Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review: The Seven-Per-Cent Solution by Nicholas Meyer

A lost journal by Doctor John H. Watson—discovered by Nick Meyer’s uncle in the attic of a home in Hampshire, England—tells the tale of Watson’s desperation to permanently exorcise Sherlock Holmes of the demons of cocaine addiction. In seeking advice from a fellow physician, Watson learns of the unorthodox methods of a Viennese psychiatrist.

Meanwhile, Holmes has been spending his days and nights in the dogged pursuit and general stalking of Professor James Moriarty, the “Napoleon of crime!” as the famous detective has come to consider him. Surely, the fiend is up to something and must be stopped.

For his part, Moriarty, a humble math professor, has no idea why Holmes is shadowing him and implores the assistance of Watson who believes the genteel man to be honest. Together with Sherlock’s older brother, Mycroft, Watson convinces a reluctant Moriarty to travel to Vienna hoping that Sherlock will follow.

The plan works perfectly, and Watson “guides” Holmes to the residence of Doctor Sigmund Freud where both physicians attempt to rehabilitate the master detective and cure him of his hideous addiction through hypnosis. Needless to say, Holmes’s withdrawal and convalescence are torturous to both himself and Watson.

At the same time, a young catatonic woman is brought into the local hospital and Freud is summoned to look in on her. Holmes and Watson decide to join him. Freud again employs hypnosis to discover that the woman is actually Nancy Slater, the American widow of the late Baron von Leinsdorf and had spent her honeymoon in an attic!

Holmes, as usual, applies his extraordinary powers of observation to determine, based on her physical condition, that the Baroness had been abducted, bound, and imprisoned in an attic somewhere near the river among closely constructed factories and warehouses.

From here the game is—as Holmes would say—afoot as our intrepid trio attempts to solve this nefarious crime.

I’d first read The Seven Per-Cent Solution over 15 years ago, but no longer had my copy. I was fortunate to meet Nicholas Meyer at the Farpoint convention in February 2017 wherein I purchased a newer edition and had it signed. Meyer is, of course, the directThe Seven-Per-Cent Solution Book Coveror of many excellent films including Time After Time, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. He also co-wrote those Star Trek films along with Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. He also wrote the screenplay based on the novel I am currently discussing.

The Seven Per-Cent Solution is a thoroughly enjoyable read that felt like a solid Sherlock Holmes tale. Narrative, pace, and dialog were mostly faithful to Doyle’s work, and a young Sigmund Freud was represented in a way that honored his reputation and abilities.

 

Phil with Nicholas Meyer Phil with Nicholas Meyer

 

 

Book Review: Beyond Belief edited by Richard J. Hurley

I came upon this anthology of eight SF stories while volunteering to sort used books for my local library’s annual book sale. I was intrigued when I saw some of the names included in the collection, especially Asimov, Clarke, Sturgeon, and Matheson.

There were only two stories I would consider weaker than the rest, “The Invasion” by Robert Willey and “Phoenix” by Clark Ashton Smith. The other six were well done, including…

“The Hardest Bargain” by Evelyn E. Smith.  Earth is a remote planet without diplomatic relations with the other solar systems. While still led by humans, the planet is primarily managed by robots. Food is purchased purchased or bartered from alien traders since radiation from the last global conflict sterilized much of the soil. However, when one alien visitor offers technology that can remove the radiation and make the land fertile once more, it’s a good idea to give him exactly what he asks for in return…

“It’s Such a Beautiful Day” by Isaac Asimov. In a utopian future, a device known simply as a Door has been invented that can teleport people to the location of their choice. Yet when a Door malfunctions, one boy discovers the mystery and wonder of actually walking outside in the grass under the sunlight. When he comes to prefer this over the Door, his teacher recommends psychotherapy…

“The Man Who Lost the Sea” by Theodore Sturgeon. You lay there in your spacesuit, half-buried in the sand while someone chatters at you about a toy airplane with pieces that break off. All you want to do is listen to the ocean in the dead of night and watch the satellite pass by overhead in the white-speckled heavens, but perhaps you’re not really near the ocean and perhaps that airplane that broke apart wasn’t truly an airplane…

“Third from the Sun” by Richard Matheson. A rocket scientist convinces his family and neighbors that their world is doomed, but he knows of a planet in a distant solar system where they can start a new life. They just need to get to the ship…

“Keyhole” by Murray Leinster. Mankind intends to settle on the moon, regardless if the native population of small, furry creatures wants them there or not. After an astronaut is killed by one of the lunar creatures,  a scientist captures one in an attempt to learn its species weaknesses. However, humans are not the only ones who gain knowledge from the experience…

“History Lesson” by Arthur C. Clarke. Sensing their doom in the encroaching ice covering most of the planet, the last members of the human race store a number of relics in a stone vault atop a high mountain. These relics are found 5,000 years later by an expedition from Venus, but when the reptilian scientists run a film showing an example of life on Earth, they’re not quite sure what to make of it…

 

Beyond Belief book cover

Book Review: The Golden Apples of the Sun by Ray Bradbury

Several of the 22 stories in this collection had been previously published in such magazines as The New Yorker, Charm, American Mercury, Saturday Evening Post, The Reporter, Epoch, and others. Although there were a handful of tales that I found to be lackluster and anticlimactic (“I See You Never,” “The Wilderness,” “Invisible Boy,” “The Garbage Collector” and a few others), the sheer variety and breadth of topics covered clearly demonstrates Bradbury’s prowess as a master storyteller (as if we didn’t know this already!)

My favorites include:

“The Fog Horn” – Attracted year after year by the sound of a fog horn installed near a lighthouse, a legendary and elusive sea creature finally decides to attack.

“The April Witch” – A young witch with the ability to inhabit other creatures desperately wants to know what it’s like to fall in love.

“The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl” – After murdering a man in his home, the killer becomes obsessed with removing all trace of his presence—over every nook and cranny of the house.

“The Murderer” – An average man in search of peace and quiet destroys all of his electronic devices in a society where constant chatter from watches, radios, computers, phones, and TV have pervaded—nay, INVADED!—everyday life.

“A Sound of Thunder” – A travel company offers safaris to any year in the past, but disobeying the rules even slightly could be a mistake that follows you back to the future!

“Powerhouse” – A married couple traveling into town on horseback takes refuge against a storm in a powerhouse. Though she does not believe in God, the wife has an electrifying out of body experience.

“The Meadow” – A construction crew is ordered to tear down the backlot structures of a movie studio, where sets from every corner of the world have provided a second home to Smith, the night watchman. Determined to restore it all, Smith picks up a hammer and begins to rebuild it all, to the consternation of the wealthy investor who ordered the demolition.

“The Great Fire” – Marianne is visiting her uncle and aunt for the summer, upsetting her uncle’s peaceful existence. Every evening, Marianne dashes out of the house when her boyfriend arrives, giving her uncle hope that marriage is in the air and Marianne will soon move out—but Grandma knows the joke’s on him!

“Hail and Farewell” – A 43-year-old man, who appears no more than twelve, moves from town to town every few years masquerading as an orphan or a runaway in order to be adopted by childless couples.

 

The Golden Apples of the Sun by Ray Bradury

Book Review: Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing

Through all ten essays and a brief collection of poems, the elation of master craftsman Ray Bradbury is infectious. Zen in the Art of Writing is pure joy; a celebration of the craft and labor of storytelling. There is not much in the way of writing advice here, but I was inspired nevertheless.

In the essay “The Joy of Writing,” Bradbury encourages writers to execute their craft with zest and gusto, with a sense of love and fun. For if you are writing without zest, without gusto, without love, and without fun, you are only half a writer.

In “Run Fast, Stand Still,” he reveals one of his strategies for getting started as a writer—create a list of nouns. Specifically, things that interest you, exhilarate you, or scare you and then use them as story prompts. Some of Bradbury’s nouns included THE LAKE, THE NIGHT, THE CRICKETS, THE SCYTHE, THE CARNIVAL, THE SKELETON, THE MIRROR MAZE, and many more.

Bradbury relates how he reached back into his childhood memories from Illinois to create his famous novel, Dandelion Wine in the essay, “Just This Side of Byzantium: Dandelion Wine.”

In “The Secret Mind,” he reflects on his dreadful time in Ireland writing the screenplay for Moby Dick for director John Huston, only to later discover that his experiences in Ireland inspired several short stories and plays.

While writing a two-act drama based on his hit novel, Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury recalls when—unable to write at home due to the distraction of his children—he rented typewriters in the basement of the UCLA library at the rate of 10 cents for every 30 minutes in order to write the novel. All of this is told in the aptly titled essay, “Investing Dimes: Fahrenheit 451.”

No examination of Bradbury’s work would be complete without taking “The Long Road to Mars.” In June 1949, Bradbury was invited to New York City by writer Norman Corwin, who introduced him to Walter Bradbury (no relation) of Doubleday Books. During the conversation, the topic of Ray’s “Martian stories” came up and Walter suggested that he find a common theme among them to create a novel—and The Martian Chronicles was born.

These are but a few examples of the engaging essays that left me, a burgeoning speculative fiction writer, feeling renewed and reenergized toward my craft and possibilities that lay ahead.

Zen in the Art of Writing Cover

Book Review: If I Can’t Sleep, You Can’t Sleep by Christopher D. Ochs

If I Can’t Sleep, You Can’t Sleep is divided into two sections. The first section is comprised of five original fairy tales and the second, five speculative fiction short stories. All are splendidly written and demonstrate Chris Ochs’s breadth and range as a storyteller.

My favorites include:

The Woman in the Sand” – A Roman citizen, exiled to a remote island, discovers the broken stone statue of a beautiful woman buried in the sand. After finding her jaw, the man successfully reattaches it—and soon lives to regret it…

The Tower of the Moon” – Following a radiant white doe through a forest under a full moon, Hunter discovers a majestic tower in a clearing. Upon entering, he finds a series of doors, each one leading to bizarre and different world, but will one of them finally lead Hunter to the white doe?

The Troll of Helenbak” – A famished troll captures a fair maiden only to learn that she’s “not quite right in the head.” Both he, and the brave prince who vows to rescue her, get a bit more than they bargained for…

The Christmas Monster” – Three miscreant students are visited by the Archbishop during The Feast of St. Nicholas. He gives each of them a small, curious gift that turns out be far more nefarious than the usual lump of coal…

No Children Aloud” – In order to join a club, three junior high-school students must pass initiation by confronting a ghost in an abandoned sanatorium. Afterward, they find themselves with a slight communication problem…

 

If I Can't Sleep, You Can't Sleep Book Cover

Book Review: Alfred Hitchcock Presents Stories My Mother Never Told Me

If my mother ever told me the stories included in this collection, half of them would have put me to sleep. After reading two excellent  Twilight Zone anthologies in December, I came to this Alfred Hitchcock collection expecting stories of similar quality. Regrettably, I was underwhelmed.

Oh, there were a few gems among the 13 tales, but some, such as “Smart Sucker” by Richard Wormser and  “Hostage” by Don Stanford, built up to anti-climactic endings. “Witch’s Money” by John Collier began with an interesting plot, but seemed to lose momentum and wander off.

My favorites from the collection include:

When a young woman commits suicide from a broken heart, her father decides to exact a long, slow revenge against the man responsible in “The Wall-to-Wall Grave” by Andrew Benedict.

American author Ambrose Bierce vanished in Chihuahua, Mexico in 1914. However, his final tale was found inside an unusual bottle found in the obscure village of Oxoxoco. Will “The Secret of the Bottle” by Gerald Kersch reveal the mystery of Ambrose Bierce’s final days?

Ellen Baker returned from a train ride a very different person— distant, cold, aloof. Worse, she found an unsavory new boyfriend who is prone to violence and seems to have Ellen mesmerized. Determined to protect his best friend, Eddie follows Ellen aboard another train, only discover the eerie truth about her boyfriend during “A Short Trip Home” by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

When Fred Perkins receives an invitation from wealthy socialites to join them on their next hunting expedition, his first impulse is to decline. However, his wife and friends convince him that it would be a step forward for him socially. When the big day arrives, however, Fred wishes he followed his instincts and ignored “An Invitation to the Hunt” by George Hitchcock.

Every morning before breakfast Caroline’s husband Pete is more than a bit surly, he’s literally murderous! As such, Caroline often finds herself making “Adjustments” by George Mandel.

When Robert and Janet Allison decide to remain at their country cottage during the first month of autumn instead of leaving at the end of summer as they typically do, the locals seem strangely taken aback. Worse, bizarre calamities begin to occur that make the Allisons wish they had continued to be “The Summer People” by Shirley Jackson.

Traveling through Maine on what was supposed to be a sightseeing tour, Mr. Ketchum is pulled over for speeding in the seaside hamlet of Zachary, Maine. After being detained overnight, the police take Ketchum to the judge’s house where he expects to pay his fine and finally be released, until he learns a horrible truth at the hands of “The Children of Noah” by Richard Matheson.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Stories My Mother Never Told Me