Thursday, December 29, 2016

A Forgotten SF Novel: The Planet Strappers, by Raymond Z. Gallun

A Little Known SF Novel: The Planet Strappers, by Raymond Z. Gallun

a review by Rich Horton

Not long ago I read a Raymond Z. Gallun story from the early '50s, and found it better than I had expected. So when I saw this obscure 1961 paperback for cheap, I figured I might as well give it a try. Gallun (1911-1994) was one of the few Hugo Gernsback discoveries to continue to produce work after Campbell's revolution. That said, he was mostly silent after the early '40s. His most famous story is probably still "Old Faithful", from Astounding in 1934, which featured a sympathetically portrayed Martian. After 1954, only a few novels came out until the '80s, when a few short stories (possibly written much earlier) appeared. His last novel was Bioblast (1985). The Science Fiction Encyclopedia suggests The Eden Cycle (1974) may be his best -- The Planet Strappers is dismissed as "more routine". Ah well.

The book opens in purest YA hard SF mode, with a group of college-age kids trying to make their way into space. It seems that most of the trick is to acquire a space bubble, or "bubb", which is what it sounds like -- not much bigger than person-sized, a bubble based on a super-plastic, with plenty of air production capacity, in which someone can survive for a pretty significant time in empty space. The group includes a diverse(-ish) mix -- one woman, a rich kid, a handicapped kid, a couple of football star twins, a delinquent, a couple more, plus the eventual viewpoint character, Frank Nelsen, the straight-arrow honest type. This first part goes on for 50 pages or so, pretty effectively, as the "bunch" (their name) navigates such issues as making the "bubbs", learning how to use them, passing the required space fitness tests, raising the needed money, and so on. The girl member drops out, realizing the the regular Space organization is desperate for women, and another guy washes out for lack of psychological fitness, and one member has to deal with his mother who won't let him go.

Finally they head into space, and things get a bit stranger from that point. Frank ends up in a terrible situation on the Moon with a murderous fraud. One of the dropouts ends up a stowaway, causing even more trouble. Eileen, the girl member of the Bunch, becomes fairly successful, as what seems to be a Madam, though the book is too YA-oriented to go into detail about that.

The book continues, becoming something of a travelogue through the Solar System. Frank's goal ends up to be establishment of a free space-based set of habitats, based on the "bubbs", and in the end to make a home that the girl back home he's sweet on can come to. But he must deal with a lot of problems on the way there, most importantly the issue of space pirates ... a group which seems to include the one washout from the original "Bunch" who had stowed away. One of the other members becomes a legendary explorer, eventually heading to the Outer Planets solo in a bubble. There are deaths among the bunch, and failures, but by the end we see a portrait of the establishment of a new frontier.

This is a real mixed bag. To be honest, a lot of the scientific details are pretty ridiculous -- though perhaps not by the standards of 1961. The plot is kind of random, kind of disorganized, after a decent start. The characters are pure cliche. But for all that, I liked a lot of it, though parts of it were kind of boring, or too silly to follow. It's easy to see why this novel is essentially forgotten -- but it's also easy to see why Gallun, for all his shortcomings as a writer, remained able to sell his work for a pretty long time.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

A little-known Ace Double: Time Thieves, by Dean R. Koontz/Against Arcturus, by Susan K. Putney

Ace Double Reviews, 101: Time Thieves, by Dean R. Koontz/Against Arcturus, by Susan K. Putney (#00990, 1972, 95 cents)

a review by Rich Horton

This is one of the latest Ace Doubles, appearing about a year before the program ended. Don Wollheim and Terry Carr had both left Ace a year earlier. Fred Pohl was editor until June 1972, about when Time Thieves/Against Arcturus appeared, so presumably he acquired these novels.


(cover by David Plourde)
This book pairs an early novel by a writer who has since built a pretty major career with the only novel by a very obscure writer. Both novels have aspects of interest but are fairly flawed. The copy-editing is noticeably poor (especially in the Koontz novel): while Ace's editing and production standard had never been great, I did feel this was worse than in preceding years, and I wonder if the company's turmoil at the time was a factor (Ace had just been acquired by Grosset and Dunlap).

(Cover by Mart?)
One other production mishap, I'm pretty certain, involves the covers. They seem to have been switched. That is, while neither cover illustration is particularly representative of a scene in either novel, the one for Time Thieves seems to fit Against Arcturus reasonably well (hot human spy, large humanoid aliens, spaceships with laser-type weapons); while the one for Against Arcturus could, at a bit of a stretch, work for Time Thieves. (The art could, I suppose, have been random stuff that was just slapped on the books.) The artists are hard to figure out: the cover for Time Thieves is signed Plourde, apparently David Plourde. The other sided is signed Mart, I suspected possibly truncated from Martin. I don't know who that could be, and for that matter I know nothing about David Plourde.

Time Thieves was a fairly early Dean Koontz novel, his first (Star Quest) having appeared in 1968. He worked steadily in a number of genres for the first decade or so of his career, under numerous pseudonyms, before hitting it big with such novels as Whispers, in 1980. Most of his work since then has been suspense thrillers, many of them bestsellers.

Time Thieves opens with Pete Mullion waking from a strange dream while sitting in his car in his garage. He assumes he has just driven home from his cabin in the woods, and he goes into the house, and realizes he doesn't remember anything for some undetermined time. And then his wife comes in and yells at him for abandoning her for 12 days.

He begins to try to tackle the mystery -- asking the police what's going on, going back to the cabin, visiting a motel he apparently stayed at. There is another period of amnesia, and sighting of mysterious people. Eventually he directly encounters one of the strange people -- who turns out to be a robot.

Pete and his wife are deep in the mystery by now. Pete begins to realize he is developing telepathic abilities. And the robots keep insisting that he give himself up -- for his own good. Also, they sinisterly promise not to hurt him. And his telepathic ability allows him to sense the minds of the robots -- and to realize they are controlled by another mind, apparently belonging to an alien.

The novel resolves with a chase scene or two, a kidnapping, and then finally a talk between Pete and the aliens, whereby their true motives are revealed. And Pete makes his own decision ...

The book is well-told at the plot level -- it moves quickly, holds the interest, has some interesting ideas. I thought the resolution -- the aliens' motivations -- a bit lame. And the prose is inconsistent at best -- there are some real howlers. (Some of this may be laid at the hands of Ace's terrible copyediting.)

Against Arcturus is a stranger book. We begin on the planet Berbidron. A couple of natives (who call themselves Sarbr) see an Earth ship landing, and when they approach, they get shot. Those two leave, and a few more aliens investigate (including one called intriguingly "Arlem the Actor (soon to be Arlem the Traitor)". They instantly learn the human language (Latin), and quickly agree with the human proposal that they become civilized. Within 5 years they have built several cities, and have become involved in a dispute over the control of their planet: the first visitors were from the Earth-New Eden Alliance, but it has been taken over by the apparently more authoritarian human colony of one of Arcturus' planets.

This first section is told in an engaging fashion, resembling to a small degree writers like Ursula Le Guin and Eleanor Arnason, using journals, giving hints of the Sarbr society. It seems we are on the route to, perhaps, an anthropological bit of SF, where the human invaders will eventually get their comeuppance as they (and we, the readers) learn the true nature of the Sarbr. And, in a way, that's what happens. But we get there in a different way. And much of the aim of the book seems somewhat satirical -- making fun of human civilization partly by having the Sarbr who happen to be interested in it playact a version of it.

Most of the rest of the story is told by Beth Goodrich, a woman from New Eden who is recruited, somewhat despite her misgivings, to come to Berbidron and try to foment a rebellion against the Arcturans, who now control the cities on Berbidron. Beth, apparently, has experience at this -- she has spent time protesting the government on New Eden. She also has a vaguely telepathic/empathic ability (which she calls sympathy) -- she can understand the thoughts and feelings of humans, and even animals (such as her pet squirrels) and, it turns out, trees. But not the Sarbr. She ends up joining the Berbidron Liberation Front, where she meets the aforementioned Arlem the Traitor (so-called because he is actually working for the Arcturans).

She ends up bouncing around the planet, noticing but mostly ignoring hints that the nature of things on Berbidron is quite different than the humans seem to think, and getting herself killed. And resurrected, with a new name. Eventually the real plans of the Arcturans are revealed, which are pretty awful, and it becomes urgent to actually stop them. (Before that it seemed like a game, which is really the way the Sarbr seem to approach it.) Finally Beth (or, that is, Natasha) and some of her Sarbr friends make a journey to a desolate part of the planet, and she finally learns the truth about the Sarbr -- and, more importantly, about humanity.

Some of all this is kind of silly, though interesting. Some is fairly funny. Some is just busy. The science, as well as the timeline, really doesn't make much sense, but maybe that doesn't matter much. I thought it on balance an intriguing but not really successful effort, and I'm surprised the writer never did much else. She did write a graphic novel about Spiderman, which was published with illustrations by Berni Wrightson. And there is at least one short story (or perhaps a novel excerpt) available online (apparently posted by the author, some time ago). And not much else seems to be generally known.

I asked for help from a group of experts on the field that I hang out with, and Art Lortie came through wonderfully. He found that Susan K. Putney was born in 1951, in Iowa, once ran for Congress in Nebraska as a Libertarian, once owned a comic book store, lived in Phoenix for a while, and now lives in my own state, Missouri.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Old Bestseller: Tides, by Ada and Julian Street

Old Bestseller: Tides, by Ada and Julian Street

a review by Rich Horton



Julian Street (1879-1940) was a novelist, art and drama critic, and oenophile. He was born in Chicago, went to college in Canada, and moved to New York at the turn of the century, working for the New York Mail. He moved to Princeton in the ‘20s, and a library at the university is named for him. He married Ada Hilt in 1900, and she collaborated on the novel at hand, Tides, but not on any of his other works, but as she died in 1926, the same year Tides was published, it’s hard to say if she’d have done any more writing.

Street wrote several novels but was probably better known for his short fiction (twice he won an O. Henry Award); and for his nonfiction and criticism. His writing on wine and French cooking led to his being given the Chevalier’s Cross of the French Legion of Honor. He wrote travel books, a profile of his friend Theodore Roosevelt, a play in collaboration with Booth Tarkington. And after all that, he might be remembered best for the line he wrote, as an art critic, about Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, calling it “an explosion in a shingle factory”.



Tides appears to have first appeared in the magazine Red Book. My edition, a first (no dj, in indifferent shape), came from Doubleday and Page. It’s signed in pencil “Margaret Richardson Dec 25th 1926”, so it seems perhaps to have been a Christmas present. The book wasn't a major bestseller, and indeed Julian Street never had a book on Publishers' Weekly's yearly top ten list, but I gather that he was a reasonably successful writer in his day.

It opens in 1884 with a man named Luke Holden visiting a real estate man named W. J. Shire. They end up discussing Holden’s neighborhood, Oakland, near the lakefront on the South Side of Chicago. Holden is married with a young daughter, but soon he is expressing unseemly interest in Shire’s vulgar but pretty daughter. And Shire is planning to move to Oakland, and to try to promote it as a fashionable neighborhood (so that he can make money selling real estate there). (Oakland is a real neighborhood, still identified as such today, though I think it would be fair to say it's not currently "fashionable".)

All this is not pleasing to Luke Holden’s neighbor, old Zenas Wheelock, one of Chicago’s original settlers. Zenas likes the countrified nature of Oakland in 1884, and Shire’s plans will lead to a loss of privacy, and the gain of a lot of the wrong sort of people. Zenas has a grandson, Alan, a fine young man despite his disappointment in Alan’s father, a weak and ineffectual man only interested in buying first editions. 

The story ends up being about two parallel subjects: fist, the life stories of Alan Wheelock and Luke Holden’s daughter Blanche; and the way that these two virtuous and worthy people, who it is clear love each other, mess up things so they can never be together. And second, the way Chicago becomes a major city (mostly, it seems, to its overall detriment, at least from the authors’ point of view). The first thread follows their education in a small local school, Blanche’s unfortunate home life, blighted by her father’s affair with Florence Shire, followed by his wife’s death and then his marriage to Florence, a terrible stepmother to Blanche. Luke Holden suffers financial reverses as well. Alan becomes a well-respected businessman, but somehow he and Blanche miss connections and she runs off with a dissolute would-be writer, while he marries a pleasant but weak and somewhat vulgar local girl. Their lives go separate ways, but each ends up quite unhappy in their marriages, though ultimately at least somewhat successful otherwise.

Meanwhile, in Chicago we see first the political rivalry between supporters of Grover Cleveland and James Blaine, then the burgeoning development in Oakland (including, gasp!, apartment houses), then the Columbian Exposition, and the “good” neighborhoods moving to the North Side. Some of this is played out through Zenas Wheelock’s memories and principles: his experiences in Chicago when it was purely a frontier, his despair over the fate of his previous neighborhood, especially when his old house becomes a whorehouse, his personal honesty and the way that allows people like Holden and Shire to take advantage of him as they work to cheapen their neighborhood. By the end there are complaints about the foolish young folks in the ‘20s …

As you can gather, probably, the book is ragingly classist. There are plenty of swipes at other ethnicities too, particularly the Irish and Germans. (Black people are treated with some condescension but generally regarded as good people … and Zenas Wheelock is a rock-ribbed Republican partly, perhaps mostly, because Abe Lincoln freed the slaves.) For all that, it was fitfully enjoyable. There are boring stretches, to be sure, and lots of ad hominem sort of attitudes, or conveniently bad behavior by the wrong sorts of people which proves the authors’ points. But there’s also a certain honesty in showing its two heroes making real mistakes and messing up their lives – though not to the point of real tragedy either. And the details about Chicago late in the 19th Century ring true, and I found them interesting (partly because I grew up in the Chicago area).

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.