After a series of duds, our intrepid retro-reviewer Rich Horton turns to the always-reliable John Brunner.
I’ve read some weak Ace Doubles lately, so I tried to improve my fortunes by picking one with a John Brunner half. I can almost always count on Brunner for entertainment with a thoughtful edge. Brunner (1934-1995) of course was one of the field’s greats, a Hugo winner for Stand on Zanzibar (1968). He had a bifurcated career a bit like Robert Silverberg’s: beginning around the same time as Silverberg he was extremely prolific early in his career, publishing a lot of quickly executed and competent work; and then sometime in the early to mid ’60s seems to have consciously raised his level of ambition, beginning with novels like The Whole Man and The Squares of the City, and continuing to his famous quartet of long novels, beginning with Stand on Zanzibar, then The Jagged Orbit, The Sheep Look Up, and The Shockwave Rider.
The book under consideration this time is the 1960 Ace Double Sanctuary in the Sky by John Brunner, paired with The Secret Martians by the far less well known John Sharkey.
Here’s Rich again, starting with the Brunner half:
A group of people from different planets come by spaceship to Waystation, a huge space station serving as a sort of neutral point between a group of competing planets… The main character is Vykor, who is working as a spy of sorts for the Glaithe people, hoping that this will lead to independence for his Majko people. Vykor is also sort of in love with Captain Raige, the Glaithe woman who is heading the Waystation staff and who is Vykor’s contact. But most of the action is set in motion by Lang, who has the knack of mysteriously appearing almost anywhere, and of asking the sort of questions that greatly discomfit his listeners. We get glimpses of the political questions central to this planetary group; and of the scientific questions, mainly centering on the question of “Who made Waystation”; and of the odd nature of Waystation, with its reconfigurable spaces and secret passages… The resolution, as usual for early Brunner, is a bit rapid, but it’s also fairly thoughtful, and to some extent easy answers are avoided…
The Secret Martians, on the other hand, is a pretty silly mess. It opens promising to be a bit of a romp, and as such it might have been OK. Sharkey worked for a while in advertising, and his hero, Jery Delvin, is an advertising man. His special talent is as a “spotter” — he can always see through the deceptive claims of advertising. Except when distracted by beautiful girls. Evidently that talent gets him chosen, by the Brain, a huge computer which helps run the government, to be sent to Mars along with the Amnesty, a badge that gives him authority to do anything… His main problem is a gorgeous girl with the implausible name Snow White, elder sister of one of the presumably kidnapped Space Scouts. Her ability to distract him allows her to steal his Amnesty, and he vacillates between anger at her and helpless lust…. Will the Space Scouts be found? Will Jary and Snow get together?… Will the bad guys be thwarted? Will anything make sense, either plotwise or science-wise? Do you really need to ask?
Sanctuary in the Sky/The Secret Martian was published by Ace Books in November 1960. It is 122+132 pages, priced at 35 cents. The covers were by Ed Valigursky and an unknown artist for the Brunner half.
The Secret Martian has never been reprinted. Sanctuary in the Sky was republished in August 2013 in the UK by Gateway / Orion.
Read Rich’s complete review here.
A Tale of Two Covers: Stand on Zanzibar
Aztec Empires, Amazons, and the Spanish Armada: Rich Horton on John Brunner’s Times Without Number
Martian Pirates, Brain Creatures, and Hive Minds: Rich Horton on Ray Cummings and John Brunner
Vintage Treasures: Vulcan’s Hammer by Philip K. Dick/ The Skynappers by John Brunner
Robert Silverberg on the Tragic Death of John Brunner
The Great Steamboat Race
Our recent coverage of Ace Doubles includes:
Parallel Universes and Space Marines: Rich Horton on The Games of Neith by Margaret St. Clair/The Earth Gods are Coming by Kenneth Bulmer
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.