Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Universe Day by Barry N. Malzberg

"How the hell can they expect to send men out to Mercury when they can't even control a simple situation down on Earth?"

Back in 2014 internet SF mastermind Joachim Boaz recommended to me (and to others!) Barry Malzberg's Universe Day, a paperback printed by Avon in 1971, the year of my birth, and published under Malzberg's transparent pseudonym K. M. O'Donnell.  (Check out Joachim's review!)  The cover of Universe Day is pretty good, and I feel a little guilty over the fact that I dropped mine one day and put a big gouge in it.  (I'm afraid I'm not as good a custodian of these artifacts of SF history as I should be.)

Universe Day is a fix-up novel, and the indispensable isfdb lists (some?) of the stories which form the basis of the novel:

I had reason to suspect that this isfdb list is incomplete because the publication page of Universe Day under the heading "Some of this material has appeared in substantially different form in:" lists Nova 2--Nova 2 (1972) includes the Malzberg story "Two Odysseys into the Center"--and Galaxy, with the date 1971--in the March issue of that year Malzberg's "Gehenna" appeared.

Curious to compare the initial short story versions of these tales to what they look like incorporated into the novel, alongside Universe Day I read the short stories upon which it was based!  Two of those listed at isfdb I have actually read and written about before; "Pacem Est" I read last year in my copy of In the Pocket and Other S-F Stories and "Elephants" I read in 2015 in my copy of Infinity Two.  "Making Titan" and "A Triptych" and "How I Take Their Measure" I read at the internet archive, and "Conquest" in my copy of the 1973 paperback printing of New Dimensions 1"Gehenna" I read back in 2013 in a library book, and also appears in In the Pocket and Other S-F Stories, and has no relationship to anything in Universe Day, so why Galaxy is listed in Universe Day I do not know, maybe there is a typo in there.  You can "borrow" scans of Nova 1 and Nova 2 from the internet archive, a somewhat cumbersome process of accounts and passwords and waitlists, and I tried this but got sick of waiting and so ordered the volumes through Amazon so I could read "Two Odysseys into the Center" and "Terminus Est" while I was still middle-aged.  To my surprise "Two Odysseys into the Center" has only the most tenuous thematic connection to Universe Day 

There is a lot more material here than in my usual blog posts which cover a single novel or three to five stories, so I am putting my findings "below the fold."  If you have any interest in the results of this research project in Malzbergian studies, click to read on!

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Power of X by Arthur Sellings

It occurred to me that I was being maneuvered into this, as I had been maneuvered into the press conference, but I didn't care.
One of Blondie's first singles was originally titled "Sex Offender," but was released under the title of "X Offender."  So I have been wondering if a similar little sleight of hand might perhaps be going on with Arthur Sellings's 1968 novel The Power of X.  Earlier this year I received a copy of the 1970 Berkley paperback from Joachim Boaz, one of the many books in his large donation to the MPorcius Library.  This will be the ninth book I have read from that generous donation.

The year is 2018!  (In the book, too!)  Our narrator is a London art dealer who owns his own gallery, 34-year-old Max Afford (oh, the Dickensian names.)  This is the future, so people have videophones and Europe is united in a Federation with a President and a Senate and the British Royal family has decamped to the Bahamas.  Equally astounding is that technology has recently been developed that can duplicate anything, and the duplicates are identical to the original, impossible to distinguish from the "master."  The process takes a tremendous amount of energy, so it is not economical to duplicate hamburgers to feed the poor or even gold bars--it is unique items, like art masterpieces and prototypes of high tech devices that must be tested to destruction, that get duplicated.  The government has a monopoly on this technology and by selling the duplication service it makes a big profit, so big that taxes have been reduced!

The whole duplication process that Selling presents to us feels quite contrived.  Even the techs who operate the machine that does the duplicating don't know which of the items that comes out of the machine is the original, because while the doors are closed they move around or something.  Also, each object can only be duplicated nineteen times, and duplicates can't be duplicated, so only a maximum of twenty of any item can exist.  The boffins suggest that our universe is one of many stacked up like sheets of paper and the duplication process reaches into nearby universes to peel off those universes' iterations of the items being duplicated, and that the process can only reach nineteen other universes.

Our hero Max, while handling a Matisse (the start of this book is full of references to famous artists--wikipedia tells us that Sellings himself--real name: Arthur Gordon Ley--was an art dealer as well as an author and government scientist) discovers that he can distinguish between items that have been duplicated and those that have not simply by touching them, and can even tell if the item he is touching is the original or one of the dupes!

Months later, in 2019, Max has the opportunity to shake the hand of the popular President of Europe--when he does so he finds that the Prez is a dupe!

Hardcover first edition
Sellings's writing is smooth, and the first 50 or so pages of the book feel fresh because the idea is sort of new and it isn't every day I read about a dude who works at an art gallery, but then we get page after page of detective/conspiracy bilge.  We've got kidnappings, disguises, messages that have to be memorized and destroyed, people trying to shake tails by getting lost among the crowds at a major intersection, blah blah blah.  And we've got scenes of people sitting around discussing clues, looking through newspaper clippings, that sort of thing.  None of this mystery stuff is exciting or suspenseful because Sellings presents much of it for laughs, and because our narrator Max is not in charge of his own fate, but manipulated by others, primarily his wealthy and pushy aunt, Clarissa, who comes off like an aunt in a Wodehouse story.  There is also her buddy, Guy Burroughs, an oversized politician famous for being flamboyant who wears a pink bow tie and in his first appearance brings flowers--I guess his foppishness (and sexual orientation?) are supposed to be funny (his name is a joke--he is an expert on Africa) but all that flamboyant fop stuff is dropped quickly.

The aunt and the senator and Max, while sitting around, figure out the conspiracy.  I can take a detective story in which, Mickey Spillane style, the P. I. goes from apartment to apartment, seducing women and beating up thugs to find his clues, but a story about a guy relaxing in a restaurant and talking through the clues with his aunt and a clotheshorse politician is a drag.  (My mother and T. S. Eliot may go gaga over Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but I find them almost unreadable.) 

In the final third of the 144-page novel Max and Burroughs sneak into the Presidential Palace (I think it is just the old Buckingham Palace, republicanized) because Burroughs is confident the President has not been killed, just replaced, and is imprisoned in the Palace.  (The point of replacing the Prez derives from the fact that the duplicates are not in fact identical to the original--duplicate living things are "confused, easily cowed, and lack initiative," so the dupe President is easily manipulated by a secret cabal.)  To accomplish this mission the art dealer and the senator disguise themselves as members of the working class* and use a "brontium-headed atomic boring machine" to dig a tunnel from a vacant building nearby to the bomb shelter under the palace--Burroughs assumes the Prez is imprisoned in the shelter.  And he is right!  Max and Burroughs liberate the real Prez and capture a member of the cabal.

*If I was being paid to say good things about The Power of X (and when I worked for the government I did actually write things I didn't believe for money) I would say the novel is about identity. 

The English dropped yet another bomb
on the Fatherland when The Power of X
was translated into German in 1972
In the last 20 pages of the novel the President disappears from a sealed room, and Selling inflicts upon us one of the standard forms of mystery fiction--the locked room mystery!  Burroughs even says, "I've heard of locked room mysteries, but this beats all of them!"  (Remember when we read that Fredric Brown locked room mystery about a ghoulish armadillo?)  Then Max and Burroughs and the rest watch a government broadcast on TV--the duplicate President starts giving a speech, and then disappears.  It turns out that the duplicates are not from other universes, but from future periods of time, and so only last a certain period of time (too boring to explain here.)  This deus ex machina resolution of the plot renders all the drama of the rescue of the president, and everything else in the book, pointless--even if Max and Burroughs had done nothing to oppose them, the cabal would have been foiled by the disappearance of the President and his dupe.

The Power of X is not good, and it is not good in many ways, from the total lack of human drama and human feeling, the overuse of boring mystery fiction cliches and absolutely unfunny jokes, to the fact that the hero is just a puppet and the plot is resolved by something outside the control of any character.

Bad!  (At least we've got that great Lehr cover!)

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Cosmic Engineers by Clifford Simak

"My Lord," said Gary, "think of it!  Imagination saving the people of another universe.  The imagination of a little third-rate race that hasn't even started really using its imagination yet."
"You are right," declared the Engineer, "and in the aeons to come that imagination will make your race the masters of the entire universe."
My copy
Recently I was in South Carolina to visit in-laws and the art museum in Columbia.  I stopped by Ed's Editions and found, way in the back, three cardboard boxes of paperback SF books that had yet to be priced.  There were many I already owned, many I wasn't interested in, and a few I'd red when I borrowed them from libraries.  But I found one with a fun Jack Gaughan cover that I was curious to read and willing to pay two dollars for--a 1964 edition from Paperback Library of Clifford Simak's Cosmic Engineers.  I have been kind of off Simak for a few years, but I recently read a good story by him, 1952's "The Fence," so it seems a good time to read some work by this SF Grandmaster who was important to me in my youth because the local library had a lot of his books.

Cosmic Engineers originally appeared as a serial in Astounding, spread across three issues in 1939.  (It looks like all three issues are available at the internet archive--I will resist the urge to check out the illustrations until I have finished reading this 1964 printing!)  In 1950 Gnome Press put out a hardcover edition (the Wikipedia page on Simak suggests this edition was somewhat expanded from the magazine version), and since then many paperback editions have been produced.  Here is a piece of work which has achieved market success, won a vote of confidence from SF fans who have voted for it with their hard-earned pay.  Let's hope I will enjoy it as much as they did.

It is the future, the year 6948!  Mankind has colonized the solar system!  Travelling from one planet to the next in their little ship, looking for scoops, are journalists Herb Harper and Gary Nelson.  (Remember, Simak worked as a journalist himself in the Midwest for decades.)  En route to Pluto they spot an odd-looking derelict and investigate.  Within the inert vessel lies Caroline Martin, a scientist from a thousand years ago, kept alive in suspended animation.  Gary revives her by following the instructions she left, and she joins the journalists in their ship.

Caroline wasn't asleep while she was in suspended animation--she was awake the entire time, like the hunter in Poul Anderson's 1951 "Duel on Syrtis."  So, she had 1,000 years to train her brain and develop new theories about the physical nature of space.  So, when on Pluto the boffins there tell Herb, Gary and Caroline that they have been receiving undecipherable psychic messages from outside the Milky Way, Caroline is able to decipher them and even respond to them.  Goody-Two-Shoes aliens (these are the Cosmic Engineers of the title) who have taken up the task of defending the universe are sending the messages, requesting help; it seems some threat from beyond the universe, from beyond space and time, has appeared and the C.E.s need help in dealing with it.  They send Caroline plans for a teleporter terminal, and she builds it and our cast of characters (now including some scientists from Pluto) fly their spaceship through a warp tunnel, reappearing almost instantaneously at the city of the Cosmic Engineers on a planet with three suns on the very edge of the universe, a city, we are told, that "would have put a thousand New Yorks to shame."

1950 hardcover
Here the protagonists meet the C.E.s, metal men who have high technology but lack imagination and creativity--they never invented painting and are amazed to discover the concept of painting in the humans' minds, and it is hinted that they are merely the artificial robots built millions of years ago by a now-extinct organic race.  The Cosmic Engineers explain the monumental challenge which has led them to summon the humans, as well as representatives from other alien races from throughout our universe.

Our universe is just one of many universes that floats around within the next level of reality, just like the Milky Way is but one of many galaxies floating around within our universe.  An alien universe is about to collide with ours, a very rare but natural occurrence that will cause a cataclysm--energy generated by the two universes touching will cause both universes to contract until they are reset and begin to expand anew.  The process of contraction will kill every living thing within the universe.  The Engineers need the help of more imaginative beings to figure out what to do about this impending collision that will total two universes and make traffic fatalities of all passengers.

As if this wasn't enough, there is a little complication.  It turns out that our galaxy isn't just home to nice people like you and me!  There is a collectivist and belligerent race in our universe, a society about as high tech and powerful as the C.E.s themselves, but instead of being goody goodies is devoted to taking over the universe.  These creeps, known as "The Hellhounds," have figured out a way for a small elite of their race to survive the cataclysm by shifting outside the universe just before the crash; after our universe has finished contracting they will be able to return to it and direct its new expansion to their specifications, dominating all the new life that develops.  The Hellhounds are more than willing to obstruct any efforts of the C.E.s to save our universe.
"For many millions of years they have been educated with the dream of universal conquest.  They have been so thoroughly propagandized with the philosophy that the state, the civilization, the race is everything...that the individual does not count at all...that there is not a single one of them who would not die to achieve that dream.  They glory in dying, glory in any sort of sacrifice that advances them even the slightest step toward their eventual goal."       
There are a lot of SF stories in which the human race is shown to be inferior to aliens, but in Cosmic Engineers Simak celebrates human heroism and ability and suggests that our people are equal or superior to any people in all the universes!  The C.E.s dismiss the representatives of all those other intelligent species, because only the thought processes of the Earth people are on the C.E. wavelength--only the human race is in a position to foil the Hellhounds and save the universe!

Caroline comes up with a way to create in the region between the universes new miniature universes.  These can, perhaps, be used to absorb and generate and direct energy on a cosmic scale--these miniature universes could perhaps be used to power, move, or destroy entire star systems and civilizations.  To really get this idea up and running, Caroline needs more info, and she needs it fast because the Hellhound space navy has just started its attack and the Cosmic Engineer space navy is hard pressed--it looks like the C.E. city might get destroyed before Caroline can finish building her universe-preserving devices!

The info sweet Caroline requires, the C.E.s suggest, could be found on the Earth of the future, so the metal men set up a warp tunnel through which Gary and Caroline's ship travels to the dying Earth of millions of years in the future.  (I lost track of why the C.E.s needed a terminal at both ends to facilitate travel between present Pluto and the C.E. city but don't need a terminal on future Earth to send our heroes there; maybe one of Caroline's many theories has been applied to improving the warp tunnel system?)

Only one man is left on future Earth, but luckily he has the info Caroline needs.  He also gives a speech about how great mankind has been.  There's always time for a pep talk, even when our universe is about to croak!  Gary and Caroline head back into the warp tunnel, but it has been diverted to a creepy planet and they are forced to land there.  A Hellhound vessel has also been diverted to this planet, and a scenario somewhat like that in Fredric Brown's famous 1944 story "Arena" ensues--a mysterious voice explains that it has contrived to put two humans and two Hellhounds on the same planet and deactivated their ships and weapons so they will fight a duel to the death with their bare hands and their wits!

(A quick look at the issues of Astounding at the internet archive suggests that this interlude was not part of the original 1939 version of Cosmic Engineers, but added in 1950, so if anybody was copying anybody, Simak was inspired by Brown.  This section does nothing to advance the plot and is resolved via deus ex machina, one of the less satisfying literary devices.  I keep discovering reasons to believe the magazine versions of Golden Age SF stories are better than the book versions.)

Gary and Caroline make a bow and arrows from odds and ends and Gary shoots down the two reptilian bipeds that are the first Hellhounds they have ever seen.  (Did the 1939 version not reveal the Hellhounds at all?  Even in this book version the Hellhounds are underdeveloped, with no speaking parts.)  The voice reveals itself to be the millions-of-years-old collective mind of a race which abandoned first machines and then individuality and physicality.  It has god-like power, but acts in a childish way, setting up this little fight for its own amusement and then stranding the winners on its uncomfortable planet.  (Isn't Star Trek full of these kinds of mischievous and mentally unstable deities?)  Luckily, it has a moment of sanity and during that lucid moment restores the humans' equipment and allows Gary and Caroline to escape to the C.E.s' world.

Back at the edge of the universe Caroline's system of manipulating the power of the region between universes is used to wipe out the Hellhound fleet.  (This reminded me a little of AKKA in Jack Williamson's 1934 The Legion of Space.)  Then her system is used to transport entire civilizations from the other universe to safety within ours (their universe was old and worn out anyway) and to destroy that old universe before it can crash into ours and cause it to contract.  Then we get a ten-page denouement in which the Cosmic Engineers explain their origin and the origin of the human race, as well as the human race's astonishing destiny.

I want to like Cosmic Engineers, but I have to grade it merely acceptable.  The thing lacks personality and emotion, the characters and the action are flat and boring--there is no tension, no fear, no thrills, things just plod forward.  The only character with any personality is Herb, "the dumpy little photographer" who serves only as superfluous and anemic comic relief, making the most feeble jokes possible and contributing zilch to the plot.  There need have been only two human characters, Gary and Caroline, and instead we get five.  Cosmic Engineers feels not like a fun space opera like something by Edmond Hamilton, but something grey and bland, like one of John W. Campbell's space operas in which indistinguishable eggheads build a better machine every few chapters until they build one powerful enough to end the story.  The novel's real "character" is the human race, which Simak presents in a hopeful and optimistic light, painting humanity as bold and adventurous and imaginative, conferring on us the distinctive attitudes of youth--all the alien races are depicted as old and tired, either hopelessly set in their ways or actually insane.

While not terribly entertaining, Cosmic Engineers is interesting for the student of SF.  Not only is it full of elements that we see in other SF works, as I have pointed out, but it contains elements characteristic of Simak's later, more mature work, like an Earth abandoned by the majority of the human race and robots who outlive their creators but maintain a dogged devotion to them.  And here's a list of three other things about Cosmic Engineers that struck me as noteworthy (I've been told that people on the internet love lists):
  1. Positive attitude about The Crusades:  Nowadays it is conventional to denounce the Crusades as racist imperialism, but Simak offers up the Crusades as a paradigmatic exemplum of mankind's courage and eagerness to make sacrifices and take risks; he repeatedly compares the efforts of Gary, Caroline and the rest of the human cast to the Crusades.  Simak was not an outlier in his day; for example, Eisenhower's memoir of his service in World War II was titled Crusade in Europe.        
  2. Female protagonist:  It is interesting, and counter to the stereotype of women in Golden Age SF being mere damsels in distress, that the lead scientist of the story is a woman, and that she saves not only our universe, but saves the people of another universe and actually creates universes.
  3. Pro-individualism/anti-government/anti-collectivist vibe:  Several times in this story we see demonstrated the superiority of the individual over the state or the collective, and witness people standing up to the government or the collective.  Caroline was imprisoned in that derelict because she had disobeyed the government, and she came up with the process of suspended animation all by herself.  The police come to stop our heroes from teleporting from Pluto to the edge of the universe, and Caroline and her friends don't even consider following the law and obeying the fuzz--one of the men actually cries out "No government is going to tell me what I can do and what I can't do."  The villainous Hellhounds, who hold that the individual is nothing and the collective everything, are obviously an allegory or caricature of Soviet Socialism and/or German National Socialism, while the god-like being that sets up the duel is a product of radical collectivism.
Cosmic Engineers is frustrating because if you told me there was a book about a space war in which a genius woman wakes up after a thousand years to prove herself the greatest scientist in the universe, a book that celebrates human achievement, focuses on the good side of the Crusades, and is for the individual and against the collective, I would have said, "That sounds awesome!"  But here it is, and it is lukewarm and bland because Simak fails to write the characters or action scenes with any feeling.  I am 100% on board with the spirit of Cosmic Engineers, but as a literary construction I cannot endorse its component parts nor the way they were put together.  Too bad.


The last page of my edition of Cosmic Engineers is an ad for four Paperback Library SF titles, four titles that sound pretty good!  There's Eric Frank Russell's 1939 Sinister Barrier, which I would definitely like to read.  (Remember when I read The Best of Eric Frank Russell from cover to cover and learned that Russell was--according to Lester Del Rey, at least--SF icon John W. Campbell's favorite SF writer?)  Next on the list is A. E. van Vogt's The Book of Ptath, under its alternate title Two Hundred Million A.D.-- that was a good one!  Edmond Hamilton's Battle for the Stars I read and enjoyed back in 2012, long before this blog wriggled free from my grey matter to infest the world wide web.  The Roger Elwood anthology Alien Worlds has stories by Simak, Hamilton, Russell, Campbell, Poul Anderson and Robert Bloch that I would definitely read.  This might be the most attractive selection of books I have ever seen in a single ad!   


Saturday, October 27, 2018

Three stories by Poul Anderson from 1951

There's Chryseis on Pelias the erinye.  Anderson's
text actually mentions the precious stones
she wears in her hair.
When people complain that SF from the past is sexist I think one of the things they have in mind may be the covers of Planet Stories--it seems that almost every one features some hot chick in trouble, or causing trouble for somebody else.  (The covers of Astounding from the same period present a stark contrast--I guess they are sexist because they rarely feature women on them at all, instead foregrounding technology, heroic men, and metaphorical tableaux.)

Another thing you'll see if you look at a bunch of covers of Planet Stories is Poul Anderson's name.  Let's check out three stories by Poul Anderson that appeared in 1951 issues of Planet Stories.  I think these stories are among Anderson's least well-known, but as my regular readers are well aware, I like reading things that have been largely forgotten or which have gotten a bad reputation.  I'll be experiencing all three of these tales of violence on other worlds on this very computer screen via the scans of the actual magazines in which they appeared that are freely available at the internet archive.

"Witch of the Demon Seas"

The January 1951 issue of Planet Stories actually includes two pieces by Anderson, the Dominic Flandry story "Tiger by the Tail" and the "novel" I'm reading today, "Witch of the Demon Seas," a cover story appearing under the pen name A. A. Craig.

"Witch of the Demon Seas" takes place on a planet where people live under a perpetually cloudy sky, fight with swords and bows, travel in sailing ships, live in castles and believe in magic (dismissed by some as mere "women's tricks.")  The surface of the planet is covered in oceans, and the many maritime kingdoms ("thallasocracies") are based on groups of islands, their economies based on seaborne trade and slave raiding.  The planet's human inhabitants come in many different ethnicities, including "blue-skinned savages" who serve as mercenaries in the armies of white kings.  One such white empire is Achaera, land of brunettes and the most powerful and extensive of the kingdoms.  The current king of Achaera is huge muscular Khroman.  As our story begins, Khroman's most dangerous enemy, huge muscular Corun the pirate, has just been captured.  Khroman's father, the previous king, conquered Corun's kingdom of blonde people, Conahur, and hanged Corun's father, the king of Conahur.  Ever since this conquest, Corun has been a fugitive and a pirate captain, attacking every Achaeran ship and town he can get his hands on.

King Khroman's top adviser is his father-in-law, Shorzon the sorcerer.  Khroman's wife died giving birth to their daughter, Chryseis.  Trained by her grandfather, Chryseis is reputed to be a powerful witch, and is also perhaps the most beautiful woman on the planet!  Anderson unleashes a lot of purple prose in this story, descriptions of landscapes and seascapes and the sky and how they make people feel, and we get elaborate descriptions of Chryseis's "chill sculptured beauty," "marble-white face," "eyes of dark flame," her clothes, her jewelry, her hair, etc.  Chryseis also has a tame monster by the name of Perias, a flying reptile of a species the characters call "erinyes" or just "devil-beasts"-- you can see witch-princess riding Perias on the cover of the magazine.  A pet monster, too?  This is like my dream girl!  Oh, wait, then there's the fact that she "ordered the flaying alive of a thousand Issarian prisoners and counselled some of the darkest intrigues in Achaera's bloody history."  Every rose has its thorn, I guess.

It turns out that Chryseis and Shorzon have bigger fish to fry than just maintaining the power and glory of Achaera.  The two magicians betray King Khroman, springing Corun the corsair from solitary after they have convinced him to join them on a quest that will shake the very foundations of this planet's whole civilization!  Chryseis is a real femme fatale, using her beauty as a carrot ("I like strong men") and her pet monster as a stick ("If you say no...Perias will rip your guts out.")   

Shorozon and Chryseis need Corun's guidance to get to the sea of the Xanthi, fish-people whose language lacks words for "fear" and "love" (but you better believe they have a word for "hate!")  Corun, besides being a first-class hunk and a cunning sailor, is one of the few people who has spoken to the Xanthi and lived to tell the tale, and so is a perfect addition to the crew of the wizard and witch's galley, which otherwise consists of blue men, "a cutthroat gang" whose "reckless courage was legendary."

Anderson's story totally lives up to the sex and violence reputation of Planet Stories--"Witch of the Demon Seas" fulfills the expectations set up by all those covers of beautiful girls facing or meting out horrible deaths. On the month-long voyage to the black castle of the Xanthi, Chryseis and Corun become lovers, and, in a fight against the Xanthi, we get to see Shorozon use his magic and Chryseis shoot her bow and ply her sword.  The sex-charged atmosphere, less-than-admirable characters and pervasive bloodshed reminded me of Leigh Brackett's work, which of course is a compliment!

Even though its full of dragons, sea serpents, witches and swordsmen, this is a science fiction story, not a fantasy.  What the characters seek is not a pile of treasure, but knowledge.  There's a scene in which Corun and another sea captain speculate about the possibility of using a chronometer and a sextant to determine a ship's position on the open sea (their world is too superstitious and low tech to accomplish these feats as of yet.)  All the magic is in fact telepathic hypnosis and illusion, as Corun learns when he does some espionage work, listening in on the negotiations between his girlfriend and her grandfather and the rulers of the scaly Xanthi, themselves formidable wizards.  Shorozon and Chryseis seek to join forces with the fish people and become as gods by enslaving the entire human race and using the masses of human brains as a source of psychic energy.  With their own minds amplified by those of thousands of slaves, S and C think that they and the Xanthi sorcerers can explore the universe beyond the clouds, riddle out the mysteries of nature, and achieve immortality!

When he realizes Chryseis is a megalomaniac who is going to screw over every human being in the world, Corun leads the blue-skinned sailors in a raid on the Xanthi arsenal, where he lights a fuse leading to a stockpile of the Xanthi secret weapon, "devil powder" (you and I would just call it "gun powder.")  The castle explodes during a running fight between the blue humans and the fish men--luckily enough blue people survive to man the galley.  Shorozon is decapitated in the fighting, while Chryseis and Perias escape into the jungle, pursed by a vengeful Corun.  Our hero kills Perias in a gory fight, gouging out one of the monster's eyes with his fingers--yuck!

With the monster dead, and Corun now immune to Chryseis's illusions, I was expecting the blonde muscle man to kill the witch in a cathartic Mickey Spillane-style ending.  I was disappointed to find Anderson was giving us a happily-ever-after ending--the death of her evil grandfather and her monstrous familiar broke the hypnotic spell Shorozon had put on Chryseis so many years ago, when she was just a little girl.  Chryseis was never really evil, she explains, she was just a pawn of her grandfather.  Now that the spell is broken her true (sweet) character is liberated, as is her sincere love for Corun.  As the story ends we are led to believe that Corun will marry Chryseis and eventually become the king of Archaera who unites Archaera and his native Conahur  on a basis of equality and brotherhood.

There is maybe too much blah blah blah about the luminescence on the waves and the smell of Chryseis's hair and all that, and I consider the happy ending that absolves Chryseis of all responsibility for her crimes a cop out*, but "Witch of the Demon Seas" is a pretty good sword fighting adventure story.  Robert Hoskins included "Witch of the Demon Seas" in his 1970 anthology Swords Against Tomorrow, and the Gene Szafran cover actually illustrates the story, depicting Shorozon's ship, a blue sailor, a fish man (with a face like a dog, unfortunately), and sexy sexy newlyweds Corun and Chryseis.

*Here's a question for all you feminists: which is more sexist, a story in which an evil woman uses her gorgeous body and superior intelligence to manipulate men in pursuit of becoming the world's greatest scientist and then gets killed by one of the men she manipulated, or a story in which a good woman is the pawn of a man who manipulates her to act against her goody goody nature and has to be liberated from this domination by yet another man?

"Duel on Syrtis"

"Duel on Syrtis" was printed in one of the most famous issues of Planet Stories, the one with Leigh Brackett's "Black Amazon of Mars" (one of the Stark stories) and A. E. van Vogt's "The Star Saint" (I reread this great story of a hunky superhero, told from the point of view of the "muggle" whom he cuckolds for the good of the community--ugh, even my thick skull is not impervious to that suffocatingly ubiquitous Harry Potter goop!)

In this story, Anderson portrays the human race as a bunch of jerks!  When mankind colonized Mars they enslaved the native Martians, who look like skinny four-foot tall owls, if you can imagine such a thing.    (There is a good illustration of a Martian on page 5 of the magazine.)  They also hunted them for sport!  Slaving and hunting Martians was recently outlawed, but successful interplanetary businessman and big game hunter Riordan hasn't bagged a Martian yet, and he goes to a secluded spot on the red planet where the authorities don't have everything locked up tight yet, to shoot himself an "owlie."

The Martian owlies are very challenging quarry because they are intelligent and psychically in tune with the flora and fauna of the desert landscape--bushes and rodents miles away can warn them of an Earthman's approach, and even attack the Earther.  The Martian Riordan has set his sights on is a particularly tough nut to crack.  Most Martians are now debased members of the urban lower class, but Kreega, is one of the last wild Martians, living in an isolated ruin in the desert.  Something like 200 years old, Kreega was one of the greatest warriors of Mars, a witness of the arrival of the first Earthman and a veteran of many raids on the human colonists before the signing of the peace treaties and amnesties now in force. Along with a hunting dog and a hunting bird, Riordan sets out to hunt this wily and venerable Martian hermit.

Anderson gives us a good long action sequence, describing the several days of the hunt through the desert, the various weapons and traps and stratagems employed by the hunter and hunted.  In the end Kreega not only defeats Riordan but captures the Earthman's space ship, and we readers are led to believe that, like the Martians in Chad Oliver's 1952 "Final Exam," Kreega and his fellows are going to be able to copy the ship and weapons and build a military force with which to challenge Earth hegemony.  (More on this Anderson-Oliver connection below.)  Riordan himself is put into suspended animation, still conscious, so that he will be forced to lie inert for centuries, contemplating his defeat.

We see a lot of these stories in which cloddish Earthmen with their high technology are contrasted with aliens who are sensitive and/or artistic and/or live as one with the natural world; I guess all these stories are reflective of a sympathy for the peoples the world over whom Europeans conquered or otherwise dominated, as well as a fear of technology and concern about the environment.  For me, this noble savage stuff has worn thin, but the meat of this tale is the well-written chase, and I can strongly recommend "Duel on Syrtis" as an engaging adventure story, a quite successful entertainment.

"Duel on Syrtis" has reappeared in Anderson collections and a few anthologies, including 1975's The Best Of Planet Stories, edited by Leigh Brackett.  I will also note that, in the issue of Planet Stories that includes "Duel on Syrtis," there is a little one column autobiography by Anderson; among other things, Anderson says that a year spent in Washington, D.C. convinced him that it was not "a town fit to live in" and that his favorite contemporary author is Johannes V. Jensen (Anderson is really into being Scandinavian.)

"The Virgin of Valkarion"

The setting of "The Virgin of Valkarion" reminds one of the Mars of Edgar Rice Burroughs or Leigh Brackett--an old planet, thousands of years ago fertile and ruled by a glorious empire, now a desolate waste of dry sea beds and crumbling ruins.  Our hero is Alfric, a claymore-wielding barbarian who rides some kind of hoofed beast and has behind him a long career as bandit and mercenary general.  When he arrives at Valkarion, the capital of the last tiny remnant of that empire of long ago, two slaves marked in such a way that it is clear they are property of the priesthood try to ambush and murder him.  Why have they targeted him, a total stranger to the environs of Valkarion?

Alfric gets a room in a disreputable inn.  The room comes with what we now are calling a "sex worker," and what the introductory blurb of this story calls "a tavern bawd."  But this is no ordinary prostitute--she is one of the most beautiful women Alfric has ever seen, and she turns out to be exceptionally skilled in "the arts of love."  As that intro blurb told us (that intro is full of spoilers), she is also a Queen--the Empress of Valkarion!

Why are these strange things happening to Alfric?  Well, it all has to do with a prophecy and a major political crisis.  Not only is tonight important astrologically, but the Emperor is dying, and he has no heir.  The priesthood would like to take over the kingdom, but a prophecy from thousands of years ago (recorded in the "Book of the Sibyl") predicts that under just such circumstances an outsider will crown himself Emperor.  So the priests have been looking for a guy like Alfric (to murder) and the Empress likewise has been looking for a guy answering Alfric's description (to ally with.)  After their sex session, the Empress explains all this to Alfric, who is not unwilling to make himself Emperor, and then they get caught up in the open fighting between the agents of the Temple and those devoted to the Empress.  (If the traditionally anti-religious readers of SF haven't already gotten the message,  Anderson makes clear that the Empress would be a better ruler than the priests by pointing out that her financial policy features lower tax rates than that of previous administrations, and that the Temple tries to maintain a monopoly on knowledge of the high technology of the Empire's heyday, even executing those who read the old books and try to build the machinery described therein.)

Alfric and the Empress get captured, and the High Priest gives the Empress the opportunity to marry him, which would make him Emperor--if she refuses she will be gang raped by the Temple slaves and then burned at the stake.  She agrees, but, once untied, contrives to free Alfric, who kills the high priest.  The lovers escape the Temple, and lead the Imperial loyalists against the priests and their dupes, Anderson gives us several (too many) pages of tedious battle scenes.  The Empress herself wears armor and rides a beast and stabs people--I think we can say this story includes the much-sought-after "strong female protagonist."  The Temple and the Imperial Palace both get burned down in the fracas, but we readers are assured that Alfric and his lover will build a glorious new Empire and found a noble new dynasty.

This story is just OK.  I am tired of prophecy stories and the action scenes in this one are not particularly stirring and the characters are not very interesting.  "The Virgin of Valkarion" doesn't seem to have set the world on fire--I don't think it ever appeared in an Anderson collection.  It was translated into Portuguese, however, for inclusion in a 1965 anthology alongside pieces by H. G. Wells, Arthur C. Clarke, and other worthies.

The issue of Planet Stories that includes "The Virgin of Valkarion" also includes a letter from Chad Oliver, the anthropologist and SF writer whose "Final Exam" I just compared to Anderson's "Duel on Syrtis."  In the letter Oliver praises the active SF community of letter-writers, makes literary puns, and says that Anderson's "Duel on Syrtis" was "outstanding."  Maybe he really did lift the central idea of "Final Exam" from Anderson!  Oliver also, bizarrely, denounces the cover of the March '51 issue, a cover whose use of color I find striking and whose central figure I find mesmerizing.  Chad may have been a good anthropologist, but he was no art critic!


Three worthwhile stories by Anderson, even if "The Virgin of Valkarion" is borderline, and I certainly enjoyed rereading van Vogt's "The Star Saint," while the Anderson autobiography and the letter from Chad Oliver both provide fun insights for us classic SF fans.  Those old magazines available at the internet archive are full of gems!

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Comet Kings by Edmond Hamilton

"You can help us willingly with all your knowledge of this universe, and be rewarded by electric immortality.  Or you can refuse.  In that case, we will strip your mind of all knowledge and then destroy you immediately."
In his essentially mainstream novel about a science fiction writer who goes insane, Herovit's World, Barry Malzberg, who has read more SF and thought about SF more than just about anybody, includes a parody of SF of the Lensman/Captain Future type that features heroic scientists and fighting men who explore the universe and battle hostile aliens.  Let's check out an example of the very kind of story Malzberg was satirizing, Edmond Hamilton's The Comet Kings, first published in Captain Future magazine in 1942.  The Comet Kings is the 11th Captain Future Adventure; I am reading the 1969 paperback edition from Popular Library.

(We've read two Captain Future novels by Hamilton already, Quest Beyond the Stars and Outlaw World, and over the course of this blog's life I have read many other novels and stories by Hamilton, who, like his wife Leigh Brackett, is something of a MPorcius fave.)

The government of the Solar System, based in beautiful New York City on Earth, has a big big problem!  Dozens of space ships, both private commercial ships and government war ships, have vanished without a trace in a sector beyond Jupiter.  The Planet Patrol has sent out two of its best agents, old man Ezra Gurney and Joan Randall, a "dark, pretty girl" and "the smartest agent of our secret investigation division" who "knows the spaceways better than most men," to investigate.  These two geniuses also disappear, so the government turns to the Moon for help!  Only four people make their homes on the Moon, scientist Curtis Newton, known as Captain Future, and his three comrades, the Futuremen!  Newton has a crush on Randall, so everybody knows he will take this job seriously!

Who are the Futuremen?  Oldest of the three is Doctor Simon Wright, a genius scientist who was a close colleague of Curtis's father, biologist Roger Newton.  When his body approached death, Newton removed Wright's brain and implanted it alive in a box equipped with cameras, microphones, and projectors that emit "beams of force" that allow him to hover and fly.  Newton and Wright created in their lunar lab the other two Futuremen, Otho, the synthetic man, and Grag, the intelligent robot.  When his parents died, young Curtis was raised by Wright (AKA "The Brain") and Otho and Grag, and became a brilliant scientist himself, as well as "the most renowned fighting planeteer in the System."

I took these images of Curt Newton's comrades from the scan of the Winter 1943 issue of
Captain Future available at the Internet Archive
Apprised of the disappearance of Randall and hundreds of other people, Newton and the Futuremen fly off to the orbit of Jupiter to investigate.  It is not long before they suspect that Halley's comet is somehow connected to the disappearances, and, when they approach the comet to have a look-see,  their ship is seized by a magnetic force and pulled towards the mysterious body.  They discover, within the glowing energy field that is the outer shell of the comet, a small forested planet with an alabaster city on its surface.  Here lie all the lost space ships, and here our heroes are taken prisoner by the pirates who live on the comet, men and women whose very bodies pulse and glow with electricity!  These electric people do not need to eat or drink, and are practically immortal!

There are no three-eyed aliens in this story
The world inside Halley's Comet is full of surprises.  Our heroes learn that the people of the Comet (the Cometae) only recently became electrified and immortal, when their tyrannical rulers, King Thoryx, Queen Lulain, and the weird old adviser, Querdel, exposed them to the power of the Allus, creatures from another cosmos summoned to our universe by Querdel's science.  The majority of Cometae don't even want to be electrified, as they feel it has stripped them of their humanity--they are sterile and thus denied the joys of parenthood as well as the age-old natural cycle of birth, maturity, and death.  Another surprise: when he is brought to the royal court, Newton finds that his crush Joan Randall has been electrified herself!

Randall of course is only pretending to have joined the Cometae in order to learn more about them and the Allus--she is an intelligence agent, after all.  When Newton and the Brain promise the leaders of the anti-Allus majority population of the comet world that they will try to reverse the electrification of their bodies, the commoners launch an uprising against the royals, and Newton and the Futuremen are right in the thick of the fighting!  Unfortunately, when the rebels are on the cusp of victory, Querdel contacts the extradimensional Allus via his ten-foot-wide ebon orb and a wave of energy from another universe hypnotizes all the rebels into immobility, save the not-quite human Grag and Otho, who escape to the forest outside the alabaster city.

Querdel, in his six-wheeled car, drives the unconscious Newton from the white city to the black citadel of the Allus.  Luckily, Grag and Otho, hiding in the woods, see the car go by and march to the 1000-foot tool black tower.  Within the tower Curt learns the true nature of the Allus and their mission in our universe.  (The scenes in which Newton sees the true forms of the Allus for the first time, and when he looks through the Allus' portal into their universe of four dimensions, seemed to me to owe some inspiration to H. P. Lovecraft, Hamilton's fellow Weird Tales scribe.)  Newton, the Futuremen and Joan Randall work together to shut the portal from the other universe, dending the Allus menace, and then Newton, The Brain, and a Martian scientist figure out how to turn all the immortal electric people back into short-lived normal people who can have children and die.  (Hooray, I guess?)

There are no giant bats in this story
This is a fun, fast-paced, and brief (128 pages here) story, a good example of old-fashioned adventure SF.  The Comet Kings is full of speculative science about things like a comet's make up and why living things age and die, though I'm guessing these theories are today totally exploded, and our heroes overcome obstacles again and again by using their knowledge and via trickery--while there is some hand-to-hand combat and bloodshed, the story fetishizes not strength or martial prowess, but science and quick-thinking.

As part of my project of defending Golden Age SF from misharacterizing attacks, I will point out that while Malzberg's parody in Herovit's World suggests that SF scientist/soldiers are xenophobic, shooting first and asking questions later, and making servants or slaves of alien races, this Captain Future novel is practically a paean to diversity.  It is true that nobody gives a boring or self-righteous speech about the evils of racism and sexism--Hamilton instead depicts the people of the future matter-of-factly taking diversity and equality as a given, portraying Earthlings, Martians and Venusians working side by side, both men and women exhibiting intelligence and bravery, and all of them accepting such strange characters as Grag, The Brain and Otho as comrades.  The masses of the people of the comet are good and quick to aid the strangers from outside--it is only their aristocratic leaders who are evil, and they courageously oppose when given a chance (Hamilton perhaps exhibiting a very American attitude about hereditary rule.)

An entertaining, optimistic and wholesome space opera, perhaps an interesting contrast to the somewhat gritty, pessimistic and noirish Hamilton space opera we read a little while ago, "The Starcombers."


The last page of my 1969 paperback is an ad, but not for SF books.  Rather, it promotes the history of the Plantagenets by Canadian-born writer Thomas B. Costain.  It looks like people still read these--the first volume, The Conquering Family, published in 1949, has 25 reviews on Amazon.  I like to think that there are thriving classic SF and pulp fiction communities online, but The Comet Kings only has two Amazon reviews and the third volume of The Collected Captain Future put out by Stephen Haffner (which contains The Comet Kings and three other Captain Future novels) has only 11 reviews--I guess this Costain guy is a big wheel!

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Four stories by C. L. Moore from Astounding

In 1952 Gnome Press published Judgment Night, a collection of work by C. L. Moore, famous creator of Northwest Smith and Jirel of Joiry and collaborator of Henry Kuttner, her husband.  The hardcover volume with a cover by Kelly Freas included the title novel and four short stories; in 1979 Dell reprinted the collection in paperback with a cover by God knows who.  I own one of those 1979 paperbacks, and in our last episode we read the title work, originally an Astounding serial, the story of a princess's first love affair and the collapse of her civilization, a denunciation of human violence and an expression of skepticism of the value of gods.  Today we will look at those four short stories, all of which appeared in Astounding after Judgment Night's appearance.  I'm going to read them in the chronological order in which they were printed, not the order they appear in this book.

"The Code" (1945)

"The Code" appeared under the pen name of "Lawrence O'Donnell," like all four stories we are talking about today.  This pseudonym was also attached to numerous stories on which Moore and Kuttner collaborated, including the highly regarded tales "Vintage Season," "Clash By Night" and "Fury," and served as the inspiration for one of the pen names used by Kuttner/Moore aficionado Barry N. Malzberg, "K. M. O'Donnell."

(The unusual cover of this issue of Astounding is a collage of US military personnel operating some of their heavier weapons.  Maybe this is related to the included Eric Frank Russell story, "Resonance," the intro of which indicates it is about the Pacific War and whose illustrations feature what we would probably consider racist caricatures of "the Japs."

Bill Westerfield and Peter Morgan are scientists, medical types.  They think that people get old and die for largely psychosomatic reasons:
"You've been conditioned to think you grow old because of time, and this is a false philosophy....you must be conditioned to reverse time.  The body and the mind react inseparably, one upon the other."
Bill's father Rufus serves as the guinea pig for their secret experiments on reversing the aging process, and they shoot the seventy-year-old full of drugs and hypnotize him so he will look at time differently.  And it works!  In the space of a few months Rufus develops the body of a healthy forty-year-old!  But something is amiss with Rufus's brain or mind; he has vague memories that cannot be his own.  Also, Bill and Peter think his face is different from that of the man Rufus was when he was forty...they suspect that Rufus isn't just "growing" younger, but changing into a different person altogether!  Then X-rays indicate that Rufus's bones and organs are changing--Bill's father isn't just  becoming a different person, but a whole different species!

Moore explains, using a metaphor about parallel train tracks that I did not find very convincing, that Rufus isn't regressing to the Rufus he once was, but an alternate reality Rufus in a universe where the evolution of intelligent life proceeded quite differently.  Rufus, as he grows biologically younger and gets closer to that alien track, changes more and more.  In his biological twenties he develops a nictitating membrane and becomes a drunk--the booze helps his mind cope with the overlapping memories of his English-speaking Earth youth and his alien youth in a world of strange languages and weird tuneless music; alcohol is also one of the few Earth foods his half-alien stomach can handle.  He then seals himself in his room and ceases eating altogether, his body burning his tissues for fuel so that he shrinks and eventually becomes an alien egg or larva--for a brief moment Bill and Peter see Rufus's alien mother, before she and the embryonic alien Rufus vanish as he is fully integrated into that other time track.

Because it moves at a rapid enough pace and throws lots of ideas at you this is an acceptably entertaining story, even if the ideas are all kind of ridiculous.  It also aspires to a high level of erudition.  Readers of Astounding are expected to know about science, and on the very first page of "The Code" Moore refers to snowflakes making "pseudo-Brownian movements"--I had to look that up on google.  Besides the science stuff there are plenty of literary references--Faust, Theseus, Alice in Wonderland, Shakespeare, Longfellow.  This is a story for the educated reader!  The title of the story refers to Bill and Peter's idea that the intellectuals of the past knew more than they are given credit for, and even conducted experiments like the one B & P are conducting on Rufus.  Our heroes think  their predecessors recorded their work in "code" in stories like the legend of Faust, and speculate that Faust's loss of his soul in the story represents some other loss suffered by a experimental subject back in the 16th century; at the end of the story our 20th century experimenters get the solution to the mystery.

"The Code" is like several stories I have read by Kuttner and Moore that are about Earth humans interacting with items or people from other times or dimensions.  "Mimsy Were the Borogroves" is the most famous example, others include "Prisoner in the Skull" and "Shock."  "The Code" is included in a handsome-looking 900-page collection of Kuttner and Moore stories published in 2005 by Centipede Press and titled Two-Handed Engine after one of Kuttner and Moore's most celebrated tales.

We read To The Stars here at
MPorcius Fiction Log in early 2014
"Promised Land" (1950)

It is several hundred years in the future, and mankind has colonized numerous planets and moons within the solar system.  To do so, scientists have used controlled mutation and selective breeding to fashion humans suitable for life on alien worlds.  Some pure strain humans fear that the engineered humans are taking over civilization, that they, however freakish they might be, are the future of mankind.  One such engineered human is Torren, the dictator of Ganymede, the product of the thirteen generations of breeding in "The Centrifuge" that was the abortive project to create people who could live on Jupiter.  Torren weighs five hundred pounds and lives every moment of his adult life in a bath of oily fluid because he lacks the strength to walk--he can barely lift his own arm!  (When I was a kid they told us that Brachiosaurus probably stayed in water to support his tremendous weight, but I think that theory has been abandoned.)  Via TV screens and other devices Torren rules the people of Ganymede, humans specially bred to be able to endure Ganymede's deadly cold and breathe Ganymede's toxic atmosphere.

Years ago Torren chose from among the brats at an orphanage an heir, Ben Fenton, a pure strain human.  Fenton is an adult now, and as "Promised Land" begins he has had it with Ganymede and tells Torren to find himself another heir--he is leaving!  Why, you ask?

Torren is a selfish ruler who feels that the tragedy of his own life as the only survivor of the Centrifuges means he owes others no consideration.  He is having Ganymede terraformed so a large number of pure strain humans can live on it and efficiently exploit its resources--this will mean the small number of peeps tailored for Ganymede will have to live under domes the way Terron and Fenton do today!  Fenton sympathizes with the Ganymedeans and wants no part of throwing them under the bus.

Fenton's attitude was easier for me to understand when I realized that the people engineered to live on Ganymede weren't hideous insect people or ogrish yetis or something, but seven-foot tall Scandinavians with blue eyes and blonde hair and "milk-white" skin, and our man Ben Fenton has a crush on one of them.
He did not think he was in love with Krisitn.  It would be preposterous.  They could not speak except through metal or touch except through glass and cloth.  They could not even breathe the same air.  But he faced the possibility of love, and grinned ironically at it.     
Fenton goes to meet Kristin, and, while they sit in his ground vehicle, an air vehicle bombs them.  They survive the attack, and Fenton sneaks back into Terron's palace to discover that a coup attempt is under way, Terron's pure strain assistant trying to take over.  Fenton foils the coup attempt, saving Terron, but as the story ends we know that Ganymede is about to be rocked by a civil war between Terron and his agents and the Ganymedeans, lead by Fenton, who are determined to resist the terraforming of their chilly home.  Who will win the war will be largely determined by the response to the crisis of the pure strain people on Earth and the engineered people living on Venus and Mars--who will intervene in the conflict, and on which side?  Perhaps the outcome of the Ganymedean civil war will signal whether the new artificially bred human races represent the future of the human race, or will always be subordinate to those who created them.

This is a pretty good story; like Judgment Night it conjures up a strange milieu and presents SF ideas and a civilization on the brink of a new era, but it is economical.  Perhaps Moore here is vulnerable to the charge of making things easy on herself by making the villain a big fatso and the innocent victims people who look like supermodels, however. 

"Heir Apparent" (1950)

To my surprise, I discovered on its first page that "Heir Apparent" was a sequel of sorts to "Promised Land," being set in the same universe, though on Earth instead of one of the other inhabited bodies of the Solar System and at a later period of time, when the solar system is in crisis as the engineered humans on Mars, Venus and Ganymede seek to achieve independence from Earth.  Our protagonist is Edward Harding, former member of Integrator Team Twelve-Wye-Lambda.  As we see in flashbacks, an Integrator Team is seven men, each with a high level of expertise in one field, who connect psychically across long distances via a computer called an Integrator, temporarily melding their personalities and skills within the computer to solve difficult problems related to the governance of Earth's interplanetary empire.  (A theme of this story is that empires collapse because managing them from what in college we called "the metropole" becomes too complicated.)  These psychic connections are so satisfying that those kicked off Integrator teams become depressed and wander the world like lost souls, suited for no other work.  Harding is one such lost soul, as is a former colleague of his, George Mayall, who blames Harding for getting him kicked off the team a few years before Harding himself was let go.

Bumming around the Pacific, Harding meets an obese rich guy, Turner, who is the head of a private espionage network.  (Does Moore hate fat people?  Or does she just hate rich people, and use obesity to signify indulgence and wealth?)  Turner tells Harding that Mayall is working with the seccessionists from a base on a Pacific island.  Mayall has camouflaged this island and surrounded it with traps so that it is almost totally invisible and inaccessible.  Turner wants to capture this island and work his own lucrative deal with the seccessionists, and thinks that Harding--who has the ability to integrate his mind with a boat's computer, controlling the vessel as if it was his own body, and has intimate knowledge of Mayall's way of thinking--is the only man who can get him to the island safely.  Harding and Turner become uneasy partners, each with his own agenda.

Once on the island Harding and Turner confront Mayall and we get doublecrosses and Mexican standoff situations involving guns, knives, holograms, paralysis rays, heat rays, post-hypnotic suggestions, etc.  These standoffs resemble the relationships between Earth and its colonies--they all want independence, but really need to cooperate to prosper, maybe even to merely survive.  The whole business of the Integrator, in which seven people fuse their psyches to produce a more efficient collective "being," mirrors this same theme.

During all the tense scenes on the island we learn why Mayall and then Harding were thrown off Integrator Team Twelve-Wye-Lambda, and what exactly Mayhall is up to on the island.  Mayhall has put together his own Integrator and set up his own Integrator team, one that is devoted to winning independence for Venus.  But who is on Mayhall's team?  Harding discovers that Mayhall has filled the other six seats at "the Round Table" of his Integrator not with human beings but with computer files!  Does this presage a future when human beings will be subordinate to machines, or surrender their humanity to become integrated with machines?  Like Judgment Night and "Promised Land," rather than ending conclusively, "Heir Apparent" ends leaving us expecting a radical shift in human history and wondering what--perhaps horrible--future is in store for mankind.     

Pretty good.  "Heir Apparent" was included in a 1988 French collection of Moore stories.   

"Paradise Street" (1950)

Jaime Morgan was one of the first men on planet Loki.  He is an irascible loner, a trapper who catches the sehft rats that infest the planet and drains their sehft sacs to sell the sehft oil.  But times, they are a changin'; once-wild Loki, a place for an independent manly man, is becoming civilized!  Settlers (Morgan denounces them as "Scum!") are putting down roots on Loki, starting farms and families, and they want to exterminate the sehft rats, who despoil their orchards.  Sehft has also been synthesized off world, so the value of sehft has gone down by like 99%, leaving Morgan in real financial trouble.  Law and order is also coming to Loki in the form of Major Rufus Dodd, an old friend of Morgan's--they grew up together on Mars.

"Paradise Street" is like a story about the old West, with a general store, a saloon, a new sheriff in town, desperadoes and ranch hands--there's even a minor character who is a Native American (a "hawk-nosed Red Amerindian.")  It is also like a 20th century crime story--100% natural and organic sehft (not the synthetic stuff) turns out to be a powerful narcotic, and Morgan, due to ignorance and carelessness, gets mixed up with organized crime and the cops (in the form of his childhood friend Dodd.)  Venusian crime bosses want to get their hands on some organic sehft, but Dodd has confiscated it and locked it all up, so the Venusians hire Morgan to cause a native herd of cattle to stampede; this will distract the settlers and the lawmen and give the Venus mafia a chance to liberate the sehft.

To stampede the beasts Morgan has to get in tune with nature, and Moore gives us a scene in which Morgan "feels" the rhythm of Loki through his fingers and toes as he crouches in the moss.  Moore also gives us a quote from A. E. Housman's "The Night is Freezing Fast."  (A. E. Housman seems to be a favorite of SF writers.)   Morgan directs the stampede so it wrecks the crops the settlers have spent a year tending, but then the Venusians, with firearms, throw the stampede out of control so it damages the town and even kills a handful of innocent people.  The settlers take up arms and outfight and then lynch the Venusians.  The settlers want to hang Morgan as well, but Dodd, quoting Kipling's "The Explorer," (Kipling is another favorite versifier of the SF crowd, at least the conservative/libertarian faction of people like Poul Anderson and Robert Heinlein) helps Morgan escape, directing him to a merchant space ship on which he can stow away and get to a newly discovered planet, where he can play "hermit trapper in touch with nature" again.  Morgan doesn't belong among civilized men, neither the boring community-minded types like the settlers nor the evil predatory type like the Venusian criminals--he belongs alone on the frontier.

There are some silly elements to "Paradise Street," and it does remind you of that famous Galaxy ad that derides that species of SF that is just Westerns in space, but it is smoothly written and entertaining.


All these stories are worth your time.  "Heir Apparent," "Promised Land" and "Paradise Street" all have action and revenge elements, and all talk about imperialism and colonialism, how individual human beings and the government deal with exploring and conquering and exploiting new territories; "Heir Apparent" and "Promised Land" also do the thing that Malzberg told John W. Campbell, editor of Astounding, SF should do, explore how technology is "consuming" people, taking away their individuality and their ability to control their lives.  (See Malzberg's essay "John W. Campbell: June 8, 1910 to July 11, 1971," in which our pal Barry recounts his meeting with Campbell; I know I have recommended it before--it is a great essay for those of us interested in both Golden Age and New Wave SF.) 


Squint or click to read about these Dell offerings
The last four pages of my 1979 copy of Judgment Night consist of ads for the Dell SF line.  Vonda McIntyre's Dreamsnake gets a page to itself, complete with glowing blurbs from Frank Herbert and Robert Silverberg and a sort of poorly reproduced illustration of a young lady grasping a scaly writhing phallic symbol.  I liked McIntyre's short stories "Recourse, Inc." and "Only at Night," (the techniques she used to tell these stories were quite good) and Dreamsnake won the Hugo and the Nebula, stamps of approval from the people and the pros, so I should probably consider reading it.

D. F. Jones's novel Earth Has Been Found also gets a page to itself (no blurbs, though.)  I thought it was funny that the marketing people at Dell thought that SF readers would be excited by the thought of a story about "California's finest doctor."  Gordon Dickson's novel about astronauts going to Mars, The Far Call, is another item that gets the full-page treatment; "undersecretary for space" sounds a little dry, but next to "best sawbones on the Left Coast," maybe it's not so bad.

If your criteria is efficiency, the best of the four ad pages is the one with a list of thirteen books.  I have a (peripheral, I admit) familiarity with a few of these.

For New Wavey, literary SF types, Dell offers Michael Bishop's Stolen Faces, which Joachim Boaz declared "a near masterpiece," and Richard Lupoff's Space War Blues (I read the ambitious and dense 90-page short story upon which this novel is based in my hardcover copy of Again, Dangerous Visions) and John Varley's The Ophiuchi Hotline, which I read before I started this blog and thought was alright.

Dell has stuff for the sword & sorcery and planetary romance fan as well.  I assume I read The Silver Warriors by Michael Moorcock decades ago (I know I owned a copy, which my brother probably still has back in New Jersey, greatest state in the union) but I can't remember any specifics about it; it is the second of the Erekose books and sometimes printed under the title Phoenix in Obsidian.  I actually remember the first Erekose book, more or less (I compared it to Edmond Hamilton's A Yank at Valhalla last year.)  I enjoyed all those Eternal Champion books in my teens, and often think about rereading them.  Flashing Swords #4 includes Moorcock's "The Lands Beyond the World," which I think makes up a third of the Elric book The Sailor on the Seas of FateFlashing Swords #4 also includes one of the component stories of Jack Vance's delightful Cugel's Saga (AKA Cugel: The Skybreak Spatterlight.)  I own a copy of Andrew Offutt's Ardor on Aros, but haven't read it yet--I am interested in Offut's work, but I have got the idea that Ardor on Aros is a spoof, not a sincere adventure story, and this has put me off a little bit.  I read the first two Callisto novels by Lin Carter in the 2000 ibooks omnibus edition; they were mediocre.  Ylana of Callisto, according to isfdb, is the seventh Callisto book--I guess people were buying them.

Comments are welcome on all the advertised books, as well as on C. L. Moore, of course.


More SF from 1940s magazines in out next episode!