Science Fiction Though the Decades

Friday, October 2, 2015

Lazy Book Reviews of September 2015

#56: The Mammoth Book of Body Horror (2012) – Paul Kane & Marie O’Regan (editors) (4/5)
Horror is a genre laden with the supernatural. I’ve read a few widely-liked horror novels but have always been turned off by the whole demon angle of most stories—it’s not scary or even mildly interesting. I knew one thing though: I loved stories that transform, mutate, or infect humans… and I found that sub-genre to be called “body horror”. One of my favorites is Sakyo Komatsu’s short story “The Savage Mouth” (1969/1979), which is a tad similar to Stephen King’s “The Survivor Type” yet precedes it by more than a decade. Komatsu’s story is superior to King’s own, but I guess the editors needed a few big names to push the book forward. The story of Clive Barker—another big name—is the best in the collection as it’s bizarre, funny, and horrific. Alice Henderson’s “Residue”, however, made me the most squeamish, all the while with a smile painted on my face. (full review)

#57: Realtime 1: The Peace War (1984) – Vernor Vinge (0/5)
Off the top of my head, I can name two novellas/novelettes that I couldn’t be bothered to finish (William E.Cochrane’s “The Safety Engineer” [novelette, 1973] and Philip Jose’s “Riders of the Purple Wage” [novella, 1967]) and two novels (Norman Spinrad’s Child of Fortune [1985] and Paul McAuley’s Fairyland [1995])… welcome to the exclusive club, Mr. Vinge. I love a nice, slow novel that unfolds with detail and landscape… this novel did not do that. I also love a nice bang with lots of technology… this novel did not do that. It just meandered aimlessly for more than 150 pages with very little to-do about anything at all, just the same old repetition of “oh, we’re technologically repressed and we do everything underground, literally”. Crap novel… won’t touch the sequel with a poo-tipped stick.

#58: Out of the Mouth of the Dragon (1969) – Mark S. Geston (3/5)
This is yet another new author for me, my only exposure being from Joachim’s review of the author’s freshman novel and precursor to the novel I read: Lords of the Starship (1967). His review stirred my interest enough, but John Schoenherr’s cover nailed it for me—how morbidly beautiful! Actually, the cover sets the tone for the novel in which earth is detachedly described with a sense of commonplace wonder yet casts an aura of failed glory. The age-old insanity of humankind continues as war becomes the norm, where the glory of death outweighs a noble life, where machines of war outshine the machinations of civility—swords over plowshares. The progress is slow yet steady, but the long narrative descriptions contrast the later lengthy monologues… this may actually be a symptom of the narrative element, but still makes for an occasionally frustrating read.

#59: The Towers of Utopia (1975) – Mack Reynolds (2/5)
Like every other Reynolds’ novel I’ve read, this one follows the exact same format. It’s a wonder than no one ever tired of the pedantic soapbox monologues, the didactic blocks of socioeconomics, the cookie-cutter stereotypes, and the token black man… I “had the feeling of being the beaten over the head with it all” (125). I, for one, am not going to read another Reynolds novel until someone can recommend one that doesn’t follow his method of mass production. In The Towers of Utopia, pseudo-cities dot the country that house towers of humanity based on principles of a meritocracy. The main fix of the novel is the way management of the Shyler-deme confronts different abuses of pseudo-dollars (this prefix gets to be annoying after the first story) and Negative Income Tax, or just subversion to the state of affairs. It’s mildly interesting at times but is bogged down by some terribly dated slang, making it feel well more dated than from 1975… more like 1955: “golly”, “holy smokes”, “good grief”, “the dope”, and “chum-pals” being among the most irksome.

#60: The Infinite Man (1973) – Daniel F. Galouye (3/5)
Galouye is a common 1950s-1960s SF name, namely for his short fiction in the 50s and his 1964 novel Simulacron-3. I’ve never read any of his novels and I don’t think I’ve come across any of his short fiction, so this was my first exposure to the author—by 1973, well-seasoned an a published author. My purchase of the $1 novel The Infinite Man was simply based on the familiarity of the author’s name and the need to familiarize myself with his work. In an experiment testing spontaneous neutron birth in the Steady State universe, a torrent of neutrons pour forth from a small location, surprising the scientists and crossing paths with Milton Bradford. Unknown to Bradford, he has become host to the Primary One, an entity responsible for all order and complacency in the universe with Earth at its focal point. When the Foundation probes Its strength, a planet disappears and pi detranscendentalizes, yet a psychologist keeps the lid on Bradford’s awareness of his own powers. But a quasi-religion based on his powers becomes established and aims to free Bradford and the Primary One in a world where even the laws of chance have been altered.

#61: The Third Level (1957) – Jack Finney (4/5)
Jack Finney was a science fiction and popular fiction writer whose works have been made into a few movies: The Body Snatchers (1955)—alien spaceborne spore progressively replace humans—, Assault on a Queen (1959)—a robbery is pulled aboard a ship—, and Time and Again (1970)—a man time-travels to 1882 NYC via hypnosis. Most stories in this collection follow the latter novel/movie. Regarding time travel, there are two general themes, but when taken together, it begins to feel repetitive: a strong pull of nostalgia (“The Third Level”, “I’m Scared”, and “Second Chance”) and a return to simple times (“Such Interesting Neighbors” and “Of Missing Persons”). Aside from the broad time-travel theme, there are also themes of popular love versus personal love (“Something in a Cloud” and “A Dash of Spring”) and the struggle of the NYC salaryman (“There Is a Time…” and “Contents of a Dead Man’s Pockets”). The remaining three stories are whimsical more than literary. (full review)

#62: The Seed (1967) – Dan Thomas (2/5)
Dan Thomas was a pseudonym for Leonard Sanders, who only wrote two other novels aside from the one presented. Much as his career as a writer has been forgettable, his first novel and its only publication (no Amazon reviews, two ratings on Goodreads) is just as forgettable. A brilliant computer engineer gets the kernel of an idea in his mind to quantify, but not condense, all human experience so that a computer—one of the best in the world, of course—could answer his question of what it means to be human. To do this, he takes copious notes on other’s experiences, and eventually comes to the mystical side of humanity—witches, werewolves, astral projection, clairvoyance, etc. Through an LSD trip, he’s able to glimpse another facet of the truth. Only with the subject of death does he begin to understand that cycles of repetition are what make humankind what it is. To the reader, the cycles of repetition in the novel might be enough to make you opt out of the novel entirely… dumb in-jokes, brainless characters, and stereotypes abound. If you’re able to disregard the garbage in between, the first 20 and last 20 pages are passable

#63: Monsters & Medics (1977) – James White (3/5)
The cute alliterative title to the collection would make one believe that the collection is based on White’s Sector General series when, in fact, it’s wholly outside of it. This is a good thing as the series tends to get tedious quite quickly with its repetitive gags, alien classifications, tepid love story, and predictable conclusions to minor emergencies. Monsters & Medics is a five-story collection that includes a full novel—Second Ending—along with two novelettes and two short stories. The novel in the collection is, thankfully, the best among the bunch. It’s a grim look at being the last man on earth and how to cope with looking forward to humankind’s prospective return to the planet is it’s at all possible… and if it’s not, then how? The other four stories are well-written but lack the punch or maturity as with Second Ending.

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