Category Archives: SF Book Reviews

Short Book Reviews: Samuel R. Delany’s The Ballad of Beta-2 (1965), Barry N. Malzberg’s The Last Transaction (1977), and Philip McCutchan’s A Time for Survival (1966)

My “to review” pile is growing and my memory of them is fading… hence short—far less analytical—reviews.

1. The Ballad of Beta-2, Samuel R. Delany (1965)

(Vincent Di Fate’s cover for the 1982 edition)

3.25/5 (Vaguely Good)

As I’ve been on a generation ship kick as of late, I was excited to pull out my copy of Samuel R. Delany’s early novel The Ballad of Beta-2 (1965). Delany subverts the standard (and infuriating) trope of cultural stasis—for the sake of societal stability—that authors suggest will occur between the colony ship’s departure and arrival. Instead, Delany explores the intermediary generations by examining a series of ballads Continue reading Short Book Reviews: Samuel R. Delany’s The Ballad of Beta-2 (1965), Barry N. Malzberg’s The Last Transaction (1977), and Philip McCutchan’s A Time for Survival (1966)

Book Review: Candy Man, Vincent King (1971)

(Patrick Woodroffe’s cover art for the 1973 edition)

3.5/5 (Good)

The Candy Man wanders from place to place in a crumbling mega-city with his sole companion, a mechanical dog named Wolf who comes with a handy handle. Candy Man instigates the lobotomized, with primal speeches and drugged sugar floss tinted with pulverized beetles, to revolution. His reward for turning in those he encouraged deviate from the will of the Deep Machine and their Teachers? Vials of drugs. Enter the hypnagogic world of Vincent King’s Candy Man (1971), an unsettled landscape inhabited by the degenerate remnants of humankind and the arcane workings of a computer program that cannot escape its original perimeters.

Fresh off Vincent King’s short story “Defense Mechanism” (1966), I tracked down a copy of his second novel. Occupying a similar space as “Defense Mechanism” (conceptual breakthrough in a decaying world city), King pushes the narrative Continue reading Book Review: Candy Man, Vincent King (1971)

Book Review: The Ship Who Sang, Anne McCaffrey (1969)

(The Brothers Hildebrandt’s cover for the 1976 edition)

4/5 (collated rating: Good)

Cyborgs. Grand adventure. Space plagues. Theater performances for aliens. Trauma and recovery. Anne McCaffrey’s fix-up novel The Ship Who Sang (1969) is comprised of four previously published short fictions and one specially written for the volume (listed below). The fourth section, published in Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact (June 1969) ed. John Campbell, Jr.  as “Dramatic Mission” (1969), was nominated for both the Nebula and Hugo Award (1970) for best novella. The stories follow the space opera adventures and emotional development of the cyborg Continue reading Book Review: The Ship Who Sang, Anne McCaffrey (1969)

Book Review: New Writings in SF 7, ed. John Carnell (1971)

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

3/5 (collated rating: Average)

Preliminary publication note: The UK and US editions of the New Writings in Science Fiction anthology series (1964-1977) varied in content—even volumes indicated by the same number. They are often treated as separate entries in the isfdb.org anthology listing. I read and reviewed the US edition.

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The back cover of New Writings in Science Fiction 7 (1971), ed. John Carnell promises a form of “future shock”—plunging us into a world derived from ours but foreign and alien. Is the collection successful? As with the three other volumes in this anthology series I’ve read—New Writings in SF 4 (1965), New Writings in SF 6 (1965), and New Writings in SF 9 (191972)–the answer is a mixed “somewhat.”

In the volumes I’ve explored so far, Vincent King is the biggest surprise—i.e. an author I had never read who produces regularly solid work. As with “Testament” (1968), King’s “Defence Mechanism” (1966) evokes “existential emptiness” Continue reading Book Review: New Writings in SF 7, ed. John Carnell (1971)

Short Book Reviews: Fredric Brown’s The Lights in the Sky Are Stars (variant title: Project Jupiter) (1953), M. A. Foster’s Waves (1980), Eric Frank Russell’s The Great Explosion (1962)

My “to review” pile is growing and my memory of them is fading… hence short—far less analytical—reviews.

1. The Lights in the Sky Are Stars, Fredric Brown (1953)

(Mitchell Hooks’ cover for the 1955 edition)

3/5 (Average)

Frederic Brown’s The Lights in the Sky are Stars (1953)  is a slick 1950s vision of the fanatical men and women who take America by the scruff of the neck and yank it, without letting the law get in the way, towards space and the deep beyond. As a rumination on radicalism,  The Lights in the Sky are Stars succeeds—I’m not entirely sure if it was entirely intentional as Continue reading Short Book Reviews: Fredric Brown’s The Lights in the Sky Are Stars (variant title: Project Jupiter) (1953), M. A. Foster’s Waves (1980), Eric Frank Russell’s The Great Explosion (1962)

Book Review: In Solitary, Garry Kilworth (1977)

(Paul Alexander’s cover for the 1979 edition)

3/5 (Average)

Garry Kilworth’s first novel, In Solitary (1977),  attempts to present a morally complex take on human revolt against brutal alien conquest. A brief read, In Solitary piques interest but doesn’t manage to provide compelling backstories to beef up its analysis of the morality of revolt.

Ultimately, In Solitary (1977) does not live up to its compelling premise. Recommended for die Continue reading Book Review: In Solitary, Garry Kilworth (1977)

Book Review: Electric Forest, Tanith Lee (1979)

(Don Maitz’s original canvas for the 1979 edition)

5/5 (Masterpiece)

“Two years,” Claudio said. “Wasted. I used to go hunting, searching. For someone like you, my Magdala. But you’re unusual, my dear. A freak. Hard to come by. And it had to be someone like you. A genetic mistake. An atrocity, crawling about its hopeless round. Devoid of normal self-preservative wariness. Mewing, inside its warped little soul, for rescue. Not quite human. Here we are (23).”

Tanith Lee spins a gauzy, sinister, and terrifying tale of manipulative resurrection. A brilliant inventor projects the mind of a grotesque social outcast into a new transcendent body—but this isn’t an altruistic act. There’s a plot afoot. Electric Forest (1979), a shimmery nightmare of psycho-sexual manipulation,  enters my pantheon of favorite 70s SF visions.

Electric Forest demonstrates marked improvement over Don’t Bite the Sun (1976). It’s more Continue reading Book Review: Electric Forest, Tanith Lee (1979)

Book Review: The Bleeding Man and Other Science Fiction Stories, Craig Strete (1977)

(Karl Stuecklen’s cover for the 1st edition)

4/5 (collated rating: Good)

In 2015, I read and reviewed Craig Strete’s collection If All Else Fails…. (1980) and found it to be a spectacular vision “filled with gorgeous lines, evocative images” and palpable “despair at the loss of Native-American culture.” Strete, one of the few Native-American SF authors I know of, picked up three Nebula Award nominations for short SF over the 70s and early 80s (“Time Deer” in 1976, “The Bleeding Man” in 1976, and “A Sunday Visit With Great-Grandfather” in 1981 although it was withdrawn). The latter two are in this collection. The former two can be found in If All Else Fails….

Recommended for fans of experimental 70s Continue reading Book Review: The Bleeding Man and Other Science Fiction Stories, Craig Strete (1977)

Book Review: The Werewolf Principle, Clifford D. Simak (1967)

(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1st edition)

3.25/5 (Vaguely Good)

“Have you ever thought that I was frozen and thrown off the ship because they didn’t want me aboard, because I’d done something or they were afraid of me or something of the sort?” (49)

Andrew Blake, with memories of an earlier Earth, is discovered by asteroid miners frozen in a capsule. Is he the crew of a lost vessel? Was he the victim of a catastrophic accident? Or, something far more sinister? A claustrophobic and violent mission unfolds has Andrew Blake seeks to establish his identity, and the reason for the two alien voices in his head, while Continue reading Book Review: The Werewolf Principle, Clifford D. Simak (1967)