerant preacher has concluded that the artifact was built by the devil and is willing to defraud and bankrupt people in order to acquire the funds to outfit a starship and leave. The novel wanders around before presenting a series of revelations in the closing chapters and altering Orbitsville completely. There are physical manifestations of ethereal aliens, an explanation of the habitat’s construction, and the death by suicide of the preacher. There was never an edition in the US and I’m not surprised. 11/9/21

Assault on Sunrise by Michael Shea, Tor, 2013  

The actors who survived events in The Extra now live in a small town where they are supposedly insulated from the dangerous world around them. An unscrupulous movie producer arranges a fatal encounter so that the town can be condemned, allowing him to force them into participating in his next extravaganza. There are more battles with robotic aliens but this is mostly a repeat of the first book and really does not expand upon the concepts included there. Both books were meant to be satirical but the author goes a bit overboard in the second installment. He died before completing what was supposed to be the final book in the series. 11/8/22

A Few Last Words for the Late Immortals by Michael Bishop, Kudzu Planet, 2021, $17.99, ISBN 978-1-933846-12-5

This is a retrospective collection of the author's short stories - three dozen all very short, accompanied by a selection of poems and a satiric play. Only a few of the stories were new to me and in fact I reread several of them less than a year ago. Most of these are stories original to this collection. They do not include his most famous work but even on his off days, Bishop writes better than most of his peers when they're firing on all cylinders. There is only one story that I dislike and it's a very early one. Many of the entries tell a surprising amount of story in comparatively few words. The play is amusing. Here's your chance to read some very fine stories that may not be readily available elsewhere. 11/7/21

Challenges of the Deeps by Ryk E. Spoor, Baen, 2017

Third in the Arena series. One of the problems in an ongoing series that involves revelations about the environment is that each successive volume really needs to outdo its predecessors, or at least that is the perception among most readers and authors. In this case, our urge for more is satisfied by a further exploration of the Arena, a vast though miniaturized representation of the universe in which groups from alien races contend for territory and influence. The author has wisely withheld many of the secrets of this environment, so even though the main plot is an expansion and evolution of the basic story - the interplay among the various factions - there is the background that promises more revelations connected to the plot. So even though this is not a spectacular break from the first two books, it feels fresh and new and interesting. 11/6/21

How to Get to Apocalypse and Other Disasters by Erica L. Satifka, Fairwood, 2021, $17.99, ISBN 978-1-933846-19-0

Starting a collection of stories by an unfamiliar writer is also an adventure. Will they be awful, okay, or actively interesting. This one falls somewhere between and among the latter two. I had only read two of these stories previously -  a good many of them appeared first in Interzone. There are in fact some apocalyptical events in several of the stories, including the one that provides the title. The author's subject matter is generally traditional, but wide ranging within that tradition - with aliens, technological disasters, mystical events, and outright human stupidity leading the list. Several of them are satirical and sometimes overtly funny. "Goddess of the Highway," "The Big So-So," and the title story were the ones that impressed me most. I will have to track down her debut novel, so far only published in the UK. 11/4/21

The Fugitive Worlds by Bob Shaw, Baen, 1990 

The concluding volume in the series jumps forward in time and has a mostly new cast of characters. Plans are underway to repopulate the twin planet, Land, which has mysteriously become depopulated. But a fourth planet appears in the system, and it was brought there by aliens trying to escape a galactic catastrophe. They plan to jump to another galaxy entirely, but to do so will destroy both Land and Overland. This was much weaker than the first two volumes. The aliens are more comical than threatening and the tentative love affair is sophomorish and distracting. 11/4/21

Shoggoths in Traffic by Tobias S. Buckell, Fairwood, 2021, $18.99, ISBN 978-1-933846-18-7

One of the things I enjoy about Buckley's work is that he is unpredictable, so each new story is completely unexplored territory. This is a collection of two dozen stories, which range in subject matter from some very odd takes on the zombie theme, a storehouse of the spirits of serial killers, some reasonably standard fantasy, to strange powers and superheroes. Some are deadly serious, some tongue in cheek. There is science fiction and fantasy and even some horror. I had only read a couple of them previously so this was a real treat as they come from anthologies, small presses and magazines, and online publishing sites. The title story is probably my favorite but thy are almost all of such uniform quality that it is hard to pick out exceptions. It's also fairly long for a collection, so you'll get more than your money's worth.11/1/21

Spheres of Influence by Ryk E. Spoor, Baen, 2013

This is the sequel to Grand Central Arena, which established a kind of gigantic replica of the universe where each space traveling race finds itself in a collection of interconnected spheres. Humans arrived in the first book and with some help, soon became an influential faction. The author builds on that foundation in this longish sequel, which explores the habitat in more detail, providing answers to some of the questions raised in the first book, but posing new ones as well. The humans expand their influence as well as their knowledge of the habitat, and have to deal with various alien races which are hostile, manipulative, evasive, or otherwise present difficulties. Very enjoyable space opera. 11/1/21

The Wooden Spaceships by Bob Shaw, Baen, 1988 

The second novel set on two planets who share an atmosphere. The plague on the original world has resulted in a new race of immune humans, who have decided to extend their rule to the unchanged population of the neighbor world. The latter build wooden fortresses floating in the weightless zone between the planets, but there is another problem. A kind of oversized insect is telepathic and projects sometimes horrible thoughts into the minds of some of the settlers, causing insanity and suicide. 10/29/21

Tomorrow by John Taine, Armchair, 2021 (originally published in 1939)  

John Taine wrote a few good stories, but most of his work is quite forgettable. This is a full length novel that never previously appeared in book form. It’s about the theft of some sensitive material in the distant future, as a consequence of which a malevolent plague is set loose. Among other things, it changes animal cells to plant cells. None of this is very well explained and most of the novel consists of conversations, arguments, and discussions of the possibilities. It was painful to read. 10/28/21

The Extra by Michael Shea, Tor,  2010 

This was meant to be the first in a trilogy but Shea died before the third was written. It’s another dystopian future, this one entertained by mass SF spectacles in which the extras in the cast are actually in danger and die by the thousands, risking it to receive the generous pay that will get them out of the slums. Our heroes decide to develop a system that will allow them to defeat the robotic alien monsters and get rich, but there are complications. I didn’t think this was one of Shea’s better works. It is repetitious and lacks his usual flair for atmosphere. 10/26/21

Neodymium Exodus by Jen Fenelli M.D., Wordfire, 2021, $18.99, ISBN 978-1-68057-185-1

A likeable protagonist makes her way through a complex future interstellar society. So complex in fact that the world building often gets in the way of the story. The blurb "a blend of biomedical science fiction and multicultural fantasy" did not help. What does that even mean? There is the basis of an entertaining story here, and at times I was quite caught up in it, but the story expands in so many directions that I kept getting thrown out of it and had to find my way back. In order to identify with the characters and feel any interest in their fate, it is necessary to establish some commonality of experience and that does not happen here. I applaud the imagination, but maybe it should be reined in a bit to develop the characters. First in a series. 10/25/21

Hella by David Gerrold, DAW, 2021

Hella appears to be Earth's only colony as it collapses into some unspecified crisis. The planet is hostile, populated by dinosaurs that dwarf those of Earth's past, plus lots of other dangers. The colony seems to be dealing well with their natural enemies, but more serious is a minority that plans to turn the colony into a dictatorship, eliminating anyone who is different, restricting immigration, and murdering those who oppose their agenda. This is told from the point of view of a young boy who is brilliant but apparently suffers a variety of autism that makes his interactions with other people more difficult. The first half of the book is mostly exposition about the planet, but the descriptions become a kind of narrative in themselves and I actually enjoyed this part more than the more melodramatic story line that takes over later on. 10/24/21

Thus Far by J.C. Snaith, Armchair, 2021 (originally published in 1925) 

A scientist contacts an old friend on an apparently urgent matter and then disappears. The friend investigates, eventually involving the police, because a master criminal is loose in the city, armed with a new scientific discovery. There are hints of immortality and other marginal SF elements but they are generally background material. The story is incredibly dull and plodding with much of the interesting action taking place off stage. The prose is less than scintillating. Not a lost classic. 10/22/21

I, Said the Fly by Michael Shea, Silver Salamander, 1993 

This is a novella in which strange events trouble the world. Electronic communications become erratic, the number of missing persons increases, people report seeing odd things – a van that runs with no power source, humans who are operated by wires and have no volition, piles of dirt that appears and disappear, and other similar oddities. The explanation is an invasion by an alien intelligence, and they do not mean us well. Humanity never has a chance. 10/21/21

The Ragged Astronauts by Bob Shaw, Baen, 1986

First in a trilogy. Two planets are so close that they share the same atmosphere. This allows one to travel from one to the other via hot air balloon, which proves to be important when an airborne lifeform that exudes toxic gases becomes more lethal and more aggressive. A culture that mixes barbarism with some technology is torn by a kind of guild system and personal rivalries affect the behavior of key individuals in the project to save the nation – or at least the aristocracy. This series is probably the best work Shaw did at novel length.  10/19/21

Voyage into the Lightning by Robert Moore Williams, Armchair, 2021 (originally published in 1942) 

Williams was never a major writer but I found him entertaining back in the 1960s. This novella is not among his better stories. A spaceship is hijacked and crashes before we find out that the Venusians made an attempt to secretly colonize Earth by stowing away on ships traveling back and forth. An evil Earthman is in charge of them for some reason. There is considerable bad science – a ray causes heavy rain which then causes vegetation to grow ten times as fast. The story is also riddled with plot holes. The villain’s plan to extort cooperation from the hero would never have worked unless the latter was a complete idiot.  Most of the characters do in fact make stupid decisions. 10/17/21

Fire Pattern by Bob Shaw, DAW, 1984 

A journalist covering a story about spontaneous human combustion gets more than he bargained for when another victim bursts into flame right in front of him. The answer is disappointing. Humans were placed on Mercury by the same race who populated Earth. The Mercurians are telepathic and can displace human minds, though they claim to do so only when people are facing imminent death. The Earth personality is embodied on Mercury while the Mercurian then cures the terminal disease in its new body. There is, however, a rogue who has been stealing bodies on Earth for thousands of years.  Our hero finds himself in a new body on the inner planet and has to help his hosts emigrate in order to go home himself. The second half is quite boring. 10/13/21

Grand Central Arena by Ryk E. Spoor, Baen, 2010

The first interstellar flight ends up in a kind of bubble, connected to millions of other bubbles, each of which is dedicated to one inhabits system in the universe. As races reach them, they engage in politicking and battle to extend their spheres of influence - pun intended - and acquire more power and more advanced technology. The humans, predictably, do remarkably well despite being recent arrivals. This is a very long novel but there is enough happening that my interest rarely flagged. It is also the first in a series. 10/12/21

Battleship by Peter David, Ballantine, 2012

I had heard that the novelization of this movie was quite different, having made an attempt to rationalize the scientific illiteracy in the original. It also adds several minor incidents not in the film. The story is about alien invaders who land in the Pacific and establish a force field around Hawaii to set up a major invasion. A single destroyer manages to destroy most of their force and they commandeer a mothballed battleship for the exciting climax. Despite its silliness, I have enjoyed the movie several times. 10/6/21

Orbitsville Departure by Bob Shaw, DAW, 1983 

Despite the title, the vast spherical habitat is mostly off stage in this sequel. Most of the story is set on Earth where a not very pleasant man seeks revenge for the mind wiping of his wife and son. He has some very minor adventures while doing so. Then there is a long trip to the habitat, during which he attempts to murder a fellow passenger, the man responsible for his family’s tragedy. But they never arrive because aliens from another universe have decided that it is time to transfer Orbitsville and its population to yet another universe which is devoid of intelligence, which fact could affect the evolution of the universe. I kept waiting for something to happen in this one, but it never really does. 10/4/21

Crucible of Time by Jeffrey A. Carver, Starstream, 2019 

The final volume of the Chaos Chronicles poses some new problems for our human hero and his alien and robotic companions. The technology used in an interstellar war has opened a gateway through time. A species of robot dedicated to the eradication of all life has used this means to swarm forward through time from the past – they have been eradicated in the present under normal conditions. The band of heroes is somewhat handicapped because one of their number has lost his universal translator and cannot communicate with the others. A second group – the protagonist’s romantic interest – is engaged against them on a second front. The robots – Mindaru – have a different plan this time. They plan to alter organic life to turn it into a weapon against itself. Panoramic action across a complex and exotically described universe. The various plot threads converge, of course, because this is designed to bring the six volume series to a conclusion. Imaginative space opera and high adventure. 10/2/21

Forgotten in Death by J.D. Robb, St Martins, 2021

Eve Dallas is back again. A homeless woman is found battered to death at a construction project. A block away, the remains of a pregnant woman are found walled up in an old building. Are the two murders related?  There's a really nasty villain in this one which also includes attempted murder, embezzlement, infidelity, a retired gangster who is actually nicer than some of the upstanding characters, an abusive husband, false identities, missing persons, and so forth. There are actually three separate cases involved. SF by courtesy only because it's set in the future and has some speculative references. It's really an urban police procedural. About average for Robb, which is pretty hih for anyone else. 10/1/21

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