I still go on binges from time to time. During one such event in 1985 I started keeping these brief reviews and continued for about five years. I recently rediscovered the file and decided to put it on the web, just in the hope that someone browsing for an obscure title with a search engine will stumble across it. I'll add new reviews from time to time.
I am often startled to read my previous opinions, but I'm going to leave the original text alone.
I welcome your comments.
Four hundred ninety-five pages of inane, repetitious dialogue. Each conversation is obvious from the outset and is repeated ten or twelve times. I am not ambitious enough to check, but I think there are serious plot conflicts with his other books, particularly with Pebble in the Sky.
I actually liked the clean, simple, "golden-age" plotting, and the astronomical elements of the search for Earth. The price for this pleasure was several hours of tedium.
It ends with a sequel.
A re-telling of Robinson Crusoe set on a traffic island in the middle of London, with the character of Friday split into male and female parts. One reviewer says "the moral [...] is plain; the interstices of our concrete jungles are filled with neglected people, and one day those could be ourselves." I think this is not quite right; Ballard is not making a social commentary. He is saying that our experiences do not transform us, they merely clarify our natures.
Time is draining from the world and the jungle and all of the creatures within it are turning to crystal. Eventually the entire universe will be crystallized. The narrator finds this a desirable state...
Very early stories, mostly sf. Some, particularly the title story, are very much in his mature "surreal" genre. I recall that The Impossible Man was a better early sf collection.
In "The Waiting Ground," Ballard disposes of decades of space opera with a flip paragraph:
Mayer was losing control, carried away by his rage. With his big burly shoulders hunched in anger, staring up blindly at the five giant megaliths, face contorted by the heat, he looked like an insane sub-man pinned in the time trophy of a galactic super-hunter.As a bit of trivia, the story "Prima Belladonna" is described on the cover and listed in the copyright, but does not actually appear in the book.
Ok, no fooling, I am quite serious. DO NOT READ THIS BOOK UNLESS YOU REALLY AND TRULY LIKE HORROR FICTION BECAUSE IT IS GENUINELY DISTURBING.
I know every book of spooky stories says the same thing, but they are pulling your leg. Most horror stories either deliver wholesome chills for the campfire or gore that no one takes seriously. Clive Barker's stories generate dread and genuine fear by exploring themes I PROMISE YOU HAVE NEVER EVEN CONSIDERED. He has single-handedly reinvented the genre. (I may be slighting other British authors here; Ramsey Campbell comes to mind).
I like this stuff, but I had to suspend my reading several times. People whose opinions I respect disagree with me here; some do not find the stories that scary. They must have strong stomachs and metallic nerves.
Check out the hideous illustrations if you can find a copy of the original hardbound. Perfectly appropriate.
Every body is a book of blood; wherever we're opened we're red.
This is Barker's effort to depart from the pure horror genre and create fiction appealing to mass audiences, a la Stephen King. It has been said that the author's strength is in his short stories, and that his novels are weak by comparison. Although his horror shorts do have a specialized appeal and an intensity not found in this book, I found this "popular" novel to very well done and quite enjoyable.
The early sections do bear his trademark of grisly, unpleasant frights, usually involving sexual themes. But the narrative soon takes unexpected turns and becomes an epic quest fantasy set in contemporary Britain. Barker shows remarkable sensitivity and sympathy for his characters. We are not at all certain that good will triumph, or that the protagonists will survive. The evil of the villains is concrete rather than ethereal: evil is a by-product of obsessive personalities. The magical "Seerkind" are, like human beings, both good and bad.
I did not expect this at all from Barker. He has produced a almost classical high-fantasy, shot with modern chills and dark grotesqueries. Nearly six hundred pages, over too soon.
Originally titled Books of Blood, Volume IV. Five stories, perhaps not as effective as the earlier collections, but memorable nonetheless.
A very detailed narrative of power, obsession, dread and revenge, punctuated with grisly horror scenes. Barker still shows great skill in his writing, but my interest is waning. The original short stories were his best work, and Weaveworld was quite nice, but I haven't seen anything really new from him for some time. Most of the "horror" of this book is a simple dread of putrescence, which cannot be sustained.
A novel and four short stories. I was well into the first story before I realized that the novel had ended. It is incomplete.
These are all good works by the standards of the horror genre, but I expect more from Barker.
I read only half of this. It is not very interesting, or very well done. I will not read another Barker book unless it is highly recommended.
A biotechnology thriller, very effective. The author does something here which I also noticed in his Eon: the setting is a nuts-and-bolts SF plot, culminating in a "far-out" spiritual transformation.
This is actually more of an end-of-the-world-disaster screenplay than a science fiction novel. Affecting, nonetheless. It is an elaboration of the "Galactic Overlord Hypothesis" which states that the expression of intelligent life in the universe is suppressed by malevolent agencies.
Not bad, not great. What I would call the "introduction" lasts for about 120 pages. The final parts are somewhat repetitious and preachy. This is a story of a far-future humanity on the desperate edge of extinction. The "deus ex machine" subplots will probably need a sequel for elaboration. Similar to, but less effective than Hodgson's The Nightland and Aldiss' The Long Afternoon of Earth.
Searching for enlightenment before and after the nuclear holocaust. Silly and pointless.
From stories first published in the 1950's. These are quite imaginative given the dry spell in SF creativity in the late 50s. Look at a copy of "Analog" or "F&SF" from this period. Grim. Blish is a bridge between the "nuts and bolts" of the classic era and the artsy weirdness that developed in the mid 60's "New Wave."
I have a soft spot for Blish because (1) his Star Dwellers was one of the first "adult" SF books I read as a child, and (2) his Black Easter and Judgement Day are standout examples of theological SF, my favorite genre.
While reading this book I twice experienced a sensation I had not felt for many years. When I was young I encountered many weird and memorable stories. I did not pay attention to the author's name. In later years I encountered the story again and discovered that I had come to know and love the author for other worthy works. I felt a startled recognition of the familiar and remembrance of the weird. This happened to me with Lovecraft's "The Color Out of Space," Cordwainer Smith's "Alpha Ralpha Boulevard," R.A. Lafferty's "Old Foot Forgot," and Brian Aldiss' "The Worm that Flies."
It also happened with two stories from the present volume: "Common Time," about an interstellar voyage with an unexpected time scale and friendly beings at the other end, and "Beep," about a technique of instantaneous communication that contains future history. For many years I thought the later story was something by Isaac Asimov, but it is by Blish.
Short stories; fantasy, sf, horror, some dark comedy. Borges' outlook is usually sad without being morose; the view of an old man who is sardonic but not bitter.
Theme: A, plot: B, writing: C.
The eagerly awaited sequel to Sundiver and Startide Rising. The action is concurrent with the events in SR, but separated by great distance. There are no continuing characters. This is the story of an Earth colony world's resistance to aggression by a powerful galactic race.
Although I enjoyed each of these books, I would not accuse Brin of being a sparkling stylist. And, as always, the books could be condensed by a third or more. In particular, the chapters entitled "Galactics," which give us detail on the enemy aliens, are quite tedious and add nothing to the story. Also, Brin should put his thesaurus back on the shelf. It doesn't help.
My biggest beef is simply that I would MUCH rather find out what is happening to the characters from SR and now I have to wait for one or more books in the future. The author is milking the plot for a long, lucrative series. The events of the current book are just not that interesting. Details of the siege of Earth would have been better, but best of all would be a return to the starship "Streaker." Where are they? What have they discovered regarding the derelict spacecraft of the mysterious Progenitors?
Also largely missing from the current book are the intriguing, subtle, almost mystical hints that the Progenitors are returning and that the Terrans are somehow connected to them. This, along with the poetry and culture of the dolphins, made SR a cut above the crowd.
Intriguing premise of escaping lovers who wake up each day farther in the past. Not a very satisfying ending. Since each chapter roughly replicates the others the plot becomes somewhat predictable. Could have been compressed into a novella.
I am always impressed by Brunner's breadth and his ability to write books in many genres. Even his experiments are worth reading.
Ok, I like an adventure/survival/end-of-the-world/escape story as much as the next person, but this is one terrible book. Not only is the science bogus, not only does the author create pointless characters with nothing to contribute whom he forgets about, not only does he indulge in gratuitous violence of gargantuan extent, but he subjects us a very weird and unpleasant set of biases in politics, culture, technology, military affairs, race and religion.
Soon to be a major motion picture.
A book-lover's delight. Tremendously enjoyable. Witty and literate.
Already, in the confused improvisation of the first encounter, the possible future of a cohabitation is read. Today each of you is the object of the other's reading, each reads in the other the unwritten story. Tomorrow, Reader and Other Reader, if you are together, if you lie down in the same bed like a settled couple, each will turn on the lamp at the side of the bed and sink into his or her book; two parallel readings will accompany the approach of sleep; first you, then you will turn out the light; returning from separated universes, you will find each other fleetingly in the darkness, where all separations are erased, before divergent dreams draw you again, one to one side, one to the other. But do not wax ironic on this prospect of conjugal harmony: what happier image of a couple could you set against it?
A good story, but I can't see that it deserved both Hugo and Nebula awards. The writing, character development and background are nothing to shout about. The climax amounts to a plot trick I found quite disappointing. The ending is quite weird and interesting, but should have been foreshadowed earlier.
A sequel to, and better book than, Ender's Game. Won the Hugo (at least) which I think is undeserved.
The first book was the author's first published novel; a very fine initial effort.
This is an odd series. The introduction gives a science fiction premise. Otherwise we would judge the plot a sword and sorcery fantasy. But this is all an excuse for a set of romance novels. It works.
The plots of each book are roughly similar. We know that Morgaine and Vanye, the female and male protagonists, face a difficult trek across hostile territory, that they will make uneasy alliances, that they will be separated and each will at one time be captured by their enemies and rescued by the other, but that eventually they will together win through to their goal.
Two elements prevent this from becoming a tedious exercise: (1) the mystery of Morgaine (which thankfully is never explained in any detail) and (2) the sexual tension between Morgaine and Vanye, which is not consummated until the final volume.
I will never forget Morgaine. She is unique. Ruthless, obsessive, dispassionate (mostly), imperious, violent, introverted. Sometimes unbalanced. She is well suited to her mission...
Intermittently exciting space adventure. The really interesting aspects, such as the mystery of the "monolith people" and the fate of Dave Bowman and HAL are almost absent.
I didn't like "2010" book either, although I thought it was a great film. Usually the reverse is true.
Nuts-and-bolts SF, with some occult mysteries and religious questions thrown in. It became interesting on page 90, when the plot reaches the alien spacecraft. Then I had to finish it. The ending is abrupt and not very satisfying; aren't the "bad guys" going to be punished?
More books are planned.
A sequel to Against the Fall of Night, which was first written over 50 years earlier. In that book, set billions of years in the future, immortals dream away the ages in the last perfect city on a desert Earth. I read it when I was young and although it is not as rich as the far-future visions of Jack Vance or of Gene Wolfe, it is memorable "Golden Age" story nonetheless.
The sequel is principally by Benford. Part I is either by Clarke or is a fair imitation of him: it reads like a story from the 1930s. Part II is vastly disappointing; Benford obviously has no interest in the original story and simply wrenches the book into settings similar to his Great Sky River or The Heart of the Comet, oblivious to the clash of styles and subjects and the gaping plot holes he generates. The plot is padded, also.
What is the point of this exercise? Why write a sequel to a book when you have no interest in the original?
The Andromeda Strain meets "Forbidden Planet." Some interesting plot developments, but ultimately unsatisfying. The protagonists go to pieces and the good mysteries are never addressed.
Action-packed, thrill a minute. So much so that my attention began to wander during the excitement. (Actually, I couldn't put it down). A pretty good tale of scientific and mercantile hubris, with moral little lectures on chaos theory. Obviously designed as a screenplay.
Technical hitches: why was it so important to stop the cargo boat, when we knew that dinosaurs had already reached the mainland? And I don't believe that Costa Rica has any military at all.
Four stories. "The Nightingale Sings at Night" is an Eden variation. "Great Work of Time" is a complex time-travel story. "In Blue" is about loneliness and ideology. "Novelty" (in which the word "crepuscular" occurs) seems to be semi- autobiographical musings about the writer and his work. It is set in the "Seventh Saint Bar and Grill," a locale shared with Little, Big.
Short stories written between 1957 and 1977. Davidson is a great story-teller. He is at his best and most natural in tales that are exotic, warm, and good-humored. Most of these are not strictly SF, but read very well. Included are two stories that I believe have achieved some fame: "Manatee Gal Won't You Come Out Tonight" and "The Sources of the Nile." "The Lord of Central Park" is a hilarious tale of secret river pirates on the Hudson in modern-day New York.
I have been a fan since I was a lad when I read his The Island Under the Earth, a dense and difficult fantasy about a magical counter-earth. It was the first in a trilogy which sadly was never completed.
A good old-fashioned SF story! Secret societies guard gates to interdimensional pathways where insectoid horrors wait to invade. Great fun, not at all self- conscious or campy.
Surprising good fun. Dopey legend turns out to be a poignant account of love and survival. Unnecessary plot developments at the end, and obligatory happy ending.
Third in the series. Borribles are like urban hobbits with brass-knuckles. The books are fun because they set classic quest-fantasy in modern, noxious city backgrounds. The author has an intimate knowledge of sections of London I don't think you will find in the tour guides.
The first book was quite good, the sequels less so. The villains have become burlesque and the heros have lost their seriousness. But still fun.
The "message," if there is one, is that adult duties and responsibilities are not worth having.
Subtitled "A Tale of Terror," which is not really true. It is about spirits transcending the mundane world, sometimes in life, sometimes in death, most often somewhere in between. There are malign spirits, and this is somewhat spooky. But what is most striking is that Disch is able to write about spiritual affairs in a light tone that does not mock or ridicule. Very weird, very good.
I thought this would be a lampoon on religious and political conservatism, but it turned surprising corners and became a sad tale of redemption (?) through suffering. I was particularly intrigued because the first half occurs in places in Iowa where I have lived.
Be warned that the story develops sexual plot lines somewhat off of the wholesome center.
I wonder if a book like this could be written today. Dunsany mourned for the passing of the old, magical, pre-industrial world, but at least he could still see it. That world never really existed, but children knew about it and adults could read and write about it in fantasy. What has died is a an attitude, a way of thinking about the world and ourselves.
This book is rich with imagery expressing a love of nature. The language has an archaic cadence, structured to invoke lost memories. Humor of the modern world intrudes lightly. The plot could be strengthened, but this doesn't detract from the pleasure the book has given me.
She wore a crown that seemed to be carved of great pale sapphires; she shone on those lawns and gardens like a dawn coming unaware, out of a long night, on some planet nearer than us to the sun. And as she passed near Alveric she suddenly turned her head; and her eyes opened in a little wonder. She had never before seen a man from the fields we know.
And Alveric gazed in her eyes all speechless and powerless still: it was indeed the Princess Lirazel in her beauty. And then he saw that her crown was not of sapphires but ice.
"Who are you?" she said. And her voice had the music that, of earthly things, was most like ice in thousands of broken pieces rocked by a wind of Spring upon lakes in some northern country.
And he said, "I come from the fields that are mapped and known."
And then she sighed for a moment for those fields, for she had heard how life beautifully passes there, and how there are always in those fields young generations, and she thought of the changing seasons and children and age, of which Elfin minstrels had sung when they told of Earth.
Very little SF content, this is actually a hard-boiled detective story set in a future Arabic setting. A good read, somewhat gruesome, and the plot and resolution become a bit muddled. It doesn't matter.
Nonfiction "essays of opinion on the subject of television" published in 1968-69. Ellison's criticism is inextricably bound to his social and political views. He burns with a white hate for injustice, conservatism, and hack writers. Much of the material is not of much interest today (for example, he says that the "Mod Squad" was originally contemptible but later had a couple of good episodes) but in the final quarter of the book he begins hitting a very important theme: that TV is intentionally used to deprive viewers of their critical faculties, removing any traces of social conscience or independent behavior.
Ellison effectively communicates the chaos of the late 60s. His language is so dated as to be comical. It is a rule that "most hip" = "soonest dated." He is a name-dropper, also.
Some years ago Ellison published a collection dedicated to "love," a book filled with ghastly pain and cruelty. This book is about "death" and many of the stories are surprisingly sentimental and whimsical. Some are, of course, grim. He seems to become more moralistic with time.
Also, regarding his introductions...as usual Ellison discusses the obituaries he writes and the eulogies he delivers. Someone should tell him that these events are not about him.
A nasty and somewhat grisly detective story set in a dystopia a hundred years or more hence. The "mcguffin" is a new venereal disease.
I have always disliked this sort of story, where the distinction of right and wrong is very muddy, compassion is disappearing, and people are brutalized by an all- powerful State. I guess I am afraid that these things are actually happening to us and we don't realize it or care.
As an aside, the title of this book is so dumb that the jacket editor must have chosen it. You see, a woman named Honor is found dead at the beginning of the story...
These books have made quite a splash. They are the central examples of the new genre called "cyberpunk." Although they are quite well-done, I don't think new labels are warranted. Alfred Bester, Samuel Delaney and others went over this ground many years ago. All of that aside I highly recommended these books and eagerly await all future sequels. The themes are much too interesting and detailed for a review. The big plot elements are 1) the existence of an information society so dense and real that it forms a nearly tangible "cyberspace" and 2) the emergence of Artificial Intelligences that transcend human understanding. Computer nuts will find these stories irresistible. The first book captures the viciousness and cruelty of modern street culture quite well. The second is slightly more human. Also, the world of the second book is at least liveable; conditions of the first are intolerable. But we are looking at different social classes, different times here. The third book reads well, but the plot flags. Gibson is most interesting when he builds his mysteries and less so when he explains them. I found the threads linking each of the books fascinating, but was disappointed by the resolution of this book.
Early short stories. Only a couple are associated with the "Sprawl" future of his novels.
A mystical, ecological fantasy, sometimes serious but usually comic. A feudal romance, set in the future. There are very good bits here, but I found the prose somewhat lacking. The premise could have been the base of an outstanding book.
It has been years since I last read this and I think it holds up well. Red-headed male twins, for a change, plus the estimable Hazel Meade. This is actually a pioneer wagon-train family story, very parallel to western epics I read as a child: bold family seeks adventure on the frontier. By heading outward, the brave can be entirely self-sufficient in the wilderness, and will find freedom beyond the borders of civilization.
One of his better "juveniles," although Have Spacesuit, Will Travel is by far the best in that genre.
They walked around the hull and into the sunlight. Captain Stone, Earth born, looked first at the mother planet. "Looks like a big storm is working up around the Philippines."
Neither of the twins answered; weather was largely a mystery to them, nor did they approve of weather. Presently he turned to them and said softly, "I'm glad we came, boys. Are you?"
"Oh, you bet!" "Sure!" They had forgotten how cold and unfriendly the black depths around them had seemed only a short time before. Now it was an enormous room, furnished in splendor, though not yet fully inhabited. It was their own room, to live in, to do with as they liked.
I recall Frank Herbert claimed that all of the Dune books had been plotted before he began the first one. I don't believe it. All of the sequels were much inferior to the original and none of the plot innovations were beneficial.
This "prequel" to Dune took me back to my youth and reminded me of the pleasure of my many readings of the original. Sadly, the book is a prequel to the entire series (and perhaps even to the awful David Lynch film) rather than to the first book only. Ignoring books 2 through 6 would have given better results.
The novel suffers from weak, almost juvenile, dialogue. I think the authors messed up the original mythology, but I would have to reread the original to be sure.
A very fine fantasy of the romantic, epic adventure variety. Pleasant, memorable, and thrilling throughout.
Tell you what: examine this book in the store. Read the first page of the prologue. If it doesn't grab you, put it down and never mind.
A sequel to Mythago Wood. Compared to the first book, this one is overly complex. It is, however, very rich and touching. The foundation of the author's fantasy is bloody and unpleasant, but the magic still shines through.
The composer Ralph Vaughn Williams appears briefly.
Maybe there is something wrong with me, but I have never enjoyed the work of PK Dick or of some people he recomended. Dick is one of the canonized figures of SF literature, but I just don't get it. This is the only Jetter book I have read (his first) and I didn't like it.
I suppose Ellison could be put in the same camp, but I like a lot of the Ellison I have read. His subject material and narration can be just as nasty, but his stories seem to amount to something, a level of analysis that I have not seen in Dick or Jetter.
Note that I am not saying that the book is poorly done or unworthy of attention; simply that I did not enjoy it.
The author is otherwise unknown to me, which is unfortunate, as the prose is quite good. The story is a series of vignettes detailing the transformations through many realities of our heroes, who are lost in "unspace" and have no frame of reference. There is no real resolution to the plot, but some of the episodes are enjoyable.
Very creepy. Not at all titillating, which one might expect from the jacket.
Several people recommended this book to me, but it just didn't grab me. The science fiction elements are of secondary importance; this is mainly a feudal romance. The story is sort of a cross between the dynastic schemings of James Clavell and the biological imperatives of Frank Herbert.
Perhaps I am being unfair; I have enjoyed other books with similar characteristics.
Theologically-inspired horror stories, often reflecting the author's conservative politics. Most are "revenge from beyond the grave" ghost stories. In some cases his villains seem naively stereotyped.
Developed from stories written in 1951-53.
A familiar theme of absolute social control through psychological conditioning. People are kept in line by "guardian" hallucinations. The stories are not pasted together very well; as a novel it is hash. I found the plot difficult to follow; the characters display no continuity of personality or behavior.
Koontz wrote some nice SF in the '60s. He now writes very popular, somewhat grisly thrillers, often with strong occult content. The reader vicariously becomes a mass murderer, psychopath, torturer, etc. If the scenes of explicit violence were filmed we would call the result a "slasher" film and the critics would pan it. As a novel it reaches the best-seller list.
I find the books are perfect for plane rides. They read quickly and are undemanding. Watchers is the best written and has the strongest SF content. It is about extremes of good and evil represented by escaped genetically engineered animals.
Lafferty is a non-stop raving madman. His writing cannot be confused with any other person's. I made the mistake of taking a volume of his short stories on a long plane trip one time; I swear it gave me brain-fever. He deserves more fame; I suspect his work will be a popular academic study some time in the future.
His short stories are his best effort. Or perhaps the reader simply doesn't have the endurance to keep up with a novel-length story. This book hangs together pretty well. I have stopped expecting Lafferty to provide me with the narrative aids and comforts of other writers, and so am losing some of the cognitive dissonance that troubles me while reading him.
The Doomsday Equation has pinpointed a person on Klepsis, planet of haunted, hallucinating peg-legged Irish pirates, as an important unstable nexus, implying extinction for all. Can the human universe be saved? Don't expect to find out...
Clarity is kept under control here. I always like whole skies unbottomed to let out the distorting lightning and thunder to overwhelm us. You will find a much stronger meteorology here than on Gaea-Earth. You'll find weather to scare you. It's weather to form barbarians by. Clarity is the penny whistle of single and shrill voices. I want the mystery and un-clarity of orchestras, monumental and mountainous and rhapsodies, and not very good. And I want a great number of them.
Not his best book, and more than usually violent. For the first time I wonder about his sanity. He is a treasure.
I read the first three in the series when I was young.
Number one is still a very good story; it is remarkable how much of a subcreation the author makes in so little space. A lesson in facing your fears, and how they will drive you if you do not. Nice taoistic imagery.
Intriguing plot elements: the land of death that the wizards know so well, the mysterious relation between death and the old powers, sources of power other than that of the good wizards.
I had not before noticed a plot cohesiveness: the Old Powers of evil have been stalking Ged all of his life. He does not see the pattern, although others have noticed parts of it. What does the Archmage's raven say about the evil stone? And the second Archmage perceives a force in the north that wishes to destroy Ged.
Book 2 is mainly a romance and Ged does not appear in the first third. The Old Powers are here closely related to death and destruction. The conspiracy breaks down: why aren't the Old Powers ready for Ged?
Book 3 is the best story so far; many great scenes. It seems that the land of the dead is populated by shadows, by names only, although some of them have memories... This is a rather pagan afterlife.
Book 4 has a different, more adult tone, with feminist perspective. Magic recedes and the details of life come forward. I give the author great credit for her attention to the details of the earlier books; she brings many plot elements forward to the last book.
But I was a bit disappointed. This could have been an integration of the whole series, with a scheme of the battle of good and evil revealed. Instead the villains come forward with sudden vulgarity and are dealt with equally suddenly.
The theme of people who are also dragons is well developed, and we have a happy ending, but I was sad and disconsolate. The crimes against the child, the fear of the women; these are not offset by the pleasant outcome.
The people of Earthsea have creation myths, but apparently no religion.
I missed this as a child. A religious and political fable. It would be easy to analyze this as an anti-communist fantasy. Perhaps it is the passage of years, but I remember children's fantasy books that were quite a bit more enchanting than this one.
First published in 1907. I bought this because HP Lovecraft identified Machen as one the authors who greatly influenced him. This is Machen's first novel.
It is easy to see why Lovecraft enjoyed this work. Brooding countryside, ruined forts, lurking madness. Machen's story has both psychological and mystical elements. He writes with a subtlety that Lovecraft never achieved.
I find that stories from this period, for example those by Ambrose Bierce and Robert Chambers, read very well today. I think this is because these are the authors that the main-stream science fiction writers read and emulated when they were young, and it is in turn their stories that I read when I was young.
Hard SF mystery about an alien menace. Very nearly an "Alien" sequel. Unexceptional.
A sequel to The Integral Trees. It ends with another sequel. There are enough serious plot developments to fill a short story. The rest of the 360 pages concerns the domestic arrangements of the Smoke Ring dwellers.
Niven once said "It is a sin to waste the reader's time." He should repent.
A first novel, explicitly a "Heinlein genre" book. The "good-guy" survivors of the Big War are a race of young genius survivalists. The "bad guys" are Russians. Our eleven-year-old heroine is the best and brightest of the bunch. We get doses of all of Heinlein's sensibilities plus the usual embarrassing slap-and-tickle sexual horseplay.
A notable irritation of the author's approach is that our narrator's "diary" is written in an abbreviated style "to save time." All predicates. Hard to read. Tiresome, very. Additionally: wastes time telling much don't want to know anyway.
Nonetheless, the story is a real "page turner," filled with "oh boy, how do they get out of this one?"
A fairly outrageous romp, strewn with nuggets of late 20th century folk wisdom. Lots of sacrilege, drugs and exuberant, guilt-free sexuality. This is part of a current of literature that is anti-authoritarian, anti-dogmatic, and which promotes the let's- reduce-the-male-god-dominance-and-restore-some-balance-and-honor-the-earth sentiment.
The protagonists at first seem to be sybaritic weirdos. True, but they also have duties and obligations beyond the mainstream; they honor life and the earth rather than symbolic abstractions. One commentator has said that they embody "true divinity."
The prose is sometimes talky and repetitive. I had trouble with some of the fast and furious metaphors: what, for instance, is "mashed banana sunlight"? Was the light kind of gooey with embedded strings?
You risked your life, but what else have you ever risked? Have you ever risked disapproval? Have you ever risked economic security? Have you ever risked a belief? I see nothing particularly courageous in risking one's life. So you lose it, you go to your hero's heaven and everything is milk and honey 'til the end of time. Right? You get your reward and suffer no earthly consequences. That's not courage. Real courage is risking something you have to keep on living with, real courage is risking something that might force you to rethink your thoughts and suffer change and stretch consciousness. Real courage is risking one's cliches.
An often funny, sometimes gruesome sequel to Software. Rucker does not take himself as seriously as some of his "cyberpunk" cohorts. A kernal of a philosophical point made in the earlier book remains: How important is continuity of identity? Some people have called this the "transporter problem." Are there transformations of self we could not "live" through even though they seemed harmless?
Surprisingly, the plot contains strong elements of several Heinlein novels, including The Puppet Masters, Stranger in a Strange Land and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.
Rucker calls government "the Gimme," a usage which may catch on.
(Stories first published 1944-51).
I neglected Simak when I was young and have come to appreciate him as a very important writer in recent years. I can identify three main types of Simak story:
I. Traditional (City, Waystation).
II. Early Weird (All Flesh is Grass, Time and Again).
III. Revelatory (A Choice of Gods, Shakespeare's Planet).
Simak II is extremely weird by 40's standards. Simak III appears in the 70s as an intriguing series of books with a common theme: a man and a warm, faithful robot companion encounter wilderness adventure and a woman who serves as a romantic interest. Together they approach mysteries of a semi-divine nature which can be dimly perceived but never comprehended.
As is common with Simak, in City the most appealing character is the robot Jenkins, who manifests loyalty, wisdom, and immortality.
Mild Simak III. Could have been a novella. The scenes in Washington and in the newspaper offices add nothing.
Four novellas, none distinguished.
Good Simak III. The three personalities composing "Ship" remind me of a similar arrangement in Cordwainer Smith's "Three to a Given Star." Their passages are philosophical musings only loosely connected to the story.
The "revelation" passages are quite well done. Unusally for his romantic plots, the man and woman part. The alien "Carnivore" adds a comic touch; more than anything else he represents primitive man, perhaps the old Adam.
The source of revelation is shown to be not supernatural, but the effect of an alien communication system. The question: does the experience still have spiritual value? Can mundane aliens serve as "ministering angels"?
One of his best. A very rich presentation of his pastoral, anti-technological sentiments. The idealized communistic strain is stronger than I remember it from other books.
The tone reminds me of John Crowley's Engine Summer. Crowley's is a richer story, but Simak is more haunted by hints of the transcendent.
Like many of his Earth-bound stories the location is the upper Mississippi Valley. Simak lived in Wisconsin and Minnesota most of his life and I appreciate his affection for the region.
The story presents a second Eden for Earth, returned to wilderness, now with only a handful of inhabitants who have a vastly increased lifespan. The whites live sedately, served by faithful robots, or travel to the stars, while the Indians return to their old ways and reinherit their old domains. I don't see the Serpent, as none of the remnant human beings seem tempted by anything they don't already have; certainly not by the industrial past.
Two young lovers have each the power to heal; together they seem to be able to engender "souls" in other living things, just as a man and woman create a child with a soul. This points to a re-enchantment of nature and fellowship with all life.
As usual in Simak, hints of the Deity are alien, frightening, even sinister. I found Hezekiah's reflections on the last page a bit weak and out of character.
A very strange premise: human destinies exist as abstract symbiotes on another planet. Throw in multiple time-travel plots, and android insurrection and a messianic protagonist. This edition seems to be missing a chapter: Eva doesn't tell Sutton about "Morgan" and the "Revisionists".
Written in 1951, Simak puts himself into the story (as "Old Cliff", a moonshine-swilling fisherman) in a segment that occurs in 1977. Old Cliff mentions a story about "destiny" he wrote years before. The site, as so often with the author, is a few miles upriver from where the Wisconsin meets the Mississippi.
The details of the galactic empire and society are sparse and unconvincing.
An unusually despondent story, filled with failure and loneliness. The location is again Millville, although the state is not mentioned. Humanity displays cruelty and indifference in its normal affairs, and is incapable of coping with the first alien contact. The light of hope patched into the last two pages might as well have been left out.
Written in 1952, set in 1987. Another tale of parallel wilderness Earths. A genetic elite establishes benevolent feudalism in a pastoral setting. Dark vision of the human condition. Convenient plot resolution.
From a 1939 story. A "crash of universes" space opera, covering a lot of ground. Reminiscent of Doc Smith and Asimov. Who is borrowing from whom?
A lampoon on "asimovian" robot books. These are Tik-Tok's memoirs and he has been a very bad (mentally ill?) tin man. The author's gallows humor reminds me of Vonnegut (whom I don't enjoy), but Sladek is much less serious and self-serving.
Comic cyberpunk, this seems like a lampoon on the genre at the outset. Muddled, disjoint plot thereafter.
Irritating eco-sabotage story. The violent always have excuses. Too many minor characters to keep track of. Some audacious and funny moments, but entirely fantastical.
Bright beginning, muddled middle, comeback finale. Straub has mastered the symbology of evil and kindly reveals many of the hidden connections and correspondences of his story. A convincing subcreation.
One aspect I found to be pretty silly was the idea that people who could perform real magic would have any interest in careers as stage performers.
I love the new fairy-tale introduction that Straub uses: "Many years ago, when we all lived in the forest, and no one lived anywhere else..."
A tremendous book, the first Tiptree I have read. This is one of those rare stories at the center of science fiction that everyone can enjoy. We have spaceships and ray- guns for the "nuts and bolts" crowd, good vs evil for the ethically pure, guilt and redemption for the moralists, and a very fine detective story for all of us.
It is also the most excruciatingly tense horror story I have read in a long time. The terror is not in what occurs on the page, but what is suspected to be happening off- scene. The good guys get plenty of clues but are simply insufficiently paranoid. I wanted to shake them and say "You know better than this! Put the pieces together!" The plot development is a nightmarish slide into fear and dread, again caused not by what is shown, but by what is implied.
The characters climb back out of the nightmare. Some have happy endings, others not. The author displays great skill and sensitivity in the details of plot and character. Tiptree ranges somewhere between Cordwainer Smith, Theodore Sturgeon, and Fritz Leiber. His [actually "her"--Tiptree is a woman, recently deceased] material and style are quite unique.
Short stories published between 1968 and 1973. Some are comic, a few are unpleasant (as in Harlan Ellison's genre), most are somewhat sad and poignant.
My favorite is "The Man Who Walked Home." When you read science fiction as a teenager you encounter many memorable short stories that leave a lasting impression because of their weirdness and wonderfulness. For some reason these are harder to find as an adult, but this is one such.
As an aside, does anyone know why short stories have vanished in all areas other than science fiction?
Short stories. An entertaining feature is the typically pretentious introduction by Robert Silverberg who holds forth with such bs as:
It has been suggested that Tiptree is female, a theory that I find absurd, for there is to me something ineluctably masculine about Tiptree's writing. I don't believe the novels of Jane Austen could have been written by a man nor the stories of Ernest Hemingway by a woman...Wrong again, Robert.
Large scale epic of several worlds. Would have been better if the author had toned down some of the grandiose descriptions of metaphysical existence. The narrative becomes somewhat talky.
Short stories of mixed quality, published posthumously. Several are quite nasty: "Morality Meat" is an abortion story along the lines of "Soylent Green" and "Yanqui Doodle" is an anti-war story set in the next Latin American involvement. "The Earth Doth Like a Snake Renew" is a memorable combination of eroticism and geology.
"Eight Science Fiction Stories," most already collected. Tiptree has a continuing theme: woman (or sympathetic male) persecuted by beastly Men (or human society) makes an escape into the kind, inhuman world.
The first installment of a new series: "The Cadwal Chronicles."
The author's work has bifurcated in recent years into two genres: the lush, mysterious, exotic worlds of the "Lyonesse" books and "Dying Earth" sequels, and the mannered detective stories of "The Demon Princes" and the "Alastor" books. This most recent book is of the later type. The emphasis is on witty dialogue, humorous clashes of culture and decisive police work. Vance shows no decline in his powers.
Her eviction from Clattuc House was a long and contentious process, which climaxed at the House Supper, when Smonny delivered her farewell remarks, which escalated from sarcastic jibes, through a revelation of disgraceful secrets, into a shrieking hysterical fit. Fratano at last ordered the footmen to remove her by force; Smonny jumped up on the table and ran back and forth, followed by four bemused footmen, who finally seized her and dragged her away.
Not SF, one of the author's mysteries, actually a "dead teenager" story. Made into a TV-movie. It is somewhat creepy but does not have the flair or character of Vance's other works. Also, in SF the author never narrates the story of the villain, as he does here.
A somewhat pedestrian novel. The protagonist is not very appealing. One interesting element is the role of language as the basis of behavior. Another is the anarchistic sentiment that a docile but recalcitrant population cannot be dominated by military force.
My favorite Vance story; a transition book. The first half is a marvelous tinted portrait of life in old-world, decaying cities. Very European. The final third introduces the elements of space opera: piracy, adventure, legend and vengeance. In some ways this is a precursor to the "Demon Princes" novels.
Short stories, apparently not previously published. Poor to average.
Vance remains, as always, one of my favorite authors. He makes life worth living. But it is hard to agree with the cover that this is the "stunning" conclusion to the Lyonesse trilogy. Good: yes. Great: no. Many loose ends are abruptly tied up in the very compressed final chapters. Some are left hanging: the Ska are not dealt with at all, and King Aillas' Ska "girl-friend" is absent. (Or did she die in a previous book?)
Rereading the whole series will probably reveal other gaps. I recall the first two volumes as being better efforts. I suspect the author simply became tired of this project. Is he tired of the genre as well?
The Durdane Trilogy. I tried to read this once before, without success. Although many of the usual Vance adventure elements are present, I found the story uncharacteristically grim. The third book is lighter, but becomes frivolous at the end.
"Araminta III". Mannered detective story in space. Not particularly exciting.
As a tribute to the SF time travel genre, it is a tour-de-force. I think about this book every time I fly. (Shudder!) The shifting narrative is well done. The first person account of the female protagonist is worthy (conscious?) imitation of Heinlein patter.
The big disappointment is at the end. I hate these "deus ex machine" conclusions to the effect of "hey, none of this was true after all."
A novel-length "Silver John" story. He seems much more action-oriented and more capable of violence than I remember him in Who Fears the Devil?, one of the favorite collections of my youth. I would like to find that book again, to see if its magical quality remains.
It is odd what slight things trouble the forces of evil: iron, cedar smoke, prayers. The narrative is somewhat repetitive.
An entertaining occult conspiracy thriller, featuring Albert Einstein, James Joyce and Aleister Crowley. Wilson has a vast body of knowledge and philosophy to draw upon; he makes good use of these. I skipped the segments of "Joycean" gibberish, but I liked the intermittent screenplay directions. The hallucinogenic climax is quite memorable.
I would like to thank the author for promoting Robert Chambers' The King in Yellow, and various works by Arthur Machen. We must be sure these stories are not lost!
Set in classical Greece, the narrator is a wounded soldier who can remember only the previous day's events at any time. He writes a diary and reads it every day to learn his story. Also, he sees and speaks to the gods. He is evidently being punished...
The beginning and end of the book are strong. The author loses the thread somewhat in the middle, but comes around again. There will be a sequel. Recommended.
Also, if you have never read Wolfe's "Book of the New Sun" series (The Shadow of the Torturer, etc, I strongly recommend these. Excellent in every respect).
His short story "The Eyeflash Miracles" is one of my favorites and I suspect it would make a good screenplay. It is collected in The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories (and other stories).
I am nuts about the original four books. The fifth volume is an unnecessary postscript and I approached it somewhat gingerly. I will want to read it again before giving a more definite judgement.
The first third of the book does not come together very well. Eventually Wolfe hits his stride and the old rhythm emerges. Not until then do I sense that Severian, Autarch and Journeyman Torturer, has returned. The story fills in many gaps and provides illumination of shadows in the original books. Did we need this illumination? Sometimes the mystery is more enjoyable than the knowing.
This is an extraordinaryly complex plot. We knew that beings who were not constrained to linear notions of time existed in the original story, but following these paths can be exhausting. We suspected that Severian was the reincarnation of the ancient savior, the Conciliator; did we need to confirm it by direct experience? We knew that Urth had a chance to acquire a revitalized sun; now we watch it happening. And, sadly, this book ends with strong hints of another sequel.
No one else writes with the confident, transcendent weirdness of Wolfe. I do not fault him for wanting to further explore his wonderful mythos and I will loyally purchase and read each installment. However, sometimes a work of art should be left "as is." Further elaboration only muddies the water.
Modestly entertaining short stories. Most are "social problem" treatments, several are whimsical and weird.
Chaotic, disjoint, filled with dream logic. A confused, lonely man's search for his goddess. Readers who did not like Free, Live Free will not like this either.
In the end I confess that I enjoyed it because Wolfe clearly states something not often revealed: Loneliness is related to insanity; the former can inspire the later.
Sequel to Soldier of the Mist. To properly evaluate these books I will have to reread them in quick succession, assisted by Classics and mythology reference works. This is probably the last book, although there is a faint hint of a possible sequel.
This can be difficult reading. Latro, the warrior who forgets, makes many obscure and oblique references. He often does not understand the events he narrates. He does not distinguish his conversations with gods from those with people. Characters I did not remember from the first book reappear.
The author wanders a bit. It is difficult to judge if he has a coherent plan for the books. But I think that rereading will be quite rewarding. Many of the characters are historical personages.
At one point Latro meets Simonides and is taught the Art of Memory as an aid to his condition. (See The Art of Memory by Frances Yates).
I thought this would be a fantasy but it is instead a satisfactory detective story. It reminds me of Heinlein's Podkayne because the protagonist is an adolescent female with a line of snappy patter. I admire her because she is rich and relaxed about it.
Wolfe sets the action in the upscale rural Chicago suburbs where he lives, changing some of the place names slightly: Barton Hills for Barrington Hills, Palestine for Palatine.
Fantasy thriller set in upstate Illinois. Wolfe is an expert in what I would call "surprise continuity." An "ok" story.