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Book Reviews
By I. E. Lester

Ellison Wonderland, by Harlan Ellison

Starship Summer, by Eric Brown

Before the Storm, by Sean McMullen

Harlan Ellison - Ellison Wonderland.

Whenever people ask me how I first got hooked on reading science fiction, I tell them it was short fiction. Whenever they ask which authors, I invariably list Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein and Moorcock. But this is a very short list and there are many, many other fine authors who were each in their way responsible for my addiction.

This is mainly due to a habit I had in my teens for reading sf anthologies. These anthologies would include tales by Frederik Pohl, John Sladek, Philip K. Dick, Sam Delaney and very frequently Harlan Ellison.

So over the years I have read many Ellison tales but have to admit until now I have never read a complete book of his work. With PS Publishing re-releasing this early collection of Ellison's short fiction I can finally put that right. I had a certain hesitation: after all it's a book first published in 1962, containing fiction mainly written in the 1950s. So when I picked up this book I was wondering how the stories would read fifty years later.

The good news is that these tales don't rely too heavily on science, so there is little that has aged the content into being unreadable. The second thing is that Ellison was and is a fantastic short story writer.

This collection gets off to a superb start with the opening tale "Commuter's Problem"—a tale focused around two neighbours who commute to work, one going just a little further than the other. The standard is maintained with the second tale "Do-It-Yourself", about a mail order murder kit.

Each time I started a new tale I felt that I was about due for a stinker—most collections I have read have had below-average stories. In this case, it simply did not happen.

A couple of the stories particularly appealed to me: "The Sky Is Burning", a first contact story with an alien race who've travelled all the way to Earth just to burn up in our atmosphere, is particularly poignant. "Battlefield", a dark and somewhat disturbing tale of a war that is going on and on, is all too believable to anyone living in our current times.

But I could've picked any of the stories from this book; it's a great set of stories. Go find out why Harlan Ellison built such a reputation for his short stories—you are not likely to regret it.

Harlan Ellison - Ellison Wonderland
SF Short Story Collection
PS Publishing
(Re-)Release late 2007
Hardcover ISBN - 978-1-905834-95-2
206 pages
Eric Brown - Starship Summer

David Conway has left Earth, intent on rebuilding his life after the death of his daughter and subsequent end of his marriage. He makes his way through the Telemass teleportation relays to the colony on Chalcedony where he intends to settle.

Quite by chance he finds a junkyard which sells reconditioned spacecraft and decides that, instead of the generic off-the-shelf modular houses, such a craft, if suitably modified, would make an unusual and interesting home.

The one thing he did not count on was his new home being "haunted"; so he and his newly made friends—Hawk the junkyard owner, sculptor Matt Sommers and Maddie, a former archaeologist who senses psychic impulses form everything she touches—decided to investigate the cause of the "haunting".

There are a number of things to recommend about this novella. First, it is a fairly original little tale. The concept of starships being rendered obsolete by the new technology leading to a glut of unwanted craft is obvious, yet I'd not seen it before. And the use of such an unwanted craft for a home is inspired. The group dynamic between the four very distinct and flawed characters is totally natural, and the plot gets on with it without the need for unnecessary fluffy incidental filler material.

It also does a couple of things I really like in a story. The characters and worlds in this tale on page come into the tale with a back-story. Events that happened before the book starts are included in dialogue when needed but without the need for a prologue setting the scene. This definitely suits my tastes. So often when a book has a prologue I find it is jarring, often in a completely different voice to the rest of the book and serves no useful purpose.

The second is that it leaves the end open, it doesn't feel the need to wrap up every loose end, and lead the characters into a form of retirement. Yes, it completes the tale and concludes the main story threads but in such a way that you know these characters' worlds and lives will continue.

This is the third Eric Brown novella I have read and I can confirm that he is an author who has mastered the form. His prose is clear, his descriptions efficient without obscuring the plot and his ideas are fresh and interesting. He leaves you wanting more.

Eric Brown - Starship Summer
SF Novella
PS Publishing
Release late summer / autumn 2007
Hardcover ISBN 9781905834495
119 pages

Sean McMullen - Before the Storm

Australia and science fiction are not two things that you would usually expect to hear together. There are, of course, Australian sf writers but I do not expect they would be the first on many people's lips if you should ask. It's much more likely that you would hear the name of an English or American writer.

Sean McMullen, though, is one Australian science fiction author that has managed to escape the geographical remoteness of Australia and see his books published by some of the major sf publishers. This doesn't mean that I'd normally read his work however, but it did impress upon me that the man must have talent. After all, he has managed to break from the shackles of being an Australian writer into being internationally published.

Looking at the cover of this book did not fill me with much hope. With all apologies to the artist I think it is appalling. It is just not my taste. It looks to me like a computer-generated montage of bits of photographs softened slightly by the standard effects you get in graphics pacakges. The overall effect is a very two-dimensional image that I cannot believe is likely to inspire many people to buy the book. It's a great shame, for the story is superb.

Fox and BC come from a world very different to the one we know. In their world the opening of Australia's first parliament was bombed by German agents, leading to decades of warfare that would leave the world destroyed. They have decided that the only way to make their world better is to stop it ever occurring. So they mutiny and travel back in time to prevent the bombing.

In 1901 Melbourne they encounter three teenagers and enlist their help in changing history.

This is very definitely a young adult novel, the protagonists are all in their mid-teens, including the soldiers from the future. I mention this because it is not immediately apparent from the book's cover. I'm not saying that it is unsuitable for adult readers, far from it. But it is a book that should cause no concerns for parents of teenage readers.

The story is absorbing, the characters engaging and the writing style so very comfortable. Yes, as a book for young adults its characters, themes and language are not as challenging as some adult sf can be. This is not necessarily a bad thing. I've read books where the word use is wonderfully descriptive and elegant, but at the end of the book I've looked back and thought, "What was that actually about?"

This book tells a story. It gets on with it, and it entertains.

Sean McMullen - Before the Storm
SF Young Adult Novel
Ford Street Publishing (Hybrid Publishers Aus)
Released June 2007
ISBN - 978-1-876462-50-5
262 pages

Review Copyright © 2007 by I. E. Lester.

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