Monday, December 10, 2007

Fin

This blog will no longer be updated. I started the blog to explore a different way of publishing my book reviews (I was bored and looking for purpose in life). It's been fun (not really), and I've learned a lot about Blogger in the process (it sucks). But ultimately, the blog must give me something of value (I want my own groupies) to justify the time and effort I spend maintaining it (I'm really lazy). After six months of updates, the blog has given me nothing of significant value (snarky comments by Thainamu don't count).

I will continue to write my book reviews. They will continue to be available online at http://luforum.dyndns.org/strangerthansf/, or you can subscribe to my RSS newsfeed. They will no longer be available online.

Update: You can read them at strangerthanSF.com

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Land That Time Forgot, by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Rating: 3
Pages: 153

The Land That Time Forgot is the first of Edgar Rice Burroughs's Caspak trilogy. It begins with terror on the high seas: a German submarine torpedoes an American liner in the English Channel. Our hero, young Bowen J. Tyler, Jr., clings to life in a single surviving lifeboat. He rescues his dog, Nobs, and a beautiful young woman named Lys La Rue--whom he instantly falls in love with.

The three are picked up by an English tug, which has the misfortune to run into the same German submarine which sunk the American liner. This time, the Allies get the upper hand. They trick the Germans and storm the submarine, taking control of U-33.

Tyler and the rest try to sail the submarine into an English port, but sabotage by the German prisoners (or somebody) gets them lost. They stumble upon the lost island of Caprona in the Antarctic Sea. Caprona--or Caspak, as the natives call it--is a huge island rearing hundreds of feet out of the sea. The sides are sheer impassable cliffs. Over the cliffs, on Caspak, lies an ancient primitive land from Earth's forgotten past. Volcanic heat creates a tropical atmosphere that supports lush forests. Dinosaurs and savage, pre-historic beasts roam the land. Ape men eke out a meagre existence. Out of oil for the submarine's engines and out of food and water for the men, Tyler and his crew must survive on Caspak.

Most don't survive, of course. And the German prisoners are up to no good. This book was written during the first World War, and it shows.

It's a good book, marred by a few throwaway lines of subtle racism.

The Land That Time Forgot is out of copyright. It is freely and legally available online at Project Gutenberg: The Land That Time Forgot.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Day of Their Return, by Poul Anderson

Rating: 3
Pages: 185
Spoilers?: Minor
Better than Moby Dick?: Yes

The conflict between Mersia and the Terran Empire is a primary focus of all Poul Anderson's Technic series books. The Day of Their Return is no different. Commissioner Chunderban Desai is sent to the frontier planet Aeneas, to restore order after a recent insurrection. The recalcitrant Aeneans still desire independence. The Terran Empire is afraid the Mersians will try to use Aeneas to drive a wedge into the Empire and hasten the beginning of the Long Night.

The seeds of rebellion are still strong on Aeneas. Young Ivar Frederikson, Firstman of Ilion, stirs the people's hearts when he attempts an attack on a Terran patrol. The attack fails and Ivar is forced into hiding; Commissioner Desai tries to bring him to justice, but is constrained because he fears to create a martyr.

While Ivar hides out among various nomadic groups, strange things are going on elsewhere. Aycharaych, a mind-reading Mersian agent, is loose on Aeneas. An Ythrian agent is also operating on Aeneas--and Ivar hopes to secure Ythrian aid for the Aenean independence movement. Finally, the prophet Jaan claims that the fabled Elder Race--which built the ancient ruins on Aeneas--will shortly return and free the people.

Minor spoiler: the nomadic tinerans of Aeneas keep pets which they call lucks, and which the Ythrians call slinkers. Unbeknownst to the tinerans, the slinkers are emotional amplifiers, reflecting emotions back at those around them.

The Day of Their Return to be one of Anderson's better books. It rates a strong 3. I wanted to give it a 4, but Anderson doesn't follow up on the slinkers--they're a throwaway plot element.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Warriors of Day, by James Blish

Rating: 2
Pages: 160
Better than Moby Dick?: The Warriors of Day are giants who eat Moby Dick for a snack, like a sardine.

The Warriors of Day is a useless book. It would never be published today, but standards were lower in the 1950s. The book starts out promisingly: Tipton Bond goes toe-to-toe with a Kodiak bear and emerges the victor. It's a gripping fight scene. But the book goes downhill quickly.

Tipton Bond finds himself magically transported to another world, called Xota. On Xota he stumbles upon the Temple of Mahrt, where he discovers that he is the Sword of Mahrt. Apparently, the Warriors of Day have vowed to destroy Xota as part of their quest for galactic domination. The legends tell of the god Mahrt, who will call forth his Sword to defeat the giant Warriors of Day.

It's all ludicrous and not in the least interesting. Tipton Bond taps into the planetary consciousness of Xota, which has some sort of gaia collective subconscious mind. He uses that power to destroy the huge spaceships of the Warriors of Day. It's all rather inexplicable.

It's too bad The Warriors of Day is such a poor book. Blish is a good writer, and flashes of his brilliance show through. But the plot is so utterly outlandish that it comes across as nothing but a cheap third-rate fantasy. I am tempted to give it a rating of 1, but it isn't quite that actively bad. The Warriors of Day rates a 2.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Missile Gap, by Charles Stross

Rating: 3
Better than Moby Dick?: Yes

This short novel--really more of a novella--begins with a bizarre premise. At the height of the Cold War, the Earth suddenly becomes flat. Instead of a spinning globe wheeling through space, all the continents and oceans of Earth are spread out on an enormous flat disc. And the disc is unfathomably huge: its surface area can hold billions of Earths. In the oceans beyond the continents of Earth lie strange continents peopled by unhuman beings.

Humanity has no idea how it has come to be transported to the disc, but the change has severe geopolitical consequences. The nuclear deterrence between the superpowers is based on the ability to launch missiles in a polar orbit; polar orbits no longer exist, and nuclear missiles from America can no longer reach the Soviet Union. Consequently, the Soviets overrun Europe, and extend communism across their continent.

Both superpowers explore the unknown continents on the disk. The Soviets send Yuri Gagarin off in a huge Ekranoplan (a ground-effect aircraft), on a five year cruise to "boldly go where no Soviet man has gone before, explore new worlds and look for new peoples, and to establish fraternal socialist relations with them." Gagarin's expedition discovers an eerie secret: there are other Earths on this disc, and one of these alternate Earths has been destroyed in a nuclear holocaust.

It's a pretty good book, and it's short enough to read in a couple of hours.

You can read Missile Gap online for free at Subterranean Press.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Horror in the Museum, by H.P. Lovecraft and others

Pages: 453
Spoilers?: Minor
Better than Moby Dick?: Yes

These are not Lovecraft's best stories. The early ones particularly show a lot of racist sentiment. Medusa's Coil relies on a racist premise as a key plot point: Marceline is revealed to be black (which is supposed to be the ultimate horror.) I found The Last Test to be interesting enough to hold my attention, though not unpredictable. The Mound is better; the exploration of the subterranean world makes the story worthwhile. My favorite story, by far, is 'Till 'A the Seas'. Also good are The Horror at Martin's Beach and The Loved Dead. The rest are second-rate fare.




  • A Note on the Texts, by S. T. Joshi

  • Lovecraft's "Revisions", by August Derleth




  • The Green Meadow, by Elizabeth Berkeley and Lewis Theobald, Jun. - A meteorite contains a notebook with a message from a man who has passed over to The Green Meadow, "where young men are infinitely old."

  • The Crawling Chaos, by by Elizabeth Berkeley and Lewis Theobald, Jun. - A drug-induced vision of the end of the earth. "And when the smoke cleared away, and I sought to look upon the earth, I beheld against the background of cold, humorous stars only the dying sun and the pale mournful planets searching for their sister."


  • The Last Test, by Adolphe de Castro - Dr. Alfred Clarendon experiments with a deadly black plague, which is revealed to be not of this world.

  • The Electric Executioner, by Adolphe de Castro - A train ride with a madman and an electric chair.

  • The Curse of Yig, by Zealia Bishop - The snake-god Yig wreaks his vengeance on an Oklahoma family.

  • The Mound, by Zealia Bishop - A mound patrolled by a phantasmic Indian guard is a gateway into a vast subterranean world of Tsathoggua worshippers.

  • Medusa's Coil, by Zelia Bishop - Marceline, the wife of a young American man, is actually a fantastically ancient evil being.

  • The Man of Stone, by Hazel Heald - To get revenge on his cheating wife, a degenerate hillbilly perfects a potion that turns people to stone.

  • The Horror in the Museum, by Hazel Heald - Spending the night in a wax museum filled with living horrors.

  • Winged Death, by Hazel Heald - Mad scientist murders fellow scientist with a strange African disease spread by fly bites--but those bitten by the flies lose their souls.

  • Out of the Aeons, by Hazel Heald - An old statue found in the Pacific Ocean is actually a living man, frozen forever because he looked upon the god Ghatanothoa without carrying the proper protective charms.

  • The Horror in the Burying-Ground, by Hazel Heald - Burying people alive.

  • The Diary of Alonzo Typer, by William Lumley - Diary of a man whose old family home draws him in and kills him.




  • The Horror at Martin's Beach, by Sonia H. Greene - A lurking sea creature engages the villagers in a macabre tug of war.

  • Ashes, by C.M. Eddy, Jr. - Mad scientists turns assistant's girlfriend to ashes.

  • The Ghost-Eater, by C.M. Eddy, Jr. - A traveller through the forest at night stays with a strange old man/werewolf who tries to eat his soul.

  • The Loved Dead, by C.M. Eddy, Jr. - A twisted serial killer gets his only satisfaction from surrounding himself with death.

  • Deaf, Dumb, and Blind, by C.M. Eddy, Jr. - A blind deaf-mute records his final moments on a typewriter as some horrible presence draws near.

  • Two Black Bottles, by Wilfred Blanch Talman - The undead.

  • The Trap, by Henry S. Whitehead - A sorcerer traps a young boy in a mirror.

  • The Tree on the Hill, by Duane W. Rimel - A tree on a hill is a glimpse into another world.

  • The Disinterment, by Duane W. Rimel - Mad scientist transplants the narrator's head onto a non-human body.

  • ‘Till A’ the Seas’, by R. H. Barlow - The extinction of mankind comes at the hands of a merciless, scorching sun.

  • The Night Ocean, by R. H. Barlow - A vacationer spies something unhuman in the ancient sea.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Pool of Fire, by John Christopher

Rating: 4
Pages: 218
Spoilers?: Major
Better than Moby Dick?: Yes

The final installment of the Tripods trilogy is as good as the previous book. In The City of Gold and Lead, Will Parker and Fritz infiltrate the Tripods' domed city. Will escapes from the city and brings back much-needed information about the Masters, including the news that the Masters are planning to destroy the Earth's atmosphere. Humanity has only a few short years to defeat the Tripods before every last creature on Earth will choke to death in the poisonous air of the Masters.

The Pool of Fire moves quickly. Will and Fritz spend a year traveling through Asia recruiting freedom-minded boys to their cause. Then Will helps the Resistance capture a Tripod and kidnap a living Master for their scientists to study. Will serves as the Master's prison guard, and inadvertently makes a discovery: alcohol incapacitates the Masters.

That leads to a plan: small teams will sneak into the Masters' domed cities and dump alcohol into the city water supply. Will and Fritz are chosen to lead the attack on the domed city in Germany.

The attacks succeed. The Masters are incapacitated, and the Resistance cracks the city domes, asphyxiating the Masters in Earth's oxygen atmosphere. Except at one city: the attack on the domed city on the Panama Canal fails.

The Resistance has a backup plans: primitive airplanes and bombs. This plan fails too. The backup backup plan is balloons and bombs. Will, Fritz, and Henry are among the balloonists who attack the domed city. The attack is nearly a failure, because the bombs keep bouncing off the city dome before exploding. Finally Henry lands his balloon on the dome, and, cradling his bomb and holding it against the dome, sacrifices his life to ensure the bomb cracks the dome. The Masters are defeated.

The Pool of Fire--and the whole Tripods trilogy--makes a big deal of Will's shortcomings. Will, as the first-person narrator, is frank about his impatience, his rashness, and his foolish pride. His struggle to control himself is a constant throughout the story.

John Christopher comments on humanity, too. When the Masters are defeated, Will assumes that men will remain united. Why should they war with one another, as they did in the past? That would be foolish. But Will is in for a shock. At the first Conference of Man, bitter partisanship rules the day. The Americans and the Chinese leave in a huff, the Germans blame the French for instigating trouble, and the English delegation withdraws in disgust. Will, Fritz, and Beanpole realize that although they have defeated the Masters, their work is not done.

Fritz said, "I think perhaps I will give up my farming. There are things more important."
Beanpole said, "I'm with you."
Fritz shook his head. "It is different for you. Your work is important, mine not."
"Not as important as this," Beanpole said. "What about you, Will? Are you ready for a new fight--a longer, less exciting one, with no great triumphs at the end? Will you leave your seas and islands, and help us try to get men to live together, in peace as well as liberty? An Englishman, a German, and a Frenchman: it would be a good start."
The air was cold but exhilarating. A gust of wind scattered powdery snow from the face of Jungfrau.
"Yes," I said, "I'll leave my seas and islands."