The fourth installment in Farmer’s Riverworld series, wherein the source of the alien power that has resurrected all of humanity (we’re like the stock market – one minute we’re down, then we’re up!) on a distant planet is finally discovered. SPOILER ALERT: it was aliens with a resurrection machine. They wanted to test Earthlings’ morality, and we failed said test, scoring just above an immoral species of flatworm from Antares IV which befriends you only so it can bang your sister. Also, the clocks go ahead this weekend, so remember to change the batteries in your spoiler-alerter.

On a scale of famous labyrinths ranging from the Pac Man board to Minotaur’s hideout, this book is: the hedge maze from ‘The Shining’.

RIP, PJF.


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A medieval village is transported to a technologically-advanced planet, where 12th century weaponry and terrestrial cunning miraculously defeat hoards of laser-toting aliens. This book proves that Earth is the USA of the galaxy – EARTH! EARTH! EARTH! – because we kick ass and take names. And that ain’t easy, because alien names are hard to spell, and our limited knowledge of xenobiology often makes finding their asses difficult. Recommended.

On a scale of medieval weapons ranging from the misericorde to the scramaseax, this book is: the zweihander.

Cheech and Chong's favourite book. Because, you see, they like marijuana.

I can sum up this anthology of Russian scifi stories in one word: дрянной. With a capital ‘д’. Most of them are written by and told from the point of view of scientists who, despite their depiction on NBC’s Scientists In The City as promiscuous, self-narrating singles who sip cosmopolitans from Erlenmeyer flasks and wear $30 Manolo Blahnik arch-support loafers, aren’t as thrilling and sexy as you may think. This makes for what I call a ‘burnt toast book’: edible but dry. Pass the butter.

On a scale of guys ranging from to Aiden to Big, this book is: Berger.

The Ultimate Threshold of BOREDOM, maybe. Snap!

I’m reading my way through the science fiction and fantasy of the twentieth century. Here’s why:

Like you, I have a homemade time machine in my basement. But, to me, time travel is like surfing the Internet. Unless I’m looking for something specific, I tend to wander aimlessly, lost, confused and barred by Niven’s Law* from altering history in any way. Jaunt after pointless jaunt into the past got me wondering about which time was truly the best to visit. 

For answers, I decided to hunker down and do a little reading.

Specifically, I have decided to read one work of science fiction published in each year of the twentieth century, beginning with 1900**. The books will be chosen at random and read non-chronologically, their merit carefully considered and then given a grade on a scale relevant to their content.

Some reviews will be pithy and insightful. Others will be uninspired. One will contain the word ‘falanaka’and will leave the reader wondering if it has been used correctly.

With each year of C20 represented by a book, the best book will ergo determine the best year, and I can set the coordinates of my time machine accordingly. And that’s when I’ll live, happy at last.

Stay attuned.

 

*During his Oscar acceptance speech for Best Actor in 1958’s Separate Tables, actor David Niven wittily surmised that “If the universe of discourse permits the possibility of time travel and changing the past, then no time machine will be invented in that universe.”

 **I know, I know. But it seems like a good place to start. A nice, round year.

Before H.G. Wells became morbidly obese and started doing wine commercials, he wrote this book, in which two 19th century Londoners journey to our nearest celestial neighbor. A celestial neighbor, by the way, is good to have when you leave Earth on vacation and need someone to water your plants. Anywho, they discover a highly complex society living beneath the barren lunar surface, like we all kinda knew they would. With its blend of spirited adventure and heady social commentary, The First Men In The Moon is a story everyone can enjoy. Well, almost everyone; conspiracy theorists believe this entire book was a hoax staged by the Nixon administration to draw attention away from the war in Vietnam. Recommended.

On a scale of people mentioned in the Neil Diamond song ‘Done Too Soon’ ranging from Genghis Khan to Ho Chi Minh, this book is: H.G. Wells.

In your face, Armstrong!

A group of people discover a dimensional portal which leads them to a dimension peopled by people from another dimension. And that previous sentence is better written and more interesting than this entire novel.  Damon Knight once said The Blind Spot has ‘no recognizable vestige of merit’, so I too denounce it. Not that I do everything Damon Knight tells me to, I just happen to agree. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to pick up Damon Knight’s dry cleaning and vacuum his car, which is weird, because he’s dead.

On a scale of how traffic accidents happen ranging from talking on your cell phone while you’re driving to icy roads, this book is: not checking your blind spot.

The upside of being blind? You’d never have to read this book.

James Tiptree writes like a girl, because he was one. Alice Bradley Sheldon assumed a male nom de plume to avoid the discrimination faced by female writers in the early days of scifi (it was not uncommon, for example, to see a leering Isaac Asimov chasing a busty, short-skirted Ursula K. Leguin repeatedly around a desk while imploring her to ‘prove you’re not a robot, sugar pie’). But as this excellent anthology shows, any fear Tiptree had about not being taken seriously was unfounded; her scifi hammer hangs lower than most male writers’. Highly recommended.

On a scale of famous men who were really women ranging from Pope Joan to Billy Tipton, this book is: Samus Aran.

Published in Canada as 'Oot Of The Everywhere'.