Thursday, July 6, 2017

Another Obscure Ace Double: Stepsons of Terra, by Robert Silverberg/A Man Called Destiny, by Lan Wright

Ace Double Reviews, 107: Stepsons of Terra, by Robert Silverberg/A Man Called Destiny, by Lan Wright (#D-311, 1958, 35 cents)

a review by Rich Horton

I've written about Ace Doubles by both of these writers before. Indeed, I've written about quite of few of Robert Silverberg's Ace Doubles, and perhaps I'll go on and read all his early novels and write about them. (Undeniably these novels, dating from say 1955 through 1963, are less accomplished than his later work, especially the remarkable decade from 1965 through 1975 or so, but the early work is still of some interest, and always competent and entertaining.)
(cover by Ed Emshwiller)

I'm going to assume readers need little information about Silverberg -- born in 1935, began publishing SF in 1954, first novel in 1955, multiple Hugos and Nebulas, SFWA Grand Master, even in mostly retirement now he is currently on the Hugo ballot for Best Related Work (Traveler of Worlds, a collection of conversations with Alvaro Zinos-Amaro). Lan Wright is much less known, so here's what I wrote about him in a previous post: Lan Wright was a UK writer, full name Lionel Percy Wright (1923-2010), who was a regular contributor to the UK SF magazines, mostly E. J. Carnell's (New Worlds, Science Fantasy, Science Fiction Adventures), from 1952 through 1963. As far as I know he never even once appeared in a US magazine. Indeed, he only once appeared in an anthology, a British book edited by Carnell. He did have five novels published in the US, four of them Ace Doubles, the last of these in 1968. He seems to have published nothing (in SF, at any rate) after the age of 45.

Silverberg's Stepsons of Terra opens with a somewhat familiar situation: Baird Ewing, a representative of a colony planet, threatened by invading aliens, comes to Earth to ask for help. Ewing is disgusted to learn that Earth has become completely decadent, and is unwilling, and perhaps even unable, to offer any help. He does make contact with a representative of Earth's oldest Colony, Sirius IV, and realizes that they seem much more vigorous. But while Sirius seems more aggressive that Earth, it's soon clear that no help will come from that direction.

Ewing also encounters a group of scholars who seem to have at least some interest in him. He agrees to meet with them -- they wish to learn from him at any rate. They also warn him about the Sirians -- dangerous people, they say -- while Ewing receives an anonymous note urging him to have nothing to do with the scholars.

As time goes on, things twist further. Ewing learns that the Sirians are well advanced on a plan to completely take control of Earth. There is a clumsy attempt by a Sirian woman to seduce him. And he learns to his surprise that the Earth scholars have hit on something quite remarkable -- the secret to time travel.

The rest of the story is a convoluted tale of multiple time loops, and Ewing commandeers the Sirian machine and goes back in time, creating several copies of himself, some of which are doomed to noble suicides to undo paradoxes. He is tortured and then mysteriously rescued and in the end, is able to lead both the resistance to Sirius and the battle against the invading aliens.

(cover by Ed Emshwiller)
It's decent pulpy adventure. I'm not sure the logic of the time travel really holds up well, but then, when does it ever? Minor work, sure, but more evidence that Silverberg, even when just turning the crank, was always professional enough to entertain.

I should add that Stepsons of Terra was first published in the April 1958 issue of Science Fiction Adventures, under the title "Shadow on the Stars". That text seems likely the same text as that of the Ace Double version. The magazine had an Ed Emshwiller cover that I've already reproduced on this blog-- it was used again as the cover of the 1963 Lancer paperback Great Science Fiction Adventures, an anthology of novellas from that magazine, which I previously discussed here.

Lan Wright's A Man Called Destiny concerns a man named Richard Argyle, who is stranded on remote Jones Planet as one of the engineers for a small spaceship. He meets a man named Spiros, who tells him that his wife (Argyle's) who had left him years earlier is dead, and that the leader of the company that employed her when she died wants to meet with him, and to offer him a job. This company, Dellora, is one of several companies that control Galactic trade.

When Argyle gets to Rigel Five, he looks up Spiros, only to learn that he has been murdered -- in a way only explainable if a man teleported in to kill him and left the same way. Argyle establishes a relationship with the lawman investigating the murder, and then heads to Dellora Planet to try to meet with the company's leader

(cover by Ed Valigursky)
Things begin to get complicated ... Argyle meets with Pietro Dellora on his private satellite, and they hit it off, but before you know it, Dellora has been killed as well. And Argyle has heard hints of some potential involvement of Preacher Judd, the new leader of Earth. Argyle is something of a suspect in the murder of Dellora, but he is finally able to head to Earth to try to learn more about Judd. And, eventually to learn more about himself.

The story turns, really, on two conflicts -- that of normal humans with people with superpowers, including Teleportation; and secondly between the Trading companies that want to control the Galaxy, and Earth. And Judd, no surprise, begins to learn that he too has special powers -- as did his murdered wife, and, of course, as does Judd.

It's all pretty implausible, and full of wish fulfillment. That said, it reads OK -- I was most interested in what would happen next, even if I couldn't believe much of it. And I'd say the book could have been cut by 10,000 words easily ... A very minor effort.


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