[Jan. 15, 1961] Greater than the sum (Mark Phillips’ Occasion for Disaster)


Illustrated by Van Dongen

Sometimes one plus one is greater than two, and sometimes, two authors produce a substantially better product than either of them might individually.

Take Randall Garrett and Robert Silverberg, for instance.  Here are a couple of fellows whose personal output tends toward the uninspiring, at best, and the downright offensive, at worst.  Yet, together, they wrote the Nidor series, which was solid reading all the way through.  Now, Laurence Janifer, on the other hand, writes some pretty good stuff on his own, so perhaps he is not helped by his pairing with Randy.  On the third hand, Randy sure as heck writes better stuff when working with Larry (under the pen name of Mark Phillips)!

Case in point: A couple of years ago, the two teamed up to produce a serial novel in Astounding (now Analog) called That Sweet Little Old Lady.  It followed the travails of FBI Agent Ken Malone as he tracked down a gaggle of insane telepaths in the early 1970s.  His main partner, aside from the Garrett stand-in, Agent Boyd, is a charming grandmotherly telepath whose primary quirk is that she believes herself to be Queen Bess, herself.  Not a reincarnation, mind you–the real deal.

The G-Man and Her Majesty teamed up again for another serial, Out Like a Light, where the subject of interest was a gang of teleporting juvenile car thieves.  By the end of this novel, Malone has picked up some psychic skills of his own, including a sense of precognition and the ability to teleport.

Three months ago, installment one of the latest Mark Phillips novel debuted in Analog.  This one is aptly titled Occasion for Disaster, and it is Malone’s most ambitious outing to date.  In fact, I think it makes it rather difficult to write any more in the series given the extremely conclusive nature of its ending.  Not that I’ll tell you about the ending.

I will tell you about the beginning, however.  It is two years after Malone’s first introduction, and the FBI is in a tizzy.  Society seems to be going to hell in slow motion, the rate of errors, accidents, and just plain-dumb decisions having recently risen above the statistical.  Of course, psionics is the suspected culprit. 

Follow Malone’s meandering course as he first determines what’s happening, then who is causing it, and finally why it’s being done.  It’s a good mystery, as fun as the rest of the series, and Queen Elizabeth (i.e. Rose Thompson) is always a hoot. 

Three stars.

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