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


The Hand of Fear by Terrance Dicks, Target, 1980 

Sarah Jane finds a fossilized hand that turns out to be animate and shortly afterward she is possessed by some alien intelligence. The hand is what remains of a silicon based alien lifeform, a criminal who cleverly escaped execution and wants a full body back. The Doctor figures out what is going on and tries to return the creature to its own world, but the race has become extinct and the alien prefers to return to Earth and establish itself as planetary ruler. The Doctor outsmarts him and Sarah Jane gives way to Leela at the end, one of my least favorite companions. About average, but the last third is boring and unconvincing. 3/30/15

The Deadly Assassin by Terrance Dicks, Target, 1977 

The Doctor returns to Gallifrey, home world of the Timelords, just in time to get caught up in the local politics. He has foreknowledge of a planned assassination of the Gallifreyan president, but since he is banned from the planet, he cannot leave his Tardis to deliver a warning. He bypasses this stricture with a little help from a mystery man who turns out to be the Master. Predictably the assassination succeeds and the Doctor is framed for the crime. He and the Master have another duel of wits before things are over. Not the most inspired plot in the series, but Dicks does a better than average job of turning it into a prose story. 3/30/15

The Face of Evil by Terrance Dicks, Target, 1078 

The Doctor arrives on a primitive planet and is somewhat taken aback to find that the manifestation of their evil spirit looks just like him. Meanwhile, the local witch doctor is being manipulated by a mysterious unseen individual who wants to provoke a war among the tribes. The natives are, it turns out, descended from shipwrecked humans. There are some invisible monsters Ė cheap special effects on the screen Ė but the story is rather humdrum and I never liked Leela as a character, let alone a companion. 3/30/15

Intrigue on the Upper Level by Thomas Temple Hoyne, Armchair, 2014, $12.95, ISBN 978-1-61287-251-5 

This 1934 dystopian novel originally appeared in hardcover, the only SF that I know of by this author. In a giant city of the future, the rich live on the top tiers and the unemployed at the bottom, a device used many times since. The story proceeds rather predictably. The two protagonists, one male and one female, each act separately and together to organize and lead a rebellion against the status quo. There are setbacks along the way. Some of the rhetoric is clearly socialist, not surprising given that it was written during the Great Depression. Hoyne was a competent if uninspired writer and Iím mildly surprised that this hasnít been reprinted earlier. A good many less satisfying and less well written books certainly have. 3/26/15

Superposition by David Walton, Pyr, 2015, $17, ISBN 978-1-63388-012-2

Since I love detective stories, crossovers in SF always attract my attention. This one presents some problems because the anomalies of quantum physics are involved and since they apparently suspend some of the natural laws of cause and effect and the flow of time, that makes it difficult to use it to construct a mystery novel without "cheating." The protagonist is confronted by an acquaintance who claims that he is being pursued by an alien intelligence, but he is also murdered in another location apparently at the very same time. Our hero becomes prime suspect, is arrested and sent to trial, while the real killer - who actually is a transcendent intelligence - remains free. I enjoyed the speculation a great deal and the writing is fine, but it's not really a mystery novel in the traditional sense. 3/24/15

The Green Man of Graypec by Festus Pragnell, Armchair, 2013 (originally published in 1936) 

The idea that atoms might be miniature solar systems was not uncommon in early SF, most notably in the works of Ray Cummings. This not very well known novel involves the adventures of a man who swaps bodies with a diminutive but competent warrior on one such microscopic world, known as Graypec, as the result of an experiment by his scientist brother. There he has a series of the usual adventures, is a prisoner, is disgraced, redeems himself, thwarts the bad guy, and gets the girl, only to be finally thrown back into the present where he finds himself under arrest for murdering his brother. Not bad of its type, but not exceptional either and this kind of SF has passed from the scene. 3/22/15

MirrorWorld by Jeremy Robinson, Thomas Dunne, 2015, $25.99, ISBN 978-1250054104

A mentally ill man escapes from a government black ops psychiatric hospital just as the world seems to be headed for a nuclear war. He takes with him an experimental drug and, when faced with capture, he injects himself with it. The drug gives him the ability to see aspects of reality that are invisible to the rest of us. This fast paced thriller includes some interesting speculative twists but it's another of those books written in first person present tense, which does not work for stories of suspense. It's too distracting and does not match the narrative pace. I stopped reading a third of the way through and if I hadn't been snowed in and short on reading material, I probably would not have gone back to it. 3/21/15

The Masque of Mandragora by Philip Hinchcliffe, Target, 1977 

A fairly average Doctor Who adventure with the fourth Doctor visiting the Italian Renaissance just in time to prevent someone from wiping out the human race. The court astrologer has been possessed by a stranded alien intelligence who is part of a cult that wants to prepare the world for all out invasion and possession. There are some local political intrigues as well that make it more difficult for the Doctor to work against the villain, which also fleshes out what is otherwise a pretty minor story. 3/20/15

G.O.G. 666 by John Taine, Armchair, 2013 

This novel was previously published in 1954.  Taine was the penname of mathematician Eric Temple Bell and is best known for the quite good The Greatest Adventure.  This is a bit of a cold war thriller. An American scientist is participating in, and spying on, a Soviet genetics experiment. Gog is the experimental subject, his name supposedly an acronym for General Order in Genetics, although Russians would presumably have used their own language, not English.  There is something fishy about the whole set up but itís not clear what is really going on. While playing propaganda games, the Russians also seem to be conducting two experiments at once, and Gogís origin is also mysterious. A bit talky and only marginally SF, readable but not one of Taineís better novels. 3/19/15

The Seeds of Doom by Philip Hinchcliffe, Target, 1977 

I really enjoyed this Doctor Who serial on television, and the novelization is almost as well done. Scientists find some frozen seeds in the Antarctic Ė no, itís not the Thing Ė and an insane Englishman steals a pod while another man becomes half human, half plant.  The Doctor tries to track down the missing seed pod but another infection has taken place and the result, a Krinoid, begins to grow uncontrollably, at one point completely covering a house where our heroes are sheltering. The creature can also affect the behavior of other plants within its range. Mildly silly at times, but fairly suspenseful as well. 3/19/15

Empire of Jegga by David V. Reed, Armchair, 2012 (magazine appearance 1943) 

This adventure story opens with an interesting if scientifically implausible situation. It turns out that the Earthís atmosphere is distorting our observations and the planets are all much closer together than we thought. All of the planets, as well as the moon, have indigenous races but the Martians Ė the Jegga Ė are the imperialists who have conquered everyone except Earth. They canít land on Earth because their ships are all plastic and burn up in our atmosphere, since none of the other races have discovered metal working. The story moves from bad to worse as it progresses. Reed was not a bad writer but he rarely took the time to ensure that his stories had a solid scientific basis and he generally settled for the clichťs of the field, as in this novel, rather than attempt something more ambitious. 3/17/15

The Brain of Morbius by Terrance Dicks, Target, 1977  

The melodrama is somewhat over the top in this Doctor Who adventure, set on a planet that attracts and wrecks spaceships, a world dominated by a madman trying to find the perfect skull into which he can install the brain of a renegade Timelord. There is also a female group on the planet who have powers that rival the Timelords and who consider the Doctor be an enemy, drug him, teleport him to their secret citadel, and plan to sacrifice him. There are lots of things going on in this one ranging from political struggles to routine chases and escapes. This one works a lot better as a book than it did on the television screen. 3/16/15

The Android Invasion by Terrance Dicks, Target, 1978 

The Doctor Who version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. He returns to Earth to find part of England overrun by humanoid figures with guns in their fingertips, as well as the remains of a large number of pods. The humans in the area tend to act very strangely. Thereís an evil alien mastermind involved, of course, and the creatures are actually robots, not androids, a mistake made in this series on more than one occasion. Except that things are not as they appear because they have not landed on Earth after all, but another planet where the invasion is being tested in the field. A rather silly plot although the first half is pretty good. 3/16/15

The Stone from the Green Star by Jack Williamson, Armchair, 2014, $12.95, ISBN 978-1-61287-205-6   

This short  novel originally appeared in 1931. A man from our time is kidnapped into the distant future by a blind man and his daughter, who are opposed to the current despotic ruler of a distant planet. The blind man is a scientist who has been directing a search of the universe for a substance that will stop the ageing process and make humans immortal. Our transplanted hero wants to be part of the search but he gets somewhat distracted when the tyrantís minions show up, determined to kidnap the beautiful daughter and seize the scientistís discoveries for their own use. This is really old fashioned space opera, which Williamson wrote extensively during the early years of his career. Itís creaky and awkward and occasionally silly but it does reflect the optimism of that era toward humanityís expansion into space, despite the presence of the villain and his minions.  3/15/15

The Green Man Returns by Harold Sherman, Armchair, 2013

Originally serialized in 1947. The blurb on this first book edition suggests it might have been part of the inspiration for The Day the Earth Stood Still, which is nonsense since it is based on the earlier ďFarewell to the MasterĒ by Harry Bates. In any case, itís the sequel to The Green Man and has our superhuman alien returning to Earth just as the world is heading toward a major war. He gives an ultimatum that the world find its way to peace or risk being destroyed by extraterrestrial powers, which suggests why the mistaken blurb originated. But rather than suspense, this is a satire, there is never any serious speculation that the world might actually end. Itís not as good as the first, and itís rather repetitive as well, but  Iíd read the predecessor once before while this one was completely new to me. 3/3/15

The Pyramids of Mars by Terrance Dicks, Target, 1976 

The Doctor finds himself in 1911 England as guest of sorts at a creepy mansion owned by a renowned Egyptologist. The house is managed by an enigmatic figure whom we eventually discover is working for an alien creature stranded on Mars, once worshipped as a god by the ancient Egyptians. The mummies in the mansion are secretly robots which he controls. The Doctor realizes that the alien is an evil creature so he decides to foil its attempt to regain its freedom and he does so in a somewhat confused manner involving more than usually unsatisfactory pseudoscience. 3/13/15

The Loch Ness Monster by Terrance Dicks, Target, 1976 

This is a novelization of Terror of the Zygons. The Doctor is off to present day Scotland to investigate attacks on oil rigs perpetrated by what appears to be a prehistoric creature. In fact it is a cyborg created by the alien Zygons, who look like leeches in their natural state but they can transform themselves and mimic humans. The Doctor figures out whatís going on and locates their base Ė not surprisingly underneath Loch Ness Ė and the Brigadier and UNIT go into action precipitously. Sarah Jane is there mainly to be captured and rescued. About average grade for a Doctor Who story. 

The Planet of Evil by Terrance Dicks, Target, 1977 

The Doctor answers a distress call from a mining colony on a distant planet whose crew has been disappearing one by one.  Some of the missing men show up dead, their bodies decaying, and a rescue mission from Earth predictably suspects that the Doctor is responsible, when it is actually an invisible creature that hunts at night. Thereís also a plan to use antimatter, which the Doctor insists could have disastrous consequences, and again predictably, no one will listen to him. The sole survivor of the original group gets infected by antimatter and becomes a kind of werecreature, and the presence of antimatter means that the rescue ship canít take off. The science in this is pretty wobbly so the author skirts around it at times. Otherwise a fair story.

The Green Man by Harold Sherman, Armchair, 2010 

Originally serialized in 1946. This is the story of Numar, an alien visitor to Earth, who interposes himself in the life of a human scientist with sometimes humorous consequences. Itís full of implausibilities Ė the police try to arrest him for being green Ė and rather archaically written. He has unusual powers, heals the disabled, causes automobile engines to stop, lives on air and sunlight, never sleeps, and apparently can see into the future. Naturally most people believe itís all a hoax. Itís quite a bit longer than it really should have been and it was a minor novel even when originally published, but it still has some chuckles tucked away in odd corners. 3/9/15

The Man With Five Lives by David V. Reed, Armchair, 2013 (magazine appearance 1943) 

This peculiar short novel borrows from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, sort of. Scientists develop a new serum which releases the evil part of the human personality. The protagonist inadvertently drinks an entire bottle of the substance and splits into literally, physically several different people of varying natures. The treatment is humorous rather than serious, and occasionally it becomes rather silly, but Reed was a competent storyteller and itís more entertaining than most of the pulp novels of this period. It originally appeared as by Clyde Woodruff, which is also the name of the protagonist. 3/9/15

The Genesis of the Daleks by Terrance Dicks, Target, 1976

The Doctor is sent back through time to the early days of the Daleks in an attempt to alter their history and make them less aggressive. This was the first appearance of Davros, creator of the Dalek race, who showed up again later. The Daleks are uneasy under his rule and the relationship changes during the course of the story. The Doctor fails to alter their nature and, when given the opportunity to wipe them out, chooses to let them live, a decision which he regrets in later episodes. Despite the Dalek theme, which I generally donít care for, this was one of the better serials. 3/8/15

Heavenís Fall by David S. Goyer & Michael Cassutt, Ace, 2013   

The final volume in this trilogy jumps twenty years into the future. The Reivers have supposedly been defeated thanks to the alliance between the human abductees and their alien captors and co-prisoners. Or have they? When they re-establish contact with Earth, they discover that those malevolent aliens have arrived and conquered the planet, in part because there were humans perfectly willing to assist them. So the battle is rejoined, perhaps for the ultimate battle, and the wanderers in space may be the element that finally brings peace to the galaxy with the liberation of Earth. I donít want to say too much about the plot of this one since it might spoil oneís enjoyment of the previous volumes. It has a slightly different overall feel and a larger cast of characters, but itís still full of interesting speculation and the marvels of the unknown universe. Best trilogy Iíve read in quite some time. 3/7/15

Star-Begotten by H.G. Wells, 1037 

Wellsí second story of Martian invasion is shorter, more intellectual, and far less interesting. The protagonist is a writer who theorizes that Martians are using cosmic rays to alter the DNA of human beings, forcing them to evolve into a more Martianlike state of being. He convinces a few other people that the theory is worth examining further and they begin studying human births Ė which is of particular interest to our protagonist who is an expectant father himself. They conclude the theory is correct and go public. They also conclude that the new form of humanity will be more sensible and less violent, and that there is in any case nothing they can do about it. The closing chapters are more lecture than narrative. Not surprisingly, this is a hard book to find. 3/6/15

The Revenge of the Cybermen by Terrance Dicks, Target, 1976   

The cybermen are much better villains than the Daleks, even though they share some of the same attributes. This time the robotized human beings are on a space station when the Doctor arrives accidentally but providentially, although for a while they are viewed by the crew as criminals who have sneaked aboard. Thereís a mysterious spy, a rebellious alien race, and a kind of artificial plague that the cybermen are using to immobilize their enemies. This is one of the best examples of how a book can avoid the really bad special effects in the television show and end up being a reasonably good story. 3/5/15

Heavenís War by David S. Goyer & Michael Cassutt, Ace, 2012 

The second volume in this trilogy picks up right where the previous one left off. About two hundred people have been abducted from Earth and are making their way through the interior of a gigantic starship that contains human Ė and inhuman Ė habitats. The first part of the book describes the shock of transition from various different viewpoints, along with the initial attempts to create some kind of organized lifestyle.  The habitat is generating a variety of animals, some dangerous, and the very architecture of their surroundings occasionally changes. The most frightening discovery, however, is that they are not alone. There are explorations and puzzles and revelations galore. Middle volumes of trilogies are traditionally week but the authors have taken pains to ensure that is not the case this time. Looking forward to the third with, hopefully, the solutions to the various problems raised. 3/4/15

You Canít Escape from Mars by E.K. Jarvis, Armchair, 2013 (magazine appearance 1950)   

Mars is inhabited by an alternate human race with an advanced technology. They allow people from Earth to visit, but forbid any landing on the moon Phobos. Jerry Utah is distracted by a projected image and crashes there, which automatically means a death sentence. He meets a beautiful woman Ė naturally Ė and discovers that the Martians have developed artificial gravity in order to hold a breathable atmosphere on Phobos. He is forced to participate in a duel to the death but engineers an escape instead and the Martian priesthood is revealed to be a bunch of fakes. An okay story of no particular merit. 3/2/15

The Sontaran Experiment by Ian Marter, Target, 1978   

The Sontarans are among the better Doctor Who enemies. This story opens with a group of space travelers stranded on a depopulated Earth and menaced by a mysterious robot. Sarah Jane gets kidnapped by one of the strandees and the Doctor searches for her, but she ends up captured by a lone Sontaran warrior/explorer who has come to Earth to conduct an experiment. The Sontarans hope to occupy the Earth, but the Doctor foils the plot, rescues Sarah, and rather uncharacteristically kills the Sontaran. This one works reasonably well as a novel, which actually felt more fleshed out than the rather short television serial. 3/1/15

Heavenís Shadow by David S. Goyer & Michael Cassutt, Ace, 2011 

First volume in a trilogy.  Two spaceships from Earth Ė one from the US, one from the Russian-Indian alliance Ė visit a mysterious body from outer space that has entered the solar system. Although it is believed to be a natural object, there are some strange anomalies almost from the moment they arrive.  No reader is likely to be surprised to learn that it is at least partially artificial even before it maneuvers into orbit around the Earth. The astronauts venture inside and find a chamber where people from their past are apparently resurrected in new but recognizable bodies. Eventually we learn that a race referred to as the Architects is searching the galaxy for races who might help them in some sort of war against the Reivers, whom we donít see in this book, which is the first of a trilogy. Eventually they kidnap a bunch of humans and leave the solar system, with several of our original cast among them. Quite good but necessarily with a weak ending. 2/27/15

Men Like Gods by H.G. Wells, 1922 

Wells wrote several SF novels that are practically unknown today. This one opens with two automobiles driving along a rural road and suddenly finally themselves transported to another world. They are able to communicate with the physically beautiful inhabitants of this world thanks to some convenient telepathy.  Although this starts off entertainingly, it soon dissolves into lengthy political arguments. Is this society Utopian or merely decadent? What is the role of government? Wellsí socialism provides an obvious bias. Thereís not much story after the first fifty pages and not much of interest either. 2/27/15

Sentry of the Sky by Evelyn E. Smith, Armchair, 2014, $12.95, ISBN 978-1-61287-177-6 (magazine appearance 1961) 

This is a rather funny spoof of the interplanetary spy story. Earth rules most of the galaxy but they have recently found another humanoid race and have to decide whether or not to exterminate it to prevent confusion among the non-humanoid races. The protagonist is a rather antagonistic clerk who looks enough like the Damorlanti to pass with minimal surgery and he is sent on a ten year mission toe evaluate their culture, posing as a librarian. He comes to like the natives and tries to manipulate things for their benefit, but ultimately ends up going back to Earth. An odd ending that I didnít expect at all. 2/26/15

Stay Out of Space! By Dwight V. Swain, Armchair, 2013 (magazine appearance 1958)

Swain wrote some interesting space adventure novellas. This isnít one of them. Humans donít go into space because they believe Ė with no real evidence Ė that an alien race has forbidden them space and is waiting to destroy any space voyagers. But itís not a human race we recognize. Almost all of them are women and the few men are considered primitive throwbacks. The aliens turn out to be worms to whom any form of salt is poisonous. Ludicrous story. 2/26/15

Giants from Eternity by Manly Wade Wellman, Night Shade, 2004 

Two hard to find stories by Wellman, published together. ďGiants from EternityĒ opens with the arrival on Earth of a bloblike lifeform that spreads across the countryside devouring everything that it encounters. Two young scientists discover that an extract from the blob will restore the dead to life. The story goes a bit off the rails here. They decide to restore Louis Pasteur, Charles Darwin, etc. to life because their intellect might help solve the problem of the blob. This makes no sense, of course, since they would be horribly out of date scientifically. Nor would a restored physical body retain the memories of the original, although Wellman claims that this is in fact the case. The blight begins to spawn creatures inimical to humanity, and subverts one of the scientists to its side before it is ultimately defeated. First half is pretty good but I was overwhelmed by the implausibilities after that.  The second, much shorter story, is a minor fantasy about Nostradamus. The stories were first published in 1939 and 1947 respectively. 2/25/15

Strangers on the Heights by Manly Wade Wellman, Night Shade, 2004

Two novellas, including the title story and Nuisance Value, which was an Ace double book as The Dark Destroyers. The first is a supernatural adventure pitting two Americans against a cult of Satanists in Chile who have real powers. In fact, the only problem with the plot is that they inexplicably fail to use them against their enemies when they have the chance. The demons turn out to be a kind of alien and they use technology rather than magic, but theyíre still no match for the feisty Americans. This was pretty good, actually, with only a few rough spots, but the copy editing is atrocious Ė things like the Untied States and windows made of class and so on.  The second story is one of my favorites by Wellman. The Cold People are an alien race which conquered Earth in a matter of days, driving the few survivors to hide in the Equatorial regions. A scout penetrates one of their cities, learns about their technology, and eventually leads a guerilla style war that drives them away. A few clunky spots but generally very good indeed. 2/25/15

Son of the Black Chalice by Milton Lesser, Armchair, 2014, $12.95, ISBN 978-1-61287-177-6 (magazine appearance 1952) 

An unknown alien race left a device on an asteroid that helps develop superhuman powers. The government allows about a million people to convert before it decides to shut down the operation. The reasoning for this isnít clear. As a minority, the supermen are hated by normals, naturally.  The resentment erupts into open conflict between the two groups in some places. Predictably they decide to send an exploratory party to another star system, hoping to find a new home, but instead they stumble upon an ancient computer that has been waiting to be found. Eventually they find the creators of the conversion equipment, who turn out to be humans who are now decadent. Then they discover that the superpowers are a trap and that they can be given up so that the two strains of humanity can get back together. A disappointing and rather irritating ending. 2/23/15

The Ark in Space by Ian Marter, Target, 1977 

The human race has been driven off Earth by solar flares and the survivors are aboard a vast spaceship where most are kept in suspended animation. This contradicts a number of other Doctor Who serials in which Earth dominates an interstellar empire, but thatís not unusual. Anyway, aliens have managed to board the ship and they are consuming the corpses and manipulating those humans who are awake, and who arenít too pleased when the Tardis appears. The Doctor sorts it all out with some help from Sarah Jane Smith. More suspenseful and atmospheric than most, particularly from the Tom Baker era. 2/22/15

The Giant Robot by Terrance Dicks, Target, 1975 

Tom Baker took over as the Doctor in the serial on which this is based, which was called simply The Robot. After some initial silliness that is even worse in book form, he and Sarah Jane Smith stumble upon a robot that is stealing defense secrets at the behest of some megalomaniacs determined to rule the world. The robot is conflicted about this but has to obey orders. This is pretty good up until the ending where the robot becomes giant sized and a menace to the world all by itself. The showís writers would do much better by Baker in the years that followed/ 2/22/15

The Planet of the Spiders by Terrance Dicks, Target, 1982 

A group of human mystics have tapped into a psychic power that could potentially destroy them. An intelligent giant spider is pursuing the Doctor, intent upon stealing a gem stone which has come into his possession. The spider takes mental control of one of the mystics and uses him as his puppet. He steals the gem and a lengthy chase sequence ends with them discovering the truth. Their successful diversion of an attempt to invade the Earth is aided by dissensions among the ranks of the spiders. This is another one where  the televised version suffered from cheap special effects which are, obviously, not a problem in the prose version. 2/22/15

Rebels of the Red Planet by Charles L. Fontenay, Armchair, 2013 (originally published in 1961)  

I read this when it first appeared more than fifty years ago and vaguely remembering enjoying it, so I welcomed an excuse to read it again. Fontenay wrote very little SF Ė although he produced a string of YA novels many years later from a small press. Mars has been colonized, despite an inadequate atmosphere and the presence of ancient Martians who appear to have devolved to a near animal state. A disreputable science is experimenting with the genetic code in an attempt to create humans who can live without artificial aids, but most of his experimental subjects are bizarrely twisted. The two scientists who come to visit him are no better, rhapsodizing about the honor of sacrificing oneís self for the race, even if involuntarily. Mars, unlike Earth, has outlawed the use of psi powers. The ending is a bit perfunctory but even though this isnít a lost classic, itís a pretty good story. 2/20/15

The Monster of Peladon by Terrance Dicks, Target, 1980 

The Doctor returns to the planet Peladon where the settlers are attempting to develop some industrial capacity, but where mysterious deaths attributed to an ancient curse are hampering things. The throne is occupied by a young woman who is dominated by the clearly nefarious chief advisor. There are a number of political factions and the Doctorís attempts to mediate among them just make them all mad at him. Thereís a brief appearance by the Ice Warriors, their last I believe, and a rather dull conclusion. Decidedly below average. 2/20/15

The Cosmic Destroyer by Alexander Blade, Armchair, 2014, $12.95, ISBN 978-1-61287-180-6 (magazine appearance 1957) 

Blade was a house pseudonym and this is one of the titles whose real author remains unknown. A commercial starship lands on a familiar port only to be ordered back into space. Since apparently the author never heard of radio, he has the captain sneak back down in a skiff to find out what is going on rather than call and ask.  He learns that one of the local priestesses has absconded with an Earthman and that she possesses a fearful ancient technology, so he decides to track her down and bring her back. This means traveling to another star, which is interesting since we were told just a few pages earlier that they donít have enough fuel to reach any other star. He finds them, gets romantically involved, but ultimately they return to her homeworld. Iím not surprised that no one has ever admitted having written this one. 2/19/15

Edge of Dark by Brenda Cooper, Pyr, 2015, $18, ISBN 978-1-63388-050-4

First half of the two part Glittering Edge duology. Humanity has colonized most of the solar system, but generations earlier it tried unsuccessfully to expunge all artificial intelligences from civilization. Now the AIs have developed a society of their own and co-existence seems to be the best solution, if it is possible. Several characters react in different ways to the mix, including a woman who finds herself in an artificial body and others who undergo intellectual as well as physical transitions. This is a space opera, of course, but it is more specifically an examination of what it means to be human. At what point does intelligence equal consciousness? Are we still human if our bodies are altered dramatically? The author poses a number of questions but the answers, if any, are going to be found in the second half of the story. I found this a little harder to get into than Cooper's earlier books, probably because there is so much going on. But I was caught up eventually and look forward to the concluding volume. 2/18/15

Death to the Daleks by Terrance Dicks, Target, 1978   

A ship full of Daleks and another full of humans are both stranded on a desolate planet, where the Doctor finds them, although the Tardis also appears to have ceased functioning. The story makes less sense than usual. Why would a spaceship propelled by telekinesis have an exhaust stream? The usual round of captures and escapes. The Daleks are predictable and the humans sometimes oddly illogical.  The author tries to tidy this up a bit but not enough to make a significant difference. 2/18/15 

Time Trap by Rog Phillips, Armchair, 2014, $12.95, ISBN 978-1-61287-180-6 (originally published in 1949 ) 

Two inventors find a way to communicate telephonically with the future but shortly after succeeding, a telepathic voice warns them to leave their laboratory and moments later it is destroyed in an explosion. They build a time machine and go forward a few decades where they discover that Earth is ruled by three eyed, humanoid aliens. They immediately run into the fugitive President of the US, which seems unlikely. Nor is it plausible that when their first ship crashed on Earth, the government would allow it to be sold for scrap! The aliens are actually altered humans from another plane of reality and our heroes help send them back and free the world. Much scientific mumbo jumbo but not a lot of logic. 2/18/15

The Other Side of the Moon by Edmond Hamilton, Armchair, 2014, $12.95, ISBN 978-1-61287-182-0 (magazine appearance 1929)

An expedition to the Yucatan is wiped out by a freak lightning bolt with only one survivor, or so it appears in the opening chapters of this story. The survivor recruits two friends to accompany him back after telling them that an ancient Mayan temple is actually a launching apparatus used by visitors to the moon. They are determined to use it to travel there and rescue an imprisoned human, and also to gather proof to convince the world it is in danger of invasion.  They arrive and are all captured, during which period we are provided a rather tedious description of the history of the Lunarians, who actually originated on Earth and invaded the moon Ė wiping out a race of intelligent worms Ė in order to escape an ice age. They have built a dome over the far side of the moon to shelter their city. The humans manage to break free and destroy the dome, wiping out the Lunarians, before returning to Earth. Except for the long historical section this was pretty well done for its time. 2/13/15

Secret Invasion by Walter Kubilius, Armchair, 2014, $12.95, ISBN 978-1-61287-182-0 (magazine appearance 1953)

I donít recall ever reading a story by Kubilius before, and wonít be looking forward to repeating the experience. Ostensibly the plot makes sense. Humans won a war against the Martian race but the Martians have been suborning humans to act as their spies. It turns out that they are actually transplanting their brains into human bodies so that even if they are wiped out they will survive secretly within humanity. The hero even turns out to be a Martian, although he doesnít know it. The cavalier attitude toward genocide, the impossibility of the transplants, and the stupidity of the characters are all wrapped up in bad prose and poor plotting.  2/13/15

The Space War by Malcolm Hulke, Target, 1976 

The original television title of this one was Frontier in Space and it pits the Doctor against the Master, who is manipulating two alien races to foment a war. The Doctor spends most of the story in captivity by one side or the other, or the Master, or some combination, which makes it all rather static. The presence of the Ogrons gives away the supposed surprise that the Daleks are the Masterís secret masters, and the story is flawed by some plot jumps and holes that shred what little logic exists in the story. One of the worst tales from the Pertwee era. 2/12/15

Time Split by Patricia Smith, 2011, $8, ISBN 978-1484008072

A story of time travel. A man goes back through time determined to assassinate Adolf Hitler but by doing so  he precipitates a new time line that eventually leads to a worldwide nuclear war. Another time traveler goes back to stop him. Her efforts in the past make up the better part of the story. This is a rather familiar plot and the story doesn't really bring anything new to the table, but it's competently written and entertaining, although I thought the closing chapters felt somewhat rushed and truncated. 2/12/15

The Dinosaur Invasion by Malcolm Hulke, Target, 1976

Novelization of the serial, Invasion of the Dinosaurs. The military is battling the sudden appearance of dinosaurs in London when the Doctor returns there in his Tardis just in time to get arrested as a looter. The dinosaurs are, for some reason, unaffected by gunfire. The Doctor gets sprung just as the authorities learn that people from various historical periods are also showing up unexpectedly. This is all part of a convoluted plot by a nutty scientist to alert people to the dangers of environmental decline.  Some pretty bad science but on the other hand the cheesy special effects donít matter in prose form. A slightly above average adventure. 2/10/15

Takedown by John Jackson Miller, Pocket, 2015, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4767-8271-3

A Star Trek Next Generation novel. Old friends find themselves on opposite sides when a portion of Starfleet becomes involved in apparently rebellious and criminal activities in a remote part of space. We know things cannot be what they seem because Riker, now an admiral, is apparently involved in the activity and who now has unusual abilities. Picard and others will eventually discover the existence of a new alien civilization, one with extraordinary mental powers and an appetite for conquest. This was well above average for a Trek novel, with a few surprises and a fair degree of tension and mystery. I could see this one as a feature film. 2/9/15

Plan for Chaos by John Wyndham, Penguin, 2010  

John Wyndham wrote this novel at just about the same time he was writing The Day of the Triffids, but he never managed to sell it, in part I suspect because the protagonist/narrator just doesnít feel like an American, and heís supposed to be, and in part because itís just not as tightly written. Our hero is a photographer who notices that two recently dead Ė under suspicious circumstances Ė women are not only doubles of one another but they also could easily pass for his cousin and fiancť, Freda. Then he discovers that he has doubles as well, and the rest of them seem to be party to some conspiracy invisible to both him and Freda, who is kidnapped after an attempt to murder her and make it look like suicide fails. Our hero is then captured, manages to take the place of one of his duplicates, and is taken away with several others via flying saucer. The saucer is attacked by an unknown military aircraft and forced down in the mountains but eventually he is taken to the headquarters of a secret organization plotting a new Nazi war plan using cloned soldiers, bacteriological weapons, and so on. Unfortunately, I can understand why Wyndham was unable to sell the novel. The entire middle section is a boring sequence of not very exciting adventures and the last third is overly talky. Interesting historically but not very good reading. 2/8/15

Dove Arising by Karen Bao, Viking, 2015, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-451-46901-4

This very impressive young adult novel is more interesting and challenging than a lot of adult SF I've read. It is also set on the moon, which is one of my favorite SF environments. This isn't a struggling young lunar colony, however. It's a repressive state where the government monitors everything searching for political dissent. The young protagonist is left in charge of her younger siblings when their mother is arrested, and the only way she can prevent them from being taken into the state run orphanage system is by enlisting in the local military, joining the enemy in order to be sheltered from him. Despite the regimentation, she is not a rebel at first because the sense of order and organization is reassuring. But then things start to go wrong very quickly. A strong and entertaining prose style helps deliver a surprisingly intense story for the YA market. This also appears to be the first in a series. 2/7/15

The Robot Men of Bubble City by Rog Phillips, Armchair, 2014, $12.95, ISBN 978-1-61287-210-0 (magazine appearance 1949  

Two prospectors make the first journey to Pluto and discover an underground civilization of robotic creatures who can inhabit multiple bodies simultaneously.  One of them is operated on secretly so that he becomes capable of operating remote robots with his mind, but his partner suspects that he is actually now an instrument of the robot men, who may want to conquer Earth. The portion of his consciousness on Earth soon gets out of range and stops functioning but another portion is preserved on Jupiter, suspects that an attack is in the making, and decides to circumvent it. A minor but representative other worlds adventure of its time. 2/5/15

The Time Warrior by Terrance Dicks, Target, 1978   

Sarah Jane Smith becomes Doctor Whoís new companion in this so-so adventure. A Sontaran soldier is marooned in England during the time of the Crusades where he provides assistance to a local nobleman in return for manpower to help him repair his ship. The Sontaran has the secret of time travel and is using it to kidnap scientists from our era to help him with his repairs, but the Doctor figures out whatís going on and travels back through time to stop him. The human villains are somewhat over the top, but the robot fighter that the Sontaran builds is less silly on the printed page than it was on the screen. About average overall. 2/5/15

The Trader: Man With No Face by R.K. Mann, Shia, 2015, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-9915942-1-4

This space adventure opens with a rather startling scenario. A human who makes a living trading between planets is captured by a hostile alien species who essentially remove his face - eyes, ears, nose. He takes refuge with a human slave who has medical training. Despite his afflictions he still has considerably sensory input and the two of them have a series of odd adventures together. The best parts of the story are the speculation about alien cultures and the possible evolution of technology. The prose is rather sparse and I wasn't always entirely clear about their environment or some of the motivation. It was readable enough, but the book is set in a font that I really hated and it was very distracting. 2/3/15

The Missing by Una McCormack, Pocket, 2015, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4767-5-23-1

A Star Trek Deep Space Nine novel. The reopening of a wormhole near Bajor is the focus of this roughly average Trek novel. Personnel have been moved around. Beverly Crusher is now the medical officer on DS9, which has largely a new staff overall. There's a bunch of alien refugees aboard the station who seem to be the prime suspects in the theft of data relating to yet another alien species with highly advanced technology. Elsewhere, a ship filled with scientists and others from a wide variety of races is engaged on what is supposed to be a diplomatic mission when they encounter a belligerent ship from still another space traveling civilization previously unknown to the Federation. There is a trifle too much plot for this relatively short novel. I always had the impression that I was being given a summary of what was going on rather than actually understanding the political and personal implications. That said, there's a nice bit of problem solving and a few other good touches. 2/2/15

The Green Death by Malcolm Hulke, Target, 1975 

This was one of the best serials from the Jon Pertwee era of Doctor Who. There is something in a new mine, a disease that threatens to spread uncontrollably. But the mine also contains a huge egg and a horde of overgrown maggots who get to chase the various characters around for a while. There is also a supercomputer, brainwashing, and the usual conspiracy, all of which the Doctor deals with in his usual efficient manner. Jo Grant gets to be mildly heroic as well. The novel version works quite well, particularly because it isnít hampered by the low budget special effects. One of my favorites. 2/2/15

Dragon Army by William Morrison, Armchair, 2014, $12.95, ISBN 978-1-61287-210-0  (magazine appearance 1952) 

I vaguely recall having liked a couple of short stories by this author back in the 1960s but this short novel is new to me. Two men, one a criminal, the other an innocent man framed for embezzlement, are exiled to a remote planet together. The planet has unusual plant life which can be modified to effectively function as a mobile creature analogous to a human being.  Despite the unusual premise, this is a pretty bland story with cardboard characters and very little speculation about the implications of the discovery.  2/1/15

The Carnival of Monsters by Terrance Dicks, Target, 1977   

This relatively novel Doctor Who story is much better in book form because the really silly sea serpents arenít as distracting. The Tardis malfunctions, apparently, and the Doctor finds himself aboard a sailing ship during the 1920s. But something is wrong because the ocean is teeming with sea monsters. We soon discover that an alien race has been playing with pocket universes and alternate realities, in one of which the Doctor is unknowingly trapped. He doesnít stay ignorant for long, figures out a way to escape into the larger world, and then traps the entities responsible for the imprisonment of others. Enjoyable. 1/31/15

Planet of the Daleks by Terrance Dicks, Target, 1976   

Iíve never been a fan of the Daleks but the serial on which this novel is based is one of their better appearances. The plot is slightly more convoluted than usual. The Daleks are able to become invisible, the Doctor is in a coma, and Jo Grant has been infected with a deadly fungus as the Daleks attempt to take over another planet. The science is quite silly here; there are volcanos that erupt with chunks of ice instead of lava. Thereís a hot air balloon to liven up the chases, captures, and escapes. There are subplots involving the colonists including a clumsy romance and some personal trauma but itís all surface detail of little real interest. Tolerable. 1/31/15

Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear, Tor, 2015, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-7524-7

Just when I was beginning to think that the steampunk trend had ended, this quite good novel shows up to prove there's life there yet. It bears some resemblance to Cherie Priest's novels in the same vein, is even set in the late 19th Century Seattle, in a fictional city that bears considerable similarity to Seattle. Karen Memery (not a typo) is one of a group of prostitutes working in a high class bordello, although she hopes to move on and make a better life for herself. Conflict arises quickly involved murder, a runaway indentured servant, a mind control device, mechanical constructs that almost have a will of their own, and a serial killer. Karen gets involved in the investigation - eventually in a big, dangerous, and violent way - and before the smoke clears there's a sinister plot by a foreign power and a clandestine naval operation off the coast. Fun all the way through, and Karen is a very likeable character. The best book I've read by Bear. 1/30/15

The World-Mover by George O. Smith, Armchair, 2013 (magazine appearance 1950)

This short novel is one of those stories that is more interested in concept than character or plot. A scientist performs what should be an innocuous experiment, but for reasons unknown he creates a split in timelines which results two separate worlds, not counting a kind of limbo state in between. Several people from the future enter the limbo world to search for him because they believe only he can prevent the split from eventually destroying the universe. Thereís a lot of scientific doubletalk in this one, some minor conflict, and some  amusing speculation, but itís not Smith at his best. 1/29/15

The Mutants by Terrance Dicks, Target, 1977

This Doctor Who adventure is scientifically nonsense as it involves humans mutating into the form of giant beetles. A human colony world on the verge of independence is plagued by the sudden transformations. Just as sinister are the plans of the local ruler who hopes to gain complete control of the colony rather than allow it to become free. The Doctor lands in the middle of all this and, naturally, solves the mystery of the mutations while thwarting the evil plans of the human villain. If you can ignore the impossible transformations, itís a fair but not great story. 1/27/15

The Time Monster by Terrance Dicks, Target, 1985   

The Master and the Doctor square off once again when the former opens a doorway through time into the realm of Cronos. Cronos is so powerful that he could destroy the entire universe, even more powerful than the Master had realized. They battle in various times and places including Atlantis before the doorway is closed and Cronos is left to his own impotent devices. This particular serial struck me as rather silly at the time and the novelization doesnít do much to change my opinion. There are a few too many ultimate powers in the Whoverse. 1/27/15

The Three Doctors by Terrance Dicks, Target, 1975 

The first three incarnations of the Doctor cross paths in this adventure in which the third is pursued by a bloblike creature of unknown origin. Gallifrey itself is in danger as a black hole threatens to leave them without power and only by uniting three Doctors from different eras in time are they able to avoid disaster. A rather gimmicky plot designed to justify the cameo appearances without actually coming up for a good justification. The Doctor does regain unrestricted use of his Tardis this time, as a reward for his exemplary behavior. Not one of my favorites. 1/27/15

The World Set Free by H.G. Wells, 1914   

This is one of Wellsí least known SF novels, and with good reason. The book starts with a lengthy and not very interesting history of human aspirations to control power, then moves to a scientist in the near future who is on the brink of discovering a new form of energy.  Although there are some characters who pop up from time to time, the bulk of the book is a future history in which scientific advances are perverted into weaponry, including a bomb that continues to exploded for weeks or even months.  The old order of civilization finally collapses and a wiser new society emerges. More of a lecture than a story with minimal entertainment value. Wells had switched to polemics by this point in his career and his fiction suffers for it. 1/26/15

Forever Is Too Long by Chester S. Geier, Armchair, 2012 (magazine appearance 1947)   

Exposure to an interaction between a fragment of meteor and a cyclotron makes the protagonist of this short novel immortal. He fakes his own death when people begin to notice but despite his intentions not to get close to anyone in the future, he falls in love thirty years later in a new life and gets married again. The story is rather outdated Ė there are atomic bombs which only destroy single buildings  - and the Soviet Union claims Mars, and Geier was not a gifted prose stylist. Nevertheless, this is a surprisingly non-melodramatic theme for its time and the consequences for our protagonist are thought through reasonably well.  Eventually he finds himself battling telepathic mutants to prevent them from seizing control of the world, unfortunately, and the closing chapters devolve into the usual. 1/25/15

Inside a Silver Box by Walter Mosley, Tor, 2-15, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-7521-6

Walter Mosley is a "serious" fiction writer who frequently resorts to science fiction. I've liked some of his forays into the field and I've been diffident about a few others. The box mentioned in the title is possibly the most powerful object in the entire universe and a race of belligerent aliens is determined to acquire it for obvious reasons. The box, however, has an intelligence of its own and has imprisoned that race, which created it, within its own multidimensional nature. A portion of the alien will escapes when a murder is committed near where it is buried on Earth and two human beings, one brought back from the dead. The box wants to change them into a pair of super warriors who will be capable of returning to the status quo ante, and if they fail, it could mean the end of the human race as we know it. The best part of the story was actually the mundane part about the two humans adjusting to one another, but there's plenty of strangeness for genre fans as well. This is about in the midrange of the Mosley novels I've read. 1/24/15

The Day of the Daleks by Terrance Dicks, Target, 1974 

I am not a fan of the Daleks. How can an alien race that canít even climb steps be taken seriously? Nevertheless I enjoyed this particular serial and its novelization. The Daleks have time travel and they have decided to sabotage a peace conference on Earth with the help of their subject race, the Ogrons. Jo gets temporarily transplanted into the future where the Daleks rule while the Doctor battles his enemies in the present. As we know from previous stories, the Doctor will eventually help liberate the Earth and will face the Daleks many more times in the future, or past, or whatever. 1/24/15

The Curse of Peladon by Brian Hayles, Target, 1976   

Although I have never cared for this particular Doctor Who adventure, it works better as a book than it did on television. The Doctor and Jo Grant are mistakenly assumed to be the human delegates to an interstellar conference considering the admission of Peladon to the galactic community. When one of the delegates is murdered, the locals refer to an ancient curse but the Doctor correctly suspects a more mundane explanation. In due course the true villains Ė the Ice Warriors Ė are revealed, or are they?  Less overt than usual and a bit talky at times, but the plot diverges a bit from the usual formula. 1/21/15

The Crawling Terror by Mike Tucker, Broadway, 2014, $9.99, ISBN 978-0-8041-4090-4   

A small town in England is cut off from the outside world by a plague of oversized insects, spiderwebs that can immobilize automobiles, beetles the size of a Volkswagen, and mosquitoes who inject scopolamine into their prey, turning them into quasi-zombies. The Doctor and Clara arrive just in time to be trapped there. They learn of a secretive scientific laboratory in the vicinity and a mysterious scientist who always wears a mask. Can they solve the mystery, outwit the man behind the plot, and survive the horde of giant insects? Of course they can. Fairly good story but despite the trappings, it didnít feel very much like Doctor Who. 1/20/15

Locked Worlds by Edmond Hamilton, Armchair, 2013 (magazine appearance 1929)  

A prominent scientist theorizes that another plane of existence co-exists with our own, is reviled, and finally disappears. Strange phenomena begin to trouble the world, with sections of landscape disappearing or changing, and one of the missing scientistís former friends fears that he has transported himself into the alternate reality in order to exact revenge on our skeptical plane of existence. Two men follow him to thwart his plans Ė although they make no effort to provide weapons or supplies to support their efforts Ė and they are promptly captured by the spiderlike inhabitants of that world. This is from Hamiltonís early period and while highly imaginative, it lacks believability and in some instances simple logic. The strange other world does have its appeal though. 1/20/15

The Sea-Devils by Malcolm Hulke, Target, 1974 

The Silurians are locked in stasis in their underground vaults, but the Sea Devils, a similar race are still at large. The Doctor is visiting the Master, who is being held prisoner by UNIT, just as the sea creatures launch their attack on the surface world. The Master, who has been able to use his hypnotic influence on his chief jailer, plans to escape and help them conquer the human race. The conflict is mostly with the Master and his minions with the sea devils as an exotic backdrop. The Doctor foils them both, of course, in one of his best adventures. This is another one that works somewhat better as a novel than it did on the screen. 1/19/15

The Conquerors by David H. Keller, Armchair, 2012 (magazine appearance (magazine appearance 1929)   

An early and somewhat primitive invasion story. Strange announcements arrive as entire parts of the country find themselves temporarily without radio coverage, electrical power, the ability to fly aircraft, or some combination. An apparent hydrocephalic dwarf informs the President that five US states must be evacuated. An effort to capture him results in his death and an autopsy proves that he was not a human being.  Then a strange mist covers the five states, driving everyone else. A year later, three men try to sneak into the area and are immediately captured by the Conquerors, actually a divergent human offshoot that has been living underground. A big chunk of the book is a tour of their rigid, unemotional society. The story becomes progressively less interesting and ends with the Conquerors going off into space and leaving humans alone. 1/18/15

The Claws of Axos by Terrance Dicks, Target, 1977 

The Master returns to Earth once again, but this time heís a prisoner in an alien spaceship which claims to have stopped simply to refuel, although neither the Doctor nor the reader ever believes them. Temporary allies, they prevent the Axons from securing the secret of time travel, but the Master inevitably tries to manipulate things to his advantage, which precipitates a fresh crisis. The Axons arenít very interesting as villains, however, so this is just an average story that worked better on the screen because of the chemistry between Jon Pertwee and Roger Delgado. 1/18/15

Ten to the Stars by Raymond Z. Gallun, Armchair, 2012 (magazine appearance 1953) 

Gallun was a big supporter of space travel. This novella is strikingly similar to his later novel The Planet Strappers in that it follows a fairly large cast of young adults who decide to explore space. Although the asteroid belt is the immediate target, their eyes keep roving to the outer worlds. There are too many characters to keep straight let alone care about and the adventures are surprisingly low key for the 1950s, and rather dull overall. 1/18/15

The Crystal Planetoids by Stanton R. Coblentz, Armchair, 2013 (magazine appearance 1942)   

Earth has been suffering under a terrible hear wave when a scientist develops a new kind of lens that detects things invisible to the unaided eye. He spots a gigantic web being woven around the Earth by ten foot tall alien creatures, which is a real trick since itís not supposed to be a telescope. Apparently they are somehow detected instantly and three people are snatched up into space where, inside a planetoid, a Saturnian spider creature tells them that all life on Earth will be destroyed once the webs are finished. The plot doesnít make much sense. The Saturnians want their captives to go back to Earth and create canisters of compressed air to help them advance their plans. They pretend to cooperate, are returned to Earth, help mastermind a defense, and the world is saved. This is a dismally bad novel even for its time.

Computerworld by A.E. van Vogt, DAW, 1983 

This dreadful book is written in present tense and is narrated by an artificial intelligence. Despite the blurbs suggesting this is an Orwellian nightmare, the AI Ė which pretty much runs everything in the US Ė is benevolent. It is also completely indistinguishable from a human personality. The prose is bad even for van Vogt, much of it consisting of short, sometimes ungrammatical sentences. The setting is a completely flat and uninteresting future world and the characters are just shadow players the author moves around conveniently. This was pretty much the lowest ebb of van Vogtís career although he would write two more novels before his death. 1/15/15

The Daemons by Barry Letts, Target, 1974   

This was another of my favorite Pertweeís. It has supernatural overtones despite the eventual rationalization. The Doctor travels to a small English village where the Master is trying to evoke an alien being analogous to a demon. To do so, he has taken control of key people in the village. If the demon being is successfully summoned, it could precipitate a worldwide disaster, although when it eventually appears, the Doctor is able to dispose of it without much effort. The animated gargoyle was ludicrous in the show but fairly effective in prose because we canít see the rather silly suit constructed for the character. 1/13/15

The Cosmic Encounter by A.E. van Vogt, Carroll & Graf, 1980   

This authorís final novel is actually not bad despite a long string of pretty awful fiction during the previous decade. A spaceship from the future retrogresses through time and crashes in the 18th Century Caribbean where the survivors are taken aboard a pirate ship, even though one of them is not even a human being. The alien goes from cabin boy to commander as he battles a more powerful intruder from the depths of time, defeating it while preventing the two events from changing the course of human history. Van Vogtís historical  setting never really comes to life but most of the other story elements work reasonably well. 1/12/15

The Cosmic Junkman by Rog Phillips, Armchair, 2012 (magazine appearance 1953)  

Although Rog Phillips was a fairly reliable author of SF adventure stories during his time, there were occasional disasters, of which this is one. Humans are extracting dog brains and placing them in robotic armies to fight their wars for them. This much I could accept. Then one of the dog brained robots not only remembers its canine ancestry but develops human level intelligence. It evades efforts at demobilization, but is among a shipment of two million robots hijacked by a shapechanging alien, while a mission pilot and a feisty young businesswoman both follow for separate reasons.  1/12/15

The Ultimate Weapon by John W. Campbell Jr, Armchair, 2012 (magazine appearance 1936 as Uncertainty)

This early Campbell space opera is filled with scientific lectures, some of them gibberish. The plot opens with an encounter with an alien spaceship with superior weaponry, which frightens some humans into developing methods of defending the solar system. Most of the rest of the book is an account of a series of space battles in which the two technologies contend against one another until finally the aliens decide that humans are too smart and determined to be defeated and agree to negotiate. In many ways this is a forerunner of a good deal of contemporary military SF, with all of its virtues and flaws. 1/12/15

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, Tor, 2014, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-7706-7 

First volume in a trilogy by the best selling SF writer in the world, translated from the Chinese by Ken Liu. The plot comes together inexorably from some disturbingly tantalizing hints about whatís to come. A group of scientists has experienced a high rate of suicide after examining the possibility that physics as we understand it may not be valid after all. Another scientist discovers a countdown imprinted on photographs which he takes but which donít show up if someone else uses the same camera, but do show up if he uses another camera. I don't want to give away too many surprises but there is a mysterious total immersion computer game and first contact with an alien race involved, among other things. The novel is full of ideas, some only lightly touched upon but probably with more to come in the next two volumes. This is an accessible, intelligent, thought provoking, and entertaining novel and I wonder how many more such books we're missing because they haven't been translated 1/11/15

The Deep by Nick Cutter, Gallery, 2015, $26, ISBN 978-1-4767-1773-0   

This is the second time Canadian writer Craig Davidson has used this pseudonym. The first was a blend of SF and horror about which I had ambivalent feelings. This one is a whole lot better. In the near future, a new disease that acts like advanced Alzheimerís threatens an apocalyptic end to the human race. Fortunately, perhaps, there is simultaneously the discovery of a kind of amoeboid lifeform at the bottom of the Mariana Trench which, when introduced into an animalís body, seems to protect it from all diseases.  A brilliant but somewhat odd scientist is one of three people living in a deepwater habitat where it can be studied, but one of the others commits gruesome suicide and all communications are cut off after the head scientist sends a message requesting the presence of his brother. The brother, Luke, reluctantly agrees to descend to the station with a female submersible pilot and they try to make sense of what they find after being told that no such message was sent. This reminded me a bit of Michael Crichton's The Sphere. I didn't entirely care for the ending/explanation but many of the phantasmagoric scenes are very effective. 1/10/15

The Thing from Underneath by Milton Lesser, Armchair, 2012 (magazine appearance 1956)

The protagonist of this novella works for military intelligence and heís currently posing as a photographer at Fort Knox. Someone has been stealing a bar or two of gold every night, and no one knows how itís being done (apparently no one thinks to use cameras or post guards).  Then one of the guards is snatched by something with scaly green arms, although the officer in charge rather implausibly assumes it is just a fabricated story and decides to ignore it, despite the crisis situation at the installation. It also turns out that another soldier stationed there isnít listed in any government records, which goes beyond implausibility to ridiculousness.  The corporal takes command Ė another impossibility Ė and launches an investigation of an empty vault with a hole in the floor. It gets even sillier after that. Thereís antigravity in the hole. Our hero goes down to the caverns below where he finds the two missing soldiers, who are actually reptiles whose physical forms have been changed by exposure to a blue ray so that they could pass for humans. No word on how they got themselves into Fort Knox or how the female managed to get inside a locked vault. Insultingly bad. 1/8/15

The Doomsday Weapon by Malcolm Hulke, Target, 1979  

The televised version of this Doctor Who adventure was titled Colony in Space. This was not one of the better episodes from the Pertwee era. The Master has stolen information from the Timelords with which he hopes to conquer the galaxy. They free the Doctor from his imprisonment on Earth and send him to a future colony world Ė whose ecology makes no sense Ė and which turns out to have a native intelligent species. Thereís an evil mining corporation, a wandering nutcase with evil intentions, and other problems even before the Master arrives for the final confrontation. The story meanders and then jumps and never comes together. 1/7/15

Null-A Three by A.E. van Vogt, Daw, 1985 

The third and last of the Null-A novels is the best of van Vogtís later work, though the weakest of the trilogy. Gilbert Gosseyn becomes aware of a new threat to the galaxy and his multi-bodied personality emerges once again. This time he is fated to confront the ultimate form of intelligent life in the universe, although only after van Vogtís usual word play, logical jumps, and bizarre plot twists. There is a tendency to over explain and the explanations are themselves jumbled and often incomprehensible, partly intentionally, to give them an aura of wonder and imagination. Too often it just feels like magic rather than science, and many of the plot twists are rather too convenient to be believable.  If you enjoyed the first two, youíll probably like this, but not nearly as much. 

The Mind of Evil by Terrance Dicks, Target, 1985   

The Master is back, trying to sabotage a peace conference, and the Doctor has to stop him once again. A far worse menace however is a machine designed to drain the evil elements out of the minds of hardened criminals, a process which the Doctor distrusts from the outset and with good reason. It appears that the machine itself has acquired a consciousness, and it is the embodiment of pure evil. The serial was somewhat slow moving but thatís not as evident in the novelization. The science is pretty hokey in either case and I didnít find this particular plot particularly compelling. 

Operation Interstellar by George O. Smith, Armchair, 2012 (originally published in 1950)   

I first read this more than fifty years ago and did not remember a single thing about it. Smith only wrote a handful of novels but I can recall bits from all of the others. It opens with an attempt to hijack a spaceship bound for Proxima. The pilot -  who hints that he is carrying some cargo concealed from the project administrators Ė suspects that it wasnít just a simple case of theft. Although the prose is readable, the plot hinges upon several implausible situations. The pilot is actually a brilliant scientist who wants to experiment with interstellar communications, the thief is a recent prison escapee who just happens to look like him, the project head decides not to inspect the ship for experimental equipment and makes an absurd speech about why the experiment should not be conducted, and the mystery woman connected to the theft makes a special trip, and gets past security, just to mention something inconsequential. Our hero finally goes to Proxima and proves his theory, then finds an assassin Ė also his duplicate Ė who was conveniently killed by a meteorite just minutes earlier. He is subsequently tricked into appearing a fraud, framed for a murder, and kidnapped by a gang of criminals.

On the Steel Breeze by Alastair Reynolds, Ace, 2014, $26.95, ISBN 978-0-425-25678-7

I don't know what the problem was but Amazon took four months to ship this to me after it had been released and Barnes & Noble never had it at their store, so I'm just getting around to reading it. Alastair Reynolds novels are invariably crammed full of ideas and novelties and this one is no exception. There are sentient elephants, rogue artificial intelligences, the planet Mars dominated by a robotic life form, hollowed asteroids carrying people to the stars, floating cities on Venus, people wearing bodies like suits of clothing or projecting their minds to other locations, cloning, the conversion of humans to live underneath the ocean, and much much more. The book is a follow up to Blue Remembered Earth and involves the discovery that the planet to which one fleet of starships is moving is not what it is reported to be, and that an artificial intelligence may be playing with the destiny of the human race. It helps to have read the first but in large part this is a standalone book, although there is pretty obviously at least one more title to come to explain an alien artifact and deal with the collapse of the social system on Earth. 1/5/15

Terror of the Autons by Terrance Dicks, Target, 2975  

The Master, a renegade Timelord, teams up with the plastic and malevolent Autons in another attempt to conquer the Earth. Itís another Doctor Who adventure drawn from one of the best periods in the showís history. Jo Grant has just become new companion to the Doctor, who is still working with UNIT.  The first half is a little slow but things pick up after that. The television version is actually more effective because the story doesnít really bring out the creepiness of the living plastic dolls and other effects, which were surprisingly well done in what was a notoriously underfunded TV show 1/5/15

The War in the Air by H.G. Wells, 1908 

Future war novels, particularly involving aircraft, were briefly quite popular in England during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Wells contributed this one, which starts by following the adventures of a not particularly competent Englishman who through happenstance finds himself in a runaway balloon, along with plans for a revolutionary heavier than air craft, until he is shot down in Germany and mistaken for the inventor. He also gets a look at a secret German airfleet with which they are planning to conquer the world and eventually gets taken aboard the flagship of the invasion fleet after being mistaken for a prominent inventor, although this ruse doesnít last long. The fleet is on its way to the US after war breaks out over the American refusal to allow German conquests in South America. Wellsí vision of future airships wasnít even close to reality. They are essentially giant zeppelins. He also assumed that aerial bombardment of warships would be much more effective than the reality. The American fleet is sunk and the Germans move toward New York City. A couple of buildings are bombed and the whole city surrenders, but the Germans canít land and after a few furtive attacks are made, they set all of Manhattan ablaze. The US air fleet shows up then and there is a confused battle. The survivors of the German fleet land in Labrador and set out to make repairs while the rest of the world is drawn into the war.  The Japanese-Chinese alliance has an air fleet greater than the rest of the world combined and they invade America, while all the cities of the world go up in flames. This was obviously Wellsí indictment of war in general and he makes several references to its dehumanizing effect even on the victors. Eventually civilization collapses. One of the authorís minor, didactic efforts but the first half is pretty good. 1/4/15

Secret of the Martians by Paul W. Fairman, Armchair, 2012 (magazine appearance 1956)  

Mars has been colonized despite a native race in large part because the Martians live reclusively under the poles and have little interest in the rest of the planet. When a scientist and his daughter try to visit, he is killed mysteriously and she disappears, so a special agent is sent to find out what happened. For no apparent reason, he takes a job as a day laborer for the humans even though thereís no reason why he shouldnít reveal his real purpose. He and a local woman are kidnapped by the Martians and discover that a faction planning the slaughter of the Terrans has seized power, so they help the usurped peaceful leader regain his throne. Rather simpleminded but readable. 1/1/15