Ace Double Reviews, 55: The Nemesis from Terra, by Leigh Brackett/Collision Course, by Robert Silverberg (#F-123, 1961, $0.40)
by Rich Horton
The Nemesis from Terra is about 42,000 words long. It is the same story as "Shadow Over Mars", from the Fall 1944 Startling Stories. I haven't seen that magazine (and I don't think the story has otherwise been reprinted, except perhaps in the recent Haffner Press collection of early Brackett). So I don't know if the Ace Double version is expanded or otherwise changed.
It's set on a Mars uneasily shared by human colonists and Martians. There is a nascent movement among the Martians for rebellion. The humans, meanwhile, are increasingly controlled by the "Company", and the notional government, which is supposed to support Martian as well as human interests, seems powerless. Rick, the hero, is being chased by Company goons as the story opens -- they will put him to work in the mines. But first he encounters an ancient Martian woman, who sees Rick's "shadow over Mars". Rick then kills her (admittedly in self-defense), making him an enemy to Martians.
Finally captured, he goes to work in the mines. But he manages an escape, and links up with the beautiful Mayo McCall, who has been working with a Martian-rights group. He makes another enemy, too, in the Company thug Jaffa Storm. Mayo and he escape and encounter another Martian race, a winged race. Mayo urges him to join the Martian-rights effort, but Rick is more interested in revenge.
Rick is captured by the Martians, including their boy King, and he is punished for his earlier murder. But a Martian rebellion fails utterly. Rick then gains influence, and begins to rally Martians and oppressed humans to his side. Meanwhile Jaffa Storm has murdered his way to the top of the Company, and he has also captured Mayo McCall. Rick's rebellion is successful, but he is again betrayed, and his destiny is resolved in a journey to the North Pole home of the Martian "Thinkers", where Jaffa Storm has fled with Mayo McCall.
It's decent work, early Brackett in more of a tough and cynical mode than the poetic mode she later found. It's interesting, too, in its realpolitik take on the Martian rebellion, and on Rick's ultimate place in civilized society. It's not quite clear that it fits at all well into Brackett's eventual semi-coherent Martian "mythos" -- many of the names of cities are familiar, but the general shape of things doesn't seem to jibe with, say, The Sword of Rhiannon. (Not that this is really a problem.)
Collision Course is about 47,000 words long. It is expanded from a novella in the July 1959 Amazing. The novel was first published in hardcover by Thomas Bouregy's Avalon imprint, in 1961. Presumably this text is unchanged from the hardcover, as the cover says "Complete & Unabridged".
The Earth of several hundred years in the future is ruled by a technocratic oligarchy. Humans have expanded into space, using STL ships to reach new worlds, and matter transmitters for instantaneous travel to already discovered places. The Technarch McKenzie, one of the thirteen-member ruling council, has sponsored an FTL project which has finally borne fruit. But the first FTL ship returns with shocking news: the planet they have discovered is already occupied by aliens of a similar level of development.
The Technarch immediately decides to send a group of experts to negotiate with the aliens -- the first intelligent aliens to be discovered. They have orders to divvy up the galaxy fairly. This small group is nominally led by Dr. Martin Bernard, an expert on Sociometrics, and it includes one of his chief rivals, the New Puritan Thomas Havig. The trip out to the new planet is occupied with a certain amount of bickering between the members of the negotiating team.
But once on the planet, after some good work in setting up communication with the apparently very hierarchical aliens, the team hits a deadlock. The aliens chiefs refuse to negotiate, and claim all the galaxy (except for the small portion occupied by humans) for themselves. It seems war is inevitable. But the journey home is interrupted by something completely unexpected -- something which changes the view of the universe for both the humans and the aliens.
This is Silverberg in a very earnest mood, dealing with some fairly serious issues. However, the story doesn't really live up to its potential. It's rather slow paced, the characters are not quite believable, the story itself is just not interesting enough. I would characterize it (in retrospect!) as the work of an author who was determined to do more serious work, but who was not yet up to it.