Welcome!! My name is Paul Lappen. I am in my early 50s, single, and live in Connecticut USA. This blog will consist of book reviews, written by me, on a wide variety of subjects. I specialize, as much as possible, in small press and self-published books, to give them whatever tiny bit of publicity help that I can. Other than that, I am willing to review nearly any genre, except poetry, romance, elementary-school children's books and (really bloody) horror.

I have another 800 reviews at my archive blog: http://www.deadtreesreviewarchive.blogspot.com (please visit).

I post my reviews to:

2 yahoo groups
Amazon and B&N (of course)
and on Twitter

I am always looking for more places to post my reviews.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Tesseracts Seventeen

Tesseracts Seventeen, Colleen Anderson and Steve Vernon (ed.), Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, 2013

Here is another compendium of weird stories from north of the border, in Canada.

A new mother can't leave her baby alone for a second, out of fear that The Wall will devour the child. It's a creature that creeps along walls, looking like a shadow, and with very sharp teeth. On the other side of The Wall is a land of torment straight from Hell. Another story looks at the difference between people who are spiritual without believing in a specific religion, and those who are absolutely sure of the infallibility of religious doctrine, for instance, without being spiritual. What if all newborns are genetically tested, and the "non-believers" are killed?

A doll tells a little girl a story about vultures who go down chimneys, and kidnap little children as they sleep. They are taken to the deep, dark Underground, where the goblins live. The "lucky" ones are cooked and eaten, and the "unlucky" ones are sent to the mines as slaves. A young man visits his grandfather's grave, which now has an interactive video of Grandpa (the software needs some diagnostic help). He also burns his worthless Ph.D. in Education, because there no longer are any live school teachers.

All over the world, strange spheres appear and tell people "touch me and you will get twenty thousand dollars" (or win a cow, or save one hundred acres of rainforest, etc.). Their prizes come due in sixty days. Do they actually get their prizes?

As usual with this series, this is a first-rate group of stories. They are not specifically science fiction, or fantasy, or horror, but somewhere in the middle. They are the sort of tales that could easily be on a TV show like The Twilight Zone. It is very much worth reading.

Expiration Date

Expiration Date, Nancy Kilpatrick (ed.), Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, 2015

Many things in life have an ending or an expiration date. It can range from the food in your refrigerator, to the finish of a horse race, to the stopping of a stop-watch, to the end of a person's life. That's what this group of new stories is all about.

Stuck in that split second before dying (or not dying) in an auto accident, a woman gets to see how her family will survive, both with her and without her. Fascinated by death from an early age, a woman becomes an EMT to get as close to death as possible. She learns that when a person's time has come, getting in the way, and bringing them back to life, is not a good idea. Death makes several appearances in this book.

A group of present-day ghost hunters gets a little too close to the ghost of Lizzie Borden and her axe. A young boy is visiting his very sick younger brother in the hospital; the younger brother's life expectancy is down to minutes. Does he tell his younger brother what he really thinks, that there is nothing after this life, except blackness and decay? On the other hand, does Older Brother tell Younger Brother that he is going to nice place full of green grass, where he will meet his deceased grandparents?

When a person dies suddenly, like in an auto accident, is there someone nearby to help them get to the Other Side, or do they have to find their own way? There are a couple of stories about people who, from the outside, look to be in an irreversible coma, but, on the inside, they are very much alive.

I enjoyed reading this book. All of the stories are excellent; some of them actually reach the level of Wow. Only a couple of stories get into actual horror. Death will affect everyone eventually; these tales provide some possible ways that it will happen. This is highly recommended.

Mike Mars Flies the X-15

Mike Mars Flies the X-15, Donald A. Wollheim, Paperback Library, 1961

Part of a series, this adventure novel is about the very early days of the American space program.

Everyone is familiar with Project Mercury, the beginning of America's journey into space. But no one is familiar with Project Quicksilver, a secret program to plant the American flag on the Moon. Mike Mars, one of the astronauts in the program, has been dreaming about going into space since he was a boy. Rod Harger, another of the astronauts, has a very different motivation. All he cares about is the fame and glory (and money) that will come from being the first man in space. His rich father hires a thug names Cahoon, and sends him to Edwards Air Force Base in California to do what he can to ensure that Rod is the first in space.

The X-15 is the state of the art in spaceplanes, and any attempt at sabotage is a bad idea, because before every flight, every square inch of the X-15 is checked, and re-checked. After each of the astronauts gets a chance at flying the X-15, which takes off attached to the wing of a B-52 bomber, Mike is chosen to pilot the first flight to the edge of the atmosphere.

Meantime, a storehouse on the edge of the base is broken into, and a Sidewinder (heat-seeking) anti-aircraft missile and launcher is stolen. Johnny Bluehawk, another of the astronauts and a full-blooded Native American, investigates. He gets knocked out and thrown in the back of a truck. Next thing he knows, he is in Nevada, near Las Vegas. The course the X-15 will take back to Edwards is known in advance, so the missile is set up near one of the radar stations over which the X-15 will have to travel. The intention is to blow Mike, and the X-15, out of the air. During a major brawl between Johnny and Cahoon, the missile is launched. Does Johnny make it back to Edwards in one piece?

Considering when this novel was published, when manned spaceflight was considered insane, this is pretty good. It's a very quick read, and will bring the reader back to those hallowed days of yesteryear.  

Friday, July 3, 2015

Fat Girl in a Strange Land

Fat Girl in a Strange Land, Kay T. Holt and Bart R. Leib (ed.), Crossed Genres Publications, 2012

Many science fiction stories are about tall, square-jawed adventurers boldly exploring the galaxy. The women in such stories are the female equivalent of tall and square-jawed. This anthology looks at a very under-served part of the population - fat women.

A woman in Guatemala dreams of becoming the first female luchador, until she discovers a greater calling that is much closer to home. A midwestern soccer mom, nicknamed Flux, refuses to wear the new spandex outfit given to her by her superhero colleagues. A team is being sent to a far-away planet that is in the middle of being terraformed. They will be working practically non-stop for months, so they need every bit of bodily fuel that they can get. That is why they were instructed to put on a lot of weight before they leave.

Most of Earth's population has emigrated to a new planet, Terra Nova, because Earth is dying. Among those who are left is a teacher at a special school for fat kids. Also fat, she makes the long trip to Terra Nova, but is detained and sent back to Earth. Mary Beth's friends have their own spaceship, for quick jaunts to Mars or the Moon. She is asked to get out of the spaceship, because she is too heavy. With help from a local junkyard, she attempts to build her own spaceship. It is not a short or cheap process. Does she succeed?

This is a pretty good group of stories from a marginalized point of view. Some of the stories were better than others, but this book is still worth reading.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

We Are the Destroyers

We Are the Destroyers, D.K. Lindler, First Life Publishing, 2014

Environmental degradation and over-consumption are destroying Bel'lar's home world. A growing movement among the people is to adopt the Syn (synthetic) lifestyle, to practically live on synthetic chemicals. The minority Organs (organic) want Bel'lar to take a ship called Light Traveler, and a small crew, to the semi-mythical planet blue/white planet. to see if it is suitable for colonization.

Just before their hurried departure, just missing a mob of rampaging Syns, a beautiful mystic and seer named Ry Sing gives Bel'lar a horrifying vision. Long, long ago, Bel'lar was the Great One, the religious leader on a world called the Planet of Abundance. It faced a similar over-consumption crisis. His advisers convinced him the purifying the planet was the only option. It wasn't until it was too late that Bel'lar realized that "purifying" the planet involved using several nuclear weapons buried around the planet to kill everyone. Even worse, scripture says that he is destined to do it again.

After visiting the blue/white planet, with an unscheduled stop at its smaller, red, dead planetary neighbor (the Planet of Abundance), Bel'lar and crew head home to tell the people what they have found. Because of time dilation, nearly 350 years have passed since they left. Their world is on the verge of environmental collapse. The air and water are full of synthetic chemicals. There are no fish or animals left. Genetic modifications from the Syn lifestyle have made the population fat, hairless and stupid. The few Organs who are left are forbidden to leave their compound on pain of immediate death by the Syns.

An entire religion grew up around Bel'lar during his absence. A competing religion has grown up around a man named Quasar, leader of the Organs, and de facto ruler of the world. Bel'lar is to be forced to publicly recant (he has no interest in being another Great One), so that the people will have no choice but to worship Quasar. A short distance away is another planetary purification device. Does Bel'lar "purify" another planet? Is there anyone worth saving?

Personally, the first half of the book, when the crew visited the two planets, felt a little too new age-ish. The second half of the story, when they were back home, was much better. It will give the reader a lot to think about, and it is still worth reading.  

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

No Place on Earth

No Place on Earth, Louis Charbonneau, Doubleday, 1958

In the year 2240, Earth is ruled by the dictatorial Population Control Corps, which keeps the world in a state of constant famine. Petr Clayborne's father, Jack Clayborne, was a senior figure in the Underground, the only political opposition, but was executed when Petr was a child. Petr has no interest in following in his father's footsteps.

Petr is in PCC custody, and is being interrogated, with pharmaceutical help. Members of the Underground are given a false tooth with a liquid memory obliterator, instead of cyanide, if they are caught. Petr has used his fake tooth, and the PCC has supposedly developed a drug to reverse the obliterator. Captain Hartung of the PCC, a romantic rival for the affection of Petr's wife, Alda, is convinced that Petr knows the location and destination of a secret submarine which is about to slip out of the PCC's surveillance.

During the drug injections, Petr relives his life. Alda's father, who may or may not be a senior figure in the Underground, does not approve of their relationship, because of Petr's unwillingness to join the Underground. Alda and Petr are married in a bureaucratic process which bears a strong resemblance to spending a day at the DMV. They decide to have a child before they are authorized to do so, something which is very illegal. Petr eventually finds the Underground, which agrees to help them escape in the above-mentioned submarine. But, at every pickup point in New York City, the PCC is waiting. The only possible explanation is that there is a "mole" in the Underground. Does Petr reveal the sub's location to Captain Hartung? Do Alda and Petr escape via the Underground? What does the Underground know that could destroy the PCC's hold on power?

This one is pretty good. It is very "1984"-ish in that a loyal citizen slowly turns into an enemy of the state. It's a pretty "quiet" story in that there is very little violence until the end. For those who like reading dystopia stories, this is well worth reading.

Alive Souls: Inception

Alive Souls: Inception, Elena Yulkina, Amazon Digital Services, Inc., 2015

Maya is your average teenager, but not really. She can read minds, and she can control fire with her mind. She knows that she is not like her classmates in school. One night, she asks, out loud, who is she and where did she come from. Then she gets the answer.

Maya suddenly finds herself in a well-lit ballroom with lots of expensive-looking paintings on the walls. It is also full of people. She is suddenly hugged by a younger man who treats her like his long-lost daughter, which she is. It seems that Maya is a real princess who was sent to Earth to get her out of the way. All of the inhabited worlds have been fighting a long-running war against the Darkness. They have been holding it off, as best they can, while waiting for Maya to become old enough, and powerful enough, to fight the Darkness single-handedly (scripture says so).

Maya can't go back to Earth, because there is too much chance of her being found by the Darkness. Her twin sister, Varvara, takes her place. She can't stay where she is, on a planet called Zabir, for the same reason. Maya is sent to another world, called Udas. A young man named Mayvert volunteers to go with her, as her bodyguard, but he does not do a very good job of it. There are several narrow escapes, including Maya being burned at the stake as some sort of monster, and walking out of the flames, totally unhurt. Did I mention that Maya and Mayvert are able to grow actual, working wings? Does the Darkness come to Udas to find Maya?

This is a short novel, less than 100 pages, but it is surprisingly good. It works as a teen/young adult tale. It also works as a fantasy story, with interesting possibilities for future stories. It's well worth reading.