by Rich Horton
This old Ace Double is a fortuitous combination -- back in 1955 Ace managed to pair two writers who, in 2003 (when I first wrote this review), were nearly the oldest living active SF writers. (Andre Norton still qualified as active, though only one of her late novels was not a collaboration. Her age was between Williamson's and Harness's. Nelson Bond was not then active, but he did have a story in Asimov's not too many years before 2003. Among truly active writers, Williamson and Harness seemed then clearly the oldest.)
The Paradox Men has become a classic in the field. Dome Around America hasn't. In both cases, for good reason. The Paradox Men was first published as "Flight Into Yesterday", in the May 1949 Startling Stories. That version was about 56,000 words long. The first book version was a 1953 hardcover, also called Flight Into Yesterday, from Bouregy and Curl. It was slightly expanded -- I haven't seen that book, but I presume the 1955 Ace Double, with the title changed to The Paradox Men, is substantially the same, and it's about 60,000 words. The Paradox Men was later reprinted, again slightly expanded to about 64,000 words, in 1981 in a Crown hardcover, as part of their Classics in Science Fiction series. As far as I know the 1999 reprint from NESFA Press, as part of the four novel omnibus called Rings, follows the 1981 text. Dome Around America was also originally published in Startling Stories, in the July 1941 issue, under the title "Gateway to Paradise". The 1955 edition is certainly a revision, though I haven't seen the earlier story. Dome Around America is about 42,000 words long.
|(Cover by Richard Powers)|
I recommend it. It seems comparable in many ways to its near contemporary The Stars My Destination: Harness probably had a more original mind than Bester's, and his themes seem a bit more ambitious. But he really couldn't write with him -- and I think it is because of the writing (both prose and pace) that the manic energy of the Bester book is more successfully sustained. Still, The Paradox Men remains a powerful and interesting novel, and such scenes as the final selfless act of Keiris are all but unmatched in SF.
As far as I can tell from comparing the three versions of the novel I have, the first expansion involved some minor wording changes throughout, and the addition of a couple of fairly minor scenes. There is one new chapter, which is a division of one of the original chapters into two (with some additions). It might well be that the editor of Startling Stories (Sam Merwin) made the original cuts to fit the space available. The 1981 expansion involves some changes in the tech, to make it slightly (only slightly!) more plausible for 1980s sensibilities. The most obvious change is that the Microfilm Mind becomes the Meganet Mind. On balance, I think the latter-day changes sensible and not harmful to the feel of the story, and I'd recommend the NESFA edition -- but reading any of the three main editions will give you pretty much the same experience.
|(Cover by Ed Valigursky)|
Barry Thane is a young man, part of the "Ring Guard", the dwindling crew of men who guard the dome from sabotage. But he has come to believe that something weird -- aliens, maybe? -- live Outside. So he is mentally prepared when he notices a moving rock penetrating the dome, and what he discovers is a camouflaged spaceship/ground vehicle, sent by an organization of surviving humans who are consumed with hate for America, and who live in domes with limited water and air on the former ocean bed. Barry foils the plot of the man in the invading ship, Glenn Clayton, and he hatches a plan to impersonate Clayton and infiltrate the Outside. But Clayton has plans of his own ... And both men are vulnerable to the charms of a woman of their enemies ...
It's really silly stuff, with not much in the way of redeeming values. The science is nonsensical. The resolution is just plain wholly unbelievable. The story itself moves nicely enough -- Williamson was too much the pro to fail to tell a solid story scene by scene. But all in all it is a fairly prime example of why routine 1940s SF is so often unmemorable.