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

LAST UPDATE 12/23/17

Welcome to Dystopia edited by Gordon Van Gelder, OR Books, 2017, ISBN 978-1-68219-126-2

Since we are teetering on the brink of an American dystopia, a collection of stories on that subject is both timely and unsettling. There are over forty stories here - they are generally quite short - with various visions of the unpleasant futures that might await us or our children.  Truth in advertising - one of them is by me. The writers are a varied group, including the first new Ron Goulart I remember reading in quite some time. Other contributors include Harry Turtledove, Geoff Ryman, Jane Yolen, Janis Ian, Barry Malzberg, Lisa Mason, Robert Reed, etc. The things that worry the protagonist vary from one story to another, obviously, although they are generally wary of the same things that threaten us in the real world. This is not a happy book but we are not living in happy times. There is some humor sprinkled through, but not a lot. It's not a subject that many people find amusing any more. 12/30/17

The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson, Scribner, 2017, $26, ISBN 978-1-5011-5567-3

Well here's a cure for global warming. A nuclear war has brought on an endless winter along with the more obvious destruction, collapse of order, and the spread of multiple diseases which can no longer be controlled. A young woman who remembers the world that was lost flounders about trying to find out what her place is in this new existence, a quest that is complicated by the arrival of Jax, a young man who complicates her emotional life. Much of the novel is essentially a survival story, although with some unusual twists. This is not labeled as young adult, although it cites the Hunger Games trilogy as being similar. The story was engaging but I found the prose a bit thin at times. There are lots of one line paragraphs and I frequently wanted more description. This was an interesting debut novel, however, and I suspect that sequels will be forthcoming. 12/23/17

The Will to Battle by Ada Palmer, Tor, 2017, $26.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-7804-0

Utopias will probably never work, thanks to human contrariness, but most people in Palmer's overpopulated future thought that it had been pretty closely approximated. What they didn't realize was that the peace was maintained only through a very secret and very effective program of assassination and sabotage. But the contradictions, corruption, and perfidy are all coming to light as long suppressed rivalries and hostilities begin to come to the surface once again. It appears to be inevitable than an old enemy of humanity - war - is about to return to the world and there is no mechanism, let alone the proper leadership, to fend it off for much longer. And when hostilities finally break out no one - including the protagonists - knows where it will lead. The collapse was obvious from the outset and we are only in doubt about how and when it will take place. Palmer provides a cast of interesting characters to guide us through the chaos of one of the better realized future worlds I've read about in recent years. I strongly suggest reading the first two books in the series first. 12/16/17

Provenance by Ann Leckie, Orbit, 2017, $26, ISBN 978-0-316-38867-2

I liked the first book in the Ancillary series, thought the second was okay, but struggled to finish the third. I hoped the author would try something different and get back on track. This, however, is set in the same universe, though it is not in the main story line. It is essentially a murder mystery wrapped around a political struggle but except for the SF trimmings, this could have been a contemporary novel most of the time. The protagonist is an ambitious young woman but she is not remotely likeable, nor are any of the other characters. Her motivations are not always clear and the idiosyncrasies of her society are not adequately explained. The settings are barely sketched in and I had no feeling that I was actually entering an interstellar civilization. Undercutting any chance this had of working is the prose. I thought the genderless pronouns in Leckie's first book were an interesting if not entirely successful experiment. By the fourth book, they are no longer interesting, just clunky and confusing and irritating, They might make good political statements but they also make ugly prose. Anthony Burgess experimented with language changes in A Clockwork Orange and after the reader adjusts, it works. These don't. 12/12/17

Legacy of Onyx by Matt Forbeck, Gallery, 2017, $16, ISBN 978-1-5011-3261-2

This is the latest tie-in to the Halo game universe and one could almost call this a YA novel. The protagonist is a young girl whose family died when her planet was destroyed in a war against an alien alliance. With her new parents, she moves to Onyx after the war is over, but she is uneasy about living in close proximity to members of the same race that destroyed her world. Her fears become more justified because there are some people on both sides who were unhappy with the coming of peace, and some of the fanatics are planning to cause trouble. I've never played the game but the tie-ins I've read are all standard SF fare, as is the case here. The story is reasonably absorbing and the plot moves along briskly. There were a few places where I would have liked more detail but otherwise this was fine. 12/6/17

Subhuman by Michael McBride, Pinnacle, 2017, $9.99, ISBN 978-0-7860-4158-9

A secret expedition to Antarctica has found an ancient alien pyramid under the ice. They have also unwittingly activated a device that causes instant mutation and turns some of their group into nearly unkillable monsters. This is quite long and mostly quite good, although the first third moves at a glacial pace - pun intended. There is a lot of scientific patter, most of it valid though not always interesting, and some of it is made up to help the story. It is not true that ninety percent of all UFO sightings take place along Earth's ley lines for example. Nor would any anthropologist refer to humans as having descended from apes. I also have a problem with altered DNA changing one's entire physical structure in a matter of minutes. Quibbles inside, the second half is very tense and exciting and I ordered a couple more of the author's books based on the quality of this one. 12/3/17

Fortunes of War by David Mack, Pocket, 2017, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-5011-5200-9

The Titan series is a subset of the Star Trek universe in which an alien menace was defeated and driven away, if not exterminated. They left behind colony worlds and derelict ships which contain technology which all of the other races and factions want to acquire, but sometimes these remains are in fact elaborate traps. Nevertheless, the rewards are worth the risks. A new discovery attracts the usual parties, many of them nasty, and Admiral Riker and those in his command may be all that stands in the way of a general and destructive free for all. Violence is inevitable and there is a lot of it, particularly toward the end. Mack is generally reliable in the Trek universe and this is another entertaining if not particularly unusual expansion of that setting. 11/19/17

Joyride by Guy Adams, BBC, 2016

Class is a spinoff from Dr. Who, and this is a tie-in to that series, which is essentially about a high school that deals with aliens and things. Teenagers start doing things very much at variance from their normal characters and some of them even get killed. The explanation is that thrill seekers who can temporarily project their minds into those of others have been taking joyrides in other bodies, sometimes involving great physical risks. The small group of teens who have devoted themselves to dealing with unusual phenomena have to find out who is responsible and put a stop to it. Reasonably good. 11/13/17

The Experience Arcade and Other Stories by James Van Pelt, Fairwood, 2017, $17.99, ISBN 978-1-933846-69-9

There are very few writers who can turn out a steady stream of high quality stories. James Van Pelt is one of those talented few. This latest collection of two dozen stories is strong evidence of that, drawn from original publication in Analog, Interzone, and a variety of different magazines and anthologies. There are only a couple that are relatively weak, and relatively is the operative word in that phrase. Most are science fiction but there is some fantasy as well. Some are whimsical and some are very serious. "Death of a Starship Poet" and "Orphaned" worked best for me, but every reader is likely to have different favorites. I would be very surprised, however, to find a reader who was not pleased overall. 11/6/17

Steal the Stars by Nat Cassidy, Tor, 2017, $15.99, ISBN 978-1-250-17262-4

A novel based on a podcast? Well, why not? An alien crash landed on Earth more than a decade ago but very few people know about it. There is actually a large installation surrounding the ship dedicated to discovering its secrets and launching a new technology. Two members of the staff fall in love, which is very much against the rules, but they can’t resign singly or together either because of the knowledge they possess. So they’re only hope is to blow the whole project open and let the world know what’s going on – preferably without getting killed by the government in the process. No surprises here but the story is pretty well told. The publisher has labeled this “noir” SF, but I don’t see it. 10/28/17

Ice by Anna Kavan, Penguin, 2017, $16, ISBN 978-0-14-313199-1 

This fascinating SF novel set at the beginning of a new ice age attracted considerable attention when it first appeared in 1967, and the author might well have become a major name in the genre if she had been more prolific. The crisis is causing subterfuge and repression by the various world governments trying to deal with the onslaught of snow and ice. The protagonist is engaged in a search for a mysterious woman that provides us with a panoramic view of the altered landscape. Kavan's occasional drift toward surrealism undercuts some of the realism of the story, while adding a great deal if impressive imagery. I've heard this referred to as a feminist novel, but I think of it more as a humanist one, and I liked it better this time – fifty years later – than I did when it first appeared. 10/26/17

Taste of Marrow by Sarah Gailey, Tor, 2017, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-9525-2

The sequel to River of Teeth continues to explore an alternate America where hippos were introduced and have become a major part of commerce and the ecology in the southern part of the country. A band of adventurers completed a dangerous mission in the first novella, but in this one they have split up and each has his or her own mission to accomplish in the aftermath. The story is almost secondary to the setting, which presents a kind of rural America that is much the same as our own while at the same time being very different. One of the most interesting alternate histories ever imagined. 10/22/17

Science Fiction Trails 12 edited by David B. Riley, 2017, $6.50

The first books I ever read were westerns because they were my mother's favorite, and even after I discovered science fiction, I occasionally took time for a Max Brand or an Ernest Haycox. This is the twelfth in a series that blends those two categories. Most of the names of the authors were new to me and you're not going to find any Hugo contenders lurking here, but they are generally well written and sometimes clever stories that mix the tropes of both genres with varying degrees of skill. 10/14/17

The Thing from – Outside by George Allan England, Black Dog, 2016 

These stories from the early 20th Century are even less memorable than the author's novels, which were frequently socialist diatribes and are riddled with some really ugly racism, also present at times in his short fiction. England did not seem to have figured out how to conclude his stories, several of which merely come to an end, and when there is a climax, it is occasionally offstage.  The best stories are "The Night Horror," a mystery about vivisection, and "The Crime Detector," which has a fairly good puzzle although the story itself is quite bloated. None of these are lost classics. 10/13/17

Beyond the Pole and Other Weird Fantasies by Philip M. Fisher, Black Dog, 2013

This is a collection of stories originally published between 1919 and 1930, including the memorable "Fungus Isle," in which shipwrecked men find themselves infected with fungi. Although Fisher frequently used fantastic elements in his stories, almost none of it appeared in SF magazines and he has become largely unknown. "The Ship of Silent Men" is another creepy sea story, very effective though the explanation is impossible. A couple of the stories are very long winded and the sea stories are by far the best.  10/6/17

Vanishing Ships by Philip M. Fisher, Novel Books, 1943 

This is an updated version of a serial from the 1920s that was moved for this edition from the first world war to the second. A number of cargo ships with sensitive items aboard have disappeared in the same part of the Pacific Ocean and all in the middle of SOS calls. A destroyer is detailed to shadow another and find out what is going on. The SF element is mild – a new invention that erases radio messages from the air – and the battle against the conspirators – who have a secret island base – is routine and predictable. 10/6/17

Desperate Hours by David Mack, Gallery, 2017, $16, ISBN 978-1-5011-6457-6

I believe this is the first novel tie-in to the new series, Star Trek Discovery. I have not seen any episodes so I have nothing to compare this to. The chief protagonist appears to be a human woman who was raised by Klingons and who has just become first officer of a starship. It would have been a nice change to have a series that did not involve a military organization, but Star Trek rarely takes chances like that. A colony world calls for help when an alien ship that has been hidden under the ocean becomes active and aggressive. The Federation wants to abandon the colony as indefensible, but our hero decides to sneak aboard the alien ship, despite the fact that she is disobeying orders. Spock and Sarek come to her assistance, in a manner of speaking. Above average suspense for a Trek novel. 10/5/17

Secrets in Death by J.D. Robb, St Martins, 2017, $27.99, ISBN 978-1-250-12315-2

SF by courtesy only, and even less so than usual. Eve Dallas is almost a witness to a murder when a scandalmonger is murdered in a restaurant while she is eating there. The woman turns out to be a blackmailer as well as involved in legal tell-alls and has amassed a large fortune, most of it concealed. She also appears to have had a complete facial makeover to change her appearance. There is an ex-boyfriend as well as any number of blackmail victims and their friends and family and there will be a second murder before the puzzle is finally - and rather perfunctorily - solved. Average for the series or maybe a hair below, but entertaining as always. 10/2/17