Be sure to click on the titles for more information!
William Tenn is the pen name of Philip Klass (he is not the Philip J. Klass who has written so extensively and skeptically about UFOs). This is the first volume (the second is Here Comes Civilization) of the complete collection of his science fiction. Immodest Proposals includes such classics as "Child's Play," "Time in Advance," "Down Among the Dead Men" (worth the cost of the book by itself), and "On Venus, Have We Got a Rabbi." Tenn is probably the best satirist ever to work in the SF genre and this volume showcases much of his best work. But more interesting (to me at least) are the afterwards he has included for each story. In these brief comments he describes the origins of the stories, the hurdles he overcame to get them published, and what (if anything) he'd change now. Fortunately for us, he hasn't changed anything from the way the stories were originally published. This is a must-have for any serious science fiction reader. ak 12/4/02
Known only as the Chief Designer outside of Star City and the Kremlin before his death in the 1960s, Korolev was a man driven by only one purpose: to put a man on the moon. To this end, he learned to work within the USSR, satisfying first Stalin then Khrushchev's ambitions to beat the Americans. Korolev was a genius at developing new rocket systems to meet a Soviet politburo goal, but which would also advance his ultimate agenda for man in space. If he hadn't died as a result of a botched surgery, we may well be remembering a Russian instead of Neil Armstrong as the first man to set foot on the moon. But Korolev's story is much, much more. He labored in a gulag for years before being plucked out to build rockets for the Motherland. ak 12/2/02
Moonfall, by Jack McDevitt
"The most awesome catastrophe ever," proclaims the front cover, and it certainly is ambitious: A massive comet is discovered during a solar eclipse, streaking on a head-on course to hit the Moon! The year is 2024 and the space program, always at the whim of fickle politicians, seems to be thriving -- pretty much. There are permanent space stations (including at the stable Lagrange points resulting from the Earth-Moon two-body system), the first manned Mars mission about to launch from the L1 station, and the opening of a huge manned base on the Moon. It is for the symbolic ribbon-cutting that the vice president (and presidential candidate) Charlie Haskell has made the trip to Moonbase. All hell breaks loose when a sun-grazing comet is discovered during a solar eclipse; it's moving ten time faster than any known comet and is a hundred times more massive. And it's going to hit the Moon in just a few days. What follows is the nearly minute-by-minute story of the evacuation of Moonbase (some may be left behind) and growing panic on Earth -- astronomers predict the Moon will be shattered and pieces may hit, causing massive devastation. And then it gets really serious. A little slow at first, McDevitt cranks up the tension and ends up with a page-turner. Don't miss it... ak 10/25/98
The Gripping Hand, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
This is the sequel to their excellent The Mote In God's Eye, eighteen years in the making! It's next on Anson's reading list, so check back soon to see what he thinks about it!
OK, so I've read the book now. It's well worth the wait. We learn more about the Moties than we did in the first book (which we darn well should in a sequel!) and also get a chance to some rip-roaring action to-boot! Just be sure to read Mote before this one to get the full impact. ak 9/29/98
A Maiden's Grave, by Jeffery Deaver
This is nowhere near as good as his later book The Bone Collector, but still I managed to nearly finish it on a flight from Atlanta to Dallas. Which says something about how good A Maiden's Grave is and how excellent The Bone Collector is. Anyway...
The book in question covers a span of time less than twenty-four hours, just enough for some escaped convicts to kidnap a van full of deaf people and hole up in an abandoned slaughterhouse, and the ensuing siege and hostage negotiation by the FBI and local authorities.
By itself, a pretty riveting story. You have a cold-blooded asocial psychopath as the leader of the three escapees (his buddy and a slavering rapist round out the trio) pitted against the almost-ready-to-retire super-negotiator from the FBI. Bridging between them (although she never really communicates with the FBI guy until the end of the story) is the twenty-something deaf teacher, one of the ten hostages.
The psychological game played out between the FBI and the psycho keeps you guessing. The trauma of the hostages and the courage they discover within themselves is, well, cliched. Even then, I'd have had few complaints if the book had ended forty pages sooner than it did, at the conclusion of the hostage crisis. But it went on. And on. And on. And introduced twists and plot manipulations worthy of the worst dime novels. The side plot of rogue SWAT team members was totally unsatisfying. I got the feeling Deaver used them to stretch out the story.
My recommendation: Don't read this after The Bone Collector, you'll be disappointed. But if you read it first, you'll appreciate the other book all the more. ak, 8/7/98
A brief addition: The book was made into a very good movie starring James ("The Rockford Files") Garner. They changed the name to "Dead Silence" and totally dropped the the rogue cop story line, thus actually making the movie better than the book. ak, 9/29/98
Foundation and Chaos, by Greg Bear
This is the second volume of the Second Foundation Trilogy ("Authorized by the Estate of Isaac Asimov"). Volume one is Foundation's Fear, written by Gregory Benford. The third, yet to be published, volume will be written by David Brin. At first, one may think it the grossest of heresies for someone other than Isaac Asimov to write a Foundation book, but these guys seem to be pulling it off -- so far.
This second trilogy covers the span of time Asimov skipped in the five novels which comprise his Foundation series -- the later life of Hari Seldon and the establishment of both the Foundation and the Second Foundation, as well as the final development of psychohistory. Asimov ends Forward the Foundation with an aged Seldon in his twilight years, but this new trilogy shows how much was left to do in Seldon's final decade. Also revealed in even greater detail is the robot Daneel Olivaw's role in the affair. All in all, both novels are a fitting contribution to Asimov's legacy (and if they contradict a few details or timelines established in the earlier works, well, Asimov himself had to make a few "corrections" as he developed the later works also). ak, 7/16/98
The Rediscovery of Man: The Complete Short Science Fiction of Cordwainer Smith, by Cordwainer Smith
Psuedonymously written by the author of Psychological Warfare, the authoritative classic in its field, The Rediscovery of Man collects for the first time all of Smith's "Instrumentality of Mankind" stories (except Norstrilia, Smith's only SF novel) as well as other, lesser-known works. Smith's life story is almost as fantastic as his fiction, but you have to read the introduction and preface to learn more (at least until his biography written by Alan C. Elms is published).
Smith underwent a religious rebirth late in life, which was reflected in the later stories. As a result, some may think the collection would be better-titled The Redemption of Man. It is, nevertheless (or perhaps therefore), one of the classics in the field. ak, 7/14/98
The Mammoth Book of Dracula: Vampire Tales for the New Millennium, edited by Stephen Jones
Chills galore! What if Dracula wasn't killed as described at the end of Bram Stoker's classic? What if he survived (or Stoker just fabricated the whole episode)? This anthology of very loosely related tales is based on just this premise. Overall rather uneven, it still manages to elicit some vivid images on occasion. ak, 7/14/98
Anson Jones: The Last President of Texas, by Herbert Gambrell
This is the classic biography of the man who shepherded Texas from Republic to State. The fact that his first name was Anson shouldn't be at all surprising. Yet all he got was some backwater village named after him, north of Lubbock. ak, 7/14/98
The Oxford Book of Letters, edited by Frank and Anita Kermonde
Extremely interesting collection. It spans a period from the early 1500s through the mid-1980s. Topics range from the comically trivial (Lord Edmund Howard's letter to Lady Lisle "...your said medicine hath ... made me piss my bed this night, for the which my wife hath sore beaten me, and saying it is children's parts to bepiss their bed.") to the painfully candid (Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon's description of casual and hypocritical racism on a Mississippi steamboat just a few years before the Civil War). This collection is an engrossing and frequently poignant presentation of the private lives of both the common and the famed. ak, 7/14/98