Three-Bladed Doom: Howard’s only El Borak novel

Three-Bladed Doom by Robert E. Howard

Even those readers who have previously thrilled to the exploits of such Robert E. Howard characters as Conan the Barbarian, King Kull of Valusia, the Puritan fighter of evil Solomon Kane, the Pictish king Bran Mak Morn, the piratical Cormac Mac Art, and boxer Steve Costigan might still be unfamiliar with the author’s El Borak. And, I suppose, there may be good reason for that. Howard only managed to sell five stories featuring the character before his suicide death, at age 30 in 1936, although 11 more would surface in later years. Of those 16 tales, only one was of a full novel length: Three-Bladed Doom. Like many other fans, this decades-long Howard buff had never run across this character before, and so, when I spotted the 1979 Ace edition of the Three-Bladed Doom Read More

The Devil in a Forest: “Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?”

The Devil in a Forest by Gene Wolfe

Gene Wolfe is different from most of us — at least, he’s certainly not like me. When I hear the song “Good King Wenceslas” I may wonder idly when the Feast of Stephen is (it’s December 26th, as I finally learned two years ago), if he was a real person (he was, although he was actually a duke) and, perhaps, if he was as good as all that (I have no idea). Gene Wolfe heard “Good King Wenceslas” and decided to write this book.

The Devil in a Forest is not a Christmas story, though it is a Christian story; the action takes place near and on the Mountain, within the “forest fence” and near a shrine to Saint Agnes, and that is, as far as I can tell, the end of the direct influence of the song on the story. As the story opens, a famed outlaw named Wat has begun to waylay pilgrim... Read More

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang: Send in the clones

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm

Sometimes, a book just has to be given a second chance. Case in point for this reader: Kate Wilhelm’s Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang. When I first started this book around 35 years ago, I could not get past page 20 or so, for some strange reason, and placed it back on my bookshelf unread, where it has remained all this time. Flash forward to last week, when I decided to give the book another chance (what with my supposed adult sophistication and matured patience), and guess what? The novel immediately sucked me right in, and I wound up zipping through the darn thing in record time, reveling in its lovely prose and completely engrossed in its multigenerational narrative. Go figure! Though it was not the author’s first book on the subject of cloning (that would be her debut sci-fi novel from 1965, The Clone), Wilhelm’s 1976 w... Read More

Man Plus: Puzzling and enjoyable

Man Plus by Frederik Pohl

In the 1970s Frederik Pohl produced a number of highly regarded science fiction novels. Man Plus, which earned a Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1976, shows its age just a bit but I still found it very much worth reading.

In the near future, as seen from the 1970s, we may well be there now, the world is in a pretty bad shape. The sheer size of the human population the earth has to support has put a strain on the resources available. Hunger is a serious problem, as are dictatorial regimes. The US finds itself increasingly alone as a bastion of democracy and capitalism. When a conflict with the Chinese threatens to get out of control and result in thermo-nuclear warfare, the US president is desperate to direct the attention of the public elsewhere. Thus NASA's program to create a man capable of surviving on the surface of Mars is born.

To make surviving the harsh cond... Read More

Deus Irae: A way-out scenario from Dick and Zelazny

Deus Irae by Philip K. Dick

Of the 36 science fiction novels, nine mainstream novels, one children's book and over 120 short stories that cult author Philip K. Dick produced before his premature death at age 53, in 1982, only two creations were done in collaboration with another author. The first was 1966's The Ganymede Takeover, which Dick co-wrote with budding writer Ray Nelson. An alien invasion novel that deals with the snakelike telepathic inhabitants of the Jovian moon as well as the Terran rebels who resist them, the novel was marginally successful and remains one of the oddballs of Dick's oeuvre.

In 1976, following Dick's Campbell Award-winning Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said and the release of his mainstream novel Confessions of a Crap Artist, Deus Irae finally saw the light of day. This was a stalled novel of Phil's that had been started a good nine years before and finished ... Read More

Triton: The Trouble with Triton; its main character, for starters

Triton by Samuel R. Delany

Samuel R. Delaney wrote Triton in 1974, but it was published in 1976, after his best-seller Dhalgren. Delany’s subtitle for this book was “An Amorphous Heterotopia,” and he stated at the time that the book was inspired by (or a response to) Ursula LeGuin’s “ambiguous utopia” The Dispossessed. Oh, how I wish that I had re-read that book instead of picking up this one.

Delany is a brilliant observer of humanity. I like what I have read of his memoirs and essays. I enjoyed The Fall of the Towers and Read More

Maske: Thaery: Fun and quick

Maske: Thaery byJack Vance

Jack Vance was a fairly prolific author during his writing career, publishing over sixty novels and various short stories in the genres of science fiction, fantasy, and mystery. During the 1960’s and 70’s many of his science fiction stories were set in a far future milieu which he termed the Gaean Reach. In these stories interstellar travel is common place, as is colonization of a multitude of solar systems throughout the galaxy. While some of the colonized planets contain alien life forms with which the human colonies have to co-exist, the majority of Vance’s works in the Gaean Reach deals with the many unusual human cultures that have developed over the many centuries of colonization. Vance is never what can be termed a “hard-science fiction” writer, but he shines at the “softer sciences” especially when coming up with strange and varied types of future human cultures a... Read More

Shadrach in the Furnace: Intriguing, exciting, tense

Shadrach in the Furnace by Robert Silverberg

It’s the summer of 2012 and the Earth is a disaster. A deadly virus has killed most of the world population and those who remain will eventually succumb to its organ-rotting effects if they are not given an antidote before they start to show symptoms. All of the national governments have collapsed and the world is now ruled by the opportunistic dictator Genghis II Mao IV Khan with the help of the bureaucrats who do his bidding. All of them have been inoculated against the virus and, according to the Khan, they are working on increasing their supply of the antidote so it can be distributed to the people. Meanwhile, the Khan spends his day in his room, observing the dying people with the surveillance equipment that watches every part his domain.

One of the Khan’s most important advisors is his doctor, Mordecai Shadrach, a tall attractive black man whose implanted sensors constantly alert him of ... Read More

Power of Three: One of DWJ’s best novels

Power of Three by Diana Wynne Jones

Combining the atmosphere of Celtic folklore with a plot reminiscent of Shakespeare's Hamlet, an intricate plot (including a huge twist halfway through that will completely turn your perception of the story on its head), and likable characters, Power of Three is one of Diana Wynne Jones' best novels — and so inevitably it is one of her least known.

Set on moorlands inhabited by Giants, reptilian Dorig and tribes of warrior-like clans, the first two chapters introduce the rest of the story to come. First, Adara and her bullish brother Orban come across a young Dorig princeling, and Orban demands the beautiful collar around its neck. Refusing, the Dorig places a deep curse upon the collar that will bestow bad luck upon the holder and the surroundings.

Chapter two takes place several years later when Adara elopes w... Read More