Monday, February 22, 2021



 



JERUSALEM DELIVERED

Torquato Tasso (1544-1595)

Edward Fairfax (trans.)  (1575-1635)


Some seven years after the first Crusaders left Europe to free Jerusalem from the Infidels,  Duke Godfrey and his minions are camped before the city of Jerusalem, trying to get it together enough to assail the city walls.  Baldwin, Godfrey's brother is busy in Edessa and Bohemund is preoccupied in Antioch.  The various other members of the nobility are lolling about, waiting on orders or having a fine time chasing demons, wizards and sirens.  It's a diverse crew.  Many of them are from Germany, France and England, but some have traveled there from Ireland and even Norway.  Sweno, the son of the king of Denmark is a stout warrior and has made his way to the middle-east by fighting his way through the Balkans and overcoming Turkish harassment en route.

Godfrey has a lot to worry about.  If the army hangs around too long, Egypt and its many allies may enter the fray which would mean that a second front would have to be dealt with, not to mention the possible presence of about a million more soldiers all eager to squash the froward Franks.  Rinaldo, perhaps the strongest and most able warrior in the whole assemblage, is from Italy and his reputation has preceded him to the extent that Aladine, the king of Jerusalem has enlisted his friend the ex-Christian wizard Ismen to do something about ameliorating his abilities.  He contacts Hidraort, the Caliph of Damascus to recruit his daughter, Armida, a sort of enchantress/wizardly person to help delude and deceive the enemy.  She enters the Crusader camp one day with a story about how she has lost her kingdom at the hands of foul evil-doers and needs help.  Godfrey sees what is going on and orders ten knights only, to accompany her to seek revenge.  He's worried that the whole army will abandon its purpose and ride off to rescue the poor unfortunate lady, hence the exercise of discipline as regards her avengers.  But Rinaldo sneaks out at night with Armida and another fifty of the most accomplished knights follow them in the dark.  

Meanwhile Godfrey initiates an attack on the walls of Jerusalem with unfortunate results.  The Franks haven't prepared very well, and the lady warrior, Clorinda and her friend Agrantes, both superior fighters, run through the Crusader ranks like a drill press through butter.  Another major player on the crusader side is Tancred, a renowned knight from France.  After the battle, Erminia the daughter of the King of Antioch, in love with Tancred, borrows Clorinda's armor and escapes from Jerusalem, where she had been captive.  She's chased by Poliphern, a pagan hero, and Tancred pursues them both but gets lost in the woods and stumbles into a dark dungeon where the echoey voice of Armida tells him that he's trapped there forever.

All this time, Satan has made life as difficult as he could for the opposition, sending demons, ghouls, and all manner of Sheolic beast to harass Godfrey's troops.  He darkens the sun and throws lightning bolts at them as well as turning the rain red.  A messenger enters the camp and informs the leaders that Rinaldo's headless body has been located near Gaza.  Things are looking bleak for the assailants, but finally Michael, the archangel, shows up and sends all the nasty creatures back to Hell.  So the war effort waffles back and forth between the two parties until the Egyptians show up in Palestine, which is within striking distance of Jerusalem.  Godfrey is in a quandary because his principle fighters have all left or have been slain.  But soon, another messenger shows up and tells him that there's a rumor floating about that Rinaldo is not dead.  And shortly afterwards, Tancred arrives with the fifty knights that had chased after Armida.  Their story is that they were lured into a castle in the Dead Sea where they found Tancred and Armida, the castle belonging to the latter, who had them all chained up preparatory to leading them off to a life of slavery, when Rinaldo showed up and freed them all.  But Rinaldo was still missing.  Until he reappeared also with a knight named Ubaldo.  Ubaldo relates how he rescued Rinaldo:  searching near the Dead Sea again, he meets an old man who can walk on water and is a supporter of the anti-pagan cause.  The old man states that the body that was supposed to be Rinaldo's was actually someone else's, put there by the devious and cunning Armida, who later absconded with the Italian knight because she was in love with him.  Ubaldo wants to bring him back, naturally, so the old man gives him a boat steered and operated by another siren as well as a magic shield with which to awaken the wayward paladin.  They sail out through the straits of Hercules to the Fortunate Isles and land at the base of a volcanic mountain protected by more beasties which they overcome.  Climbing to the top they espy a palace on an isle inside a lake of laughing death waters (if you drink the water you die laughing).  Ubaldo manages to cross the lake and find Rinaldo who's under a magic trance.  He shows him his reflection in the shield and he wakes up and they return to the battle site.

The final battle, which the Crusaders win, naturally, takes place soon after with lots of tactics, fires, sword fights, death, agony, celestial interference and aid, the resolution of personal animosities, and the reunion of long-separated lovers.  The very long poem ends rather abruptly on the battlefield littered with corpses and broken lances and pieces of armor lying all around.  Armida has been fighting on the side of the pagans but she has a change of heart after the battle and realizes that she loved Rinaldo all along.  So they ride into the sunset, arm in arm, and live happily ever after.

This is just a  bare, a brief, synopsis of a very long poem with all manner of magical and supernatural events and circumstantial carryings-on.  There are 20 books in the work, each book has approximately 100 verses, each verse consists of 8 lines.  Most of it is iambic pentameter, but the poetic mechanism varies a bit.  Some of the verses are in couplets, like English pentameter, but others skip a line so the final words of every other line rhyme with each other.  Reading it was interesting, occasionally tedious, and often exciting.  And very imaginative.  Tasso was a noted poet of his time, but had a somewhat peripatetic lifestyle as he was apparently, according to one source, bipolar.  He didn't live in a single residence for very long.  Either his host told him to go away or he left by himself.  But there was no doubt about his popularity and talent.  Fairfax's version is regarded by most critics as a work of art in itself.  His choices of language and facility of expression were overtly astonishingly good, i thought, and i really liked reading and appreciating his often ingenious and mindful constructions and expressions.

Saturday, February 13, 2021



 


PRECAUTION

James Fenimore Cooper  (1789-1851)


Sir Edward Moseley and his wife and four children have just moved into their new house/mansion located in Northamptonshire, England.  John, Clara, Jane and Emily are the children, well, young adults, of marriageable age.  Their neighbors are the Jarvises (merchants and business persons), the Haughtons (an upper class family of good repute), and the residents of The Deanery:  the rector Dr. Ives, his wife and Francis, the son, and two daughters.  The story opens with the above characters dining with the recent arrivals at Moseley Hall.  Uncle Benfield with his valet Peter Johnson share in the festivities.  Also Colonel Egerton and his friend Captain Jarvis.  George Denbigh appears as a stranger to two of the Moseley girls as they visit the Ives at the Deanery several days later.  George becomes a welcome associate of the family and a potential suitor for the hand of Emily.

Captain Jarvis loves to shoot at things:  pigeons, foxes, wrens, even his hat once.  His friend is Colonel Egerton, a somewhat dubious character who appears as a sort of hanger-on of the Jarvis family.  Egerton aspires to the hand of Emily Moseley, but ends up marrying one of the Jarvis girls.  Jane and Francis Ives are the first couple to be united as the plot unfolds;  Francis, a religious like his father, is granted  the living of a nearby diocese.  The Chattertons consist of a dowager mother with several daughters and a son.  There are other characters as well who dance in and out of the plot, creating confusion in the lives of the other personalities as well as in the mind of the reader.

The Captain and Egerton are out hunting one day.  They return to the rear garden of Moseley Hall, where Emily, her sisters and George Denbigh are lolling about.  Fooling about with a shotgun, Jarvis points it at Emily and pulls the trigger.  George dashes in front of her just in time to intercept the bullet and is wounded but saves her life.  They fall in love, but later suffer a separation because while on a vacation at the beach, Emily befriends a Mrs. Fitzgerald who has a dire story to tell about the predatory behavior of George.  She claimed that while she was escaping from an abusive husband in Spain, he tried to take advantage of her and was only saved at the last minute by a passing English soldier.  Because George's pocketbook was found in Mrs. Fitzgerald's house, the assumption was made by all that George had returned to visit her with ulterior motives.  So Emily dismissed him disdainfully.

The Earl Pendennyss was supposedly the richest bachelor noble in England and was a cousin of George's.  Of a philanthropic nature, he allocated funds right and left, trying to get rid of the money that kept rolling in as a result of his investments and properties.  His interest in Emily increases in spite of her generally comprehensive dislike and avoidance of all men.  Colonel Egerton asks Jane, Emily's sister to marry him, but one of his former companions, Captain Henry Stapleton, wrecks his plans by spreading rumors around about Egerton's true character, which is that of an opportunist and addicted gambler.  Jane turns him down, so he marries one of the Jarvis girls instead after he finds out that her father was making a lot of money as a merchant prince.

Catharine Chatterton is urged to marry Lord Herriefield because he's rich.  They move to Lisbon and she writes that she's very unhappy so John and Jane, Grace Chatterton and her mother sail to Portugal to straighten things out.  Herriefield is angry because his wife only loves his money.  Later she leaves him and returns to England.  The four embark on another ship to sail back home.  Jane meets the Reverend Harland aboard ship and later he asks her to marry him.  Meanwhile Lord Derwent, Pendennyss's cousin,  is interested in Emily but she's not interested in him.

So things go until Bonaparte returns from Elba and rampages through Europe.  By this time George Denbigh (spoilers ahead) has confessed that he is also Earl Pendennyss and has married Emily.  Things are beginning to get straightened out with assorted marriages and separations when Denbigh/Pendennyss leaves for Waterloo with his regiment.  Egerton is there also and after the battle starts, spends his time dashing around trying to avoid trouble.  But it finds him anyway and he's fatally wounded.  Pendennyss, having fought bravely through the whole affair, finds him and hears his confession about how he set Denbigh up by stealing his pocketbook to incriminate him for actions that in fact he, Egerton, had done.  Pendennyss returns triumphantly to England and they all live happily.

As may be evident in the above paragraphs, this is a complicated book with lots of characters;  more, even, that those i've mentioned.  I'm not even sure at this point whether i've mangled the continuity or not.  I think i got it all straight but i'm not sanguine about it.  Anyway, the point of the book seemed to be, that parents should think ahead before committing their children to possibly unsuitable relationships.  Money and social position are not guaranteed passages to happiness that they might appear to be.  But although Cooper had this message in mind, it wasn't evident to me that his book was really supporting that idea.  It seemed rather, that most of the accidents and travails experienced by the young people were a result of causality:  the consequences of pre-ordained states of mind and social position more than anything else.

Like all of Cooper's works that i've read, the writing is under a master's hand, even if it gets a bit windy at times.  But because, or owing to, the fact that this was his first book, his gifts were somewhat like wild horses, with lots of potential but maybe a lack of control;  too many reins and not enough fingers, perhaps...  In general i liked the novel.  It was sort of a cross between Austen and Trollope with more physical action than either of those two more famous authors might have allowed to permeate their pages.


Saturday, February 6, 2021







WHITE WINGS

William Black 1841-1898)

Publ. 1880


Mary Avon has just spent two months in Edinburgh caring for an old lady;  looking for a vacation, she has arrived in Glasgow, where she's welcomed by the old Laird of Denny-Mains, with whom she's about to spend the summer sailing about the islands of western Scotland on his sloop, the White Dove.  She has made a small amount of money with her oil painting and is looking for new landscapes in the western Highlands.  Several days are spent at the Laird's Osprey Castle while waiting for Angus Sutherland to arrive.  Angus is an up-and-coming young scientist with an interests in medicine, biology, zoology, physics and chemistry.  He's written at least one paper on radiolaria that was well received.  (Tiny protozoans with complex structures.)  Mary is alone in the world except for an uncle, Fred Smethurst, a short and thin reprobate with a sneaky grey eyes.  Fred shows up when the party is about ready to go and has a brief interview with Mary after which he departs.

Mary has sailed before and it's not long before she is at the helm as they sail past the isle of Rum, headed for the basalt cliffs of Canna.  They anchor in a convenient inlet and row to shore, exploring the herds of puffin populating the island and listening to the deep roar of the sea as it fills up the sea caverns, rattling the rocks and pebbles and slowly but surely gouging out a tunnel into the land.  Soon they're sailing again, hoping to reach the Isle of Skye.  Close-hauled before a strong western wind, the boat takes spray and water occasionally courses along the starboard scuppers.  The Laird and Angus discuss the geology of the area, citing the researches of Hugh Miller, one of the very first Scottish geologists who played a major role in unraveling the primordial mysteries associated with the PreCambrian history of Scotland.  Angus has some highly interesting theories:  humans are a trivial incident in the history of the Earth;  the bad things that have occurred in recorded history are due to a poor diet;  criminals should be fat because it would tend to conceal their guilty faces.

They moor overnight in the bay of Portee to do some shopping and notice a light earthquake that is not explained.  The ship returns to Castle Osprey where Mary receives a message from her banker that all her money is gone.  She had had a small inheritance from her aunt that was producing a livable income from the Funds, but apparently uncle Fred forged her name and stole it all.  Mary is an intense sort of person when it comes to personal responsibility.  She has a certain amount of pride and egoistic independence which interferes with her relationship with others.  She and Angus fall in love, but because she thinks Angus is on the verge of becoming a famous scientist, and that she is nobody without her money, she cools toward him on the pretext of not wanting to inhibit his rise to glory and recognition.

The Laird has had visions of wanting Mary to marry his nephew, Howard, and hopes to leave Castle Osprey to the both of them in his will.  To this end he invites Howard along on the next sailing expedition after Angus has left.  Angus leaves partly because Mary has rejected him and partly because he has a lot of research to do in London.  Howard is a light-weight of course, even though he's a friendly sort of person, but Mary doesn't take him seriously.  Instead she governs herself to be nice to him and the others, pretending that Angus's absence doesn't mean anything.  On the next tour, sailing north, they meet some spectacular scenery and sunsets.  Becalmed on one quiet evening, they are stunned at the vision of a scarlet sea as it meshes with the violet sky and the black rock cliffs on either side and the low breathing of the ocean as it moves up and down.

The party continues making trips during the summer, visiting ruined monasteries on the deserted isles and searching for seals with which the Laird professes a desire to make Mary a seal coat.  He's not deterred by her informing him that without question she doesn't want a seal coat.  Eventually he understands Mary's behavior and how the loss of her money has effected her, and he desists in that endeavor and also comes to understand that Mary and Howard will never marry.  That in fact Mary is deeply in love with Angus who's been badly hurt by her cold attitude.  So he manages, on their last excursion to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, to get rid of Howard, who is anxious to go partridge shooting with a friend in northern England.  Staging their way up toward the northern Highlands, they meet storms and have more adventures.  Finally, as a result of the Laird's action in the matter, they meet another ship as they are tacking out of the narrow neck leading out of the Loch of Hell (Loch Hourn) and Angus joins them via rowboat just as they are about to have difficulty against the strong headwind.  The Laird, who earlier in the book had seemed to be a typically obtuse and opinionated land-owner, changes his attitude and  seeks an interview with both Mary and Angus, individually, and arranges for them to understand each other and, finally, schedules their marriage when they return to Osprey Castle.  He also reimburses Mary for her monetary losses, restoring her self of self-possession.   In the meantime, the collective group undertakes sailing through the Minch with, its whirlpools and subsurface rocks, in the middle of a storm.  They arrive successfully and spend time with friends, walking and behaving joyously.


Black was a very popular writer during his life, perhaps outselling even Dickens in some places.  It was not because he was such an exceptional writer - the plot in this work has several holes and inconsistencies - but because he was a genius at describing landscapes.  I mentioned in my last post that some authors have that knack of thrusting the reader into the center of whatever sweep of scenery they may be describing, and Black is better at that sort of thing than any author i can recall reading.  I have no doubt that this gift is what made him so popular with the later Victorians.  After all, they didn't have TV and most of them didn't have the wherewithal to attend the theater, many of them not even enough to patronize the occasional traveling troupe that might pass through.  But reading one of Black's works must have gone a long way to providing an escape from their work-intensive grind.  I'll read more of his work...

Sunday, January 31, 2021




 Ace Double #11182


Ron Goulart (1933-   )


CLOCKWORK'S PIRATES

Joh Wesley Sand was blithely enjoying the cruise when 24 robots dressed like pirates swarmed up over the railing and threw him overboard after kidnapping Jenna, the daughter of Governor Peaquill.  This all transpired on a small planet in the Barnum system.  Sand had been contracted to discover the source of the freebooter menace and eradicate it.  After a substantial amount of time, Sand was washed up onto a deserted island and was rescued by five dead men.  Stumbling along the beach, he picked up a gold medallion lying on the damp sand.  Noticing a weathered shack in the immediate distance, he knocked at the door and was admitted by Anthony Dehner, a novelist whose fame arose from his blood and thunder renditions of the adventures of Evil-Eyed Jack.  He told Sand that dead men were cheaper to hire than real people, as they didn't eat and didn't care if they were paid or not.  While the two were conversing, the house was attacked by the landlord and his two sons who evicted them for non-payment of rent.  They managed to drag a bunch of bananas with them, most of which Dehner ate.  Following a clue, they traipsed up into the hills to Marcus's Inn, subtitled "The Inn of the Fat Dolphin".  After subduing a disputatious interloper (Jackdaw the Barbarian), Sand bribes the innkeeper for information regarding Jenna's whereabouts and they continue uphill to Torbush's Winery.  They meet an articulate ape named Hankwin who regales them with a cocoanut chablis that was dry, but tangy.  Torbush himself offers to show them the wine vats and leads them to the top of a tower where they have a knife fight and Torbush falls into the vat.  Doubtless he'd been suborned by the kidnappers.  Sand finds Jenna's scarf in a corn field and old Zubin points them toward the city of Delfin, where Hubley lives;  he's a gifted finder of lost objects and will help them search the Boneca Woods, a haven for cut-purses and eluders of justice.  Before they get there, they recruit a masked wrestler (known as The Masked Socialist) to help them cope with villains.  The woods are deep, dank and gloomy.  Sand gets bitten by a Delusion Worm and has hallucinations for several hours, during which he's lured into a small cabin known as the Birdsmith's house by Patsy Raposa and two of her friends who have been hired to put Sand on ice for a while.  Bethanne appears.  She is a local witch who lives a mile underground and is able to project her simulacrum anywhere on the world's surface.  She tells Sand that Jenna is being held captive in Leodoro by the local Lord Muscrow, chief of the lion men.  Apparently the evil plan is to carry Jenna down to the coast and ship her to Zumba to be sold as a slave.  But Bethanne disguises Sand and his two friends as lions (all the inhabitants of Leodoro are lion-persons) and with the help of a bribed gardener, Yuba, they find Jenna in a greenhouse and they all steal a coach and drive it to the river where they commandeer a ship and sail down to the port of Nariz.  One of the slaves (it's a galley) turns out to be an undercover agent of the PEO (Political Espionage Office), the same organization that Sand works for.  He informs Sand that the perpetrator of the kidnapping and the creator of the robotic pirates has his base on Cayora Island, a short distance off the coast.  Pondering his next move, Sand takes a walk along the beach and meets Bethanne again who gives him an invisibility cloak.  The plan involves sneaking onto the island and arresting the perpetrator.  Arriving at night, Sand dons the cloak and, seeing a tower in the distance, foots it to the base and climbs the stairs, where he finds PP, the principal cad, seated before a huge console that controls his robot army of pirates.  They fight and Sand ties him up.  Bethanne appears again and, congratulating him, observes the gold pendant around his neck belongs to her.  She invites him to share her home beneath the mountains but he turns her down and she fades out of sight.  Sand walks down to the shore and throws the medallion into the waves.


GHOST BREAKER

Max Kearny has two jobs.  He's the art director of an advertising agency in San Francisco, but he's also an occult detective.  Nine stories describe his efforts, usually successful, in disentangling the spiritual troubles of his friends and clients.  PLEASE STAND BY concerns an old friend of Max's who is in love with a girl who's also being courted by another cartoonist.  Dan, the friend, is suffering from elephantiasis;  not the disease, but the embarrassment of turning into an elephant on holidays.  On Thanksgiving he ate a bale of hay and with Christmas coming up, he wants Max to de-elephantize him so Ken Westerland won't beat him in wooing Anne.  Complications are devolved, another magician, Waller, enters the plot, and the denoument occurs in Sausalito, across the Golden Gate Bridge, with Max on the back of Dan the elephant chasing Ken down Bridgeway street.  In HELP STAMP OUT CHESNEY,  Carolyn Chesney has accidentally caught her uncle Bryan's poultergeist.  Bryan is a script writer for a local TV Detective show and he's been suffering from the poultergeist invasion that was started by the late writer Robert Wellington who doesn't like what Bryan has been doing with what was originally his idea.  Carolyn was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and the poultergeist went home with her.  Max consults with professor Sanjak of the Pasadena College of Applied Metaphysics, who suggests reasoning with Wellington's ghost.  Wellington materializes one night in Max's apartment and agrees to quit his harassment if Bryan is fired, so Max makes that happen.KEARNEY'S LAST CASE sees Max getting married to Jillian and contemplating giving up his sideline.  But his friend Walt's fiancee, Ann Upland, has become invisible and so Max decides to help one last time.  She works for a Wizard and Warlock supply company and wants to quit so she can get married but the boss won't let her.  Somewhat dazed, Max visits his old friend Pedway in his book shop and they talk about various ways of materializing Ann:  "A drug company in Bavaria has an aerosol can for it now," said Pedway.  "One swish and anybody turns visible.  Salesman left me a sample can.  Also some wolfbane made from soybeans.  Looks and smells like the real stuff.  Only hitch so far is the werewolves don't believe in it.  Thing to do for the Warlock is deactivate him, unmagic him.  Or threaten to."  Pedway gives Max "The Art of French Pastry", which is only called that to fool customs.  It's really for disarming black magicians.  Max takes the book and raids the underground lair of the supply company.  He finds Jillian there, who had come because she knew a bit of magic and was trying to help her friend Ann.  But she was being held hostage so Max looked up a spell in his book and turned the warlock into dust.

And so forth, for another six episodes...

I first read Goulart back in the sixties, when he first started publishing.  He was an original talent at that time and his work is still surprising and occasionally hilarious.  His style includes short descriptions and short sentences, but he has that most important flair for evoking mental pictures with a minimum of description.  I've tried to analyze why some writers have that gift and some don't, but it seems hard to pin down.  It's just that some books do it effortlessly while others, using the same sorts of technique, can't quite achieve it.  Of course it may all be in the eye of the individual reader (me) and not be a real phenomenon at all, but after a lifetime of perusing, it strikes me as an actual quality.  And it doesn't necessarily make a great book, just an easily apprehensible one.  Scott's novels, for instance, read as if the author were getting paid by the word, but he's still able to build a world, word by word, brick by brick, that registers itself in the reader's brain just like it's a description of a real-world series of events.

Anyway, Goulart is well worth a peek even though he's not critically acclaimed.  But what he has chosen to be in his own field is very well expressed...  and often very funny...

This will be the last sci fi post for a while, as the month of January has receded into the past.  Many thanks to Jean for the idea and allowing me to contribute my perhaps pointless posts, haha...


Saturday, January 23, 2021



 


Brian Aldiss (1925-2017)

Manly Wade Wellman (1903-1986)

D-433


BOW DOWN TO NUL

Two Nuls are sitting in a bar on the crossroads planet Stomin.  Jicksha had attacked Wattol Forlie earlier while the latter was lying on a stone wall contemplating the universe.  Money being the object, Jicksha felt bad later, after the two had fought, when he discovered that Forlie was a down and out gambler like himself.  A Nul was about 8 feet tall with a cylindrical body that had a number of tentacles attached to its upper region;  they weigh about a ton apiece.  Forlie had been fired from his lucrative position on planet Earth by his boss, Par-Chavorlem because he had disapproved of his boss's treatment of the local species.  The Nul had occupied Earth for about a thousand years.  Just one of the four million planets under the "protection" of the Nul, the inhabitants lived a precarious life outside the Nul strongholds, farming, husbanding and catering to the demands of their overlords.  The planet was criss-crossed with force-field protected highways that connected the principle cities with each other and served to convey timber and other natural products to the main space-port for shipment to Parnassy, the Nul home-world, and other points of interstellar commerce.  Par-Chavorlem had made a very good thing from stealing money from every shipment that left the planet due to his stingy attitude and treatment of the locals.  It was Forlie's intention to report him to the authorities on Parnassy.

Arriving at headquarters, Forlie visits Synvoret, a respected veteran of ambassadorial affairs,  and tells him about the whole-sale embezzlement and fraud being perpetrated by his former employer.  Synvoret persuades the commerce authorities to fund an inspection tour of the operation on Earth and he spends the next two years getting there.  In the meanwhile Par-Chavorlem has discovered that his perfidy is about to be unveiled, so he makes arrangements to convince the visiting inspector that his operation is completely legal and above suspicion.  He builds a smaller metropolis on the other side of the planet because the one he lives in is egregiously larger and more opulent than the rules of enterprise permit.  The Nul are more interested in peaceful commercial relations within their protectorate than in belligerent assertion of their superiority.

Gary Towler and Elizabeth Forladon are translators hired by the Nul to communicate Nul demands to the indigenes outside of the city.  Gary is a secret agent for the revolutionaries whose leader is Rivars, a somewhat impulsive and thoughtless person, brave but not the brightest bulb in the chandelier.  So when they learn about the imminent arrival of Synvoret, they plan a major uprising against the Nul, hoping to finally drive them off the planet.  When the investigator turns up, they hope to demonstrate the cupidity and rapacity of the planetary Commissioner in such an overt way that even another Nul will be persuaded of his iniquitous thievery.  But nothing seems to work:  every ploy they plot is forseen by Par-Chavorlem and even when they provide physical evidence of his chicanery, Synorvet is not convinced.  In fact, he leaves the planet assured that it's under the guidance and governance of a benign administration.  Back on Parnassy, he reports that all the rumors of duplicity on Earth are totally baseless, and that,in fact, that the natives are so violent and unruly that the Nul Empire would be better off without them.  So the tale ends with the expectation that the Nul will leave Earth because of the pugnacious denizens and that this is just the beginning of a revolution that will sweep the Nul out of the galaxy.


THE DARK DESTROYERS (abridged)

For generations humans have suffered under the threat of extinction by the depredations of the Cold People, the generic term for a species of giant snail-like entities that have invaded the planet, driving the mass of men into the jungles and swamps near the equator.  They are from a planet whose average temperature is around 60 degrees below zero.  The few remaining residents of Earth eke a bare living from subsistence farms and live in small villages hidden under the foliage.  Mark Darragh is a scout for a village located in the upper reaches of the Orinoco river.  He's noted for his courage and inventive imagination as well as for his non-acceptance of the present status of humanity as grovelers in the dirt before the might of the Cold People.  So he leaves his home in a canoe and paddles north to the Caribbean, looking and hoping to discover a way to defeat the intruders.  The Cold People live in domes that are refrigerated and sealed off from the atmosphere, as the snail-like creatures breath a mixture of hydrogen sulfide and ethane.  Mark arrives in Haiti and finds a dome situated on a hill in the Haitian jungle.  He pokes about without much result and returns to where he left the canoe, only to find that it was being stolen by a Cold People airship which picked it up and headed back to the dome with it.  Mark wants it back so he returns to the dome at night, when the snails are less active, climbs the outside of the edifice and finds the boat.  But he's captured by two snails who tie him up and take off in one of their torpedo-shaped aircraft.  He manages to free himself and with the speed of a snake, slashes the protective shells that protect the invaders from the poisonous oxygen atmosphere, killing them both.  Then he figures out how to fly the ship and heads north with it.  Near the Great Lakes, he spots a giant dome, bigger than any that he'd seen on the continent, and flies into the central orifice located on its upper surface.  The inhabitants soon realize that a puny human has invaded their space and they chase him waving their ray guns until they finally corner him near a dark river across which they shove him by shooting a different sort of ray at him.  Mark finds himself in a small village which has been kept intact by the snails, still inside the dome, for purposes of observation.  Mark soon assumes leadership of the small group, falling in love with the headman's daughter at the same time, and invents a plan of escape.  He creates a disturbance, causing six snails to fly into the village in one of their ships.  Luring them into one of the houses, he collapses the roof on them which tears holes in their protective suits and the entire village escapes in the ship.  Flying south, they eventually reach Mark's village and call a meeting of all the surrounding communities, resulting in a unified commitment to revolution.  The reader is left to assume that with Yankee determination and sly cunning, humanity will soon drive off the hated intruders


These were both pretty good adventure stories, i thought.  I guess the "Destroyers" one was abridged because it was too long to fit into the Ace Double format.  Aldiss was a well-known British science fiction writer with a lot of publications to his credit.  Wellman's reputation was more in the horror/fantasy line, although he wrote all sorts of books, even Westerns.  I'd say the Aldiss was a cut above the other one insofar as quality was concerned, but estimations of that kind are arbitrary at best, and another reader might disagree.  Anyway, just another example of Ace's generally readable selectivity as applied to this series...

Saturday, January 16, 2021



Robert Silverberg (1935-  )

Lan Wright (1923-2010)


STEPSONS OF TERRA

In the year 3800AD Earth has colonized about a thousand worlds throughout the galaxy.  The planet Corwin is in the constellation Epsilon Ursae, about 16 parsecs away (a parsec =3.26 light years).  They are  about to be invaded by the merciless Klodni from the nearby Andromeda galaxy.  The Klodni have already decimated numerous peace-loving planets, destroying and conquering everything in their path.  In a last ditch effort to evade the fate of the other colonies, Baird Ewing has travelled in a one-man ship to Earth to seek help.  The journey lasted ll months, 14 days and 6 hours.  Baird was in stasis during the trip.  Upon landing at the spaceport, he meets a Sirian, Rollun Firnik, a short stocky colonist from nearby Sirius 4 who aggressively accosts him, asking impertinent questions about his reasons for being there.  Making an excuse, Baird walks away and registers at the "A Shred of Vitality" hotel.  A visitor arrives shortly thereafter, a scholar named Myreck from the College of Abstract Science, who invites him to give a lecture to his colleagues the next evening.  Baird agrees and goes down to dinner where he's solicited by Byra Clork, another Sirian agent, who also is interested in his presence on Earth.  It becomes evident that Earth is under threat from the powerful and belligerent Sirians, who are planning a take-over of Earth for its own good, as they believe that the planet's ancient and florid culture needs more discipline.  After dinner, Baird is kidnapped by the Sirians and subjected to the third degree, but rescued by a tall man wearing a gold mask.  Myreck re-appears and takes Baird to his College (which is invisible, being a micro-second behind "real" time).  Baird is astonished to discover that the scientists have invented a time machine, but one that only is capable of traveling into the past.  Convincing the staff members that he needs to use the machine, he projects himself three seconds into the past and wakes up in a meadow outside the city.  He robs a citizen and used the money to travel back to the city.  He buys a gold mask and rescues himself from the Sirians, then purposely commits suicide by overloading the circuitry in a phone booth until it explodes.  Then the rescued Baird returns to the College but doesn't enter it in order to avoid a temporal paradox.  Instead, he goes back to his ship and is about to take off, returning to Corwin, when yet another Baird calls him on the radio and insists on a meeting.  He goes to see the other Baird who tells him that there were four Bairds;  the one he's talking to is the one who rescued the kidnapped Baird but didn't blow himself up.  The two make a plan to steal the machine and the plans for it, then sneak into the spaceport.  One of them distracts the police while the other powers up the ship and takes off.  The distractor is killed during the take off, presumably leaving only one Baird left, the one who's going back to Corwin with the time machine.  Back on Corwin, Baird convinces the council to let him build the time machine and install it in his ship before the Klodni show up.  When the vast fleet of 750 vessels enters Corwin space, Baird takes off and projects the time beam at the fleet and sends them 5 billion years into the past.  Then, after the celebration and decorations are over with, he builds yet another mobile time machine in his basement and duplicates himself once more.  Leaving the simulacrum to stay with his family, the other one returns to Earth to fight the Sirians.


A MAN CALLED DESTINY

"Jones planet wasn't the best place in the galaxy to be stranded with a broken drive unit."  Argyle is sulking in a second-rate saloon in the well-used city of Jones on the planet Jones, waiting for repairs to the ship which will take four weeks at least.  He's a second grade Engineer and is morose because the planet has no telepath.  Telepaths are used for communication across the galaxy and are the only means of contact between planets and the huge, Amazon-like trading corporations that connect one world with another.  Spiros, an agent of the Dellora Corp., buys a glass of Jones brand whiskey for Argyle, and offers employment.  Apparently Argyle's wife had been a personal secretary to the owner/operator of the Dellora corporation, and since she had recently died, Pietro Dellora wanted to hire her husband to replace her.  So they travel to the planet Dellora, where Argyle takes a room in the Galactica hotel.  A lawman pays him a visit, informing him that Spiros has been assassinated with his own needle gun.  Argyle then pays a visit to Pietro's space station, the headquarters of Dellora corporation.  He finds Pietro enormously fat but mentally astute.  Back at the hotel, an attempt is made by another assassin on Argyle's life.  In the middle of the night a thin perp appears out of nowhere and shoots but misses and then vanishes again.  The police arrive in the morning and arrest Argyle for the murder of Pietro, who's been shot.  He escapes the police and hides away on a freighter outbound for Rigel 5.  He meets the arresting officer, Lawman Sworder, who, knowing of Argyle's innocence, advises him to consult with Preacher Judd on planet Earth.  Judd is the leader of the largest political party and wields enormous influence in planetary and galactic affairs.  Before Argyle can contact Judd, another attempt on his life is made:  a local jeweler is assassinated and the gun left in Argyle's hotel room.  But Sworder smells a rat and realizes that Argyle is being set up, and advises him to go back to Rigel 5.  So he does, but the ship stops half way there and the passengers are taken aboard a second ship which voyages to a dead world named Leemos.  Judd arrives and tells Argyle that Pietro's son, Alfredo, has been behind all the attempts to frame or kill Argyle, and that it's all been a devious plot to grab power.  Alfredo wants Argyle dead because Pietro has left everything to Argyle in his will.  Judd also informs him that he's immortal, and one of an increasing number of psy-heightened humans who are being born with all sorts of different psychic abilities, teleportation, telepathy, telekinesis, and others.  The theory is that with the augmented distribution of humanity through the galaxy, the expansion of mental abilities has occurred as a result.  They all return to Dellora, where a summit meeting is about to take place among all the leading trading corporations.  At the meeting, Alfredo tries to hog everything in spite of his father's will, using Argyle's psychic talents as reason to oust him ( how can trade exist if every one knows every one else's motives?).  But Argyle demonstrates that Alfredo is a psychic also and that they are not to be feared.  Alfredo fires a shot at Argyle, but Judd's secretary, who's a psy talent also, shoots him before he can get away.  So Argyle takes over the business, content in the knowledge that the Galaxy is now in the hands of the psychically talented.


Both of these were good efforts i thought.  The Silverberg was one of his first efforts and it was better than Wrights.  The latter seemed a bit hit or miss insofar as plot organization was concerned:  it read rather jerkily and although Wright was a well known author in Britain, it might have been improved by a little editing.  But it held my interest.  The Silverberg   was much better, imo of course, showing a lot thought even in the descriptions of the complex temporal events taking place in the College of Abstract Science (wonderful place-name).  Silverberg's Majipoor chronicles should be mentioned as good examples of his remarkable ability to evoke detailed cultural emulations sci fi or not...  These stories are dated, true, but still very much worth reading, being chock-full of interesting events and ideas...

 

Saturday, January 9, 2021





    THE PLANETEERS/THE ULTIMATE WEAPON


John W. Campbell  (1910-1971)

ACE SF DOUBLE  B-585

 THE PLANETEERS:

Rod Blake and Ted Penton have just left Earth in their home-made spaceship.  They're in a hurry as one of their atomic experiments blew up Europe, but they were glad to have been given a multi-cannon salute even if the operators had forgotten to remove the shells before they were fired.  They land on Mars in a patch of sand dunes near a boggy swale which is covered with three foot high dome-shaped plants with sword-shaped leaves.  Blake notices a fifteen foot Japanese maple and points it out to Ted, using Ted's voice.  Ted replies in Rod's and the two realize that the plants are telepathic and are projecting images into the minds of the recent arrivals. They reenter the ship and visit a ruined city they have spotted on the horizon.  Landing in a sort of decayed plaza, they see that the scarred pavement is covered with centaurs.  They exit the vessel and the elder centaur teaches them the centaur language and history in about 30 seconds via telepathy, which is apparently the principal means of Martian communication.  They learn that the centaurs had visited earth thousands of years before, but had returned due to the cranky and unpredictable behavior of an emerging hominid species.  In reality there aren't as many centaurs as appear to the two explorers, as some of them are the dome-shaped plants (called Thushol) they had previously encountered.  As well as possessing ESP, the Thushol are also shape-shifters.  The elder tells them that they had given up trying to distinguish the real centaurs from the imaginary ones and that it didn't make any difference as they all behaved the same anyway.  While they're talking to the centaur they notice that more Teds and Rods are popping into existence all around them.  Confusion reigns until one of the Rods sneezes, proving he's human.  That Rod feeds the other Teds drinks of tetanus and they all run off except one, proving he's the real one.  They both climb back into the ship and leave to explore other planets.

The Ganymedeans are 7'3" tall and are skinny with green hair and are divided into two groups, the Shaloor and the Lanoor.  The former are upper class rulers and the others are slaves.  Ted and Rod are in jail because the previous Earthlings had shot at the natives when they first landed and humans were now regarded as untrustworthy.  Since much of their equipment is in jail with them, Ted is able to concoct a Crotonaldehyde cocktail which has the property of turning glass to a brittle solid.  They use it to break a window and escape, stealing a car and getting caught in a traffic jam and run into a light pole.  A sticky globular sort of creature (the Shleath) chases them until Ted drives it off with an atomic flashlight.  They are caught and jailed again and anticipate being used as Shleath bait in a kind of Roman arena surrounded by bleachers which are occupied by the Shaloor.  Ted invents electric soles for their shoes as he has discovered that electricity dissolves the Shleath, which otherwise absorb any other type of organism and get bigger.  After they're shoved into the arena, they turn the boots on and trample the Shleath into submission, but one of the Shaloor, having appropriated one of their atomic pistols, overloads it and blows a hole in the arena wall through which Ted and Rod escape and dash off to their ship and leave the planet.

Callisto doesn't rotate:  one side is always pointed at Jupiter so they have 16 day days and nights.  It's a heavy metal planet with a nitrogen and carbon dioxide atmosphere.  The Callistans make machinery and buildings  out of cellular material and are mainly made of beryllium themselves.  Ted and Rod's ship is also made of that element, so while the two are being entertained and are lecturing to the denizens, other Callistan mechanics are busy taking their ship apart.  When they realize this, Ted and Rod dash off, chased by guards with air guns and wavy-edged swords.  They find refuge in a sort of factory where they are befriended by a six-legged dachsundish dog that loves borax.  It's name is gkrthps so they call it "pipeline" instead.  Stealing a bio-car, operated by muscles that drive sets of feet, they hot-foot it to the landing field and retrieve their ship before it is totally vandalized and leave.  Then they pay a brief visit back to Ganymede to drop off some of the doggies that seem to have the habit of multiplying exponentially when they get their favorite food:  boron.  Soon the Shleath that are terrorizing that planet will be wiped out by the voracious gkrthps's. (Memories of "The Trouble with Tribbles")

Curious about the tenth planet beyond Pluto, they fly there and land.  It's a dark place as the sun is so small and they place the ship near a cliff made of what appears to be basalt.  Exploring they observe that the surface is made of blue sand (frozen oxygen) and there's a lake nearby that's made of liquid hydrogen.  The temperature is 5 degrees above absolute zero.  Poking about, they see black cylindrical creatures rolling toward the lake.  They are immense, about 100' long by 30' in diameter.  arriving at the lake, they produce a long tubular appendage with which they suck up the liquid hydrogen.  As seems universal, the "rollers" have telepathy.  In a mental exchange, Ted and Rod learn that the rollers live a million years or more and that they are truly schizophrenic:  Their minds and bodies don't communicate, so the personalities are just along for the ride, so to speak.  When of the bodies finally dies, the mind forms a sort of vortex and lives forever.  One of the beast spots the two voyagers and the whole herd gives chase.  Ted and Rod take cover in a crevasse cut into the cliff while the pursuers mindlessly try to squeeze themselves into it, slavering over the potential juicy tidbits.  The first roller kills itself trying to mash into the entrance, so they escape.  Rod throws his water bottle into the air and shoots it, creating an explosion.  The rest of the rollers run off and the two run back to the ship and take off.

 And land on the tenth planet's moon, occupied by beings 5' high and 6' in diameter.  The ship is parked in a sort of garden the surface of which is mostly pink moss.  The name of the moon is Pornan and its a dense planet with twice as much gravity as Earth.  Telepathy is the means of communication here as well, but the users are a type of monkey that delight in making life miserable for the staider residents.  The latter drive cars that have immense inflated bumpers around each, because accidents are common.  The Krulls, as the monkeys are named, take fiendish amusement in causing traffic tie-ups, stealing items not nailed down, and creating havoc whenever an opportunity presents itself.  Their highly developed telepathic abilities enable them to project images into the minds of the more normal citizens.  The most common projection being that they themselves are invisible.  This allows them to practice all kinds of destructive and irritating pranks, such as automobile accidents.  The Krull steal Rod and Ted's ship and make it disappear, but with the aid of their space goggles, they are able to find it on top of a big rock in the park.  They stun the surrounding Krull with one of their atomic flashlights and escape the planet.


THE ULTIMATE WEAPON:

Buck Kendall of the Interplanetary Patrol and his six man crew are cruising near the orbit of Pluto when they intercept a distress call from a miner on Pluto, saying that a giant ship has landed and is firing on his dome.  The signal cuts off abruptly and Kendall races to the rescue.  He finds the mining location wiped out and all the platinum gone, but his sensors indicate that the invader is nearby.  The two ships fire on each other but it's no contest:  the larger one just absorbs the patrol ship and Buck and his crew barely manage to escape in a life boat.  They are rescued two days later and inform their superiors that the ship not only had faster than light drive, but also used neutron guns as weapons.  Since Buck is rich and an inventor, he resigns his post as lieutenant and begins experimenting in his own lab with answers to the FTL problem.  He soon realizes that extra-dimensionality would be the only way to go faster than the speed of light;  his analogy involving comparing the time it would take to run around a football field as contrasted with just dashing across it.  

Meanwhile, one thousand light years away, in the Mira system,  Gresth Gkae, commander of the 93rd expeditionary force reports to his superiors about the rich rewards being offered by the defenseless Solar System.  Mira is a variable red giant star around which the two planets Sthor and Asthor revolve.  Because of the erratic radiation, the worlds suffer from unpredictable heating and freezing eras, ice ages of indeterminate length, alternating with torrid epochs, also unpredictably protracted.  So the Solar System seems like a good place to move to.

Buck in his lab on the Moon is soon involved in studying atomic energy and the quantum world.  The lines of force observed to be perpendicular to light waves seem to offer a way to exceed light speed, but the problem of the Heisenberg Uncertainty principle has to be solved first.  (That relating to the impossibility of pinpointing the exact location of a given quantum: proton, neutron, electron, etc.).  He builds an enormous generator using mercury as a regulator because it undergoes a change of state at  very high temperatures.  So he manages to create a magnetic bubble with which to contain and manage atomic energies.  Then he designs a silver mirror to reflect the atomic reaction along a linear pathway.  This light cannon is made just in time as the Mirans have invaded and decimated everything in their path including the planet Mars and its moons, Deimos and Phobos.  Because of the Buck's invention, though, the war reaches a stalemate. 

Continuing his research, Buck realizes at last that the Heisenberg Principle can be split into four different modes: quantum, atomic, molecular and mass.  And he grasps the fact that the latter concept will give him control of FTL because it entails the total conversion of mass to energy:  not only faster than light, but instantaneous travel.  So he builds several versions of the HP:  the 4th to power a ship and the 3rd to make bombs.  In no time at all, the Mirans are driven out of the system and their own solar system is conquered.  But Earth forces are not revengeful;  they realize that the Mirans have a lot to offer and that cooperation is more productive than hostility.  So they help locate another solar system for the Mirans to move to and share the discoveries about the utilization of the quantum universe.


I liked both of these epic creations of the Golden Age quite a bit.  Campbell, as an magazine editor,  had a reputation of being one, or THE popularizer of scifi in the thirties through his encouragement of writers like Asimov, Heinlein, and others, but he was a rather cranky and conservative sort of person and didn't get along with everyone.  Opinionated and harsh upon occasion, he nevertheless raised  the quality of published stories and novels into the realm of actual literature instead of letting them wallow in the depths of the pulp world...