One of the things I love about the early Ace Doubles is that they frequently paired young writers who later became superstars. It’s like finding a movie starring Scarlett Johansson and Elijah Wood when they were both 10 years old (that move exists, by the way. It’s called North. Don’t see it.)
The 1960 Ace Double Vulcan’s Hammer/The Skynappers is a fine example. It paired the 32-year old Philip K. Dick — well established by that point, with seven novels under his belt — with an up-and coming British author, the 26-year old John Brunner, whose first novel Threshold of Eternity had appeared as an Ace Double the previous year. Both went on to stellar careers. Indeed, they’re two of the most highly regarded SF writers of the 20th Century.
Neither of these two books is particularly well remembered, however. In fact, if you’re a Brunner fan and interested in reading The Skynappers, this 55-year old paperback is pretty much the only way to get it.
Vulcan’s Hammer is set in the distant year 2029 (distant in 1960, anyway.) The world has been devastated by a nuclear war, and is now ruled by a sentient computer, Vulcan 2. Vulcan 2 has designed and built its super-intelligent successor, Vulcan 3, which has now also become sentient… and is showing rather extremist tendencies. A little creeped out, Vulcan 2 sets in place long-term plans to safeguard itself, secretly seeding a revolutionary human movement that, as the novel opens, has upset the planet’s fragile peace.
Here’s the inside cover copy from the Ace Double edition:
CHOOSE — THE DEADLY TRUTH OR THE VITAL LIE!
Vulcan 3 was the supreme head of Unity, the perfect world government that had evolved out of chaos and war. Vulcan 3 was rational, objective and unbiased… as only a machine could be!
Theoretically there should have been nothing but peace under such a rule — and for a century or so there was. Until the crackpots, the superstitious, the religious fanatics found themselves a new leader to follow.
Then the discontent began to explode again. But this time there was a third side involved, a machine that could not accept any emotional viewpoints. The people of the world began to realize that they had created a vicious paradox: they had to make peace between themselves or be stamped out by the ever-growing claws of Vulcan’s Hammer.
Philip K. Dick began by writing pulp adventure novels like The Cosmic Puppets and Solar Lottery, and Vulcan’s Hammer is generally considered the last publication in this phase of his career. It was originally written in 1953, making it the earliest of his novels to be published in his lifetime (two previous manuscripts, Gather Yourselves Together and Voices from the Street, were published posthumously.)
Scarcely two years after Vulcan’s Hammer appeared, Dick would write his most famous novel, the Hugo award-winning The Man in the High Castle, changing his career forever. It’s the novels of this later period that are chiefly discussed today. Vulcan’s Hammer, in fact, doesn’t even rate a mention on his (otherwise highly detailed) Wikipedia page.
Vulcan’s Hammer has been generally neglected by Dick scholars, but it did enjoy a handful of reprints. It first appeared in the April 1956 issue of Future Science Fiction (below left, cover by Frank Kelly Freas.) It was expanded for the Ace Double edition, and reprinted in a standalone paperback a dozen years later in 1972 (below middle, cover by Freas again.)
After that, the novel remained out of print in the US for over three decades, until Vintage returned virtually Dick’s entire catalog to print in 2004. That was the last edition until Mariner reprinted it in a handsome trade paperback in October 2012 (above right.)
Vulcan’s Hammer also appeared in a couple editions in the UK. These are interesting for a few reasons.
The first British printing was an Arrow paperback in August, 1976, with a sharp-looking wraparound cover by Peter Elson. One of the things I like about this edition is the plot description on the back, quite different from the Ace Double. Have a look below (click on any of the images for more legible versions.)
The second British edition was an omnibus from Gollancz Books in September, 2000, collecting three short novels that all previously appeared as Ace Doubles: The Man Who Japed, Dr. Futurity, and Vulcan’s Hammer. The colorful cover is by Chris Moore (below right).
On the flip side of Vulcan’s Hammer we find John Brunner’s The Skynappers. This was his seventh novel, his sixth Ace Double, and his second pairing with Philip K. Dick. The first was seven months earlier, with Dr. Futurity / Slavers of Space:
That’s a pretty good record for a writer barely 26 years old.
Time has not been kind to The Skynappers. It never appeared in the UK, and has never been reprinted in the US — not once. It received a digital edition from Gateway / Orion in July, 2013, but if you want a print edition, the 1960 Ace Double is your only option.
Here’s the inside cover copy:
PAWN OF THE STAR PLOTTERS
When Ivan Wright stepped out of his mountain cabin, rifle in hand, to investigate the sound of a strange helicopter, he stepped right into the middle of a galactic crisis.
For the crew of that odd aircraft were not men such as he’d ever seen before — and when he tried to oppose them, he found himself hurled uncontrollably into oblivion.
He awoke to find himself considered as a kidnapped barbarian from a backward planet in a galaxy of advanced civilizations — yet one who somehow held in his own hands the key to all their futures!
Brunner and Dick crossed paths a few times in print again. Brunner provided the introduction to the Del Rey collection The Best of Philip K. Dick, saying (in part):
[Dick is] the most consistently brilliant science-fiction writer in the world… But I tell you this straight up: I do not want to live in the sort of world Dick is good at describing… Maybe if a lot of people read Dick’s works I’ll stand a better chance of not living in that world.
We previously covered Philip K. Dick with the following articles:
And our previous coverage of John Brunner includes:
Vulcan’s Hammer/The Skynappers was published in September 1960 by Ace Books (Ace Double #D-457). It is 139+117 pages, priced at $0.35. The covers are by Ed Emshwiller (Vulcan’s Hammer) and Ed Valigursky (The Skynappers).
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
See all of our recent Vintage Treasures here.