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Book Review: Infinity Two edited by Robert Hoskins

Continuing my recent trend of reading classic speculative fiction anthologies, Infinity Two brings us stories from Poul Anderson, Arthur C. Clarke, James E. Gunn, J.F. Bone, William F. Nolan, and more.  For this reader, the gems of the collection include…

Adam and Eve prepare to restart the human race under strict guidance from God, until Adam starts looking behind the scenes in Michael Fayette’s “The Monster in the Clearing.”

J.F. Bone takes us across the galaxy to a world where humans go into business with a species of cannibalistic, but highly civilized crustaceans. While labor relations seem to be precarious at first, a pheromonal discovery leads to a new and profitable venture in “The Scents of IT.”

Surrounded by technology’s modern conveniences, Sara begins to recall her grandmother’s luddite attitude toward machines, just before every appliance in Sara’s house seems to conspire against her in “The Technological Revolution” by James E. Gunn.

In “The Other Way Around” by Howard L. Myers, a cantankerous Merlin reluctantly takes on a pupil, Raedulf, on his way to Stonehenge. As Raedulf soon learns, Merlin might just be a man out of time…

After surviving a near-fatal accident, a middle-aged man is restored to physical health by a radical series of procedures, one that leaves him in mental and emotional turmoil  in “Legion” by Russell Bates.

“GORF! GORF! GORF!” is the name of the operation when a bullfrog swallows a crateful of experimental growth pellets, eats a Corvette (complete with driver), and traverses 50 miles at a leap! William F. Nolan leads us on a whimsical hunt that includes the military, government bureaucrats, and pellet inventor’s own lovely daughter.

Robert Silverberg leaves us “In Entropy’s Jaws” as we follow wealthy telepath and businessman John Skein on a quest back and forth through time to find the panacea to the psychological breakdown that cost him his career as Communicator. Skein knows his answer lies on a planet with purple sand, blue leaves, orange seas… and a withered skullfaced man with all the answers. Will Skein find the correct world before his fugue episodes destroy him?

Infinity Two Cover

Book Review: 13 Great Stories of Science Fiction edited by Groff Conklin

It’s a rare occasion when I enjoy every story in an anthology almost equally. This is one of those times. All 13 tales in this collection are, as the title boasts, great.  I suppose this shouldn’t be a surprise given the talent involved including Arthur C. Clarke, Ted Sturgeon, Poul Anderson, Damon Knight, and others. However, were I forced to choose favorites, those would be…

“The War is Over” by Algis Budrys – Years after an Earth ship carrying an urgent message crash lands on an alien world, the inhabitants construct a vessel to return the message to Earth, though they’re not entirely certain why or even how they learned to build such a craft…

In “Allegory,” William T. Powers offers an entertaining yet frightening glimpse into a humanity controlled by computers and where independent thinking is considered a mental aberration.

In John Wyndham’s “Compassion Circuit,” Janet Shand, a fragile and fretful housewife, is forced to come to terms with Hester, an android servant programmed with emotions. It isn’t long before Janet begins to rely on Hester for her daily care—until she becomes convinced that there is a better way to live through robotics.

Arthur C. Clarke delivers a brilliant send up of corporate guile in “Silence, Please!” To get even with unscrupulous businessman Sir Roderick Fenton, a professor invents a portable sound-cancelling device and sells the patent to Fenton. The professor’s associates are mystified by his decision, until they observe how the devices are used when sold to the public, putting Fenton in the government’s crosshairs.

In Wyman Guin’s “Volpla,” a scientist creates a new, highly intelligent biological species with the ability to fly, speak, adapt, and reproduce. He fabricates a backstory that they had originated on another world and only recently came to Earth. Surely, this gag will spark the intended panic in the zoological community once the creatures are released into the wild. Unfortunately, the biologist’s plan backfires when the Volpla’s take a drastic course of action to preserve their race…

Alan Nelson’s lighthearted “Soap Opera” delivers the hysterical tale of a hapless young member of a soap manufacturer’s advertising team who experiments with skywriting as a marketing tool. “The words vanish too quickly!” cries the company’s owner, sending Everett Mordecai on a quest to find a more permanent solution—one that covers the entire city of San Francisco…

What happens when the government implants a second personality into its citizens, one that forces them to be docile, to be behave contrary to their natural tendencies? In “Analogues,” Damon Knight deftly presents us with this disturbing possibility…

When a homeless man named Ollie swallows what he think is a nut, he suddenly finds his appetite insatiable, no matter how much he eats. After winning an egg-eating competition by consuming over 100 eggs, Ollie is taken to the hospital to be examined. Shortly after, strange foreign objects materialize in Ollie’s stomach, causing intense pain and swelling. At the same time, two aliens arrive after realizing that their matter transfer device is inside poor Ollie. The question is… now what? We find out in William Morrison’s “Shipping Clerk.”

G.C. Edmondon’s “Technological Retreat” brings us the story of extraterrestrial technology run amuck when humans trade simple Earth goods for a device that can instantly repair damage to any surface by making it malleable enough to reshape. It isn’t long before the aliens begin disseminating the device across the planet, with devastating effects on human evolution.

In Ted Sturgeon’s “The Skills of Xanadu,” a haughty scout sent by an advanced alien race lands on the bucolic world of Xanadu. While reluctantly spending time among the primitive “barbarians” of this world, Bril marks them as ripe for conquest. Yet, he finds their manufacturing abilities beyond comprehension. When Bril finally discovers the source of their power in the form of polished stones worn as part of their clothing, he takes one back to his homeworld—where the true conquest begins.

13 Great SF Stories




Book Review: Galloway’s Gamble by Howard Weinstein

Told as a memoir written by one of the protagonists, Galloway’s Gamble is a story about hope, risk, and the indomitable human spirit. After gunning down her abusive alcoholic husband in 1850’s Texas, Cara Galloway becomes determined to create a new and better life for herself and her sons, Jake and Jamey. What follows is a rollicking, colorful, fast-paced adventure spanning nearly 30 years of the Galloway family. Weinstein takes readers on a delightful and honest journey of love, war, gambling, prejudice, greed, ruin, and triumph through a well-researched backdrop of the Old West. I enjoyed every word of this satisfying tale filled with a motley and endearing cast of wonderful characters. I reckon you will, too.

This latest release from NYT bestselling author Howard Weinstein can be found on Amazon.

Galloway's Gamble by Howard Weinstein

Book Review: Not Bad for a Human by Lance Henriksen with Joseph Maddrey

“One thing I know for sure: God didn’t bring me this far to drop me on my ass.”

Lance Henriksen is well known to SF and horror fans for such films and TV shows as Aliens, The Right Stuff, Millennium, Pumpkinhead, Aliens vs. Predator, and much more.

In his autobiography, Henriksen depicts a childhood fraught with poverty and insecurity with a mother who survived a succession of failed, and sometimes violent, marriages. His brief service in the U.S. Navy was no less problematic and ended in his arrest and discharge after going AWOL.

Wandering across the country and through Europe with a strong passion for art, Henriksen finally found his calling in acting—despite illiteracy. He eventually used scripts to teach himself to read. Over time, he moved from stage to film and, reluctantly, to television, becoming close friends with directors and actors such as James Cameron, Bill Paxton, Ed Harris, and others.

Most of the narrative focuses on Henriksen’s method of embodying the characters he portrays and often breathing life into them by going off script and improvising lines that he feels would be more natural than what had been written. On many occasions, his directors were receptive, other times less so. Many pages are dedicated to his experiences making AliensThe Right Stuff, and Pumpkinhead while an entire chapter is devoted to the arc of Frank Black, his leading character from the Chris Carter series, Millennium. 

Frequent mention is made of Henriksen’s enjoyment of pottery as an art form. When filming on location domestically or overseas, he frequently sought out potters who were creating the most original work. At one point, Henriksen himself had created so many pieces that his wife prompted him to open an online shop.

Though he admits to making a string of low-budget films simply to pay the bills, Henriksen tried to find something redeeming in nearly every character he portrayed and to this day, the septuagenarian still enjoys learning and growing as an actor and exploring new concepts.

It should be noted that I acquired my signed hardcopy edition of Not Bad for a Human directly from Mr. Henriksen at Monster Mania convention in August 2011. In fact, we swapped books. I gave him a copy of my first novel, Testing the Prisoner, and we chatted briefly about independent publishing.

Phil with Lance Henriksen

Lance Henriksen: Not Bad for Human

Book Review: The Rest of the Robots by Isaac Asimov

After releasing I, Robot, Isaac Asimov produced an anthology of eight stories dealing with his Three Laws of Robotics. Some of these are standalone tales published in various magazines in the 1940s, while others were written later and include some characters from I, Robot, such as Dr. Susan Calvin.

Of the eight, my favorites include:

“Robot AL-76 Goes Astray” – A confused robot, intended for work on the moon, wanders through the woods until it encounters Randolph Payne working at his shack. Although fearful at first, Randolph quickly surmises that the robot’s manufacturer would pay a handsome reward for its return since robots were not yet permitted for use on Earth. Payne convinces AL-76 that his work assignment has changed and keeps him occupied at the shack—until he realizes the robot’s true purpose…

“Victory Unintentional” – Three robots are sent to the surface of Jupiter as emissaries from the human colony on Ganymede. The inhabitants of Jupiter have continually threatened to exterminate the “vermin infesting Ganymede” as soon as they finish development on a forcefield that will allow them to leave the planet and invade the largest of the Jovian moons. However, a hilarious case of mistaken identity leads them to a change in plan…

“Let’s Get Together” – In a dystopian future where the world is divided between two superpowers, the United States government learns that the “other side” has advanced further in robotics than anticipated—to the point of creating robots in the form of humans. Further, it is revealed that certain American scientists who spent time on the “other side” might have been replaced by automatons and if brought together in the same place at the same time, would detonate a devastating bomb…

“Risk” – Orbiting an asteroid known as HyperBase, a test ship called Parsec fails to launch into hyperspace as planned. There is no way to determine if a component of the ship or its robot pilot is at fault without sending a human to investigate. However, the Parsec is unstable and could launch into hyperspace at any moment. Since every animal used in hyperspace experiments either died or returned as a mindless vegetables, Dr. Gerald Black is none too thrilled about being ordered to undertake the mission…

“Galley Slave” – In an effort to assimilate robots into society and eliminate prejudice against them, U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men, Incorporated chooses Northeastern University for an experiment. A robot named EZ-27 (aka “Easy”) is brought in to provide proofreading services for academic papers and textbooks written by the faculty. However, when one professor’s galley is drastically altered, ruining his reputation after it’s publication, he files a lawsuit against the company. But what happens when Easy is allowed to speak in court?


The Rest of the Robots by Isaac Asimov


Book Review: Lucky Starr and the Rings of Saturn by Isaac Asimov (writing as Paul French)

Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, has been claimed by invaders from the planet Sirius, the first of many extrasolar Earth colonies. Over several generations, the Sirians and their allies on many of the outer worlds turned against their planet of origin, citing social, scientific, and military superiority after generations of ethnic cleansing. Despite an intergalactic law stating that any planet in an inhabited solar system belongs to the people of that system, the Sirians have constructed a military base on Titan as their first step to attacking Earth. The Council of Science, an organization sworn to protect Earth and its neighboring planets with minimal violence, fears that the Sirians have become too powerful to defeat.

After a Sirian spy named Dorrance escapes Earth custody, Councilmen David “Lucky” Starr and and his tiny-but-mighty companion John Bigman Jones set off after him in their ship, the Shooting Starr along with several vessels from the Terrestial fleet. They pursue Dorrance into Saturn’s rings, where his vessel is destroyed. However, a Sirian vessel contacts the Shooting Starr and orders it away from Saturn, informing him that the Sirians now occupy Titan and any aggression from Earth will be considered an act of war. Starr retreats and orders the Terrestial fleet to do the same.

Later, Starr, Bigman, and fellow councilman Ben Wessilewsky return to Saturn in an unauthorized expedition aboard the Shooting Starr to find a information capsule that Dorrance had stolen from Earth. When Sirian ships again detect their ship and pursue, Starr “crashes” the Shooting Starr on Mimas, Saturn’s closest moon. There, he leaves Wessilewsky behind and takes off again with Bigman–only to be captured by Sirian forces. The leader of the Sirian base on Titan, an irascible tyrant named Devoure, attempts to coerce Starr into confessing to espionage and to testify against Earth at an upcoming peace conference on the asteroid Vesta. Devoure offers to spare Bigman’s life in exchange for Starr’s compliance.

Will Lucky Starr betray Earth at the conference and join the Sirians? What of Councilman Wessilewsky on Mimas? Will the other planets vote against Earth and allow the Sirians to occupy Titan as a prelude to war?

Lucky Starr and the Rings of Saturn is the final volume in a series of six. Much like its predecessor, Moons of Jupiter (reviewed here), Rings of Saturn takes on a noticeably darker tone than the first four books.

I was forced to wonder if perhaps Asimov started off with the intention of creating a light-hearted space adventure, but later allowed real world tensions of the time, such those between USA and the USSR, to inform his fiction. The tension and stakes in Rings of Saturn are higher than they’d been in the previous books, but it could also be construed that each story builds upon the last to culminate in this final confrontation between Earth and Sirius. Though it’s easy to see the potential for future adventures in this universe.