The Artificial Kid: Early cyberpunk

The Artificial Kid by Bruce Sterling

Bruce Sterling’s 1980 novel The Artificial Kid wasn’t on my TBR list until Brilliance Audio published an audiobook edition a couple of months ago. I’m so happy to see these older science fiction novels being revived and made even more accessible to a new generation of speculative fiction readers. Last month I reviewed the new audio edition of Sterling’s first novel, Involution Ocean, also by Brilliance Audio. I hope we’ll be seeing more of his novels coming out in audio soon.

The Artificial Kid is Sterling’s second novel and, like Involution Ocean, it’s set on an imaginative world with fabulous scenery, has an unusual plot, contains ecological and evolutionary themes, and features bizarre char... Read More

Nightflyers: Mystery and horror aboard a haunted spaceship

Reposting to include Marion's review of the new SYFY channel adaptation of Nightflyers. You can find it below our reviews of the novella.

Nightflyers by George R.R. Martin

Nightflyers was first published in 1980, won the Locus Award for best novella, and was nominated for a Hugo Award. It was made into an unsuccessful film in 1987. It’s recently been on people’s radars due to the upcoming SYFY series based on the novella. You can purchase it in several new (2018) formats including an illustrated edition, a story collection, and an audio version. I listened to the audio version, which was narrated by a... Read More

The Land of Laughs: An entertaining and thought-provoking tale

The Land of Laughs by Jonathan Carroll

The Land of Laughs was written back in 1980 and I wonder how many readers know about it now. It’s written by Jonathan Carroll, who has written a number of offbeat modern fantasies, and I only know about it because it was selected by David Pringle for his Modern Fantasy: The 100 Best Novels. Even that is probably not enough to put it on most radars, but Neil Gaiman also chose it for his “Neil Gaiman Presents” series of audiobooks, so I listened to it during a series of long walks along Tokyo Bay in Rinkai Park. It’s narrated by Edoardo Ballerini, who does a nice job of capturing the strange events of the story.

The Read More

Timescape: Intimate but slow-moving story about scientists

Timescape by Gregory Benford

Timescape (1980) has been on my TBR list for 35+ years, I've long wanted to read physicist Gregory Benford, the book won the Nebula Award, and it deals with time paradoxes, which I find fascinating but invariably unconvincing. First off, most of the book’s considerable length is devoted to a slow-moving and detailed portrait of scientists (mostly physicists, but also some biologists and astronomers) at work in the lab as well as their personal relationships with colleagues and wives/girlfriends. So to describe this as a “techno-thriller” would be inaccurate. At the same time, Benford spends a lot more time on character development than most “hard science fiction.” In the end I had mixed feeling about this book. It was interesting at times but too slow-moving to generate much excitement.

The book is set in two time periods — the first is 1962 in La... Read More

Mockingbird: A warning against drug use and illiteracy

Mockingbird by Walter Tevis

In the 25th century, the human race is quickly dwindling. Robots and computers do all of the work while humans spend their meaningless lives in a drug-haze. From birth they are not educated except to be taught not to question their circumstances (“Don’t ask; relax.” “When in doubt, forget it.”) and not to get involved with other humans except to quickly satisfy sexual urges. Most people think they’re happy this way and any who become conscious enough to realize they’re not tend to kill themselves. A preferred method is to set themselves afire in public while others try not to stare. Getting involved would be “invasion of privacy.”

One person who is deeply disturbed by humanity’s decline is an android named Spofforth who is the dean of New York University. He’s shaped as a tall handsome Black man and is the last of the most sophisticated model of robots ever created. Distressed abou... Read More

Direct Descent: Frank Herbert’s worst novel

Direct Descent by Frank Herbert

Direct Descent (1980) is by a fair margin the weakest novel by Frank Herbert I've read.

In the far future the whole of Earth's interior has been taken up by a gigantic library. Ships travel the known universe to collect information about just about everything and bring it back to Earth to archive it and make it available to the entire galaxy. The first and foremost rule of this organization is always obey the government whomever that may be — a rule meant to underline the library’s strict neutrality. But what if the government sends its warships at you? How can you defend yourself armed with archives full of useless knowledge and a policy of strict obedience?

Direct Descent is expanded from the short story “The Pack Rat Planet,” which first appeared in Astounding in December 1954. It is one of Herbert's earliest scie... Read More

The Night Boat: A fine piece of horror fiction

The Night Boat by Robert R. McCammon

The Night Boat was Robert R. McCammon’s third published novel, first appearing in 1980. Now Subterranean Press has brought it back as a (sold out) limited edition, and also made it available in e-book format for the first time. It betrays some of the faults of a then-new writer, but also has considerable power in its portrayal of Nazi submariners, as terrifying 35 years after the end of World War II as they were in the days when they lurked in the deep waters of the Atlantic Ocean — if not more so.

David Moore, the principal protagonist of the novel, lives on Coquina Island in the Carribbean Sea, where he owns a small hotel on the largely undeveloped island. He is a scuba diver as well, and, as the book opens, he is diving alone on the edge of a shelf, in an area known as the Abyss... Read More

Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-Earth: Fragments from Tolkien

Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-Earth by J.R.R. Tolkien

This is the first work that showed us how J.R.R. Tolkien's obsessive perfectionism was a double-edged sword. On the one hand it gave us the wonderfully deep world and implied distances of THE LORD OF THE RINGS; and on the other hand it left us with a jumble of tales in various states of revision and development that had to be compiled by Tolkien's son Christopher into some form as The Silmarillion... a jumble of tales that, if they had been finished, would have given us a truly staggering body of work.

Just reading the fragment that makes up the entirety of "Of Tuor and his Coming to Gondolin" makes me weep for what might have been. Given the chance to expand even half of the partial tales from The Silmarillion into something equating the full treatment of THE LORD OF THE RINGS would have been a wonder indeed.

Even given th... Read More

Bethany’s Sin: Dated but emotionally compelling

Bethany’s Sin by Robert McCammon

Robert McCammon originally published Bethany’s Sin in 1980. Subterranean Press is reissuing it just in time for Halloween. This horror novel covered familiar territory even in 1980, with its “perfect little village with a dark secret,” but McCammon’s good characterization managed to make it fresh, and there are a few twists along the way.

The book opens with an archeological dig in Turkey, where an unnamed woman makes an extraordinary discovery. The next section deals with an American soldier, a prisoner of war, being tortured by the Viet Cong. Specifically, Evan Reid is being tortured by a woman.

Years later in the present (1980), Evan, his wife Kay and their daughter Laurie move to Bethany’s Sin, a charming little village in Pennsylvania. Kay has a job as a math teacher at the local community college and Evan is going to try hi... Read More

Riddley Walker: On the Edge

Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban

[At The Edge of the Universe, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.]

Language is dependent on the society that uses it. We weave into our idiom words and phrases that explain our history and our present. Similes and metaphors embed themselves so deeply into our sentences that we don’t even notice them. Some are slang: we didn’t get the memo, we watch situations go sideways and we compare apples to apples. Some are beyond slang. Fifteen years ago no one would have “texted” a friend, but they would have “okayed” a plan without thinking twice. Language is dynamic, fluid, responsive and reflective, changing constantly.

Take this concept, conjure a society thousands of years after a world-destroy... Read More

The Number of the Beast: Great audio, awful story

The Number of the Beast by Robert A. Heinlein

When I was a kid I loved some of Robert A. Heinlein’s “Juveniles” — science fiction stories for children and teens. Red Planet was one of my favorites and I must have read it at least five times. These novels are part of the reason I kept reading science fiction — they left such an impression on my young mind.

Despite this nostalgia, I haven’t read Heinlein in years. When Blackstone Audio recently started releasing some of his later novels on audio, I thought it was time to check out some I’d never read. The first one I tried was The Number of the Beast, written in 1980 after a seven-year hiatus brought on by ill health when Heinlein was in his seventies.

This story starts when professor Zebadiah John Carter meets Deety (short for Dejah Thoris) Burroughs and her father, mathematician Jacob Burroughs, at a ... Read More

The Vampire Tapestry: A new way of looking at an overexposed monster

The Vampire Tapestry by Suzy McKee Charnas

After black-leather vampires, dandified vampires, little-girl-lost vampires, CEO vampires and sparkly “vegetarian” vampires, Suzy McKee Charnas’s Edward Wayland is as bracing as a cold ocean wind in your face.

Weyland is the main character in The Vampire Tapestry, first published in 1981. For Weyland, there is no curse, no mysterious virus, no fear of the sun, crosses or garlic. Simply put, he is an evolved predator adapted to feed on humans.

Charnas unfolds her meditation on the mind of a predator in five linked novellas. Three of these are told from the point of view of the people who encounter Weyland.

In “The Ancient Mind at Work,” Katje deGroot, a fifty-year-old white South African of Boer descent, is far from home in the northeastern college where she followed her now-deceased husband... Read More

Congo: On the Edge

Congo by Michael Crichton

[In our Edge of the Universe column, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.]

Michael Crichton’s Congo (1980) is an adventure story that should recall Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World (1912) and Henry Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines (1885).

However, although the formula has been used so many times as to become almost archetypal, the little details have been updated for a contemporary audience. In place o... Read More

A Walk in Wolf Wood: A top-notch novel for young readers

A Walk in Wolf Wood by Mary Stewart

Mary Stewart is best known for her Merlin-themed books (including The Crystal Cave), which are geared toward slightly older readers, but A Walk in Wolf Wood, (along with The Little Broomstick and Ludo and the Star Horse) are wonderful books to make accessible to younger readers. Told in clear, descriptive prose, with plenty of adventure and mystery, plus a few nuggets of wisdom, Stewart's novels are a great addition to any child's library.

John and Margaret Begbie are enjoying a holiday picnic when they are distracted by the sight of a distraught, weeping man rushing into the forest. Even odder, the man appears to be dressed in clothing from another era: a tunic and hose, cloak and knife, and a beautiful gold medallion. Compelled to follow him, the children creep into the forest till they reac... Read More