Ace Double Reviews, 29: Five Against Arlane, by Tom Purdom/Lord of the Green Planet, by Emil Petaja (#H-22, 1967, $0.60)
by Rich Horton
A fairly obscure Ace Double this time. I read it mainly because I'm planning to read all of Tom Purdom's novels. And I figured I ought to give Emil Petaja another chance. Five Against Arlane is Purdom's third novel, and his third and last Ace Double. It's about 48,000 words long. Lord of the Green Planet is about 41,000 words long. It's one of 8 Ace Doubles by Petaja, and it's the first of a pair of linked novels, the other being Doom of the Green Planet (1968).
As I've mentioned before, Tom Purdom has had a rather bifurcated SF career -- he published a passel of stories and five novels between the late 50s and early 70s, then was all but silent for almost two decades before returning with an extremely impressive array of recent stories. His previous two novels, The Tree Lord of Imeten and I Want the Stars, were both interesting stories, not entirely successful but worth reading. Much the same can be said of Five Against Arlane.
The story opens in medias res as Migel Lassamba kidnaps a couple of people at gunpoint, desperate to get a heart to transplant into his lover. Interesting perhaps, but there must be more going on than that? And we soon gather that Migel and his lover are part of a group of five people trying to unseat the ruler of Arlane, David Jammet. Eventually we learn that Jammet is an idealist who believes that humans are essentially evil, and that he is trying to breed a better race. In the interim, he uses mind control devices to keep the population in line.
Migel is successful in gaining the heart, but at the disastrous cost of one of his group's high-tech patrol cars (flying cars with armor and heavy guns, basically). His group returns to their sort of guerilla war against Jammet's forces. The other theme of the book comes forth -- in this future people have extremely extended lifespans, and as such are extremely risk-averse. Their battles are presented as computer controlled events, where action is taken only with 20-1 or better odds of survival. Inevitably, in the crisis Migel has to decide to defy those odds.
I found the book very exciting, very fast moving. I freely admit that the mind-control villain pushes my buttons pretty forthrightly. Purdom also introduces plenty of moral ambiguity, as the good guys are forced to kill a lot of innocents, while the villain is given at least a hint of a high moral purpose, however perverted in action. And the ending is very mixed -- good people die, the hero's success is tainted, the villain's failure is not complete -- all quite interestingly done. It should be added that the general machinations of the plot aren't terribly convincing, and the five against a planet battle, while given some rationale for potential success, still seems a bit preposterous. Certainly not a great book, but a book that uses the conventions of the form to pretty good effect.
I didn't much like the previous Emil Petaja book I read, Seed of the Dreamers. I hoped that that was a low point, and maybe it was. Lord of the Green Planet is not a very good book, but it's rather better than Seed of the Dreamers, and in particular it's a more involving book to read.
It's set some 1200 years in the future. Human colonies extend all the way to the Magellanic Clouds, and Diarmid Patrick O'Dowd is exploring one of the Clouds when he runs afoul of a mysterious green web in space. He finds himself marooned on a pleasant planet, and soon threatened with death by a thuggish Lord named Flann. Diarmid's life is saved by Flann's beautiful red-haired green-eyed fiancée Fianna, who arranges for him to be deposited with a sympathetic member of the planet's indigenous race.
Diarmid soon gathers that this planet is controlled by a creature called the Deel, who seems obsessed with maintaining a social structure consistent with the songs and stories of old Ireland. Flann is a cruel sadist, and very bad to his subjects, and Fianna hates him, but the Deel has decreed they must marry. Diarmid is already in love with Fianna, and agrees to work against Flann and the Deel, which must start with recovering the mysterious Talisman he carried when he arrived -- a high tech device to enable him to analyze the situation on the one hand -- on the other hand consistent with the legends about a hero from the skies who will save the people of the Green Planet.
And so it continues, Diarmid valiantly retrieving the talisman from quasi-mythical beasts, with the help of other quasi-mythical beasts like silkies; and fighting Flann for the love of the lovely Fianna; and eventually confronting the Deel in his home: T'yeer-Na-N-Oge. All this is given a quasi-plausible Science Fictional rationale. It's not all that good -- not as good as Five Against Arlane, to my mind -- indeed not very good at all. But I will say that it's a lot better than the last Petaja book I read, and that I read it through swiftly, without much of a struggle. Not high praise -- but all the praise I have.