Thursday, May 17, 2018

A Forgotten Ace Double: The Stars are Ours!, by Andre Norton/Three Faces of Time, by Sam Merwin, Jr.

Ace Double Reviews, 36: The Stars are Ours!, by Andre Norton/Three Faces of Time, by Sam Merwin, Jr. (#D-121, $0.35, 1955)

Rather a disappointing Ace Double, this one. Andre Norton's The Stars are Ours!, about 66,000 words long, was first published by World in 1954 -- presumably as a juvenile. Three Faces of Time was published, possibly in a shorter version, as "Journey to Misenum" in Startling Stories, August 1953. The Ace Double version is about 47,000 words.

Andre Norton published 15 Ace Double halves. Many of her early Ace Doubles were reprints of novels first published in hardcover and marketed to the "juvenile" segment (i.e., lots of library sales). This appears to be the case with The Stars are Ours!. The hero is a standard sort of hero for a juvenile SF book, a teenaged boy. There is no sex, not even a hint, not even a suggestion of interest. (That didn't stop Ace from featuring a gorgeous (or so I assume the artist intended) redhead on the cover -- this illustrates a scene that doesn't occur in the book, though it does semi-accurately reflect something that must have happened offstage -- a redheaded woman being awakened from a coldsleep chamber. As one of the women mentioned in the book is redheaded, and was in coldsleep -- well, she was awakened sometime!)

(Cover by Ed Valigursky)
The Stars are Ours! opens on Earth after a catastrophe, blamed incorrectly on a hereditary Scientist caste, has led to the remnants of the human population being ruled by thuggish fascist types, who are trying to root out all the remaining Scientists. Dard Nordis is our teenaged hero, and his lame many years older brother is a Scientist, trying to develop some mysterious formula. When their evil neighbor alerts the bad guys that something suspicious is going on, they are forced out, and Dard's brother is killed, but not before entrusting his secret to Dard. Dard and his very young niece must escape in the snow, but fortunately they are able to rendezvous with a representative of the one remaining settlement of Scientists.

It turns out the Scientists are building a starship. Dard's brother's secret is one of the last bits of information they need. Rather implausibly, Dard, despite his youth and unfamiliarity, is allowed to go on a dangerous mission to the bad guys' city to gather the last bit of information before the starship can launch. And so the first half of the novel ends with a last-second escape.

The second half occurs centuries later, when the starship at last arrives at a new planet, and it covers, rather less interestingly, their arrival and discoveries on this planet, which turns out to have a history in some ways reminiscent of Earth's.

I really don't think this is one of Norton's better efforts. The two part structure is not dramatically successful -- it's much more two linked stories than a single novel. Even granting that it's a 50s novel, some of the science is just too silly for me; and the action is just not very convincing.

(Cover by Earle Bergey)
Just recently at Black Gate John O'Neill featured the 1983 Ace Omnibus edition of Sam Merwin, Jr.'s The House of Many Worlds, which combines that short novel with its sequel, Three Faces of Time, as a Vintage Treasures feature. I told John that I'd enjoyed "The House of Many Worlds" in its Startling Stories appearance, but that I hadn't read the sequel. But I lied -- I had, in this Ace Double edition, which I'd completely forgotten.

(Cover by Walter Popp)
Sam Merwin, Jr. (1910-1996) was a relatively forgettable writer, but a significant and underappreciated editor in the SF field, particularly for his time at Startling Stories and its sister magazine Thrilling Wonder Stories, from 1945 through 1951. He also edited for brief periods Fantastic Universe and Satellite Science Fiction, among other publications. And his father was a fairly accomplished writer and editor as well, and I reviewed his novel The Road to Frontenac a while back on this blog, here.

Three Faces of Time is a sequel to a short novel called The House of Many Worlds, which I read a few months ago [as I first wrote this review]. The House of Many Worlds appeared, apparently in full, in Startling Stories for September 1951. The two stories have been collected together as The House of Many Worlds (Ace, 1983). I rather enjoyed The House of Many Worlds -- it's a parallel worlds story in which Elspeth Marriner and Mack Fraser, a magazine writer and photographer respectively, stumble into a mysterious organization that travels between multiple parallel worlds, trying to maintain peace. Elspeth and Mack (who turn out not to be from our world, in a classic trick of Parallel Worlds novels) enter a world slightly "behind" ours and theirs in development, and forestall danger from a more evil set of parallel world types.

The fact that I mildly enjoyed The House of Many Worlds is one reason I read this Ace Double, not otherwise of too much interest. I figured the sequel was worth a look. But it turns out to be a much lesser novel, much sillier, less interesting all around.
(Cover by Ed Valigursky)

To begin with, I just couldn't get over the stupidity of the main setup. A space cloud of some sort has retarded development on a newly discovered world, so that it is only at the level of First Century Rome. OK, I don't have a problem with that. BUT, somehow, this version of "First Century Rome", even though it's REALLY 20th Century, just technologically behind, somehow has the exact same set of historical personages as our history. Vespasian is the dying Emperor, Titus his successor, Berenice Agrippina is Titus's lover, Domitian is Titus's ambitious younger brother, Pliny the Elder is the "Resident Watcher". Also, it's the equivalent of 79 AD, a pretty important date for a certain nearby volcano ...

Elspeth, because of her classical education, is sent to this version of Rome to study the culture -- things like figuring out if anyone's school of Latin pronunciation was right. She's also to ferret out any suspicious anachronisms that might point to other bad guys from the "present day" operating. Sure enough, a slimy guy who is putting the moves on her drops in a few references to modern devices, and she ends up submitting to his advances (despite him being a little, er, short in a certain department, as Merwin allows a slave girl to rather frankly hint) in order to get clues. She also meets up with a hidden army her group has on hand, and learns that another parallel world, this one 2000 years in advance of our time, is fooling around in this Ancient world -- apparently to replenish their supply of uranium, which they have exhausted in blowing up their own world. This other world is a matriarchy -- leading inevitably to Elspeth meeting up with Mack again, who makes her jealous because he has (in the line of duty, of course) attracted the attentions of the beautiful redheaded Amazon leader of this "future" world. But this Amazon has better ideas still -- she hopes to seduce the Emperor-to-be, Titus, and take over the Ancient Rome world, as a springboard to a Parallel Worlds Empire.

So, it's up to Elspeth and Mack to save the day, complete with a trip to the Silesian woods, a trip inside Mt. Vesuvius, and a somewhat abrupt, unconvincing, and unsatisfying ending. Really a slapdash piece of work all around.


  1. This and John's Black Gate piece dovetail nicely. Thanks.

  2. Ah, well. I've gotten the sense of Merwin's writing that he rarely felt he had the luxury of doing it Right so much as Tuesday, so this is what can result. Meanwhile, his tenure at MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE was almost as important, at least in terms of what young/new talent he fostered, as what he was able to do at the Thrilling Group in the latter '40s.

  3. Even though I read THOMW recently I managed to miss that there was a sequel. However, after reading your comments I think it has slipped to the very bottom of the read pile!
    FWIW, magazine version of THOMW is ~48,000 words, (Doubleday) book is 59,0000–looks like a uniform expansion.