Reviews of recent Science Fiction and other e-books

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The many benefits of having no friends, by Miraya Hartley.

The voice of Fukushima – a cry from the heart, by Yogan Baum.

Soap Opera star. Odette C Bell:

Galileo’s Lost Message by D Allen Henry.

The Peace Proxy by Cyril Adams.

The Wandering Island Factory by TR Nowry.

Virgo 97 by Italo Marago.

To The Stars by Thomas C Stone.

The Last Enemy by Luca Luchesini.

Unbounded by Ander Nesser.

Fatal Boarding by ER Mason.

The Spiralling Web by Ryan Somma.

In Constant Contact by Tom Lichtenberg

Transplant by D B Reynolds-Morton

The Glass Hummingbird by ER Mason

A Planet for Emily by MS Lawson.

Quagmire’s Gate by Allan E Petersen

Generation (Shadows of the Void, #1) by JJ Green.

Deep Crossing by ER Mason.

The Aurora City by ER Mason.

Conquerors of Nimeya by Kelvin S Douglas.

Neptune Crossing by Jeffrey A Carver.

The First Indigan by Charles Kaluza.

Derek Vortimer MBA – Manager of Worlds. By Uncle Jasper (Robert Lawson).

The Yeomen of England by Christopher Nuttall.


Mostly fiction is reviewed here, because entertainment was my object. ("The Voice of Fukushima" is the exception but this was engrossing, anyway.) In return, I felt that I should review the authors efforts. Long before I reviewed e-books, I also read and commented on paper books discussed by the local readers group. Moreover, I studied science popularisations, to educate myself. In all cases, I only reviewed books whose worth I was capable of recognising, even if I did not wholly understand them.
The same rule applies here. I may not agree with the authors or share their political and scientific beliefs. But I hope always to say, at least, something intelligent about their work, so that my reviews, in their small way, were worth scanning, not least by their authors.

The many benefits of having no friends


Miraya Hartley


The reader is never far from the authors thoughts, judging by the continual references to dear reader, gentle reader, my literary companion, and so forth. This is a conversation then or chit-chat, tho formally organised into chapters about the social round.

Hence, the style is suitably simple. There are no literary allusions to authorities. The only authority is the authors personal experience. This is all well and good, because that is what we crave. Tho a fellow countrymen to the author, I still could be taken aback by the odd example of reckless crookedness, exposed by these confidences.

Never mind, her observations rang true enough. This country seems to have thrown out the baby of good manners with the bath-water of etiquet.

On occasion, such as the folly of co-renting, her distaste for her companion amounted to pure passion. Not of the sort I would recommend, despite an acute sympathy for her predicament.
At this point, I was tempted to make a literary allusion to my favorite author, but, following Hartleys good example, I desist.

Instead, I offer my most useful critical comment on this title. It is actually not about friends at all. It is much about the death, to esteem for ones companions, by a thousand cuts of more or less inconsiderate behaviour or slovenly disrespect, as well as confidence trickery and predatory scheming.

Those companions, however, are not so much bad friends, as merely bad companions. The abject failures, in shared pleasure-seeking, dubious or down-right repulsive, which the book is largely about, is not friendship. The author seems to have no idea of friendship, as a sharing of interests, as is held by an author, more authoritative than we are.

I would say the main interest, of the authors researches, are in finding what bores are everyone she has met. But she should know that is the whole point of friendship, in finding just those people, who share our interests and enliven our lives.

And this reviewer speaks as an unexampled expert on isolation. I have been much helped by the cultural desert of so-called society, of which this book is perhaps an unintended satire. Its author may be not so much a hermit, as an all too typical sample of insular British sub-urban middle class aloofness, in their little boxes, as Madam de Stael wrote, long before Pete Seeger sang it of America.

The voice of Fukushima – a cry from the heart


Yogan Baum

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This free e-book is the first, in a series, that ends moments before the Japanese tsunami of March 2011. This is as if the author himself was one of its nearly twenty thousand victims. In his rush home, after the mega-quake, he very nearly was. The scene is set, from the point of view of a globe-trotter, who just happened to land in a little fishing village, some twenty or so miles south of the Fukushima nuclear power plants.

The story is indeed a cry from the heart, drawing breath in asides about incidentals of Japan, and its family and working life, in which he came to share. The author plainly states that he wants the reader to appreciate the feelings behind the words. But this is really one persons journey thru life, to which the nuclear-power folly is just an outrageous political intrusion.

The personal story kept me reading, more than could a worthy text on the “hubris” of atomic power, however much I might sympathise. Yet, the author has an intelligent awareness that supposed human destiny is more like fate, perhaps terrible, yet not here over-stated.

For me, the most moving passage in the book (it moved me to tears, to tell you the truth) is how the author honors the leadership of the then Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, later to be ousted, for business as usual:

“Think of the more than 10,000 fuel rods in cooling tanks and you have over 14,000 fuel rods in Dai-ichi alone, all ready to run wild if not constantly cooled. Add the thousands in Dai-ni to gain a more complete picture. March 11 brought the world much, much closer to unspeakable horrors than most people realise. Only by a certain amount of good luck, the courage of some good men and the grace of the gods, as former Prime Minister Naoto Kan said in a recent speech, were we saved.”

“… This self-effacing truly honorable Naoto Kan himself saved his own country from ruin, and the whole world from catastrophe. We were saved by the courage of two men, the other being plant manager Masao Yoshida…

Kan was not to be bent: for that one time in his life he stood his ground in the face of overwhelming adversity and ordered TEPCO to continue cooling efforts…

Yoshida testified he felt he was sure to die, but even though, he did not give up his post. Through his own personal example he got enough men to stay inside the ruined plant, literally crawling in the dark, to somehow save us all. These men plus two or three scores of firefighters from Tokyo,…”

Business as usual makes for an enduring tragedy of the nuclear madness, not only in Japan.

The British government (in league with the French) practises the death-worship of renewing its Trident totem of planetary life-threatening nuclear weapons and their nuclear-power accessory.

The sequel books by Yogan Baum are likely to be at least as enlightening on this dreadfully under-rated issue. The way in which he re-lived the events of the earthquake are the mark of a real writer.

The Voice of Fukushima: A Cry from the Heart - Ground Zero 02: Tsunami and Worse.

by Yogan Baum.

The first (and free) book of this trilogy looks back on the authors travels and settlement in Japan. He married and joined that hive of activity. But like a hive, it has an over-all tranquility. And the landscape of the authors past is one of peaceful remembrance. Until the mega-quake, when even the framework of that landscape is shaken.

After a lively button-holing preface, we are back to the day the earth stood still – not! This beginning is the part of the book, like some Robinson Crusoe, I most identify with. Because the dislocation is not only of land and sea but of man from society, which remains more an English than a Japanese condition.

The author puts it down to a general state of shock, which he was not aware of, at the time. The numbness wears off and my English stand-offishness envies the reassertion of social cohesion between extended family and friends.

Above all, this is a human story, peppered with witty associations and rambling but compulsive asides, written as fluidly as a fugue, of the flight of the author and his wife from Fukushima, even as three reactor housings explode, one after the other.

I didn’t know what that was about, till the author explained each of them.
Outrageous, how blandly the British media covered them. The Guardian news-paper received leaked emails from the Energy Department, to nip in the bud, bad publicity from the Japanese nuclear disaster.

I read a Guardian Comment Is Free conversation, part of which went something like this: Yes, the BBC was definitely on message. After a power-plant explosion, a studio comment went: Oh that’s all right then.

Adolf Hitler said: If you tell a lie, make it a big one. Richard Feynman said: Nature cannot be fooled. Days after Fukushima nuclear under-went explosive destruction, when they could not possibly know, journalists, right and left, in a hysterical defiance of nature having made fools of them, proclaimed that Fukushima proved that nuclear is safe.

This second account, in the trilogy, is not a catalog of catastrophes from the tsunami. We are not reminded, in much detail, of the reducing of towns to trash heaps, as if the ocean had fallen into the mental state of those hoarders, shown on TV, in the chaotic decay of their homes. There is no mention of the lonely tower bloc, left standing, surreally topped by a flat-based cargo ship.

Tho living only 20 miles south of the nuclear power stations, which took a direct hit, the authors village was behind a somewhat sheltered promontory. When he prudently decamped to the hillside, with Japanese-like politeness, he did not intrude himself in front of the onlookers, from their vantage point. There was not much to see, anyway.

With regard to all the tsunami videos on the Internet, he admits to not wanting to see the human tragedies. However, he does discuss his own psychological shortcomings of disregard for the danger, not immediately seen. He relates this, to videos showing people, on high ground, warning, those below, of the coming wall of water. But they don’t start to run, till they can see it themselves, when it is usually too late.

This is a parable of the human condition. In particular, the author likens some 450 nuclear power stations, to colossal tops that have to be kept spinning, lest they crash down – meltdown.

This, of course, is bad engineering practise. You don’t build an inherently dangerous structure and then add safety constraints, as an after-thought. You build a reasonably safe structure, in the first place. You don’t take over the ultimate weapon development of uranium fission and make do with it, for civilians, as “a hell of a way to boil water.” Instead, if there is any not too offensive form of nuclear fission, it might have some limited use as a niche technology.

As one might expect, from a nearby resident, on his toes, the author has some disturbing revelations about the three nuclear meltdowns. Half a world away, they point up the arrogant infallibility, or infallible arrogance, of the British establishment in pursuit of a nuclear renaissance, that most of the public don’t want.

This is all to do with the reassertion of government, here and there, as an instrument of domination rather than representation. Humanity is more likely to flounder, in its own deceit, than anything else.

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Odette C Bell: Soap Opera star.

The Lost Star, Episode One, in setting, reminded me of the original low-budget Star Trek series, re-written with a low-budget imagination, where the office lifts and ventilation shafts were made to moonlight as a "spaceship." And “Report to sickbay” meant a recliner couch in an alcove.

However, the Star Trek creator, Pacific bomber veteran, Gene Roddenberry originally set out to make The Enterprise crew an assembly of universal peace. And while Odette C Bell has written less a space opera than a soap opera, she is perhaps as sympathetic a writer, revealing a mature and humane personality, that is most attractive.

The legal standards of judging character by evidence, rather than hear-say from ones favorites, is truer to the timeless method of science, than typical SF technobabble. The author builds it into high drama, where secrecy obstructs the peace.

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Galileo’s Lost Message.

D Allen Henry.

The author peppers this fictional cuisine with Italian exclamations, so that you enter the spirit of being Italian! It’s surprisingly effective.
Italy has the greatest density of UN World Heritage sites in the world. And the hero of this novel has a heroic knowledge of them, as he conducts us about the peninsula, with his Contessa companion.

The obvious intellectual qualifications of the author do not inhibit his portraying a male-female rapport between the two main characters.
The plot is that she has found a hidden poem by Galileo and has called on an American expert in Galilean science to track down the meaning of its riddle.
They are not alone.

The riddle of humanity itself is writ large in this depiction of the Italian character, with a history of incredible genius, shadowed by incredible cruelty.
The half Italian narrative character and the Contessa stand for civilised humanity, with intelligence and optimism, as does the author himself in his restraint from the usual blood and thunder thriller.
I was not able to suspend disbelief, in the eventual unfolding of events.

Galileo’s lost message ends by shading into science fiction, as it was bound to do. Not a bad speculation at all, legitimate historical possibilities included. Altogether, tho, the effect was somewhat over-whelming in its cleverness.
The author does not neglect the real message of Galileo, greater even than his scientific prowess, which is his enduring importance for freedom of thought.

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The Peace Proxy

by Cyril Adams.

This is good old-fashioned future fiction. It is like a 1950s vision of the space age. The narrative character takes us thru the authors technological projections. The science is well enough informed to make the journey interesting. He also makes it exciting by subjecting the hero to a primeval hunt in ultra-modern guise.

Without giving away the secret of the plot, I can tell you that it has already been done, in an episode from the original series of The Outer Limits. This, by the way, was much better than the re-make, as is usually the case. The episode probably was based on a short story. I don’t think the idea is credible enough to stretch to a book, let alone a series, which Cyril Adams seems to have contemplated. Tho, I admit that the authors story-telling abilities are good enough to sustain his writing, even if one doesn’t really believe the basic story-line.

In conventional fiction, the characters are more important than the settings. But in science-fiction or speculative fiction, the settings are more important than the characters. Or, to put it another way, the back-ground takes over from the fore-ground.

The SF genre strips down the characters to the basic human condition. Man must have his mate: So says the song “As Time Goes By.”
Not all of us have. It makes me wonder just what more is there to existence beyond the survival imperative, and things remaining.
It is perhaps not giving too much away, or too far out, to say that peace and progress is the theme of this book.

I once asked my mother what is the meaning of life. I wanted to know what kept her going.
She replied: to go on, to continue.

The poor woman could not do more than keep her head above water, all her life, in adverse circumstances.
That is why it is our duty, given, and taking, a little more freedom, to do the best we can with it.
Perhaps one day we will come across a book that attempts to tell us more, while remaining an entertaining fictional narrative, not deadened with abstractions.

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The Wandering Island Factory

by TR Nowry.

The title has shades of Roald Dahl about it, that deceive the inner eye. In the grand science-fiction tradition of Jules Verne, the hero of the story is a new technological marvel, conceivably just round the corner, if not completely round the bend, from present engineering capabilities. The 21st-century Propeller Island, to which the title alludes, is a manufactured floating island of lava piped into solid interlocking blocks of pumice, lighter than water but immensely strong.

Eventually, even pumice will sink and break up, unless somehow impregnably water-proofed and reinforced against hundred foot waves. Like every good science-fiction writer, he knows how to sweep past the main practical objection, in a sentence, buried amongst all the plausible circumstantial construction details of this prestige project.

The story takes its time, thru a long slow development of man trying to get by, and get along with a mate. Will patient devotion pay off? Will the jobs and the money and the relationship run out? Jules Verne would never get us down with such mundane considerations.

Like TR Nowry, Verne (From The Earth To The Moon) was aware of the shortcomings of the solar science of his day, before solar fusion was understood. Whereas Nowry picks up on the respectable alternative science hypothesis that climate change is mainly dependent on fluctuations in solar radiation, connected with sunspot activity. (Veteran popular science writer, Nigel Calder co-wrote a book with one of its leading scientists.)

As the seas rise, under global warming, a sort of Swiss family Robinson embark on a miniature version of floating volcanic island, in a basalt block of a boat. In this way, they seek to avert the worst effects of the solar apocalypse. They are perhaps as much a danger to themselves as is global warming. The heroine has a “morning cough.” All of them are more or less heavy smokers of “cancer sticks,” as cigarettes are aptly described in the story. It will transpire that the author is as addicted to those cancer sticks for the planet, of nuclear fuel rods.

The heat from the volcanic rock of an artificial island can be harnessed (with steam turbines) to generate electricity. More permanently, geothermal (or hydrothermal) energy can be created by the difference in heat between surface water and cool ocean depths. (The thermodynamics of the Carnot heat engine.)
The author suggests that the resulting surface cooling effect might prevent the onshore devastation of hurricanes.

However, the author or narrative character deprecates wave power. Wind turbines, he insists on calling “unsightly” “windmills,” like any propagandist for nuclear power.
Of a rising sea level, drowning nuclear power reactors, needing water cooling by sea or river, all the narrator can say is that he doesn’t see any three-eyed fish.

While politicians are regarded as totally unscrupulous as money sharks, and no cynicism is spared for human folly, the narrator promotes uranium reactors - forever poisoning the planet to drive turbines a few decades - instead of allowing the wind to drive turbines for free. People are indeed strange.

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Virgo 97

a science fiction thriller


Italo Marago

Man-made climate change might turn Earth into another Venus. Stephen Hawking said so, the other day, about President Trump reneging on the international Paris climate change accord.

As far back as the 1950s, the greenhouse effect is mentioned, in The Space Merchants, by Pohl and Kornbluth, so far ahead of the game was classic SF.

The climate is controled by so many unknowns, in so many equally unknown complex inter-relations, that no-one really can be sure what will happen. The releasing of vast amounts of such potent greenhouse gases as methane into the atmosphere from melting continental permafrost looks like the start of a runaway climate crash, that could very quickly become impossible to stop.

This doomsday scenario has concentrated the minds of contemporary science-fiction writers. Many of them naturally turn their eyes to that least unpromising bolt-hole, for any remnants of humanity, Mars.

Virgo 97 is the take of Italo Marago. It is an SF thriller, as he says, because we are not just dealing with the logistics of survival but also the illogical humans who supposedly are trying to carry them out. The ingenious plot is aided by Marago making do with flawed but redeemable human material. Be prepared for appearances to be deceiving.

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To The Stars

the Harry Irons trilogy

part 1

(2010) by

Thomas C Stone

The nice simple title, To The Stars, is a return to bread-and-butter line SF. What Brian Aldiss, in Billion Year Spree, ironically dubbed the stars my detestation, has given way to post-modernism.

This story does not suffer fools gladly. Sooner or later, characters are dispatched by their own flaws, more than by hostile aliens. As to those, the author eventually subsides into a Heinlein-like complacency, that introduces Time Enough For Love.

In one of his SF novels, CS Lewis does an amusing skit on human imperialist ambitions in outer space, (before they could even escape Earths gravity well) by having an interpreter give a satirical translation.

These space operas have not really escaped the cultural gravity well of planet Earth. At any rate, Robert Heinlein was a great story-teller. And Thomas Stone knows how to keep the reader on the tight-rope walk of his adventure story.

It is perhaps not giving too much away to say that the primitives are more sympathetic than the technological aliens. The author has us recognise that advanced intelligence may not bring benevolence. (The movie, Mars Attacks was perhaps the ultimate satire on that scenario.) This is off-set by the always appealing possibility of futuristic artefacts falling into our lap.

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The Last Enemy

parts 1, 2 and 3


Luca Luchesini.

The title is borrowed from a well-known soubriquet for death. Genes stop generating. But suppose a drug could make life as immortal as cancer cells, described in that modern classic “The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot.

The author gives a plausible fiction of the coming of the anti-ageing drug. It has to carry some conviction, if the social problems of its invention are to be seen as more than academic. The inventor perceives that he is riding a tiger, as any number of his kind will stop at nothing to take away his gift to humanity.

In his search for helpful associates, the narration shows a great breadth of sympathy with people of all cultural origins. Individuals are better than organisations. The author gives the impression of considerable awareness of the worlds various secret agencies, and of the entwinement of legal and illegal practices. And again a certain common humanity is manifested by the individuals within them.

Eventually, tho, the inventors closest partners develop diverging interests and distrust seaps in. All of which has to be allowed for, philosophically.

Disguising their immortality is itself a formidable identity problem. Again, the author gives a plausible scenario of how even the best laid plans may be discovered inadvertently by the ever watchful security services.

Besides the personal problems of the inner circle of immortals, the passing of the decades requires the background scenery of a future history. We are shown rising big powers wars for resources, with technology losing the battle against climate change.

The power of parasitism seems to render human weakness inevitable, no matter the technical advances that could bring security to all.

Even as the human race faces extinction, the author goes so far as to suggest that the immortality treatment may become self-sustaining and confer beneficial side-effects to memory and mental ability, in effect creating a new species, another vision of the Superman.

Something of the sort may happen, for all I know. Only lack of imagination leads us to doubt a continued increase in human longevity (unless the human parasite kills the human host).

However, the technical problems are likely to prove much more intractable, and such progress, as is made, may bring with it commensurate drawbacks, before we even consider the sociological and psychological implications.

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by Ander Nesser


This is a great book of space exploration information, made into interesting incidentals of taking part in the journey, enjoying the excitement, without partaking of the undoubedly real dangers of the enterprise. Unlike the old days of SF, that I grew up in, these are no longer so much a question of if, as when. The central narrative character, we identify with, is not a specialist. Called Ryder, it is as if he is along for the ride, before he proves his worth, as we all would hope to do.

This is despite the fact that current technology remains hopelessly inadequate. Not even could we repeat, at short notice, the few faltering steps, taken nearly half a century ago, to our most conveniently placed giant moon.

However, we could expect brisk progress, once the race makes up its mind. And up till now, all speculation has been blind-sided by the inability of science to detect the existence of planets, in the solar systems of our nearest neighbors.

They would still take many thousands of years to reach, by current means of propulsion. But it is not beyond the bounds of possibility, that certain theoretical drive principles, using antimatter, fusion, or ion drives, might make inter-planetary travel, to our solar neighbors, practical on a historical time-scale or even within a current human life-span.

The traditional SF resort, to instantaneous travel thru worm-holes, would require prohibitive expenditures of energy. And familiarity with the infinite intricacies of hyper-spatial geometry, that conceivably may come within the reach of advanced quantum computing.

There is a great incentive for a concerted human effort, that would be required to take on such a challenging project.

Unbounded, published in 2016, was one of the last SF books, still in the dark about possible colonisation of relatively close solar systems. So it contemplates a colonisation mission, in terms of hundreds, upon hundreds of years. It doesn’t matter all that much, since even a journey to the nearest solar systems might be hazarded on similar terms, if space-ship technology cannot be brought up to speed.

Ander Nesser doesn’t duck the big problems, which have yet to be solved. He assumes cryogenic stasis a done job. But the on-board scientists are still grappling with the limited capacity for surviving genetic damage from radiation in outer space.

The possible nature of alien life forms are well discussed and imaginatively conceived. The rule for this success is the same as it was, in the first great modern extra-planetary SF novel: if you want to know the alien life forms of other planets, know them on this planet. For, the author of The War Of The Worlds, HG Wells was educated as a biologist.

Nesser gives his Marine aliens the names of wave properties, like interference patterns and so forth.

Wells could have told his modern SF counterparts that democracy requires more than a show of hands or a plurality count.

The colonisation ship is a hot-house of secrecy and distrust, not only between the crew, but between crew and ship control by sophisticated artificial intelligence. This is overlaid by the problem of whether to trust the aliens, who have been shadowing them, and which of their warring factions are genuine.

All this drama of doubt and deceit supplies plenty of opportunity for a good old-fashioned space opera, to leaven all that “wonders of the universe” stuff.

One of the authors many scientific diversions, which I do find diverting, comes when one faction of the aliens puts forward the computer theory of the universe. Reality is formed of building blocks, the subatomic quantities, called the quantum. In this respect, it resembles the discrete bits of information, handled by digital computers.

For all their aquatic exoticism, the alien factions sound remarkably like a human division between theological dogmatists and empirical scientists. The latter make a fool of the former, like in Galileo discourse on the two world systems. Of course, the author is making a deliberate reflection upon ourselves.

One of the weaknesses, of this presentation of space exploration problems, is not the fault of this comprehensively read author. Rather, it is the traditional SF stumbling block of not being able to communicate with aliens, who do not know your phonographic alfabet.

I guess the solution is the invention of an intuitively universal language of pictographic holograms, the technological equivalent of pictographic and ideographic sign language.

This manageable problem may have achieved so little progress, because effective communication between humans, let alone beings from other planets, has not been a priority. There is too much vested interest, in controling people, kept in ignorant tribal conflict. The moral is that if we do not learn to live well with ourselves, albeit out-landers, we are not going to learn to live well with out-spacers.

Likewise, the wilful ignorance of democratic method is a serious threat to informed consensus, as a necessary condition of stable progress.

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Fatal Boarding


ER Mason

In the decades when e-books were still the joke of a promise that never happened, it was already true that one could never hope to read more than a tiny portion of all the SF books that had been written. This growing galaxy of the imagination can never be toured, any more than the stars themselves.

What is certain is that there is a great deal of good and honest work there, intelligent and informed enough, to make one wonder why things have to be so bad.

In this stalwart space opera, by ER Mason, things do go really bad, as the title ominously hints. The narrative character is not your prominent socialite, of the comic books. Difficulties, however, only bring out of this reticent personality his capability.

Once in awhile, one comes across a story that says a little more (which I won’t give away) than the run of quite commendable fictions. Looking back at the opening lines of the first chapter, I can see this promise.

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The Spiralling Webs


Ryan Somma

Here is a book about computer geekdom, with a most readable difference, made memorable by the poetic imagination with which it conceives the graphics of cyberspace.

The juvenile geeks are memorable too. And there is real passion in the resistance to the corporate closing down of freedom of digital information and its dozily complacent apologists, in all their mercenary mindlessness.

Plenty of scope for the web to be invaded by a spider and fly conflict; the main character trapped in the real world, and so forth. This goes on at a good whack and eventually spills out uncontrollably into reality. This climaxes in a movie-esque apocalypse.

Not only is the day saved, as usual, but the web spirals into a power and knowledge utopia of multi-dimensional cosmic proportions, courtesy of exponentially increasing artificial intelligence, with the digitised ancient library of Alexandria thrown-in as a sweetener.

Yeah right.

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In Constant Contact


Tom Lichtenberg

This is a rather slender story that has latched on to the claustrophobic trend of the Internet to manufacture friendship. It requires some persistence. But I could not quite let it go, because the small world of the narrator, in his Corporation cubicle, yet harbors an active mind, perhaps an over-active mind, given to worry to no good purpose.

He is the classic little man, in the big organisation, who, wearying of his futile passive role, make some small contribution of his own, that he perhaps was not quite supposed to, and trembles ever afterwards at the consequences.

Yet he is vaguely comforted by an intuition, that he is the stooge, that the big names cannot do without.

“Friendship was a slippery thing, solid one day and vanish the next. People changed, they moved on. Good friends were not only hard to find, they were nearly impossible to keep, at least at the same level forever. Your best friend one day could be your enemy the next, or just drift away, become an acquaintance, before you had any idea what had happened. And there were so many facets of friendship. It could never be clearly defined…”

The internet device providing a "professional friend" "in constant contact" is a satire on the business-like attitude that seems to have permeated human relations, to such an extent, that simple unassuming human friendship seems to be a disappearing old-fashioned notion, that is rather hard to find. Perhaps the honest business relation is the best that some lonely folk are likely to find!

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D B Reynolds-Morton

This is a lifeboat story, tho not The Cruel Sea. A private company of rich and “reasonably sane” men try to launch a sample humanity away from the world before it destroys itself. It will take an interminable time before the survivors reach a doubtfully habitable destination.

The story begins when the passengers have long since forgotten their origins and the life-support systems are well past their sell-by date. I got the impression that the author enjoyed laying on every moan of superannuated machinery and every responding moan of the hapless in-mates.

Everything is on the blink and the verge of collapse. It is only a matter of time before the patching, by the largely inept passenger-crew, has to stop. That time comes…

This tale, which is a good example of the genre, fascinates us, because we are like those coddled dependents ourselves, at the same time, at the mercy of malfunctioning governments.

The moral of the story is that society would be happier and work better, if governments suffered their citizens to be more self-reliant, i.e. democracy.

There is a twist to the tale.

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The Glass Hummingbird


ER Mason

ER Mason is a superior story-teller. The opening drama is a tour de force of ingenious realism, that gives little hint of the nature of the main body of the book. It is well worth reading in itself as a self-help rescue improvisation.

From there, we move on to the furtive inventor, in his secret basement. This being the stock in trade of what turns out to be a science fiction.

The characters passed thru a dark mirror portal, in shades of Through The Looking Glass. And enter Dreamland. This has something to do with the collective unconscious. At any rate, the dream walkers gain access to nefarious doings, which the story is about desperate attempts to prevent.

This tale is so much technological window dressing for what looks suspiciously like a Secret Service experiment in remote viewing (previously called clairvoyance) as described in the book, Psychic Warrior.

This project was closed down (so we are told) which does not suggest that it was particularly effective, despite some claims made for it. And I have to admit that the (allegedly) true story did not make much impression on me.

I will say tho, that ER Mason has fictionalised a similar dream atmosphere, to that described in the remote viewing experiments.

In common with his quite different but also compelling dark SF adventure, Fatal Boarding, there is an under-lying spiritual pre-occupation.

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A Planet for Emily.


MS Lawson.

They are looking for one. One that an Earth-conquering species doesn’t know about. Humans are corralled on an over-crowded space station. The panic scenes are realistic. Humanity is shown for what it is, in its lawless state. Whereas naive liberals are shown to bring down disaster on everyone. The hero has the conservative values of prudence and preparedness, besides being abnormally strong and tough – with a penchant for singing Gilbert and Sullivan - even while repairing his spaceships "nuclear reactor". (Amazing how the 1950s junk propaganda about this miracle power source still lingers its long and painful death in contemporary science fiction.)

I reflected, after reading the story, which did keep me going back to it, I happily admit, that it was something of a Dungeons and Dragons formula. The action and suspense is kept going in the combat scenes. Irreconcilable enemies, human as well as alien, are the order of the script. The author does not envisage a benevolent universe. But he is not really inimical.

Nowadays, cinematic special effects can outdo imagination, which was not often true in the earlier days, when I was young. Nevertheless, the most spectacular video game does not have that subjective appeal, while reading a book, of entering the very souls of the characters.

In that respect, this tale is not a lot more than a “snappy” duet between hero and heroine, with supporting actors, notably a robot. All right, we none of us are Charles Dickens, here. The patter works well enough to engage interest in the fates of the characters. It worked for me. I make the effort to write a review, for being entertained.

With the scarcity of known suitable planets, in their sector of space, the search narrows down to a Mars-type planet with a deeply scored rift valley, which happens to be a habitable air well. It is not paradise.

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Quagmire’s Gate

by Allan E Petersen

You can read this, I won’t give away the plot. I’ll only warn you that, like all good story-tellings, expect surprise twists and turns, all the way to the last simple and moving page, which I was the better able to appreciate, for having followed this whole fantasy, dressed in scientific garb.

Not even incorporating the Philadelphia experiment was sufficient to dampen my appreciation of the narrative skills, in suspension of total disbelief, which eventually tie-up most of the loose ends, however unconvincingly. And like many a modern science fiction, the author does not neglect character development.

Sometimes it is the little things that can make me laugh out loud: the guest, who scarcely gave any notice, sitting on a couch cushion that snaps like a cracking plate.

Moreover, the treatment of the mad scientist is not of Prof Branestawm vintage, which the BBC recently revived. (How ironic the name, now that the physics of string theory deals not only in quantum strings but branes!) Prof Quagmire is not just a jumble of eccentricities but has a psyche.

The cast also has bad maddies, as well as good ones. It seems there has to be. Something to do with the conflict of the dualities in human nature, perhaps.

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Generation (Shadows of the Void, #1)

JJ Green.

Isaac Asimov once said on television that HG Wells anticipated all the genres of science-fiction. Sure enough, there is a short story about mind take-over (thru an exchange of an old for a new body, actually).

Robert Heinlein gave mind control the full works, in The Puppet-Masters. And it burst on the public consciousness in a take-off, with a less masterly title, made into a 1950s SF B-movie, called Invasion of the Body-snatchers.

The cinema visit made a deep enough impression on this small boy, to constitute something of a mind take-over of my imagination.

Having started the novel, Generation, I was disheartened to find the story-line come under a sufficiently depressing version of this dominating theme, conscientiously described. The plot is a game with over-whelming stakes. Winning it is all that matters.

I was going to give it up. Because, the only point, in reading such a work, is to find if the author is a good story-teller, who can hold your interest with incidental detail, in the narrative.
I thought this unlikely but I’m glad that I persisted in this cautionary tale.

During the Second World War, Winston Churchill once admonished his countrymen, to the effect, that complacency is a worst of treacheries.

The author, JJ Green is to be congratulated on a thoughtful, as well as fast-paced, thriller, largely devolving on the follies, foibles and flimsinesses of human character. A fallible heroine yet keeps her head, while all about are losing theirs, and blaming her.
Sign of a good writer is the lack of deadening indulgence in expletives. Short of being a prude, the author may mention if a character curses, little more.

Human limitations of personal psychology and social organisation are not spared. The alien mind, encountered, is not so much alien as merciless. Armed, by the author, with a little satire and sympathy, the reader becomes space-farer into a hostile universe.

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Deep Crossing

by ER Mason.

ER Mason is a distinguished practitioner in the hugely competitive field of science fiction. Even before the Big Bang of independent electronic book publishing, it was practically impossible to read all the thousands of no doubt worthy paper publications in a genre that attracts more than its fair share of intelligent authors.

Talking of which, our author got more than a third of the way thru this digitised tome on little more than an intelligent appreciation of all the immensely complex technical preparation that must go into space travel, for the foreseeable future. Humans will have to be more like angels, if they are to wish their way to Mars etc, as in an Edgar Rice Burroughs fantasy.

Mason might have written the great SF anti-climax novel, in which the heroes are the over-worked ground staff, who turn away, from the fleeing spacecraft, that they have lovingly delivered, as the reader turns the last page.

Deep Crossing is the sequel to Fatal Boarding. Note the nicely understated titles. These are vehicles of the Adrian Tarn character. I envy the author this wonderfully evocative surname: a secluded body of still water in a mountainously inaccessible region. And this image reflects that somber first misadventure (also reviewed).

Deep Crossing is a sunnier tale (it could hardly be otherwise). Tarn seems less of a loner, as the captain in a company of other loners, as it turns out.
However, their friendship is a friendship of professionals. That seems to be the way an increasingly specialised society has been going for well over a century.

The outlook of my naive youth was that friendship was for friendships sake. Oh yes, there is shared interest. CS Lewis made plain that was essential to friendship. Still, it didn’t have to be a professional association. It didn’t have to be official. Friendship could be just a natural attraction, that was not understood and didn’t have to be. It was enjoyed for its own sake.

But as I’ve got old and repulsive and unwanted, this preconception has lost its glamor – an illusion of youth, perhaps. Who knows? Old age severs from the full enjoyment of life, including the primal functions of sex and aggression, not forgotten by most self-respecting authors. Senility threatens even recreational reading, such as this. The Oldster is too much out of it – It, being active service.

The Deep Crossing, between spiral arms of the galaxy, is side-tracked, at first, by stumbling upon a fellow space-craft in distress. I’m not going to give the story away. Suffice to say my sense of awe for the authors technological omniscience took a tumble, when it turned out that this stray was powered by a nuclear fission reactor suffering from loss of coolant.

How does that bit of 1950s military-industrial complex propaganda linger on in the souls of so many dedicated SF writers?

Of course, the course of a uranium fission chain reaction readily offers a bit of dramatic tension to a story. But that is precisely why no sane inter-planetary explorer would ever want to risk one. Consider that the twenty-first century nuclear submarine still keeps pregnant women off-board, because of the findings of Alice Stewart on x-rayed unborn babies. A veil of secrecy fell over the full role of radioactivity in the genetic degradation of life.
Not to mention that a nuclear steam engine would be a case of Around the Galaxy in Billions of Years.

Deep Crossing continues the first books theme of a hierarchy of more or less developed species, with humanity being obvious novices. This is the more rational estimate of the nature of life in the universe, than the assumption that mankind “only” has to get super-luminally mobile to have the run of outer space. But we really have no idea yet of what’s out there.

The rendezvous planet is a sleight of hand, in that the author avoids having to try to characterise what another habitable planet conceivably might look like. It defies the imagination when we have so little to go on. However, the scene is well enough set and turned into an adventure and a puzzle. It also makes what otherwise would not have been possible, when the plot allows the most antagonistic character to morph into the most sympathetic, and intimates the power of love.

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The Aurora City

by ER Mason.

The trouble with sequels is that they tend to turn novelties into routines, which can feel just a little bit boring. HG Wells never did sequels.

The Mysterious Island, by Jules Verne, is only a tangential sort of sequel, to 20,000 Leagues under the Sea.

The Aurora City does seem to take quite a while to warm up. And the action climax is a bit of a boring butchers shop of a battle, like Starship Troopers.

Like that Robert Heinlein classic, the main characters are a super-smart young woman and an intellectually challenged partner. But Heinlein is more real-life. It can happen that friends find their differing academic attainments separate them. One of them struggles to keep-up and may have to take extraordinary steps, to maintain the relationship, and dig deep in his character to find his own special qualities.

Much of the ER Mason plot is like a collage of standard science-fiction props. The resort to Men In Black suffers from a change in public perception. They used to be an urban legend but now they are a movie franchise, with a consequent loss in an atmosphere of strangeness, necessary to science fiction. And that is so much more hard to come by, now that SF, vulgarised to sci-fi, has become mainstream, turn-of-a-switch entertainment.

So far, I have not said much to commend this ER Mason work. I have odiously compared him to Immortals of the genre. But I have to say that this is a writer who might have (and possibly has) written something of appeal to more than just this current generation. Tho, that in itself is enough and as much as most writers may hope for.

“Fatal Boarding” was a more classical, and less eclectic, approach than The Aurora City. Both books are about deadly threats, in which the Creation is a spiritual hierarchy, more like the old religion than the new materialism. The former story is somber and solitary, whereas the latter is much more colorful and crowded with incident. The Aurora City storylines are weaved into an intriguing puzzle that turns the pages. There is plenty of good humor, too, like the main character, who shrinks guiltily from his impossible good works being found out. The occasion, that they are found out, furnishes one of the most moving passages in the book.

There is even a light-handed touch of philosophy, in a world or a universe, that seems it must have soldiers as well as saints.

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Conquerors of Nimeya

by Kelvin S Douglas.

Despite the tacky title suggestive of some over-blown war comic, this author has the talent to write about ordinary life of unglamorous civilians, yet hold the readers interest. This, in fact, he does for much of the narrative. This is not easy to do, in such a long novel (the first installment of a series).

But it is necessary to say straightaway that the edition, I downloaded in June 2018, was so full of typos that it could not be recommended in such a degraded form. Unless you enjoy the challenge of decifering this deconstructionist art form. Worth the efffort, perhaps, but many will not think so.

Apparently, a voice recognition software has been allowed untrammelled interpretation of the authors message. The text needs a thoro overhaul. Grammar is garbled, so that sentences have to be reconstructed in ones mind, like stumbling over obstructive terrain.

Likewise, one has to make semantic substitutions! I had to pause a moment to consider an “embezzled” banner, guessing it must mean: emblazoned. A couple of times, we learned that a hat “adored” someones head, not merely adorned it. The word, “tamed”, stood in for goodness knows what meanings: teemed or tanned or? And these are only an insignificant sample of the general confusion.

I have made blunders as bad or worse than this, in my books, from errant voice software, but have corrected (most of) them, when discovered. Author, author, for your own good, as well as your readers, please do likewise.
(I did seriously wonder whether the writer was not as near to the home of English as his Scottish nom de plume implied.)

As a child, I would be impatient to get thru the boring peacetime events, to read the war story. In this book, now that I’m old, I rather regreted the diversion of the tale to the cares of Empire. I was not impressed by the surprise elevation of the narrator, I thought just an ordinary Joe, to secret member of the aristocracy. It was an irrelevance, like the onset of war. At least the war was honestly told, with all the gory detail, while the heroics keep the reader tagging along.

The author has the sympathy to imagine the thoughts of all his characters, to whatever extremities they are driven, to react against brutal prejudice. He gives a tolerable gloss on the appearances and mentalities of other humanoids. He has a keen awareness of the depths of corruption that riddle society from top to bottom.

The setting is some planet, with technology at about the level of the beginning of 20th century Earth. And with a like stunted moral progress. This is implicit in the political frustrations of the contenders, whose intimate thoughts the author shares with us.

Also implicit is the value of good friends, across social barriers, in a hostile world.

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Neptune Crossing


Jeffrey A Carver.

This future drama is firmly set in the time it was written, after Voyager 2 took the first photos of Neptune. And when chaos theory, popularised by James Gleick, was a talking point. It is to the 1990s, what the Manhattan project legacy of atomic piles, was to the 1950s, propagandised, as was this outrageous menace to future generations, into a panacea, that lingers on to this unfortunate day. I don’t remember Carver being guilty of this dangerous delusion, that still besets many a science-fiction.

Carver has republished his books from the traditional paperback publishing houses, into e-book form. He is a professional, who, I gather, conducts classes, which serve to emphasise that status. And it shows in his writing, that keeps in touch with the moment, so that the reader lives events as they happen.

This is dramatic, at the climax, with all the awkwardness involved in trying to steal a spaceship. However, the rest of the long narrative may be too introverted to convert readily to the cinema. Dramatic or not, the tale offers a steady supply of objectionable characters. The author also does a fair job of the more agreeable souls. And even in so exotic a spot as Charon, the moon of Pluto, the drudgery of the working man makes itself felt.

The narrative character finds himself host to an alien mentality, which is like characterising a split personality. He cannot tell the doctor of his condition without being diagnosed as psychotic. The personal conversation of John Bandicut must serve as a self therapy.

The plot does make the intelligent supposition that First Contact may be with a much older and more benevolent life form. The outcome owes something to that of "2001" by Arthur C Clarke. It is not really credible but rather something contrived, to set off the sequel from a radically different setting, while implausibly preserving the previously created character.

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The First Indigan


Charles Kaluza.

The name, Kaluza rings a bell with regard to Kaluza-Klein theory of an extra dimension. And this staple fare of space travel does make an appearance, or rather disappearance, before the end. This long drawn-out story is a reasonably constructed plot, provided you are willing to suspend disbelief. In particular, one must reject the possibility that mankind will be saved from imminent nuclear suicide, by the sudden emergence of a galactic power.

However, it helps that the author begins with what he knows and loves, a holiday white-water canoeing or Rapids riding. At the same time, family loss has made it also into his vale of tears.

The authors reflections, on the meaning of it all, are to recur in the company of new friends. Their meeting place and purpose are firmly in the realm of science fiction. He takes some trouble to characterise their society.

The space pioneers re-enact the British naval celebration of “Where’s the Beef?” While being a joyful occasion, their condition is somewhat like the long uncertain sea voyages of the old days, when victuals had to be inspected as fit to eat.

I think Walter Mondale, a Vice President contesting for the presidency, queried his opponents policies by asking: “Where’s the Beef?”

One would expect a space-faring mankind to make use of asteroids as ready-made bases. Tho, I couldn’t help thinking: But not like that!
The means of propulsion hark back to the Orion project!

That old chestnut, nuclear fission, again fantasy powers a space-craft. And just as certainly, no mid-flight transition would take place, from nuclear fission to nuclear fusion.

If the construction of space-ships is not the authors strong point, the construction of the human body is much more in his line. Like a master ship refitter, he takes us thru the virtuoso surgeries of his imagination. And even this is only part of his service of care for the health of the community and crew.

Indeed the plot is based on a small sample of people chosen to be handmaids of extra-terrestrial evolution.
This is a worth-while change from the standard SF plot of mankind colonising the Galaxy. The story does end like a conventional soap opera. Mankind is caught between helpful and hostile aliens, which is a plausible scenario. But that is only the end, and even here, a serious under-lying point is being made, that it is questionable whether aggressive humanity is fit to colonise anything.

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Derek Vortimer MBA – Manager of Worlds.

By Uncle Jasper

(Robert Lawson).

Having finished reading this extravaganza, I was so disoriented from its mundane beginnings, that I had to go back and check that they were really as unassuming as I thought.

I had almost abandoned this novel, as its eccentricities of plot gathered. Even a fantasy must have some appearance of internal coherence or just be a jumble of out-pourings from a not too interesting unconscious mind.

However, I went back to it. At chapter 3, the ambush, not only the main characters suffered an ambush, so did this reader. The narrative hit its stride and took on the character of a grotesque satire, and burlesque of The Island Of Dr Moreau.

It is a hilarious parable on the arrogance of scientific experimentation out of control, which is the dangerous state of the modern world.

The story takes a conventional turn into escape and flight. But the authors satirical bent finds further vent in the character of Lady Cisely. Not to put too fine a point on it, she is an insufferable snob.

Harriet Beecher Stowe said, amongst a multitude of other intelligent observations, that the only reason, why slavery stood at all, was that many people were too humane to inflict it, in all its rigor.

As the embodiment of the prejudices of the class system, Lady Cisley, forever spouting the crass sentiments of the privileged, does inflict it, in all its rigor, rendering her, well-nigh intolerable, even to its class custodians, her peers and very family. Tho, even she shrinks from her own passions, at their most pitiless. And just because her company is intolerable, she is not denied rescue, when in dire need.

The narrative character, Derek Vortimer has just won a fluff degree. This is of the sort that afflict modern society, by taking over from people with a calling, who created a great cause, and turning it into a bland clueless routine, in making of it their meal ticket.

CG Jung said that all cultures have the archetypal story of the hero. That is the story of the young man, in this case Derek, who has to make his way and establish himself, in the world, against all the odds. The world, in question, is an alternative reality (of Sultania and the Carthaginian Empire) which, in folklore, would have been called a fairy-tale world.

The young man knows he is lucky, but may not know that his luck is his youth. As an envious old man, I remember the time, long long ago, when presentable youth alone was enough to make me considerable, even by young women.

The young women characters are an assertive, indeed heroic bunch, playing to a secret male desire, that the other gender share the burden of strength. The courtship banter has the appropriate wit and zest. You wouldn’t find its more intimate moments in a Dickens novel but the charitable ending would not be out of place there.

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The Yeomen of England

by Christopher Nuttall.

The title gives the misleading impression of a perhaps rather corny tale, steeped in English history, with that good old-fashioned title of Yeomen, which symbolises the emergence of a class to independent citizenship. This is also true of young Muslims, from immigrant families, growing up in contemporary Britain.

They are the narrators of the horrendous invasion of planet Earth. Their streets were about the only place on Earth, outside my own home round, with which I have been remotely familiar.
I can tell you the youthful memory, of myself there, is as of an alien. And I don’t want to make the imaginative effort to be myself again.

The “Posleen” invaders are more like prehistoric human cannibal hordes, than extraterrestrial aliens. It is just that the armaments are drastically up-dated!
Also, the aliens are compared to centaurs. The myth of centaurs arose from people, terrified by the unfamiliar sight of warriors riding horses, thinking that they were a new sort of ferocious man-beast. Not so farfrom the truth, after all.
So, the centaur analogy is another subconscious cue that the aliens are monstrously masked humans.

In truth, it takes a lot of educated guesswork about aliens, to escape merely setting up a distorting mirror in front of ourselves.

Some elements of the imagined inter-planetary war have a military plausibility, however. That includes the disastrous scale of destruction wrought by a superior assailant. Also, the only hope of resistance would depend on technological help from other, more supportive aliens.

Certainly, I could believe that the author has army experience. The ebb and flow of the fortunes of war make the narrative unput-downable, over a long story. The plot is suitably devious.

As the book reads with pace, so the author may have written with pace. This is suggested by his undue repetition of the adverb “grimly”, which could have been cut perhaps 30 times or more, without any adverse effect.

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