Tag Archives: john brunner

[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.

[February 26, 1962] Record Beating (March 1962 Analog)


by Gideon Marcus

You’ve almost assuredly heard of Radio Corporation of America (RCA).  They make radios (naturally), but also record players, televisions, computers.  They have produced the foundations of modern consumer electronics, including the color television standard and the 45 rpm record.  And now, they’ve really outdone themselves: they’ve created cassettes for tape recording.

Until now, if you wanted to listen to music or a radio show, you had to either buy it as a pre-recorded album or record it yourself.  The only good medium for this was the Reel to Reel tape recorder – great quality, but rather a bother.  I’ve never gotten good at threading those reels, and storing them can be a hassle (tape gets crinkled, the reels unspool easily, etc.).  With these new cassettes, recording becomes a snap.  If the price goes down, I’ll have to get me one.

What brought up this technological tidbit?  Read on about the March 1962 Analog, and the motivation for this introduction will be immediately apparent.

His Master’s Voice, by Randall Garrett

The RCA-themed title for Garrett’s latest is most appropriate.  Voice is the next in the exploits of the ship called McGuire.  As we learned in the first story, McGuire is a sentient spacecraft that has imprinted on a specific person – an interplanetary double-agent working for the United Nations.  Like the last story, Voice is a whodunnit, and a bit better handled one than before, as well.  Garrett’s slowly improving, it seems.  Three stars.

Uncalculated Risk, by Christopher Anvil

Every silver lining has a cloud, and every scientific advance is a double-edged sword.  Anvil likes his scientific misadventure satires.  This one, about a soil additive that proves potentially subtractive to the world’s arable land, is preachy but fun.  Three stars.

Rough Beast, by Roger Dee

The most fearsome carnivore in the known universe breaks free from an interstellar zoo and runs amok on one of the Floria Keys.  Can a group of scientists, a host of pacifist aliens, one cranky moonshiner, and a nervous tomcat stop the creature in time?  A shaky, over-adjectived beginning, but the rest is a lot of fun (and I guessed the ending moments before it was revealed).  Four stars.

The Iron Jackass, by John Brunner

Brunner is a prolific author whose work I’ve rarely encountered, perhaps because he’s based across the pond; Rosemary Benton plans to review his newest book next month.  Jackass is a fun tale involving an off-world steel mill, the Central European miners who work it and shun automation, and the robots that threaten to put the miners out of business.  I saw shades, in Jackass, of the recent Route 66 episode, First-Class Mouliak, which took place in a Polish steel community in Pennsylvania.  Three stars. 

Power Supplies for Space Vehicles (Part 2 of 2), by J. B. Friedenberg

Mr. Friedenberg has returned to tell us more about motors of the space age.  This time, it’s all about solar-heated turbines, and it’s just about as exciting as last time.  I give credit to Friedenberg for his comprehensiveness, if not his ability to entertain.  Two stars.

Epilogue, by Poul Anderson

Anderson is going through a phase, digging on somber, after-the-end stories (witness After Doomsday).  His latest novella takes place fully three billion years in the future, after humanity has destroyed itself and self-repairing and replicating machines have taken over.  Sparks fly between silicon and carbon-based life when a crew of time-lost humans returns to its mother planet for one last farewell. 

An excellent idea, and Anderson’s typically deft characterizations, are somewhat mitigated by robots that are a bit too conventional in their culture (no matter how radical their physiology), and by the fact that, in the end, Epilogue becomes a straight technical puzzle story.  Four stars.

The Numbers

This all adds up to a 3.2-star issue, respectable for any magazine and downright shocking for Analog.  This makes it the #2 digest for March 1962 (behind F&SF at 3.8, and ahead of IF (3.2), Amazing (2.8), and Fantastic (2.5).  Women once again wrote just two of this month’s pieces, one of which was a tiny poem.  The best stories came out in F&SF, the best of which is hard to determine – the Pangborn, the Young, or the Wellman?

Stay tuned for Fantastic to start the exciting month of March!

[July 10, 1960] Eye of the Storm (August 1960 Analog)

Once again, I find myself on vacation in my home town.  San Diego is hosting two science fiction conventions back to back this July, and this second one promises to be the larger of the two.  Of course, neither of these conventions holds a candle to the big one starting in Los Angeles tomorrow, the one that will determine our next Democratic candidate for President of the United States.

But that’s a topic for another article.  You came here to find out about this month’s fiction, right?

John Campbell is continuing his magazine’s slow transitioning of names from Astounding to Analog.  Both names are still on the cover, superimposed upon each other in a confusing mess, but the spine now unequivocally says Analog, so that’s how I’ll refer to it from now on.  R.I.P. Astounding.  Here’s to 24 years of an influential, if not entirely consistent, existence.

It’s not a bad issue.  Poul Anderson’s The High Crusade continues to be excellent, if wholly implausible.  This story of a 14th Century English village transformed into a nomadic band of universe-conquering marauders is played completely straight, with lovely characterization and an authentic ear for the language.  I find it hard to imagine that I won’t enjoy it through all three parts at this point.

The magazine fares less well in its shorter pieces.  The lead novella, Mack Reynold’s Adaptation, for instance, doesn’t quite work.  A galactic Terran federation is trying to bring old, backward human colonies into the fold, but first, these wayward settlements must be brought to modern status sociologically and technologically.  Two planets are the subject of a 50-year project, one of which has reverted to a European-style feudalism, the other emulating Aztec culture and advancement.  Of course, the inhabitants all speak English and are descended from American stock. 

The team dispatched to elevate the planets to galactic standard splits in twain.  They determine that a healthy competition is in order, one of them championing a controlled economy a la the Soviet Union.  The other employs capitalism.  While both divisions manage to raise the economic output of their charge planets, they are accompanied by serious growing pains, and it is not clear which course is better (or if either be optimum). 

The set-up is terribly forced, but I just pretended the contact team was really trying to improve the lot of a couple of real cultures from the past, perhaps in alternate timelines.  The characterization is largely incidental, and there are no female characters at all.  Still, Reynolds does get you from point A to B, and he does get you invested in the outcomes of the experiments.

Next up is Pushbutton War by brand-newcomer Joseph P. Martino, and it reads like someone’s freshman work.  It’s the story of an Air Force pilot, who zips around at Mach 25 in a rocket-powered anti-missile interceptor.  Not only is the concept silly, but the story alternates between walls of actionless dialogue and soulless action.  And yet, despite this, it’s not horrible.  I’d have suggested a rewrite or two, however.


by John Schoenherr

John Brunner has the exceedingly slight, Report on the Nature of the Lunar Surface, a few-pager that exists solely to set up the punchline.  In short (as there is no long), a technician’s sandwich ends up on the Moon, the result of carelessness around a lunar probe.  The bacteria in the dairy products thus introduced to Earth’s celestial companion result in a transformation of the Moon’s crust of a decidedly viridian and odorous nature…

Since the magazine is now Analog Science Fact and Fiction, it is apt that there are two science articles in this issue.  One is a comprehensive summary on Venus by R.S.Richardson, the fellow who recently wrote a similar piece on Mars in a recent issue.  The current scientific consensus seems to be that we still really don’t know much about “Earth’s Twin” save that it has an impenetrable veil of clouds.  As we get better at radar studies, and once we send a spacecraft out to the solar system’s second planet, perhaps the Goddess of Love will reveal her secrets.

The other article is an interesting, if dry, essay by Alastair Cameron on how elements heavier than helium were formed in the universe.  The popular theory these days is that everything north of atomic weight two on the Periodic Table formed amidst the unimaginable pressures existing in the center of stars.  The idea that our bodies are composed of the remains of long-dead suns is a romantic, mind-boggling one, I think.

Last up is Christopher Anvil’s A Taste of Poison, about a canny businessman who convinces a set of alien would-be invaders that the inhabitants of Earth are a far tougher conquest than our comparatively primitive technologies might indicate.  A typical Anvil story that might pass the typical editorial filters of Campbell.

All told, it’s a 3-star issue buouyed by the Anderson and the non-fiction articles and shackled by the pedestrian shorter fiction.  Still, that’s two thirds of a winning combination.  If Campbell manages to get a decent new set of writers, he could pull his magazine out of its recent nosedive.

See you very soon with a gallery of photos from “Comic Con.”  Don’t let the name fool you–it’s a general science fiction/fantasy convention.

Stay tuned!

Momentum stalled (October 1959 Galaxy; 8-13-1959)

I really enjoy the broadness of Galaxy’s 196-page format.  It allows for novellas and novelets, which is a story size I’ve come to prefer.  F&SF has lots of stories per issue, too, but they tend to be very short.  Astounding likes serials, which can be fine if they’re good, but dreary if they’re not.  I mentioned last time that this month’s issue was looking to be a star all through.  Let’s see if that prediction held true.


All pictures by Dick Francis

Wilson Tucker’s King of the Planet certainly did not disappoint.  You may remember that Tucker wrote the excellent Galaxy novel, The City in the Sea.  His writing skills are on full display in the instant story, about a old old man who has outlasted all of his comrades. and now lives a solitary existence in a mausoleum, the one remaining survivor of a colony of humans.  Every so often, he is visited by other humans from faraway stars.  They question him, conduct surveys, and then they leave, puzzled at the self-styled king’s longevity and solitude.  King is the story of one such visit.  There is an interesting, religious twist at the end; what is your take?  Let me know, would you?

Silence, by Englishman John Brunner, is also fine reading.  Abdul Hesketh has been the captive of the inhuman Charnogs, with whom humanity has been at war with for decades, for 28 years.  When he is at last rescued, his mind has been thoroughly damaged by the ordeal, and his treatment at the hands of his saviors, which amounts to near-torture as they attempt to pry useful intelligence from him, is anything but therapeutic.  A little let down by the ending, but a fascinating psychological exploration.

Sadly, the last two stories are not up to the standard set by the rest of the magazine.  Elizabeth Mann Borgese, polymath daughter of the famed German philosopher, Thoman Mann, has never written anything I really liked, and True Self is no exception.  It is a story of plastic surgery and feminine beautification taken to an absurd level.  A worthy topic of satire, but not a very engaging piece.

Lastly, “Charles Satterfield” (co-editor Fred Pohl, presumably working for peanuts) has a rather mediocre novelette (Way Up Younder) set on a future colony world with a decidedly Ante-bellum Southern culture with robots standing in for Black slaves.  It’s not bad; it just sort of lies there.

Where does that leave us with the star tally?

Sadly, the last two stories dropped the issue from 4 to 3.5 stars.  A pity, really.  What’s better?  A tight, good issue, or a less-good longer issue?
(Confused?  Click here for an explanation as to what’s really going on)


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