Midworld: Interesting biological science fiction

Midworld by Alan Dean Foster

On a faraway planet with a dense jungle ecosystem, a human colony ship accidentally landed generations ago. The planet killed all but a few hardy survivors and their offspring evolved, along with the jungle, into a symbiotic pseudo-human race.

A man named Born is one of the descendants of those few humans. In his early manhood, he is eager to prove himself a mighty hunter and a desirable mate for a girl he has a crush on. Among his people, who live in the trees, he’s somewhat of an oddity, unconventional and curious, daring to traverse areas of the jungle that are higher or lower than his people are usually willing to go.

On one of his risky excursions, Born discovers an alien (human) spaceship inhabited by people who have recently landed on the newly discovered planet, strayed from their base, and become lost in the hostile jungle. Being adventurous and brave, and wanting to impress t... Read More

Companions on the Road: One is good, one is great

Companions on the Road by Tanith Lee

I'm a big fan of Tanith Lee. Like many great fantasy writers, Lee understood that to truly transport a reader, it's not enough to talk about dragons or swords or magic systems. Readers are transported just as much or more by the way these things are talked about. Lee's work has that eerie, otherworldly feel that characterizes the best works of this genre. She could make a story about a squirrel looking for nuts feel like something dredged from a forgotten and more romantic epoch. And sometimes, that's… well, more or less what she did. Lee's writing has sparked life into many prosaic ideas. But where she really showed her mettle was when she settled onto an idea worthy of her.

With that said, Companions on the Road (at least as it presently exists) is a compilation work of ... Read More

The Black Druid: Part 2 of a classic collection

The Black Druid by Frank Belknap Long

In my recent review of Frank Belknap Long’s short-story collection The Hounds of Tindalos, I mentioned that when this hardcover volume was initially released by Arkham House in 1946, it contained 21 tales, encompassing the genres of science fiction, fantasy and horror. I also mentioned that most later reprintings of this now classic collection contained only half of those 21 stories, including the 1975 edition that I recently wrote about; the one from the British publishing firm Panther. But later that same year, Panther released the other half of the 1946 classic in a collection entitled The Black Druid, a paperback that I eagerly sought out after enjoying Part 1 so very much. As would be... Read More

Dogsbody: Another gem from the mind of Diana Wynne Jones

Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jones

My usual response to reading any book by Diana Wynne Jones is: "how does she come up with this stuff?" This is swiftly followed by bewilderment (especially in the wake of Harry Potter) that nobody has ever adapted any of her work, despite the fact her stories would make for excellent on-screen entertainment.

Dogsbody (1975) is no exception. It begins by introducing the immortal Dog Star Sirius, who is in serious trouble with his peers. Accused of murder and theft, Sirius is sentenced to life on Earth as a mortal dog, where he is sentenced to die after his considerably shortened lifespan. He has only one chance at redemption: he can return to his celestial home only if he tracks down the mysterious stolen Zoi and returns it to the heavens.

Bu... Read More

The Transfigured Hart: Now I will believe that there are unicorns


The Transfigured Hart by Jane Yolen

The Transfigured Hart, a 1975 novella by the talented Jane Yolen, was recently republished as part of Tachyon Publications’ Particle e-book imprint. It’s a lovely, evocative tale, juxtaposing fairy-tale-like fantasy and a contemporary rural setting.

Richard and Heather are twelve-year-old neighbors with vastly different personalities who barely know each other. Richard, an orphan who lives with his aunt and uncle, is an introspective loner. A long bout with rheumatic fever has given him the habit of reading, and the habit has remained with him. Heather is an enjoyer of life and people, and she particularly enjoys going off by herself on adventures. But both Richard and Heather love the Five Mile Wood.

When his aunt and uncle think he’s leaving th... Read More

Peace: Mysterious, atmospheric and tinged with nostalgia

Peace by Gene Wolfe

Although virtually unclassifiable, Gene Wolfe's 1975 novel, Peace, was chosen for inclusion in both David Pringle's Modern Fantasy: The Hundred Best Novels AND Jones & Newman's Horror: Another 100 Best Books. While the novel certainly does have shadings of both the horrific and the fantastic, it will most likely strike the casual reader — on the surface, at least — as more of an autobiography, telling, as it does, the story of Alden Dennis Weer, in the first person.

Weer, a 60... Read More

The Shockwave Rider: An important SF work from a lesser known writer

The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

Something of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, John Brunner is one of the more intriguing though lesser recognized figures in science fiction history. Much the same as Robert Silverberg, he cut a path for himself in genre writing that is essentially pulp sci-fi but later began introducing novels of significantly greater depth to his oeuvre. Stand on ZanzibarThe Sheep Look Up, and The Jagged Orbit are some of the most important novels the field has produced. Drastically elevating the form above common genre trappings, a fourth novel is generally added... Read More

Salem’s Lot: Old school vampires, King-style

Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

Starting in 2012/2013 I started obsessing on Stephen King. I'm slowly working my way through his catalog, which means I should have a pretty full life of King left to me, right? I'm a huge fan of It, The Stand, The Shining, and I actually really enjoyed Under the Dome. I wanted more, and so I’ve gone old school with Salem's Lot.

I'm over the whole vampire thing, trust me, but I've found that King is so much more than monsters and things that go bump in the night. He is at his artistic best when turning the mundane into the profane, or peeling back the layers of what's public and private, and then igniting even the smallest evil into the ... Read More

High-Rise: Lord of the Flies in an urban luxury high-rise

High-Rise by J.G. Ballard

If you had the chance, would you live in a massive, 1,000-unit luxury high-rise with its own supermarket, liquor shop, schools, pools, gyms, etc.? Instead of living in some dreary suburb with boring, prosaic neighbors, why not join an elite group of young and successful professionals, like-minded and sophisticated, with immaculate taste and superb social connections? Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to join the elite upper echelons of society? This is the scenario that J.G. Ballard creates in High-Rise (1975), and then proceeds to plunge the reader into a nightmare of barbarity, roving bands of marauding residents, festering piles of garbage and refuse, and a total collapse of social order and morals. It is a deliciously dark fable, one that was spot-on back in 1975, and that remains incredibly relevant toda... Read More

Norstrilia: The only novel set in the “Instrumentality of Mankind” universe

Norstrilia by Cordwainer Smith

I’ve always wanted to read the work of Cordwainer Smith (pen name of Paul Linebarger, a scholar and diplomat who was an expert on East Asia and psychological warfare), who also moonlighted as a quirky SF author who wrote a number of short stories mainly in the 1950s and 60s set in the Instrumentality of Mankind, a full-fledged galaxy-spanning far-future universe.

Smith has something of a cult following, but really only has a few books to his credit: the collected short stories that can be found in The Instrumentality of Mankind (1974), The Best of Cordwainer Smith (1975), and The Rediscovery of Man (1993). He wrote only one novel, Norstrilia (1975), which was initially split into two novellas titled The Planet Buyer (1964) and The Underpeople... Read More

The Centauri Device: A simple story deliciously told

The Centauri Device by M. John Harrison

M. John Harrison’s 1975 The Centauri Device is a rare beast in science fiction. Short (200 pages), prosaic (the language is at most times brilliant), and with literary aims, it is sure to draw the disapproval of any genre fans expecting the easy-to-digest hero’s story typical of space opera. Harrison’s offering to the sci-fi world is instead one for connoisseurs who appreciate well-written stories with a driving — though it at times seeming fantastical and obtuse — purpose.

The Centauri Device is on the surface a rather simplistic story. John Truck, belying his name, is an average Joe living the life of a loser space trucker, hauling freight, legitimate and otherwise, planet to planet whenever contracts arise. He lives on Earth while the universe around him is at war. On one side are the IWG, a Jewish pro-capitalist faction who are at odds with the... Read More

The Stochastic Man: Silverberg very near the top of his game

The Stochastic Man by Robert Silverberg

Although his previous output had for several decades been nothing short of prodigious, by the mid-'70s, sci-fi great Robert Silverberg was finally beginning to slow down. The author had released no fewer than 23 sci-fi novels during his initial, "pulpy" phase (1954-1965), and a full 23 more from 1967-1972, his second, more mature, more literate period. And following 1972's Dying Inside — whose central conceit of a telepath losing his powers has often been seen as corresponding to Silverberg's self-professed, supposed diminution of his own writing abilities (not that any reader would ever be aware of it) — for the first time in the author's career, there were no new sci-fi novels for several years.

But as it turned out, Silverberg still had two more major works up his sleeve before calling it quits in 1976 (before he came roaring back with his MAJIPOOR CYCLE, starting in 1980): Read More

Falling Angel: A masterful horror novel

Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg

At one point in William Hjortsberg's masterful horror novel, Falling Angel, Epiphany Proudfoot, a 17-year-old voodoo priestess, tells the detective hero Harry Angel, "you sure know a lot about the city." The city in question is the New York of 1959, and if Angel knows a lot about this crazy burg, then Hjortsberg, in the course of this tale, demonstrates that he knows even more.

While much has been said of this book's scary elements — its voodoo ceremonies and Black Mass meeting and horrible murders — what impressed me most about this tale is the incredible attention to realistic detail that the author invests it with. I don't know if the author grew up in this town in the '50s or just did a remarkable research job, but the reader really does get the impression that this book (which came out in 1978) was written a few decades earlier. Roosevelt Island is called Welfare Island, quite ... Read More

The Deep: John Crowley’s first novel

The Deep by John Crowley

In a world very different from ours, two powerful factions fight for the throne. Alliances are made and shattered. Vows are sworn and broken. Brothers betray brothers; fathers betray sons; kings are imprisoned and queens make war. No, it’s not A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE. It’s The Deep, by John Crowley, published in 1975.

The Deep is Crowley’s first novel. It is unlike his other works, although certain themes come back into play in the AEGYPT QUARTET. At first it seems like it is based on the Wars of the Roses, but Crowley has said in interviews that he was inspired by the short reign of King Edward II.

The Reds and the Blacks have fought over the crown for several generations. During the most recen... Read More

Deathbird Stories: This 35 year-old collection has aged well

Deathbird Stories by Harlan Ellison®

If Harlan Ellison’s afterword from 2010 is to be believed, Deathbird Stories is a short story collection about the merits of religion and the religious. Given that Ellison is perhaps as confrontational as he is influential in sci-fi circles, we can expect him to crush eggshells as he goes. However, with a few exceptions (“Bleeding Stone,” for example) these stories tend to examine the values and ideas that we have placed at the forefront of our society. In short, Ellison explores the West’s changing values and the new deities of the 20th century.

New gods? Some readers may already be thinking of Neil Gaiman’s popular novel American Gods. Deathbird Stories was originally published in 1975, but it does treat divinity in a ... Read More