Welcome to Starfarer Science Fiction, an amateur fan site for SF literature. Under the various links you can find bibliographies of certain authors, various 'feature articles' including award lists, a few personal lists of recommended reading, reading order of SF book series and other SF book trivia that I've compiled as part of my hobby and enthusiasm for the genre. I predominantly read the 'classics' of the genre, so information and reviews will tend to focus on well established and 'classic' authors. As a reviewer for Tangent Online, my reviews of current SF magazines can be found on the Tangent site, but summaries and links to the full reviews can be found if you hit the Magazines link.


Biographical information, book reviews and bibliographies of some of the great SF writers


Recommended reading - the best novels, short stories and SF anthologies ever published

Reading Order Help

Recommended reading order of your favourite SF series - a useful resource


Explorations of SF magazines from the 'golden age' onwards & current magazine reviews

**  LATEST SITE UPDATES  -  May 2023  **

   I've started reading through selected stories from Astounding Stories, 1936, which can be read here as I update the review page over the coming month

  Currently reading and reviewing Tor.com for Tangent Online. All the magazine reviews can be found here.

  I finished my selected reading of Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine, 1971 (2 stories per issue) and the full reviews can be found here.

MINI REVIEW 24 May 2023 

The Color Out of Space - H.P. Lovecraft

Many of Lovecraft's seminal horror stories are just that - dark fantasy. But fantasy, horror and SF are close cousins, and some of his best work meets the criteria for SF. 

I've been slowly reading through Necronomicon, a collection of Lovecraft's best weird fiction, and the novella The Color Out of Space (1927; appearing in Hugo Gernsback's Amazing Stories) is one of his best SF tales. A strange 'meteor' lands in farmland close to Arkham, whereupon it slowly shrinks, gives off a color that is quite alien to all who see it, and slowly saps the life from the vegetation and animals around it.

While not part of Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos, this is better plotted and written than many of his stories and is recommended. Like many of Lovecraft's best tales, this story has recently been the subject of a movie starring Nicolas Cage (2020). 

MINI REVIEW 30 April 2023 

Dr Futurity - Philip K. Dick

Dr Futurity is an early PKD novel, and as such it misses much of the mind-bending plotting and ideas that characterise his later works. It's Dick's first attempt at time travel in the novel form, however, and worth a look.

Some of the ideas are good, and quite novel, though these are more associated with the strange social fabric of the future worlds the lead character travels to. The treatment of time-travel per se is less interesting and less well done that some other books in the sub-genre. It does get complicated, involves but avoids potential paradoxes and it ends better than the middle promises, however.

Possibly the most interesting thing about it is that the protagonist's name is Jim Parsons - I pictured him as the actor who famously played Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory, as a result!  This novel is for Dick completists only, really.

SHORT REVIEW 29 April 2023 

Embers of War - Gareth L. Powell

I've recently tried to get into several modern British space-opera series as this is an area where I'd like to read more SF. However, in several instances, I've been disappointed, not by the quality of the writing but by the plots, story structure, and characters. This has led me to starting - but then giving up and not finishing - works by Alastair Reynolds, Adrian Tchaikovsky, and most recently Peter F. Hamilton. However, I figured I should keep trying. One of the most highly rated current British authors of space-opera is Gareth L. Powell, so in deciding to dip my toe back in the water, I picked up his novel Embers of War.

In this book we follow the crew of the decommissioned heavy cruiser Trouble Dog, a sentient warship that helped conclude the last war within the galaxy's 'multiplicity' through an act of planetary genocide. Trouble Dog and her crew, now part of a galactic search and rescue organisation, get a call to travel to a particular star system popular with tourists. There, they must recover any survivors of a space liner that has been shot down over a planet-sized sculpture. The central themes of the book are guilt for past actions, and redemption.

The ideas Powell introduces in this first book of a trilogy are top notch, and the characters are appealing, varied and rounded. This is also 'proper' space opera, with a huge scope, an excellent sense of scale, and a well-developed backdrop for this and future adventures. However, while Embers of War is part one of a series, it reads well as a standalone, with quite a satisfying conclusion - a rarity with many SF series. Embers of War won the 2018 BSFA Award for best novel. The second and third books in the Embers of War trilogy are Fleet of Knives (2019) and Light of Impossible Stars (2020).

SHORT REVIEW 17 April 2023 

Foundation Trilogy - Isaac Asimov

As can be seen in a feature article on this site, the Foundation books began life as collections of short stories and novellas, published in Astounding Science Fiction, between 1942 and 1950. I've read these books several times, but the last time was almost a decade ago, so I thought it would be good to revisit the most famous SF series of all.  Interestingly, I got new things from them, and it also occurred to me that they are collected in a strange way.

Foundation kicks off the original trilogy, and comprises 4 novelettes from the '40's, with an additional framing introduction added when the book was first published in 1951. The stories are interesting in several ways: they are used by Asimov to provide a space opera scope for some ideas of how war might be avoided, and they also are rather episodic. The first book therefore feels like the fix-up it is. I recalled more occurrences of Seldon appearing during crises, but in fact this only happens twice in the book.

Foundation and Empire, the second book in the trilogy comprises two longer novellas. The first of these is thematically and stylistically like the original stories. It's fine, but not especially engaging compared to what is to come. In some ways, this first story should be collected in the first book, because the second part of Foundation and Empire introduces 'The Mule' - the mutant who can control emotion in others and is a stylistic advance.

The Mule is a great invention, and once Asimov gets to this character, we can see that the author has developed a larger story-arc and a broader plan for the books. The plotting becomes deeper and better, and the whole starts to gather pace and interest. Asimov is able to introduce more interesting ideas while also making his galaxy of worlds come to life and gain scale. Interestingly, the first half of the third book, Second Foundation, also features the Mule as the lead character. The second half of 'Empire' and the first half of Second Foundation, would actually make a thematic whole, and might be a better way of collecting these stories.

Second Foundation is probably the most satisfying of the original trilogy. As well as concluding the Mule story-arc well, it provides an intriguing plot of the Foundation seeking the location of the Second Foundation. Asimov has a fair bit to say about clarity of thought, the value of clearly expressing ideas, and of the dangers of developing 'physical' technologies without developing thought and mental refinement in parallel. Overall, the story arc develops quite nicely across the three books, but the development of plot, breadth of vision and skill in execution clearly develops from the first through the third book. The second part of Foundation and Empire and particularly Second Foundation feel like Asimov classic books, while the earlier stories feel more like 'Early Asimov' in tone and execution. 

SHORT REVIEW 05 April 2023 

Like Nothing on Earth - Eric Frank Russell

Eric Frank Russell (1905-1978) was the first British writer to contribute regularly to Astounding Science Fiction, and he was the third most published author in that magazine in the 1950's (with 27 stories across the decade). Most well remembered as a SF humorist, he wrote both funny and straight fiction, and was highly readable. Another favoured author of mine, Alan Dean Foster, has said that Russell is his favourite SF writer.

Like Nothing On Earth (1975, reprinted with an extra story in 1986) collects 7 stories that all appeared in Astounding, between 1941 and 1957. The collection begins with Russell's 1955 Hugo Award winning short story, Allamagoosa. The tale is very funny, told with bright wit and crisp funny dialogue. Novelette The Hobbyist (1947) concerns the crash-landing and escape form a strange planet, and is rather good. The Mechanical Mice (1941) creaks a bit with age, and has less spark that later works but is quite good fun. Into Your Tent I'll Creep (1957) is far from the horror it suggests - the story of telepathic aliens is quite droll but doesn't live up to the great title.

Nothing New (1955) is rather good space opera though it ends somewhat abruptly, while Exposure (1950) is essentially a shaggy-dog story. It's engaging and the dialogue is excellent, though it all leads to a rather daft joke. The best story is kept to last, however, as Ultima Thule (1951) is really terrific. It has Russell's trademark smart dialogue that always amuses, but the story is essentially a serious one, and the SF idea behind it is top-notch.

MINI REVIEW 16 March 2023 

Orbitsville - Bob Shaw

Bob Shaw (1931-1996) was one of the great, yet relatively unsung, writers of SF. This 1975 novel by Shaw won the BSFA award for best novel that year. It is one of the best (and first) novels that explored the idea of Dyson Spheres as artificial environments. 

Escaping retribution from the most powerful woman on Earth, a space pilot discovers a Dyson Sphere in deep space - a habitable shell surrounding a star with the equivalent living area of several billion Earths. This era produced a number of books concerned with huge artificial 'worlds', including Ringworld, Riverworld, and this novel. 

It's not a perfect book, but Shaw is good at tension and pacing, and he does a pretty good job conveying the mind-boggling size of Orbitsville. Shaw was an early fan of van Vogt's SF, and there's more than a hint of van Vogt's space opera ideas and pacing to the book.


Bob Shaw (1931-1996)

Bob Shaw was born and raised in Belfast and took to writing SF after he read magazines left behind in Northern Ireland by troops during WWII. Quoted as saying that he "...[wrote] science fiction for people who don't read a great deal of science fiction", Shaw penned some of the most imaginative SF I have read.

Shaw famously wrote the short story Light of Other Days (1966) which was nominated for the Hugo award that year.

Light of Other Days introduced Shaw's idea of "slow glass" through which light travelled so slowly, one affectively sees the past through it.  He expanded the story concept into a fix up novel, Other Days, Other Eyes. This novel/collection is great - do seek it out. A further recommended novel is A Wreath of Stars, which is likewise highly inventive and engaging. Much of his work concerns vision, perhaps because he suffered migraine-induced visual disturbances throughout his life. Shaw also struggled with alcohol abuse, and died prematurely of cancer in '96.  

SHORT REVIEW 04 March 2023 

Cryptozoic - Brian Aldiss

Cryptozoic (1967) is an early Brain Aldiss book, written in the height of the 'new wave' of British SF, when showing how clever you were as an author seemed to be important. It's an interesting read, not because it's very good (it isn't) but because it manages to be both intriguing and dreadful in almost equal measure. Algis Budrys certainly didn't like it when, in his review upon release, he described it as "a useless book". However, for the first three fifths of the novel (or thereabouts) it is engaging, well-written, and follows an intrinsically interesting and novel take on time travel, and out relationship with time.

At the start we follow the time travelling adventures of an artist, called Bush. The concept here is that time travel can be accomplished with the mind - when properly trained and with the help of drugs - such that one can travel down time with the entropy gradient, which is easier the farther you go (such as to the Jurassic period) but is much harder closer to the current time. When 'mind-travelling' one can see the world and explore it, but not really touch or interact with it. Bush lives for a few years in both the Devonian and Jurassic, before returning to his present day, in 2093. This is where the book takes a turn for the worse.

Upon returning to the 'present day' Bush discovers that Britain is now under control of a totalitarian dictatorship. The book thus morphs into a 'thriller' of one man against the state.  This could be fine, but Aldiss then throws out a further idea - that time actually travels backwards, and that humans only see it going forwards due to some form of mental conditioning. Aldiss spends a long time describing how this can be, without ever making the idea seem anything other than patently absurd .

Finally, when we've about given up on the idea the book might have any merit, Aldiss finishes with a coda that's a complete cop-out. The author himself noted this is "A novel that did not entirely hatch, the parts being better than the whole". I would tend to agree, though I'd be a little less charitable. The 'mind-travel' idea is really good and would support a very good novel.  It's a shame he didn't write that book, as opposed to following additional and very silly ideas that ultimately comprised this one. One cannot help wondering if this was a case of an artistic novelist trying to write on a science subject of which he had very little grasp. I've been a big fan of Aldiss over the years, and he's written some very good work, but if you've not read him much, don't start here; try Greybeard, Hothouse or Non-Stop first. 

SHORT REVIEW 16 February 2023 

The Sirens of Titan - Kurt Vonnegut

The Sirens of Titan (1959) was an early novel of Kurt Vonnegut (1922 – 2007) and was nominated for the Hugo award for best novel in 1960. Like much of Vonnegut's output, it is a darkly comic and satirical tale. In its off-beat simplicity, straightforward language and bizarre plotting, it is reminiscent of Lafferty and in its humor of Douglas Adams. 

In the future, ​Winston Niles Rumfoord, and his dog, travel through space and accidentally come into contact with a 'chronosynclastic infundibula' between Earth and Mars. This allows Rumfoord to travel in space and time and foresee the future. When he tells America's richest man, Malachi Constant, that he will travel to Mars, Mercury and Titan, he sets in motion a series of bizarre occurrences, including a hopeless attack by Mars forces against Earth. Ultimately, what transpires for both the 'space wanderer' Constant, and for humanity makes a strange kind of sense.

The central theme of the book is our fate as individuals and as a race - the nature of destiny versus free-will - and it explores the core meaning of being human. Vonnegut was very interested in the meaning of life; in a novel that questions this at every turn, he suggests at the story's end that it may simply be to love those around you. Undoubtedly an odd book, full of idiosyncrasy and silliness, it nevertheless repays reading, containing many delightful scenes, great wit and invention and will provide a fresh change of style from almost any other modern SF book.

SHORT REVIEW 16 February 2023 

A Princess of Mars - Edgar Rice Burroughs

A Princess of Mars (1912) was the first of Burrough's Barsoom SF novels, featuring the American civil war hero John Carter. Set predominantly in 1865, John Carter is hiding in a cave from a large band of Apache natives in Arizona, when he is mysteriously transported to the planet Mars. Upon waking on the red planet (covered in moss, and with a weak but breathable atmosphere) he is first captured by fifteen foot tall green Martians. His strength and agility are greater than the natives, as Mars gravity is much weaker, and he attains an delicate position that is part captive, part chieftain. Later he discovers that the giant green Martian race is at war with the human red Martians, who whose capital is the city of Helium. Carter falls in love with the princess of the red-timited human Martian race, Dejah Thoris.

This book must be read as a product of its time. Of course the physics on show here is extremely daft, but there is a swashbuckling charm that excuses much of it. Burroughs' inventions of the eighth and ninth 'rays' on Mars manage to be especially silly, while simultaneously being fun and inventive. It is interesting that Burroughs doesn't attempt to invent a spaceship to take Carter to Mars - he simply arrives there. And when we come to characterisation, Carter manages to avoid being grating, despite his somewhat false humility and general perfection, as he takes himself so seriously and has a good heart.

A first publication in 1912 makes this one of the oldest SF novels I've read, and the benefit of reading such tales is that they provide the background for so much that followed. Without Burrough's Barsoom books we might never have seen the same 1930's emergence of SF pulp magazines, Buck Rogers, E. E. 'doc' Smith's series, some of Heinlein's output, and more recently it has continued to inspire comics, the recent film John Carter (2012), and other SF creations as Avatar, which James Cameron said was inspired by a wish to get back to John Carter's kind of adventure. 

NEW FEATURE 07 February 2023 

Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, 1971

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, founded in 1949, was edited by its co-founder Anthony Boucher from '49-'58 and quickly gained a reputation for publishing more literary stories than the competition, with greater diversity. In 1966, Edward Ferman became editor, a post he held for 25 years, during which time he published many notable stories and novels as serials.

In 1970's the 'new wave'  was in full swing, and a lot a excellent SF was being published in the era. I am now reading through each issue of the magazine from 1971, selecting a couple of stories from each issue. So far, the standard of stories has been very good, with submissions from well known authors such as Harlan Ellison, Bob Shaw and Thomas Disch. To check out the year in F&SF, you can go here for the full reviews.

I shall be reading through this year of F&SF off and on over the next few months, so check back occasionally if you're interested.

MINI REVIEW 28 January 2023 

Moonrise - Ben Bova

Moonrise (1996) by Ben Bova is part of the author's 'Grand Tour' of solar system hard-SF novels, and the first of a duology (followed by Moonwar). Bova can be a little hit or miss, and when he gets it right, such as with Mars and Jupiter, his novels are very good SF. Moonrise is better than Saturn, perhaps, but it's quite flawed

Bova's novels tend to focus on character, with the SF elements sometimes playing second fiddle to the drama he develops. This is certainly the case here, where the principle technological speculation centers on the development of 'nanotechnology' but the story is really a family drama covering two generations. Unfortunately, the lead characters are not very appealing.

Overall, this is not recommended - Bova certainly wrote better - the unlikeable characters, the unlikely 'nanotech' and 1990's misogyny and some lax morals on show make this very 'so-so'. What Bova does do very well is bring the moon to life however - the scenes on the moon ring true and appear to be well researched.


Planet of Exile - Ursula K. Le Guin
Mankind Under the Leash - Thomas M. Disch 

Ace Doubles were a fan favourite of the SF and fantasy genres, running from 1952 until 1978. Mostly published in tête-bêche format, with two short novels in each book, each printed each upside down to the other, and meeting in the middle such that each book sported a cover for each novel. This Ace Double was book G-597 in the series, published in 1966 and featured works by two literary figures in SF: Ursula Le Guin, and the new wave author Thomas M. Disch. 

Le Guin's Planet of Exile was an early entry in her Hainish sequence (that later famously included her classic novel The Left Hand of Darkness). A colonised world has been abandoned for 600 years, leaving the colonists to exist in a state of exile in one city by the coast. This world has years that last 60 earth years, such that each winter lasts a generation. The natives are like humans, but are more primitive and split into two warring subspecies, When winter approaches again, one tribe's migration threatens the existence of both the colonists and the local natives. The novel is quite short, but Le Guin paints a crisp, clear picture of the world, and raises interesting questions of what defines humanity. A good read.

The second book in the 'double' is Thomas M. Disch's Mankind Under the Leash. The invasion of Earth in 1970 by non-corporeal, highly advanced alien's (attracted by the sun's particular solar radiation), has led to most humans accepting their position as pets to the aliens, living under a benevolent mental 'leash'.  The life lived by 'pets' is comfortable and focusses on aesthetics. When an especially powerful solar flare knocks out the aliens on Earth, many pets are released from their 'kennels' and the leash they love so much. This marks a moment where revolutionary humans who have avoided the leash and live free as 'dingoes' can retaliate. The overall scheme is quite satisfying and its a nice idea. Disch was one of the foremost writers of the New Wave of SF in the 1960's and this shows through here. The book is full of half-serious, half jokey prose, and while its clear the work is satire in many ways, the message and plot is not really satirical. It therefore falls rather between two stools, and suffers somewhat as a result. If it had been a little less tongue in cheek here and there, it would probably have been better, but Disch's instincts to tear up the play-book in SF writing won through, one suspects.

For earlier years' articles hit the relevant archive button below

2022 Article Archive 2021 Article Archive 2020 Article Archive