Thursday, March 8, 2018

Two Obscure Ace Doubles (Treibich/Janifer, Chandler, Jakes)

Ace Double Reviews, 1: The Rim Gods, by A. Bertram Chandler/The High Hex, by Laurence M. Janifer and S. J. Treibich

Steven J. Treibich was born on March 8, 1936, and died very young in 1972. This would have been his 82nd birthday, so, in his memory, I'm publishing these reviews I did long ago two of his Ace Doubles. The Rim Gods/The High Hex was, in fact, the very first Ace Double review I ever did, back in 2003 on the Usenet newsgroup; and Tonight We Steal the Stars/The Wagered World was the second. I never did get around to Target: Terra (backed with John Rackham's The Proxima Project).

Treibich published one short story and three short novels, all in collaboration with Laurence M. Janifer. I know nothing more about him. Laurence Janifer had an SF career spanning 50 years. He was born Larry Mark Harris (or perhaps Laurence Mark Harris), and changed his name to Janifer (his Polish grandfather's name) in 1963. He used Harris as his byline until that name change. He had a short story in the rather obscure magazine Cosmos in 1953, when he was 20. His real career started in 1959, with a few stories in places like Astounding and Galaxy, under the name Larry M. Harris; and with the first of three collaborative novels with Randall Garrett, under the joint pseudonym Mark Phillips; and with another collaboration with Garrett, published as by Larry M. Harris and Randall Garrett, the vaguely soft-porn SF novel Pagan Passions. Janifer's stories were often amusing -- his main mode is comic. His best known series by far, comprising five novels and many short stories, is the Survivor series, about "Gerald Knave, Survivor", a man whose job is to go to newly opened planets and survive, in so doing discovering and perhaps fixing the particular dangers. Janifer died in 2002, aged 69.

This Ace Double was published in 1969. It's reasonable to suppose that the Chandler "novel" was the primary half -- Chandler had a bigger name than Janifer or certainly Treibich (and indeed his name appeared in much bigger print on the cover) and The Rim Gods is the longer of the two halves. The Rim Gods is about 50,000 words long, The High Hex about 35,000 words.

A. Bertram Chandler (1912-1984) was born in the UK. He spent a long time in the Merchant Navy, first in the UK, and since 1956 in Australia, and his naval background is evident in his stories. His first story appeared in Astounding in 1944, and he continued publishing until his death. The great bulk of his novels concerned Commodore John Grimes, a spaceship commander.

The Rim Gods is presented as a novel, but in fact it is a fixup of four novelettes. The stories are related in that they are all about Chandler's main hero, Commodore John Grimes of the Rim Worlds, and in that they are presented as happening sequentially while Grimes is on an unplanned mini-tour while his wife is away on a vacation of her own. However, they are all pure standalone episodes, complete in themselves. The front matter claims that the "four Parts of this book appeared individually during 1968 in Galaxy magazine". That is not actually correct -- they appeared in Galaxy's sister magazine, If. They did not appear as parts of a serial but as separate novelettes, and not in consecutive issues (but in four out of five consecutive issues). The four stories are of very similar length, each between 12,000 and 13,000 words. I don't know if the stories were revised for book publication, to add the very flimsy connective tissue -- it wouldn't surprise me if they were, however.

Part One was published in the April 1968 If as "The Rim Gods". A group of religious nuts come to Grimes's planet, seeking to establish a new "Sinai" on an abandoned planet to which they believe they can attract God, with the help of an apostate member of their sect. This member happens to be a) a telepath, b) a drug user, and c) a very beautiful woman. Grimes goes along to observe, making sure they don't ruin the planet, and so he witnesses the rather unexpected results of their attempt to attract their God.

Part Two was published in the June 1968 If as "The Bird-Brained Navigator". Grimes visits a planet run by a tolerant bunch of priests, whom he had earlier helped overthrow some robber barons. An incompetent spaceship navigator, realizing his career is likely over when Grimes prepares to set things straight on his ship, tries to escape by sailing ship to the enclave of the robber barons, with the help of a beautiful alien woman. Grimes manages to get aboard the escaping ship and make use of the incompetent navigator's incompetence in foiling his plans.

Part Three was published in the December 1968 If as "The Tin Fishes". Grimes is sent to a water planet, where the local economy being ruined by a plague of mutated starfish. He tries to figure out what's going on while fending off (or not) the advances of a beautiful but dangerous woman. Explicitly James Bondian, as mentioned in the story itself.

Part Four was published in the August 1968 If as "Last Dreamer". On his way home, Grimes encounters an anomalous planet in empty space. Investigating the planet, he finds that he is compelled to talk in rhyme, and to act out a puerile fantasy based on a fairy tale involving rescuing a sleeping princess. Two beautiful women are involved, at least one of them a seducer. The explanation for all this is implausible but kind of cute.

Basically, these are light space opera, and generally enjoyable but not lasting stories. The Rim Worlds are set up to be a nominally SFnal setting but to be hospitable to basically fantastical events occurring -- on the Rim, the fabric of space-time is stretched thin, it is said. I find that offputting but if you just let things flow the stories do pass the time.

(Incidentally, these are part of a long series, and Grimes is supposed to be faithfully married to Sonya at this time -- presumably their courtship occurred in an earlier story. In these stories, amidst much temptation, he only backslides once -- with an indication that he does so only for duty's sake (not that he doesn't enjoy it).)

The High Hex is the second of three novels by Janifer and Treibich. Janifer published a number of stories and novels in a career that lasted from the 50s until his death last year. His most famous stories were about his continuing character Gerald Knave, Survivor -- indeed, three Knave novels have been published by Wildside in the past few years. (That is, the early 2000s.)

The three novels were all parts of Ace Doubles, and I'll get to all three eventually.  (After I read the other halves of their respective Doubles.) The first one was Target: Terra (1968), the third was The Wagered World (1969). They all feature as main character Angelo di Stefano, as of the first book the Intelligence Officer for U. N. Space Station 1.

In the first book Space Station 1 went nuts, and there was a threat that it would blow up the Earth. Angelo eventually figured out what was going on and saved everything, but SS1 was destroyed in the process, putting him out of work. In The High Hex, the other Space Station, #2, which is jointly run by Africans and Haitians (I found the book's presentation of Africans to be rather on the racist side, actually), has been taken over by the African contingent, which is threatening once again to blow up the world. The crew of SS1, augmented by an English-educated witch doctor, head back up to SS2, where they must attempt to use the witch doctor's psychological abilities to "hex" the SS2 crew and stop their nefarious plans. Unfortunately, this effort is interrupted by an invasion of alien robots, who start consuming all the metal on earth to make copies of themselves. Angelo must come up with a way to save the Earth, with the unwilling help of his machine-loving fellow crewman Chris Shaw. He does, naturally, though it seemed to me that technological civilization was pretty much kaput due to the robots eating all the metal before the end of the book.

The main problem with both these books is the very ad hoc nature of the plot. The authors just make silly things up as they go along, and none of the science even remotely makes sense. The only reason to read them is the joky narrative voice, which seems to me to be very much Janifer's voice, very similar to the narrative voice of the Knave books. Thus they can be entertaining as you read along (if you like the voice -- you might just think it's stale), but the whole thing doesn't hold together at all. In sum -- forgettable.

Ace Double Reviews, 2: Tonight We Steal the Stars, by John Jakes/The Wagered World, by Laurence M. Janifer and S. J. Treibich (#81680, 1969, $0.75)

John Jakes became famous (and presumably rich) in the mid 70s when he was hired to write the Kent Family Chronicles, a series of historical novels set in the US during and after the Revolutionary War. The release of these paperback novels was timed to coincide with the Bicentennial celebration. The books had titles like The Bastard, The Furies, and The Americans. These were huge bestsellers at the time, a real phenomenon. They were later made into a couple of television miniseries. Jakes later published a Civil War series, North and South (also made into a miniseries), and he has continued to publish historical novels with some success.

Before the Kent Family Chronicles, however, he was pretty much an old fashioned pulpster, perhaps one of the last. According to his home page, he published over 200 short stories and 60 novels: mysteries, westerns, and science fiction. I recall seeing his novel On Wheels, about people who live in their cars all the time -- this might have been his best known SF novel. He also published a series of Conanesque books about Brak the Barbarian. A few of his SF short stories gained praise, such as "The Sellers of the Dream", anthologized in the Amis/Conquest Spectrum series. But for the most part, he seemed to be regarded as a competent hack, nothing special but a solid professional. Tonight We Steal the Stars is noticeably long for an Ace Double half at 67,000 words. The front matter notes that it is the third in a series about "II Galaxy", apparently a new galaxy (or perhaps the Milky Way redesignated). The previous two novels of the series, When the Star Kings Die (1967) and The Planet Wizard (1968), were published by Ace but as single books. On internal evidence, I would guess the three books share only the setting, each standing alone as to plot and main characters. According to a prologue, 9000 years previously interplanetary civilization fell, but was reconstituted from the wreckage by houses with names of transparent (and highly implausible) derivation: Xero, Ibym, Genmo, Gullffe, and so on. These houses, ruled by the Lords of the Exchange, still rule the Galaxy. They each control certain special products/services, such as transportation in the case of Genmo.

This book is about Wolf Dragonard, a respected Regulator (or cop) for the Genmo family, who is recovering, not well (he's developed a drinking problem), from the death of his wife. He has a sympathetic boss but a sadistic and ambitious underling. The latter schemes to cost him his job, and after an incident the boss maneuvers a vacation/rehab interval on a seedy resort planet. On this planet Wolf encounters a mysterious woman, who seduces him and in the process lets slip some information about a plot to steal the "Stars", the jewels which symbolize the various stars ruled by Genmo. However, things get confusing when Wolf tries to track down the villa where he spent a weekend with this woman -- it had disappeared!

Wolf convinces his boss to send him to the planet Wheel, which is controlled by a former Genmo engineer, who has set up a competitive transportation company. It is on Wheel that the beautiful thief Jenny Sable has been found -- and she is the supposed ringleader of the plot to steal the Stars. Wolf manages to infiltrate Jenny's group, but then things get more complicated. He learns something that makes him suspect Jenny is being set up to fail. He has further doubts about the source of his own information, and about the safety of his boss. And, natch, he begins to fall in love with Jenny.

The resolution involves a fairly exciting breakin sequence, plenty of angst and loyalty stretching for Wolf, and a couple of not too illogical twists. It's by no means a great book, or even, really, good, but it is fairly fun. The ending flattens out just a bit. Certainly the plot in general has a couple of holes. The overall setting is unconvincing. The prose is mostly competent, with a couple of horrible lapses, such as mixing up "infer" and "imply". I think the title is a neat pulp title, and the revelation that "stealing the stars" is just jewelry theft is a bit of a letdown. Not a lasting book, by any means, but a book which basically delivers on its implicit promise -- a couple of hours of fairly mindless entertainment.

The Wagered World is the third and last of Janifer and Treibich's books about Angelo di Stefano, former Intelligence Officer for UN Space Station 1. This is the shortest of this series, the least well structured -- and I think I like it the best.

The story opens with the crew of Space Station 1, including in particular Angelo and his presumptive love interest, ecologist Juli Dental, crashlanding after the destruction of Space Station 2, and the vanquishing of an invading group of alien robots. (See The High Hex.) The open section briefly details the crew's problems in convincing the world's computer system that they are alive even though they were declared dead when their incoming rocket crashed.

The next section sees Angelo and Juli sent on a mission in a hastily cobbled together hyperspace ship, sent to backtrack to the source of the invading robots, in the fear that the real purpose of the robots was to soften up Earth for a follow-on invasion. The two find themselves at a cocktail party featuring the 647 races of the Intergalactic Council, and they also learn that yes, an invasion of Earth is planned. Angelo plays a gambling game, and wins an alien companion.

Upon their return to Earth, they are accused of treason (for consorting with the aliens who are about to invade) and rape (for no very clear reason at first). The third section is basically a courtroom drama which ends in Angelo unconvincingly convincing the invading aliens not to attack and instead let Earth join the Intergalactic Council.

All this makes basically No Sense At All. But the breezy manner of the telling, and the cheeky imagination (especially in the middle section), and perhaps especially the briefness of the tale, make it an enjoyable if very minor book.


  1. Chandler's Grimes has been cited as the most successful, or at very least most sustained, recasting of Horatio Hornblower in sf...though Poul Anderson can be said to have done similarly...the first time I've encountered Steven J. Treibich's name/byline, I think...

    1. Steven Treibich is obscure enough that, to my embarrassment, I speculated that "S. J. Treibich" must be a pseudonym when I first discussed these books on rec.arts.sf.written long ago ... Someone sharply responded that they knew Steven Treibich, adding the detail about his sadly early death.

  2. This just to say how much I enjoy these Ace Double posts. Keep it up!