Memory is a tricky thing, so I can’t really be sure. It may have been Daybreak — 2250, which sat enticingly in the spinner racks of the St. Francis Junior High School library in Halifax, Nova Scotia. But The Last Planet was almost certainly the first Ace Double I laid eyes on which I was aware was an Ace Double, with a sister book on the flip side and everything (in this case, Alan E. Nourse’s futuristic thriller A Man Obsessed.)
By then, I had begun to build my own collection of SF paperbacks and this fascinating relic of early SF adventure helped pull me towards the entire Ace Double line, like a shipwrecked sailor drawn towards a desert island. A big, lush desert island with a gorgeous library.
It’s Harry Barton’s classic cover for the 1955 paperback that really did it for me. I’ve never read The Last Planet — it took me years just to track down a copy — but nonetheless it has loomed large in my imagination for decades. Three stalwart space explorers, walking through the ruins of an alien city as their crashed spacecraft cools in the foothills behind them, about to stumble upon a metal robot, hiding in the rubble and clutching a rudimentary weapon.
How could it not? For me, at least, it’s one of the signature works of 20th Century SF artwork.
In the years that I searched for a copy, I imagined the story of those three explorers. Would they shoot the robot? Was it friendly? Could be friendly, with those big google-eyes and curious gaze. Those red-shirted explorers looked awfully trigger happy though, with their steely gazes and twitchy hands on their futuristic sidearms. Lords knows, you can’t blame a redshirt for being trigger-happy on an away mission.
The Last Planet was one of the holy grails of early paperback collecting for me. Of course, once I managed to lay my trembling hands on a battered copy, it turned out to be fairly anti-climatic. In teeny white letters under the title was the novel’s original title: Star Rangers.
Now, Ken Barr’s cover for the 1980 Fawcett paperback edition of Star Rangers is perfectly suitable — colorful and dynamic; above average for an 80’s paperback, really. But it didn’t have that vintage magic. It didn’t promise to transport me back to the early days of SF adventure, like the 1955 Ace Double edition. That’s the one I want to read.
The back cover copy for the 1980 edition is certainly intriguing (click on the image at right to read it), but I still find the original 1955 blurb text more appealing, even if it’s not much more than a clumsy excerpt from an F&SF review:
“A magnificent success, both in romance and wonder.”
That is how the editors of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction open their review of The Last Planet. They go on to say:
“As Miss Norton says in her prologue, there is an old legend concerning a Roman emperor who commanded a too-loyal legion to march across Asia to the end of the world. And, in 8054 A.D., history repeated itself in the crumbling First Galactic Empire when a dictator of Deneb rid himself of the restraints of the Stellar Patrol by assigning it to locate and re-map a forgotten system.
“Her book is the story of the Patrol’s journey’s end and it is remarkable not only for her adroit handling of a theme that has been treated, by less imaginative writers, with something less than adequacy, for her creation of wholly convincing aliens and unstereotyped telepaths, but also for engrossing adventure drama that is skillfully set on a small stage against the massive background of intergalactic intrigue and decadence.”
Turn this book over for second complete novel
The Last Planet was published by Ace Books in 1955. It is 192 pages, originally priced at 35 cents. It is currently available as part of an omnibus volume from Baen, Star Soldiers, which also includes Star Guard (1955, cover here.) Star Soldiers is available in digital format and is currently free for the Kindle from Amazon.com.
We’ve covered the following Ace Doubles so far:
ATTA/ The Brain-Stealers by by Francis Rufus Bellamy and Murray Leinster
The Ship from Atlantis/ The Stolen Sun by H. Warner Munn and Emil Petaja
Vulcan’s Hammer / The Skynappers by Philip K. Dick and John Brunner
The Ship That Sailed the Time Stream by G.C. Edmondson
Bow Down to Nul / The Dark Destroyers by Brian W. Aldiss and Manly Wade Wellman
Gateway to Elsewhere / The Weapon Shops of Isher by Murray Leinster and A. E. van Vogt
The Cosmic Puppets / Sargasso of Space by Philip K. Dick and Andre Norton
The Beast Master / Star Hunter by Andre Norton
Big Planet by Jack Vance
City Under the Sea by Kenneth Bulmer
The Forgotten Planet (Planets of Adventure) by Murray Leinster
Six Worlds Yonder / The Space Willies by Eric Frank Russell
Sentinels of Space / The Ultimate Invader by Eric Frank Russell and Donald Wollheim
Ring Around the Sun/ Cosmic Manhunt by Clifford D. Simak and L. Sprague de Camp
The Trouble With Tycho/ Bring Back Yesterday by Clifford D. Simak and A. Bertram Chandler
The Last Planet (Star Rangers) by Andre Norton
A Touch of Infinity/ The Man With Nine Lives by Harlan Ellison
Kirkus Looks at Donald A. Wollheim and the Ace Double
Tales of Outer Space/ Adventures in the Far Future edited by Donald A. Wollheim
The Pirates of Zan by Murray Leinster
And our recent Andre Norton coverage includes:
The Beast Master and Lord of Thunder by Andre Norton
Three Against the Witch World
Year of the Unicorn
Warlock of the Witch World
All the Covers of Galactic Derelict
Kirkus Looks at Andre Norton’s Young Adult Novels
The Last Planet
Andre Norton, Michael Moorcock and Appendix N: Advanced Readings in D&D
Star Soldiers and Other Free Kindle Books at Amazon.com
See all of our recent Vintage Treasures here.