Showing posts with label Science-Fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Science-Fiction. Show all posts

Friday, November 3, 2023

Barsoom #02 - The Gods of Mars

The second of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom series of sword-and-planet novels is The Gods of Mars. It was originally published as a five-part serial in The All-Story between January to May, 1913. In September, 1918 the serial was compiled into a full-length novel and published by A.C. McClurg. I thoroughly enjoyed the series debut, A Princess of Mars, and I encourage you to read my review of that novel HERE.

In events that aren't particularly clear, John Carter is transported back to Mars after his ten year absence from the Red Planet. The hero apparently died on Earth, and when he awakens it is in the afterlife area of Mars known as the Valley Dor. Think of this place as a sort of purgatory. When Carter arrives here, he witnesses a race of Green Martians savagely attacked by flesh-sucking “Plant Men”. If this purgatory isn't horrible enough, any survivors of the Plant Men vampire-like monstrosities are then consumed by the “gods” of the place, a white-skinned race called Therns, which also eat their victims. 

These opening chapters depicting the events associated with Carter's arrival in Valley Dor are similar to  the horrifying descriptions found in Dante's Inferno. Burroughs' pulls no punches submerging these opening segments into a nightmarish not-so-traditional horror setting. Even in 2023, Burroughs proves to be quite the impactful horror writer (intentional or not). The descriptions of the howls from the cliffs and the “sucking” of blood and flesh were just so memorable. These chapters are amazing. 

This descent into “Hell” continues when Carter, and his old friend Tars Tarkas (Tars is here searching for Carter) escape the Thurns (with a slave girl). However, their escape is short-lived when they run into another race of Gods populating this part of Mars. The Black Pirates of Barsoom, referred to as “First Born” are an ancient race of Martians that feed off of the Therns. Carter and Tars are transported to the underground caves of Omean, a giant prison empire controlled by a “goddess” calling herself Iss. 

There is more action, horror, swashbuckling, science-fiction, sword-and-planet, fantasy, and genre-defying literature in this 190 page paperback than countless other genre novels combined. The Gods of Mars is a more superior work than A Princess of Mars and takes into consideration a lot of religious theory. Valley Dor is a self-indulgent scam created by self-proclaimed Gods to further their own interests. The concept of multiple races in combat over religion is parallel to our own culture now. Burroughs uses aspects of religion, politics, and world history to create Mars' culture, lineage, and all of the various empires, races, and competitors vying for superiority through aggression. It's really a mesmerizing mix that is equally entertaining as it is clever. 

Like the Tarzan novels, Burroughs does fall into his own literary traps with events that are cyclical. In the Tarzan series, Tarzan eventually has a son that displays all of the same heroic characteristics. The same can be said for this series as Carter discovers he has a son on Mars that is an expert swordsman. Tarzan's love interest is often captured by various bad guys and the story revolves around her rescue. The same is found here as Carter jaunts from place to place freeing his enslaved lover and friends. Often, I found that the story was an endless cycle of “capture and rescue”, which I've come to accept as the signature of Burroughs writing style. Love it or leave it. 

The Gods of Mars is extraordinary even with the above-mentioned flaws. It is a high water mark  of Burroughs literary legacy and one that may not be topped with future series installments. I'll be the judge of that as I continue my journey through Barsoom. However, this novel is a mandatory read.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Zanthodon #03 - Hurok of the Stone Age

Lin Carter's third installment of the Zanthodon series, also referred to as the Eric of Carstairs series, is Hurok of the Stone Age. It was published by DAW Books (423) in 1981, and features illustrations by Josh Kirby (Krull, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi). If you aren't familiar with the series, I encourage you to read my reviews of the first two installments before reading this review. 

The prior novel, Zanthodon, ended in a cliffhanger as Darya was captured by Barbary Coast Pirates. In this novel's beginning, both Eric and Professor Potter (both men from our present-day USA) have been snatched by what the folks of Zanthodon refer to as Dragonmen. They earned this title because they wear magic armbands that allow them to telepathically control dinosaurs! So, these Dragonmen capture Eric and Professor Potter and take them across miles of Zanthodon's baked Earth to the Scarlet City of Zar. There, the two meet the Sacred Empress of Zar, a woman named Zarys (who is like the twin-sister of Darya).

Meanwhile, Hurok and Jorn the Hunter embark on a rescue mission to retrieve their friends from the Dragonmen. This side-story adventure has the two facing near-death experiences as they cross a treacherous mountain pass called the Wall of Zar and an inland sea known as the Lugar-Jad. Additionally, there are other side-stories that involve a guy named Garth searching for his daughter Yualla, and Tharn searching for Darya. 

Make no bones about it, Hurok of the Stone Age is a convoluted novel packed with alternating side-stories within chapters that make up “parts” of the book. Often, I lost track of who the characters were, which tribe or type of people they represented. When you have characters that are Zarian, Drugar, Sagoth, Cro-Magnon, Thanadar, Gorpaks, etc., I nearly needed an organization chart to just figure it all out. At one point, I decided to just enjoy the adventure and let it all just sort of flop over my head on the who's who battle for clarity. In doing so, I found I really enjoyed the book, particularly Professor Potter's participation in the narrative and his quest to bring gunfire to this bizarre world. 

If you enjoy Lin Carter's absorbing, self-indulgent storytelling – high on character count, exotic locales, plot holes a mile wide – then this is a really fun read. Punt the logistics, suspend disbelief, and look over the convoluted meshing. In doing so, you'll not only love this novel, but appreciate the entire series.

Monday, October 30, 2023

Atomic Werewolves and Man-Eating Plants

The pulp-fiction and men's action-adventure connoisseurs Robert Deis and Wyatt Doyle are back at it again with a brand new volume for their Men's Adventure Library series (published by New Texture). The book is aptly titled Atomic Werewolves and Man-Eating Plants and it is a beautiful collection of vintage men's adventure magazine stories about ghosts, aliens, robots, vampires, werewolves, and creepy rats. Like many of their prior offerings, this book is available in an expanded hardcover edition as well as paperback.  

The collection begins with “A Century of Weird Tales”, written by PulpFest organizer Mike Chomko. This is an informative history on Weird Tales magazine's history, including full color cover panels by the likes of Virgil Finlay, Matt Fox, and Margaret Brundage. Chomko illustrates how Weird Tales really found its identity in 1924 when Farnsworth Wright assumed the editorial role. At that point, the magazine began a prosperous creative flow populated by some of the best writers of the 20th century – Robert Bloch, Robert E. Howard, Henry Kuttner, Hugh B. Cave, and Manly Wade Wellman, as well as artists like Hannes Bok, Jack Williamson, and Margaret Brundage. 

In “Weasels Ripped Their Flesh”, horror editor, critic, and author Stefan Dziemianowicz examines the influx of early, weird pulp-fiction stories that appeared in the mid to later 20th century Men's Action-Adventure Magazines (MAMs for short). Dziemianowicz points out that these MAM editors would often browse back issues of old pulp magazines to find riveting stories they could feature in their own publications. Titles like Cavalier, Fury, Men, and Peril featured stories previously authored by the likes of H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, and Theodore Sturgeon. The article also includes artwork by John Leone and James Bingham.

Both Deis and Doyle offer their own experienced insight on “A Turn for the Weird:, a massive 27-page essay that not only explores the richness of weird pulp-fiction stories in the pages of MAMs, but also serves as an informative introduction on the many stories that saturate this impressive short-story collection. The duo also use this medium to explore the idea of MAMs historically featuring brawny, barrel-chested heroes that were impervious to harm. They show a stark contrast between the usual flavor of MAM writing to the more harrowing horror and terror tales that were sprinkled in. In these stories, readers welcomed the change and grew to accept that these heroes were prone to “fear, panic, mutilation, and fatalism.” The text also examines how the violence and savagery of these MAM stories served as an unexpected coping tool for military veterans that predominately bought and read these publications.

The stories culled from the MAMs and presented here offer a variety of creatures, traditional horror, science-fiction, and just plain 'ole weird writing. The authors featured include Gardner F. Fox, H.P. Lovecraft, Manly Wade Wellman, Rick Rubin, and Theodore Sturgeon. For eye candy, glorious artwork from John Leone, Basil Gogos, Mark Schneider, Vic Prezio, Clarence Doore, Dwight Howe, Fernando Fernandez, John Duillo, Norm Eastman, George Cross, and Mort Kunstler to name a few.

Needless to say, if you love horror, science-fiction, pulp-fiction, MAMs, or collectively the amazing body of work created by both Robert Deis and Wyatt Doyle, then this book is a mandatory addition to your library. With a title like Atomic Werewolves and Man-Eating Plants, why wouldn't it be? 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

To the Stars #03 - Starworld

Along with series titles like Stainless Steel Rat and Bill, the Galactic Hero, Harry Harrison wrote a number of science-fiction and fantasy novels during his long and respected career. I've concentrated on reading the author's trilogy To the Stars, Homeworld (1980), Wheelworld (1981), and today's topic, Starworld (1981). 

The story so far is that Earth is completely ruled by the rich that have established a two-class one-world government administered by the United Nations. You have the rich controlling everything, including Earth's far-reaching “territory”, a series of slave planets that serve as manufacturing and service for the lower-class Proles. A whiz engineer named Jan figures out that Earth is hiding human history and is seized by the authorities and sentenced to death on a farming planet. All of this is captured in the first book, Homeworld.

In Wheelworld, Jan orchestrates an uprising on the farming planet to usurp an old woman's rigid authority. Her concept of being complacent and living to serve Earth with harvests of corn is overthrown by Jan's forward-thinking, liberal approach to do things in a more democratic way. Jan later discovers that his short uprising on Earth led a series of events that have forced Earth into a war with the only country not participating in the one-world government, Israel, as well as rebels from all of the slave labor planets. On the last page of Wheelworld, Jan joins the rebellion to take down Earth's power-hungry leaders.

Starworld is a buzzsaw filled with non-stop action as Jan and other patriots form a strategic plan to organize the rebellion into a fighting force. This fertile story-line incorporates a lot of different elements ranging from espionage to military combat. At the root of Harrison's riveting narrative is a dilemma facing Jan – he must learn to trust the man who murdered his sister (events that occurred in Homeworld). Enhancing the plot development is preparation for a spacecraft battle and overtaking a military base in the Mojave Desert. Jan also has a romantic relationship with a woman that plays a key part in the rebel's success.

Once you've read Homeworld and Wheelworld, you get the idea where this novel is heading. It's much more epic than the two prior installments and often places Jan in a minor role for some of the developing plot. While the military campaign and ultimate war seems like a grand spectacle, the novel is still less than 200 pages, so an org chart or notes isn't a requirement. This is lightweight science-fiction for casual genre fans. Recommended! 

Buy a copy of the book HERE.

Monday, October 2, 2023

To the Stars #02 - Wheelworld

Harry Harrison was a popular science-fiction author that created a number of memorable series titles and characters. His most popular works are those involving the Stainless Steel Rat and Bill, the Galactic Hero. While I haven't explored those titles yet, I did enjoy my first foray into the author's To the Stars trilogy, Homeworld, originally published in 1980. Needless to say, I continued my space-travels with the second installment, Wheelworld, published one year later.

This trilogy, which has nothing to do with another of Harrison's works called Deathworld, is fairly easy to understand and enjoy, so those of you loosely reading science-fiction should be tall enough for this ride. In Homeworld, readers learn that in the 23rd century, Earth is ran by a one-world government administered by the United Nations. The rich make up a conglomerate of authority that rules the proles, the other class of humans that simply exist as slaves in manufacturing and service. Earth's rich and powerful controls the outlying planets and moons, creating slave planets that simply manufacture goods to ship to Earth. The people on these planets live a life of labor, void of any knowledge of human history.

Jan (male), the series hero, is a microchip whiz that lives a life of luxury on Earth. He figures out the whole conspiracy that forces the proles into servitude and tries to stop it. By teaming with the Israelis, the only country that isn't part of the one-world government, Jan learns about the hushed human history, the plight of mankind, and the big lie fed to the world by “big brother”. By the end of Homeworld, Jan is captured, his sister is murdered, and he is sentenced to life as a slave on a farming planet. 

As Wheelworld begins, readers learn that four years have passed since Homeworld's final page. Jan is living on the agriculture planet Halvmork. Here's the deal on this planet, because it is an integral part of the story. The planet, which is much smaller than Earth, is off-tilt by a few degrees which creates one massive season every four years. On this planet, there is twilight on one side of the planet and temperatures hovering around 80s degrees for four consecutive years. Jan, and the other harvesters, grow corn during this time. After four years, the weather shifts on that part of the planet to 150 degrees and nonstop sunlight. So, after four years, Jan and the others await ships to arrive to take the corn back to Earth. Then, via mobilized transports (like large tanks), the entire population travels thousands of miles to the other side of the planet to take advantage of the four year period that is twilight and 80 degrees there. Cool, right?

This population of slavers has its own governing body, an old woman who is antiquated in her ways and butts heads with the forward-thinking hero. Jan is in a romantic relationship with the old woman's daughter Alzbetta, and the two want to become married but it is forbidden. This is a splendid side-story that propels the book's central plot. As the book begins, it is harvest time and the four years is coming to an end. The sun is beginning to shine and the forecast is heating up. But, the ships don't arrive, which is a major problem. 

Jan makes the decision to take all of the corn on the motorized trek across the planet. His reasoning is that the ships may arrive on the other side of the planet and the corn will be needed there. But, the old woman refuses to do this so Jan has to strong-arm her family to do the right thing. This creates a physical fight between Jan and a family enforcer, which leads to a riveting trial and execution thing at the book's end. But, the real pleasure of Wheelworld is the “wheeling” across the planet as the team fights through volcanic ash, huge crevices in the Earth, swarms of insects, and the human turmoil and factions that develop on the road trip. 

Honestly, Wheelworld can work perfectly as a stand-alone novel. It is a road trip adventure as Jan and the team work their way from Point A to Point B to avoid natural disasters. In some ways, the book reminded me of Damnation Alley by Roger Zelazny as a futuristic obstacle course pressed for time. In the trilogy, this is really the hinge that gets from the Earth action in Homeworld to the Earth War story in Starworld. But, regardless of your approach, Wheelworld is a fantastic novel and a great reading experience. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Friday, June 2, 2023

Star Wars - Heir to the Jedi

Author Kevin Hearne is an established author that landed on the USA Today bestseller list with his debut hardcover Shattered. As an urban fantasy author, Hearne has authored nine installments of the Iron Druid Chronicles series, three novels in the Oberon's Meaty Mysteries, and countless novellas and short stories. My introduction to his work is his Star Wars novel Heir to the Jedi, published by Del Rey in 2015.

I am mostly a casual fan of the Star Wars media bonanza. I've seen the nine feature films repeatedly, and watch some of the spin-off shows. I can't quote you serial numbers on spaceships, but I know enough to just get by. I have only tackled one prior Star Wars book, and didn't care for it. But, as a Luke Skywalker fan, I was immediately drawn to the book's cover. I also liked the era in which the book is placed, snuggled between Episode IV A New Hope and Episode V The Empire Strikes Back. The book is considered canon, meaning it fits directly into the current Star Wars franchise owned and operated by Disney.

In the book's opening pages, Luke is provided a mission from Princess Leia and Admiral Ackbar. He must fly to Rodia in an effort to open a secret supply line to the Rebels. The idea is that the Chekko clan there might work with the Rebels and also manufacture weapons for them. Luke is assigned a floating yacht called the Desert Jewel for the mission, and pairs with the yacht owner's daughter, and deadly sniper, Nakari for the mission. 

The plot is a series of action-adventures ranging from Luke's monster fight on a jungle island, rescuing a cryptographer, contending with an infestation of skull-borer aliens, flying through an Imperial blockade, and of course fighting with other numerous enemies. As each side-story is resolved, it conveniently opens up another side-mission. For example, upgrading weapons by performing a task, locating a missing research crew to earn money, identifying a spy, etc. It reminded me of a modern video game where players work through checkpoints by solving problems. There is an emotional surprise near the end that I felt was a bold move on the author's part (hint - someone dies). This made the book conclude with an impact. More authors should do this. 

As a men's action-adventure reader and fan, the book is like a Nick Carter: Killmaster installment as the action jumps from mission to mission. Ultimately, Luke Skywalker could be any paperback warrior and these planets could be Russian or China when the Cold War raged. It's an espionage spy-thriller with a science-fiction twist that seemed both familiar and nostalgic. As a Star Wars novel, it offers a glimpse into Luke's examination of the Force and his early efforts to use Jedi mind tricks to move objects around. An interesting addition was Luke's disassembly of another lightsaber to see how it actually works. 

Heir to the Jedi is an action-packed novel complete with everything I love about adventure paperbacks. Whether you will love it or not shouldn't be dependent on your Star Wars knowledge or level of love. It's just an enjoyable book and I recommend it. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, May 15, 2023

Star Trek - Ice Trap

Listen, you can journey down any internet rabbit hole and find heaps of Star Trek information regarding movies, games, toys, comics, and novels. I'm not going to saddle you with a bunch of information about publishers, series titles, and years. Ice Trap is the 60th installment in a series of Star Trek tie-in books published by Pocket Books between 1979 to 2002. These books feature the original series characters that debuted on NBC in 1966 – Spock, Captain Kirk (William freakin' Shatner), etc. - aboard the USS Enterprise. I'm not a Trekkie, but I've watched episodes here and there of all the Star Trek shows. So, a 1992 book that looks like a “Dirk Pitt in Star Trek” adventure appealed to me. Don't fault me on my Star Trek knowledge. I'm the most pedestrian fan of any casual Trekkie circle.

The crew of the USS Enterprise is assigned the mission to investigate a missing research shuttle on the frigid ice-crusted planet Nordstral. The planet serves the pharmaceutical industry by harvesting plankton for drug use. But, the research crew has gone missing and some of the industrial workers have gone mentally insane. With McCoy, it is Kirk's job to find the sources creating these psychotic episodes. On the flip side, Uhura and Chekov dig into the whereabouts of the research shuttle by conducting interviews with the planet's inhabitants, an alien race known as the Kitka. 

Most of the book's narrative and plot development consist of Uhura and McCoy working directly with Nordstral Pharmaceutical's guides across the icy tundra. The mystery lies in the fact that one of the guides may be a murderer keeping outsiders from the precious plankton. The investigation by Kirk and McCoy deals with the scientific aspect, but as the book gains momentum into the finale a hefty action sequence unfolds with the two trying to escape a flooding ship. Also, to add a horror aspect to the action, the novel introduces a giant underwater sea monster. Can you say KRAKEN?

The book's cover suggests the author is L.A. Graf. In reality, the Graf name is a trio of authors named Julia Ecklar, Karen Cercone, and Melissa Crandall. The perspectives in the book change numerous times within each chapter, so the abrupt character switches were jarring. I found myself re-reading pages to discover which group of characters I was in the midst of. This may have been a result of rotating authors writing certain parts, or it was designed that way. But, the effect wasn't enough to ruin the adventure. Ice trap was a lot of fun to read and placed me in a Star Trek mood for more installments of the series. If you love space travel or a good icy adventure, this one is recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Time Warriors #1 - Fuse Point

Before his death in 1999, David North did a lot of paperback writing for the Gold Eagle imprint, including four Executioners, two Super Bolans, two Heroes, and one Able Team. In 1991, they gave him his own time-jumping adventure series called Time Warriors that lasted three installments. The first novel in the short-lived series is called Fuse Point.

The novel opens with a chemical weapon human rights atrocity in an Iraq stand-in committed by a Saddam Hussein stand-in. It’s a well-written opening firmly previewing who our villain will be, consistent with the Gold Eagle paperback plotting style. We later find out that this Saddam is developing a chemical weapon that transforms the peaceful into psychotic, murderous loonies straight from 28 Days Later. If only there were a U.S. Government hero who could stop him…

And then we meet said hero arriving at a Bangkok Airport. His name is Black Jack Hogan, and he’s the strapping fellow who looks like Thor on the book’s cover. He’s a troubleshooter for a U.S. Government Intelligence agency — sticky situations only, please. He doesn’t even make it out of the airport before assassins dispatched by Saddam try to kill him. That’s the kind of life Black Jack lives.

During the attack, Black Jack sees an apparition of an ancient muscle-man with a giant curvy sword eviscerate one of the airport assassins. He initially writes it off to a mirage because he hasn’t read the back of the book. Dreams of the bearded warrior persist, and we learn that his name is Brom. Black Jack is able to summon Brom thanks to an experience our hero once had in Cambodia, where he was saved by Buddhist monks. Likewise, Black Jack is periodically transported back in time to fight shoulder-to-shoulder with Brom in battles against rival barbarians.

The two timelines are brought together by necessity. Saddam’s nefarious chemist is Dr. Nis, who is actually an ancient magician named Nis from Brom’s realm. Stopping Nis from destroying 1991 will, in turn, help Brom with his own Nis-related chaos in the distant past. A buddy, team-up adventure is born!

The author knows his way around bloody, violent action sequences and the plot certainly keeps moving. You’ll either love or hate the New Age mysticism baked into the plot, but you’ll never be bored. The story arc is fresh from the Gold Eagle lunchroom vending machine, but it’s a formula that worked well for over a thousand novels across dozens of series titles.

If you’ve got a hankering for a Conan-meets-Bolan collaboration, you’ll probably like this first installment in the short-lived Time Warriors series. You pretty much know what you’re getting from the cover in this competently-done, but inconsequential, men’s paperback adventure.

Note - Gold Eagle gave the same sort of deal to an author named John Barnes. Beginning in 1993, he was commissioned to write a trilogy of books called Time Raider that featured a similar premise as Time Warriors.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, April 24, 2023

Zanthodon #02 - Zanthodon

The Zanthodon series was created by science-fiction and fantasy author Lin Carter. Inspired by “hollow Earth” concepts by Edgar Rice Burroughs and Jules Verne, the series explores the adventures of action-man Eric Carstairs and his zany employer Professor Potter as they navigate an immense underground world. The series ran five total installments, all published by DAW and now available through Wildside Press. Considering how much I enjoyed the debut, Journey to the Underground World (1979), I was excited to read the next novel, simply called Zanthodon (1980).

For new readers that are picking up the series at this juncture, Zanthodon begins by summarizing the events from the first book. In this novel, main characters like Eric, Potter, Darya, Jorn, and Hurok are misplaced in Zanthodon, each forced to fight to survive in the cruel, harsh landscape. There are dinosaurs, giant spiders, Neanderthals, Cro-Mags, pirates, and cave dwellers that all play a hand in the characters becoming alienated from each other. 

Through the narrative, these characters eventually reunite under unpleasant circumstances. While either stumbling blindly or captured, the characters find themselves trapped in a giant cave system that is occupied by slaves mastered by the evil Gorpaks. Rape, torture, and sacrifices to enormous bloodsucking leeches are all commonplace in the Hellish tunnels. Needless to say, Eric comes up with a prison break plan that occupies most of the narrative's second-half. 

Zanthodon is much better than the series debut and offers up wild adventure in so many different ways. Whether it is pirates, monsters, evil villains, deadly soldiers, prison breaks, and sword fights, the book is saturated with nonstop action. Lin Carter's prose is rather goofy at times, especially considering he was using the concept that all of this is a real manuscript simply published for the public's sake using an alias of “Lin Carter”. It reminds me of all the MAMs back in the day that were “told by the real participants to the unknown writer”. It's really silly, and I wish the whole thing was presented in third-person to avoid the confusion of “this was relayed to me”. But, aside from that, there is nothing to dislike about the story. 

If you are familiar with Lin Carter, you'll recognize the formula of one event leading to another crazy event, like one long chain-reaction that the characters are experiencing. It's a lot of fun and makes for a breezy, easy to read action-adventure worth its salt. Highly recommended. Bring on Hurok

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, April 3, 2023

Barsoom #01 - A Princess of Mars

In the same year that he created and authored Tarzan of the Apes, Edgar Rice Burroughs also introduced readers to John Carter of Mars, an equally adored and respected character that would surface in the author's bibliography from 1912 through 1941. The first appearance of Carter is in A Princess of Mars, originally published in All-Story Magazine from February through July, 1912. This novel-length adventure is an original tale that cornerstones the Barsoom series.

After the Civil War ends, Virginia Confederate veteran John Carter heads west to prospect for gold. With his partner, Carter finds a gold vein in the dry rocky desert of Arizona. When his partner agrees to head to town for supplies, Carter suspects that the Apache tribe of Native Americans will attack him. Riding in pursuit, Carter discovers his friend has been killed by the warriors. Hoping to avoid death himself, Carter stumbles upon a sacred cave that is actually a “stargate” portal. In a blink, Carter is surprised when he looks around at his surroundings. He is on Mars!

Burroughs spends some time for world building, but the short version is that Mars, called Barsoom, is inhabited by various races of intelligence that wage war with each other. Carter finds himself a prisoner of green, tusked Martians known as Tharks. Carter wants to locate other humans, and is shocked to find Dejah Thoris, a captured princess from Helium, a red “humanoid” Martian race.

The narrative is a bit clunky, but the premise is that Carter rises through the ranks of the Tharks while falling in love with Dejah and befriending a Thark warrior named Tars Tarkas. Eventually, Carter leads the Tharks against Helium's enemy Zodanga to achieve peace between the red and green. As the book closes, readers learn that Carter spent nine years on Mars, but it ends with the character unexpectedly back on Earth wondering what befell his friends on the red planet.

I'm motivated enough by Princess of Mars to pursue reading more installments. I much prefer Burroughs' Tarzan novels thus far, but this first Barsoom novel was entertaining enough. The story is a showpiece for science-fiction fantasy, inspiring countless authors and filmmakers. One can journey down any pop-culture or literary rabbit hole to learn more about the series and its legacy. If you love science-fiction, the Barsoom series is probably already on your shelves. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

The Mutants

Kris Neville (1925-1980) was a St. Louis native and author that wrote a half-dozen science-fiction novels, contributed to anthologies, and authored numerous short stories for magazines and digests. My first introduction to the author is his 1966 Belmont paperback novel The Mutants. This was originally published at a shorter length as Earth Alert!, a novella that appeared in the February, 1953 issue of Imagination with artwork by W.E. Terry. Now, the good folks at Armchair Fiction have reprinted the novel as a double with Poul Anderson's The Virgin of Valkarion

Many miles outside of the moon's orbit, a space station sits in waiting as nine aliens prepare for Earth's destruction. This space station maintains a cloaking device that shields it from Earth's observation and detection. Inside, these aliens have bred a thousand male and female hybrids of alien and human life forms, referred to as mutants. Their mission is to utilize these mutants to assist in decimating Earth's population after a deadly frequency is broadcast that will turn humans against one another. The mutants will act as a “seek and destroy” crew cleaning up all the leftover humans. 

On Earth, the aliens detect one of their own hybrids, a woman named Julia. This woman discovers that she has a form of telekinesis and can talk with the aliens in her mind. Sensing the aliens' plans, she plans on contacting the U.S. Government to warn them of the incoming invasion. The aliens, hoping to stop the warning, send one of their own alien hybrids, Walter, to intercept Julia and kill her.

There really isn't much to this 150 page paperback beyond the Julia character alerting the authorities of the alien attack. The tentacled aliens in space fill a small portion of the narrative, but overall remain mysterious and unimportant to the reader. The author maintains a frantic pace, which helps elevate the lifeless plot, but there just isn't enough here to really keep anyone interested. Think of The Mutants as a cross between a tepid Terminator flick and Disney's very safe Escape to Witch Mountain. Avoid this one.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

The Monster from Earth's End

William Fitzgerald Jenkins (1896-1975) was a prolific writer of early 20th century fiction, including numerous science-fiction, adventure, and western stories for the pulps. He used pseudonyms like William Fitzgerald, Fitzgerald Jenkins, and Louis Carter Lee. Some of his science-fiction and pulp literary work was written under the pen name Murray Leinster. My first experience with the author is his 1959 Fawcett Gold Medal paperback, The Monster from Earth's End, written by Jenkins as Leinster. In 2019, it was reprinted by Gateway as an affordable ebook.

Gow Island (not a real place) lies just 600 miles from the Antarctic ice-cap. Because of its location, the island serves as a supply depot for researchers, scientists, and employees stationed in the Antarctic. Gow Island's population of 19 people are employees that re-supply, stock, and fuel vessels that make sporadic layovers en route to their destination. Visitors arrive on a weekly basis, but normally leave within an hour. Thus, these few island inhabitants live a rather slow, sheltered life under the guidance of the island's administrator, and book protagonist, Drake. 

In the opening pages, Gow Island receives a radar message that a plane housing seven passengers and three crewmen will be arriving from Gissell Bay, Antarctica to refuel before heading back home. On board the plane are items retrieved from the icy surface – several penguins, soil samples, and some vegetation. However, Drake and company receive a disturbing, terrifying call from the plane as it approaches the island – someone, or something, is attacking the crew and gun shots are fired. For several moments there is radio silence, then the plane lands on Gow Island's airstrip on its belly. When Drake and co-workers approach the plane they hear one lone gunshot. Opening the plane's door, they are shocked to discover the pilot shot himself in the head on the runway and the rest of the crew has simply vanished. 

The Monster from Earth's End works well as a survival horror novel. The personnel on the island contend with moving the plane off of the airstrip, but also what exactly happened to create these strange circumstances. The pilot's body is moved to a warehouse, but later than night Drake hears something moving inside the building and discovers the pilot's corpse is missing. There are twigs on the plane that seem to possess some form of intelligence. As the crew's dogs begin to die horrible deaths, and an employee goes missing, the power to the island is cut. Something wants to kill its prey in the dark, far from the light. 

I can vividly recall watching John Carpenter's 1982 horror classic The Thing when I was a kid and being absolutely petrified with fear. That film was a remake of the 1951 movie The Thing from Another World which was based on the science-fiction novella "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell (written as Don A. Stuart). In many ways, The Monster from Earth's End sort of fits into that same universe. So much that a Wildside Press collection called Short Things featured shorts written by a selection of authors that tie into The Thing storyline. One of those short stories was "The Monster at World's End", authored by Allan Cole, which was obviously a nod to this novel. 

If you enjoy this sort of survival horror, then The Monster from Earth's End is surely a must-read. I was a little underwhelmed by the “monster”, but the pace and atmosphere of the story kept me firmly entrenched in the novel's narrative. There are some truly creepy moments, but often I felt the book hadn't aged well over the course of 60 years. Your mileage may vary, but I recommend reading the book to make up your own mind on its longevity and legacy.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Quantum Leap #01 - The Novel (aka Carny Knowledge)

It's summer 1992, I'm 16 years old, and taking summer driving school lessons in the bible belt. I can remember it like it was yesterday. I got home around 9pm to a sweltering hot house (we had no AC), turned on our brand new, state-of-the -art Zenith 25” cabinet television with full color and a remote control. I settled into a couch potato mood, pointed the clicker at the screen, and...there's nothing on television that interests me. I'm forced to watch summer syndication, the epitome of boredom. Although it began airing on NBC in 1989, I had never watched Quantum Leap up until that moment. NBC was running a special summer week of show reruns hoping to boost ratings going into a new season in the Fall. There I was with that memorable theme song, the blue lights, Sam Beckett electrifying and morphing into some static time traveling energy. My first experience with Quantum Leap. Oh boy. 

Quantum Leap was created by Donald P. Bellisario, the television mastermind of hit shows like Magnum P.I. and N.C.I.S. He pitched a science-fiction time-traveling show to NBC and it grew into a sensation, spawning comics, paperbacks, conventions, and five wildly entertaining seasons of television that remain in rotating syndication to this day. The show even gained a reboot in the Fall of 2022 with a new cast. 

The idea is rather simple. Dr. Sam Beckett created a time-traveling program, the Quantum Leap Accelerator, ran by a supercomputer deemed "Ziggy". The program is funded by the U.S. Government and housed in the New Mexico desert. The technology is supervised by a whiz named Gushie and a medical doctor named Tina. But, the most charismatic part of the show is Al, an Admiral that partners with Sam during the time travel. In the first episode, Sam steps into the accelerator and vanishes. He awakens to find himself in the past and controlling another person's body. Al can only appear to Sam as a hologram, but provides useful information from a colorful device called Handlink, which is a glorified smart phone. 

The accelerator transports Sam into the past, but some sort of supernatural intelligence is perceived to have taken over the whole program. Each episode, Sam learns that the person he is inside of will either die, cause others to die, or experience some sort of tragedy. His job is to avoid these events from happening - righting the wrongs. His insight is that Al can provide odds that whatever he is altering will correct the issue. Once he “fixes” the problem, Sam leaps through time and into another life. But, if he fails to correct the issue, there's a high probability that he will die in the event or be forced to live the remainder of his life as that person. While Sam is controlling the body of the person in the past, that same person is flung into the present day and remains in a waiting room inside of Sam's body. After all of this is fixed, things go back to normal and that person never realizes their course of life was altered. But, each leap Sam makes he is hopeful that he will return to himself, back to his real life, back home. 

There are several men's action-adventure novels that have the same vibe as Quantum Leap. Casca, Time Raider, and Richard Blade immediately come to mind. These are fun paperback series titles that create unique adventures with very little backstory required – hero simply solving the problem and moving to the next one. It only made sense for Universal to commission Berkley to create paperbacks affiliated with the show under their imprint Ace. These paperbacks feature different writers, freely able to create new adventures for Sam to leap into. Beginning in 1990, the first of 20 novels was published, although the first two were simply novelizations of television episodes and published separately through Corgi. 

The first of the Ace titles (18 total) was published in 1992 and simply called The Novel (aka Carny Knowledge in the UK). It was authored by Ashley McConnell, an American author that contributed to other television tie-in paperback novels in series titles like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Stargate SG-1, and Highlander. As a fan of the show, and avid paperback reader, I gained a good deal on a Quantum Leap lot of 17 total books, including the The Novel. I thought I would leap into the series with what I consider the first original Quantum Leap paperback story. Thus, the #1 is attributed to the title. 

McConnell begins the book like the television show, with Sam glowing blue and awakening to find himself in the body of a 20-something male named Bob Watkins. Sam learns from Al that he is in a small town in Oklahoma during the summer of 1957. Bob Watkins works at a family owned amusement park that has seen its better days. He's sort of a loner, an oddball that many find different and strange. These character attributes will later play a part in the overall plot development. But, for now all Sam learns is that the park's brand new roller coaster will soon derail and seven people die. He's there to somehow prevent this from happening. 

The author provides an adequate explanation of the Quantum Leap concept and the characters involved. Additionally, she provides some unique insight into the things happening in the present with Al, Gushie, and Tina when Ziggy begins to malfunction. I thought this additional storyline helped diversify some of the narrative into different thought processes and character perspectives. However, the most unnerving perspective is that of the unknown killer, a man that apparently has some knowledge of the roller coaster and how to modify it into a murder machine. Several separate chapters feature perspective's from the killer's point of view and his memories of prior attacks. This reminded me of Mary Higgins Clark or Charles Runyon's shifting perspective into the mind of a killer.

While the day-to-day activities are slightly tedious – Sam fixing amusement park machines and rides, the park owner's struggles financially, family history accounts – the build-up into the seemingly inevitable accident was exciting. I really enjoyed McConnell's knowledge of the show, specifically citing prior television episodes and Sam's fixation on avoiding a mental hospital (a possible repercussion if he can't avoid the accident). This was really strong storytelling with a noticeable nod to the fans.

McConnell also authored series installments 2-4, and 7 and I'm looking forward to reading those. If you are a die-hard, a casual fan, or completely new to the show, this debut novel is an entertaining crime-fiction read. I love all of the vintage crime-noir pertaining to carnivals and circus acts, and with this story set in 1957 in a sleepy amusement park town, the noir element is easily replicated. The Novel is an easy recommendation. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, October 10, 2022

To the Stars #01 - Homeworld

Science-fiction author Harry Harrison gained fans with his character Stainless Steel Rat in 1957. The character appeared in 12 total books. Additionally, Harrison wrote the novel Make Room! Make Room!, the basis for the 1973 film Soylent Green. My first exposure to Harrison's writing was Planet of the Damned, the first of two novels starring an Olympic-styled athlete that works for a peacekeeping interstellar agency. Anxious to read more of Harrison's novels, I selected the first in a three part trilogy titled To to the Stars. The novels were Homeworld (1980), Wheelworld (1981), and Starworld (1981). 

Homeworld is set in the 23rd century and explains to readers that tremendous gains were made in the areas of development and space travel. Earth's one-world government was able to journey out beyond the stars to other planets for cultivating, scavenging, and manufacturing. With the 20th century's economy a distant past, Earth now lives in two classes – the elites and the proles. 

The residents, like main character Jan Kulozik, exist on Earth in a privileged manner. They have the very best life has to offer with higher educations and a posh existence. Jan works as an engineer with an experienced background in computer networks, chips, and communications. He's a rich nerd from a generation of rich nerds. 

The proles are Earth's slaves, working around the clock in manufacturing, mining, serving, etc. But, people like Jan don't realize that in essence, they are slaves to their privileged existence. They aren't aware that this system is dominated by a deceitful government that firmly establishes the two levels of civilization. It's a class-based existence with no hope for anyone born as a prole. 

When Jan runs into an Israeli woman named Sara, he realizes that the government has lied. For decades the government has told its citizens that Israel doesn't exist. However, Sara is Israeli, and she educates Jan that in her country they are completely independent and free. Soon, Jan finds himself joining this resistance despite the fact that his brother-in-law is a prominent member of the government. Will Jan break the ties that bind and bring education to the people?

Homeworld is a fun book and mirrors many of the Dystopian-styled concepts that we've all read or watched. Jan's relationship with Sara is similar to Guy meeting Clarisse in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. I imagine that this series debut is setting up a more action-oriented sequel as the story goes completely off-world. While it is science-fiction, Homeworld plays like a cat-and-mouse spy game as Jan works small assignments for Sara's government. There's a cross-country skiing adventure through the snow to free a prisoner and a space mission to disable a satellite. These things help to distract from the tight, cumbersome narrative of Jan just dodging government surveillance. 

Both Homeworld and the other two installments were packaged in one omnibus under the title To the Stars. I'm on board to read the next installment to determine how Jan's adventures continue (considering the ending of this book). An off-world prison colony seems to be the next destination, but Harrison may throw something else in the mix. While I can't speak for the whole trilogy, Homeworld is definitely recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, September 1, 2022

Predator - Concrete Jungle

Nathan Archer was a pseudonym employed by science fiction and fantasy author Lawrence Watt-Evans for the publication of a 1995 media-tie in paperback, Predator: Concrete Jungle. The book was based on the 1989 Dark Horse Comics graphic novel with the same title by Mark Verheiden, which was based on the popular 20th Century Fox movie franchise.

The story is set in New York City during a severe August heat wave. Our heroes are two jaded NYPD homicide detectives named Rasche and Shaefer. The pair used to be narcotics officers, and they were transferred to the murder detail after some excessive force issues. If you’re a fan of fictional excessive force, this is the novel for you.

One night, a gang summit is ambushed and the cops make it to the tenement to find skinned gang-banger corpses hanging upside-down from the ceiling joists with their blood draining onto the floor below. It’s a grisly scene, and the cops fail to initially understand the severity of the threat. Of course, I knew who did it, but I had the benefit of seeing the cover of the paperback.

Rasche and Shaefer are stereotypical 80s movie cops at war with their own ignorant management hell-bent on covering up and minimizing the pending bloodbath to be unleashed on the city. The U.S. Army also gets into the containment and the denial act with all the ineptitude you’d expect from a genre story resting heavily on action movie tropes.

The upshot, as you know, is that Predator monsters from outer space are hunting humans in New York City armed with invisibility shields, energy cannons, pocket nukes, and deadly blades to filet their prey. Fans of the original Predator movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger will be pleased with some Easter eggs tying this novel directly to the inaugural film.

The writing is mostly satisfactory. The action scenes are vivid and bloody in a plot that moves at a fast clip over 300 big-font pages. The dialogue is embarrassingly bad, but never bad enough to give up on the paperback. If the concept behind this media tie-in paperback appeals to you on any level, I promise it won’t disappoint. Recommended. 

Get the book as part of a three-book omnibus HERE.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

First Through Time (aka The Time Factor)

Most time travel stories concern going into the past and the ramifications of altering linear time - always a fun thought experiment. In 1962’s First Through Time, also published as The Time Factor, British novelist Stanley Bennett Hough (1917-1998), writing as Rex Gordon, tackles travel to the future.

Major Howard Judgen works for a U.S. military-funded science unit that has invented a device called a Synchotron that captures images of the future for modern study. Basically, it’s a time machine for a rudimentary motion picture camera. The camera goes through a hole in time created by science-fiction hokum and returns 30 minutes later with video footage of the future.

A recent video that returned from about 100 years into the future indicates a cataclysm has taken (or will take) place at the spot the laboratory now stands in Tennessee with global ramifications (I’m being intentionally vague here). The military wants to utilize this time portal to send a man into the future to avert this catastrophe. Our narrator, Howard, seems to be the man for the job.

The success or failure of a novel with this setup hinges on the coolness of the author’s depiction of the future and the quality of the adventure awaiting our hero. It’s all set-up quite nicely with the appropriate characters trudging up all the time travel paradoxes associated with jaunting to a determined future with hopes of changing it.

The end result was akin to a decent installment of Jeffrey Lord’s Richard Blade series - without the kinky sex. The author tried to shoehorn too many Big Ideas into what otherwise should have been a short, pulpy novel. Overall, First Through Time was a pleasant diversion, but it will be no one’s favorite science-fiction novel of the era. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Zanthodon #01 Journey to the Underground World

As a longtime fan of science-fiction, fantasy, and the works of Robert E. Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs, Lin Carter (1930-1988) authored a number of novels and series titles using unfinished manuscripts from his literary idols or by utilizing a pastiche to contribute future installments of established, classic titles. Using the Pellucidar series, written by Burroughs between 1914-1963, Carter created his own “hollow Earth” concept with the Zanthodon series. The five-book run, also inspired by Jules Verne and Arthur Conan Doyle, was published by DAW Books between 1979 and 1982. It has been reprinted by Wildside Press as one of their digital Megapacks featuring all five books for an affordable price. I'm starting with the series debut, Journey to the Underground World

The book's star is Eric Carstairs, the stereotypical 1970s action-hero that can pilot, captain, shoot, salvage, and deal with the best of them. He's in North Africa looking for work when he saves a professor named Potter from muggers. At the bar, where Carstairs stores his steep tab, he discusses Professor Potter's interesting proposition. Potter explains that he needs Carstairs to pilot a helicopter into an inactive volcano in an effort to locate the middle of the Earth, a place called Zanthodon. He provides evidence that many ancient cultures knew about Zanthodon and wrote about its whereabouts. The origin stems from a giant meteor that crashed to Earth, plunging through the volcano and making an impact on our planet's central core. The “Big Bang Theory” would have created a miniature Earth inside Earth. Make sense? Potter wants to locate it.

Carter doesn't waste the reader's time, and by page 40 both Carstairs and Potter have crashed the helicopter miles below the volcano. They crawl out of the aircraft and discover that Zanthodon is an evolutionary paradox. Dinosaurs roam free, along with two different types of humans – Neanderthal, which are the most basic of prehistoric humans and the slightly more advanced, evolved humans known as Cro-Magnon. As we know it, roughly a 350,000 year difference between the two on the evolutionary scale. But, in Zanthodon they are both alive and active, although warring with each other.

Aside from being a fighting man, Carstairs has a key advantage by carrying a .45 handgun to shoo away the pests. But, the duo is soon captured by the Neanderthals and taken on a long trek through the wilderness. It's here that Carstairs meets Darya, the captive daughter of the Cro-Magnon's tribal king, as well as Jorn, a fierce warrior-hunter. The narrative builds around Carstairs' attempts to become free while working together with an unlikely ally in Hurok. The book introduces future plots while familiarizing readers with the series vibrant and dangerous landscape.

As pure popcorn fiction, there's nothing to dislike about Journey to the Underground World. It obviously pays homage, and takes some liberties, from prior works like The Lost World and Journey to the Center of the Earth. Carter spends ample time with each character detailing the separate perils they are facing. The plot is spacious, allowing multiple events to occur in different areas – different enemies and challenges that rotate for the characters. I really liked that aspect of the storytelling. 

As a fast-paced, descriptive adventure novel, Carter delivers the goods. Journey to the Underground World is a journey worth taking. Recommended! 

Buy a copy of this book HERE. Get the eBook omnibus HERE.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

To Venus! To Venus!

Robert Silverberg said that Donald A. Wollheim (1914-1990) was one of the most significant figures in 20th century American science-fiction publishing. He was the editor for Avon Books between 1947 through 1951, then left to spearhead the new publisher Ace Books. He invented the adored “Ace Double” and spent 20 years as the publisher's editor-in-chief. He later left Ace to form one of the most instantly recognizable publishers in science-fiction literature, DAW Books (Wollheim's initials). But, Wollheim also wrote a lot of science-fiction stories and books, including To Venus! To Venus!. It was published under his popular pseudonym David Grinnell by Ace in 1970. The flip story of this double is The Jester at Scar by Edwin Charles Tubb. Cover art by John Schoenherr.

The book begins with a U.S. Space Agency's crew, led by protagonist Chet Duncan, navigating a difficult task on the Moon's surface. It is presented as a bit of foreshadowing, eventually culminating later in the narrative as Duncan is forced to navigate more challenging tasks on the surface of Venus. Once the crew is back home in CA, Duncan's senior management discusses the next mission.

Russia (then the Soviet Union) made a transmission from what appears to be a communication station on Venus. This would be unlikely considering that the U.S. and world leaders have established that Venus contains an atmosphere that is over 500 degrees. However, the Reds state that the information is inaccurate and that the atmosphere is similar to Earth's. In an effort to gain credibility, and in the fairness of competition, the Americans want their own people on Venus. A three-man crew led by Duncan will train extensively for the flight to Venus and make the voyage. Thus, a narrative is born.

The flight to Venus is somewhat boring as readers endure daily activities, training exercises, and some flat banter between the characters. The only entertaining aspect is that another group of Russians are en route to Venus as well, so the rivalry between the two space capsules is interesting. The Russians are heavily stereotyped, which made the dialogue unintentionally humorous. But, eventually the Americans land on Venus only to discover that the Russians are in need of medicine and assistance. The mystery on whether Venus is sporting the inner rings of Hell or the atmosphere of Central Park comes to fruition as the story reaches its central apex. Unfortunately, it was like a faulty firework on the 4th of July. A bummer instead of a starburst.

There's nothing about To Venus! To Venus! to recommend. The narrative just plods along with no  real enjoyment beyond simple escapism. The finale, which I thought was surely going to be an entertaining sequence of American/Russian cooperation to escape the fiery doom of Venus turned out to be about a paragraph in length. Just when I was fully invested, I turned the page and found an advertisement for more Ace books before the pages flipped upside down. Needless to say, I was underwhelmed with the ending. To Venus! To Venus! isn't Hall of Shame worthy, but it is certainly in the neighborhood. Take a hard pass. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Sunday, June 5, 2022

House of Stairs

William Sleator (1945-2011) was a Harvard graduate that authored science-fiction and young adult novels from 1970 through 2011. I wasn't aware of his literary work, but was happy to discover House of Stairs at a local used bookstore. It was originally published by Avon in 1974 and has since been reprinted numerous times in multiple formats.

The book consists of five sixteen-year old kids being taken from various orphanages and state institutions and placed in a seemingly endless world of stairs. There are no walls or rails, just platforms connected by stairs that lead in different directions to more stairs. The first to arrive is Peter, blindfolded and shoved from an elevator into this stairway nightmare. Inside the maze, he finds a girl named Lola. Together, the duo stumbles upon another stairway resident, a girl named Blossom. She has found a small, disc-shaped machine that releases a small food pellet each time she sticks out her tongue.

The three are later joined by Abigail and Oliver, and collectively the five of them share a small backstory of how they came to arrive in the maze. Like any novel that places ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, alliances are formed and enemies are made. In this case, Lola and Peter form a partnership and attempt to exist “upstairs” away from the others. The motivation for alienation is that the food machine changes its preferences on when to deliver the pellets. As the hours morph into days, the group soon becomes starved and forced to abuse each other in order for the food pellets to be delivered. You see, physical and verbal abuse awards the group with food while kindness and generosity produces starvation. The horror!

At 156 pages, House of Stairs is a brisk, macabre little novel that says so much about humanity's will to survive. It was interesting to watch the deterioration of human kindness when pushed to the breaking point physically and emotionally. With the idea that time isn't a factor, a rescue isn't feasible, and escape is impossible, these kids spiral into madness and depravity. It's a young adult novel, but there are some violent scenes and sadistic overtones.

I enjoyed this book a lot and found the central mystery as a propulsive, consistent plot development. I will say it is a bit dated with some situations and the ending left me a bit underwhelmed. If you love survival horror like The Mist or The Ruins, then House of Stairs should provide just enough literary terror to quench your thirst. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of the book HERE.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Time War

Lin Carter (Linwood Vrooman Carter, 1930-1988) was a longtime science-fiction and fantasy fan. Along with his writing mentor, L. Sprague de Camp, he authored a number of Conan novels either as original tales, or by finishing original, unfinished drafts by Robert E. Howard. He also contributed edits to Howard's Kull character while also creating his own series titles like Gondwane, Terra Magica, and Thongor of Valkarth. Carter only authored a few stand-alone novels, one of which is the science-fiction novel Time War. It was originally published by Dell in 1974 with an amazing cover by Frank Frazetta. It was reprinted by Wildside Press in 2021 in both physical and digital editions. 

John Lux is a scientist, industrialist, entrepreneur, and a military veteran. He's also the target of an invisible assassin. In the book's opening pages, John is shot at by an invisible force that somehow lifted his own revolver from his desk drawer. In another murder attempt, John is nearly run over in the street by a maniacal driver. Why is he being targeted for assassination by this intelligent, murderous entity?

After visiting a local friend and professor, John awakens the next day to learn the man is dead and the police are searching for him as the prime suspect. On the run from the police and an assassin, John learns more about his nightmarish predicament from a strange woman who claims she is from the future. Her explanation of John's trials and tribulations is similar to that of Skynet and John Connor, two time-traveling opponents that battle through the years in the popular Terminator franchise of movies, books, and comics.

In the future, Earth's population is pampered in a sprawling urban metropolis known as the Living City, governed by a super computer. It is here that civilization has spiraled into a luxurious world where every want and need is supplied by the city. Because of this slothful lifestyle, humans have evolved into simply existing with no ability to think for themselves. They can no longer survive without the assistance of the computer, thus the development of this long-lasting parent-child nurturing. Instant entitlement and gratification is the way of existence.

John learns that this computer has built a cocoon around the city, a nearly impenetrable shield that protects everything and keeps this rather elementary form of living intact. But, a rebellion created a Weapon Machine to destroy the computer, only it is stuck inside the shield with no way to penetrate the exterior, and no method of retreating. To John's surprise, he learns he is the only human in existence that has neuro-radiontic powers. In essence, he is a time-traveling superhuman that can teleport himself anywhere. Since his powers are new and underused, this dormant skill can only be utilized if his body is facing an emergency. Thus, these future agents are attempting to kill John to awaken his ability to teleport. If he can teleport through time, and through this city shield, he can bring the Weapon Machine to its destination and liberate humanity.

The author's note from Carter states that he authored Time War as an affectionate tribute to author A.E. van Voget, a contributor to the Golden Age of mature science-fiction led by John W. Campbell Jr. and his Campbellion revolution. In doing so, Carter inputs a lot of startling social awareness into his precognitive narrative on mankind's modern dependence on technology. Much of Carter's future, filled with frivolousness and a rudimentary need for immediate satisfaction, resembles our present. While it isn't preachy or chastising, Time War certainly predicts and warns of many present day struggles.

As an action-oriented science-fiction novel, I found the narrative was busy and bogged down with explanations of what, when, where, and how. There just wasn't enough space to allow the anticipated front-cover action to develop properly. I encourage short novels, but the 150 page count was too short in this instance. If you love a dense, smart story, then Time War should be a wonderful experience. Those of you looking for a soaring stellar war should look elsewhere. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.