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


The Casualties by Nick Holdstock, Thomas Dunne, 2015, $24.99, ISBN 978-1-250-05951-2 

This is a novel of an apocalypse, sort of, the story being told from almost a century in our future. For the most part, however, it feels like a contemporary novel. The author spends the first half of the book introducing us to a number of characters – many of them eccentric – living in Scotland, ranging from a bookseller to a vagrant. There are hints of turmoil even then – masked thugs and the open statement that the chief protagonist is going to be a murderer – but after the event itself – which I won’t reveal here – the author suggests that it wasn’t entirely a bad thing, that despite the massive loss of life things have improved for those who survived. It’s an odd book, and not traditional SF by any stretch, and I’m not sure if it’s going to be able to find its audience. 8/31/15

 Earth Flight by Janet Edwards, Pyr, 2015. $17.99, ISBN 978-1-63388-092-4

Third in a series of young adult adventures featuring a teenaged girl who is unable to adapt to life on alien worlds, unlike virtually everyone else. Those with her limitations are restricted to Earth, where our protagonist has become a celebrity thanks to events in the previous two books. That doesn't mean her life has necessarily taken a turn for the better, even though she now has a romantic interest. Interstellar politics have become increasingly bitter, for one thing. There is also an alien artifact which she would like to examine, but to do so, she would have to leave Earth. Is there a way to get around the biological problems imposed on her, and even if she does, will she be able to plumb the secrets of the alien technology? Above average YA SF, with a genuinely interesting problem to be solved. 8/30/15

Linesman by S.K. Dunstall, Ace, 2015, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-27952-6  

This first novel, also first in a series, is a decent space adventure with military overtones. The protagonist is a linesman, that is, he can manipulate some forms of energy that are never clearly explained which control various aspects of interstellar flight. He is unusual in that his technique for manipulating them is more sympathetic than forceful. The discovery of a mysterious ship in deep space – which possesses powerful and dangerous technology – leads to a contest among three human empires for its control. I liked this all right, but I never really felt at ease about the “lines”. I lacked the knowledge to understand their limitations and nature and that constantly threw me out of the story. 8/30/15

The Drosten’s Curse by A.L. Kennedy, Broadway, 2015, $9.99, ISBN 978-0-553-41944-3  

This is a very long Doctor Who novel that opens with a businessman being sucked into a sand trap on a golf course.  We soon discover that a lot of strange things are happening there, including twins who clearly aren’t human, a duffer who appears to be from another planet, and then there’s the Doctor who drops into the middle of things and straightens them out in his own inimitable way. There is an alien under the golf course – more than one actually – and they are divided in their purposes. The Doctor has to figure out which side to take, which he eventually does. The author doesn’t take this particularly seriously and the humor sometimes feels out of place. I’m tempted to say that this incorporates most of the things I don’t like about the latest manifestations of the Doctor and leaves out the few good things. 8/28/15

Outlaw in the Sky by Chester S. Geier, Armchair, 2014. Magazine appearance 1953  

A family moves to frontier Mars after war ravages the Earth but before long the young protagonist finds himself on his own. We follow his career as he grows up, overcoming a variety of obstacles, in a relatively well thought out setting. This has more of the feel of a western than anything else, but it holds up pretty well, and Geier is one of the best of the forgotten magazine writers from this period. Entertaining, but forgettable. 8/26/15

Danger Moon by Frederik Pohl, Armchair, 2014. Magazine appearance 1951  

This early novella by Fred Pohl has some moments of clunkiness, particularly toward the end, but is otherwise a strong predictor of the skills he would later develop. The protagonist is talked into taking charge of a mining operation on the moon that has been plagued by accidents and what may even be sabotage. Someone attempts to kill him before he even arrives on site. There are ruins of an ancient Lunar civilization that turn out not to be as deserted as was believed, some renegade humans, a grasping businessman, and a beautiful woman. Nothing unpredictable but the story moves well and is entertainingly written. 8/25/15

The Hidden Universe by Ralph Milne Farley, 2014. Original edition  1939   

Ralph Milne Farley was a fairly decent though not very prolific writer probably best known for his short Radio Man series. This novel is actually pretty good. The protagonist takes a job with a company which has been hiring large numbers despite a worldwide concession. The company has colonies – supposedly all over the world- about which they are very secretive. It turns out that they are actually sending people to pocket universes, from which they are never to be allowed to return. On the other hand, they are offered excellent living conditions. Our hero gets involved with the underground almost immediate and discovers that utopia is a rigid dictatorship. A little bit corny at the end but still readable. 8/25/15

Old Venus edited by George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois, Bantam, 2015, $30, ISBN 978-0-345-53728-7 

A collection of stories set on the now discredited Venus as a jungle or water planet. The opening tale by Allen Steele has a detective from Earth searching for a missing tourist. Lavie Tidhar sends an anti-hero on a search for a treasure hidden somewhere in the jungle. There are two good rousing adventure stories by Paul J. McAuley and Joe Haldeman, a lighter tale by Matthew Hughes, and a thoughtful one by Gwyneth Jones.  Stephen Leigh has a good story and Eleanor Arnason a very good one about an expedition that finds more than it bargained for. David Brin, Michael Cassutt,  and Garth Nix all have stories that were okay but not great. I really liked Tobias Buckell’s story of the first landing on the jungle planet and I thought Elizabeth Bear contributed one of her better stories. Joe R. Lansdale contributes a very fine story in the Edgar Rice Burroughs tradition. Two strong stories by Mike Resnick and Ian McDonald round out a very nice collection. My only disappointment was that no one was channeling Leigh Brackett, so I’ll just have to reread her instead. 8/23/15

The Sixth Extinction by James Rollins, Morrow, 2014, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-06-178481-1

I have not enjoyed this author’s work as much since he concentrated on Sigma Force – this is the tenth in that series. They are too steeped in testosterone and weapons porn for my taste. That said, this one was pleasantly light in those qualities although the clichés were stacked in large piles. An evil environmentalist has decided that it is too late for our world and plans to introduce an aggressive ecosphere previously confined to an enclosed habitat in Antarctica to the rest of the world. To this end, he releases a virus that threatens to spread across North America. In James Bond movie fashion, he has a seemingly endless army of well armed thugs. Our heroes are separated into factions each of whom gets into and out of dangerous situations. The sequences in Antarctica are the most interesting, although the villain’s capitulation toward the end was unconvincing. 8/22/15

Legacy from Mars by Raymond Z. Gallun, Armchair, 2014. Magazine appearance 1953    

A novella in which humans have pretty much destroyed the ecology of Mars when the protagonists encounter, and capture, two aquatic Martians who are essentially intelligent. They bring them back to Earth and set them loose in the oceans to reproduce, which doesn’t exactly please people back on Earth. Leaving aside the obvious scientific holes in all of this, it’s not a bad story. 8/21/15

The Fixed Period by Anthony Trollope, Penguin, 1882  

Trollope’s last novel was an early dystopia set on an imaginary island recently granted independence. The otherwise enlightened government embraces a policy by which everyone who reaches the age of sixty-seven and a half will be euthanized. When it comes time for the first man to submit, he is reluctant and the community is split between supporters of the law and those who feel the law is cruel. Eventually the British government re-establishes its authority and prevents his death. An unusual book told from the perspective of the man who is chiefly responsible for the law. 8/20/15

Zero World by Jason M. Hough, Del Rey, 2015, $27, ISBN 978-0-553-39126-8

I enjoyed this author’s debut trilogy, although I felt it was more in the tradition of Clive Cussler than SF. This one is a lot similar. The crew of a spaceship were all killed by an unknown person or force, except for one who escaped through a kind of warp in space. An enhanced androidesque spy is sent after him to find out what really happened by tracking down the missing man on a parallel Earth that is filled with unknown dangers. The writing is fine but I was a bit distracted by the presence of too many wonders – space travel, alternate worlds, and more – and at times I felt the story had gone off on a tangent for a while. That said, it kept me reading and this is a very long novel, so obviously its good points outweighed my few quibbles by rather a lot. 8/18/15

Pandora’s Gun by James Van Pelt, Fairwood, 2015, $14.99, ISBN 978-1-933846-53-8

Although I enjoy this author’s short fiction and liked his previous novel, this one makes use of a theme I’ve never really cared for. The protagonist finds a cache of technology which is indistinguishable from magic and finds himself in possession of powers previously unknown to humanity. But will they let him keep it? The government is after him, mysterious men in blue suits are after him, and he doesn’t really know what the best course of action would be even if they left him alone. Good enough that I finished it, but I think he is much better in short fiction than at this length. 8/18/15

InterstellarNet: Origins by Edward M. Lerner, FoxAcre, 2010, ISBN 978-0-9818487-4-7

InterstellarNet:: New Order by Edward M. Lerner, FoxAcre, 2010, ISBN 978-0-9818487-5-4

I had read most of the material in these two volumes in Analog already - the second title appeared in different form as a serial there as A New Order of Things. The first volume is a series of stories about the receipt of the first intelligent signal from the stars, the reaction to it, and the consequences that follow. Some of them are essential problem stories in the classic Analog tradition, but they involve computer science, sociology, economics, and other aspects of human civilization. "Dangling Conversations" and "Hostile Takeover" are the best of these. The second is a novel, obviously, and it expands upon the concept of a network of interstellar communication with no physical contact. Intellectual property is the natural target of trade. But while it may be comfortable so long as alien civilizations are held at a distance, what happens when one of them discovers a way to travel to another star system? Inevitably conflict arises, and this time the future of entire species may be in jeopardy. The novel is slightly uneven - there are a few sections that didn't really seem to advance the story - but they are short and not fatal. First contact - or in this case second contact actually - has a long history in SF and there are still interesting new ways to speculate about it. 8/11/15

Five Weeks in a Balloon by Jules Verne, Wesleyan, 2015, $35, ISBN 978-0-8195-7547-0

This was the only one of the well known Jules Verne novels that I had never read before. It is more of an adventure story than SF, although some of it was speculative at the time it was written. A set of oddball characters are off on a four thousand mile balloon trip across Africa, during the course of which they have a series of varied adventures. The book inspired at least two movies and influenced others. This is a new translation and it is accompanied by detailed and informative explanatory notes, plus a large number of black and white drawings - eighty of them and some quite striking - from the original French edition. This translation is long overdue and this handsome volume is a must for his fans and anyone interesting in early SF. It was great fun to read. 8/10/15

Rage by Ken Shufeldt, Tor, 2015, $9.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-7595-7

I rather actively disliked the only other title I had read by this author, so I put off reading this one for a while. It's better than I expected, actually, although once again I think the political descriptions are simplistic and unrealistic. The protagonist is a war hero who is picked as running mate for the Republican candidate, who disappears after the election is over but before taking office. Our hero then replaces him, which I actually suspect is unconstitutional. He cannot succeed a person who was never sworn in. The party would have to nominate a replacement or call for a new election, and since they don't like the protagonist, they would hardly support his succession. There are domestic and international crises, but I was so put off by the set up that I never became interested in what followed. 8/8/15

The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu, Tor, 2015, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-7708-1

A series of odd phenomena, some of which seem to violate the laws of physics, convince scientists that the Earth will be invaded in just a few years by an alien race which has wrecked their own world. Reaction varies from religious mania to optimism to a determination to resist at all costs. Although there are some initial successes, the aliens have a method by which they can access all stored human information, including defense plans. The obvious solution is to delegate the overall plan to a small group who will not record the details in any fashion but retain them in their own minds. It is one of these men who is the focus of the story, a man the aliens have specifically targeted for elimination. His destiny will be greater than he can imagine, perhaps more than he could desire, and the true nature of the aliens is slowly revealed. Very impressive. I understand this is a trilogy and cannot imagine what the third volume could be about. Translated into English by Joel Martinsen. 8/7/15

Beyond the Darkness by S.J. Byrne, Armchair, 2014. Magazine appearance 1951   

This was one of those novels about a generation starship whose occupants have over the course of generations forgotten the nature of their habitat. A repressive government is almost in evitable given the obvious limitations on population growth and other aspects of their society. Byrne really wasn’t up to the task of making such a society real and the dullness of this novel only illustrates what a great novel Non-Stop by Brian Aldiss is. 

The Fireless Age by David H. Keller, Armchair, 2014. Magazine appearance 1937    

David Keller was an interesting author whose prose wasn’t always sparkling but who wrote some pretty good short stories during his career. This short novel is actually an alternate history. Keller speculates how civilization might have developed in fire had been viewed as a demonic force which humans were not allowed to use. Although the story is not the most scintillating, some of his speculation is actually quite interesting.

The Whispering Gorilla by Don Wilcox, Armchair, 2014. Magazine appearance 1940  

Don Wilcox is my personal choice for worst SF writer of all time, and this is typical of the silly plots he used. A crusading reporter is shot by the bad guys, but his brain is transplanted into the body of a gorilla, which somehow thereby magically becomes capable of human speech even though it doesn’t have vocal cords. In his new body, he gets revenge on the bad guys although at the end he is injured and reverts to an animal intelligence. 8/3/15

Return of the Whispering Gorilla by David V. Reed, Armchair, 2014. Magazine appearance 1943 

Sequel, obviously, to the Don Wilcox story, much better written and with a rather more interesting plot, although ultimately just as silly. The transplanted human brain in a gorilla’s body recovers from its trauma and is happily making a new life in Africa. Unfortunately, World War II is underway and some agents of the Nazi government learn of his existence and want to capture him as part of a project to create super soldiers. Needless to say, they bite off more than they can chew. 8/3/15

Cracking the Sky by Brenda Cooper, Fairwood, 2015, $17.99, ISBN 978-1-933846-50-7

Having enjoyed Cooper's novels, I was justified in expecting to like the short stories as well. To my surprise, I liked them even better. This very varied collection ranges from mildly sentimental to hard science, touching on time travel, cybernetics, space travel, exploration, and even a bit of the military. Several of the stories are quite short. "My Father's Singularity" and the three stories in the Space section were my favorites. I'm not as fond of the short short as are some readers, but these struck me as well above average. Cooper's protagonists are all interesting, if not necessarily likeable, and readers will care what happens to them. It is very difficult to consistently portray believable humans in such totally unfamiliar settings as are standard in SF and it's a pleasure to find a writer who can manage it.7/30/15

Chasing the Phoenix by Michael Swanwick, Tor, 2015, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-8090-6

Darger and Surplus return after their adventures in a far future Russia, this time crossing into a China that has fractured into a number of separate states. After Darger is cured of being dead, Surplus - a genetically engineered human canine hybrid - convinces him to get involved in the local politics. The local ruler, who is very secretive and clearly paranoid with megalomaniac delusions, employs their aid in subjugating several surrounding nations, during which process the partners hope to become very rich. But this time they may not be the ones who are manipulating things from cover. Humorous, adventurous, witty, and immensely entertaining. 7/29/15

The Total Emasculation of the White Man by David Valentine Bernard, Strebor, 2015, $16, ISBN 978-1-59309-580-2

This satirical comedy/mystery/horror story crosses so many genre lines that I could have included it almost anywhere. It's about several odd characters, one of whom thinks his son's teddy bear is demonically possessed, one has amnesia, and others have similar odd attributes. The title refers to a racist text that pops up in the story, which is aimed at pointing out racist absurdities in American society, as well as poking fun at sexual attitudes and other foibles. The writing is very fine, some of the separate episodes are funny even while pointed, and the targets are certainly well worth being impaled once again. I didn't feel that it held together as successfully as a novel, and the ending wasn't entirely satisfactory. But it's fun, even when uncomfortable. If you enjoyed his first book, Intimate Relations with Strangers, you'll find this one to be very similar. 7/28/15

The Warlock of Sharrador by Gardner Fox, Armchair, 2015,  Magazine appearance 1953  

A short space adventure of no particular merit. Humans are at war with one alien race and are trying to negotiate an alliance with another. The hero is one of the survivors when their mission is nearly wiped out on official orders, signaling a shift to the other side. For some reason they are desperate to prevent him from leaving the planet. What secret does he have?  All three races are indistinguishable so he can pass for a local, and that turns this into just another spy thriller. Poor. 7/27/15

Nine Worlds West by Paul W. Fairman, Armchair, 2014. Magazine appearance 1951    

This rather bad short novel by Paul Fairman involves a rescue mission to the asteroid belt. The female protagonist wants to engineer her father’s release from criminals so she hires the male protagonist, a blacklisted pilot, to take her there. But she doesn’t seem to have a plan about what to do once they arrive, and it turns out to be the pilot – naturally – who takes the lead. Bad science, bad writing, and even a very bad cover. 7/27/15

Time Salvager by Wesley Chu, Tor, 2015, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-7718-9

Earth has become a toxic wasteland and most of the human race lives a precarious existence in the fringes of the solar system. There they use time travel to scoop things out of the past that they need, employing as their agents an elite group of social misfits. It is never made clear exactly why criminals and outcasts are most suited for the work. In any case, there are rules about what can be taken because they don't want to change history. Their targets are about to be destroyed, or lost forever, etc. Frankly, I'd be inclined to try to change history given how awful things have become. Our hero breaks one rule and saves the life of a doomed woman, bringing her to the future. It's not clear why this is such a rigid rule, however, given that they bring inanimate things all the time. They become fugitives and a little while after that the story stops. Unfortunately it doesn't end. This is clearly part of a series, or more accurately, the first part of a much larger novel. This trend has spread from fantasy into SF and it is not a welcome development. I think a reader has the right to expect an entire story, particularly when there is nothing on the book to indicate otherwise. And it's a shame, because I rather enjoyed it right up until the point when I realized I was going to be left hanging. 7/22/15

Ascendance by John Birmingham, Del Rey, 2015, $9.99, ISBN 978-0-345-53991-5

Third in the series, which I thought was going to be a trilogy but which now appears to be open ended. I think that was a big mistake because the failings of the second book - which had to be disappointing after the novelty of the first - are largely reproduced this time and the lack of an actual solution is unfortunate. Earth is being attacked by creatures from a kind of alternate reality who are essentially the rationalized origin of our legends about demons and other monsters. Dave has acquired super powers because he managed to kill one of them. This time he teams up with a Russian female spy who also has extraordinary abilities, but their actual adventures aren't all that interesting. 7/21/15

Nemesis Games by James S. A. Corey, Orbit, 2015, $27, ISBN 978-0-316-21758-3

Fifth book in the Expanse series, which I have loved up until now. This one is a bit of a setback. The foursome crew of the Rocinante find themselves with time on their hands while their ship is being repaired. Amos goes to Earth to look into the death of a woman whom he reveres, and finds himself in unexpected hot water. Alex goes to Mars to talk to his ex-wife, who snubs him, and finds himself unexpectedly in hot water. Naomi is off to pull her son's chestnuts out of a fire and finds herself predictably in hot water. Holden stays with the ship but lets a reporter talk him into investigating the disappearance of an unusual number of spaceships, and finds himself in unexpectedly hotter water than he anticipated. There is a sinister plot by a splinter faction of the Belters, who are not happy about the interstellar colonization program made possible by the discovery of an alien gateway. Once the story really gets going, it's gripping and exciting, but more than half the book passes before we reach that point, and it's a rather long book. Too much book for the story frankly. I enjoyed it, of course, but it is significantly less satisfying than the earlier volumes. This is probably a result of the Big Bad structure. There is always a limit on how long you can escalate the menace, and when you inevitably fall short, it's likely to seem more significant than it really is. 7/17/15

The Atom Curtain by Nick Boddie Williams, Armchair, 2015.  Originally published in 1956  

The western hemisphere cut itself off from the rest of the world with a nuclear curtain and a century and a half later the rest of the world is an uneasy dictatorship. A pilot inadvertently passes through the shield and discovers that a plague several generations back destroyed civilization and reduced most of the survivors to a primitive existence. He has various adventures. Very talky and slow moving and there is almost no description of the world inside the shield except for the primitive lifestyle.  I read this as half of an Ace Doublewhen I was a teenager and didn’t like it then. Nothing has changed. 7/16/15

Frontiers Beyond the Sun by Rog Phillips, Armchair, 2014. Magazine appearance  1953

Phillips is one of those writers who always seemed on the verge of becoming good, but never quite made it. Parts of the US are wasteland following some kind of nuclear war, but civilization has continued. The protagonist works for one of the big corporations and is unconcerned with the shape of the world until a mission into the wasteland reveals certain truths to him. Then he is off to find a hidden city of truly free people hidden in the middle of nowhere. Competently written but there isn’t much tension and the ending sort of wanders away. 7/13/15

Jurassic Dead by David Sakmyster and Rick Chesler, Severed Press, 2014, $11.95, ISBN 978-1925225181

What does the world of SF need next? Why zombie dinosaurs, of course. An expedition to the Antarctic discovers the bodies of dead dinosaurs, well preserved, but not surprisingly so since they have been infected with a zombie virus that makes them hunt down the living. Complete with the evil madman who thinks this is actually a good thing, and best of all it's the first in a series. Sorry, guys, but this was just silly, and some of the writing could have used a few more drafts. The dialogue is particularly bad. 7/12/15

Flame Jewel of the Ancients by Edwin L. Graber, Armchair, 2014, magazine appearance 1950 

The human empire has the most powerful ships in the galaxy, or at least they think they do. A small but virulent empire suddenly attacks using power broadcast to their ships to amplify their weapons. Can the human empire survive? Can the reader make it to the end of this atrociously written piece of nonsense. Technically I suppose this is an early example of military SF, but it’s so badly conceived, ineptly written, and completely dull that it’s only virtue is that it is quite short. 7/10/15

The Border by Robert McCammon, Subterranean, 2015, $26.95, ISBN 978-1-59606-703-5

Earth is caught in the middle of a war across space and multiple dimensions. The Cyphers and the Gorgons have weaponry so advanced that is is essentially magic. They can instantaneously turn vehicles into ravening monsters, for example, or alternate between dimensions so that weapons cannot touch them. Small groups of humans have survived but there is a mutating disease that turns them into violent cannibals with altered bodies. In the midst of all this arrives a young boy whose wounds suggest that he has been raised from the dead, and he is developing powers so great that even the two warring armies have to respect them. This very violent novel is full of dramatic imagery and wonders that carried me along until the last few chapters, which were somewhat disappointing. I won't spoil it for other readers but I thought there was a little too much coincidence and the ultimate revelation had me scratching my head. 7/8/15

The Pirate Planet by Charles W. Diffin, Armchair, 2014, magazine appearance 1930   

Despite considerable clunkiness, this was a fairly readable adventure story. No one has visited the planet Venus when a series of flashes on that planet coincide with the impact of meteors on Earth and sightings of an advanced spaceship in orbit. Yes, the Venusians are waging war without provocation and a small contingent of humans has to travel to the misty planet to discover the source of the attack and thwart it. Diffin’s prose is better than most pulp writers of this era and although his story isn’t particularly inventive or engaging, it’s not awful. 7/7/15

The Floating Robot by David Wright O’Brien, Armchair, 2014 (magazine appearance 1941)  

A minor and rather silly story of a singer whose voice can disrupt power systems and, eventually, open a gateway between universes. The floating robot of the title is pulled into our world, which it resents although it can conveniently communicate just fine, then wanders around killing people and causing mayhem. Meanwhile a group of thugs wants to control the singer’s career. Clearly a story written on the fly with no forethought, it wanders around until the hasty and implausible conclusion. O’Brien had a very readable prose style but he never really thought through his plots. 7/6/15

The Armageddon Factor by Terrance Dicks, Target, 1980 

This was the end of the Key of Time sequence. The Doctor intercedes between two warring planets, whom he believes are being manipulated by the Black Guardian. The local princess turns out to be the last segment of the Key and is about to give it to the White Guardian when he smells a rat. The bad Guardian is posing as the good one. Oddly, although I remember this as being one of the better Tom Baker serials, the novel seemed flat and uninteresting. 7/5/15

After World’s End by Jack Williamson, Armchair, 2014 (magazine appearance 1939)  

One of the earliest and least rewarding of Williamson’s novels. An astronaut takes off in an experimental spaceship, misses Venus, somehow gets involved in time dilation, mystically watches the future of the human race unfold as well as his descendants, then returns to fulfill a prophecy after a galactic civilization has been created. Completely awful from beginning to end, occasionally incomprehensible, and not remotely entertaining. It is interesting to note the parallel between the robots developed in this one and those of his far superior The Humanoids. 7/4/15

The Omega Point Trilogy by George Zebrowski, Armchair, 2015, $12.95, ISBN 978-1-61287-257-5   

The first two thirds of this were published as two Ace doubles, Ashes and Stars and The Omega Point. I don’t believe Mirror of Minds was in print until the trilogy was published as a single book in 1983. The premise is that an offshoot of humanity – the Herculean Empire – waged a war which resulted in their virtual annihilation. It is never entirely clear who was at fault but the Herculeans appear to have been the initial aggressors. Centuries pass but because of near immortality and suspended animation, many of the same people are alive when Gorias, seething with hatred, decides to carry out a series of raids on peaceful planets using a whisper ship, an advanced technology which might have altered the outcome of the war if it had been perfected earlier. A contingent from Earth and its allies set out to track the unrepentant rebel down. There are several subsidiary plots, the chief of which is the possibility that the female survivors of the Herculeans are not only telepathic but can capture the souls of their dying comrades and allow them to share control of their bodies. There is also a supposedly legendary Herculean army in stasis that doesn’t know the war is over. The central character is Gorgias, whose destructive impulses inevitably lead to his own doom. All of this is portrayed in an interesting mix of mythic revelation and traditional space opera. Worth another look if you haven’t read it since it first appeared, or a first look if you haven’t read it at all. 7/3/15

Resistance by John Birmingham, Del Rey, 2015, $9.99, ISBN 978-0-345-53989-2 

The second volume of Dave vs the Monsters is mildly disappointing. We have firmly established in book one that Dave is an obnoxious jerk, so the long passages of him being an obnoxious jerk are not as amusing this time around. Similarly the obnoxious and officious government officials are supplemented with more obnoxious and officious government officials. The monsters are off stage for most of the book. Dave has to deal with a Russian superspy as well as the creatures who are effectively demons, and she’s almost more than he can handle. Not to mention his wife’s divorce lawyer. Has its moments, but doesn’t hold up to the first in the series. 7/2/15

Dark Orbit by Carolyn Ives Gilman, Tor, 2015, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-3629-3

Space opera is making a welcome comeback. The discovery of a potentially habitable planet leads to the dispatch of a mission to investigate more fully. The mission also provides a method of getting a controversial and troublesome individual out of the public view for a while, although she seems to be at least marginally mentally unstable. The protagonist is included in part to keep a watchful eye on her, lest she cause further trouble. Not entirely surprisingly, one member of the crew is found murdered and the exiled woman has disappeared. This is set against the backdrop of a first contact scenario with one of the more interesting and most truly alien races in SF, a species that lacks the sense of sight. But is there an even more startling revelation waiting to be revealed? There is a strong touch of mysticism in this despite the apparently straightforward plot, and the aliens are quite interesting in themselves. 7/1/15