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


The Edge of All Worlds by Matt Betts, ERB, 2020 

This is an extension of the Venus series by Edgar Rice Burroughs and features Carson Napier. A new non-human race sets out to conquer the entire planet, armed with weapons based on Napier’s crashed spaceship and their own immunity to the death rays used by other species on the planet. Napier and friends are immediately caught up in the conflict, with multiple captures and escapes. In general, the author mimics the storytelling style of Burroughs quite well. The introduction of two people from Earth who are mysteriously transported to Venus is a bit jarring and does not contribute significantly to the story. 9/30/21

The Ceres Solution by Bob Shaw, DAW, 1982 

The planet Earth is actually an experimental study conducted by scientists from  another human world whose inhabitants live for thousands of years. They can also teleport from one world to another. An observer sent to Earth, a rebel, an insane project director, and a wheelchair bound mathematician get involved with the destruction of a space station, the possible destruction of the moon, and various other problems before it is revealed that the human race on Earth is deliberately being deprived of its normal lifespan. I found this rather uneven although I can’t point to anything in particular. It just seemed erratic in tone and none of the characters struck me as realistic, let alone interesting. 9/25/21

The Reefs of Time by Jeffrey A. Carver, Starstream, 2019 

First of a two volume conclusion to the Chaos Chronicles. Carver’s universe is filled with diverse beings – aliens, sentient robots, and world threatening forces. The protagonist is a human who was diverted to a distant star system after being implanted with starstones, a kind of spore from an alien lifeform that allows communication with other races, sort of like a babel fish from Hitchhiker’s Guide. In the previous books, our hero and his allies defeated the Mindaru, a “race” of robots whose purpose is to destroy all life. But while they no longer exist in the physical universe, they survive in the past, and the technology of another alien race has caused a kind of rift in time that could allow them to reach forward and renew their attacks. A second story line involves a human woman similarly abducted by chance to the same remote part of space, and it turns out that she is the hero’s former romantic interest. That’s a pretty big coincidence but it doesn't materially affect the story otherwise. In any case, their two separate strings of adventures are certain to converge. Recommended for fans of the galaxy spanning adventures of Gregory Benford, Vernor Vinge, Peter F. Hamilton, and others. 9/24/21

The Wizard of Venus by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ace, 1970 

The final Carson Napier story is nothing special. Napier visits another unknown part of Venus that is roughly Medieval. He rescues a young woman from an insane – and fake – wizard and restores her to her family. The bulk of the book is Pirate Blood, a novella that was probably the first draft of an adventure story which Burroughs never got around to revising. It’s routine pirate adventure.  9/20/21

Dagger of the Mind by Bob Shaw, Ace, 1979 

Not one of the author’s better efforts. A man with rudimentary telepathy begins having hallucinations which lead him to a boarding house filled with oddball characters. Is he crazy? Is it the drug he has been taking at a laboratory? Are the other characters using psi powers? What is the mysterious presence in the basement? Why has he been lured to the building? What is the connection with a similar house half the world away? Are there really aliens coming to destroy the world?  I'm not particularly fond of novels with lengthy hallucinatory sequences. Shaw does attempt to explain everything rationally and does an acceptable job. 9/18/21

Vertigo by Bob Shaw, Ace, 1979 

A convalescing police officer in a future where antigravity has made it possible for everyone to fly about on their own gets involved in a series of petty crimes. The corrupt local leader is incensed that joyriders are making use of his abandoned white elephant of a hotel and he resorts to illegal methods to drive them out. This eventually leads to multiple deaths as he has booby trapped the building, inadvertently burning it down. The protagonist has to overcome his phobia about flying in order to rescue a blind man. A bit slow and the quasi-villain’s actions leading up to the crisis make absolutely no sense. 9/17/21

Fair Warning by George E. Simpson & Neal R. Burger, Dell, 1980 

This is a secret history, which makes it marginally SF depending upon your definition. The atomic bomb is ready for use against the Japanese but a handful of Americans recognize the dreadful possibilities of its use. They organize a secret mission to convince the Japanese authorities that the weapon they face is terrible and they sneak into Japan. Unfortunately, after several efforts and some minor adventures, they admit defeat. This was a very long novel and my interest wandered a great deal during the middle third. 9/16/21

Escape on Venus by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ace,  1946

This novel is actual four novelette. The first was “Fishmen of Venus,” which is strange because they are amphibians, not fish. In any case, Carson Napier and his girlfriend are briefly enslaved even though he has a death ray and they only have spears, and the plot is so artlessly contrived that it doesn’t even feel like a Burrough story.  The other three episodes involve a war between technologically advanced nations, a race of amoebas who act like humans, and an encounter with a race that worship a human woman who is obviously from Earth, although she does not remember her past. This is probably the worst book Burroughs wrote. Deus ex Machina endings, illogical plots, repetitious, and mostly just boring. 9/14/21

Ship of Strangers by Bob Shaw, Ace, 1978 

A fixup of four stories plus some original material about a survey ship whose crew has various adventures. These include a shapechanging alien, a time traveling species, an encounter with some automated killing machines, a voyage outside the universe, and a morale problem caused by sexually oriented sleep tapes designed to relieve boredom. They are all very slight – essentially problem stories – and there is no focus to the “novel.” Aptly, it is dedicated to A.E. van Vogt. 9/11/21

Medusa’s Children by Bob Shaw, Dell, 1977

Not one of the author’s better efforts despite a promising start.  A human society exists inside a gigantic water bubble in space. Their environment is changing and it turns out that it is somehow linked by a matter transmitter to oceans on a future Earth. There are mutant squid in both worlds, including one which has developed intelligence and can mentally dominate other squid and even read the thoughts in human brains. The two world are connected because of a kind of teleportation and the crisis endangers both. Okay but a bit hard to believe. 9/9/21

Who Goes Here? by Bob Shaw, Ace, 1977

Warren Peace has his memory erased and joins the Space Legion, after which he has some not very interesting adventures on other planets before a time machine allows him to discover what it was that he wanted to forget. Some of the spoofing of SF memes is right on target, but most of the story is so relentlessly silly that it is impossible to take it seriously, even as humor. There is a sequel. 9/6/21

A Wreath of Stars by Bob Shaw, Dell, 1976 

A phantom planet from another reality passes through the solar system, which leads to the discovery that there is another of its type inside the Earth. The displacement caused by the intruder has introduced a variation in orbits and a new kind of light amplifier makes it possible to see glimpses of that world, whose people may be doomed to extinction. A telepathic human is able to establish communications, but the antics of a rogue government put him and the entire process in danger. This was a quite unusual novel with an unexpected ending, slightly above average for Shaw. And Shaw’s average was pretty high in itself. 9/2/21

Thin Air by George E. Simpson and Neal R. Burger, Dell,  1979 

This is a fairly good novel based on the myth of the Philadelphia Experiment, in which the Navy supposedly teleported an entire warship, but drove its crew insane. A naval intelligence officer finds some anomalies in the records of an ex-sailor and this leads to the discovery of a secret code flagging some files, a phantom psychiatrist who is actually a figment of brainwashing, and possible murder to keep the secret from being made public. Teleportation, invisibility, corporate bad guys, and multiple murder attempts. Very well done. 8/31/21

Orbitsville by Bob Shaw, Ace, 1971

This is one of several novels in which enormous artificial habitats are found in space – Larry Niven’s Ringworld being the most famous. The discovery and its implications for humanity are displayed against the backdrop between the conflict between a homicidally insane business woman and a space captain whom she unjustly believes to be responsible for the death of her son. This conflict is more or less resolved, but the story raises a lot of questions about the habitat that are never resolved. Some years later Shaw would write two sequels to tie up loose ends. It is probably his best known single novel. The Bid Dumb Object remains a standard SF theme. 8/30/21

Carson of Venus by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ace, 1937 

The third adventure of Carson Napier is more of the same. The Venus stories were not nearly as imaginative and varied at those set on Mars. He and his princess arrive in a besieged city where he uses an air ship to bomb the enemy, spends months on an espionage mission designed to kill him, then helps replace the corrupt ruler with a more worthy man. The story ends with the two of them becoming fugitives once again. This was the third in the series of four books. It ends with another cliff hanger. 8/27/21

His Monkey Wife by John Collier, Anchor, 1930  

This is a satirical novel about a missionary who does not realize that his pet chimpanzee has learned to read and understand English, and that she is in love with him. He takes her back to England where she is thoroughly disliked by his prospective wife, who is a terrible person. Eventually the chimp arranges that she marry him in the woman’s place. This is a broad satire so the illogical elements are immaterial. It’s also pretty dark. Collier's short stories are much better. 8/24/21

Ground Zero Man by Bob Shaw, Avon, 1971 

This is a somewhat depressing novel about a man who discovers a way to trigger all the nuclear weapons in the world and tries to use this as a way to force universal disarmament. He is soon on the run from police and foreign agents, his already unstable marriage takes a turn for the worse, and his psychosexual problems grow more severe. Ultimately he uses his invention, but it makes no real difference because a new generation of nukes is developed with shielding to make it impossible for the process to work a second time. Also published as The Peace Machine. 8/23/21

Tom’s A-Cold by John Collier, Bruin Asylum, 2020 (originally published in 1933) 

Aka Full Circle, this was one of only three novels Collier produced. The premise is that World War I never ended and civilization eventually fell. There are no functioning governments left in the world. A group of survivors in rural Wales engages in raids against other communities to steal their women. Spears, swords, and bows are the weapons employed. Women are property. Essentially the circle has been completed and barbarism is the rule. It’s a rather depressing novel in which very little actually happens. 8/21/21

Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells, Tor, 2021

Murderbot is back, this time to solve a murder mystery aboard a space station. An unidentified dead man has been dumped in a corridor. A docked ship has its AI's mind wiped almost clean. Surveillance shows no one entering or leaving the murder scene. A small group of refugees disappears into thin air. Station security distrusts Murderbot and does not want him to access their systems. And it appears that there is a mole inside the station working for an external commercial group. Read it in a single sitting, gripped from the opening page and not released until the last sentence was read. I sometimes decry the tendency for everything to be in a series, but the Murderbot stories are fresh and entertaining every time. 8/17/21

Other Days, Other Eyes by Bob Shaw, Ace, 1972 

An expansion of the idea of slow glass, through which light passes painfully slowly, which Shaw had previously used in a short story, "The Light of Other Days". Several episodes illustrate the impact of this on society, first as artwork, then for espionage, criminal investigations, and ultimately world wide surveillance. One of the more interestubg extrapolative novels, although the structure of the book is itself somewhat disjointed because of the semi-related episodes.  8/14/21

One Million Tomorrows by Bob Shaw, Ace, 1970 

In a mildly dystopian future, a treatment has been discovered that makes people virtually immortal. The catch is that males are invariably neutered. The protagonist is offered the chance to be the first with a new version that does not have the side effect and he takes it, after which there are several attempts to murder him. It’s all a hoax, of course, part of a scam to sell a worthless formula, although Shaw does not present a scenario in which the plot could possibly have worked. The complex relationships among some of the characters is very well done. One of his better novels, despite an ending that leaves some things unresolved. 8/10/21

The Two-Timers by Bob Shaw, Ace, 1968 

A man feels guilty about the argument with his wife that resulted in her murder. Develops the ability to travel in time in order to undo the murder, but that just creates an alternate time line where she is alive. So he figures out how to cross time lines and plans to murder his alternate self and take his place. Clearly, however, his guilt 7has undermined his sanity. Even worse, his presence in an alternate reality has changed the laws of nature and the entire human race may perish if he stays. An excellent early novel by Shaw with sophisticated characters and some thoughtful plotting. 8/6/21

The Palace of Eternity by Bob Shaw, Ace, 1968  

Although I enjoyed the first half of this story, it fell apart for me at the end. Humans are losing a war of extermination with an alien race. A backwater planet is turned into a military headquarters, and the local artists’ colony protests actively, causing the death of a soldier, and are driven into the forests and hunted down. The aliens make no effort to communicate and we eventually discover they are incensed because human star drives are disrupting and destroying discorporate beings who were formerly their own kind. The protagonist is killed and becomes one of them as well, then is reborn. The aliens disengage after that, but it is not clear why, or why they did not try to communicate the problem, or whether or not the humans will stop using the star drive. 8/5/21

Lost on Venus by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ace, 1964 (originally published in 1933) 

The second in the Venus series was a step down from the first. Napier has been captured by his enemies but Duare, whom he loves, did not escape after all. They have various adventures in the wilderness and battle a number of monstrous creatures, before becoming separated. He partners with another princess, Nalte, for a while. The largest chunk of the story involves his interactions with a city of the undead, commanded by a man who wants to make Duare his queen. There is also a quasi-utopian society, but they practice ruthless eugenics and sentence him to death. Not much imagination in this one, which is mostly a serie of repetitive encounters. 8/5/21

The Summer Thieves by Paul Di Filippo, Night Shade, 2021

In a far future interstellar civilization, it is possible for two families to own a planet. The two heirs are almost predestined to be married and the time is approaching when word comes of an irregularity in their claim of ownership. Before it can be straightened out, all but the two betrothed in both families are killed in a mysterious "accident." Apparently their heritage is to be lost along with their marriage, but our hero decides to track down the planet's original owner and prove the validity of their title. But he finds more than he counted on, not all of it pleasant. The story is set in a richly imagined future complete with uplifted animals and other wonders and filled with delightful tidbits of imagination and prose. 8/3/21

The Essential Thor Vol 5, Marvel, 2011

I was never a big fan of Thor's adventures, particularly off the Earth. This compendium of his comic books pits him against his familiar enemies, Loki and Hela, but is for the most part a series of battle with villainous lightweights including Kartag, Xorr, Ulik, Mercurio, the Druid, Mephisto, the Absorbing Man, Ego Prime, Pluto, Mangog, etc. Odin is presumed dead for a while but is restored to life. Thor is on his blacklist for a while, but that happens a lot. There is even A Ragnorak, if not THE Ragnorak. 8/3/21

Pirates of Venus by Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1934 

The first of the Venus books opens with Carson Napier planning to visit Mars in his spaceship but he forgets to factor in the gravitational pull of the moon and ends up on Venus, which has oceans and giant trees under its cloud cover. It also has a breathable atmosphere and human inhabitants, as well as a variety of monsters. After various adventures he becomes a pirate captain and falls in love with a princess, but the story ends with a cliffhanger as he falls into the hands of his enemies. Not up to the quality of the Mars books but fun. 7/30/21

Shadow of Heaven by Bob Shaw, Avon, 1968 

I don’t think the author thought this one through. Most of Earth’s fertile land has been polluted so the human race lives in overpopulated series and relies primarily on aquaculture for food. So far so good. But there are also floating platforms miles long three miles up in the atmosphere where robots grow a few more crops. These do not make any real difference in the amount of food available, and there is no explanation of how they were launched given the worldwide economic collapse. The plot involves a handful of people who escape to live on them, but if they are contained, heated habitats with breathable air, why not build them on the polluted land rather than go to the enormous expense of placing them in orbit? 7/28/21

Night Walk by Bob Shaw, Avon, 1967 

Shaw’s debut novel did not impress me at the time, although he improved dramatically and quickly. This one is about an interstellar spy who is captured and blinded, who escapes from prison using a kind of remote viewing system, has various adventures trying to get off the planet, and eventually personally prevents a major war. The blatantly contrived ending is quite annoying and the protagonist is kind of a blank throughout the book. Even the petty villain is more interesting. 7/22/21

Faithless in Death by J.D. Robb, St Martins, 2021

#52 in the Eve Dallas series, though slightly out of character. The first half follows the usual formula, with Dallas investigating a murder that appears to be unpremeditated. But the person who discovered the body is obviously lying and this leads back to a white supremacist cult that is into slavery, murder, and the subjugation of women. It becomes less of a police procedural at the halfway point and probably stems from the author's disgust with certain groups currently in the news a lot. The cult gets broken up and its leaders sent to jail and the murder is solved almost as an afterthought. 7/17/21

Relic by Alan Dean Foster, Del Rey, 2018  

Humanity was wiped out throughout the galaxy by a kind of bioweapon that got out of control. The protagonist is the only survivor, and he is pampered by an alien race that wants to clone him to re-establish humanity despite his disinclination. He agrees, but only if they help him to find lost Earth, so he can pay a visit to the home world before dying. But Earth has a secret. Not really a spoiler, but humans are still alive there and his life suddenly has meaning again. A bit slow moving for Foster but with some nice plot twists along the way. 7/15/21

Worlds Without End by Clifford D. Simak, Belmont,  

Three longish stories. “Full Cycle” is another story of the death of cities. Humans return to a nomadic lifestyle, complete with superstitions. The protagonist struggles to find a place in this new world. “The Spaceman’s Van Gogh” is thematically related. A man visits the planet where a famous artist died among aliens and muses about the role of faith in civilization. The title story is the longest. A company that provides custom dreams for people in suspended animation is actually substituting other dreams to explore the consequences of certain policies in hope of enhancing their own position in society. 7/13/21

So Bright the Vision by Clifford D. Simak, Ace  

Four stories. The title story is a minor one about a writer who think he has stuck it rich on an alien world. “Galactic Chest” is about the return of the Brownies, except that they are aliens this time conducting a charity operation. “Leg.Forst” is a humorous piece about an alien lifeform that uses poltergeist powers to clean up and organize their surroundings. “The Golden Bugs” are destructive alien insects that are finally destroyed by using a vibration that shatters their crystalline structure.  7/13/21

City of Death by James Goss, Target, 2018 

The novelization of the Douglas Adams script for one of the best installments in the Doctor Who series. The Doctor and Romana are visiting Paris when they become aware of an elaborate plot by a \mysterious alien to sell multiple copies of the Mona Lisa by using time travel. Witty, humorous, and one of the best and most complex plots in the series. For legal reasons, this one has been the few episodes never to have been novelized befoe now.  7/11/21

Vampires of the Desert by A. Hyatt Verrill, Real Books, 2013 

This is a 1929 novelette about a scientist who breeds some unusual plants while doing research in a South American desert. The plants grow extremely quickly, and then people begin to die. They are, of course, vampire plants – the title pretty much gives the plot away – and are eventually destroyed. This was one of the author’s better stories. 7/11/21

Sabotage in Space by Carey Rockwell, Grosset & Dunlap, 1955 

By far the weakest in the Tom Corbett series. This one involves their assignment to a top secret research project which is beset by saboteurs. Tom is kidnapped and presumed to have deserted, which is not credible at all under the circumstances. The other two heroes disobey orders, although with good intentions, and are spared punishment because it all works out at the end. But in fact they did disobey orders and for no good reason and they should have been disciplined. 7/10/21

The Robot Rocket by Carey Rockwell, Grosset & Dunlap, 1956 

This was the last of the Tom Corbett novels. Not a good ending. One of the threesome is replaced by another cadet for reasons that make no sense and contradict the policies established in the earlier books. They are assigned a dangerous mission to recover an automated rocket from another star system, but there is no reason why cadets would have been sent instead of regulars, particularly cadets who have not yet become a team. And naturally there are villains who want to steal the data from the rocket.  Disappointing.  7/10/21

1925: The Story of a Fatal Peace, Edgar Wallace, 1915

The Black Grippe by Edgar Wallace, 1920

Crime writer Edgar Wallace wrote some SF along the way, but it's mostly forgettable, as witness these two dull stories. The first assumes that the war with Germany would end, but that their discovery of a technological breakthrough would provoke them into a second war of aggression. The second involves a scientist who discovers that in a few weeks, the entire world will be rendered blind for five hours. What can be done to prepare for such a disaster? How can people be convinced? Both of these are chapbooks. 7/9/21

The Silent Voice by Christopher Hodder-Williams, Weidenfeld, 1977  

Astronauts returning from Mars find that the computers have taken over the world, broadcasting a signal that convinces every human being that they are in the midst of a worldwide nuclear conflict, so that they run around putting out nonexistent fires, avoid perfectly safe zones believed to be irradiated, and battle phantom enemies that don’t exist. The computers plan to start a real war, of course, but our heroes literally put on tinfoil hats and sabotage the computers. Reads like something from the 1930s. 7/7/21

The Chromosome Game by Christopher Hodder-Williams, Mithras, 1984

Following a nuclear war by centuries, earth is overgrown with mutant plants. The only humans live in a giant submarine where they are planning to introduce a new generation of people into the world. But the computers operating the submarine are corrupt and do not want to surrender their power over humanity. This leads to mutiny, escape, rebellion, and other nonsense.  The author lost his way somewhere early in his career and never found a path back. 7/7/21

The Revolt on Venus by Carey Rockwell, Grosset & Dunlap, 1954

A cabal of landowners on Venus has decided that that they want to take over the planet, declare its independence of the Solar Guard, and oppress the rest of the colonists. Tom Corbett and friends are vacationing there in order to hunt dinosaurs in the planet’s jungles and they get caught up in the conflict. It is never quite clear how the society on Venus operates or what its relation to the rest of the solar system is, so the motivations are not always clear. Lots of adventure though. 7/5/21

Treachery in Outer Space by Carey Rockwell, Grosset & Dunlap, 1954 

A space race is arranged to determine who should win a lucrative shipping contract. The colony on Titan may have to be evacuated because of problems with their force field. A disreputable space pilot has decided to sabotage the ships of his rivals, even if this results in fatal accidents. Some of the background premise for this one is a bit hard to accept, but there is a reasonably clever plot by the villains and the usual mix of adventure and humor from the three cadets. 7/5/21

Other Worlds of Clifford Simak by Clifford D. Simak, Avon, 1960 

Six shorts. “Green Thumb” is about a man who finds an intelligent, walking plant. “Dusty Zebra” describes one of the dangers of trading with beings from another dimension. “Idiot’s Crusade” concerns a village idiot who is given powerful psychic abilities by an alien. “Founding Father” is the portrait of a man who lived with an illusion so long that he can still see it after the holographic equipment is turned off. “Death Scene”  supposes that in the future everyone will be clairvoyant and know when they are going to die. 7/3/21

Skirmish by Clifford D. Simak, Berkley, 1977  

This is a cross collection that includes stories from the City cycle, as well as “Good Night, Mr. James,” which was an episode of The Outer Limits. The title story is a humorous tale of a revolt by machines. The Hugo Winning “The Big Front Yard” is also included, along with a couple of his late stories. Simak was consistently better at shorter length than in his novels and this is a nice though inadequate cross section of his work. A man communicates with an alien that has been buried for millennia in “The Thing in the Stone.”    7/23/21

All the Traps of Earth by Clifford D. Simak, MacFadden, 1963

Six stories including the previously collected “Good Night, Mr. James.”  “Drop Dead” is a planetary puzzle story about a species that literally transforms everything else into its own kind. “The Sitters” presents aliens who live by sucking the childhood out of people, in a relatively nice way. I never cared for thetitle story, in which a renegade robot has various adventures before finding a new home. “Condition of Employment” suggests a novel way of conditioning space travelers to endure the monotony of space. 7/3/21

Blood Red Sand by Damien Larkin, Dancing Lemur, 2021, $17.95,  ISBN 978-1-939844-78-1  

This is an alternate history space opera with military SF elements and lots of action. World War II has ended, but the Nazi threat is not over because there is a new power center on Mars. The Reich might rise again, on the red planet this time, and that will certainly pose a threat to Earth even though there is dissension among the German forces. Nevertheless, an expedition is launched to attack the Martian colony and end that movement forever – although current events in our real timeline suggest that we may never be completely free of it. There’s something in this story for almost everyone, an unabashed old fashioned tale of interplanetary adventure and extraordinary heroes and villains. 

Bright Moments and Others by Daniel Marcus, Wordfire, 2021, $15.99, ISBN 978-1-68057-191-2 

One of the problems with short story writers in recent years is that there are so few single author collections that a writer who publishes only a few stories over a long period of time is not as likely to make a stir. Before this collection arrived, I would only have been able to recall one or two of the author’s short stories. This collection, which spans from 1993 to the present, brings much of his work together and I was pleasantly surprised at how many of the stories I actually remembered, although I had not connected them to his name until now. There are more than two dozen of them here, drawn from such places as Asimov’s SF, the Magazine of F&SF, and several anthologies. The title story is quite good, and I also particularly enjoyed “Blue Period,” “Angel from Budapest,” and “Albion Upon the Rock.” The others range from mildly entertaining to noticeably good. There is quite a bit of more than competent fiction here, and if you don’t follow the magazines, most of the contents will be new to you. 7/1/21