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

LAST UPDATE 12/30/22

Counter-Clock World by Philip K. Dick, Berkley, 1967 

Time has started to run backward. People are born in the grave and end their lives by entering a womb. Dick does not really make his premise sensible. Only important things are reversed. Otherwise people act perfectly normally. The imminent return of a charismatic religious figure triggers a multi-way battle to control him and reveals that the librarians actually run a private army which operates outside the law. I thought this would have made a nice novelette but it becomes rather boring at novel length. 12/30/22

The Zap Gun by Philip K. Dick, Dell, 1966 

Aka Project Plowshare. The world consists of two political entities who pretend to be at war with one another. Each builds “weapons” whose design is snatched from another reality by psychics, but the weapons are bogus and become “obsolete” and are “plowshared,” converted to consumer good. This arrangement comes under strain when alien satellites begin to appear in the skies and entire cities disappear as alien slave traders begin to harvest humanity. But it all works out in the end. Not one of my favorites – a bit too surreal for my taste. `1/17/22

Dr. Bloodmoney, or How We Got Along After the Bomb by Philip K. Dick, Ace, 1965  

This is one of Dick’s stranger novels, set shortly before and years after a nuclear war. There is a paranoid scientist who can literally create explosions through mental force, a limbless genius with telekinesis, a young child whose twin brother is a tumor inside her body with whom she can communicate telepathically and who can transfer his consciousness into other bodies, the first man meant to go to Mars who has been trapped orbiting the Earth ever since the war broke out, and several other quirky characters including a talking dog, a flying squirrel, and cats that can plan ahead. The title is an obvious allusion to Dr. Strangelove, or How I Stopped Worrying and Loved the Bomb. 12/22/2

The Ganymede Takeover by Philip K. Dick & Ray Nelson, Ace, 1967

This was not a particularly successful collaboration, It feels more like Dick than Nelson, and resorts to another surreal episode, Dick’s greatest flaw in my opinion. Worms from Ganymede have conquered all of Earth except Tennessee, where a group of black partisans are holding out. There is a crazy psychologist, mysterious weapons that are essentially magic, secret agents, precognitives, robots that can pass for human, and other frills, but most of the story involves a small number of unattractive and not very bright individuals. Both writers have done much better on their own. 12/20/22

Now Wait for Last Year by Philip K. Dick, MacFadden, 1966 

Earth discovered that it was a lost colony of Lilistar, which has a superior culture. This forces them to join the war against the alien reggs and makes Earth’s government, led by Gino Molinari, a decidedly junior partner. Slave labor is reinstituted. The chief protagonist is a surgeon who joins Molinari’s staff and discovers that there is a good deal of strange activity going on, including sympathetic illnesses, a strange dead body in stasis, and a simulacrum that gives all of the speeches. His estranged wife becomes addicted to a drug that actually moves people forward and backward through time, although sometimes they are alternate timelines. Dick manages to drag this altogether, but not as successfully as in some of his other novels. 12/18/22

The Crack in Space by Philip K. Dick, Ace, 1966 

In an overpopulated future, a malfunctioning teleportation unit opens a doorway to an alternate Earth. Millions of people who are in suspended animation are scheduled to be moved to this new living space. But the other world is inhabited, by descendants of Sinanthropus, and they have a very different technology which includes the ability to manipulate time. Dick was somewhat prescient here in that the potential election of the first black President creates a white supremacist backlash. None of the characters are admirable. They are either racist, puritanical, greedy, disloyal, murderous, conniving, or aggressively immoral. Most of the futures in his novels are dystopian, but the odds favor his being right. 12/17/22

The Eaters of Light by Rona Munro, Target, 2022

This is a Doctor Who adventure in the classic tradition of the show. The Doctor is back in ancient Scotland trying to figure out what happened to a Roman legion that disappeared without trace. Before long he is aware of rumors of a strange and deadly creature roaming the moors. The entity is not of this earth but actually a visitor from another dimension, and you can pretty much figure out from that what happened to the Roman soldiers. Pleasantly told and slightly nostalgic. 12/11/22

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K. Dick, MacFadden, 1962   

Although this is generally considered to be one of Dick’s better novels, I have never really agreed. Too much of it is repetitive surrealism that never gets resolved, and we do not actually know how the story ends because it is not possible to tell one reality from another. Palmer Eldritch spent ten years in an alien star system and returned with a drug that can allow you to enter a reality of your own creation and where time has no meaning. Except that Eldritch himself - who might be an agent of the aliens or an alien in disguise – seems to be present in all of the realities. And humanity has become so moribund and repressive that it is hard to care whether or not they are being fooled.  12/9/22

The Penultimate Truth by Philip K. Dick, Belmont. 1964 

Following a brief nuclear war, a small elite has promulgated the idea that the war is still raging, so that almost the entire human population remains in underground shelters for more than a decade. The elite divide the surface among themselves and use robots to maintain the status quo. But the situation is getting out of hand, thanks in part to the interruptions by a time traveler and in part to the inherent instability of the situation. This is another Dick novel in which the book ends with part of the story untold. We do not know how the power struggle was resolved or the fate of the chief villain. 12/6/22

The Simulacra by Philip K. Dick, Ace, 1964

This was never one of my favorite Dick novels, partly because it stops rather than ends. It takes place in a future where Germany has joined the US, where the government consists of a series of actresses impersonating an immortal woman, accompanied by robotic husbands, and actually run by a secret group whose chairman is ostensibly the leader of a revolutionary movement. The government also has time travel and is trying to convince Hermann Goering to assassinate Hitler, win the second world war, and avert the nuclear exchange that followed decades later. There is also a colony on Mars, a coup attempt, telekinesis and teleportation, and the re-emergence of Neanderthals. The much varied assortment of plot elements does not fit together well. 12/2/22

Martian Time-Slip by Philip K. Dick, Ballantine, 1964 

Mars has been colonized and the various settlements are loosely controlled by the United Nations. Arnie Kott is head of the plumbers union colony. Jack Bohlen is a professional repairman. Manfred Steiner is an autistic boy who can see the future. When the UN shows interest in some supposedly valueless real estate, various parties contend to purchase the land first. Kott wants to use Steiner to predict the future and, later on, to transport him into the past. It is not clear if Steiner can really do this or just provide convincing visions. The plans fall apart and Steiner goes off to live with the indigenous Martians. Although low key, this is a very good novel, among Dick’s very best. 11/29/22

The Visionary Pageant by Paul Di Filippo, Newcon, 2022 

This novella is set in late 19th Century New England, although not exactly the one in our reality. Recently all the cats in the area have begun to disappear and there are cryptic references to Ulthar. Sophronia Tempest is an assertive female journalist who is more interested in the leaders of a new self-help cult that has become popular in recent days, and which appears to be aware of a rift between realities. What happens after that is strange and entertaining but you’ll have to acquire a copy to find out because I’m not going to spill the beans. 11/27/26

This Crowded Earth/Ladies' Day by Robert Bloch, Belmont, 1968

Two novellas about unpleasant futures. The first, as you might guess from the title, is about overpopulation. After war becomes impossible, various methods are employed to control the population, eventually leading to a medical treatment that keeps everyone less than two feet tall. The second takes its protagonist 160 years into the future, where he finds himself in a matriarchal society that mirrors our own. The author concludes that we might as well let women take charge because they couldn't do worse than the men. 11/26/22

Clans of the Alphane Moon by Philip K. Dick, Ace, 1964 

During an interstellar war, a moon that was used as a human psychiatric hospital was out of touch with Earth for twenty-five years. The seven major varieties of psychosis eventually coalesced into seven clans, each with a different group personality. Some of the individuals developed psi powers of various sorts. Earth tries to re-establish control, but the clans object, as do various parties human and otherwise. Lots of amusing characters including a Ganymedean slime mold named Lord Running Clam. I wasn’t entirely happy with the resolution of the conflict between the protagonist and his wife, which I thought was forced and unnatural. 11/22/22

The Unteleported Man by Philip K. Dick, Ace, 1956 

I always considered this a very minor work and still do. Star travel has been replaced by teleportation to a colony world, but the catch is it only works one way. The hero owns a starship and wants to travel to the world the slow way, but the teleport company makes every effort to stop him. Clearly there is something wrong with the colony and a private police agency intends to discover the truth. Eventually the plot is uncovered – a conscript army is being recruited and return travel is impossible after all. They get thwarted by the world government, which is pretty much a dictatorship anyway, so it’s not clear who benefits in the long run. 11/20/22

The Game-Players of Titan by Philip K. Dick, Ace, 1963 

Humans fought a war with the Vugs of Titan, and although neither side technically won, the Vugs generally administer the Earth, whose population has dwindled to about a million because of a sterilizing weapon used by the Chinese in a domestic war. Fortunately, humans have become extremely long lived. A subset of the population owns most of the land and they engage in elaborate games with entire cities as the stakes. The rise of a very successful player and his subsequent murder begin to alter the status quo. Some of the vugs disguise themselves as humans and plan our extinction. The climax is a game between humans and vugs, but there is so much surrealism that it is difficult to follow what is actually happening. 11/15/22

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K.Dick, Popular Library, 1962 

Dick jumped in quality by an enormous amount in this, which I still think is his best book. He dropped the melodramatic, action packed plots for a quietly chilling story of an alternate world where the Japanese and Germans won World War II, largely because Roosevelt was assassinated. The Russians dominate much of the world, and their literal insanity has risen to a level where even the Japanese are appalled. The story is set primarily in Japanese controlled California and the characters include a secret Jew, a Nazi assassin, a dealer in antiquities, a jewelry designer, a Japanese trade official, and a judo instructor. A novel in which the Allies won has become very popular and controversial, and the Japanese influence has led to widespread use of the I Ching. Great stuff. Fourth time I’ve read it. 11/11/22

Vulcan’s Hammer by Philip K. Dick, Ace, 1960 

Following a nuclear war, the world is ruled by a supercomputer, Vulcan 3. There are hints that some information is being filtered out of its data stream at the direction of the highest placed human. His subordinates have various reactions to this, but the computer itself has become semi-sentient and has used its repair facility to create hammer shaped flying robots to gather the information which it knows has been denied. This chiefly involves a revolutionary group. The protagonist is caught between the two sides, unaware that there is a third until the robots begin attacking people they view as threats. Full scale civil war erupts before the computer is destroyed. This was one of my favorites in high school and it’s still pretty good. 11/7/22

Atoms and Evil by Robert Bloch, Gold Medal, 1962 

Another collection of primarily SF stories. Most are humorous or satirical. Female robots are sold like used cars. A human brain is the fuel for a spaceship. The world is all a fake. People murder robots to work off their aggressions. A professor uses a psychic student to outwit crooked poker players. An alien has no understanding of metaphors and takes everything literally.  Bloch’s SF is generally inferior to his horror and suspense, but this is a pretty good selection of his better work in this genre. 11/5/22

Dr. Futurity by Philip K. Dick, Ace, 1960 

A shorter version appeared in a magazine as Time Pawn. A doctor from a near future world is shanghaied into a more distant future where death is a virtue and the practice of medicine is forbidden. He is sent to a prison colony on Mars, but never arrives, having been intercepted by agents of the people who snatched him out of time so that he can restore to life a man who has been in suspended animation for decades. There are some mild paradoxes before things resolve themselves and our hero is restored to his own time. A bit more conventional than Dick’s other early novels. 11/3/22

The Test Tube Girl by Raymond Palmer, Armchair, 2022

This originally appeared in a magazine in 1942 under the name Frank Patton. It’s very short and set in a future in which the Nazis developed a weapon that caused sterility throughout the world.  Faced with extinction, humans develop a method of creating viable children outside the womb. Predictable and rather boring. 11/2/22

The Fires of Pompeii by James Moran, BBC, 2022

A Doctor Who novel based on an episode from 2008. The Doctor and friends are visiting Italy to watch the eruption of Vesuvius when they discover something very strange. Creatures living inside the volcano have unusual powers and they are planning something dire for the human race. The Doctor is almost at his wit's end trying to foil the plot and not alter history irretrievably, but naturally he perseveres. Competently written and quite straightforward. Good story. 10/30/22

Time Out of Joint by Philip K. Dick, Doubleday, 1959  

Ragle Gumm lives in a small town that is clearly peculiar right from the outset. It’s not long before the reader realizes it is an artificial environment designed to contain and make use of Gumm, who is obsessed with a newspaper competition that is actually much more than it seems. The contradictions begin to bother him when he has some strange hallucinations (?) and he decides to escape the trap and find out what the real world is like. The hallucinations are never really explained, particularly since other people can see them. The plot device of an innocent appearing contest actually being a major battle plan was borrowed much later by Orson Scott Card for Ender’s Game.  10/26/22

Dimensions Unlimited by Berkeley Livingston, Armchair, 2022 (originally published in 1948)  

Another writer who never quite made it to the paperback market. This novella is as good as some of the lesser books in that format, and it’s clearly better than Eando Binder and others, but it’s completely forgettable. Prominent men have been vanishing, and it turns out they are being transported to other “dimensions,” although actually they are alternate worlds, not dimensions. A typically thinly described hero figures out what is going on and has adventures in multiple worlds.10/26/22

Fear Today – Gone Tomorrow by Robert Bloch, Award, 1971 

This collection is almost entirely science fiction, which was not really Bloch’s strength, although “Toy for Juliette” is quite good – a time traveler kidnaps a mam who turns out to be Jack the Ripper. Aliens discuss the foibles of humanity. The cure for overpopulation ends up being even worse. People travel through time for various reasons. Venusians invade Earth in the form of beautiful women. A couple of real  good stories, a couple of rather bad ones, and the rest are all entertaining. 10/24/22

Eye in the Sky by Philip K. Dick, Ace, 1957 

One of my favorites of Dick’s novel. An accident at an experimental station throws eight people into a shared coma. A succession of world masters emerge, each shaping the world to their preconceptions – religious mania, paranoia, political fantasizing, a dislike of sex, etc. The various characters have to survive in the odd worlds in which they find themselves, and incapacitate the architect of each reality. This was the first of his novels to use genuinely surreal imagery, though it is completely rationalized in this case. I suspect this was great fun to write and it’s still a real treat to read.  10/23/22

The World Jones Made by Philip K. Dick, Ace, 1956

Yet another post-apocalyptic dystopia, this one based on Relativism. All absolute statements are illegal, although infractions such as saying “chocolate is the best flavor” are normally tolerated. Jones is a precog – he knows the future for the next year in detail and insists that it cannot be altered. He also believes that non-intelligent alien Drifters which have recently been encountered in the solar system are actually a threat to humanity. For all of his foreknowledge, Jones is unable to see the consequences beyond a year and his plans go awry. Rather a depressing story on many counts.10/20/22

Eversion by Alastair Reynolds, Titan, 2022

I have to avoid spoilers on this one. The protagonist is a doctor aboard a 19th Century sailing vessel, or is it a steamship from a generation later, or a dirigible looking for an entrance to the hollow earth? He and his fellow crew and passengers are always on the verge of exploring a bizarre artifact when he is killed and the narrative restarts in another setting. The explanation was not a complete surprise, but there are some nice twists and a couple of really haunting scenes. Excellent and fast moving. 10/19/22

The Dead End Kids of Space by Frank M. Robinson, Armchair, 2022 (originally published in 1954)  w3219 

An amusing but not particularly memorable novella in which a group of young wannabe entrepreneurs realize that an unlikely planet is going to become an important nexus in human interstellar civilization, so they launch a quiet campaign to take control of the planet ahead of time. Unfortunately for their plans, they aren’t familiar with the planet’s culture and soon find out that they have bitten off more than they can chew. The results are mildly humorous and the story is well written. 10/17/22

Faster Than Light by Harl Vincent, Armchair, 2022  (originally published in 1932)

A somewhat convoluted but basically readable novel in which the exhaustion of natural energy sources causes some people to take an experimental starship to another solar system in search of a new source. The impracticality of that is never addressed. They are successful, but this sets off a power struggle on Earth and the colonized planets which involves the usual intrigue, double dealing, and mild violence. Not a classic though readable.  10/14/22

The Man Who Japed by Philip K. Dick, Ace, 1956 

Another dystopian novel in which a rather repressive society emerges following an apocalyptic war. The protagonist makes morally correct films for the government to transmit, but he begins to have blackouts during which he vandalizes a public monument. Before he realizes the truth, he is briefly kidnapped to another world by people trying to psychoanalyze him, is accused of immorality, and uses his promotion to head the broadcasting department to televise a sarcastic fake documentary which suggests that the founder of the state was a cannibal. Nicely done, although it feels very circumscribed, as though most of the world outside New York does not exist. 10/24/22

The Best of Sydney F. Bounds Volume I, Venture, 2016 

A collecion of not particularly good short stories, although a few of them at least attempt to rise above pulp level. They involve the escape from an irradiated Earth, a magically evil painting, a space hero who really wasn’t, derelict alien spaceships, secret alien observers, and other standard plot elements. The book includes the complete text of a short novel that had only appeared in a translated Italian edition, The Predators. It’s a routine story in which humans are used as mercenaries by the galactic government, which is fearful of humanity’s penchant for violence. 10/12/22

The Best of Sydney F. Bounds Volume II, Venture, 2016 

Most of the stories in this volume are quite short – some only four pages long – and a few of them are horror. Bounds wrote horror increasingly late in his career. There is also a novel, Star-Trail, published in Italian in 1977 but never before in English. A journalist investigates a family that built an interstellar dynasty, and discovers that there is actually only one man involved. He discovered the secret of immortality and changes his name every few decades. This was actually the best of Bounds’ novels, although the bar is pretty low for that distinction. 10/12/22

Frontier Legion by Sydney F. Bounds, Venture, 2016  zz72 

One novella and eight short stories, all standard SF adventure themes. The novella involves a secret mission to Pluto that is complicated when the protagonist gets amnesia. The other stories, none of them memorable, are about alien invaders, secret masters of the world, racing spacecraft, a couple of plague stories, and some mild satire. Bounds was fairly prolific but never particularly popular so it is a bit surprising that this publisher has brought so much of his work back into print, although I’m sure it is print on demand. 10/12/22

Solar Lottery by Philip K. Dick, Ace, 1955 

Dick’s first published novel is set in a future where games theory and superstition rule the solar system. The supreme ruler is chosen by a supposedly random mechanism, but is subject to legal assassination as a counterbalance. A power struggle during a change at the top is mixed with a possible first contact with aliens, telepathic bodyguards, and the creation of an android into which human minds can be transferred. It was a more ambitious work than most other Ace Double titles but dates well and features more deeply drawn characters than was common in the genre at the time. Some of the plot twists in the closing chapters are a bit of a reach but it is still a quite readable dystopian novel. 10/10/22

The Robot Brains by Sydney Bounds, McFadden, 1957

Three dwarves in a traveling carnival are actually malevolent alien geniuses who plan to take over the world. There is absolutely no reason why they should have wasted their time in the carnival since they are self sufficient and can teleport. There are internal contradictions in the plot, but eventually we learn that the brains are from the future, they are not robots, and they are trying to change history. Fortunately the Watchers – never explained – intervene and thwart them. 10/9/22

The Way You Came in May Not Be Your Best Way Out by Paul Difilippo, Wildside, 2022

The latest collection of varied and often almost indescribable stories by this author. There are two novellas, the Lovecraftian "In the Lost City of Leng" and "Aeota," a surrealistic private detective story in which the nature of reality is fluid. The short stories include one connected to "Who Goes There" by John W. Campbell Jr., a Lovecraftian parody, and others that mix humor, satire, and series subject matter. I had read all but two of these before and liked them all, and the two new to me were just as good. The story for the Harlan Ellison memorial collection is also excellent. 10/6/22

The Waning of a World by W. Elwyn Backus, Armchair, 2022 (originally published in 1926)

This is an early and rather minor interplanetary romance. Two men from Earth make the first trip to Mars, a dying planet, and find that intelligent humans inhabit the world, although they live in relatively primitive conditions. There is a political struggle underway because a would-be dictator has decided to force the woman who is the last member of the royal family to marry him, thus giving him the aura of legitimacy. She resists strenuously but her fate seems sealed until the arrival of the offworlders throws a wrench into the villain’s planning and provides an alternate future for the planet. The prose is okay, but dated, and there are actually a few scenes that work well in developing the other worldly atmosphere, but the plot is a standard one from historical adventure stories and is not very interesting. 10/4/22

The Eden Mystery by Sydney Bounds, Ulversoft, 2009 

This posthumous novel has only appeared in this large print edition insofar as I can determine. The interstellar human Federation is on the verge of civil war and a prominent but secretive merchant may be about to use his influence to affect the outcome. A journalist investigating the family’s history runs into increasingly serious obstacles. He eventually discovers the family secret – virtual immortality – and helps to avert an interstellar war. Dull. 10/4/22

Lords of Creation by Eando Binder, Belmont, 1966 

A not awful book from the Binder brothers, whose work generally feels like comic book strips being novelized. The protagonist is in suspended animation for more than three thousand years and wakes up in a future where Earth’s climate has radically changed, along with human society. He tries to find a new place for himself, but is soon involved in issues he does not understand and which under normal circumstances he would not be able to influence. The story is trite and predictable but much better than their usual efforts. 

The World Wrecker by Sydney Bounds, Digit, 1956 

A madman finds a crashed spaceship and adapts its equipment so that he can walk through walls, generate earthquakes, disintegrate human heads, neutralize falling bombs, and create a kind of antimatter. He plans to detonate the last under both poles in order to flood the entire Earth. Our hero runs into some living aliens – giant crows from Mars! – but they are forbidden to interfere in human affairs. Except that they do and help capture the madman, then bundle him off to Mars to be cured of his insanity. Bad. 10/1/22