Category Archives: SF Book Reviews

Book Review: S.O.S. From Three Worlds, Murray Leinster (1967)

Jack Gaughan’s cover for the 1st edition

4/5 (collated rating: Good)

In times of stress, positivist stories about spacemen devoted to selfless service solving medical crises with their friendly tormals (think furry mobile petri dishes) bring a bit of warmth to my bitter heart. While a medical mystery to be solved with logic and resolve forms the core of each story, Murray Leinster hints at the future history of this decentralized spacescape–a product of chaotic often business-driven expansion.  As limited contact exists between distant colonies, The Interstellar Continue reading Book Review: S.O.S. From Three Worlds, Murray Leinster (1967)

Short Story Reviews: Phyllis MacLennan’s “A Contract in Karasthan” (1963), “Thus Love Betrays Us” (1972), and “A Day in the Apotheosis of the Welfare State” (1975)

Between 1963 and 1980, American SFF author Phyllis MacLennan (1920-1912) published one novel and seven short stories (bibliography and obituary). She served as a translator and linguist in Military Intelligence during WWII.  As I can find little about her work online, I decided to review three of her SFF short fictions. Perhaps they’ll inspire me to pick up her sole novel Turned Loose on Idra (1970), which I bought in 2014.


Vincent Di Fate’s cover for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, September 1972

“Thus Love Betrays Us” (1972), 4.5/5 (Very Good): First appeared in the September 1972 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, ed. Edward L. Ferman. Read the story here.

Deirdre, a night-less and oppressive world filled with thick mists and layers of moss, had only just been Continue reading Short Story Reviews: Phyllis MacLennan’s “A Contract in Karasthan” (1963), “Thus Love Betrays Us” (1972), and “A Day in the Apotheosis of the Welfare State” (1975)

Book Review: Universe 4, ed. Terry Carr (1974) (Robert Silverberg, Pamela Sargent, Jack Vance, R. A. Lafferty, Alexei Panshin, Ron Goulart, et al.)

Jack Faragasso’s cover for the 1975 edition

3.25/5 (collated rating: Vaguely Good)

Terry Carr’s original anthology Universe 4 (1974) contains a cross-section of early 70s science fiction–from oblique New Wave allegories to “hard SF” first contact stories with unusual aliens.

Despite clocking in last in the installments I’ve read so far– behind Universe 2 (1972), Universe 1 (1971), and Universe 10 (1980)—the best stories, R. A. Lafferty’s rumination on memory and nostalgia, Pamela Sargent’s bleak account of urban Continue reading Book Review: Universe 4, ed. Terry Carr (1974) (Robert Silverberg, Pamela Sargent, Jack Vance, R. A. Lafferty, Alexei Panshin, Ron Goulart, et al.)

Book Review: The Wind From Nowhere, J. G. Ballard (1962)

Richard Powers’ cover for the 1st edition

3/5 (Average)

In J. G. Ballard’s The Wind From Nowhere (1962), cosmic radiation creates an immense natural disaster. Ever-increasing winds threaten to tear buildings out by their foundations and force the survivors into subterranean caverns. With the winds comes dust, a manifestation of erasure, that lacerates skin and engulfs all.

John Carnell serialized Ballard’s first novel in New Worlds in 1961 (issues 110 and 111). Continue reading Book Review: The Wind From Nowhere, J. G. Ballard (1962)

Book Review: Quake, Rudolph Wurlitzer (1972)

Sandy Kossin’s cover for the 1974 edition

3.75/5 (Good)

Rudolph Wurlitzer’s Quake (1972) parades the traumatized victims of a near-future earthquake through a lust-filled black comedy. Wurlitzer deftly re-purposes the language of erotica for distinctly un-pornographic ends: the aimlessness of life transmutes into a priapic shuffle towards nothing.

Brief Summary

In the near future an earthquake destroys Los Angeles. A nameless transient (N), a recent transplant to the city’s “rituals and corruptions” (3), wakes to a scene of carnage. N stumbles from his cheap cabin, with a bed sheet tied around his waist, towards the hotel pool. Stretched out on the diving board, he observes hotel cabins collapse disgorging the sad dramas playing out within. A woman joins him on the diving board and attempts to converse. He refuses to give his name: “we’re overloaded as it is” (11).

Continue reading Book Review: Quake, Rudolph Wurlitzer (1972)

Book Review: Alqua Dreams, Rachel Pollack (1987)

Les Edwards’ cover for the 1st edition

3.75/5 (Good)

“To the Lukai, when a mother bore a child both the mother and child were really dead souls, locked in fake bodies. ‘The child cries,’ the Death Woman told Cooper, “because it still remembers the truth'” (28).

At first glance the mission was like so many others: negotiate with a native people, the Lukai, over a rare resource that facilitates space travel. But Jaimi Cooper is plunged into an ontological nightmare, he is branded as an alqua, “someone who suffers an illusion” (20). According to the Lukai, “you are dead. We are all dead” (27). And as the mythology and its theology come into play, Jaimi Continue reading Book Review: Alqua Dreams, Rachel Pollack (1987)

Book Review: The Best SF Stories from New Worlds 6, ed. Michael Moorcock (1970) (stories by J. G. Ballard, Hilary Bailey, Carol Emshwiller, M. John Harrison, et al.)

Paul Lehr’s cover for the 1971 edition

3.75/5 (collated rating: Good)

Welcome to a postmodern museum of disordered landscapes. J. G. Ballard paints a cratered England as a new Vietnam. Langdon Jones reduces the operation of the world to a series of sculptural machines. Hilary Bailey weaves a dystopic England changed beyond recognition in mere years. M. John Harrison’s characters interact with cardboard cutouts on an imaginary set. And Michael Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius flits between India and Pakistan’s present and past.

While there are a few duds, the cream Continue reading Book Review: The Best SF Stories from New Worlds 6, ed. Michael Moorcock (1970) (stories by J. G. Ballard, Hilary Bailey, Carol Emshwiller, M. John Harrison, et al.)

Book Review: Hyacinths, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (1983)

Al Nagy’s cover for the 1st edition

4.25/5 (Very Good)

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s Hyacinths (1983) is an unsettling dystopian tale of a future where even the unregulated creative world of Dreams is harnessed and controlled. On another level, Hyacinths lays bare the dangers of unregulated industry and the ingrained sexism within western capitalism. There’s a deep sadness within these pages, a sadness at the lack of progress for equal rights in the workplace, a sadness at our collective inability to help those who need Continue reading Book Review: Hyacinths, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (1983)

Book Review: The Heirs of Babylon, Glen Cook (1972)

Detail from Dean Ellis’ (?) cover for the the 1st edition

3/5 (Average)

Glen Cook’s first novel, The Heirs of Babylon (1972), is one of a handful of science fiction works in his extensive catalog. He’s best known for two fantasy sequences, Chronicles of the Black Company and Dread Empire. Operating in standard post-apocalyptic territory (wrecked landscapes created by nuclear and chemical warfare), Cook weaves a disturbing tale of the power of militaristic fantasies and traditions. While suffering from diminishing narrative impetus as the ancient warship Jäger steams towards its inevitable end, The Heirs of Babylon transpires within a well-wrought Earth hellscape with a deeply flawed main Continue reading Book Review: The Heirs of Babylon, Glen Cook (1972)