‘DUEL IN THE ARENA OF THE STARS
Andalvar of the planet Argus, king of an interstellar empire, was dead and fear ruled in his absence. The dread of a power struggle between the treacherous Andra, and “Black Witch,” and the beautiful Princess Sharla showered panic upon the people and threatened to crumble the starry realm to dust. But their powers were restricted to the present, and before either could sit on the throne, they would have to come to grips with the man from the future who held the destiny of the universe in his hand. His name: Kelab the Conjurer – THE SPACE-TIME JUGGLER’
Blurb from the 1963 F-227 Ace Double Paperback Edition
Set in the same universe as The Altar on Asconel this inhabits that uneasy space between SF and Fantasy.
Following the death of the King of Argus, Andra, ‘The Black Witch’ has become regent on this colony world which has in the main reverted to feudalism. Her older sister Sharla – missing for seven years and presumed dead – suddenly reappears to claim her place accompanied by Landor and the swordsman Ordovic.
Another stranger also arrives, Kelab the Conjuror, a man who appears to command magic and, it seems, is interfering in court business.
It would be giving the plot away to explain anything further as it’s a brief read which is well-written but suffers from a lack of cohesion between the slave-owning and sword-wielding society and the hi-tech elements.
There is no individuality to this society. It is set in the mould of every other far future feudal planet favoured by the likes of Lin Carter and his contemporaries, which somehow always has to include some monarchist system. The characters are stock stereotypes with little light and shade. There is a decent enough surprise and plot twist bit one feels this could have been a far better novel given some thought to the world building and some space to develop characters.
‘TWO WORLDS IN CONFLICT
Azrael – Where pain was the only reality, and murder was not a crime but a ritual
Ipewell – Where motherhood was honored and manhood meant a life of servitude and fear.
These two worlds were at the heart of a taut and dangerous situation which threatened to explode, and Jorgen Thorkild, director of the Bridge System that connected forty worlds among the stars had to try to tame them.
But Thorkild faced still another problem: the loss of his own sanity…’
Blurb from the 1964 Ace Double F-299 paperback edition
Earth is slowly reuniting herself with her lost colonies on worlds settled centuries before The Bridge which is essentially a wormhole gateway to the rediscovered worlds.
the latest worlds to be discovered are Azrael and Ipewell. Ipewell is a matriarchal society where men are treated as an inferior species. Azrael is a darker society where the inhabitants court death as a regular ritual in order to remind themselves of the reality of their own mortality.
Before the worlds can be opened up to this galactic community their society has to be analysed and assessed by a ‘programmer’, one who can accurately map the factors within an alien human society, determine what ‘makes them tick’ and how they can be prepared for integration into this Galactic civilisation of almost forty worlds.
In this decidedly van-Vogtian piece programmers are, it is suggested, an evolutionary advance. They are van Vogt’s logical pacifist hero. On Azrael, the last programmer made a fatal error and engaged in a ritual which ended in his death. His successor must use all his Programme training to find a way to analyse and undermine the Azrael philosophy before they can be admitted to the Bridge system.
Jorgen Thorkild, upon meeting the formidable leader of the Azraelis has a nervous breakdown and has to be relieved of his post. He is also plagued by the suicide of his predecessor.
Much of it is about people whose world-views are dramatically altered, most of them painfully but to their own benefit.
It’s an odd piece which perhaps has concepts which could not be properly explored within the word-count constraints of an Ace Double.
It was revised in 1982 as ‘Manshape’.
The Astronauts Must Not Land – John Brunner (1963)
‘It was a time of glory and it was a time of fear. After two years, Starventure, the first spaceship to reach the stars beyond our solar system, was returning to Earth and all the world rejoiced. But it was to be a shallow triumph, for on the day Starventure landed, a huge monster appeared in the sky above southern Chile, and the terror that gripped mankind was the worst in the annals of recorded history.
Scientists were convinced that only the crew of the spaceship could unravel the mystery of the apparition. But, when the ship’s latches were opened it was discovered that the astronauts had been transformed into six-limbed creatures with twisted and warped bodies – and they knew no more about their fate than the terror-stricken people on Earth.
CAST OF CHARACTERS
As a science-writer he was used to explaining difficult ideas in simple terms – but now he had to explain the completely impossible
Her ancestry, she held, was one quarter Spanish, Irish, Amerind – and jaguar.
He had to struggle to remember what it felt like to have only one pair of hands.
Desperation drove him to reveal the deadly secret of the starship’s cargo.
Like any good scientist, he knew that when natural laws are broken you have to scrap them and start over.
Thanks to him, the world was saved from panic by a convincing lie – which he hated.
Carmen’s brother… only he wasn’t. Not any longer. He was someone – or something – alien.’
Blurbs from the F-227 1963 Ace Double paperback edition.
An experimental FTL ship employing hyperspace technology is sent to Alpha Centauri. On board is Leon Drummond, brother of top science writer, David Drummond.
On the day of the ship’s return to normal space within the Solar System, Drummond is convinced that he saw his brother in the street, who then disappeared.
Monstrous alien faces appear in the sky over various cities and Drummond – although he has received a transcript of a message from his brother on the ship – believes that a conspiracy of silence is preventing him discovering something that has happened on board.
David meets up with Carmen Iglesias, an occasional love interest who also has her brother Hermanos on board. Carmen also claims to have seen Hermanos recently in the street but he also disappeared.
It isn’t long before David is brought within the circle of secrecy and is told that the crew of the ship have been physically transformed into six-limbed aliens while retaining their minds and personalities.
David is sent on board the ship to speak with Leon in an effort to determine whether it is really Leon or an alien impostor, playing the role of Leon Drummond.
This (apparently later revised and released as ‘More Things in Heaven’) is one of the better Brunner Ace Double novels. It’s fairly lengthy for a double, being paired with the far shorter ‘The Space-Time Juggler’.
One is led to the increasingly likely conclusion that the aliens have switched minds with the crew and are roaming Earth in their bodies. Soon it is discovered that the visitors are not just observing humans but are preaching and drawing larger crowds each day. Thus eventually Drummond is able to trace and meet Hermanos who explains who the visitors are and why they are here.
It is, one feels, a weak denouement, with Brunner suddenly throwing in a link between Humanity and the fallen angels of Christian mythology. Hyperspace is apparently our real home, as we fled to our ‘imperfect’ universe following some unspecified heinous crime. We will return there it seems but it will take some twenty thousand years.
It’s not that it’s a bad idea but it seems – at least in the Ace double version – to be a conclusion hastily tacked on at the end.
Again, as in many Ace Doubles, there is a surfeit of characters who lack the space to develop into anything beyond the two-dimensional.
It may be interesting however to see how this novel sits chronologically in Brunner’s writing career since it certainly shows a better grasp of character and structure than some others in the Doubles series.
While reading this, it struck me, since Brunner seems particularly Dick-influenced – how PKD’s characters seem to be trapped in their roles. I suspect if you pick up any Dick novel at random you would find more than one character yearning to break away from a job, or a spouse or both and yet seems doomed to remain. PKD’s characters are defined by their status and their place in society, and to a certain extent, so are Brunner’s.
Brunner’s work is more obviously satirical, extrapolating US society into a caricatured future of Mental Health gurus, psychic mediums, Watergate-style media reporters, race-riots, politics, corruption, big business and Artificial Intelligence.
It was a time of crisis when Brunner was writing this. America had been involved for some time in the Korean war, civil rights groups were rising and fighting for equality for all the usual causes – all of them just, and so it is not surprising that that this novel is laced with a healthy dose of cynicism for the concepts of equality, fair play and clean politics, on both sides of the divide.
The novel is divided into a hundred chapters, some of which are merely short quotes or excerpts from media reports. It’s therefore a fast-paced, punchy, sometimes aggressive narrative which centres around a TV reporter, Matthew, whose exposees are transmitted once a week and who is currently investigating the Gosschalks, a multinational family who manufacture arms, amongst other things, and who may or may not be suffering from internal family tensions.
When Matthew visits the Mental Health Institute where his wife has been committed – and receiving some somewhat dubious treatment – he is drawn into slowly uncovering an international conspiracy where racial unrest is being actively encouraged, which could lead to world crises and the fall of civilisation.
Paradoxically enough, it’s actually quite funny. One of Brunner’s best.
‘Exiles of an extra-galactic god
BEACHHEAD FROM ANOTHER GALAXY
Whether or not he had wanted to turn back at the last minute, he couldn’t have – the wave of dirty, hungry people carried him helplessly along in their fervor to reach the temple. Like dope addicts, he told himself, they don’t even care about themselves, only about the thing that is inside the temple!
He remembered the day ten years ago when his older brother had been made a Warden of Asconel, a prosperous and happy planet, and he and his other brothers had left in the interests of their people. Now they had returned to a world where a fanatical cult had usurped the Warden’s chair, and men and women were gladly offering themselves up as human sacrifices to Belizuek – whoever or whatever that being from beyond the galaxy was…
I’ll find out, he told himself grimly, when I enter these doors…’
Blurb from the 1965 M-123 Ace Double paperback edition.
Part of Brunner’s ‘Interstellar Empire’ series, As a backdrop to this novel; Humanity spread out into space and discovered many abandoned starships. Using these, a Galactic Empire was established which has now collapsed, leaving the galaxy in a state comparable to Asimov’s Galactic Empire in ‘Foundation and Empire’ where the collapsing Empire is too weak to sustain itself but remains a formidable force.
Asconel was a progressive world outside of the dominion of the failing Empire (with however a hereditary warden it appears). Hodat inherited the wardenship and his three brothers decided to leave the planet to avoid being used as figureheads in any opposition to his stewardship. The youngest brother, Sartrak, has dedicated himself to study in a pacifist brotherhood.
Sartrak’s hot-headed brother Vix arrives to tell him that Hoday has been murdered and that his position as warden of Asconel has been usurped by one Bucyon and his telepathic partner, Lydis. They have brought a new religion to Asconel, one that seems unfeasibly popular and which features voluntary human sacrifice.
Sartrak and his brothers along with Eunora, a young telepath, return to Asconel, determined to rid the world of the evil that has mentally enslaved its people.
It’s a very enjoyable read. The background, however, is far more interesting than the novel itself. The rump of the Empire, whom we encounter en-route are an aggressive paranoid lot.
‘WHAT PRICE ETERNAL YOUTH?
The Corps Galactica, the Galaxy’s police force, had pledged itself to a policy of non-interference with the backward Zarathutra Refugee Planets. Langenschmidt, the Corps chief on the planet Cyclops, was content with this ruling. After all, if the refugee planets could form their own civilization from scratch, logically they would come up with cultures suited to their own needs.
However, when the case of Justin Kolb came to his attention, Langenschmidt was forced to rethink the problem.
Kolb’s accident with the wolfshark revealed to the Corp’s medicos the leg-graft that had been done on him. It was a perfect match – only its gene-pattern wasn’t Cyclopean, and limb-grafting wasn’t practiced on Cyclops. Where then had the leg come from, who had been the unknown repairman and wasn’t this something that might be violating galactic law?’
Blurb from the 1965 Ace Doubles Edition M-115
It is the far future where man has spread out to settle planets across the galaxy. The main body of galactic society in order to promote human cultural diversity, operates a non-interference policy on human-settled planets below a certain level of social development and agents are posted to those worlds to ensure compliance.
Hundreds of years before the star Zarathustra went nova and it was thought originally that that not many of the population of its single world escaped. later, known civilisation began discovering many settled planets, the Zarathustra Refugee Planets, which became known as the ZRPs.
Magdallena has just finished a twenty-year stint on a primitive backwater world whose renaissance was primed to begin until the planet’s brilliant and charismatic leader has assassinated by a less able rival, freezing the world into cultural stagnation.
Magdallena is suddenly immediately posted to Cyclops, a world whose female leader Quist is causing trouble for the Galactic envoys and troops/
Her lover, Justin Kolb, has lost his leg during a wolf-shark hunt and was rescued by a local fisherman and brought to the Corps Galactica base. It is then discovered that this is the second time that Kolb has lost his leg. The first time, the leg was not regenerated as would have been done on richer worlds. In fact, Kolb received a graft and the genetic make-up of the replacement leg was not to be found on Cyclops.
Magdellena and her longtime friend and lover, Gus, suspect that this is part of something larger, particularly as Kolb’s doctor is anxious to have Kolb transferred back to his care, and Quist unexpectedly rails against The Corps and insists that they leave Cyclops.
Ace Doubles are notoriously variable in quality, although they did publish some major talents such as Brunner, Dick, Samuel Delaney and Brian Aldiss.
Despite its sensationalist title, this is a very satisfying read and (rather like van Vogt used to) Brunner gives us tantalising titbits of the wider galaxy in which this tale is set which somehow makes it a richer experience with more depth.
Refreshingly, Brunner recognises that were we to colonise other worlds, it wouldn’t just be the US and the British that would be doing it.
The original Zarathustra colony, it transpires, had a large Iranian community, some of whom managed to escape to settle another world from which Quist’s doctor has selected victims for organ donations.
‘THIS MILLION HEADED MONSTER HAD A SINGLE-MINDED MISSION
WHAT MAKES A MAN? WHAT MAKES A MONSTER?
‘We won’t be landing anywhere just yet,’ Waters said to the other passengers on the spaceship ‘Fulmar’. ‘I was pretty mystified by this story of mechanical breakdown, so I’ve been checking up.’ He hefted his little box. ‘I’ve spent the past half-hour successfully tapping your subspace circuits, Captain, so I know the truth and I propose to share it with everyone.’
Captain Wong’s face crumpled, like a child’s about to cry
The others, paying no attention to Wong, waited breathlessly for Waters to continue.
‘We’re not to land. We’re to orbit in space, indefinitely.’
Beloved Sister Dorcas’s screams pierced the quiet.
‘You see,’ Waters continued, holding up his hand for silence, ‘this is being done on the direct orders of Master Brand… You don’t know the name?’ He glanced inquiringly around. ‘No? Well, he happens to be one of the Powers of Earth, and there is nobody in the galaxy to overrule him.’ ‘
Front page banner and interior blurb from the 1965 Ace Doubles paperback M-115
Scientists are studying the only non-human intelligence so far discovered, which is on the planet Tantalus. The creature is a single gestalt organism composed of millions of sub-units which work the continent it exists upon as a giant farm. Humans have learned to communicate on a basic level with the Tantalan and have transported units of its being to the Southern continent to allow it to expand in exchange for permission to study the Tantalan.
After forty years, the Tantalan seems to have done little apart from copy the concept of mining and ore production from humans. However, when a human scientist is killed, the Tantalan asks for its body to examine.
Now humans have discovered some of their surveillance devices disabled and a Tantalan sub-unit factory has been mining for substances only found in the human body.
A ship recently called at Tantalus to take off a human consultant who had been called in because of his alleged psi-powers but had been asked to leave because of his arrogant attitude to almost everyone.
It is suspected that the Tantalans had replaced someone on the ship with a Tantalan-created human copy.
The ship is therefore held in Earth orbit until Master Brand, one of the Masters of Earth, can determine who is the Tantalan copy. As all the passengers are, to varying degrees, mentally unbalanced, it is not an easy task.
Brunner is very good at packing a great deal into a short novel and here manages to do it, even while employing quite a large cast of characters. The cast may be perhaps a tad too large for this story, but we’ll forgive him for that.
‘THEY SEARCHED THE PAST TO ESCAPE THE FUTURE
THE MAN WHO CRIED “DOOMSDAY!”
There was a new star in the sky – another sun heading directly for the Solar System on a collision orbit. It meant the end of the world!
Creohan, who made the discovery, realized that in a few short years the oceans would boil, the forests and cities would be engulfed in flame, and life would be scorched from the surface of the world. But Creohan also knew that somewhere among the accumulated lore of 100,000 years of civilization ther e would be the scientific knowledge that would even turn a star aside.
But find that knowledge turned out to be a nightmare. For none of the decadent people of THE 100TH MILLENNIUM would listen to him. And Creohan realised that this time the saving of the world was entirely up to himself alone!
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Creohan knew that the past would provide the answers to the future
Chalyth found friends at the bottom of the sea
Madal loved security more than she loved life.
Hoo existed to provide food to a deserted city
Vance got himself hopelessly lost just a few miles from home.
Paro-Mni managed to be discontented with the perfect society’
Blurb from the D-362 1959 Ace doubles edition
In a style very reminiscent of Vance, with echoes of Brian Aldiss, Brunner takes us to a far future of decadent humanity whose sole aim is to live in a past era of their choosing via the dreams of the History machines.
Creohan, the main protagonist, aimed initially to be a Historian also, but discovered, almost by accident, a sun heading toward the Solar System, which would destroy our sun and the Earth three hundred years hence.
Finding only apathy in his own city he sets out with a female companion, Chalyth, to find the residents of the other cities and rouse the populace to start working toward deflecting the sun.
The style and dialogue is, as I have said, very Vance-esque.
Creohan encounters several other characters including a paranoid race of tiny humans and an intelligent dolphin creature before he reaches his goal at a mountain, where the history of humanity and perhaps its future is revealed.
In this world people can grow houses from seeds and the streets are lit at night by genetically engineered birds with glowing feathers.
There seems to have been a fashion – which can’t be solely due to Vance’s ‘Dying Earth’ tales, for depicting Far Future earths as places where decadent humans comport themselves with pure pleasure, unwilling to try and discover anything new since all that was new has long been discovered.
Of course, there was a suggestion of this in Wells’ ‘The Time Machine’ and in some of the ‘Zothique’ tales of Clark Ashton Smith, but the concept appears to have blossomed in the late 50s, through to the 70s and intermittently beyond. Apart from ‘The Dying Earth’, Moorcock’s ‘Dancers At The End of Time’, M John Harrison’ ‘Viriconium’ tales, Karl Edward Wagner’s ‘Kane’ novels and Wolfe’s ‘Book of The New Sun’ are just a handful of examples.
This lacks many of the baroque attributes of the other titles and at heart is merely a quest tale with a simple structure, but there are flashes of ingenuity and signs certainly of what a good writer Brunner was destined to become.
MUST THE UNIVERSE DIE WITH THEM?
The Starfolk, arrogant masters of vast stretches of the cosmos beyond
the Earth’s sphere of influence, were determined to complete the
extermination of the mind-reading mutants on Regnier’s planet.
But to the mutants themselves, the terror of the Starfolk was nothing
compared to the greater dread that gripped their spirits – the
obsession that the universe itself was doomed. This obsession ripped
into their minds, overwhelmed them, and plunged them into horrifying
The message of doom reached the ears of the Starfolk themselves,
forcing them to a fateful decision. They would allow an Earthman,
archaeologist Philip Gascon, to visit Regnier in an attempt to unravel
its secrets. What he found would either contain the key to the ultimate
destiny of the universe – or the date of doomsday.
CAST OF CHARACTERS
For him the secret of death contained the meaning of life.
He could unravel men’s thoughts, but not the mystery buried in his own
She was young in years, but old in the ways of pain.
Proud and ruthless, he used people for toys – and found the game was
He was his masters’ voice, until they decided to listen to someone else.
Cunning dictated his every move, but even he couldn’t unfathom the
message of doom.”
Blurbs from the 1963 Ace Doubles F-199 copy
This is quite an intriguing and enjoyable little piece, set at a time when Humanity has settled several worlds and discovered artefacts left by a vanished Elder Race. A spaceborne civilisation, The Starfolk, has emerged with delusions of being a master race, but because their reproductive capabilities are curtailed by the radiation of outer space, they use the planets they service with goods and technology as a gene pool from which to select breeding stock. Since expanding to the stars telepathic humans, the Psions of the title, are being born into human communities.
Recently, the Psions are suffering, because they are all receiving a telepathic message or vision, which warns of the end of everything.
The novel does provide some interesting characters. Harys Fold is some sort of Earth government intelligence officer, with impressive deductive powers. When he hears of a man found in the desert after an encounter with a distressed psion, a man who is not only a cosmoarchaeology student, but a ‘psinul’ (unreadable by psions) he concocts a plan to solve the mystery of the cosmic message of doom, which has a connection with Regnier’s planet, a world controlled by the Starfolk, where Psions are persecuted.
However, one gets the impression that Brunner had written himself into a corner toward the end since the resolution seems somewhat badly contrived. Given a longer format and some time for a decent edit this could well have been a far better novel, set as it is in a quite interesting universe with a decent stab at some characterisation.
It would be interesting to discover if Christopher Evans had ever read this novel since although the premise of ESP-capable humans emerging as an evolutionary development is not a new one, the phrase ‘psinul’ is used in the same context within the TV series he created, ‘The Tomorrow People’ some ten years later than this publication, and the series is based around the idea of ESP-capable humans emerging within the population as the first examples of Homo Superior.