Tag Archives: aliens

Review of Hearing Thoughts by Anthony Diffley

As is often the case I received this book free for the purposes of review but I’m absolutely candid about it below because potential buyers deserve to know what it is they’re about to pay money for.

The nutshell on this novel is pretty well summed up by the back cover. Normally I would consider it a spoiler to reveal so much about the plot but since it IS on the back… Essentially, a high-power attorney is kidnapped by aliens and now can hear other people’s thoughts. Thus the title. Not exactly massively original really.

In most cases I try to frame a book by its positives and its negatives. In this case though I can’t really find anything even remotely positive to say about it. The story is trite and has been already been explored by dozens of other authors. The writing is deplorable and the dialog reminds me of a conversation you might hear in a Dick and Jane novel. I guffawed aloud when grown men started talking about their “tummies” and many of the scenes defy any knowledge of how the adult world works. It reminds me strongly of the videos you see in which a small child describes what they think their parents do all day at work.

In summary, while I always hate to take it to new authors with such vigor I can’t be party to anyone actually considering paying money for this. I’d encourage Mr. Diffley to keep at it and try a different idea with a new copy editor because the one you have has failed you terribly.

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Universe 4 – Edited by Terry Carr 1974

519QW9-HHhL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_Like our last post this too is a collection of rather random sci-fi goodness but this one is from the 70s. I give a brief reflection on my thoughts after reading each story below.


Assault on a City – Jack Vance
At 48 pages this one is a full-blown novella. At its heart, it is a story of class struggles in a future that has taken fashion to an amusing extreme. It’s a solid story and an easy read in an hour.


A Sea of Faces – Robert Silverberg
At under 20 pages this brief foray into the genre is primarily psychological. In it a woman with a mental disorder is treated and we see the situation from inside the mind of the patient. The trip back to consciousness is illustrated as a journey on a mysterious floating island that has to be steered back to the mainland so the patient can rejoin the rest of society.


And Read the Flesh Between the Lines – R. A. Lafferty
In this brief story we have what I would categorize as an alternative history of sorts. Our protagonist, if he can be called such, has an Australopithecus as a servant and lectures his guests that a full third of history has been intentionally wiped from the collective recollection of society. This is a bizarre and rather surreal tale and one would not go amiss in noting that what it lacks in plot it makes up for in setting of the scene.


My Sweet Lady Jo – Howard Waldrop
Weighing in at under 20 pages this one reads like a twilight zone script. I will attempt not to spoil but know merely that it has a wry twist at the end. I cannot claim that it’s a terribly original twist but a twist none the less. In the story, man has bridged the gap between the stars but is still in the early, clumsy phase that requires him to sleep away the decades waiting. One such intrepid group has made the journey to Terra Nova and back again. How will they get on with the people of Earth who have passed decades while they slumbered?


Stungun Slim – Ron Goulart
This is a story of a stark but fairly realistic future. Interestingly, I find that of all the stories in this collection, this one stuck with me the least. The only lasting impressions I have is of public executions and insane personal debt with the most notable item being a $4,000 personal computer from the J.C. Penney catalog.


Desert Places – Pamela Sargent
Like a previous story, this one reads like a Twilight Zone episode. In it, we follow a family as they move from house to house attempting to stay ahead of some destructive force that’s gobbling up their world. At the end we find that the destructive force…. well, now I wouldn’t tell you that, now would I? That would be obvious spoilage. Suffice to say that it’s a keen allegory that has played out a million times on a million worlds including our own


If the Stars Are Gods – Gordon Eklund and Gregory Benford
Of all the stories in this collection, this is probably my favorite. In a nutshell, aliens visit the Earth and they want to talk to the entity in charge. Which, it turns out, they believe to be the sun. The story goes into a fair amount of detail about how the aliens came to believe in the sentient nature of stars and points out effectively how our physical environment shapes our long-term mental framework about how the universe works. At the risk of somewhat of a spoiler I will reveal that the aliens evolved on a planet with an extremely elliptical orbit and large axial tilt so their seasons were acutely variable in temperature. At certain points when proximity to the sun coincided with the proper angle of inclination to the sun entire populations had to pick up and move to the other side of the planet. One wonders how early life could possibly evolve in such conditions but it does make one ponder the ramifications of such an arrangement. At any rate, as has been amply illustrated by my prolonged babbling, this one made an impression.


When the Vertical World Becomes Horizontal – Alexei Panshin
In direct opposition to my feelings about the previous story, this one left me flat. Clearly some huge mental shift is taking place in humanity during the course of the story but it is intentionally kept vague and impenetrable to the point that I cannot muster any emotion from this story at all.


And there you have it. Well, there I have it. I don’t honestly expect anyone to read these but some future version of me that’s trying to remember what that weird book was that had the story of the aliens that looked like the Apple logo. So hello, Future me! How’s it going? Did we ever figure out what that weird growth was in the corner of the back yard or did it take over the universe?

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Space Science Fiction Magazine – August 1957

spaceI picked this little gem up from a Yerdle swap a few months ago and have finally gotten around to reading it. I’m not trying to do a book report here but do want to jot down a few notes just to jog my memory in the future.


“Flying Saucers Do Exist” – Steve Frazee
This 48-page novella is simply the standard narrative of a young man who shows up in town with a wild story about aliens and the townsfolk have a hard time swallowing his tale. As time goes on more evidence comes to the fore but not until… well, I don’t want to be a complete spoiler but needless to say it’s not a happy ending.

One item of note is that Frazee’s aliens are pretty unique in their creepiness.  It’s rare that non-humanoids make an appearance in space lit but in this case they’re weird H-shaped creatures that cartwheel around their craft.  The imagery is a bit jarring.


The Thing From Outer Space – Jean Martin
At about 18 pages this one is very brief. I’d categorize it as a weird mix of gardening, alien visitation and a love story. If my grandfather were to summarize it he’d probably say something along the lines of “Alien critters came down and got in the punkin’ patch”. The overall moral pitch of this tale though is a not common one. Didn’t God make all of us, even aliens? It points out.


The Star Dream – Raymond F. Jones
I’d summarize this 25-page story as a love-triangle with sides that span space and time. Our protagonist is building a massive device to fling himself to the nearest star in hopes of finding his long-lost love. This is all well and good except that his Earth-wife isn’t terribly happy about the competition. The narrative flows along well enough until it reaches its horribly maudlin conclusion and bows out with the line (paraphrasing) “I’ve found something so much faster than the speed of light: an angel’s wings”


An Experiment in Gumdrops – Russ Winterbotham
At under 10 pages this was one of the briefest stories in the edition but to me it was one of the most pointedly apropos. A businessman travels to an alien planet and recruits a life form with a very helpful skill to assist with his newest business venture. He pays for this unique talent with the most minimal of remittances and all seems well until the alien wises up… in a manner of speaking.

This one has a strong undercurrent of that old adage that you never know what you’re missing until you have it. Ignorance truly is bliss even if you’re on a barren rock digging your way through solid stone for a living.


A Practical Man’s Guide – Jack Vance
At a mere 7 pages this one hits fast and quick. Our protagonist is the editor of a DIY magazine and he’s come across a real doozie of an idea from one of his readers. The submitter’s description of the idea is vague enough that we never really do find out for sure what it is but when the editor follows the submitter’s incomplete instructions he finds himself…. well, we don’t really know where. This one is a delightfully open-ended little story that might end up a thousand different ways. Almost everything is left to the reader’s imagination.


Slow Djinn – Mack Reynolds
As you might guess, this little story revolves around that most ubiquitous and troublesome of magical servants, the Djinn. Rather than being a malevolent beast though this one is just downright idiotic. He certainly does try but despite the intent all goes to rot and ruin until his clever master finally figures the right way to utilize this slave’s exponential ignorance.


Critical Mass – Arthur C. Clarke
Who knows what horrendous thing will happen if Clarke’s main character can’t contain the destruction that’s rumbling down the road in this tiny story. Excitement builds to a fever pitch until nobody can stand it any longer in this honey of a tale.


OK, so that’s the 2-minute overview. On to the next book!

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The week in book reviews for 5/21

Well, here are the books that I scoured my brain with this week. It is, if I do say so myself, a pretty varied collection of randomness.


Alien Hunter: Underworld: A Flynn Carroll Thriller (Alien Hunter Series) by Whitley Strieber (*)

The nutshell summary of this book is simply that it’s gritty alien noir. Aliens come to earth. One man must stop them. That man stops them. Sorry if that’s a spoiler but that’s essentially what it boils down to.

To the positive side, the author has a unique take on the genre and the setting. No aliens are like Strieber’s and he isn’t afraid to go with something new and different. These aren’t your captain Kirk aliens. These are the terrifying and quiet Grays of your nightmares along with their many comrades from the stars.

To the negative, the whole thing is so incredibly implausible that it borders on idiocy. The aliens work in their quiet way but the hero somehow manages to go through so much and yet come out on the other side unscratched. I stopped counting the number of crippling injuries he had and almost threw the book in the trash when he underwent open brain surgery and then walked out of the hospital a few hours later. Related to this, the author wants to keep you engaged with gripping action but often when he tries to do so he seems to lose his grip on the narrative thread and the reader is simply pushed forward in the story and left wondering what happened. Many times a crescendo is reached and problems are somehow immediately resolved in a way that just isn’t explained. It’s as if a curtain of misdirection is laid over the story and we simply move on to the next bit. I’ve never quite read anything so poorly written.

In summary, this is a pretty strong avoid. It tries to be something great but just ends up being a disconnected mess. I read this through to the end but feel I could have spent my hours much more productively doing just about anything else.


I Don’t Believe God Wrote The Bible: The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To Another Reality. (Life) (Volume 1) by Gerald Freeman (**)

The nutshell on this book is that it’s the autobiographical retelling of the author’s adolescent adventures in Europe after overcoming his drug addiction and stepping out into the wider world. The story is a pretty typical hippie adventure of youthful excess and exuberant living. It does have a fairly strong moral thread that basically boils down to living the life you want to lead rather than feeling you have to adhere to someone else’s expectations.

To the positive, I love the book’s central message. The idea of grasping at life’s opportunities and not adhering to some societal standard is a strong one. The author gives us a fine example of how to pull yourself up by the proverbial bootstraps and suck the marrow from existence. We’d all do better to try to live more of our lives true to the example the author gives.

To the negative, as a narrative the story has a strong ‘you had to be there’ component. Freeman did a lot of amusing things but they all start to run together after a while. There’s not a lot of real surprises and things turn out in a pretty predictable way. It’s just not quite interesting or diverse enough to be a novel of wide appeal. Those who know the man will be vastly impressed but most casual readers will get bored after the 57th or 58th drunken escapade. Also, the book suffers from some textual errors which are fairly distracting. The whole thing needs a good sound drubbing by an editor.

In summary, this is an interesting slice of one man’s interesting life but it’s just not interesting enough to appeal to the average reader. It lacks narrative arc and progression and manages to travel across a fair amount of the European continent without actually going anywhere.


I Take You: A Novel (*****)

The nutshell view of the story is, as the blurb states, the story of a woman who really shouldn’t be getting married. She’s got every issue that traditionally disqualifies a woman from being ‘marriageable material’ from substance abuse to a Federal criminal record. Despite that, she still manages to be an incredibly adorable person.

To the positive side, this book is just a delightful romp. It fails to take itself seriously for even a full page and the vibrantly drawn characters are just made for a movie. The story is constantly and delightfully shifting and touches on some deep human questions specifically in the area of human sexuality and relationships. I’m a guy, not exactly the target audience, and I inhaled this in one long sitting while getting my knees tattooed. It’s a wonderful distraction even to the most obnoxious pains of life.

To the negative, this book will be incredibly polarizing to many. It’s got drugs and sex and alcohol and more sex and infidelity and incredibly graphic descriptions of sex. There’s a lot going on here and it’s not always terribly light-hearted and fluffy. But then again, what normal life IS all light-hearted and fluffy? Our protagonist is deeply “flawed” by societal standards, but is she really?

In summary, this was, for me, a grand highlight to the genre. I could have done without some of the gratuitous sex scenes, but the richness of the depiction was one that made you wish that maybe YOU were marrying into this land of ribald dysfunction and merriment.


Amsterdam: A Novel by Ian McEwan (***)

The nutshell view on this book is that it is essentially the story of a friendship torn asunder. The narrative is fairly complex and the writing exceptionally literary but it does take a really long time to get to its ‘hook.’ Even when it does so, the hook isn’t terribly strong and takes a fair amount of willpower to carry forward with.

So on the positive side, the book is exceptionally erudite and paints a fine and detailed picture of its protagonists. They are very real and vividly portrayed and one could imagine knowing them in real life. Their intercourse is fairly realistic and they carry on like old friends tend to.

To the negative, the book takes a long time to get find its way to something interesting. The first full third of this short novel sets the stage and I found my mind wandering terribly and I wondered what exactly why I was bothering. Once I found the hook the a-ha moment was brief and only mildly impactful.

In summary, I can’t really find any group of readers to whom I would recommend this book. It wallows in the shallows of mediocrity and is not one that will come to mind unbidden over the coming months. In fact, utterly forgettable I’m afraid.


Head Case: My Brain and Other Wonders by Cole Cohen (***)

The nutshell view on this is that it’s the memoir of a woman who finds out one day that she has a hole in her brain the size of a lemon. From that point of introduction, the story spirals forwards and backwards in time describing her struggles before her diagnosis and her coping mechanisms afterwards. All in all it is an exceptionally detailed but rather disconnected tale.

To the positive side, the author is completely honest with us about her life. She’s candid and leaves no stone unturned from her sex life to just getting around town. The level of insight she grants us is extreme and she invites us into her life without apparent hesitation. Because of this, her treatise is a wonderful guide for anyone that finds themselves in a similar situation at least to the extent of the emotional and social aspects of such a diagnosis.

To the negative, the book as a narrative fails in many spots. The storyline is at times disjointed and fails to flow in anything approaching a consistent manner. The author seems to jump around in her story as much as she does geographically during this period. It is disconcerting and at times completely impossible to follow.

In summary, this is an intimate portrait painted with a confused brush. The author lets us into her life but once we get there the whole thing is a mass of carnival mirrors and foggy recollection. I understand the spirit of what the author is trying to say but her thesis is lost in a mass of proverbial spaghetti.

PS: I hope my review was helpful. If it was not, then please let me know what I left out that you’d want to know. I always aim to improve.


Snoopy, Master of Disguise (**)

The nutshell view on this book is that it’s a collection of about 100 classic strips from 1966 through 1987 in chronological order with one 4-panel comic per page. Most of the strips feature Snoopy prominently as doctor, Joe Cool, Masked Marvel, etc. The Red Baron is strangely omitted, however.

On the positive side, it’s hardly possible to say anything negative about Peanuts and Snoopy in particular. Snoopy is as adorable as always. However, as collections go this one just fails to be at all evocative. The omission of Snoopy’s most famous pseudonym aside, the collection just doesn’t have any cohesiveness; it’s as if comics were picked out somewhat at random. In a few instances a series of 3-4 consecutive days appears but for the most part each comic is a standalone. As a person who has ready the entire strip from beginning to end, I felt this a rather pale shadow of the true spirit of Schulz’s work. Further, printing one comic per page in a horizontal format seems like it’s just trying to waste paper and print as little content as possible.

In summary, a pretty large disappointment. I was really looking forward to this one but it turns out to be a very poor value.


The Worrier’s Guide to Life by Correll, Gemma (***)

The nutshell view on this book is that it is, simply, a collection of small graphical witticisms drawn from daily life. The topics covered range from women’s hairstyles to the contents of their purses and all the typical mundanity in between.

My fiancée and I both took a look at this book and ultimately I found it slightly more entertaining than she did. Even with my direct prompts of the form, “Don’t you think THAT is a little bit funny?” she just looked at me with almost a look of pity. On the grand scale of humor I found one “heh” in about every 5 pages or so (my favorite reference was the “twerker’s carbuncles”) my fiancée saw nothing of redeeming value. Our shared decision was that the author was “trying too hard” to be funny and thus failed more or less completely. (though I still have affection for those carbuncles).

So on the positive side, the author did provide a few amusing turns of phrase and her artwork is very simple and easy to digest. Unfortunately, it just never quite makes its way to humorous for either of us. Sad to say that this was well intentioned but just didn’t quite make it to the starting gate.


Girlgoyle by Army, Better Hero (*****)

Firstly, this is a YA novel and my criteria for judging those is fairly straightforward and three-pronged. First and foremost, I ask myself if there’s anything in the book that I would not want my own children to read or be exposed to. I have absolutely zero tolerance for sexual or drug references and this book has none of that. In fact the only thing I can find of even remote concern is some light non-graphic violence and exactly one profanity in the use of the phrase “p***ed off”. So this is a clean one for all but the youngest and most sensitive children who might have difficulty with the fight scenes.

Secondly, I ask myself if the book offers anything positive for the reader. In this case, it’s not effervescing with positive themes but it’s not entirely devoid of them. During the course of the book the female protagonist deals positively with and overcomes her own misgivings about her body and manages to overcome her initial misgivings about a group of girls that she had initially had difficulty with. There are strong themes of reconciliation and cooperation and shows the reader a good example of building trust. It also teaches the key idea of not judging people based on their appearances.

Thirdly, and most importantly to the reader, will it entertain them? I’d say the answer is a resounding positive. I pulled through the book in a few hours without difficulty and it has an early hook and brings you along quite steadily throughout the story. The 14-year-old female protagonist is relatable, kind and she finds herself in a varied and unique situation with engaging characters who are both friend and foe. I can easily imagine this as a prolonged series as the heroine develops into a woman.

The only negatives I can cite about the book I relate to overall story cohesion. At times the story makes reference to previous points in the story that just don’t exist. It feels as if the story was cut down from a longer version and in doing so lost some hunk of the story. I cannot prove that, of course, but in a few instances the text calls back to previous stories and plot points that just never happened. This is a fairly minimal concern, however, since context wins the day and one can make assumptions around the missing bits.

In summary, I was thoroughly entertained and the book is a positive one for the target audience. The plotline seems to be a mix of “Dead Like Me” and a standard youth exceptionalism tale like “Harry Potter”. I’m excited to see where the series goes from here.

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Matcher Rules – It’s like Pern with Polyamory (4/5)

As usual I received this book for free so I’d review it; this time from NetGalley. Also as usual I give my scrupulously honest opinions below.

For the purposes of categorization, this book falls into the same basic premise as the Dragonriders of Pern. Human colonists found a colony on an alien planet and find “thing” that completely changes their way of life. Saying much of anything else will constitute a spoiler so I leave it at that.

To the positive side of assessing this novel, the author’s crafting of location is exceptionally intriguing. It’s the sort of book that makes you want another 47 set in the same world just to wrap up various nuances of this alien society. Holland has created a world filled with endless possibilities that this book only begins to touch on. From a writing perspective the style is easily, accessible almost juvenile; I’d recommend it to my own children except for some references to sex which I am far too cowardly to explain to a teenager.

On the negative side, like all books of this sort, the beginning 10 pages or thereabouts were a bit of a struggle. This is somewhat unavoidable as the book is busy giving new and alien names to things but it could have been a bit less compressed. Those first pages are a bit daunting but worth getting through to get to the rest. Additionally, the ending seemed far too tidy and wrapped up with a too nice, too neat bow. Perhaps my reaction is at least in part because I want the other 47 books but the ending here is too pristine to even tease a sequel. In general the start and end seemed rushed endcaps to a beautiful middle.

In summary, this is a wonderful little concept for a society and I merely wish fervently that there were more of it. Given proper treatment there is so much of human nature to explore here but as a single stand-alone novel this came up a bit wanting. Again though, that may be at least in part my opinion because I wanted 47 more books.


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Book Reviews: The Martian – Andy Weir

Please click the photo and vote my review helpful! (If you find it so anyway)

As usual I received this book free of charge in exchange for a review, this time from NetGalley. Also as usual I will give my candid thoughts below.

The plot of this one is basically Castaway plus any movie you’ve ever seen set on Mars. Guy’s marooned on Mars and only has his wits to survive the situation.

On the positive side the level of detail here is amazingly intricate and the author tells you every single detail of every cliff-hanging situation and its eventual resolution. Also, the main character is one of those rare individuals who responds to stress with humor so the book manages to be quite funny in its way despite the rather grim situation being faced.

To the negative, the science in this book is OK but at times left me scratching my head in perplexity. It’s obvious the author has done his homework but there were more than a few holes. For the most part I managed to ignore them but anyone who is hyper-technical will likely be inflamed at the whole thing. Finally, after a while the meticulous detail tended to be rather draining. I started and finished this book in a single 5-hour sitting and by the end I was just exhausted and ready for it to end. I highly recommend that you do NOT attempt that.

In summary, this book has a great premise and pretty good execution for a book so intimately tied to science content. I also have absolute confidence that this will become a movie (if it hasn’t already) so look for it in the theatre eventually.

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Book Reviews: The One Who Turned Them On (The Energy Scavengers)

Click the image to view my review on Amazon (And vote it helpful, of course. Every vote helps)

As usual I didn’t pay anything for this book but instead received it for free because somebody wanted me to have it for the purposes of review. In this case the author emailed to let me know it was free on Amazon for the next two days.

The story summary is fairly easy; a planet full of sentient robots are abandoned by their creators and set up a civilization of their own. It’s a mix of Wall-E plus any Apocalypse movie ever. It’s written from the dual perspectives of a tunnel-bot and a near-omniscient weather-computer.

To the positive side of things the author has cobbled together a milieu with real potential. His characters, heartless though they may be, are rather sympathetic and when the story reaches its climax I was pretty riveted. There’s great potential for a series here in which we explore this world in more detail.

Sadly though, as always, there’s a negative side to all my reviews. At times the author’s use of language is cloying and childish and I thought during the first few pages that English might not be his primary language. Further, the introductory sections of the story seem rather disconnected while the story really finds its feet.

In summary, the novella absolutely reeks with potential but just needs a bit of tweaking from the title (which is a real turn off, ironically) to the language. For 99 cents it’s a worthwhile buy but just can’t quite reach my usual editorial standard for 5-stars.

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