Category Archives: SF Book Reviews

Novella Review (Italian SF in translation): “Cancerqueen” (1950), Tommaso Landolfi

DkVqsjsUwAEDHqm[1].jpg(Colin Hay’s cover for the 1984 Italian edition of Cancerqueen (1950), Tommaso Landolfi)

4.75/5 (Near Masterpiece)

The fiction of Tommaso Landolfi—an Italian author, translator, and critic—dabbled at speculative edges. Those far more knowledgeable about Italian SF consider Landolfi’s novella “Cancerqueen” (1950), translated in 1971 by Raymond Rosenthal, an important work in the history of Italian SF as it resonated with later “New Wave sensibilities” and “went against the realist grain of Italian high culture” (Salvatore Proietti, “The Field of Italian Science Fiction,” Science Fiction Studies, July 2015).

Redolent with gothic overtones, “Cancerqueen” tells the transfixing tale of a possibly insane narrator (N) relating his voyage into space, and into the womb of a manipulative spaceship. Writing as an act of self-delusion—“perhaps I should pretend I have a reader, I shall be less alone, and that is enough” (50)—N relates how, in a disconsolate state of mind, he agreed to an outrageous proposition put forth by Filano, an escapee from a nearby asylum.  The proposition: Deep in the mountains Filano has a spaceship named Cancerqueen and he wants to take N to the moon! For N, “she was my liberator, whose wings (wholly metaphorical) would transport me (not metaphorically) beyond my  disagreeable Continue reading Novella Review (Italian SF in translation): “Cancerqueen” (1950), Tommaso Landolfi

Book Review: A Rose for Armageddon, Hilbert Schenck (1982)

(Don Maitz’s cover for the 1982 edition)

2.75/5 (Vaguely Average)

Hilbert Schenck’s A Rose for Armageddon (1982) postulates that in the near future a complex computer program (“Archmorph”) will be able to predict political and social trends as “conflict was [and will be] pattern-determined” (26). Filled with references to the turbulent 1970s (Vietnam protests, campus unrest, the 1979 energy crisis) and the fear the decade generated, Schenck suggests that a cataclysmic possibility looms.

A Rose for Armageddon treads intriguing grounds in part because it centers on two non-standard individuals (it’s rare to have elderly main characters!): Dr. Elsa Adams, the Louis Agassiz Professor of Analytic Zoology and Dr. Jake Stinson Continue reading Book Review: A Rose for Armageddon, Hilbert Schenck (1982)

Book Review: The 1972 Annual World’s Best SF, ed. Donald A. Wollheim (1972)

(John Schoenherr’s cover for the 1972 edition)

3.5/5 (collated rating: Good)

The 1972 Annual World’s Best SF, ed. Donald A. Wollheim (1972) doesn’t feel like a “best of” collection. The majority of the contents are unspectacular space operas and hard SF in the Analog vein. Amongst the chaff, a few more inventive visions shined through—in particular, Joanna Russ’ mysteriously gauzy and stylized experiment replete with twins and dream machines; Michael G. Coney’s evocative overpopulation story about tourist robots; Christopher Priest’s “factual” recounting of human experimental subjects that isn’t factual at all; and Barry Malzberg’s brief almost flash piece about differing perspectives all tied together by the New York metro.

On the whole, I give it a solid recommendation although the best can be found in single-author collections.

Brief Analysis/Summary

“The Fourth Profession” (1971), novelette by Larry Niven, 3/5 (Average): Nominated for the 1972 Continue reading Book Review: The 1972 Annual World’s Best SF, ed. Donald A. Wollheim (1972)

Book Review: The Halcyon Drift, Brian Stableford (1972)

(Angus McKie’s cover for the 1976 edition)

2.75/5 (Vaguely Average)

I have not had the best luck with Brian Stableford’s science fiction (albeit, I’m not sure I’ve read a single short story of his). Jesse over at Speculiction… swears (and I believe him!) that Stableford is occasionally capable of intelligent and sustained SF — consult his wonderful review of Man in a Cage (1975). Jesse barely dignifies The Halcyon Drift (1972) with a review. I’m in the same boat (or spaceship?). It took weeks of staring at my battered copy in a pile of other superior “to review” novels to convince myself to put finger to keyboard. How does one approach a bare by the numbers outline of a space opera?

By starting with the plot?

The Prologue forms the most evocative and moody Continue reading Book Review: The Halcyon Drift, Brian Stableford (1972)

Book Review: The Two-Timers, Bob Shaw (1968)

(Diane and Leo Dillon’s cover for the 1968 1st edition)

2.75/5 (Vaguely Average)

Various Bob Shaw fans told me to read Nightwalk (1967) or find a copy of Other Days, Other Eyes (1972)—especially as I adored one of the short stories that appeared in the later fix-up novel —“Light of Other Days” (1966). Instead, I cast wary eyes toward my shelves and read The Two-Timers. I wish I read Nightwalk. I tried, I must confess, but wasn’t in the mood and then something about The Two-Timers’ Diane and Leo Dillon cover—the doubling visages, contorted, anguished, and angular—pulled me in. For the full glory of the image, I’ve included a his-res scan below.

The Plot

John Breton’s relationship with his wife, Kate, is Continue reading Book Review: The Two-Timers, Bob Shaw (1968)

Book Review: The Bodyguard, Adrian Mitchell (1970)

(Roger Phillips’ cover for the 1972 edition)

3.5/5 (Good)

“[Lens] Rossman’s narrative is both single-minded and rambling, a tangle of facts and fantasies, distorted sexuality, obscured dates, anti-feminism, glorified brutality and narcissism” (153).

Adrian Mitchell’s sole SF novel The Bodyguard (1970) is a perverse romp through a diseased England viewed through the eyes of an equally diseased narrator. Lens Rossman’s deathbed ramblings of his “adventures” and “training” as a B.G. (bodyguard) in his fight against “The Rot” spread by leftist subverts, is, as the “editor” of the narrative indicates in a hilarious afterword, “a tangle of facts and fantasies” and “glorified brutality” (153). Mitchell presents Rossman’s account as a ghastly artifact of a pre-revolutionary era while simultaneously suggesting that the excess Continue reading Book Review: The Bodyguard, Adrian Mitchell (1970)

Book Review: New Writings in S-F 6, ed. John Carnell (1965)

(David McCall Johnston’s art for the 1971 edition)

3.25/5 (collated rating: Vaguely Good)

New Writings in S-F 6 (1965) is the third I’ve read so far in John Carnell’s anthology series and by far the most satisfying. New Writings in S-F 4 (1965) was worthwhile only for Keith Roberts’ short story “Sub-Lim” (1965). New Writings in S-F 9 (1972) was marginally overall better with solid outings by Michael G. Coney and M. John Harrison.

The sixth in the sequence offers an intriguing Keith Roberts novella–that takes up almost half the volume–and a kaleidoscope of other moody (albeit lesser) visions from William Spencer, John Baxter, and E.C. Tubb.

Brief Analysis/Summary

“The Inner Wheel” (1965), Keith Roberts, 4/5 (Good): A few months ago I procured a copy of Keith Roberts’ linked series of short stories containing the titular “The Inner Wheel” and chose this particular New Writings in SF volume because of the story. I suspect I won’t be returning to the “novel” Continue reading Book Review: New Writings in S-F 6, ed. John Carnell (1965)