Star Lord — Louise Lawrence (1978)

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Publisher: Starwanderer / Harper & Row

Second Harper & Row Edition, First Starwanderer Imprint, 1980

Cover Art: Michael Heslop

Plot Synopsis (of cover): The black heart of the Star Lord flared anew at the sight of his grisly visage. He had coated himself in the rotting entrails of his slain enemies, rubbing his hair with blood and viscera. His naked body glistened wet and sanguine, and the stench of rotting flesh filled his bedchamber. His stomach growled, and he took a bite of raw liver to quiet it. This was a special day—today he would cement his tyrannical control over the masses by striking fear into their weak, timid souls. He was Star Lord, and he would not be denied! Suddenly, breaking his concentration, Star Lord’s gran walked into the room without knocking. “Alphonse, I made you some Pop Tarts for your big day!” Grammy Star Lord then gasped, “Alphonse Eugene Star Lord, I never! You are not going outside like that! Wash yourself off this instant!” Star Lord moaned, “But Grammy! I’m subjugating the masses today! I gotta have a grisly visage!” “Nonsense,” replied his gran. “That’s all the more reason to look respectable. Now I got you this nice button-up, and I’ll run you a bath. You want Grammy to wash your back?” Star Lord, mortified, shrieked, “Grammy, they need to fear me! Nobody fears anyone in a button-up!” Grammy huffed, “Galactic Terror wore a button-up when he ascended to power, and he’s feared.” “Nobody fears Galactic Terror! He’s a NERD!” At that, Grammy had her fill. “That’s enough! You march right into that bathroom immediately, mister, or Granny will spank!” As her chastised grandson skulked off to the lavatory, Grammy remarked to herself, “Oh, that Star Lord. Such a good boy.”

Relatively Irrelevant Inside Text: This is a joke, right? Like, I’m being Punk’d or something, right? I mean, by the cover, you’d assume that this would be dull as dirt. In fact, it’s what dirt reads when it needs to calm down from a rough day of being dirt. Your titular character, who doesn’t appear until halfway through the book, spends most of his time in a coma. What you’re left with is the paranoid, superstitious dithering of a sedate group of imbeciles bent on keeping up appearances after a UFO crashes into their adjacent mountainside. If it sounds funny, understand that the earnestness with which this book creates its setting is nauseous to the point that any sarcasm between the lines would suffocate and die. Oh, and fuck me, if I had to suffer through one more asinine diatribe anthropomorphizing the mountain they all have a spiritual boner for, I’d have eaten this book rather than finishing it. There’s no substance beyond what sort of mystical feels one might inherently have for the Welsh countryside and its indigenous folklore—the great conflict centers around whether or not to get medical help for the unresponsive kid with the bullet wound. The ending pretends to some sort of compromise between new-age philosophy and scientific intelligence, and that comes off exactly like you think it would. This was dull, painful, and, given that it’s billed as a “young adult” novel, a great way to discourage your kids from reading. Snore Lord is a turd.

Rating: 3.0 Lusty Welsh MILFs

Questions for Critical Cover-Viewing:

  • Is it common among aliens to look like altar boys, or is this race just trying to infiltrate the Catholic Church?
  • Could they not afford to draw a proper-size space ship, or is this kid’s agent just REALLY good?
  • **Knock Knock** Do you have a moment to talk about the Star Lord?

Mission to the Heart Stars — James Blish (1965)

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Publisher: Avon

First Avon Printing, 1982

Cover Art: ISFDB has it as Wayne Barlowe, and the artist isn’t credited, but I’d be surprised if this wasn’t Rowena Morrill again.

Plot Synopsis (of cover): It had been several months since Hugh and Barry had crashed on a remote planet. In the course of that time, Barry gained his nickname (Hugh’s butchery of Barry’s native moniker wore thin rather quickly), the duo had resigned themselves to never being rescued, and Hugh finally began dancing on Barry’s last nerve. “Hey, Blue Barry!” Hugh chimed in a singsong falsetto. “How’s it goin’, buddy?” Barry said nothing, as he knew that what would follow would run its course faster without input on his part. “Aww, what’s wrong, pal? You sad? You gonna cry about it?” Hugh, warmed up now, continued, “Hey, when you cry and have to blow your nose, do you use a tissue or a tampon?” Barry sighed as Hugh proceeded to amuse himself. “And hey, when you have blackheads, do you strip those off with a pore strip or a Maxi Pad? Does it suck having a nosebleed every month? Maybe it wouldn’t bleed so often if you stopped sticking your finger in there—then again, far be it for me to keep you from having a good time. Do pro-life protesters picket your face when you sneeze? After a long night, do you suffer from post-nasal drip? When you stop to smell the roses, do they call you the next day? Say, how does your nose smell? Like fish! Get it? Like fish!” At that one, Barry had had his fill. “You know what, Hugh?” Barry boomed. “If you keep making fun of it, I’m gonna stop letting you stick your dick in it.”

Relatively Irrelevant Inside Text: For those of you keeping track, yes, I bought the previous book in this series solely because I had to review this one (for obvious reasons). I’m absolutely miffed every time I wind up going out of sequence for want of research on my part. In this case, I’m quite glad that I did, because 1) giant brains are gross and funny, and 2) the first novel was better than the second one. I wouldn’t say “better by miles,” though I wouldn’t begrudge those who would. Most of the elements that made The Star Dwellers great are present in Mission to the Heart Stars, but aren’t executed as well. What was once inspirational comes off as preachy, and what was once well-executed scientific background… well, I’ll put it this way. When you’re making a hollandaise, one of the things you have to do is let your butter cool to warm, and then slowly whisk it into your eggs. If you add too much hot butter to your sauce all at once, you’re going to end up with scrambled eggs. Whereas The Star Dwellers had a perfect mix of plot and lecturing, giving explanations as needed in the quantity required for development, Mission to the Heart Stars is scrambled eggs, with treatises on evolutionary biology and political science that feel protracted and stick out inelegantly. Now, this isn’t necessarily bad, but the feel of the second novel isn’t as smooth as the first. You get the idea that Blish (a biologist in real life) wanted to shove more science into this one, and he did, perhaps to its detriment. Still, this should not discourage readers from continuing the series, especially if they found the first novel as compelling as I did. It’s still great fun, it’s clever, it’s friendly, and it’s low-calorie-high-fiber.

Rating: 8.8 Androgynous Alien Dongs Exposed In Rage

Questions for Critical Cover-Viewing:

  • Who knew Georgia O’Keeffe did pulp work?
  • Is Easter Island missing its adult section in the rear?
  • In Soviet Russia, does nose blow you?

The Star Dwellers — James Blish (1961)

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Publisher: Avon

If you believe the inside cover, this is the First Avon Printing, 1982. The ISFDB page more accurately places this at the fifth Avon printing (accounting for all international Avon editions).

Cover Art: Rowena Morrill

Plot Synopsis (of cover): “Your time is at an end, Super-Braino!” the young hero bellowed, brandishing his pistol with unfettered confidence. “I’ve got you precisely where I want you! Your tyrannical reign of forcing people to do calculus and read weird books by Russians is done!” Super-Braino floated menacingly as he projected his thoughts into the mind of his adversary. “Please, young man,” the giant brain pulsed, “I cannot willingly give up derivatives and Dostoevsky any more than I could my appreciation for alliteration. It is in my nature to educate lesser minds on these and all subjects. If you persist in your violence, I will be forced to enter a zero-sum chain of logic in which we will both be stripped of all agency to act.” The young man’s bravado, however, proved greater than his instincts regarding his self-preservation, as he responded, “Oh, yeah? Well, say what you want! After that, I’ll shoot you in all your lobes!” Super-Braino did whatever it is that brains do when they sigh in resignation. “Very well,” he said. “Observe your clothing. You are clearly wearing something unsuitable for combat and mountain climbing, two things which you allegedly should have been planning to do today.” The young man scoffed, “I don’t need fashion advice from a giant brain.” Super-Braino continued, “And your hair. Please do not take this as a compliment, but your hair is perfect. You have scaled a mountain in short sleeves and sneakers whilst engaging, one assumes, in some form of rigorous subterfuge, and your hair has maintained perfect form.” The young hero’s hand brushed through his perfect hair. “What are you getting at?” The brain continued, “Observe our surroundings. Below is clearly an atmosphere, but we sit high above it. The stars shine through, unblinking, as though we were in the void of space. Even so, your hair is perfect, your skin warm, and your ‘voice’ as clear as a bell.” The youth’s confidence was beginning to falter. “What… what is this?” he croaked. The brain replied, “This? You? Me? Is it not evidenced by the impossibility of your surroundings and nature? We are illustrations on the cover of a book. A cheap book. We were drawn, painted, copied, published, and sold for less money than one might pay for a bucket of popcorn. The book, in fact, features no gunfights or giant brains, so we are also poor representations of our content.” The youth, agog, said nothing, as the brain went on. “Decades later, we were abandoned, scooped up by a used bookstore, and sold without any profit going to our publisher. We were bought by someone who chose us solely on the basis of being able to make fun of the way we look. Our purchaser then snapped digital photos of us, and has shared our image on a sadistic blog in order to cater to a group of crass trolls. Our conversation exists only in the distributed consciousness of those unlucky few who have read this far.” The youth, now relegated to a collection of ones and zeroes on the WordPress servers, said nothing. “Oh,” the brain added as its final thought, “and he read us in the bathroom. It was gross.”

Relatively Irrelevant Inside Text: I’m gonna shoot straight with you. I purchased this book as a means to an end. I don’t mean to be cryptic, but you’ll find out later. In any case, I was pleasantly surprised to find pure, pulpy joy within. It’s certainly a product of its time (I love retrofuturism where the Soviet Union still exists), and, for those of us who like that sort of thing, it’s a delight. What this book does in its hundred pages to develop characters, weave narrative, enrich setting, and wrap up, shames books of twice its length. It’s elegant in its brevity, and, though it ends on a sappy note, I’m inclined to take it as its intended, rather than leveling my (considerable) cynicism at it. Sure, it’s not an attitude I commonly adopt, but this story put me in a good mood (unlike some, which did not merit the benefit of my benevolence—quite the contrary). I’m looking forward to more Blish in the future, and am a little disappointed in myself for not reviewing one sooner. Full marks, as well, for attempting to reconcile 1960s physics with future tech without resorting to endless technobabble. I mean, there’s bound to be some, but it’s restrained here. After all, we’re not on the bridge of the Enterprise (though we may be in the holodeck).

Rating: 9.7 Grams of Salt Peter In The Tang

Questions for Critical Cover-Viewing:

  • In the future, will we all have hair like that by constitutional fiat, or did this fellow just rob Donald Trump’s tomb?
  • Is “The-Color-Of-Whatever-Terrain-You’re-Standing-On-Splashed-With-Some-Pink” Chic in this year?
  • Is… is that thing in my skull right now? GET IT OUT! GET IT OUT!

Baphomet’s Meteor — Claude Avice, as Pierre Barbet (1972)

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Publisher: DAW Books

First DAW Edition, 1972

Cover Art: Karel Thole

Plot Synopsis (of cover): “I really think you should reconsider this, Sir,” the noble knight implored his captain. “While I would never cast aspersions upon your venerable wisdom and keen eye for falsehood, something still seems wack, yo.” “Silence your tongue!” the captain bellowed. “This is a sign from our Lord! He has sent one of his consecrated angels to lead us virtuous into battle! What say you, Angel?” The Angel of the Lord snorted, its blue titties jiggling. “I AM AGEL OF LAAARD,” the holy being choked from between its gruesome yellow teeth, “AND I BRING MESSAGE OF PEEEEEAS.” The vocal knight was not satisfied with this testimony, and neither were his companions. “Sir, please. If this is a creature of the devil, than he would utter naught but foulest bullshit. We can’t trust the word of this beast!” The captain guffawed and replied, “Well, if you haven’t eyes to see, perhaps you’ll have ears to hear. Angel, speak! Are you, in truth, a demon?” The majestic angel scratched its horns, and a terrible stink issued from its divine armpits. “NNNNNOT REALLY.” “See?” the captain said, “How could you doubt the word of an envoy of the Lord of Hosts?” Skepticism still colored the faces of the men, and the sainted ram-headed angel took note. “EYEZZZ TO SEEEE,” it echoed, and turned. The countryside erupted with a theretofore unimaginable flame, its light and fury blanketing the valley and beyond. “AM AGEL OF LAAARD, CONDEMN SINNURZZZ AND UNBELIEVURRZZZ TO HELLFIRE!” Missing only a beat, the vocal knight replied, “I don’t know about you guys, but I’m convinced.”

Relatively Irrelevant Inside Text: Oh, I wish this book were better. It looks so badass—like, I would buy this album on vinyl. Sadly, this reads more like a history book than a novel. Its author was very proud of the research he did to produce it, and he should be, because I’m betting people better versed in the Crusades would find this far more fascinating than yours truly. Me, I barely know my history from a handsaw, and that made it feel like I was missing some terribly clever references. The book was good enough to make me feel bad about that, but not good enough to make me want to do anything about it. What I do know is my physics, and this book falls prey to a lot of misconceptions about nuclear ordinance, but that’s just me trying to make up for the deficiencies in my education by being petty. There’s a detached tone to the narration that I’d almost be willing to put down to a loss in translation (this was originally a French novel), but the plot doesn’t lend itself very well to the interface between reader and character. The story tells you what’s happening and what’s happened, but fails to engage. The idea is really cool—Baphomet as shipwrecked alien seeking control over the empires of Earth sounds like a larff—but there’s so little of Baphomet outside of the technology he gives the crusaders that I felt cheated. Avice/Barbet also has a real hard-on for romanticizing the Templars, so you kind of have to ignore the fact that they were dicks in order to consider them “protagonists.” See, THAT history I know.

Rating: 6.8 Princesses Cool With You Murdering Their Husbands

Questions for Critical Cover-Viewing:

  • Why would you touch that?
  • Seriously, what the fuck are you doing? Is nobody going to say anything?
  • Dude, what’s wrong with you?

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The Star-Crowned Kings — Robert Chilson (1975)

20170117_041753(0).jpgPublisher: DAW Books

First DAW Edition, 1975

Cover Art: Kelly Freas

Plot Synopsis (of cover): In the early part of the twenty-first century, the God of the Covenant broke two millennia of silence to His mortal children. In their adolescence, they were not prepared to gaze upon His holy visage, but the Lord knew that they had grown, and He rightly trusted in their capacity to be shown upon by His countenance. The Lord gathered unto Him the world’s greatest minds to communicate with the inventors, thinkers, and creatives who had best stoked the spark of free will within themselves. Though many were skeptics, the nature of the Lord was such that, upon witnessing Him, they were divested of all doubt. “My children,” God boomed in a language understood by all gathered, “you please me in your brilliance. My greatest task was to create you in my image, and I have watched on high to see you grow into architects in your own right.” One scientist spoke up to say, “Gee, thanks, God! We try real hard.” God continued, “There are many wonders that I have made, many mysteries great and small, and you have embraced an attitude of discovery that lightens my heart.” The scientist replied, “Well, that’s pretty high praise coming from you, G.” God’s right eye twitched ineffably. “Right. Well, if there’s one thing I’ve done that was meant to inspire you people, it was making the cosmos. It’s huge, and strange, and it’s got massive explosions, but I noticed you guys have stopped federal funding to your space program.” The scientist replied, “G-man, come on. Space is dead. The money’s in boner pills and cholesterol meds. My own research involves creating a low-calorie, gluten-free bread that keeps you rock hard for a week.” God sighed. “Look, I really wish you folks would pay less attention to your genitals and more attention to innovation. Any way you can get some of that boner pill funding back into NASA?” The scientist scratched his stubble. “Jeez, God, I don’t know. Can you meet us halfway?”

Relatively Irrelevant Inside Text: So, first of all, I’m pretty sure the girl on the cover is meant to represent the protagonist’s sister, and given said protagonist’s preferences, he’d approve of the artwork. Enough said about that, because this is actually a pretty boffo read (anyway, there’s a sort of casual attitude regarding incest in the literature of the time, and the initiated should be well used to it by now). I like how quickly power seems to corrupt the hero, and how quickly said trope is dismissed as commonplace—everyone expects you to become a dick when you’re endowed with godlike powers, so why not just skip all the emotional rigmarole and go straight to killing people with your mind? I can’t think of a reason, either. An interesting sort of theme permeates the work, as the supposition that one can transcend one’s caste is presented consistently throughout. If one keeps that in mind, and examines the moral at the end, one finds a sentiment rather antithetical to that commonly conferred by the American Dream. Given that this is the disillusioned 1970s, this is a spoiler only to the innocents among you. To you, I recommend this family-friendly tome.

Rating: 9.0 Amish Spacecraft

Questions for Critical Cover-Viewing:

  • Is this what you get when you call a 1-900 number from SETI?
  • Given the relative size of that space ship, how many civilizations exhausted their natural resources in the production of that much leave-in conditioner?
  • Given that the theoretical Torricelli’s Trumpet cannot be mathematically reversed, how does one go about engineering a Diva Cup of sufficient volume?

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SAR — John Robert Russell (1974)

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Publisher: Pocket Books

First Pocket Books Edition, 1974

Cover Art: Charles Moll

Plot Synopsis (of cover): “This is not at all what I wanted,” thought Gary, his jaw set as firmly as he could manage. Gwendolyn snapped her whip against the air, briefly silencing his inner monologue with a crack. “Boy, your mind wanders,” Gwendolyn reprimanded, “and your face is full of shadows. You will be punished. Then rewarded—with further punishment.” Gary picked the bikini bottoms out of his buttcrack. “Now see here,” he protested, “I had a very clear idea about what I wanted…” “Silence!” Gwendolyn interrupted. “You will not be heard, ‘lest your utterances are those of your unfettered agony! Your willpower remains only as a thing to be broken, a foregone conclusion. Anything less than complete assent will result in an embarrassment of switches!” As the wind chilled his bare thighs, Gary reflected on his lot. His past as a marine biologist had stirred exotic sexual urges—he had fallen in love with his bathysphere. It was a whirlwind affair, and resulted in heartbreak for the both of them. In an effort to recover, Gary sought help from an escort agency famous for its versatility. He was stunned and elated to see that, on the “preferences” section of the website, there was a checkbox specifically for his orientation. He realized then his mistake, and chided himself for jumping to conclusions regarding the phrase “sub play.”

Relatively Irrelevant Inside Text: So there’s a few different ways to cast off the chains of bondage. By their nature, these things take time, and are accompanied by years of hardship and upheaval. Unless you’re Sar. Sar gets captured, fucks his way out of trouble, kills everyone, and society benefits for it. I mean, “slay puss and kill bitches” as a rallying cry for the downtrodden doesn’t have the same kind of ring as “I have a dream,” but Sar is a man of singular character. Actually, let me be careful in how I phrase that. Sar is a singular man with no character beyond being sexy and powerful. That’s not to say this book isn’t enjoyable—it sneaks up on you a little, but you will have fun with it. The dystopian atmosphere combined with some curious post-civ tribe building makes for a well-crafted narrative that doesn’t spoil everything at the outset, which is a tall order when you’re preaching to the converted. I’m just saying that those of you who use this website as a guide for creating your Women’s Studies curricula may want to consider different material.

Rating: 8.2 Post-Apocalyptic STDs

Questions for Critical Cover-Viewing:

  • Given the nature of the rest of the cover, isn’t the phallic spaceship set over the glowing egg-sun in the background gilding the lily?
  • Is Sar a professional swimmer, or does future evolution eliminate the genes for leg hair?
  • Seriously, am I just never going to be able to read on the bus without people shielding their children from me? Follow-up: what’s the literary equivalent to Megan’s Law?

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Flesh — Philip José Farmer (1960)

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Publisher: Signet

First Signet Edition, 1969

Cover Art: Ellen Raskin

Plot Synopsis (of cover): Huck’s was a Hollywood success story gone cockeyed. As a low-level assistant hoping to be noticed, he had been serving bourbon-laced coffee at an emergency production meeting of Universal Studios big-wigs. The director was present, along with several important money-men (the writer, presumably, was locked in a hotel room weeping, as they usually do after Rewrite #37). “Gentlemen, we’ve got a problem,” one of the executives gravely intoned. “One of our actors has fallen ill, and will likely not survive to the end of filming. We need to replace him immediately—right now!” Another executive shook his head. He replied, “Do you have any idea how much trouble it was to find the first one? The training one needs to play a part like this takes years.” Huck’s eyes widened, sensing an opening. “Sirs,” he said humbly, “I myself have completed years of dramatic study, and have played many parts in theatre productions. Should you require a stand-in immediately, I would volunteer my services.” The director spat out his coffee. “Are you fucking stupid?” he guffawed. One of the money men held up a hand. “Son,” he said, “would you be willing to work for your current salary?” Huck, excited just to be a part of the process, nodded enthusiastically. “Then you’re in. Steven,” the money man addressed the director, “make it work.” Agog for a moment, the director regained his composure. “All right, but this doesn’t change anything else. He can wear the same costume as all of the other actors. I demand authenticity! Be on the helicopter at 6AM and meet us for the snowy ravine scene.” Reflecting upon this conversation during filming, a shivering, pink-fleshed Huck stood naked in line with all of the other reindeer as Santa Claus brought down the lash. While this was a demeaning way to break one’s way into the business, he was thankful, at least, that he wasn’t working for Fox.

Relatively Irrelevant Inside Text: Any review of this book would be disingenuous did I not include the amazing back-cover synopsis (click here), since it is an accurate description in both content and spirit of what is contained within the book. And what a book! My sweet heaven, this hilarious quasi-erotic glimpse into a dystopian version of the American Dream as seen from the early 1960s is a thing of absolute beauty. Sewing together an opulence of literary and theological scraps into a quilt that Grant Morrison would cuddle up under, Flesh is smart and well-crafted. It’s also filthy. Filthy filthy filthy. This is one of the most sexually-focused novels I’ve encountered in my science fiction studies (outpacing Sexmax), and I wish that every one of the books I read from here on out tackle (heh) the subject with similar humor and forthrightness. I mean, yes, it has an early 1960s sentimentality towards sexuality, so its politics aren’t as progressive as those we explore today, but fuck it. Funny is funny, and brilliant is brilliant, and Flesh  is both.

Rating: 9.8 Surgically-Implanted Sex Antlers

Questions for Critical Cover-Viewing:

  • Should television networks take their cues from this and replace all of those black censorship bars with CG forest wildlife?
  • What jerk explained to this young man what going to his prom “stag” meant?
  • Where is it that hosts a strip poker game wherein you can lose all of your clothes but win livestock?

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Star Ways — Poul Anderson (1956)

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Publisher: Ace Books

Second Ace Edition, 1963

Cover Art: Ed Emshwiller

Plot Synopsis (of cover): “Come on, Captain Macdonald!” shouted the Princess. “We must continue our mission, regardless of your personal tragedy!” Captain Connor Macdonald, only half hearing her, spoke quietly to himself. “Ah dinnae mean tae,” he whispered. “Aye, he wa’ a bit wee, but still, ah ha’ent given ‘im but a tap.”  The Princess was becoming more agitated, visibly and audibly. “Captain, please! The rockets are on the launchpad, and they’re clearly prepping their engines! Don’t you see the plumes of toxic gas that we need to run into unprotected?” Captain Macdonald continued his monologue, “How dae one sooch as Ah ha’e so much maucht o’er the livin’ o’ anoter? Clean off, his heid! Clean off!” Turning to him in frustration, the Princess shouted, “Connor! The Future Bugle is the only signal that will cause the enemy to stop the launch! You must come with me and sound it, lest they blow up the Museum of Historic Mesas, and the Mesa of Historic Museums right along with it! And that’s where they’ve secreted away all of my melanin!” “Poof, daed, joost like that. Joost a biff, an’ ye be a gone corbie. Fit fer a mort kist.” The Princess had had enough. She screamed, “Fine! You punched the guard’s head off, now you’re sad about it! I get it! Take it with you! Can we please just move on before the writer runs out of Scottish slang?” Then Captain Macdonald responded.

Relatively Irrelevant Inside Text: Poul Anderson has a talent for perspective that shines through in this short exploration of empire and cultural adaptation. A Russian nesting doll of fish-out-of-water, Star Ways (snort if you like, but Star Wars wouldn’t come out for another twenty-two years and George Lucas never fucked up an Ace Paperback) is, if not a paradigm-shifting piece, an excellent example of a short novel with a soul. It’s a small part of the Brobdingnagian “Psychotechnic League” series, which I have not read, but Anderson apparently wrote them in such a way as to let the reader make their own connections, so I don’t feel bad about it, and won’t feel bad about reading others in the series out of sequence. In part, that’s also because this novel was lovely and sad. It reflects Anderson’s growing discontent with his own political philosophy as it changed through the 1950s, and you can see that divide in his characters. So, yes, it’s a good book. It may make you feel things, however, so citizens of Libria be warned.

Rating: 8.9 Empathic Aliens Better Than Counselor Troi (because they’d have to be)

Questions for Critical Cover-Viewing:

  • Can I write my physics dissertation on the effects of reduced gravity on wedding tackle under a kilt?
  • Was this a teleporter malfunction or a holodeck malfunction?
  • Sir, did you get those thighs on Mars? Because they are out of this world!

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Divide and Rule — L. Sprague De Camp (1939 & 1941)

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Publisher: Lancer Books

First Lancer Edition, 1964

Cover Art: Uncredited (though clearly someone’s channeling Vonnegut—leave a comment if you know)

Plot Synopsis (of cover): The multifarious horrors of war escape no fighting man in it. Truly, those who speak of glory and righteousness to those on the line must do so in very loud voices to be heard from where they sit. For many, that grisly patriotism is no doughty thing, especially when one’s foe is no longer rendered in the abstract. Such was the case with Footman Hoseur, a swordsman with the fifth armored division of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. It was a blue Monday when the Canadian draft board pulled his number to fight the Great Mousy Menace, and though Hoseur was a fast riser in the ranks, he ascended with the grim fatalism of a man cursed. It was in Hoseur’s civilian position that he was first introduced to the giant mutant mice of mysterious origins. As Associate Exterminator for Gary’s Git-Um-Good L.L.C., he was dispatched to the Banff Cheese Wheel Depository. While he did plan on deploying traps and maybe spraying a bit of cheese-friendly poison in the odd corner, he did not count on six-foot-tall helmeted mice. Nor, it seems, did he count on falling deeply in love with their leader, Mr. Nibbles. For a week and a day, he and Mr. Nibbles made sweaty gay love atop gargantuan wheels of Gouda and muenster, slaked their passions amongst the curds, and feasted equally upon each other and poutine (for it is no hard thing to extend one’s passions via the liberal application of cheese and brown gravy). When the giant mice inevitably rose up against their Canadian oppressors, Hoseur and Mr. Nibbles were drawn to opposite sides of the conflict, and would meet only once more—on the battlefield. It wasn’t until Sergeant Nibbles was gut-deep into Footman Hoseur’s blade that either soldier recognized the other. A mouse was, after all, a mouse, and a man nothing more than a man. In the end, however, clarity dawned, and they embraced as the life drained from the fuzzy marauder. Sergeant Nibbles tasted of Camembert, Footman Hoseur of brie.

Relatively Irrelevant Inside Text: This book contains two stories in a similar vibe. The first, titled the same as the book, is a lot of fun. It’s one of those that takes place in a future where mankind regresses into their past, and I’ve always enjoyed that kind of thing. In this case, we get a strange mix of feudalism, alien insurgency, and the American Dream (with just enough love for the Working Man to make the twitchier McCarthyists nervous). It’s a very 1960s novella, which is why I was surprised that it was written in 1939. The same is true of the second story, The Stolen Dormouse, in which the future is dominated by a sort of heraldric collection of corporations. I may have enjoyed this one even more, as it reads a bit like P.G. Wodehouse in parts. It’s funnier than the first story, though disappointingly shorter. Both tales play well with one another, and the book as a whole was lovely. Plus, L. Sprague De Camp is a really cool name. If that were a luxury shampoo, I’d buy it.

Rating: 9.3 Really Focused Mice

Questions for Critical Cover-Viewing:

  • What do you get when you ask for “The Works” at Tim Horton’s?
  • Is it more threatening to kiss your foe with your eyes open?
  • Is this the conclusion stupid people envisioned when they lobbed those ridiculous slippery-slope fallacies at gay marriage legalization?

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The Ballad of Beta 2 and Empire Star — Samuel R. Delany (1965 & 1966)

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Publisher: Ace Books

First Ace Edition, 1975 (stories published previously in earlier editions, but this is the first published appearance of both in the same novel)

Cover Art: Davis Meltzer

Plot Synopsis (of cover): Brad and Tina Meltzer, eight and seven years old respectively, had a wonderful day. Their wonderful mommy had taken them to play miniature golf, followed it up with some ice cream, and even made them pancakes for dinner in a clear and whimsical violation of standing culinary precedent. It is the nature of all good things, however, to come to an end, and it was now time for Brad and Tina to go to bed. However, as is the hallmark of children replete with inappropriate late-night pancake syrup, the siblings were restlessly resisting the inevitable. Their mother, not missing a step, resorted to the traditional anodyne reserved for these situations. “Okay kids,” she said without an ounce of weariness touching her voice. “What kind of story would you like tonight?” Tina spoke up first, begging, “Oh! I want a story about a handsome prince!” Her brother, not to be outdone, appended, “A prince from Mars! And he’s only got a floating head!” Tina continued, “And he’s got the prettiest collection of gems in the whole world!” Brad chimed, “Yeah, but Mars is a desolate wasteland, so it’s not that great. It’s only the one. And he accidentally glued it to his giant floating face.” Tina, undeterred, “And he has a beautiful palace with spires and towers and domes!” Then Brad again, “Yeah! And it’s floating in the vacuum of space, and keeps shooting out random globes!” Tina concluded, “And he has a beautiful tiger, like in Aladdin!” Brad concluded, “Sure! A demon tiger with horns and bat wings that was born with a developmental disorder!” Brad’s mother stared at him. “Brad, I swear to fucking God, you get this shit from your father.”

Relatively Irrelevant Inside Text: I’d been meaning to do this one for a while, mostly because it’s downright impossible to look at the cat face on the front and not giggle like a nitwit. It’s also kinda cool, because it falls into the category of Ace Double novels, but isn’t in the usual back-to-back format (also, it contains my favorite thing ever—the mid-novel cigarette advert). Luckily, in this case, both stories are equally deserving of praise, and there’s no need to split a rating. Delany explores similar themes across the two, challenging cultural perception and extolling the value of a multitude of viewpoints to one’s perspective. Fuckin’ yawnsville, right? Well, the number of space battles is less than the number of songs, so I suppose that depends on where Yawnsville is located in your state of mind. However, those seeking a couple of well-crafted tales with some authentic beauty in their execution… well, jeez, why don’t you put on your tutu and do a little dance for us, sissy?

Rating: 9.5 Third Person Omniscient Secondary Characters

Questions for Critical Cover-Viewing:

  • When did Ace Publishing become majority shareholders of Random Semiopaque Ovals, L.L.C.?
  • Does this cover come from the “I Paint What I See During My Post-Pizza-And-Beer Nap” school of design?
  • Did somebody just open the alien equivalent of a can of Fancy Feast?

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