a review by Rich Horton
Kenneth Bulmer again! With Edmond Hamilton. I'm posting this review -- a brand new Ace Double review -- on Hamilton's birthday, October 21.
|(Covers by Jack Gaughan and Jerome Podwil)
Edmond Hamilton (1904-1977) of course was an early legend of the field, mostly for his Space Opera, though he was also associated with Weird Tales, where his first story appeared. He wrote most of the Captain Future stories, and was a regular writer for DC Comics. And of course he was married to the great Leigh Brackett.
And as I've noted before: Henry Kenneth Bulmer, born in England in 1921, was a very prolific writer from the early '50s, under his own name and many others, most notably "Alan Burt Akers", the name under which he wrote the Dray Prescot series for DAW. He was primarily an SF writer, but also did a lot of work in other genres. He was editor of the New Writings in SF anthology series after the death of John Carnell. He died in 2005.
Fugitive of the Stars opens with the Vega Queen and Captain Horne on a mission to worlds on the edge of the Federation. These worlds have problems -- piracy, for one. But for some reason they resist joining the Federation. Skereth is a major world, and the Vega Queen is set to pick up a local politician to take him to a conference -- and he's a pro-Federation man, so this could lead to Skereth joining.
On shore leave, the Queen's young navigator gets into a fight, and he's out of commission. A local man, Ardric, with navigation experience applies to take his place. All seems fine. But on the approach to Arcturus, Horne is asleep when it is time to traverse the "meteor swarm". Ardric leads the ship through, but there's a mistake, and the ship is destroyed, with almost everyone, including the pro-Federation politician, killed. Horne survives and is charged with dereliction of duty for being in a druken stupor. His career ruined, he realizes that Ardric, who portrayed himself as Federation sympathizer, must have actually been anti-Federation, and must have fed Horne a mickey and then purposely crashed the ship.
Out of options, Horne decides to return to Skereth and look for a way to clear his name. He is convinced that Ardric survived, so he'll look for him. But on arriving, he soon realizes that Ardric's father is the leader of a commercial concern that has reasons to stay out of the Federation. And that has the power to have him killed. And before long he's on a desperate trek to the city they control -- but then is diverted, in the company of a beautiful girl, who turns out to be the daughter of the pro-Federation man who died in the Vega Queen disaster. And the two of them end up in the company of some aliens, who tell of a tale of slavers who brought them to Skereth to work on something called "the Project".
The rest of the novel is a pretty routine working out of the plot -- a desperate strike in the company of wildly diverse former alien slaves at the Project; the discovery of Ardric in his new role, the discovery of the nature of the Project. And a perfunctory romance plot. The general outlines never surprise, though there are occasional nice touches in the description of the aliens. This is the sort of yard goods Hamilton could turn out with one typing hand tied behind his back. Minor work.
Bulmer's Land Beyond the Map, like other Bulmer novels, starts promisingly, and has some OK ideas, and then kind of fumbles the ending, largely I think because Bulmer couldn't really figure out the answers to some neat questions his setup posed.
Roland Crane is a very wealthy man, and a collector. One even he is surprised by a visit from a beautiful young woman name Polly Gould. She is looking for a map, a strange old map, torn down the middle, and she thinks Roland has it. All this has something to do with the disappearance of her ex-fiance, Allan Gould, who was a good friend of Roland's in the War.
And indeed, Roland remembers this map, and a scary trip he made with his parents and sister, in which they attempted to follow the map and found themselves in a strange and scary land. They escape, but his sister has been institutionalized ever since. Roland has called this country the Map Country ever since. But he doesn't have the map.
Before long, then, they are the in last place Allan Gould went, County Tyrone in Ireland, trying to find evidence of either the Map or Allan's doings. And they do find strange things -- a nasty man named McArdle who also seems to be after the map, and who is willing to do anything to get it. A rich man in a village who seems to have got his money from a strange place -- it's soon clear that he must have a way to the Map Country from whence he steals valuables. And then there are the strange eyes of light that seem to attack people out of nowhere.
Eventually, of course, Roland and Polly and McArdle all end up in the Map Country, which is strange indeed, apparently a different dimension with different physical rules. And there are fights with tanklike things, and a weird city, and moving roads ... all leading to a really pretty disappointing anticlimax of an ending.
So -- I liked Roland and Polly and their relationship. And I thought the Map Country and its mystery seemed worth investigating. But the conclusion disappoints. So it goes.