Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Reviews of Classic Science Fiction and Fantasy Novels by Wendy Van Camp

Space Cadet Science Fiction Review Publishes!

I’m pleased to announce that my Book Review about Robert A Heinlein’s novel “Space Cadet” published today. “The Space Cadet Science Fiction Review” is a literary journal of short stories, book reviews, and poetry in the science fiction genre.

Justin Sloane, the editor and publisher of this and other fine literary efforts asked me to review the book specifically. I am a fan of Robert A Heinlein’s work, and consider him one of my main influencers in science fiction writing and poetry.

While his work has suffered from dating, as you will read in my review, I consider his work to still be worth seeking out. He inspired more than one generation of scientists, engineers, and astronauts and his work has put a stamp on our ideas of what technology can accomplish.

Find the journal:

Note: I used the journal’s cover as part of my ad artwork. This fine journal cover was created by artist: Michael Alan Alien.

Book Review: Pawn of Prophecy

Book Name: Pawn of Prophecy
Author: David Eddings
First Published: 1982

Author David Eddings grew up in Snohomish, Washington, a small town near Seattle. He displayed a talent for drama and literature, winning a national oratorical contest and acting in lead roles in junior college plays. He graduated from Reed College of Portland, Oregon in 1954. He was working on a novel that he thought would be his thesis for the university when he was drafted into the US. Army. He served his country until 1956 and moved on to graduate school at the University of Washington in Seattle. He gained his MA in 1961 and moved on to a job in purchasing at Boeing Aircraft, a large company in the area. It is there that he met his wife Judith Leigh Schall and he and Leigh would remain married for 45 years until a stroke took her life.

Eddings moved on from Boeing to become a tenured college professor for seven years, but in a fit of frustration, he quit his job due to a lack of a pay raise. He and his wife moved to Denver, Colorado where he took a job at a grocery store to make a living. It was during this time that he turned to writing and began work on a series of novels. After a time in Denver, he moved back to Washington, this time to Spokane. It is here where Eddings turned his attention to writing in earnest.

In Spokane, Eddings came across a copy of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings in a bookstore. He realized that the book was in its 78th printing and this fact made him sit up and re-evaluate his writing. He realized that there could be a larger market for fantasy novels than the coming of age books he had previously written. He pulled out an old doodle of a map he had scribbled a few years ago and this became the basis for the fantasy world of Aloria, the setting of the Belgariad Series.

The Belgariad is the first of Edding’s epic fantasy series. It has five volumes, each title a combination of a fantasy term and a chess term. Pawn of Prophecy is the first book. With the success of The Belgariad Series, Eddings went on to write another five volume sequel series called The Malloreon. Both series proved to be wildly popular and helped to shape the trope of epic fantasy that holds today.

Leigh Eddings is credited with being a co-author in the later novels concerning the Sorceress Polgara, but according to David Eddings, his wife was active as a co-author in all of his fantasy novels. He used her guidance with the female characters to make them more believable. He would have credited her sooner for her work, but Lester Del Rey allegedly did not like the idea, believing that a single author’s name on the books was a better selling point.

David Eddings continued to write his fantasy novels until his death of natural causes in 2009. His manuscripts and other written works have been donated to Reed University along with a sizable grant to fund “students and faculty studying languages and literature”.

“But there’s a world beyond what we can see and touch, and that world lives by its own laws. What may be impossible in this very ordinary world is very possible there, and sometimes the boundaries between the two worlds disappear, and then who can say what is possible and impossible?”
― David Eddings, Pawn of Prophecy

Pawn of Prophecy begins with a prologue about the creation of the world Aloria by the seven gods. One of them fashions an orb and puts inside it a “living soul”. The Orb of Aldur is coveted by the god Torak. The Orb is guarded by King Cherek’s family, who have the ability to hold the object.

The story is told via the eyes of young Garion, a farm boy. An old man named Belgarath, nicknamed “the wolf” arrives at Faldor Farm and enlists the help of Garion, his Aunt Pol, and Durnik the blacksmith to go out in search of a missing object. Unknown to Garion, this is the Orb of Aldur, a powerful and magical object lost to the King’s family. The group has many adventures and eventually grows to include a Drasnian Prince, an Algarian Prince, and a Cherek Earl.

During the many trials that Garion experiences, he hears a dry voice in his mind. As time goes on, Garion learns that this is the Voice of Prophecy, or “Necessity”, which is taking action through him. He is but a pawn to its will. Who is Garion? What is his connection to Aunt Pol and to the thief known as Wolf? It seems that there is more to this farmboy than what meets the eye.

Book Cover Pawn of ProphecyBack in my school days, The Belgariad Series was considered one of those “must-reads” of the fantasy genre. Although today we would consider the storyline to be a classic “chosen one” Hero’s Journey with all the cliches of the genre, at the time, it was breaking fresh ground. I remember reading the series in junior high school with pleasure and went on to read the sequel series as well. It reminded me of Tolkien’s Lord of the Kings, but without the heavy literature quality.

I found the young farm boy Garion likable and the story engaging, with a good balance of humor and intricate world building. While Eddings prose is not particularly deep, it is still a good yarn that is clean enough to recommend to younger readers.

In particular, I like that Eddings created a strong female lead in “Aunt Polgara”. Polgara is a powerful sorceress and of good character. She was one of the first strong female lead characters to come out in the 1980s fantasy, but certainly was not the last! I had not realized at the time that Polgara was a particular creation of Edding’s wife since she was not given co-author credit during the 1980s, but her input is certainly felt with Polgara and her viewpoints.

If you are an adult and are considering reading this classic series, I believe that it holds its own for adults looking for a clean fantasy with less gratuitous violence. While more YA in nature, it is a good read for all ages.

The Belgariad Series

Pawn of Prophecy (1982)
Queen of Sorcery (1982)
Magician’s Gambit (1983)
Castle of Wizardry (1984)
Enchanters’ End Game (1984)

Book Review: The Last Unicorn

Book Name: The Last Unicorn
Author: Peter S. Beagle
First Published: 1968

Peter S. Beagle was born and raised in New York City. He was a heavy reader from an early age and was encouraged by his parents to pursue his interests in becoming a writer. He was a contributor to his high school literary magazine and his work there caught the interest of the fiction editor of Seventeen Magazine. Beagle entered a poem into this magazine’s Scholastic Writing Awards Contest and took first place. The prize was a college scholarship that sent him to the creative writing program at the University of Pittsburgh.

Beagle continued to create, prolifically turning out stories such as A Fine and Private Place and took first place at Seventeen Magazine’s short story contest with a tale called Telephone Call. He graduated with a degree in creative writing, a minor in Spanish language, and retained his passion for writing.

After a year abroad, he returned to the States and enrolled in a writing workshop at Stanford University where he met Enid, whom he would later marry. When the workshop ended, he bummed around the Eastern United States until he realized he would rather be with Enid who lived in California. He and a friend began a cross-country motorscooter journey that he would chronicle in his memoir I See By My Outfit. He and Enid moved in together and married. To support himself and his new family, Beagle wrote more short stories and novels, including his popular book The Last Unicorn.

The Last Unicorn took Beagle two years to write and he found it a difficult process. The idea came to him during an artistic retreat in Berkshire Hills after Viking Press had rejected one of his novels. The idea for The Last Unicorn intuitively appeared in his mind, it was inspired by all the fantasy tales he had loved during his childhood and by the book The Colt by Dorothy Lathrop. Beagle also stated that a painting by artist Marcial Rodriguez about unicorns fighting bulls added to the mix. The result was an 85 page manuscript that needed much revision and polish. The original story was set in modern times and the unicorn is accompanied by a two-headed demon named Webster and Azazel. This version is published as a limited edition by Suberranean Press and entitled: The Last Unicorn: The Lost Version. In 2005, Beagle published a sequel called Two Hearts which can be found in the anthology The Line Between. Two Hearts won the Hugo and Nebula Awards for best novelette.

During the 1970s, Beagle shifted from novels to screenplays and developing an alternate career as a folk singer. He plays guitar and sings in English, Yiddish, French and German. A performance of when he played at The Palms in Davis, CA is available. Between 1973 and 1985 you could find Beagle performing his music at the club L’Oustalou in Santa Cruz, CA almost every weekend. In 1980, his marriage to Enid ended and in 1985, he moved to Seattle, WA for a few years.

Today, Beagle is still writing stories and screenplays. He has remarried to Indian author and artist Padma Hejmadi. They reside in Davis, CA. Beagle is a regular on the university circuit where he gives readings, lectures, and concerts. He conducts writing workshops at the University of Washington and at Clarion West.

“Great heroes need great sorrows and burdens, or half their greatness goes unnoticed. It is all part of the fairy tale.”
― Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn

What is the nature of love and mortality? In The Last Unicorn, we explore this idea by following the story of a unicorn who believes she is the last of her species. She decides to go on a quest to discover what happened to the others. Leaving her magical forest, she is dismayed to learn that humans no longer see her as she is, but instead mistake her for a white horse. She is captured by a wandering gypsy and added to the woman’s traveling menagerie of “mythical” beasts. Only the magician Schmendrick, who is employed by the gypsy woman, sees the unicorn for what she truly is. He frees her and joins her quest.

Hints of where the unicorns may be lead to the castle of King Haggard where a monster known as “the red bull” lives. On the way to the castle, the pair are beset by bandits. They come to attention of the bandit’s wife, Molly who laments that she only finds her unicorn when she is middle-aged and no longer innocent. Still, she joins the pair on their quest to Hagsgate.

The trio is then attacked once again, this time by the red bull itself. During the battle, the unicorn is unable to escape, so Schmendrick transforms her into a human to confuse the bull. Thus, the unicorn becomes “Lady Amalthea” and the three ingrate themselves into King Haggar’s court.

As they stay in the castle and try to learn what was the fate of the unicorns, Amalthea undergoes a mental transformation. She forgets that she was once a unicorn and instead allows herself to be romanced by King Haggard’s son, Prince Lir.

What was the fate of the unicorns? Will Amalthea regain her memory in time to save them? Will Prince Lir become the hero he longs to be and capture the fair lady’s heart? You will have to read this classic fantasy tale to find the answers.

Book Cover The Last UnicornMy introduction to The Last Unicorn was the animated feature produced by Rankin/Bass in the 1980’s. Peter Beagle wrote the screenplay himself and the animation was done by Topcraft, a forerunner of Studio Ghibli. It is a wonderful film and stands the test of time. Viewing the movie caused me to seek out the book, which is much richer and subtle than the cartoon and it served as my introduction to the work of this author.

What stays with me is it is not a standard fairytale, but a story that stands traditional tropes on its head. First, the hero is female. Either as a unicorn or a woman, this is Amalthea’s story and transformation. She does not set off on her journey because of a love interest as many female heroines do, but in the noble pursuit of discovering what happened to her people. Her two sidekicks, Magician Schmendrick and Molly McGure, are both well-rounded characters who are far from the typical companions of a hero. Prince Lir, a name taken from a Celtic sea-god and having Shakespearean overtones, is comical as he attempts to play the hero and full fill his destiny, a fate that is far from what he suspects. In this, he is also atypical, a male that plays a secondary role in the story. Although there is a feminist bent to the tale, it is not overt and I believe that anyone who enjoys stories about fantasy or unicorns would enjoy the story. This is a classic tale that should not be missed, not matter if you are young or young at heart.

Book Review: The Martian Chronicles

Book Name: The Martian Chronicles
Author: Ray Bradbury
First Published: 1950

Ray Bradbury was an American fantasy, science fiction, and mystery fiction writer. He was known for his dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 and for the science fiction and horror stories gathered together in The Martian Chronicles and The Illustrated Man. Many of Bradbury’s works have been adapted into television and films and he has left his stamp on the science fiction and fantasy genres.

Bradbury was born in the mid-west, but his family moved back and forth between Waukegan, Illinios and Tucson, Arizona for most of his formative years. When Bradbury was fourteen, his family settled in Los Angeles, California and he remained in the Southern California area for much of his life. Bradbury was a reader and writer throughout his youth. He claimed that he was inspired by Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars series and wrote a fanfiction based on those tales at the age of twelve. He credits this series as the inspiration for The Martian Chronicles and notes that he likely would never have written about Mars at all if it was not for his love of the Burroughs’ series.

Bradbury cited H.G. Wells and Jules Verne as his biggest science fiction influences, followed by Robert A. Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Theodore Sturgeon, and A. E. van Vogt. As Bradbury matured, he drew more from the style and works of Alexander Pope and poet John Donne. When later asked about the lyrical nature of his prose, Bradbury replied that it came, “From reading so much poetry every day of my life. My favorite writers have been those who’ve said things well.” He also has said, “If you’re reluctant to weep, you won’t live a full and complete life.”

Bradbury did not attend college. Instead, he sold newspapers once he graduated from high school and spent much of his time reading. “Libraries raised me. I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.” Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 at the UCLA’s Powell Library where he rented a typewriter in one of their study rooms. The rental rate for completing the entire novel was around ten dollars since the rental of the manual typewriter was ten cents per half hour. He preferred to write on a typewriter instead of computers because that was what he was used to.

Ray Bradbury lived at home until the age of twenty-seven when he married his sweetheart, Marguerite McClure. They had four children together. He was an active member of Los Angeles Science Fiction Society where he made his first connections in the writing community of Los Angeles. From these connections, he began to meet publishers and gained a following for his work that now spans the globe. Bradbury is credited with writing 27 novels and over 600 short stories. More than eight million copies of his works, published in over 36 languages, have been sold around the world.

In his later years, Ray Bradbury became a well sought out speaker at literary events in the Southern California area. He never obtained a driver’s license and did not enjoy travel. It was well known on the speaker circuit, if you wanted Ray Bradbury to speak at your event, you should arrange to have a driver come and get him. I regret that I did not take the opportunity to meet Mr. Bradbury in person before he passed away in December of 2011. He was a favorite on the literary speaker’s circuit in Southern California and I personally know many writers that consider him to be an inspiration.

“Science is no more than an investigation of a miracle we can never explain, and art is an interpretation of that miracle.” – Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles

The Martian Chronicles is a collection of short stories based on the colonization of the planet Mars by people fleeing from an atomic devastated Earth. There is conflict between the aboriginal Martians and the colonists as they adjust to life on the new world. The stories are tied together by short vignettes, creating a loose novel in three parts.

The first third of the book tells of the first attempts by humans to land and explore on Mars. The native Martians endeavor to prevent them from returning. In the fourth story _And the Moon be Still as Bright, it is discovered that the Martians have been decimated by a plague brought by the humans, much the way that the American natives were brought down by European disease by the conquistadors. This sets the stage for the second part of the book when the humans colonize the deserted planet and set about making it into a second Earth. The final part of the book occurs after a global nuclear war on Earth cuts off contact between the two worlds. The few surviving humans that remain on Mars become the new Martians and the circle of life continues.

the-martian-chronicles-book-coverMy first exposure to The Martian Chronicles was during the 1980s when the mini-series starring Rock Hudson came out in 1980. Hudson played one of the colonists from the fourth Martian expedition who later returned with his family to colonize Mars. I have never forgotten the scene when Hudson playing Col. John Wilder takes his children to a Martian canal and points at their reflection in the water. “There are the Martians.” He tells them. One day there will be humans to do this and not all that far in the future.

I have always loved the ERB series, John Carter of Mars, and between the two, a love for stories about the red planet has grown in me. After The Martian Chronicles mini-series, I made a point to seek out the original book. While I enjoyed the written stories, I think that in this case, I prefer the mini-series, although Ray Bradbury himself thought it boring! You can still see all three episodes today on YouTube. ONE TWO THREE

The science behind the stories is sorely outdated. Back when Bradbury wrote the stories, it was believed that Mars had more atmosphere and it would be more hospitable to human life. Today, we know that living on Mars will be much more difficult than simply getting there and setting up homes. We will need to combat a rampant CO2 atmosphere, low gravity and live without the protection of a magnetic planetary field. Still, this is a classic science fiction tale and several of the stories in the collection are well worth reading. My personal favorites are: “Rocket Summer”, “Ylla”, “-And The Moon Be Still As Bright”, “The Off Season”, and “The Million-Year Picnic.”

Book Review: Journey to the Center of the Earth

Book Name: Journey to the Center of the Earth
Author: Jules Verne
First Published: 1864

Jules Verne was a 19th century French novelist and poet and is often referred to as the “Father of Science Fiction”. He was born in 1828 in Nantes, France. He trained to be an attorney like his father before him, but Verne was more interested in becoming a writer. Once he graduated from his law studies in Paris, he embarked on a journey of writing several very unsuccessful plays. One day, he met editor Pierre-Jules Hetzel and allowed the editor to help him overcome his natural tendency to dive deep into the scientific and to focus more on the people of his stories. The combination of the two men was like dynamite and many classic science fiction and adventure stories were born from the result. Titles such as The Mysterious Island, Five Weeks in a Ballon, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and From the Earth to the Moon were a direct result of their collaboration. Verne penned more than 70 novels in his lifetime and is the second most-translated author in the world, succeeded only by Agatha Christie.

“I seriously believed that my last hour was approaching, and yet, so strange is imagination, all I thought of was some childish hypothesis or other. In such circumstances, you do not choose your own thoughts. They overcome you.” – Jules Verne, Journey to the Center of the Earth

Journey to the Center of the Earth starts in the year 1863 in the home of Professor Lidenbrock. Bear in mind, this makes this a contemporary science fiction tale of its day and not a historical one since the book published in the following year. The good professor has purchased an original runic manuscript written an Icelandic King. It contains a coded note written in runic script. His nephew Axel assists him in translating the message into Latin, but keeps the translation away from his uncle due to the fear of what his uncle might do with the information, but after two days he breaks his silence. The ancient note written by the Icelandic alchemist Arne Saknussemm claims to have discovered a passage to the center of the Earth via a cave in Iceland.

Being of adventurous spirit, Professor Lidenbrock wishes to repeat the journey of this ancient Icelander and leaves for Iceland forthwith. Axel joins him against his better judgment and complains the entire way, explaining his fears of descending into a volcano and trying to come up with reasonable theories why the journey should not take place. His uncle refuses to listen and the pair travel to Reykjavik, Iceland. There they hire a guide, one Hans Bjelke, and the three continue overland to the base of the great volcano.

There are three craters in the volcano. According to Saknussemm’s note, the passage to the center of the Earth is through the crater that feels the shadow of a nearby mountain peak at noon in the last days of June. Axel rejoices when the weather remains cloudy and no shadow can be detected. If the bad weather continues, their party can turn around and return home. However, on the second to last day the sun comes out and the shadow falls into the correct crater. Lidenbrock leads the way with Hans and Axel in tow, into the depths of the Earth.

The three adventurers have a series of mis-adventures, usually it is Axel who suffers the most. When they take a wrong turn and run out of water, Axel almost dies. He also wanders off and gets lost from the trio, only to be found due to an acoustic phenomenon that allows him to speak with his uncle from miles away. As the trio continue to descend, they discover a vast cavern with electrically charged gas at the ceiling and filled by a subterranean ocean. It is surrounded by a rocky coastline of petrified trees and giant mushrooms. The professor names the ocean after himself, as any Victorian explorer commonly did during these times. The men build a raft from the petrified trees and set out over “Lidenbrock Sea”. The water has ancient Ichtyosaurus and Plesiosurus and part of the coastline is full of living prehistoric animals and insects.

A lightning storm threatens their passage on the sea and shipwrecks the trio back onto the coast. There, Axel discovers an over-sized human skull. Later, Professor Lidenbrock claims to have seen a 12 foot tall human watching a herd of Mastodons. Axel and Lidenbrock have a lively argument about the human, not knowing if this was a true man or an man-like ape. The three decide it is better to stay away for their own safety and continue to follow the trail left by Saknussemm.

The trail ends at a rock-slide. Unable to dig through the granite, they use gun cotton to blast the passage in the hope that they can find their way to the center of the Earth. When the blast occurs, little do the adventurers realize that a vast bottomless pit is all that is behind the rockslide. The sea rushes in to fill the new gap and the trio is swept away at breakneck speed inside the volcanic chimney of water and magma. You’ll have to finish the book to find out the fate of our trio of intrepid explorers.

Journey to the Center of the Earth Book CoverThis classic Jules Verne novel sometimes gets a bad rap. Some find it tedious or long-winded due to Verne’s hard science approach and the fact that the science is based on centuries old ideas that are extremely out of date and no longer considered true. The Victorian ideas come across as sexist and imperialistic to modern sensibilities. Yet, this science fiction novel was ahead of its time and in many ways is as impressive today as it was when it was written. Verne has a timeless style to his writing that gains him fans even today.

Some care needs to be taken when finding a copy of the book to read. Remember, this book was originally written in French. All the English versions are translations and unfortunately some are better than others. In the 1960s certain translators took liberties with the story, changing it in subtle ways. The story is basically the same, but many details have been changed. You can if you got one of the lesser translations by the names of the characters. Axel becomes Harry. Professor Lindenbrock becomes Professor Von Hardwigg. Curiously, Hans remains Hans in all editions! However, do not fear, either as Axel or Harry, he still is in need of smelling salts to aid his fainting and hysteria.