Friday, August 3, 2018

A Little Known Ace Double: So Bright the Vision, by Clifford D. Simak/The Man Who Saw Tomorrow, by Jeff Sutton

Ace Double Reviews, 70: So Bright the Vision, by Clifford D. Simak/The Man Who Saw Tomorrow, by Jeff Sutton (#H-95, 1968, $0.60)

The Simak half is a collection of not terribly well-known longer stories, from the late 50s basically. The Sutton half is a novel by a very little-known writer. The Simak collection totals 63,000 words, the Sutton novel is about 50,000, making this a fairly long Ace Double.
(Covers by Jack Gaughan and Gray Morrow)

The four stories collected in So Bright the Vision are "The Golden Bugs" (F&SF, June 1960, 16400 words); "Leg. Forst." (Infinity, April 1958, 17100 words); "So Bright the Vision" (Fantastic Universe, August 1956, 18900 words); and "Galactic Chest" (Science Fiction Stories, September 1956, 10600 words). They are all enjoyable, none really ranks among Simak's best work.

In "The Golden Bugs" a man discovers a strange sort of rock in his back yard, and soon also some very odd insects in his house. Insects that for a short time appear quite helpful ... In "Leg. Forst." an aging con man and stamp collector discovers a remarkable property of a curious stamp he receives from another planet, when said stamp is accidentally mixed with beef broth. The result is marketable as an efficiency enhancer, but it does so in somewhat surprising ways. The conclusion is a little bit unexpected in a sly way. "So Bright the Vision" is probably the best of these stories. It's set in a future in which Earth's only contribution to Galactic society is fiction -- it seems only humans among intelligent races can lie. The necessity to turn out product has led to automation of writing: actually thinking up plots and writing prose by yourself is taboo. A struggling hack gets in trouble with an alien race -- a couple of alien races, in the end. That the resolution will involve the possibility of actual writing, not just programming a writing machine, is predictable from the start, but Simak gets to that point in unexpected ways: and where he ends up isn't quite exactly the cliche ending we might have expected. Finally, "Galactic Chest", as with a number of Simak's stories, involves a newspaperman as protagonist. (Simak of course was a newspaperman himself.) This man is stuck writing the Community Chest column for a local newspaper when he runs a story about "brownies" causing runs of good luck and then realizes to his surprise that the story might actually be true. The solution, again, is mostly what we expect but just slightly different -- I'd say that in three of these four stories ("The Golden Bugs", my least favorite, excepted) the stories are distinguished by a slightly new resolution to a fairly familiar situation.

Jeff Sutton (full name Jefferson Howard Sutton) isn't a terribly well-known writer, but he did publish something in the neighborhood of 20 SF novels between 1959 and his death at the age of 66 in 1979. He also published a few short stories, one of which I read recently in an issue of the very obscure 1950s magazine Spaceways. A number of Sutton's novels were YA books, these written in collaboration with his wife Jean.

The Man Who Saw Tomorrow concerns an mysterious man who appears and suddenly becomes a financial tycoon, based on his uncanny knowledge of the future of the stock market. His vast fortune allows him to wield outsize influence politically, and he soon appears to be trying to control certain foreign countries by means of bribes. This naturally attracts the interest of the US government, which assigns an agent to him. Indeed the book opens with two curious scenes: one is of a mild-mannered mathematician waiting to assassinate a shiftless laborer, the other is of an agent waiting to assassinate the tycoon.

Then the book shifts back in time, following two threads. One concerns the tycoon, his appearance, and his early success, and his curious interest in a certain obscure branch of mathematics. The other concerns the mathematician we met at the opening. He is one of about 6 worldwide experts in the theory of multidimensional space. He is dating a beautiful arts professor, but then he loses her to the tycoon. He also notices that his expert colleagues are dying in mysterious fashion. And soon he seems to be under attack, as well as his friends ...

Well, we can all guess what's going on, I think. But it's resolved reasonably well. It's a surprisingly dark book, actually. It's no better than OK as a whole, and it doesn't really convince in its examination of time paradoxes, but there are some nice bits, and it's competently executed.

No comments:

Post a Comment