Saturday, March 28, 2020

Birthday Review: Stories of A. Bertram Chandler, and an Ace Double (Nebula Alert)

Today would have been Arthur Bertram Chandler's 108th birthday. He was born in England, became a seaman and eventually settled in Australia. He started writing SF in the 1940s. By the '60s he was producing novels at a high rate, many of them about a spaceship captain named John Grimes. Here's a look at a few of his early stories, and one 1967 Ace Double.

Astounding, July 1946

A. Bertram Chandler's "Stability" is about a spaceship returning from Ganymede with a cargo of non-living protoplasm. Alas, the protoplasm somehow is activated by radiations from the ship's pile, and it moves in such a way as to make the ship unstable. The story concerns the heroic, but not always successful, efforts of the crew to restore stability and land the ship safely. I really wasn't ever convinced.

F&SF, April 1953

Perhaps every issue has a nuclear war story: "Jetsam" by A. Bertram Chandler from April 1953, which is also a first on the moon story, talking of disappeared themes -- it involves an expedition to the moon that discovers evidence that someone else has been there before, leading to a nicely turned twist.

Cosmos, September 1953

"Gateway", by A. Bertram Chandler, on the other hand, was a very pleasant surprise. I thought it the best story in this issue, one of the best Cosmos published. It's set on a passenger liner, heading to New Zealand. The ship experiences some strange manifestations -- weird shadows, compass malfunctions, lights and what looks like land in the open sea. The hero is the second mate, who is romancing, in what might be a serious way, a young woman from New Zealand (possibly part Maori?). The story, at somewhat leisurely pace, depicts the odd happenings over a few days -- the Captain's skepticism -- the scary death of the ship's cat -- the concern of the (Scottish, therefore fey) Nurse and the Surgeon. The resolution is a bit shocking, and quite sad, starkly presented. It displays some of Chandler's obsessions -- the sea, of course, and also the idea of a thin border between this universe and parallel universes.

Cosmos, November 1953

A. Bertram Chandler's "Hot Squat" is a story about people in postwar England (I assumed) claiming abandoned government buildings as living places to escape crowding and in-laws. A couple of couples squat in one such place, only to get a (rather cute) surprise.

Cosmos, March 1954

Chandler's "Shadow Before" is one of his sea stories, about a sailor hoping to make it home for his first child's birth. He seems to be haunted, and a "psychic" couple befriend him but scoff at suggestions that the haunting is time travel -- only ghosts will do for them! We quickly gather that his son is trying to reach him and warn him of an accident upcoming.

Super Science Fiction, August 1957

A. Bertram Chandler's "The Search for Sally" is about a spaceman on the Earth-Mars run who loses his fiancee in a spaceship crash on Mars. But he has a telepathic link with her, and after a few months he begins to sense her again. He is convinced that she survived and has been taken in by the rumored surviving Old Martians, and he joins an expedition to track them (and her) down. The ending twist seemed very familiar to me -- has it been used elsewhere?

Ace Double Reviews, 46: The Rival Rigellians, by Mack Reynolds/Nebula Alert, by A. Bertram Chandler (#G-632, 1967, $0.50)

(Covers by Kelly Freas and Peter Michael)
Mack Reynolds and A. Bertram Chandler were both regular Ace Double contributors. Chandler was the second most prolific Ace Double writer, with 18 "halves". Reynolds published only 10 unique halves, but in 1973 several of his books were reissued in new combinations, bringing his total of Ace Double books to 11, four of which featured his stories on both sides. The Rival Rigellians is about 42,000 words long, and Nebula Alert is about 33,000 words.

The Rival Rigellians is an expansion of a 25,000 word novella, "Adaptation", from the August 1960 Astounding/Analog. (This was one of the "transition" issues, with the cover featuring the "stounding" part of "Astounding" superimposed in blue over the red "nalog" part of "Analog". According to the masthead, the official title was Astounding Science Fact and Fiction.) The novel adds fairly little to the basic story of the novella. Indeed, it adds but two basic factors -- two women are added to the list of characters, providing room for a very unconvincing love story in the one case, and for some cheap moralizing in the other case. (The woman are conveniently a slut and a virtuous woman -- and both are medical doctors.)

The conceit behind the story is that humans have expanded into the Galaxy in an unusual way. They have colonized various planets with rather small groups, 100 to 1000 people, then left the planets alone for 1000 years. Now they hope to bring these colonized planets into the Galactic Commonwealth. But first, they must be brought forward from their apparent debased technological and social levels to the levels of Galactic society. A group of 16 men and 2 women are the pioneers in this effort -- they are sent to the two habitable planets around Rigel. One planet has formed a civilization much resembling Renaissance era Italy, hence it is called Genoa, and the other resembles the Aztec civilization, hence it is called Texcoco. (In the novella, the same 16 men were on the team, but no women.)

The two leaders of the expedition differ on the best means to accomplish their goal. One favors encouraging free enterprise and democracy, the other favors encouraging despotic socialism and a planned economy. Somehow they notice that since there are two planets, they can each try their way, and compare results. The whole experiment will take 50 years -- no big deal for the long lived Earthmen.

The results are not quite as expected, perhaps. The socialist group goes all Hobsbawmian from the start, killing people left and right in the belief that that will be for the best in the long run. The capitalist group begins by setting up competing companies to introduce technological and societal innovations, which works OK for a while but then runs afoul of the established powers (church and aristocracy), and also goes bad when the Earth born owners of the introduced companies start trying to live high on the hog off their earnings. Fortunately, the natives of each planet have their own ideas about what's best for their futures.

It's not really all that bad a story. Parts are just silly, and much is contrived beyond reason. (For starters, I certainly cannot believe that the Earth authorities would send such a screwed up bunch of people to do this mission, with essentially no guidelines.) But beside the silly parts, much is thought-provoking, and I did like the cynical take on the supposedly benevolent Earth people. It's nothing special, but it does have its redeeming values.

Nebula Alert is the third of three stories by A. Bertram Chandler about the Empress Irene of the Terran Federation. By this story she has abdicated and married Benjamin Trafford. Irene owns the formal Imperial Yacht Wanderer, and serves as its first mate, while Benjamin is the Captain. As the story opens they are taking cargo between various Rim planets (though this future is not the same future as the Rim World stories about Commodore John Grimes ... about which more later). They are influenced by the representative of an anti-slavery organization to ferry a number of Iralians back to their home planet. It seems Iralians are perfect slaves, because they breed like rabbits, have very short gestation periods, and inherit their parents' memories and skills. Other than that they all seem to be incredibly sexy (and very humanoid).

It turns out that ships carrying Iralians have been lost repeatedly, perhaps due to pirates trying to catch more slaves. And sure enough the Wanderer runs into pirates. Their only escape route is through the Horsehead Nebula, but space inside the Nebula is strange. The first effect is to cause increased irritability, but that is solved by pairing off all the men and women on the ship, even though that includes a couple human/Iralian pairs. The second effect is to push the ship into an alternate universe (one of it seems like several thousand times Chandler pulled that stunt). And once in the alternate universe who should they encounter but ... Grimes! Surprise!

It's all pretty silly stuff -- Chandler really never seemed to care about little things like logic. That said, it's tolerable fun in its breezy way. Nothing I'd go out of my way to find, but not a story I regret reading, either.

No comments:

Post a Comment