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


New Under the Sun by Nancy Kress & Therese Pieczynski, Arc, 2013, $12.99, ISBN 978-1-61242-123-0 

This is part of a series from this publisher in which an established writer produces a new short novel and a newer one writes an associated companion piece. In this case the main story is “Annabel Lee” by Kress in which a young girl is infected with an alien parasite, although she grows up without knowing it. The America she lives in has descended into outright superstition, exorcisms and other nonsense. We follow her life through several decades in which the social situation worsens, and while the alien organism within her body adapts and ultimately spreads, with consequences for human society as a whole. The accompanying story by Pieczynski is not as polished but further explores that society in an entertaining fashion. 9/29/13

The Osiris Curse by Paul Crilley, Pyr, 2013, $17.99, ISBN 978-1-61614-857-7   

Tweed & Nightingale return for their second adventure in an alternate Victorian England, this time investigating the murder of Nikola Tesla and the theft of his latest invention. Their efforts lead to the revelation that a secret society exists in England which may have been responsible for other crimes touching the twosome. The trail leads them by airship to Egypt where they uncover a plot for world domination at the expense of the British Empire. More adventure than mystery despite the Holmesian atmosphere of the opening chapters but it’s even better than the first in the series. I should be tired of steampunk by now because it’s been popular for quite a while, but I still find myself looking forward to the next one in the pile. Could be read as fantasy, I suppose. 9/28/13

The Diamond Deep by Brenda Cooper, Pyr, 2013, $18, ISBN 978-1-61614-856-0   

This is the sequel to The Creative Fire. After establishing a colony on another planet, a starship returns to Earth. Thanks to the time differential, much more time has passed here and the society they encounter is in some ways much more advanced, though in others if anything more primitive. The crew discovers that their training is irrelevant and that they cannot work in their former professions without massive re-education, and they are quickly relegated to second class citizen status. Secrets are discovered, laws are broken, old friendships are put under strain, and the future of our protagonists is placed in serious doubt. I found this a little bit slow at times and I even took a break from it for a couple of days before finishing as it is reasonably long, but perhaps it was also because I found the world depicted as (intentionally) somewhat bleak. 9/25/13

Priests of Mars by Graham McNeill, Black Library, 2013, $14, ISBN 978-1-84970-409-0

I used to receive review copies of the Warhammer 40000 tie in novels, and although they were rather formulaic they were often entertaining. I haven't seen a new title in over a year but this one turned up at a library sale and I always liked McNeill's work, so I picked it up. The title made me think this might be a radical departure from the interstellar military adventures, but it's actually another representative example of that type. An expedition sets out to discover a secret that may or may not affect the balance of power in a galaxy torn by war. About average for McNeill, which makes it somewhat above average for the series overall. 9/19/13

Dark Horizons by J.T. Colgan, BBC,2012, $12.99, ISBN 978-1849904575

This is a Doctor Who novel featuring the Matt Smith iteration of the Doctor. The Doctor is back in Earth's past visiting a primitive people whose greatest fear until recently has been raids by Vikings. But now they have an even greater danger to deal with, a mysterious fire that kills but doesn't entirely kill and which obviously to the reader has an alien origin. This isn't obviously one of the Doctor Who adventures written for younger readers but it feels very much like it. The plot isn't very sophisticated and there's really not much suspense. 9/19/13

23 Years on Fire by Joel Shepherd, Pyr, 2013, $18, ISBN 978-1-61614-809-6 

Joel Shepherd returns to the world of Cassandra Kresnov, set in an interstellar system where cyborgs are common and military confrontations seemingly even commoner. Kresnov is in charge of a military expedition to a planet whose social structure is collapsing when she becomes aware of a veiled threat from another remote regions of human populated space. Although I suppose this is technically military SF, Shepherd rarely dwells on the devices of that subgenre and spends more time on intrigue, problem solving, and character interaction. This one is no exception as Kresnov has to interact with actual victims of the turmoil rather than just other soldiers trying to deal with it on a disinterested basis. Good to see Kresnov back. 9/11/14

Channel Zilch by Doug Sharp, Panverse, 2013, $, ISBN 978-0-9837313-6-8 

This is a near future SF thriller with a wry sense of humor. The protagonist is a cashiered astronaut who accepts a job as pilot associated with an orbiting pirate television broadcaster. It sounds like a nice legitimate way to get around the system and return to space, except that his employers are not just small time crooks. They have very large ambitions. Throw in a mob of Russian gangsters, a crusty security investigator, and a few other complications and stir briskly. This otherwise fine novel ran into my prejudice against present tense narration – although it wasn’t as bad in this case as it usually is. I kept reading though, and the underlying story was strong enough to overcome my aversion. First of a trilogy. 9/10/13

Podkayne of Mars by Robert Heinlein, Avon, 1963  

The last of Heinlein’s YA novels and the only one with a female protagonist/narrator, the precious Poddy, born and raised on the planet Mars.  Heinlein clearly doesn’t understand how important the first six months of a child’s life are since the “ideal” set up is for them to remain in a kind of super nursery until they’re that old before going to live with their families. It’s a pretty dull book about her trip to Venus, a political conspiracy that she walks into about two thirds of the way through, and very little action. Inferior to all of the earlier YA novels. 9/10/13

Orphans of the Sky by Robert A. Heinlein, Signet, 1963 

Two related novelettes make up the last volume in Heinlein’s original Future History series, both set aboard a generation starship where society has evolved into something very different from when they started. “Universe” describes the adventures of Hugh Hoyland, a young man drafted into the ranks of the scientists, a ruling caste, who is captured by a band of mutants led by Joe-Jim, a two headed man. There he discovers that the ship is in fact moving and eventually begins recruiting people to relearn the knowledge to operate the equipment and find a planet.  “Common Sense” continues the story to its logical end, strife aboard the ship, reactivation of the engines, and finally a landing. I didn’t care for this when I first read it. It seems slightly better now, but still slight, although important historically. 9/8/13

The Menace from Earth by Robert A. Heinlein, Signet, 1962    

This is probably the best of Heinlein’s short fiction collections, opening with “The Year of the Jackpot”, in which mathematical projections indicate that all the cycles of human activity are going to reach their most negative points simultaneously. Then comes “By His Bootstraps”, a clever is slightly too long story of time travel loops and paradoxes. “Columbus Was a Dope” is a vignette about people convinced that exploration is a waste of time. The title story involves a rough spot in a romance between two citizens of Luna when one becomes infatuated with a visitor from Earth. “Sky Lift” is a minor piece about a relief mission in space. “Goldfish Bowl” is a good story about man discovering that he is not the most superior life form on Earth. “Project Nightmare” is a silly piece about using psi powered people to avoid a foreign threat, the plot crippled by its simpleminded politics. “Water Is for Washing” is just an anecdote about some people caught in a terrible flood following an earthquake but it is unusually effective for such a short piece. My favorite of his collections. 9/3/13

Beyond the Sun edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt, Fairwood, 2013, $17.99, ISBN 978-1-933846-38-5   

I imagine that most people connect the idea of science fiction with space travel more than with any other subset of the genre. This is a collection of new and reprint stories about space travel, with a wide variety of themes, plots, and styles. There are familiar, reliable names like Robert Silverberg, Mike Resnick, and Nancy Kress, along with several newcomers whose names were unfamiliar to me. There are no bad stories and only a few that were kind of bland. I’m a sucker for visits to other planets – the possibilities and mysteries of other worlds were what attracted me to the genre originally. Theme anthologies have pretty much swept the field in recent years, but this one has a theme broad enough that there’s no sense of uniformity. 9.2.13

Ancient of Days by Michael Bishop, Fairwood, 2013, $18.99, ISBN 978-1-933846-39-2   

I read this when it first appeared in 1985 and felt at the time it was going to be one of the major novels in the field, even though it has a considerably less melodramatic plot than most SF.  It’s an expansion of “Her Habiline Husband” and deals with the discovery of a surviving homo habilis in the rural south. As you might imagine, this was a way to discuss issues of racial prejudice from a somewhat different perspective. The story is also about several people who are drawn into the event, including an artist, a researcher, and an evangelist, all of whom have their own personal agendas. I still believe this to be one of the most mature and potentially enduring novels the genre ever produced and it’s great to see it back in print. 9/2/14

Mothership edited by Bill Campbell & Edward Austin Hall, Rosarium, 2013, $19.95, ISBN 978-0-9891411-4-7  

This anthology has a loose theme based on the development of the Third World, specifically Africa and people of African descent. Most of the names were unfamiliar to me and most of the stories, while sometimes posing interesting situations, don’t have the polish of most professional fiction. There are a few really good stories, not surprisingly those by Tobias Buckell, Charles R. Saunders, and Minister Faust, for example, and a few by lesser known writers like Linda Addison and Lauren Beukes. A few of the stories are self consciously literary, and most of these forget that there has to be an interesting story to tell as well as an interesting way to tell it. 8/30/13

The One-Eyed Man by L.E. Modesitt Jr., Tor, 2013, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-3544-9   

Modesitt is best known for his fantasy but he has also written some interesting SF from time to time. This is one of those times. The setting is a humanized colony world that is the sole source of some important anti-aging drugs. Unfortunately, the drugs can only be produced if the environment remains unchanged and inevitably the presence of human colonists is altering the ecology. Equally unfortunately, there are so many unanswered questions about the delicate balance of life that it’s virtually impossible to determine how to deal with the problem. What is worse, there are some people on the planet who oppose any change in their way of life, regardless of consequences, and they’re willing to engage in violence if necessary to get their way. Nothing earth shaking here, just a nice solid story. This is one of those novels where the setting becomes almost a character in itself. 8/28/13

Have Space Suit – Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein, Ace, originally published in 1958    

A teenaged boy wins a genuine spacesuit in a contest, with which he hopes to one day visit the moon. That day comes sooner than intended when he is kidnapped in a flying saucer commanded by a repulsive looking alien and his human henchmen. Also prisoners are a brilliant young girl and the Mother Thing, member of another alien race, whose job is to track down interstellar wrong doers. The teen boy is pretty convincing but Heinlein’s inability to do young girls well is evident here.  The two human children get loose after the ship lands on the moon, but while they have spacesuits, the Mother Thing does not. Our young hero figures a way he and the alien can share a spacesuit, but a long and dangerous trek across the moon’s surface comes to naught as they are recaptured and shipped to Pluto. Their fate gets entangled with a galactic council which has to decide whether or not humans are too dangerous to be allowed to live before they are returned to Earth to live happily ever after. One of Heinlein’s most successful YA novels. 8/26/13

The Garden of Eden by Max Brand, Pocket, 1965 (originally published in 1922)   

Since this is a kind of lost world novel, it’s at least marginally SF. Benjamin Connors has gone to a remote part of the Old West to rest from his career betting on horses. There he discovers an unusual strain of horse and hears of a forbidden valley where horses exist which make all others seem like broken down nags. He locates it and discovers that it is occupied by a small number of deeply religious, very isolated men. The valley is called Eden and it’s evident Connors is the serpent whose arrival disturbs and eventually corrupts their way of life, although they are hardly without sin. This was very unusual among Brand’s early westerns, with a protagonist who is not a two fisted gunfighter, and conflict that is more psychological than physical. It’s also one of his best books, but an unusual and, packaged as a western, it probably puzzled a lot of people who read it. 8/24/11

Dinocalypse Now by Chuck Wendig, Evil Hat, 2012, $15, ISBN 978-1-61317-003-8 

A band of superheroes who call themselves the Century Club are responding to a threat to assassinate Franklin Delano Roosevelt when they are themselves attacked by strange men whose outward appearance is an illusion. They are actually man sized dinosaurs with the ability to mentally control others. The plot revealed, various complications follow in short order before the threat to the world is ameliorated. This is a kind of spoof of Doc Savage and similar work, but with a stronger element of humor. That may have been a mistake because it’s hard to take the serious parts seriously, and almost as hard to shift to amusement during other parts. Good enough to finish, and I’ll keep an eye open for the sequel, but not compelling enough to make me rush out for a copy. 8/21/13

Shadows of the New Sun edited by J.E. Mooney & Bill Fawcett, Tor, 2013, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-3458-9

A collection of all new stories honoring Gene Wolfe. I had an English prof once who said that a sure sign that an author is influential is that other authors imitate him or her. I don't think that holds true with Gene Wolfe because so few writers are capable of imitating him, although some of those collected here are certainly fine efforts. Most of the stories really aren't attempts to copy his prose style but rather his themes and some of his imagery or are just good stories. The contributors include Neil Gaiman, Nancy Kress, David Brin, Timothy Zahn, and Barry Malzberg among others, so obviously they present a wide range of styles and interests. Several of the stories are excellent and all of them are at least good, which is rare in a collection of any sort. There are also two new stories by Wolfe himself, both of them demonstrating his usual talent for connecting the reader to the characters. If he had done nothing other than inspire this collection, Wolfe would have provided a service to the genre. 8/18/13

Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert A. Heinlein, Ace, originally published in 1957 

This is Heinlein’s take on Rudyard Kipling’s Kim. As a child Thorby was a slave sold on a planet he had never seen before to a kindly beggar who effectively sets him free.  The beggar turns out to be a secret agent. Eventually there’s a foul up and the spy kills himself to avoid being questioned. He leaves instructions with Thorby which eventually result in his being smuggled off planet aboard a friend trading ship. There he has to learn to blend in with an entirely different culture after being adopted into the captain’s family. Various adventures ensue involving space pirates, slave traders, and the secret of Thorby’s own origins. Nicely written  although this one didn’t grab me as thoroughly as the better Heinlein YA novels. 8/16/13

Life on the Preservation by Jack Skillingstead, Solaris, 2012, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-78108-117-4

Domed cities used to be a popular SF theme, but they've declined in recent years so this is a  mildly retro novel of apocalyptic destruction. Seattle has been saved from the apocalypse that swept the world thanks to the intervention of aliens. One of the two viewpoint characters lives insider the dome; the other is a young woman traveling across the wasteland outside. Both have a very different set of adventures until they meet, she with the intention of destroying the dome. There's a mystery to be unraveled, which I won't tell you, plus the possibility of telepathy, androids, and a few other twists. The author manages to take old style plot elements and mix them with newer themes and devices and turns out a pretty good adventure/mystery. 8/15/13

Waldo & Magic, Inc by Robert A. Heinlein, Pyramid, 1963 (originally published in 1950)   

Two shorts novels, neither of which I ever cared for particularly, although Waldo is the source of the name for remote mechanical hands. Waldo himself is a genius with a muscular disorder so he lives in a space station and disdains the rest of the world. When a major problem involving power transmission and a chronic weakening of human muscles threatens civilization, he must be nudged to solve it. Overly long, tiresome, and Waldo is not meant to be an appealing character. Magic Inc is a kind of engineer’s vision of how magic should work and it has some clever ideas, but one again the story quickly becomes tedious. Heinlein is perhaps the only major SF writer who was weakest at intermediate length between short story and novel. 8/14/13

The Eye of God by James Rollins, Morrow, 2013, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-06-178480-4 

I very much enjoyed the early James Rollins novel, but I started to lose interest when he started the Sigma Force series. For one thing, the characters have no individuality and for another, you know they’re going to survive. They also had a tendency toward weapons porn and prolonged battles that started to feel rather generic. This one has some fairly interesting speculation about theoretical physics, specifically dark matter, and the theme is the possible end of the world. The story might have been suspenseful if there had been a chance for it to develop, but the characters are off to the races quickly and never stop to take a breath. Some readers prefer this, but I find the neverending breakneck pace offputting after a while. 8/13/13

The Door into Summer by Robert A. Heinlein, Signet, 1957 

I remembered this as being one of my favorite Heinlein novels. Dan Davis is an inventor who is cheated out of his share of a lucrative business by his partner and his fiancé. He considers using suspended animation to skip the next thirty years, then decides to face his problems in the present, but the conspirators drug him and force him into hibernation anyway. Unfortunately, this whole sequence is prolonged and not very well structured. It involves too many convenience misinterpretations, misunderstandings, and coincidences. Awakened but broke, Davis adjusts to the new social system – which Heinlein gets dramatically wrong considering this is supposed to be the year 2000. Eventually he begins to track down his old enemies and discovers that someone stole the prototype and drawings of his invention from them on the night they drugged him. The solution, which involves an actual time machine, is rather silly. I’d have to say this is one of the more disappointing books I’ve reread recently. 8/8/13

Time for the Stars by Robert A. Heinlein, Ace, originally published in 1956  

One of the better Heinlein YA novels. Scientists discover that some twins can be trained to communicate telepathically, and since telepathy is not restricted to the speed of light, they place one of a pair on starships and keep the other on Earth so that communication can be maintained – although the time differential means that the twins will eventually become too dissimilar to maintain the bond. Then they find ways to extend the links beyond twins, and eventually it becomes a moot point since an ftl drive is developed. This is the story of one of those twins and his various adventures – mostly low key – while exploring other planets. Nicely done. 8/6/13

Tommysaurus Rex by Doug TenNapel, Scholastic, 2013, $10.99, ISBN 978-0-545-48383-4

The Silver Six by AJ Lieberman & Darren Rawlings, Scholastic, 2013, $10.99, ISBN 978-0-545-37097-4

Two sort of science fiction YA graphic novels, although the science is primitive at best and outright wrong at worst. The first one involves a young boy who stumbles across a friendly Tyrannosaurus whom he befriends. The creature becomes a local sensation but the villain of the piece - a young bully - tries to sabotage our hero's glory and precipitates a violent and dangerous situation. Full color, adequate to good artwork, but the story is too silly to be memorable. The second title is considerably more ambitious. A group of orphans escape an orphanage, travel to an uninhabited moon, and battle an evil businessman who is responsible for the deaths of their parents. The first section is in color but the rest is in black and white. Okay art work, mildly interesting story, but very low on the plausibility factor, even for a kids' book. 8/5/13

The Cloud Permutations by Lavie Tidhar, PS, 2010  

This short novel is a planetary adventure story with overtones of the Melanesian culture, members of whom have colonized a mysterious planet where strange clouds fill the skies and flying is forbidden. The protagonist starts as a young boy exiled after being involved in an illicit effort to fly which results in a tragedy, but he doesn’t give up his quest. As a young man he discovers the existence of the secretive Guardians of the Tower and, after a variety of adventures, the tower itself. Some nice detail in the sitting, an unusual perspective, one particularly exciting adventure, and a pretty good resolution. 8/3/13

Double Star by Robert A. Heinlein, Signet, 1957  

Heinlein rightfully won a Hugo for this retelling of Anthony Hope’s The Prisoner of Zenda. Lawrence Smith is a down on his luck actor who is recruited to impersonate a prominent political figure who has been kidnapped by his enemies. There will be a major breach in interplanetary relations unless he attends a ceremony conducted by the Martians on a specific date. Smith reluctantly takes the job but is forced to continue his performance when a series of political maneuvers and the disabling of the original diplomat make it necessary.  There are doses of libertarianism but not heavily applied and a few mildly sexist situations, but basically this is one of his very best efforts, one of those novels that does indeed stand the test of time and remind me of just why it was that I became a science fiction fan in the first place. 8/1/13

Impossible Futures edited by Judith K. Dial & Thomas A. Easton, Pink Narcissus, 2013, $15, ISBN 978978-1-939056-02-3 

A collection of stories about futures that didn’t, or couldn’t, have come to pass by a selection of new names and established writers. Subjects include artificial sex partners, digitally recorded personalities, first contact between aliens and human convicts, other aliens obsessed with Jack Benny, an orbiting monastery, and other unlikelihoods. Allen Steele has a nicely old fashioned story about an accident in space. Paul Di Filippo takes us to a future where the quest for physical beauty has become a societal obsession with deadly consequences. Mike Resnick shows us what happens when uplifted apes see how they've previously been portrayed in movies and object to the stereotyping. The closing story is James Morrow's take on classic B science fiction movies in which an ordinary human receives superhuman powers. There are also good stories by Jack McDevitt, Shariann Lewitt, and others. This is a nicely balanced and generally very good selection. 7/29/13

Tunnel in the Sky by Robert A. Heinlein, Ace, originally published in 1955   

This was one of my favorite YA novels by Heinlein. A bunch of students are sent by matter transmitter to a remote planet which is supposed to be a survivalist training class but due to a technical problem they are stranded there for much longer. Heinlein’s version of Lord of the Flies has a similar plot but a very different tone. Our hero becomes de facto leader of a small group, but is eventually replaced by an older and more politically shrewd survivor. They have difficulties with the local animals, particularly after an unexpected seasonal change in their behavior. Friendships and even marriages form before a major crisis changes the situation once again. There is some gender stereotyping here although Heinlein does include some very competent and assertive women who complain about its unfairness. This might well be his best YA novel and one of his best overall. 7/25/13

Rotten Row by Chaz Brenchley, PS, 2011 

Mystery Hill by Alex Irvine, PS, 2009   

Two novellas published in hardcover. Chaz Brenchley has written primrily fantasy in the. This SF novel, actually a novella, bears considerable resemblance to his fantasy and in fact it’s only real flaw is that it takes quite some time before the reader is likely to feel comfortable with the setting. Once settled in, however, it is an excellent story more about what happens in the protagonist’s mind than to his body, his reaction to a society for which he feel ambivalent feelings. The Irvine story is, however, a gem from beginning to end. The protagonist runs a tourist attraction where gravity seems to act a bit differently. He has a neighbor who is convinced that lizardmen live under the nearby lake and he is visited by a physicist who takes his attraction seriously. Eventually they decide the lizardmen are aliens from another dimension and set out to find out where exactly this other dimension is. Great fun. 7/24/13

Rusty the Robot's Holiday Adventures by Sherry Decker & Michael McCarty, Pie Plate Publishing, 2013, $9.95, ISBN 978-0-9855906-5-9

This is a children's book, a humorous adventure about the discovery in the far future of a sentient robot from the past. Each of the nine chapters - separate stories almost - deals with the robot's reaction to another holiday, Halloween, Christmas, etc. Although there is a good deal of humor, the book is surprisingly serious much of the time. It's not a particularly plausible future and we don't see a lot about the world except through the curiosity of Rusty. It's obviously not intended for an adult audience but some will find it entertaining if lightweight.

Starman Jones by Robert A. Heinlein, Dell, 1967 (originally published in 1955) 

This is one of the better Heinlein novels for young adults. Maximilian Jones runs away from an abusive home and finds someone who helps him fake qualifications so that he can work aboard a starship. Eventually the officers learn that he has photographic memory and has memorized all of the astrogation tables necessary for piloting a starship – Heinlein did not anticipate the power of computers – and he rises through the ranks despite the opposition of one officer who hates him. Unfortunately, an error by the captain leaves the ship lost in space and their effort to found a colony fails when the indigenes prove to be hostile and well organized. There’s eventually a happy ending. The female lead is pretty ditzy but otherwise this is pretty good. 7/19/13

The Star Beast by Robert A. Heinlein, Ace, originally published in 1953   

Although fairly low on the plausibility scale, this is still one of my favorite Heinlein novels. Lummox is an alien creature of unknown origin, brought to Earth generations earlier by a star traveler, believed to be a very smart pet. Lummox is also close to invulnerable, can eat everything, and has a tendency to get into trouble. He is about to be condemned as a dangerous animal when a ship from an unknown civilization shows up demanding their lost child, who is obviously Lummox, precipitating a standoff and the near annihilation of the human race. The bond between the boy and the alien is nicely handled and one of the two main female characters is even smart and competent, unusual in Heinlein’s early work. The plot could have used some work. 7/16/13

Assignment in Eternity by Robert A. Heinlein, Signet, 1954   

My recollection of this collection of four early Heinlein stories was that it was rather mediocre. I didn’t change my opinion re-reading it. “Gulf” is a rather implausible story of secret agents battling for control of the secret of the ultimate weapon. It’s full of action but the set up is so badly contrived that I lost interest half way through. The last third of the story is essentially an extended lecture about what a superman might be. “Elsewhen” is a poorly constructed and not very interesting story about mental time travel. “Lost Legacy” is a novelette about psi powers that has a shaky logical basis. The protagonist finds a woman who has clairvoyance, telepathy, a photographic memory, etc. and learns that these skills can be taught to someone else very easily. Despite this, he is about to lose his job at the university because of a stereotypical pigheaded administrator, and it never occurs to him to develop the powers himself, or use his empowered people to make a public demonstration. They stumble onto a colony of like minded individuals led by Ambrose Bierce. “Jerry Was a Man”, despite being a bit saccharine, is the best in the collection. An uplifted ape is determined to be a “man” with rights after a complex court case. 7/14/13

New Earth by Ben Bova, Tor, 2013, $24.00, ISBN 978-0-7653-3018-5

This is technically part of Bova's loosely bound Grand Tour series although it moves outside the solar system, which by its very nature means it's more speculative. New Earth is a planet with a breathable atmosphere and roughly Earthlike environmental conditions, which makes it the prime target for exploration and, presumably, colonization. Since faster than light travel does not exist, the crew will be frozen for the trip, which will take a little less than a century each way. But when they arrive, the planet proves to be inhabited, but the population of aliens is so small that it might well be that they too are merely explorers. They are concerned that what they will learn ABOUT the aliens will be bad news, but it is what they learn FROM the aliens that actually disturbs them. Bova's greatest strength is that he makes his novels realistic, dramatic rather than melodramatic, and that he mixes hard science with fine characterization. He has quietly become one of the best writers in the genre. 7/12/13

A Choice of Futures by Christopher L. Bennett, Pocket, 2013, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4767-0674-0

A Star Trek Enterprise novel. I never watched this show when it was on because I gave up on the Trek universe during its previous incarnation. The few books in that series have not been bad, and Bennett is one of the more reliable people working the Star Trek tie-in field. In the early days of the Federation, there is a considerable debate about the role of Starfleet - exploration or military power - which has played out in a couple of movies as well, most recently and most unconvincingly in Star Trek into Darkness. The question is partly resolved when a hostile alien race appears resulting in a request by non-aligned planets for military protection. The ensuing politics - what is provocation, what is appeasement - lead to a power struggle and also have probably intentional echoes of debates in current US foreign policy. More thought provoking than most other tie in novels, and better written than most as well.  7/11/13

On the Razor's Edge by Michael Flynn, Tor, 2013, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-3480-0

Although most of the best current space opera tends to be written by British writers, there are a few here in the US who deserve to be on the same shelf. Michael Flynn is notably one of them, his work having taken a leap upward from already very good to excellent with The January Dancer and maintaining a very high quality since. This is a follow up to In the Lion's Mouth, which I have not seen, so I felt a bit of confusion for a while until I understood the background a little better. There are initially two separate story lines, although they eventually converge. In an interstellar civilization undergoing a clandestine but increasingly covert conflict, a man whose brain may hold a secret he cannot consciously remember is in as much danger from his friends as from his enemies. Elsewhere, a woman organizes a rescue mission to go after her kidnapped daughter despite knowing that they are walking into a trap. Neither is entirely aware of what is happening around them, but they're going to find out. Full of inventive ideas and a handful of surprises. 7/10/13

Pandemonium by Warren Fahy, Tor, 2013, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-3329-2

Sequel to Fragment, about which I have ambivalent feelings. In the first book, scientists discover an island with a completely different ecosystem including an intelligent species whose individual members can live as much as 90,000 years. I can't say it's implausible, but it's quite a suspension of disbelief. Anyway, the island was destroyed by a nuclear strike to protect the world's ecology, but five of the intelligent species survive and become lionized although they are virtual prisoners. Against that backdrop, a Russian financier buys an underground city financed by Stalin and discovers another ecosystem, even deadlier, in a cavern sixty miles long. A team is organized to explore this new environment and naturally things go wrong. Outside of a tendency to repeat things we already know, this was much better written than its predecessor, and the appendix with details about the ecology was actually entertaining. 7/9/13

The Silurian Gift by Mike Tucker, BBC, 2013, £1, ISBN 978-1-849-90558-9

This is a Doctor Who novelette, part of the Quick Reads series. Earth is ravaged by an energy shortage and it appears that a global war is in the offing. Can the Doctor avert the conflict? Of course, he can, in this case because of the existence of the ancient reptilian civilization of Siluria. Or maybe despite it. The story appears to have been written for younger readers. There is no characterization, only the simplest of plots, and lots of action. It felt more like a comic book than prose. 7/8/13

The Goliath Stone by Larry Niven and Matthew Joseph Harrington, Tor, 2013, 24.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-3323-0

The various novels that have appeared during the last decade or two as by Larry Niven and someone else have been, generally speaking, pretty good. They have not, however, felt like Larry Niven novels to me, not even the series set in the Known Space universe. This is another example, an interesting SF story  in which humans have introduced nanotechnology into the asteroid belt. The nanomachines are effectively a new form of life and when they are tasked to divert an asteroid for mining, and it never shows up, the technology is proscribed as too unpredictable. When the path of another asteroid - much too big and likely to cause an extinction level events when it reaches Earth - is suspected to have been engineered by the nanomachines, the possibilities for both good and bad outcomes are increased dramatically. This was quite suspenseful, reasonably plausible, occasionally thought provoking, and always well written. But it still doesn't feel like a Larry Niven novel. 7/4/13

Harvest of Time by Alastair Reynolds, Broadway, 2013, $9.99, ISBN 978-0-385-34680-1

An adventure of the third incarnation of Doctor Who, with Jo Grant and Unit and his arch enemy, the Master. An enormous starship orbiting a primitive planet, a mechanically oriented race who can take over the bodies of others, a secret British undersea project which unwisely tries to draw knowledge from the Master, a series of odd events at sea, and several other circumstances lead the Doctor to believe that someone is monkeying with the structure of time. He eventually discovers the Master's involvement as well as the various other villains and incompetents. Reynolds captures the feel of the Pertwee years of Doctor Who very well indeed. I could hear his voice during the dialogue. This would have made a good serial in fact. Sometimes tie-in books not only add to the source material but can stand on their own, as this one does. 7/3/13