Category Archives: Science Fiction Book Reviews

Book Review: Memoirs of a Spacewoman, Naomi Mitchison (1962)

(Vincent Di Fate’s cover for the 1973 edition)

4.5/5 (Very Good)

Naomi Mitchison’s first science fiction novel, Memoirs of a Spacewoman (1962), is a brilliant episodic rumination on the nature of non-violent interaction with alien species that challenge (and transform) conceptions of ourselves and others.  Although R. S. Lonati’s cover for the 1964 Four Square edition suggests a pulp adventure—replete with flashy spaceships, explosions, and traditional adventure—Memoirs is cut from an altogether different cloth.

The first sentence of the novel narrows in on Mitchison’s central themes:

“I think about my friends and the fathers of my children.  I think about my children, and I think less about my four dear normals than I think about Viola.  And I think about Ariel.  And the other.  I wonder sometimes how old  would be if I counted the years of time blackout during exploration (5).”

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Book Review: The Monadic Universe, George Zebrowski (1977)

(Paul Alexander’s cover for the 1977 edition)

2.75/5 (collated rating: Vaguely Average)

A while back I picked up a copy of George Zebrowski’s The Monadic Universe (1977) for my friend 2theD at Potpourri of Science Fiction Literature to supplement his suitcase of SF books he buys every year before heading back to Thailand.  Before I sent it to him I read a single story “The History Machine” (1972) and was intrigued enough to buy the collection for myself.

Bluntly put Zebrowski’s post-apocalyptical, polluted, environment going to hell futures are dull and resort to random violence, sinister women characters, and lengthy information dumps.  The stories containing metaphysical thought-experiments are slightly more successful although the lack of articulate prose weakens their power.  I only recommend three Continue reading

Book Review: The Many Worlds of Barry Malzberg, Barry N. Malzberg (1975)

(Jack Faragasso’s cover for the 1975 edition)

3.5/5 (collated rating: Good)

The Many Worlds of Barry Malzberg (1975) contains eleven short works of which four (“Initiation,” “Management,” “Reconstitution,” and “After the Unfortunate Accident”) were original to the volume and have not been published elsewhere.

My first exposure to Barry N. Malzberg’s massive short fiction catalogue was a mixed bag.  But even the least intriguing of his works contain literary prose and unsettling scenes…  I recommend this collection for a handful of the stories (although the best can be found elsewhere): namely, “The Union Forever” (1973), “Reconstitution” (1975), “Death to the Keeper” (1968), and”Closed Sicilian” (1973).  

I found Continue reading

Book Review: The Voices of Time and Other Stories, J. G. Ballard (1962)

(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1962 edition)

4.25/5 (collated rating: Good)

J. G. Ballard’s second short story collection, Voices of Time and Other Stories (1962), is only ever so slightly less brilliant than his first, Billenium (1962).   The stories are often linked thematically: exploring post-apocalyptical landscapes,  rituals in the face of death, urban alienation, mental fragmentation.   Scientists test whether humans can live without sleep, strange megaliths populate the volcanic landscapes of an alien planet, residual sounds are gathered in city dumps, and new ultra modern housing complexes facilitate detachment from the real world…

Highly recommended for all fans of literary, thought-provoking, and moody SF.   Ballard is one of the most routinely Continue reading

Book Review: Transfigurations, Michael Bishop (1979)

(Mike Hinge’s cover for the 1979 edition)

4.25/5 (Good)

Note: A slightly shorter version of this review will appear in Big Sky, # 4 (a fanzine put together by Pete Young).

On the surface, Michael Bishop’s anthropologically inclined science fiction appears deceptively simple. In his first novel and unacknowledged masterpiece A Funeral for the Eyes of Fire (1975), the premise (moving an alien people from a planet) evolves into a vast and complex anthropological tapestry filled with stories within stories creating an almost claustrophobic doubling of characters. In Stolen Faces (1977) the biological mystery of a virulent disease grows, tumor-like, into a brilliantly nightmarish exploration of bodily and societal decay and the gravimetric forces

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Book Review: False Dawn, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (1978)

(Gary Friedman’s cover for the 1978 edition)

3.25/5 (Vaguely Good)

“One of the women wasn’t dead yet.  Her ravaged body hung naked from a broken billboard.  Her legs were splayed wide and anchored with ropes; legs and belly were bloody, there were heavy bruises on her face and breasts, and she had been branded with a large “M” for mutant” (1).

Before there was Mad Max (1979) dir. George Miller there was Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s False Dawn (1978)… In 1972 she published her brutal and terrifying short story “False Dawn” in Thomas N. Scortia’s anthology Strange Bedfellows  (1972).  A few years later the work was deemed important enough to be included in Pamela Sargent’s famous anthology Women of Wonder (1975).  This story forms the first chapter of her post-apocalyptical novel False Dawn (1978).

In the 60s highly inventive post-apocalyptical stories flourished: for example, J. G. Ballard’s masterpiece The Drowned World (1962) filled with images of uterine spaces Continue reading

Book Review: The Worlds of Frank Herbert, Frank Herbert (1970)

(Paul Alexander’s cover for the 1977 edition)

3.25/5 (Collated rating: Vaguely Good)

I have long been a fan of Frank Herbert.   In my youth I scarfed down Dune (1965) and all its sequels and cried (metaphorically) when his son Brian Herbert made  a mockery of his vision.  I even read the more dubious novels in Herbert’s canon: from The Green Brain (1966) to the co-written (with Bill-Ransom)  novels of the Pandora sequence i.e. The Jesus Incident (1979), The Lazarus Effect (1983), and The Ascension Factor (1988).  I have found many of his non-Dune novels worth reading (Destination: Void (1966) and The Dosadi Experiment (1977), etc).

More recently I have started to read/review the handful of his novels I missed as a child—so far the solid and unexpectedly complex The Eyes of Heisenberg (1966) and the lesser Continue reading