Ace Double Reviews, 1: The Rim Gods, by A. Bertram Chandler/The High Hex, by Laurence M. Janifer and S. J. Treibich
by Rich Horton
This Ace Double was published in 1969. It's reasonable to suppose that the Chandler "novel" was the primary half -- Chandler had a bigger name than Janifer or certainly Treibich (and indeed his name appeared in much bigger print on the cover) and The Rim Gods is the longer of the two halves. The Rim Gods is about 50,000 words long, The High Hex about 35,000 words.
The Rim Gods is presented as a novel, but in fact it is a fixup of four novelettes. The stories are related in that they are all about Chandler's main hero, Commodore John Grimes of the Rim Worlds, and in that they are presented as happening sequentially while Grimes is on an unplanned mini-tour while his wife is away on a vacation of her own. However, they are all pure standalone episodes, complete in themselves. The front matter claims that the "four Parts of this book appeared individually during 1968 in Galaxy magazine". That is not actually correct -- they appeared in Galaxy's sister magazine, If. They did not appear as parts of a serial but as separate novelettes, and not in consecutive issues (but in four out of five consecutive issues). The four stories are of very similar length, each between 12,000 and 13,000 words. I don't know if the stories were revised for book publication, to add the very flimsy connective tissue -- it wouldn't surprise me if they were, however.
Part One was published in the April 1968 If as "The Rim Gods". A group of religious nuts come to Grimes's planet, seeking to establish a new "Sinai" on an abandoned planet to which they believe they can attract God, with the help of an apostate member of their sect. This member happens to be a) a telepath, b) a drug user, and c) a very beautiful woman. Grimes goes along to observe, making sure they don't ruin the planet, and so he witnesses the rather unexpected results of their attempt to attract their God.
Part Two was published in the June 1968 If as "The Bird-Brained Navigator". Grimes visits a planet run by a tolerant bunch of priests, whom he had earlier helped overthrow some robber barons. An incompetent spaceship navigator, realizing his career is likely over when Grimes prepares to set things straight on his ship, tries to escape by sailing ship to the enclave of the robber barons, with the help of a beautiful alien woman. Grimes manages to get aboard the escaping ship and make use of the incompetent navigator's incompetence in foiling his plans.
Part Three was published in the December 1968 If as "The Tin Fishes". Grimes is sent to a water planet, where the local economy being ruined by a plague of mutated starfish. He tries to figure out what's going on while fending off (or not) the advances of a beautiful but dangerous woman. Explicitly James Bondian, as mentioned in the story itself.
Part Four was published in the August 1968 If as "Last Dreamer". On his way home, Grimes encounters an anomalous planet in empty space. Investigating the planet, he finds that he is compelled to talk in rhyme, and to act out a puerile fantasy based on a fairy tale involving rescuing a sleeping princess. Two beautiful women are involved, at least one of them a seducer. The explanation for all this is implausible but kind of cute.
Basically, these are light space opera, and generally enjoyable but not lasting stories. The Rim Worlds are set up to be nominally SF but be hospitable to basically fantastical events occurring -- on the Rim, the fabric of space-time is stretched thin, it is said. I find that offputting but if you just let things flow the stories do pass the time.
(Incidentally, these are part of a long series, and Grimes is supposed to be faithfully married to Sonya at this time -- presumably their courtship occurred in an earlier story. In these stories, amidst much temptation, he only backslides once -- with an indication that he does so only for duty's sake (not that he doesn't enjoy it).)
The High Hex is the second of three novels by Janifer and Treibich. Janifer published a number of stories and novels in a career that lasted from the 50s until his death last year. His most famous stories were about his continuing character Gerald Knave, Survivor -- indeed, three Knave novels have been published by Wildside in the past few years. I did a "Novels of" thread about Janifer in this space a little while back. Treibich apparently published only the three collaborations with Janifer before his sad death at the age of only 36 in 1972.
The three novels were all parts of Ace Doubles. The first one was Target: Terra (1968), the third was The Wagered World (1969). They all feature as main character Angelo di Stefano, as of the first book the Intelligence Officer for U. N. Space Station 1.
In the first book Space Station 1 went nuts, and there was a threat that it would blow up the Earth. Angelo eventually figured out what was going on and saved everything, but SS1 was destroyed in the process, putting him out of work. In The High Hex, the other Space Station, #2, which is jointly run by Africans and Haitians (I found the book's presentation of Africans to be rather on the racist side, actually), has been taken over by the African contingent, which is threatening once again to blow up the world. The crew of SS1, augmented by an English-educated witch doctor, head back up to SS2, where they must attempt to use the witch doctor's psychological abilities to "hex" the SS2 crew and stop their nefarious plans. Unfortunately, this effort is interrupted by an invasion of alien robots, who start consuming all the metal on earth to make copies of themselves. Angelo must come up with a way to save the Earth, with the unwilling help of his machine-loving fellow crewman Chris Shaw. He does, naturally, though it seemed to me that technological civilization was pretty much kaput due to the robots eating all the metal before the end of the book.
The main problem with both these books is the very ad hoc nature of the plot. The authors just make silly things up as they go along, and none of the science even remotely makes sense. The only reason to read them is the joky narrative voice, which seems to me to be very much Janifer's voice, very similar to the narrative voice of the Knave books. Thus they can be entertaining as you read along (if you like the voice -- you might just think it's stale), but the whole thing doesn't hold together at all. In sum -- forgettable.