Category Archives: Science Fiction Book Reviews

Book Review: Involution Ocean, Bruce Sterling (1977)


(Tim White’s cover for the 1980 edition)

3.25/5 (Vaguely Good)

“Turn and look behind you, reader. Can you see the crater now? It is wide, round, magnificent; within it shimmers a sea of air above a sea of dust. Almost a million human beings live within this titanic hole, this incredible crater, this single staring eye in the face of an empty planet” (119).

In my youth naval history and fiction transfixed: from the capture of the Spanish Xebec El Gamo by Lord Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald to C. S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower sequence, inspired in part by Lord Cochrane’s career.  I assessed each novel and memoir on whether or not I felt like I was on a sea-going vessel, holding the ropes in calloused hands, trapped belowdeck in a storm, yanking the lanyard on a cannon’s gunlock… With a dictionary of naval terms on my desk, I looked up each and every reference, memorized the cross-sections of frigates and the intricacies of the chain of command.  I recoiled with grim fascination as Hornblower–fresh off the harrowing loss of the HMS Sutherland and desperate to escape the French countryside–peers at Lieutenant Bush’s amputated leg and checks the inserted cloth wads that soak up the leaking puss.

Bruce Sterling’s Involution Ocean (1977) draws on the naval tradition, transposed into a SF future, although it is more exploration à la Darwin and the HMS Beagle than combat à la Horatio Hornblower and the HMS Hotspur.  Inspired by Melville’s Moby-Dick; or, The Whale (1851), Involution Ocean tells the tale of John Newhouse’s search for Nullaquan dustwales, the “only source of the drug syncophine” (23), across a vast Continue reading Book Review: Involution Ocean, Bruce Sterling (1977)

Book Review: Abyss, Kate Wilhelm (1971)


(Lou Feck’s cover for the 1973 edition)

4/5 (collated rating: Good)

Kate Wilhem’s SF forms one of the foundational pillars propping up my fascination with the genre.  Her writing, sometimes oblique and interior, cuts to the very heart of things, exposing the hidden societal and psychological sinews that suppress and restrict.  Her 60s/70s women characters, from linguists and mathematicians to discontented housewives, subtly subvert our expectations of how genre characters should behave.  And for a few years in the early 70s, she dominated the award lists (four Nebula nominations in 1971, two in 1970, a win in 1968, and of course, her double Hugo and Nebula win in 1976 for her novel Where Late our Sweet Birds Sang).  Totals: 14 Nebula nominations Continue reading Book Review: Abyss, Kate Wilhelm (1971)

Book Review: The Committed Men, M. John Harrison (1971)


(Chris Yates’ cover for the 1971 edition)

4.5/5 (Very Good)

Entropic visions of decay and despair inhabit M. John Harrison’s first novel The Committed Men (1971).  Possessed by destructive melancholy, the inhabitants of a post-apocalyptical UK–where political powers have sunk into oblivion–attempt to recreate a semblance of normalcy.  Clement St John Wendover, teeth long since rotted, still administers to the skin diseases and ailments of his one-time patients although he cannot cure them.  Halloway Pauce, decked out in his “gold lamé suit”, fastidiously coats his cancered face with a “layer of pancake make-up” (48).  Grocott Personnel and his hierarchically oriented fellows recreate the bureaucratic veneer Continue reading Book Review: The Committed Men, M. John Harrison (1971)

Book Review: Tau Zero, Poul Anderson (1970)


(Anita Siegel’s cover for the 1970 edition)

3/5 (Average)

Nominated for the 1971 Hugo Award for Best Novel

Poul Anderson’s Tau Zero (1970) exemplifies the type of SF I no longer enjoy.  A younger me would have gobbled up the magical phrases: A Bussard Interstellar Ramjet! Disaster in space! Einstein’s theory of Special Relativity!

At one point Anderson’s adventure-heavy SF formed my bread and butter.  Over the years I’ve reviewed thirteen of his novels and short story collections, most recently in 2013 — There Will Be Time (1972), Brain Wave (1953), and Time and Stars (1964).   I have sat on this review for months in a state of indecision debating whether or not to insert my sharpened awl into the novel’s brittle hide so repeatedly tattooed with the Continue reading Book Review: Tau Zero, Poul Anderson (1970)

Book Review: The Best SF Stories from New Worlds 2, ed. Michael Moorcock (1968)


(Paul Lehr’s cover for the 1969 edition)

3.75/5 (Collated rating: Good)

As New Worlds issues tend to be expensive and hard to find (especially in the US), Michael Moorcock’s anthology series provides satiating morsels from the magazine’s best period.  New Worlds was instrumental in the so-called New Wave movement.  I am at home in  eclectic and genre-challenging/subversive madness.

New Worlds combined SF stories/poems with experimental art and layout that is, unfortunately, lost in the anthologies.  One of my favorite examples is Vivienne Young’s collage (below) illustrating James Sallis’ “Kazoo” (1967) Continue reading Book Review: The Best SF Stories from New Worlds 2, ed. Michael Moorcock (1968)

Short Book Reviews: Robert Silverberg’s Dying Inside (1972), Universe 2, ed. Terry Carr (1972), and Avram Davidson’s The Enemy of My Enemy (1966)

Here are three short reviews.  Either I waited too long to review the work or in the case of the short story collection, the handful of poor stories (amongst the many gems) faded from memory and I couldn’t convince myself to reread them…

I apologize for the brevity and lack of analysis.  My longer reviews definitely try to get at the greater morass of things but hopefully these will still whet your palette if you haven’t read the works already.

1. Dying Inside, Richard Silverberg (1972)


(Jerry Thorp’s cover for the 1972 ediiton)

5/5 (Masterpiece) Continue reading Short Book Reviews: Robert Silverberg’s Dying Inside (1972), Universe 2, ed. Terry Carr (1972), and Avram Davidson’s The Enemy of My Enemy (1966)

Book Review: New Writings in SF 4, ed. John Carnell (1965) (Asimov + Roberts + Tenn + Kapp + Etchison + Morgan)


(Robert Foster’s stunning cover for the 1968 edition)

2.75/5 (Collated rating: Vaguely Average)

Despite the presence of one of Robert Foster’s best covers (for more on his art: Part I, Part II), New Writings in SF 4, ed. John Carnell (1965) contains only a few glimmers of brilliance—concentrated in Keith Roberts’ short story “Sub-Lim” (1965), a dark tale of crooked people and subliminal stimuli.  Isaac Asimov regurgitates something about a SF heist he scribbled on a napkin, Dan Morgan mumbles about alternate universes and tricycles, and Colin Kapp lectures on the “unusual methods of cementation of electrolysis” (54) instead of telling a Continue reading Book Review: New Writings in SF 4, ed. John Carnell (1965) (Asimov + Roberts + Tenn + Kapp + Etchison + Morgan)