[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]
by Gideon Marcus
Ace Doubles are like an insurance policy for scientifiction readers. Hungry for a decent yarn after a couple of lousy mags? Want something more filling than a short story but that requires less commitment than a novel? Did you miss a serial when it debuted across several issues of an sf digest? Ace Doubles are what the doctor ordered: back-to-back dual publications, attractive in their lurid colors and never too intellectually demanding.
One of 1962’s latest, F-161, is a particularly representative example. Highly recommended by fellow Journeyer, John Boston, it kept me smiling throughout December…though not always for the reasons the authors intended…
Times without Number, by John Brunner
(or Worlds of the Imperium, the unauthorized sequel)
Sideways-in-Time stories have become very popular of late. Just in the last few years, we’ve seen Andre Norton’s Crossroads of Time, Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, and Keith Laumer’s Worlds of the Imperium. Joining them now is the latest from a new British author who has stormed out of the gate with some excellent work.
Times without Number, a fix-up compilation of three stories, looks as if its inception was strongly influenced by Imperium. If you’ll recall, the premise of Laumer’s work was that an infinity of parallel timetracks existed and could be traversed with Maxoni-Cocini cross-time vehicles. The Earth of our timeline is something of an isolate, the neighboring universes having almost all been blighted by runaway vehicle reactions. In fact, one has to go about 400 years back in time to find a stable point of divergence that doesn’t result in catastrophe.
And in fact, the milestone of difference in Times is a successful Spanish invasion of England in 1588 (just about four centuries ago). The resulting present sees an ascendant Hapsburg Empire, a powerful China, an antagonistic Turkish Sultanate, and a series of petty states from the Vistula to the Gobi. Technologically backward in many ways, the denizens of this world possess the secret of time travel. In the Spanish lands, this power is protected by the Licentiates of the Order of Time, a brotherhood that acts something like Poul Anderson’s Time Patrol, ensuring the sanctity of history.
Don Miguel Navarro, one of the Licentiates, fulfills the role that Bayard did in Imperium, engaging in a series of increasingly high-stakes adventures to preserve his timeline in a kind of temporal Cold War, to the point of (as in Laumer’s book) treating with treasonous members of his time-traveling fellowship. Brunner even goes so far as to provide for Don Miguel a strong-willed Scandinavian partner/girlfriend named Princess Kristina (an analog of the noble Swede, Barbro, from Imperium).
Nevertheless, despite the superficial similarities in setting and style, Brunner’s story breaks new ground, particularly at the end. In fact, Brunner’s commentary on the ultimate fate of a universe that allows time travel is, alone, worth the price of admission.
3.5 stars, especially if this kind of thing is your bag.
Destiny’s Orbit, by David Grinnell
Ajax Calkins, spoiled young scion of the Calkans industrial empire, weeps for having no more worlds to conquer. The Earth has been thoroughly explored and settled, from Antarctica to the ocean depths. Mars is also crowded, there by an harmonious consortium of benevolent aliens. Venus is a hellish wasteland, and the asteroids are under the firm grip of the Earth Mars Space Agency (EMSA). Beyond Jupiter, the outer reaches of the solar system lie under the domination of the nefarious and inhuman Saturnians. Only the fifth planet and the worlds of its orbit remain up for grabs, a sort of neutral zone between the two space powers.
And so, when Calkins is approached by asteroid miner, Anton Smallways, with dreams of colonizing a Trojan asteroid (named Ajax, no less!), he is more than happy to lend his vast resources and the use of his space yacht to the cause. But is Smallways really just a meek servant? Can Ajax the First and Last of the Kingdom of Ajax maintain a third-way between EMSA and the Saturnians? And what of the meddling of the plucky EMSA agent, Emily Hackenschmidt, who is single-mindedly determined to end Calkins’ schemes?
Let’s be clear — Destiny’s Orbit is as subtle as a brick, a brick that was thrown out of the Society of Bricks for lack of subtlety. It is juvenile space opera with as much moment as a two-inch crowbar. It raids from the same larder as Leinster’s The Wailing Asteroid and The Alien, by Raymond F. Jones, not to mention Burroughs and Doc Smith, etc. It makes sense – “Grinnell” is really former Futurian Donald Wolheim, a pulp era editor and writer whose sensibilities were baked during the Golden Age [and, as John Boston informs me, this story was originally printed in the early 1940s!]
That said, Destiny’s Orbit makes for easy reading as it is thoughtfully broken up into bite-sized chapters, and the content is pleasantly undemanding. Moreover, the real star of the piece is the resourceful Emily, who is always fun (heroines paradoxically were given more to do “back then;” what I would have given for her to have been the viewpoint character!) So while I may scoff at the content and literary level of Wolheim’s work, I did enjoy it.
2.5 stars, objectively, but in my heart, it’s a three-star work.
[P.S. If you want the chance to nominate Galactic Journey for Best Fanzine next year, you need to register for WorldCon before the end of the year! (or have registered last year… but then you can only nominate, not vote.) The Journey will be at next year’s WorldCon, so don’t miss your chance to meet us and please help put us on the ballot for Best Fanzine!]