Ace Double Reviews, 56: Meeting at Infinity, by John Brunner/Beyond the Silver Sky, by Kenneth Bulmer (#D-507, 1961, $0.35)
by Rich Horton
Meeting at Infinity is about 48,000 words long. This Ace publication seems to be its first -- I can find no evidence of earlier serial publication, nor of expansion from a shorter work. It's an odd work for Brunner, to my mind -- it strikes me as almost consciously a pastiche or imitation of someone like Charles Harness (or perhaps A. E. Van Vogt).
I admit I was surprised not to find a serial version, because the book shares with some serials a three part structure, in which the central "paradigm", as it were, changes each part. The novel opens with a policeman chasing a man he believes to be a murderer. The "murderer", Luis Nevada, desperately confronts a prominent man, Ahmed Lyken, with the phrase "Remember Akkilmar", and Lyken rescues him. Lyken, as it happens, has just learned that he is about to lose his franchise for a "Tacket world".
So what's going on? It turns out that the "Tacket Worlds" are alternate Earths. Franchise owners have monopoly control of trade with a given alternate world. This is economically vital for Earth, but dangerous, because in the past a plague came across from a Tacket World. Franchise owners have complete control of their worlds, even to the point of being allowed to shelter murderers. But why is Lyken so interested in "Akkilmar"?
The plot becomes recomplicated. A young street kid, working for a gangster boss, tries to sell his valuable information about Nevada and Lyken's confrontation to his boss, who asks him to find out more. But Lyken is planning to retreat to his Tacket World and fight. And what of Luis Nevada's horribly burned ex-wife and her desire for revenge? And the primitive but mentally powerful people of Akkilmar? And who is the hero of this book anyway?
As I said, Brunner keeps upping the ante, changing our expectations. It's kind of fun, though not terribly convincing at any step. Middle-range early Brunner, on the whole.
Beyond the Silver Sky first appeared, under the same title, in Science Fantasy, #43 (October 1960). The book version may be slightly expanded -- it's about 30,000 words long. I haven't seen the magazine version -- it apparently occupies about 60 pages, which would probably be about 27,000 words (but I may be off in that count).
It is set in a far future undersea society. The human residents of the society are somewhat adapted to undersea life -- they have gills, for example -- but they rigorously cull further mutations, such as webfooted children. They are hard-pressed by mysterious foes called the Zammu. They are also facing the dropping of the sea level -- or as they call it, the lowering of the "Silver Sky".
Keston Ochiltree is a young man with scientific training, but a volunteer in the military. He is recruited by his former professor for a mission to investigate what lies "beyond the silver sky". The novel simply tells of his expedition -- along with two professors, another young man, and two young women who are there only to provide not very convincing love interests for the young men. The expedition itself is also not very interesting, as no reader will be in the slightest surprised by the discoveries. (Gasp! Humans once lived out of the sea! Amazing!) The novel also ends quite abruptly, with no very satisfying resolution to the potentially interesting questions raised ("What are the Zammu?" "What will humans do in response to the lowered sea level" etc.) I wonder if Bulmer wrote either predecessors or successors to this story.