Saturday, April 28, 2018

A Forgotten Ace Double: The Duplicators, by Murray Leinster/No Truce With Terra, by Philip E. High

Ace Double Reviews, 40: The Duplicators, by Murray Leinster/No Truce With Terra, by Philip E. High (#F-275, 1964, $0.40)

a review by Rich Horton

This Ace Double review is posted in memory of Philip E. High's birth, on April 28, 1914.

To be honest, this particular Ace Double really didn't excite me prior to reading. Murray Leinster (a pseudonym for Will F. Jenkins) was a respected old pro, but he's never been a particular favorite of mine. Philip E. High is an English writer who never became prominent: he's not really very good, but I find him something of a guilty pleasure. Leinster published 9 Ace Double halves in 8 separate books (plus a later reprint of the one Ace Double that featured him on both sides). High published 6 Ace Double halves. The Duplicators) is about 46,000 words long, and No Truce With Terra is about 34,000 words.
(Covers by Ed Emshwiller and Jack Gaughan)

Will F. Jenkins was 68 when The Duplicators was published. He retired from writing just a few years later. His first SF story appeared way back in 1919 in the legendary all-sorts-of-fiction pulp Argosy: this was "The Runaway Skyscraper", a decent story that was reprinted in the first year of Amazing, and also a couple of times since then. He also had some mainstream success under his own name. He also had success as an inventor, holding two patents involving significant movie special effects technology. Jenkins died in 1975.

The Duplicators is an expansion of a novella called "Lord of the Uffts", from the February 1964 Worlds of Tomorrow. It takes on the idea of the matter duplicator, and like Damon Knight in A for Anything, Leinster concludes that this would be disastrous. The story begins with a rather rackety young spaceman named Link Denham getting drunk and in lots of trouble, and as a result (pretty much) signing on as astrogator on a beat up old ship owned by a disreputable and dislikable man named Thistlethwaite. Thistlethwaite is convinced he is about to make his fortune at a mysterious planet he has rediscovered.

On arrival at the planet, called Sord Three, Thistlethwaite immediately manages to be sentenced to hang, for the crime of being unmannerly. Link lasts a bit longer, but when he gives a speech to the indigenous intelligent race, the "uffts", the Household head, Harl, who has met the spaceship reluctantly decides to hang him too, despite his relatively good manners. But when Link gets to the Harl's mansion, he soon realizes that the entire economy of the planet is based on using some decaying "dupliers": duplicating machines. As a result, no human does any work, and what little work is needed is done by the uffts, in exchange for beer. But the uffts are getting restless. Worse, perhaps, the duplicating isn't working very well -- if you don't provide the right elements as raw material, the duplicated thing won't work. For example, steel knives don't duplicate very well if only iron ore is available; and electronic equipment doesn't duplicate well without, for instance, germanium for transistors. Harl has a beautiful sister, Thana, who is intelligent enough to realize the problem and try to work around it -- and Link has some ideas too. Naturally they fall in love and manage to avert his execution.

Link, perhaps a bit implausibly, quickly cottons to the disaster that dupliers have been for Sord Three, and he realizes that he must prevent the discovery of this tech by the rest of the Galaxy. He also befriends the uffts and starts to try to figure out a way to better their lot. The story, then, involves his sponsoring of an ufft revolution, his eventual solution (almost totally unbelievable) to the duplier problem, and of course his love affair with Thana. It's a breezily readable, if not plausible, novel. It's often somewhat funny. Not really very good, but not bad for half of 40 cents, I suppose.

No Truce With Terra was Philip E. High's second novel (at least according to the ISFDB), his first having been published as a single book by Ace earlier in 1964, The Prodigal Sun. Highbegan publishing short fiction in with "The Statics" in Authentic in 1955, and published quite a few short stories, mostly in UK magazines, through 1963. In 1964 he switched over almost entirely to novels, publishing some 14 through 1979. He seemed to retire at that time (he also retired from his day job, as a bus driver), but a spate of new short fiction began appearing in the Fantasy Annual series of original anthologies featuring mostly Carnell-era veterans, and other places, a total of more than thirty additional stories in the last decade of his life. He died in 2006, aged 92.

This novel begins with a scientist returning to his home only to find it impregnable -- apparently occupied by some strange being, quickly identified as an alien. These aliens seem to be metallic in nature, and to use electricity as a motivating force. They also seem all-powerful, capable of vaporizing attackers. They come in many rather terrifying forms. Soon all of England, and by extension the world, is under threat.

The scientist and a couple of friends, however, are able to analyze the aliens' means of transport, some sort of interdimensional warp gate. They copy the technology and by hit or miss open a gate to yet another planet. Their main thought is to hope at best for a lucky solution to the invader problem, or at least possibly to use this new planet as a refuge. This planet is at a low-tech developmental state, but it is also being monitored by some very advanced aliens, who soon detect the humans. These aliens make contact with the humans, and quickly offer their help. There is also a surprise about these aliens -- easily guessed in advance (I certainly did), but still I'll leave it at that.

Meanwhile, back on Earth the battle against the electronic invaders is going poorly. Even nuclear weapons are useless. But the new aliens do have some ideas ... Well, there aren't really any surprises coming.

High's prose style is fairly individual to him, and a bit shoddy. The plot here is implausible, as are the SFnal ideas ... but ... but ... The story is fast-moving and really kind of fun. The resolution is convenient but still interesting. There is one personal story that stretches belief but that I still found sweet. This is a good example of how Philip E. High could be a pleasure to read, albeit a guilty one.

1 comment:

  1. Your views match ours pretty closely. You must be right!