Tag Archives: ace double

[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.

[January 30, 1962] Heads or Tails? (Ace Double F-127)


by Gideon Marcus

What if the South had won at Antietam?  Or the Mongols had not been so savaged by the Hungarians at Mohi?  If Hitler had grown up an artist?  Time travel has been a staple of science fiction since the genre was formalized.  One of the newer flavors of the time travel oeuvre is the “sideways-in-time” story, where the “what-if” has become reality.  Sometimes the tale is told in isolation, the characters unaware of any other history.  Oftimes, the alternate timeline is just one of many.

Keith Laumer published one of the latter type in the pages of last year’s Fantastic, an engaging yarn called Worlds of the Imperium.  In this serial, Brion Bayard, a minor diplomat dispatched to Stockholm, is abducted by agents from another Earth.  The world he is brought to is under the benign domination of an Anglo-German empire, one whose technology and culture are somewhat mired in the Victorian age, but with one critical difference: The Imperium has perfected the Maxoni-Cocini engine that facilitates cross-timeline travel.

The M-C drive is a finicky thing.  One slight error in construction results not only in the destruction of the vehicle, but the entire planet.  In fact, the Imperium’s timeline is surrounded to a vast distance by blighted worlds where development of the M-C drive resulted in catastrophe.  Only two exceptions exist – our Earth (“Blight Insular Three”), and a closely related world (“Blight Insular Two”) that avoided M-C destruction but fell prey to atomic apocalypse.  This latter world has begun to raid the Imperium timeline with increasing effectiveness; it is only a matter of time until they succeed in its conquest.  Bayard is the key to the Imperium’s survival.

I won’t tell you how he is the key, nor anything else about the plot of this fun book, just published as one half of Ace Double F-127.  It reads a bit like one of Laumer’s Retief novels without the comedy.  I like any story that features a hero who is my age (42), and it is one of the few books that accurately portrays the debilitating aftereffects of being truly worked over in a fight.  On the negative side of the ledger, Imperium is a bit too short and a touch too glib; while the adventure is exciting and the histories intriguing, somehow, the work fails to leave a much impact.  Also, the female lead, the intrepid Swede Barbro, is as undeveloped as a pencil sketch, which makes the ensuing romance between her and Bayard feel tacked on. 

Still, I do love alternate history, and Imperium is decent (if not stellar) Laumer.  Three and a half stars.

Now, flip over F-127, and what do we have?  Seven from the Stars, the brand new second novel by Marion Zimmer Bradley (she gave us The Door through Space last year.)

In Stars, a handful of alien colonists survive a spaceship malfunction on the edge of known (to them) space.  Refugees from a telepathic society (the Dvaneth), three of them are psi-endowed. The planet on which the seven have crashed is not immediately identified, but it becomes quickly apparent that the world is Earth. 

This is something of a mixed blessing: Earth is hospitable to the Dvaneth, who are human in every way (this extreme coincidence is never explained.) Moreover, the telempathic castaway called Mathis is able to learn and convey the languages of the Texan natives to the refugees.  Since the colonists look Hispanic, fitting in does not prove difficult.  There is even a Dvaneth citizen already installed on Earth, a Watcher who reports on planetary affairs from behind the shield of a terran cover identity.  If the colonists can find him, they are halfway to safety.

There is a downside, however.  The incorporeal parasite beings, the Rhu-inn, the bane of Dvaneth existence, are endemic to Earth’s sector of space.  Having no bodies of their own, they inhabit those of hapless humans, forcing them to to their bidding.  Until a planetary shield can be erected against the Rhu-inn, Earth cannot be visited by Dvaneth vessels, and the castaways have no chance of rescue.  Worse still, it quickly becomes apparent that a Rhu-inn has already infested at least one human, and planetary conquest is imminent.  Can the invader be stopped in time?

All in all, not a bad set up, if a bit hoary.  Where the book falls down is execution.  Bradley is a new writer, and it shows, with all emotions and dialogue dripping with melodrama – the book equivalent of the comic strips’ inability to use any punctuation but the exclamation mark.  As in Imperium, the romance subplots are perfunctory and hackneyed. 

Most disturbing is the constant undercurrent of violence.  I’m not certain if this was a stylistic choice on Bradley’s part, a way of distinguishing the Dvaneth culture, but if people aren’t striking each other, or contemplating striking each other, they are shouting.  Bradley’s castaways are constantly at the edge of a rage, their knuckles white in clenched fists.  Only the albino empath, Dionie, seems to rise above base emotions – and Bradley makes her the victim of a near rape!  I suppose this kind of roughness is tolerable (expected?) in a Howard-esque fantasy (a la Door across Space) but in Stars, I found it off-putting.  Two stars.

Should you pick up F-127?  While it is the least of the Ace Doubles I’ve yet picked up, I think the Laumer makes it a worthy purchase, particularly at just 40 cents.  And you may like Stats better than I did.

Coming up…January’s exciting Space Race developments!

[By the way, I have been advised that Galactic Journey qualifies for “Best Fanzine” rather than “Best Related Work.”  If you were planning on nominating the Journey for a Hugo, we would greatly appreciate your changing your vote accordingly.  Thank you!]

[January 7, 1962] Mismatched pair (ACE Double D-485)


by Gideon Marcus

I recently discovered the goodness that is the ACE Double.  For just 35 cents (or 45 cents, depending on the series), you get two short books back to back in one volume.  I’ve been impressed with these little twinned novels though their novelty may pass as I read more magazine scientificition – after all, many of the ACE novels are adapted magazine serials.  Still, they’ve been a great way to catch up on good fiction I’ve missed.

For instance, ACE Double D-485 (released Spring 1961) pairs Lloyd Biggle Jr.’s The Angry Espers with Robert Lowndes’ The Puzzle Planet

Biggle’s name is what sold me on this Double as he’s turned in some solid work in the last few years.  In fact, you might have read Espers, Biggle’s first novel, when it appeared in Amazing back in 1959 as A Taste of Fire.  Now, normally I try to provide a modicum of commentary on the works I review.  After all, you all tune in for my exhaustive literary criticism, right?  My academic spotlight on the objective quality of a work in the context of our modern and historical socio-political structures? 

No?

Well, good.  Because I’d hate to spoil a word of Biggle’s excellent work.  Quite simply, the thing had me hooked from the first paragraphs, and it did not let me go until I had finished the novel two hours later.  Espers held me in rapt attention while the needle of my phonograph hissed up and down on the last groove of a record, completely unheeded.  Biggle has written a compelling, often unpredictable read, and had I discovered it two years ago, it would have been a strong contender for the 1959 Galactic Stars awards.  4.5 stars.  Read it.

Lowndes’ Puzzle Planet is a horse of a different color.  It is the author’s attempt at a straight sci-fi themed “whodunnit” murder mystery.  Set on an extraterrestrial world inhabited by seemingly primitive humanoids, it struggles to maintain interest.  The key problem is that Lowndes is a veteran of the Golden age of science fiction.  His heyday was in the 1940s, and he has written very little fiction in the last ten years, his time being taken up with magazine editing, particularly the digests, Future, Science Fiction, and Science Fiction QuarterlyPuzzle Planet, while it is not unentertaining, it is also not innovative.  The events of Lowndes’ novel could as easily have taken place in an exotic Earth locale, perhaps in the Orient or Africa. 

Moreover, it is often the case that a science fiction writer can only manage a few leaps at a time.  If a story features creative extrapolation of technology, then often the society portrayed is bog-standard modern American.  Or if the characterization is particularly keen, then the technical aspects may be conventional.  Lowndes, in focusing on the mystery aspects of his story, misses out on both, showing us both technology and culture that are utterly familiar, despite the story taking place on an alien world far in the future.

Nevertheless, Lowndes does know how to write, and the mysteries (plural) are competent, as one would hope given the priority he gives them.  Three stars.

Whatever my misgivings about Puzzle Planet, I can’t deny that 35 cents was a steal for the 245 pages of entertainment I got out of D-485.  If it’s still at your local bookstore, do pick it up.

[December 15, 1961] Double Trouble (Ace Double F-113)


by Gideon Marcus

God help me, I’ve found a new medium for my science fiction addiction.

Before 1950, I was strictly a toe-dipper in the scientifiction sea.  I’d read a few books, perused a pulp now and then.  Then Galaxy came out, and I quickly secured a regular subscription to the monthly magazine.  After I got turned onto the genre, I began picking up books at the stores, occasionally grabbing copies of F&SF, Imagination, Astounding, and Satellite, too.  By 1957, my dance card was pretty full.  I was reading up to seven magazines a month, and I’d already filled a small bookcase with novels.

Then I started this column.

Well, I couldn’t very well leave magazines or books unbought.  How then could I give an honest appraisal of the genre as a whole?  By 1960, I was up to two large bookcases – one for magazines, and one for books.  For me, the magazine bust of the late 50’s was something of a blessing: fewer digests to collect!

I might have been all right with this load, juggling work, family, books and magazines.  But then I discovered Ace Doubles.

Occupying that niche between single novels and story collections, Ace Doubles are two short novels bound back to back.  It’s a format that’s been around since 1952, but I generally ignored them.  I figured the material was either rehashes of magazine serials, or stuff too mediocre to warrant its own release. 

I wasn’t far off the mark, but at the same time, after plowing through a few of them, I determined that there was often solid entertainment to be had amongst the pages of these two-headed beasts.  And so I start on my third set of bookshelves…and my first review of an Ace Double: serial number F-113.

Let’s call Charles Fontenay’s Rebels of the Red Planet the headliner.  It is, after all, the longer of the two books.  The set-up is interesting: the spaceline Marscorp has a stranglehold on the Martian colonies, controlling all imports of food and other needed supplies.  The Terran government, in complicity with Marscorp, has forbidden any attempts to develop alternatives to Earth-supplied goods.  Nevertheless, two movements have continued in a clandestine fashion.  One seeks to cultivate humanity’s latent psychic powers to teleport supplies from Earth.  Another conducts ghastly genetic experiments on unwilling subjects, attempting to create a race of humans that can survive in Mars’ frigid, scarcely atmosphered environment.

Enter Maya Cara Nome, an Earth agent dispatched to infiltrate the Martian rebellion and spike their works.  She’s a most engaging heroine, clever and strong, and I am always thrilled to read a female protagonist – they are so rare, you see.  Rebels is the story of Nome’s attempts to assess the progress of the rebellion’s efforts.  Is her fiancee, the ambitious and intolerant Nuwell Eli, help or peril?  And just who is this mysterious Dark Kensington, a rebel scientist with startling powers and a 25-year hole in his memory?  Are the ugly Martian natives truly degenerate?  Or have they shunned their ancestors’ civilization for a reason?

You’ll have to read it to find out.  It’s quite competently done, a curious mix of pulp and modern styles, though the “science” rather strains the credulity.  I tend to be bored by Mars as a setting, but Fontenay brings the red planet vividly to life.

Three stars.

Now flip the book, and what do we have?  Definitely not a novel, clocking in at just 80 pages.  However, J.T. McIntosh’s 200 Years to Christmas is not a bad novella.  In fact, I’d even consider it as a contender for the 1961 Galactic Star (the competition is thin), but it was actually first published in a British magazine (Science Fantasy) back in 1959.  Perhaps Journey writer, Ashley Pollard can set me straight on this.

In any event, McIntosh is a pretty reliable writer of pretty decent stuff.  Christmas involves one of my favorite set-ups: it takes place on a slower-than-light colony ship whose trip time is several centuries.  I would expect that society on such a closed community would become stagnant and stultified in short order. 

McIntosh has a different take.  On the colony ship, culture cycles in wild shifts from repressive to liberal in intervals of considerably less than a generation.  Christmas opens up as a libertine era is just beginning to wane.  Orgies and hedonism slowly give way to religious puritanism.  At the peak of that conservative era, shipboard life resembles Salem Massachusetts in its severity.  It is only after things go too far that the pendulum shifts back toward personal freedom.  But will the events of that repressive period be remembered in ten years?

Christmas is a timely piece.  America has just gone though eight years of relative stability, an era of prosperous conservatism.  Now, the tides have shifted.  We have a hawkish, ambitious new President as well as a restive populace straining at the shackles imposed by precedent.  Will the 1960s be as tumultuous as the 1950s were calm?  Will they show that McIntosh’s fast tempo for societal change isn’t implausible? 

As for the actually quality of the novella, it is not a classic for the ages; but it is well-crafted and characterized.  It certainly garners three stars.

Thus, in sum, Ace Double F-133 provides 240+ pages of good entertainment.  These are stories at least as good as what I’m finding in my monthly magazine subscriptions, and in an attractive package to boot. 

And that means the amount of time before my house comprises nothing but floor-to-ceiling bookshelves has just been reduced yet again…