Wednesday, December 17, 2014

All the Colors of Darkness by Lloyd Biggle, Jr.

Their eyes met, and Darzek reached out and took the young alien's cold, dry hand.  He had never felt such compassion for a living creature.

I'd never read anything by Lloyd Biggle, Jr., and this week gave him a try, taking off my shelf the copy of All the Colors of Darkness I purchased in May of this year.  Besides SF stories and novels, Biggle wrote lots of mysteries, and this 1963 novel, my copy of which is the 1965 Paperback Library edition, is the first in a series about a private eye, Jan Darzek.  I'm not particularly keen on private eyes, and I probably wouldn't have bought the book if I had known it was part of a detective series, even if it is a detective series in which the detective is dealing with aliens.  The cover text doesn't stress the detective angle, and I guess I figured Darzek would be a scientist, or soldier, or astronaut, or just some guy upon whom adventure had been thrust.

It's the year 1986, and The Universal Transmitting Company, after several false starts, is finally having the grand opening of its teleporter business.  Soon everyone will be able to travel from L.A. to New York, from America to Europe, and numerous stations in between, in the blink of an eye, for no more than the price of a Manhattan subway ride!  The world economy and human life are about to be revolutionized!

Wait, what was that about false starts?  Why has The Universal Transmitting Company had so much trouble getting off the ground?  Well, all those government regulations haven't helped, but there's also the sabotage!  Who would want to sabotage a teleporter service?  The railroads?  The airlines?  Jan Darzek is hired to solve the case, and who turns out to be the culprit?  Aliens!

Fellow SF fan Betty Briggs, we salute you!
The first sixty pages or so of the novel contain all the trappings of detective fiction: lists of suspects, intimations of an inside job, disguises, stakeouts, people being tailed on the street, people being knocked unconscious in doorways, etc.  I was relieved when Darzek was unexpectedly teleported to the moon while chasing a suspect through one of Universal Trans's teleporter portals.  (As in Heinlein's 1955 Tunnel in the Sky, the teleporters in All the Colors of Darkness are a bunch of doorways in a Grand Central Terminal-style concourse; the big difference is that while in the Heinlein book teleportation is expensive, here costs are negligible.)

Darzek reappears in the aliens' secret base on the moon, from which a team of five of them have been interfering with Earth's development of the teleporter system.  In the initial struggle, Darzek blows up the base's power plant, dooming himself and the aliens to death by asphyxiation when their emergency supplies of oxygen run out in some weeks.

When Darzek recovers from the blast, he finds the aliens are nice guys.  They describe themselves as police, and treat Darzek decently.  If you've read any SF books or watched any SF on TV you probably won't be surprised to hear that the aliens represent the innumerable space faring races that populate the universe and they are trying to stop mankind from developing teleportation because humans are too violent, ambitious and intolerant.  Teleportation is the first step to interstellar travel, and if Earthling men and women, Jews and Muslims, blacks and whites, etc., can't get along, how can humans be expected to get along with the countless far more different alien civilizations they will encounter beyond the Solar System?

Our Italian friends at Urania printed All the Colors of Darkness in
1964 and then 1975; observe the rises in both prices and hemlines.
The aliens, while friendly, are quite firm; they don't punish or take revenge on Darzek, but they also stick to their Code, which forbids them from revealing themselves to the humans, even to save their own lives.  The explosion of the alien power plant was detected by the US space agency, and before long an American rocket lands near the hidden base, but Darzek, forbidden from signalling his countrymen, can only watch them on a viewscreen as they pass mere meters from the hidden base in which he will soon die!

The chapters in the wrecked base, in which Darzek gets to know the five aliens and struggles to figure out a way to save himself and his new friends without breaking the Code, are the best part of the book.   Biggle's aliens are interesting, and their interactions with Darzek and with each other are well done; the aliens have more personality and more intriguing relationships than do any of the novel's human characters.  The detective, in a nick of time, does save the day, not only preserving his own skin and that of his five extra-terrestrial buddies, but even convincing the galactic civilization to permit humanity to retain its newly developed teleporter technology.

The style of All the Colors of Darkness is bland and the human characters are boring, but I liked all the SF elements: the teleporters, the aliens, the scenes on the lunar surface in vacuum suits.  (I'm a sucker for that old school stuff.)  I was a bit disappointed in the ending; Darzek returns to his own kind with his memory of his time on Luna erased, his new friendships and his adventure entirely forgotten.  I had been hoping the aliens would insist that he leave the Solar System with them, becoming a sort of goodwill ambassador or embarking on a lecture tour or something.  It's not like Biggle gave Darzek a family or a love interest back on Earth to return to, and to me a memory wipe seems like a terrible violation.

Despite my reservations, I would judge All the Colors of Darkness moderately good.  I own the fourth Darzek novel, and if I spot the second and third I will buy them.


  1. I have this on the shelf as well -- same crazy cover. Sort of like it.

    I've only read one Biggle, Jr. novel, The Light That Never Was (1972). It was bizarre, and not necessarily in a good way. Something was lacking although the premise was off the wall different.

  2. All the Colors of Darkness lacked any kind of style and had very little feeling or passion, and the human characters were boring; like you say of the characters in your review of The Light That Never Was, many of the characters in this novel are basically interchangeable, different only in having different names. Even if SF is a literature of ideas, as some have argued, it can be hard for new and exciting ideas to stand on their own without some kind of artistry or passion to generate feeling in the reader.

    I also like the cover of my copy, it is strange and unusual, and the little guy is adorable (and resembles the aliens in the book not at all.)

    Link to Joachim's review of The Light That Never Was: