Wednesday, June 27, 2018

A Mercifully Forgotten SF Novel: Invaders from Rigel, by Fletcher Pratt

A Mercifully Forgotten SF Novel: Invaders from Rigel, by Fletcher Pratt 

At one time I wondered if it would make sense to compile a list of elephant-like intelligent aliens in SF stories.  This was about when Mike Resnick published "The Elephants on Neptune" (which I hated).  There are those beasties in Niven&Pournelle's Footfall, which I've never been able to read.   And there are the mammoths in Stephen Baxter's awful Silverhair and sequels. Weren't there intelligent elephants in Silverberg's Downward to the Earth (at least I thought that was pretty good)?

Any others?

So, the record of elephants in SF is maybe not so great, eh? And perhaps the WORST of all SF elephant stories is Fletcher Pratt's Invaders from Rigel, which I read and reviewed about the same time as Resnick's story appeared.  I bought the book used a long time ago, in part because of Pratt's reputation (mainly, perhaps, derived from his de Camp collaborations). Danger signs, however, were immediately apparent.  The book was published in 1960, and Pratt died in 1956.  It was published by the salvage imprint Airmont, famous for publishing some dreadful stuff, though also some of de Camp's Krishna stories. 

At first I thought it a late novel by Pratt, but that is only because the book came out in 1960.  However, it was first published as "The Onslaught from Rigel", in Wonder Stories Quarterly, Winter 1931. It was reprinted in a 1950 edition of Wonder Story Annual which I assume was a reprint publication featuring backlist stuff from Wonder Stories.

I thought Pratt was a good writer.  I thought that because of his de Camp collaborations.  I am also told that later stuff like Double Jeopardy and especially The Well of the Unicorn is OK.  Well maybe.  But when he wrote for the pulps in the '30s he was irredeemably awful.  I had earlier read Alien Planet, first published as "A Voice Across the Years" in the Winter 1932 Amazing Stories Quarterly, listed there as a collaboration with I. M. Stephens (who was his wife, Inga Stephens Pratt, a quite significant illustrator).  Inexplicably, Ace reprinted this book as late as 1973.  That book was awful, though oddly ambitious in being a rather satirical look at humans and their politics.  Ham-handedly satirical, mind you, but at least it sort of tried.  Invaders from Rigel doesn't even try anything so daring.

The story opens with one Murray Lee waking in his New York Penthouse. He soon realizes he is all metal.  His roommate is as well.  They tromp about the city for a bit, finding a few more live metal people, and many dead ones.  This doesn't seem to bother them much.  Before long alien birdlike creatures are attacking, and some people are carried away by the birds.  It turns out that a comet just crashed with the Earth.  That must have turned everybody to metal.  Jokes are made about how they like to drink motor oil now, and their "food" is electric current.  But the birds are a problem: they seem to be intelligent and malevolent.  After trying to activate a destroyer, they are discovered by some Australians, who have not been turned to metal, though their blood has cobalt instead of iron now, so they are colored blue.  The metal Americans join with the Australians to fight the bird menace, but it soon turns out that the real menace is a race of elephant-beings from Rigel, who are using the metal men, as well as metal apes, as slaves to harvest "pure light" from the core of the Earth.


The humans start to fight the Rigellians, but the aliens have a "pure light" weapon.  Then a new character is introduced: a pilot who was captured by the elephants.  He managed to escape (his ordeal is given several chapters), carrying the knowledge that lead blocks the alien super ray.  Yeah.  The novel concludes with a number of chapters of arms escalation, as the humans invent anti-gravity (because gravity is just like electricity, and so basically, as described, antigravity can be produced by ionization).   Pointless to continue.  By the end, the elephants have been vanquished (whoda thunk it?), and the metal people returned to normal.  Also, there are a couple of totally unconvincing and uninvolving love affairs.

Oh, and most of the world's population is dead, and nobody really cares.

A couple of quotes which struck me particularly:

"I've got it, folks!" he cried.  "A gravity beam!"

[chapter break, natch!]

"A gravity beam!" they ejaculated together, in tones ranging from incredulity to simple puzzlement.

"What's that?"

"Well, it'll take a bit of explaining but I'll drop out the technical part of it." [I'll bet you will!]

[some blather about how light and matter and electricity and gravity are all the same.  Einstein said so, right!]


"What was it in chemical atoms [as opposed to the other kind, I guess] that was weight? It's the positive charge, isn't it? ... Now if we can just find some way to pull some negative charges loose ..."

See?  Antigravity by ionisation!  If we only knew!

Later on one of the metal women is trapped with one of the metal men in a prison.  They are a couple of cages away.  He needs a safety pin, and she has one.  So: "She swung with that underarm motion that is the nearest any woman can come to a throw."  !  Let's tell Dot Richardson!

Oh, well, silly to complain further, or at all really.  I'm sure Platt wrote this in about two days.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

A Forgotten Ace Double: The Nemesis from Terra, by Leigh Brackett/Collision Course, by Robert Silverberg

Ace Double Reviews, 55: The Nemesis from Terra, by Leigh Brackett/Collision Course, by Robert Silverberg (#F-123, 1961, $0.40)

Here's an Ace Double consisting of two all but forgotten books -- by two writers who are anything but forgotten! I've written about both Brackett and Silverberg before, so I'll just jump right into discussing the books.
(Covers by Ed Valigursky and Ed Emshwiller)

The Nemesis from Terra is about 42,000 words long. It is the same story as "Shadow Over Mars", from the Fall 1944 Startling Stories. I haven't seen that magazine (and I don't think the story has otherwise been reprinted, except perhaps in the recent Haffner Press collection of early Brackett). So I don't know if the Ace Double version is expanded or otherwise changed.

It's set on a Mars uneasily shared by human colonists and Martians. There is a nascent movement among the Martians for rebellion. The humans, meanwhile, are increasingly controlled by the "Company", and the notional government, which is supposed to support Martian as well as human interests, seems powerless. Rick, the hero, is being chased by Company goons as the story opens -- they will put him to work in the mines. But first he encounters an ancient Martian woman, who sees Rick's "shadow over Mars". Rick then kills her (admittedly in self-defense), making him an enemy to Martians.

(Cover by Earle Bergey)
Finally captured, he goes to work in the mines. But he manages an escape, and links up with the beautiful Mayo McCall, who has been working with a Martian-rights group. He makes another enemy, too, in the Company thug Jaffa Storm. Mayo and he escape and encounter another Martian race, a winged race. Mayo urges him to join the Martian-rights effort, but Rick is more interested in revenge.

Rick is captured by the Martians, including their boy King, and he is punished for his earlier murder. But a Martian rebellion fails utterly. Rick then gains influence, and begins to rally Martians and oppressed humans to his side. Meanwhile Jaffa Storm has murdered his way to the top of the Company, and he has also captured Mayo McCall. Rick's rebellion is successful, but he is again betrayed, and his destiny is resolved in a journey to the North Pole home of the Martian "Thinkers", where Jaffa Storm has fled with Mayo McCall.

It's decent work, early Brackett in more of a tough and cynical mode than the poetic mode she later found. It's interesting, too, in its realpolitik take on the Martian rebellion, and on Rick's ultimate place in civilized society. It's not quite clear that it fits at all well into Brackett's eventual semi-coherent Martian "mythos" -- many of the names of cities are familiar, but the general shape of things doesn't seem to jibe with, say, The Sword of Rhiannon. (Not that this is really a problem.)

Collision Course is about 47,000 words long. It is expanded from a novella in the July 1959 Amazing. The novel was first published in hardcover by the low end firm Thomas Bouregy, in 1961. Presumably this text is unchanged from the hardcover, as the cover says "Complete & Unabridged".

(Cover by Albert Nuetzell)
The Earth of several hundred years in the future is ruled by a technocratic oligarchy. Humans have expanded into space, using STL ships to reach new worlds, and matter transmitters for instantaneous travel to already discovered places. The Technarch McKenzie, one of the thirteen-member ruling council, has sponsored an FTL project which has finally borne fruit. But the first FTL ship returns with shocking news: the planet they have discovered is already occupied by aliens of a similar level of development.

The Technarch immediately decides to send a group of experts to negotiate with the aliens -- the first intelligent aliens to be discovered. They have orders to divvy up the galaxy fairly. This small group is nominally led by Dr. Martin Bernard, an expert on Sociometrics, and it includes one of his chief rivals, the New Puritan Thomas Havig. The trip out to the new planet is occupied with a certain amount of bickering between the members of the negotiating team.

But once on the planet, after some good work in setting up communication with the apparently very hierarchical aliens, the team hits a deadlock. The aliens chiefs refuse to negotiate, and claim all the galaxy (except for the small portion occupied by humans) for themselves. It seems war is inevitable. But the journey home is interrupted by something completely unexpected -- something which changes the view of the universe for both the humans and the aliens.

This is Silverberg in a very earnest mood, dealing with some fairly serious issues. However, the story doesn't really live up to its potential. It's rather slow paced, the characters are not quite believable, the story itself is just not interesting enough. I would characterize it (in retrospect!) as the work of an author who was determined to do more serious work, but who was not yet up to it.

Birthday Review: Atonement, by Ian McEwan

Birthday Review: Atonement, by Ian McEwan

a review by Rich Horton

Ian McEwan was born on 21 June 1948, so in honor of his 70th birthday, I am resurrecting this piece I wrote for my newsgroup long ago, on his best-known novel.

Ian McEwan is one of the most highly-regarded novelists working today, and with damn good reason. I first encountered him, oddly enough, in the pages of Ted White's Fantastic, back in the mid-70s, with a story called "Solid Geometry". That was a very odd and quite excellent story, and McEwan's name stuck in my mind. So I later read his first story collection, First Love, Last Rites, very fine work. I kind of lost touch for a while, though I noticed that he was beginning to be widely praised. I did eventually read his creepy and scary first novel, The Cement Garden, about a nearly feral set of siblings living alone in a decaying neighborhood. That novel, along with the stories in First Love, Last Rites, and later works like The Child in Time (about the kidnapping of a three year old) gave him a reputation as sort of a contemporary psychological horror writer, a reputation which it seems to me slightly retarded his overall recognition. (That is to say, he was highly praised, but often with a sort of caveat, suggesting that he relied a lot on shock for his effects. Or so it seemed to me.) But eventually he seemed to have become established as a contender for "Best Contemporary British Writer". He's been nominated four times for the Booker (or Man Booker) Prize, and he won once for a very short novel, Amsterdam (possibly the slightest of his short listed novels). Atonement was short listed for the 2001 prize, but it lost to Peter Carey's The True History of the Kelly Gang.

Atonement is an outstanding novel. (Much better than Amsterdam, which is fine but as I said slight.) It is the story of one day in the life of 13 year old Briony Tallis, and the terrible crime she commits, and her eventual attempt at "atonement". Briony is an aspiring writer (and, we are aware from the start, she will eventually be a very highly regarded novelist), and she is planning to present a play for her beloved older brother Leon, visiting from London, on this day in 1935. The first half of the book presents the events of that day through the intertwined perceptions of several people: Briony; her older sister Cecilia, who has just finished at Cambridge; their charlady's son, Robbie, who has also finished at Cambridge and will be trying for medical school (sponsored by Mr. Tallis); and Briony's mother Emily Tallis, an invalid whose husband stays away and is clearly cheating on her. The other key characters are the Quinceys: 15 year old Lola and 9 year old twin boys Jackson and Pierrot, who have come to stay with the Tallises while their parents (Emily's sister and her husband) go through a divorce.

Briony recruits her cousins to act in her play but they seem ready to ruin it. Robbie and Cecilia, long friends from having grown up together, begin to discover a deeper attraction. The amiable Leon shows up with his crude and rich friend Paul Marshall. Dinner ends suddenly with the young boys running away, and a terrible event while searching for them is compounded by Briony's "crime", which I won't reveal but is truly wrenching, truly a "crime", but in a way understandable.

The novel then jumps forward 5 years to the beginning of the War, specifically the retreat from Dunkirk, and the effects of Briony's crime are revealed. Briony herself begins to try to atone ... Finally, in 1999 the aging Briony, a lionized novelist, reflects on her secrets, and on her final attempt at atonement.

It's really excellent stuff -- terribly wrenching, also sweetly moving, quite exciting. The view of the events at Dunkirk is a very effective. Briony, Robbie, and Cecilia are captured with exactness and honesty. The prose is very fine, very balanced and elegant. The real thing.

It has since, of course, been made into a very well-received movie, starring Keira Knightley and James McAvoy. I did like the film. I will note that a film based on his short novel On Chesil Beach (which I thought pretty good) is due this year.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Ace Double Reviews, 5: Alpha Centauri - Or Die!, by Leigh Brackett/Legend of Lost Earth, by G. McDonald Wallis

Ace Double Reviews, 5: Alpha Centauri - Or Die!, by Leigh Brackett/Legend of Lost Earth, by G. McDonald Wallis (#F-187, 1963, $0.40)

Geraldine McDonald Wallis was born June 17, 1925. As far as I can determine, she is still alive (though that's hardly a definitive statement). She would be 93. In honor of her birthday, I'm reposting a review of one of her two Ace Doubles. I hated the other one (The Light of Lilith), but this one is a bit better.

Often in researching the history of these stories I find unexpected stuff. The surprise this time was when I looked up Wallis. G. McDonald Wallis's full name was Geraldine June McDonald Wallis (b. 1925). She published one other Ace Double, The Light of Lilith (1961), backed with Damon Knight's The Sun Saboteurs, (aka "The Earth Quarter", and one of Knight's greatest novellas). As far as the ISFDB knows, that's all she published. Not much of interest there, but the Locus Index revealed an interesting addition to her bibliography. As Hope Campbell, she published a Young Adult ghost story/detective story called Looking for Hamlet in 1987. Hope Campbell, it turns out, has quite an extensive career as a Young Adult author. Other titles include Liza (1965), Home to Hawaii (1967), Why Not Join the Giraffes? (1969), Meanwhile, Back at the Castle (1970), and several more. Her publisher even reprinted Legend of Lost Earth under the Hope Campbell name in 1977. (A Hope Campbell also had a story in Dime Detective Magazine in 1948, and several other stories earlier in the '40s in the romance pulps, but I don't know if that would be the same person. Maybe, but maybe not, as the first of those romance stories would have appeared when she was about 17.) Many of her books would presumably have been available to me when I was a young adult myself, but I admit I never heard of her. (According to her bio in front of this book, she was raised in "Hawaii and the Orient", and was an actress in radio, TV, and summer stock.)

(Covers by Richard Powers and Jack Gaughan)
Anyway, to the book at hand. Leigh Brackett is by far the more famous author, in SF circles at least. Alpha Centauri - Or Die! is a fixup of two novellas from Planet Stories, "The Ark of Mars" (September 1953) and "Teleportress of Alpha C" (Winter 1955 -- the ante-penultimate issue of that great pulp). Comparing my copies of "The Ark of Mars" and "Teleportress of Alpha C" with the  Alpha Centauri - Or Die! suggests that the novel version is slightly expanded. It totals about 40,000 words. Lost Legend of Earth is about 45,000 words long.

Alpha Centauri - Or Die! is not one of Brackett's best novels. One problem is that it is fairly straightforward science fiction, without the frisson of Dunsany-esque fantastical imagery that so drives her best work. (Though there is a High Martian woman on hand. Also, one should note that Brackett did some fine work in the pure SF idiom, such as The Big Jump and The Long Tomorrow.)
(Cover by Kelly Freas)
(Cover by Kelly Freas)

This novel opens on Mars, in a future dominated by Williamsonian robots. These robots have taken over dangerous jobs such as space travel, for reasons of safety and to prevent war. Apparently humans are restricted in other ways as well. A band of humans, led by former pilot Kirby and his Martian wife Shari, refurbish an old ship, the Lucy B. Davenport, and plan an escape to Alpha Centauri. They get away, but soon they have to fight off a robot ship that chases them down. Years later, they reach Alpha Centauri, and they find an inhabitable planet. But the planet is occupied by creatures with teleporting powers. Can they make accommodation with these creatures? And can they fend off the Robot ship that has followed?

Mediocre stuff, really, though Brackett is never unreadable, and I did enjoy the book.

Legend of Lost Earth is actually a rather interesting book, though it takes an anti-technological view that I found annoying. Giles Cuchlainn is a young man on the planet Niflhel. This is a harsh planet, with little water, no plant life to speak of, industrial mills spewing soot into the air, a red sun invisible behind the soot and clouds. Doctrine holds that there are no other planets, and that men originated on Niflhel. Giles holds to this doctrine, but one night he attends a meeting of Earth Worshippers, who believe in a lovely green planet called Earth, the true home of men. There he meets an intriguing young woman, testing his loyalty to his longtime lover.

Soon he is recruited to spy on the Earth Worshippers, but his loyalty is thing. He attends another meeting and learns the story of how humans fled a destroyed Earth, ending up at Niflhel. He decides to save the Earth Worshippers from persecution, and then mysteriously finds himself on Earth. The ending is curious and rather mystical. To some extent the final surprise is predictable, but Wallis makes some unusual use of her revelations. She also incorporates some Celtic mythology It's not a great book, but it is interesting and somewhat original.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Ace Double Reviews, 67: The Pirates of Zan, by Murray Leinster/The Mutant Weapon, by Murray Leinster

Ace Double Reviews, 67: The Pirates of Zan, by Murray Leinster/The Mutant Weapon, by Murray Leinster (#D-403, 1959, $0.35, reissued as #66525, 1971, $0.95)

William F. Jenkins (better known in the SF field as Murray Leinster) was born on June 16, 1896, and died in 1975, just short of his 79th birthday. He was an extremely respected SF writer, known as the Dean of Science Fiction, and a Hugo winner. He wrote successfully in many other fields, and was also the inventor of the front projection process used in creating special effects. In honor of his birthday, I am reposting this review of one of his best known novels, backed with a less well known novel.

The longer and better known of these novels, The Pirates of Zan, was first published in Astounding, February through April, 1959, under the title "The Pirates of Ersatz". The cover of the February issue is perhaps one of the more famous Astounding covers. It's by Kelly Freas and shows a space pirate with a slide rule instead of a dagger in his teeth.

(Cover by Kelly Freas)
The Emshwiller cover for the 1959 Ace edition is not bad. The 1971 cover (by Dean Ellis, I think) is by comparison a grave disappointment. The serial version and the book version are almost the same -- there are small wording changes throughout, which I assume are due to different editing between John W. Campbell and Donald A. Wollheim. The serial version is a bit better.

(Cover by Dean Ellis?)
The shorter novel is also an Astounding story. It was first published as "Med Service" in the August 1957 issue. It is of course one of Leinster's series of stories often called "Med Service", featuring a galactic medical organization that visits and aids colony planets with medical problems. The idea may owe much to the "René Lafayette" (L. Ron Hubbard) "Ole Doc Methusaleh" stories of a decade or so earlier, but Leinster's treatment is much preferable to Lafayette's: the Ole Doc Methusaleh stories are dreadfully executed as well as offensive.

"Med Service" the novella is about 22,000 words. The novel version (The Mutant Weapon) is quite a bit longer, at 34,000 words. It adds a couple of chapters at the end, going into much more detail about the motivations of the chief villain of the piece. I thought the story better at the shorter length.
(Covers by ? and Ed Emshwiller)

The Pirates of Zan is really fairly minor stuff. It seems intended to be humourous, and it is much of the time, though some is just crank-turning. Our hero is a native of a pirate planet, but he wants to live an ordinary life, so he travels to a rich, settled, planet and sets up as a EE. But when his radical brilliant new power plant design is rejected, and he ends up accused of murder (for weird reasons that never make sense), he finds himself on the run. He ends up on a backward planet, and once again runs afoul of the local customs, after rescuing a beautiful girl from an abduction attempt. Upon escaping, he kidnaps a few of the locals and sets up as a pirate, but a completely non-violent one. He works an unconvincing scheme to use the threat of piracy to manipulate shipping and insurance stocks so that he can make enough money to a) pay off the locals who have become his crew, b) repay the people he pirated, c) set up a defrauded group of colonists on a new planet, and d) get rich enough himself to marry his girl back on the first planet he went to. Of course, he succeeds wildly, except for coming to realize that his ersatz piracy is vital to civilization, both for economic reasons and for romantic reasons, so he's stuck being a pirate, and also except for realizing (big surprise!) that his first girl is a boring spoiled brat but that he really loves the girl he rescued on his second planet. It's rather rambling, and it really doesn't convince, but it does pass the time pleasantly. It should be noted that it was nominated for the Best Novel Hugo.

The Mutant Weapon is probably intended a bit more seriously. The Med Service man Calhoun, hero of the overall series of Med Service stories, comes to a planet which is about ready for full colonization, intending to give it a basic inspection. It seems that the Med Service is the main organization keeping civilization together -- the Galaxy is too big, travel times too great, for a true interstellar government. When he arrives he is shocked to be attacked (by manipulation of the spaceship landing grid). He manages to escape and land in an isolated area. He and his alien pet/testbed Murgatroyd make their way towards the main city. He discovers a man who seems to have died from starvation, amidst what seems to be plenty of food. He is attacked by a nearly starving young woman, but convinces her he's not from the bad guys who have taken over the planet.

He learns that the original advance colonization team has almost all died from this mysterious plague. It seems that a scheme is afoot to take over this brand new planet by killing off the rightful owners with the plague, while the new colonists will be immunized. Calhoun must first discover the nature of the plague and why it was so difficult to diagnose (the answer seems reasonably clever though I am not a doctor), and then safely dislodge the bad guys from the planet, in such a way as to discourage their soon arriving large group of colonists from trying to finish the job. The novel version adds some extended stuff about the motivation and character of the evil genius who devised the plague.

It's not a great story, but it's OK. As I say above, I think it's better suited to a length of around 20,000 words than to the longer Ace Double length.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Old Bestseller Review: Invitation to Live, by Lloyd C. Douglas

Old Bestseller Review: Invitation to Live, by Lloyd C. Douglas

a review by Rich Horton

Lloyd C. Douglas was indisputably one of the bestselling authors of the 20th Century. His best-known novel, The Robe (1942), was, according to Publishers' Weekly, the bestselling novel of 1943, and also of 1953 (the year in which the film, starring Richard Burton, was released); and it was also the 7th bestselling novel of 1942, and the second bestselling novel of both 1944 and 1945. The Big Fisherman, a loose sequel to The Robe, and Douglas' last novel, was the bestselling novel of 1948, and Green Light was the bestselling novel of 1935. His novels Disputed Passage, White Banners, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, and Magnificent Obsession (his first novel) also appeared on the PW lists of the top ten bestselling novels of the year. (The novel at hand, Invitation to Live, did not!)

Lloyd Cassel Douglas was born in Indiana in 1877 as Doya C. Douglas. (I don't know when or why he changed his name.) His father was a Lutheran Minister, and like many PKs (preacher's kids) he moved around a fair amount as a child. He was himself ordained a Minister in 1903, and served as a Pastor of Lutheran churches and later Congregational churches in a variety of places (including at the University of Illinois, my own alma mater), making his way to Los Angeles and finally to Montreal (which means he qualifies as a Canadian writer! Yay, more Canlit!) In 1927 he retired from the pulpit to write. He died in 1951, having published nine novels, a memoir, and a book derived from a journal mentioned in Magnificent Obsession. Besides The Robe, at least three other novels (White Banners, Magnificent Obsession (twice), and The Big Fisherman) became movies. For all this success, he seems largely forgotten these days, though at least The Robe and Magnificent Obsession (perhaps aided by the films) do seem to have some remaining reputation.

Douglas was a very distinctly Christian writer, didactically so. Invitation to Live is certainly an example. It was published in 1940. My edition is a wartime reprint from Grosset and Dunlap, complete with notice assuring us that while it is published in accordance with regulations to conserve paper it is complete and unabridged.

The novel opens with Barbara Breckenridge, just about to graduate from college, receiving a generous legacy from her grandmother, with one stipulation -- that she attend Trinity Cathedral, in Chicago (she lives in New York), the weekend after her graduation, alone. Barbara, a bit uncertainly, does so, and is particularly impressed with the sermon, given by Dean Harcourt, the wheelchair-bound pastor. She feels compelled to meet with the Dean, and ends up discussing her fears that no one really knows her or likes her -- they are all friendly to her only because of her money. The Dean ends up suggesting that the money is a handicap, and that she head somewhere dressed unmodishly, find work, and see if she can make real friends. And Barbara decides to do so, and ends up at a department store, buying cheap clothes from a brassy young woman. Somehow they click, and when Barbara notes the other woman, Sally's, remarkable ability as a mimic, she suggests that Sally take her place doing summer stock in Provincetown. And indeed, so it goes -- Barbara heads west and ends up on a farm in Nebraska, and Sally goes to Provincetown where she is (rather implausibly) almost immediately discovered by a Hollywood agent and whisked off to make a film.

Suddenly the novel shifts gears, and we meet Lee Richardson, working at his Uncle's bank in Southern California. We gather immediately that he hates banking -- he wants to be an artist -- and he also hates his bossy Aunt's plans for his life, which include taking over the bank, and marrying the suitable yet boring young woman she has chosen for him. He is presented with an unexpected opportunity to escape when a flood washes out the bridge his car is crossing, and he barely survives. Letting his family assume he is dead, he takes another name and ends up in Chicago, learning to be an artist. But, somewhat discontented, he too ends up at Dean Harcourt's church -- and the Dean sends him to Barbara's farm in Nebraska, telling him to paint pictures of farm life. When he meets Barbara, we aren't surprised that sparks fly ...

And the novel moves on to Sally, in Hollywood, as she makes a successful film -- and also makes enemies with her selfish and spendthrift behavior. Sally too, it is clear, needs the Dean's help to set her moral life on a better path. But the Dean thinks Sally is Barbara's responsibility ... and this all ends up enmeshing Lee (now called Larry) in the whole thing. And the next chapter introduces yet another character -- Katherine, a regular attendee of the Dean's church, who is wasting her life by letting her family oppress her. In particular, when she meets a promising young man, her lazy but pretty sister immediately jumps in ... So the Dean involves her as well in the lives of Barbara and Lee/Larry and Sally ...

Well, the overall arc is fairly clear -- the Dean's ways will eventually set everyone's lives on better, Christian, paths. (His Christianity, I should note, is a very mainline Protestant, works-based, theologically thin, sort.) The Dean has assembled quite a stable of acolytes, people he has helped over the years, and Barbara, Lee, Sally, and Katherine are primed to join this stable.

It's all fairly obviously didactic and a bit moralistic; and fairly implausible in its working out. Even so, I enjoyed long stretches of it. The characters are certainly no more than two-dimensional, but their struggles do engage the readers' interest. The plot twists and turns may be sort of obvious, but they are still intriguing. The romance of Barbara and Lee/Larry is worth rooting for. Unfortunately, Douglas seemed to lose interest once he had the ending all arranged, and the book just kind of peters out in the last chapter. Certainly this is far from a great book -- and indeed it's easy to see why this was one of the few Douglas books not to become a major bestseller -- but it's tolerably entertaining for its relatively short length.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

An Early Anderson/Bulmer Ace Double: Star Ways by Poul Anderson/City Under the Sea, by Kenneth Bulmer

Ace Double Reviews, 72: Star Ways, by Poul Anderson/City Under the Sea, by Kenneth Bulmer (#D-255, 1957, $0.35)

(Cover by Ed Emshwiller)
Here a pairing of two of the most prolific Ace Double writers. Star Ways was Anderson's third novel to be written but only about the sixth to get into print. It's about 50,000 words long. City Under the Sea is probably one of Bulmer's best SF novels. Though Bulmer and Anderson began publishing novels at about the same time (1952), and though Anderson is certainly regarded as prolific, Bulmer was far more prolific, and by the ISFDB's count (probably not quite complete) this was his 16th SF novel. Both writers are now dead (Anderson's dates are 1926-2002, Bulmer's 1921-2005).

Star Ways was first published in 1956 by Avalon Books in hardcover. According to Anderson, his first prospective publisher sat on it for a while, until his agent took it back and placed it with Avalon. The Avalon edition, perhaps for the YA market, trimmed some very tame sex and cut the manuscript to fit a strict word count (50,000 words). Unfortunately Anderson lost his original manuscript so the corrupt text is all we have. It's fairly clear on reading the book that cuts have been made in a couple of places. (Anderson's comments were in a brief forward to the 1978 Ace paperback reprint, where it was retitled The Peregrine. This was done so as to avoid confusion with the just released movie Star Wars, but I agree with Anderson that the new title is really somewhat better.)

(Cover by Ed Emshwiller)
It is one of his Psychotechnic League stories, though it is one of those set far in the future when humans have established a Stellar Union, in which an organization called the Coordination Service, or "Cordys", maintains the law as well as it can. James Nicoll has proposed that the Coordination Service stories are not strictly enough linked to the Psychotechnic League stories to necessarily be in the same series, and also he suggests that the FTL drives used in some clear Psychotechnic League stories are inconsistent with those used in the Cordy stories. That may be so (I can't recall enough details of the FTL drive in Psy League stories to say -- which stories might those be?), but it's pretty clear that Anderson regarded them as part of the same future. He published a chart in the Winter 1955 issue of Startling Stories (which featured "The Snows of Ganymede", one of the more obscure Psychotechnic League stories) that included "Star Ways" as an unpublished story set far in the League's future. Moreover, late stories like "Star Ways" and "The Chapter Ends" make clear references to psychologically based means of ordering society that are thematically consistent with even the earliest-set League stories.

Sandra Miesel prepared a revised version of Anderson's chart for publication in the Tor paperback collection Starship (1982), the third and oddly last in a series of books collecting the Psychotechnic League stories. (I say "oddly" last because there were enough stories to fill another book left unreprinted: "The Snows of Ganymede", "The Acolytes", "The Green Thumb", and The Peregrine. (Not to mention "Entity", an early collaboration with John Gergen which seems potentially linked to the series.) Anderson mostly abandoned this future history after 1957, which saw publication of the novella version of "Virgin Planet" as well "Marius", "Cold Victory", and "Brake". He returned for one more story in 1968, "The Pirate", which is set a few years prior to Star Ways/The Peregrine and features a major character in common.

Actually, I wrote the following on rec.arts.sf.written back in the halcyon days of Usenet, about the Psychotechnic League stories and the potentially related pieces:

We discussed this before, in 2003. It appears that at some time or other Anderson DID intend the Psychotechnic League and Coordination Service stories to be linked. But he may have fiddled with details like the FTL drive before actually publishing Star Ways and Virgin Planet, or he may not have thought through such details (though that would be unlike Anderson).

Question and Answer, one might note, was written for a Twayne Triplet (it would have been included with Isaac Asimov's "Sucker Bait"). Perhaps the constraint of writing a story based on a another man's idea caused Anderson to alter future history details. (It was also published under the title Planet of No Return.)

Here's what I wrote in 2003 (slightly updated):

I've taken a closer look, and it appears that Anderson did intend all these stories to be linked to the Psychotechnic League. There's a timeline in the back of the 1982 Tor collection Starship, written by Sandra Miesel. Which I admit I wouldn't find definitive -- perhaps unfairly, I regard Miesel's work with suspicion. Though of course Anderson would presumably have approved it. More to the point, that timeline refers to an earlier chart published in Startling StoriesWinter 1955 (which came out in late 1954). Miesel's chart includes two linked, uncollected stories: "The Green Thumb", from Science Fiction Quarterly, February 1953; and "The Acolytes" aka "The Tinkler" (Worlds Beyond, February 1951) (each reprinted once in an anthology). These are set on Nerthus, a planet mentioned in Virgin Planet. Anderson's chart, from the Winter 1955 Startling Storieswhich I have, is included with "The Snows of Ganymede". It lists the chronology of the Psychotechnic League up to the time of that story. (In that chart, that date is given as 2190, but Miesel has it as 2220, and Anderson cautions that he won't be bound by any of the dates.)

More interestingly, though, the gloss to the Startling chart lists other stories set later in the series, "already written" but not included presumably because of space and because they come after "Snows". These stories are, to quote: "The Troublemakers" (2205), "Gypsy" (2815), "Star Ship" (2875), "The Star Ways" (3120), "Entity" (3150), and "Symmetry" (3175). Thus, Star Ways is part of the series, which I would think brings in Virgin Planet and "The Pirate". (And once you have Virgin Planet, presumably you get "The Green Thumb" and "The Acolytes", though it's not clear to me having read those stories that their Nerthus must be the same as the Nerthus mentioned in Virgin Planet.)

Of the other stories mentioned, "Star Ship" (Planet Stories, Fall 1950), "The Troublemakers" (Cosmos, September 1953), and "Gypsy" (Astounding, January 1950), were all collected in the Tor series of Psychotechnic League books. Star Ways was of course published by Ace, and reissued in 1978 as The Peregrine. (Anderson's intro to the latter says the title change was in order to avoid seeming to capitalize on Star Wars, and that the book was severely cut for its first Ace Double appearance, but couldn't be restored, and that "is part of a "future history" which I subsequently abandoned".)

Also interesting, then, is "Entity", which is a collaboration with one John Gergen published in the June 1949 Astounding. This is a story about an exploring ship encountering a strange black sphere on another planet. I'm not sure what the connection to the rest of the series is, except for the briefest hint that the ship might be part of the Coordination Service, though that exact phrase is not used.

And, finally, "Symmetry" was actually published more or less simultaneously with "The Snows of Ganymede" in the December 1954 Fantastic Universe as "The Stranger Was Himself". It was collected by Anderson in his 1989 book Space Folk, as "Symmetry". I haven't read it.

(Cover by Michael Whelan)
"Star Ways" is set mostly on a starship, the Peregrine, of the Nomad people, a gypsy-like group that lives just outside the influence of the Stellar Union. There are a couple of dozen Nomad ships, each of which travels from world to world offering goods in trade, occasionally doing extended stints of work. They have a social organization of their own, with rules such as marriages being forbidden between members of the same ship. The Cordys regard them as a nuisance that ought to be stopped but which they haven't yet had time to deal with. As this novel opens, the captain of the Peregrine proposes an expedition into an unexplored area, where several Nomad ships as well as some alien ships have mysteriously disappeared. It is assumed that a powerful and reclusive alien race dwells there.

As the ship begins to travel into the dangerous area, there are two sources of tension. One is the new, alien, wife of a young man of the ship, who has vague near-telepathic powers. The other is Trevelyan Micah, a Coordination Service agent who has arranged to get himself captured by the Peregrine -- it seems that his assignment is to investigate both this mysterious alien race, and the Nomads' interaction with them. And in due course the Peregrine comes -- almost too easily though to be fair there is an explanation -- to a planet occupied by these aliens. (No prizes for guessing that they have already met one such!) They learn that they aliens are mostly benign but completely unwilling to coexist with humanity -- either humanity will change (more or less in the direction of Isaac Asimov's Galaxia (eccch!), or humanity will pen the aliens up and try to leave them alone. Anderson's sympathies lie pretty much with mine, and against Asimov's (at least as indicated by the way the novels in question turn out -- caveating always that authors don't always agree with their characters), so he comes up with an ambiguously positive ending. And a pretty emotionally effective ending to the personal stories at the center of the book. It's really minor stuff, no surprise for a book written so early in his career, but not without interest.

Bulmer's City Under the Sea is set in a near future in which humanity is farming the sea extensively in order to feed the teeming billions of Earth. There is conflict between the Space department, which wants to have more budget to explore the outer planets, and the Undersea department, which feels it's more important to get all of Earth under control first.
(Cover by Ed Valigursky)

A spaceman, Jeremy Dodge, turns out to have inherited an interest in an undersea farming corporation. He comes to Earth to investigate, falls immediately in love with a beautiful administrative assistant at his corporation, and then is suddenly shanghaied into an undersea work gang. The injustice of this is quite incredible, and oddly readily ignored by people who should know better. Indeed, before long Jeremy is kidnapped again, by a rival corporation, and surgically altered so that he can only live underwater, though he can do so without special equipment.

Meanwhile, the Undersea honchos are concerned with another problem. Deep sea exploration vessels are being taken by some inimical force and drawn into the deepest depths and crushed. This promises to be embarrassing at budget time.

The resolution, naturally, involves the convergence of these two threads: Jeremy, having escaped to an independent colony of water-adapted humans, bumps into the representatives of the government, who are planning to nuke whatever beings (intelligent sea creatures? aliens? specially adapted humans?) are living in the deeps and destroying the ships. Fortunately, Jeremy and other sane minds are able to propose negotiation first. The ending comes rather too rapidly and conveniently, but the novel is still full of rather neat ideas, and it reads well and excitingly. Nothing great, but pretty decent stuff.

Here, too, is a link to another early Poul Anderson Ace Double: War of the Wing-Men/The Snows of Ganymede

A Classic Poul Anderson Ace Double: The War of the Wing Men/The Snows of Ganymede

Ace Double Reviews, 11: War of the Wing-Men, by Poul Anderson/The Snows of Ganymede, by Poul Anderson (#D-303, 1958, $0.35)

Here's an interesting pairing of early Poul Anderson novels. One is the very first story, as far as I can tell, about the Polesotechnic League; and also the first Nicholas van Rijn story. The other is an obscure short novel about his OTHER "P" league, the Psychotechnic League. The Polesotechnic League stories are in many ways a celebration of free-market capitalism and at least a quasi-libertarian (small-l) world view. By contrast the Psychotechnic Leagues stories seem to promote a technocracy, with secret masters controlling humankind for our own good, and with psychological knowledge developed to the point that the human race can partly be cured of its maladies such as war. In this context it is interesting the that Psychotechnic League stories almost all predate the Polesotechnic League stories -- the only potential exceptions are the 1968 novelette "The Pirate", which I do not remember, and the 1959 novel Virgin Planet, which the ISFDB lists as a Psychotechnic League novel, but which seems to have at best a tenuous link to that series. (Certainly it does not foreground the technocratic themes of stories like "Un-Man".)
(Covers by Ed Emshwiller and Ed Valigursky)

It should be noted that in both series some ambiguity as to the likely virtues of the political/social systems involved creeps in.

The Polesotechnic League story, of course, is War of the Wing-Men. This is a novel of roughly 50,000 words. It was serialized in early 1958 in Astounding as "The Man Who Counts". It was reprinted as War of the Wing-Men in some later Ace editions, but in 1978 it was republished as The Man Who Counts, both in itself by Ace and as part of the big Berkley collection The Earth Book of Stormgate. So that title, not surprisingly, must have been Anderson's choice. I've done a cursory comparison of the Astounding serialization and the Ace Double printing, and they appear to be essentially identical, save a few words changed presumably by one editor or the other ("tensed" for "tautened" is one example). The Psychotechnic League story is The Snows of Ganymede. This is only some 30,000 words long, and was originally published in the Winter 1955 issue of Startling Stories. Again, I've compared the two texts and they seem to be identical.

War of the Wing-Men is set on Diomedes, a somewhat unusual planet. One of the important features include considerable size (twice the diameter of Earth) but very low density (because there are no heavy metals), leading to a combination of gravity and air pressure that makes flight possible for fairly large animals. Another key feature is an axial tilt of nearly 90 degrees, meaning that for much of the planet the sun never rises in winter and never sets in summer. The upshot is that the intelligent natives are winged, have a technology that must do without metal, and generally need to migrate seasonally.
(Cover by H. R. Van Dongen)

Nicholas van Rijn, a "merchant prince" of the Polesotechnic League, has come to Diomedes to check on his trading post there, which is run by Eric Wace. They are accompanied by Sandra Tamarin, the Crown Princess of the planet Hermes. (Need I mention that she is a tall, busty, face too strong to be beautiful, r/e/d/h/e/a/d/ er - blonde?) As the action opens the three of them are marooned on the seas of Diomedes after the sabotage of their airship, with only a few months food at most. (The proteins of Diomedan life are poisonous to humans, and vice-versa.) They have landed near a Diomedan race that lives on ships, and calls themselves the Drak-ho (sometimes, shades of Stirling, the Draka), or Fleet. The Fleet is engaged in a war with a land-based race called the Lannachska, or the Flock. Representatives of the Fleet pick up the three humans, but it soon becomes clear that they have little interest, and perhaps not the ability, to contact the human trading post to arrange for rescue. Van Rijn sizes up the situation quickly, as well as the political strife among the Drak-ho, involving an aging and respected Admiral, his foolish violent son, and his capable but lower-born Captain. Van Rijn tricks the Drak-ho into a situation which causes the humans to be kidnapped by the Lannachska.

Once among the Flock, Van Rijn begins to assist them in their to this point desperate and losing war against the Fleet, in exchange, he hopes, for help in contacting the traders' post. In so doing he demands heroic efforts from Wace, Sandra, and the Flock, and he rubs a lot of fur the wrong way among the Flock, who are unready to adjust their habits in the ways necessary to give them a chance to defeat the Fleet. He also enrages Wace, who perceives Van Rijn as a lazy glutton who does nothing but eat and boss people around. There is also a mystery to be solved concerning the key social difference between the Flock and the Fleet. The former, like humans, are always sexually ready, and form marriages and have babies all year round. The latter, like most Diomedans, only go into heat once a year, after their migration to warmer lands in winter, and all babies are born at the same time have been conceived in orgy-like situations during the winter celebration. Mothers rarely know who the fathers of their babies are, and the social structure is basically a clan, with the children raised communally. Both groups consider the other's habits truly disgusting -- one reason they are at war.

The resolution is pretty nice, involving brilliant tactics by Van Rijn, heroics by many including the "good" Captain of the Fleet, and the solution to the sexual mystery. (Other aspects of the world-building come into play nicely as well.) I wasn't wholly convinced. Van Rijn's uses of Shakespeare's St. Crispin's Day speech to rally the Flock to action seemed implausible in its effect. (I kept thinking of William Sanders's "The Undiscovered", where William Shakespeare writes Hamlet while marooned among American Indians, and they just don't get what he's trying to do. If other humans won't "get" Shakespeare, why would these aliens?) In general the success of Van Rijn's schemes seemed to be a result of quite remarkable luck half the time -- but that's par for the course in many an adventure novel. And the lecture at the end of the novel, about who the man is who really "counts": the engineer/hard worker like Wace or the leader/schemer like Van Rijn, seemed to ram home a point already well enough made. But overall this is a good solid novel, a fun read with some clever SFnal worldbuilding well integrated with the plot.

(Cover by Ed Valigursky)
The Snows of Ganymede is a quite obscure Anderson "novel". As far as I know its only two appearances are in this Ace Double and in the Startling Stories issue where it first appeared. [This was true when I first wrote this review -- since then it has been reprinted in ebook form by Gateway/Orion, and in the NESFA collection A Bicycle Built For Brew, and just now in the Baen collection The Complete Psychotechnic League Volume 2.) One might suppose that Anderson repudiated some of the politics behind the Psychotechnic League stories, but the rest of them were reprinted in the rush of late 70s and early 80s Anderson reissues, for Ace and Tor. These include the novels The Peregrine (aka Star Ways) and Virgin Planet, and the stories in the collections Cold Victory, Starship, and The Psychotechnic League. Perhaps Anderson was simply not very pleased with the quality of the story, though I must say I found it adequate, if hardly very good.

The story opens with three men, including Hall Davenant, trudging across the surface of Ganymede, trying to find refuge before their oxygen runs out. We then flash back to the beginning of their project -- Hall Davenant is an Engineer of the Order of Planetary Engineers, engaged in a project to terraform Ganymede. The Order is an apolitical organization, hiring its services to whatever entity will pay them. It is also oddly monkish in its setup -- people are chosen as members young, and seem wholly educated and housed within the Order until several years into their career. The terraforming project is controversial, because Ganymede is independent of the inner Solar System, and it is controlled by a renegade group of racists from the former White American Party. Ganymedan society is stratified along quasi-genetic lines. But Hall and his fellows are informed that the Order must take this job, partly for the needed experience, and partly to demonstrate that they are above politics.

Once on Ganymede, the Engineer team soon learns that strange things are going on. Their rooms are bugged, the thuggish rulers seem uncertain that they want to allow the project to continue, and then there is the spooky religious service that Hall witnesses, culminating in the assassination of one leader. Furthermore, there is something strange about the Angels, priests who share power with the rulers (called "Cincs"). Before long the Engineers are arrested on trumped up charges, leading to a desperate escape and the three men walking across Ganymede's snows.

The ending involves discovering a renegade group on the Jovian moon, and a jury-rigged spaceship taking over mysterious abandoned orbiting ship. And Hall must decide whether he can truly remain above politics. Naturally, there is a final revelation about the true purpose of the Order of Planetary Engineers.

It's not a bad story qua story, though it's not particularly great either. The science seems a bit shaky in spots, but not bad for the 50s. Certainly there is some silliness to the political setup, but nothing unusual for SF of any era, really. A minor book, but one that I think Anderson completists, at least, would want to read.

I also just posted a review of another early Anderson Ace Double, including another Psychotechnic League novel, and some discussion of the whole Pychotechnic League series: Star Ways/City Under the Sea

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Capsule Birthday Reviews: A Plague of Demons and Worlds of the Imperium, by Keith Laumer

Capsule Birthday Reviews: A Plague of Demons and Worlds of the Imperium, by Keith Laumer

a review by Rich Horton

Today would have been Keith Laumer's 93rd birthday. I decided, then, to exhume these two capsule reviews I did on SFF.Net long ago, of the first two non-Retief Laumer books I ever read. Keith Laumer (1925-1993) was in the Army, and later the Air Force, and also in the US Foreign Service. His military and diplomatic experience was definitely reflected in his fiction. He also graduated from my alma mater, the University of Illinois. Still, while I've enjoyed some of his fiction, I've never been a huge fan. I thought the Retief stories got tedious after a few examples, and when I was first reading SF magazines I read some of Laumer's later, much lesser, work (composed after a devastating stroke, which by all accounts didn't just affect his cognition but his personality, in a quite terrifying way). Later acquaintance (as with the two novels here) proved him a solid writer of fast-moving adventure, and sometimes an interesting writer, but not a great writer.

I don't think I had ever read a Keith Laumer novel, except maybe a Retief book or two long ago, before I decided to rectify that omission a couple of decades ago. I noticed that A Plague of Demons seemed highly regarded.  I found a used copy and read it.  It's from about 1965.

It's an interesting book, not bad at all. A secret agent type is assigned to investigate the disappearance of a number of military types -- it's assumed that somebody is assembling some sort of army (shades of the Peter O'Donnell Modesty Blaise book I had read at the same time, Sabre Tooth).  It turns out things are much stranger -- with the help of a number of surgical enhancements to his brain and body, our hero is able to detect that the military types are being kidnapped by strange doglike aliens -- and that only the brains are being taken.  Soon he finds that aliens have infiltrated Earth much more widely than he thought.  Fortunately, there is a long-term secret network of humans working against all threats to humanity -- and he escapes temporarily to them.  But eventually the doggies catch up -- and things keep getting stranger.  Laumer doesn't stop short of the implications of his ideas, but keeps following them.  It's not great stuff, and it's a bit wacko at times, but it is fun.  It also fits interesting into a recent rasfw thread: "Purely Evil Races".  Laumer's conceit is that the aliens in this book indeed fit the "purely evil" mold -- and that they are fighting a war with a "purely good race".  But, says Laumer, those "good guys" are really just as inimical: humans are much better because they are a mixture of good and evil.  Bit of Manicheanism there, I suppose.

Another well-regarded early Laumer novel seems to be Worlds of the Imperium. I decided to get the issues of Fantastic, from 1961, that this novel was serialized in because Dan Goodman, on Usenet, has claimed several times that they include a brilliant section which was excised from all the book versions (though Damon Knight included the section as a standalone in the anthology A Century of Science Fiction.) Worlds of the Imperium, by the way, was first published in book form as an Ace Double, backed with one of Marion Zimmer Bradley's lesser known novels, Seven From the Stars. As it happens, I've also read the Bradley novel in its magazine appearance (another Cele Goldsmith issue, the March 1960 Amazing). I suppose I'll find a copy of the Ace Double and assemble an Ace Double review!

The novel is about Brion Bayard, an American diplomat (does Laumer write about anybody but diplomats?  there's Retief, of course, but also the hero of A Plague of Demons, and now this) who is kidnapped in Stockholm.  His kidnappers inform him that he has been taken to another timeline, and that he can never go home.  (To convince him, one of the things they show him is a strange tableau formed of a man and a plant as they change across the timelines -- it's odd and effective but quite uncharacteristic of the rest of the novel, and I guessed, correctly, I'm quite sure (based on checking a paperback copy of the novel), that that was the part Dan Goodman was talking about.)  It turns out that the timeline of the kidnappers is the only one which has mastered the ability to cross timelines -- except for one other timeline, in which a cruel dictatorship rules, and which has been sending missions with atomic bombs to try to destroy the first timeline.  And the dictator is -- that timelines version of Brion Bayard!  The kidnappers try to convince him that decency requires that he impersonate Bayard, take over the dictatorship, and stop the atomic bomb invasion.  Eventually he agrees (helped by witnessing one such invasion), and he is sent to the dictator's timeline -- only to run into an unexpected snag.  It's a fun adventure book, with a bit of twistiness, but not always at the right times.  Nothing great, but a decent read.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

A Forgotten SF Novel: The Duplicated Man, by James Blish and Robert Lowndes

A Forgotten SF Novel: The Duplicated Man, by James Blish and Robert Lowndes

a review by Rich Horton

I've written about both Blish and Lowndes before, but I am trying to finish the few Blish novels I hadn't previously read, so I picked up this slim book in its Airmont paperback edition. Airmont was the paperback arm of the low end publisher Thomas Bouregy, and this novel first appeared in hardcovers from Bouregy. It should be noted that Robert Lowndes was an editor for Thomas Bouregy/Airmont. It should also be noted that Robert Lowndes was the editor of Dynamic Science Fiction, where The Duplicated Man first appeared, in the August 1953 issue (as by Blish and "Michael Sherman".) That version was very likely the full text of the eventual book version.

I'll skip the details about the two authors -- in short, Blish is one of the field's true greats, as an author and a critic, primarily. Lowndes is a significant figure as well, primarily as an editor for Columbia Publications, and other outlets, where he always has a minimal budget and produced magazines that were better than one had any right to expect.

Blish, it should be added, was one of those writers (Michael Moorcock is another) who was truly brilliant when in top form, and who could be just awful when the material didn't engage him. And, it's sad to say, The Duplicated Man is an instance of the latter situation.

The Duplicated Man is set a few centuries in the future. Earth is under a world government of sorts, ruled by the Security Council, which was formed to prevent war. Alas, while Earth is at peace, the threat of attack from the colonists of Venus remains -- a group apparently expelled from Earth a long time before, now confined in difficult conditions on hostile Venus. They are protected from attack by an electronic screen, but they occasionally send missiles to bombard Earth.

There are parties on both planets, minority parties, favoring rapprochement with the other. Paul Danton is a functionary in the Pro-Earth Party, the group on Earth urging treaty with the Venusians. He finds himself entangled in the Byzantine politics of his party, where everyone seems poised to betray everyone else. But soon Danton is approached by the rulers of Earth, who have a use for him -- it seems he bears an uncanny resemblance to one of the key men on Venus.

We get an extended look at the Venusian ruling structure: at the top is Geoffrey Thomas, one of the original exiles to Venus, who has become immortal, at a terrible price. His deputies, particularly the devious woman Luisa, are scheming to become his successor, and to learn his secret of immortality. But he has his own plans.

Back on Earth, Danton meets Earth's rulers, and falls desperately in love with one of the women in that group, Marcia Nels. And he agrees to their plan -- to use a secret and almost lost technology of duplication, which will created multiple copies of him, to send to Venus to sow confusion. But it turns out this duplication technology is decidedly imperfect (for somewhat interesting reasons, if they had been better developed).

The novel meanders along -- hard to meander, you would think, in 128 pages -- with lots of hard to follow scheming among the governments of both planets; and an abortive war, with a fair amount of death; and, more interestingly, a kind of total mess surrounding the "duplicated man" plot, ending, a bit unconvincingly, with the revelation that the whole thing was planned by the leader of both planets with the best interests of everyone in mind. Hmmph.

There are a couple of grace notes that scream "Blish", such as the mention of Finnegans Wake (as a set text in schools, of all things!), and the mention of Spengler as well. And there are a fair number of kind of neat ideas buried in the overall tedium. Still and all, a pretty weak novel in the Blish oeuvre.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Birthday Review: Recovery Man, by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Birthday Review: Recovery Man, by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Kristine Kathryn Rusch was born on June 4, 1960, making her (like one other recent Birthday Review subject here) just a few months younger than me. So I am reposting a review I wrote for my newsgroup long ago one on of her Retrieval Artist books.

Recovery Man is the latest -- sixth novel (plus at least one shorter work) -- of Kristine Kathryn Rusch's long series of Retrieval Artist novels. These feature a Retrieval Artist named Miles Flint who works on the Moon. Humans are part of a loose alliance with various alien races. One agreement humans have signed on to as part of that alliance is that when in alien territory humans are subject to alien laws. The problem is, these laws can be absurdly draconian. Or, perhaps, appropriate to alien species, psychologies, and physiologies, but stupid when applied to humans. Much of the tension of the stories in the series comes from seeing humans subject to harsh and, by any reasonable (and human, but so what) evaluation, unfair punishment due to these alien laws. In response, many humans "Disappear" -- take on new identities. Retrieval Artists are the most overtly ethical of a variety of people who find those who have "Disappeared". In their case, these people are found for their own good -- perhaps they are no longer wanted by the aliens concerned, or perhaps they have come into a big inheritance or something.

These books have been slowly edging in the direction actively confronting this rather horrid situation. One of the problems I've had with past books is that there has not been enough acknowledgement that these rules are a problem. Another is that the books mostly display (not unreasonably) the most ridiculous alien laws -- presumably in many cases humans who violate alien laws are guilty and deserve punishment -- and the punishment they get is appropriate. But as displayed in the books, the aliens collectively are batshit crazy, and the proper response of humanity would be to have nothing to do with them. To be fair, this can be seen as a response to seeing a Retrieval Artist's cases -- which might naturally gravitate towards the (presumably few) extreme situations.

(My other problems with the series' underpinnings are twofold. Economics, for one: I can't make myself believe that the Retrieval Artist business would be quite as thriving and lucrative as portrayed. Science, for two: the details of such things as solar system travel are not well-handled -- jaunts to the outer planets are about as hard as getting in your car and travelling to Florida from St. Louis.)

As hinted above, I have had issues with most of the previous books in the series. But I keep reading. Why? Well, Rusch is an engaging writer -- the books are fast and involving reads. Miles Flint and the various other characters we meet (notably Lunar security chief Noelle De Ricci and ambitious and ethically challenged newswoman Ki Bowles) are fairly interesting to follow.

Recovery Man is a bit different from the earlier volumes. For one things, it is not primarily set on the Moon. For another thing, Noelle De Ricci and Ki Bowles are for the most part absent -- this book focuses on Miles, and on a couple of new characters. These are Rhonda Shindo and her 13 year old daughter Talia. They live on Jupiter's moon Callisto. Rhonda is kidnapped by a "recovery man", while Talia is left locked in their house. It appears that Rhonda is wanted by an alien species, the Gyonnese, for a heinous crime. The thing is, they don't really want Rhonda -- they want her child. But, the Gyonnese being aliens, not just any old child will do. It has to be a "real" child -- and Talia, we learn, is a clone. The Gyonnese believe that Rhonda has hidden her real child, and that clones like Talia are a diversion tactic. So "recovery man" (a sort of unethical inverse retrieval artist) is bringing her to the Gyonnese, who hope to learn from her the location of her real child.

Meanwhile, back on the Moon, Miles Flint is learning some disturbing secrets about his own past: secrets hidden in the files of his mentor Paloma. We already knew that Miles' career as a Retrieval Artist, and before that a policeman, is in part a reaction to the death of his young daughter due to the negligence of a day care worker. We also know that the stress of this loss broke up his marriage. Well, his wife's name was -- Rhonda. Indeed, she is Rhonda Shindo, and begins to seem that there is a mystery about their daughter's death ... perhaps tied to Rhonda's past, especially to her dealings with the Gyonnese.

So the three strands followed involve Rhonda's struggles with her kidnappers; Talia's difficulties after being abandoned in a company town, and her taking control of her own life and legal case; and Miles's search for better understanding of Rhonda and their child. The central mystery, really, is "What did Rhonda Shindo do?" But this book turns out to be more of an adventure, less of a straight mystery. And it certainly leads us in the direction of greater understanding of Miles's past, and also greater understanding of the tangled mess humans and aliens have mutually made of their relations. As such, it's a pretty positive development in this series of books. I rather enjoyed it, on the whole.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Ace Double Reviews, 58: The Door Through Space, by Marion Zimmer Bradley/Rendezvous on a Lost World, by A. Bertram Chandler

Ace Double Reviews, 58: The Door Through Space, by Marion Zimmer Bradley/Rendezvous on a Lost World, by A. Bertram Chandler (#F-117, 1961, $0.40, reissued as #15890, 1972, $0.95)

(Covers by Ed Emshwiller) 
Here are two novels by popular writers known for colorful other-world SF with strong elements of fantasy. Each writer is best known for a particular series: Darkover in Bradley's case, Commander Grimes in Chandler's case, and these novels are not directly part of those series but probably set in the same universes. (There is a casual mention of Darkover in The Door Through Space, while Rendezvous on a Lost World is set in what certainly seems like the same Rim Worlds milieu as the Grimes books.) The Door Through Space is about 44,000 words long; and Rendezvous on a Lost World is about 40,000 words. I don't know for sure of previous publication of either story, though I suspect that Chandler's novella "When the Dream Dies", from the February 1961 Amazing, is a shorter version of Rendezvous on a Lost World. 

To repeat what I wrote in an earlier post about Bradley: Marion Zimmer was born in 1930 in Albany, NY. She was a very active SF fan from the late '40s, and she published several fanzines as well as numerous exuberant letters in the letter columns of the pulps of the day (I have several issues of old magazines with her letters). She married Robert Bradley in 1949, and they had one son, David, who became a writer, and died in 2008. (MZB's brother, Paul Zimmer, was also an active fan whose letters are easy to find in old SF magazine lettercols, and who later became a reasonably accomplished writer.)

The Bradleys divorced in 1964, and Marion married Walter Breen, a fellow SF fan and a noted numismatist, within a month. Breen was already well known as an advocate of pederasty, and MZB certainly knew of his proclivities, and indeed Breen had been banned from at least one SF convention in that time period. Breen had been convicted of pederasty-related crimes as early as 1954, and continued to have trouble with the law, finally going to jail after another conviction in 1990. MZB managed to dodge serious consequences of her husband's activities throughout her life, and she died in 1999. In 2014 her daughter, by Breen, Moira Greyland, accused her of sexual abuse, and in retrospect it seems to me that it should have been clear all along that Bradley was at least negligently complicit in her husband's crimes, certainly aware of them, and now it appears more likely than not that she was a participant herself.

My view of the treatment of art produced by people later shown to be morally compromised or worse is straightforward -- the art is not affected (though it's fair game to view it with an eye to how the creator's apparent attitudes inform it), and while I support the notion of trying to avoid direct benefit to criminal creators, I absolutely reject the notion of censoring art by "bad" people. Bradley, it seems to me, represents a curious test case here -- because her work, in my view, though at times quite enjoyable, was never truly outstanding. Indeed, a novel like The Mists of Avalon, to my mind, received excessive praise when it appeared for essentially political reasons, making it ironic that it may now be suppressed by some for still political reasons. All that said, even it it is true that the world wouldn't miss Bradley's work all that much were it forgotten, I think it should be remembered for exactly what it is.

The Door Through Space opens with Race Cargill, a Terran who has spent most of his life on the planet Wolf, preparing to leave for a post on another world. He is a member of the Terran Secret Service, chained to a desk for the past six years after a confrontation with his friend and brother-in-law Rakhal which led to a blood feud between them. It seems that Rakhal, a human native of Wolf, had been working for the Secret Service but had turned renegade, and now supported independence for the planet. Race knows if he leaves the Terran areas he will have to fight Rakhal -- and either he will die himself or he will kill his sister's husband. So after years behind a desk he has decided to leave.

But at the last moment he is called back to investigate one more problem. Rakhal has disappeared and taken his daughter, and Race's sister Juli is begging for help. At the same time there is native unrest, and there are rumors of a matter transmitter being used somewhere on the planet. Terra really wants the matter transmitter!

So Race goes native again, and begins a journey to the Dry Towns to seek out Rakhal. At the same time he is beguiled be visions of a beautiful woman who has appeared to him a couple of times only to suddenly disappear, at the temples of Nebran, the evil Toad God. Race's travels lead him to a Dry Town royal, the twin sister of his mysterious woman, and to an alien city, and to stories of strange toys with sinister effects. It all works out more or less as you might expect. Tolerable enough stuff in what I would call a sub-Leigh Brackett mode.

(Cover by Enrich)
The "interesting" aspect, I think, is the view of sex. The novel has quite a lot of sex for a 1961 Ace Double, though mostly pretty sublimated. More to the point, the sex is very noticeably BDSM in style. This is signalled by the cover of the 1972 edition, which shows a woman with a chain binding her hands. This is the Wolfan equivalent of a wedding ring, it appears. There is another striking scene in which Race Cargill is tortured by a beautiful woman, in a very sexual way, followed of course by the two sleeping together. Frankly, this is a book John Norman probably liked. Bradley later claimed the the BDSM aspects were added at Don Wollheim's urging, but, quite frankly, I'm not inclined to believe her.

Arthur Bertram Chandler (1912-1984) was an English-born Australian seaman who began writing SF for Astounding in the 40s. His most famous stories are about Commodore John Grimes, a spaceship Captain in the Rim Worlds of our Galaxy. Chandler's spaceships, not surprisingly, recall sea ships a lot, particularly in the command organization.

(Cover by John Schoenherr)
Rendezvous on a Lost World concerns a foursome of crewmen of a Rim Worlds ship. The first mate dreams of owning his own ship, and when he gets a lucky chance, he involves his three friends in crewing the ship, an ancient ship of an obsolete design. Unfortunately this design has a problem which ends up in them getting lost in a "magnetic storm". They end up on a "lost world", with a mysterious nature. It seems very well-suited for human life, but nobody seems to live there, though there are technological constructions.

There the foursome are kidnapped, and they soon realize that they are held by an exiled AI. This seems to be a sort of Williamsonian robot, obsessed with making humans happy and safe, to a fault. The AI wants to keep the foursome forever, and goes so far as to create beautiful android women for them.

The do escape, of course, but not without cost. Indeed, the novel's ending is quite dark. The thing as a whole is a bit of an implausible mess, but to a small extent it is redeemed by the unexpectedly bitter conclusion.