Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A Forgotten Ace Double: Alien Sea, by John Rackham/C.O.D. Mars, by E. C. Tubb

Ace Double Reviews, 100: Alien Sea, by John Rackham/C.O.D. Mars, by E. C. Tubb (#H-40, 1968, 60 cents)

a review by Rich Horton

This is the 100th Ace Double review I've done. I started these on the wonderful old Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.sf.written back in the early 2000s. I retain an interest in Ace Doubles for an intersection of reasons ... the feeling that they give room for an awkward story length (25000 to 45000 words, say); the fact that they provided space for new writers to get published; the sometimes goofy subject matter; the fact that they could be a home for unpretentious adventure SF; and their uncommon format. But it must also be said that a lot of the stories published as Ace Doubles were downright crappy. And indeed this review, the 100th, perhaps appropriately features a couple of awfully weak short novels.

(Cover by George Ziel)

(Cover by Jack Gaughan)
That said, the writers were both English veterans -- and, indeed, generally competent if uninspired producers of acceptable SF adventure. E. C. Tubb (1919-2010) is by far best known for his Dumarest of Terra novels, which began in Ace Doubles in 1967, migrated to DAW when Donald Wollheim moved there, and concluded with a novel first published in French. But he was very prolific, publishing well over a hundred novels and even more short stories beginning in the UK SF magazines in the early '50s. Besides the Dumarest novels he was somewhat known in the early '70 for the Cap Kennedy books, written for DAW as by "Gregory Kern".

John Rackham's real name was John T. Phillifent (1916-1976). He also began publishing in the early '50s, though much less prolifically. He ended up producing something north of 20 novels as well as a fair amount of shorter work, under both the Rackham and Phillifent names.

I've enjoyed novels by both writers in the past -- as I say above, they were generally competent writers -- certainly of the second rank, but not unreadable. And in that context, this particular pair of stories is quite disappointing. Really, this represents kind of the low point of what Ace Doubles could be -- not even redeemed by the notion that it might have served as a way to give a young writer a start on a career that might develop.

Rackham's Alien Sea is the longer novel, at something close to 65,000 words. (Tubb's C.O.D. Mars is just over 40,000 words long.) Alien Sea opens in space, with a severely damaged spaceship struggling to make its way around the sun back to their planet, Roggan. They make it, and find that no one survives -- an atomic war has caused almost all the land on the watery planet to be sunk ... the crew of this ship, and a few survivors of their rival nation, must cooperate to rebuild some semblance of civilization.

Then things jump forward a couple of thousand years, as Dennis Dillard approaches the planet Hydra. He's a professional "feeler", who has his emotions recorded to be used in a future entertainment in which people get to "feel" the emotions of the characters. Hydra is a water world that Earth has started to exploit, in tentative cooperation with their enemies the Venusians, who are the descendants of Earth politicians exiled decades before. Dillard arranges a chance to meet the Venusians -- the emotions of encountering them seems like a good opportunity for recording. He also gets to visit the research station run by a former professor he hates, and in the process gets involved with a woman secret agent of sorts; and of course he visits the pleasure city on Hydra.

Some strange stuff happens, and Dillard ends up much more involved with the Venusians than he had planned -- something very strange is going on. Not to mention he forges an empathic connection with a beautiful Venusian woman. And soon they learn that the strangeness is a true alien race -- and the reader, of course, knows right away that these aliens are the descendants of the Roggan crew we met at the beginnning the book -- and the planet Hydra is really Roggan.

It all turns on Dillard and his new lady love forging greater cooperation between the Venusians and Earth -- and establishing a reason for the Roggans to abandon their nefarious plans and agree to cooperate in a mutually beneficial fashion with both Earth and Venus. Oh, and there's the absurd invention Dillard's former professor has made ... There are actually some potentially interesting ideas in this book, but there's too much stuff that just doesn't make much sense; and the book is too long, too boring for long stretches.

Tubb's C.O.D. Mars opens with a detective, Slade, taking a job: to smuggle three surviving explorers returned from Proxima Centauri to Mars -- he'll be paid Cash on Delivery, hence the title. These explorers, it turns out, are in quarantine, in Earth orbit, supposedly because of the threat of an alien virus. The focus then shifts to Ed Taylor, an employee of Slade's, who is trapped in a loveless marriage, with a wife who won't have sex with him, and dreams of escaping to one of the space colonies with a hot young woman. Taylor ends up in trouble -- seduced and drugged by a pretty woman, and forced to take a risky job ... which turns out to be Slade's trick: he needs someone to pilot the ship he'll send to rescue the explorers.

For a while here, things seemed kind of interesting, and decently told in Tubb's noirish and cynical style. Then we get introduced to the woman doctor running the quarantine, and to the actual explorers, and before long we learn that the quarantine is for a good reason -- they really have been taken over by a sort of semi-intelligent slime mold from Proxima Centauri.

Before long, Taylor's rescue attempt has gotten him infected as well. Slade is trying to play the criminal Martians against Earth's UN authorities, for his own profit of course. Taylor survives the virus/slime mold, and unconvincingly he and the doctor fall in love, and she infects herself ... Everybody heads for the asteroid belt, where the slime molds/explorers try to take over an asteroid and propagate themselves by heading back to Earth, while Taylor and the Doctor, who have become superhuman via symbiosis with the Proxima slime mold, head to the stars. And Slade is left desperatly looking for an angle which will make him lots of money ...

As you can guess, I didn't think much of this. It really reeks of being written quickly to fill a slot, with no really coherent ideas behind it, just a bunch of cliche notions slapped together until they seemed enough to propel a plot for 40,000 words. At least it reads fairly quickly, but it's a pretty weak novel. Tubb remains worth a look -- though not requiring a look -- for his Dumarest books; but C.O.D. Mars is pretty sad stuff.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Old Bestseller: The Siege of the Seven Suitors, by Meredith Nicholson

Old Bestseller: The Siege of the Seven Suitors, by Meredith Nicholson

a review by Rich Horton

This was a totally random, and quite delightful, discovery, in an antique store. I had never heard of Meredith Nicholson, but the title seemed intriguing, so I bought the book. And -- on reading it I was pleased throughout. It's a very lighthearted romantic romp -- not a deathless masterpiece by any means, but just a great deal of fun. My edition, quite possibly a first, is from Houghton Mifflin, October 1910, with color illustrations by C. Coles Phillips (for the cover and facing the title page), and interior pen and ink illustrations by Reginald Birch.

(cover illustration by C. Coles Phillips)
So then I looked up Nicholson and found, a bit to my surprise, that he truly was a successful writer in his day, if completely forgotten now. Three of his novels made the Publishers' Weekly list of top ten bestsellers of their year, though not The Siege of the Seven Suitors.

Meredith Nicholson was born in 1866 in Crawfordsville, Indiana, and moved to Indianapolis in 1872. He became a journalist at age 18, turning to a business venture in Denver in 1898. His first novel appeared in 1903, and his writing career continued for a quarter century. Towards the end of his life he turned actively to politics, as a Democrat, serving one term as an Indianapolis City Councilman, then serving as a diplomat in South America during Franklin Roosevelt's administration. He was married twice, and had four children. He died in 1947.

Nicholson was one of a group of fairly prominent Indiana writers in the early 20th Century, including also Booth Tarkington, George Ade, James Whitcomb Riley, and perhaps one might add Charles Major. (And he was published by the Indianapolis firm Bowen-Merrill (later Bobbs-Merrill).) None of those writers maintain much of a reputation (though Tarkington and Riley, at least, are still names one recognizes). (One other Indiana writer of that time does still remain somewhat well known, though his star too seems in decline: Theodore Dreiser.) Nicholson was, in most of his work, very much an Indiana partisan -- his stories were usually set in Indiana, and his non-fiction often centered directly on Hoosier themes. His most famous novel (for a fairly minimal value of "famous") might be The House of a Thousand Candles (1904), which was filmed in 1936.

And I would have guessed none of this from The Siege of the Seven Suitors, which is set in New York City and nearby suburbs (and which was published in 1910 by Houghton Mifflin). It seems very much of a piece with other early 20th Century novels of high society in the city ... much frothier, to be sure, than say Edith Wharton or even F. Hopkinson Smith. But still centrally concerned with the romantic and business affairs of the upper class in the big city. (And for that matter the brief introduction is addressed from Mackinac Island (in Michigan), by Nicholson, presumably to the Governor of Michigan ... though it has nothing to do with the book at hand.)

Arnold Ames Jr., a failed architect who has become an expert in chimney repairs, is the narrator, and we meet him dining in his club with his old friend Hartley Wiggins when he mentions his visit to the Asolando Tea Room. Wiggins interrogates him about the cashier -- it appears they are all pretty young women of good social standing -- and otherwise acts evasive. Soon after, another member informs Ames that Wiggins has fallen in love with Cecelia Hollister, after meeting her in the Asolando. Ames, intrigued, returns to the Asolando, and happens to eat with a charming woman in her 60s, who flaunts her eccentricity -- and also insists that Ames visit her house in the country to work on the chimneys. Ames learns that this woman is Octavia Hollister, who has two nieces, Cecelia and the oddly named Hezekiah.
(illustration by C. Coles Phillips)

Ames, under the spell of the elder Miss Hollister's character, hies himself down to her place, where he is accepted as a guest. The chimney's appear to be in perfect working order -- and after all the house was designed by his good friend Pepperton -- and he wonders what he's doing there. He does meet Cecelia, who is every bit as beautiful and nice as advertised. He stumbles across a brief tryst between Cecelia and Hartley Wiggins, which suggests that she cares for him but doesn't want him to propose. And soon after, Ames is introduced to several other young men staying in the area, each of whom is in love with Cecelia. The group of men gather at Miss Hollister's house each evening, for conversation with Cecelia and, seemingly, evaluation by Octavia. And each evening the chimney mysterious acts up -- though Ames can find nothing wrong with it. It is suggested that the ghost of a British soldier of the Revolutionary Era is haunting the house. Ames' next crucial meeting is with Hezekiah, a lovely young woman who seems to have a full share of her Aunt's eccentric ways (Cecelia is more conventional). Hezekiah tells Ames that she and her (and Cecelia's) father have been banned from Aunt Octavia's house until Cecelia has been engaged to one of her suitors.

So there are a few mysteries: what is causing the chimney to occasionally act up -- could it really be a ghost? What are Octavia's intentions regarding Cecelia -- who seems to care for Hartley Wiggins but to be constrained to marry whoever Octavia -- by whatever arcane means -- decides is the right choice? What are Hezekiah's intentions, as she leads Ames on several merry chases. Ames makes enemies of most of Cecelia's suitors (they seem jealous of his status as an actual houseguest), and he also annoys his assistant, who is left in New York to handle the chimney business while Ames dawdles at Miss Hollister's. Mix in the pies Octavia is required to bake as a condition for keeping the house, the question of Hartley's unfortunate Tory ancestry, Bassford Hollister and his daughter Cecelia fencing on the roof, Cecelia's disappearing silver notebook, and at least two apparent ghosts who interfere with Ames' investigations ... It's really quite a delightful (if fairly silly) concoction. I enjoyed it a great deal: it runs along until it threatens to wear out its welcome, then things are wrapped up rapidly (and not too plausibly, but who really cares?)

This is, certainly, a minor work, and dated, and it may not appeal much to many contemporary readers. I don't think Nicholson really deserves a significant revival, nor is he likely to get one. But at least he succeeded, here, in entertaining the reader, the first goal, one hopes, of most writers.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Old Bestseller: Washington Square, by Henry James

Old Bestseller: Washington Square, by Henry James

a review by Rich Horton

Again, this probably wasn't originally a bestseller, though that term was not well defined in 1881 when the first book edition of Washington Square appeared. But it has certainly sold a lot of copies over time!

I had been meaning to finally try Henry James for a little while, and I had even started The Aspern Papers but I manage to misplace my copy. I wanted to start with something short, and early, as by most accounts those are the more accessible books in James' oeuvre. James (1843-1916) published his first novel, Watch and Ward, in 1870. Roderick Hudson, in 1875, seems to be his earliest novel to retain a significant reputation, and the first really major works appeared a bit later: Daisy Miller and The Europeans in 1878, The Portrait of a Lady in 1881. James lived in Europe (mostly England) from 1875, though he seems to me centrally an American writer. Comparisons with his good friend, the much younger Edith Wharton, are easy to advance -- she too lived in Europe (France) for much of her life, but was quite essentially an American writer.

Washington Square was first published in 1880, serialized in Cornhill Magazine in England and Harper's in the US. It was published in book form in 1881 by Harper and Brothers. It remains one of his most popular novels with general readers, largely because of its relative accessibility (I think) -- it is very well written, but in a much less convoluted style than late James, it is quite funny (though not exactly a comic novel), and it is fairly short. (It is not, however, a novella (by my definition), even though it is often called one -- at some 65,000 words it's a respectable size for a novel, if on the short side.) It has also been well treated by the movies. A successful stage version, The Heiress, written by Ruth and Augustus Goetz, ran on Broadway in 1947, and a movie version of the play was made in 1949 by William Wyler, starring Olivia de Havilland, Montgomery Clift, and Ralph Richardson. Much more recently, in 1997, a movie was made based directly on the novel, directed by Agnieszka Holland and starring Jennifer Jason Leigh, Albert Finney, Ben Chaplin, and Maggie Smith. This later version is not so well regarded as the 1949 The Heiress, but it seems to have been decently done. Both versions seem moderately faithful to James' novel.

James himself disliked the novel in later years, and refused to include it in the New York Edition of his books.

But I, like many contemporary readers, liked it a lot. It's the story of Catherine Sloper, the daughter of a very rich and successful New York doctor, Austin Sloper. Dr. Sloper's wife died shortly after Catherine was born, and their only son also died as an infant. Dr. Sloper's foolish widowed sister lives with him, and she is charged with Catherine's education. Catherine's mother was a beautiful and intelligent woman, and perhaps for that reason, Dr. Sloper, though in most ways a dutiful enough father, never seems to take to Catherine -- he regards her as plain and dull. It's hard to be certain how much of that is Dr. Sloper's opinion, tarnished by unfair comparison with his dead wife, perhaps. That said, the narrator's third person omniscient voice seems to endorse, at least to some degree, this view of Catherine. But for all that she is a very honest person, and virtuous, and loving -- and by the end shows some real steel.

It is true that Catherine receives little attention from the men in her high society. By the time of the main action of the book (about 1846) she is twenty-one. At an engagement party for her cousin she meets a "beautiful" man, a distant cousin of her cousin's fiance. Morris Townsend is several years older than him, regarded as gifted, but somehow unable to find a job. He's back from some time spent overseas, apparently. And he pays distinct attention to her -- something she's not used to. Before long she is in love, and he says he is as well.

Dr. Sloper, however, is convinced that Townsend is a fortune hunter, and a lazy man who will never make anything of himself. After one meeting with Townsend, he's convinced he has his measure, and he sets himself against a marriage between him and Catherine. His lever is his fortune -- while Catherine will have $10,000 a year from her mother's estate, she stand to inherit twice that again from her father.

Over a period of several months things continue in this light. Catherine is firmly convinced that she loves Morris. She is just as sure that her father will remain unbending. Her Aunt Lavinia, a very silly and irresponsible woman, decides that she will be the fulcrum of a great love story, and dangerously abets Morris's attempts to see Catherine against her father's wishes. The thing is, we know all along that Dr. Sloper's estimate of Morris' character and intentions is exactly correct -- but Dr. Sloper, though basically in the right regarding Morris, puts himself so completely in the wrong in his approach to his daughter -- and in his lack of respect for her -- that he possibly cements her resolve. On the other hand, she proves to be a person of great character and resolve anyway -- perhaps she would have been fixed regardless, despite her inability to see through Morris Townsend.

After a trip to Europe proves insufficient to make Catherine forget Morris, things come to a head. Catherine is ready -- though unhappy -- to defy her father and marry Morris. Surely her $10,000 a year (equivalent to perhaps $200,000 today) will be sufficient for a comfortable existence, and, anyway, Morris has found a position. (Or so he says.) But Morris proves oddly reluctant to set a date, and finally throws her over.

And despite her final realization that Morris Townsend is thoroughly unworthy, Catherine never wavers. She refuses to promise her father that she will never marry him, even though she has no intention of ever doing so. And Dr. Sloper is sufficiently stubborn to hold to his vow to disinherit her. And she goes on to be a spinster her whole life -- despite, eventually, several proposals, one at least from a very worthy man. This can be read as a sad ending -- or it can be read as a woman of character standing her ground and living her own life to the extent that her talents -- and her social situation -- allow.

Most readers seem to view Dr. Sloper as the villain of the piece, but to me, despite his flaws and his clear misapprehension of his daughter's strengths, I sympathized with him. Morris Townsend -- and Aunt Lavinia -- seem more truly contemptible characters. All the characters -- but most particularly Catherine Sloper and her father -- are excellent portrayed. The prose is very fine, and as I said not so involved, not so fussy, as the prose (so I understand) of James' later works. And the novel is really quite gently, and sadly, funny. I liked it a good bit.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Another Old Ace Double: The Sun Smasher, by Edmond Hamilton/Starhaven, by “Ivar Jorgenson” (Robert Silverberg)

Ace Double Reviews, 99: The Sun Smasher, by Edmond Hamilton/Starhaven, by “Ivar Jorgenson” (Robert Silverberg) (#D351, 1959, 35 cents)

A review by Rich Horton

(cover by Ed Emshsiller)
This is a pair of Ace Doubles by two pretty big names in the field. Edmond Hamilton (1904-1977) of course was an early legend of the field, mostly for his Space Opera, though he was also associated with Weird Tales, where his first story appeared. He wrote most of the Captain Future stories, and was a regular writer for DC Comics. And of course he was married to the great Leigh Brackett. Ivar Jorgenson is not necessarily so well known, until you realize that, in the case of this novel, he was Robert Silverberg, one of SF’s Grand Masters. (Jorgenson was a house name, but Silverberg used it quite often -- indeed, I asked him about his use of the Jorgenson name, and he explained this history in fascinating detail, given below.)
(cover by Ed Valigursky)

Each of these novels was published earlier in a single issue of a magazine, possibly (especially in the case of the Jorgenson novel) in shorter versions. The Sun Smasher appeared as “Starman Come Home” in the September 1954 Universe Science Fiction, while Starhaven appeared as “Thunder Over Starhaven” in Science Fiction Adventures for October 1957. (I suspect the Hamilton novel, which is the shorter of the two at about 30,000 words, probably is the same version as appeared in the magazine, but the “Jorgenson” story, some 40,000 words long or more, is expanded, as Silverberg discusses below.)

The covers of the magazine editions of these stories are something of a real delight, so I've reproduced them here. Thanks to bibliographer extraordinaire Phil Stephenson-Payne, and his exceptional site Galactic Central, for these images.

(cover by Barry Waldman)
I said Hamilton was best known for his Space Opera, and indeed he was nicknamed “The World Wrecker”. So The Sun Smasher seems a very appropriate title! And indeed it is Space Opera, though arranged to come to a slightly more thoughtful (if a bit too easily guessed) resolution than many such stories.

Neil Banning is a reasonably ordinary man working in New York City when he decides, on a whim, to visit his home town in Nebraska. But he is shocked when no one there remembers him or his parents, and his childhood home is gone – seemingly was never there. He is arrested, then rescued from jail by a man name Rolf who claims that Neil’s real name is Kyle Valkar, and he is the last remaining member of the line of Valkars, who ruled the Old Empire 90,000 years before. Earth is a forgotten world, and Rolf tells him that a villainous scientist of the usurping New Empire erased his memory and dumped him there. Soon Neil – or Kyle, though Neil refuses to believe Rolf’s story – is on his way to the ancient world where his family’s capitol had been.

Rolf’s plan is to kidnap Thoranya, the Empress, and to use her as a hostage to make the scientist Jommor restore Neil’s memory. Then Neil – or Kyle – will remember where to find “The Hammer”, a secret weapon which will allow him – and a small band of loyalists led by Rolf – to retake the throne.
(cover by Malcolm H. Smith)
The reader – and indeed Neil/Kyle – will have questions over who is really the good guy in this scenario. Indeed, the New Empire seems to be a fairly benign polity. And there are hints that Kyle’s past with Thoranya was marred by misbehavior on his part. And what is the Hammer anyway? And, 90000 years? Really? Anyway, the story proceeds as we might expect, if a little too rapidly, with Neil/Kyle returning to his home world, being accepted by the Valkar’s loyal spiderlike servant creatures, capturing an Empire ship and successfully kidnapping the beautiful red-haired Thoranya, leading to Neil regaining his memories. The Hammer is just what we guessed it might be (aided, to be sure, by the title of the novel and the cover illustration), and Kyle – or is he still Neil in part? – is driven to a crisis of conscience.

There are some good bits here, and some nice pieces of high-poetic pulp imagery, and the central issues is worthwhile to consider if a bit obvious. But the story is either too short (one never gets any sense of the real relationship between Thoranya, Jommor, and Kyle Valkar, or their history), or too long (a shorter story just focused on the central morality issue might have worked).

Starhaven is one of Robert Silverberg’s earliest novels. It was one of a rush of short novels that appeared between about 1957 and 1960, as part of his early prolific period, before his first “retirement” and later return with much more interesting and mature work. Silverberg’s early stories are reliably competent work, smoothly written, efficiently plotted, and often at least attempting to engage with interesting ideas, though usually a bit too rapidly and somewhat superficially. You can see him improving story by story, I think … and this book, as one of his earliest, is also one of his lesser novels.

I mentioned that I had asked Robert Silverberg about his use of the "Ivar Jorgenson" pseudonym, and about the history of "Thunder Over Starhaven"/Starhaven. His response is a fascinating look at some of the field's history. I’ll quote him at length, because I think this is all really cool stuff.

“Paul Fairman was the original Ivar Jorgensen, and note the spelling of the name, the Danish form ending in "-sen."  Fairman was a journeyman writer with no particular interest in SF, who did mainly western stories for the Ziff-Davis pulps.  When Howard Browne, a mystery writer who also had no particular interest in SF, replaced Ray Palmer as editor of the Z-D SF magazines in 1949, Fairman began to contribute stories to those as well.  In the summer of 1951 he had a novel in Z-D's Fantastic Adventures under the byline of "Ivar Jorgensen," quite a strong story, as I recall, and that issue ran a biography of Jorgensen, discussing his Scandinavian background and including a sketch of him as a slab-jawed two-fisted type (who looked nothing like Fairman.)  Fairman continued to contribute Jorgensen stories to Amazing Stories and Fantastic Adventures for a couple of years, then did a short stint as founding editor of If, and around 1955 came back to Ziff-Davis, where he eventually succeeded Browne as editor of the SF mags.

“In 1956 Bill Hamling, a former Z-D editor who had declined to follow Z-D from Chicago to New York and instead had begun his own SF magazines, decided to shift those magazines to the Ziff-Davis formula of pulp action fiction written to order by a small staff of pros.  Edmond Hamilton and Dwight V. Swain were the kingpins if this staff, and Randall Garrett and I, who were already part of Browne's Ziff-Davis stable, were hired to contribute 50,000 words a month of short fiction.  Hamling stuck whatever pseudonyms he felt like on these stories, mainly old Ziff-Davis house names, and in the mistaken notion that Jorgensen was a house name put that byline on some of our stuff, in one case spelling the byline "-sen" on the contents page and "-son" on the story itself.

Also in 1956 Larry T. Shaw, who was editing the excellent new magazine Infinity, launched a space-opera magazine called Science Fiction Adventures, with stories modeled after the old  Planet Stories.  There would be two novellas per issue plus a few short stories.  Though he was open to free-lance submissions, and bought some novellas by Jim Blish, Harry Harrison, and John Brunner, the bulk of the magazine was staff-written by the ubiquitous me.  I had at least one long story in almost every issue, sometimes more.

“When Shaw's Science Fiction Adventures had been going for a year or so, he decided to vary the two-novella formula by putting out an issue that contained one 40,000-word story, and commissioned me to write it.  I gave him “Shadow on the Stars”, later published by Ace as Stepsons of Terra.  "Thunder Over Starhaven", however, was one of the shorter novellas (28,000 words).  I thought that Ivar Jorgensen was a house name that anybody could use, and stuck that byline on it.  Shaw used the "-son" spelling.  At this point Paul Fairman, who had already voiced his annoyance at Hamling's appropriation of what had been his exclusive penname, complained more strongly, both to Shaw and to me.  But the damage was done -- Jorgensen/Jorgenson no longer could be considered Fairman's property alone.

“During those prolific years I was also writing space-opera novels for Don Wollheim's Ace Books. Since "Thunder Over Starhaven" struck me as pretty much the same sort of thing I had been writing for him, I fattened it up and submitted it to him.  To my surprise Wollheim rejected it.  I don't think I ever knew why; it was the only book of mine he ever turned down.  The only other plausible markets then were Ballantine and Doubleday, neither of which would be interested in space opera, and so I salvaged the project by selling it to bottom-feeder Avalon Books, edited by my friend Bob Lowndes, for an advance of $350.  (Ace then paid $1000.)  He called it simply Starhaven and published it as by Ivar Jorgenson.  Avalon then amazed me by turning around and selling reprint rights to....Don Wollheim. Again, I never understood what had happened here, since he had rejected the book only a year before, but in the course of this fast shuffle I lost $150, Avalon keeping fifty percent of Ace's thousand bucks, netting me $500 plus the $350 Avalon advance.

“I never wrote as Jorgensen again.  Fairman did, and had three or four paperbacks published under that name, which are occasionally proffered to me for autographs at worldcons.  I don't sign them.”

[Back to my review.]
Johnny Mantell is a former armaments engineer who, frustrated by the failure of his company to support his ambitious designs, lost his job and turned to drink, and ended up a beachcomber living a subsistence life on a tourist planet. One day a tourist accuses him of stealing some jewelry, and one thing leads to another and the tourist ends up dead, and Johnny is on the run. He heads for Starhaven, an armored planet where criminals are welcome, and the Space Patrol is not.

Once there he meets the leader of Starhaven, Ben Thurdan, who rules as a somewhat benevolent tyrant, with only two rules: expect to be treated the way you treat others, and always obey Ben Thurdan. He is also intrigued by Myra Butler, Thurdan’s secretary and perhaps girlfriend. Johnny is happy to be back doing productive work, but he is not sure how he feels about Ben’s rule, especially when Ben kills a man who challenges him. But what can he do? He’s a wanted man in the rest of space. And this is a pleasant place, especially when you consider the alluring Myra.

Complications include his mysterious flashbacks which seem to suggest his memories may not be quite reliable – did something happen when he was psychprobed by Ben’s people? And is Ben’s rule really the best thing for Starhaven? And then Myra hints that some people have a different idea …
There is a twist or two on the way, and the twists are nicely handled. The political speculation isn’t really as effective, though. The scientific background is pretty silly, and Starhaven as a physical object doesn’t make much sense. It’s definitely a pretty minor piece of Silverberg’s oeuvre … but, as I’ve come to expect even from his earliest stuff, acceptable entertainment, competent work.

(And my next Ace Double review will be my 100th!)

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Another Old SF Collection: Teen-Age Science Fiction Stories, by Richard M. Elam, Jr.

Teen-Age Science Fiction Stories, by Richard M. Elam, Jr.

This time I’m looking at another obscure collection of Science Fiction stories. This book, as its title makes abundantly clear, was aimed at young readers. It is one of two collections of stories, and several novels, that Richard M. Elam, Jr., published in the 1950s and 1960s. He had a long life: born in 1920 in Richmond, VA, died in 2013, age 92, in Dallas, TX; was educated at William and Mary University and at Arizona State; and served in the Army Air Corp in the Second World War.

Teen-Age Science Fiction Stories was first published in 1952 by the Lantern Press, and reissued in 1954 by Grosset & Dunlap as part of The Teen-Age Library. There were later editions, possibly in paperback, from Lantern Press. There are a number of black and white illustrations by Charles H. Geer. The book contains an introduction by Captain Burr Lawson, “Trail to the Stars”, which discusses the near term prospects of space exploration, reasonably sensibly though with just a bit too much optimism (I can say with hindsight). The stories are:

“What Time is It?” (6400 words)
“The Strange Men” (3200 words)
“Project Ocean Floor” (4000 words)
“Lunar Trap” (10300 words)
“Red Sands” (3700 words)
“The Iron Moon” (5500 words)
“Venusway” (3700 words)
“By Jupiter” (3600 words)
“Sol’s Little Brother” (3200 words)
“The Day the Flag Fell” (2700 words)
“Hands Across the Deep” (4300 words)

At least one of the stories (“Lunar Trap”) and I suspect a few more, were originally published in Boy’s Life.

Six stories in the middle, from “Lunar Trap” through “Sol’s Little Brother”, cover much of the career of Rob Allison. In the first story, he is part of an expedition to the Moon, despite the objections of the expedition’s leader, his much older brother Grant. The elder Allison is pretty hard on the younger one, and partly as punishment, Rob is left behind when the bulk of the expedition investigates a Lunar geyser … giving him the opportunity for heroism when a moonquake traps the explorers. A similar template applies to some of the other stories: Rob, making his way in the space service, is in trouble after a minor mistake, and partly as a result is in position for a more major heroic act. The Allison stories form a sort of Solar System mini-travelogue, with trips to the Moon, Mars, an artificial satellite, Venus, Jupiter, and Mercury. The scientific details are a mix of OK for their time (things like dinosaurs on Venus – silly now, but perhaps not ridiculous in 1952) and downright silly and wrong. There’s a subplot in a couple of the stories involving a slightly older and very resentful fellow space cadet. 

The other stories are something of a piece. “What Time is It?” involves a couple of very young boys (they seemed perhaps 12 but maybe Elam meant for them to be in high school) accidentally going on a trip in a local inventor’s Time Machine: they visit the Pleistocene, the near past with Native Americans, and the near future before returning. “The Strange Men” is about three boys who happen across an alien spaceship and some malevolent aliens. “Project Ocean Floor” is one of the lesser stories, a kind of nothing piece about exploring the depths in a bathyscaphe-like vessel. “The Day the Flag Fell” is set on an asteroid used unconvincingly as a monitor station to keep the world peace, and an effort by a nasty national power to destroy the UN station on the asteroid and so take over the world, foiled by the heroism of a young soldier who has been suspected of treason (because his stepfather is a traitor.) And finally “Hands Across the Deep” concerns a mission to Proxima Centauri, where humans discover peaceful advanced aliens with mind powers but little tech, who threaten to kill them until they can cure a sick young Proxima native. 

This is a pretty weak set of stories overall, even in the context of early 50s Juvenile SF. The science is dodgy, the plots are at best rudimentary, the writing is uninspiring. Not good at all, though who knows, maybe I’d have felt differently if I encountered them at age 10.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Old non-Bestseller: Guard Your Daughters, by Diana Tutton

Old non-Bestseller: Guard Your Daughters, by Diana Tutton

a review by Rich Horton

OK, this wasn't really a bestseller. And it's not -- anymore -- a Forgotten Book, either, though I suppose it was perhaps kind of forgotten for some time. I was put on to it by a brief mention in one of my favorite book blogs, Furrowed Middlebrow; but, as Scott mentions there, it has been recently celebrated in quite a few book blogs, starting perhaps with Stuck in a Book. To the point that I feel in danger of cliche by mentioning it in MY book blog.

Apparently, nobody knows for sure who Diana Tutton was. Wikipedia suggests a woman born with a triple-barreled name: Diana Cicely Godfrey-Faussett-Osborne, whose married name was Tutton. But apparently there's not further information -- there is a plaintive request somewhere for the copyright holder for Guard Your Daughters. Tutton wrote three novels: Guard Your Daughters was the first, in 1953, followed by Mamma in 1955 and The Young Ones in 1959. The latter two seem edgier -- Mamma is about an older woman's affair with her son-in-law, and The Young Ones is about incest. Guard Your Daughters has a serious undertone, mostly towards the end, but it's mostly rather bouncy and eccentric. It is inevitably compared to I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith, which I read and enjoyed greatly several years ago, though to me, while the similarities are obvious enough, the overall feel is different.

Like everyone else, it seems, I have the 1954 edition from the Reprint Society. (The first edition came out from Chatto and Windus.) I was not able to find a picture of the first edition, so here's the Reprint Society cover.

The narrator is Morgan Harvey, a 19 year old girl living in a 17th Century house in rural England. She is the third of five sisters. The eldest, Pandora, has recently married. Next is Thisbe, an aspiring poet. Morgan plays the piano. Cressida is 18, and much more conventional than her sisters: she's the best cook, and the only one overly concerned with propriety and with how everyone else sees them. And Teresa is 15, with no education but what she has learned from wide reading of obscure books such as The Courtier, a 16th Century Italian book by Baldassare Castiglione.

The girls live an almost isolated life. Their father is a very successful mystery writer, and their mother is apparently mentally frail, unable to go out in public, nor to tolerate much company. They are almost never allowed visitors, especially not young men, nor do they travel. But their life is quite happy, it seems, despite some privations caused by a certain care they take with money (despite their father's success) and, perhaps, by wartime or postwar rationing. They tiptoe around their mother's moods, but otherwise quite enjoy themselves, their interests, and their own company. But they do wish they might occasionally meet a young man ... (The obligatory reference to Pride and Prejudice is indeed made.)

So the story is driven, to a small extent, by what happens when they fortuitously encounter a couple of different men: first Gregory, whose car happens to break down in front of the Harvey house; and later Patrick, a writer, who shows some interest in Mr. Harvey ... which ends up being a problem. Morgan seems to take a proprietary interest in Gregory, and eventually Thisbe in Patrick -- but Mr. Harvey takes against both, for different reasons, and Mrs. Harvey is upset by almost anyone's presence.

So it seems perhaps to be a story about how the Harvey girls find husbands -- Pride and Prejudice, indeed! But that doesn't really eventuate. The center of the story is the Harvey family. There is an ongoing thread of interest, for the reader, in finding out what's really wrong with Mrs. Harvey. And there is constant delight in the interactions of the girls: in their witty exchanges, in their delight in their constricted life, in their evident love for each other. There is also a darker side: they really are unfairly hemmed in by their parents' rules; and they can also be a bit mean, a bit petty, particularly to Cressida, but also to some of their neighbors.

The story bounces along quite enjoyably. Morgan's voice is refreshing and open; there are any number of silly and funny incidents: Teresa's aborted French lesson; Morgan and Thisbe at Patrick's posh cousins' party; improvised poetry sessions; improvised dinners for guests. The resolution, however, is a bit darker: provoked by a family crisis that drives Mrs. Harvey over the edge, and for a time the story threatens to curdle. The upshot is not a tragedy, though, but a perhaps long overdue realization that the Harvey situation is not healthy, and that for the sake of not just the girls but the parents radical changes need to be made. The outcome is a bit bittersweet, but sensible.

This is, finally, a very fun novel, leavened by some real honesty, and by an understanding that the frothy exterior present for the first 2/3 or so of the book is not sustainable: indeed, artificial. We don't really know how things will turn out in the long term for the Harvey's, though probably mostly OK. (And, after all, their problems are decidedly "first world problems".) It is, really, a book that I think deserves its recent bump in reputation.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

A Forgotten Ace Double: The Prism, by Emil Petaja/Crown of Infinity, by John M. Faucette

Ace Double Reviews, 98: The Prism, by Emil Petaja/Crown of Infinity, by John M. Faucette (#H-51, 1968, 60 cents)

a review by Rich Horton

(Cover by Kelly Freas)
The lure for me in this Ace Double is the first novel by John M. Faucette, a fairly little known writer these days, but one of a very small set of African American SF writers before, really, the 1980s, which is amazing and a bit embarrassing for the field. There are, of course, significant examples of "proto-SF" by black writers such as W. E. B. du Bois and Charles Chesnutt. But inside the genre the first black novelist was, as far as I can tell, Samuel R. Delany, still the greatest black writer of SF (but that's no shame -- he can make a case for being the greatest writer of SF period). The only other noticeable black SF novelists in the '60s were the excellent YA writer (and Newbery winner) Virginia Hamilton ... and John M. Faucette. Faucette published a few novels in the '60s and '70s, mostly SF but at least one mainstream book. His last short story ("Pets") appeared in Artemis in 2001, and I surely read it but can't remember it. He left several novels unpublished at his death (in 2003, aged only 59), and complained that editors and readers weren't ready for African American heroes in SF novels, which is not an implausible complaint, but, I have to say, perhaps not the only issue in his case.

I approached Crown of Infinity, Faucette's first published novel, with interest and a real desire to like it. The publisher's copy compares it to Doc Smith and Olaf Stapledon, and, oddly enough, that comparison makes a lot of sense. Unfortunately, the comparison ultimately is utterly to the disadvantage of Crown of Infinity. Indeed, I'd say this book reads as if written by a teenager completely in love with Doc Smith's work ... and with enough talent to imitate aspects of it effectively, but with no ability to structure a novel, nor enough originality to really make the novel "new".

It opens with a ship crewed by aliens looking for any trace of of the vanished "Star Kings" (echoes here of Edmond Hamilton, of course). No traces remain, but the commander begins to recall stories of their history, beginning with the destruction of Earth by the evil aliens called "Masters of the Universe". Only a few humans escape, but with a plan, involving genetic manipulation (each escaping ship is crewed by a single couple). Eventually, a superman is (tragically) produced, and manages to create a technological solution allowing humans to link with powerful computers and eventually defeat the Masters of the Universe.

The story leaps forward in time again and again, as the now ascendant evolved humans, called Star Kings, turn back a series of variously successful attempts by the Masters of the Universe to return to power. They also shepherd a new group of aliens and humanoids to what is called "Civilization", then disappear after a dastardly Masters of the Universe plot causes a foolish Star King to massacre an innocent planet. There is also conflict with beings from other universes. And there are some utterly silly interludes involving, for example, Star King couples acting like silly '50s suburbanites, to no obvious purpose.

Ultimately, Faucette's imagination fails him. The scope is Stapledonian, and some of the ideas recall Doc Smith. But nothing convinces. And the scope -- for all its vastness -- never seems plausible or thematically interesting. The ideas -- the aliens, the weapons, the battles -- only come off as faint echoes of Doc Smith. And the novel's structure is, well, all but nonexistent, with lots of repetition, and with several chapters seemingly just shoehorned in, maybe simply to pad the wordcount.

Alas, this is a really bad novel -- though, I thought, a clear indication of a writer who just loved the genre.

(Cover by Jack Gaughan)
Crown of Infinity is backed by Emil Petaja's The Prism. Petaja (1915-2000) was born in Montana, of Finnish descent, and lived in San Francisco for much of his life. He was a photographer as well as a writer, and worked in films. He was a friend of the great SF artist Hannes Bok. His best known novels were based on the Kalevala. He was a member of First Fandom, and wrote more than a dozen novels and some 150 short stories, but really never made all that much of an impact. I have read a couple of his works, without much pleasure.

The Prism is not one of his Kalevala books. It's expanded from a 1965 Worlds of Tomorrow story called "Worlds of the Spectrum". It opens with a stereotypical hero character, Kor, fighting battles with the various inimical species in his environment, and desperately wishing to reach the beautiful Princess Sena in her castle up on an unscalable cliff. We soon realize that Sena is in fact a spoiled young woman in a futuristic world who, along with others of her privileged Gold class, entertains herself with "livideo", a sort of virtual immersion in the lives of Kor and his fellows.

It soon turns out that Sena is really not quite so bad as it first appears. She's one of a small group who is trying to overturn the classist and unjust future society on Earth, which exploits not just the other "colors" on Earth, but the genetically created creatures, many of them human, on the planet inhabited by Kor. She ends up arranging for Kor, and eventually a number of his fellows, to be teleported to Earth to confront the evil ruler, His Goldness IX. Meantime she must both entice and fend off the advances of the ugly and fat Dorff, His Goldness' chief aide; while trying to convincingly fit into her milieu, obsessed with virtual entertainment and sex and drugs.

It's all very silly, with absurd touches such as the holy sign being the middle finger. None of the action really convinces, and the denouement is really flat. Kor himself, ultimately kind of a secondary character, is the most interesting -- which is not to say all that interesting. A few OK notions here, though none of them really original: in the end, a typical '60s books by a man in his 50s at the time.