Butterfly Planet by Philip E. High (Hale, 1971) High’s prose is slapdash, his grammar shaky and his punctuation atrocious. His wealth of SF ideas offers some compensation but these gush forth as if from a newly struck oil well. Only having laid claim does High refine them (in subsequent novels).
After the Goat Man by Betsy Byars (The Bodley Head, 1974) A remarkable middle grade novel. By delving deep into the protagonists’ wistful ruminations—especially poor overweight Harold’s—Byars not only guides her characters to a precocious philosophical maturity (cf. Peanuts) but also holds the reader’s attention despite there being almost no plot.
Hood’s Army: Earth Invaded by Nathan Elliott (Dragon Books, 1986) Uncomplicated and fast-moving, this first book of Elliott’s middle-grade SF trilogy recalls the action machismo of Flash Gordon (with touches of Robin Hood). There’s nothing subtle about the invasion narrative or male-minded response. The robot AMOS, however, offers a point of uniqueness.
The Stranger, Series 1 by G. K. Saunders; dir. Gil Brealey (ABC, 1964) Early Australian SF. A cagey alien befriends three schoolchildren while seeking refugee status for his people. The Stranger is played seriously and contrives across six episodes (particularly through its incidental music) to maintain a sense of ambiguity vis-à-vis the extra-terrestrials’ true intentions.
Scythe by Neal Shusterman (Simon & Schuster, 2016); audiobook read by Greg Tremblay (Bolinda, 2019) Shusterman’s world-building weaves unobtrusively through the story. The central premise—a future where longevity gives rise to professional death-takers—is intriguing, and while plot developments are necessarily fraught, they also at times prove genuinely unexpected. Tremblay’s audiobook reading adds to the characterisation.
The Black Archive #35: Timelash by Phil Pascoe (Obverse Books, 2019) Pascoe approaches Timelash without an obvious agenda to push, motivated by a fondness for the story yet making no attempt to proselytise. His exposition is centred around the use of HG Wells as a character, and evinces the creative bleed-through between texts.
Eight will Fall by Sarah Harian (Henry Holt, 2019) A straightforward fantasy quest narrative with lashings of visceral horror. Important characters appear out of nowhere while seemingly important characters disappear abruptly. This and a vaguely desensitised writing style keep the reader off-kilter. Harian’s approach almost doesn’t work at all, yet does.
The Lone Ranger dir. Gore Verbinski (2013) Harshly judged by critics, The Lone Ranger is nonetheless a thoroughly entertaining film; lengthy, yes, but in harmony with the vastness of its landscapes. The western and (Tonto-inspired) comedy plotlines run parallel for a time before coming together in a rip-roaring finale.
Mission Earth #1: The Invaders Plan by L. Ron Hubbard (New Era, 1985) Hubbard wrote SF in a pulp style. While Mission Earth on the one hand offers a memorably characterised satire, on the other it is an insubstantial and oddly distasteful wad of fairy floss. Each chapter rattles along but very little actually happens.
The Complete Peanuts: 1993 to 1994 by Charles M. Schulz (Fantagraphics Books, 2014) Spurred perhaps by Rerun’s belated coming of age, Schulz bestows upon the Peanuts gang some nice little touches of character growth (Charlie Brown’s more active pursuit of the Little Red-Haired Girl, for instance). Unfortunately, his once-consummate penmanship is starting to look shaky.