Dread Companion: Try the audio edition of this one

Dread Companion by Andre Norton

In the far future, a young woman named Kilda thinks it’s unfortunate that she was born as a woman because she’s expected to do what every woman on her planet does – get married and have children. Kilda wants to travel and learn, so she appeals to her teacher, a mixed-race handicapped person who also lacks opportunity on this world. Her teacher suggests that Kilda take a job as a governess for a woman who is going off planet with her two children. Kilda takes that advice and travels with her employer and the kids, a boy and a girl, to an Earth-like planet called Dylan.

Almost immediately Kilda realizes that her employer’s daughter, Bartare, is strange. She knows about things before others do, she doesn’t act very childlike, she doesn’t seem emotionally attached to her family, she talks as if she’s being guided by someone that Kilda can’t see, and she seems relentlessly driven to some ... Read More

The Atrocity Exhibition: Fascinating, disturbing, and informative

The Atrocity Exhibition by J.G. Ballard

Pablo Picasso had his “blue period,” Max Ernst his “American years,” and Georgia O’Keeffe her later “door-in-adobe” phase. For J.G. Ballard, the early part of his career could be called his “psychological catastrophe years.” Using environmental disaster as a doorway to viewing minds under duress, novels like The Drowned World, The Drought, and The Crystal World unpacked the underlying subject matter. For the next phase of his career, Ballard moved into the world of celebrity, media, violence, sexuality, and how they distort an... Read More

Tau Zero: A mythological journey in hard SF form

Tau Zero by Poul Anderson

Poul Anderson is, and mayhap always will be, the speculative fiction writer who most integrates myth and legend into fantasy and science fiction. The former is relatively easy given that myth and legend are typically already half fantasy, the latter is the more difficult given that one of the aims of science fiction is believable futuristic extrapolation. Failing spectacularly with The High Crusade (a novel that sees Medieval knights take a space ship to another planet to fight blue-skinned aliens), his 1970 Tau Zero is a more subtle mix. While lacking in fully humanized characters, it nevertheless captures the ideal of a mythological journey in hard SF form.

Tau Zero is the story of a group of fifty astronauts on a mission to a distant star system. The journey was planned to take five years subjective time, thirty-three ... Read More

The Fall of the Towers: Early Delany shows promise

The Fall of the Towers by Samuel R. Delany

Not yet out of his teens, Samuel Delany had his first short stories published in science fiction magazines around 1962. Moving on to works of greater length, he shortly thereafter published two novellas, the second of which was called Captives of the Flame. Seeing the story’s greater potential, he expanded the novella (to Out of the Dead City) and tacked on two additional novels, The Towers of Toron and City of a Thousand Suns to create a series. Strongly hinting at the unique books he would later write, these three novels are collected in an omnibus called The Fall of the Towers and are the subject of this review.

The Fall of the Towers is centered around Jon Koshar, the rebellious son of a fish hatchery magnate. Having k... Read More

The Cat Who Came In off the Roof: A Dutch treat for cat lovers

The Cat Who Came In off the Roof by Annie M.G. Schmidt

Annie M.G. Schmidt, who died in 1995, was a beloved and well-respected author in the Netherlands, her native land. In 1988 she won the Hans Christian Anderson Award, the most distinguished international award in children's literature, which is granted to authors and illustrators whose body of work has made a lasting contribution to children's literature. Unfortunately, until now Schmidt’s work has not been published in the English language, so she is not well known in the U.S. That may change with the 2016 publication of her 1970 book, The Cat Who Came In off the Roof (Dutch title: “Minoes”), recently translated by David Colmer.

Tibble, a painfully shy reporter, is on the verge of losing his job with the Killenthorn Courier newspaper: his editor is tired of his articles about cats (“there’s... Read More

Downward To The Earth: Coexisting beauty and horror

Downward to the Earth by Robert Silverberg

Up until recently, I hadn't read Robert Silverberg's brilliant sci-fi novel Downward to the Earth in almost 27 years, but one scene remained as fresh in my memory as on my initial perusal: the one in which the book's protagonist, Edmund Gundersen, comes across a man and a woman lying on the floor of a deserted Company station on a distant world, their still-living bodies covered in alien fluid that is being dripped upon them by a basket-shaped organism, whilst they themselves act as gestating hosts to some parasitic larvae. This scene, perhaps an inspiration for the similar happenings in the Alien film of a decade later, is simply unforgettable, but as a recent rereading of the book has served to demonstrate, it is just one of many superbly rendered se... Read More

Whipping Star: One of Herbert’s more interesting novels

Whipping Star by Frank Herbert

Whipping Star is one of Frank Herbert’s non-Dune books that Tor has been reprinting in recent years. This 1970 novel is the first full novel in the ConSentiency universe, which up to this point consisted of only two short stories. Both of them are contained in the collection Eye and may very well be included in other short fiction collections. Like these short stories, Whipping Star features the unusually observant BuSab agent Jorj X. McKie as a main character. This universe is also the setting of what I consider to be Herbert’s best non-Dune book: Read More

Apollo’s Song by The God of Manga (and Comics?)

Apollo's Song (Parts I & II) by Osamu Tezuka

Apollo's Song (Part I and Part II) by Osamu Tezuka is a imaginative tale of out-of-body experience, time travel, fantasy, science fiction, mythology and love, all by the God of Manga himself. If you've never heard of Osamu Tezuka, you are missing out. He's best known in the United States for Astro Boy, his very early comic-turned-anime that was broadcast in the U.S. as a Japanese-import English-dubbed cartoon. Unfortunately, as great as Read More

Our Friends from Frolix 8: Furious action, thought-provoking discourse

Our Friends from Frolix 8 by Philip K. Dick

Unlike Philip K. Dick's previous two novels, 1969's Ubik and 1970's A Maze of Death, his 27th full-length science fiction book, Our Friends From Frolix 8, was not released in a hardcover first edition. Rather, it first saw the light of day, later in 1970, as a 60-cent Ace paperback (no. 64400, for all you collectors out there). And whereas those two previous novels had showcased the author giving his favorite theme — the chimeralike nature of reality — a pretty thorough workout, Our Friends From Frolix 8 impresses the reader as a more "normal" piece of science fiction... although glints of Dickian strangeness do, of course, crop up.

Of all the Dick novels that I have read, Our Friends From Frolix 8 seems most reminiscent of 1964's The Simulacra. Both books feature the downfall of entrenched, duplicitous governmen... Read More

A Maze of Death: Intelligent SF thrills

A Maze of Death by Philip K. Dick

In Philip K. Dick's 25th science fiction novel, Ubik, a group of a dozen people is trapped in an increasingly bizarre world, in which objects revert to their previous forms, reality itself is suspect, and the 12 bewildered people slowly crumble to dust, murderously done in, Ten Little Indians style, by an unknown assailant. In his next published novel, A Maze of Death, Dick upped the ante a bit. Here, we find a group of 14 people, seemingly marooned on a very strange planet, while a murderous force picks them off one by one, driving them to madness and homicide. But while the two novels have those elements in common, they are otherwise as different as can be, with different themes and tones.  A Maze of Death  has been called one of Dick's "darkest" books, whereas Ubik, despite the outré happenings, maintains a comparatively humorous tone throughout.
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Beyond the Golden Stair: Better as a novella

Beyond the Golden Stair by Hannes Bok

Hannes Bokwas the pseudonym of Wayne Francis Woodward, a science fiction and fantasy illustrator and artist who also wrote. In 1948, Bok published a 35,000-word novella called “The Blue Flamingo” in Startling Stories. For decades, rumors circled the science fiction community that “The Blue Flamingo” was an excerpt from a larger novel. In 1970, after Bok’s death, Lin Carter found the manuscript and published it as Beyond the Golden Stair.

In his foreword, Carter talks about Bok’s adulation of Abraham Merritt, who, with books like The Moon Pool and Dwellers in the Mirage, had extended the subgenre of “the lost world.” Bok’s fantasy stories and books ... Read More

The Marvelous Misadventures of Sebastian: “We’ll never know”

The Marvelous Misadventures of Sebastian by Lloyd Alexander

Despite its mouthful of a title, this children's novel has everything that you would expect from a Lloyd Alexander story: a likable protagonist, a colorful supporting cast, plenty of twists and turns, and a profound morality at work that is so expertly melded into the storyline that many won't even realized they've been reading about it.

Set in what feels like sixteenth-century Italy (though Alexander is never specific on the time or location) young Sebastian is a fiddler for the Baron Purn-Hessel, up until the time a badly-timed discord on his fiddle coincides with the gluttonous Treasurer bending over. Thinking his pants have been torn, and then believing that Sebastian deliberately made the noise to embarrass him, the Treasurer demands his immediate dismissal — which is how Sebastian finds himself wandering the countryside with his fiddle and little ... Read More