to SF Reviews

of SF Reviews

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

LAST UPDATE 9/29/22

The Mind from Outer Space by Eando Binder, Curtis, 1972 

This one is a very silly novel which introduces artificial intelligence, indestructible matter, minds with no physical body, and other wonders all within the first ten pages. Then two people find an alien spaceship with the skeleton of its pilot inside. A disembodied intelligence steals their motorcycle – which is odd because if it has no body, what can it transport? The laughable alien villain is defeated after the authors introduce a bewildering array of scientific devices and doubletalk, including psi-machines and other devices, whose principles and limitations are never explained. Even for the Binder brothers, this was awful. 9/29/22

Secret of the Red Spot by Eando Binder, Curtis, 1971 5 

The hero is conducting a tour of Jupiter in a spaceship, his client a beautiful woman, when they are attacked by Martians and forced to land. They have some improbable adventures before discovering that the Martians have established a secret military base inside the planet’s famous red spot and are planning to attack the Earth. No one appears to notice the horrible gravity and unbreathable atmosphere. Full of such wonderful prose as “Proton blasts from the hand weapons of the vengeful Martians crashed lividly against the barricaded door.”  9/27/22

Survival by Arthur J. Burks, Armchair, 2022 (originally published in 1937) 

America has been devastated by the Chinese armies. Now a few hundred people who sheltered underground have emerged into an abandoned landscape, intent upon rebuilding their country. Actually they end up creating an entirely new society, with new customs and social norms. There is not enough plot for the length of the story, which also bears some racist stereotyping and which relies on some odd plot twists that do not feel remotely realistic. It’s also very depressing and ends on a down note. 9/27/22

Eric of the Strong Heart by Victor Rousseau, Steeger, 2019  (originally published in 1918.)

This is a pretty routine lost world novel with minimal fantastic content. I have enjoyed some of Rousseau's other work. This one was originally published in a railroad magazine for some reason. The protagonist has a brief encounter with emissaries from a lost world somewhere in Northern Europe. They are descended from Vikings and have been enslaved by another tribe, descended from the Danes. They locate the lost civilization and are instrumental in overthrowing the dictatorship. Blah. 9/26/22

Anton York, Immortal by Eando Binder, Belmont, 1968

This is a kind of fix-up, actually a series of four stories originally published in the late 1930s. The theme is immortality, as you can guess from the title. York is more or less immortal and has developed superscience that allows him to move entire moons from their orbits. He eventually uses his power to attempt to become the dictator of humanity. But we all know that immortality is impossible, and eventually he meets his Waterloo. Not remotely interesting and the plot is full of gaping holes. 9/23/22

The Moon Raiders by Sydney Bounds, Digit, 1955  w3281 

Giant intelligent bats in flying saucers establish a base on the moon and begin looting metals from the Earth. At first they act in secret – they are able to shapeshift into human form – but eventually their presence is discovered so they just declare that Earth has been conquered and demand tribute. The aliens are telepathic so they are defeated when human record the brain patterns of insane people and broadcast them, which causes the aliens to lose their own minds. Not a classic. Aka Sword of Damocles. 9/23/22

Dimension of Horror by Sydney Bounds, Panther, 1953 

Aliens from another dimension are fomenting a war between Earth and its Venusian colony. The aliens can telepathically disguise themselves and replace government officials. They broadcast a telepathic pulse that makes people hate outsiders. A very inept Earth agent and a slightly less inept Venusian spy join forces when dissidents from the other dimension spill the beans and help them to unmask the secret invaders. Crude and almost comically badly written at times. Aka The Vanishing Man. 9/19/22

The Starkenden Quest by Gilbert Collins, Raven’s Head, 2013 (originally published in 1925) 

A rather convoluted lost world novel in which three men follow a map to locate the source of strange gemstones believed to originate in Southeast Asia. Another party is on the same trail. They overcome various problems and eventually find a hidden races of dwarves who guard the jewels. They also find Starkenden’s brother, and resolve the conflicts between the two families. The lost civilization is almost an afterthought in this one, only mentioned in the final fifty pages and serving more as an exotic setting than as a serious element in the plot. Collins turned to crime novels after this, but was consistently unsuccessful. 9/18/22

Brother to Shadows by Andre Norton, Avonova, 1993 

This was the last SF novel that Norton wrote alone, although she did write more fantasy. It employs all of the usual devices – orphaned hero, Thieves’ Guild, Stellar Patrol, telepathic animals – and makes references to other books, including the Solar Queen series. The protagonist was thrown out of the assassins guild and becomes bodyguard to an alien scientist who has developed a device that allows him to look into the past. He hopes to learn about the forerunners, ancient aliens. Naturally the bad guys want to exploit anything that he discovers and they plant an agent in his group, whose allegiance becomes shaky when she gets to know her companions.  9/17/22

The Moon Conquerors by R.H. Romans, Armchair, 2022 (originally published in 1929)

Although this longish novel has not aged well, it was rather advanced for its day. It shows some sophistication in plotting, makes an effort to be scientifically accurate, but most surprising of all, the protagonist is a female scientist. I suspect the author might also have been a woman but was unable to confirm this. The character in question is obsessed with the moon even from childhood, and later gains access to a new supertelescope, by which means she is able to ascertain that the Moon has intelligent inhabitants. An expedition establishes contact, but the relations between the two species are rocky and war seems inevitable. The first half is by far the better part of the novel. 9/17/22

The Artificial Man and Other Stories by Clare Winger Harris, Belt, 2019 

Harris was the first woman to publish stories in the SF pulps without resorting to a male pseudonym. The stories were all published between 1926 and 1933, and for the most part the prose is awkward and the science dreadful. Earth leaves the solar system and finds a new star. Martians steal much of Earth’s water to invigorate their own world. Humans battle insects for control of the world, there are living planets and mental trips through time, artificial stimulation of evolution creates mutants. There is a drug that retards ageing, a man whose body is gradually replaced with manufactured parts, a planet of gaseous beings that are invisible to humans, uplifted apes acting as laborers and then revolting, and a machine that reads senses. 9/14/22

Get Off My World by Eando Binder, Curtis, 1971 

The Binder brothers certainly had a talent for creating uniquely absurd plots. This time we have the Martians invading Earth, determined to exterminate the human race and take over. It doesn’t seem possible to defeat them until a scientist sends a radio message from the center of the Earth. A hidden race of albinos has developed superscientific weapons that can repel the invaders. The problem is that someone has to go approach them, convince them to help, and bring the weapons back to the surface. Which all, naturally, happens with surprising ease. 9/14/22

The Last Lemurian by G. Firth Scott, McAllister, 2015. (Originally published in 1898) 

This is an unusual lost world novel in which Lemuria is actually located in caverns beneath the deserts of Australia. There is a good deal of reincarnation plus an immortal queen, and this moves from SF to fantasy pretty quickly. She rules a kingdom of pygmies and a legendary Australian monster, the bunyip, makes an appearance. Scott was from Scotland but his best known work is set in Australia, including this book and a non-fantastic adventure story, The Rider of Waroona. Well enough written, but we’ve seen almost every element in several other books. 9/12/22

The Double Man by Eando Binder, Curtis, 1971

The hero of this unmemorable novel was restored to life after being lost and frozen in space. During his absence, scientists used a recording of his body to create his exact duplicate, who is now carrying on with his life, unaware that there are now two of him. It turns out some nasy aliens have secretly infiltrated the solar system and are interfering with human civilization. But the good guys, led by the original version of the hero, strike back and destroy the invaders, thus establishing a new life for himself.  9/12/22

Desperation in Death by J.D. Robb, St Martins, 2022

The 55th Eve Dallas novel has almost no SF content at all, just a couple of mentions of robot servants and travel off planet. Two young girls escape from a large child trafficking operation. One is killed but the other finds refuge with a shady character. Dallas has a pretty good idea what really happened, and before long she and the usual cast of characters are tracking down leads and closing in on the bad guys, who obviously get caught eventually although their comeuppance is shorter than usual. No surprises in this reliably enjoyable series. 9/9/22

Five Steps to Tomorrow by Eando Binder, Curtis, 1968 (originally published in 1940)

A group of nefarious businessmen have established nearly complete control of all transportation on a future Earth. One man decides to challenge their power by providing an alternative. The bad guys use mind control to manipulate the masse and frame our hero, who is sentenced to life in prison. He finds allies there, including a brilliant scientist. They eventually escape and launch an effort to overthrow what is now effectively a brutal dictatorship, and naturally they are successful. Rather prone to inserting unjustified twists in order for the heroes to succeed. The prose is jerky and sometimes amusingly awkward. 9/9/22

The Quest in Time by Edmond Hamilton, Armchair, 2022 (originally published in 1942) 

There is nothing special in this novella although it is readable enough. A scientist wants funding for his research so he uses a time machine to send an agent back through time to the Aztec empire to discover the location of a lost treasure. Things do not go exactly as he had planned because the agent is less reliable than expected, and the Aztecs aren’t particularly cooperative either. The treasure is eventually found, thanks to our hero's efforts, but only after some fairly standard adventures. 9/7/22

When the Whites Went by Robert Bateman, Digit, 1963  

A new virus wipes out the entire Caucasian population of England – not to mention elsewhere – leaving a small number of people of African descent to carry on. There is considerable variation among the survivors – the industrious, the hedonistic, the power seekers, and the religious fanatics. Although there is some conflict, most of it is not physical. Eventually we learn that a small number of Caucasian survivors, who will presumably become a minority as the population increases. The author avoids obvious racial stereotyping but unfortunately I found the story itself rather dull. 9/5/22

Voorloper by Andre Norton, Ace, 1980

Settlers on a new colony world begin to die as the mysterious Shadow attacks isolated individuals. Most are killed and the survivors are no longer sane, and cannot explain what it was that attacked them. Hint: It was carnivorous plantlife from an overgrown area known as the Tangle. Two young people solve the mystery, discover an underground chamber filled with ancient alien technology, and live to tell about it. Readable enough to be above Norton’s average in her later career. 9/5/22

Puzzle of the Space Pyramids by Eando Binder, Curtis, 1971  

This originally appeared as a series of short stories during the 1930s. Humans visit Mars, Venus, Mercury, etc. and in each case they find life on the planets – giant ants on Mars, intelligent jungle dwellers on Venus, etc. They also find mysterious pyramids similar to those in Egypt and conclude that there was a previous space traveling civilization. Although the science is dreadful and the prose less than scintillating, this was at least readable, which has not always been the case with Binder – actually brothers Earl and Otto. There is a mild sense of wonder but they were not good enough writers to develop it. 9/3/22

The Abyss by David H. Keller, Armchair, 2022 (originally published in 1948) 

A scientist decides to involuntarily experiment on the entire population of New York City by distributing a new chewing gum that contains a special concoction. This causes everyone to revert intellectually and emotionally to supposed versions of humanity extent two thousand years earlier. Violence and chaos ensue before a new society begins to take shape. Ridiculous science and poor characterization further undercut a terminally silly plot. Keller was much better at short stories than he was at greater length. 9/2/22

Yurth Burden by Andre Norton, DAW, 1978

A relatively short and very minor Norton adventure set on a world where the Yurth, a star traveling race, crashed their ship into the only city of the equally humanoid Raski indigenes. The two races have been skirmishing ever since.  A Yurth woman sets out to perform a rite of passage journey and is repeatedly attacked by a Raski male, until they both discover that there is a greater danger ahead that menaces both of their peoples. They join forces. The setup is illogical and a great deal of the plot background is never explained. 9/2/22

Adam Link, Robot by Eando Binder, Paperback Library, 1965 

The Adam Link series was the Binder brothers only real claim to fame, and Asimov’s robot stories eclipsed them so completely that even that distinction has pretty much been lost. This is a fix-up novel incorporating the stories they wrote about him back in the early 1940s. Adam is a sociable, intelligent robot in a society that views thinking machines with distrust. The quality rises and falls during the course of the book, but this was probably their most ambitious project, and also the only part of their work likely to survive. 8/31/22

Purple Six by Henry Brinton, Avon, 1962 

One of a wave of brinksmanship type novels that appeared during the 1960s. The protagonist is a scientist working for the British military who is intimately involved when a false alarm nearly precipitates a nuclear war. Much of the book consists of discussions of the various dangers involved and the question of whether or not one should strike pre-emptively when the odds are in your favor. It ends with a real nuclear war breaking out and is only marginally SF. Brinton was an accomplished novelist and this is well written but probably twice as long as it needed to be. 8/31/22

Battlewrack by F. Britten Austin, Alpha, 2021 (originally published in 1917) 

This is a collection of future war stories and vaguely utopian socialist societies, only some of which are really SF. I had read a collection of the author’s mainstream stories recently and enjoyed them, but these are boring, didactic, implausible, and sometimes really really badly written. Not one of them is worth recommending and it is not surprising that they have never been anthologized. 8/29/22

Keeping Time by David Bear, Popular Library, 1979  

I don’t think this author ever published another book, which is a shame because the absurd premise is amusing and the writing is not bad at all. People can wear devices that capture odd minutes of wasted time, which can be stored in a time bank and used later. The protagonist is a private investigator hired to solve a time bank robbery. The investigation is intermixed with revelations about why people would want to store time and restore it later. The background was partly precognitive. We haven’t had the natural and technical disasters described in the novel, but we are certainly experiencing the Apathera, the Apathy Era. 8/29/22

Iron Cage by Andre Norton, Ace, 1974

Human children with psi powers are abducted by aliens, but escape during a stopover on a primitive world. They are adopted by a local intelligent species that has virtually no technology and which looks vaguely like teddy bears. Then a human ship arrives and treats the aliens like experimental animals until the children convince them to act otherwise. Simplistic, didactic, and boring. I had the distinct feeling that Norton had gotten tired of writing by this point in her career. 8/25/22

No Night Without Stars by Andre Norton, Del Rey, 1975 

This is almost a rewrite of Star Man’s Son. The hero lives in a post apocalyptic world where he is denied his father’s position because he is considered too young. So he sets out alone to find the secrets of lost technology so that he can prove his worth. He teams up with a young woman who has psi powers and they have a series of low key adventures before reaching their goal, where a major challenge awaits them. This is one of the best of the later Norton SF novels, and one of the few that avoided adding fantasy elements. 8/25/22

The Icarus Plot by Timothy Zahn, Baen, 2022

The story of the Icarus is continued after a gap of twenty years - although only six years in the storyline. The new protagonist is hired to help track down the missing ship, whose alien technology is an unknown quantity but an obvious lure. The plot is actually not all that different from the original. There is a menacing crimelord, various mysteries, aliens with unusual abilities, a mystery to be solved, and obstacles to be overcome. It is another entertaining space opera, but I felt it lacked the enthusiasm and inventiveness of the first book. The new cast of characters were less interesting and the repetitions disappointing. Still worth your time, but the first book is much better. 8/23/22

The Icarus Hunt by Timothy Zahn, Bantam, 1999 

This was my favorite novel by Zahn, so when I picked up the sequel, I had to reread it. Twenty plus years was too long for me to remember it in more than a vague way.  An impoverished space pilot is hired to lead a mismatched crew and take an unorthodox ship to Earth, but it is clear from the outset that the ship is carrying something unearthed in an archaeological dig, and there are various forces determined to seize the ship. There is also a saboteur among the crew. My second visit was very pleasant – it was a good space opera when it first appeared and it is still a good space opera today. Next up is the sequel. 8/22/22

Brainstorm by Rog Phillips, Armchair, 2022 (originally published in 1948) 

This is an ambiguous novella in which a man has a nervous breakdown and is given an experimental lobotomy. A year later he has been released and is attending a house party where a murder is committed. It appears to be an impossible crime and we are led to believe that he developed a new psychic power. But then a mundane explanation is provided and the real killer is arrested. A short final passage suggests that he may have some ESP abilities after all, but it is very unclear. I’m not sure this even qualifies as SF. 8/21/22

The Venom Seekers by Bryan Berry, Panther, 1953 

This is a routine but not badly written space opera. Humans have reached the stars and avoid an aggressive alien race called the Nyeel. The protagonist meets a woman who wants him to illegally pilot a ship to their home system. She wants to find her brother, who went there looking for weaknesses. The Nyeel do not have interstellar drives so it is rather a puzzle why humans would be so wary of them. The Nyeel apparently wear some kind of nearly invulnerable protoplasmic clothing. Snake venom injures but does not kill the living armor. There is also someone trying to track down the woman. Eventually they rescue the brother who has found an alien venom that destroys the armor.  8/20/22

The Golden Murder Syndicate by G.T. Fleming-Roberts, Steeger, 2020 (original publication 1950) 

Third and final installment in the Captain Zero series. Our hero is a crimefighter who is invisible from midnight to dawn every night, whether he wants to be or not. A group of men are targeted for murder by a mysterious cabal that claims each victim at midnight. Captain Zero has to find out who is responsible and save the survivors. He does the former but is pretty lax about the latter. The three novels in this series were so much alike that I can’t imagine it having lasted even at the height of the pulp era, let alone during the final years of that phenomenon.  8/20/22

Forerunner by Andre Norton, Tor, 1981

Forerunner: The Second Venture by Andre Norton, Tor, 1985

Norton finally addresses the forerunners directly in this duology. Simsa become a fugitive on a primitive world after her mentor dies. She is physically different from the other humanoids on the planet, and many of them would like to take her as a slave. She eventually teams up with an offworld human who is searching for his missing brother. After mild adventures, they find an ancient alien city. Simsa discovers that she is a survivor of the forerunners and can master their technology and use their paranormal powers. The second book takes her to another desolate planet where she learns more of her nature from the local aliens, while repeatedly avoiding becoming a slave. Her old friend finally comes to the rescue. These forerunners bear faint resemblance to those Norton had mentioned in earlier books. They are essentially demigods with supernatural powers. Except for a few brief sections, I found these two books rather boring. 8/16/22

Echo X by Ben Barzman, Paperback Library, 1960 

Aka Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. These is a very well written novel and the first hundred pages are very entertaining. When the fantastic element is introduced, it goes off the rails. Two scientists are investigating some vaguely described phenomena concerning the creation of the Earth. From this they conclude that Earth has an exact double, down to the language and national borders. And then they communicate with it by radio and later transfer people via a “beam.” Too bad the author wasn’t more plausible but he clearly had no scientific background and never wrote in the genre again. 8/14/22

Space Relations by Donald Barr, Crest, 1973  

Although the writing in this oddball space opera is not awful, it is horribly dated. The protagonist is a diplomat trying to negotiate a treaty with a planet where he was earlier held as a slave for a couple of years. He gets romantically involved with one of his opposite numbers, has some not particularly exciting adventures, and completes his mission in forging an alliance against the evil alien Plinth, who have a habit of eating their captives. I recall not disliking his fifty years ago but cannot imagine why. I must have been in a very good mood. 8/14/22

Invaders from the Void by Russell Branch, Armchair, 2022  (originally published in 1950) 

An expedition to Callisto brings back mineral samples that contain a fungus which gets loose on Earth and rapidly spreads across the planet. Much of the population dies when the air becomes virtually unbreathable and civilization collapses. The colony worlds blockade Earth to prevent the fungus from spreading. The man blamed for bringing the fungus back insists that it could not be an accident, that it is actually a bioweapon directed by the inhabitants of Jupiter, who are essentially human. Our hero kills their leader and saves the world. 8/13/22

Here Abide Monsters by Andre Norton, DAW, 1973

Yet another blend of fantasy and SF, although it is mostly rationalized this time. Two people from our world are drawn through a gateway to another planet where force fields protect cities from the various parties outside. They find more humans from Earth, drawn from various times and places, and spend most of the book trying to avoid a variety of enemies and learning the rules that govern their new environment. They ultimately disable a flying saucer and overwhelm the aliens who are operating it and who are responsible for the hodge podge of beings that inhabit the planet or were placed there. 8/13/22

Forerunner Foray by Andre Norton, Ace, 1973

Unfortunately it appears that Norton had been taken in by fraudulent psychics and now believed in psychometry because she provides an introduction suggesting it is a legitimate scientific tool. Her protagonist is Ziantha, a thief who has psychic powers. She encounters an artifact which is sentient. It compels her to travel to another planet, mentally travel back through time – twice, inhabit other people’s bodies, and solve physical problems that prevent the artifact from being united with another of its own kind. The ending is quite exciting but the novel as a whole feels like a string of unrelated stories. 8/10/22

The Raid on the Termites by Paul Ernst, Armchair, 2022 (originally published in 1932) 

A man obsessed with the study of termites is given a chance to visit them more intimately when a friend invents a shrinking machine. The two of them have various adventures inside a termite nest before reaching the leader, and it turns out that termites are an intelligent specie with a distinct civilization. This was rather more entertaining than it might seem by the description. Ernst was one of those writers who always seemed to be on the verge of writing something memorable, but who never made it across the line. 8/8/22

Menace of the Saucers by Eando Binder, Leisure, 1969

Night of the Saucers by Eando Binder, Leisure, 1971 

The first of these is a superlatively awful book. The protagonist sees two flying saucers battling and takes pictures. Men in Black appear and try to seize the photos. He eventually discovers that they represent an evil alliance of races led by the Morlians, who want to enslave Earth. They are opposed by an alliance of benevolent aliens, the Galactic Vigilantes. Our hero is recruited by the latter and helps thwart the latest nasty masterplan. The prose is even worse than the absurd plot. In the sequel, our hero is engaged in discrediting UFO stories to conceal the truth when another alien race arrives, also determined to exploit humanity, and must be foiled without a public outcry. Marginally better. 8/6/22

Double Identity by Raymond Gallun, Armchair, 2022 (originally published in 1953) 

A so-so novella in which the inhabitants of the Moon – about whom Earth knows nothing – have decided that their civilization is dying, A prominent scientist develops a way to transfer their consciousness into human bodies so that they can visit and perhaps conquer the Earth. This ends surprisingly amicably with the two races reconciling and deciding to live together, with Earth helping the Lunarians compensate for the shortages in their environment. 8/5/22

The Impossible World by Eando Binder, Curtis, 1967 (Originally published in 1938)

An expedition lands on Iapetus, which has a breathable atmosphere! They explore a cave and all who enter fall into a coma. Bio-engineered humans live on ten planets and moons, including Jupiter. A reclusive scientist refuses to help. A second expedition is sent to investigate further and it is attacked en route by a mysterious spaceship. Eventually they discover that an alien race inside Iapetus is attempting to turn the entire moon into a kind of giant piratical spaceship with which they can plunder the wealth of the solar system. The good guys prevent them from doing so in typical pulp fashion.  8/3/22

The Moon of Doom by Earl L. Bell, Armchair, 2022 (originally published in 1928)

The rotation of the Earth speeds up and nobody notices anything except that the days are shorter! The moon is getting closer to Earth. Typical disaster story passages follow, not very well done. Finally a select few people are able to escape to the moon as the surface of the Earth becomes uninhabitable. The process of selecting the survivors is pretty elitist. The story ends rather than concludes with them deciding that the Earth will not actually strike the Earth so their future is assured, if rather different. Not remotely interesting.  8/3/22

Ice Crown by Andre Norton, Viking, 1970 

A small group of people are sent to clandestinely investigate rumors of alien artifacts on a planet closed to the rest of human civilization because it was founded as an experiment and has built a kind of feudal society. Although this is set on another planet, it is really a fantasy quest story. The protagonist and a local princess have to track down a missing crown that provides legitimacy to the ruling family of a major nation. There is superscience – both alien and human – which are virtually magic. The usual court politics are also involved. Some of the technology is frankly magic. 8/3/22

The Mummy! by Jane Webb, Poisoned Pen, 2022 (originally published in 1827)

The first English language story to feature a reanimated mummy was SF, not horror, and appeared only shortly after Frankenstein. It takes place in 2126. England is not all that different, actually, and is still illogically sexist. The protagonist goes to Egypt and participates when a battery is used to restore a mummy to life. The mummy refuses to be property, however, wins his freedom, and travels to England where he upsets a good many matters while sharing his insightful comments about human nature and modern society. The prose is not as dated as I expected, and some of the barbs are aimed at targets that are no longer of particular interest, but the novel is much better than I had expected. 8/1/22

Outside by Andre Norton, Camelot, 1974

The Day of the Ness by Andre Norton and Michael Gilbert, Walker, 1975 

Two novels for younger readers, both novellas actually. In the first, two young children live in a domed city in a distant future after pollution has destroyed much of the world. They discover the truth about the world outside the dome. The second is interesting chiefly for its illustrations – I actually own some of the original artwork by Gilbert.  A young boy helps mysterious aliens overcome their nasty enemy. The first is expanded from a rare short story, but neither of these has much to offer older readers. The Michael Gilbert artwork in the latter is its chief appeal - I actually own some of the originals. 7/29/22

Skies of Venus by Neal Romanek, ERB, 2022 

This is a pastiche of the Carson Napier novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs, but without Carson Napier. A falsely condemned man is magically transported to Venus where he has various adventures among the human inhabitants of that planet. All of the trappings are here and the story is mostly entertaining. I had recently reread the original series, which was better than I remembered, but while ERB was able to make me believe outrageous nonsense, this sometimes seemed to try too hard. I really didn’t care about the details of the various cultures that were patently ridiculous to start with. 7/28/22

Three Miles Down by Harry Turtledove, Tor, 2022, $26.99, ISBN 978-1-250-82972-8

A graduate student is recruited by the CIA to provide cover for a special mission on Howard Hughes' supership during the 1970s. Originally it had been planned to recover a sunken Russian submarine using a robotic arm, but there is a bigger prize - an alien spaceship apparently still at least partly functional. The story is logically presented without unnecessary melodrama. The protagonist gradually realizes that he is in more danger from his own government than from the crew of the spaceship. This is a plausible and entertaining alternate history novel that suggests how such a discovery might play out in the real world, although the consequences are left to the reader's imagination. One of Turtledove's best despite its relatively low key delivery. 7/27/22

Threshold of the Stars by Paul Berna, Black Knight, 1950 

This is a young adult novel originally published in French. Two young boys are living in the restricted community where plans are being made for the first trip to the Moon. Alas and inevitably, foreign spies wish to prevent the French from succeeding, and the two boys turn out to be instrumental in thwarting the sabotage. Surprisingly, the boys are not somehow included in the expedition – which is usually the case in this sort of book – but instead watch from Earth as it takes place. Minor. 7/26/22

Breed to Come by Andre Norton, Ace, 1972 

Humans abandoned Earth after an incurable plague threatened to kill them all. In their absence, cats have evolved into intelligent beings. So have dogs and rats. This all would have taken millennia, but somehow human equipment left behind is still functioning, tape recordings are still good enough to play, and a primitive culture of cats somehow knows how to both use them and to interpret human language. This reads more like cat fandom fan fiction than a serious novel. The humans are apparently coming back and the cats do not want to be enslaved. Ho hum. 7/26/22

Chrysalis by Lincoln Child, Doubleday, 2022

A kind of private investigator is hired by a secretive high tech company. They are on the brink of introducing a revolutionary new kind of virtual reality to the world, but someone has begun murdering their board members by remote control. Is this connected to the new product or is that just a red herring? There's really not much mystery involved. None of the villains are even introduced as characters until it is time to unveil their identity. Although there were times when I had trouble accepting some of the premises of the story, it is nonetheless an exciting technothriller. The protagonist doesn't have much personality, though, so it was a kind of sterile adventure. There are also suggestions that he has dealt with genuine supernatural phenomena in the past, which I felt was a jarring anomaly. 7/25/22

Echoes of Time by Andre Norton & Sherwood Smith, Tor, 1999

The alien Baldies have destroyed a Russian time base on a distant planet. Two American agents team up with the Russians and use a recovered starship to travel to that world in the present and then time travel back in search of survivors. It is important that the Baldies not realize that Earth humans have left their worlds because this might cause them to meddle in our own historical development. And naturally the Russians have a secret agenda of their own that makes the mission even more difficult. 7/20/22

Atlantis Endgame by Andre Norton & Sherwood Smith, Tor, 2002 

The final time trader novel returns to Earth. An excavation has revealed that the Baldies visited ancient Atlantis – just an island in this case – before it was destroyed. A team is sent back and, sure enough, the aliens are installing equipment designed to cause earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Thwarting their plans is the instinctive solution, but if Atlantis is saved, that could imperil the existing present. So instead the team must find a way to allow the island to be destroyed without letting that serve the purpose of the intrusive aliens. The logic is a bit convoluted but it was entertaining reading. 7/20/22

Firehand by Andre Norton & P.M. Griffin, Tor, 1994 

The first of three collaborative novels extending the Time Traders series. This one is a changewar novel. The alien Baldies have interfered in the history of another planet’s human population, preventing them from developing weapons that kept the Baldies at bay generations later. Ross Murdoch is part of a team that goes back through time in order to ensure that the aliens do not alter the results of a relatively small war in order to achieve their goals. This involves training one side to use guerilla tactics and other aspects of war that were previously unknown in this culture. A bit slow but not bad. 7/18/22

Phaedra: Alastor 824 by Tais Teng, Spatterlight, 2019

A novel set in the Whelm universe created by Jack Vance, by a Dutch author, although this appears to have been written in English rather than translated. A young man and his mother return to her mysterious home world following the death of his father. He quickly learns to fit in with his peers and eventually is drawn to investigate one of the planet's wonders. The planet was altered dramatically by a long vanished race with advanced technology, and one of the things they left behind are a kind of quasi-living ship, the Galleons, who occupy the rivers and with which the human population is careful not to interact. The author captures Vance's unique tone and language very well and this feels like a lost Vance manuscript. 7/17/22

Rats of the Harbor by Ray Cummings, Steeger, 2021 (originally published in 1932) 

Three related stories about two detectives in a future New York. In the first, they track down a master criminal planning to exploit the automated mail system. Badly written, alas. We are told that no one knows what the Chameleon looks like, but then the police discuss his description, which is very detailed. The second involves the disappearance of a prominent city official who may have been kidnapped. The third and best pits out duo against a gang of pirates who use a submarine to attack defenseless ships.  7/15/22

Android at Arms by Andre Norton, Ace, 1971 

One of the least interesting of Norton’s later SF novels, loosely related to Ice Crown. The protagonist finds himself on an unknown world and assumes that his throne has been stolen when someone used an android to replace him. Or is he the android? The evidence appears to favor the second proposition. He and some other prisoners escape, but some of their number betray the others and confusion reigns supreme. The interesting question raised by the situation is never really the focus of the story, which might have been a lot better if it had been explored. 7/15/22

Derelict for Trade by Andre Norton & Sherwood Smith, Tor, 1997

The Solar Queen is almost out of fuel when it nearly crashes into a derelict ship. They manage to avoid a crash and plan to salvage the ship, but a nearby space habitat operated by an alliance of aliens begins putting obstacles in their path. It is obvious that something illegal is going on behind the scenes. The aliens are actually very sophisticated pirates who seize ships for salvage after offloading their crews. Our heroes outsmart them, of course, and rid the galaxy of a scourge. 7/13/22

Wrong Side of the Moon by Francis & Stephen Ashton, Boardman, 1952 

This is another early “realistic” account of a flight to the moon, in this case actually just to fly around it. The ship does not even take off until well past the halfway mark in the novel. There is public opposition, practical problems, disagreements among the staff, and naturally a saboteur who almost causes the entire mission to fail. This seems almost consciously to be an updating of the Jules Verne duology about the first such trip. The problem with books of this type is that they all have pretty much the same plot. 7/11/22

Redline the Stars by Andre Norton & P.M. Griffin, Tor, 1993

The Solar Queen takes on a new, temporary crew member who has a penchant for landing in trouble. They arrive on an industrial planet in search of fresh cargo, and have to battle a plague of oversized rats that infest the spaceport. They subsequently discover that the chemical industry in the city has been careless and has created a situation that could destroy the city, the spaceport, and our heroes as well. Fortunately they find a way to avert the disaster and end up being heroes. 7/8/22

A Mind for Trade by Andre Norton & Sherwood Smith, Tor, 1997 

The crew of the Solar Queen begins to develop psi powers, which comes in handy when they try to exploit a supposedly uninhabited planet rich in ores. There are pirates in their ships and their allies on the ground. The miners, however, are plagued by dangerous life forms indigenous to the planet. The humans are able to contact the creatures telepathically and discover that they are intelligent, so they forge an alliance against the various villains. This results in the liberation of the planet and a profit for our heroes. 7/8/22

Magellan by Colin Anderson, Berkley, 1970 

 Hated this when it first appeared. Decided to give it a second chance. Decided I was too nice the first time. This is an extraordinary piece of incomprehensible drivel about a future dystopia that is facing the end of its existence. But doesn’t know it. The narrative is quite literally impossible to follow. John Russell Fearn was a better writer. A strong candidate for worst novel Berkley ever published. One has to wonder whether the editor involved even read the manuscript. 7/7/22

’48 by James Herbert, Harper, 1996 

Herbert tried alternate world SF with this story in which World War II led to the release of a deadly plague that brought an end to civilization. A small group of survivors in London has to learn to cooperate in order to protect themselves from a gang of fascists led by a maniac. I didn’t like any of the characters and found the series of battles, captures, and escapes more tedious than tense. It is also too tightly focused. We get hardly a glimpse of the world outside the viewpoints of the major characters. The early sequence where they escape through the subways is probably the best part of the novel.  7/6/22

Dread Companion by Andre Norton, DAW, 1970 

Another mashup of fantasy and SF. A kind of governess is puzzled when the two children she is teaching tell her that they have an invisible companion. The companion is a woman from another reality who can transfer them from one to another, where simply eating a piece of fruit can dramatically alter one’s physical form. They have a lot of not very interesting adventures before they finally return to their own universe. Norton’s abdication of actual SF for magical explanations that make her plots easier to manage was a major disappointment and by this point I had stopped looking forward to her new novels. 7/5/22

The Day of the Brown Horde by Richard Tooker, Jacobsen, 1931 

This is a fairly well written but not very interesting story set in an impossible past in which humans and dinosaurs co-existed. A small tribe of primitives are displaced by a larger group that is migrating and they have to find a new homeland, dodging plesiosaurs and pterodactyls along the way. Tooker either didn’t know or didn’t care that there was a gap of millions of years. If you can set that aside, it’s a fair adventure story, but even then the characters are neither particularly admirable or very well drawn. I’m not surprised this is so little known. 7/3/22

Uncharted Stars by Andre Norton, Ace, 1969 

Sequel to The Zero Stone. The search for the source of the nearly magical power stones continues. Our hero and his alien sidekick travel to several planets, deal with aliens, refuse to cooperate with the authorities, are captured by and escape from space pirates, visit a legendary lost space station, turn up alien technology from an extinct race, and generally have entertaining but not unusual adventures. This was another space opera that flirted with fantasy – including the idea that stones and other inanimate objects could be imprinted with mental images accessible to telepaths. 7/2/22

MORE REVIEWS