My life in outer space

Vanguard from Alpha – Brian W Aldiss (1959)

vanguard

‘The spy team from Earth knew they were looking for trouble when they secretly landed in Luna Area 101 – dangerous Rosk territory. But the fearless trio got more than they bargained for at the hands of the hostile guests of Earth.
Tyne and Murray escaped with their lives. The third man was dead, and Tyne suspected that Murray had murdered him in cold blood.
Ready to confront him with his charge, Tyne discovered that Murray had disappeared somewhere in the banned area. But when he followed him, he discovered something vastly more dangerous than Murray’s guilt or innocence – the Rosks threatened imminent invasion of Earth. And only Tyne now held the secret that could deflect their hordes of death.
Yet he dared trust no one with it – not even himself.

Cast of Characters

Tyne Leslie – Were his captors his enemies? Or really his friends?

Murray Mumford – Everyone knew he was a spy; no one knew who for.

Benda Ittai – She was a woman of the Rosks, but her love was very human.

Ap II Dowl – Like any guest, he wanted to make himself at home.

Charles Dickens – He carried a famous name and an infamous secret.

Tawdell Co Barr – Did he represent the Rosks… or misrepresent them?’

Blurb from the 1959 Ace Doubles Edition D-369

In the 22nd century a giant ship approaches Earth, claiming to be a generation ship from Alpha Centauri. The Alphans are dark-skinned humanoids, not to dissimilar to ourselves. They set up a base on the moon and (after playing a masterful game of interstellar chess) land their ship in Sumatra.
Tyne Leslie, Murray Mumford and another colleague are sent on a secret mission to the moon to check a report that the Alphans were building a mysterious device near their base.
They are detected however, Tyne is rendered unconscious and the next thing he knows, he is on board ship with Murray, with their colleague apparently dead. Then Murray goes missing and Tyne embarks on a ‘thirty-nine steps’ style search for the truth.
This is not easy since Tyne very soon discovers that he can trust no one, and may be the only human who knows that an Alphan invasion fleet is on its way to take over the Earth.
As would be expected with Aldiss, this is an above-average quality piece of work to be found in an Ace Double (although several major authors, including Dick and Delaney had some novels published this way).
Aldiss, I suspect, spent some time in Sumatra during his army days and has masterfully used this to provide some fascinating background detail.
It’s also fascinating structurally, since Tyne is ultimately seen to have been manipulated by almost everyone into a specific course of action, although to be fair Aldiss overcomplicates things toward the end and one does get a tad confused as to who was working with whom; who knew what and when, and why they made their plans so complicated?
The noir style works though and is especially effective in such a realistic setting. Aldiss even provides a Sydney Greenstreet character in the form of a secret agent called Stobart. There’s a femme-fatale, another secret agent called Charles Dickens, and some action sequences that wouldn’t look out of place in a James Bond movie, such as when Tyne escapes from a Hindu temple in a helicopter or when he gets trapped in a giant cafetiere-type contraption in a plankton plant and has to shoot his way out to avoid being squished and filtered.
It’s very enjoyable hokum and one feels churlish offering any criticism given that it’s a better than average Ace Double novel.
I suspect that Aldiss had a great deal of enjoyment writing this. I certainly enjoyed reading it.

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