Return to K-Mac's home pageThe Portable Universe 14
by Michael P. Kube-McDowell

originally published in The Elkhart Truth
August 17, 1984

I didn't really think he could do it. I didn't really think Frederik Pohl could match the grit and emotion of his outstanding 1977 novel "Gateway," which is on my all-time 10 best list, or find a resolution that could make a set piece of his three-book Heechee saga. Shows what I know. "Heechee Rendezvous" (Del Rey, $14.95) is a consummate achievement in its own right and a fitting cap to the riddles and conflicts set up in the earlier books.

Robinette Broadhead acquired his considerable wealth and influence as a direct consequence of sacrificing the rest of the crew of a small Heechee scout vessel, including Gelle-Klara Moynlin, the woman he loved. The ship was one of thousands apparently abandoned in the solar system by the Heechee, a mysterious race with awesome technological powers. Now Moynlin and the Heechee are coming back, and in "Heechee Rendezvous" an aging Broadhead will have to deal with both.

Marion Zimmer Bradley's 1983 crossover bestseller "The Mists of Avalon" made her name known in many households where the mention of it would previously have only raised eyebrows. Readers looking for an introduction to the `other' Bradley could do worse than start with "The House Between The Worlds" (Del Rey, $2.95), a satisfying 1980 tale of a university researcher searching for true psi power who finds instead a chemical doorway between alternate worlds -- a doorway that must be guarded if our reality is to be safe.

When A. Bertram Chandler died June 6 at age 72, science fiction lost one of its most skilled creators of space adventure. Having served in the merchant navy of three nations, Chandler's depiction of shipboard life rang with realism, as did his portrait of the pioneer Rim Worlds on the edge of the galaxy. The newest such portrait is in "The Last Amazon" (DAW, $2.50), and in it Chandler lives on as his cynical, unflappable, pipe-smoking alter ego John Grimes.

Almost two decades ago, I was devastated by Walter Moudy's short story "The Survivor," in which an Olympic-like war between teams of American and Russian soldiers, and televised from first shot to last, determines which nation will rule for the next four years. The story is the high point of "The Science Fictional Olympics" (Signet, $3.50), a collection of 17 stories on sports themes assembled by the Asimov-Greenberg-Waugh team.

Movie tie-ins are often slapdash efforts offering little more than dialog surrounded by screen descriptions. Vonda McIntrye's "Star Trek III: The Search For Spock" is one of the exceptions, containing an additional layer of depth and detail which should enhance both your memory and your understanding of the movie.

CLASSICS REVISITED: High school teacher Hal Clement's "Mission of Gravity" (1954) is a splended hard-science novel -- that is, a thorough extrapolation of a single scientific idea. Clement takes us on a fascinating tour of a disk-shaped world with a gravity up to 700 times that of Earth -- in the company of the alien crew that must recover a crashed space probe. (Del Rey, $2.75).

Edwin Abbott's "Flatland" (1884) is successful both as a savage satire of English society and as a fanciful exposition of life in a two-dimensional world. Flatland, as described by narrator A Square, has inspired generations of engineering students to invent imaginary technology, and the cutting commentary (especially on the status of women) still hits home. (Signet, $3.50).

THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF...: Prolific Piers Anthony's disturbing five-book Bio of a Space Tyrant series continues with "Mercenary" (Avon, $2.95), with Hope Hubris now serving in the Jupiter Navy and searching for his sister...Joan Vinge has followed her 1981 Hugo Award-winning bestseller "The Snow Queen" with "World's End" (Bluejay, $13.95), a lean and stylish companion piece ..."Demon" (Berkley, 6.95) concludes John Varley's trilogy set in Gaea, a organism the size of a small planet which orbits Saturn and which contains a fairyland ecology of exotic interrelated lifeforms.

--Michael Kube-McDowell is a special correspondent for the Truth and the author of the SF novel EMPRISE (Berkley, 1985).

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Last Revised: 07 July 2009