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 12/31/16

Out of the Void by Leslie F. Stone, Armchair, 2016 (originally published in 1929)

This is one of the few ďclassicĒ SF novels that I had never managed to read until now. The protagonist discovers that aliens are secretly among us, although they are pretty much human. His curiosity leads to trouble as the secret mission is in danger of being revealed, and the fact that one of the aliens has fallen in love with a human woman does not help matters. Stone works out the consequences of these interpersonal problems with fair success, but the story doesnít really do anything else, and the resolution is that our hero cannot even prove that the aliens were ever here. 12/31/16

The Memory Bank by Wallace West, Airmont, 1961   

This forgettable space opera is dull even by this authorís relatively low standards. Earth has abandoned Earth for reasons never quite explained and has split into two civilizations, one nearly immortal, the other quasi-barbarian despite having space travel and other high technology. The hero is from the former and he assumes command of the military after an attempt to forge an alliance with an alien race fails. Battles and maneuvering ensue but none of them are particularly interesting. Predictably the two human cultures unite to defeat the evil aliens, and the immortals discover that they have abandoned initiative and drive in exchange for immortality. 12/30/16

Outposts in Space by Wallace West, Avalon, 1962  

This is a fix up novel consisting of four loosely related short stories. They involve the moon declaring independence from Earth, a near war between Earth and Venus, an adventure story in a libertarian anarchy, and a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the first moon flight. The stories are minor and the combination assumes the complete colonization of the solar system in less than thirty years Ė really absurd Ė as well as a lot of scientific errors. Very minor. 12/30/16

Me and Marvin Gardens by Amy Sarig King, Scholastic, 2017, $16.99, ISBN 978-0-545-87074-0 

The protagonist of this young adult novel is something of an outsider. His familyís farm is being cut up by developers and he has few friends. He spends a lot of time out in the woods and one day he tracks down a creature that looks a little like a very large dog, but which eats plastic. Our young hero realizes that the animal is unique, and is worried that it will be driven away or die because of the encroachments of civilization. So he decides to do something about it. Not a particularly plausible story but it does have some nice warm hearted moments. 12/29/16

The Final Day by William R. Fortchen, Forge, 2016, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-7873-2  

The latest in Forstchenís series set after the detonation of nuclear weapons caused a pulse that effectively destroys most technology. One small town has managed to survive despite a variety of problems but a resurgent national government has only retained control of part of the country and has turned authoritarian and repressive. When they object, they are threatened with intervention by a superior military force. Can they negotiate their way out of the crisis, or will they face an even greater problem in the near future? Forstchen continues to explore the consequences of his initial premise, although at this point it is more of a standard post collapse scenario. 12/28/16

Exo by Fonda Lee, Scholastic, 2017, $17.99, ISBN 978-0545933438

Lifers by M.A. Griffin, Chicken House, 2017, $17.99, ISBN 978-1338065534  

I have a stack of YA novels Iíve been putting off reading, so itís time to dig in. Science fiction seems to be making a comeback in that market, which is a nice change from fantasy. In the first of these two, aliens have devastated and conquered Earth. Predictably some humans accept the new order and the advantages of contact with an interstellar civilization while others want to overthrow the invaders. The protagonist is a genetically modified human teen who favors acceptance, but the situation changes when he falls into the hands of the resistance. Itís a pretty good story that avoids simple good and evil stereotypes. The second is somewhat more suspenseful and involves the mysterious disappearances of a number of teenagers all across England. It turns out they are being held in an alternate dimension which is being used as an experimental prison. Iím afraid I find the premise ultimately unconvincing, however, and despite the entertaining prose, I was impatient for it to end. 12/27/16

The Obsidian Chamber by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, Grand Central, 2016, $28, ISBN 978-1-4555-3691-7

Pendergast is back, although at the opening everyone except the reader believes he is dead. They also think his brother Diogenes had died, but he's back, which is a bit of a surprise since he was thrown into a live volcano in a previous book. Diogenes is trying to reform and has discovered that he has fallen in love with his brother's ward, Constance, who happens to be the one who threw him into the volcano. So he creates an elaborate scheme to distract her protectors and plead his case. The story is, nevertheless, quite unfocused, as though bits and pieces of novel ideas were assembled into a book. It's SF only because Diogenes has a drug that makes one essentially immortal. I found the book entertaining but also disappointingly minor. 12/25/16

Lords of Atlantis by Wallace West, Airmont, 1960 

This is actually a prequel to The Bird of Time, set during the Martian occupation of the Earth from their main colony at Atlantis. The humans are rebelling, there is a civil war underway, a comet caused a devastating earthquake, and personal rivalries are breaking the colony apart. This half heartedly ďexplainsĒ a lot of Greek mythology, but not very convincingly. Since we all known that Atlantis is going to be destroyed in the end, there is not a lot of suspense in the plot, but the story is actually quite short and the plot moves along crisply. 12/24/16

Babylonís Ashes by James S. A. Corey, Orbit, 2016, $27, ISBN 978-0-316-33474-7

As much as I have enjoyed the Expanse series, it may be time for it to come to an end. The latest in the series feels more like a place marker and the pace is very slow until the last hundred pages or so. The Belters have split into two groups, one trying to be neutral, the other turned pirate with captured Martian ships, and mass killers after they redirected asteroids to crash into the Earth, killing millions of people. There is a large cast of characters and sometimes it the constantly shifting viewpoints are annoying. Which is not to say that itís not entertaining, because I read it through in two days, but it does not measure up to the earlier books. 12/21/16

The Bird of Time by Wallace West, Ace, 1959 

I vaguely recalled liking this when I read it 57 years ago. Second time through did not fare as well. Itís cobbled together from four short stories. Earth reaches Mars and finds a dying but still powerful civilization that once ruled the Earth. Most Martians have emigrated to the stars by teleportation machine, which the humans covet. There is a war between the two planets, but most of the story is an unfocused satire on censorship, politicians, the military, and colonialism. There are a few good scenes but not enough. 12/20/16

The Face of the Unknown by Christopher L. Bennett, Pocket, 2017, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-5011-3242-1

A Star Trek novel, original series. This was one of the best of the recent Trek novels I've read, though it continues to follow the prescribed formula. A new alien species has been raiding Federation planets and Kirk has gone to investigate. He discovers a hidden civilization that also fears the aggressive newcomers, and he is blamed for giving away their location and threatening their peaceful existence. Eventually there is a solution, which in part involves a novel use of the transporter system. Bennett is better than most at evoking the original flavor of the television series, of which this is an excellent example. 12/19/16

Otis Adelbert Kline: A Collection, Pulpville, 2010   

This is a good sized collection of short work by Kline, who is best known for his work similar to that of Edgar Rice Burroughs. There is nonfiction mixed with the fiction, that ranges from mundane adventure to stories of an occult detective to various types of science fiction. Kline was actually somewhat better with his non fantastic stuff. The SF includes invasions from subterranean civilizations, various sorts of robots, and monsters conjured up by mad scientists and witch doctors. There are a few essays as well. He was actually slightly better at short length than with his novels. 12/18/16

Satans of Saturn by Otis Adelbert Kline & E. Hoffman Price, Surinam Turtle Press, 2012  

This is the first book form publication of the collaborative novel Satans on Saturn, with two stories by Price and one by Kline. The novel involves demonic looking Saturnians raiding the Earth because they eat humans and their supplies on the various moons are running low. Two Americans get caught and have various adventures on Saturn and in space. One steals a spaceship and escapes back to Earth. The Saturnians are eventually defeated but the story is inane even for the 1940s when it was first published and it is a hard slog to get to the end. The stories, particularly those by Price, are better. 12/16/16

MíBong-Ah by Rog Phillips, Armchair, 2016 (originally published in 1949)

Phillips wrote a few good short stories, but whenever he tried to do things longer, he generally did less well. This short novel involves the kidnapping of a Venusian woman by the first expedition to Venus. She is taken back to Earth for study and she and an Earthman fall in love. They are brought to Venus as part of an invasion fleet bent on conquest of that planet, but the invaders have not counted on the gods of Venus. Pretty boring actually. The cover is from the Ace edition of The Big Jump by Leigh Brackett. 12/14/16

The Outlaws of Mars by Otis Adelbert Kline, Ace, 1961 (originally published in 1933) 

An Earthman goes to Mars and immediately gets into hot water when he inadvertently offends the daughter of the local ruler and finds himself also the target of secret enemies. The usual adventures follow including abduction by a slave trader. Morgan eventually heads an army that ultimately restores benevolent rule to the Martian nation. He rescues the princess and wins her love, and becomes one of the most powerful men on the planet. Episodic and unoriginal, but the best of his novels. 12/13/16

The Swordsman of Mars by Otis Adelbert Kline, Ace, 1960 (originally published by 1930)

Harry Thorne switches bodies with a Martian and finds himself in trouble on the red planet. A kind of communist dictatorship has displaced the old aristocracy, invaders from Earthís moon are still plotting to overthrow the Martians despite their defeat in an earlier war, and another Earthman turned renegade is plotting against everyone in sight. He meets a beautiful woman or two, battles monstrous creatures, kills a lot of people in sword fights, and eventually saves the day. This is Burroughs style adventure with no real surprises and a plot that is simply a series of episodes that eventually come to an end. That said, the Mars books are the best things Kline wrote. 12/11/16

The Haunting of Barry Allen by Clay & Susan Griffith, Titan, 2016, $7.99, ISBN 978-1785651410

This is a tie in novel to Flash, the television show. Barry Allen is, of course, the flash, a scientist who is also the fastest man alive and who uses his superspeed to fight crime. His adventure this time involves encounters with an older version of himself, who appears to be a ghost, and other instances when he seems to phase out of reality, particularly at crucial moments. The sudden resurgence of crime at the hands of some of his long time arch enemies seems to be leading to disaster, so he calls upon his old friend The Green Arrow to help him keep things under control while he finds out what is happening to him. The story is competently told although at times the prose seems mechanical. The authors have done some much superior fantasy work. 12/10/16

Tam, Son of the Tiger by Otis Adelbert Kline, Avalon, 1962 (originally published in 1931)

Another Tarzan clone, this one set in India. Tam is raised by a white tiger, then educated by a lama. He meets a princess in the jungle who is fleeing from her enemies in a subterranean kingdom where dinosaurs survive. They get captured and freed a lot before avoiding a rival tribe, then removing a usurper from her throne. Along the way he runs into his real father, who had given him up for lost many years earlier. Not a bad story, actually, though not very original. 12/8/16

Holy City of Mars by Ralph Milne Farley & Al P. Nelson, Armchair, 2016 (originally published in 1942)

This is a Burroughs style Martian adventure, and part of a series so it feels like it starts in the middle of the story and ends without completing it. An Earthman who was cashiered from the military after an abortive assault on a Martian fortress is still in love with the woman whose family rules there. He sets out to visit and gets involved with her brother, a civil war, more intervention by the avaricious Earthmen, and various other difficulties. Not as bad as it probably sounds, but there is almost no atmosphere and the narrative feels flat. 12/7/16

West Point 3000 A.D. by Manly Wade Wellman, Armchair, 2016 (originally published in 1940)

More than a thousand years from now, humans have split into two societies. One lives underground and has degenerated. The other rules the surface, and employs Martians as soldiers. One man from the underground uses extraordinary measures to raise his son as a surface man, and he is eventually drafted into the army. As it happens, he has a rare talent. His mind cannot be read by Martian telepaths. When he discovers a plot by the Martians to seize control the Earth, he becomes instrumental in disrupting their plans. Another okay but unmemorable story from the pulp era. 12/7/16

The Yellow Mistletoe by Walter S. Masterman, Ramble House, 2009 (originally published in 1930)  

This is the second novel by this author Iíve read, and both have been fairly traditional mysteries for the first half, and science fiction for the second. In this case, a retired clergyman is killed in the London underground, ostensibly an accident. His daughter disappears a short time later. His son, aided by Sir Arthur Sinclair, uncovers secrets about her background that indicate she is not his sister at all and that she has been abducted. A group of her friends set out after her and the trail leads them to a remote region in the Bulgarian mountains where they find a hidden civilization that still worships the Roman Gods. The missing woman is their new Diana and her abductor is now the High Priest. Much predictable turmoil follows before the villain is dispatched and the heroine is free to marry the man she thought was her brother. The first half is better. 12/2/16

The Enormous Room by H.L. Gold & Robert W. Krepps, Armchair, 2016 (originally published in 1953)

A group of people disappear from a rollercoaster and find themselves in a large room with many strange objects. After a while, they are examined by some giant humanoid creatures who obviously arenít human. They spend considerable time trying to communicate with the alien scientists but cannot figure out what the creatures want from them or what they are looking for. Eventually they realize that they are children and the room in which they are confined is a toybox. Much too long for the thin premise. 11/30/16

The Ant with the Human Soul by Bob Olsen, Armchair, 2016 (originally published in 1932)

A suicidal man is recruited for a scientific experiment to transplant a human personality into the body of an ant. Pretty silly by contemporary standards, but SF was less constrained by reality during the 1930s. Anyway, the experiment is a success and he makes a life for himself inside the colony. Unfortunately, the ants are pretty much just people and the author didnít make much of an effort to find out how ant colonies actually function, so the result is far less interesting than it might have been. 11/28/16

Jan of the Jungle by Otis Adelbert Kline, Ace, 1965 (originally published in 1931)

Klineís answer to Tarzan was a young man abducted from his parents and raised in a cage by a mad scientist and a female chimpanzee. At sixteen, he and the chimpanzee escape and board a freighter that takes them to Venezuela, where they have various adventures, find the lost civilization of Mu, get recaptured by the villain, and eventually discover his true family. This was okay but not up to the quality of Burroughs, and the plot relies on frequent use of coincidences to move the story along. 11/23/16

Jan in India by Otis Adelbert Kline, Fictioneer, 1974 (originally published in 1935)  

The second and final Jan novel has him abducted and cast adrift in the jungles of India shortly after finally being reunited with his family. The writing is as clunky as ever and the story itself is relentlessly dull. I had the distinct impression that Kline really wasnít interested in his characters or the situation. Thereís no life to the plot and no effort to add anything to the original story. 11/23/16

Star of the Sea by Una McCormack, Abaddon, 2016, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-78108-483-0

This is a mildly odd space opera that mixes elements of classic SF with more contemporary strains. Itís part of the Weird Space series, and since Iíve never seen or read any of the previous novels, I was at times bewildered. There is a planet that has a portal to another reality and weirdness leaks through into our universe. Various characters converge on the planet Stella Maris just as the protagonist discovers that someone claiming to be her daughter has just emerged from the portal. I suspect this would all have made more sense if I hadnít started with the fourth book in the series. 11/22/16

Maza of the Moon by Otis Adelbert Kline, Ace, 1965 (originally published in 1930)  

Humans fire a shell that hits the moon, and the moon men Ė who apparently are descended from ancient Egyptians Ė launch a major war against the Earth. Our hero is sent to the moon, foils the evil mastermind, falls in love with the local princess, and fights various creatures beneath the moonís surface. This reads like a blend of Wellsí First Men in the Moon with Burroughs The Moon Maid, with less writing skill that in either of those cases. 11/19/16

Logopolis by Christopher Bidmead, Target, 1982   

Tom Bakerís final outing as Doctor Who was pretty ingenious. He returns to Earth to find that the Master has prepared an elaborate trap, with Tardises inside other Tardises so that he never knows at what level of reality he is existing. There are a few minor plot problems along the way, but for the most part this was a refreshingly innovative episode, and I always enjoyed the Master, at least until his most recent incarnations. 11/19/16

Prince of Peril by Otis Adelbert Kline, Ace, 1962 (originally published in 1930) 

The second Venus novel by Kline has a different protagonist. This one wakes up in the body of a local prince, who promptly engages in a quest to rescue a kidnapped beauty. His subsequent adventures include becoming prisoner of intelligent cave apes, freeing the enslaved humans serving giant ants, battling oversized reptitles, rescuing the fair maiden, helping remove a usurper from a throne, surviving a shipwreck, and various other things. Everything happens much too fast and much too conveniently to be plausible. This was not as good as its predecessor, and that is a low bar to jump over. 11/18/16

The Port of Peril by Otis Adelbert Kline, Ace, 1965 (originally published in 1932)  

Third in the Venus series. Robert Grandon is back in action, this time going to rescue his wife when she is abducted by pirates. He finds the pirate kingdom, organizes a rebellion by the local people, and saves the day after defeating various enemies both human and inhuman. The story is peculiarly lifeless and repeats a lot of events from the first two books with slight variations. This was has also appeared as Buccaneers of Venus. 11/18/16

Castrovalva by Christopher Bidmead, Target, 1983 

The Doctor is forced to regenerate as a younger man. He is disoriented and the Master is still around to make things difficult. The Tardis has been damaged but they manage to pilot it to the planet city of the title. The city is troubled by a kind of dimensional displacement that alters the perceptions of its inhabitants, but the Doctor pulls through at the end and the Masterís latest plan goes as badly as all of his previous ones. 11/17/16

The Keeper of Traken by Terrance Dicks, Target, 1982  

The Doctor and Adric pay a visit to the Keeper of Traken, who is dying after ruling for a thousand years. The planet has recently been experiencing an odd sort of invasion. Alien figures appear but almost immediately turn into apparently harmless statues. But they arenít all as quiescent as they appear and at least one of them can manipulate the minds of locals. Much to the Doctorís surprise, the Master is back again, and this time he has hidden himself behind the faces of his puppet invaders. 11/17/16

Apes and Angels by Ben Bova, Tor, 2016, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-7952-8

Over the last two decades or so, Ben Bova has emerged as one of the most reliable writers in the genre. His novels are sharply focused on one specific element - a technological advance or a visit to an unexplored world - and they expand upon that point with such a logical, plausible process that it sometimes feels more like journalism than fiction.  The Star Quest trilogy is somewhat more ambitious than most of his work, however. Humanity has finally reached the stars and has learned that a threat known as the Death Wave is progressing through the galaxy and threatens extinction to every intelligent race within range. Aided by artificial intelligences created by a now extinct alien race, our heroes are engaged in an effort to warn other races of the danger and help them avoid extermination by the deadly radiation. But how can they save a race that is so primitive it cannot even comprehend what is coming? And what does humanity do when faced with knowledge which could result in an interstellar war? This is the middle volume of a trilogy and unlike many middle volumes, it does more than just mark its place to set up the climax. 11/16/16

Barnardís Planet by John Boyd, Berkley, 1975   

This was Boydís worst novel. It reverts to the extended boring conversational mode that marred some of his earlier work and marries it to a completely implausible plot. A small group of men and women are sent to explore a planet that doesnít actually exist in our reality. The captain has been told that their real mission is to found a new race there since life on Earth is threatened by war. This would have been far too few people to create a viable population, and they donít even know if the planet is habitable. Much of the novel explores sexual mores and the Garden of Eden theme, and it is thoroughly boring. 11/15/16

The Girl with the Jade Green Eyes by John Boyd, Viking, 1978 

Boydís final SF novel was one of his weakest. A party of aliens who are indistinguishable from humans arrive on Earth seeking uranium to refuel their ship. A forest ranger decides to help them and gets romantically tangled with their leader. They talk the story to death while negotiating the maze of American bureaucracy, and there is a surprise ending in which we discover she was not exactly what she represented herself to be. But itís all rather anticlimactic and the story dies with a whimper. 11/15/16

Andromeda Gun by John Boyd, Berkley, 1974    

A discorporate alien arrives on Earth shortly after the Civil War and enters the mind of a small time outlaw. Its purpose is to help humanity  join the community of worlds, but the two personalities begin to influence one another and the plans of both parties are seriously altered. Complete with gunfights, vigilantes, the charming schoolmarm, the horse no one else can ride, and other western clichťs. Although less ambitious than his other novels, this holds together much better than most of them. 11/12/16

Planet of Peril by Otis Adelbert Kline, Ace, 1961 (originally published in 1930) 2 

The first adventure of Robert Grandon on Venus. His personality is swapped with that of a Venusian prince whose kingdom has been overrun. He manages to win the hand of the woman who rules the conquering power, leads a revolution when her thrown is usurped, battles giant ants and oversized reptiles, frees a bunch of slaves, wanders around in the wilderness, and has various other predictable Edgar Rice Burroughs style adventures. All of the faults of Burroughs with few of the assets to offset them. 11/11/16

The Doomsday Gene by John Boyd, Weybright and Talley, 1973 

Overpopulation results in riots and wholesale murder and has only been brought under control by a combination of repressive government action and social engineering. Geneticists create a handful of humans who are designed to live intensively active lives and die young. The latter is accomplished by discovering that there is a genetic basis for the death wish. One of these subjects has designed an earthquake predictive system and he believes Los Angeles is about to be devastated. But the truth is more complex than that. More evenly paced than most of Boydís work but bits of it are quite murky. 11/10/16

The Black: Outbreak by Paul Cooley, Severed Press, 2016, ISBN 978-1925493245   

This is the third novel of the Black, a new form of life that threatens the world, although they run parallel rather in a series. A team of experts is called to a CDC center to examine a patient with what appears to be a new disease, but they soon discover it is something much worse. They are soon battling for their lives against a blob like monster that dissolves human flesh and grows larger with every passing minute. This was the best of the three, with better differentiated character and some really creepy encounters. 11/9/16

The Secret Kingdom by Otis Adelbert Kline & Allen S. Kline, Armchair, 2015 (originally published in 1929)

A scientist in the jungles of Brazil stumbles upon the hidden kingdom of the Incas. Having saved the kingís life, he is given wives and wealth, but is informed that he cannot ever leave and divulge the secret of their existence. He also finds a European woman who has been betrothed against her will to the high priest. This is all pretty standard lost world fare, competently written but with absolutely nothing out of the ordinary to make it memorable.  11/8/16

Warriorís Gate by John Lydecker, Target, 1982   

The Doctor and the Tardis are trapped in E Space when they encounter another ship, this one crewed by humans but with alien slaves. Romana gets taken prisoner while the Doctor uncovers secrets about the situation. K-9 is as annoying as usual and Adric is nearly as bad, but neither contributes much to the story. This was one of the least interesting Tom Baker serials, and the book is similarly slow. 11/7/16

The State of Decay by Terrance Dicks, Target, 1981   

The Doctor and Romana land on a planet which is effectively ruled by vampires. Thereís some spoofing of old Universal Studios style horror, mixed with spy vs spy. The Doctor confronts the king and queen, only to discover that they arenít really in charge. An oversized alien vampire being is hidden beneath the ground and they have to destroy it in order to free the world. The closing chapters are exciting but much of the rest of the book is quite slow. 11/7/16

The Gorgon Festival by John Boyd, Bantam, 1972

A college professor accidentally discovers a way to rejuvenate people, but he becomes a fugitive when he is suspected Ė wrongly Ė of having murdered a colleague. The beginning is promising but the novel runs off in wildly divergent directions, satirizing the youth movement, exploring the mechanics of the music business, and providing a variety of sexual encounters, all in a somewhat obscure overly done prose style. This one falls apart really quickly and it was a struggle to finish. 11/6/16

The Black: Arrival by Paul Cooley, Severed, 2015

This is a sidequel to The Black. In both stories, oil rigs strike a deposit that contains an amorphous form of life that is aggressive and seems to defy natural laws. Scientists are besieged in their laboratories while an infected sample is on its way to the mainland. This was a lot like the original, but a bit more polished and with better characterization and pacing. I would have liked to see a different setting for the second, but that apparently had to wait until the third, which this one sets up. 11/5/16

Journey into Space by Charles Chilton, Pan, 1954

The Red Planet by Charles Chilton, Pan, 1956

The World in Peril by Charles Chilton, Pan, 1960 u967-9 

These are the novelizations of a trilogy of radio plays broadcast in England. The chief protagonist is Jet Morgan, a space pilot who in the first book commands the first expedition to the moon. They are briefly kidnapped by mysterious aliens from another galaxy but escape back to the solar system with just enough air to return to the Earth. In the second, Morgan is leading the first expedition to Mars, but there are problems. One of the crew members of the small fleet of ships is not what he seems, and he dies after trying to get the explorers to abort their mission. They eventually get to Mars and discover that a fleet is being built to invade Earth. In the final volume, they return to Mars in order to get intelligence about the invasion and find it is already under way. There is only one surviving Martian, who intends to rule the world, but they defeat him rather easily and he heads off for Alpha Centauri instead. Mostly for kids, but it has some good moments. 11/3/16

Willful Child/Wrath of Betty by Steven Erikson, Tor, 2016, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-8390-7

This is the second adventure of the Willful Child, a human spaceship exploring the galaxy. Itís a kind of Star Trek spoof without being so close that it loses its own identity. They encounter aliens inimical and otherwise, flirt with time travel, save the universe, run into planetary super computers, quarrel among themselves, and have various improbable episodic adventures. These are quite a change from the authorís epic fantasy novels and they are sometimes quite funny. I confess, however, that one book of their adventures was enough for me and my interest sometimes wandered during the reprise. 10/31/16

The IQ Merchant by John Boyd, Weybright and Talley, 1972  

This was one of the authorís best efforts, although it falters a bit at the end. A scientist uses an experimental drug to try to help his retarded son to overcome his disability, despite evidence that the drug will kill half the subjects who take it. It works in this case but the son eventually rejects the materialistic civilization of his parents and begins to recruit others who have similar attitudes, effectively heralding the end of humanity as we know it. Better than usual characterization and some genuine moral and ethical qualms. 10/30/16

The Organ Bank Farm by John Boyd, Berkley, 1970 

The first third of this novel is quite good, but it goes downhill after that. A plague has wiped out most of the worldís population, but governments have pretty much survived. James Galway is a surgeon and psychologist who is interested in working with autistic children. He is manipulated into taking a job at a remote clinic which actually turns out to be a CIA operated facility that harvests limbs and organs from incurably ill patients. Galway is supposed to perform the first brain transplant. Confused motivations and a series of hazy events are interspersed with indeterminable arguments and it requires some fortitude to actually push on to the end. 10/28/16

At the Sign of Triumph by David Weber, Tor, 2016, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2559-7

Latest in the Safehold series, which is essentially military SF with a little more embellishment than is usual in that subgenre. A small island state has resisted the expansionist theocracy, but despite their loyal and determined military forces, they are vastly outnumbered. They do have a couple of aces in the hole, however, including a survivor from ancient Earth. The islanders use their advanced technology to hold their own, but the theocrats are willing to compromise their own supposed principles and embrace the technology of warfare if that is what it takes to crush the challenge to their rule. And there are a host of subplots to keep the story moving, so many that a glossary is provided as a matter of fact. Weber almost always tells a rousing story but there are clear political overtones here. The majority isn't always right. Democracy is dangerous. Monarchies are the best form of government. Freedom is worth dying for. You can disagree with one or all of his premises and still enjoy this complex and fast moving adventure. 10/27/16

Travels in Nihilon by Alan Sillitoe, Grafton, 1971

This broad satire goes on entirely too long and is too silly to be really effective. Five people enter the fictional country of Nihilon where absolute freedom is mandatory, bribes are essential to every pursuit, laws are subject to change from minute to minute and location to location. They have a number of experiences, some dangerous, and two of them end up aboard the first spaceship launched from that country. At the end, the government is overthrown and replaced by one more restrictive and no more effective. The silliness is overdone, e.g., drivers are required to be intoxicated before starting their cars.10/26/16

Sex and the High Command by John Boyd, Berkley, 1970   

This is a near future satire in which a new health treatment drug allows women to have sexual orgasms without male participation and even stimulate an ovum so that women can reproduce through parthogenesis. The male establishment tries various methods to head things off as the US faces the possibility of its first female President Ė I picked the right time to reread this one. Although this is one of several novels about wars between the genders that appeared around this time, Boyd is clearly siding with the women and poking fun at sexual mores, male privilege, and psychologists. Unfortunately, the story is rather too talky to be a complete success. 10/25/16

The Rakehells of Heaven by John Boyd, Berkley, 1969   

The satire in this one is not funny enough to be entertaining and it goes on for far too long. Two space explorers land on a planet that is essentially a utopia Ė no government, automated factories, no one works, no military, no religion, no sexual hang-ups. They both get involved with local women. One of the two wants to reform that society so that Earth will accept them as equals, so they introduce religion and sexual inhibitions and other customs. The result is that they create a society that is hostile and a danger to Earth. A little too silly at times and very very slow. 10/23/16

Evolutionís Darling by Scott Westerfeld, Harper, 1999  

Despite being the worst copyedited book Iíve read in years, this is a very good space opera whose protagonist is an AI embodied as a humanoid. He gets involved with a professional assassin when he looks into the discovery of new work by an AI sculptor who was supposedly killed years earlier. The characters are all rather darkly drawn and there is some explicit though weird sex. Some nice new takes on the nature of sentience and the pitfalls of the human/machine interface. 10/22/16

The Pollinators of Eden by John Boyd, Berkley, 1969 

The planet Flora has some very interesting flowers. A visiting scientist suspects that these plants are actually much older than humanity and possibly more intelligent, although not in any way we can readily detect. Some of the seeds are brought back to Earth, where they present a direct threat to the local ecology. A repressed female scientist is quite literally seduced by the plants and ends up emigrating and taking over the ecological niche that bees have on Earth. This is a bit tongue and cheek and not nearly as melodramatic as the plot summary might suggest. 10/20/16

The Jackalís Trick by John Jackson Miller, Pocket, 2016, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-5011-1580-6 

A Klingon with a longstand grudge against the Federation has carefully laid plans to create a new rift between the two civilizations. A secret organization conducts clandestine warfare, hoping to provoke a wider conflict. Riker and Picard, both with their own commands, are engaged in a desperate effort to uncover the plotters and reveal the truth before the situation becomes irreversible. Worf finds himself caught by conflicting forces and responsibilities. This is the middle volume of a three book arc so weíll have to wait for the last to find out how it all works out, but the set up is well done though not tremendously new and original. Trek fans and others should both enjoy the series as a whole, but you need to read the first book. 10/19/16

The Second Deluge by Garrett P. Serviss, Hyperion, 1974 (originally published in 1912)

A watery nebula engulfs the Earth and it is inevitable that the surface will be completely covered with water. A scientist sounds the alarm, is ignored, and sets about building an ark which will eventually be virtually the only surviving vessel. They later encounter a submarine carrying the King of England. After some mild adventures including a mutiny, they make landfall when the waters begin to subside and set out to rebuild civilization. Quite long and frequently boring, consisting more of travelogues than depictions of disaster. 10/17/16

The Last Starship from Earth by John Boyd, Berkley, 1968 

The bulk of this story takes place in a dystopian alternate world where travel to the stars was discovered in the 19th Century but largely abandoned except that political prisoners on exiled to a frozen world called Hell. The protagonist becomes illicitly involved with a woman from another profession and is arrested and tried. When he finally is sent to Hell, he discovers the planet is more hospitable than he realized and the exiles actually have a society more attractive than that on Earth. He eventually goes back through time and prevents the dystopian world from coming into existence. 10/16/16

China Mountain Zhang by Maureen F. McHugh, Tor, 1992  

A gay, half Chinese man struggles to make his way in a future world where China dominates the world and most countries have adopted Marxist government principles. After losing his job in New York, he accepts a dangerous job near the Arctic Circle. His story Ė he survives several setbacks and eventually finds his niche in the world Ė is embellished by peripheral stories of other characters. The present tense narration isnít too intrusive in this one, but the pacing is very slow and some readers are likely to grow impatient. A pleasant change is the fact that he doesn't change the world. 10/14/16

A Columbus of Space by Garrett P. Serviss, Hyperion, 1974 (originally published in 1909)  

This was one of the earliest novels of an interplanetary voyage, and it contains a lot of elements that ended up in cheaply made SF movies during the 1960s. A lone inventor comes up with an antigravity drive and shanghais some friends to accompany him to Venus. After an encounter with gorilla-like natives, they find a human civilization consisting of beautiful amazons and handsome men. The inventor and the Queen of Venus fall in love, her jilted local suitor conspires to kill the newcomers, and a series of mildly exciting but not very convincing adventures follow. 10/12/16

The Medusa Chronicles by Stephen Baxter and Alastair Reynolds, Saga, 2016, 26.99, ISBN 978-1-4814-7967-7 

This is a sequel to Arthur C. Clarkeís ďA Meeting with Medusa.Ē  The human hero of that story, Howard Falcon, is now a cyborg and he takes us on a tour of the future of the solar system. Colonization of the planets takes place within his extended lifetime and true artificial intelligence is finally achieved. There are terrorists and strange discoveries and enough throwaway ideas for several more novels. There is also some fascinating speculation and a nicely developed sense of wonder pervading the story. I have enjoyed both of these authors consistently on their own and they have here combined to produce a book you will long remember. 10/11/16

Vacuum Diagrams by Stephen Baxter, Harper, 1998  

This is a collection of stories in the Xeelee sequence, a future history in which humanity spreads out into the universe despite twice being conquered by alien civilizations, eventually challenging themselves, although that doesnít work out well. The stories are generally focused on speculation about various physical principles so they are light on characterization and there is actually very little attention paid to how human civilization actually works. A few of the stories are very good, but many of them feel like they stopped rather than ended. The plots were simply the means to deliver the speculation. 10/10/16

The Sky Pirate by Garrett P. Serviss, 1909 

Despite the many reprint lines over the years, this early SF novel has never appeared in book form. Having read an incomplete copy of it online, I can understand why. An outlaw with a remarkable flying machine kidnaps a rich young woman and demands a ransom from her father. He tries to track the criminal down by contacting the police, is himself briefly held prisoner, and eventually calls upon Lieutenant Allan of the Revenue Service. Allan uses a new invention to trace radio signals back to their source and launches an assault on the villainís hideout that results in a chase and, after some reversals, the rescue of the fair maiden and the apparent death of the villain. Barely readable. 10/8/16

Invasion of Mars by Garrett P. Serviss, Powell, 1969 

Aka Edisonís Conquest of Mars, this was an unauthorized sequel to The War of the Worlds serialized in 1898, published as a hardcover in the 1940s, and then reprinted in an edited version in 1969. Serviss for some reason decided to change what the Martians look like Ė his are humanoid, fifteen feet tall, and wear clothing. Thomas Edison invents antigravity, disintegrator rays, spacesuits, and various other things in a short period of time, then personally leads an assault on the Martians to prevent them from launching a second invasion. They rescue a human woman held as a prisoner, flood the planet and kill most of the population, and defeat the Martian emperor in a pitched battle. Not very good and not really a sequel to the Wells novel. 10/7/16

Frost by M.P. Kovlowsky, Scholastic, 2016, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-545-83191-8  

This is a young adult SF novel about a sixteen year old girl who lives alone in a ruined city with just the personality of her father transferred into a robot servant to guide her. The streets are patrolled by malevolent robots and the even nastier Eaters, essentially zombies. She finally leaves her haven in one of the buildings to seek medicine available elsewhere in the city, and has several fairly predictable adventures along the way, aided by the friendly robot who accompanies her. And eventually she discovers that she is not alone. This wasnít awful but I kept asking questions about how she survived so long that had no answers and eventually that made it hard to get involved in the story. 10/6/16

The Waterdancerís World by L. Timmel Duchamp, Aqueduct, 2016, $19, ISBN 978-1-61976-109-4 

Frogmore is not the ideal world for human colonists, but they have arrived, they intend to stay, and the military is in control and determined to eliminate any threat to the human population, even if that means doing major damage to the local ecology and trampling the rights of the indigenes. The major player in the story is the daughter of the commanding general, who commands a commercial empire in her own right, and who is firmly behind the plan to terraform the world despite her fascination with a new artform that is directly inspired by the life forms she hopes to eradicate. The interplay of emotions unfolds on both an individual and a mass level, and the role of art in human history becomes a major theme. This authorís work is almost always just a bit outside the mainstream of science fiction, and that is I think part of the reason that it is so often, as in this case, intensely  appealing. 10/5/16

Underground Man by Gabriel de Tarde, Hyperion, 1974 (originally published in 1896 in France)  

The author of this utopian novel/satire was a sociologist who is generally credited with originating the concept of the group mind. The novel is set in a time of world peace, a near utopia despite some biting satirical comments. A sudden change in the sun reduces the amount of heat and it becomes necessary for humanity to relocate inside the shell of the Earth. There are a few humorous moments Ė this is a spoof of utopian fiction Ė but in the end it is mostly boring. 10/4/16

The Moon Metal by Garrett P. Serviss, Griffo   

This novelette opens with the discovery of vast quantities of gold at the South Pole, which devalues world currencies. A mysterious entrepreneur offers to replace gold with artemisium, a new mineral which he claims to be mining in the Rocky Mountains. It turns out he has a machine that draws atoms of the mineral from the moon, and when others discover this and duplicate his method, his monopoly is broken. Pretty minor. 10/2/16

Humanity 2.0 edited by Alex Shvartsman, Phoenix Pick, 2016, $14.99, ISBN 978-1-61242-309-8   

This anthology mixes reprints and original stories, the former including excellent pieces by John Varley, Ken Liu, and Cat Rambo. Most of the original work is by less familiar names, although about half of them are quite good and the rest readable enough. Brenda Cooper, David Walton, and Jody Lynn Nye all have interesting stories. The overall theme is the transformation of the human race through technology, evolution, exposure to other environments or races, and other causes. In most cases the change is seen to be at least generally beneficial, which makes this more upbeat than a lot of other recent SF Iíve read. 10/1/16