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


Postmarked the Stars by Andre Norton, Ace, 1969

A Solar Queen novel. Alas, not a good one. The science in this one is so remarkably bad and illogical that it overwhelms everything else. Intelligence and knowledge are not the same thing. Given the implausible idea that radiation could make an animal intelligent in a matter of hours, it would still not have the knowledge of how to use a lock pick, fire a sophisticated weapon, or speak the language of its captors. Someone has sabotaged a shipment of animals to a colony world, and the crew have no idea how to deal with the matter.  6/29/22

The Strange Story of William Hyde by Patrick & Terence Casey, Armchair, 2021 (originally published in 1916) 

This is a lost race novel set in Borneo with a rascally protagonist who has a variety of adventures in a hidden city, during which he also tries to steal a fabulous emerald. The best part of most lost world novels is the search for or journey to the realm and the preliminary discoveries, after which almost invariably there is trouble with some faction and usually a civil war. This novel skips all the good stuff and concentrates on politics and intrigue inside the city, and the author does not do that very well. I’d pass on this one if I was looking for a good adventure story to recommend. 6/28/22

Beast Master’s Quest by Andre Norton & Lyn McConchie, Tor, 2006 

A new arrival on Arzor is accompanied by an intelligent, telepathic cat. No one knows what world gave rise to this species. When one of the characters inherits a starship, they all team up to go looking for that planet, following up leads that are mostly just rumors. After wandering a bit, they find the planet but the inhabitants are not really glad to see offworlders. Their world has suffered a major disaster and their civilization is just getting started again. Good relations are eventually restored after some very low key adventures. This was the least interesting of the three new Beast Master novels written with McConchie. 6/26/22

Beast Master’s Ark by Andre Norton & Lyn McConchie, Tor, 2002 

The first of three sharecropped novels extending the Beast Master series. I have no idea how much Norton contributed to these novels. This one brings a starship that is mostly a biological lab trying to track down animals that were native to Earth, which was destroyed in a war with the Xiks. A young woman with a distrust for beast masters meets Hosteen Storm, who is preoccupied trying to discover what has been killing local animals, and people, and leaving only bare bones behind. They team up, of course, and discover that Xik agents are experimenting with a new bioweapon, swarms of ravenous insects. Not badly done and it feels pretty much like an early Norton novel. 6/22/22

Beast Master’s Circus by Andre Norton & Lyn McConchie, Tor, 2004 

Someone has been murdering beast masters and stealing their animals. A star going circus comes to Arzor, and obviously its captain is part of the organization responsible. A young woman is a bonded servant of the ship, but she decides to risk her future and warn a pair of married beast masters of the danger that they are in. There is also one exhibit in the zoo who is actually a sentient being and a telepath. The villains get thwarted, the protagonist wins her freedom, and the alien has a chance to perhaps find his home world in the next book. 6/22/22

The Mystery Man of Lhassa by G.H. Teed, Stillwoods, 2021

This is a series of three novellas about an Asian mastermind who develops a superweapon, a kind of solar powered death ray. He is opposed by Nelson Lee and his friends. Teed wrote a lot of Sexton Blake adventures and the Nelson Lee series was quite similar, although much less popular. As in this case, they sometimes included elements of the fantastic. The villain is a kind of Fu Manchu variant named Genghis. Lee is almost appallingly nice and his sense of honor sometimes undercuts his effectiveness. Old fashioned adventure in a style no longer popular. 6/21/22

Memory's Legion by James S.A. Corey, Orbit, 2022

The Expanse series has come to an end but the authors wrote several shorter pieces that developed side issues not covered directly in the novels. This brings them all together and provides readers one last chance to enter the Expanse universe. The settings vary considerably - Earth, Mars, the asteroid belt, planets around other stars - and they encompass a broad band of events chronicled in the novels. This was my favorite space opera of the last few years and I even liked the television show a lot. All good things must come to an end. Some of the stories stand well alone, but for the most part you really need to have read the novels to understand much of what is going on. 6/20/22

The Zero Stone by Andre Norton, Ace, 1968

The protagonist becomes a fugitive on a backward world through no fault of his own and manages to convince a Free Trader to smuggle him off the planet. He discovers that the ring he was given by his father provides access to an advanced technology, and meets an intelligent alien who is initially just a large seed but who eventually becomes a kind of mutant cat. The story edges toward fantasy on more than one occasion. Eventually our hero is cleared of all charges against him, by means of an annoying deus ex machina solution. 6/16/22

Diablo Mesa by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, Grand Central, 2022 

This was a tremendous disappointment, a well written version of a hackneyed plot. The government is covering something up – in this case a real alien landing at Roswell – and an archaeologist is hired to investigate the site. A rogue organization within the US government has been covering up the truth for decades and now dispatches a kind of evil James Bond to kill anyone who might endanger that coverup. The story is appalling derivative and completely without interest. Ironically, when the evil organization is uncovered and disbanded, all of the good guys decide that it is best for humanity that the truth not be revealed. Dreadful, and from two of my favorite writers. 6/15/22

Vampires of the Andes by Henry Carew, Armchair, 2021 (originally published in 1925) 

This is a convoluted and sometimes dense thriller that involves multiple hidden cities, all underground and scattered around the world. The survivors of Atlantis established these redoubts and have active societies interacting with the outside world, preparing for the day when they can emerge and take power. The story involves their efforts to suppress the discovery of directions to one of those cities by a pair of archaeologists. There is also a princess hidden among the larger civilization who does not know that she is believed to be a sign that a time to revive Atlantis is at hand. A bit too turgid for my tastes. The vampires are birds who drink blood and have possibly magical abilities. 6/11/22

Abandoned in Death by J.D. Robb, St Martins, 2022

The 54th Eve Dallas thriller is SF in name only. It takes place in 2061 but this doesn't even have a robot bartender or mention off world prisons, etc. An insane man is kidnapping women and trying to change them into substitutes for the mother he lost as a child. When they fall short, he kills them. Dallas and her team go through the usual police procedures and eventually track him down. This series has been uniformly entertaining if not memorable. My only strong objection is that the profiler, Mira, is able to present detailed descriptions of the killers' psychology in several of the books, based on completely inadequate information. I was also puzzled by the end of this one. The killer is clearly certifiably insane with multiple personality disorder, a clearly traumatic psychotic break, and other symptoms, but the author tells us that since one of the personalities knew this was wrong, he cannot successfully plead insanity. 6/10/22

Dark Piper by Andre Norton, Ace, 1968

Following an interstellar war, a large number of refugees settle on a planet whose only colony is a scientific station. An ex-soldier tries to warn the governing council that the settlers will use violence to take over. They refuse to believe him, so he leads a small group of children into an underground cave system. War breaks out and the entrance collapses. The adult is injured and eventually dies, so the children have to make their way out on their own.  They have minor adventures before and after escaping.6/9/22

The Cave of a Thousand Columns by T.E. Grattan-Smith, Armchair, 2021 (originally published in 1938)  

This is a minimally competent lost world novel set in Australia. Three men set out to explore a cave and find their way into a series of underground tunnels that lead to immense caverns where a race of flying humanoids exists. The flying men are divided into tribes and while the outsiders are able to make friends with one tribe, their neighbors are vicious cannibals who are perfectly willing to add a new food source to their menu. They are eventually rescued. after a standard series of mediocre adventures. Unmemorable.  6/8/22

Termination Shock by Neal Stephenson, Morrow, 2021 

Global warming has reached yet another crisis stage. Hordes of savage wild pigs are overrunning Texas. The Netherlands is at risk of being completely overwhelmed by the sea. A secret conference is convened in Houston to deal with the problem. As always, Stephenson provides such a wealth of detail that the story often feels like an historical account than a work of fiction. I am not qualified to judge whether his suggested course of action could work – although it struck me as a simpleminded approach to a much more complex problem. .I did, however, find the various characters interesting and mostly likeable, and it was amazing how fast a hundred pages could slip by. That said, there did not seem to be enough story for the length of the book, and there were no distinct scenes that stuck in my memory as has been true with his previous novels. 6/6/22

Operation Time Search by Andre Norton, Del Rey, 1967 

Another of those hybrid fantasy/SF novels. A man stumbles into a time field and is sent back through time. There he is caught up in a war between Atlantis in Lemuria, but it feels like a fantasy world – with technomagic and inhuman creatures, swords and telepathy. He becomes a crucial element in the struggle between the two societies, neither of which struck me as particular admirable, and his effect on history is so great that he cannot be brought back to the future. There is no logic to this as he has already done the things that are important, and the rest of his life would conform to the conditions for a return. Not one of my favorites. 6/5/22

Victory on Janus by Andre Norton, Ace, 1966 

One of my least favorite Norton novels. Some of the human settlers have been changed into the ancient race that once lived there. This is pretty much magic. There is another intelligent race of natives, and they are menaced by unknown intruders who can imitate them, as well as using androids to infiltrate the human settlements. The dialogue is constructed in that corny, formal, artificial style that fantasy writers often us – “Do you remain here, for if you are unpurified…” Repetitious, contrived, a bit confusing, and never the slightest bit interesting. 6/1/22

Drunk on All Your Strange New Words by Eddie Robson, Tor, 2022, $26.99, ISBN 978-1-250-80734-2  

The protagonist is a translator working with an alien delegation stationed on Earth. She has qualms about her job, which is unsettling because of its very nature but also because she doesn’t feel as though she is doing as good a job as she should be. But then things get really complicated because the plot becomes a murder mystery with locked room overtones. Naturally she gets drawn into the investigation, mostly against her will, and will prove to be instrumental in solving the crime. That’s all pretty obvious. What enriches the book is the examination of language and how it affects the people using it. This is fairly impressive but it was largely spoiled for me because of the present tense narration. If that doesn’t bother you, then this is a good bet. 5/30/22

The Valley of Eyes Unseen by Gilbert Collins, Armchair, 2021 (originally published in 1923)   

This is a well above average lost world novel, although the first half is a mundane adventure story set in China. It’s a pretty good mundane adventure story as well. Five men set out to find a rumored hidden valley of giant birds and plenteous gemstones, after one finds a cryptic reference at a gravesite. The pace of the story falters when they finally reach their goal. Alexander the Great faked his death and founded a colony in Tibet, where they developed technology superior to that found in the outside world. They are aware of external civilizations and do not wish to be found. One of the men is the spitting image of Alexander, which precipitates a kind of civil war. The second half is inferior to the first. 5/25/22

The X Factor by Andre Norton, Ace, 1965  

A misfit steals a spaceship and finds himself marooned on what appears to be an uninhabited planet, although he does find a cache of supplies that were obviously left there by humans. The planet is home to furry creatures who are actually sentient and who try to establish contact with the human visitor through his dreams, but the process is not an easy one. The planet is being used by a band of space pirates who use false radio signals to lure ships into range so that they cm be captured and looted. This has all the elements of a Norton adventure but is not up to her usual standards. 5/25/22

Quest Crosstime by Andre Norton, Ace, 1965  

Sequel to Crossroads of Time. A young woman has disappeared while visiting a parallel Earth where life never developed. The protagonist is an agent who helps track her down, in another reality where North America is still part of the British Empire, but the Aztecs control South America. He has various adventures before returning to his home reality with information which undercuts the established order there and reveals various villains. The scenes in the Aztec civilization are the high point of the novel. 5/22/22

The Sea Demons by Victor Rousseau, Armchair, 2021 (originally published in 1924)

A submarine encounters a race of humanoid undersea dwellers who are virtually invisible and who are adapting to life on the surface. They realize that the creatures are numerous and aggressive and present a major threat to the human race, but they have difficulty convincing anyone in authority to believe them until the actual attacks begin. This was surprisingly readable for such an obscure novel. It ages fairly well, although some of the interactions between the protagonist and his romantic interest are seriously silly and more than mildly misogynistic. 5/21/22

Dark Atlantis by David Craigie, Armchair, 2021 (originally published in 1951) 

Craigie was the byline used for two young adult novels, of which this is the second. The young hero stows away and is eventually – and quite implausibly - allowed to help crew an experimental bathyscape. The subsequent exploration uncovers an undersea civilization of froglike humanoids, which the scientist character decides is Atlantis. They are captured and escape, twice, and survive a couple of undersea earthquakes. The prose isn't bad and the story is okay. 5/18/22

Chimera by Michael McBride, 2021 

This appears to be self published, although several similar SF thrillers by the author have appeared from conventional publishers. This time it’s about an experiment in Greenland that goes awry. A new life form can invade and control other creatures and it is completely hostile to any rivals. A team is sent in to find out what is going on and rescue any survivors, and they end up fighting for their own lives. This wasn’t his best novel, but I have enjoyed everything I’ve read by McBride and this was not an exception. Suspenseful almost from the opening chapter. 5/17/22

The Crimson Horror by Mark Gatiss, BBC, 2021

This is the novelization of a 2013 screenplay, also by the author. The Doctor is back in rural Victorian England and he is alarmed by a wave of deaths, each victim of which turns bright red after death. Is there an alien around? Is it a curse? Has someone been performing dangerous experiments? Or does it involve an apparently innocent little old lay who tends her garden? Fairly typical of the show before it became so convoluted that I lost interest. Reads more like a screenplay than a novel however. 5/12/22

A Queen of Atlantis by Frank Aubrey, Armchair, 2021 (originally published in 1899) 

Four people are stranded on a sailing ship in the Sargasso Sea, hundreds of miles of seaweed, in an attempt to remove one of them from the scene in order that her inheritance will pass on to a villainous relative. They find an island, which turns out to be Atlantis, which is at war with another island. One of the newcomers is proclaimed queen because of a prophecy. For a change the high priest is on her side, but her brother objects to the displacement of his sister. The war comes to a negotiated end. The scoundrels who marooned our heroes are shipwrecked as well and cause problems. There are flying vampire reptiles, a mysterious third race that always wears masks, and some giant squids. Routine – not awful but not very original. 5/6/22

Gods of the Forgotten by Geary Gravel, ERB Inc, 2021 

This is a new adventure of John Carter of Mars, as invented by Edgar Rice Burroughs. The death of an old friend causes Carter to travel from his home city and by doing so he discovers a threat that could end all life on the planet. Naturally he is up to the task of saving the world yet again. Gravel does a very good job of capturing the atmosphere of a Burroughs Mars novel, although his prose is a bit too polished to be completely the same. Included in the book is a novelette by Ann Tonsor Zeddes which is set in the world of the Moon Maid series. It’s pretty good as well, but feels less like ERB. The publisher is trying to use crossovers to make this a literary equivalent of the Marvel Comics Universe, which I think is a mistake.  5/4/22

Ordeal in Otherwhere by Andre Norton, Ace, 1965 

Sequel to Storm Over Warlock. This was the first of Norton’s SF novels to have a female protagonist. She is an indentured laborer sent to run a trading post on the planet Warlock. Its inhabitants will only deal with females. They possess the powers of telepathy, teleportation, and telekinesis, and they also can share dreams, although not with males even of their own species. She has adventures in the wild, among the aliens, and back at the post, which is destroyed by unidentified attackers. These are all rather low key, however, and I was never caught up in the story as I usually am with Norton adventures. Lots of dream sequences. I almost always hate dream sequences. 4/30/22

Artemis by Andy Weir, Crown, 2017 

I really like stories set in colonies on the Moon and I really liked the first novel I read by this author, so I had high expectations and happily they were met. The protagonist is a resident who wants to become comfortably off rather than constantly in debt, and she’s willing to break some laws if necessary to do so. Unfortunately, the scheme she chooses overlaps with some plans by other people with even loftier ambitions, like control of the entire colony, and her shenanigans not only get her into trouble with the authorities, but also with a group of people who are far less scrupulous. Nicely portrayed character, if a bit shady in her ethics, a well realized setting, and an engaging plot. 4/28/22

Night of Masks by Andre Norton, Ace, 1964 

The protagonist agrees to help kidnap a young boy in return for having his disfigured face repaired, though only after being assured the boy would come to no harm. Things go awry, however, and he and the boy are soon fugitives on a primitive and dangerous planet that is cloaked in eternal darkness. The story is rather claustrophobic. Our hero is held prisoner in a box for a while, then spends time in a small spaceship, reaches the dark world and enters an underground base, escapes and hides in a cave, and so on. About average for Norton. 4/27/22

Key Out of Time by Andre Norton, Ace, 1963  

Fourth in the Time Trader series. Humans have begun to settle on Hawaika, a mostly ocean covered world, and most of the settlers are Polynesian, including a young woman who has a team of telepathic dolphins. An accident sends them back through time to an age when the natives of the planet are being attacked by alien invaders. The displaced heroes get caught up between the two sides before being accepted as allies by the natives. This was not one of my favorite Norton novels. It seemed slow paced and there were times when I wasn’t entirely sure what was supposed to be happening. 4/21/22

The Birds by Frank Baker, Valancourt, 1936 

The author apparently believed that the Alfred Hitchcock movie was based on this book – which only sold a few hundred copies at the time – rather than the Daphne Du Maurier story. The plot is straightforward. Strange swarms of birds begin attacking people, gradually growing to be more of a problem despite efforts to counter their actions. Eventually civilization as we know it comes to an end, and somehow that transforms humanity into a gentler, smarter race more in tune to its environment. Rather slow moving at times, this is more of a curiosity than anything else. 4/21/22

The Horror at Jupiter by Allen Steele, Amazing, 2021 

Steele continues his homage with this new Captain Future adventure. Our hero has been falsely accused and arrested for assassinating a political figure. More seriously, his nemesis has returned from a distant star system with alien technology which could make him the master of the solar system. But Captain Future has a plan, and innovative friends, and he is determined to both clear his name and bring the villain to justice. This is old fashioned space opera, with some added modern sensibilities. It is not deeply meaningful of many layered, but it meant just to be fun. 4/19/22

Barbarians of the Beyond by Matthew Hughes, Spatterlight, 2021

Set in the universe of the Demon Princes by Jack Vance. A woman escapes from slavery and returns to the planet where her family was abducted. Ostensibly she wants to raise enough money to buy freedom for her parents, but she also wants to recover an important stolen object which might be worth that much or more. Her efforts are complicated by the new settlers, religious fanatics who deal in illicit drugs and who are watched over by two conflicting but almost equally oppressive police systems. Very nicely done. I haven't read the Vance in so long that I don't remember if the tone was the same, but the story is refreshingly well told without regard to its antecedents. 4/16/22

Judgment on Janus by Andre Norton, Ace, 1963 

This was the first Norton novel that I actively disliked, perhaps because it blurs its way into fantasy. Janus has been settled by religious fanatics who use slave labor on their farms. A now extinct race left artifacts behind. If an intelligent being touches an artifact while in the right state of mind, they are physically changed into one of the aliens and even remember a personality from ages earlier. They were wiped out by an inimical race which left an evil force behind. It’s basically magic, and the story has a long section where nothing much happens. Didn’t like it any better this time. 4/13/22

Inhibitor Phase by Alastair Reynolds, Orbit, 2021

This takes place in the Revelation Space universe. Humanity is on the verge of extinction thanks to the automated machines that roam the universe wiping out all space traveling lifeforms. The protagonist is shanghaied by a mysterious woman who knows more about his past than he does himself. She is on a quest to find certain artifacts and information that will lead to the acquisition of weaponry that will hold the enemy off, if not wipe it out. They have adventures in the ruins of human civilization, on a water world, in space, and elsewhere in this inventive, entertaining, and riveting space opera. It was rather too long to read in a single sitting, but it only took two. 4/9/22

The Witchfinders by Joy Wilkinson, Target, 2021

Dalek by Robert Shearman, Target, 2021

Both of these are novelizations of screenplays by the author for episodes of Doctor Who from 2018 and 2005 respectively. The first and more interesting has the Doctor arriving in 17th Century England where he decides to intercede in a witchcraft trial. Before long he discovers that an insidious alien lifeform is behind the untoward events in the village, and he has to take steps to eradicate the intruder. The second takes place after the Daleks have supposedly been wiped out, although given the time travel, this does not make a lot of sense. The Doctor visits a collection of artifacts gathered by an American in the near future and finds one surviving Dalek among his possessions. And that could start the whole cycle over again. This was rather invalidated by later episodes.4/8/22

Lord of Thunder by Andre Norton, Ace, 1962

Sequel to The Beast Master. The indigenes on the planet Arzor are all gathering in the mountains. The protagonist is trying to find out what happened to an offworlder who supposed crashed in a lifeboat in a forbidden part of the planet, but he discovers the actual situation is much more complicated. There are renegade soldiers hiding in the area, not to mention reawakened alien technology, and a deadly predator not previously seen by the human settlers. The indigenes have ambivalent – and not always explicable – attitudes toward the various parties. I was disappointed in this when it first appeared. It fares a bit better now.4/6/22

The Legacy of Lehr by Katherine Kurtz, Avon, 1986 

A space traveling murder mystery with some fantasy overtones. A mission to transport some alien animals goes awry when people are attacked aboard the ship. There is circumstantial evidence that the animals are responsible, even though they are securely caged. The protagonist suspects a vampire! The story went off the rails for me at that point, even though the vampire is later rationalized. Sort of. The real killer is obvious from the outset. This was Kurtz’s only real attempt to write a science fiction novel. 4/6/22

The Shadow by James Patterson and Brian Sites, Grand Central, 2021 

I was looking forward to a new Shadow novel, even if it was sharecropped and probably written entirely by Sites. The book turned out to be pretty awful. For one thing, the Shadow is taken out of context. He and Margo Lane have to sleep for decades to escape an arch-enemy and wake up in the present, which puts him completely out of context. Then the author decides to alternate between present and past tense narration, which is unsettling, confusing, and horribly artificial. And the story itself is rather dull. 4/1/22