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Unashamedly elitist science fiction



January 1st, 2017

It’s a bit embarrassing to have to admit this but in 2016 I managed to read just three science fiction novels. Which makes it a bit difficult to do a Best Reads of 2016 list! However the three SF novels I did read were all quite good. So here they are, with links to my reviews.

The best of them was E. E. "Doc" Smith’s The Skylark of Space from 1928 which really is terrific fun space opera.

The other two were Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1929 The Maracot Deep, a rather strange but intriguing lost civilisation story, and Philip Francis Nowlan’s The Airlords of Han (also from 1929) which was the second of his Buck Rogers novels.

I did read a handful of SF short stories including Laurence Manning and Fletcher Pratt’s excellent 1930 tale The City of the Living Dead. And I reread C.L. Moore’s wonderful Northwest Smith adventures from the 1930s (which are perhaps more accurately described as a mixture of science fiction, fantasy and horror).

November 6th, 2016

The original dystopian novel.


Penguin Classics, 1924, 225 pages

Set in the 26th century A.D., Yevgeny Zamyatin's masterpiece describes life under the regimented totalitarian society of OneState, ruled over by the all-powerful "Benefactor." Recognized as the inspiration for George Orwell's 1984, We is the archetype of the modern dystopia, or anti-Utopia: a great prose poem detailing the fate that might befall us all if we surrender our individual selves to some collective dream of technology and fail in the vigilance that is the price of freedom. Clarence Brown's brilliant translation is based on the corrected text of the novel, first published in Russia in 1988 after more than 60 years' suppression.

Russians know dystopias.

My complete list of book reviews.

July 29th, 2016

The Airlords of Han

Pilot X
Philip Francis Nowlan (1888-1940) wrote a number of science fiction stories but is best remembered as the creator of Buck Rogers. Buck Rogers made his debut in the 1928 novella Armageddon - 2419 A.D. and later featured in a long-running comic strip (also written in its early days by Nowlan). The Airlords of Han, the second Buck Rogers novella, appeared in 1929. The two novellas were later republished in a single volume edition.

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June 13th, 2016

The City of the Living Dead, a short story by Laurence Manning and Fletcher Pratt originally published in Science Wonder Stories in 1930, has sometimes been claimed as an influence on The Matrix. In fact the story incorporates a number of concepts that would later be hailed as revolutionary when the cyberpunk writers rediscovered them half a century later.

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June 5th, 2016

C. L. Moore’s Northwest Smith stories are classic sword-and-planet tales (with a fairly generous helping at times of out-and-out horror) from the pulp magazines. They were originally published in Weird Tales between 1933 and 1936.

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May 30th, 2016

Follow a motley crew on an exciting journey through space—and one adventurous young explorer who discovers the meaning of family in the far reaches of the universe—in this light-hearted debut space opera from a rising sci-fi star.

Rosemary Harper doesn’t expect much when she joins the crew of the aging Wayfarer. While the patched-up ship has seen better days, it offers her a bed, a chance to explore the far-off corners of the galaxy, and most importantly, some distance from her past. An introspective young woman who learned early to keep to herself, she’s never met anyone remotely like the ship’s diverse crew, including Sissix, the exotic reptilian pilot, chatty engineers Kizzy and Jenks who keep the ship running, and Ashby, their noble captain.

Life aboard the Wayfarer is chaotic and crazy—exactly what Rosemary wants. It’s also about to get extremely dangerous when the crew is offered the job of a lifetime. Tunneling wormholes through space to a distant planet is definitely lucrative and will keep them comfortable for years. But risking her life wasn’t part of the plan. In the far reaches of deep space, the tiny Wayfarer crew will confront a host of unexpected mishaps and thrilling adventures that force them to depend on each other. To survive, Rosemary’s got to learn how to rely on this assortment of oddballs—an experience that teaches her about love and trust, and that having a family isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the universe.

Spoilers beyond the cut.

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May 7th, 2016

An alien race saves humanity, for its own reasons.


Warner Books, 1987, 248 pages

In a world devastated by nuclear war with humanity on the edge of extinction, aliens finally make contact. They rescue those humans they can, keeping most survivors in suspended animation while the aliens begin the slow process of rehabilitating the planet. When Lilith Iyapo is "awakened", she finds that she has been chosen to revive her fellow humans in small groups by first preparing them to meet the utterly terrifying aliens, then training them to survive on the wilderness that the planet has become. But the aliens cannot help humanity without altering it forever.

Bonded to the aliens in ways no human has ever known, Lilith tries to fight them even as her own species comes to fear and loathe her. A stunning story of invasion and alien contact by one of science fiction's finest writers.

Alien sex and metaphors.

Also by Octavia Butler: My reviews of Parable of the Sower, Parable of the Talents, and Fledgling.

My complete list of book reviews.

April 16th, 2016

The classic novel about Earth being invaded by pod people.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Touchstone, 1955, 228 pages

On a quiet fall evening in the small, peaceful town of Mill Valley, California, Dr. Miles Bennell discovered an insidious, horrifying plot. Silently, subtly, almost imperceptibly, alien life-forms were taking over the bodies and minds of his neighbors, his friends, his family, the woman he loved -- the world as he knew it.
First published in 1955, this classic thriller of the ultimate alien invasion and the triumph of the human spirit over an invisible enemy inspired three major motion pictures.

In which humans fight off an alien invasion just by being stubborn. With bonus reviews of ALL FOUR movie adaptations!

Verdict: Body Snatchers is a classic that's worth reading for its historical impact on the genre, but it reads like what it is, a serialized 50s SF story. The four movies based on it range from good to pretty bad, and I wouldn't recommend you watch all four of them like certain obsessive book reviewers, but you should watch at least one (I recommend either the 1956 or the 1978 version). Rating: 6/10.

My complete list of book reviews.

January 27th, 2016

The Skylark of Space launched the writing career of one of the science fiction greats, E. E. “Doc” Smith, and set the tone for the space opera genre. Here's the link to my review.

January 15th, 2016

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Maracot Deep was published in 1929 making it one of his later science fiction novels. It's an intriguing lost civilisation tale about Atlantis, with a marked dash of spiritual and moral speculation.

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