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Defy the Stars
by Claudia Gray
Artemis
by Andy Weir
Of Men and Monsters
by William Tenn
A Spell for Chameleon
by Piers Anthony
The Molecule Men (and the Monster of Loch Ness)
by Fred Hoyle and Geoffrey Hoyle
The Flying Sorceres
by David Gerrold and Larry Niven

Defy the Stars
by Claudia Gray

Published by Little, Brown and Company 2017

Noemi will die in twenty days. As Genesis solder, she volunteered for the Masada Run, a desperate, suicidal, attempt to shut down the gate between Genesis and Earth long enough for Genesis to rebuild their fleet and continue to hold back Earth's invading forces.

During a firefight in front of the gate, Noemi gets stranded on a derelict Earth ship. There she inadvertently frees Abel, a mech from Earth. Stuck in an airlock for thirty years, Abel finally has duties to perform, but killing Noemi isn't one of them. Noemi wants to save her world, and Abel's programing impels him to return Earth to his creator, the man who built him. But neither can do it alone.

Noemi and Abel roam through Earth's colony worlds, each with their own problems.

This book creates a rich and complex society. Both Noemi and Abel grow and develop as they go from world to world. Abel's creator isn't what he expected or wanted, and closing the gate isn't the best way to save Genesis.

Defy the Stars is captivating and exciting if a little formulaic. Every time Noemi and Abel attempt to do something, it always goes south. No problem is solved without creating a new problem. That does keep the book moving along, but it is also predictable.

Both Noemi and Abel are enjoyable characters, people you would like to meet and care about, which makes the ending less satisfying than I would like. After the exciting conclusion, the story peters out a little. The ending isn't bad, in fact, it is a fine ending, I just wanted Noemi and Abel to get a little more. Still, it is nicely set up for sequels.

Reviewed by Romana Drew July 26, 2020







Artemis


By Andy Weir

Published November 14, 2017

Crown

Born in Saudi Arabia, Jasmine "Jazz" Bashara has lived on the moon since she was six. Now in her twenties, she works as a porter and smuggler. When Trond Landvik offers her one million slugs (moon money) to destroy some mining equipment, she takes it. Then things go wrong. She almost gets killed, people get murdered, and she still has to finish the job, not just for the money, but for the sake of everyone on the moon.

This is a great book with a few not so great bits. Andy Weir is a superb storyteller. The plot is exciting and moves along at just the right clip. It seldom strays too far from plausible science. Artemis, the first city on the moon, is quite believable.

There are a few things that didn't ring true. I don't think you could enjoy a cigar in a pure oxygen atmosphere. Wouldn't it burn too fast to smoke? Chloroform might be the least of the harmful chemicals produced in the explosion. And I doubt that enough would be produced to have such a widespread effect. But, it all seemed quite reasonable while I was reading.

My one real complaint with the book is that I didn't like the main character very much. She has an unrepentant criminal mindset. There's nothing sinister about Jazz. She is willing to die to save the city, but she has little respect for other people's possessions. That made it hard for me to really care for her.

Artemis is a good fun read. I highly recommend it.

Reviewed by Romana Drew on August 30, 2019.





Of Men and Monsters


By William Tenn

Copyright 1968 This edition published in Great Britain, 2011, Gollancz, Orion Publishing

Monsters have taken over Earth, huge six-legged gray creatures that have tentacles instead of arms and hands. Humans live in their shadow like mice, burrowing inside the walls of the Monster's buildings.

Eric the Only is about to embark on his first Theft, the right of passage into manhood. If he succeeds, he will be known as Eric the Eye. Then he can find a wife. If he fails, he will be dead or relegated a lonely life as an outcast.

Eric must venture out of the safety of Mankind's burrows and into Monster territory. He has a choice. He can steal food, or useful items, or Monster souvenirs. The first is easy, the second possible, the third is nearly impossible and very dangerous. His uncle persuades him to go for the third category and tells him just how to do it.

On his quest for a Monster souvenir, Eric the Only, not only meets another tribe of humans but learns how to move about in Monster territory. However, while he is on his quest, his tribe is invaded and his world destroyed. He joins another tribe on their quest to destroy the Monsters, or so he thinks.

In this upside down world, there are wild humans living outside as animals, without culture or education. There are tribes that practice religions based on Alien-Science or Ancestor-Science, though neither is based on science. Both think of the other as heretics. Only the Aaron People have any real science.

The human cultures are well developed, but the Monster culture is glossed over. Since the story is told from Eric's point of view, that isn't surprising. The Monsters do trap, kill, and study the humans, much as humans do mice. As satire, this almost works.

Mice don't wear clothes nor do they carry weapons, but the humans in this story do both. The humans are obviously sentient, far evolved from wild animals. Even if the Monsters have no regard for other life forms, their treatment of humans, and their failure to recognize the human's intelligence, doesn't ring true. That, and a tendency to be a bit longwinded and preachy, make this not quite a grade A novel.

But it is definitely a good fun read. The characters are well developed and believable. The descriptions of burrow life and Monster territory, are quite believable. The Monster technology is creative and unique. And the conclusion, although not what Eric envisioned, is great. There is more than one way to explore the galaxy and settle new planets.

Reviewed by Romana Drew June 27, 2019.



A Spell for Chameleon


By Piers Anthony

1977 Ballantine Books & Del Rey

Bink will turn twenty-five very soon. If he doesn't figure what his magic talent is, he will be banished to Mundania where the non-magical live out their boring lives. In Xanth, every living thing is magical or has magic. Bink knows he isn't magical. He is a normal human. But all humans in Xanth must have magic.

Every person's magic is different. Some can make a pink spot on a wall, others a blue spot, useless but magical. Some can make a pit appear in the ground, or cast a clear shield to trip up any unsuspecting creature, useful if something is chasing you. The really powerful magicians can whip us storms or transform anything into anything else. They are the rulers of Xanth.

Bink travels to the good magician Humfrey's castle to find out if he has magic even though the price to ask a question is a year's service to Humfery. On the way, he meets the stunningly beautiful but intellectually vacuous Wynne and the absolutely average Dee. Humfrey tells Bink that he has magician strength magic, but it can't be identified. Unable to demonstrate his magic, Bink is banished to Mundania. He doesn't get far before the evil magician Trent intercepts him, and he meets the ugly, but brilliant, Fanchon.

The three of them, Bink, Trent, and Fanchon break back into Xanth, each with their own agenda. Trent wants to take over Xanth. Fanchon, who cycles into Dee and Wynn every month, wants to find a spell to make her normal. And Bink wants to find his magic talent and stay in Xanth.

A Spell for Chameleon is a well-crafted story that takes the reader on a journey through a land of the impossible and makes it all seem plausible. As the first of the Xanth novels, it doesn't have as many puns as I remember the later stories, but there are still plenty of fascinating dangers such as sneeze bees, talking trees, hawk moths, healing springs, and love potions.

Reviewed by Romana Drew January 1, 2019



The Molecule Men (and the Monster of Loch Ness)

Two short novels by Fred Hoyle and Geoffrey Hoyle

1971 Harper & Row

The Molecule Men

The Molecule Men is the story about an alien invasion by a shape-shifting creature, but nothing is quite what it seems. First, the main character, Dr. West, encounters an odd passenger in the airport, R. A. Adcock. Later he meets Adcock again in a courtroom. Adcock can barely talk. Then, in the middle of the trial, he hurls himself through a window and turns into a swarm of giant bees. From there, things get even stranger.

It's a little hard to believe that Dr. West, a university professor, has such easy access to the Prime Minister of Great Britton, or that the PM spends so little time actually being Prime Minister. Also, the disappearance of all the cabinet members doesn't seem to cause much of an upheaval.

From the language to the setting, this book is uniquely English with lots of details of London. Although The Molecule Men was published in 1971, it feels as if it were written in 1951. This is a man's world. Not in a macho superman kind of way, but simply by the invisibility of female characters.


The Monster of Loch Ness

There is something at the bottom of Loch Ness according to Tom Cochrane and the Loch Ness Researchers. Both the turbidity and temperature readings are impossible. There has to be something either stirring up the lake or heating it. There is even a credible sighting and photographic proof of a flat-headed monster with a long neck and humps on its back.

A trip through the Loch Ness Visitor's Center will dispel any lingering doubts you might have. No monsters live in Loch Ness. Also, it assumes the temperature gradient and deuterium levels in the lake remain stratified and constant, yet lakes typically turn over every fall. As the weather cools, the surface water to sinks to the bottom and the bottom water to rises to the surface mixing everything. This makes the story was a bit hard to believe, but never fear, nothing is quite what it seems.

This is hard science fiction. From water temperature readings to deuterium levels, the author uses science to explain the abnormal findings and freak storms plaguing the area. As it turns out, something does live in Loch Ness, something alien.

The book has excellent descriptions of Scotland and a very British, or Scottish, use of language. For an American, some of the word usage may seem odd, but rather than distracting from the story, it adds character to the writing style and flavor to the setting.

The Authors

Fred Hoyle (1915 - 2001) is a well-known astronomer and Cambridge professor who wrote many nonfiction books and coauthored several science fiction books, most with his some Geoffrey.

Geoffrey Hoyle (1941 - ) co-authored most of his father's, Fred Hoyle's, science fiction books. He has also written a couple of books on his own.

Both The Molecule Men and The Monster of Loch Ness are well-written and entertaining stories. Although a bit out of date, they are worth reading.

The Flying Sorcerers

by David Gerrold and Larry Niven

1971 Del Rey Books

The Flying Sorcerers is the story of two sorcerers, or one sorcerer and one hapless human, depending upon your point of view. A researcher from Earth visits a primitive planet and gets stranded. He is determined to get back to his ship and go home, that is if Shoogar, doesn't kill him first.

His translator tells the natives his name is, as a color a shade of purple-gray, so they call him, Purple. His technology looks like magic to them. That is a threat to the reining sorcerer, Shoogar. So, of course, Shoogar must duel with Purple for the right to be the town sorcerer.

Although there is much talk of magic and spells, this is hard scifi. Shoogar may think he is using magic, but the descriptions suggest that he relies on basic chemistry and physics to make his spells work. On this pre-industrial world, Purple must build a flying machine to cross the ocean. In doing so, he restructures the entire society. It is a fascinating look at problem solving, sometimes farfetched, but always interesting.

I read this many years ago and had forgotten most of the story. I did remember Purple and was delighted to find that this is his book.

The Flying Sorcerers is a somewhat silly story told in a unique and fascinating way. However, the treatment of women is abysmal. And the names get a bit old. They are all 'in jokes,' such as Wilville and Orbur, the bicycle makers who build a flying machine called the Cathawk. This is called Tuckerization. I think David Gerrold and Larry Niven have carried the idea about as far as possible.

This is not a great masterpiece of literary fiction, but it is a good fun read. I highly recommend it.

Reviewed by Romana Drew September 2, 2018