Tag Archives: book review

Book Review: The Gryb by A.E. Van Vogt

The Gryb by A.E. Van VogtThe Gryb is a collection of six science fiction stories from the 1940s and early 1950’s culled from Van Vogt’s work in Astounding Science Fiction magazine, Thrilling Wonder Stories, and Planet Stories. All told, the quality of the works range from good to excellent.

“The Gryb” – Two men stranded on the surface of Europa struggle to survive on their way toward the nearest spaceport, only to find themselves hunted by the carnivorous and scale-armored beast known as the Gryb.

“Humans, Go Home” – Dav and Miliss, a human couple living on the planet Jana, have been assisting the primitive and violent population advance toward a more civilized society. However, they are eventually arrested by Prime Minister Jaer on the charge of cultural corruption. At the same time, the Janae king, Rocquel, returns from a year long absence and must convince the nobility that he is still capable of leading them toward the civilized age promoted by the humans, but can he save Dav and Miliss from execution… or is there a higher power at work?

“The Problem Professor” – Bob Merritt, member of the U.S. Spaceship Society, has been tasked with drumming up support for the cause of sending a man into space. His organization has the technology and personnel. What they require are letters of recommendation and funding from some of the country’s most prominent scientists and statesmen in order to convince the President to institute a space program. One such celebrity is Professor Hillier, eccentric and reclusive physicist. Another is a mildly interested Hollywood movie star. It doesn’t help that Bob’s wife views him as a failure for his inability to provide a luxurious living—which she might have had she remained with her first husband who made his fortune after they divorced.

“The Invisibility Gambit” – With intention to retire and raise a family, legendary space explorer and prospector Jim Rand take his final voyage on an Earthbound spaceship from the far end of the Milky Way. Soon after boarding, Rand encounters a familiar face and decides to take the man into his confidence, all the while being threatened by a group of thugs who have mistaken Rand for another famous adventurer, Artur Blord. However, prospects for increasing his fortune on the planet Zand might delay Rand’s retirement… but is he being unwittingly manipulated in that direction?

“Rebirth: Earth”  – Aboard a WWII cargo plane, Squadron Leader Clair is shocked to find a stowaway on board, one who consistently escapes incarceration and speaks with knowledge of future events. The stowaway insists that Clair allow him to man one of the machine guns, else the cargo plane—and all hands—will be destroyed. To prove himself, the stranger surrenders a book published in what is now New York City, but will be renamed Nach Hitler unless Clair’s mission is successful in delivering its cargo, and the only way to assure that is to believe the impossible claims of this inscrutable stowaway…

“The Star Saint” – Aboard the Colonist 12 starship, engineer and leader-elect of the human colonists, Leonard Hanley is charged with investigating the inexplicable destruction of the human colony on a planet called Ariel. Assisting him in this matter is the enigmatic explorer known as Mark Rogan, an alien capable of traversing the galaxy without need of a vessel. Viewing Rogan as competition, Hanley insists on being the first to solve the mystery of the dead Ariel colony only to find himself in a near fatal battle of Man versus Nature.

Book Review: Supermind by A.E. Van Vogt

Space vampires known as Dreeghs land on Earth in an attempt to dominate the planet and feed off humans, despite the fact that the planet is under protection from a being known as the Great Galactic. The Great Galactic uses lesser races such as Kluggs and Lennels to carry out its missions. These races are considered to be Observers and the Dreeghs begin by seeking them out to be destroyed first, thereby opening the floodgates for a full invasion.Supermind by A.E. Van Vogt

In doing so, the first two Dreeghs to crash on Earth somehow assume that any random newspaper reporter will have all of the information they need to find the local Observer for Earth. After murdering two humans for nourishment, the Dreeghs encounter a journalist named William Leigh when he accompanies a strange woman on a mission to confront the vampires and warn them off.

The woman is later revealed to be Patricia Ungarn, daughter of renown Professor Ungarn. The space vampires conclude that this professor, who resides on a meteorite out near Jupiter, is the local Observer working for the Great Galactic. As such, he must be eliminated before the fleet of Dreegh vessels arrives in the solar system to take over Earth. However, the Great Galactic has foreseen this and initiates a plan to defeat the vampires by placing its enormous intelligence first into William Leigh and then into the mind of the Ungarn’s dim space freighter pilot, Steve Hanardy.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, research scientist Doctor Gloge is experimenting with the Omega serum, intended to increase human evolution in stages from several hundred thousand years to—ultimately—one million years. Frustrated by years of failed experimentation on animals, Gloge chooses two human subjects who work in lower positions for the Project Alpha research facility. During chance meetings with them, the scientist successfully injects them with the serum using an air gun. Each reacts in their own unique—and unexpected—way…

Did any of the above make sense to you? Do you see how the space vampire plot relates to the Omega serum story? No? Well, don’t worry, you’re not alone.

Van Vogt is a legend, but Supermind is, by far, not one of the grand master’s finest works. It’s a conglomeration of three short stories poorly stitched together (“Asylum”, “The Proxy Intelligence”, and “Research Alpha”). A byproduct of this attempt to blend and connect the three included minor rewrites that inserted some characters from each story into the others, however loosely.

The concept of space vampires has no appeal to me at all, but the final section of the novel, based on “Research Alpha,” is a fantastic story and a fine example of Van Vogt at his best.

There were a few bothersome aspects early in the novel that either threw me briefly out of the story or gave me a chuckle such as odd character reactions, jarring jump cuts where characters abruptly turned up in a new location, and a handful of cheesy lines of narrative: “…her eyes struck me like a blow,” “Vampire victory is near,” and “His brain tensed.” Oy vey!!

I would not recommend Supermind as a first book for readers interested in Van Vogt. Instead, I suggest beginning with Slan.

Book Review: The Sands of Mars by Arthur C. Clarke

Former SF writer turned journalist Martin Gibson is given the honor of being the first and only passenger aboard the cruise ship Ares on its journey from Earth to Mars. His task is to chronicle both his travels and his time on the red planet and report back on the progress of the Earth colony there.The Sands of Mars by Arthur C. Clarke

Despite a challenging launch to Gibson’s adventure—during which he learns just how much actual space flight differs from what he’d imagined in his novels—he eventually befriends the crew and, to his consternation, discovers a personal connection to the youngest of them, Jimmy Spencer.

While en route to Mars, the Ares is contacted by Earth and told to expect a rocket containing a vital serum intended to battle Martian Fever. However, the rocket’s course is such that the odds of intercepting it are slim unless the Ares is able to contact the rocket’s navigational transceiver and adjust its course. With some jury rigging of equipment, two of the crewman accomplish the mission and the serum is procured.

Destined to land on the Martian moon of Phobos, the Ares is inexplicably diverted to Deimos where it lands and transfers Gibson, his luggage, and supplies to a rocket which will take him to the surface of Mars.

At first, Gibson finds himself unimpressed by the alien landscape and the domed town of Port Lowell, the largest city on Mars. However, as the days pass, Gibson warms to the place and begins to explore—with results that could change the evolution of the red planet and turn Mars into mankind’s second home… if only Earth could be convinced to cooperate.

The Sands of Mars was Arthur C. Clarke’s first finished novel, but was published after Prelude to Space, and the similar concept of a writer hired to report on an expedition was obvious. However, unlike Prelude to Space—with its utter lack of tension and plot—The Sands of Mars was an engaging story with interesting characters (something Clarke was not always known for) and enough foreshadowing, twists, and turns to hold my attention until the end. Clarke did not belabor the reader with lengthy infoblocks of scientific jargon, but kept a steady pace, revealing just enough scientific fact to maintain credibility.

 

 

Book Review: Earthlight by Arthur C. Clarke

While tensions simmer between Earth and its colonies on Mars, Venus, and some of Saturn’s moons (collectively known as the Federation), Earth intelligence agent Bertram Sadler travels to the moon observatory in search of a spy leaking information to the Federation.

Working undercover as a cost accountant performing a financial audit of the observatory, Sadler gains access to all departments and staff members—who at first greet him with suspicion. Over time, Sadler builds a list of top suspects while both the Earth and the Federation create weapons of mass destruction in a prelude to war.

The first half of Earthlight is slow and plodding as Sadler meets various members of the observatory’s staff and is schooled on various as aspects of their operations and of astronomy. The only two interesting plot points are the unannounced landing of government ships in an area of the moon normally off-limits, and the two astronomers who decide to venture out in a vehicle to investigate.

The tension in the story begins to build in the second half when the observatory receives a communication warning the staff to dismantle critical equipment and take shelter underground. A war is coming, one that will decide who has control of the moon’s abundant supply of heavy metals deep within its core.

 

Earthlight by Arthur C Clarke

Book Review: Prelude to Space by Arthur C. Clarke

In 1976, historian Dirk Alexson is sent to England by the University of Chicago to document for posterity the first manned mission to the moon sponsored by a private company called Interplanetary. While in the UK, he interviews and befriends some of the scientists and administrators involved in the project and receives a number of lessons in astrophysics and engineering.

However, Alexson is given very little face time with the crew of the Prometheus until they fly to the deserts of Australia for the actual launch. In fact, of the five possible crew members, only three will be chosen for the mission and that choice is not even made until the entire team reaches Australia.

Prelude to Space reads more like a documentary than a novel. The only character development occurs when our skeptical historian slowly becomes convinced during his assignment that landing a man on the moon is, in fact, feasible and exciting.

There is almost no tension in the story save for one of the astronauts worrying about his pregnant wife. Any risk to the astronauts’ lives is treated lightly. Instead, the narrative merely follows Alexson as he chronicles the events around him.

Much of the book is comprised of info dumps ranging from the backgrounds of some of the characters (as if Clarke just wanted to get that out of the way in order to focus on the technology) to engineering specifications about the Prometheus and space flight in general. Arthur C. Clarke’s scientific prowess is evident in this book, to the point where it eclipses what little story exists. For example, as if an afterthought or an attempt to manufacture tension near the end of the story, a religious zealot fatally fails in an attempt to sabotage the Prometheus a few days before its launch. The character was introduced and killed off within a few pages, all of which seemed pointless.

If you’re looking for an exhilarating fictional tale of man’s first foray to the moon, Prelude to Space will likely be a verbose and tedious disappointment.

Prelude to Space by Arthur C. Clarke

Book Review: The Time Machine and Other Stories by H.G. Wells

The Time Machine and Other StoriesFour tales comprise this collection, the first of which is the story for which H. G. Wells is most known, The Time Machine. The adventures of a time traveller who builds a machine that propels him 800,000 years into a future that appears utopian only—and quite literally—on the surface has been reprinted thousands of times and adapted into at least a half dozen films that I know of.

However, the other three stories in the collection were new to me: “The Empire of the Ants”, “The Country of the Blind”, and “The Man Who Could Work Miracles.”

Of these, the first is forgettable, the second compelling, and the third entertaining. In “The Country of the Blind,” we join professional mountain climber, Núñez, as he survives a fall from Parascotopetl in Ecuador only to discovers a hidden land occupied by a population of blind natives. Núñez learns that these people have been without sight for generations and somewhere along the way, lost all knowledge and belief in the world beyond their own village. Núñez recalls the old adage, “In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” He quickly learns just how wrong he is…

In “The Man Who Could Work Miracles,” a nebbish clerk with the unlikely name of George McWhirter Fotheringay does not believe in miracles and is all too happily debating their impossibility in the Long Dragon pub when, to his utter astonishment, he performs a miracle by ordering an oil lamp to turn upside down and continue burning. This leads Fotheringay on a journey of escalating marvels that eventually leads to global consequences…