Monday, September 24, 2018

A John Brunner Ace Double: The Repairmen of Cyclops/Enigma from Tantalus

Ace Double Reviews, 50: The Repairmen of Cyclops, by John Brunner/Enigma From Tantalus, by John Brunner (#G-115, 1965, $0.45)

Today would have been John Brunner's 84th birthday. He was one of my favorite writers of Ace Doubles, so in his memory, how about a repost of an Ace Double review I did of two of his novels back to back.

More John Brunner! These two novels were both serialized in Cele Goldsmith's magazines, Enigma From Tantalus in Amazing, October and November 1964, and The Repairmen of Cyclops in Fantastic, January and February 1965. Enigma from Tantalus is about 31,000 words, The Repairmen of Cyclops about 45,000 words.
(Covers by John Schoenherr and Jack Gaughan)

The shorter novel, Enigma From Tantalus, is set on a planet called (not surprisingly!) Tantalus. A group of scientists is studying the one intelligent inhabitant of the planet, a distributed mind. This mind uses telepathy to control its components. It breeds/evolves components for various functions -- notably, since the arrival of humans, who brought the potential of mining for metals to its attention, it has begun to breed mining creatures. Despite all their efforts, scientists have not been able to directly communicate with the creature, or to understand its telepathy, despite bringing humans thought to have telepathic potential to the planet.

One such human has, in view of his annoying personality, just been sent back to Earth, in a specially diverted spaceship. After the ship has gone, the scientists discover that one human has become part of the Tantalan's waste, and they jump to the conclusion that the Tantalan has bred a human replica to send to Earth -- for what purpose they cannot guess. The spaceship is arrested in Earth orbit, and one of the Masters of Earth, highly intelligent and imaginative people, goes up to the ship to interview the motley bunch of passengers and decide which one is the replica.

Brunner throws in some cute ideas, though they tend to be a bit half-baked. He considers the nature of a future Earth in which all major decisions are ceded to machines -- by implication, humans themselves are almost part of a distributed intelligence like the Tantalan, under control of machines. The basic mystery is not terribly interesting, nor solve all that brilliantly, though there is a beautiful sting in the tail of the story. On balance, I would say that this would have made a pretty good novelette at some ten or fifteen thousand words, but at thirty thousand it seems padded.

The Repairmen of Cyclops is one of three Brunner novels about the Zarathustra Refugee Planets. These are planets colonized by humans fleeing the nova of Zarathustra's star, far in the future after some sort of Galactic society has been established. 21 such planets have been discovered by the human Galactic society. Interactions with those planets are kept to a minimum, however -- it is felt that allowing them to develop on their own is preferable from the point of view of encouraging vibrant new cultures and ideas. The flipside of course is that many people, especially on the more primitive of these worlds, live perhaps unnecessary lives of poverty and misery.

Cyclops is not a ZRP, but (in a previous novel) it was involved in an underhanded scheme to harvest nuclear material from one of the ZRPs. The government of Cyclops, led by the authoritarian woman Alura Quisp, now favors a policy of encouraging Galactic intervention in the ZRPs, ostensibly to uplift their inhabitants to Galactic civilization. This novel opens with Quisp's lover hunting a wolfshark, and losing a leg in the process. He is rescued by a local fisherman, and taken to the nearest hospital, which happens to be run by the Galactic Patrol, or Corps, instead of Cyclops. The Patrol has much better facilities, and they discover that the leg the wolfshark chewed off wasn't the man's own leg.

Maddalena Santos is a Patrol member visiting her old boss at the base on Cyclops. She is bored after spending 20 years not interfering on a primitive planet. So she gladly gets involved in the mystery of the anomalous leg. Also involved are her boss, and the fisherman, really a boy, who rescued the shark hunter. We quickly gather what's really going on -- lacking regeneration tech, a doctor on Cyclops has instead been repairing patients with parts taken from people kidnapped from yet another ZRP. It is up to Maddalena and the others to stop these people -- a job complicated by the aging Alura Quisp's desire for a new young body, and by her willingness to take extreme political steps to interfere with the Corps.

I thought the story lots of fun, though, as with so many from this period, it sets up the situation rather nicely, then rushes way to swiftly to a conclusion. I still quite liked it, and I intend to seek out the other ZRP stories. They have a somewhat complicated history: the first, Secret Agent of Terra (1962), was republished in revised form as The Avengers of Carrig in 1969; and the second, Castaways' World (1963), was revised as Polymath in 1974. All three (with The Repairmen of Cyclops also apparently revised, though lightly, and not retitled) came out in a UK omnibus in 1989 as Victims of the Nova.

No comments:

Post a Comment