to SF Reviews

of SF Reviews

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


The Defiant Agents by Andre Norton, Ace, 1962 

Third in the Time Traders series. A group of Apaches have been sent to colonize an abandoned alien world after receiving a drug that waken their ancestral memories. The Russians are there as well, and they have a colony of reverted Mongols. The purpose of the reversion is not adequately explained and feels artlessly contrived. It also contributes almost nothing to the story. Some of the Mongols escape from their controllers, who have alien technology they use to control their involuntary minions.  3/29/22

Eye of the Monster by Andre Norton, Ace, 1962 

The Patrol is pulling out of an alien world whose intelligent inhabitants are just waiting for a chance to massacre all of the offworlders. A young man tries to save as many people as possible when the violence breaks out. This was just a novella, the colonial sentiments are not entirely fair, and it is probably the least well known of Norton’s SF stories, and justifiably so. Norton rarely included young children as characters at this point in her career. 3/29/22

Catseye by Andre Norton, Ace, 1961    

This was the first novel to mention the Dipple, a slum district on a pleasure planet. The protagonist is a displaced person who gets a job in a pet shop, only to discover that his boss is part of an interstellar espionage ring. Some of the animals have been genetically altered so that they are intelligent and can be used as spies, and they can be questioned through a kind of telepathy machine. Our hero can somehow dispense with the machine and becomes friends with two cats, two foxes, and a kinkajou. He helps them escape into the wilderness when complications make it necessary to kill them. They get lost for a while in a deserted alien installation where a machine can somehow summon ghosts from another dimension. Starts well but ends badly. 3/27/22

The Mark of Zero by G.T. Fleming-Roberts, Steeger, 2020 (originally published in 1950) 

Second in a series of three pulp adventures featuring the usual vigilante, this time with a twist. He is invisible from midnight to dawn every night, whether or not he wants to be. He uses his special ability – rather ineptly much of the time – to battle the corrupt politicians and criminals who dominate his city. This time, however, a master criminal is threatening to extend his reign of terror to the entire country. Not awful, not very good. I can understand why the magazine folded so quickly. 3/24/22

Star Hunter by Andre Norton, Ace, 1961  

A novella in which a destitute young man is reprogrammed mentally so that he can take the place of the missing heir to a fortune. The programming is slipshod, however, and he becomes to recover his real memories almost immediately. The uninhabited planet where he is to be “found” is actually watched over by a kind of sleeping alien intelligence that can control the alien wildlife. He and those sent to find him are soon fighting for their lives against a variety of creatures who are determined to herd them away from their spaceship. Fairly standard adventure with a minor final twist. 3/21/22

The Wonderful Doctor of Oz by Jacqueline Rayner, Puffin, 2021

The Doctor is caught in a tornado and finds himself in a kind of rationalized version of Oz, where he is attacked by an army of scarecrows. There is a stowaway aboard, from 1930s USA, so the parallels are obvious if not complete. They have various adventures before finding the Wizard, who helps set things right. This is aimed at younger readers but is still kind of fun. 3/19/20

Storm Over Warlock by Andre Norton, Ace, 1960 

The alien Throg attack a small Terran base on the planet Warlock, which is about to receive a major colony ship from Earth. Only two humans survive the attack, along with a pair of mutant wolverines, and this small company evades Throg ships and search parties to strike out into the wilderness. There is also evidence that the planet once was home to an intelligent race with a very advanced technology. And the aliens are not extinct despite appearances to the contrary. A pretty good adventure although Norton was already beginning to show signs of an affinity for magic.

The Sioux Spaceman by Andre Norton, Ace, 1960

A relatively minor but satisfying adventure story – a novella rather than a novel. The protagonist is part of a trading mission to a planet subject to the cruel alien Styor. Although officially they have no interest in the natives, the hero decides to help them by convincing the Styor to introduce horses to the planet. This will give the natives greater mobility. After various adventures, he discovers that fomenting revolts is the unofficial policy of the traders and his efforts are heartily approved. We don’t get to actually see the bad aliens get defeated. 3/12/22

Twice Upon a Time by Paul Cornell, Target, 2018

Doctor Who: The TV Movie by Gary Russell, Target, 2021 

Two novelizations from the Dr. Who universe. The first is from a 2017 script by Steven Moffat in which a disoriented Doctor meets another version of himself and has to solve various mysteries involving a mysterious woman, a man displaced in time, and some anomalous physical phenomena. The other is based on the 1996 American television movie produced after the Sylvester McCoy episodes had come to an abrupt end. It has a considerably different feel, never resulting in any further adventures, but it involves a fairly interesting duel between the Doctor and the Master, this time in modern San Francisco. 3/7/22

Secret of the Lost Race by Andre Norton, Ace, 1959

A rather minor Norton novel. A young man is shanghaied to a company run planet where the colonists are quite literally slaves. A small band of freemen want to throw the company out and following a major accident, the protagonist becomes one of their number. There are ruins of an ancient civilization on the planet but, despite the title, we never find out anything about them. We do learn that the government has been concealing the existence of another space traveling race who are technologically ahead of humanity. Implausibly, they can interbreed with humans and the protagonist is a mixed breed. 3/5/22

City of Deadly Sleep by G.T. Fleming-Roberts, Steeger, 2020 (originally published in 1949)

The first of the Captain Zero adventures, which only lasted three issues. The protagonist underwent an experimental treatment as a result of which he becomes completely invisible at midnight every night, and so do his clothes. He sets out to fight crime and corruption in a fictional city, and does so in an amazingly inept fashion. Usually he stands near people and insults them. In his first adventure the only person who knows his true identity is murdered and he has to bring the criminals to justice. A rather tired and tiring story. 3/1/22

Voodoo Planet by Andre Norton, Ace, 1959

The third Solar Queen story, just a novella, is probably the weakest SF novel that Norton ever wrote. It’s set on a planet colonized by refugees from Africa and they still believe in and use magic, although it is largely the power of suggestion and some surreptitious technology. The ship’s medic has studied magic as a hobby so he is recruited to face down a nasty voodoo practitioner who is assassinating opposition leaders in the government. He is instrumental in thwarting a power grab.  2/28/22

The Louisiana Republic by Maxim Jakubowski, Stark House, 2022, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-951473-63-1

This is essentially a private eye story set in a very dystopian future America. The protagonist is trying to track down the missing younger sister of his client, and her recent life is linked to a series of pornographic pictures. In his quest, he is assisted by a handful of odd and quite distinctive supporting characters, in a world that is at once familiar and very unfamiliar to the reader. The detective is also interested in a missing person of his own acquaintance, and although there does not appear to be any link, the fact that they may both have ended up in New Orleans is rather a striking coincidence. The story is well plotted and told, the mysteries various unraveled in logical and entertaining ways. This was originally published in 2018 by a publisher I had never heard of, and obviously deserves a wider audience than it received at the time. 2/26/22

Galactic Derelict by Andre Norton, Ace, 1959 

Sequel to The Time Traders. Another attempt to steal alien technology from an alien ship that crashed on Earth in prehistoric times goes awry as the fully operational lifeship takes four men on an involuntary trip to the stars. The alien civilization has vanished, leaving only robots and abandoned cities behind, but new inelligences have arisen. The travelers face menace on more than one world before they are able to find a way to return to Earth. Another of my favorite Norton novels and one of the few to be genuinely creepy at times. 2/24/22

The Beast Master by Andre Norton, Ace, 1959  

After an interstellar war ends, Hosteen Storm settles on a planet where he hopes to avenge what he perceives to be a blood feud. He is caught up in two conflicts. One is between the settlers, some of whom want to drive off the indigenous aliens who live nearby. The other is a series of mysterious attacks which are eventually revealed to be the work of renegade aliens from the losing side in the war. He is accompanied by a team of animals whom he communicates with telepathically. Lots of wandering around in the desert and mountains. The film “version” is not remotely related to the book. First in a series and one of the author’s best novels. 2/19/22

The Paradox Hotel by Rob Hart, Ballantine, 2022

The plot for this novel is pretty good, and since time travel has largely vanished from new releases in the genre, I was happy to see it reappear. The protagonist is chief of security at an establishment that arranges time trips to the past. The mechanism for doing so is not entirely understood even by the people who designed it, because there are odd anomalies including people, living and dead, who flit in and out of existence, apparently at random. This would make her job hard enough all by itself, but an imminent change in the way time travel is managed is stimulating a number of competing parties to act in favor of their own interests. In at least one case, this involves strategic murder, and that poses another challenge for our hero, who has a unique ability that might help, or complicate, efforts to find the killer. I would have enjoyed this much more if the author had not chosen present tense narration, which make the entire story seem artificial and non-involving. Ironic that it should be a novel about time travel. 2/17/22

1,500 Light Years from Home by Allen Steele, Amazing, 2021 

The latest in a series of new Captain Future adventures. Our hero’s main rival has managed to reach a planet in another star system, thanks to his having stolen an experimental star drive. But Captain Future is not willing to assume that he is in permanent exile and decide to follow and investigate. What neither man knows is that there is a dormant threat on that distant world and that their arrival has caused it to stir. So now the battle has three sides, and the outcome is even more in doubt – though obviously we know that ultimately the good guys will prevail and the alien threat will be neutralized. Old fashioned but fun. 2/16/22

The Time Traders by Andre Norton, Ace, 1958 

First in the Time Trader series. A small time criminal is recruited by a project sending people back in time to try to discover where and from when the Russians are acquiring very advanced technology. He has various adventures in Bronze Age Britain, complicated by attacks by Soviet agents. Eventually he is separated from his fellows and finds himself inside the Russian base, which is actually in a glacier which also holds an alien spaceship. He inadvertently activates a communications channel which brings vengeful aliens who attack Russians and Americans with equal enthusiasm. His brief case of amnesia is unconvincing, but the rest of the story is very well structured and holds up well today. 2/15/22

Battle for Pellucidar by Win Scott Eckert, ERB, 2020

The Burroughs estate apparently decided to go along with this plan to make Tarzan and the other Burroughs heroes into a kind of multiverse similar to Marvel Comics. This means that the characters all visit each other’s settings at some and there is an attempt to create an overall mythos to justify all of this. I think the idea sucks big time. Burroughs did write on major crossover, Tarzan at the Earth’s Core, but Tarzan and David Innes did not meet. This is a kind of reprise of that event, with Tarzan traveling to the hollow Earth once again, this time during World War II. The evil Nazis have formed an alliance with the inhuman Mahars, trading their support for superweaponry. Naturally they get thwarted. This isn’t a bad story, but it did not remind me of either Tarzan or of Pellucidar. 2/12/22

Dystopia's Edge by Ian Price, Price, 2021

Civilization has largely collapsed but life goes on. The protagonist is a mercenary working in the American Southwest. He mostly makes a living by smuggling from one city-state to another while avoiding or killing the various scavengers and crazies living outside the cities. He expects his life to follow the same pattern and does not regret having moved on from assassinations and petty warfare. But while he may have moved on, that doesn't mean the rest of the world has done so uniformly. Years earlier he "killed" a bioengineered soldier who turned out to be not quite dead after all. When our hero's latest job brings him to the Los Angeles area, he discovers his old enemy is now head of a crime ring that essentially rules. Much violence follows. There are hints of Damnation Alley here and echoes of Mike McQuay. This is an action oriented story with limited characterization, but the plot moves briskly and inevitably toward the final collision. 2/10/22

Star Gate by Andre Norton, Ace, 1958 

Back in high school, this was the first Norton novel I didn’t like. Fifty years later, I still don’t like it. Instead of evocative settings, we have brush stroke backgrounds that never come to life. Several of the character names are nearly unpronounceable. Although we are told it is advanced technology, there are instances of what is clearly magic. The dialogue begins to show the artificial and awkward phraseology that would for me spoil the Witch World series irrevocably.

Retribution by Ryk E. Spoor, Ring of Fire, 2019  

Conclusion to the action packed Demons of the Past trilogy. There’s a rousing climax in which the galaxy finally learns the truth about an ancient race – known as demons – who are secretly still around and who plan to undermine every civilized planet in order to establish themselves as overall rulers. Our hero and his friends seem to have an impossible task. Among other things they have to organize the largest space armada of all time. Of course we know that they are going to succeed and the demons will finally be defeated completely, but it’s a fun trip along the way. Not to be taken too seriously but filled with wild adventures, interesting aliens, and a few small twists toward the end that readers probably will not see coming.

Star Born by Andre Norton, Ace, 1957 

Sequel to The Stars Are Ours! A small human colony exists on a world inhabited by a race of merpeople, the good guys, and Those Others, humanoids who almost destroyed the planet in war. A new expedition from Earth arrives, unaware of the situation, and gets caught up in efforts by the bad guys to recover lost technology and re-establish their dominance. They are thwarted, at least temporarily, but the novel ends with no long term resolution of the conflict, and the spaceship returns to Earth with no prospects of further contact in the near future. A good adventure story that has a lot of unanswered questions. 2/5/22

No Guts, No Glory by M.K. England, Titan, 2021 

This is an adventure of the Guardians of the Galaxy, apparently based on a computer game. The group is restive and their financial successes have been few and far between. So they jump at a chance to make a good fee for returning to the solar system to evict an intruder who proves to be more intractable than they counted on. And then there are other complications as well. This wasn’t a bad story, but I never read the comics and my vision was shaped solely by the movies. This only occasionally seemed to capture the spirit of the films, so it was mildly jarring at times. 2/4/22

Revolution by Ryk E. Spoor, Ring of Fire, 2018  

Middle volume of the Demons of the Past trilogy. Our hero is now a fugitive among the stars after discovering that his former mentor – a highly placed government official – is not even human and has dire plans for the empire. He and his allies – human and non-human – are on a quest to uncover and expose the plot against the empire. That now requires a visit to a legendary planet, Earth. Elsewhere another of his friends has launched a separate initiative against the being impersonating a human and placed at the highest levels of a government which he hopes to destroy. Lively and inventive space adventure with some nicely differentiated characters. 2/4/22

Plague Ship by Andre Norton, Ace, 1956 

The second adventure of the Solar Queen, free traders among the stars. This was better than I remembered. The traders are developing a trade deal with an alien world when a ship from one of the big corporations tries to bully them away. Things get worse when a strange illness strikes the crew on the return trip to Earth. They are declared a plague ship, and have to resort to virtual piracy before making an illegal landing on Earth once they realize that it is not a disease at all but a kind of poisoning. Pretty fair adventure but I was troubled by the crew’s willingness to hunt and kill a sea living but intelligent species. 2/1/22

The War of the Universe by Clinton Constantinescu, Armchair, 2021 (originally published in 1931) 

This is a really dreadful novel in which humans discover that meteorites bombarding Earth are actually weapons being directed here by aliens from another galaxy. The author does not know what a galaxy is. Eventually a counter attack is mounted and the war is brought to the alien planet, where justice eventually prevails. If there was any actual justice, this would never have been published in the first place. 1/31/22

Sargasso of Space by Andre Norton, Ace, 1955 

The first in the Solar Queen series. A ship of free traders – the protagonist is a new member of the crew - wins a concession on a planet once populated but now empty after a devastating war centuries earlier. When they arrive, they find several wrecked ships, and their passengers turn out to be lying about their reasons for traveling there. Various adventures ensue as our heroes have to deal with an alien technology that is no longer dormant and a group of humans who are determined that they will never leave the planet alive.  A couple of minor plot contradictions in this but otherwise a fine adventure story. 1/28/22

The Beast with 7 Tails by Robert Silverberg & Randall Garrett, Armchair, 2021 (originally published in 1956) 

This is a very silly, straightforward spoof of 1950s SF monsters movies. The female protagonist is stripped naked by a gigantic creature and her handsome boyfriend is accused of being responsible. She is committed to an asylum for insisting it was a monster, but he breaks her out. The local sheriff spots the spaceship involved, and the creature finally appears, only to be whisked into space by its owners. It is not in fact a life form at all but a super computer which for some reason is built with claws, fur, and seven tails. 1/28/22

Revelation by Ryk E. Spoor, Ring of Fire, 2018 

First in the Demons of the Past series, a wide reaching adventure loosely related to other books by Spoor. Set within a galactic empire, the story involves a man who survives a psionic attack. Since humans are notably vulnerable to psionics and are believed to invariably go mad, his own awakening psi powers are a source of uneasiness. He is recruited by an official who purports to want to develop stable psi powered humans for benevolent reasons, but readers won’t have any trouble figuring out pretty quickly that he’s a villain.  This predictably leads to a break between the two men. It’s an old fashioned space opera with a few new twists. 1/25/22

CassaDark by Alex J. Cavanaugh, Dancing Lemur, 2022, $16.96, ISBN 978-1-939844-84-2

This is apparently the fourth in a series - I have only seen one earlier novel - that is quasi-military space opera. The protagonist, Bassan, is the son of the hero from the first three books, and was apparently introduced toward the end of the third book. His father is retiring from the military and Bassan himself has been experiencing some emotional crises. His latest mission is a supposedly benevolent visit to a troubled world which turns out to be a prison planet. He finds a disaster in the making and extreme measures are necessary to save the population. This felt a good deal like a Star Trek novel at times, with only undercurrents of military SF. Cavanaugh seems at ease with his chosen format and tells his story in a straightforward and mostly entertaining fashion. 1/22/22

He Who Shrank by Henry Hasse, Armchair, 2021 (originally published in 1936) 

This novelette borrows from Ray Cummings, who made a cottage industry out of magical reducing machines. A laboratory assistant is inadvertently shrunk to the point where he can visit nuclear particles, which are actually planets. He survives encounters with giant germs, sentient machines, and other strange creatures and features of the subatomic world. Hasse was a decent writer but the premise is pretty silly and definitely overly familiar. 1/21/22

Lunarchia by Emerson Hartman, Armchair, 2021 (originally published in 1937) 

A man fleeing his enemies on Earth travels to the moon. There he discovers a human civilization that exists inside the moon and he has a series of Burroughsian adventures that follow the usual pattern. Although ERB was not a great writer, almost none of his imitators was anywhere near as good a story teller. This was published in hardcover in the 1930s and almost immediately forgotten. 1/21/22

A Man Named Mars by Rog Phillips, Armchair, 2021 (originally published in 1950)  

Typical dystopian future with a threat to humanity and two otherwise ordinary people who discover that they have the power to alter things and save the world. Phillips churned these out with regularity and while the prose is slightly better than average for the period in which he was active, his stories were usually lacking in imagination or originality. This is about average for one of his “novels,” actually just a novelette. 1/21/22

Sea Siege by Andre Norton, Ace, 1957 

A nuclear war erupts, and we see it vaguely from the perspective of a small Caribbean island. The situation is exacerbated by the appearance of mutated octopi who are intelligent and organized and who attack the coastal communities by controlling deep sea creatures which appear to be plesiosaurs. A handful of civilians and navy personnel try to mount a rescue operation while restoring essential services and pacifying the angry islanders. This was okay but not one of her better early novels. It always seemed to be on the verge of becoming interesting but never quite made it. 1/19/22

The Crossroads of Time by Andre Norton, Ace, 1956 

A novel of parallel worlds. A man from our world inadvertently becomes involves with a kind of police force that operates across multiple parallel worlds. They are battling an organization led by a maniac who wants to rule at least one of the timelines. The villain, along with some of the good guys, all possess various extrasensory powers. The hero gets trapped in a couple of dismal alternate worlds before finally being rescued and allowed to join in as the final battle finishes off the sinister plot. Okay adventure, but most of it is on the periphery of the main conflict, and it is hard to figure out how some of the alternate timelines – which include nonhuman intelligent beings and super advanced robots – could possibly have arisen. 1/16/22

The Red Death by David H. Keller, Armchair, 2021 (originally published in 1941) 

A new kind of plague breaks out. People are infected by some kind of fungus which eventually creates toadstools that extrude from the skin and then kill their hosts. Most of the human race is wiped out. The protagonist travels to a remote part of Canada where he believes it originated but his adventures are unrelated and he pretty much fails. Very downbeat ending. The pandemic made this mildly uncomfortable reading although the diseases are completely different.1/15/22

The Glyphs by Roy Norton, Armchair, 2021 (originally published in 1919) 

This was a surprisingly entertaining lost world adventure set in Guatemala. A small party of adventurers find directions to a lost city and, after some of the usual jungle adventures, reach it with the help of a noble Mayan descendant. The city is nearly inaccessible and they have to avoid mechanical traps, natural barriers, wild animals, and some puzzles before they reach their goal. The city is entirely deserted – no witch doctors or beautiful priestesses or rival factions – and they have more adventures before taking a token amount of treasure and returning to the civilized world. It reminded me of Rendezvous with Rama. Puzzles, traps, and low key adventures but no actual villains and no one dies. 1/8/22

Threader Origins by Gerald Brandt, DAW, 2021 

Although this opening novel in a new series is more ambitious and inventive than the author’s previous books, I thought it was a slight step down. The Courier books are fast paced but nicely focused and I liked the protagonist. This one is a bit less tightly structured and the protagonist is okay but not inspiring. An accident transfers him to an alternate world where he can manipulate “threads,” which actually control reality. But the world around him is a dark dystopia and he is soon caught up in a major struggle between powerful opponents. A bit slow in the middle but otherwise well told, though perhaps hampered by the need to explain so much to prep for the sequels. 1/7/22

The Knight, the Fool and the Dead by Steve Cole, BBC, 2020

All Flesh Is Grass by Una McCormack, BBC, 2020 

Two adventures of Doctor Who, in both of which he has to confront earlier versions of himself and in both of which he is pitted against an alien race that has abrogated to itself the right to determine the proper lifespan for other races. Both are set in the very distant past – the Dark Times – and both seem to be targeted at somewhat younger readers, particularly the McCormack title. I found both to be mostly trivial, well below the quality of most of the other tie-ins to the tv show that I have previously read. You could read both of them in an hour without hurrying. The cameos by the alternate Doctors are mildly amusing. 1/6/22

Mystery Moon by Edmond Hamilton, Armchair, 2021 (originally published in 1941) 

Rousing space adventure. The protagonist learns that his father may have been a famous space pirate, so he goes off to discover the truth. Almost immediately he is imprisoned on the Moon on a fake charge, so he organizes a prisoner rebellion and eventually escapes into space. There, after some routine but reasonably well told adventures, he finds his destiny. 1/3/22

Energy Zero by Gary Brandner, Zebra, 1976 

In the Big Brain’s final caper, he is stunned along with everyone else when electricity suddenly stops working anywhere in the country. He eventually tracks down another super genius, who has developed a machine that renders electrical currents inoperable. The villain wants him to join forces so that they can rule the world, but our hero is too noble for such a thing and eventually saves the day. Pretty dull. This series never reall left the ground.1/1/22