Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Ace Double Reviews, 49: The Beasts of Kohl, by John Rackham/A Planet of Your Own, by John Brunner

Today would have been John Brunner's 85th birthday. I've previously posted quite a few reviews of Brunner's Ace Doubles, but there are more to come! Here's one I wrote back in 2004.

Ace Double Reviews, 49: The Beasts of Kohl, by John Rackham/A Planet of Your Own, by John Brunner (#G-592, 1966, $0.50)

by Rich Horton

(Covers by Jack Gaughan)
I decided after having read a couple previous John Brunner Ace Double halves that I liked his early easygoing adventure stuff, and so I bought some more Brunner Ace Doubles. This book comes not too long before Brunner published Stand on Zanzibar, his huge, ambitious, Hugo winner. A Planet of Your Own is very short, at 30,000 words. The Beasts of Kohl is about 52,000 words long.

"John Rackham", as I have mentioned before, was a pseudonym for John T. Phillifent, who also published under his own name (mostly in Analog). The Beasts of Kohl opens with a man named Rang hunting on an alien world, in the company of a bird and a large dog, with both of whom he can speak telepathically. We soon learn that Rang is a "beast" of a superintelligent sea creature named Kohl. Kohl decides, of a sudden, that Rang is too intelligent to keep as a beast -- he must take him to his home planet, on which Kohl found him as a boy, and let him decide where is his real home. Kohl also fetches another beast much like Rang (well, except for the breasts): Rana, who has been in the keeping of one of Kohl's fellow sea beings.

It will be no surprise to the reader that the home planet to which Kohl takes Rang and Rana is Earth. The kicker, though, is that due to time-dilation or other effects of Kohl's method of star travel, tens of thousands of years have passed from the time of Rang and Rana's birth to the time of their return. They are, in fact, Cro-Magnons, and they return to roughly the present day -- or a bit in the future. Either due to Cro-Magnons being naturally superior, or due to Kohl's enlightened training, Rang and Rana are much better thinkers than the run of humans, not to mention the telepathic ability. Luckily, on their return, they quickly encounter the world's leading genius, Hector Raine (I assume the similarity of names between Rang, Rana, and Raine was on purpose), as well as Hector's beautiful and also pretty bright secretary, Meryl Martin.

The remainder of the plot turns on Rang and Rana and Kohl trying to "uplift", in a sense, Hector and Meryl, mixed in with Hector's sleazy business manager trying to sell his consulting services to the Soviets. A kidnap attempt ensues, followed by some derring-do and superpowers, and of course the eventual realization by Hector and Meryl that they love each other (despite Meryl's interest in Rang and Hector's in Rana) ...

Routine stuff, a bit below the previous Rackham stories I've tried, a bit disappointing on the whole.

A Planet of Your Own opens with Kynance Foy, a beautiful and intelligent girl from Earth, finding herself stranded on the planet Nefertiti. She has learned that her looks and education mean awfully little on the aggressive colony planets, and that the zygra pelt she had hoped to acquire cheaply off-Earth is just as expensive on Nefertiti, home of the Zygra Company, as anywhere. She has no money with which to buy passage home, so she jumps at the curious offer of a job with the Zygra Company. They need a supervisor for their operations of Zygra, an uninhabitable planet where the curious plant-like zygra pelts grow. Kynance is a bit leery of the job -- nobody else seems to jump at it -- but it offers a generous salary plus a free ticket back to Earth.

She soon learns that she will need to spend a year on Zygra, completely alone. And that her boss is a slimy sexual harasser. And that the Zygra Company has rigged the contract to be full of loopholes which will allow them to void it and thus not pay her or give her the ticket home. Luckily, one of her degrees is in law ... The reader soon learns, and Kynance shortly thereafter, that there are actually inhabitants of Zygra -- some of the previous Zygra Company reps, marooned there after their contracts were voided. She realizes that she will need to fight the Company with all her legal acumen if she is to survive, let alone get her trip back to Earth. And in a rather surprising rapid finish, she and the previous survivors cook up a plan ...

I thought this rather weak for Brunner. The hand of the author is all too evident in setting up implausible legalities and loopholes for Kynance to deal with and use. I can't believe the Company could so easily get away with their evil ways, nor that, given that, that Kynance could so (relatively) easily foil their plans. And many aspects of the setup were just too convenient, such as Zygra's year being just a few days longer than Earth's, which turns out to be legally significant. It's still a fast and breezy read, and you root for Kynance, but it's really not that good. Oddly enough, it showed up on the long list of Nebula nominees for Best Novel of 1966, the second year of the Nebulas. (By current rules, it would be a novella, and not eligible for nomination as a novel.)

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