Category Archives: Science Fiction Book Reviews

Book Review: Bedlam Planet, John Brunner (1968)

(Jeff Jones’ cover for the 1968 edition)

3.25/5 (Vaguely Good)

To move past my variegated obsessions regarding William Kotzwinkle’s Doctor Rat (1976) (review + list of imaginary scientific articles), I decided to reread a lesser known John Brunner novel. I cannot pinpoint exactly when I first read Bedlam Plant (1968), other than before I started my site, but it holds up as a moody biological mystery with mythological undertones as colonists confront their deceptive new world.

This isn’t Stand on Zanzibar (1968), Shockwave Rider (1975), The Sheep Look Up (1972), or The Jagged Orbit (1969), but it left me wishing that Brunner applied his Continue reading Book Review: Bedlam Planet, John Brunner (1968)

Book Review: Doctor Rat, William Kotzwinkle (1976)

(James Grashow’s cover for the 1976 edition)

5/5 (Masterpiece)

“Oh scaly skin and dandruff

with hemorrhagic sores,

come and look inside us,

they’ve provided us with doors!” (15)

Winner of the 1977 World Fantasy Award

In the early 1970s DARPA (Defense Advance Research Projects Agency) got wind of a Soviet project in parapsychological submarine communication. Gruesome details unfold: the Soviet scientists suspected there was “a psychic link between mothers [in this case rabbits] and their offspring.”  If say, someone on the surface were to kill the rabbit baby then the submarine, with the mother on board, would know to surface and launch their nuclear weapons. Of course the entire idea is utter hogwash and the DARPA investigations of  various parapsychological claims resulted in nothing (see note 1).

William Kotzwinkle’s maniacal satire Doctor Rat (1976) takes the idea of animal communication, in this case across species with the exclusion of humans, to bizarre and alluring Continue reading Book Review: Doctor Rat, William Kotzwinkle (1976)

Short Book Reviews: Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation (2014), John Sladek’s The Müller-Fokker Effect (1970), Robert Sheckley’s Options (1975)

Yes (I see inquisitive phantom stares), I listened to an audiobook written in this decade. And it was good. Very good. Brilliant actually. As it was an audiobook, I’m unable to write an in-depth review. However there are plenty online for the curious–in part because it won the 2015 Nebula Award. I added two additional novels that have been waiting patiently in a “to review” pile that are more my standard territory…

Think of these short reviews as tantalizing fragments rather than my normal analysis. The books that reside in these short review posts often defeated my reviewing capabilities.

1. The Müller-Fokker Effect, John Sladek (1970)

(McInnery’s cover for the 1972 edition)

4.25/5 (Very Good)

In my 2016 in review I promised to read more of Sladek’s work, and for once I’m holding true to my reading goals.

That said, I find Sladek’s novels notoriously difficult to parse into cohesive reviews—his SF (and my reviews by extension) stretch satirically in all directions, unfolding in fascinating experiments that jest with layered wordplay and (often) diagrammatic dalliances (see example below). There’s a humorous Continue reading Short Book Reviews: Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation (2014), John Sladek’s The Müller-Fokker Effect (1970), Robert Sheckley’s Options (1975)

Book Review: New Writings in SF 9, ed. John Carnell (1972) (Harrison + Coney + Sellings + King + et al.)

nwwrsnsf651972

(Gene Szafran’s cover for the 1972 edition)

3/5 (collated rating: Average)

An imaginary question I received: “Why do you read anthologies cover to cover?” I love discovering new authors and those I was aware existed but haven’t read—with New Writings in SF 9 (1972) the following fall into this bipartite category: Joseph Green, Paul Corey, Arthur Sellings, Vincent King, R. W. Mackelworth, and Eddy C. Bertin.

Of the bunch, I will probably only remember Vincent King’s vision of the angst as the exploration of the entire galaxy nears completion… Both authors whom I know far better produce the best of the collection.  Michael G. Coney’s haunting tale of evolutionary dependency and M. John Harrison account of paranoia and guilt over the massacre of mysterious aliens are worth the read. Too bad the three above were never anthologized outside of John Carnell’s New Writings series!

Overall New Writings in SF 9 is superior to New Writings in SF 4 (1965) but probably only satisfying for Coney and Harrison completists….

Note: this title refers to the 1972 US publication which was a best of earlier volumes. Another volume by the same name was published in 1966 in the Continue reading Book Review: New Writings in SF 9, ed. John Carnell (1972) (Harrison + Coney + Sellings + King + et al.)

Book Review: Budrys’ Inferno (variant title: The Furious Future), Algis Budrys (1963)

bdrysnfrn081963

(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1963 edition)

3.5/5 (Collated rating: Good)

Algis Budrys has not fared particularly well on this site. Back in 2012 I read The Falling Torch (1959) and found it a functional military SF novel with some social commentary about the “inhumanity” of the Soviets. More recently I tackled his so-called “masterpiece” Michaelmas (serialized 1976) (short review) that despite all its pretensions to say something relevant about technology and media, slips into SF thriller mode, abandoning the most compelling elements of the narrative (it’s hard to write a convincing character study). At least Michaelmas makes the motions towards SF that moves behind the mechanical blueprints of a potential future mindset and tries to say something substantive about the psyche and society of the people who might live there. As you know, Continue reading Book Review: Budrys’ Inferno (variant title: The Furious Future), Algis Budrys (1963)

Book Review: The Time of the Crack (variant title: The Crack), Emma Tennant (1973)

emma-tennant

(Candy Amsden’s disturbing cover for the 1978 edition)

4/5 (Good)

Emma Tennant’s The Time of the Crack (variant title: The Crack) (1973) takes the form of a series of character vignettes in a transmogrified London. Despite Tennant’s wide-ranging societal critiques,  it’s a brief book–my 1978 Penguin edition clocks in at 112 pages–threaded loosely together by the occasional presence of Baba, a Playboy bunny. The cataclysm in question, the appearance of an expanding crack under the Thames, although causing devastation, doubles as a metaphoric birth moment. The landscape modified, buildings contorted by the severance… And in the wreckage of what remains the survivors make postures towards all manners of “New” English societies Continue reading Book Review: The Time of the Crack (variant title: The Crack), Emma Tennant (1973)

Book Review: The Resurrectionist, Gary K. Wolf (1979)

new-books_page_2

(Margo Herr’s cover for the 1979 edition)

2.75/5 (Vaguely Average)

“Corporate authorities referred to him instead as the Resurrectionist, the man who dragged the living back from electrical purgatory” (5)

Gary K. Wolf, best known for Who Censored Roger Rabbit? (1981), started his writing career with three SF novels for Doubleday—Killerbowl (1975), A Generation Removed (1977), and The Resurrectionist (1979). Doubleday’s art director, Margo Herr, provided The Resurrectionist‘s captivating cover, which suggests the corruption of pattern, the subversion of delicate movement. A few reflective, but altogether too fleeting, moments suggest Wolf might have had similar ideas at the back Continue reading Book Review: The Resurrectionist, Gary K. Wolf (1979)