Shf Reviews

I wrote reviews of newly published science fiction and fantasy stories, mostly in the monthly magazines, for over a decade in Locus Magazine beginning in 1988. Isfdb has this bibliography of those columns and of other reviews and commentaries, virtually all for Locus.

Links to seven of the 1997 columns are on this page, a capture of my very first web page on Compuserve created in 1997 just before I launched Locus Online.

Since the Locus columns ended in 2001, I’ve read relatively little short fiction, except for occasionally rereading works by “classic” authors. These are typically found in single-author collections (like those at left in the pic) or in anthologies of reprinted works (like the books at right).

Reviews of stories posted on this site are indexed below.

Asimov, Isaac

  • Two intro posts about rereading Asimov: one, two
  • “Reason” (Apr 1941) ****
    One of the earliest of Asimov’s robot stories, it’s about a creationist robot, and why its being a creationist doesn’t matter. (review)
  • “Nightfall” ( Sep 1941) *****
    Famous story in which the inhabitants of a planet with multiple suns only see the stars once every 2000 years. (review)
  • “The Evitable Conflict” (Jun 1950) ****
    The final story in I, Robot concerns flaws in a world run efficiently by robots entirely for humanity’s benefit, and how maybe humanity doesn’t know what’s good for itself. (part of I, Robot review)
  • “The Dead Past” ( Apr 1956) ****
    A government-controlled device permits viewing of the past, with unexpected consequences. (review)
  • “The Last Question” (Nov 1956) ***
    Clever, but rather horrifying, story about humanity’s expansion into space, the galaxy, the universe, the cosmos, at each stage asking their computers if entropy can be reversed. (review)
  • “The Ugly Little Boy” (Sep 1958) *****
    An unusual non-puzzle story with an emotional impact, about a government device to retrieve objects from the past, including a young Neaderthal boy. (review)

Benford, Gregory

  • “Lady with Fox” (2014) ***
    About a neural network technology that allows minds to connect during sleep. Not a famous story, but a good example of Benford’s fine, idea-rich, thought-provoking writing (poetic hard SF). (review

Bradbury, Ray

  • The Martian Chronicles (1950) *****
    Notable individual stories include “Mars Is Heaven!” (Earthmen arrive on Mars and find a town exactly like those on Earth, complete with their own relatives), “And the Moon Be Still as Bright” (a debate about what humans have lost, with Darwin and Freud, that the Martians retained — until they all died off), “The Fire Balloons” (about whether creatures on Mars have souls and can sin), “Night Meeting” (a remote encounter with a ghostly Martian), “The Martian” (in which a Martian takes the place of a human couple’s long dead son), and the final two: “There Will Come Soft Rains,” about the dissolution of a mechanical house following atomic war on Earth; and “The Million-Year Picnic,” in which a surviving human family on Mars realizes who they have become.
  • The October Country (1955) ****
    This collection of moody horror stories includes “The Crowd” (gawkers at a traffic accident), “The Scythe” (tending a crop of wheat is key to the world), “The Jar” (a man sees what he wants to see in a souvenir from a carnival), “Jack-in-the-Box” (a boy grows up enclosed in a house with his mother and a Teacher but with no experience of the outside world), “The Small Assassin” (a woman fears her just-born child is trying to murder her).

Clarke, Arthur C.

  • The Nine Billion Names of God (1953) ****
    A Tibetan lama purchases a large computer from New York that is used to calculate all possible names of God, which in the Tibetan scripts they figure will amount to some nine billion. (review)
  • The Star (1955) ****
    Aboard a spaceship on an expedition 3000 light years from Earth, to see the remains of a rare supernova, a Jesuit astrophysicist makes a deeply troubling discovery about the timing of the exploding star and when its light would have reached Earth. (Both this and the story above have ‘surprise’ ending that some readers dismiss as gimmicks. Actually both stories make profound points about the possible relationship of god, if there is one, with the human race. Speculative theology. See reviews)

Heinlein, Robert A.

  • Selected stories in The Green Hills of Earth (1951), part of the author’s “Future History,” these concerning the settlement of space and the establishment of colonies on the Moon and the other planets. (review)
    • “Space Jockey” (1947) ****
      An elegantly matter-of-fact description of a spaceship pilot’s flight from the Earth to the Moon.
    • “The Green Hills of Earth” (1947) ***
      About the blind poet Rhysling’s sacrifice to save his irradiated ship.
    • “It’s Great to be Back” (1947) ***
      A couple living on Luna decides to return to Earth, and find it’s not what they imagined or remembered.
    • “We Also Walk Dogs” (1941) ***
      A confidential, high-end service agency takes on the task of adjusting local gravity for visiting aliens.
    • “Logic of Empire” (1941) ***
      A man from Earth is “shanghaied” into servitude on Venus, learning when he returns to Earth that his story is nothing new.
  • “If This Goes On–” (Feb,Mar 1940) published as short novel Revolt in 2100 (1963) ***
    In a future theocratic America a resistance movement works to overthrow the Prophet Incarnate. (review, with comments about politics in 2015 and America’s constant flirtation with theocracy)
  • “Universe” (May 1941) and “Common Sense” (Oct 1941), combined as short novel Orphans of the Sky (1963) ****
    The occupants of a “generation” starship have forgotten their original mission, or even that they’re on a spaceship, until one of them peers through the viewports and realizes what they all think they know about the universe is a lie. The most famous example of an enduring science fiction theme. (review)

Jackson, Shirley

  • “The Lottery” (1948) ****
    About this famous story, and James Sallis’ “Jim and Mary G,” and how they’re effective (and shocking) because the characters observe some rule of their societies that are never “explained” to the reader. (comments)

Silverberg, Robert

Wolfe, Gene

  • “The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories” (1970) ****
  • “The Fifth Head of Cerberus” (1972) *****
    A young boy and his brother live in a large house on a planet settled by humans. As he grows, the boy learns of his heritage and destiny, while questions arise about the true nature of the planet’s settlers, the “aborigines” on a neighboring planet, and the purpose of his family in this society. (review)