‘THESE PLANETS ARE TABOO’
On the gold-symbol world of Beresford’s Planet, Richard Kirby lived in total luxury. As a member of ‘The Set’ his life was a never-ending round of planetary party-hopping. the only restriction imposed on him – that he never put down on any world marked with a red or black symbol – was something that he had always accepted without question.
That is, until his brother Alec was murdered in cold blood! Alec had been an undercover agent to those forbidden planets, and in order to avenge him, Kirby had to find out for himself what was really happening there.
But with the start of his investigation, Kirby found out quickly that the authorities meant business when they said ‘Hands Off!’ The secret they were protecting was of vital importance, and it now became a matter of life and death, not only to Kirby, but to all the inhabitants of THE CHANGELING WORLDS.
Cast of Characters
Richard Kirby – He had lived so long in ignorance that he couldn’t recognize truth.
Wynne Statham – Work was his hobby; partying was his profession.
Molly Kirby – Her Thirtieth Century education had taught her a strange version of the Facts of Life.
Miller – His friends never knew if he was for or against them.
John Hassett – The task he was given was minor, but its results could affect the entire galaxy.
Kassem – Was he a madman or a messiah?’
Blurb from the 1959 Ace Doubles Edition D-369
The populated worlds of the galaxy are colour-coded. Golden worlds are where the Upper Class ‘set’ live, a community of (for the most part) hedonists who have evolved a system of buying babies rather than submit to the indignity of childbirth.
White worlds are rich, manufacturing worlds where the white collar workers and the rest of decent civilisation dwell. However, there is a prohibition on visiting red or black worlds which are primitive and dangerous.
Kirby, one of ‘The Set’ is worried for his brother who has joined an organisation aiming to free the inhabitants of the red and black worlds.
he is then killed, and Kirby is dragged from his idyllic life and exposed to some harsh realities in his quest to find hi brother’s murderer.
I’m pretty sure that Bulmer has written better work than this, which might have been improved had it had more room for development.
The cover of the Ace Double, although marvellous as an image, is somewhat baffling since it shows men battling with giant tentacled robots which as far as I recall, appear nowhere within the text.
‘Ben Steward, man of the 26th Century, was a “Character” for Time Researchers: he was an adventurer, an actor, a student of history… a man trained to blend into any era of man’s long past. In the overpopulated, stultifying world of 2578, his was an exciting job.
He had, for example, been standing on the shore with the Indians when the Pilgrims rowed ashore from the Mayflower. And now he had been sent back 700 years into his past, to the political furore just before the Civil war… and he was facing certain death.
For the engineers who operated the time machine had made a mistake, and Steward was stuck in a time which would overlap the time-segment he had already scouted. No person could twice exist in the same time; it was an impossibility. And so Steward, in a few moments, would simply disappear…’
Blurb from the Ace paperback edition
In 2578 Time Travel is possible but fiendishly expensive. The chrononauts employed to travel the time lanes are known as ‘Characters’ because of their ability to adapt to different ages and assume characters with society. They are employed to retrieve artefacts or recordings (for profit) from the past and the company employs – apart from the chrononauts themselves – a team of research specialists and engineers to ensure that they will pass unnoticed in the relevant period and that they have a precise geographical and temporal target. All does not always go according to plan however.
Amos Peabody, the curator of a future museum has discovered a reference to a lost speech by Abraham Lincoln, made in Bloomington, Illinois in 1856 and wants the Time Researchers to obtain a recording for him.
The leader of the four man chrononaut team, Ben Steward, is sent to reconnoitre the area, but arrives a day too late on the morning after the speech. he explores the town, finds a fragment of the company’s recording wire and is greeted by a man who appears to have met him the day before.
Steward returns to the future and selects three colleagues to accompany him back to 1856; Doc Bonner, Dobbs and Billy Bloch. the latter two are by trade, actors, a profession which lends itself to the business of fitting into the local scene.
Billy has problems though. he is an alcoholic and has learned that his brother – by dint of becoming unemployed – has been sequestered into one of the government’s labour gangs. To all intents and purposes this is government endorsed slavery.
The recording of Lincoln’s speech is made but Billy disappears and Steward is forced to try and find him before his earlier self appears the following morning. This will create a ‘cancellation’ of the individual since no two manifestations of the same person can exist at the same time.
One might consider it to be a cosy little novel but Tucker includes a rather sobering afterword. Within the novel he gives no hint of the text of Lincoln’s speech, although it is common knowledge that Lincoln is an excellent orator and knows how to work a crowd. It has long been supposed that that the speech was a dire condemnation of the slave-owning states of the South and that this was a turning point in US history when other political parties (such as the Whigs) died out, leaving only the Democrats and Lincoln’s Republican party.
Tucker tell us that he was prompted to write the novel by an old booklet published in 1897 for the Republican Club of New York entitled ‘Abraham Lincoln’s Lost Speech’ assembled from notes taken at the time by one HC Whitney:-
HC Whitney quotes Lincoln as follows:
(Speaking of a statement made by Stephen Douglas: “As a matter of fact, the first branch of the proposition is historically true; the government was made by white men, and they were and are the superior race. This I admit.” (A paragraph later:)
“Nor is it any argument that we are superior and the negro inferior – that he has but one talent while we have ten. Let the negro possess the little he has in independence; if he has but one talent, he should be permitted to keep the little he has.” (Speaking on a plank in the Whig Party platform:) “We allow slavery to exist in the slave states – not because slavery is right or good, but from the necessities of our Union… and that is what we propose – not to interfere with slavery where it exists (we have never tried to do it), and to give them a reasonable and efficient fugitive slave law… It was part of the bargain, and I’m for living up to it…”
Tellingly, within the novel Dobbs tells his colleagues a story about Ramses who was at one time at war with the Hittites. He suffered a terrible loss in a decisive battle, but decided – in a masterful ancient Egyptian act of spin, to tell his nation that he had won a glorious victory. This account of Ramses’ victory was recorded and was accepted as historical fact for at least 3000 years. Tucker is telling us in his own way that the Americans, and presumably all other societies, are very adept at rewriting their own history.
‘A ship is marooned on a planet whose existence has been mislaid by the galactic bureaucracy. And the planet’s ecology has gone wild, breeding deadly giant insects. the ship’s crew and passengers have no hope of rescue. Can they and their descendents (sic) survive? Tune in next millennium.’
Blurb from the 2003 Baen paperback edition
This is a fix-up novel composed of three rewritten stories ‘The Mad Planet’ (Argosy 1920), ‘The Red Dust’ (Argosy 1921), and ‘Nightmare Planet’ (Science Fiction Plus, June 1953). In the original first two stories, the action was set on a far future Earth. The rewritten novel was first published by Gnome Press in 1954.
The basic premise is that Seeder Ships who have discovered barren Earth-type worlds initially ‘seed’ them with lichen and algae and return in cycles of thousand of years to add fungi, vegetation, insects, fish and finally mammals.
Due to a clerical error a particular world is forgotten once the insects and fish have been delivered. Subsequently a ship crashes on the planet and its crew (surviving by eating mushrooms and evading what have evolved into giant insects) become isolated tribes of nomads.
The plot, if one can call it a plot, involves Burl, a resourceful tribesman who one day decides to employ the remains of a dead beetle’s carapace as a weapon and from there teaches his tribe to go on the offensive against rapacious wildlife. He leads them on a journey through the territories of giant spiders, mantises and poisonous puffballs to a plateau where the environment is rather more like that of forgotten Earth.
The colony is eventually re-discovered and its people given an instant education by means of downloading knowledge directly into their brains. Burl becomes the leader of a hot new tourist planet where jaded humans from rest of the galaxy go on hunting trips with the natives, pitting their wits against the outsize insects.
For its time his concept of terraforming must have seemed like cutting edge science, although the concept of a galactic human society which would have remained static during the thousands of years of the seeding programme is a little implausible. One can’t help also pointing out that for Burl to be the only human to discover these techniques of survival, all in a very short space of time, is even more implausible.
However, despite its juvenile feel it’s enjoyable hokum and kept me entertained through a hefty slice of a nine-hour transatlantic flight.
‘It’s lucky for the world I’m willing to stop at one murder. Together we could rape the universe’
Ben Reich, head of Monarch Utilities and resources, risks everything in a last-ditch take-over bid for the massive D’Courtney Cartel. When it fails only murder, blackmail and bribery are left.
So Reich sets himself against the whole sophisticated paraphernalia of twenty-fourth century crime fighting, conducted by the peepers – trained telepathists with a strict code of ethics. And even if he can find a bent peeper, there’s still the ultimate penalty if he fails – Demolition.
Voted Outstanding Novel of the Year by the Eleventh World Science Fiction Congress.’
Blurb from the 1974 Penguin Paperback Edition
It is one of the great shames of Twentieth Century Science Fiction that Alfred Bester never wrote more and Asimov less. This startlingly innovative, iconoclastic and experimental work, Bester’s first novel, was in its own way the ‘Neuromancer’ of its day. On one level it is a murder mystery. Though very much in the style of TV’s ‘Columbo’ in that we, the readers, witness the murder, and from then on follow the investigation to bring the perpetrator to justice, or in this case, Demolition. Demolition involves having one’s personality erased and rebuilt without the fatal flaws. In a sense it is Death, since one retains no memory of one’s former life.
Bester portrays a future in which ‘peepers’ (i.e. telepaths) comprise about two percent of the population and Humanity has spread out to colonise the Solar System. Bester creates a rich, fabulous and detailed tapestry of society in the Twenty Fourth Century. It is in some ways decadent, but far more credible and sophisticated than can be found in the work of some of his contemporaries.
The same can also be said for the characterisation since even the minor characters in this fast-paced psi-thriller seem fully-rounded individuals, if a little grotesque and eccentric. There is for instance, the madam and clairvoyant, Chooka Frood, who lives in an ‘eviscerated ceramics plant’ in which there was an explosion long ago. Her living space is a riot of colours, glazed onto the structure of the building.
There is Keno Quizzard, the blind red-bearded gangster and Duffy Wyg&, (Bester is at his best when he wittily plays with text and punctuation marks, creating such evolved names as @kins and S&nderson) a seductive composer of advertising jingles.
Ben Reich, the murderer and central figure has evolved an ingenious plot to murder his business rival D’Courtney, a man who is trying to destroy him professionally. He enlists the help of Gus Tate, a high-level telepath and psychiatrist, to provide him with access to his victim and to cover his tracks.
The murder however, is witnessed by D’Courtney’s daughter who subsequently disappears.
It is up to Lincoln Powell, telepath, pathological liar and police-chief, to search for clues and find enough evidence to convict Reich and have him ‘demolished’.
Powell’s investigations take him from one exotic location to the next at a frenetic pace, where fabulous details seem to be thrown effortlessly into the text while Bester experiments with text and layout in order to create some visual approximation of the experience of a telepathic interchange between several people.
The settings include a romantic and implausible (but acceptable within the context of the work) Venus, and Spaceland, a flat space-habitat covered with atmospheric domes, which has become a kind of giant Theme Park in space.
Another interesting component of this work is Bester’s interest in psychology and the structure of the mind. Reich is haunted from the first page by nightmares from which he awakens screaming which feature ‘The Man With No Face’. At first, Reich believes that this is a representation of his business rival, D’Courtney, but after making a deal with the psychiatrist Tate, who has read his mind, he is told that even if he does kill D’Courtney, the dreams will continue, as The Man With No Face is not D’Courtney.
Intrigue upon intrigue follows as Reich feverishly attempts to cover the tracks of his murder before Powell can discover the evidence to convict him.
Reich ultimately turns out to have developed some form of schizophrenic personality disorder, but one of such latent psi magnitude that it is capable of rewriting reality. The Man With No Face is merely another side of Reich’s psyche, which performs actions of which Reich is unaware.
It transpires that D’Courtney is in actuality Reich’s father, and that Reich’s motive – unbeknown even to half of Reich’s mind – was not business-related but anger at his father for having abandoned him.
Mirroring this Father/Son conflict is the strange relationship between Powell and Barbara, D’Courtney’s daughter, traumatised into catatonia by the sight of her Father’s murder. Powell elects to protect Barbara (a material witness) who undergoes therapy mirroring Reich’s ultimate demolition, in that she is regressed to a mental level of an infant and re-educated to adulthood over a period of weeks. Powell adopts a Father/Lover role during which time he ‘penetrates’ Barbara’s mind, ostensibly to try and determine her true memories of her Father’s murder.
‘The two ships raced in from outer space and crashed head-on into the Pacific Ocean.
One carried: THE HUNTER
The other: HIS QUARRY
corrupt, evil, a criminal from an unearthly civilisation light years away.
Both were unable to exist alone – both needed a ‘host’. a human body which they could invade and control…’
Blurb from the 1963 Corgi paperback edition
A gelatinous alien detective in pursuit of a gelatinous alien criminal crashes in earth’s sea just off the coast of a US island. The aliens are symbiotic by nature and would normally live within the body of a willing host, siphoning off some food and oxygen while helping to fight off disease and repair injuries.
The detective manages to invade the body of a teenage boy and realises he will have to communicate with his host in order to track down his prey, who is presumably concealed in another human body.
The boy is persuaded, once the alien has been able to make contact, to help track down the criminal and the two enlist the help of the local doctor to try and determine, by a process of deduction and elimination, where the alien might be hiding.
It’s a short and very satisfying read; a bit of a juvenile wish-fulfilment fantasy, but there’s nothing wrong with that.
There are some points of interest. Clement has set this tale in a near-future where bacteria have been genetically engineered to produce a clean form of crude oil. Much of the action is set in and around the oil refinery on the island where the boy’s father works.
‘Disguised as a mercenary warrior, John Carter sought to break the power of the Assassins of Zodanga. Spying on their councils, the Warlord discovered a plot to kidnap his beloved Dejah Thoris. But it was too late to save her. She was already in space, on the way to Thuria, Barsoom’s nearer moon!’
Blurb from the 1980 Del Rey paperback edition
John Carter is again the central figure in this story which starts when Carter returns to earth in the documentary prologue to tell his tale of the kidnap of the incomparable Dejah Thoris.
Carter takes a trip to Zodanga in order to spy on the Guild of Assassins, and in the guise of the mercenary Vandor, accepts the position of bodyguard to Fal Sivas. he is a paranoid and sadistic scientist who has built a ship capable of travelling to Thuria (Mars’ nearer moon).
Fal Sivas has a rival, Nar Gal, who is also building a similar ship, but one which lacks Sivas’ secret invention, a mechanical brain which not only flies the ship automatically, but can be operated by the power of thought.
Too late, Carter discovers that the Guild, with the aid of Nar Gal, have kidnapped Dejah Thoris and taken her to Thuria, where no doubt, she will be subject to many unwelcome indignities.
With the help of the slave girl Zanda and a young soldier of Helium, Carter steals Fal Sivas’ ship and sets off in hot pursuit to Thuria.
As enjoyable as this book is, it merely sees Burroughs retreading old ground. A kidnapped princess; two evil scientists here for the price of one. there’s also some very dodgy physics. By some unfathomable scientific deduction, Fal Sivas has worked out that because if a peculiar relationship of mass between Mars and Thuria, The moon (when the travellers reach it) will seem just as large as Mars and exhibit the same gravitational force. This turns out to be true, which saves all that messing about with fighting and adventuring in low gravity surroundings with no air.
The Thurian native Umka (a chameleon-like creature with one eye and two mouths) whom Carter befriends, is a more interesting creation than the (again) obligatory evil Jeddak. This time he is the leader of the invisible Thurians.
I suspect that Burroughs might have been under pressure to bring the tale to a close since the last few pages conflate a sequence of events that would have normally filled a couple of chapters.
Suffice to say, evil is vanquished and Dejah Thoris is returned, unharmed, to her husband.
Grandon, a restless young man, is kidnapped by someone calling himself Dr Morgan. Dr Morgan imprints some information on him telepathically and makes a proposal. It appears that Dr Morgan is a master of telepathy and, due to this, is able to send his thoughts back through time to a civilisation on Venus millions of years ago. Not only that, if two bodies and minds share enough similarities, Dr Morgan is able to exchange them.
There is, apparently, a young man in ancient Venus, willing to exchange bodies with Grandon, and Grandon agrees (as you would!).
It’s a clumsy device, but for 1929 it was no doubt an exciting idea.
So, Grandon awakes as the slave of a tyrannous Empress, but soon escapes. As he is inhabiting the body of a young prince of Uxpo he is soon rescued by his own people. Meanwhile, the Empress’ cousin has hatched a plot to seize the throne by kidnapping the Empress. It seems that if she is absent from the kingdom for a year she will be automatically exiled and stripped of her title.
Grandon, in the first of a series of increasingly unlikely coincidences, meets up with the kidnappers and manages to rescue her.
There then follows encounters with vampire batmonkeys, and a valley of human-enslaving termites, from whose immense pincers Grandon escapes with the Empress to return to her kingdom and claim it back from the usurper.
It is, despite my somewhat sarcastic précis, immensely enjoyable hokum. There was a rumour circulating at the time, started it seems by Donald Wollheim, that ER Burroughs and Kline were involved in a feud since Edgar R considered Kline to be stealing his ideas. The author later confessed that he’d made it all up for the sake of a good story.
It is true that Kline wrote some Mars novels, some Venus novels and some novels set in a jungle with a strong-thewed hero. There are certainly some broad plot similarities between the two, and both employ the almost obligatory device of somehow transporting an Earthman to Mars or Venus. Kline, it seems, much like Leigh Brackett, seemed to realise that there wouldn’t be much mileage in trying to flog the concept of a living civilisation on Mars or Venus, so they transported their heroes back through time to a Venusian or Martian civilisation that flourished millions of years ago.
Kline’s work, although enjoyable, is not in the same league as Burroughs. One gets the impression that Kline made it up as he went along. In one chapter, trapped and very near to being at the mercy of the giant termites, he hides in a corner under a pile of edible fungi, and just by chance finds a hole that leads down into a forgotten armoury of a lost race. There’s lots of armour, some useful weapons and…oh, what’s this? A whole chest of drawers full of plans for machines which can destroy the termites, and full instructions on how to use them.
Kline is a bit too fond of his Deus ex Machina resolutions, which leads me to assume that he was indeed … making it up as he went along. Good trick if you can keep it up, and keep it interesting.
The author’s explanation for how this manuscript got into his hands is that it was stuffed into a vacuum flask by the original author and ended up on the shores of North America.
The journal is written by one ‘Bowen’, a man who is inadvertently captured by a German submarine during World War I. His fellow captives eventually manage to overpower the Germans but find that they can dock nowhere, and are fired on by ships. Lost, they find themselves at a land mass surrounded by cliffs, one which has a subterranean river leading to the interior.
This is standard fare for Burroughs. ‘The Lost World’ in essence, since there are plenty of dinosaurs. The central mystery however and what distinguishes it from Conan-Doyle is that there are men on the island who seem to range from pre-human ape-like creatures at one end of the land to the level of modern man at the other. It is suggested that these humans are moving through various stages of evolution during their lives and moving across the island to live in the various communities as they develop.
It’s an interesting concept which Burroughs puts aside to examine further in the remaining volumes of the trilogy.
One of the new breed of internet publishing authors, Ian Hocking’s ‘Deja Vu’ is a futuristic Intelligence thriller. The Saskia Brandt of the title is a bit of a mystery, since at the outset she is told that all her memories are fictional. She is a created personality grafted on to the wiped mind of a convicted serial killer. She has also been given, as Liam Neeson might say ‘a specific set of skills’ and is immediately put on a mission to track down David Proctor, a man involved in an experiment which seemed to combine virtual reality and artificial intelligence. David appears to have had concerns as to what use his research could be put to, and blew up his lab, killing his wife in the process.
Proctor’s daughter is also a scientist, involved in research into time.
Saskia becomes paired up with a police officer, Inspector Jago, and they set off on the trail of Proctor, none of them quite sure what they’ve got themselves involved in. To make matters worse, Saskia is getting concerned that the original owner of her body might not be entirely suppressed, and is trying to return.
It’s definitely a page turner, a thoroughly enjoyable read and on the whole I can sincerely recommend it. It’s a fast-paced rollercoaster experience that actually surprised me at the finale because it wasn’t what I had been expecting.
A very promising debut.
We are in Istanbul, in a future (2027) where Turkey has just joined the European Union. In the Dervish House of Adem Dede Square, a varied cast of characters find their lives colliding in ways they had not expected.
Can is a nine year old who has to keep his ears plugged due to a rare heart affliction. A loud noise could stop his heart. However, he is in control of a transforming surveillance robot and when a suicide bomber blows her head off on a local tram he sends his robot to observe events. His friend is Georgios, an elderly Greek economics theorist who analyses patterns in information to make certain predictions.
Ayse is a dealer in antiquities who has been given a commission to find a Mellified Man, i.e. a man whose corpse has been preserved in honey and whose body appears to be hidden somewhere in Istanbul. She is in possession of half of an antique Koran which a company is trying to find in order to finance their company which seeks to use redundant DNA for data storage.
Ayse’s husband, Adnan, is planning a business deal which will earn him millions.
Meanwhile, Secdet, a ne’er do well Muslim has since the bombing been experiencing visions. He sees Djinn everywhere and the Green Man, an ancient Muslim saint.
All the characters live, work or hang out in the Dervish House and their stories combine and overlap as the story progresses.
There is perhaps a surfeit of characters which is compounded by the fact that many of them have very similar names that are unfamiliar to Westerners. It therefore takes a while for the reader to register each character as a separate individual.
As in ‘Brasyl’ McDonald has created a portrait of a city, in this case Istanbul, which is rich, exciting and easily visualised.
Nanotechnology is at the heart of the plot and by 2027 it has already changed human culture. Share traders and financiers regularly snuff nano like coke to give them a temporary boost of intelligence and clarity.
It slowly emerges that the suicide bombing was not a ‘regular’ suicide bombing but an experiment by a group of religious extremists.
The ramifications of the bombing make themselves apparent on the various main characters throughout the book.
It’s not an easy read, and I have read one review which criticises McDonald for various errors related to the Turkish language. For instance at one point, Georgios is talking to the young boy Can about his robots and notes that Can uses the word ‘he’ in relation to the robot, although there is no word for ‘he’ in the Turkish language and therefore this conversation could not have happened in the way described.
One supposes that yes, McDonald should possibly have asked a Turkish speaker, preferably one familiar with Istanbul to read through the manuscript, but these are minor niggles.
The main problem with this weighty novel was its tendency to drift off into exposition and lengthy passages of history.
In one section, to introduce Georgios going into a church we have a lengthy history of a small painting of the Virgin Mary, a painting that Father Ioannis has taken out of storage to put on display, a painting that is notable for the intensity of a specific shade of blue in the Virgin’s clothing. Most authors would I suspect have been happy to settle with ‘When Georgios walked into the church—‘
There are many sections like this and although they are beautifully written and add to the depth and richness of the novel’s ambience (for after all, the book is, as I have said, as much a portrait of Istanbul as it is a futuristic novel) one can’t help wondering how many people gave in to the temptation to skip these passages and move on to the action, for action indeed there is, and plotlines as complex and twisting as the unused passages of the Dervish House itself.
For me, the novel does not come into its own until past the halfway point. The main characters are full of life and artfully realised, but the minor characters (of which there are perhaps too many) lacked the depth of detail to be found in the minor characters of ‘Brasyl’.
To his credit, McDonald also has a very original take on terrorism and a very possible future threat of nanotechnological terrorism, and certainly does not take us down the tired old route of trying to understand Islamic Fundamentalists since refreshingly it is not what they are.
It’s not clear when the ‘doorstop’ SF novel first emerged. In the Nineteen Seventies, one could read a Moorcock novel, cover to cover, in the morning and a John Wyndham in the afternoon. It was the Eighties I think, when novels began to get a tad porky.
The Nineties gave us Peter F Hamilton’s first set of shelfbreakers in his ‘Night’s Dawn’ trilogy, and Kim Stanley Robinson’s ‘Mars’ trilogy, which set a certain trend. If this is an evolutionary process then surely the age of these literary megosaurs has to come to an end at some point, if only for the sake of the bookshelves of the world. These morbidly obese volumes – masterpieces though some of them may be – must surely be doomed as a species. Roll on the next world paper shortage. Perhaps then some shorter, leaner, quicker novels will move in to fill the niche.