Category Archives: SF Book Reviews

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)

Book Review: Doctor to the Stars, Murray Leinster (1964)

John Schoenherr’s cover for the 1964 edition

3.25/5 (Collated rating: Vaguely Good)

I am fascinated by medical-themed science fiction. While my tendencies gravitate towards  the more meta-fictional/experimental takes of this theme, for example William Kotzwinkle’s Doctor Rat (1976) and Elizabeth Baines’ The Birth Machine (1983), I wanted expand my horizons by reading earlier incarnations of the subgenre.

Murray Leinster’s Doctor to the Stars (1964) gathers three stories published in the late 50s and early 60s in the Med Series sequence. As a whole, the stories are positivist, pro-peace, anti-big business, pro-science, and pro-service. Our hero Calhoun, Continue reading Book Review: Doctor to the Stars, Murray Leinster (1964)

Book Review: The Long Tomorrow, Leigh Brackett (1955)

(Darrell K. Sweet’s cover for the 1974 edition)

4.5/5 (Very Good)

“No city, no town, no community of more than one thousand people or two hundred buildings to the square mile shall be built or permitted to exist anywhere in the United States of America” (Thirtieth Amendment of the United States Constitution) (1)

Leigh Brackett’s The Long Tomorrow (1955) not only clocks in as the best of her work I’ve read so far but also joins my pantheon of favorite 50s SF visions (*).  At first glance Brackett’s novel appears to traverse standard SF juvenile territory where a teenage boy, in a religiously and socially oppressive society, encounters an object  and memories of the past that opens up a path to self-discovery. But memories are memories. And dreams are Continue reading Book Review: The Long Tomorrow, Leigh Brackett (1955)

Book Review: City Come A-Walkin’, John Shirley (1980)

(Catherine Huerta’s cover for the 1st edition)

4/5 (Good)

“It’s the gestalt of the whole place, this whole fuckin’ city, rolled up in one man. Sometimes the world takes the shape of gods and those gods take the form of men. Sometimes. This time. That’s a whole city, that man” (18).

John Shirley’s City Come A-Walkin’ (1980), an early cyberpunk novel, succeeds as a surreal and earthy paean to  diverse urban community and punk rebellion. A club owner and angst rocker join forces with a physical manifestation of San Francisco to fight the forces of technological change. While a brilliant evocation of aesthetic and emotion with sympathetic main Continue reading Book Review: City Come A-Walkin’, John Shirley (1980)

Book Review: Termush, Sven Holm (1967, trans. 1969)

(Uncredited cover for the 1969 edition)

4.5/5 (Very Good)

“[He] maintained that it was in fact essential to conceal what could be concealed; indeed, an inspired lie could be preferred to a malignant truth” (24).

Sven Holm’s Termush (1967, trans. 1969) depicts, with stark minimalism, the psychological state of wealthy survivors holed up in a hotel shelter after an apocalyptic nuclear event. This brief work, a mere 110 pages, is not an adventure story. It is not an exercise in nightmarish brutality like The Road (2006) or an account of humanity’s turn towards evil as the gauze of “civilization” falls away like The Death of Grass(1956).

Rather, Sven Holm (1940-2019) (SF Encyclopedia entry), a Danish author of mainstream literature, delves into the psyche of the survivors, their isolation and inability to grasp the immensity of the changes beyond their walls, and their Continue reading Book Review: Termush, Sven Holm (1967, trans. 1969)

Book Review: The Dead Astronaut, ed. uncredited (1971) (J. G. Ballard, Ursula K. Le Guin, Arthur C. Clarke, et al.)

(Pompeo Posar’s cover for the 1st edition)

3/5 (collated rating: Average)

“The dead astronaut: The phrase is filled with anxiety, the words themselves evoking the tension and anguish that gripped the whole world in that fateful month of April 1970, when a technical malfunction came close to costing the lives of astronauts Lovell, Swigert and Haise” (5).

The Dead Astronaut (1971) contains a range of 50s and 60s SF stories—from Ursula K. Le Guin to J. G. Ballard—on the broad theme of astronauts, that appeared in Playboy Magazine. For a  reader of genre for only the last decade (and a bit), it’s shocking to consider that Playboy, at one point, contained top-notch science fiction! That aside, The Dead Astronaut contains a range of soft and hard science fictional accounts of astronauts Continue reading Book Review: The Dead Astronaut, ed. uncredited (1971) (J. G. Ballard, Ursula K. Le Guin, Arthur C. Clarke, et al.)