Thursday, June 30, 2016

Another Ace Double: 200 Years to Christmas, by J. T. McIntosh/Rebels of the Red Planet, by Charles L. Fontenay

Ace Double Reviews, 59: 200 Years to Christmas, by J. T. McIntosh/Rebels of the Red Planet, by Charles L. Fontenay (#F-113, 1961, $0.40)

Once again, I don't have a "new" old book to write about, so I'm posting one of my older Ace Double reviews. This one is about two writers who were still alive when I first wrote the review, but who died shortly later. Neither is much remembered, but J. T. McIntosh is a name that's come up in a few contexts recently so I figured this might be worth exhuming.

Neither of these writers is that well remembered these days, though McIntosh remains something of a guilty pleasure for a lot of readers, myself included. McIntosh was a Scotsman named James MacGregor (1925-2008), who originally published as J. T. M'Intosh. His career extended from 1950 through 1980. He was quite prolific, publishing in the neighborhood of 100 short stories and 20 novels, mostly SF but some mainstream work as well. Charles L. Fontenay (1917-2007) was a journalist who published fairly regularly in the SF magazines in the 50s, then had a few more stories mostly in anthologies late in his life. He published a few novels as well. 200 Hundred Years to Christmas is about 28,000 words, and Rebels of the Red Planet about 51,000. The artist for the 200 Years to Christmas cover is Ed Valigursky, I'm not sure who the other one is by, though John O'Neill's suggestion of Ed Emshwiller seems likely.

I've called McIntosh a guilty pleasure, but that's not really fair. In fact he was quite reliably entertaining, and his stories were usually aimed at specific SFnal/societal ideas. Very often, he would advance one particular unusual idea, without necessarily thinking it the whole way through. Often, the overall milieu of his futures was a bit thinly described -- except for whatever specific change he was examining everything seemed just like the 1950s. (He said that was on purpose somewhere, I think.) His plotting was energetic and the stories were usually fun reads. He might qualify as a forgotten SF writer who deserves at least a modest rediscovery. My favorite works by him are from fairly early in his career: the novels World Out of Mind (1953) and One in Three Hundred (1954), and some shorter work (mostly novelettes) from the same period.

200 Years to Christmas originally appeared in Science Fantasy #25, in 1959, probably in the same form (i.e. I doubt the Ace Double is expanded). It's a generation ship story, focusing on the problem of societal cohesion on a generation ship, as such reminiscent of Poul Anderson's "The Troublemakers", Ursula Le Guin's "Paradises Lost", and Stephen Baxter's "Mayflower II", among many other stories.

It is set over a few years at roughly the midpoint of a 400 year journey from Earth to another star. The inhabitants of the generation ship are not sure if human society has survived outside the ship -- they left rather precipitously during a period of considerable social stress. The main character is Ted Benzil, a schoolteacher on the ship. His position is of considerable prestige. As the novel opens he is propositioned by a 15 year old girl ("startlingly nubile") named Lila, but he gently rejects her, in favor of his long term older lover, Freddy Steel. The setup soon comes clear -- the ship's society is going through a libertine phase, but this is ending, to be replaced by a strictly Puritan phase.

During the years of Puritanism, the libertine views of the likes of Freddy Steel become anathema, and Freddy faces humiliation, while others face worse punishment. Ted Benzil is supposedly representative of a knowing middle way, but in fact he comes off as wishy-washy and not terribly courageous. He does eventually lose his job though, and he manages to find enough courage to help push things in the opposite direction, towards greater rationality. And of course he moves in the direction of Lila, while Freddy is presented as excessively libertine, just as the villains are excessively Puritan.

It's not by any means outstanding work, but it does hold the interest, and I found it a fun read. I don't fully buy McIntosh's thesis -- essentially, that society, especially a small and closed society, will inevitably swing from libertinism to Puritanism to rationality and back and forth again, but I thought it at least interesting and fairly thoughtful. I suppose the characters were the weak point -- more labels to be moved as the author desired than real people.

Rebels of the Red Planet seems not to be based on any earlier stories. It is, it must be said, rather a preposterous work. That said, it's smoothly enough written and the heroes are good and the villains are really evull, so I admit I enjoyed the reading despite considerable reservations.

The story is set, no surprise, on Mars. Efforts to adapt humans to live more easily on the planet have been suppressed by evull corporate interests -- if humans could live unaided on the planet they wouldn't be forced to pay the spaceship lines that import material from Earth. But these efforts continue underground -- some focusing on genetic alteration of humans to make them better adapted to Mars, others focusing on developing psychic abilities to, for example, allow teleportation of food directly from Earth.

The story opens with the beautiful Maya Cara Nome accompanying her fiance Nuwell Eli to a suspected outpost of illegal research. Nuwell is obviously evil, and weak, because he is a prosecutor. Maya is obviously good, because beautiful, and also because she was raised by the old Martians, but she is misguided. They discover quite shocking experiments performed by an old scientist, Goat Hennessy, who has vivisected embryos in feeble attempts at genetic manipulation.

Back in a major Martian city, Maya infiltrates a rebel center. There she meets the dynamic and handsome and amusingly named Dark Kensington, who should be in his 50s but seems to be 25 -- with no memory of the past quarter century. We learn that both Maya and Dark have psychic powers. Maya is loyal enough to expose the rebel base, but many rebels escape. Maya tracks down Dark at another city, and falls in love with him. But Nuwell Eli follows her, and she is just weak enough to alert the authorities to Dark's presence. He is shot and killed, and in despair Maya agrees to marry Nuwell after all.

But -- but -- those old Martians are something special! It turns out Dark isn't really dead, and he is able to join with the remaining rebels, the Old Martians, and some other victims just in time to save Maya. Save her? Well, it seems that Nuwell is whipping her to bring her to her senses, and to cure her or her obsession with Dark Kensington. Oh, what a baddy he is!

The resolution is really rather flat, without for instance any satisfying final battle between Dark and Nuwell. And what's with the names? "Dark Kensington"? A deeply silly novel -- in particular the genetic and ESP speculation is just dumb. Its heart is all too obviously in the right place, but its execution is quite lacking.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Old Bestseller: The City of Lilies, by Anthony Pryde and R. K. Weekes

Old Bestseller: The City of Lilies, by Anthony Pryde and R. K. Weekes

a review by Rich Horton

I doubt this was actually a bestseller, but it's certainly a piece of popular fiction from the first half of the 20th Century -- so very much in this blog's original purview.

Anthony Pryde was a pseudonym for Agnes Russell Weekes (1880-1940). R. K. (Rose Kirkpatrick) Weekes (1874-1956) was her sister. Almost nothing about the two is readily findable, at least with my search skills. (Denny Lien helped track down the bare details I have.) They appear to have been English. At first Agnes seems perhaps to have been the primary author, especially if Anthony Pryde was her pseudonym alone -- some books are attributed to that name only, and at least in the case of The City of Lilies, the byline for R. K. Weekes is given in smaller print. Later in their career the Pryde name was sometimes not used, instead Agnes used the form of her name A. R. Weekes, and they often published as by "A. R. and R. K. Weekes", suggesting that the collaboration was equal by that time.

The earliest Anthony Pryde novel I can find is Marqueray's Duel, from 1920, when Agnes was 40, and the latest dates to 1931. Novels as by A. R. and R. K. Weekes continue until Alda Abducted in 1942. It appears, then, that the novels stopped when Agnes died. (To be sure, Rose was 68 in 1942 and may have been ready to retire anyway.) They published very regularly for some time, at least a couple of dozen novels with titles like The Purple Pearl, An Ordeal of Honor, The Secret Room, and The Emerald Necklace. There is an earlier novel credited to R. K. Weekes alone, Convict B14 (1920), and one dating as far back as 1904 credited to A. R. Weekes alone, Yarbrough the Premier. I also found a short story by Agnes Russell Weekes in Harper's Magazine in 1904, so it seems she was a publishing writer at that time. I'm not sure why there's an apparent gap between those publications and the novels beginning in 1920. There was also a Shakespearean scholar called A. R. Weekes in the same time period -- in this case I suspect that wasn't Agnes, though I suppose I could be wrong. The other mentions I saw were a dismissive review in Harper's, and an apparently vaguely positive note in Time, of Anthony Pryde novels. Finally, a blog that may be very much up my alley, Furrowed Middlebrow, briefly mentions the Weekes sisters among a list of Edwardian women writers and adds a couple of novels from between 1904 and 1920: Faith Unfaithful (1914) by Agnes, and The Laurensons (1917) by Rose; and implies that Rose's list of solo novels was longer than I have suggested.

The City of Lilies is from 1923, published by Robert M. McBride & Company. Handwriting on the inside front cover says "Library of Mr. and Mrs. Jerry McGowan". It may be a First Edition. There was a later printing from A. L. Burt.

The novel is quite frankly an example of a Ruritanian novel (and indeed the Time mention of it emphasized that aspect). It's set in Neuberg, which seems to be located roughly where Lichtenstein is, and to be about the same size. Neuberg's ruling Prince is Heinrich, a cruel tyrant with a tortured artistic side: apparently he's a great architect, but his upbringing, by his harsh grandfather, has made him a terrible ruler. His most trusted adviser is Rupert Hautrive, an Englishman who wandered to Neuberg partly in search of his beloved older brother, who, it turns out, died in prison, a victim of Heinrich's grandfather. Heinrich has a beautiful young wife who hates him, but who he loves to distraction. And he has an implacable enemy, the lowborn Valentin Muller, leader of the revolutionary group called The League.

The novel opens with a masked ball, at which it soon appears that Valentin is an unexpected guest. He escapes, but not before getting the attention of a beautiful dancer from Paris, Mercedes. The upshot of all this is that Heinrich decides to punish the loyal Colonel von Ritzing, who had not attended the ball and whose pass had been appropriated by Valentin. Von Ritzing is very popular, and very upright, and his execution will outrage the people. Will the League intervene? Or will Valentin sacrifice von Ritzing to the greater cause?

Other subplots intertwine -- Mercedes joining the league and falling for Valentin; the mystery of Rupert Hautrive's parentage; the true love of Margaret, Heinrich's Princess; the cynical French police chief Suchet and his machinations. It's clear from the start that Heinrich's rule is doomed, and indeed that he realizes this and at some level doesn't mind -- he's an interesting if not quite believable character, fully aware of his faults but unwilling to change, truly in love with the wife he has abused sufficiently so that she hates him; truly brilliant when he cares to be. There is another mystery, easily enough guessed by any halfway alert reader, concerning the Royal Family of Neuberg.

It all bounces along nicely enough. It's popular fiction of its time, and of its very particular subgenre, the Ruritanian novel, and its overt debt to Anthony Hope's Prisoner of Zenda is, I think, something the authors would have cheerfully acknowledged. It's a bit brokenbacked -- the climax comes a tad too early, and is a bit of an anticlimax, actually, with a slightly overextended denouement. But really it's fun stuff, nothing all that great, sure, but enjoyable.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Another Ace Double: Mask of Chaos, by John Jakes/The Star Virus, Barrington J. Bayley

Ace Double Reviews, 8: Mask of Chaos, by John Jakes/The Star Virus, by Barrington J. Bayley (#78400, 1970, $0.75)

Mask of Chaos is about 55,000 words. The Star Virus is about 50,000 words. The total length of over 100,000 words is quite large for an Ace Double. Jakes published a few Ace Doubles. Bayley published one more, Annihilation Factor in 1972 (backed with Neal Barrett, Jr.'s Highwood). Both of Bayley's Ace Double halves were expansions of stories from 1964 issues of New Worlds.

I do really like these two covers. The one for Mask of Chaos is by Jack Gaughan, and the one for The Star Virus is by Kelly Freas -- likely the two leading SF illustrators in that time period.

Barrington Bayley (1937-2008) was one of SF's "wild men", and stayed that way until the end of his life. He's clearly in the same ballpark, concept-wise, as Charles Harness, though his general outlook is more cynical. I'd recommend almost any of his novels as worth reading for the ideas alone. The Star Virus was his first novel, and it is expanded from a story also called "The Star Virus", from the May-June 1964 New Worlds.

It's the story of a star pirate, Rodrone, who stumbles across a mysterious alien artifact, called the Lens. In this future, the only true star-travelling races are humans and the Streall. The Streall are technologically advanced, but very rigid. Humans are completely disorganized. The Streall hate humans, but for some time apparently a quasi-equilibrium state has been maintained.

The Lens was the property of the Streall, but humans had found it. Rodrone steals it from a ship returning it to the Streall, and the novel recounts both the Streall pursuit of Rodrone, and Rodrone's attempts to understand the Lens. The plot is a bit rambling, and lots of the science is totally absurd, sometimes unnecessarily so. In this, as in other things, Bayley resembles Harness. But the central notion of the novel, the true nature of the Lens, is at once wacky, original, powerful, and in the end just plain cool enough to pretty much justify some of the carelessness of the rest of the book. (I'm not saying a rewrite with a strict editor might not do this book a world of good though!)

I may be wrong, but it seems to me that Bayley here, in engaging in really far out, pseudo-scientific speculations, is doing something that SF writers used to do a lot, but don't so much anymore. I think nowadays there is more emphasis on getting the science just right, or alternately on using well-established furniture which may not be scientifically plausible, but is legitimized by tradition. I don't have a problem with stories which of those types: but I think we need to make room for the wild men, who use SF as a tool for what can be really nice philosophical mind-stretching, even if in so doing they utterly abandon plausibility.

John Jakes was born in 1932 in Chicago, and he began contributing to the SF pulps in 1950. He was a regular contributor to the SF magazines in the 1950s and 1960s, and published a great deal of SF, historical fiction, and westerns in that period. He was perhaps best known in the field for his 1973 novel On Wheels, about a car-based future, and for his Conan-derived fantasy series about Brak the Barbarian, which began with stories and serials often in Cele Goldsmith's Fantastic. (I've just finished one of those serials, "When the Idols Walked".) I was never overly impressed with his SF or Fantasy -- the Brak stories, for instance, are frankly "thud and blunder", and the other short fiction I've read strikes me as competent and unambitious yard goods. But in the mid-70s, Jakes produced a bestselling series of paperbacks, The Kent Family Chronicles, set in the Revolutionary War period, and timed to appear coinciding with the Bicentennial celebration. These made his name, and he continued to write mostly historical fiction (including the North and South series, about the Civil War) after that.

Mask of Chaos is a sometimes promising, ultimately disappointing novel. It's the story of a mechanically-enhanced spaceman called Mike, short for the insulting nickname Micropig. He sold himself to a research institute allowing them to experiment with replacing much of his body with mechanical parts. In the process he seems to have forgotten his past, and to have been psychologically altered to be unrealistically accepting of whatever goes on.

As the book opens he is fired from his latest berth due to the jealousy of his fellow spacemen, who can't match his job performance. He is on the world Tome, which seems to be a near utopia -- very orderly, beautiful, with one odd feature -- everyone wears masks. After a brief time, though, he realizes he has no way of making money. A civil servant brings him in and informs him that his only option is to agree to play a mysterious Game.

Mike originally refuses, and soon encounters a beautiful "professional woman" (i.e. prostitute) who is also marooned on Tome, and who has also declined to play the Game. They hatch a plan to steal some of the masks, which are apparently (and incredibly implausibly) very valuable off-planet. This goes awry, though, and they are arrested an informed that the only way to avoid punishment is to finally agree to play the Game.

The middle section of the novel recounts their experiences in the Game, which is a strange simulation, by all evidence in the book likely fatal to any normal person, though Mike's enhancements save his life and the woman's several times. The Game is played in a simulated city and was vaguely reminiscent to me of the Game of Life (board game, not the computer game): you gain credits such as "education" by randomly hitting certain squares. But sometimes instead of credits the squares will shoot knives or poison gas or something. By the same token, the simulated cafes will sometimes serve food and sometimes poison.

At any rate, the two finally refuse to participate, causing much consternation. Before long they are involved in a cynically (and I suppose realistically) portrayed revolution, which leads to a fairly honest but very disappointing and flat ending.

The best parts of the book are the characterizations of Mike and the woman. Mike in particular seems real and different. And the story does hold the interest for a while, but then goes flat. The economic underpinnings of Tome simply don't make sense, and the ultimate revelation of what lies under the masks is silly. A novel that shows some perhaps surprising ambition, but not really a very good one.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

My Best of the Year book

I thought I should mention that my new book is out, The Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, 2016 Edition. It's always fun to see the book in print, and to celebrate a whole bunch of great stories.

I dedicated this book to my late father, John Richard (Dick) Horton.

Apropos of that, I recently put together a spreadsheet detailing all the contributors to my books over the past 11 years. This series began in 2006 as two books: Science Fiction: The Best of the Year, 2006 Edition; and Fantasy: The Best of the Year, 2006 Edition. There were three years in that format, and in 2009 we switched to the bigger combined format, with both SF and Fantasy. (I should note that each edition -- 2006, 2016, whatever -- collects stories from the previous year.)

So here's this year's cover:
So, as I said, I put together a combined spreadsheet, of 11 years of these book. One of the things I was interested in was how many times I published new writers -- that is, writers whom I hadn't previously published in this series. I confess, I was partly motivated to investigate this because of an accusation by Eric Raymond that I kept choosing authors from the same pool. That seemed on the face of it blatantly false -- I've always prided myself in choosing a lot of unfamiliar writers. Naturally I have favorites, and there are some writers who appear over and over again (most obviously, Robert Reed, though he's not in this year's book!) But I had a feeling I always included a lot of new (to me) voices.

And I think the statistics back me up. Bottom line -- 62% of the stories in all my books combined were by writers who were appearing first in that year's book. But that's distorted, because of course for the first few years most of the writers were, by default, firsts. The numbers seem to settle in around 50% new writers each year beginning in about 2011 -- the percentages from 2011 through 2016 are 54%, 43%, 61%, 49%, 29%, 53%, 62%. The cumulative total percentage since 2011 is 48% new writers.

So, about half the writers in a typical book of mine have never before appeared in one of my Best of the Year collections. That seems pretty good! And, in fact, a quick comparison with at least one other editor suggests that my percentage of writers new to me is significantly higher. (Which isn't to say the other books aren't also excellent -- they are!)

One more set of numbers: I have published 354 stories by 219 writers over the 11 years of this series. 143 of those writers have appeared in my books only once. The writers who have appeared most are Robert Reed (10), Elizabeth Bear (6), Kelly Link (6), Theodora Goss (6), C. S. E. Cooney (5), Yoon Ha Lee (5), Holly Phillips (5), Genevieve Valentine (5), Rachel Swirsky (5), and Peter Watts (5). (Some of these totals might be slightly affected by how I treated collaborations.)

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Only Novel by a Great Playwright: Lord Malquist and Mr. Moon, by Tom Stoppard

The Only Novel by a Great Playwright: Lord Malquist and Mr. Moon, by Tom Stoppard

a review by Rich Horton

Something a bit different this week -- a fairly little known though probably not forgotten novel by a great great writer -- but a writer known for his plays. This is something I wrote some years ago, a rather brief review, but I like the novel, and Stoppard is such a great writer I thought it worth bringing one of his more obscure works a bit of attention while I finish my latest true "Old Bestseller". (I should perhaps add that K. A. Laity discussed this in a Friday's Forgotten Books post some half-dozen years ago.)

Tom Stoppard was born Tomas Straussler in Czechoslovakia in 1937. His Jewish family fled Czechoslovakia as the Nazis invaded, ending up in Singapore, then India. His father was killed in a Japanese attack or perhaps as a prisoner of war, and after the war, his mother remarried an Englishman, Kenneth Stoppard. He became a journalist at age 17, fortuitously becoming a theatre critic soon after, which lead to an ambition to write plays, He wrote some radio dramas in the '50s, and his first stage play was completed in 1960. He wrote the first version of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead with the help of a Ford Foundation grant in 1964, and it was first produced in 1966, making him a star. He has written many many plays since then, and also translated many, written some screenplays including work on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Empire of the Sun, Brazil, and Shakespeare in Love.

And one novel, very early in his career (1966): Lord Malquist and Mr. Moon.  I've read Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, The Real Thing, Arcadia, The Real Inspector Hound, and a few more plays. I've seen a television version of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, but never seen a Stoppard play live, which I'll have to fix sometime. I've really enjoyed every play I've read by him.

Stoppard's plays are known for virtuoso word play, and this is a feature of Lord Malquist and Mr. Moon as well.  (Add Stoppard to the list of English-language writers who grew up hearing another language (Czech, in his case) and who write flashy or otherwise special English prose. (Others: Conrad, Nabokov, Rushdie.))  The story is told mostly from the viewpoint of Mr. Moon, a rather hapless young man in London in 1965 (at the time of Churchill's funeral). He hopes to write a histoy of the world, but isn't making much progress and needs the money, so he takes a job as a professional "Boswell" to Lord Malquist, who desperately wants something to be named after him, in the manner of the Earl of Sandwich or the Duke of Wellington, or MacAdam.  Malquist wants Moon to record his bon mots, and indeed Malquist's speech is quite witty.

Mr. Moon has a rich wife, who refuses his sexual overtures, but seems to give herself to pretty much anyone else, and who seems to be running their house as a sort of brothel, for which purpose she has engaged a pretty French maid.  Into this mix are thrown Malquist's alcoholic wife, his black Jewish coachman, and an Irishman who claims to be the Risen Christ. Oh, and a lion, and a bomb. It's very funny, though very blackly so, and all is resolved quite inevitably.  I really enjoyed it. It does seem though, that with the nearly simultaneous success of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Stoppard abandoned novel-writing for plays -- apparently a good decision!, though I for one would enjoy seeing more novels from him as well as the plays.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

An Old Ace Double: The Ultimate Weapon/The Planeteers, by John W. Campbell

Ace Double Reviews, 97: The Ultimate Weapon, by John W. Campbell/The Planeteers, by John W. Campbell (#G-585, 1966, 50 cents)

a review by Rich Horton

Here's another Ace Double featuring an extremely significant figure in SF history. John W. Campbell, Jr. (1910-1971) was born in New Jersey, and lived there most of his life. He attended MIT (getting to know Norbert Wiener) but finished his degree (a B. S. in Physics, the same degree I hold) at Duke in 1932. (At Duke Campbell met J. B. Rhine and apparently participated as a subject in Rhine's ESP studies -- an interesting fact given Campbell's later obsession with parapsychology.) In 1930 he began publishing SF with several stories in Amazing. Early in his career he was known for stories of super-science. He also published a number of quieter and more thoughtful stories as by "Don A. Stuart", including the classics "Twilight" and "Who Goes There?". In 1937 he became the editor of Astounding Stories, and he is probably the most significant editor in the history of SF. It would be fair to say that he moved SF away from his "John W. Campbell" writing persona and toward his "Don A. Stuart" writing persona, though of course that's an oversimplification. He died in the saddle, as it were, in 1971.

After taking over Astounding Campbell essentially ceased writing fiction. His last published story as an active writer came in 1939, with perhaps the exception of "The Idealists", which appeared in the 1954 Raymond J. Healy original anthology 9 Tales of Time and Space (thanks to John Boston for alerting me to that story, which I think I'll have to seek out). There were a number of pieces written in the 30s but published later, such as The Incredible Planet (1949), and perhaps most interestingly, "All", published in 1976 in a collection called The Space Beyond -- but twice rewritten by major SF writers: as Empire by Clifford Simak, and as Sixth Column by Robert A. Heinlein.

I have quite enjoyed most of the Don A. Stuart stories I've read, and I've been much less impressed by the Campbell stories. This book represents my first fairly extended look at him in that mode.

The Ultimate Machine is actually a longish novella, a somewhat typical size for an Ace Double half at about 31,000 words. It was first published in the October and December 1936 issues of Amazing Stories as "Uncertainty". As it happens, I saw a copy -- may have bought a copy -- of one of Sol Cohen's horrible reprint magazines shortly after I started buying SF magazines: the July 1974 issue of Science Fiction Adventure Classics, which reprints "Uncertainty" in full.

It opens with an Earth scout ship out near Pluto, where they detect an alien ship with very powerful weapons, that easily overwhelms the mines on Pluto and destroys a couple of ships. Buck Kendall, a rich man and great scientist/engineer who has enlisted in the Space Navy, is one who escapes, and he immediately raises the alert. But his Navy bosses ignore him, brushing off what he saw as human space pirates, so he resigns, goes back to private industry, and arranges for some funding from the only smart man in the Navy, Commander McLaurin, to set up a lab on the Moon and start working on better weapons. He has deduced that the aliens are from Mira, and that they will be back at Earth in two years.

We switch to the viewpoint of the alien commander, Gresth Gkae. His race are looking for a stable system to take over, because Mira is a variable star. His ship is one of many assigned to look for new planets, and having found the Sol System he races back to Mira, to organize and then lead an invasion force.

The rest of the story is easy to figure out. Kendall and his cohorts put together some amazing new weapons and ships in an impossibly short time -- the aliens return and are surprised at the resistance they find, but they still seem likely to prevail, until Kendall figures out a way to use the Uncertainty Theory as the Ultimate Weapon. The conclusion is a slight twist, helped by a ridiculous deus ex machina.

All that said, I liked a fair amount of the story. Except for the stupidity about the Uncertainty Theory, the scientific inventions are at least on the border of plausibility (well, across the border, but at least backed by actual 1930s physics) -- Campbell mentions, for example, a weapon much like the neutron bomb. You can kind of see him working the direction he would ask his authors to take at Astounding.

The Planeteers is a collection of 5 stories about Ted Penton and Rod Blake. The stories are:

"The Brain Stealers of Mars" (Thrilling Wonder Stories, December 1936) 8300 words

"The Double Minds" (Thrilling Wonder Stories, August 1937) 11500 words

"The Immortality Seekers" (Thrilling Wonder Stories, October 1937) 11700 words

"The Tenth World" (Thrilling Wonder Stories, December 1937) 10100 words

"The Brain Pirates" (Thrilling Wonder Stories, October 1938) 7400 words

Penton and Blake have invented atomic power, which is illegal on Earth. (Due to an accident that took out 300 square miles of Europe.) Exiled, they fly their atomic powered ship, which no on can match, all over the Solar System, looking to get rich. They keep encountering strange and intelligent aliens who always turn out to have their own interests that run counter to Penton and Blake's. Penton is the smart guy, Blake the foil.

In "Brain Stealers of Mars", they encounter creatures on Mars that can exactly mimic other creatures, and end up having to decide which of a dozen or so copies of Penton and Blake are the true ones. In "The Double Minds", a race on Callisto that has learned to use the two halves of their brain separately, increasing their mind power but reducing their coordination, has enslaved another Callistan race. Penton and Blake help out the revolution, with unexpected consequences. In "The Immortality Seekers", set on Europa, a fairly benign race turns out to need the Beryllium from which Penton and Blake's ship is made to assist what seems to be nanotech in making them immortal. Another clever creature is enlisted to help Penton and Blake. Then they head out beyond Pluto, to the Tenth World, very cold but inhabited by a very intelligent energy eater that can't control its urges to grab energy from anything hotter. Finally, on the moon of the Tenth World, surprisingly warm compared to its primary!, they encounter a creature that can eat almost anything.

These are silly and kind of annoying stories. The science -- mostly on purpose, to be sure -- is just too stupid, and the supposedly comic interactions of Penton and Blake came off pretty flat too me. Very minor work. Campbell surely made the right decision switching to the editor's seat.