Sunday, December 16, 2018

Ace Double Reviews, 42: Dr. Futurity, by Philip K. Dick/Slavers of Space, by John Brunner

Ace Double Reviews, 42: Dr. Futurity, by Philip K. Dick/Slavers of Space, by John Brunner (#D-421, 1960, $0.35)

by Rich Horton

On the 90th anniversary of Philip K. Dick's birth, I thought I'd repost this review I did long ago of one of his early Ace Doubles.

A pairing of two of the best writers to have been regular Ace Double contributors. John Brunner wrote more Ace Doubles than any other writer (24 halves, under his own name and as by Keith Woodcott). Philip K. Dick wrote 7 Ace Double halves, two of which were later reprinted together.* Dr. Futurity is about 50,000 words, Slavers of Space about 42,000.

(Cover by Ed Valigursky)
I think Dr. Futurity is the earliest of Dick's novels that I have read, though I have read quite a few of his early short stories. [Since writing this review in 2004 I have read two earlier novels: Eye in the Sky and Time Out of Joint.] It seems uncharacteristic of much of Dick's output. His primary themes, as I see it, are the untrustworthiness of memory, the mutability of reality, suburban life, and paranoia. This book really doesn't take on any of these themes, though it does involve time travel, which Dick uses in some of his other work. On the whole, it strikes me as a rather conventional book for him, though I thought it fairly good -- if by no means as good as the best of Dick's work, rather better than the run of Ace Doubles. It is an expansion of a novella, "Time Pawn", which appeared in the Summer 1954 Thrilling Wonder Stories.

Jim Parsons is a 30ish doctor in about 2012, with a pretty wife and apparently a good life, near San Francisco. Driving into the city in his automatic car one day, he is suddenly in what seems to be an accident. But when he comes to, he finds himself in unfamiliar surroundings. He is, of course, in the future. And it's a strange future -- everyone looks the same, more or less a blend of races (with perhaps an American Indian dominance), and very young. The language is a half-familiar mixture of several other languages. And the first driver he encounters tries to run him over, and appears shocked when Parsons is upset by this.

It turns out that this future society is obsessed with eugenics and physical perfection. All babies are produced from a pool of eggs and sperm saved in something called the Fountain, based on the perceived values of various "tribes". And since disease and injuries are evidence of imperfection, there is no medical treatment, and people routinely offer themselves to be killed. Parsons soon finds himself in trouble for saving the life of a young woman who has been injured. Before long, he is on a spaceship to Mars, to some sort of prison colony.

But then things get a little strange. The spaceship is intercepted, and after some travail, not to mention some time travel, Parsons is in the control of a rebel group of sorts, people of a specific genetic type, including a very beautiful woman. It turns out that these are the people who snatched him out of time, and they want him to use his rare medical knowledge to save one of their leaders. From this point the novel becomes more a time travel book, with several loops through time, and with plots to kill Francis Drake and prevent the English settlement of North America, to the benefit of the Indians. It's all a bit twisty, and reasonably well done, somewhat sweet, pretty interesting. I don't think it all quite works as a whole, and the book strikes me as two different stories uneasily married, but I did enjoy it.

I also find myself enjoying the early John Brunner stories I have encountered in Ace Doubles. The form forced Brunner, it would seem, to concentrate on telling a fast-moving story. This isn't always the best thing, but I think it's something Brunner could do very well. Slavers of Space is a pretty enjoyable short novel, though to be honest it is hampered by an overly rapid resolution. I should note that there is apparently a 1968 expansion called Into the Slave Nebula, which I am rather interested in learning more about.

The book opens with a man called Lars Talibrand (a name I kept misreading as "Taliban", rather unfortunately) being tracked down and murdered in a hotel room on Earth during the planetwide Carnival. A rich and bored young man named Derry Horn discovers his body, and also that of an android who was apparently killed with him. Derry's unexpectedly sympathetic reaction to the android's death impresses another android, the hotel secretary, who pushes him to investigate further. He learns that Talibrand was a "Citizen of the Galaxy", a title unknown on Earth but apparently well respected in the settled planets of the Galaxy. He also finds himself suddenly under attack -- a man challenges him to a duel for no obvious reason.

Derry's family makes robots, which are traded to the colony planets for the more intelligent blue skinned androids, which are made by a monopoly somewhere in the colonies. In retracing Talibrand's steps hoping to find clues to his murder he begins to learn details about the robot/android trade, and some disquieting (and I should add, easily guessed) secrets about android manufacture. He finally comes to Talibrand's home planet, where the news of Talibrand's death comes as a shock to most, who admired him, but somehow doesn't seem so displeasing to Talibrand's brother ... And Derry is suddenly in real trouble

The secret of what's really going on, as I suggested, is pretty simply figured out. And the plot resolution is just way too rapid and easy -- I think the book simply needed to be longer, which would make Derry's eventual triumph more emotionally satisfying. I wonder if such changes are part of Into the Slave Nebula. But it was a fast moving and pretty fun book.

I noted that parallel with Heinlein's Citizen of the Galaxy, as well, including the explicit use of the phrase "Citizen of the Galaxy", as well as a hero who is the scion of a rich Earth family, and a concern with slavery. I cannot but imagine that at least some of this was on purpose.

*The two Dick novels reprinted by Ace in a later Ace Double were this book, Dr. Futurity; and the later novel The Unteleported Man. The Unteleported Man has an interesting publication history: it was originally written as a serial for Amazing or Fantastic. Don Wollheim requested an expansion, but didn't like the result, so chose to publish the shorter serial version as half an Ace Double. Dick returned to the expansion much later, apparently making further changes, and an expanded version was published in the US and UK in the early 80s. I gather that both versions are different, and neither was Dick's preferred text -- Dick had died before the books came out, and some of his changes were lost. The UK version did change the title to Lies, Inc. Only now, in 2004, have Dick's actual final changes been found (evidently misfiled in his estate's papers with the manuscript of another book), and a fairly "official" version of Lies, Inc. has just appeared.


  1. I've never read a Brunner in Doubles that wasn't worthwhile. There's probably one out there - he wrote so many - but I haven't gotten to it yet.

    Rich, it seems to me that you owe it to galactic civilization to list your top 10 doubles, if you haven't already done it somewhere.

    1. I haven't done that list, no. I'll think about it.

      You're right about Brunner, he was great in the Ace Doubles. I haven't read them all -- a couple of the Woodcott ones might be weaker.