Belmont Double Review: Father of Lies, by John Brunner/Mirror Image, by Bruce Duncan (Belmont, 1968, $0.60)
A review by Rich Horton
This is slightly embarrassing -- a couple of years ago I happened across this Belmont Double and bought it -- it was very cheap, and I have an interest in "Double books" and in John Brunner. I started in on it once or twice but didn't keep going. Then, after reviewing the sort of proto-Belmont Double A Pair From Space (Robert Silverberg's We, The Marauders paired with James Blish's Giants in the Earth) I decided I ought to get down to it and read this "real" Belmont Double to review it. Then I did a Google search -- and found the review below, that I did nearly two decades ago on rec.arts.sf.written. I had completely forgot that I already had the book and had read and reviewed it! Though in my defense my review suggests that it was pretty darn forgettable! So -- here's my old review, with some modest revisions.
The book to hand pairs a John Brunner story with a story by an author completely unknown to me, Bruce Duncan. The first difference to notice from the Ace Doubles is that the stories are not upside down relative to each other like Ace Doubles -- Brunner's Father of Lies comes first, and then Duncan's Mirror Image. (The Ace Double organization is properly called tête-bêche, though many people, myself included, have mistakenly called it dos-à-dos.) The price is actually the same as Ace Doubles of that period, 60 cents. However, the length is very different: Father of Lies is about 21,000 words, and Mirror Image about 22,000. Both stories, then, are shorter than almost every single Ace Double half. At 43,000 words, this book is very short for even single novels of that period. Most Ace Doubles were at least about 65,000 words combined, and usually longer. One of the shortest Ace Double is the late reprinting of two Jack Vance stories that had earlier been paired with different, longer, halves: The Dragon Masters/The Last Castle, which are about 57,000 words combined. (To be sure, that particular Ace Double may be the shortest, but it is also one of the very best!) (I have since realized that Belmont's practice was to pair two novellas -- never novel length stories -- and that these novellas were often (though not always) reprints.)
Brunner's Father of Lies was previously published in the British magazine Science Fantasy, #52, from 1962. (A significant issue, as it also included Thomas Burnett Swann's classic "Where is the Bird of Fire?".) It's actually a decent piece of work, though nothing special. It begins quite a bit better than it ends. A group of young people are investigating a mysterious spot on the map, where time seems to have gone backwards. When they blunder in there, modern technology stops working. And they discover an ogre, and later a dragon. Finally, one man discovers that another modern has wandered in by mistake -- a beautiful young woman whom he finds naked and tied to a stake, meant as a sacrifice to the dragon. In rescuing her he ends up captured himself, but fortunately his quick wits help maneuver them out. They (and his friends who come in after him) discover that the whole area is somehow reflecting Arthurian legends, if rather clumsily. The explanation is rather pathetic as it turns out, and as I implied above, though it's logical enough in its way I found it disappointing.
"Bruce Duncan's" Mirror Image, on the other hand, is utter garbage, definitely fit to stand with the worst "novels", or novellas more accurately, that I have ever read. I should note that "Bruce Duncan" is a pseudonym for Irving Greenfield (1928-2020) a prolific author of low-end paperbacks: soft porn, historical fantasy, and SF. I haven't read his other work, and it may well be better than this, though I doubt it's all that good. He may be best known for the Depth Force series, which seems to be techno-thrillers of a nautical nature.
Mirror Image opens with a sailor on leave from an advanced submarine. He's received a Dear John letter, so he is ripe for seduction by the stripper at the bar he's visiting. But she turns out to be an android, operated by aliens. Soon the sailor is replaced by another android, and planted on the submarine. The idea is that the aliens will take over the Earth using the advanced weapons on the sub. And what do they want Earth for? Real Estate? No. Slaves? No. Natural resources? Not really -- instead, somehow they plan to suck energy (of unspecified form) from it, leaving it a ruined husk. Eh???
The android sailor clumsily takes over the ship, only to be foiled by the plucky humans, and luck, and auctorial convenience. There is also a subplot with a New York detective investigating the dead bodies of the real stripper and the real sailor when they turn up, but that goes nowhere -- just a way to fill up enough pages that the book could be published, I think. Ick -- a horrid effort.