Involution Ocean: Bruce Sterling’s first novel, now on audio

Involution Ocean by Bruce Sterling

John Newhouse is a middle-aged man addicted to a drug called Flare which is synthesized from the oil of a whale that lives in a large sea of dust on a hostile planet. John lives with several other drug addicts. When Flare is declared illegal and their stash runs dry, John and one of his roommates decide to join a whaling ship’s crew so they can get access to the oil they’ll need to manufacture the drug for themselves. John is hired as the ship’s cook while his friend comes aboard as a deckhand.

The crew of the ship is odd. John is attracted to the woman who has wings like a bat and can fly, but she’s allergic to human touch. The captain of the ship, who is obsessed with the strange creatures that live in the dust sea, might be crazy. John wonders why he’s hiding a propeller and other odd things in a secret storehouse.

When John and his friend manage to get hold of some wh... Read More

Kingdoms of Elfin: Brrr!

Kingdoms of Elfin by Sylvia Townsend Warner

I first read Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Kingdoms of Elfin (1977) almost twenty years ago. At the time, I was using the recommendation lists in the back of Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling’s fairy tale books as a to-read list (side note: I highly recommend this; I found lots of amazing books that way). The online used-book market was not what it is today, so I found most of them by haunting the local used bookstores constantly to see if anything on the list had appeared since my last visit. Kingdoms of Elfin was one of the hardest to find. When I finally did, it left me with a lasting impression of sad and unsettling content delivered in beautiful prose.

When I heard that  Read More

Dreadful Sleep: Some kind of ultimate pulp mash-up

Dreadful Sleep by Jack Williamson

At the end of my recent review of Jack Williamson’s 1933 novel Golden Blood, which initially appeared as a six-part serial in the pages of Weird Tales magazine, I mentioned that the author had later placed another serial in that same pulp publication, and that I meant to seek it out. Well, I am here to tell you MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! That later serial, Dreadful Sleep, was a three-part affair in the March - May 1938 issues (although it didn’t cop any front-cover illustrations, as had Golden Blood, the great Virgil Finlay did contribute drawings for the interior spreads), and I was happy to lay my hands on what I had thought was the novel’s only subsequent publ... Read More

Stardance: A dated double-award winner

Stardance by Spider Robinson & Jeanne Robinson

Spider & Jeanne Robinson’s Stardance was first published in Analog in 1977 and won both the Hugo and the Nebula Awards for Best Novella. It was up against Vonda N. McIntyre’s Aztecs, John Varley’s In the Hall of the Martian Kings, Gregory Benford’s A Snark in the Night and Keith Laumer’s The Wonderful Secret. In 1978, Analog published a sequel called Stardance II. The two stories were combi... Read More

The Best of Leigh Brackett: A wonderful collection from the “Queen of Space Opera”

The Best of Leigh Brackett by Leigh Brackett

Back in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, Ballantine Books had a wonderful thing going with its “Best of” anthology series: 21 generously packed books celebrating 21 of the most influential authors of science fiction’s Golden Age, all reasonably priced at $1.95 (I refer here to the paperback editions, all of which I managed to collect) and all featuring beautiful cover art and informative introductions by a distinguished sci-fi author or critic. I loved every one of the “Best of” collections back when (OK, I wasn’t overly fond of The Best of John W. Campbell), and found them all to be perfect introductions to the 21 writers involved. But of all those many volumes, one of my favorites of the bunch was The Best of Read More

A Scanner Darkly: The harsh and trippy 1970s California drug scene

A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick

Whether unjustly or not, no other science fiction author has been as closely linked to the 1960s drug culture — at least in the public eye — as Philip K. Dick … and understandably so. From the San Francisco bar in The World Jones Made (1956) that dispensed pot and heroin, to the Bureau of Psychedelic Research in The Ganymede Takeover (1966); from the amphetamine and LSD use in Ubik (1969) to the afterlife description in A Maze of Death (1970) that Dick mentions was based on one of his own LSD trips; from the time travel narcotic JJ-180 in Now Wait For Last Year (1966) to the drugbars in Our Friends From Frolix-8 (1970); from the Can-... Read More

An Introduction to Thanos: Marvel’s Supreme Villain!

Silver Surfer: Rebirth of Thanos and The Infinity Gauntlet by Jim Starlin

If you are at all interested in the villain haunting the cosmic portion of the Marvel Universe, then you might want to check out these two titles: Silver Surfer: Rebirth of Thanos and The Infinity Gauntlet. Both are trade collections that tell one grand story of the power-hungry Titan known as Thanos. You've seen his big, scheming smile on his enormous purple face at the end of The Avengers, and you are going to see more and more of it in the coming years as Hollywood embraces a new villain in space: Darth Vadar, please stand aside, here comes Thanos!

Silver Surfer: Rebirth of Thanos starts with so... Read More

A Scent of New-Mown Hay: Very suspenseful

 A Scent of New-Mown Hay by John Blackburn

The old whimsical phrase "there's fungus among us" might not sound so amusing after a reader finishes John Blackburn's first novel, A Scent of New-Mown Hay. This short (my New English Library paperback edition from 1976 is only 160 pages long) but densely written book originally appeared in 1958, and is a curious combination of sci-fi, horror and spy thriller. I first came to hear of it after reading a very laudatory article on the novel in the excellent overview volume Horror: Another 100 Best Books edited by Stephen Jones and Kim Newman. And yes, A Scent of New-Mown Hay certainly does contain its horrific elements, although the less said about them, the better. I'd hate to spoil any surprises for prospective readers.

Suffice it to say that the book opens in 1... Read More

Dying of the Light: GRRM’s impressive debut

Dying of the Light by George R.R. Martin

In the outer fringe of the inhabited universe, the rogue planet Worlorn falls darkly through space. But years ago it circled the Wheel of Fire, the brilliant wheel-shaped star system that is worshipped by many in the outworlds. Worlorn, the Wheel of Fire’s only planet, was lit for fifty years before it wandered off again. During that half-century, the outworlds held a cultural diversity festival on Worlorn, with each world trying to outdo the others when building their extravagant temporary cities on a planet they knew they’d only inhabit for a few decades.

Now that Worlorn is fading into darkness again, the cities are almost completely abandoned, but there are a few people left on the planet. When Dirk t’Larien is summoned there by Gwen, the ex-girlfriend he still loves, he discovers that Worlorn is no longer a festival planet. Now it’s dark and dangerous. Worse, though, is that Gw... Read More

Lucifer’s Hammer: Exciting disaster story

Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

When bored millionaire Tim Hamner discovers a new comet, he’s excited to finally accomplish something without the help of his family. Harvey Randall, who’s producing a TV documentary about the comet, expects his show to be wildly popular. And the American and Russian astronauts who are chosen to study the comet are proud to be chosen for such an important international mission.

All the experts said there was no way the Hamner comet would hit the Earth. But there are always plenty of people who are ready to panic — the type who start hoarding guns, ammo, and canned food. Then there are the types who are ready to prey on the panicky folks — doomsday cults declaring it’s the end of the world, or burglars waiting for the rich people to flee their expensive homes. When the comet does hit the earth, all those weirdos and the normal folks who are left must figure ... Read More

A Dream of Wessex: Explores the meaning and perception of reality

A Dream of Wessex by Christopher Priest

Written in 1977, Christopher Priest’s A Dream of Wessex stands at the midpoint of media questioning reality. Falling on the tail end of Philip Dick and his oeuvre’s continual exploration of metaphysical meaning, A Dream of Wessex is also an (unheralded) fore-runner to science fiction featuring uncertain realities that followed in the 1990’s. Many ideas that are exploited in films such as The Matrix or Inception can find their conception in Priest’s tale of a scientific experiment into alternate realities. In particular, the dream-within-a-dream and mind disconnected from body plot devices can be seen as strong precursors to these modern examples.

A Dream of Wessex also marks the midpoint of another aspe... Read More

East of Midnight: Races along on every page

East of Midnight by Tanith Lee

It Died Eight Times My Love. After that, Love Stays Dead...

Tanith Lee once again proves herself a master of young adult fantasy with this wonderful (but apparently little known) story of the battle of the sexes. Set in a gloriously created world where women ride horned lions and rule over mankind, East of Midnight is a book that is easy to read, yet raises a range of questions on the differences between man and woman and the way in which we interact with each other.

At the beginning of the story, Lee herself writes where her inspiration came from: "Old legends have it, before men were kings, women ruled large areas of the world. They were as powerful and ruthless as any of the man-ruled states which came after. Indeed, the harshness of men towards women in many early societies was, they said, due to the cruelty the fema... Read More

Bridge to Terabithia: The pain and joy of being a child

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

They say that the book is often better than the movie and that statement definitely applies to Bridge to Terabithia. The movie gets only 2 stars, but the book is worthy of 5 stars. While the movie had very good actors and great special effects, somewhere along the way it lost the soul of the book. No other piece of fantasy writing has so clarified for me the exquisite pain and joy of being a child. Of being terrified of one’s powerlessness, while at the same time being elated at discovering friendship and the use of one’s imagination.

Bridge to Terabithia was first read to me as a child by my sixth grade religion teacher. I have often wondered what made her choose this book, but now I believe that it was the message of hope Katherine Paterson concludes her story with that appealed to my teacher. For me it was the... Read More