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


Doctor Lerne by Maurice Renard, Black Coat, 2010 (originally published in 1908) 

This early French SF novel, dedicated to H.G. Wells, owes much to The Island of Dr. Moreau. It is accompanied by an unrelated novelette about the discovery of a viable dinosaur egg and the consequences and while a bit padded the story is quite good. I was less interested in the novel. The narrator goes to visit an uncle he hasnít seen in fifteen years. The uncle is experimenting with grafting and brain transplants and has gone insane. Our hero gets his brain stuck in the body of a bull for a while, but he is eventually restored. Too wordy and too predictable. A 1923 translation was published as New Bodies for Old. 6/30/20

The Blind Circle by Maurice Renard and Albert Jean, Dutton, 1928 

This is a very fine early French SF novel which deserves better than its current obscurity. A man is found dead near his apartment. Moments later he is also found dead at his mistressí house. And then a third body shows up in Paris and a fourth aboard a train. What has this to do with the theft of a beautiful actressí corpse, or a serial killer whose rented rooms contain evidence of at least a dozen bodies burned beyond recognition? This is the earliest example of matter duplication that I know of in fiction and despite of a rather preachy ending about usurping Godís prerogatives, itís a well done story.  6/27/20

Infinity by James A. Moore, Titan, 2019

This is a Marvel tie-in novel involving a somewhat attenuated cast of Avengers left on Earth while a bunch of fellow superheroes goes off to unite various aliens to defend the universe from the powerful Builders. The story is based on a series of comic books although apparently varies a bit from their version of events. That leaves Dr. Strange, Black Panther, and a few others to fend off an assault by Thanos and his minions to conquer the Earth in their absence. This was entertaining enough but I actually prefer superhero novels that have a narrower focus and less apocryphal events. The story involves far too many characters to stay as closely focused as I prefer. 6/23/20

Minions of the Moon by William Gray Beyer, Altus, 2017 (originally published in 1939)   

The hero wakens from suspended animation 6000 years in the future. Civilization has fallen. Savagery rules much of the world, although there are two mentally augmented victims who can leave their bodies to roam and the world, and other worlds as well. A similar discorporate entity from the moon befriends the protagonist, although his fondness of practical jokes is a constant cause of irritation. Eventually he and a beautiful woman join forces with some Vikings from the future and are presumably left to be happy ever after, although there were a number of sequels to the story. This was short enough that this edition includes a short story, which I actually liked better than the novella. 6/21/20

Minions of Mars by William Gray Beyer, Altus, 2019    (originally published in 1940)  

Second in a series of four, although the last two are not available. The hero, his romantic interest, and a disembodied intelligence from the moon have further adventures six thousand years in the future when barbarism rules much of the world. The alienís omnipotent powers rob the plot of any suspense or tension, but the story is written in such a light, unconcerned style that it probably would not have been improved in this regard by his absence. I had never read this before and I canít say that I was improved by the experience. Or even particularly entertained. The barbarians are standard fare and the adventures less than thrilling. 6/21/2-

The Forbidden Stars by Tim Pratt, Angry Robot, 2019

Third and final book in the Axiom trilogy. A mysterious Benefactor has begun providing information to our heroes about installations created by the alien Axiom. Their next mission is to investigate a human colony world from which no communication or traveler has returned in a very long time. There they discover humans who have been transformed into something else. Nicely told space opera with a varied group of protagonists, an engaging mystery, and subsequent events only a bit over the top. The outcome is never really in doubt but it's fun finding our way to the end. 6/18/20

Erewhon by Samuel Butler, Magnum, 1872   

This quasi-Utopian novel was primarily a satire on Victorian mores, but at the same time it is more realistic than most of its kind because the utopia is revealed to be flawed. It has a decent plot Ė the opening chapters are a low key adventure story in which our hero wanders into the unknown country and is imprisoned. Itís much slower after that. Our hero runs off to the big city with a young woman and Butler satirizes various things. The most interesting part of the novel is toward the end. The machines in the city are evolving Ė more efficient machines replace the less efficient ones Ė and they are approaching true machine intelligence. This is probably the earliest reference to such a possibility if we discount golems and such. There is a less interesting sequel. 6/17/20

The Dreaming Stars by Tim Pratt, Angry Robot, 2018

Second in the Axiom trilogy. The first alien base has been neutralized but now our heroes face a bigger problem. Another installation has sent a swarm of nanomachines to gather raw material and a human colony world is right in their path. And this time the base is not entirely automated and has some of the evil aliens aboard. This was not quite as good as the first. It takes a while to get going and sort out all of the characters. The aliens are a bit too evil to be plausible and they are defeated rather too easily. It's still fun though. 6/14/20

The Wrong Stars by Tim Pratt, Angry Robot,  2017  

First in a trilogy. Humans have spread to a couple of dozen star systems, thanks to the technology provided by a race called the Liars, because they lie about almost everything. When a piece of alien technology turn up that allows travel to anywhere in the galaxy, a small group of humans discover that some of the Liars are very different. They are ruthless in their efforts to prevent a powerful, ancient race from being disturbed, and will literally exterminate intelligent races to do so.  This was an enjoyable space opera with fairly well drawn characters and some very good sequences aboard an alien space station. The romantic content was rather forced and sometimes unconvincing. 6/6/20

Vampires of Mars by Gustave Le Rouge, Black Coat, 2008 (French edition 1909)

Brian Stableford provides the translation of an early French SF novel that was a kind of blend of Edgar Rice Burroughs and H.P. Lovecraft. The protagonist is mentally projected to Mars and then back to Earth, but some Martian vampires commanded by an evil intelligence on the red planet. I found this a bit of a slog, particularly the early chapters. It seems to take forever for the story to get started. There are some good bits later on, but not enough to compensate for the wait. 6/3/20

Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy, Modern Library, 1888 

This is the most important American utopian novel, although like its European cousins, it assumes a fundamental change in human nature in order for the socialist society it depicts to exist. All of the businesses in the world are united into a single corporation administered by the government for the good of the population. The world is revealed through the eyes of a man who has been in a mysterious coma for more than a century. The novel was very influential when it first appeared, even though it has virtually no plot. I read this back in high school and was bored. For the most part I was this time as well. 5/24/20

Network Effect by Martha Wells, Tor, 2020

This is the fifth in the Murderbot series. Murderbot is the narrator, most of the time, and it's a cyborg which has hacked its own programming in order to take control of its life. In the latest adventure, Murderbot and some human clients are kidnapped into the system of an abandoned colony where there are mysterious attacks, dangerous alien technology, and other dangers. There are the usual pitched battles - much more interesting than one might expect - but the real joy of the series is Murderbot's personality and its methods of dealing with humans and other artificial intelligences. Extremely enjoyable and it looks like there are more adventures to come. 5/15/20

Dark Designs by Stefan Petrucha, Titan, 2019

This is a Captain America novel, featuring the Red Skull. Captain America discovers that both he and the Red Skull - whose personality now resides in a clone of Captain America - carry a deadly virus against which the world has no resistance. Sound familiar? Anyway, Rogers is willing to be put back into suspended animation until and unless a cure can be found, but the Red Skull is much less obliging. So the old enemies clash again, and the fate of the world is once more hanging in the balance. I liked the effort to do something a bit out of the ordinary with the Marvel characters without making them unrecognizable. The novel, however, may hit a bit too close to home for some under the present circumstances. 5/6/20

Bone Silence by Alastair Reynolds, Orbit, 2019 

Third in the Revenger series. The Ness sisters are pirates in a far future solar system where the planets were all broken up to create thousands of much smaller habitats. They are still trying to figure out what the alien visitors are up to, are still on the run from the authorities, and one of them is still dealing with an infection that could change her personality. The mystery surrounding the purposes and intentions of the aliens among the human worlds moves forward dramatically and the fate of the sisters and the people around them become more important than ever before. Filled with rich, inventive detail, the story moves forward surprisingly quickly. It is possibly the shortest six hundred page novel Iíve ever read, and certainly one of the best. 5/3/20

A Traveler from Altruria by William Dean Howells, Hill and Wang, 1958 (originally published in 1894)

A typical Utopian novel from a socialist whose other fiction has now largely fallen into obscurity.  The traveler comes from a distant Utopian country and most of the book consists of him asking discomfiting questions about American society of his host. A bit of this is quite dated but other aspects remain valid. There is no real plot and not much of any characterization. Of curiosity value primarily. He wrote a couple of even less well known sequels. 5/1/20

Automatic Reload by Ferrett Steinmetz, Tor, 2020, $16.99, ISBN 978-1-250-16821-4  

I confess that I had to struggle with this one because the present tense narration made it feel even more like a comic book than it was intended to be. It involves a tempestuous love affair between two near-super heroes who have a series of violent adventures, the nature of which is not particularly relevant to the real story. At times it is quite funny. There are large chunks of the book that consist of short bits of sometimes quite witty dialogue.  The general idea is clever and for the most part done very well. But itís in present tense, which isnít quite as bad as it usually is for me because the story was never supposed to be taken seriously. But it was still distracting. 4/29/20

Liberation Run by Tess Sharpe, Titan, 2019  

This is a Captain Marvel novel in which she, Ant-Man, and a couple of lesser known superheroes are off to another planet to deal with a repressive government. I was rather disappointed in this one, which reads more like a comic book for teenagers than an adult novel Ė perhaps intentionally. The author's previous work has been for young adults. There are some prose anomalies as well, like changing tense in the middle of a long sentence. The alien planet setting did not feel at all like it belonged in the Marvel universe. 4/28/20

The Hidden Girl and Other Stories by Ken Liu, Saga, 2020

I have never read a story by Ken Liu that I didn't like. I had only read about one quarter of the stories in this collection so this was a treat. And I still haven't read a story by Liu that I didn't like, although obviously I liked some better than others. There are lots of superficially familiar themes here - conflict with aliens, virtual reality, marvelous inventions, and others. A few are fantasy. Three of them are actually a short series exploring the consequences of uploading personalities into cyberspace. Liu's treatment of these concepts often varies from the traditional - sometimes subtly, sometimes broadly. The title story and the mini-series were my favorites. 4/26/20

Rambunctious by Rick Wilber, Wordfire, 2020, $14.99

This is a collection of nine short stories drawn from anthologies and magazines. Most of them are fairly recent but a few are drawn from the 1990s, including one of my favorites, "Hope As an Element of Cold Dark Matter."  I remembered enjoying three of the other stories as well - and two others were new to me. The stories are predominantly about people dealing with psychological conflicts, usually having to do with something that happened in their past. I had never noticed this recurring them until I reread the stories in closer proximity. Which is not to say that there is not plenty of action as well. There are a couple of alternate history stories, of which "Something Real" is the better, though not by much. This is a long overdue collection and well worth your time and money. 4/24/20

Joyleg by Ward Moore and Avram Davidson, Pyramid, 1962   

Two opposing members of Congress decide to investigate a man who has been drawing a pension for decades. They travel to a remote part of Appalachia where they discover that he is a veteran of the Revolutionary War, and that he credits his long lifespan to the moonshine that he bathes in. He becomes a national figure, controversial because of his wayward youth, and then an international one when his age is revealed. This is a broad but not very clever satire, mostly directed against politicians, and there is very little plot. Both authors were much better elsewhere. 4/17/20

Flame Jewel of the Ancients by Edwin L. Graber, Armchair, 2014 (originally published in 1950)  

A small but belligerent interstellar government has somehow found a weapon so powerful that a small ship can defeat gigantic battleships. Various spies debate how to delay their inevitable conquest Ė by sacrificing an expendable ally Ė while they try to duplicate the weapon orfind a way of neutralizing it. Lots of action, not terribly written, and lots of scientific doubletalk. One of the spies, predictably, is a beautiful woman but also predictably, she is not the protagonist. Not as bad as I had expected, but not a lost classic. 4/16/20

Caduceus Wild by Ward Moore, with Robert Bradford, Pinnacle, 1979

This is the rewritten version of a novel serialized in 1959 but never previously published in book form. Itís a typical Dystopia. In this case, the doctors have taken over the world following a war that made extensive use of biological weapons. They have robot policemen with disintegration ray. Our heroes are three dissidents trying to escape to England, the only free country. There is an interesting but overlong discussion of the right of a small minority to rebel on behalf of a majority that may not want to be free, and in fact the first half of the novel plods along rather slowly, and is only slightly faster paced after that. Not nearly the quality of Mooreís other work. 4/12/20

Pulp Adventures #16 edited by Audrey Parente, Bold Venture, 2015 

One of a series of reprints from the pulp magazines, which in this volume are predominantly SF. Thereís a novella by Arthur Burks called Survival, in which the US is invaded, essentially conquered, but manages to rebel. There is also a slightly shorter sequel in which a new nation is formed. The three shorts accompanying it include a short SF story by Charles Fritch, a pretty bag non-SF story by Johnston McCulley, and an innocuous one by L.H. Hayum. 4/11/20

Greener Than You Think by Ward Moore, Sloane, 1947 

Mooreís first SF novel was an over long satire in which a scientist unwittingly releases a nutrient that makes devilgrass grow so quickly it is visible. It begins to overwhelm California despite all efforts to stop it and eventually leads to the invasion of the country by the Russians, although they too are ultimately defeated by the grass. We see most of this through the eyes of a mendacious salesman turned journalist turned entrepreneur. Moore takes pokes at various institution, most of them obvious targets, and leaves us with the end of the world. I understand why the Ballantine edition was abridged. 4/9/2-