2017 sci-fi experience


A collection of seven science fantasy stories.

Publication year: 1975
Format: print
Page count: 212
Publisher: Ballantine Books

“Beyond Our Narrow Skies” by Leigh Brackett

Brackett’s introduction to the collection shows something of the science fiction field in the 1970s. She defends the need for space opera or purely entertaining stories which the critics apparently scoff. So nothing much has changed in my lifetime. She also introduces each of the stories and we get a fascinating glimpse into her own writing process; in 1945, at least, she seemed to have been a pure “pantser”; working without an outline or even an ending to aim for. She reveals how she came to collaborate with Ray Bradbury on the first story of the collection.

I was only familiar with Brackett, Bradbury, and Anderson before reading this collection.

“Lorelei of the Red Mist” by Leigh Brackett & Ray Bradbury (originally published in Planet Stories 1946)
Hugh Starke (note that Stark/Starke name!) is a thief and a very successful one, too. This time he has robbed a million credits from the Terro-Venus Mines. He’s racing from the thugs the Mines sent after him, when his ship crashes. Starke wakes up and sees a strange, naked woman. Starke realizes that his own body is dying and the woman says that she will transfer his mind to another body. Starke wakes up again, this time in chains. It turns out that the body he’s given is one of swordsman Conan, who has betrayed his wife and his liege, in Crom Dhu.

This is a fantasy tale set on Venus. Starke quickly becomes accustomed to his new body but finds himself a hated man. The strange woman, Rann, tries to control Starke’s actions for her own ends but Strake resents that and tries to make his own decisions.

“The Star Mouse” by Fredric Brown (originally published in Planet Stories 1942)
Professor Oberburger is a German scientist of rockets and other hard sciences. He lives now in Connecticut and, because he lives alone, talks to himself in a rather thick German accent. He has invented a new type of rocket and wants to send it to the Moon before revealing it to the scientific community. The only thing he can put in the rocket is a mouse which he names Mitkey (yes, after the famous Disney mouse). Poor Mitkey is stuffed into the rocket, with plenty of cheese, and blasted off. But something unexpected happens.

This is quite a humorous and charming short story.

“Return of a Legend” by Raymond Z. Gallun (originally published in Planet Stories 1952)
Port Laribee is an Earth outpost on drying and dying Mars. A few people are attracted to Mars and work there as settlers but the work is hard. Joe Dayton came there as a young man with high dreams. Some years working there quench his dreams, but not his love of Mars. Then Frank Terry and his 10-year-old son Will come to the outpost, too. A year later, Frank is found dead but his son is missing and Joe is one of the people searching for him.

I was very intrigued by the world-building in this story. The story itself is lyrical and haunting but for me the world-building was the best part. In this Mars, too, the civilization had died, leaving only ruins. There’s little oxygen but the vegetation remains and has gone mostly underground. Some of the plants are still on the surface and it’s possible to puncture holes into the plants and get air that way.

“Quest of Thig” by Basil Wells (originally published in Planet Stories 1942)
Thig is part of a three-man exploration team. They’re looking for more planets for their race, the Horde, to conquer. His people are grown in laboratories and the only emotion they know is loyalty to the Horde. However, they also have a machine which can transfer one man’s memories (and emotions) to another’s mind. To find out more about Earth, they capture the first Earthman they see and Thig is ordered to take the Earthman’s memories and explore the planet. It’s easy because with little plastic surgery Thig looks exactly like the Earthman they captured. However, the man is happily married with children and family life affects Thig strangely.

The Earthman is Lew Terry, a writer of Western tales. He’s struggling to write a new story. Unfortunately, the transfer of his memories kills him and so Thig takes his place in Lew’s family.

“The Rocketeers Have Shaggy Ears” by Keith Bennett (originally published in Planet Stories 1950)
Patrol Rocket One crashes on Venus, in an unexplored jungle. The scientists and military troops, 45 in all, have to walk hundreds of miles to their base camp, encountering all sorts of horrors on the way. Meanwhile, the men at the base camp are trying to think of a way to help them.

A horror/SF story where the military plays the central part. The main character is Lieutenant Hague who leads a group of infantry men.

“The Diversifal” by Ross Rocklynne (originally published in Planet Stories 1945)
Bryan Barrett feels were strongly about social justice. He’s a writer and he brings to light the wrongdoing of the (US) government and big businesses. However, on man has convinced Bryan to go against his conscious. Bryan hates it but is persuaded by that man to become part of the news media which do their best to keep people uninformed. Bryan hates that man but has to endure a whole ten years of him.

A short but very atmospheric story.

“Duel on Syrtis” by Poul Anderson (originally published in Planet Stories 1951)
Kreega is one of them original Martians; he even fought against the humans when they first conquered Mars a hundred years ago. A lot of things have changed since then: the Martians are no longer slaves but they’re very dependent on humans and their higher technology. Kreega is the last one still living in the harsh Martian wilderness. Riordan is an Earthman who has hunted every kind of big game – except a Martian. He knows that he might not get another chance, so he bribes a human official to look the other way when he goes to the wilderness, with a rockhound and a Martian hawk to run down the last true Martian.

Another very atmospheric story set in a dying Mars.

This is a marvelous collection to fans of pulp SF. The only piece I didn’t care for was Bennett’s; I’m not currently in the mood for horror so I might like it at some other time. Sadly, it seems that no further volumes were published.

Collects comic miniseries 1-3.


Writers: Mark Altman, Chris Dows, Colin Clayton, R. A. Jones
Artists: Rob Davis, Terry Pallot, Brian Michael Bendis, Bruce McGorkindale, Leonard Kirk, Jack Snider
Publisher: Malibu

The majority of this collection is taken up by three-part story the Maquis. It’s pretty solid although not in the same league as the best DS9 episodes. It starts with the rescue of a missing commander from the starship Grissom. However, when he meets Gul Dukat, the commander tries to kill him. But the main story centers on Doctor Bashir. He’s taking a vacation on Risa but on the way there he meets a beautiful woman who promptly kidnaps him. It turns out that she’s a Maquis and a group of them are going to storm a stronghold where the crew of Voyager and Chakotay’s Maquis group are held prisoner. Unfortunately, it’s a Cardassian trap. The plot here is pretty elaborate and I’m not sure it was worth the cost. But I’m not a Cardassian. 😉

This was a pretty fun story and involves Garak which is always a good thing. Some of the secondary characters even had more depth than was obvious at first glance, which is another positive thing. Of course, it’s a minor story which is never referred to again. Each part has also a box to remind the reader to start watching the new show, Voyager.

The collection has two shorter stories as well. They’re pretty good but unfortunately, they’re put in the middle of the Maquis story, cutting it senselessly. The first one is “The Memoir of an Invisible Ferengi” which is a fun short strip about Quark. A Romulan vessel has docked and some threatening looking Romulans pay Quark a visit: they want holosuits and for him to keep an item safe for them. Of course, Quark has took into the box and try on the belt he finds there. It makes him invisible. However, things turn up different than he expected. The second one, “A Tree Grows on Bajor” is a Sisko and Jake story. Sisko and his son have been invited to a ceremony on Bajor which reminds Jake about his mother.

These are also good little stories but unfortunately they interrupt the main story strangely. The Quark story is especially jarring. Otherwise this is a good collection.

A new book in the Diving universe! It’s set on a different planet and with different characters though, so it works as a stand-alone.

Publication year: 2016
Format: Audio
Running time: 11 hours and 48 minutes
Narrator: Flora Plumb

Frisket Falls in a giant waterfall near Sector Base E – 2, which is dependent on the Fleet. When the Fleet announces that they’re going to move on and close down the base, the people living there aren’t happy, even though the base will operate another 30 years. So, when Rajivk Agwu finds two pairs of shoes near the falls, he thinks that someone has killed themselves. He alerts the local search and rescue group who find clues that they could be dealing with a murder victim.

Meanwhile Bristol Iannaze is repairing an anacapa drive which is the only engine able to move people and space ships through fold space, through space and sometimes even through time. She notices a door slamming which means that someone unauthorized is in the secure laboratory with delicate equipment. And that shouldn’t be possible.

The story is told from many point-of-view characters. All of them are specialists on their own field, used to doing things their own way and with their own priorities. Now, their habits collide and they aren’t charitable towards each other. They all want results fast but the results also have to be reliable to their own exacting standards. So, most of them constantly berate each other as incompetents, but mostly in their own minds. This makes them, well, quite human. As a mystery, this structure works very well, at least for me. I’ve read her SF with multiple POV books before but for those who haven’t, the transition from the Boss stories which are written in first person could be jarring.

Unfortunately, the many POV characters also means that some information is repeated, especially at the beginning.

The city and the base are a new setting, and they have a complex relationship with each other. The Fleet takes care of the people and in return a city has sprung up around the base, with plenty of different kinds of people and professions. A very interesting setting.

I enjoyed this very much but it seems like a side story, not related to the main Boss stories.

The first book in a science fantasy series.

Publication year: 1974
Format: print
Page count: 186
Publisher: Ballantine Books

Brackett’s pulp hero Eric John Stark returns. His parents are from Earth but he spent his childhood on Mercury. After his parents died, a native tribe adopted and raised him, and he doesn’t consider himself a civilized man. After his foster parents were killed, Simon Ashton took the young, barbaric Eric in. Ashton works for the galactic government and now he’s missing. He went to a newly found planet, Skaith, and hasn’t been heard from since. Stark goes after him.

Much like Brackett’s Mars, Skaith is also an ancient, dying planet where the current people live among the ruins of old civilizations, killing and robbing each other. Off-worlders aren’t welcome and are confined to stay in just one of the city-states. Indeed, most of the population has trouble with the whole concept of other people living on other planets. Some of them consider the whole idea blasphemy. However, when Stark finds out that the local equivalent of law, the Wandsmen, have taken Ashton, he’s determined to search the whole planet if need be. Much to his surprise, he hears that he is now the focus of a local prophesy: he’s the Dark Man who will destroy the Lords Protector and lead people away from Skaith. But the mythical and tyrannical Lords Protector and their Wandsmen want to stop anyone from leaving Skaith. Stark must defend himself from constant attacks while looking for Ashton. Some locals could be allies but can he trust them?

The Ginger Star is a grim book. The people on Skaith are oppressed by the Wandsmen and by their own limiting beliefs. They’re often hungry and cold. The Wandsmen’s minions are the Farers who keep the other people in check with violence. The Farers are often naked and don’t do any other work. The planet has several humanoid races which are apparently results of human groups inbreeding too much and/or genetic engineering. The children of the sea live in waters and have gills. They’re also cannibals and make any use of water very dangerous. The human groups practice human sacrifice. Some throw sacrifices to the sea creatures, other sacrifice humans to the Old Sun.

The book has several named female characters. They all have lives away from Stark and some have even high social standing. Almost all of them are naked when we meet them.

After Stark lands on Skaith, we don’t see much use of science. His weapons are taken away so he has to use knife and sword and his bare hands to fight.

This is a fast-paced book and a good addition to the pulp genre. Considering the shortness of the book, the world-building is amazing. Again, people aren’t described much but the places and the setting is vivid. It doesn’t end in a cliffhanger but it’s definitely not the end of Stark’s adventures on Skaith.

Collects miniseries issues 1-6.

Writers: Timothy Zahn, Michael Stackpole
Artist: Carlos Ezquerra
Publisher: Titan Books

This series gives us Mara Jade’s background. It’s mostly set during and right after Return of the Jedi.

Mara Jade is one of the best characters in the Star Wars expanded universe novels and she was created by Zahn in the book Heir to the Empire. She was the Emperor’s Hand: an assassin and spy who did Emperor’s most secret jobs. She’s also able to use Force even though she isn’t a Jedi or a Sith.

In this collected edition, we see her final mission for Emperor Palpatine shortly before he died at the hands of Vader and Luke. He also gave her a mission she will try to fulfill in Zahn’s books: to kill Luke Skywalker. Right at the start, we also see a glimpse of her trying to assassinate Luke at Jabba’s Palace.

But in this story, she goes after the boss of criminal organization called Black Nebula and then survives as best she can the death of the Emperor. General Isard tries to take over the Empire and she doesn’t trust Mara at all.

Mara is fanatically loyal to the Emperor because she genuinely believes that the galaxy is better off with laws. But she doesn’t discriminate against aliens, like we see many imperial officers doing. She’s also very insular: she doesn’t have a team and she doesn’t even talk with the crew when she has to travel by space ship. The only person she works with is a droid. The only person she trusts is the Emperor and she doesn’t expect backup from anyone. It’s a very lonely existence but she doesn’t seem to really mind; work was everything to her. And when she really needs it, she has the security clearance to force co-operation from imperial forces. Well, she has it at the start of the story, anyway.
She’s more of a villain in this series but she does also protect people from criminals.

Recommended for people who like Mara Jade in the books. It’s not the best SW comic I’ve read but it’s decent. It’s not focused on battles because Mara is usually more subtle than that.

A stand-alone SF/planetary romance book.

Publication year: 1955
Format: print
Page count: 141
Publisher: Ace Books

Matthew Carse was born on Earth but spent most of his life on Mars. He’s a former archeologist and now more of a treasure hunter on the hot, dry, dying plains of Mars. When a native Martian, Penkawr, follows him, he ambushes the Martian who then shows Carse a great treasure: the Sword of Rhiannon, the ancient Martian god, the Cursed One. Penkawr is afraid that if he shows the sword to anyone else, that other person would rob him. Instead, Carse realizes that Penkawr must have gotten the sword out of the legendary Tomb of Rhiannon which should be filled with treasures. So, Carse forces Penkawr to guide them into the tomb. However, once inside Penkawr finds a way to pay back: he shoves Carse into a strange, dark ball of energy.

Carse feels he’s falling for a long time and that even something strange is messing with his brain. When the fall ends, he finds himself back in the tomb but it doesn’t take long for him to realize that he’s traveled to the past. A million years to the past where Mars is verdantly green and the Sea Kings sail the milky oceans. Carse is now in a strange land whose people and customs he doesn’t know. (Thankfully, they all still speak High Martian so Carse only has a strange accent…)

This is pulp fiction with sea pirates on Mars, ancient gods, and curses. Carse explores the old world together with the reader. He’s also a pulp hero, very sure of himself and without much depth. He even gets a thief side-kick for comic relief.

The book has two named female characters. They both are women of power in their respective societies but I got the feeling that the societies are otherwise patriarchal. Ywain is a proud and cruel woman, ruler of her country while the other woman is a seer.

The storyline was different than I expected, which is usually a good thing. Carse is quickly arrested and spends time as a galley slave.

Brackett has a very sparse style. While she does describe places, we don’t get much description of people. For example, Earth humans and Martian humans can tell each other apart with a glance. I don’t know what their differences are. Indeed, individual people aren’t described at all.

This million-year-old Mars has three humanoid races collectively called Halflings. They’ve evolved from different species than apes. I found them fascinating but we don’t spend much time with them.

If you enjoy fast-paced pulp science fiction, you could enjoy this book but don’t expect it to be anything else.

The second book in the six-part Double Helix series. A Star Trek: TNG series but this part is set on Terok Nor.

Publication year: 1999
Format: print
Page count: 260 + an excerpt of Red Sector, the next book in the series
Publisher: Pocket Books

The mysterious General has sent another minion on Cardassian space station Terok Nor to spread a new designer virus to both the Cardassians and their Bajoran slaves. Gul Dukat, who commands the station, has allowed a Bajoran doctor, Kellec Ton, to come to the station. When it becomes clear that the disease affects both races, and quickly, Kellec Ton demands that his ex-wife is brought to the station to research it. Gul Dukat is reluctant because that ex-wife is Federation’s Dr. Pulaski. But rather quickly Dukat agrees for Pulaski to come with a small team. However, if any of the Federation team is caught spying they could all be killed.

Dr. Pulaski is leaving Enterprise-D when Kellec’s message reaches her. She realizes immediately how dangerous the mission will be but gathers three volunteers and goes to the station. On Terok Nor, she battles not only the disease but also the attitudes between the Cardassians and the Bajorans which make it difficult for the Cardassian and Bajoran doctors to work together. And gul Dukat seems to care only for the ore quotas and keeping the Federation agents from seeing the conditions that the Bajoran workers are forced to live in.

At the same time, Quark is trying to run a bar and cope with his newly arrived brother Rom and nephew Nog. Also, resistance fighter Kira Nerys is trying to find out if the rumors about a plague engineered by the Cardassians is true.

This was an excellent continuation of the series. This time, the characters deal with complex racial issues, which were pretty quickly swept aside in the first book, and also wonder how they can cure people who are just sent back to slavery. Kellec Ton is a stubborn and brilliant man who constantly butts heads with Dukat. We get to really know Pulaski in a way that I don’t think we saw her in the second season of TNG. To be fair, I haven’t much rewatched that season and I took an instant dislike to her because of her attitude towards my favorite TNG character, Data. Here, she really gets to shine.

While it was nice to see Kira, she wasn’t integral to the story. In fact, I go the impression that the studio ordered her to be in the book. Her attitude towards Federation was a bit surprising, considering how much she loathed them in the first episodes of DS9.

I really liked the writing style, but that’s no surprise; Rusch is one of my favorite authors. Rusch and Smith also weave in Kira’s and Odo’s backstory from DS9 season two.

Next Page »