Parallel Universes and Space Marines: Rich Horton on The Games of Neith by Margaret St. Clair/The Earth Gods are Coming by Kenneth Bulmer
Over at his website Strange at Ecbatan, Rich Horton looks at another obscure Ace Double.
Here’s an Ace Double featuring a couple of authors I’ve discussed before. I bought it partly because of that — both writers have proved enjoyable in the past, St. Clair often more than that, and, partly, frankly, because of the quite gorgeous Emswhiller cover on the St. Clair book, which for some reason reminded me of Wendy Pini’s cover for the June 1975 Galaxy.
I wrote before about Margaret St. Clair (1911-1995) as follows: “She was one of the more noticeable early women writers of SF, but somehow her profile was a bit lower than those of C. L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, and Andre Norton. Perhaps it was simply that those writers did just a bit more, and were just a bit better (taken as a whole) than her, but it does seem that she’s not quite as well remembered as perhaps she deserves. One contributing factor is that she wrote some of her very best stories pseudonymously, as “Idris Seabright.” 20 or so of her 50+ short stories were as by Seabright, including some of the very best (such as “Short in the Chest” and “An Egg a Month from All Over”). She also wrote 8 novels (four of them published as Ace Double halves). Her career in SF stretched from 1946 to 1981…”
Reading this book made clear to me another reason St. Clair is not as well remembered as Moore, Brackett, or Norton — she was much weaker at novel length than at shorter lengths. At least, that is, based on those I’ve read. The Games of Neith was a terrible disappointment to me — it’s really just a bad, silly, book.
Sadly the flip side, Kenneth Bulmer’s The Earth Gods are Coming, doesn’t measure up much better.
Kenneth Bulmer, born in England in 1921, was a very prolific writer from the early ’50s, under his own name and many others, most notably “Alan Burt Akers”, the name under which he wrote the Dray Prescot series for DAW… I’ve read a few of his novels, and they tend to be competent adventure fiction, but not at all distinguished. The Earth Gods are Coming is more or less typical of his work. It opens with a man charged with releasing one of the Prophets of Earth over another planet. These are androids who deliver the message of the rational and peace-loving Earth religion to other planets. However, the man is accidentally ejected from his spaceship with the Prophet, and rides it down to the surface.
Then we switch back to Earth, where Roy Inglis, a Space Marine officer stuck in a desk job after his marriage to a rich woman, is suddenly recalled to service. It seems there have been encounters in deep space with inimical aliens, who attack ships without warning. They are dubbed the Evil Ones, and Roy is sent on a fishing expedition hoping to find them. He finds this a relief in some ways, as his marriage is unhappy.
Roy’s ship is attacked as well, as they reach a distant planet. He and a few others manage to reach the surface — again, this planet is a water world, in which the intelligent aliens live in floating cities of ships. After some time desperately surviving in their barely seaworthy lifeboat, they encounter the aliens, who welcome them aboard. By now Roy and a lovely lieutenant are making eyes at each other — just in time for an interlude on Earth where we see his wife jumping at the chance to divorce him on the presumption that he’s been killed. Then a mysterious alien spaceship descends projecting hypnotic messages, and both the humans and the natives of this planet are brainwashed into worshipping the “evil ones.” What if they are captured? The Evil Ones will easily learn Earth’s location…
The Games of Neith/The Dark Intruder was published by Ace Books in 1964. It is 149+107 pages, priced at 35 cents. The covers were by Ed Emshwiller and Ed Valigursky, respectively.
The Games of Neith has never been reprinted. But The Earth Gods are Coming was republished by Digit Books in 1961 as Of Earth Foretold, and reprinted under that title again in July 2013 by Gateway / Orion.
Read Rich’s complete review here.
Our recent coverage of Ace Doubles includes:
The Problem With Marion Zimmer Bradley: Rich Horton on Falcons of Narabedla/The Dark Intruder
King of the Fourth Planet/Cosmic Checkmate by Robert Moore Williams and Charles V. De Vet & Katherine MacLean
Our Man in Space/Ultimatum in 2050 A.D. by by Bruce Ronald and Jack Sharkey
Rocannon’s World/The Kar-Chee Reign by Ursula K. LeGuin and Avram Davidson.
The Plot Against Earth/Recruit for Andromeda by Calvin M. Knox and Milton Lesser
Warlord of Kor/The Star Wasps by Terry Carr and Robert Moore Williams
The Sun Saboteurs/The Light of Lilith by Damon Knight and G. McDonald Wallis
Wandl the Invader/I Speak For Earth by Ray Cummings and Keith Woodcott (John Brunner)
The Sioux Spaceman/ And Then the Town Took Off by Andre Norton and Richard Wilson
Secret of the Lost Race/ One Against Herculum by Andre Norton and Jerry Sohl
Clockwork’s Pirates/Ghost Breaker by Ron Goulart
ATTA/ The Brain-Stealers 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
See all of our recent Vintage Treasures here.
Another problem for Ms. St. Clair was awesomely awful marketing, as infamously epitomized by the back cover blurb for her Sign of the Labrys:
“Women are writing science-fiction!
Original! Brilliant!! Dazzling!!!
Women are closer to the primitive than men. They are conscious of the moon-pulls, the earth-tides. They possess a buried memory of humanity’s obscure and ancient past, which can emerge to uniquely color and flavor a novel!”
Color and flavor a novel? Like a cake??
Admittedly, Sign of the Labrys is Wiccan, uh, flavored. But it is also one of Gary Gygax’s Appendix N selections as a source for Dungeons & Dragons.
Earth Gods is one of the worst books I’ve ever read. Aside from a nonsensical plot, the prose reads like it was ineptly translated from some obscure language. Neith was bad too, but St Clair was capable of better – Agent of the Unknown is a very striking, very unusual novel, and is well worth seeking out.
Thomas — you are right about the weakness of Bulmer’s prose, and certainly St. Clair was a far better writer qua writer. I have not read AGENT OF THE UNKNOWN, nor have I read SIGN OF THE LABRYS (though I have seen the horrible promo for the latter discussed!) … very likely she has done much better than the two I’ve read (NEITH and MESSAGE FROM THE EOCENE).