Monday, January 15, 2018

The Moon Pool

A Merritt
Completed 1/14/2018, reviewed 1/15/2018
4 stars

This is perhaps the oldest book I’ve read since high school.  It’s 99 years old this year.  It shows its age, being very much part of the adventure genre that SF was before SF existed.  But it’s still very good and a fairly easily readable introduction into the world of early science fiction and fantasy.  There were some parts that dragged, but in general, it was a wildly imaginative adventure from a time when the earth still had undiscovered places. 

The story is about a group of people who find a secret passageway to an underground civilization.  Specifically, Dr. Walter Goodwin finds out about a vampiric energy field, which they call the Dweller, that comes out during the full moon and captures people and sucks the life out of them.  He takes Larry O’Keefe, a roguish Irish-American, Olaf Huldriksson, a Norse boat captain whose wife and daughter were abducted by the Dweller, and Marakinoff, a Bolshevik from the newly formed Soviet Union.  They enter through a portal at some ruins in the South Pacific.  There they meet several races, including frog people as well as humans who seem to be related to Polynesians.

The prose for the most part is quite delicious.  Merritt uses some great language in describing the underground caverns and their denizens.  Sometimes it dragged a bit, but in general it was enjoyable.  One thing that bothered me though was that he overused some of his descriptive words, like lambent and coruscating.  At times it became almost comical when the words came up.  It reminded me of a sketch from The Kids in the Hall where a guy in a factory learns a new word and uses it in every sentence.  While it’s not that bad, it does become obvious as you progress through the book. 

Another complaint I had was that the story eventually devolves into a love story and love tries to conquer all.  This is the place where the book doesn’t hold up over time.  However, I have to put the book in context.  Today, love stories have to be complex to be entertaining and believable.  A hundred years ago, this may have not been the case, particularly in science fiction adventure stories. 

There isn’t that much science in the book.  Specifically, there are some sections which are deleted because of concern over Soviet espionage.  I thought this was a clever way to get around trying to describe something that was perhaps too complicated for the author.  However, there is a retelling of the creation of the earth and moon that reminded me of my elementary school textbook cosmology.  This being 1919, I’m thinking it must have been quite advanced for its time.

Despite my complaints, the story is very entertaining.  His visions of hidden worlds are quite creative.  I haven’t read any H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, or Edgar Rice Burroughs, (Yes, take away my nerd card) but I’ve seen references that compare Merritt to a sort of combination of these early masters.  If you are looking for an example of science fiction from the time before it was so classified, this is a good one to read.  And you can get the electronic version for free on Project Gutenberg since the copyright has expired.  Four stars out of five.  (And the A stands for Abraham)

Sunday, January 7, 2018


Jack Williamson
Completed 1/7/2018, reviewed 1/7/2018
2 stars

Yes, this title of this book sounds like gay porn.  It’s partly why I bought it, it made me laugh.  The other part though was because I had only read one other book by this Grand Master of SF, Darker Than You Think, which I really enjoyed.  Unfortunately, this book wasn’t nearly as entertaining, and dragged in parts.  It had a great concept but never grabbed me.  And the ending was quite uninspired. 

The book is about a group of people who send out hundreds, maybe thousands of small spacecrafts looking to seed new earths with human DNA.  When found, a spacecraft will land and begin populating the planet with cloned humans.  The humans are derived from the group of people who put this project together, hoping to have enough diversity to create an actual new population of earthlings on these new planets.  They see it as the only way humanity will survive.  The spacecrafts can also spawn Defenders, cybogs based on the best of the best of the people on the project.  These Defenders can help the spacecraft in time of trouble, like when one gets hit by a micro-meteor, or help the humans being created on the new planet.  This story follows one such spacecraft and its Defender.

As I noted initially, the concept sounded great:  seeding the galaxy with humanity by cloning humans once the spacecraft arrives at a new planet.  It allows for the spaceship to be much smaller than a whole generations ship which would have to carry a diverse enough population to start a human colony.  Even the Defender was intriguing, a golden cyborg based on the minds of some of the greatest scientists on earth, which could make human decisions or take human actions when the ship or the colony needed help.  Of course, the decisions and actions would be based on the real-life experiences of the people from whom the cyborg was created, so there would be flashbacks illuminating the history of the mission.

Unfortunately, I thought the characters were pretty cardboard.  There was not much character development at all.  The brains of about five men went into the creation of the first Defender, and almost all of the focus is on Don Brink, the mercenary soldier and only non-scientist in the elite group, and his relationship with the only female character of note, Megan Drake.  Their relationship, or rather, their lack of a consummated relationship on Earth plagues the Defender through many of his decisions.  It becomes more troublesome when Defender Two is created and she’s the spitting image of Megan. She even tells him she loves him, blah, blah, blah.  But she has genitals and the Defender, now known as Defender One, doesn’t.  So they still can’t consummate their relationship.  It gets pretty soapy.

The bouncing timeline gets pretty annoying as well.  Defender One has a decision to make or comes across some kind of circumstance and it throws him into a recollection of one of the five men in his head.  It got occasionally confusing at times who he was referring to in the past.  This was a major criticism of other reviews I read, although I thought it wasn’t quite that difficult.   

There were also some plot holes.  The most noticeable one to me was that Defender One was created without genitals or wings.  However, Defenders Two and Three had them.  The wings were intended to be solar radiation collectors, that being one of the ways a cyborg can be recharged.  Later in the book, Defender One somehow grows a pair of wings himself for collecting solar energy, although it’s not explained very well.  I think it was something the spacecraft was able to do for him when he was hooked up to it with his umbilical cord.  Well, if he could grow wings, why couldn’t he grow genitals?  There is never an explanation of why Defenders Two and Three have them, so why can’t Defender One have them?  But probably the ultimate question for me was, why are genitals even an issue, other than to create existential angst for Defender One?  His constant moaning about not having them eventually became irritating.

I was really disappointed with the ending too.  No spoilers, but it rather felt like Williamson didn’t have an ending.  He started to throw some things in that didn’t really make sense, but tied up some loose ends, and then stopped writing. 

I’m giving the book two stars out of five.  It’s not bad, it’s just not very good.