Four pulp sci-fi novels (set #4)

Updated 2 Mar 2019 (Ordeal in Otherwhere)

Updated 23 Apr 2019 (The Last Planet)

Updated 26 May 2019 (Breed to Come)

Updated 8 Jul 2019 (Agent of Entropy)

I select based on the description on the back cover and, by chance, I picked up three Andre Norton books. Sadly, only one of the books has information on their cover artists.

Agent of Entropy (Lancer Books, 1969) by Martin Siegel

There’s a “3” on the spine. Part of a series?

Breed to Come (Ace Books, 1972) by Andre Norton

Cover artist for later editions Wayne Barlowe (mentioned here).

The Last Planet (Ace Book, 1953, originally: Star Rangers, Central Control #1) by Andre Norton

There’s a different edition, marked as new, that someone is selling on Amazon for $89.41!

Cover by Harry Barton, 1908-2001. (this post says it’s also by Bernard Barton?). There’s another artist named Harry Barton born in 1896.

Ordeal in Otherwhere (Ace Book, 1964, Forerunner #2) by Andre Norton

Updated 2 Mar 2019 (Ordeal in Otherwhere)

Ordeal in Otherwhere

(Updated 31 Mar 2019: Left last night at The Vortex between condiments at the bar. Told my bar neighbor that I’ve been doing this Johnny Appleseed thing and he was mildly amused.)

Female lead in this story (cf. Pagadan and Zamm in Agent of Vega). We open in medias res with Charis Nordholm bloodied and tired as a fugitive from an angry mob of fundamentalist settlers. A plague hit the settlement and the less enlightened started slaughtering the doctors attempting to find a cure, including Charis’s father Anders. She is eventually “saved” by smugglers who land with the intent of trading with the locals. The locals have nothing of value except Charis with her linguistic skills–and, we later find out, the fact that she’s female is required for diplomacy on another planet they’re trading with: Warlock. There, the locals will only deal with females. A contract of servitude is signed (apparently a common fate) and they are off to plunder Warlock.

After landing on Warlock and meeting the previous female liaison–who has gone insane–Charis is taken by the local Warlockians (also called Wyverns for some reason). They are a mostly female species and can transport themselves instantaneously via some sort of mental Power and the patterns drawn on their bodies. Males of their species do not have this power. Charis meets with them and loses sense of time as she is bounced around various locales: a beach, a forest, a cliffside, and eventually to the Warlockians’ citadel on an island far off in the ocean. She is somewhat a prisoner, but eventually is transported back to land. At some point she meets two human men who are from another, non-larcenous, group who also landed on the planet. Amazingly, though they are male, they too can use the Power.

The story proper is that of a corporation that is attempting to enslave the women in order to use their transportation power. The corporation representatives bring with them a device that can nullify the transporting (called a “nullifier”, natch) and so the “witches” will be unable to sneak up on them. They also have taken the males of the planet as allies in order to enslaving the females. Though the story has feminist overtones, the primary theme is that of invading peoples pitting the locals against each other in order to take over more easily.

Charis and friends thwart the colonizers by convincing the females and males to join forces: their Power together being greater than individually. After the evil corporation is defeated, Charis is nominated as the diplomat for humans. Peace and unity is restored. Although, just as the corporation acted as colonizers, Charis acts as the Wise Representative of Civilization that brings the primitives into the modern world. Eh.

Updated 23 Apr 2019 (The Last Planet)

The Last Planet

(Left in the back door storage pocket of Destiny’s car on our Lyft back to the NOLA airport to head home. Listened to a local world music station she had on. African?)

8054 AD

A Patrol ship from the dying galactic empire crash lands on an uncharted planet. Several of the crew are dead or injured. They had been sent there to discover or rediscover star systems to be reunited with the empire. Think Roman (as is referenced in the prologue, the legend of a Roman troop sent to Asia to discover new lands to be ruled, just as rule at home was collapsing).

The first challenges: gather survivors and deal with a captain injured, blinded, and fixated on repairing a ship that cannot be. It’s not his lack of sight but some mania that drives him toward this hopeless goal, eventually causing his men to mutiny. Our narrator relates events as they happen through the eyes of one of the crewmen who becomes the de facto leader of the mutiny: Kartr.

Now for some names I had to write down in order to keep track. There are “patrol” and “rangers”, and I think “patrol” are made of “crewmen” and “rangers”. Though the distinctions weren’t wholly clear, rangers are more rustic and in-the-field skilled. Also, “Bemmy” is a term used for non-humans (I just can not figure out whether there’s a root word to that?).

  • Cott
  • Dalgre (human, patrol)
  • Fylh (Trystian, ranger) – claws, red eyes, evolved from bird-like creatures and can sing to birds
  • Holth (human)
  • Jaksan
  • Kartr (human, ranger, sergeant, from Ylene) – primary focus of the narrator
  • Latimir – died in the crash
  • Mirion – badly injured from the crash
  • Rolth (human, Faltharian (planet?), ranger) – eyes to sensitive to be in sunlight
  • Smitt (human, patrol) – com techneer
  • Snyn
  • Vibor – commander, blinded in the crash and has a mono-mania to fix the ship
  • Zinga (Zacathan, ranger) – four-toed, webbed feet, reptile

Others seen later:

  • Cummi – Arcturian leader
  • Fortus Kan – secretary of the Arcturian command
  • Zicti and Zacita – Zacathans, daughter Zora, refugees from the Arcturians

After several sallies into the habitable wilderness of this very Earth-like planet (hint hint) that is called an “Arth”-type planet (HINT) the crew discovers forests and rivers teaming with animals. At some point I’m-not-sure-when, the mutiny happened and they’re gone from the ship to face survival is Out There.

Several, including the two primaries Kartr and Zinga, take various flights in a small patrol skiff and find a long-abandoned, buried road and eventually a sparsely populated city.

The next challenge: maneuver the aggressive alien and robot forces (see crazy robots depicted in the cover!) occupying the city. The aliens are Arcturans, a known race of–I think–humans who are prejudiced against Bemmys. With them are another crashed shipload of civilians who have joined with the Arcturans for both safety and fear. Tense days of detante end with our heroes fighting their way out of the city against superior forces to success. Of a sort.

One point that was left out: both human and Bemmy can be “sensitive”: able to read and control others’ thoughts. Kartr is a sensitive but is pitted against Cummi, an Arcturan sensitive who is a much stronger mutant. Cummi takes over Kartr’s mind at the end of the battle and convinces him that he killed all of his companions. Cut to him waking up being nursed back to reality with all his companions alive and Cummi on the loose. They track him to a village of primitive natives who see Cummi as god and Kartr’s group as demons. A struggle of minds until, unrelated, Cummi dies of a rare disease whose simple cure was lost in the ship’s wreckage (odd?). The rest of the natives become ill or die a la Aztecs and Spaniards.

The final challenge: what is the “sacred place of the gods” that the natives are making a pilgrimage to? It ends up being a massive field that’s actually an abandoned space port. Acres of burnt land long since abandoned next to a huge building that looks shockingly like a copy of the one that serves as their capital. And though their capital building is ancient beyond recorded history, this appears even older. Of course, they soon figure out that they are on Earth. (Compare A Far Sunset where Earth ships travel to other worlds and one finds a race that is descended from a Mars diaspora millennia ago. Or The Rings of Tantalus where teams are set forth from Earth to find habitable planets for the eventual emigration of Earth.) The walls of the main auditorium list several star systems, each a destination of the original Earth diaspora. The primitives that still populate the planet are the descendents of those who stayed behind.

A still-working radar screen is found in the ancient capital building on which a trio of ships appear, two refugees ships being attacked by a pirate vessel. A skirmish destroys one civilian ship and the crew of the survivor ship drops off the passengers then returns to orbit to sacrifice itself and destroy the pirates. The planet-bound humans and Bemmys face their future as the seed for a new empire in the shadow of the dying one.

Updated 26 May 2019 (Breed to Come)

Breed to Come

(Updated 25 May 2019: Left at the grand opening of Jason’s restaurant, Mazzy’s, at the waitress station.)

Here we have Earth (I think we immediately know it’s Earth) 500 years after all humans have left it because of war or cataclysm or what-have-you. Left behind are the animals they experimented on, now evolved to human-sentient races. Cats are The People, since the story is told in their viewpoint and you’re just people; dogs are Barkers; rats are Ratton; and there are some animals called Tuskers. Maybe pigs? Good world-building with details on a cat society modeled if cats indeed had language and culture and mores they pass to their children. Females are “choosers” and males fight to be chosen. There are clans of families that share strong loyalty not conferred on those of other clans. There are five caves with five different clans, but there are known to be many However the People are very individual and the Barkers are pack-driven. Enemies. The People also have an alliance with the Tuskers since they are herbivores.

We open with Furtig, the main character, about to fight for a chooser yet knowing he has little chance. His plan for failure is to leave the clan and go to find his ancestor, Gammage, who left long ago to live in one of the Demon’s (us, natch) abandoned cities. Gammage used to regularly return with amazing devices to help the clan (claws made of metal, a video screen that sadly was destroyed out of fear) but has not been seen for many seasons.

Furtig does leave for the Demon’s city, pressed on by his clan-sister Eu-La, and he ends up deep in one of the buildings after fleeing from a pack of Rattons. They seem to have infested the city. After falling into an elevator-like shaft that is really a anti-gravity-elevator, he encounters two of the People tied up and tortured by Ratton. This is Foskatt and Fu-La.

Oh god, the names, how to keep them straight:

  • Furtig – main character
  • Gammage – ancestor that left long ago to live in the Demon’s abandoned city, geneology: Gammage -> ??? -> Furtig -> Foru -> Fuffor -> Furtig (our hero)
  • Eu-La – sister who helped Furtig leave the clan
  • Naya, Yngar – other sisters
  • Fas-Tan – the most attractive female of the other clans, it is hopeless for Furtig to pine over her
  • Fal-Kan – an elder
  • San-Lo (male), chosen by Fas-Tan (super-attractive female) – the strongest of Furtig’s clan
  • Broken Nose – leader of the Tuskers
  • And many more…

Once Furtig arrives at the Demon city:

  • Foskatt – injured clansman, initially trapped by Ratton’s along with Fu-La (from a yet-unknown clan who has been surveying another part of the Demon city), who left Furtig’s clan long a go to meet Gammage. When Foskatt was still with the clan he found a Demon box that displayed pictures and the elders smashed it. His lover interest is Eu-La. This shocks Furtig.
  • Fa-Ling – Foskatt’s aunt from the cave Kay-Lin
  • Liliha – female in Gammage’s clan who first helps Furtig
  • Dolar – Gammage’s clan, lost a claw and now has a metal one
  • Ku-La – member of some other clan who joins Gammage

After freeing them, Furtig and Foskatt go to meet Gammage’s city clan. Furtig is shown many wonders that the clan has learned of from the historical “tape” video recordings. There is a constant search for new devices and new tapes to learn how to use them and learn of the Demon’s history. It becomes clear that they and the Barkers were once companions to Demons but were tortured for experiments. Gammage, early on, has tried to join all clans and all Barkers together–unthinkable!–to prepare for the imminent return of the Demons. The few takers are those who make up the Gammage clan.

Side note: this was written in 1972. Planet of the Apes was written in 1963 and the movie came out in 1968. I’m reminded of recent online discussions that we will be looked back on as ignorant barbarians for our treatment of animals. Much like slavery or torture or Medieval medicine.

About midway through the book, the text changes to all italic and we are introduced to four humans from the planet Elhorn. They are on a spaceship returning to Earth in order to: (1) find the science to counteract noxious (is there any other type?) gas spewing from an island after IIRC some of their robots had a mining mishap, or (2) determine why humans left in the first place 500 years ago and whether they can return, abandoning the noxious gas. These humans are:

  • Ayana and Tan (female and male) – Ayana is the narrator for the humans, paired with Tan
  • Massa and Jacel (female and male) – the other couple on the ship

The rest of the book is a back-and-forth between the italics and non-italics stories.

After landing, Tan flies around reconnaissance and is surprised to see animals (or maybe sentient beings?) scurrying around the city. Tan soon becomes the villain as Ayana suggests that they are not animals after he hunts, kills, and eats Tusker babies. Eww. She is repulsed and begins to have the epiphany. He leaves and bonds with the disgusting Rattons who convince him that they are the good guys and the others are filthy animals. Ayana meets up with him and immediately, almost immediately, susses the opposite.

All this time, Ayana suspects that they are all going mad because of some poison still in the air. Probably.

Ayana is captured and convinces Gammage that she is good but alas Tan is bad. There is a battle and Tan and the Rattons are destroyed! The parting message from Ayana, who acquires the science needed to quell the noxious gas: do not seek the human science, keep your own way of like and develop naturally. Very nice.

Updated 8 Jul 2019 (Agent of Entropy)

Agent of Entropy

(Left in a waiting area at the hospital in Curacao.)

It took me until around half way through that I felt like Agent of Entropy (1969) was inspired by or in the style of Frank Herbert’s Dune (1965). In Agent of Entropy: there is a galactic empire ruled by an emperor, Shadegg IX (also possibly a reference to a notable planet in Dune called Ix); a planet on the fringe of the empire that provides a valuable resource, Polaris Four that creates eninine, a product of the enealian plant; a quasi-religious group that can’t be controlled by the empire, the Freakers; and a transcendental outcome that rewrites power in the universe and dissolves the empire, our hero Gym Stork and his late-story affinity for merging with the sentient trees called Lempang. Lempang, confusingly or symbolically, is also the name of the leader of the Freakers. Also notably: throughout, players have an overly-keen sense of reading others’ intents. A preternatural intuitive insight. Feels very Frank Herbert.

Each chapter is introduced by an ongoing secondary story–playing the role of symbolic summation and annotation for the proceeding chapter–of an amusement park that thrives and is destroyed, and the roles of the owner and a banker in its destruction. Herbert also has symbolic preludes to chapters, but the comparison may be more general than specific.

We begin with Stork waking and being summoned by the Harkonnen-like blob Gardz, his boss and government handler, to visit said planet of Polaris and help the empire fix the elections and choose a suitable leader between Grand Duke Malleums and Duke Wintercloud. Gardz is described, like several things in the novel, as being perceived in an almost mystical sense. Interactions with him are as if with a menacing demiurge. Gardz presents the task for Stork and Stork is on his way.

Back up. Before the meeting with Gardz, Stork gets strategically kidnapped by who he discovers to be Miss Deary: the embodiment of superstar and goddess. After arriving, he is dumbstruck by her brilliance. We later find that Miss Deary is the paramour/nurturing-partner of Emperor Shadegg. Their meeting involves vague mechaniations in a cloud-filled room. She hints at a larger purpose and Stork is gone, whisked back to his meeting with Gardz.

Travel to Polaris via its only moon, Aphrodite, and a meeting with ambitious local rube in charge: Yizdaz. This book oozes with if not symbolism then symbolic intent. Yizdaz shows off the local accomplishments with pride and too-much boastfulness. While touring Aphrodite, they are immediately met with chaos in the form of rebellious, Freaker protesters. Here, the book’s 60s liberal imprimatur shines as the JBT government police beat down with glee the simple-lived Freakers. (This brings on dated and stilted descriptions that fill the novel with “they are like X from Earth’s 20th century”. Descriptions reference current day equivalences in a sloppy tell-don’t-show.) Stork is kidnapped by Freakers and all chaos breaks whatever. Stork is returned safely after there’s an exchange with the Freakers that, I think, resembles part Patty Hearst and part true convert where the niece of Wintercloud enchants him. There are suggestions of his coming enlightenment via the Lempang trees.

Yizdaz shuttles Stork to the Polaris and they are immediately met with more chaos in the form of protesters. The gubment forces use what is clearly agent orange (like from Earth’s 20th century!) on the protesters. It is unambiguously gruesome and cruel. However, at this point Stork is contacted telepathically by who-we-later-find-out-to-be Herbert Murakami. I was never clear about his place in the novel; my fault not the author’s. Stork is saved from the Polaris riot by Field Marshal Egon Chill, described unsparingly as an effete round man with an abundance of medals and makeup. His role is both fop and strategist.

By the by: the reason that the empire is held together is because of a super-computer called GAG (Gestalt and Grok) which dictates all imperial actions. At this point in the novel GAG’s great importance is well described. Already showing some unheard of flaws–the uncertainty of who should lead Polaris–it apparently crashes (near the end of the novel, this is revealed to be a suicide in a moment of self-awareness in the face of imperial decline). Shadegg’s fragile confidence is challenged by the civil uncertainty of Polaris, where there is usually control, and by the ultimate self-destruction of GAG. The empire is collapsing and Miss Deary attempts to bolster his ego. I’m never sure if her role throughout the novel. She is at times sincerely emotionally supportive of Shadegg, but also joins him in political machinations against all and Stork (even after her tete-a-tete with him), and maybe prescient that the empire is doomed. All of these things.

Stork is abandoned by the empire. Becomes aligned with the Freakers and niece Lucia Wintercloud. Malleums, Wintercloud, and Chill are dissolved in complex feints and counter-feints with the Emperor and each other. And the empire achieves its ultimate expected decay, dovetailing nicely with decay/rebirth imagery in the carnival interludes. In the end, we have Stork and Lucia paired almost celestially and on their way to distribute the Lampang across the now-fractured empire.

This is a solid story that should be remembered. Also, a fold-out ad for the SFBC (where I first purchased Dune) from inside (see also the card in S.T.A.R. Flight):

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