Ace Double Reviews, 2: Tonight We Steal the Stars, by John JakesThe Wagered World, by Laurence M. Janifer and S. J. Treibich (#81680, 1969, $0.75)
by Rich Horton

This Ace Double was published in 1969. The primary half was presumably the much longer John Jakes novel: it is 67,000 words long. The Wagered World is about 29,000 words.

John Jakes became famous (and presumably rich) in the mid 70s when he was hired to write the Kent Family Chronicles, a series of historical novels set in the US during and after the Revolutionary War. The release of these paperback novels was timed to coincide with the Bicentennial celebration. The books had titles like The Bastard, The Furies, and The Americans. These were huge bestsellers at the time, a real phenomenon. They were later made into a couple of television miniseries. Jakes later published a Civil War series, North and South (also made into a miniseries), and he has continued to publish historical novels with some success.

Before the Kent Family Chronicles, however, he was pretty much an old fashioned pulpster, perhaps one of the last. According to his home page, he published over 200 short stories and 60 novels: mysteries, westerns, and science fiction. I recall seeing his novel On Wheels, about people who live in their cars all the time -- this might have been his best known SF novel. He also published a series of Conanesque books about Brak the Barbarian. A few of his SF short stories gained praise, such as "The Sellers of the Dream", anthologized in the Amis/Conquest Spectrum series. But for the most part, he seemed to be regarded as a competent hack, nothing special but a solid professional.Tonight We Steal the Stars is noticeably long for an Ace Double half at 67,000 words. The front matter notes that it is the third in a series about "II Galaxy", apparently a new galaxy (or perhaps the Milky Way redesignated). The previous two novels of the series, When the Star Kings Die (1967) and The Planet Wizard (1968), were published by Ace but as single books. On internal evidence, I would guess the three books share only the setting, each standing alone as to plot and main characters. According to a prologue, 9000 years previously interplanetary civilization fell, but was reconstituted from the wreckage by houses with names of transparent (and highly implausible) derivation: Xero, Ibym, Genmo, Gullffe, and so on. These houses, ruled by the Lords of the Exchange, still rule the Galaxy. They each control certain special products/services, such as transportation in the case of Genmo.

This book is about Wolf Dragonard, a respected Regulator (or cop) for the Genmo family, who is recovering, not well (he's developed a drinking problem), from the death of his wife. He has a sympathetic boss but a sadistic and ambitious underling. The latter schemes to cost him his job, and after an incident the boss maneuvers a vacation/rehab interval on a seedy resort planet. On this planet Wolf encounters a mysterious woman, who seduces him and in the process lets slip some information about a plot to steal the "Stars", the jewels which symbolize the various stars ruled by Genmo. However, things get confusing when Wolf tries to track down the villa where he spent a weekend with this woman -- it had disappeared!

Wolf convinces his boss to send him to the planet Wheel, which is controlled by a former Genmo engineer, who has set up a competitive transportation company. It is on Wheel that the beautiful thief Jenny Sable has been found -- and she is the supposed ringleader of the plot to steal the Stars. Wolf manages to infiltrate Jenny's group, but then things get more complicated. He learns something that makes him suspect Jenny is being set up to fail. He has further doubts about the source of his own information, and about the safety of his boss. And, natch, he begins to fall in love with Jenny.

The resolution involves a fairly exciting breakin sequence, plenty of angst and loyalty stretching for Wolf, and a couple of not too illogical twists. It's by no means a great book, or even, really, good, but it is fairly fun. The ending flattens out just a bit. Certainly the plot in general has a couple of holes. The overall setting is unconvincing. The prose is mostly competent, with a couple of horrible lapses, such as mixing up "infer" and "imply". I think the title is a neat pulp title, and the revelation that "stealing the stars" is just jewelry theft is a bit of a letdown. Not a lasting book, by any means, but a book which basically delivers on its implicit promise -- a couple of hours of fairly mindless entertainment.

The Wagered World is the third and last of Janifer and Treibich's books about Angelo di Stefano, former Intelligence Officer for UN Space Station 1. This is the shortest of this series, the least well structured -- and I think I like it the best.

The story opens with the crew of Space Station 1, including in particular Angelo and his presumptive love interest, ecologist Juli Dental, crashlanding after the destruction of Space Station 2, and the vanquishing of an invading group of alien robots. (See The High Hex.) The open section briefly details the crew's problems in convincing the world's computer system that they are alive even though they were declared dead when their incoming rocket crashed.

The next section sees Angelo and Juli sent on a mission in a hastily cobbled together hyperspace ship, sent to backtrack to the source of the invading robots, in the fear that the real purpose of the robots was to soften up Earth for a follow-on invasion. The two find themselves at a cocktail party featuring the 647 races of the Intergalactic Council, and they also learn that yes, an invasion of Earth is planned. Angelo plays a gambling game, and wins an alien companion.

Upon their return to Earth, they are accused of treason (for consorting with the aliens who are about to invade) and rape (for no very clear reason at first). The third section is basically a courtroom drama which ends in Angelo unconvincingly convincing the invading aliens not to attack and instead let Earth join the Intergalactic Council.

All this makes basically No Sense At All. But the breezy manner of the telling, and the cheeky imagination (especially in the middle section), and perhaps especially the briefness of the tale, make it an enjoyable if very minor book.