Archive for the ‘Science Fiction’ Category

Under the Dome – Stephen King (2009)

February 26, 2021

I always approach books that are more than 1000 pages long with some trepidation. As someone who rarely quits on a book once started (I can count the number of times I’ve done that on two fingers), picking up such a brick is a huge commitment and for that the book better be good. In fact, it better be terrific. That usually means I know something about these hefty tomes beforehand, be that a fair idea of the contents or that it has near universal praise from other readers or reviewers. Now it really helped that two of the other 1000 pager ‘bricks’ that I’ve read over the years also happen to be by Stephen King, namely The Stand and more recently It. But even in those cases I had done my homework. But I took a bit of a chance with Under the Dome knowing nothing other than the fact it was written by King and the obvious subject matter given the title and cover art.

Anyone familiar with King’s novels will attest to his knack for creating amazing characters and putting those large books together just means more characters. I’ve whined in the past when novels introduce too many characters but that is when they are either not well defined or too similar to others within the same pages. When it comes to King the essence of the content are his characters. King somehow manages to not only make his characters stand out and thus not get lost in the shuffle, but to have just enough of a background to match their relevance. King does such a great job with characters that the plot and story are relegated to secondary importance, just something to keep the characters moving along. In the case of Under the Dome the big questions are not only secondary but in the end almost inconsequential, and at the risk of spoiling it, culminates in a rethread of a fairly well-known science fiction plot. But don’t let that deter you, as ..

The story is one in which the small New England town of Chester’s Mill suddenly finds itself enclosed within a near impermeable ‘dome’ (a bit of a misnomer in that it is not circular at all but roughly the ‘sock’ shaped outline of the town). The dome extends well into the sky and deep underground, isolating the inhabitants from the rest of mankind. This effectively  means that they are left to their own devices and, unfortunately for the citizenry, also means they are at the mercy of those who control the town. In this case, that role falls squarely into the hands of manipulative car salesman and second town selectman “Big Jim” Rennie. The position of ‘second’ selectman is indicative of his tactical heinousness, making sure that he is surrounded by fall persons, cronies and minions to perform the dirty work for him. Those minions include his equally evil, but dim-witted and psychotic son “Junior” Rennie. But the Rennie empire runs much deeper than just taking advantage of a few town resources. Both Rennies and their accomplices have much darker secrets.

The sudden arrival of the dome is seen as godsend to Big Jim who can now expand his control over the town unfettered by any law and order. With the tactical precision of a surgeon he quickly dispatches those few hindrances in his way and manages to exert control over the police force, reshaping and augmenting it to the equivalent of a personal Gestapo.

The only thing standing in the way of both Rennies is town outsider, Dale “Barbie” Barbara, a recent short order cook at the local dinner who was within minutes of leaving town when the dome dropped and Julia, the town newspaper publisher. With the help of a few meddling kids and a small group of their own recruits they slowly form a Rennie counter force while trying to solve the mystery itself.

Aside from slowly meting out the secret evil deeds of Jim and his son, the novel highlights the jarring effect of the presence of the dome, both with immediate casualties and the long term prospects. While those outside the dome, throw all they can at it, it is the internal turmoil that is at the forefront. Big Jim’s influence is vast given his pious facade and tentacled hold on many people who have been corralled to serve him over the years. That power results in a breakdown of societal norms like that in Lord of the Flies. On the other hand we see how Barbie’s predicament gets worse and worse. King really gives us political terror as the element of horror. The segregation scenario he creates provides a convenient petri dish in which the entire environment is isolated from any justice system, normally an integral part of any civilized society.

While I did not give the book much thought at first, I quickly realized it was an eerie selection to read during a pandemic given some of the similar circumstances, and doubly impacted as the delusional direction of Jim Rennie’s state of mind felt all to familiar with that of the recent POTUS. One character laments how the kindly folk rose up, a sight she had observed in other countries but never thought she would see in her own. I happened to read that section right after Washington capitol riots. If that does not qualify as shiver inducing horror I don’t know what does.

I’m aware of the recent Under the Dome television series but aside from hearing that there are quite a number of differences between the two, I can’t comment on it. I would be interested in hearing from others who’ve enjoyed the novel to provide some feedback on whether I should watch that as well.

Swords of Mars – Edgar Rice Burroughs (1934)

August 18, 2020

I can’t quite recall when was the last time I read an installment of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars series – officially called the Barsoom series – but it has been many years, perhaps as many as twenty as far as I can guess.  But I did indeed enjoy them in those days and it was only a matter of time before I returned to read this next one, Swords of Mars, sure that I would enjoy it as much as the others.

But something has changed and I don’t think it had anything to do with a change in what the author wrote as much as it is my ingestion of the material. Burroughs, more recognized as the creator of Tarzan and for which he wrote twenty-four books, was a quintessential pulp action writer. His Mars series, and the magazine serializations in which many were originally released, were published between 1912 and 1942 and targeted young men as their primary audience. Reading them today the misogynistic and racist attitudes sorely stand out.

In Swords of Mars, like the rest of this series, our Earth born swashbuckling protagonist John Carter is either duelling wits with some inferior antagonist (usually a highly ranked warlord) or duelling in actual battle. The tempo is near nonstop action broken only by periods of him contemplating his next move towards his ultimate goal, which in this case is rescuing his beloved princess Dejah Thoris – a recurring plot in many of the Mars stories.

Not that the specifics matter all that much but in this case Dejah Thoris has been kidnapped from her home kingdom of Helium and John Carter chases the trail to neighbouring Zodanga where, undercover,  he must deal with assassins only to learn that she has already been taken to Thuria (Mars’ moon Phobos). In order to continue with his quest he must commandeer a prototype spaceship whose controls are telepathically driven, only to arrive on Thuria to be enslaved by a race that are invisible to men. With the help of a dual-mouthed cellmate having chameleon-like pigment capabilities and an accommodating queen (a slave herself) John must undertake a bold escape plan whose success relies on former foes responsible for Dejah’s capture in the first place.

With his superior strength, intellect and a lot of very fortuitous events (defying logic if you were to be critical), John Carter methodically, always one step away from a sure death does away with callous traitors, bodyguards, armies armed to the teeth and a few dimwitted jailers. For those unacquainted, the Barsoomian adventures take place in a technological landscape in which sail ships flying are as commonplace as cars and while most of the automation and machinery are crude, other facets are near magical.

I must say that with one exception this novel is lacking in other imaginative races unlike the multicolored Martian ones typical in other John Carter stories. With mainly ‘red’ Martians like Thoris herself, I was disappointed that my favorite green, quad-armed Tars Tarkas, John’s best friend, did not make an appearance here. But like many of those stories, the plot is full of strangely named, sometimes confusing, mostly cardboard characters whose monikers include Jat Or, Ur Jan, Rapas “the rat” Ulsio, Fal Silva and Umka.

The novel interestingly begins on Earth with John telling the tale to someone else, but oddly does not end with any notion of him telling it as a story, so it is a one sided ‘wrapper’ if you will. I also found that the last chapter was rushed where entire encounters with other characters are summarized in just a few sentences which I suspect were planned to be fleshed out as another episode of the serialization.

I have to admit that I did not enjoy this one as much as some of the earlier novels in the series, in particular The Chessmen of Mars. As I mentioned, perhaps it is due to me being older, wiser and more discriminating, but it is still pure escapist, fanciful, action packed adventure and at times Burroughs still manages to throw out some well crafted words where characters speak in nuanced sentences, saying one thing, but meaning another.  I will eventually read the next installment, Synthetic Men of Mars, at some point – hopefully not in another 20 years – as I have the entire set illustrated by Gino D’Achille cover art as shown here, which alone makes them worth picking off my shelves from time to time.

Gino D’achille Mars Covers

The Quantum Magician – Derek Künsken (2018)

September 7, 2019

The novels that have made the greatest impact to me are those that bring something new to the table at a conceptual level. Now you would think that when it comes to science fiction, this would be the norm, but actually, it’s rarer than you would think. Sure there are new races, strange and exotic planets, and gadgets by the handful, but presenting an actual novel concept remains rare.

As and example, reading Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep actually tripped me up and forced me to go back after reading a few pages because, for a minute, things did not make sense. And then it clicked. A game changer and all of a sudden I had to read the book from an entirely new perspective. The introduction of the new concept not only adds another layer to the story but forces you and the author to define new boundaries and break old ones.

While quantum computing has been a burgeoning topic in the electronic processing world, especially with the potential consequences to computer security (both pro and con), Derek Künsken’s debut novel The Quantum Magician imparts the notion of quantum states to sentient consciousness. But that is just the backdrop to a rollicking space opera where protagonist Belisarius Arjona, one of the Homo Quantus, leads a ragtag team of misfit recruits on a mercenary mission of galactic proportions. The operation must be performed under the noses of the Puppets, aliens that worship the Numen, the species responsible for multiple evolutionary branches they have created, Homo Quantus being just one of the cavalcade of characters in the novel.

Hired to aid the Union forces in their fight for independence from the Congregate (think evil empire), Bel is tasked to transport a dozen warships discreetly through a wormhole facing overwhelming odds. He recruits former accomplices and acquaintances that include an older, dying friend, a robot who believes he is Saint Matthew, a geneticist, an aquatic being, a mutant Puppet, and a playful natured rebellious female who likes to blow up things. Last but not least is Cassandra, another Homo Quantus who once had close ties to Bel.

This high rik venture also has a myriad of other aliens, complex relationships, trust and betrayal side plots and all based on hard science concepts like entangled particles in a slight-of-wormhole adventure with more than a few surprises along the way. Künsken has compared it to the movie The Sting (a big favorite of mine) wherein the overarching deception in the plot contains many other deceptions within the envelope. A fair enough assessment here but I would add that it includes a blend of assembled characters like The Dirty Dozen or even more that resembling Kelly’s Heroes.

The first of an intended two book series – the follow up The Quantum Garden is about to hit shelves – this can be easily read as a standalone without any cliffhanger leaving you pining for a conclusion.

49th Parallels – Hayden Trenholm [Ed.] (2017)

October 21, 2018

With all due respect to Robert J. Sawyer – who’s literature I adore as some of my reviews will attest – there is a lot more Canadian science fiction out there that needs to be recognized. I read a few superhero/comic centric anthologies the last few years including Masked Mosaic and one of the annual Tesseracts collections which have always been Canadian focused, Tesseracts 19 – Superhero Universe all of which whetted my appetite for more.

So when Bundoran Press held the book Launch of 49th Parallels at last year’s Can-Con convention, I was more than eager to pick up my copy directly from editor Hayden Trenholm, and meet many of the contributors as they read select passages.

It’s taken me quite some time to get to it in my read pile but I was not disappointed.

This collection presents an eclectic mix of stories that not only present the expected future visions of this country, but a plethora of alternate realities that employ historical hooks to really bring the stories home.

The last entry Northstar by Dave Steinman was easily my favorite as it presents a history of how the hallowed Avro Arrow program should have gone. The fate of the program, the one time Canada truly dominated the skies, still rankles me to this day and so giving a glance at what should have been – damn you Diefenbaker! – was soothing even if only briefly.

Brandon Crilly’s, The Last Best Defence also spins a tale around another dark side of our history with a story in which Louis Riel’s rebellion is sidelined for an alien invasion. The notion that cooperation is key is one that our political forefathers ignored, an injustice that has yet to be fully rectified.

I have to admit that it was with both great anticipation and slight trepidation that I read Tyler Goodier’s  Five Days of Summer. You see Tyler is a friend and this being first first published piece I was afraid it may not be as polished a story as one coming from more experienced writers. But I can honestly say that this story of Caucasian adventurers doggedly visiting a native settlement despite imminent doom from viral contagion really hit me. While the tinges of horror were certainly gratifying and to my tastes the fact that he managed to pull off a love story in that setting was quite remarkable.

Those who know me well are quite aware of my interest in rocketry so it should not come as a surprise that I also enjoyed Shoot for the Stars by Andrew P. Blaber. I was well aware of the true and somewhat dark history of Gerald Bull’s dream of launching satellites and people into space via a giant cannon. But what if this dream came to fruition on our sesquicentennial?

And what would a Canadian collection be without at least one story featuring snow? You’ll find lots of it in Virginia O’Dine‘s The Selfish Bastards We Were, a post-apocalyptic Canada set amid 20ft snowdrifts.

Here’s  quick roundup of the other treats to be found in 49th Parallels, but if you’ve got a minute you may want to check out a fun little Instagram challenge that many of the contributors participated in which they snapped pictures of the book with various Canadian locales in the background.


Liz Westbrook-TrenholmOrder

An alternate WWII story that blends secret research with immigration naysayers.


Claude LalumièreThe Treaty of Empress Park

Consider the contrasting stance of negotiators of alternate reality Canadian governments at treaty signing.


Kate Heartfield Not Valid for Spain

Robots fighting fascists in Generalisimo Francisco Franco’s Spain .


Melissa Yuan-InnesYou, Robot

Robot takeover in medicine with a not-so-subtle message for anti-vaxers.


Eileen Gunnel-LeeThe Cicada Year

What is our greatest enemy, climate change or terrorism?


Caitlin Demaris-McKennaWhere the Water Meets the Land

Nice robot ethics story touching on conservation issues with a Forest Service rescuer as the protagonist.


M.L.D. CurelasHarvesting Moonshine

Philanthropic female scientists in a tale of secret Canadian agents thwarting US nuclear bombs.


David F. SchultzTrue North

Pleasant story about survival featuring an Inuit and a white partner, drones and igloos who have to weigh orders against what is right.


Chris Patrick CarolanThe Rankin File

Halifax victorian wartime steampunk mystery regarding secret plans for a perpetual energy “Eternity Engine”.


Krista WallaceTo Serve and Protect

Hi-tech suicide prevention officer has to deal with a jumper on Vancouver’s Lion’s Gate Bridge.


Cathy SmithA New Genome

The downfall of organic cattle ranching as a result of climate change and over zealous activists that don’t realize shutting down the industry can mean result in the extinction of the very animals they are trying to ‘save’. Vat grown beef. Good story from the point of an old rancher.


Maverick SmithLooking Back, Looking Ahead

A look at Canada during it’s bicentennial celebrations where climate change has set in but life is good with the country’s enshrined human rights.


Glen Cadigan51-49

An alternate reality tale where the country of Labrador is in a bit of conundrum and must weigh the past in order to decide it’s future.


Fiona MooreMorning in the Republic of America

Forging international relationships where Canada is the Republic of America.


Alexandra Renwick – As Mistress Wishes

Post apocalyptic steampunk in a future after gender wars told from the point of view of …  a dog.

The Road – Cormac McCarthy (2006)

November 17, 2017

Pulitzer prizes handed out to genre works are rarer than hen’s teeth, the excellent alternate world The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and Art Spiegelman’s anthropomorphic  holocaust graphic novel Maus being exceptions. While I’d read some rave reviews in horror magazines (primarily in Rue Morgue) I was surprised to learn that Cormac McCarthy’s The Road was a Pulitzer recipient, but that was enough to seal the deal and add it to my read pile.

While not strictly a genre novel, the account of a man and his young son wandering a dystopian ravaged Earth can be considered a science fiction novel despite no mention of what exactly occurred to render our planet one vast desolate wasteland. On the other hand some of the gut wrenching abominable acts found within could easily categorize this as horror. But it is speculative fiction regardless.

While I have never read anything else by McCarthy, I was immediately taken by the writing style which bent a number of grammar rules. But after reading a bit further I understood that the occasional dropped apostrophe was symbolic of the similar yet irreparably changed world. Cormac also extends bleakness of the situation by some of literary choices. The novel is nameless, timeless, even chapterless, continuity breaks only denoted by asterisks. There is sparse use of spoken words and the third person perspective also diminishes the reader’s insight into the character’s frame of mind and thoughts.

There is no grand, overarching plot. The sole goal for the two characters are to reach the coast hoping that there is something better. You would think that this novel would rely on encounters with other characters but there are hardly any and even those few are always brief and often distant. Despite all that the drama is constant and the protagonists are always just one step away from death or some life threatening predicament.The desolation within their souls as evident as the desolation of the road.

I did find that the author took a few liberties with some near incredulous luck being bestowed on the journey, but as addressed within the novel ‘luck’ is relative and survival under such circumstances may not even be considered lucky at all. But overall the novel is fantastically riveting and poignant and while addressing such a bitter story.

I’ll be honest in stating that I didn’t even know a movie was already made in 2009 which evidently slipped my radar. From what I gather from my limited reading of reviews it appears to be a fairly accurate adaptation and I do hope to watch it before too long.

War for the Planet of the Apes: Revelations – Gregory Keyes (2017)

October 21, 2017

Gregory Keyes is no stranger to writing Planet of the Apes movie prequel novels having penned the prequel Dawn on the Planet of the Apes: Firestorm which I really enjoyed. These prequel novels, when done correctly, provide a little more substance and background to the main event they are foreshadowing, and give us that little extra for those who want more than what a limited time film can deliver. Much like Alan Dean Foster was in his day, Keyes writes both original novels and franchise supplements, in this case also dipping his pen into Star Wars, Independence Day and Babylon 5 universes aside from my beloved simian series. I point this out to delineate the fact that he is not a new writer trying to find his groove and I do have expectations despite the fact that many would consider such an novelizations self indulgent fluff. But with War for the Planet of the Apes: Revelations bridging the Dawn on the Planet of the Apes and War for the Planet of the Apes movies, I must admit that the end product did little to satiate my hunger for more.

To briefly recap where we are in this storyline, the emergence of sentient simians due to a human intelligence serum has killed of most of mankind and plunged the planet in a post apocalyptic largely barren world. Caesar, leader of the apes hopes to leave the few remaining humans to their own devices, but the renegade bonobo Koba started a war with the residents of San Francisco. Caesar defeated Koba, but not before word of the battle got out to other distant human colonies.

The novel draws on the events immediately following Dawn and is a direct lead up to the movie War. (Note: I also have the novelization of War and will be reviewing it at some point). Having seen the last movie and noting that the human contingent befriended by Caesar, Dreyfuss and his family, are nowhere to be seen, I figured that this novel may be explain how that family and the apes parted ways. Sadly, while Dreyfus is included here, the matter of how he separated was dealt with in just a few lines and basically matter of “We’re going in this direction. See ya.”

What this movie does address in greater detail is the role of Colonel McCullough who leads the forces of the military that approached San Francisco at the tail end of Dawn. In this plot line McCullough, a hardened war vet from a family with a long line of military allegiance knows little of his adversary leader Caesar. He slowly comes to realize that is dealing with a highly intelligent and tactical savvy opponent when his battleship locates the apes on the Golden Gate bridge and environs. Limited in artillery, McCullough awaits reinforcements from another ship while Caesar and his troupe attempt to escape.

However the majority of the novel deals with an insurgent group of apes once dedicated to the deceased Koba and the anti-human sentiment he sowed. The rebellion could not come at a worse time for Caesar, already short on fighters, with the women and children separated as they seek a secure hideout, and with his son Blue Eyes sent on another reconnaissance mission.

A common theme of father and son strained relationship prevails, not only between Caesar and Blue Eyes, but also that of McCullough and his son and subordinate. It is also a coming of age tale as Blue Eyes and two other apes have a long journey in which he encounters both sympathetic and combatant humans, even having to deal with some rebellious apes on his own. Largely focused on Blue Eye’s adventures, the novel occasionally shifts to Cornelia, Caesar’s wife, and the party of women and children who are temporarily on their own. While it was satisfying to seeing an expanded role for her, having largely been a minor character so far, having her deal with rogue apes as well became a somewhat tiresome thread.

There are a few nods to the original series from the 70’s with the inclusion to the Alpha and Omega from the Book of Revelations, and characters named Armand (Armando from Escape and Conquest), Evans (a tribute to Maurice Evans the original Dr. Zaius).

While there is abundant character development I found the book largely unsatisfying, shocking as I’ve enjoyed a lot of PotA drivel over the years. The one evident thing that this novel was missing was Caesar himself who is used only sparingly and then often wondering about the others. Even the duel of wits against McCullough is largely predictable and tame.

The novel lacks grandeur in the plot and is just one stretched threadbare setup to War without really giving us much that is new or revealing. Unlike Firestorm those few new characters introduced here are imminently forgettable as is the entire book. Usually at this point I would just recommend this for PotA diehards, but in this case even those fans may want to skip this one and just watch (or read) War.

The Zap Gun – Philip K. Dick (1964)

February 25, 2017

the-zap-gunAs a long time fan of Philip K. Dick I’ve always enjoyed the lunacy of his novels, even some of those that are not as endearing as his classics like The Man in the High Castle or Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (A.K.A. Blade Runner). Some of the fondest on mys hselves have been his quirkier novels like Dr. Bloodmoney and Clans of the Alphane Moon. Based on past experience I thought that a novel about a world which features ersatz psychic weapon designers that jeopardize the Earth when faced with an alien invasion would be a sure bet. But The Zap Gun, while encapsulating the usual Dick staples of conspiracy theories and paranoia, was a bit of slog and took it’s sweet time to get to the expected insanity.

Reflective of the then contemporary Cold War divided world, Dick posits a similar East and West disunity, but with more convoluted hierarchies. Under the surface both sides have suppressed the arms race by having the populace (or ‘parsups’) believe that they have supreme weapons designers that have been continually receiving new designs in trancelike dreams for some unknown higher being. But instead of building the weapons ‘imagined’, the designs are studied (understood?) and then ‘plowshared’ into inert common use devices.

Lars is the preeminent Wes-bloc ‘Weapon Designer” who has been in a funk largely due to a case of conscious regarding his fraudulent role. The one thing that does interest him is finding out more about his Peep-East counterpart, one Lilo Topchev. But elusive miss Topchev remains nothing more than a blurred picture provided by Western intelligence.

All that changes when a satellite shows up in the sky one day, the first salvo in an invasion by  Sirius. The two planetary alliance’s only hope is to combine Lars and Lilo’s talents together in the hope that their trances can produce an actual viable weapon.

Mostly political intrigue, navigating the machinations and echelons of bureaucracy, this is largely Lars’ story. His interest in Lilo, his relationship with a mistress, and his few friends who are the manufacturers of his ‘weapons’. The invasion itself is just a plot device and the ‘war’ is simply described in a sentence here and there as cities disappearing under a veil.

Perhaps a case of going to the trough once too often, the story did not really pique my interest until things got really crazy mid way like finding out that Lars’ and Lilo’s trance productions were coming from the mind of a South Ghanaian comic strip writer of “The Blue Cephalopod Man from Titan“. If that wasn’t wacky enough, the ultimate solution to the Alien invasion is nothing short of genius, and involves a toy.

So if you’re a fan of P.K.D, stick with this one and you’ll be rewarded. For those not acquainted with the man, it is (eventually) another example of the warped mind of the late, great author. That cover insane painting is more apropos than you would be led to believe.

Red Planet Blues – Robert J. Sawyer (2013)

January 13, 2017

red-planet-bluesAuthor Robert J. Sawyer is obviously a film noir buff based on the many references, both overt and surreptitious in his novel Red Planet Blues. The noted science fiction author is no stranger to mystery fiction as several of his novels focus on courtroom drama as plot elements but here he takes it up a notch as his protagonist is an old school gumshoe who has to solve several enigmas on Mars starting off with a good old fashioned murder.

The cover of the novel states that it contains Sawyer’s highly lauded novella “Identity Theft” which I had not read prior. But reading the plot arc of the first few chapters it was clear that that first section was the novella, which I found to be both a source of great pleasure and at the same time a mild annoyance as I’ll explain.

In the not too distant future after a pair of explorers discovered fossils of ancient life on the planet, Mars now sports a dome city of New Klondike that operates much like the Dawson City which once rose from the ashes of the Gold Rush. Like gold, the commodity of highly valued fossils is now a scarce resource of riches – meaning that New Klondike and it’s denizen have seen better times. With transformance technology available to those rich enough to afford it people can discard their frail and eventual terminal bodies and migrate their consciousness into android bodies. These so called Transfers are not only durable and stronger and may have optional specialized upgrades, but they can also be manufactured to look like anyone. Some opt to look like their former selves – perhaps with a few esthetic ‘touches’ – or they can be any celebrity, or just a complete redesigned human.

When a woman enters Alex Lomax’s dingy detective agency seeking help to find her missing husband we may as well be seeing Ingrid Bergman meeting Humphrey Bogart but without the cigarettes. The simple case turns out to be much more complex as Lomax learns that a physical Transfer can really have any former person within the new shell.

But once past the “Identity Theft” plot arc the novel takes up where the novella left off and delivers a much more complex story regarding the rediscovery of the long lost ‘mother lode’ of fossils which created the initial frenzy. From there we get many twist and turns to secure that knowledge, a bevy of new characters – both human and transfer, good and evil – all vying for different personal goals. This extension of the original storyline, while not altogether inadequate is not as intriguing. Like any good mystery it does have a number curves in the plot and and does tackle some new ground, but at the same time it does stretch elements to the point of incredulity.

The “Identity Theft” portion is a great tale, full of suspense and serves a great plot twist at the end. As a standalone whodunit story it is easy to see how it garnered both Hugo and Nebula nominations and is worth the price alone of the book. As for the rest, it’s interesting but certainly not Sawyer’s best. The character of Lomax was really what kept me going on as he certainly was a likeable yet imperfect character that perfectly fits the film noir mold and one I hope Sawyer gets back to him at some point.

Last but not least, the novel has many notable ‘nods’ that I always find enjoyable. The brief ‘tip of the hat’ include one to Ray Bradbury, and even the oft forgotten Raymond Z. Gallun. More interesting is naming one of the spaceships Katherine Dennings which makes me wonder if Sawyer is a fan of the actress (not that that is a problem as I’m a fan myself). And finally, Planet of the Apes fan, Sawyer being an avid one, will be sure to get a particular short descriptive sector that certainly had me smiling.

Here’s looking at you Rob, as I tip my fedora until the next adventure.

The Comet Kings – Edmond Hamilton (1942)

December 16, 2016

The Comet KingsI thought it was high time I read a cheesy, old school, space opera novel so I just pulled the first musty smelling pulp off my shelves which was Edmond Hamilton’s The Comet Kings and give it a whirl.

Set in a future where man has conquered space and spaceships seem to be a dime a dozen zipping throughout the solar system, the story begins with authorities receiving reports of ships mysteriously disappearing in a area between the planets Jupiter and Uranus. The government officials are perplexed and at their wit’s end as scouts sent to investigate also disappear without a trace.

When Captain Future (real name Curt Newton), hears that the last such ship that disappeared had as passengers Joan, the woman he loves and Ezra, an old friend, he dutifully volunteers his  rag tag team of the Futuremen to head out and solve the mystery. Lead by Captain Future, The Futuremen consists of Otho the synthetic android, Grag the robot with superhuman strength, and Simon who is just a highly intelligent human brain encased in a floating protective enclosure.

As it so happens, the area in question is also where Halley’s Comet is sauntering during one of it’s cyclical visits. With space barren of any other ships the Futuremen approach the comet only to be sucked into it’s coma (or nucleus if you will). Incredulously the Futuremen discover an entire civilization within. They soon learn that the residents, some of which include the missing personnel from all the lost ships, are now aglow with electric energy. But the Futuremen also determine that the other inhabitants, called the Cometae, were responsible for modify the abductees with the energy force which also makes them immortal, also hold now hold them as de facto prisoners, Joan being one of them, as they are bound to the energy source within the comet. But those who refuse to join the Cometae are thrown into prison where the Futuremen soon find themselves. They then learn that the Cometai are themselves ruled by the Allus, a mysterious unseen alien force who are really the ones responsible for the energy forces.

The Allus who come from the 4th dimension have nefarious plans to suck out all the energy from one conquered planetary system to another and will soon be draining our own. I comes down to the Futuremen to save everyone, but complex questions remain. Why, for instance did Joan agree to undergo the transition? Will Captain Future be able to reverse the process even if he rescues her? Will she even want to revert to being mortal again or has she has she embraced her newfound immortality?

It’s all good swashbuckling space opera fare, none too deep in character development but with enough of a zany plot and action to keep one amused. The Allus use mind control to keep a tight leash on their captives, but they also use it in more interesting ways such as leaving doors wide open and then embedding mental blocks so that captives cannot escape despite no barrier. The effect of the electrical lifeforce that the Allus accord to the Cometae also means that the Futuremen effectively cannot touch them and since they wield weapons that emit electrical discharges, getting ahold of those weapons would still be useless to use on the Cometae. These are all obstacles that the Futuremen have to circumvent in their efforts to combat the Allus.

There are also a number of secondary cardboard characters that have a few scant lines of dialog and hardly figure into the story. These include Cometae king, queen and evil wizard who forms the alliance with the Allus, a few helpful guards that form the seed of a Cometae revolution, and a helpful martian scientist. Even Joan has but a few lines and honestly hardly serves a purpose other than to be Curt’s driving force. Paint by the Numbers space opera.

I’ve since found out that The Futuremen was a fairly renowned series of books to which Hamilton was the most prolific contributor and the person largely associate with the series although he was not the originator. Also of note to those who may be interested, I learned that there was a Japanese anime made based on the characters and it was also translated into French as “Capitaine Flam”.

My only regret is that I was deceived by the fabulous cover art (artist anyone?) in that there was no creature as the one depicted to be found anywhere in the story.

Hellmaw: Eye of Glass – Marie Bilodeau (2016)

November 2, 2016

hellmaw-eye-of-glassFor myself, there is nothing like a severed head to make me giggle in delight. But my ill mannered rejoicing usually comes in the form of slasher movie gore scenes and not in written prose. Marie Bilodeau ups the ante by not only having a severed head in her new novel Eye of Glass, but has the audacity to make the severed head one of the main characters. And just to be clear I’m not talking about some bound medical experiment like The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (one of my faves, natch) but a mobile, talking, scheming noggin that gets around more than a cheap corner hustling floozy.

At the center of the story we find Cassie, a young woman trying to eke out a living as a waitress. Her life implodes the day she finds a lifeless head in an alley with nothing more than a spine attached. Only the head is Jaeda, and prankster that she is, likes to lay dormant only so that she can bound to life and scare the living crap out of unsuspecting humans. When the cops swoop in what is evidently a murder scene, the salty detective Tren calls in the resident gangly morgue technician Charles Kite to gathers up “the head” much to the chagrin of Charles who witnesses her escape and becomes equally entangled in the mystery.

A tale of a juvenile delinquent daemon alien slowly regenerating a body, but who is also almost as clueless of her origin as her two new found friends, Jaeda is the precious subject of her one time giant green caregiver as well as another fire spouting villainess. But what are the plans of these alien Araurrans and why do they all want Jaeda? Who are the members of a clandestine underground online forum that Charles has infiltrated and are just as focused on Jaeda while seeming to help Charles? With Tren one step behind Cassie and Charles, the two each have their own motives to rescue Jaeda from the evil daemons hot on her heels. Well not heels since she doesn’t have those either, but you get the picture.

This action packed adventure provides non-stop intrigue and comedy relief largely at the hands (well spine) of Jaeda. Her vertebrae operate like a Swiss army knife of tools that can be used to take down adversaries, climb walls, slither through the streets and vents, or even drive a car. All seemingly with ease (maybe not the car driving thing) as long as there is no shag carpeting which seems to be the only thing that can cramp her style.

Eye of Glass is part of the Hellmaw series of books brought to us by Forgotten Realms creator Ed Greenwood. Greenwood has assembled a troupe of writers to form The Ed Greenwood Group (TEGG) and the Hellmaw series based on the daemons on a planet called Aurant will be but one of the series coming under the TEGG banner. The best part is that Bilodeau’s  Eye of Glass is only the first in the series called The Bodyless Series. I foresee more heads will be on my bookshelves in due time.