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


Abaddon’s Gate by James S.A. Corey, Orbit, 2013, $17, ISBN 978-0-316-12907-7  

Third in the Expanse series, and a book I’ve been anticipating for several months. Readers of the series will know that the alien protomolecule that activated itself has spent a year doing something inexplicable on Venus. It has now assembled an interstellar gateway beyond the orbit of Uranus and ships from the three major powers – Earth, Mars, and the Belt – have all gone out to investigate. James Holden, our chief protagonist, is there as well although reluctantly, escorting a film crew. Unfortunately misunderstandings and downright hostilities among the three powers, as well as factions within them, lead to a potentially dangerous situation that could not only wipe out all of the assembled ships, but the entire solar system as well. Mutinies, enigmatic alien artifacts, battles, and such follow with several recurring characters dying. This is, alas, the end of the series, but I hope it’s not the end of this collaborative entity. One of the very best books to be published this year. 6/25/13

Plague of the Cybermen by Justin Richards, Broadway, 2013, $9.99, ISBN 978-0-385-34676-4

A Doctor Who adventure. Fans of the series will know the Cybermen, essentially  militarist robots who are susceptible to being poisoned by gold. When the Doctor arrives in a small town in 19th Century Germany, he discovers that a plague is afflicting the populace, and that its victims rise from their graves. Yes, even Doctor Who now has zombies. After a few missteps, the Doctor figures out what is really going on and saves the day, with the help of some of the locals. Not a bad book, but this one is supposed to be about the Matt Smith version of the Doctor and it didn't feel like him at all. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. 6/24/13

Return to Atlantis by Andy McDermott, Bantam, 2012, $9.99, ISBN 978-0-553-59366-2

The eighth adventure of Nina Wilde, published in England as Temple of the Gods, brings her back to the sunken Atlantis. Wilde is now married to her former bodyguard and hero of the previous books. This time she has assembled artifacts from disparate places which, if united, can trigger a power source in the drowned continent based on a technology unknown to the modern world. Naturally there is an organization of bad guys who want this power for themselves, so they steal the artifacts, frame the husband, and threaten Nina as well as the world as a whole. As with the previous volumes, the story takes us to various occasions around the world, with chases, captures, escapes, gun battles, traps, thugs, criminal masterminds, and all the rest. This series has actually been more formulaic than most, reminding me at times of the Rogue Angel series, but it has consistently held my attention even while I was noticing its flaws. 6/20/13

The Dalek Generation by Nicholas Briggs, Broadway, 2013, $9.99, ISBN 978-0-385-34674-0

An adventure of the Matt Smith version of Doctor Who featuring the Doctor's most dangerous and most frequently recurring enemy (other than the Master). The Daleks are ruling a planet of humans, and apparently benevolently, which the Doctor knows is against their very nature. So they must be up to something. Of course, he can't get anyone else to believe them, even after a dangerous new technology turns up. The plot for this isn't bad at all but the text appears to have been written for pre-teens. While I am pretty tolerant of uninspired prose, this was just too simple minded to make the story interesting. It does go quickly, but not quickly enough.  6/16/13

The Rolling Stones by Robert A. Heinlein, Ace, originally published in 1952    

This was never one of my favorites of the Heinlein juveniles. The Stone family – parents, four kids, and a grandmother – set off in a refurbished spaceship for a trip from the moon to Mars. Along the way they encounter a plague ship, and they arrive to discover that their cargo cannot be disposed of as originally intended. The characters are more interesting than in many of Heinlein’s novels but the plot is rather slow moving and spends more time on technical details than it should. Heinlein also insists that mathematics is the key to understanding any field of human knowledge. The plot consists of a series of episodes rather than one unified narrative so it stops rather than comes to an end. 6/15/13

The Burn Zone by James K. Decker, Roc, 2013, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-451-41340-6

With multiple self inflicted wounds threatening the future of the human race, the future seems grim until space travelling aliens with benevolent intentions arrive to help us deal with the problems. I bet you can see where this is going. The protagonist is a kind of governess working with an alien family who discovers not only that there is dissension among the aliens but that some of their kind are impersonating human beings. She becomes a fugitive and a seeker simultaneously as she tries to figure out which people she can trust, and what the aliens really want from the human race. Not too surprising but reasonably suspenseful. Decker is a pseudonym for James Knapp.  6/14/13

The Zodiac Paradox by Christa Faust, Titan, 2013, $7.99, ISBN 978-1781163092

A novel based on the television Fringe, which I have never seen. It's on the list but the list is pretty long. Anyway, in this one an experimental drug designed to create a mindlink actually opens a kind of gateway to another reality, through which comes an entity who becomes a serial killer. The killer looks like a human being but he has superhuman powers. There's more than one group of people interested in him, for different reasons, but the protagonists are naturally the ones who survive and settle the issue. Although not badly written I thought the novel was rather slow initially and some of the admittedly short sidetrips don't really contribute to the plot. I have no way of knowing how well it captures the essence of the show. 6/12/13

The Year's Best Science Fiction: Thirtieth Annual Collection edited by Gardner Dozois, St Martins, 2013, $22.99, ISBN 978-1250028051

It's hard to believe that this series of best of the year anthologies has been around for thirty years. In each volume editor Dozois harvests the best short fiction from a variety of sources - traditional magazines, small press, online publications, genre stories published in non-genre venues - and assembled them into what is often the best single anthology of the year. Each is accompanied by a lengthy, thorough, and incisive overview of the field in many of its aspects, plus a long list of honorary mentions arranged by author. This year's is no exception. As always there is a mix of hard and soft science, and a range of styles, plots, subject matter, and settings. There are very good stories here by Pat Cadigan, Alastair Reynolds, Michael Bishop, Linda Nagata, Robert Charles Wilson, and Robert Reed, and quite good stories by quite a few others. A couple weren't to my taste but there were none of them that are poorly written. I look forward to this every year as a source of short stories I might have missed or overlooked and there are always gems for me to discover. 6/9/13

The Puppet Masters by Robert A. Heinlein, Signet, 1958 (originally published in 1951)  

One of my favorite Heinlein novels, despite the frequent chauvinism. Sometimes I think the only woman Heinlein ever knew was his wife because his female characters all seem like aliens to me. A spaceship lands in Iowa but within hours the locals insist that it’s all a hoax. The protagonist, agent of a super secret intelligence organization, discovers that alien slugs attach themselves to human bodies and take control of their hosts. The slugs are part of a mass mind and apparently have no individual personalities except what they borrow from the host. The infection rapidly spreads across the country in large part because of the obtuseness of the government, which actually sounds more plausible now than it did when I first read this back in the 1960s. Once the secret is out, the invaders adapt their attack to circumstances, causing the humans to do the same. The ending is rather contrived, but for the most part it is suspenseful, well designed, and mostly plausible. 6/6/13

Between Planets by Robert A. Heinlein, Ace, 1951  

Another Heinlein novel about a revolution, this one aimed at young adults. The protagonist gets caught up in a war when the colonies on Venus try to break free of Earth. He is also the unwitting courier of a new scientific discovery that could change the shape of the war and ensure freedom for both Mars and Venus. Balked at every turn, stranded on Venus without funds, he becomes a fugitive and then a soldier before finally being instrumental in altering not only the war but the future of the solar civilization. Some mild romantic interest, but females don't often have large parts in early Heinlein. Other than the intelligent natives found on both Mars and Venus, this one holds up very well. 5/31/13

Star Trek into Darkness by Alan Dean Foster, Gallery, 2013, $16, ISBN 978-1-4767-1648-0   

Foster always does a fine job of novelizing movies but given that the script for this movie was filled with scientific inaccuracies, impossible situations, and internal contradictions, I didn’t expect Foster to turn it into an acceptable novel. He does make some effort to smooth over things, but the gaps in logic are too big to be bridged easily. See my review of the movie for a list of the serious problems in the script including contradictions about the prime directive, and the complete illogic of the main plot. On the other hand, I think the author’s effort to give some depth of character to Khan misfires. His Khan enjoys killing the Starfleet officers as fun; that doesn’t jibe with my impression of Khan who would more likely consider it an unpleasant chore. Foster gets around the inane breathable atmosphere on an asteroid by not mentioning that the humans are not wearing helmets, and he pretty much ignores the fact that the ship crossed into the Klingon system within a single day of leaving Earth. He does a reasonable job but this story was doomed from the outset. And I still don't get what the title is supposed to be referring to. 5/30/13

The Planet Thieves by Dan Krokos, Starscape, 2013, $15.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-3428-2  

I miss the Winston line of SF for young adults, and quality YA fiction from elsewhere. In fact, I’ve recently been re-reading Robert Heinlein’s early work for exactly that reason. Although there are moments of clunkiness, they are still quite well written and other than the obviously necessary plot devices to allow teenagers to save the day, they don’t condescend at all, a weakness I find in a lot of current fiction for younger readers. Tor has created the Starscape line to appeal to this category, although many of the titles have been fantasy or even borderline horror. This, the first in a series, is one of the few that looks and reads a lot like books I used to grab from library shelves in the early 1960s. The protagonists are space cadets who are aboard a ship that encounters hostile aliens. The adults are all captured or killed leaving them on their own to warn the authorities of the danger. But how can they recapture the ship and save the day when Earth itself is being held captive? This one was fun and didn’t strain credibility too far. 5/25/13

Science Fiction Trails #10, edited by David Riley, 2013, $8.25   

My first adult reading was paperback westerns and I’ve recently been re-reading Max Brand, so I was psychologically set for the latest issue of this irregular but always welcome collection of SF stories set in the Old West. Despite its historical existence, the Old West has always seemed to me an almost alien society, particularly as depicted by classic western writers. The genre has a reputation for being formulaic but there’s a surprisingly diversity of themes in both pure westerns and these hybrids. Despite the lack of “name” writers, Riley always manages to come up with some interesting stories in this issue – the handsomest looking to date – is no exception. There are robots, Martians, mysterious events, contained worlds, and an exciting but enigmatic train robbery. Lots of light fun in a setting rarely found in SF. 5/22/13

Farmer in the Sky by Robert A. Heinlein, Dell, 1978 (originally published in 1950) 

Earth is overpopulated and some of the excess population is being siphoned off to colonies on other worlds. The young protagonist and his father, along with his unexpected new wife and step sister, all volunteer to travel to the colony on Ganymede.  They don’t reach Ganymede until halfway through the book. The first half is devoted to preparing for and taking the trip, during which our young hero performs admirably during a small emergency, makes an enemy, helps form a boy scout troop, and receives a number of science lectures aimed at the reader. Ganymede has been terraformed with a new atmosphere and climate control, but facilities are limited and not as good as they were promised when they left Earth. There’s some nonsense about integrating the new scouts with those already existing on Ganymede that should have been edited out. Despite many obstacles, the family begins to build a new home, but then a devastating quake destroys some of the equipment that keeps the planet habitable and kills a large number of colonists. They also find evidence that an alien race once visited Ganymede, although it’s a brief and very low key adventure. Pretty good but the pacing is a bit rocky. 5/21/13

Red Planet by Robert A. Heinlein, Ace, originally published in 1949   

This was my favorite of Heinlein’s juveniles. Humans have colonized Mars and are converting it to a breathable atmosphere, even though there are indigenous Martians. The hero is a young boy who has befriended an amorphous kind of Martian named Willis whose biology is still pretty much an unknown to humans – which makes one question why they’re changing the atmosphere. It’s also a typical not very believable Heinlein society in which gun ownership is a right of passage – for males – and everyone adult carries one all the time. Nor does it apparently occur to anyone that even though Willis can carry on an intelligent conversation he might be intelligent. That said, this is still a very good story. The protagonist and a friend discover a plan by the company managing Mars to place the colonists in jeopardy and engage in an extended and dangerous cross country journey to carry a warning, pursued by the authorities and aided by the indigenous Martians. 5/17/13

Tunnel Out of Death by Jamil Nasir, Tor, 2013, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-0611-1

I've enjoyed this author's previous books at least in part because they always have interesting premises and they don't follow familiar plotlines. This one is no exception and it plays with the border between SF and fantasy. The protagonist is a rationalized clairvoyant whose current task is to find the personality of a comatose woman and lead it back to her body. This involves penetrating into a non-physical plane and reveals what might be a major fault in reality. Because it's not just on the immaterial level that things are becoming very strange as an alien intelligence battles secretive humans. Is the menace really an alien, or is it something inadvertently created by humans? I confess that this became a bit too ethereal for me at times, but overall I liked it and it certainly wasn't one of those books I felt as though I'd already read a time or twenty previously. 3/14/13

Space Cadet by Robert A. Heinlein, Ace, originally published 1948   

A handful of young men compete to be enrolled in the Solar Patrol in this, one of Heinlein’s better young adult novels. The initial testing eliminates three quarters of the applicants but our hero and his best friend, as well as one irritating rival, survive the opening winnowing process. This may well be Heinlein’s most frequently imitated book, a kind of Harry Potter in outer space, or Tom Brown’s School Days. Some of it is dated – the space force uses slide rule – although the main plot is not. Most of the book is anecdotal, a series of small adventures and discoveries as the cadets go through intensive training in an orbiting ship, with occasional jaunts to the moon. The ultimate test comes when they are stranded on Venus with their senior officer incapacitated, faced with a crucial interaction with the water dwelling natives. 5/12/13

Rocket Ship Galileo by Robert A. Heinlein, Ace, originally published 1947 

Heinlein’s first young adult novel – we called them juveniles back then – is about the first manned trip to the moon, although obviously it didn’t happen that way. This was the time when it was assumed that space travel could be developed by small companies or even a group of bright individuals, in this case by converting an old cargo rocket. Heinlein is a bit confused about his characters. The three boys recruited for the moon flight – an absurdity necessary to YA fiction – are all high school graduates but they act like they’re in junior high, and their parents still have an absolute veto over what they do, which is not possible at 18.  He refers to them later as minors as well, which isn’t so. The story proceeds predictably with the ship being readied and tested, while someone attempts to sabotage it, before finally taking off. There’s some silly speculation that the moon was inhabited and destroyed itself in a nuclear war, which was obvious nonsense even in the 1940s. The final few chapters are pretty bad. They find a Nazi colony on the moon, kill a few of them, find remains of a lunar civilization. 5/7/13

Love Machine/Stepping Stone  by Walter Mosley, Tor, 2013, $25, ISBN 978-0-7653-3010-9

Another double short novel pairing from Walter Mosley. The first title is clearly SF. It's a marvelous invention story in which a device is designed that allows two minds to interconnect, resulting in its most extreme form in a kind of gestalt amalgamation of both personalities. The protagonist submits to the machine and discovers a plot to take over the world. Pretty good set up for this one but I wasn't entirely happy with how the situation plays out.  The opposite half is more of a fantasy. An inoffensive but rather pliable man  has been drifting through life when everything changes. He might lose his job, an old acquaintance returns under less than pacific circumstances, and he has started having visions of a woman who is apparently invisible to everyone else. I preferred the fantasy side of this one, but both stories are very entertaining. Mosley really seems most at ease at this length. 5/6/13

Beyond This Horizon by Robert A. Heinlein, Signet, 1960 (originally published in 1942) 

The world has become a virtual utopia thanks to technology and Heinlein’s usual mysterious mathematical construction of a perfect society, but it has also become boring. In this case Heinlein has an excuse for all of his – almost exclusively male – characters to go around armed. Duelling is one of the few releases from boredom. Although I don’t think he intended it that way, the novel also illustrates the downside of universal gun carrying. It’s not a polite society at all. The dueling enables personal vendettas against innocent people, can mask a political murder, and can result simply from someone having too much to drink. Heinlein’s interest in eugenics – first displayed in Methuselah’s Children, is evident again. The protagonist, Hamilton Felix, is the result of selective breeding to create a superior strain of humanity, although his talents are wasted in a bland world. The first half of the book is encumbered by countless lectures on genetics and economics, some of it factual, some of it in a kind of magical fast talk. There’s some mild misogyny but it’s not as bad as in some of his other books. The plot involves a noxious revolutionary group that wants a dictatorship, with a subplot about a man from 1926 who has been in suspended animation and recently awakened. There’s a really implausible coincidence when one of the characters goes to a random location halfway across the country and encounters the mystery woman he has been yearning for, who just happens to be there alone. The climax actually comes two thirds of the way through the novel, after which the government decides to instigate a scientific project to determine whether or not there is life after death. This laughable premise is wrapped around an implausible love affair and sprinkled with more misogynism. Although still enjoyable, this didn’t measure up to my memories of it. The last fifty pages are a boring mess which introduces reincarnation and telepathy, neither very believably. 5/2/13

The Day After Tomorrow by Robert A. Heinlein, Signet, 1951 (originally published in 1941) 

This story of the conquest of America by the PanAsians, and subsequent successful revolt, is also known as Sixth Column. It is also Heinlein’s weakest novel until Farnham’s Freehold. Seven soldiers in a secret base decide to carry on the war despite the complete destruction of the government and military by the invaders.  The set up is atrocious. No invasion force could have set up such an intricate bureaucracy and control system within a few days, particularly given that the war involved nuclear weapons. The seven men maintaining all the paperwork of the army under their circumstances is ludicrous. The fact that they had just developed a kind of death ray stretches coincidence beyond the snapping point. This reads more like a pulp adventure from the Operator 5 or Secret Agent X series than a serious novel. Within a few weeks they have revolutionized physics, although they never do explain how the death ray spared the six of them while killing everyone else in the base.  The occupying army is depicted as a race of monsters and fanatics. I very much suspect this was written much earlier than Heinlein’s other work from this period. Every time they need something new invented, the chief scientist twiddles with his new science and comes up with it – undetectable communications, weapons that distinguish between races, a universal cure for infectious diseases, personal force fields, transmutation of elements, tractor beams, etc.  Baen reissued this in 1999; Heinlein's legacy would have been better served if they had not. 4/30/13

Shroud of Sorrow by Tommy Dombavand, Broadway, 2013, $9.99, ISBN 978-0-385-34678-8

A new original Doctor Who adventure, featuring the current Doctor and his new companion Clara. They are on Earth the day after John Kennedy's assassination and people are observing strange phenomena - the faces of the dead appearing to them in various unlikely places. It's rationalized, as much as anything is in the Whoverse, as the function of an alien menace that thrives on grief. The concept is good but the story is executed as though it were aimed at pre-teens, with no depth of character, background, or language, which I suppose is in some ways appropriate for the current Doctor's frenetic and sometimes confusing persona. But I found it even more distracting in prose than on the screen. 4/28/13

The Thirst Quenchers by Rick Raphael, Panther, 1965    

A collection of short stories from a writer who made a brief but noticeable splash, then promptly disappeared after less than a dozen stories. The title story is a novelette about men working for a nationwide water management system who have to face multiple crises when an earthquake disrupts the water delivery system. “Guttersnipe” is a quasi-sequel in which a contaminant gets into the water supply. “The Mailman Cometh” is about interstellar postal workers who have to rescue a lady in distress and “Odd Man In” is a mild polemic about businessmen finding a way to thrive in a regulated economy. These are all problem stories without much to recommend them. 4/27/13

Methuselah’s Children by Robert A. Heinlein, Signet, 1958    

This originally appeared in shorter form in 1941. It’s the fourth in the loosely constructed Future History series and involves the plight of a subset of humanity who are much longer lived than the rest of us, therefore the focus of hatred by the majority.  Heinlein once again insists that this reaction should have been predicted by proper mathematical analysis, a conceit he uses frequently as a kind of magic spell to make a point. Lazarus Long is the main protagonist, a slightly misogynistic senior member of the group who never goes anywhere without being armed because there are no dangerous weapons, only dangerous men. Heinlein enjoyed his clichés. He also assumes that most people aren’t fit to make their own decisions and that the few strong men – almost always men, of course – who have the nerve to make decisions for the rest of us have the right to do so, even at gunpoint. The head of the Families decides to opt for exile to the stars without consulting anyone except Lazarus Long, and the head of the world government decides to let them go without anyone else knowing what he is doing. After effectively surrendering all of his friends to federal custody, Long decides to exempt himself from his decision. This enables him to go about arranging a way to transport them up to the newly completed but unscrewed starship conveniently in orbit. I find it hard to believe they could load and then unload in weightlessness a hundred thousand people in the matter of a few hours, and the events leading up to it supposedly only take four days, which I also found hard to swallow. Long also manages to figure out how to pilot a starship by getting a casual tour of the control room, and one of the passengers just happens to have built a radically new stardrive which he is carrying in his bag. Which is good since the starship only has enough provisions for 10,000 people. The scale of the group is a recurring problem. At one point Long addresses all of them at once standing on a beach, which is clearly impossible. They leave Earth, discover two alien civilizations both of which are immensely superior, and most of them vote to go home. I had very fond memories of this book, but I have to say it didn’t measure up to them at all. 4/26/13

Revolt in 2100 by Robert A. Heinlein, Signet, 1955 

The bulk of this collection is the short novel “If This Goes On”, in which the US has become a religious dictatorship espousing a lot of the extreme nonsense we see on the internet lately. The protagonist is a private guard for the dictator who becomes disillusioned when a young woman he admires gets into trouble for not toeing the line.  They both take refuge among the rebellious Cabal, an organization which operates within the dictatorship so effectively that it sometimes raised my eyebrows in skepticism, but Heinlein was really starting to get his storytelling ducks in line with this one.  There’s a lecture about the evils of organized religion and some nonsense about psychology being reduced to mathematical formulas, a conceit which Heinlein would repeat in Starship Troopers among us, and never convincingly. “Coventry” is one of Heinlein’s best known stories. Social misfits are given the choice of psychological treatment or banishment to a large reservation surrounded by a force field where the government does not rule. Given the author’s libertarian views, one might have expected it to be a Utopian society of freethinkers but instead it’s far worse than the rather regimented society outside. “Misfit” also involves the castouts of society, in this case sent to work in space. The latter if very minor but the former is deservedly a classic. 4/25/13

Point & Shoot by Duane Swierczynski, Mulholland, 2013, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-316-13330-2

This Charlie Hardie crime novel is also science fiction, at least for a while. Hardie has to spend a year manning an orbiting satellite in order to protect his family from the big bad guys he fought last time around. Then an outsider shows up, Hardie crashes into the Pacific Ocean, and all hell breaks loose as he tries to figure out who are his friends and who are his enemies. Some of the science strikes me as a bit shaky - you can't change one person into the clone of another - and the narration is at times a little thin for my taste, but the action is fast and furious, the villains are interesting, and there are no holds barred for the hero or the story line, 4/23/13

Tales of Science and Sorcery by Clark Ashton Smith, Panther, 1964   

A collection of stories by an author probably best known for his fantasy, most of which were originally published during the 1930s. The stories set in space often assume that many parts of the solar system might be habitable, such as “Master of the Asteroid” in which a human is marooned on an asteroid that has indigenous life and finds himself worshipped as a god. “The Seed from the Sepulcher” involves a plant that grows inside people.  The women of a remote tribe grow as much as nine feet tall in “The Root of Ampoi”.  Mercury has a breathable atmosphere and humans can walk around without spacesuits in “The Immortals of Mercury”, an implausible and below average Smith story about a secret race living inside that planet.  “Murder in the Fourth Dimension” is a rather routine story of a perfect murder plot that goes awry. “Seedling from Mars” is an interesting variation of the alien invasion story, but it takes too long to get going.  “The Maker of Gargoyles” is a very good story about a pair of gargoyles that take on malevolent life. “The Great God Awto” is a mildly amusing satire about our fascination with automobiles. “Mother of Toads” is a very good story of seduction by magic, and “The Tomb-Spawn” explores the lair of a creature from another world. “Schizoid Creator” is pretty minor. The remaining stories are also relatively minor. 4/21/13

The Green Hills of Earth by Robert A. Heinlein, Signet, 1952     

Second volume of the Future History series, a collection of short stories. “Delilah and the Space Rigger” is about the first woman to join the crew building a space station. The on site boss is determined to get rid of her but instead of interfering with progress, which is what he expected, her presence actually stimulates the men to work harder. “Space Jockey” is a pretty good story about a pilot on the Earth-Moon run who has doubts about his chosen profession, marred slightly by some nonsense about a woman’s job being to put up with whatever her husband’s job requires. In “The Long Watch” a man gives his life to prevent a coup on the moon that would have given the conspirators the power to launch atomic weapons at Earth.  Three men get trapped in a lunar tunnel in “Gentlemen, Be Seated”, which is also pretty good. “The Black Pits of Luna” gets chauvinistic again. “I suppose women just don’t have any force of character.” It’s quite bad. An unsupervised child is allowed to run off on the moon and has to be rescued. Totally implausible. “It’s Great to Be Back” has a nice concept; a couple fed up with living on the moon returns to Earth and realizes how nice they had it back where they came from. Some of the problems they face are nicely done, but a three month wait to fix a backed up toilet strains credibility beyond the breaking point. A man traumatized by being stranded in space recovers in “Ordeal in Space.” The title story is about a spaceman who is also a poet. I’ve actually never cared for this one although it’s one of Heinlein’s best known. Finally there is “Logic of Empire”. The protagonist is shanghaied to Venus where he becomes unofficially a slave laborer. Okay but predictable. Overall, still a good collection. 4/17/13

The Man Who Sold the Moon by Robert A. Heinlein, Signet, 1951  

This was the first volume of Heinlein’s “Future History”. The paperback edition contains four stories, start with “Let There Be Light” in which two scientists discover a way to generate light much more efficiently than was thought possible, which turns out to also be a very efficient solar collector. There’s not much story actually, and the banter between the hulky hero and his sexy collaborator is embarrassing. When entrenched interests try to stop them from producing the collectors, they make the technology public. “The Roads Must Roll” was an interesting contrast to Rick Raphael’s “Code Three”. Where the latter envisioned a future with highways on a much larger scale, Heinlein considered the possibility of the virtual elimination of automobiles in favor of what were essentially giant conveyor belts. The setup is implausible for a number of reasons. The safeguards are minimal despite the capacity for large numbers of fatalities. The story is not very good either. A rogue union decides to sabotage the system without warning, causing multiple deaths.  It’s inconceivable that a major union would do such a stupid thing, but Heinlein makes his workers brainless thugs with possibly communist support, a frequent preoccupation when this was written back around 1940. On the other hand, he clearly recognizes that the use of unbridled power by one individual over another is particularly counterproductive in a complex civilization. There’s a swipe at Ayn Rand although she’s not specifically named. The title story is far better, although dated since it’s about a man who is responsible for getting the first flight to the moon underway. It wasn’t great as prophecy – we did not have power rationing throughout the 20th Century and it was not a private company that reached the moon – but the story of D.D. Harriman’s heroic efforts is still absorbing. There’s quite a bit of chauvinism, also a product of its time. The idea that the moon belongs to people over whose land it passes is also rather a stretch, even for 1940. Harriman makes the project work but doesn’t get to visit the moon itself until the final story, “Requiem”, in which he dies shortly after landing.  Although a bit dated and with some minor problems, this is still a remarkable collection. 4/15/13

The Weans by Robert Nathan, Knopf, 1960   

This is actually just a short story, puffed up by a few photographs, but it’s one of Nathan’s most memorable pieces. Thousands of years from now a team of archaeologists is exploring the ruins of North America, uncovering secrets about the long vanished Weans (named because we refer to US so much). There more satire of archaeology than of American culture, with several misunderstandings based on partial or erroneous interpretations of the evidence, suggesting that we may well know less about ancient civilizations than we think we do. I think this has also appeared collected as “Digging the Weans”. 4/14/13

Code Three by Rick Raphael, Berkley, 1967    

This is a fixup that incorporates the title story plus a sequel, “Once a Cop”, both set in a future now completely implausible in which freeways are far more extensive than they are today. The major ones are a half mile wide and the police are equipped with mobile hospitals and they travel at 600 miles per hour. Some of the charm is dimmed by the fact that our heroes are assigned to a car named “Buelah”; I’m pretty sure the author meant “Beulah” and the spelling varies back and forth during the course of the book. Most of the story is episodic involving accidents, speeding violations, and so forth, complicated by the high speeds and massive scale of the highway. Some of it is interesting extrapolation, but it begins to get repetitive and the characters are never more than stick figures. The two individual stories worked better because they were more focused and less repetitive. The novel version gets tiring very quickly.  The author wrote a handful of other stories but disappeared quite quickly from the scene.  4/12/13

Hellhole Awakening by Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson, Tor, 2013, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2270-8

Middle volume of a trilogy. The revolt of one planet from  an interstellar empire cannot be allowed to stand because it would present a bad example for others chafing at their subordination. A massive fleet is assembled to suppress the rebels but there are signs of disunity and decadence that lead some to question just how easy the coming battle might be. A very large cast of characters provide us with varying perspectives and some depth although the story is essentially a Star Wars style space opera mixed with contemporary military SF and a nicely woven net of political intrigues. Most of the plot elements introduced in the first book are more developed this time, setting the stage for what will presumably be a rousing climax in the final volume. Looking forward to it. 4/10/13

They Went on Together by Robert Nathan, Knopf, 1941   

Only marginally SF. This is the story of a group of refugees, told primarily from the point of view of the children, who are retreating after their armies have been defeated. Neither side is ever identified but the place names all sound very American and it’s obvious Nathan was trying to produce a generic story of the horribleness of war that would resonate in the US. There is a growing conviction that their leaders were at fault and that the other side is engaged in immoral and beastly acts. There is no real resolution to the story but since there’s no real resolution to the problem he’s describing, that’s understandable. 4/7/13

Virus Thirteen by Joshua Alan Parry, Tor, 2013, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-6954-3

I've read so many stories of pandemics and plagues over the years that they mostly blend into one indistinct memory. The set up for this one is pretty much the same. Terrorists release a superbug that quickly sweeps across the world, so groups of scientists go into seclusion while searching for a cure. The trouble is that some people have hidden motives and others just don't want the cure to be found. When the male protagonist discovers that the female protagonist is the target of killers, he decides to rescue her from her supposedly secure location, which isn't, despite the dangers posed by the killers, security, secret agents with unclear motives, and of course the chance that he might pick up the bug himself. There's nothing slow about the story line, which is a plus since the basic plot is so familiar. I did have a problem with the prose, which is somewhat difficult to articulate. I think the preponderance of short, snappy sentences began to wear on me after a while, and occasionally the phrasing sounded artificial. At times it felt more like a men's adventure novel than anything else. 4/3/13