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!)

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