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

LAST UPDATE 12/31/18

Who? by Algis Budrys, Pyramid, 1958   

It’s a shame that this novel is dated both scientifically and politically because it is beautifully written. An American scientist survives an explosion but is in Soviet hands for months, during which they replace so much of him with metal that it is impossible to determine whether or not he is an imposter when he is returned. No DNA in those days. Flashbacks illuminate his past life as security tries to determine his true identity. The security man in charge effectively loses his career because he is unable to make a final determination.  Nice ending. Wonderful prose. One of the two full length movies based on Budrys' fiction was inspired by this. I haven't seen it in many years but I recall it as being fairly loyal, though not tremendously good. 12/31/18

Molten Heart by Una McCormack, BBC, 2018

The Good Doctor by Juno Dawson, BBC, 2018 

Two Doctor Who novels featuring the latest incarnation. They also have vaguely similar plots. In the first, the Doctor visits a planet where something or someone is interfering with lava flows underground and changing the ecology of the surface. The Doctor has to find out who and why and prevent a catastrophe. The second also involves a colony world, this one with alien indigenes and human immigrants. The Doctor manages to prevent them from going to war with each other, but when an accident brings her back to the planet in the future, she discovers that the humans have enslaved the aliens and that she may be responsible for this state of affairs. Both are okay adventures. The second shares a common problem with the concept of the series. Why does the Doctor not go back in time and prevent the situation from arising? 12/30/18

Bloodletting by Michael McBride, Factor V Media, 2014

Another fine SF thriller from this author. An FBI agent who recently shot and killed a suspected serial killer gets pulled into a mysterious investigation that involves bodies ritually buried in the desert, a story of twins infected with genes from other animal species, a plot to supplant the human race, and a secret interagency organization that has been trailing the plotters since World War II. There are some very visceral scenes and although the general form of the mystery emerges quite early, the details are quite involved and intertwined and their unraveling provides most of the fun. 12/28/18

Man of Earth by Algis Budrys, Ballantine, 1958 

Although this is scientifically rather dated and is not one of the author’s major works, it’s an interesting novel about a man who gets into legal trouble on Earth and undergoes an operation that turns him from a timid introvert into a muscular extrovert. Unfortunately he is also sent on a one way trip to the isolated colony on Pluto, which has been terraformed, where he joins the army and begins to build himself a new life. Despite the other worlds setting and other trappings, this is  primarily a novel about a man making a new life for himself, and a commentary on how the body determines the personality.12/27/18

False Night by Algis Budrys, Lion, 1954 

Some Will Not Die by Algis Budrys, Regency, 1961   

Budrys rewrote and expanded his first novel, False Night, several years later. A plague wipes out most of the human race. The survivors murder each other over the dwindling supplies and tend to live alone or in small groups. Over the course of years, a small society evolves in New York City, expanding peacefully at first, eventually raising an army that conquers the entire East Coast. But there are factions within that society that will eventually destroy it. The rewrite adds a frame story many years in the future and fleshes out most of the events in the earlier version but really does not add much of anything to the plot. The political arguments are sometimes rather boring. 12/26/18

Slingshot for a David by James Bradwell, World, 1969 

One of a pair of Land of the Giants tie-in novels only published in the UK. This time our wanderers face the usual oversized menaces but actually intervene to help one of the giant humans. The story is about as lacking in appeal and scientific realism as was the television program and this is more of a curiosity than anything else. 12/23/18

Doomsday by Marv Wolfman, Pocket, 1979 

Both of the movies that pit the Fantastic Four against Dr. Doom fail miserably in large part because Doom never really becomes much of a menacing figure. The same, alas, is true of the first prose attempt at the same thing. Here he is basically just a clever crook who concocts a plan to capture each member of the team of superheroes in order to neutralize them and have a clear field for his nefarious plots. The story is overly simple and lacks any real tone. None of the characters acquires any depth at all and the plot is completely predictable. 12/22/18

Holocaust for Hire by Joseph Silva, Pocket, 1979

Captain America battles his old nemesis, the Red Skull, in this lightweight adventure story. Someone has developed a technology that allows him to create devastating earthquakes at targeted cities, and Captain America is hot on his trail. Can he stop the villain in time? Of course he can.  The plot is straight forward and not particularly interesting, but it is competently done, not surprising since this was Ron Goulart writing under a pseudonym. It's interesting how the movies have altered the character somewhat. 12/22/18

Land of the Giants by Murray Leinster, Pyramid,  

First of three novelizations Leinster did of this absurd tv show. This one is basically the pilot, although the author makes some effort to justify a world of seventy foot tall humans. They are hostile to the Earth people, who fly around avoiding giants cats and so on, then discover that their radio can incapacitate a significant part of the local technology. But can they find a way to use another space warp and return to Earth? 12/19/18

The Hot Spot by Murray Leinster, Pyramid,  

The second tie-in to Land of the Giants consists mostly of their sojourn on a remote island where their ship is captured in a gigantic spider web. Fairly routine though mildly reminiscent of The Forgotten Planet. The scientific problems continue to make the plot feel silly. At the end, they think they have found a way to return to Earth, but naturally that can’t happen, at least not yet. 12/19/18

Unknown Danger by Murray Leinster, Pyramid  

Leinster’s final novel was his third Land of the Giants tie in. This time they spend some time hiding in an ocean before figuring out how to sabotage the energy generators on the moon of the giants’ planet. This still does not get them home, but at least they are in less immediate danger. Leinster, and the show, never really explained why the giants kidnapped them if all they wanted to do was blow up their ship. 12/19/18

Paws by Stefan Petrucha, Titan, 2018 

Deadpool is not your typical Marvel superhero and the movies have a very different tone than those in the central Marvel universe. Petrucha here captures the attitude and techniques of the movies quite well, with the familiar dark banter and jaunts outside the story in which Deadpool tells the reader he knows he is just a character. The plot involves a handful of alien monsters who have been disguised as puppies, but who can transform into virtually indestructible alien creatures at the drop of the hat. Even Deadpool hesitates at killing puppies, particularly since he does not know which ones are actually aliens. The premise is amusing for a while, but it was not really strong enough to support an entire novel and I wasn’t unhappy when I reached the end. 2/17/18

The Nebula of Death by George Allan England, Black Dog, 2011 (originally published in 1918) 

This is the first book publication of the serial by a writer who was once a viable rival of H.G. Wells, although his novels are now largely forgotten. The premise this time is that the solar system wanders into a part of the galaxy where a strange field makes it impossible for plant life to reproduce. Obviously that means that the food supply for the human race is gone. Some nice disaster scenes but the novel is far too long and the prose too ponderous for this to be very entertaining, though I am still glad to see that it is finally available. 12/16/18

The Time Tunnel by Murray Leinster, Pyramid, 1967 

First novelization of the television series. Two scientists get lost in time. First they visit the Johnstown Flood and rescue the grandmother of the senator who is about to decide the fate of the project. I never understood this shtick. How can one senator control a major government project? Then they help Bat Masterson survive an attack by Comanches, then pay a brief visit to a future when aliens have attacked Earth before returning to the present. The premise of the show was so murky that Leinster couldn’t do much with it, but it’s not awful. 12/14/18

Timeslip! by Murray Leinster, Pyramid,  1967

This is the second novel tie-in to The Time Tunnel. The premise is pretty bad this time. A nuclear missile is to be sent into the past, then brought forward into the present at another place on Earth. But the mission goes wrong because of an idiotic general and the bomb is in a lake in 1847 Mexico just as the American army is invading. Our heroes must retrieve the missile before it is detonated in the present, and deal with a time travel paradox at the same time. Pedestrian. 12/14/18

Miners in the Sky by Murray Leinster, Avon, 1967 

Violence is a fact of life among the miners in a ringed planet in deep space. There are rumors of aliens and of a fabulous treasure lode, both of which prove to be correct. The hero finds his partner’s sister stowed away on his ship just before learning that his partner has been murdered by another miner. But it’s not their claim that is the problem, but rather the fact that the siblings are heirs to a very large legacy that might otherwise go to the wife of the killer. A fair space adventure and the last non-media related novel that Leinster ever wrote. 12/12/18

Space Gypsies by Murray Leinster, Avon, 1967 

A very short and not very good novel in which a space yacht runs into an inimical race that has been trying to exterminate various branches of humanity for millennia. They are stranded on a planet where they meet representatives of another strain of humans who live in spaceships and are constantly traveling from star to star. Ultimately they turn their garbage disposal unit into a projectile weapon that makes the bad alien ships dissolve and they are able to go back to Earth without leading a warfleet behind them. 12/10/18

The Opposite Factor by Chester S. Geier, Armchair, 2018 (magazine appearance 1952)

The original title of this novelette was “The Opposite Is Hell” and the cover art on this reprint was originally used for The Mars Monopoly by Jerry Sohl. Geier was actually well above average among the pulp SF writers of his day. This is a story about a space salvage company whose latest project is a lot more than the operators bargained for and it has predictable but relatively entertaining consequences. 12/9/18

Checkpoint Lambda by Murray Leinster, Berkley, 1966 

The new commander of a remote space station discovers that the station has been taken over by a band of crooks who want to waylay a spaceship carrying a valuable cargo. The station is also in imminent danger of colliding with a comet, which gives him some leverage, but he knows that he and a single survivor of the original attack will be killed as long as his skills are no longer necessary. This was pretty much a redo of a couple of earlier books and the villains are so glaringly incompetent that there is not much tension. 12/7/18

The Razor by J. Barton Mitchell, Tor, 2018, $26.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-8792-9

For some reason I have never cared for prison stories, so it took me a while to get into this one. The chief protagonist has been sent to a prison planet, unjustly of course, and is just in time to get caught up when a planetary emergency results in the evacuation of the non-prisoners. Time is short because the planet will soon become completely uninhabitable, so he and a handful of other prisoners have to find a way to get off the planet before that happens. And naturally there are lots of really crazy people running amok. Once the main plot started, I found the story more immersive and I did some of the characters enough to care what happened to them, which is not always the case. Mitchell has apparently had several other novels published but this was the first of his books I've encountered - but likely not the last. 12/5/18

The Sun-Smiths by Richard Shaver, Armchair, 2018 (magazine appearance 1952) 

Shaver was an okay pulp author when he wasn’t writing about the Deros. This is a fair but readable space opera about an interstellar conspiracy with lots of aliens, physical conflict, and some minor speculation about future societies. It’s no worse than most of the other fiction published in the less literate SF magazines and Shaver did have some skill at story telling.  12/5/18

Dark Deeds by Mike Brooks, Saga, 2018 

Having failed in the previous book to fulfill a contract to a crime lord, the crew of the Keiko find themselves in a difficult position. One of their number has been taken hostage and they have to raise a very high ransom very quickly to save her life. Two stories diverge. The first is a heist adventure in which the crew attempt to hijack a bribe paid to a government official by a cartel. The other consists of the hostage escaping and proving her value to her former captor. The unexpected occurs more than once during the course of the story and the climax caught me almost completely by surprise. Another excellent story and I hope to see more of the Keiko.  12/3/18

The Greks Bring Gifts by Murray Leinster, McFadden, 1964 

An alien spaceship visits Earth. Its occupants, the Greks, provide a variety of scientific advances but seem to have little interest in humans otherwise. When their ship leaves after several months, a discovery is made which casts doubt on their motives, indeed their very nature. Humans reverse engineer their technology, and when they trey to assert their rule, they are killed with very little difficulty. The premise is a little shaky and several parts of the plot are too simplified or coincidental to be believable, but it’s not a bad story for all that. 12/2/18

Dark Sky by Mike Brooks, Saga, 2016 

Second in the Keiko series. Our space traveling adventurers undertake a shady but seemingly innocuous mission to secure some confidential financial data and find themselves caught in the middle of a planetary revolution. Scattered into small groups, some find themselves helping the rebels while others lend their skills to the government. As the situation escalates toward a climax, their reunion seems likely, but how will they reconcile their different stances? And can they all survive long enough to get off the planet again?  Although not quite as good as the first in the series, this was still an excellent adventure story that gets kudos as well for portraying neither side as completely villainous or completely benevolent. 12/1/18

A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe by Alex White, Orbit, 2018 

Exceptional writers can create an entire universe with a surprisingly small amount of description, but exceptional writers are by definition rare. This first novel in a new series shows considerable promise, but the early chapters are just too thin for me. A potentially exciting race sequence is described almost at second hand and feels superficial rather than thrilling. It is meant to introduce one of the protagonists, who likewise is presented with a few brush strokes that never really bring her to life. I had little sense that they were actual people living in an actual setting. By the time the story really gets going I found myself disengaged and even mildly annoyed. The plot involves the search and salvaging of a starship with extraordinary technology, which is a story line that I usually find engrossing. I’ll probably read the sequel – and I did actually enjoy parts of this one – but I felt as though something was missing. Initial impressions are important. 11/28/18

The Demon Crown by James Rollins, Morrow, 2017

A Sigma Force novel. An international conspiracy has released prehistoric wasps into the Hawaiian islands which are so virulent that the world is considering nuclear sterilization. Our recurring heroes are caught in the middle once again and are specifically targeted for assassination. As with the previous books in the series, there is a great deal of violence and a fast moving and sometimes rather hard to believe plot. The good guys are practically superhuman and the outcome is never seriously in doubt. That said, this is one of the best in the series, taut, inventive, and it incorporates some actual historical mysteries into the story as well. It's also very, very long - six hundred pages - and the paperback edition includes an okay novelette as a bonus. 11/26/19

Space Captain by Murray Leinster, Ace, 1965  

A space captain uses some unconventional tactics to outwit space pirates in this quite short and rather minor space adventure. There is almost no dialogue at all and the situation is designed to make the good guys win in ways sometimes so contrived that they are quite hard to believe. The protagonist falls in love with the daughter of a planetary president, she is taken hostage, and he must lead a clandestine attack on the headquarters of the pirates in order to rescue her. The magazine title was Killer Ship. 11/25/18

Space Rocket Murders by Edmond Hamilton, Armchair, 2018

This is a retitling of an early Hamilton novella but I’m not sure which one. Several scientists who have been working on interplanetary space travel die under mysterious circumstances – burned to death by some unknown force. The protagonist is incensed when a relative is among the dead and he eventually uncovers the truth, that a secret contingent of aliens has set out to prevent humanity from reaching the stars. A fair handling of the theme for its time, but somewhat simpleminded.  11/25/18

Invaders of Space by Murray Leinster, Berkley, 1964 

The hero of this mild space opera is shanghaied by a ship full of thieves and murderers to try to fix their failing engines while they proceed with plans to rob a space liner that is carrying a large amount of currency. He stirs up trouble among the crew and eventually escapes on the planet where the crew of the good ship are hiding in the swamps to protect the money from the pirates. There’s little doubt how things will ultimately turn out, but the build up is plausible and the protagonist proves to be quite ingenious.11/20/18

Natural Enemy by Jason Starr, Titan, 2018 

This is a quite low key Antman novel. Scott Lang has temporary custody of his teenage daughter Cassie while his ex-wife deals with her mother’s dementia. The FBI shows up insisting on protecting the two of them from an escaped convict who is killing everyone who testified against him. Sure enough Cassie – who briefly stole and used the Antman equipment – is kidnapped, but the convict and his men are all killed by parties unknown. That leads to another villain whose plans to steal the technology endanger the entire world. Not a bad lightweight read but riddled with eyebrow raising dubious elements. For one thing, how does a telepathic broadcast cause the spontaneous creation of fungus? If you have a device that can replicate anything that gets near it, why not just copy whatever you need and not bother about risking yourself battling superheroes? Why would the FBI assume the identity of a dead body just because someone else’s clothing was found near the body?  11/19/18

Dark Run by Mike Brooks, Saga, 2015 

First book in the Keiko series, of which comparisons to Firefly are inevitable and somewhat justified. The story involves a crew of misfits who usually but not always accept legal jobs and who know little about each other’s sometimes shady pasts. The captain is blackmailed into smuggling a secret cargo onto old Earth, but there is some critical information he doesn’t know that almost costs them all their lives. Filled with eccentric and sometimes larger than life characters, this is a grand space adventure that relies heavily on sometimes quite violent action.I took a break after three chapters to order the two sequels and stayed up till the small hours to finish this one. Very highly recommended. 11/18/18

The Exile of the Skies by Richard Vaughan, Armchair, 2018 (originally published in 1934) 

Other than one short story, this is the only SF to appear under this name. I doubt anyone was clamoring for more. The protagonist inadvertently causes a disaster on Earth, so he runs off to outer space and interacts with various aliens and societies until he finds a way to redeem himself, which he eventually does. The prose is frequently awkward, the characters flat, the story anecdotal and poorly paced. The aliens are mostly caricatures and the humans only slightly better defined. The cover art is from an old Donald Wollheim anthology. 11/15/18

 Abduction by Steve Frazee, Armchair, 2018 

I’m not sure when or where this originally appeared but it may be “Flying Saucers Do Exist” from 1957. It is not, as I suspected, a shorter version of The Sky Block. It’s only a novelette and it’s a pretty laid back and uneventful story about a man who claims to have been abducted by aliens in a flying saucer, and his story turns out to be true. Completely forgettable. 11/15/18

Pressure by Brian Keene, Thomas Dunne, 2016

The ocean floor near Mauritius begins to collapse, potentially endangering the entire island. Those investigating are plagued by constant equipment malfunctions which exceed probability. An experienced diver nearly dies under odd circumstances, and she tells people privately that she saw something inexplicable and that there was some sort of physical effect on her exposed skin. The first half  of the novel is quite good, but about midway it turns into our heroes vs the evil corporation, which has been done to death. The monsters take a back seat to the human villains and the story lost much of its appeal to me. 11/14/18

Time Tunnel by Murray Leinster, Pyramid, 1964  

This is not related to the television show of the same name, for which Leinster would later write two tie-in novels. This one involves a scientist who figures out how to open a tunnel through time back to 1804 France. Unfortunately, it appears that someone else has made use of it and is changing history. But with the world on the brink of a nuclear war, maybe changing history is not such a bad idea. The novel uses the wave theory of time change – people suddenly find that their memories are different rather than just not having the displaced ones at all. There are some minor adventures in the past but most of the novel consists of the various characters trying to decide how to deal with things. Quite minor. 11/13/18

Thunderbird by Jack McDevitt, Ace, 2015

I haven’t read Ancient Shores in many years so I don’t know if this is a sequel or just very similar. A stargate is discovered on Sioux reservation territory and, rather incredibly, the Sioux have been granted control of it despite complaints from the United Nations as well as factions in the US. It only leads to three very different locations, but it is possible that these in turn lead to others and the slow motion but often interesting exploration gets underway. The pace was too slow for me to really enjoy this one as much as I usually do with this author. 11/11/18

The Other Side of Nowhere by Murray Leinster, Berkley, 1964 

The protagonist signs on as first mate of a cargo ship but quickly discovers that something is wrong. The crew all signed on together. The steward has bugged the captain’s quarters, and the captain knows about it but has said nothing. The captain is also inordinately angry at the inclusion of some last minute passengers. Clearly the captain has some secret plan, but so does the crew and our hero finds himself caught between the two, and responsible for the protection of the passengers as well. The serial version of this pretty good space opera was titled Spaceman. 11/10/18

Invasion of the Plant Men by Berkeley Livingston, Armchair, 2018 (originally published in 1943) 

Livingston wrote quite a bit of SF during the 1940s, but none of it memorable. This one is no exception. The protagonist is aware of odd events happening in a remote area and is puzzled by a strange man who seems to exert unusual influence over a scientist. He turns out to be the leader of an invasion force of plant men who grow their soldiers in the ground. The story takes forever to really get started and then sputters and dies in silliness and bad writing. 11/9/18

Anthropologica Incognita edited by Chad Arment, Coachwhip, 2009 

This is a collection of early stories about alternate humans, although for the most part they are missing links, gorillas, or other apes who have developed in secret. One of the stories openly praises slavery and the plantation system in the American south. There are very few well known authors this time, but the stories are generally entertaining if repetitive. There is one about diminutive humans who are part snake that provided a nice change of pace The best stories – E.F. Benson, H.P. Lovecraft, and Gouverneur Morris – come near the end. 11/7/18

Probability Shadow by Mark Laporta, Chickadee Prince, 2018, $12.99, ISBN 978-0-9997569-2-8

First in a space opera trilogy. The prize is a planet with enormous mineral resources. The contestants are humans and aliens, including a race generally believed to be "evil," the latter of which erupts into a devastating invasion force. The good guys have to unite disparate races and political interests, androids, mutants, and other parties into a coherent force to oppose them. The only solution is to somehow imprison the bad aliens in a kind of pocket universe from which they cannot escape. Lots of adventure, a few very good scenes, and generally a likeable plot. I thought the author tried to shoehorn a few too many things into a relatively short book, which makes the writing feel hasty at times. 11/6/18

Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor, Saga, 2014 

An alien vessel crashes in the ocean near Lagos, Nigeria. Three humans are transformed and fated to play a key role in the events that follow. The aliens are shapeshifters with powers so strange that I am tempted to call this fantasy instead of SF – and there is one scene in story which definitely does involve magic. Will outside powers destroy the aliens? Can they even if they want to? And the consequent unrest ravages one of the largest cities in the world. There was a lot of interesting stuff in the novel, but at times I couldn’t figure out what was going on, and I couldn’t always understand the motivations of the characters. 11/4/18

The Duplicators by Murray Leinster, Ace, 1964 

This is a rather silly story about two men who arrive on the only planet that has matter duplicators, which are unknown elsewhere. The human colonists have lost all technology because they don’t need it, and they assign all business transactions to the piglike natives, the uffts, who resent the human domination. The humans have an elaborate system of etiquette which almost gets the newcomers hanged. Slight at best. Magazine title was Lord of the Uffts. 11/3/18

The Lost Level by Brian Keene, Apex, 2015 

This is part of a projected series of adventure stories in a kind of rationalized multiverse where all possibilities and all worlds can be reached. The protagonist somehow finds himself on the Lost Level, which is the only one with no exit. There he finds reptile men, a beautiful captive woman, dinosaurs, and bits of pieces from numerous realities. It’s an unabashed pulp style adventure and it reminded me a lot of Edgar Rice Burroughs, A Princess of Mars with a dash of Pellucidar. Kind of fun but it didn’t make me rush right over to the computer to order a copy of the sequel. 11/3/18

What Might Have Been by Ernest Bramah, John Murray, 1907

This was, I believe, Bramah’s only attempt at futuristic fiction except for a brief sequel. It was a wise decision. This is a broad and ponderous satire set in an alternate history in which Napoleon won at Waterloo and England adopted a socialist government. Naturally the government grabs all the available money and the masses are worse off than ever, but a public relations campaign and control of the media mask all of the shortcomings. This was almost unreadable. I broke off to read something else four times before I made it to the end.  11/1/18

Arboris Mysterius edited by Chad Arment, Coachwhip, 2015   

Third volume of stories of malevolent plants. Although generally well enough written, there are just too many stories about vampire orchids and overgrown Venus Flytraps and they become monotonous after a while. Howard Wandrei, Seabury Quinn, Harl Vincent, A. Hyatt Verrill, and quite a few unknown writers are included here but there are no really well known tales. I think this particular vein has been pretty much exhausted, at least among public domain stories. 11/1/18

Talents, Inc. by Murray Leinster, Avon, 1962 

This is a fairly minor Leinster space adventure that has much of the feel of the Med Ship series. An aggressive interstellar empire is about to annex a peaceful world when a man shows up from Talents, Incorporated, a company he founded to make use of people with unusual talents, like precognition and contagious dreaming. His people turn the tide of battle in increments and the story eventually ends with the collapse of the evil empire. The odds are so stacked in favor of the protagonists that there is not much tension and some of the tricks seemed fairly obvious to me, but it’s an okay casual read. 10/28/18

Flora Curiosa edited by Chad Arment, Coachwhip, 2013   

More stories of plants that never were, this time including a number of well known authors including H.G. Wells, Ambrose Bierce, Algernon Blackwood, William Hope Hodgson, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Orchids with killer scents, man-eating plants, vampire trees, and other vegetable horrors rear their heads. There are two novellas by Blackwood. “The Willows” is a classic but “The Man the Trees Loved” is tedious and over wrought.  I was surprised not to see Philip Fisher’s “Fungus Isle” in any of the three anthologies in this series. 10/26/18

Newshound 2103 A.D. by Milton Lesser, Armchair, 2018 (originally published in 1955) 

Lesser had an interesting idea but did little with it in this novella. In the future, using predictive tools, newspapers predict rather than report the news, and when their predictions seem to be going awry, they use various real world methods to make them come true. The story concentrates on the rivalry between two major newspapers and the morality of causing a war just to avoid losing circulation, but everything is so simple minded and unrealistic that the story feels more like a proposal than a finished product. 10/25/18

Operation Terror by Murray Leinster, Berkley, 1962

There are reports of an alien landing in a remote lake and the local population is in a panic. The protagonist, a cartographer, gets into all sorts of difficulties when he attempts to rescue a woman he believes was inadvertently left behind in the danger zone. They have various adventures, begin to suspect that humans are cooperating with aliens, invent two different counter weapons using ordinary household items, and finally discover that the whole thing was a hoax to get other countries to adopt defensive measures. This last bit is so absurdly implausible and unnecessary that it ruins what might otherwise have been a decent novel. 10/24/18

Forsaken by Michael McBride, Pinnacle, 2018 

Sequel to Subhuman, which was my least favorite of McBride’s books until this one, which I liked even less. There’s just too much kitchen sink stuff, ancient ruins, civilization in Antarctica, instant mutation of adult humans, an alien visitor with superhuman powers, a crack team of soldiers, mysterious deaths, crop circles, etc. And too many viewpoint characters. I have thorough enjoyed several of the author’s novels, but these two just try to do too much at once. And this is obviously not the final book in the series. There is certainly plenty of violent action, some of it quite well done and suspenseful. 10/22/18

Zero A.D. by Robert Wade, Armchair, 2018 (originally published in 1948) 

A scientist claims that Earth is only a few years old, that everyone’s memory is false and that history is just make believe because it is all part of an experiment conducted by a superior intelligence. Of course he has no evidence, no reason to have come up with the theory, and it proves to be true. We only discover that after a newspaper reporter loses his job and starts an informal investigation that turns up the highly improbable truth in a highly improbable fashion. The novel originally appeared as by Lee Francis. Wade was also half of Whit Masterson and wrote alone as Wade Miller. 10/21/18

Civil War by Stuart Moore, Titan, 2018 

This is a novelization of the graphic novel and it involves a much larger number of the Marvel universe characters than were in the movie. It is also much darker in tone. Ironman/Stark wants to register all metahumans, expose their secret identities, and regulate how they act. Captain America/Rogers is vehemently opposed. All of the other characters take sides, sometimes changing, except that Dr. Strange and the X-Men stay neutral, the Hulk is somewhere lost in space, and both Thor and Nick Fury are dead. The story is pretty well done until the end, which is not Moore’s fault, but which concludes with the fascists winning, Rogers imprisoned, Sue Richard unaccountably going back to her husband, and Tony Stark the unspoken world dictator with control of Shield, the Avengers, and fifty other superhuman groups. I found the set up horribly contrived and making Stark a raving fascist didn’t help. I found the end appalling. 10/20/18

Botanica Delira edited by Chad Arment, Coachwhip, 2010  

A collection of stories about cryptobotany, i.e. plants that never existed. There is a lot of repetition in this one. Almost half the protagonists are hunting orchids when they have strange encounters. And there are a lot of stories about carnivorous plants that grow large enough to eat people. A couple of them are quite good: “Lamparagua” by Mary Crommelin and the anonymously written spoof, “A Flesh Eating Plant.” One of the stories involves Sherlock Holmes and another Dr. Fu Manchu. There is also a story by Louisa May Alcott. Good, but not as even as the editor’s cryptozoological anthologies. 10/18/18

Creatures of the Abyss by Murray Leinster, Berkley, 1961

An electronics whiz is enticed aboard a yacht that is investigating the appearance of strange fish and other anomalies in the vicinity of the Luzon Deep. Readers will be way ahead of the characters in guessing that aliens are visiting the ocean depths for some reason and their presence is causing the unusual phenomena. Although the plot sounds like a B SF horror film, the story is actually very restrained and low key. There is a structural problem in that everyone is keeping secrets even when there is no point to it, primarily to deprive the reader of information. One of my favorite Leinster novels. 10/15/18

Creature Features edited by Chad Arment, Coachwhip, 2018 

This is the most recent in a series of anthologies about cryptids, animals that don’t really exist, or at least not any more. Since the stories are all public domain, recent ones like yetis, Chupacabra, and even the Loch Ness Monster are missing. This time we have a few different invisible creatures, another that lives high in the air, sea creatures, swamp critters, and one from another dimension. Nelson Bond, Edmond Hamilton, and Robert Moore Williams are among the contributors. The Williams story is one of his best and the Bond is "The Monster from Nowhere," his most famous. 10/14/18

Who Is the Black Panther? by Jesse J. Holland, Titan, 2018

This is an absolutely awful tie-in to the Black Panther movie. The prose is okay but not great. The plot is insultingly bad. The premise is that the US government wants to subjugate Wakanda, so they hire Klaw, who recruits a neighboring nation’s army, buttressed by Batroc, the Black Knight, and the Rhinoceros to conduct an invasion and change of regime. The US general behind this is cartoonish even in the age of Trump. That would be bad enough, but the Black Panther suddenly decrees that his traditional bodyguard will suddenly be changed into an espionage organization despite tradition, their objection, and their almost complete lack of training in that area. The invasion proves to him that he should reverse his decision. Boring, irritating, silly, and drawn out. 10/12/18

Mayhem in Manhattan by Len Wein and Marv Wolfman, Pocket, 1978

The first ever Spider-Man novel is pretty minor. A mysterious villain is forcing the heads of all the oil companies into a single entity under his control. Spidey, who has unjustly been accused of murdering a man who tried to resist the arch-villain, has to figure out what is going on and foil the plan. It is supposed to be a mystery who is behind everything until very late in the book, but it is obvious in the opening chapter that the chief bad guy is Dr. Octopus. Not much appeal for minimally sophisticated readers. 10/12/18

Everybody Wants to Rule the World by Dan Abnett, Titan, 2018 

The Avengers have a lot on their hands in this original adventure. Hydra has a new plague, AIM launches a new campaign using nanotechnology, Dormammu invades and transforms Siberia, the High Evolutionary is at large, and Ultron is on the verge of becoming a superintelligence so powerful that it will command the universe. Thor, Hulk, Ironman, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Captain America have their work cut out for them as all communications around the world are blocked, making it impossible to coordinate. This was a surprisingly engaging adventure for a tie-in novel and perhaps more so because I had distinct images and voices for most of the characters. The hardcover edition of this novel was in 2015. 10/11/18

The Avengers Battle the Earth-Wrecker by Otto Binder, Bantam, 1967

The writing in this very early Avengers novel was not as good as in the comic books and the story is ridiculous. The Avengers consists of Captain America, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, Iron Man, Goliath and the Wasp, and Hawkeye. They are opposed by Karzz, a shapechanging alien from the far future whose plan of conquest was foiled by humans five thousand years from now. So he has come back through time to destroy the Earth using four methods – a comet drawn by a magnet, melting the ice caps, setting off massive volcanic eruptions, and creating superhurricanes. The Avengers naturally object but Karzz has a rather ineffective force field and is not too bright. They eventually cause time to run backward so that all of the damage is undone. Terrible book. 10/11/18

Beyond the Walls of Space by S.M. Tenneshaw, Armchair, 2018 

This is a house pseudonym and the author in this case has never been identified. I wouldn’t admit to having written it. A large collection of bad clichés thrown together. There is a hidden planet whose population menaces Earth. A domineering woman from another race. Mysterious eents in space. Battles. Silly arguments and sillier plot developments. Encompasses all of the bad things that mainstream readers thought about SF at the time. I'm not surprised no one admits to having written it. 10/10/18

Zoologica Fantastica edited by Chad Arment, Coachwhip, 2013 

Another collection of stories about animals that never existed, quite a variety of them this time including white gorillas, deadly butterflies, prehistorical survivals, invisible cave monsters, creatures living in the upper atmosphere, and so on. The authors are mostly minor or even virtually unknown but most of the stories are quite readable. All but one were published before 1940. For some reason the last four in the book are of much lower quality than the rest, all routine and sometimes inept pulp adventures. Since all of the stories are in the public domain, the editor had a limited pool from which to choose.10/9/18

The Wailing Asteroid by Murray Leinster, Avon, 1960

A strange signal from the asteroid belt stimulates memories buried in a man's mind and he develops a new space drive so that he can investigate. He finds an abandoned fortress in space with weapons he does not know how to use, and the instruments suggest that a hostile alien fleet is en route to the solar system to destroy humanity completely. This is rather old fashioned and relies on coincidences and short cuts, but the scenes where they explore the empty battle station gave me the same feeling of wonder that I felt when I first read this almost half a century ago. It was filmed - rather horribly - as The Terrornauts with a screenplay by John Brunner. 10/7/18

Exit Strategy by Martha Wells, Tor, 2018, $17.99, ISBN 978-1-250-19185-4 

The fourth and I think last of the Murderbot stories. Murderbot discovers that his human friend and benefactor has been taken hostage by the evil corporation it has been fighting throughout the series, so this adventure takes place in and around its corporate headquarters. Although all four novellas have very similar plots, the protagonist makes all the difference. Having hacked its own code to prevent being controlled, it now passes for human, mostly, and it’s favorite pastime is watching the equivalent of television programs. The first in the series won a Hugo last year and I would not be surprised to see a repeat. 10/5/18

Bestiarium Cryptozoologicum edited by Chad Arment, Coachwhip     

The fourth in a series of anthologies about creatures that never were. There is more variety in this one than in the other volumes. Mammoths, giant bears, giant pumas, sewer monsters, humanoids, oversized snakes, etc. The authors include Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, William Fryer Harvey, H.G. Wells, and Jack London, although there are also good stories by people I’d never previous heard of, particularly Alexander Ricketts. The settings are well scattered across the world and the prose styles are quite varied as well. I was familiar with several this time, but still fewer than half of the entries. Lots of fun. 10/3/18

Design for Doomsday by Bryce Walton, Armchair, 2018 (magazine publication in 1947)  

I vaguely recall having enjoyed some of this author’s short stories, but this novella is definitely not one of them. The Martians have a dictatorship which has imposed a repressive regime on Earth and elsewhere. Our two fisted hero has to escape incarceration and overthrow the evil overlords, which he accomplished without much difficulty. The writing is choppy and sometimes silly. It feels more like a 1950s comic book story. The cover art is from Bow Down to Nul by Brian W. Aldiss 10/2/18