Ace Double #11182
Ron Goulart (1933- )
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.
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...