Tag Archives: a. bertram chandler

[April 12, 1962] Don’t Bug Me (May 1962 Fantastic)


by Victoria Silverwolf

April is the cruelest month — T. S. Eliot, The Wasteland

Maybe it’s because it’s almost time to mail in those tax forms to Uncle Sam, or maybe it’s because of the tension between President Kennedy and the steel companies, or maybe it’s because Jack Parr left his television series (which will now be known by the boring, generic title The Tonight Show), or maybe it’s because the constant radio play of the smash hit Johnny Angel by actress Shelley Fabares of The Donna Reed Show is driving me out of my mind, or maybe it’s because of George Schelling’s B movie cover art for the May 1962 issue of Fantastic; but for whatever reason your faithful correspondent approached the contents of the magazine with a leery eye.

I must admit that Murray Leinster’s lead novelette Planet of Dread did little to improve my mood.  The melodramatic title fits this old-fashioned adventure story.  Our hero has killed a man – for good reason, you will not be surprised to find out – and becomes a stowaway on a spaceship with a group of political revolutionaries.  Once discovered, his only choices are to be killed or stranded alone on a distant planet.  Unsurprisingly, he chooses the latter.  The ship arrives on a world where a badly botched effort at terraforming has resulted in – you guessed it – giant spiders and other creepy crawly critters. 

Thus we have the literary equivalent of Them!, Tarantula, The Black Scorpion, Beginning of the End, The Deadly Mantis, Earth vs the Spider, Monster from Green Hell, Cosmic Monsters, and all those other Big Bug movies of the past decade.  Under attack, the revolutionaries prove to be either Good Guys or Bad Guys.  There’s also one female aboard the ship, whose role is to be the Girl.  Leinster is an old pro at this sort of thing, but the corny nature of the plot forces me to dismiss the story with two stars.

Wildly different in style and content is The Survey Trip by controversial writer David R. Bunch.  It’s a bizarre, surreal tale in which the narrator, rolling along in a beach ball, encounters a man in a heart-shaped metal suit.  Together they visit places like Knockjonesbrainsout and meet people like Miss 9-to-5-No-Time-Off-For-Lunch.  It’s all very strange and probably symbolic.  Some people will hate it.  The story is short enough not to wear out its welcome, and the sheer weirdness of it held my interest, so I’ll give it three stars.

A few months ago Jesse Roarke appeared in the pages of Fantastic with an intriguing, if overwritten, allegory entitled Atonement.  The new story from this fledging author is similar.  Ripeness is All takes place in a future which at first seems idyllic.  All needs are taken care of by technology.  Androids act as one’s servants and lovers.  Yet the protagonist feels that something is missing.  He begins by seeking out a library to learn as much as he can from books.  Soon he leaves the utopian city and heads out into the wilderness, where he meets with farmers, warriors (who fight but never kill), artists, and philosophers.  After rejecting all of these, he discovers his own purpose in life.  Although some of the writing is a bit flowery, the story is an interesting fable, worthy of three stars.

“The Piebald Hippogriff” by Karen Anderson (married to Poul Anderson) is a light confection.  It’s a brief, charming account of a boy, the hippogriff he tames, and the land of flying islands in which they dwell.  Three stars for this tasty trifle.

English-born author A. Bertram Chandler (now living Down Under as an Australian citizen) appears under his pseudonym George Whitley with Change of Heart, reprinted from the British magazine New Worlds.  A castaway tells his rescuers of his encounters with dolphins and whales which led him to believe there is more to these animals than meets the eye.  The author’s experience as a merchant marine officer ensures that this tale of the mysteries of the sea is realistic and convincing.  Three stars.

Last and probably least is Double or Nothing by Jack Sharkey, resident comedian for editor Cele Goldsmith.  His latest farce involves two inventors whose gizmos always do something other than intended.  In this case a device intended to provide a way to escape the Earth’s gravity turns out to duplicate whatever it comes in contact with.  Shooting off into the sky, it soon manufactures copies of everything (including cornflakes) and the story becomes a variation on The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.  The biggest problem is that the author does not provide any kind of conclusion at all.  He simply presents the situation and leaves it unresolved.  Two weak stars.

***

Although the meaty middle of this literary sandwich provided me with some satisfaction, the bland slices of bread surrounding its interior left me still hungry.  How does it sate your appetite?

[March 25, 1962] A Double Hit (A. Bertram Chandler’s The Rim of Space and John Brunner’s Secret Agent of Terra)


by Rosemary Benton

I love the bookstore in my town. Not only do they have a newsstand in front that provides me with the latest world events and developments in the US space program, but they have a very comprehensive science fiction section, front and center, as you walk in. I’ll occasionally look at the stand’s selection of comic books when I hear that there is a new series from Marvel Comics, but every trip to the bookstore must come with at least thirty minutes spent in the science fiction section.

This month part of my book budget went to Ace Double Novel F-133 containing the third publication of A. Bertram Chandler’s The Rim of Space as well as the first edition of John Brunner’s Secret Agent of Terra. Reading these stories back to back was a real treat, and one that I desperately needed this month. After the national tension created by the USSR pledging millions of dollars in military aid to Cuba on February 8th, coupled with the rapidly deteriorating health of one of my family members, my mind had been adrift on dark thoughts. I needed distractions of the science fiction variety, my favorite form of escapism. These stories supplied it in spades.

The first book I read was Chandler’s The Rim of Space. This novella centers around a rag tag team of wash-ups turned merchants aboard the dilapidated, but reliable, ship Lorn Lady. Stationed on the fringe of the Galactic Rim, this is a territory so remote from Earth that the central Terran government, the Federated Worlds, has little influence. Rebellion is building in order to mount a push for the Rim Worlds to become their own government. Caught in this wave of frontier space nationalism is Derek Calver, a man who used to work for a respectable company but has since left to pursue a drifting life in deep space. Through episodic adventures loosely tied to the exchange of merchandise, the crew of Lorn Lady meet intelligent alien lifeforms and experience strange space anomalies.

After finishing The Rim of Space I turned to Brunner’s Secret Agent of Terra. I couldn’t help but feel as if I was reading a novella that pitted the characters of H. Beam Piper’s Paratime series against the American agents of The Time Traders. In almost exact contrast to the universe of Chandler’s piece, Brunner’s protagonists are agents of the Corps Galactica – a economic and security force powerhouse for Earth’s galaxy-wide territories. When a remote and technologically backward world called Planet 14 is penetrated by off-worlders looking to take advantage of the natural resources of the isolated human society, it is up to agents of the Corps to infiltrate the population without notice and take down the exploitative evil doers.

Of the two novellas I found Brunner’s tale of espionage and infiltration to be the more complete of the stories. Like H. Beam Piper, Brunner goes to great lengths to build up an unEarthly society complete with religion, social casts, lore and legend. When I first began reading Secret Agent I had no idea what an unexpected turn the plot would take. The society of Carrig, the central city on the planet, is first introduced in such minutia through the eyes of a merchant trader that one would think he would be the main character. In no way would one guess he was from another planet. In no way would the reader assume he was, in the grand design of the plot, such a minor character. Brunner has a way of making each citizen who appears in his book an indispensable part of the story, even if they play a minor roll. Within the entirety of the book I don’t believe I read about a single character that was superfluous to the overarching story. Every player had a part to play, and it was clear that Brunner knew where he was going with his story from start to finish.

The Rim of Space, on the other hand, focused nearly entirely on building up only three characters out of the entire cast – Derek Calver, the purser Jane Arlen, and strangely enough, the aged Captain Engels. To Chandler’s credit these are three very interesting characters. Calver and Jane are both deeply flawed people with questionable morals, rocky relationship histories, and physically rough around the edges. The relationship that develops between them is entirely fitting for their damaged pasts, and their snappish and jeering squabbles seem to come naturally even as they grow closer. Captain Engels, while nearly absent from the first half of the story, comes to be a constant reminder of the impending conflict that will arise between the Rim Worlds and the Federation. He’s grandfatherly and wise, but frail.

This was a great purchase, and one which I happily give four stars to as a whole. I would love to read the full novel of The Rim of Space at some point. Apparently chapters four and five had to be removed for printing purposes in the Ace Double Novel edition. My hope is that these missing chapters will more closely tie in the impending revolt of the Rim Worlds with the rest of the episodic adventures. As it stands though, individually I think that The Rim of Space is a solid three and a half stars for choosing to develop only three characters and not tying up the adventures of the Lorn Lady’s crew more closely to the hints of a larger overarching plot. Secret Agent of Terra deserves a full five stars. Great twists, incredible setting, fully rounded characters and impeccable world-building put it on the very top.

Flawed jewel(s) (August 1959 Astounding, last part; 7-21-1959)

Before I finish my review of the August 1959 Astounding, let’s look at the issue’s “Analytical Laboratory” and what the readers thought of the May 1959 ish (and compare it to my findings).

Interestingly enough, no story got higher than a 3.00, which means the readers had trouble picking a favorite.  That indicates a good issue or a bad one.  Garrett’s mediocre Cum Grano Salis got top ratings followed by the first installment of Dorsai!, then the charming Hex and Project Haystack.  I suppose that’s as good an order as any.  One might as well throw a dart at the wall.

The August issue, on the other hand, has clear strong and weak points.  Newcomer Anne Walker’s A Matter of Proportion is one of the strong points.  Her tale about a super-competent commando, who was once a paraplegic is gripping.  Anyone who can write about the ascent of a flight of stairs with the same tension and excitement of a daring assault on an enemy base has done an excellent job.  An interesting, sensitive story.

The following tale, Familiar Pattern, is so obviously a Chandler piece under a pseudonym (George Whitely), that one wonders why the ruse was even attempted.  To wit, it involves an Australian coast guard ship (Chandler is a former Australian naval officer), and one of the characters shares a name with a character in The Outsiders, which came out in the same issue!

Now, I like Chandler, but this story is only decent.  Aliens come to Earth to set up a trading mission, manufacture a diplomatic incident, and use said event as a pretext to invade.  It’s a metaphor for what the Europeans did to the Polynesians; I appreciate the sentiment, and I am amazed it could appear in the xenophobic pages of Astounding, but the allegory is a bit too precise and heavy-handed to be effective. 

Lastly, there is Theodore L. Thomas, whose Day of Succession is, as Orwell might say, rather un-good.  Aliens land on Earth, and their ships are dispatched with cold-blooded efficiency by an American general.  The officer is recalled to Washington and chastised for his bloodthirstiness, but is soon proven right when more aliens appear and wreak havoc (I wonder why they would be hostile after such a warm welcome!) The general advises a nuclear strike on the entire Eastern seaboard to defeat the incursion.  When the President and Vice President disagree, the general shoots them and requests that the Speaker of the House adopt the officer’s plan.
I didn’t really understand it either. 

The book finishes off with P. Schuyler Miller (a self-professed Conservative from North-Eastern United States) lamenting the death of science fiction, again.  We’ll see.  This seems to happen every five years.

So where does this issue end up in the ratings?  Well, I’d had high hopes.  Aliens was a five-star story, and Outsiders and Proportion were both quite good.  But Pattern was average fare, Succession was sub-par, and the Garrett was soporific.  The non-fiction “article” was also pretty bad.

All told, the issue clocks in at a “3,” which is actually admirable for Astounding.  Read it for the good stories, eschew the rest, and you won’t be disappointed!

In two days, the Explorer that wasn’t.

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Bad History Repeats (August 1959 Astounding, second part; 7-18-1959)

All right, all right.  There is no putting off at least an initial review of this month’s Astounding.  Actually, I’m more than half done, but I covered The Aliens earlier, so there was much reading to do to have anything of substance to report.

Randall Garrett’s Dead Giveaway literally put me to sleep several times before I was able to finish it.  The premise isn’t so bad, though it is quite hoary: humanity finds a long lost alien civilization whose technologies seem to dovetail perfectly with our own.  A bunch of eggheads (male, white, of course) determine that the abandoned city is actually a gift designed to give us a leg up.  It is also a test—do we have the ability, as a species, to accept the help?

This is discussed in one of the more ludicrous paragraphs ever written by Randy (and there is much competition):

Scholar Duckworth said: “It takes a great deal of humility—a real feeling of honest humility—to admit that one is actually inferior to someone—or something—else. Most people don’t have it—they rebel because they can’t admit their inferiority.”

“Like the examples of the North American Amerindian tribes.” Turnbull said. “They hadn’t reached the state of civilization that the Aztecs or Incas had. They were incapable of allowing themselves to be beaten and enslaved—they refused to allow themselves to learn. They fought the white man to the last ditch—and look where they ended up.”

“Precisely,” said Duckworth. “While the Mexicans and Peruvians today are a functioning part of civilization—because they could and did learn.”

“I’d just as soon the human race didn’t go the way of the Amerindians,” Turnbull said.

I’m reasonably certain that this is not how history went in the Americas.  If I’m not mistaken, the native Mexicans and Peruvians were devastated and supplanted by an imported European aristocracy.  Sure, they didn’t end up on reservations, but it is also disingenuous to suggest that they gratefully accepted European wisdom and, as a result, are better off than their impoverished North American counterparts (who had the temerity to, you know, fight for their lives).

I was going to give this story two stars, but upon reflection, I think it belongs at the bottom of the ash heap.  Which is too bad, because it is sandwiched between two quite good tales.

Which brings us to The Outsiders, the second of the Rim stories by A. Bertram Chandler.  It is a direct sequel to To Run The Rim, about the adventures of a pack of oddball space traders on the edge of the galaxy.  And it’s well worth reading.  In the last tale, Calvert and his band of misfits saved an interstellar liner and secured a tidy reward.  In The Outsiders, the crew buys its own ship and attempts operation as an independent concern.  I was happy to see that the ship’s complement is half-female by the end, all of them competent, hardened spacers.

Of course, for Calvert the dreamer, a hardscrabble life of tramp spacing isn’t enough.  Instead, he wants to chase legends of alien ghost ships floating Outside in the vast emptiness of intergalactic space.  Following a hot lead, he and his crew ultimately find what they’re looking for…

But we won’t know the resolution of this tale until the next story.  Or perhaps the one after that.  I strongly suspect there will be a book compilation of these stories when all is said and done, and it will be worth buying.  A strong, four-star story.  It only misses five stars for being so clearly a bridging piece.

Next time: the rest of the magazine and a review of the Analytical Laboratory!



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Star Dim.. (May 1959 Fantasy & Science Fiction, second part; 4-07-1959)

How scary is a truly dark night sky?

In Asimov’s Nightfall, a certain planet’s orbital situation ensures that there is always a sun overhead.  On the rare occasion that all of the nearby stars align on the opposite side of the planet, the planet’s population is consumed with hysteria.  I suppose it’s a justifiable extrapolation of the impressive and cowing effect on our ancestors caused by eclipses of the sun.

In A. Bertram Chandler’s The Man Who could not Stop (which I will discuss at length further on in the article), there are inhabited planets at the edge of the galaxy.  When the lens of the galaxy aligns with a rim planet’s sun, the result is a near-featureless dark sky marred only by a few far-away solitary stars and nebulae.  As Chandler describes it, the effect is unsettling in the extreme, and most natives move away to planets comfortably surrounded with stars.

I suppose it’s Chandler’s world, and he can do what he wants, but would a truly empty sky be that disconcerting?  Even today, on Earth, there are plenty of locales where cloud cover renders the stars invisible.  In downtown Tokyo or New York, the lights of the city drown out any puny stellar competition.  I should think that the spectacle of the full lens of the galaxy, visible at least half of the year, would more than make up for a half-year of darkness. 

What do you think?

As you can probably guess, I have finished this month’s Fantasy & Science Fiction, and I’ve got a report for you.  I can honestly say that the magazine ended on a rising trend, quality-wise.

The lovely Rosel George Brown is back with the light-hearted Lost in Translation.  It’s a silly tale of time travel featuring a drippy but lovely fan of the classics (the Greek classics, that is), but the whole thing is really just a set-up for a bad pun at the end.  I like Brown’s writing–I’m just waiting for one of her stories to really wow me.

Avram Davidson’s The Montavarde Camera is a moody piece (does he write any other kind?) about an antique camera whose pictures spell doom for their subject.  Well-written (does he ever write poorly?), but rather a second-rate premise.

I enjoyed (with reservations) Jack London’s tale of present-day adventure told in past-tense, The Angry Mammoth, in which a hunter recounts his adventures tracking down and killing the last of the hairy elephant cousins.  Not for the animal-lover.  Of course, it is a reprint, the original story having been published in 1901 (and it reads like it).

But the real jewel of this issue is the aforementioned The Man Who could not Stop.  It is a little reminiscent of those stories where people who could not fit into the regimented roles meted out by society (a la Asimov’s Profession) become its masters.  In Chandler’s story, the protagonist (name of Clavering) is a hardened criminal fleeing justice.  He runs from Earth to the galaxy’s rim, from where extradition is impossible.  Once there, however, he quickly runs afoul of the law.  The first time is intentional–he wants to be incarcerated to locate a fence so as to offload a haul of stolen jewelry.  The second time is unintentional, but criminal habits are hard to break (and the rim planets make recidivism all but inevitable).  The third time is intentional–our anti-hero is told that criminals are deported third time ’round. 

Except it turns out that deportation is a one-way trip into the abyss; Clavering ends up press-ganged into the crew of a starship heading out deep into inter-galactic space.  So we learn that this is standard operating procedure on the rim worlds: attract the incorrigible and shanghai them.

I liked it a lot, and I understand there may be more tales of the rim worlds on the way.  I’m looking forward to it.

That’s that for today.  I’ve largely finished this month’s Galaxy (which is excellent, by the way), but I understand that NASA plans to announce the Mercury astronauts on April 9, so I’m sure that event will feature prominently in my next article.

Thanks for reading!

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Running the Rim of Japan; January 1959 Astounding (11-23-1958)

Editors are often capricious creatures.  Depending on the busyness of their schedules, they will one month wax poetic on some topic, and the next, they will give their columns short shrift.  Forgive me, but this is going to be a brief column.

“Why?” you ask.  The answer is simple.  Travel between cities in Japan is about as convenient as any travel can be, but until someone builds a super-express high-speed train from Osaka to Fukuoka (on the southernmost main Japanese island of Kyushu), the trek is an arduous one leaving little time for extracurricular activities.  Moreover, while I sometimes can find the time to write while train-bound, we picked an unfortunate day to travel: Saturday during a holiday. 

Nevertheless, we have arrived at Fukuoka, and it is a lovely city.  Their ra-men (white noodles in fish broth) is nationally famous, and the weather has been most kind to us.

Another trick editors employ is spending a great deal of verbiage on frivolous topics to disguise the fact that they don’t have much to talk about.  You’ll never see that tactic employed here, no sirree!

The new Astounding is out, and it is the only one of the Big Three magazines available to me in Japan.  Thus, even though Astounding made my stomach churn last month, it is at the top of my list this month.  Don’t ask me how I obtained a copy in advance of the normal publishing schedule.  I have my methods.

Nevertheless, I got it so recently that I’ve only managed to read the opening story, “To Run the Rim,” by A. Bertram Chandler.  I don’t know much about him, but I understand he is an Australian with a nautical background.  This is evident in his writing; “Rim” is a tale of tramp space freighters on the frontier of the galaxy, and it is redolent with terrestrial nautical tradition.  Our hero, Calvert, is a retiree from the regular navy who signs up as second mate on a rickety boat.  Chandler’s characters, especially the ship’s quartermistress, Alden, are well-drawn.  The setting, with its few but highly distinguishable worlds, is interesting and would make a good setting for more stories.

Everyone has a favorite style of science fiction.  You may enjoy psychological science fiction, or dystopias/utopias, or space opera on a Doc Smith scale.  Gadget stories may be more your thing, or tales of Martians and Venusians.  My favorites are stories that feature interstellar exploration and commerce on a personal level, particularly if they have a strong naval tradition.  The idea of seasoned sailors plying the space lanes in a kind of star trek strongly resonates with me.  Moreover, my hat is off to Chandler for featuring a strong female officer whose steadiness and expertise are vital to the success of her ship.  I will definitely look forward to his future works.

Well, that turned out to be not as short as I’d feared.  I hope you feel you got your money’s worth.  In the meantime, while you wait for my next article, why not send a letter expressing your favorite kinds of science fiction.

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