Science Fiction & Fantasy


JOHN BRUNNER – Threshold of Eternity. Ace Double D-335, paperback original, 1959. Cover by Ed Emshwiller. Published back to back with The War of Two Worlds, by Poul Anderson. Previously published in New Worlds SF #66, December 1957.

   Two people of the 20th Century, a sculptor from California and a London nurse, are caught up in a space-war encompassing all of space and time. The enemy is intent on destroying the Being, located in the Solar System, and existing in four dimensions. But as time itself is no barrier to the being, dedicated to the welfare of Man, parallel time-streams can sculpted for that purpose.

   Truly large-scale action, but someone not used to sf concepts would give up early, as the true story becomes clearer only gradually. Brunner takes his concepts seriously, but this is not one of the better works on the structure of time and space. Explanatory material is presented through dialogue and actions of the characters, as they too struggle through the mysterious happenings, and hence is only partial. All scenes are neatly tied together, but the reader merely goes long for the ride.

Rating: **

–October 1967

FUTURE SCIENCE FICTION. June 1954. Cover by Ed Emshwiller [as by Emsh].     Overall rating: 3 stars.

IRVING COX, JR. “Peace on Earth.” Novelet. Aliens bring Earth love and peace, actually a test for galactic citizenship. Length adds little (2)

SAM SACKETT “Hail to the Chief.” Short novel. A processor of political science gets a chance to put his theories into practice. Unknown to the mass of American people, a group of the intellectually elite has been secretly ruling the country, and they ask Logan to join them. But he becomes disillusioned and attempts the murder of the Chief. Quite a fascinating hypothesis, with better than average character analysis. (4)

PHILIP K. DICK “Sales Pitch.” An unwanted self-selling robot attaches itself to a man and wife. Commuter rocket travel described exactly like freeway traffic? (1)

SAM MERWIN, JR. “The Intimate Invasion.” A bathroom is the location of a bridge between parallel worlds. Invasion through romance is foiled. (2)

GORDON R. DICKSON “Rescue.” A spaceman discovers lost colony, but the inhabitants do not plan on being rescued. (4)

-October 1967

RICHARD A. LOVETT “A Pound of Flesh.” Alex Copley #1. Novella. Analog SF, September 2006. Never reprinted.

   A tale of the not-too-distant future, but if the author is to be believed, PI’s are always destined to be down on their luck and work in dingy offices in the bad part of town. Alex Copley, who tells his own story is one such, and speaking on down on his luck, here’s the way his life is going. He is behind on his rent, no surprise there, but here’s the thing, and it’s the thing that makes his a science fiction story.

   Nanotechnology has made it possible to avoid having to call in bill collectors when tenants cannot come up with the rent. When a contract is signed, the signee agrees to be injected with nano bots that, if/when the time comes and a loan is not paid, the defaulter is automatically infected with a pre-specified ailment or disease, which lasts until a antidote nano is taken. No more bail bondsmen, in fact no more lawyers. A brand new way of conducting many a business or financial attraction.

   Or in other words, Copley has a lot to worry about. Until, that is, a beautiful lady client comes knocking on his door. She needs his help, and what’s more, she has money, and she’s willing to spend it. What she needs Copley for is to find a former partner in formulating a another type of nano that can tell if a person, once infected, is telling the truth or not.

   It’s a great beginning, but the rest of story is wasted on finding the former partner, who has gone off hiding in deep backwoods country, and far too many pages are spent with Copley’s adventures in tracking him down, including traveling down a river in a kayak over several whitewater rapids.

   The initial concept is good, but the follow through failed to grab me. It’s still nice to know that you can find PI stories almost everywhere. (This is apparently Alex Copley’s only recorded case.)

DAVID PETERS – Mind-Force Warrior. Psi-Man #1. Charter/Diamond, paperback original; 1st printing, October 1990. Ace, paperback, 2000, under the author’s real name, Peter David.

   Actually, [as far mystery fiction goes], this is a ringer, and maybe I shouldn’t be reviewing it here. You might find this book in the “action-adventure” section of your favorite chain bookstore. If that fails, you might want to check through the science fiction section before you find it, if you find it at all.

   Then again, the series that this is intended to be the first of might actually take off, like the endless series of Mack Bolan adventures or the Destroyer books that, now that my friend Will Murray is writing them, seem to be going as strong as ever.

   To get down to particulars, if you don’t expect a literary masterpiece, and are either a pulp or comic book fan, there is a better than even chance you even enjoy this. The year is 2021, a former high school teacher named Chuck Simon is the hero, and his trouble begin when the authorities learn that he has psychic powers that can kill. Telekinesis, mental telepathy, maybe even more.

   The problem is that Chuck is a Quaker, and he refuses the opportunity to become the government’s number one assassin, Things have downhill in the years from then to now. Constant air pollution, suspension of the Bill of Rights, a cashless society, cities infested with constant violence. (I think we can blame it on former President Quayle, whose statue is seen on page 104.)

   Not quite as bloody violent or militaristic as most of the men’s adventure series have become lately, this a book that can be read in a very short time. Since David Peters is in reality comic book writer Peter David — the Amazing Spider-Man, among other credits — you should not be surprised at the vivid, picturesque style of writing. You should also not be surprised at either the shallow characterization or the creaky turns of plot. Let me know: if I ever read another, do you want to hear about it?

– Slightly revised from Mystery*File 26, December 1990.

   
      The Psi-Man series —

1. Mind-Force Warrior (1990)
2. Deathscape (1991)
3. Main Street D.O.A. (1991)
4. The Chaos Kid (1991)
5. Stalker (1991)
6. Haven (1992)

L. SPRAGUE de CAMP & FLETCHER PRATT – The Carnelian Cube. Lancer 73-662, paperback, 1967. Cover by Kelly Freas. Previously published by Gnome Press, hardcover, 1948.

   While on an archaeological expedition, Arthur Finch discovers a magical red cube of stone that gives its possessor the ability to dream himself into any world he pleases.

   Unfortunately, dream worlds do not always satisfy the wishes that produce them. A perfectly rational world stifles ambition and progress. A world where individuality is supreme is full of conflict, with cooperation nearly impossible. A world of scientists has no feeling for human life. But Finch dreams on, looking for his ideal world.

   A disappointment. The wacky adventures promised merely struggle against dullness. As a vehicle for social commentary, this story creaks and sputters. Lots of ideas in satirical form, but interest lags. In fact, the only thing that maintains this series of adventures as a novel is the underlying prospect of finding a return to Finch’s original world.

   But even this is denied the reader. Lots of questions are never answered (is this typical of fantasy?), not the least of which is the possible physical existence of these dream worlds with histories which seem closely identical to our own. Collapse in real life must be inevitable, if not immediate. Such is the substance of dreams.

Rating: **

–September 1967

NEW WORLDS SCIENCE FICTION. September 1966.    Overall rating: ***½ stars.

MICHAEL MOORCOCK “Behold the Man.” Novella. An English bookseller and amateur psychiatrist travels in time to observe Christ’s crucifixion, but becomes Christ himself. It is hard to imagine that this was not written for controversy-in-itself, for it seems deliberately offensive. Much is made of the conflict between religion and science, but there seems to be no real point, as Moorcock cannot justify his version either.    ****

ARTHUR SELLINGS “The Evening Sun Go Down.” The future society of a conquered Earth, maybe. (0)

JOHN CALDER “Signals.” The memoirs of an interatomic signals physonomist, or communications expert. Nothing really new. (3)

CHARLES PLATT & B. J. BAYLEY “A Taste of the Afterlife.” Novelette. To aid in the the skirmishes before WWIII, scientists devise a way to separate the electronic afterlife from a man. Far-out, but chillingly real. (3)

J. G. BALLARD “The Atrocity Exhibition.” Supposedly this means something. (0)

BRIAN W. ALDISS “Another Little Boy.” A parallel between the Bomb and the Pill is made, at a time 100 years from Hiroshima when the associated guilt feelings exists no more. Light treatment is terrifying. (4)

THOMAS M. DISCH “Invaded by Love.” Novelette. How Love can conquer the world, especially when brought by invading aliens. Only the Secretary-General of the UN resists, but he waits too long for his triumph. Powerfully portrayed. (4)

–September 1967
REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:

   

A(BRAHAM) MERRITT – Boni & Liveright, hardcover, 1928.  First published as a five-part serial in Argosy Allstory Weekly between July 2 and July 30, 1927. Reprinted many times, both in hardcover and paperback, including Fantastic Novels Magazine, January 1949.

SEVEN FOOTPRINTS TO SATAN.  First National, 1929. Thelma Todd, Creighton Hale, Sheldon Lewis. Screenplay by Richard Bee (Benjamin Christensen), based on the novel by Abraham Merritt. Title Cards by William Irish (Cornell Woolrich).  Directed by Benjamin Christensen. First released as a silent film and later as a part-talkie.

   The warning had come to me in many places this last fortnight. I had felt the unseen watchers time and again in the Museum where I had gone to look at the Yunnan jades I had made it possible for rich old Rockbilt to put there with distinct increase to his reputation as a philanthropist; it had come to me in the theater and while riding in the Park; in the brokers’ offices where I myself had watched the money the jades had brought me melt swiftly away in a game which I now ruefully admitted I knew less than nothing about. I had felt it in the streets, and that was to be expected. But I had also felt it at the Club, and that was not to be expected and it bothered me more than anything else.

   The club is the Discoverer’s Club in New York, and the uneasy narrator is James Kirkham, adventurer and explorer, who is about to find himself in an urban nightmare out of the Arabian Nights by way of the Twilight Zone, as in short order he will be confronted by his own double and find himself in a deadly real game with a fortune at stake, his soul in peril, and Satan incarnate spinning the wheel.

   Abraham Merritt is best known as a fantasist and author of scientific romances full of implausible plots, unclad other worldly women, and sensual lush prose pitting his heroes (Merritt heroes always seemed to be falling through mirrors or the equivalent into sensual violent dreams) against strange half worlds and ungodly creations. His best known titles like The Ship of Ishtar, Face in the Abyss, The Moon Pool, and The Metal Monster were highly influential on writers such as Lovecraft, Howard, and Clark Ashton Smith as well as the likes of Fritz Leiber, Henry Kuttner, C. L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, Ray Bradbury, and many more. Merritt also wrote two famous horror novels where crime and the fantastic mixed in Creep Shadow and Burn Witch Burn (which features a cross dressing vengeance obsessed madman who turns living people into murderous dolls and was made into an MGM film with Lionel Barrymore).

   I won’t kid you that the plot here is ever plausible, but then neither does Merritt. His saving grace as a writer, beyond his graceful style and vivid imagination, was that he plunged headlong into the swirling madness that confronted his heroes and dragged the reader right with them. Merritt, like Dunsany before him, had a true gift at spinning fancies, terrors, and dreamscapes that were by turns gilded fantasy and soul numbing horrors.

   This one is a Gothic nightmare out of the true tradition of Shelley, Lewis, and Mrs. Radcliffe but with a modern pulp sensibility.

   In the dark Kirkham encounters a stranger (“I saw a dark, ascetic face, smooth-shaven, the mouth and eyes kindly and the latter a bit weary, as though from study.”) who engages him in a strange conversation:

   “A beautiful night, sir,” he tossed the match from him. “A night for adventure. And behind us a city in which any adventure is possible.”

   I looked at him more closely. It was an odd remark, considering that I had unquestionably started out that night for adventure…

   “That ferryboat yonder,” he pointed, seemingly unaware of my scrutiny. “It is an argosy of potential adventure. Within it are mute Alexanders, inglorious Caesars and Napoleons, incomplete Jasons each almost able to retrieve some Golden Fleece–yes, and incomplete Helens and Cleopatras, all lacking only one thing to round them out and send them forth to conquer.”

   “Lucky for the world they’re incomplete, then,” I laughed. “How long would it be before all these Napoleons and Caesars and Cleopatras and all the rest of them were at each other’s throats — and the whole world on fire?”

   “Never,” he said, very seriously. “Never, that is, if they were under the control of a will and an intellect greater than the sum total of all their wills and intellects. A mind greater than all of them to plan for all of them, a will more powerful than all their wills to force them to carry out those plans exactly as the greater mind had conceived them.”

   “The result, sir,” I objected, “would seem to me to be not the super-pirates, super-thieves and super-courtesans you have cited, but super-slaves.”

   The curious man is Dr. Consardine and in very short order, he and a beautiful girl who calls herself Eve Walton claim Kirkham is the girl’s mentally unstable sweetheart and virtually kidnap him under the eyes of the police (The game was rigged up against me all the way…), delivering him to a mysterious destination somewhere in Westchester or Long Island (“I saw an immense building that was like some chateau transplanted from the Loire. Lights gleamed brilliantly here and there in wings and turrets.”) where he meets his mysterious host, who knows far more about Kirkham than he should and who finally introduces himself with a strange offer.

  “Since everything upon this earth toward which I direct my will does as that will dictates,” he answered, slowly, “you may call me — Satan!

   “And what I offer you is a chance to rule this world with me — at a price, of course!”

   It turns out Eve Walton and others in the employee of Satan are unwilling pawns in his game, an elaborate and hellish game where each individual must wager his life and free will against a promise of fabulous wealth. There are seven shining footprints of Buddha, three are holy, three doom whoever steps on them. Satan has set up an unholy game in an elaborate temple in which the players risk their souls to attain the three holy footsteps that lead to Nirvana on Earth, wealth, wisdom, love, happiness, health … all things men and women will risk their lives for.

   Kirkham, ever the gambler, has nothing to lose, but he is playing the game for higher stakes than even Satan imagines. As is usually true with Merritt, the conclusion is no disappointment with retribution, madness, drugged slaves, gunfire, explosions, and madness let lose when Satan overplays his hand.

   Seven Footprints to Satan came to the big screen in 1929 under the capable hand of director Benjamin Christensen and with title cards by a young Cornell Woolrich using his William Irish by-line. A well known cast including Thelma Todd and Creighton Hale starred, and the result might have been fascinating because Woolrich certainly knew something about wringing the last ounce of suspense out of purple prose and outlandish nightmare plots — but alas Christensen and the studio decided to make a comedy out of the book in the style of The Cat and the Canary, and the result is a mildly diverting mess that turns out to be a variation on Earl Derr Biggers’ Seven Keys to Baldpate. Without giving that plot away I will only say it is the most annoying in the genre.

   But we have the book, a fine mix of melodrama and terror replete with a satisfying bloody-mindedness where needed, a splendid larger than life villain, clever hero, and enough sheer gall and narrative drive to compel the reader through the unlikely goings on. It is far from Merritt’s best work, but it has its own loony internal logic if you give yourself over to it, and its author writes rings around most of the writers who attempt this kind of fancy.

   There are a few unfortunate, mostly mild, problems as with most books of this period, nothing too awful or offensive, but you have been warned. (Merritt is no Sapper or Sidney Horler, thankfully.) It stands as an Arabian filigree of romance, Gothic horrors, dream like qualities, and fancies that asks only that the reader be willing to surrender to it all, and still has its rewards if you do.
   

HOWARD L. CORY – The Mind Monsters. Ace Double G-602, paperback original, 1966. Published back-to-back with The Unteleported Man, by Philip K. Dick (reviewed here ).

   An astronaut, Terence O’Corcoran, crash-lands on a strange planet where he encounters strange monsters, genies and leprechauns, and the apathetic people of the city Mahtog, who are being terrorized by the Thryn. The Thryn, actually Mahtogians who have been captured and drugged, are led by the bearded and mysterious Brahubru.

   An army is formed and war is begun, ending with the revealing of Brahabru as the original Terence, but it does not come as much of a surprise. It was, of course, the Genies who had made an improved copy to help their created people.

   One gets the feeling that the author was glad to get away from the scientific environment of Terence’s spacecraft to concentrate on the seemingly magical qualities of the planet, but since the Genies are finally revealed to be energy-beings, this story does qualify as science fiction. The problems of language and translations are discussed (pages 60-61), but the author’s efforts do not always seem consistent.

Rating: 2½ stars.

–September 1967

PHILIP K. DICK – The Unteleported Man. Ace Double G-602, paperback original, 1966. Cover art by Kelly Freas. First published as a novella in Fantastic Stories, December 1964. Expanded to novel length form under the same title by Berkley, paperback, 1983. First full edition reprinted in the US as Lies, Inc., by Vintage, trade paperback, 2004 (previously by Gollancz, UK, hardcover, 1984, but with two missing manuscript pages of the Berkley edition replaced by ones written by John Sladek).

   The gateway to the colony at Whale’s Mouth in the Fermalhaut system is controlled by Trails of Hoffmn, who developed a teleportation system which put the ordinary spaceship line of Rachmael ben Applebaum near bankruptcy. The only drawback to emigration is the fact that the trip is (said to be) one-way, but Rachamel with the help of an inter-planetary police agency is determined to find out the true story while proving at the same time that spacecraft could have successfully made the 24-lightyear journey.

   With the help of the suspect UN, the plan for the conquest of Earth – for of course it is one – is broken up. The story is enhanced considerably by the inclusion of Dick’s usual small details of the world of the future, while the characters move through a fairly ordinary plot.

Rating: ***

–September 1967

HARRY HARRISON – Sense of Obligation. Brion Brandd #1. Serialized in Analog SF in 3 parts, September through November 1961. Reprinted in book form as Planet of the Damned (Bantam J2316, paperback, January 1962); also under the latter title by Tor, paperback, December 1981.

   Brian Brandd is recruited as a member of the Cultural Relations Foundation, whose task it is to aid islated planets cut off after the fall of the Earth empire. His first assignment is to stop an impending war between the planets Dis and Nyjord.

   Dis is truly a disaster planet, where men have found it necessary to joining with native life-forms in symbiosis. It is a particularly malignant symbiote that has led the leaders of Dis into apparent race suicide, but with the help of Lea Marees, an exobiologist from Earth, Brian finally saves the day.

   It is a sense of obligation to the human race, in whatever adapted form it may take, that brings the resources of other men to the assistance of those who need it, and forms the underlying current behind the story. Competent, well-told, but probably not memorable.

Rating: ***

–September 1967

   
Note: Followed by one sequel, Planet of No Return (Wallaby, softcover, 1981).

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