Archive for May 16th, 2012

Ace Double Review: F-119

It’s time for another Ace Double review.  This time up it’s serial number F-119, a double dose from author Gordon R. Dickson, better known for his Childe Cycle, inspired by the same poem that inspired The Dark Tower.  Some of these Childe stories appeared in the Ace Doubles, but not in F-119.  Instead we’ve got giant bears and quasi-imaginary people as we look at Spacial Delivery and Delusion World.  Published 1961.  Original price: 40¢.

Spacial Delivery

“Rendezvous with a double-sized Goliath.”

Posted to a monster’s mailbox.

The Dilbians were humanoids with a difference.  They were over nine feet tall and built more like bears than like people.  But they weren’t bears…and it was important to the Ambassador from Earth to see that they and their planet remained good friends.

So when one of that feuding race of highly rugged individualists kidnapped an Earth girl, the problem called for a trouble-shooter with the patience of a saint and the agility of an acrobat.

John Tardy, who hadn’t thought of himself as having either of those qualifications, learned them fast when he found the only way to reach that monstrous criminal was to be sent to him by mail as a registered packaged marked SPACIAL DELIVERY

As these reviews evolve, things will change around.  For example, I’d actually like to start with the covers on these two books.  Largely because they combine to be my least favorite pair of covers in the bunch.  Which is odd, as an online database of Ace Doubles suggest they are both by the artist of the Tombaugh Station cover I was enamored with in my last review.  I’ll talk more about him next go round, as he’s also drawn the cover of the Double half I’m currently reading.  Spacial Delivery’s story offers little by way of the exciting cover imagery, because this really is the book.  It’s a guy riding around on the back of a giant bear-like alien.  That’s a good 60% of the book.  40% is him sleeping, and 10% is him engaged in the actual political undercurrent of the book, which is never quite thrilling enough to be called a “thriller,” but does underpin all the action.

Yes.  I’m aware those percentages add up to more than 100.  That’s not a failure of math, it’s a recognition of the fact that occasionally he’s sleeping while riding around on the back of a giant bear-like alien.  John Tardy is just that kind of crazy multitasker that he can be passively involved in the story in two different ways.

The bits of the plot not involved with riding on bears and sleeping center around John Tardy, human decathlete, being drafted as an ambassador to Dilbia in an attempt to open up relations with the massive ursine creatures of this world.  Working against the humans are the Hemnoids, squat muscular creatures from a high-gravity world that are more physically similar to the Dilbians.  Tardy is sent to rescue a human who is being held captive by a Dilbian with a nasty personality and the name Streamside Terror.

That’s the fun of the book right there.  Streamside Terror.  Dilbia is, in many ways, an inherently silly place.  The society is based entirely around nicknames.  John Tardy becomes Half-Pint Posted to the Dilbians.  The woman he is sent to save is Greasy Face due to the Dilbian confusion over make-up.  He is sent out by Little Bite.  His escort through Dilbia is the Hill Bluffer, and one of the prime antagonists of the story is Streamside Terror’s girlfriend Boy Is She Built.  Dickson clearly enjoyed the world he’d built, as he revisited Dilbia two more times in his novels Spacepaw and Law-Twister Shorty.  All three have since been published together by Baen under the title The Right to Arm Bears.

Between naps and bits of bear riding, the plot of the story is about humans showing Dilbians they can be strong, while learning at the same time that the Dilbians can be crafty.  It’s about saving the damsel in distress, who really ends up with no defining characteristic other than damsel in distress.  But the fun in the story is seeing John Tardy with his implanted knowledge of Dilbian society trying to make his way among the bear-like creatures.  I’m seeing a real pattern in these books.  It’s the third story I’ve reviewed, and it’s the third one where I’ve fallen back on the world building when the story line left me a little flat.  In this one it’s hard not to.  The book exists as an excuse to show off this inherently silly culture, and the ultimate conclusion isn’t about saving the girl, it’s about how these apparently simple creatures were the actual chess players within the story.  Which I  gather is the underlying theme of the entire Dilbian series.

It felt like a story written with tongue firmly planted in cheek.  I suppose in the end I wanted either a little more or a little less out of the story.  It exists in an odd middle ground, and thus gets a middle grade.

3 out of 5 giant space bears.

Delusion World

“If you don’t look, she’ll go away!”

The disintegrated damsel and the disbelieving spaceman.

There had to be a reason why that isolated human colony had been able to survive right in the heart of the stars held by mankind’s implacable enemies.  But nobody had been able to get to the quaintly named Dunroamin to find out.

If they had a secret defense, it could be the answer to a hundred planets’ prayers.  And Feliz Gebrod realized as he came in for a crash landing that he’d know the secret sooner than he’d expected.

Except that what he encountered was a life-and-death riddle that had nothing to do with stellar defense.  It was this: how can two mutually irreconcilable Utopias occupy the same space at the same time.

I’ll admit, that might no be the best scan of the cover.  I bought this book in slightly worse shape than the other Ace Doubles I’ve gotten my hands on.  It suffered a little water damage, which you can see in the crinkling.  However, the cleaner versions of the cover still don’t grab me in the way that giant floating heads and chessboards in space do.  Yes, I know, don’t judge books by their covers, but part of what has drawn me to the Doubles (and I’m not the first) are the fantastic covers.  I picked this particular Double up to read on my wife’s insistence because both halves are Gordon R. Dickson.  So I tucked in.

Delusion World is a fantastic example of what I like to call the in-and-out story.  No, that’s not a sexual reference, nothing like that.  The story is just 95 pages long, which means it gets in, it stirs around an interesting premise that wouldn’t work for a novel, and it gets out again having not over stayed its welcome.  This story is what I’m looking for when I said above I could go for a little less out of Spacial.

We’re back to another world lost during humanity’s expansion into empire.  This is a trope that I’ve never come across before reading these Doubles, but has now shown up in two of the first four.  I don’t know if that’s coincidence, or if I’m going to come across more of these lost planets.  They make for good story settings, as their isolation allows for odd cultural evolution within a technologically advanced culture.  In the case of Dunroamin, our hero Feliz Gebrod comes across two societies that occupy the same plot of land while each seemingly unaware of the other.  One wears only black, the other is dressed in bright colors.  Gebrod is compelled to stay by the psychic nature of the leader of the color-wearers, so the book follows his attempt to escape.

Which, oddly, resembles building a fountain in the center of town.  Because that’s what most escape plans typically look like.

The secret to the coexisting societies comes from a political disagreement generations before the book took place.  The two sides simply refused to acknowledge each other, then fully ignored each other, and finally grew up with a mental block that wouldn’t let them even see their opponents.  Which let the authoritarians be comfortably authoritarian, and the anarchists to be anarchic.  The built in delusion even allows for the complete disintegration of people.  Those who are cast out are ignored and never seen again.  It’s one of those things it’s best not to think about for too long, because it becomes more and more horrific.  We only see one disintegrated individual, our requisite silly woman to run through the book allowing the male lead to show off how above frivolity he is.  She’s a character I didn’t come across in the first Ace Double, but found in both halves of Dickson’s writing.  She ends up being a trope, an archetype, or even just a prop, rather than an actual character.

Both halves of this Double feel like stories that exist entirely to show off the worlds Dickson created.  Each throws an outsider into the insanity and watches them cope.  I like the execution better in Delusion World.  Perhaps its because both the world and the lead character’s goals are inherently sillier.  The world survives internally by lying to itself, and externally by refusing to acknowledge that they have any enemies.  Gebrod survives by building a fountain to power a device that will vaporize everyone’s clothing in an instant, making them see each other and creating enough confusion to escape the psychic bonds holding him.  It’s a suitably ludicrous plan for a ludicrous setting.  It’s also the first of the four halves I’ve read that I would consider re-reading, largely to see if my positive opinion of it holds up as I read more of these Doubles.

4 out of 5 nude bombs.

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