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The Ace Science Fiction Specials series began when Terry Carr was hired by Ace to find novels of quality that would appeal to an audience of discerning SF readers. Ace would tie them together for marketing and sales. The initial series of more than 35 novels began to appear in 1968 and ended in 1971 when Terry Carr moved from New York to California. Titles won the Hugo Award, two Nebula Awards and numerous other awards.

A second series of Ace Science Fiction Specials was done in the mid-70s without Terry Carr. It was short-lived and consisted of less than a dozen novels.

The previous series had sold well. In 1984, Ace hired Terry Carr to edit a new series of Ace Science Fiction Specials. The new series began with six novels. Due to their success in the market, another six were commissioned. However, Terry Carr died before all were published. Ace asked famed writer and editor Damon Knight to edit the last three novels.

This is the first part of a retrospective on the Ace Science Fiction Specials. Readers should note that many of the titles appearing in the three series are out of print.

First Set
The Wild Shore The Wild Shore (1984)
Kim Stanley Robinson
In 2047, it has been sixty years since America was quarantined after a devastating nuclear attack. Henry, at 17, wants to help make America like it was before all the bombs went off. But, for the people of Onofre Valley, on the coast of California, just surviving is enough of a challenge. Living simply on what the sea and land can provide, they strive to preserve what knowledge and skills they can in a society without mass communications. Then one day Henry meets two men who say they represent the new American resistance.

Green Eyes Green Eyes (1984)
Lucius Shepard
A pseudo-science mix of voodoo and biology are combined to resuscitate still-warm corpses -- zombies. One of them, Donnell, and his analyst, Jocundra, flee the place in which the experiments are done. Their intention is to discover the purpose behind Donnell's state. On their journey Donnell begins to see lights. It turns out that what he is seeing are electromagnetic fields surrounding objects including those of people and animals. He soon begins to manipulate the fields discovering he can cure illnesses. This strange curse leads them to setting up a practice as a healer in America's deep south. Soon, a decision is made to build a huge electromagnetic field, called a veve, from a mass of copper upon which Donnell can walk. He travels to another world where his real origin, and the true reason for the project, start to come together.

Neuromancer Neuromancer (1984)
William Gibson
Rampant poverty and excessive affluence, unparalleled leisure and sophisticated crime -- it is a world that Case, a burnt-out, nerve-damaged computer geek, inhabits. Once he was at the top of his game, able to plug into the world of cyberspace where programs take on a visible form and can invade any system, no matter how well-protected. Now, unable to work, Case is living in Japan, on the slide to self-destruction. He is picked up by Molly, a street samurai and combat artist and her mysterious employer, Armitage. They give him a comeback chance but maybe even he can't cut it despite his restored abilities. Neuromancer is worldwide in scope -- from Japan, to the Sprawl -- a nightmare urban conglomerate stretching between Boston and Atlanta -- to Istanbul and then beyond to Freeside, a space habitat which combines Las Vegas and a darkside Disneyland. It was the first novel to win the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award and the Philip K. Dick Award.

Palimpsests Palimpsests (1984)
Carter Scholz & Glenn Harcourt
I read this novel but I couldn't figure out what it was about. So I read it again. A second time didn't help. All I remember is a sense of unremitting dread, an eerie sense of impending gloom. So I'll quote from the book. It deals with experiments in time travel. It is, by turns, a novel of mystery, of espionage, of philosophy and adventure and intensely personal experience. "Palimpsest" is a parchment or the like from which writing has been partially erased to make room for another text. The narrator is Camus, an intelligent young man who is increasing caught up in the anomalies of time. Philip K. Dick would be proud.

Them Bones Them Bones (1984)
Howard Waldrop
Four divergent alternate histories form the core of this novel. One closely resembles our own and another where the southwestern Amerindian mound-builders still exist. The third is from a near future where man has ravaged the planet in a flurry of radiation, germ warfare and chemical pollution. The three come together to tell the tale of a military expedition travelling to the past to alter the future. Expecting Louisiana in the mid-1930s, they ended up in a world where Aztecs sacrifice humans to their gods on the banks of the Mississippi and Arabs explored America by steamboat. Christianity and the Roman Empire never existed. The complex threads come together, converging in a poignant story that transcends all timelines' differences.

In the Drift In the Drift (1985)
Michael Swanwick
The meltdown at Three Mile Island in 21st century Pennsylvania created the zone of death known as the Drift. Monsters and mutations emerged from the south where the horizon glitters in radioactive colours. Keith Piotrowicz is stuck in the Drift. A chance meeting with a female scholar, Fletch, who is on the run, gives him the knowledge he needs. The secret can turn his life around. He becomes a Mummer and, as Mummers Day dawns fresh and sweet, he takes that first step. In The Drift is rather episodic in nature, it appears to be written in pieces. But that is of small notice for Swanwick has a unique style, he uses words as if they were his last -- evocative and declarative.

Second Set
The Hercules Text The Hercules Text (1986)
Jack McDevitt
Harry Carmichael is sitting around one day watching comets. A signal from deep space appears on one of the monitors. It isn't the usual type -- a non-repeating random noise. It seems to be continuous and regular. Had man finally found life elsewhere in the universe? If so, what did the signal from a remote corner of the galaxy portend for Earth? It soon becomes apparent that things were going to change and nobody can stop the chain reactions this knowledge would cause. The novel focuses its attention on the people who have something to win and on those who have something to lose and how politics and society react to these possible changes. The science of signal decryption makes for fascinating reading but it is the characters who make this a taut thriller. Written before Carl Sagan's Contact, McDevitt infuses the search for answers and the lengths groups will go to preserve their spot in the food chain with a thoughtful insights and vivid prose.

The Net The Net (1987)
Loren MacGregor
Jason Horiuchi could best be characterized as a privateer but most folks who run into her and her band of loyal thugs think of her as pirate scum. She is a galaxy-wide adventurer looking for fun and for profit where it can be found regardless of whose wealth it is. Oddly enough, Jason was born into fantastic wealth but events turned her to a life of crime along with her associates -- Bear, Lys and Lynch. Contact with Alecko Papanddreou leads her into a heist by a telepath with a grudge. It doesn't quite work out as she had expected. She soon finds herself mired in a game where double-crossing and vengeance could cost Jason everything she's worked for including the lives of her and her crew. Geez, space opera at its best from an author who made his first sale with this novel.

Metrophage Metrophage (1988)
Richard Kadrey
Jonny Qabbala is a small-time hood in 21st century LA -- a city run by crime gangs and policed by a mob called the Committee of Public Health. Supposedly, there is a war going on with a group of aliens living on the Moon but nobody is certain. More immediate for LA is a virulent disease spreading throughout the city -- bio-weapons some say. It is part virus, part bacteria and one of Jonny's bosses, Conover, seems to have something to do with the spread of the disease. Jonny is drawn into this mystery bit by bit but he doesn't understand why and how, only that he better start figuring it out fast. He stumbles over clues and soon it is apparent that events elsewhere impinge upon it and he'd better pay more attention to what is going on elsewhere in the world and out of it.

The Tides of God The Tides of God (1989)
Ted Reynolds
It is the 33rd century, the Earth has banished war, starvation and disease. All the world is content, making great strides toward that utopia most folks figure is the whole point of civilization. One day the all-powerful enemy returns, bringing with it the horrors that the people have worked so hard to eliminate. Not content to subject themselves to these forces again, a spaceship is launched to intercept and destroy that which brings the devastation. No one aboard knows what they will find at the end of the flight but some seem to think that it just might be what history calls God. And their plan calls for God's death. Skip this novel if religion in SF is of interest and go straight to most of James Morrow books or to Heinlein's The Day After Tomorrow.

The Oxygen Barrons The Oxygen Barrons (1990)
Gregory Feeley
A war for scarce commodities causes a man of science, Galvanix, and a woman of war, Taggart, to team up with the hope of preventing the anticipated destruction of what man has wrought. Set on the Moon, where warring factions struggle for control, this novel of point-counterpoint moves needed to preserve the essentials of life -- water, oxygen, minerals -- leaves the reader in thrall to the complexities of maintaining some form of society while governments sling their accusatory arrows at one another. The young, frail Lunar Republic is the gem over which all the contestants scramble.

Black Snow Days Black Snow Days (1990)
Claudia O'Keefe
This one is a real puzzler. I remember reading it but not what it was about. So with the help of a kind site visitor, here is the blurb:
"Eric Pope crashed into a wall... Twelve years later, he wakes from a coma to find the world destroyed by war -- and his body and mind rebuilt into something more and less than human. Eric is now the only man who can survive in the deadly black snow outside the Tank. The half-mad survivors of the war see him as their promised savior: And what's been done to his mind is even more alarming; another personality lives withing him, an independent intelligence that is his own female self..."

Copyright © 1999 by Rodger Turner

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