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Reviews from May 2015 (28)

Sea Story


By Hal Clement  

8 May, 2015

Graveyard Orbits


Hal Clement’s career spanned seven decades but he was never a particularly prolific novelist [1]. Although he published five novels in the 1950s, after that he never put out more than one or two a decade [2]. Despite this comparatively small output, he was still considered a significant enough figure that he was named the 17th SFWA Grandmaster in 1999. His 1954 Mission of Gravity is considered a hard SF classic; his 1949 Needle may well have been the first science fiction mystery novel of note.

2003’s Noise is noteworthy for an unhappy reason: it was Hal Clement’s final novel, published only about a month before he died. 


Centuries after the water world Kainui was settled by a diverse assortment of Polynesians, Terran linguist Mike Hoani arrives to study the languages that have evolved on that distant world. What he finds is a world unlike any other.

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A thrilling colonialist adventure

Eye of the Monster

By Andre Norton  

8 May, 2015

50 Nortons in 50 Weeks


I learned a couple of useful lessons reading 1962’s Eye of the Monster. One was that, contrary to my belief that the Number 24 bus loops back to Westmount and Highland in ten minutes, it actually takes long enough for me to read a considerable fraction of a short — 135 pages in the 1984 Ace MMPK — novel like Eye of the Monster [1]. The other lesson was that Norton could write books that reminded me of Jack Vance’s novels, but not in a good way.

The planet Ishkur! Once part of the South Sector Empire but now, thanks to the whim of the Imperial Council, on the verge of independence. The native Crocs have promised toleration to such of their former colonial masters as remain on Ishkur, but this is merely a ruse. Inexplicably, the rank-smelling natives have no love for their former colonial overlords, even though Imperial ways were better than the rule the natives had for themselves.” The only peace the off-worlders will be granted is the peace of the grave!

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Leigh Brackett’s Outer Solar System

Beyond Mars  (Leigh Brackett’s Solar System, volume 6)

By Leigh Brackett  

7 May, 2015

Leigh Brackett's Solar System


This collection of Leigh Brackett short stories finally moves out past Mars, into and beyond the Asteroid Belt! It also provides a nice lesson in why I should look over omnibuses carefully before beginning a review series: it would have worked better to ignore the organization of the omnibus and simply review each novel on its own and then write one huge review covering all the short stories. There are only five short stories in this collection, all published between 1941 and 1950, and they’re all fairly slight.

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The Forever War  (Forever War, volume 1)

By Joe Haldeman  

6 May, 2015

Military Speculative Fiction That Doesn't Suck


This is a case of a commission dovetailing nicely with my themed reviews. For the most part I would prefer to stick to military speculative fiction that I think readers may have overlooked. There are a few classics, generally early ones, that I believe it would be illuminating to review [1]. One of those is Joe Haldeman’s classic 1975 novel, The Forever War.

When I reread this book, I remembered a more obscure work by the same author, an early short story called Time Piece”, which was published in 1970. I don’t know of any other review that has compared the two. This may be because Time Piece” didn’t win the Nebula, the Hugo, the Ditmar, and place first in the Locus, which The Forever War did. Something told me that it would be interesting to compare the two works; I’m glad I did. 

The edition of The Forever War I am reading is the 1976 mass market paperback, first printing. I understand there is a later, somewhat different edition; I don’t own that one. The edition of Time Piece” I am reading is the one in Reginald Bretnor’s 1980 collection The Future at War: Orion’s Sword.

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CanLit meets SF

In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination

By Margaret Atwood  

4 May, 2015

Special Requests


In the world of Canadian literature, Margaret Atwood is revered as a major figure, a giant who towers above such lesser authors as Alice Munro, Michael Ondaatje, Anne-Marie MacDonald, and Margaret Laurence — who even stands far above such revered past masters of Canadian authorship as Alistair MacLeod and Robertson Davies [1]. Well, if the world of Canadian literature is defined as me. 

Alas, despite the fact that at least three of her books—The Handmaid’s Tale, Oryx and Crake, and The Year of the Flood—are indisputably science fiction, her relationship with the science fiction community is somewhat, shall we say, fraught. In large part this is because she denies that her books are science fiction at all. The uninformed perception is that she is hostile to science fiction, which feeds into the whole perception that litfic types disdain and mock science fiction. I believe that this canard goes back to that time Ernest Hemingway gave Robert Heinlein a thumping and then took his lunch money [2].

This is unfair and untrue. Proof of that assertion exists in the form of Atwood’s 2011 collection of essays and other work, In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination. Her text isn’t intended as a general work on science fiction as a whole, but rather as an exploration of Atwood’s personal relationship to science fiction.

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The Man Who Didn’t Learn Better

The Avatar

By Poul Anderson  

3 May, 2015

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You


The man in the title is me. Way back when I was a young, easily pleased SF fan, I encountered a book by a favourite author, a book that taught me a very valuable lesson: I don’t have to finish every book I begin [1]. The year was 1980; the book was Robert A. Heinlein’s Number of the Beast [2].

I could have possibly have learned this lesson a few years earlier, in 1978, when I first read Poul Anderson’s The Avatar. This book is the distilled essence of Bad Poul Anderson fiction of the 1970s” (to quote myself). But the book does have its strong points, which may be the reason why it was Number of the Beast and not The Avatar that taught me not to waste my time doggedly finishing tripe.

There will be spoilers.

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“(Reds) are never willing to live side by side with any who are not of their mind.”

The Defiant Agents  (Time Traders, volume 3)

By Andre Norton  

1 May, 2015

50 Nortons in 50 Weeks


[A note that I will probably remove if these reviews are ever collected into book form: yes, I screwed up the order of the last few reviews.]

1962’s The Defiant Agents is the third in the Time Traders series. It’s a sequel to The Time Traders and Galactic Derelict.

Thanks to the events of the previous two books, the US now has in its possession the location of various potential colony worlds as well as the means to reach them. Unfortunately, thanks to a spy, so do the Reds. 

Once the info theft is revealed, the US decides to override the objections of researcher Dr. Ashe, ignore the fact that certain vital technologies are still in the experimental stage, and set in motion Operation Cochise: the settlement of the planet Topaz by Amerindians like Travis Fox.

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