Sunday, April 28, 2019

Ace Double Reviews, 7: Reality Forbidden, by Philip E. High/Contraband From Otherspace, by A. Bertram Chandler

Ace Double Reviews, 7: Reality Forbidden, by Philip E. High/Contraband From Otherspace, by A. Bertram Chandler (#G-609, 1967, $0.50)

by Rich Horton

Last year I posted an Ace Double featuring Philip E. High on the occasion of his birthday -- April 28. I have another one, so why not post it this year?

(Covers by Jack Gaughan and Kelly Freas)
Reality Forbidden is about 53,000 words long, and Contraband from Otherspace about 35,000. As far as I can tell, this Ace Double represents the first publication of either novel in any form. (Which is not to say that there might not have been a short story antecedent to the Chandler in particular. High didn't publish all that much short fiction, and oddly enough his short fiction career was quite disjoint from his novel writing career. At least according to the ISFDB, his short stories were all published between 1955 and 1963, and his first novel was in 1964, his last in 1979.)

Philip E. High was an English author who wrote a number of shortish novels, mostly in the 60s. He bears comparison, perhaps, with J. T. M'Intosh, though he was not so prolific a short story writer as M'Intosh. But he fit the same sort of niche: a not very good writer who still produced oddly interesting stuff -- just weird enough to attract attention, but generally disappointing in the execution. David Langford is something of a proponent of High's work.

Reality Forbidden opens with a couple of men escaping from England to Canada. It turns out that a device which allows people to create their own reality (sort of a virtual reality, though more by telepathy than any computer hookup) was invented some decades previously. It was outlawed in most of the world, including England, but it was so easy to make that black market versions keep turning up. In Canada it was never outlawed, and supposedly Canadians have adapted to living with everyone using such a device.

The two men were arrested on suspicion of being involved with creating such a device, and sent to Canada as spies in lieu of imprisonment. (Which doesn't seem very sensible, but let that pass.) One of the men turns out to be an "Immune", and before long he is in cahoots with the heroic Canadian resistance to the evil forces that control the rest of the world. Which, it turns out, all emanate from an alien invader ... Weird stuff, and it doesn't really hold together very well at all. Still, it is definitely an interesting story, and quite original. (It is apparently often cited as one of the earlier uses of Virtual Reality in an SF story.)

A. Bertram Chandler 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.

Contraband From Otherspace is a rather disappointing Grimes novel. Grimes has just got married to Sonya Verrill, an Intelligence Officer from the Federation. (The Federation is the association of more inward worlds including Earth.) They are preparing to retire from their respective services and perhaps buy a ship of their own. But at the last moment, more or less, a mysterious ship shows up, seemingly out of nowhere. It's a derelict, full of corpses. It is soon enough determined that the ship comes from another universe (transition between universes is easy out on the Rim.) In that universe, rats mutated to become human-sized and intelligent, and they subsequently enslaved humans, and also used them for meat.

Grimes and Sonya take a crew, rehab the derelict ship, and, by unconvincing means, make their way to the other universe, there to confront the rats. They make their way to a world of lizards, whom Grimes has earlier befriended, and they enlist the lizards to help set things right, and make it so that the rats no longer enslave the humans.

Chandler's stories never worried over much about making even the remotest scientific sense, but in some cases, as this one, things just get too absurd. The oh so convenient transition between universes, the rapid mutation of the rats, the coincidental landing in just the right place on the lizard planet ... there are just too many bits of sheer silliness in this story. It just didn't work for me. Some of the silliness (such as the rats using English, except that every vowel is replaced with an "ee" sound, like a squeak, see) is clearly for fun, and sort of tolerable, but more of it is just ad hoc lets advance the plot any old way stuff. I confess I've never been a big fan of Chandler, but others of his stories are at least decent fun. This one doesn't rise to that level. (One more cavil -- the title is just plain meaningless! I thought the story would be about parallel world smuggling -- potentially a fine idea. But there's no contraband in the book at all.)

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