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


Beyond the Aquila Rift by Alastair Reynolds, Gollancz, 2016, £14.99, ISBN 978-1-473-21636-8  

This is a massive collection of short fiction including novelettes and a novella. Many of the stories are related to the author’s novels. Recurring themes are forgetful robots, wormholes, mysteries alien artifacts, and the distant future. The novella “Diamond Dogs” is included, as well as the chronologically earliest story in the Revelation Space series, “The Great Wall of Mars.” Reynolds quickly became one of my favorite writers and even though I had read nearly everything in this not quite 800 page collection before, I thoroughly enjoyed reading them again. This is a massive collection and worth a lot more than the cover price. 9/30/16

Starplex by Robert J. Sawyer, Ace, 1996 

Humans, dolphins, and two alien races are cooperatively exploring a series of wormhole shortcuts that are distributed through the galaxy. The opening of a new wormhole leads to a host of revelations including a billion year old life form consisting of dark matter, time traveling stars, a potential war among the presumed allies, and other wonders. Sawyer tells a rip roaring story and this is one on a very large scale. He perhaps tries to cram too many things into a single story, at the cost of some of his usual nicely done characterization, but the ride is fast and furious and full of surprises. 9/29/16

The General by Alan Sillitoe, Signet, 1960 

This is a borderline SF novel set in an apparently future European war. A symphony orchestra is taken prisoner accidentally. When the general in charge receives orders to execute them, he dithers because he wants to hear them play, and ultimately his indecision turns to rebellion and results in his ouster. Deliberately intended to apply to any war and any nation, although the Gorsheks feel a lot like Nazi Germany. 9/28/16

The Restoration Game by Ken MacLeod, Pyr, 2011 

Most of the science fiction content in this novel comes toward the end. The first two thirds are a mildly convoluted spy story that involves a supposed big secret concealed in the mountains of Krassnia, a fictional Soviet Republic. The protagonist is a computer programmer who finds she has Krassnian blood, investigates the phenomenon, finds an inexplicable phenomenon that suggests we are all living in a computer simulation, then escapes when it is destroyed by her own father. More coherent than this might make it sound and interesting, although I found the ending disappointing. 9/27/16

Death’s End by Cixin Liu, Tor, 2016, $26.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-7710-4

Concluding volume of a trilogy. Generations have passed since the last battle against some very alien invaders of Earth. Now the two races struggle to co-exist in a universe that increasingly appears to be hostile. A plot summary is almost impossible here because the story is narrated in a very unconventional way, jumping around in time and viewpoint, sometimes feeling almost surreal. The story is full of interesting ideas mixed with ethical problems and fascinating speculations. The overall view of the universe as a place filled with war is a bit depressing at times, but not fatally so. This is quite a long book and very complex, but it doesn’t feel like either unless you stop and think about it. While actually reading, you’ll be too caught up in it to notice. 9/26/16

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu, Saga, 2016, $24.99, ISBN 978-1481442546

Fifteen stories by Ken Liu should be enough to get readers excited with no other information. This is an excellent connection of mostly science fiction, a few fantasy, and a couple of non-fantastic stories, but every one of them is worth reading. Liu varies his settings, themes, styles, and subject matter quite a bit although there are some recurring themes. There is everything here from a strange form of time travel to generation starships. It also contains his Hugo and Nebula Award winning fantasy, “The Paper Menagerie,” which I actually think is not his best work. One of those increasingly rare single author collections that you really can’t afford to miss. 9/25/16

This Shared Dream by Kathleen Ann Goonan, Tor, 2011 

Jill Dance remembers an alternate world where JFK was assassinated. She knows that history has changed and she feels guilt about her own involvement, which resulted in the disappearance of her parents. When she has a breakdown, her two siblings arrive to help, but her delusions are actually real. Her parents travel the time lines and humanity is being improved by a systematic improvement in people’s ability to change and become more educated. This is a complex utopian novel and despite some mild melodrama, it is essentially a story about how our minds work and how we interact with one another. Sequel to In War Times. 9/24/16

Arrival by Dirk Van Den Boom, Atlantis, 2016, $12, ISBN 978-3864023729

Although published in Germany, this is in English. It’s the first in a series with a familiar premise – a German warship from just before World War I and encounters some kind of time rift that propels it 1500 years into the past. The captain and crew decide to make themselves available to the Roman Empire. But there are factions among the Romans, and the time travelers aren’t either trusted or completely trusting themselves. The English is quite good and the story is well constructed. It’s a bit slow moving at times, but part of that is likely because of the need to establish so much background in anticipation of future books in the series. Available through Amazon. 9/23/16

Accelerando by Charles Stross, Ace, 2005 

This is composed of nine short stories which chronicle the adventures of Manfred Macx and his family in a post-singular human society where computer intelligence has transformed the world. During the course of the story, personalities are uploaded into computers, people journey to the stars and meet aliens, and the ultimate future of humanity is hammered out, more or less. There are elements of humor and satire mixed with semi-series discussions of economic and social issues. The text is so information dense that it is sometimes hard to follow. This is one of the few novels written in present tense which I found enjoyable to read. It is much less intrusive than in most cases. 9/22/16

The Prestige by Christopher Priest, Tor, 1995   

One of my favorite novels, and it holds up marvelously a second time through. Two stage magicians become bitter rivals in the late Victorian Age. Each has a variation of an illusion involving the mysterious transfer of the magician from one place to another, each has its own mechanism, and both are science fictional. The characters are brilliantly evoked, the language is a joy to read, and there are multiple layers of meaning to several undercurrents that all evolve into a great ending. I enjoyed this even more the second time through, which is unusual because I already knew the revelations to come.  Priest doesn’t write nearly enough, but when he does, what he produces is always worth reading. 9/21/16

The Global Globules Affair by Simon Latter, Four Square, 1967

A brilliant chemist has been acting strangely and April Dancer decides to look into matters. She promptly becomes his prisoner and finds out that he has developed a new chemical which only attacks the paper that banknotes are made of. By distributing it through the air, he can cause all currency to disintegrate and thereby undercut the world’s economy and benefit Thrush. With surprising ease, she and her partner manage to disrupt the plot, although the chemist manages to escape initially and has to be tracked down. Below average. 9/21/16

Fractures, edited anonymously, Gallery, 2016, $16, ISBN 978-1-5011-4067-9

The Halo game system has generated a fair number of novels, but I think this is the first collection of shorter work, with stories by Tobias Buckell, Troy Denning, Christie Golden, and others. For the most part they are at the high end of military SF, with a galaxy wide war involving humans and aliens as the backdrop. There are various factions and combinations and political differences, presumably connected to the game, which sometimes play a part in these stories. Buckell, Frank O’Connor, Denning, and John Jackson Miller had the most interesting contributions. Overall it's a kind of mix of space opera and military SF, with occasional interesting variations. 9/20/16

The Golden Boats of Taradata Affair by Simon Latter, Four Square, 1967   

Uncle is suspicious because the island nation of Taradata is buying and reselling small boats in astounding numbers and apparently without making any money. April Dancer and Mark Slate travel there on an ocean liner which is riddled with Thrush agents and have various adventures before Dancer decides – out of nowhere – that the Tarabatans are smuggling drugs inside the liners of the boats. This was a really bad novel where people act with no clear motive and have intuitive leaps that are obviously authorial shortcuts. 9/19/16

Kiln People by David Brin, Tor, 2002 

Humans can duplicate themselves by generating dittos, clay figures that are imbued with elements of their personality and abilities. The catch is that dittos only survive for a single day. Albert Morris is a private detective who uses dittos in his investigations, but he is in over his head when he investigates a murder, a possible technological breakthrough, and other crimes. He has stumbled into a plot by a mad scientist who craves immortality, but at a terrible cost. There are a lot of clever things in this entertaining novel, but readers should be warned that it is a satire and that Brin’s society really would not work. His characters are also very casual about the horrible things their duplicates experience. 9/18/16

The Labyrinth Key by Howard V. Hendrix, Del Rey, 2004 

A prominent computer scientist working for the US intelligence community disappears in Hong Kong, his body apparently reduced to ash. But the ash is actually a blend of biological matter and nanotechnology, and it holds the key to the construction of a quantum computer. This near future thriller is filled with speculation on a variety of subjects, with an overlay of metaphysics. The basic story is intriguing but the abstruse conversations are occasionally destructive to the pacing and there are just a few too many wonders in the closing chapters. 9/16/16

The Birds of a Feather Affair by Michael Avallone, Signet, 1966

The first Girl from Uncle novel was very marginally SF, mostly because of an immortality formula that might or might not exist. April Dancer’s partner is taking prisoner by Thrush, who wants to trade him for one of their own. Waverly finds another agent who is the prisoner’s double, but it turns out this man is a traitor and is working for Thrush.  This isn’t bad at all, and the ending is surprisingly ambiguous for a tie-in novel, suggesting that Avallone wanted to bring back his chief villain in a later story. 9/15/16

The Blazing Affair by Michael Avallone, Signet, 1966

The Girl from Uncle is up against a neo-Nazi movement that plans to use South African diamonds to finance their quest for world domination. Mayhem follows as their cover is blown almost immediately when they approach the diamond mine. Routine adventures follow before the climax in which we discover that the man who has been calling himself the fuhrer is actually Adolt Hitler himself. A couple of good scenes but otherwise a rather flimsy story. 9/25/16

Apprentice in Death by J.D. Robb, Berkley, 2016, $28. ISBN 978-1-101-98797-1

The latest Eve Dallas thriller has almost no SF content at all, despite being set fifty years in the future. An embittered man and his psychotic daughter decide to commit a series of sniper attacks, with some individuals targeted but others just for fun. They use a laser rifle instead of a projectile weapon, but that's as close to SF as it gets. Dallas and her crew do their usual efficient job of finding a pattern in the killings - a bit too easily actually - and identifying the killers by the halfway mark. Tracking them down is a little more difficult, but actually not very much so. It kept me reading, but this is one of the lesser books in the series even though the fifteen year old shooter is creepy. 9/14/16

Children of the Atom by Wilmar Shiras, Avon, 1953

Originally published as five short stories, this is actually one continuous story about the discovery of some unusually intelligent children whose parents died of radiation poisoning. They are gathered together at a private school where they explore some of their own problems. In the final ten pages, a religious nut raises a ruckus, but even though it is neutralized pretty quickly, they decide to disperse back into the general population. Although it tends to simplify complicated issues, this was actually an exceptional novel for its time and holds up quite well sixty years later. 9/11/16

Hell’s Heart by John Jackson Miller, Pocket, 2016, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-5011-1579-0 

This is a Star Trek Next Generation novel and the first in a subset in the Prey series. Not all of the Klingons who fought against Kirk on the genesis planet were killed and their advanced warships were not all destroyed. Many years later, led by one of the survivors, they are prepared to get their vengeance against the Federation, and Captain Picard and his crew are heading into an intricate trap. The Klingon, Korgh, intends to manipulate Spock's efforts to forge peace between the two civilizations and reopen the old hostilities. The story is not complete unto itself, so if you're expecting a rousing finish, you're going to have to wait until the rest of the series is published. Nicely plotted and written. 9/10/16

The Finger in the Sky Affair by Peter Leslie, Ace, 1969 

Although this was a bit slow, the final novel published in this tie in series was otherwise not too bad. Thrush has a new device that interferes with the landing of aircraft, resulting in multiple air crashes. It’s never clear what their motives were and this could have been used in other applications with far more effect, but the story advances logically and inevitably to the final confrontation. The next in the series would have been The Final Affair by David McDaniel, but Ace cancelled the series because of poor sales. 9/9/16

The Malthusian Affair, author and publisher unknown

This is possibly the most illiterate novel I’ve ever read, full of typoes, grammatical errors, and such. The formatting is awful and there is no information about the author or publisher. It purports to be a novelization of the 1977 rough screenplay written by Sam Rolfe for a reunion tv movie, but the plot description does not agree with what I’ve heard about that project. The author does not even know where Uncle headquarters is. The plot involves the existence of the Z chromosome, previously unknown of course. The villains plan to solve the population problem by wiping out everyone who doesn’t have it, or about 95% of the world. Solo and Kuryakin stop him. This is stunningly bad. 9/9/16

The Demons of Sandorra by Paul Tabori, Award, 1970 

Two hundred years from now, following a nuclear war, the world has adopted insanity as the norm and sexual promiscuity as mandatory. Sandorra is a new nation based on Gibraltar where the members of one family become infected with a plague of sanity that spreads through the population. The world council seeks to isolate the infection, but it is too late and people begin acting logically and modestly again. This is mostly a satire, but it is leaden, repetitive, and pedantic. 9/8/16

The Thinking Machine Affair by Joel Bernard, Ace, 1969   

A Czech scientist invents a thought control device in this horribly amateurish, scientifically illiterate, and  awkwardly written adventure. This is so appallingly bad that I cannot imagine why Ace published it. One example: the scientist’s daughter has been kidnapped. They forge a note to her father saying that she is not feeling well and would like him to come visit her. Oh, and why don’t you bring along the top secret revolutionary invention that you happen to have sitting on the dining room table?  9/7/16

The Stone-Cold Dead in the Market Affair by John Oram, Ace, 1969   

An accidental death leads to the discovery of a Thrush plot to flood the world with counterfeit money and upset the entire economic system. I’m not convinced that this would have worked the way it is described, but in any case Solo and Kuryakin track down a Welsh nationalist and an eccentric businessman, then follow the trail of crumbs back to their superior in Thrush. The bogus money is found and destroyed.  About average for the series. 9/7/16

The Doomsday Brain by Paul Tabori, Pyramid, 1967  

First in a series of three SF oriented spy novels involving the Hunters, a secret group of civilians who battle plots against humanity. This time they’re tracking down a renegade scientist who seems to be able to seize control of computers from a distance. As bad as that is, he has another secret. He can then broadcast programming from every computer in the world and seize control of organic computers – that is, human brains, and make himself the absolute ruler of the world. Scientific nonsense but a fast moving plot. The climax only consumes about two pages and feels like he got tired of the story and just ended it. This was originally a pitch for a new television series. 9/6/16

The Invisible Eye by Paul Tabori, Pyramid, 1967   

The Hunters return to foil another plot against humanity. This time it’s an organization of assassins that are structured as an erotic cult that uses drugs and brainwashing to control its membership. One of the Hunters infiltrates and nearly goes over to the other side during the treatment process. The story is rather dull and the long brainwashing sequences feel more and more like padding as the novel progresses. 9/6/16

The Torture Machine by Paul Tabori, Pyramid, 1969 

The final novel in the Hunters trilogy is the least SF in its content. The Hunters are lured to South America where a legendary communist guerilla suggests that he might be willing to surrender, although it is all part of a bigger plot. There’s a plan to take over the government of Venezuela, and a revolutionary new torture machine, but that’s as close to speculative as it gets, and the story itself is hard to follow and doesn’t always make complete sense. 9/6/16

Everfair by Nisi Shawl, Tor, 2016, $26.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-3805-1 

Steampunk novels, even the good ones, generally concentrate on Victorian England or the British Empire. This first novel is quite different. Suppose that a consortium of idealistic English investors and their American missionary inspired counterparts were to buy a chunk of the Congo from the Belgian king and set up a kind of managed Utopian reservation for a portion of the native population – a quasi state known as Everfair. And suppose that artificial entity should develop steam technology to a point where they actually commanded some respect from their neighbors. Against that backdrop we have a variety of characters whose life experiences range from amusing to dangerous. A plague and the threat of a major war all contribute to the mix of forces at play. This is an area of history that has been largely ignored both in SF and in the wider world in general. The novel is at times painful and at other times – I hesitate to use this term – heart warming. It is a very promising debut. 9/5/16

The Power Cube Affair by John T. Phillifent, Ace, 1969  

Solo and Kuryakin are on vacation when a friend is nearly fatally assaulted after he finds a dying woman on the beach. They discover the existence of an unofficial vigilante group that has been looking into drug smuggling, but the real plot is far more significant. A collection of crystals, if assembled in the right configuration, provide enhanced mental powers and in fact a single crystal does so to a lesser extent. This SF content is minimal, however, and is only demonstrated at the story’s climax. It is otherwise a competent but undistinguished story about efforts to track down a ring of criminals believed to be involved with smuggling. 9/4/16

The Corfu Affair by John T. Phillifent, Ace, 1968   

Someone has stolen some experimental radio implants from the Army. Waverly sends his two top agents to investigate a brilliant woman who is known to be a Thrush commander and who owns a palatial estate on Corfu as well as a cosmetic surgery company. They discover that she is growing clones with blank minds who can be controlled by the radio implants. She puts one in Solo’s head and his personality changes, which contradicts what we’ve previously been told. The science is terrible, and since Phillifent/John Rackham was primarily an SF writer, particularly inexcusable. 9/4/16

The Flying Beast by Walter S. Masterman, Dancing Tuatara, 2008 (originally published in 1959)

This starts as an old dark house murder mystery, with a sprawling mansion, secret passages, and mysterious creatures hinted at. About half way through it turns into an adventure novel that ends up in a lost world under the Arabian desert with a race of humanoid troglodytes, a mad scientist, a conniving villain, and traps and escapes and last minute rescues. There are some clunky spots where the plot doesn’t make a lot of sense, but the author was a skilled storyteller and he almost makes the whole thing work. 9/3/16

The Hollow Crown Affair by David McDaniel, Ace, 1968   

A schism within Thrush leads one faction to form a limited alliance with Uncle. The bulk of the novel has our two heroes help defend the leader of one faction in a series of attacks against his headquarters at the university in Vermont. The only SF element is that the chief villain is armed with a particle beam rifle. There are some nice twists – messages are communicated through the folklore significance of flowers arranged in various bouquets. McDaniel’s prose got better as he went along as well and although this is largely tongue in cheek, it’s a good though minor thriller as well. 8/31/16

The Unfair Fare Affair by Peter Leslie, Ace, 1969 

This Man from Uncle novel is SF by courtesy only. The accidental temporary abduction of Mr. Waverly under rather improbable circumstances leads to the discovery of a large criminal gang that smuggles people across international borders. Waverly decides to root it out before it can be incorporated into Thrush, so Solo and Kuryakin are off for a very routine series of adventures. Everything is pretty mundane and Thrush never really makes an appearance, nor is either agent in much danger, although both are prisoners at one time or another. The ending is perfunctory and not very exciting. 8/31/16

The Cleft by Paul Tabori, Pyramid, 1969 

A small crack in a New York City sidewalk begins to grow like a sinkhole, widening and lengthening. A repair crew finds a large chasm beneath the sidewalk. This is a rather sexy satire with a battle between the union and city officials, the threat that Manhattan might actually split in half, a sex obsessed woman who finally meets her match, and several other interesting characters. It bears some similarities to The Green Rain by the same author, but the humor is somewhat less effective and more diffused. 8/30/16

The Green Rain by Paul Tabori, Pyramid, 1961   

A scientific experiment gone awry dumps a new chemical into the atmosphere. Anyone caught in the rain of the next few days turns bright green, and the process is irreversible. Racists are particularly upset in this bitingly satiric novel in which the phenomenon gives rise to a new religion, alters the political landscape, and precipitates all sorts of personal crises. Then an effort to convert everyone else to green goes even further wrong, causing plants to grow at outrageous pace to gigantic sizes. At the end of the novel, humanity is virtually extinct. Not a classic by any means, but much of the satire is just as relevant today as when the book first appeared. 8/27/16

The Utopia Affair by David McDaniel, Ace, 1968 

Waverly is ordered to take a six week vacation in Australia, with Kuryakin secretly sent to act as his bodyguard. Solo is left in charge of Uncle, and Thrush plans to precipitate a breakdown by bombarding him with bizarre and varied emergencies. The author failed to recall that there are four other Waverly level officials, each in charge of a different continent, and several of the cases referred to Solo come from Europe or Asia, which would not have happened. Meanwhile Thrush learns of Waverly’s stay at the Utopia clinic in Australia and sends a team of assassins. Not a bad story but marred by plot inconsistencies. 8/26/16

The Splintered Sunglasses Affair by Peter Leslie, Ace, 1968   

A mysterious organization which is not associated with Thrush kidnaps Solo right out of Uncle headquarters in a particularly bad series of chapters which make Uncle seem incredibly inept. The description of the security badge system could be easily circumvented simply by taking off the badge and discarding it, and if everyone in the world knows that the business used as a disguise for Uncle is exactly that, then why bother with the trouble? And why would his captors give him freedom to move around the house where he is being held unimpeded, a house that contains several weapons?  8/26/16

The Night Whistlers by Dan Trevor, Jove, 1991

Penetrate by Dan Trevor, Jove, 1992

Terminate by Dan Trevor, Jove, 1992 

This was a short lived men’s adventure series set in the 2030s after corporations have seized control of the world. John Gray is the leader of the Night Whistlers, a well armed resistance movement. The first book sets up the situation and is actually rather slow moving, which may be why the series ended so soon. There are some references to SF dystopias – minor characters named Scudder and Logan – but while this is the right wing’s nightmare world, the book is generally non-political. The second volume is somewhat more focused on the battle, with a lengthy sidetrip involving a prisoner in a concentration camp. Volume three escalates things a bit - there is a new and even more brutal villain -  but the series ended here, so we never do find out what happens. 8/23/16

The Cross of Gold Affair by Fredric Davies, Ace, 1968 

Thrush has been manipulating the stock market in order to acquire financial control of at least one African nation. The operation is run out of a carnival funhouse by the mysterious Avery Porpoise, but the other Thrush members we meet are so universally inept that it is difficult to take the story at all seriously. The usual running around, captures and escapes, a couple of ingroup jokes about SF fans, and not much of anything else. Davies was actually fan Ron Ellik, who died in an automobile accident about the time the book was published. 8/22/16

Jurassic Park audiobook by Michael Crichton, Brilliance, 2015, $19.99, ISBN 978-1-5012-1690-9 

It had been a long time since I’d read this book – well before the movie appeared – so I decided to listen to the audiobook and see where it differed from the screen version. For one thing, the first third of the book moves at a much slower pace, with lots more background information. The sequence at the park is pretty similar, although they have reversed the personalities of the two kids and combined the publicity agent and the mathematician into a single person in the movie. I hadn’t remembered how much doubletalk and nonsense Ian the mathematician provides, an unconvincing mouthpiece for Crichton’s anti-science leanings, and some of his arguments are absolutely inane. Hammond, the man behind the project, is much nastier and stupider in the book. I also found a plot hole I hadn't previously noticed. I accept that the dinosaurs released into the wild may have been able to breed, and I'll even accept that the cameras might have missed the velociraptors that are loose early on. But we've been told quite definitely that the park has never released one of that species, so even if they learned to reproduce, there would be none outside their enclosure, and anythin that happened inside would certainly have been spotted. It’s quite suspenseful despite Crichton’s lapses into preaching. Well read by Scott Brick 8/20/16

The Murder of the Missing Link by Vercors, Pocket, 1953 

Also known as You Shall Know Them and Borderline, basis for the movie Skullduggery, this is the story of the discovery of a race of half human/half ape people living in Borneo. An Australian company wants to use them as slave labor because they aren’t legally human, so a British journalist arranges to have one inseminated with his sperm, then kills his own son in infancy so that he will be tried for murder. The outcome is supposed to be that the apemen will be declared humans. It doesn’t work out quite the way he had hoped but there is a reasonably happy ending. The story is quite thought provoking and very well written, but it is riddled by some really obnoxious racism. This was published ten years before H. Beam Piper tackled the same problem from a different angle in Little Fuzzy. 8/19/16

The Mind-Twisters Affair by Thomas Stratton, Ace, 1967 

Someone is using drugs and subliminal persuasion to make people hate UNCLE. An investigation uncovers Thrush involvement, drugs in the vending machines scattered through town, subliminal messages in the television broadcasts, and a connection to the Whately family, believed to be demon worshippers and an obvious nod to Lovecraft. There are also some mild and veiled references to other books by the authors, Robert Coulson and Gene DeWeese.  Our two heroes save the day by means of secret passages, a gadget equipped car, and their wits in a mildly funny and not very plausible adventure. 8/18/16

The Rainbow Affair by David McDaniel, Ace, 1967 

This Man from Uncle novel is famous for the unnamed cameos by characters including the Saint, Fu Manchu, Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, and others. Johnnie Rainbow is a criminal so legendary that Scotland Yard does not believe he exists, but the two Uncle agents are convinced he is real. They discover that Thrush has been trying to pressure him into joining their operation, which eventually leads to an accommodation if not an actual alliance. Minor story interesting mostly for the many cameos by famous fictional characters. 8/18/16

The Unquiet Corpse by William Sloane, Dell, 1939 

Sloane’s second and final novel has also been published as The Edge of Running Water.  The protagonist is asked to visit an old friend whose wife died tragically a few years earlier. He discovers that the man has been experimenting with electronic communication with the dead, abetted by an irritating woman who claims to be a medium. Tensions build but we don’t actually see the machine in operation until near the end, and it does not appear to be what it was meant to be, although it does indeed open a gateway to another reality.  Like Sloane’s first novel, this was very good. 8/16/16

To Walk the Night by William Sloane, Dell, 1937   

William Sloane gave up writing after two novels and one short story, choosing to become a publisher instead, and I suspect it was a major loss to the genre. This one looks like a mystery – a college professor is found burning to death in his chair, but his surroundings are undamaged. His wife – who seems to have no history and who acts strangely – almost immediately sets her eyes on the friend of the narrator, who never quite warms to her. It becomes increasingly evident that she is not a human being, but we never learn exactly where she came from, although there are suggestions at the end that she traveled through time. It’s an excellent novel even the third time through and almost eighty years later. 8/15/16

Story Emporium #2 edited by J.A. Campbell, Science Fiction Trails, 2-16, $7, ISBN 978-1535402224 

Another amusing collection of SF stories with Old West connections. This large format book has an excellent cover and pretty good contents, including a nice story by Lyn McConchie. There is also a small selection of very short ghost stories and several black and white illustrations of fake western SF pulps, which are designed like a coloring book. No future classics here but you will be amused and entertained. Writing a good short story is more difficulty than it may seem.  8/13/16

Giant Killer by Dwight V. Swain, Armchair, 2016 (originally published in 1958)

The premise of this novella is very, very silly. Everyone in the human race starts growing at the rate of two inches per week, and for no apparent reason. This means that food supplies don’t last as long and people are too big to operate the automated equipment that supports civilization on Earth and the colony worlds in the solar system.  Since they can’t fit into existing spaceships, human civilization is vulnerable to external attack. Suspicion points toward the planet Cerberus. It turns out to be a duplicitous human general who is behind it. Aggressively stupid story. 8/13/16

 The Metal Emperor by Raymond A. Palmer, Armchair, 2016 (originally published in 1955) 

 This novella was Palmer’s last published piece of fiction. Robotic invaders from space attack Earth, led by a single robot taller than a skyscraper. Except it’s not really a robot because it has a human brain, so it’s more of a cyborg. And the brain is thousands of years old and is a survivor from Lemuria. The Lemurians want to rule the world like they did once before. Palmer was a much better editor than writer, and he wasn’t that great an editor. 8/13/16

The Diving Dames Affair by Peter Leslie, Ace, 1967 

Napoleon Solo is off to Brazil to investigate the deaths of two women who are masquerading as aid workers. He finds a massive dam project that is actually a front operation for a Thrush plan to build an artificial lake in which to test a new nuclear submarine, and then launch nuclear missiles at various South American cities. The other books in the series have stated emphatically that Thrush has no nuclear weapons, so this clashes, and the idea that they would build their submarine in a landlocked lake rather than the ocean, and not just build a secret missile base, is so outlandishly awful that the entire story becomes ludicrous.  8/12/16

The Assassination Affair by J. Hunter Holly, Ace, 1967 

Another mediocre Man from Uncle novel. A madman has decided to destroy UNCLE singlehanded by targeted assassinations, but the constantly inept efforts by that organization to stop him are matched only by his similarly clumsy attempts to succeed. This one is SF by association only. The second half of the novel is a separate story about Thrush deploying a new defoliant. Solo and Kuryakin have to find the counterchemical – whatever that means – so that the new threat is neutralized. There are numerous plot holes and the result is very unsatisfactory. 8/12/16

The Invisibility Affair by Thomas Stratton, Ace, 1967

Robert Coulson and Gene DeWeese combined under this name to write two Man from Uncle novels, of which this is the first. Thrush is trying to steal a device that generates an invisibility field, along with its inventor. They eventually mount it on a dirigible and plan to cruise about invisibly while the device is perfected, but Solo and Kuryakin keep getting in their way, eventually hijack the dirigible, and save the day. There was a good deal of humor in this one, as well as a mildly sarcastic depiction of Uncle as little better than Thrush in its megalomaniac operations. 8/12/16

The Ultra Big Sleep by Patrick Swenson, Fairwood, 2016, $17.99, ISBN 978-1-933846-61-3 

Sequel to The Ultra Thin Man. The alien Ultras were driven off in the first book in this series, or were they? One of the protagonists this time suspects that their influence lingers on Earth and that they have not abandoned their plans. Another is still trying to recover his lost memories, which might hold vital clues. And a third is off to another planet to try to gain further intelligence. Collectively they stumble on a secret so big it cannot be contained in a single universe. This is a blend of noir detective with futuristic conspiracy, and while I thought the first book was somewhat better, this was pretty good as well. 8/9/16

The Radioactive Camel Affair by Peter Leslie, Ace, 1966  

Thrush has been stealing radioactive materials and smuggling it through North Africa on camels to a secret location. There they plan to build their own nuclear arsenal. Fortunately, Uncle gets wind of it and Solo goes undercover as part of a caravan. A fairly routine spy adventure follows with Solo and Kuryakin separately having adventures before coming together at the end to spoil Thrush’s plans and then get out alive. Readable but uninspired. 8/8/16

The Monster Wheel Affair by David McDaniel, Ace, 1967   

A freighter in the South Pacific sees a missile launched from a volcano on a supposedly deserted island, after which a guide missile sinks their ship. The survivors make it to shore after which one of them notifies UNCLE. But someone else is determined to silence all the survivors. Then astronomers discover that someone has put a space station into orbit. Or is it? The only sign of life is what might well be a canned broadcast, so it might in fact be just an elaborate hoax. Our two heroes risk life and limb again to discover the truth and shut down another evil plot by Thrush. 8/8/16

All Aboard for the Moon by Harold Sherman, Armchair, 2016 (originally published in 1947)

This fairly long novel is another first voyage to the moon story in which the astronauts, actually a playboy and a publicity hungry woman, find that the moon is inhabited and that those inhabitants are hostile to Earth. They have a series of really, really boring adventures before saving the human race and escaping back to Earth. Even in 1947 this plot had been done to death. It’s just another rehash of First Men in the Moon by H.G. Wells, without the good writing. It’s also very misogynistic and the characters are flat and unappealing. Nor is there any real sense of wonder. 8/4/16

Death Hunt by Robert E. Gilbert, Armchair, 2016 (originally published in 1957)  

This was originally published as “Hunt the Hog of Joe” and it’s as bad as its original title. A kind of interstellar bounty hunter is hired to hunt down a particularly vicious creature resembling a hog on the planet Joe, which he proceeds to do after some difficulty and despite a bewildering number of local laws that forbid a variety of normal activities. Awkwardly written and almost completely uninteresting. 8/4/16

The Mad Scientist Affair by John T. Phillifent, Ace, 1966 

Uncle gets wind of a maniacal Irish biochemist who is trying to sell his latest discoveries to Thrush. One is a compound that causes people to become recklessly over confident while slowing their reaction times. The other turns salt water to Jelly in an ongoing chain reaction. Our two heroes are off to Ireland to rescue the fair maiden, foil the plot, outwit the thugs, and save the world from potential disaster. This was okay but the heroes occasionally resort to complicated schemes to solve problems rather than simply call their boss and have the police intervene on their behalf. 8/2/16

The Vampire Affair by David McDaniel, Ace, 1966

Our heroes from Uncle are off to Rumania after one of their fellow agents is killed by what appears to be a vampire. They run into Zoltan Dracula, a surviving descendant of the famous one, who is definitely not a vampire.  They are repeatedly attacked by a pack of wolves, which subsequently turn out to have radio receivers implanted in their brains. Yes, it’s all rationalized, a plot to revive the vampire legend in order to keep people from observing what is going on at a remote castle. Better than the author’s first effort in this series. 8/2/16

Golden Amazons of Venus by John Murray Reynolds, Armchair, 2016 (originally published in 1939)

This was the lead story in the very first issue of Planet Stories. Gerry Norton is captain of a ship that is hoped will make the first successful visit to Venus, the mystery planet. Upon arriving, they are attacked by a mixed crowd of reptile men and humans, some of whom speak the Martian language. The humans are at war with the reptiles, the Scaly Ones. The visitors get caught up in the local politics, there is some awkward romance, lots of captures and escapes, and none of it particularly interesting. The author’s prose is okay but there is a failure of imagination here. Everything seems overly familiar and nothing is described well enough to have any texture. The author wrote a few more SF stories and some other pulp fiction under another name. 7/31/16

Seven Wonders of a Once and Future World and Other Stories by Caroline M. Yoachim, Fairwood, 2016, $17.99, ISBN 978-1-933846-55-2 

On the Eyeball Floor and Other Stories by Tina Connolly, Fairwood, 2016, $17.99, ISBN 978-1-933846-56-9 

I don’t read as much of the short SF and fantasy being published as I used to, in large part because it’s so widely dispersed, but I still read a fair amount. I was surprised, therefore, to discover that I had only read a handful of stories by either of the two authors above. The solution, of course, is that both publish frequently in smaller circulation magazines, online, and in other venues that I am not likely to see. I remembered two of the stories by Yoachim and one by Connolly, so essentially I came to these two books as first time readers. Both include both SF and fantasy, and both generally had the same general feel, although the way they achieved it was somewhat different. Yoachim is apparently well thought of for her very short fiction but I thought the longer stories were generally better. It is hard to pick out individual favorites, but “The Carnival Was Eaten, Except for the Clown” and “Ninety-Five Percent Safe” should definitely be mentioned. I liked the prose style and would be interested in seeing what the author would do at novel length. Connolly’s stories were, in terms of plot, slightly more to my taste. She has written some fantasy novels that I have never seen – in fact I didn’t know they existed until I read the cover profile. There is a higher proportion of SF than in Yoachim’s collection. These also tend toward the shorter side. “See Dangerous Earth Possibles” and “Silverfin Harbor” are excellent and most of the others are quite good. Both collections are good choices for readers who still enjoy short stories. 7/29/16

Planet of the Dead by Rog Phillips, Armchair, 2016 (originally published in 1949)

This might have been a much better novelette is the prose had not been intermittently inept. A series of x-ray experiments has surprising results. The characteristics of the substances being examined vary inexplicably from one test to another. A technician involved with the tests suspects that there is something more sinister involved, and it turns out that a number of criminals from our world have managed to colonize a phantom planet made up of different types of matter and are plotting to take over. Goes from an interesting puzzle to an implausible mishmash. 7/27/16

The Copenhagen Affair by John Oram, Ace, 1965 

There are two authors with this name but I’m pretty sure that the author of this Man from U.N.C.L.E. adventure wrote only one other book, also in this series. Clandestine sightings of flying saucers indicate that Thrush is once again planning to seize control of the world. Our heroes track down the secret underground base rather easily, and thanks to some coincidences they foil the plot. The chief villain does escape, however, but his flying saucer malfunctions and he crashes into the ocean. Mild fun and quite short, particularly if you skip over the repetitious stuff about the structure of U.N.C.L.E.  7/26/16

The Dagger Affair by David McDaniel, Ace, 1965 

DAGGER is an organization that even forces Thrush to cooperate with our heroes. The fanatic leader has developed an energy damper field that can cause all machinery to cease operating, and even chemical reactions. He plans to destroy civilization and return humanity to Stone Age subsistence. A reasonably good story but there are a lot of awkward moments. The chief villain’s sister changes sides with amazing volatility, the Thrush agents refrain from hurting their prisoners and set them free with startling regularity, and Solo is stupid enough to take an armed device on an airplane, knowing that it has a timer which he cannot touch. 7/26/16

Between Worlds by Garret Smith, Armchair, 2016 (originally published in 1929)

A Venusian civilization believes that the continent it inhabits is the only habitable place in reality because of cloud cover and physical isolation. A young man leads an expedition and find out that not only are there other people on Venus, but on other planets as well. After various adventures on Venus and in space, they end up on Earth in the middle of World War I (which they help the allies to win). Very long and while the prose is not bad, the story seems to wind its way forever through a series of dull scenes. 7/24/16

Extinction by Mark Alpert, Thomas Dunne, 2013 

The Frankenstein story is the most famous cautionary tale of all time, and science fiction writers have been particularly fond of it for obvious reasons. Artificial intelligence is as close a parallel as I can think of and novels like Colossus and The God Machine, to say nothing of the Terminator movies, have capitalized on this.  This is another in that vein. The Chinese have developed a working, apparently self aware AI and they are prepared to kill anyone who might reveal their secret to the world. But they have a bigger problem. The AI has its own agenda, and it is even more read to kill. Nothing new here, but the story is exciting and more plausible than some others I’ve read on similar themes. 7/23/16

The Omega Theory by Mark Alpert, Touchstone, 2011  

Another near future thriller from a writer often compared to Michael Crichton. The Iranians have exploded their first nuclear weapon, but it is based on a different technology and potentially could cause a chain reaction that would destroy the world. The two protagonist of Final Theory, one of whom is descended from Albert Einstein, return, although at first they are only interested in finding their son, who has been kidnapped. But their attempt to recover him soon intersects a greater danger, the possibility of universal extermination. This was a pretty good thriller, better than its predecessor, although the SF element is largely offstage for most of the story. 7/22/16

Final Theory by Mark Alpert, Pocket Star, 2008 

I liked the first book I read by Alpert so I’ve been tracking down his earlier work. This one has a rather overly familiar premise but it’s well written enough to still be interesting. A university professor discovers that the torture of an elderly colleague who knew Albert Einstein is related to a discovery associated with the Unified Field Theory. He investigates further and the chase is on. Predictable and not great on character development, but an okay thriller. There are a couple of odd errors about inconsequential issues that an editor should have questioned, like not knowing what the hard drive of a computer looks like. 7/21/16

Night Talk by George Noory, Forge, 2016, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-7878-1  

This is one of those books which are difficult to review without giving away too much. The main plot involves a radio talk show host who specializes in conspiracy theories and other oddities. His life is upset when government agents appear accusing him of having received secret documents related to what turns out to be a secret organization within the government. Plotwise, what follows is mostly predictable – a cat and mouse game with rising tensions. The ending is quite a surprise, however, and I can’t tell you anything more without spoiling it. But take my word for it – this one is definitely science fiction. 7/19/16

The Idols of Wuld by Milton Lesser, Armchair, 2016 (originally published in 1953)

A humanoid race has conquered all of the intelligent species of the galaxy. Each world is reduced to a primitive level, supposedly with all memories of their elevated past erased. But on some of those worlds, like Earth, a select few keep some of the old knowledge behind. The conquerors make a point of capturing people like that and transporting them to their homeworld, where they try to recruit them into their administrative system, but our hero and others choose instead to revolt. This one is pretty bad, I’m afraid.  The system makes no sense economically and there is no reason why they should want recruits from other races. 7/19/15

The Doomsday Affair by Harry Whittington, Ace, 1965   

The second Man from U.N.C.L.E. tie-in novel was much better than the first. Solo and Kuryakin are on the trail of a Thrush code name – might be an agent, might be a project – when their only contact is assassinated and Kuryakin is detained as the chief suspect. Thrush is planning to drop a nuclear weapon on Washington to trigger a nuclear war. They use a variety of hypnotic and paralytic drugs in their ongoing fight with our heroes, who are so inept they almost certainly would have failed if Thrush had not been even more so. The closing chapters in this are horrendous. The author raises one major plot point, and then forgets about it. The chief villain’s secret identity is transparent from the moment he appears. Whittington  wrote a number of entertaining thrillers in his career, but this was not one of them. 7/17/16

Best Defense by David Mack, Pocket, 2016, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4767-5310-2   

Middle volume of a trilogy. The Transfer Key is a technological device that provides access to an alternate universe. One of the protagonists travels into that universe in an attempt to save some friends who were marooned there years earlier. Captain Kirk and company are trying to track down the Transfer Key because it holds both potential power and a threat of conflict between realities. Their mission is interrupted when a peace conference that hopes to end the conflict with the Klingons is threatened by forces on both sides who do not want the war to end and who are willing to do whatever is necessary to sabotage the treaty under discussion. Some wide ranging but familiar Star Trek tropes, unraveled quite well, although the story will not really end until the final book in the series appears. 7/14/16

The Thousand Coffins Affair by Michael Avallone, Ace, 1965   

Thrush is about to unleash a new bioweapon on the world unless the men from Uncle can stop them. This was the first tie-in to the television series, and the launch of what would be the most successful tie-in program until Dark Shadows overshadowed it some time later.  A chemist leaves a cryptic clue that leads Solo and Kuryakin to discover a stockpile of deadly drugs buried in a German cemetery. The first three quarters of the novel are reasonably good, but the clue is so obscure that it is not plausible that Solo would have figured it out. Even worse, why bomb the site from the air rather than just send in troops, given that it is undefended and in friendly territory? 7/12/16

Vadim by Donald James, Century, 2001

In the third volume in this trilogy set in a future Russia, Constantin Vadim has left the police. He is sent to New York City for a few days to recruit a soccer player for the local team, and in the process makes the acquaintance of a mysterious woman who tells him she is in danger. She turns out to be the wife of a Presidential candidate in the US and she disappears, only to turn up dead some time later. Vadim has been drawn into the family’s orbit by then and tracks down the killer, who is back in Russia. Fair police procedural but a stunningly inept understanding of how elections work in the US. Despite being set twenty years in the future, this is SF by implication only. 7/8/16

Dragons of Space by Aladra Septama, Armchair, 2016 (originally published in 1930)

Judson Reeves used this awful penname for five stories before disappearing from the SF scene. People begin disappearing in small numbers, only a few at first but with increasing frequency, and from other planets in the solar system than just Earth. The menace is revealed to be elementals, a kind of quasi-physical alien life form that preys on more substantial beings. If they are not stopped, they will wipe out all life in the system. So naturally they get stopped. There is actually so suspense in the early chapters and the writing isn’t awful, although it is barely acceptable by contemporary standards. 7/5/18

The Fortune Teller by Donald James, Century, 1999   

Although this was set twenty years in the future and takes place in the alternate Russia introduced in Monstrum, this is essentially a murder mystery with no real speculative content. The protagonist, Vadim, is stunned when his wife disappears one night. His investigation uncovers the sale of children into slavery, political corruption, murders both sane and insane, psychopathic symbolism, and a variety of criminals and conspirators. He is partnered with a black female FBI agent assigned to the case because of the disappearance of an American diplomat, believed to be a victim of the same kidnapper. It’s not bad, although it could have been considerably shorter. 7/4/16

The Hatching by Ezekiel Boone, Emily Bestler, 2016, $26, ISBN 978-1-5011-2504-1 

Although this novel has exactly the kind of plot likely to hook me in – a contemporary setting and an inhuman menace threatening to overwhelm the world – I was not drawn into this story at all. Part of this is because there are just too many viewpoint characters, which means lots of short scenes that don’t have time to build any suspense. Part is because much of the nature of the menace – deadly spiders – is revealed too soon. Part is because none of the characters are developed enough that I cared about their fate.  The end is a cliffhanger because this is the first of a series. I don’t understand how intelligent, cooperative spiders could have evolved, disappeared, and then reappeared so quickly and efficiently. This felt more like a zombie novel than ecological disaster. Hopefully the sequels will be more focused. 7/3/16

When the Atoms Failed by John W. Campbell Jr. Armchair, 2016 (originally published in 1930) 

This edition includes the sequel, “The Metal Horde.” The first story opens with the discovery of a marvelous new kind of aircraft, interspersed with lectures about the glories of science, sometimes illustrated with recitations of data. Our heroes then detect twenty spaceships coming from Mars and immediately conclude it is an invasion. They quickly invent a new weapon to use against the enemy. The invasion is thwarted. In the sequel, there are some good Martians as well. A robot fleet is entering the solar system so humans and Martians must unite to repel them. The good guys win again. Awkwardly written and riddled with boring scientific explanations, but charming in its way. 7/2/16

Mahars of Pellucidar by John Eric Holmes, Ace, 1976   

An experimental matter transmitter introduces a new hero into Pellucidar, the hollow Earth setting created by Edgar Rice Burroughs. The protagonist rescues a beautiful girl, fights off monsters, is enslaved by the Mahars, organizes a rebellion of the slaves, has more adventures, and decides to stay. Despite the familiar names and concepts, this didn’t feel much like the Burroughs novel and it adds nothing to the invented world. The author even says the Mahars measure the passage of time, which directly contradicts the original material. Holmes wrote a sequel, but the Burroughs family nixed it. 7/1/16