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


Raven Nothing by Som Paris, Aqueduct, 2020, $20, ISBN 978-1-61976-171-1 

A trans girl from our London finds herself in another world that resembles our own, or perhaps predicts our future. The new cold war is between a communist style dictatorship trying to extend its influence and an organization of shamans. The protagonist and a local youth must travel to the enemy’s realm to avert a catastrophe. It’s a self discovery story among other things, of course, with the protagonist’s gender orientation providing some new twists. The prose is very smooth and this doesn’t feel like a debut novel. I had some slight difficulty understanding the world in which it takes place for a while, but eventually it fell into place. One could argue that this is fantasy. 9/28/20

Act of God by Richard Ashby, Armchair, 2020 (originally published in 1952 ) 

Two groups, both existing secretly, are struggling to develop immortality in a mildly dystopian near future. One hopes to provide the gift to all of humanity but the other, organized as a church, sees this knowledge as a tool leading to world domination. The obvious consequences are often deadly. Not badly written, but nothing very original to say. Ashby wrote very little in the genre and is virtually forgotten. 9/25/20

The Man Without a Planet and Other Stories by Richard Wilson, Dancing Tuatara, 2012

The second of two volumes of stories by Richard Wilson, including his very first sale, plus a couple of other very early ones. “Inside Story” is the story of strange doings on a colonized Mars, a setting common to several of Wilson’s stories. There’s a good story about invisibility, a group of journalists stranded on a strange planet, and his Nebula award winning “Mother to the World,” in which the last two people left alive on Earth are a bitter man and a woman who is mentally only about eight years old. They would not have been an adequate gene pool to preserve the race but it’s still a very fine story. 9/23/20

Rulers of the Future by Paul Ernst, Armchair, 2020 (originally published in 1935) 

Lots of clichés in this one. The protagonists have created a super cannon that can propel spaceships faster than the speed of light. The public wants the project stopped because they believe it is dangerous, so they suddenly set out without proper planning and, instead of arriving at their nearby destination, they discover they have covered millions of years of time and an unknown volume of space. The strange world where they land turns out to be far future Earth and, after various adventures, they build a time machine to return to their own era. 9/22/20

The Story Writer and Other Stories by Richard Wilson, Dancing Tuatara, 2011

The first of two large volumes of the author’s short fiction, including the novella that languished unpublished waiting for The Final Dangerous Visions to appear. That story, “At the Sign of the Boar’s Head Nebula,” is a novella set aboard an immense starship fleeing a presumably dying earth. There is some ambiguity about this as dreams, false memories, and conscious misrepresentation all mix together. It is an ambitious and sometimes frustratingly unfocused story. “A Man Spekith” is also included, one of my favorite Wilson stories, in which a disc jockey is the sole human aboard a starship. I was also very fond of the title story. 9/20/20

The Lake of Life by Edmond Hamilton, Armchair, 2020 (originally published in 1937) 

Hamilton wrote several lost world adventure stories, of which this is one. A bunch of exaggerated characters are led into Africa, financed by a man who believes himself to be dying, searching for a lost tribe that supposedly holds the secret of immortality. They have the usual round of adventures before reaching their goal, which is not what any of them expected. Straightforward but unsophisticated prose and an overly familiar story line. Hamilton did much better than this later in his career. 9/19/20

Drummers of Daugavo by Dwight V. Swain, Armchair, 2020 (originally published in 1943) 

This is decidedly weird. It was a war time story so it’s not surprising that the hero is pursuing a Nazi spy. But then things take a bizarre turn. They both end up in South America, where they find a lost race that has technological secrets that could alter the outcome of the war. So naturally both spies want to gather those secrets, or at a minimum, prevent the other side from acquiring them. Swain wrote some okay stuff but a lot of below par work as well, and this falls into the latter category. 9/18/20

Time Out for Tomorrow by Richard Wilson, Ballantine, 1962

Wilson’s second collection was aggravating because it had no table of contents. There are several minor vignettes and gimmick stories. A teletype picks up radio signals from another world. Clones epitomize individual sins. A man and his son orbit Earth, convinced that war has wiped out the rest of humanity, but they are wrong. There is an underground civilization beneath Antarctica A few of the stories are serious but most range from sly humor to slapstick.  8/17/20

Death of a World by J. Jefferson Farjeon, White Circle, 1948  

I’m a big fan of this author’s mystery fiction, but his lone SF novel is very disappointing. An expedition from another planet finds a dead earth and the journal of possibly the last man alive after everyone retreats underground at the outbreak of world war three. Nothing unexpected and actually rather dull. The frame story about the aliens is scientifically naïve. The packaging of this is highly misleading. Farjeon should have stayed with something that he knew he could do well. 9/16/20

Those Idiots from Earth by Richard Wilson, Ballantine, 1957

A very fine collection of stories. A blind human girl and her Martian boyfriend wonder if the restoration of her sight will alter their love. “The Hoaxters” is an amusing variation of the boy who cried wolf. The weakest story involves a visit by a Martian envoy to warn that humans are considered dangerous. A Martian develops a longevity serum for humans which ironically alters their appearance so that they resemble Martians. Discorporate aliens invade human minds. “Lonely Road” is one of my favorite of his shorts. A traveler discovers that everyone else in the world has disappeared mysteriously. “It’s Cold Outside” is an above average dystopian story. A prematurely developing child on Venus demonstrates that everything grows faster there. The title story is pretty minor.  Wilson's best work came late in his career. 9/15/20

The Colossus Conclusion by S.J. Byrne, Armchair, 2020 (originally published in 1950 as Colossus III

This is the final volume in a series that mixes science fiction, fantasy, and the supernatural. A secret race living underground in Nepal emerges to try to bring about world peace using their advanced science and other means. They are opposed by a secretive organization with its own agenda. Spies battle one another, gods reveal themselves, moon people visit the Earth, and Satan himself puts in an appearance. Byrne was certainly enthusiastic and original, but alas this series is disjointed, badly written, and uninteresting. 9/13/20

30-Day Wonder by Richard Wilson, Ballantine, 1960 

Another mildly comic alien invasion story. The Monolithians arrive and apply for membership to the United Nations. Two hundred of them are made honorary American citizens and decide to uphold the law – literally. They block traffic by obeying the limits and prevent clergymen, police, and firefighters from working in area where Sunday commerce is forbidden. They also have a secret agenda and are replacing prominent humans with doppelgangers. The protagonist and a few others attempt to reveal the truth but the story ends with the benevolent but overbearing aliens winning. 9/11/20

The Mental Assassins by Rog Phillips, Armchair, 2020 (originally published in 1950)  

This novella feels a lot like virtual reality, although it’s not quite what we think of when we use the term. Scientists have found a way for people who are mentally incapable of functioning properly in the real world to exist instead in a kind of elaborate shared dream. Sounds good, I suppose, until someone enters the dream state with a more deadly agenda and decides to reshape that reality over the wishes of the other participants. 9/10/20

The Girls from Planet 5 by Richard Wilson, Ballantine, 1955 

This spoof of gender roles and alien invasion stories would probably be unpublishable today. In the near future, women have taken over and the gender roles are somewhat comically reversed in the US, except for Texas, which has become a macho lovefest. A spaceship arrives carrying beautiful women who claim to be descended from an ancient human civilization. But there is another spaceship hidden in Texas, and the translation machines the aliens are using appear to be giving orders as well as interpreting. Satire has gone out of fashion in SF in recent years, probably because as a people we are losing our sense of humor. 9/9/20

Citadel of the Green Death by Emmett McDowell, Armchair, 2020 (originally published in 1948)

The protagonist is a nonconformist in a society that considers that a crime. He also kills a man, unintentionally, during a fight and is sentenced to be used as an experimental subject. He is offered a chance to escape certain death by emigrating to a jungle planet that has a labor shortage. There he meets an alien who suggests that human development has taken the wrong course, finds a rebel woman for some mild romantic interest, and has to prove himself in his new environment. This one takes off in so many different directions at once that I lost all interest in the story despite a fair opening. The cover art is from We the Venusians by John Rackham. 9/8/20

And Then the Town Took Off by Richard Wilson, Ace, 1960 

A small Ohio town suddenly levitates and hovers two miles above the Earth, trapping everyone there. The mayor declares himself king of a new sovereign state. The US government is distressed, particularly when it starts to drift toward Europe, but fortunately they have an agent there with a secret radio. And then people in town report seeing kangaroos who have an affinity for chewing gum. This short novel is more humor than adventure, and there is some hokey science and nonsense toward the end, but it’s still lots of fun. 9/7/20

Last of the Mammoths by Raymond Turenne, 1907

Men of the Mist by T.C. Bridges, 1922

Two very old novels of early SF in one volume. The first is translated from the French and has much the feel of Jules Verne. A young man decides to impress his prospective father-in-law by locating and bringing back fossilized bones of a mammoth from North Asia. How was he to know that one of the mammoths was still alive, and very protective of those bones?  Relatively slow build up and a climax less dramatic than it might have been. The second is less well done and appears to have been aimed at younger readers. Two young boy travel to the American wilderness, hoping to make a new home for themselves. They have a variety of adventures which include an encounter with prehistoric animals. Bridges wrote several SF novels but I had never heard of him before this appeared.

Never Let Up by Charles Eric Maine, Hodder, 1964 

The third and final Mike Delaney novel is just barely SF. Delaney is in an aircraft forced to ditch in the English Channel and this puts him on the track of a spy ring that might not be a spy ring after all. There’s apparently a secret antigravity project and a couple of other peripheral technological changes, but otherwise this is just a mundane thriller, and not a particularly suspenseful one. There is too much coincidence involved as well. 9/4/20

B.E.A.S.T. by Charles Eric Maine, Ballantine, 1966  

A security officer is sent to a government research station to investigate the unauthorized use of the computer there by the project director, who is trying to develop a kind of artificial intelligence. Somehow the computer program jumps from tapes to control the mind of its creator, and then endows him with superhuman physical powers. All of this is pretty nonsensical. Maine's grounding in science left much to be desired. This one reads like a mediocre SF movie from the 1950s.  9/1/20

Survival Margin by Charles Eric Maine, Gold Medal, 1962 

This has also appeared as The Darkest of Nights and, revised, as The Big Death. It is somewhat prophetic. A new virus appears in China and begins to spread around the world. International travel virtually ceases. Governments are ineffective in stopping the spread and try to reassure people that it will simply go away. Violence breaks out all over the world and in many countries, including the UK, civil war breaks out. The story ends in the middle of a major military confrontation and we never find out what happened to the human race, or even the outcome of the battle.8/30/20

Martian Adventure by Robert Moore Williams, Armchair, 2020 (originally published in 1944) 

Martians tolerate humans on their planet but they are subject to Martian law, which includes a walled off portion of the world where all criminals are exiled. The hero has managed to escape once and wants to find a way to rescue the woman he loves, who is also penned up, even though more than a decade has passed. He runs into trouble with a gang of thugs trying to find a lost Martian treasure and is thrown over the wall again. This time he finds an underground escape route, thwarts the villains, and meets a mystery woman, who turns out to be his lover, who escaped independently. Neither of them recognized the other, which is hard to believe, in an otherwise mildly interesting story. 8/30/20

The Mind of Mr. Soames by Charles Eric Maine, Pyramid, 1961 

This is generally considered to be Maine’s best novel, and it was made into an underrated movie. Soames was born in a coma and is only able to achieve consciousness when he is thirty. Scientists and doctors attempt to train him but he is an adult with no history, no moral or ethical standards, and he does not understand how to act. He is occasionally violent, and when he escapes, they fear he could be a danger to anyone he encounters. It’s not bad, although somewhat slow, until the end, which is depressing and unrealistic. 8/28/20

The Swordsman of Sarvon by Charles Cloukey, Armchair, 2020 (originally published in 1932) 

A new energy source could change the balance of power on a future Earth. The key to this technology might be on Venus, which has indigenous humans who are divided into two warring empires. An earthman trying to secure the secret for the good guys arrives on Venus and is befriended by a sword wielding hero who helps him save the day. Although the prose on this one is not awful, it is so horribly dated that it is only of historical interest. Cloukey is one of those authors from the early days of SF who is really not memorable. 8/27/20

The Synthetic Men by Ed Earl Repp, Armchair, 2020 (originally published in 1930) 

Novella about a man who finds a way to create synthetic life. Predictably this does not turn out well. The scientist is killed by one of his brutish creations and the secret of his process is destroyed. Repp’s prose was pretty awful and while a few of his stories have interesting ideas, badly conveyed, this is not one of them. It is essentially just an awkwardly written rehash of the Frankenstein story. 8/26/20

The Doctored Man by Maurice Renard, Black Coat, 2010 (translated from the French by Brian Stableford)

A collection of short stories from an early and influential French SF writer. The themes are varied, including a vision of prehistory, the invisible world around us, a return from the dead, a man with artificial eyes that see things not visible to others, reanimation by electricity, invisibility in general, mutant sharks, and other delights. Many of these are vignettes. The title story is a novella in which a man is fitted with artificial eyes that provide a very different interface with the external world. Renard was a bit long winded at times and a few of these seem quite minor, but the better ones are very entertaining. 8/25/20

He Owned the World by Charles Eric Maine, Avon, 1960 

This does not age well at all. I remembered it vaguely as being much better, but I was fifteen when I last readit. A man wakens eight thousand years in the future to discover a trust fund has made him the owner of war ravaged Earth but he is himself the pawn of immortal technocrats from Mars who want to take over the home world. Long build up to an invasion in which he is exposed to all sides involved, including mutants. Utterly depressing, and Maine did not understand how a trust fund would operate. And ultimately he discovers that his whole life has been a lie. Also known as The Man Who Owned the World.

Calculated Risk by Charles Eric Maine, Corgi, 1960 

A potentially interesting idea for a short story expanded into a short novel. In order to escape a post apocalyptic future, a scientist and her lover project their minds back through time to overwrite the personalities of two other people. They succeed, but while the man finds himself in a young and handsome body, the woman is less fortunate and takes over the body of an elderly woman. So the man has to rebuild the machine and try to transfer her again. But something goes wrong. Minor, and the science is even more bogus than usual. 8/23/20

The Chemically Pure Warriors by Allen Kim Lang, Armchair, 2020 (originally published in 1962) 

In a future galactic civilization, humans have bred themselves to be completely free of bacteria – not sure how their stomachs work – and only visit alien worlds in self-contained environmental suits.  They are also pretty much fascists. But eventually some of the troops learn that it is all a lie, that they can safely interact with aliens, and they finally rebel against the status quo. The revelation is pretty obvious rather early. The prose is pretty good and the story palatable if not impressive. Not awful. Not great. 8/22/20

Fire Past the Future by Charles Eric Maine, Ballantine, 1959 

Scientists are planning to test an anti-gravity space launch device on a remote atoll when something goes wrong. An alien entity is possessing the bodies of the staff and forcing them to kill one another. This is all wrapped in pseudo-science and an artlessly contrived restriction that people can only be possessed once, and the entity cannot leave until it has killed someone else. The hero figures it out but the project then turns out to have no application to space travel at all, although it does seem to result in time travel. The evil entity returns to the future.  There is the germ of a good suspense story in this one, but Maine was not able to make it work, and the silliness at the end just undercuts what little interest it held before. 8/20/20

World Without Men by Charles Eric Maine, Ace, 1958 

This was extensively expanded and reissued in 1972 as Alph. Both versions are horribly sexist books disguised as dystopias. A birth control development leads to the elimination of all males. Four thousand years later, a “perverse” society of females has evolved, but a few people escape the hypnotic conditioning and steal an experimental male baby. In the original version, the story ends shortly after an experimental male child is abducted by rebels. The revision involves the organization’s efforts to raise the male and deals with internal differences. Neither book ends cheerfully. 8/17/20

The Tide Went Out by Charles Eric Maine, Ballantine, 1959 

The science in this one is pretty bad. Nuclear testing in the Pacific opens a passageway to caverns beneath the Earth, draining off all of the oceans. The protagonist is hired by the British government to try to keep things under control while the elite evacuates to special preserves in the Arctic. He’s an awful person, self-centered, adulterous, and almost incapable of empathy. Quite a few of Maine's protagonists are repulsive people. The government is pretty obnoxious as well. Their plans succeed although through mischance our tarnished hero is killed and never makes it to safety, although his family does. Revised and reissued in 1977 as Thirst. 8/16/20

A Man Among the Microbes by Maurice Renard, translated by Brian Stableford, Black Coat, 2010 

A collection of short stories from an early French writer. Sometimes they cross over into fantasy. The title story is actually a novella, akin to Ray Cummings’ stories of civilizations inside an atom. A man shrinks down and witnesses a war between two alien races in the microcosm. Other stories include an inertialess engine, an experiment with light that alters a man’s existence in our world, a case of hypnotism gone very wrong, animated statues, carnivorous mermaids, and other wonders. Not actually particularly good, overall, but historically interesting. 8/15/20

Subterfuge by Charles Eric Maine, Hodder, 1959  

This novel also appeared in Amazing Stories as Counter-Psych, but it is only marginally SF and only in the last few pages. A reporter chances upon a conspiracy involving a scientist who heads a British missile program. His wife is subsequently murdered but the reporter discovers that someone has cleared away the evidence and provided a ringer to take the place of the dead woman. Only toward the end do we discover that the scientist is sabotaging his own project – which involves some kind of melding of brain tissue with electronics – because he considers it immoral. Oddly, the protagonist sides with the government. 8/14/20

The Bald Giants edited and translated by Brian Stableford, Black Coat, 2020 

This is a collection of early French SF by various authors, although three make up better than half the book with multiple entries. Most of the stories are quite short – a lot of them were written for newspapers. They tend to be single speculations, sometimes with no real plot, or gimmicks with twist endings. Several of them are humorous and one or two include elements of horror. I was not surprised that most of the best were by Maurice Renard, who was active during the 1930s and wrote with more sophistication, but Pierre Mille was also consistently entertaining. The others are a bit hit and miss, but it’s a hefty anthology and worth your time. 8/13/20

The Isotope Man by Charles Eric Maine, Lippincott, 1957 

This was the first in the Mike Delaney series, which ran to three novels and a novella. Lippincott called them novels “of menace” rather than SF. This was a fairly lively story of a reporter who suspects that a prominent scientist has been replaced as part of a conspiracy. The SF element is that the real scientist was clinically dead for eight seconds and is now displaced in time so that he answers questions before they are asked. 8/11/20

Architect of Memory by Karen Osborne, Tor, 2020, $17.99, ISBN 978-1-250-21547-5

The protagonist of this space opera is a salvage pilot working in one of these fairly common SF futures where the corporations effectively rule space and many people have become indentured servants/slaves trapped into perpetual servitude. She has a unique problem in that she suffers a terminal illness which will probably not be cured unless she gets out of her indenture. Then she and her co-workers salvage an enigmatic device from the wreckage about a colony world that was devastated by enigmatic aliens. This changes everything, and not just for the protagonist. This was an entertaining first novel about which I have only minor quibbles. The first few chapters felt a bit rushed, as though the author was in a hurry to present the premise. The romantic element feels a bit self-conscious, particularly early on. Both of these become less of an issue as the story progresses. 8/8/20

High Vacuum by Charles Eric Maine, Ballantine, 1957

The first spaceship to the moon crashes because there is a stowaway aboard and her weight throws off the fuel consumption rate. She came because she didn’t want to be separated from her boyfriend, who is killed in the crash. There is a good deal of questionable science even for the time, and the first half of the book in particular is slow moving and uninteresting. The characters are flat and there are some amazingly tone deaf scenes. For example, when the first landing on the moon is about to happen, mission control is manned only by two bored technicians. An unusual but not entirely successful variation of survival in space. 8/5/20

The Man Who Couldn’t Sleep by Charles Eric Maine, Lippincott, 1956 

Also published as Escapement.  Another mostly dull and sometimes unbelievable SF thriller. The protagonist invents a method of recording and playing back emotions. He does this at a major hospital, but no one but this one man knows how to operate the equipment. A movie producer decides this is not only the key to a fortune but also the means by which he can elevate his cult following to dominate the world. Boring and unconvincing. There is a reason why several of Maine’s novels never saw a paperback edition in the US.  8/3/20

Timeliner by Charles Eric Maine, Bantam, 1955  

I didn’t like this when I read it in high school and it hasn’t improved with age. An experiment causes a scientist to mentally travel into the future and occupy another man’s body until he commits suicide, at which point he jumps to another even farther from his home time. But then he spends a lot of time switching bodies in that world for no apparent reason before going forward again. Each time he is involved with a woman who is the exact duplicate of his wife from his original time. There are no sensible rules and the individual episodes are quite boring. 8/2/2-

Crisis 2000 by Charles Eric Maine, Corgi, 1955 

The magazine version was called Wall of Fire. This is a really bad novel about a future world’s fair that is disrupted by the arrival of a flying saucer full of aliens from Saturn. They want to exhibit as well. Their early activities are interpreted as hostile even though they aren’t - although frankly despite Maine’s excuses they actually are. It all gets sorted out finally and we become friends with them. The account of human responses is at the comic book level. A colonel is given full authority to deal with the aliens, including attacking them with nuclear weapons in the middle of Manhattan. Really? Far and away the author’s worst book. 7/31/20

Uranus by Ben Bova, Tor, 2020, $27.99, ISBN 978-1-250-29654-2

I really enjoy hard SF, at least when it has a decent story to provide structure and good characterization to convince me that it could be real. Bova has been doing this for decades now. As On a Darkling Plain was one of my early favorites and the Grand Tour series and associated works have been consistently among my favorites in recent years. This welcome new novel is the first in the Outer Planets trilogy, so I'm guessing Neptune and Pluto are on their way. A manned landing on Uranus is impossible, so the story largely takes place in an orbiting habitat that is involved with studying the planet below. The habitat has other functions, however, being key to a religious leader as well as a nexus for various criminal activities. And the people responsible for the last are less than welcoming when the habitat becomes a place of popular interest throughout the solar system. Predictable danger and unrest follow with several innocents caught in the middle. Realistic, evocative, and as always entertaining. 7/30/20

Spaceways by Charles Eric Maine, Pan, 1953   

A novelization of Maine’s teleplay. A newly appointed security officer at a facility building a ship designed to take a permanent orbit around the Earth is troubled by a love triangle among the staff.  Eventually the errant wife and her lover disappear and the spaceship drops into a lower orbit than expected, as though there was some extra weight aboard. Hmmm. The protagonist is, despite Maine’s attempt to make him look good, incredibly incompetent. No guards on the perimeter, no guards on the spaceship itself, no investigation when a major scientist disappears until the next day, no query about why the wronged husband is showing signs of having been in a fight, and he also disobeys direct orders to beef up security.  7/29/20

The Breach by Edward J. McFadden III, Severed Press, 2018 

A vicious hurricane apparently wakens a monster from the deep, a giant scorpion. A somewhat disreputable police officer specializing in activities on the water is instrumental in destroying it, although at the end we discover that it laid eggs. This isn’t badly written, but the kaiju stories from this publisher seem to follow a pretty set pattern so there is one cliché after another. If you like SyFy channel monster movies, this should be right up your alley.  7/28/20

Island by Aldous Huxley, Bantam, 1962

A man arranges to be shipwrecked on a forbidden island with a utopian civilization. As usual, he gets a grand tour and discovers that his original purpose, to convince the local people to sell oil rights, is no longer appealing. Alas, utopian societies would not be allowed to exist in our world and the book ends with their conquest by a neighboring country. This was much more interesting than most utopian novels and the society considerably more plausible. It was Huxley’s final novel. 7/27/20

The Martian Menace by Eric Brown, Titan, 2020 

A second invasion of Earth by Mars is more peaceful, but the Martians are clearly in charge. Holmes solves a murder mystery for the Martians – actually he contrives a fake story to cover up something else – and that sets the stage for his invitation to travel to Mars and look into the murder of a prominent Martian philosopher. Holmes goes to Mars accompanied by Watson and Professor George Challenger. There is also a mysterious woman who works as a steward aboard the Martian ship and who warns them that they are in danger. The intrigues on Mars are more amusing that adventurous. Rubber Martian suits as disguises? Moriarty turns up, conspiring with the Martians and ultimately betrayed by them. This is more of a spoof than a serious mystery. 7/25/20

After Many a Summer Dies the Swan by Aldous Huxley, Bantam, 1939 

This is one of my favorite Huxley novels. A British academic provides us with a satirical look at California when he is hired to examine some centuries old papers purchased by a very rich but totally immoral businessman. The latter is obsessed with finding a way to extend his lifespan and has hired a team of scientists to work on the problem. It is the academic, however, who finds the solution and leads them to a man two centuries old who survives entirely on raw fish guts. He has gone mad in the process. The story ends with the businessman inclining toward following in his footsteps. 7/22/20

Stargonauts by David Garnett, Orbit, 1994 

Humorous SF has mostly gone out of style in recent years, maybe because there is so little to be amused about in real life. This is the story of a rich man’s quest to become even richer, set against a background of interstellar travel. His plans go awry almost immediately, of course, because he has not properly anticipated the machinations of his ex-wives as well as business rivals. There are swindlers and aliens and befuddled lawyers and space pirates. It is actually a frequently funny send up of various things, including science fiction itself. There are a couple of loosely related sequels that I have not seen.7/20/20

Master of Light by Maurice Renard, Black Coat, 2010 (originally published in 1933)

Although I found this slow moving and occasionally out of focus, it’s an interesting novel in that it anticipates slow glass, which Bob Shaw used to great effects decades later. The premise is that there is a dense form of glass that can retard the passage of light, in this case for a full century. The protagonist is able to use some of the glass to prove that an old family feud is based on false information, which removes the bar to his romantic interest in the daughter of the rival family. Much more concerned with the characters than are the other Renard novels that I have read. 7/15/20

Ape and Essence by Aldous Huxley, Bantam, 1948  

This dystopian satire is primarily the text of a script embedded in a contemporary frame. The script is set after a nuclear war. New Zealand sends an expedition to California to find out what happened there. The survivors are savage and worship the devil. One of the scientists is captured but eventually escapes. There are thematically related anecdotes sprinkled through the narrative. I had difficulty slogging through this one even though it is quite short. 7/14/20

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Bantam, 1932

After Orwell, this is probably the best known dystopian novel. It's set in a future where human reproduction is mostly conducted in a laboratory through cloning and children are raised and conditioned by the state. It was the author's extrapolation of trends he detected in society. A naturally born human, a kind of noble savage, becomes a celebrity but is eventually driven to insanity and ultimately suicide. When I read this in high school, I thought the ideas were fascinating but that the story was boring. My second reading more than fifty years later comes to the same conclusion. 7/9/20

The Blue Peril by Maurice Renard, Black Coat, 2010   (originally published in French in 1910)

Brian Stableford adapted this novel, which I don't believe has been previously available in English. The French countryside is terrorized by a series of thefts and abductions, which include sightings of objects and persons flying off into the sky. There are sightings of balloon-like objects and eventually an astronomer spots a floating island high in the atmosphere. There is an alien form of life living there which considers our atmosphere as a kind of ocean and they are collecting samples for their museum. It's a bit long winded but generally quite entertaining, although the ending kind of fizzles out. 7/6/20

Anthems Outside Time by Kenneth Schneyer, Fairwood, 2020, $18.99, ISBN 978-1-933846-92-7 

I had only read five of the stories in this collection before and there is no list of credits so I am not sure where the others appeared. Some of them are probably original to the collection.(CORRECTION:  A couple of pages were stuck together and there is a list of sources.)  I confess I had no recollection at all of the stories which I had read, so obviously I had no pre-existing impression of the author. They vary quite a lot in structure and tone as well as plot, although all are done well. A few are extended jokes. Others are deadly serious. Some are written in a non-traditional format, which might put off some readers who prefer conventional narration.  Authors willing to experiment are almost always interesting to watch, even less skilled ones than Schneyer. “Selected Program Notes” and “Keepsakes” were the two I liked best, and “The Plausibility of Dragons” is quite amusing. I think this is one of those collections that most people should read in small doses rather than straight through, even though all of the stories are individually good to very good. They do often require you to pay close attention. The extra effort is worth it. 7/3/20