Category Archives: Reviews

Review: “Dreams Unleashed” by Linda Hawley

Ann Torgeson is troubled by her dreams. She earns her living as a technical writer for AlterHydro, an alternative-energy engineering firm based in Bellingham, Washington. She lives alone with her dog in a Craftsman-style home which is packed full of high technology and ruled by Sinéad, a sophisticated computer. At first glance, Ann is a forty-four year old widow whose daughter has recently gone to college, but she is far more than that.

“Dreams Unleashed” is Linda Hawley’s debut novel, the first in her “The Prophecies” trilogy. She introduces Ann Torgeson, who is a richly textured, multidimensional character. Hawley offers an entertaining voyage through the swells and storms of the not-too-distant future where government and societal forces are threatening everyone’s privacy. This novel is both detailed and compelling. Written in the first person, the author effectively draws the reader into her heroine’s mind. Ann is a former employee of the CIA. She is an enigma. As the story unfolds, the reader journeys with her as she relives her past and tries to make sense of her vivid dreams.

This is a nonlinear tale which immerses the reader in a tantalizing paranormal mystery. Its twists and discontinuities leave the reader breathless, creating a world where the unexpected is commonplace. Linda Hawley tears down the boundaries which have traditionally framed reality. Her book offers a mind-bending experience which grips the reader and offers a fantastic glimpse of a world beyond our imagining. This is a book filled with cerebral action and metaphysical mystique.

One of the dominant threads in the story is a pair of phantom Herkimer Diamonds. Ann and her late father spent some time in Upstate New York, digging for them in the southern foothills of the Adirondack Mountains. They found the crystals during their excursion. From that day on, they wore the Herkimer Diamonds as symbols of the powerful bond they shared. (The Herkimer Diamond Mine is a couple of hours drive from my home. I enjoyed every word of this account, having spent time rock hounding there. My first wedding ring is still somewhere in the West Canada Creek near the Herkimer Diamond Mine KOA.)

Linda Hawley invites the reader into Ann Torgeson’s inner thoughts. “Dreams Unleashed” is a labyrinthine tale where Ann discovers her link with cataclysmic events and startling powers, which will change her life forever. If you like paranormal fare, you will enjoy this book.

Moore later…

Review: “Voyagers II: The Alien Within,” by Ben Bova

SPOILER ALERT: If you have not read the first novel in Ben Bova’s “Voyagers” series, you may want to stop reading. This review reveals its ending.

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The man who had been Keith Stoner awoke. Ben Bova offers another tour de force in “Voyagers II: The Alien Within,” his second installment in the acclaimed “Voyagers” series. In the first novel, a mysterious signal near Jupiter leads to the discovery of an alien ship. A scientist and astronaut, Stoner boards the craft. He discovers a sarcophagus containing the body of an ancient alien. Stoner remains on the ship as it swings by the earth and heads out of the solar system. He freezes to death.

Eighteen years have passed. Jo Camerata, the young grad student who fell in love with Keith Stoner in the first novel, has climbed the corporate ladder and mounted a rescue mission to save the man she loves. She is president of Vanguard Industries and has married Everett Nillson, the chairman of the board. Their company is harvesting advanced technology from the alien spacecraft. The resulting profits have made Vanguard the wealthiest corporation in the world.

In the opening pages, Keith awakens to a world that has changed drastically. Ben Bova paints a portrait of a future world which is in a tug of war between fantastic new scientific innovations and age old problems. Fusion generators have solved the energy crisis. Force fields which can shield cities from nuclear blasts have ended the standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union. Nonetheless, greed and war and poverty remain.

Bova takes Keith Stoner across the globe, from the sunny beaches of Hawaii to the cold mountains of High Asia. Through his character, the reader is introduced to an Indian woman who will do anything for her children: a glimpse of nobility and courage. Stoner journeys into the heart of Central Africa where a war rages between tribal leaders; a war fueled by weapons provided by the developed world. Through his eyes, the reader sees the horrors of war, experiences the needless killing. And then Stoner sojourns in a crowded refugee camp, where the raw masses of humanity seek hope where there is no hope. This book is an unforgettable read.

As the story progresses, the reader discovers that Keith Stoner has changed. He is not the man he used to be. As the novel’s title suggests, Stoner’s mind has been infiltrated. The alien’s presence emerges slowly, casting Stoner into an inner dialog with his strange passenger: a dispute over the nature of humanity and the character of human society. Stoner straddles two worlds, human and alien. His struggle to accommodate his mental companion becomes the perfect vehicle for Bova to raise questions about wealth and power, war and peace, self-sufficiency and love.

Ben Bova’s “Voyagers II: The Alien Within” is much more than a well crafted science fiction novel. When the story is over, the reader is left with the impression that each of us hosts an alternate presence in our psyche: an internal whisper that urges us to question the disparities of society and challenge the base instincts which lead us to destruction.

Moore later…

Review: “Abduction” by Robin Cook

Perry Bergman has bet his fortune and his company on a risky venture. When Dr. Suzanne Newell, a geophysical oceanographer, accidentally discovers a seamount on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, her studies reveal a magma chamber with surprisingly thin walls. Earth’s liquid core could be within four hundred feet of the ocean floor. Perry dispatches his ship, the Benthic Explorer to drill into the mount and determine what lies beneath it. Bergman’s team struggles to penetrate the hard shell of the chamber, breaking drill bits and shattering the project’s budget.

Perry arrives on the Benthic Explorer as another drill fails. Richard Adams and Michael Donaghue are the company divers tasked with changing out the broken bit. Perry is deathly afraid of submarines and reluctantly joins Dr. Newell and her pilot Donald Fuller in the Oceanus, a submersible which is carrying tools for the repair. They descend to the well head in advance of the divers. Suzanne and Donald take Perry on a tour of the seamount, showing him dramatic undersea columns, which resemble the Giant’s Causeway on the northern coast of Ireland. They approach a transverse fault that penetrates the seamount and are startled when they find it isn’t a fault at all. It is a large rectangular shaft that is so deep their sonar can’t find its bottom. As Donald pilots the Oceanus into the shaft, unknown forces suck them down beneath the sea floor. Perry is certain they’re lives are over. This is where Robin Cook’s delicious science fiction tale begins.

Perry Bergman and his associates are mysteriously reunited with the two divers. The five characters are now adventurers, exploring Interterra, a world beyond their comprehension. All is not as it appears. They learn of an ancient age when humanity was faced with annihilation and are astonished by the steps taken by an advanced civilization to ensure survival. It becomes unclear whether they will ever return. They have been abducted.

“Abduction” is reminiscent of Jules Verne’s classic, “A Journey to the Center of the Earth,” but offers the reader much more. It is a novel filled with cutting-edge science and a haunting vision of a society born of the fantastic application of hyper-advanced genetic engineering. Perry Bergman and his associates must choose between the utopia of Interterra and the lives they’ve left behind on the ocean’s surface. Cook bends our minds in the final pages, leaving us thoroughly entertained and breathless as we emerge from his imaginative tale. The implications are startling. The vision of our inhumanity is troubling. And the story’s afterglow is enlightening.

Moore later…

Review: “The Green Trap” by Ben Bova

Paul Cochrane’s life is turned upside down when his brother Mike is murdered. Mike invites Paul to his laboratory at the Calvin Research Center, a private biotech company in Palo Alto, California to tell him of a scientific breakthrough which will transform the world and make him a wealthy man. However, before Paul sees him, Mike is found bludgeoned to death, his laptop computer gone. Paul is left with many unanswered questions. Who killed his brother? Why was Mike killed? And what had he discovered? Paul Cochrane begins a labyrinthine journey to find answers. His life will never be the same.

“The Green Trap” by Ben Bova is a first-rate thriller constructed around cutting-edge microbiology and the power politics of alternative energy research. It pits those who profit from traditional fossil-fuels against scientists who are ushering in a paradigm shift in energy production. The story is a classic David and Goliath tale where a man, seeking the truth about his brother’s death, must challenge overwhelming adversaries.

When Elena Sandoval, a lovely and mysterious woman, joins in Paul in his search for Mike’s murderer, the pair finds themselves locked in a deadly tug of war with Lionel Gould, the chairman of the board and principal stock holder of Gould Energy Corporation. Gould wants control of Mike’s discovery. Paul wants to protect the research for which his brother died. Paul and Elena are immersed in a shadowy world where they are stalked by thugs and confounded at every step. Their search takes them from Boston to San Francisco, from the halls of Washington’s power to seductive bedrooms of sexual intrigue.

Once again, Ben Bova delivers a literary masterwork, taking his readers on a thrilling roller-coaster ride through smart science and rough and tumble action. He never disappoints. Paul Cochrane is a likeable and approachable character. When his brother’s discovery threatens those who are heavily vested in the status quo, Paul Cochrane shows us that the heralds of innovation can change the world in spite of them. “The Green Trap” offers an honest look at the political and economic strictures which stifle discovery, wrapped in an enjoyable who-done-it.

Moore later…

Review: “Voyagers” by Ben Bova

Keith Stoner is caught in a web of intrigue and deception. A former NASA astronaut, Stoner helped design and build the “Big Eye,” Ben Bova’s vision of the yet-to-be Hubble Space Telescope. When extra-terrestrial signals are detected from Jupiter, Stoner is recruited because of his ties with NASA. He obtains photographs of Jupiter and discovers what appears to be an alien spacecraft orbiting the gas giant.

“Voyagers” crackles with personal and political drama as scientists from around the globe come together to decipher the mysterious radio transmission. Written in 1981, a decade prior to the fall of the Soviet Union, the story is filled with cold war tension and hot sexual passion. The plot unfolds beneath the leaden skies of Moscow and New England, on the beaches of a tropical island in the South Pacific and far above the Earth in the cold emptiness of space.

Ben Bova takes his time developing the narrative, weaving together the lives and ambitions of many disparate characters. Keith Stoner is a scientist who is obsessed with scientific discovery. Jo Camerata is a beautiful grad student who will do anything to save him. Caught in a faltering marriage, a Russian linguist and his wife must face their mutually inflicted wounds. A British double agent who is shattered by past imprisonment and torture, must decide where his loyalties belong. Bova creates believable, textured characters who reach out of the narrative. They invite us into a world where national distrust and insatiable egos threaten to derail the greatest discovery in history. The alien spacecraft’s mysterious appearance puts these characters on a collision course in a masterful literary tapestry, surrounding the reader with a highly enjoyable tale.

The first novel in an epic series, “Voyagers” raises a timeless question. How will we navigate the historical discontinuity when we encounter intelligent life from beyond our world? When the stakes are high and established beliefs are shattered, will the human race be at its best or worst? Ben Bova offers a sobering and realistic glance at one possible response to such an encounter, encouraging us to exchange our pettiness for nobility and our fears for a glimpse into the unknown.

Ben Bova delights the reader with a story that twists and turns its way toward a remarkable final act. Be sure to buy the second book in the series, “The Alien Within,” before reading this novel. The stunning conclusion of “Voyagers” will leave you breathless and wanting more.

Moore later…

Review: “Starman Jones” by Robert A. Heinlein

 “Starman Jones” is a timeless story of a young man with a dream. Max Jones is a farm boy who wants to follow in his late uncle’s footsteps. Chester Jones was an astrogator, a master mathematician who navigated spacecraft through the interstellar void. He taught Max everything he knew and the boy, gifted with a photographic memory, was hooked. Max’s feet were still planted in the soil of his farm, but his eyes were set on the stars.

Robert A. Heinlein weaves a story around this extraordinary young man who has been battered by life. Max’s father is dead. His days are ruled by an unpleasant step-mother. Her new husband threatens his future. Max runs away from home, armed with a few items of clothing and a couple of his uncle’s books. And so his quest begins. When the Astrogator’s Guild refuses to admit him, Max obtains forged papers and ships out on the Asgard, an interstellar passenger liner and freighter. He is charged with cleaning the cats’ litter boxes and feeding the animals in the hold. His goal has become an unlikely daydream; but Max is in space.

The story follows Max’s adventures on board the ship and at the various ports of call during her voyage. Heinlein offers an intricate accounting of the Asgard’s chain of command, which forms a richly woven canvas for the narrative. The well-developed characters are the oils which fill the landscape with color and texture.  Heinlein is a grand master, and his literary brushstrokes bring the world of “Starman Jones” to life, inviting the reader to linger there and believe again in the power of hope.

This book was written in 1953. That a computer is part of the ship’s navigation system is impressive, given IBM shipped its first electronic computer during the time when Heinlein wrote this story. Much of the flight deck routine is dated and clearly unbelievable given the level of contemporary technological sophistication, but the heart and soul of this book are timeless. At its core, this is not a story about astrogating the galaxy. It is a coming-of-age novel about a young man who is learning to navigate through life. We all have been surprised by strangers, obstructed by roadblocks and overwhelmed by doubt. Like Max, we have all longed for a preferred future, aspiring to something that seems beyond our grasp.

“Starman Jones” is included among Robert A Heinlein’s juvenile works. I picked it off the shelf of my high school library in the late 1960s, and the tale sparked my interest in science fiction. Later, I would fall in love with another of his classics, “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.” We live in an age when the future of manned space flight is dimmed by budgetary constraints and society’s faltering sense of wonder. A book like “Starman Jones” can remind us of the implicit value of standing alone in a field and gazing up at the heavens, where we can sense our connection with the bigness of the cosmos and the possibilities that stir within us. Max must follow his bliss, and Heinlein invites us all to do the same.

Moore later…

Review: “Season of the Harvest” by Michael R. Hicks

Reading a novel by Michael R. Hicks is like taking a deep breath of fresh air. From the first sentence, his writing sings. I know at once that I am in the presence of a master storyteller whose writing draws me in and surrounds me with a magnetic plot and equally compelling characters. Hick’s use of description ignites the imagination and places the reader before a vivid landscape filled with texture and dramatic color. “Season of the Harvest” is best read with running shoes; the story, from beginning to end, crackles with action and suspense.

The novel begins when FBI agent Jack Dawson’s best friend is killed. His death is mysterious and horrific, lighting a dramatic match which results in a breathtaking literary inferno whose fury burns continuously to the last page. Dawson is swept up in an unexpected nightmare, beyond his imagining and chilling to the bone. He is caught between two hidden forces: persons unknown who seem to bear the trappings of UFO fanatics and genetic scientists, holding world-changing secrets behind the ironclad security of their research complex. The result is a terrifying game of “cat and mouse” that grips the reader in its claws and never lets go.

Jack Dawson becomes part of a courageous group of people who put their lives in the breach between an unimaginable future and humanity’s survival. Their battle spans the western hemisphere as they risk everything behind a curtain of anonymity. Michael R. Hicks draws his characters with exquisite detail and well researched finesse. There are no “minor” players in this entertaining thrill ride, just competent and dedicated men and women who do their duty with bravery befitting the best humanity can offer.

This novel is a delicious treat for those who like action and adventure. It is a science fiction novel that is at once contemporary and reminiscent of the great novels that have bejeweled the genre through the years. It is a cautionary tale that will haunt the reader, and invite us all to think twice about the simple decisions we make every day.

Moore later…

Review: “The Haunted Stars” by Edmond Hamilton

My brother John introduced me to this book when I was in high school. I don’t recall if he handed it to me, or I simply foraged it from his amazing book collection. In any case, I read it and was immediately captivated by the story’s stunning premise. “The Haunted Stars” is a gem of an old school science fiction story, written by Edmond Hamilton (1904-1977), a popular SF author in the mid 20th century. He wrote for pulp science fiction magazines and was known for his contributions to the Space Opera genre. “The Haunted Stars” came to him late in his career and is a timeless cautionary tale about the consequences of interplanetary space travel.

The United States sends astronauts to the Moon, who land and establish a lunar base in the Gassendi crater. To their surprise, they find the remnants of an alien base, carved into the side of a mountain. Moreover, there is evidence of a great conflict which breached the massive doors of the outpost. The astronauts find damaged machinery and a playback device which has preserved the spoken language of the Ur-men, the term given to the mysterious visitors from three hundred centuries in the past.

The momentous discovery is kept secret by the government and Doctor Robert Fairlie, professor of linguistics at Massachusetts University, is pressed into service to help decipher the Ur-men’s language. As the story unfolds, Fairlie discovers a link between the alien tongue and ancient Sumerian. Understanding the language unlocks the secrets of the advanced technology found in the shattered lunar fortress and makes it possible for humankind to journey beyond the solar system.

“The Haunted Stars” was originally published in 1960. Now, over fifty years later, the story still holds up as an entertaining and thought-provoking tale. It explores the friction between scientific inquiry and the use of technology for military ends. It raises profound questions about humanity’s behavior when confronted with an alien culture and whether “might makes right.”

It seems unlikely that we are the only intelligent species in the universe. Should we ever meet our interstellar counterparts, what will we do? Edmond Hamilton raises a mirror to our collective face and shows us a worrisome reflection. Perhaps we are the ones who will haunt the stars.

Moore later…

REVIEW: “The Trouble With Thieves”

“The Trouble With Thieves: Return to Averia” by Maurice X. Alvarez and Ande Li is an imaginative romp through the cities and floating mountains of Averia; a planet populated by sorcerers and birdlike creatures. The book is a cross between Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and Douglas Adam’s “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” The rabbit hole and thumb are replaced with a portal cube that pierces the boundaries of physics and transports Kormèr Lezàl, the central character and thief, to any time and place in the universe.

The story begins with two jumps through the portal. The first takes Kormèr to a prison and into the company of Jeransy Bolsner, a young, independent minded miscreant. Soon after, a second jump delivers Kormèr and Jeransy to a classroom, where they meet Kormèr’s other traveling companion, Anndrew Lee, a girl in her junior year at St. Yves High School. Their journey to Averia begins when Cecil Murphy, a beleaguered prodigy, accidentally falls through the portal. The magic unfolds as the thief and his two young associates try to rescue the missing boy.

The authors do a great job creating a textured and believable world. Kormèr has been to Averia before (hence the Return to Averia), and has a storied history with Sylvestra, the beautiful chief of Police. From a hotel that seems to resemble a bird-cage, to delightful names inspired by bird vocalizations, the reader is immersed in an amazing magical world. Alveria is a place where the unexpected is commonplace and the usual leaves the reader wide-eyed and flabbergasted.  


Cecil, the lost boy, draws the attention of a sorcerer and is taken to Berdia, a city “devoted to the study of magic.” He is exposed to a vast library of spells and magic in the Hovel, the ancient tree-haven of the Hawk Sorcerers. Here, the primary conflict finds its birth as the boy genius gorges himself on magic spells and castings. His immaturity and immense intellect, combined with his new skills, form a perfect storm, threatening Kormèr and his friends.

There is a drumbeat in the story that strikes a steady cadence, marching toward the inevitable confrontation between the mysterious thief and the young savant. The authors work their literary magic as unexpected twists surprise and delight the reader. My favorite scene in the book is a poignant conversation between Kormèr and his friend Srrcheel, an old Hawk Sorcerer. It is an exchange that touches the reader’s heart and opens a new dimension, transcending magic and even the power of the portal that brought Kormèr and his friends to Averia. By making their character utter one word, the authors create a relational singularity that transports this story and its readers to a profound and wonderful place.

“The Trouble With Thieves: Return to Averia” leaves the reader wanting more. Kormèr Lezàl reminds me of another thief, the stranger who lurked in the great underground empire of the ZORK trilogy. He is a character that is bigger than any one story and more mysterious than any spell conjured by the Hawk Sorcerers. The writers drop clues to his origins, but there isn’t enough to reveal his true identity, or his destination.  We will have to wait for other installments in “The Trouble With Thieves” saga to quench our thirst for this deliciously enigmatic man.

Moore Later…

Get “The Trouble With Thieves” at Amazon

Review: IN HER NAME: Omnibus by Michael R. Hicks

     I am not a big fan of Fantasy SF. I’m a more nuts and bolts, plastic and metal kind of guy. I get tangled up in alien names. Is it too much to expect an extraterrestrial race from another dimension to name their kid Bob? I guess so. In spite of my bias, I thoroughly enjoyed Michael R. Hick’s initial IN HER NAME trilogy. He had me hooked on the first page. The first chapter was gripping.

     The trilogy begins with an unforgettable battle scene, igniting the dramatic flame which will carry the reader through EMPIRE, a story which tells of the childhood and transformation of Reza Gard, the book’s central character. Through the course of this first book, I was taken to a world I had never imagined. Mike’s descriptions were magnificent, his words giving sight and sound to my journey into the land of the Kreela. The dialogue is competent and measured, always pushing the story forward and making me want more.

      The second book introduces a chorus of vivid characters whose voices will permeate the remainder of the trilogy. They are painstakingly articulated by a writer who is in total command of his plot, his people and the emotional threads which form the tightly woven texture of his story. CONFEDERATION, the second of this three part exultation, takes the reader into the personal and political machinations surrounding Reza’s military training. Then, to my delight, the story embraces an earthlike planet filled with corrupt leaders and hard working “every-men,” caught up in a rivetingly plausible struggle. Characters are thrust into impossible situations and the reader is left breathless by the climactic turn of events which rumble like a literary earthquake through the story’s crust.

      I read the third installment of the trilogy, IN HER NAME: FINAL BATTLE in one sitting. I never do this. I am a slow reader and generally take several days to digest a novel. In this final breath of the story, Mike pulls out all the stops. His action sequences are at once personal, political, militaristic and galactic. His themes reverberate across time and space.

     There is a clear, legendary aspect of the IN HER NAME series. Mike has created a race of people with stunning clarity and unparalleled depth. He has woven a mythic religion and a warrior’s code into their lives which is at once compelling and completely believable.

     Ultimately, it is the people in a story who draw me into the world of make believe. They are the ones who engage me, make me surrender my disbelief, and tarry with them as they face their struggles. That is why I like the IN HER NAME series. Mike has created people who I care about, who I wish I could emulate. In his principal character, the human race is offered a noble hero: one who rises to the pinnacle of power but does not become corrupted by it.

      William Blake once wrote, “To see the world in a grain of sand, and to see heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hands, and eternity in an hour.” Mike’s crowning achievement in this trilogy is taking a one hundred thousand year struggle and placing it with all of its pathos and possibility into the reader’s hand. One cannot help but be moved by the immensity of what happens here.

     Learn more about Michael R. Hicks and his books at http://authormichaelhicks.com/