Ace Double Reviews, 58: The Door Through Space, by Marion Zimmer Bradley/Rendezvous on a Lost World, by A. Bertram Chandler (#F-117, 1961, $0.40, reissued as #15890, 1972, $0.95)
by Rich Horton
Here are two novels by popular writers known for colorful other-world SF with strong elements of fantasy. Each writer is best known for a particular series: Darkover in Bradley's case, Commander Grimes in Chandler's case, and these novels are not directly part of those series but probably set in the same universes. (There is a casual mention of Darkover in The Door Through Space, while Rendezvous on a Lost World is set in what certainly seems like the same Rim Worlds milieu as the Grimes books.) The Door Through Space is about 44,000 words long; and Rendezvous on a Lost World is about 40,000 words. I don't know for sure of previous publication of either story, though I suspect that Chandler's novella "When the Dream Dies", from the February 1961 Amazing, is a shorter version of Rendezvous on a Lost World.
The Door Through Space opens with Race Cargill, a Terran who has spent most of his life on the planet Wolf, preparing to leave for a post on another world. He is a member of the Terran Secret Service, chained to a desk for the past six years after a confrontation with his friend and brother-in-law Rakhal which led to a blood feud between them. It seems that Rakhal, a human native of Wolf, had been working for the Secret Service but had turned renegade, and now supported independence for the planet. Race knows if he leaves the Terran areas he will have to fight Rakhal -- and either he will die himself or he will kill his sister's husband. So after years behind a desk he has decided to leave.
But at the last moment he is called back to investigate one more problem. Rakhal has disappeared and taken his daughter, and Race's sister Juli is begging for help. At the same time there is native unrest, and there are rumors of a matter transmitter being used somewhere on the planet. Terra really wants the matter transmitter!
So Race goes native again, and begins a journey to the Dry Towns to seek out Rakhal. At the same time he is beguiled be visions of a beautiful woman who has appeared to him a couple of times only to suddenly disappear, at the temples of Nebran, the evil Toad God. Race's travels lead him to a Dry Town royal, the twin sister of his mysterious woman, and to an alien city, and to stories of strange toys with sinister effects. It all works out more or less as you might expect. Tolerable enough stuff in what I would call a sub-Leigh Brackett mode.
The "interesting" aspect, I think, is the view of sex. The novel has quite a lot of sex for a 1961 Ace Double, though mostly pretty sublimated. More to the point, the sex is very noticeably BDSM in style. This is signalled by the cover of the 1972 edition, which shows a woman with a chain binding her hands. This is the Wolfan equivalent of a wedding ring, it appears. There is another striking scene in which Race Cargill is tortured by a beautiful woman, in a very sexual way, followed of course by the two sleeping together. Frankly, this is a book John Norman probably liked.
Rendezvous on a Lost World concerns a foursome of crewmen of a Rim Worlds ship. The first mate dreams of owning his own ship, and when he gets a lucky chance, he involves his three friends in crewing the ship, an ancient ship of an obsolete design. Unfortunately this design has a problem which ends up in them getting lost in a "magnetic storm". They end up on a "lost world", with a mysterious nature. It seems very well-suited for human life, but nobody seems to live there, though there are technological constructions.
There the foursome are kidnapped, and they soon realize that they are held by an exiled AI. This seems to be a sort of Williamsonian robot, obsessed with making humans happy and safe, to a fault. The AI wants to keep the foursome forever, and goes so far as to create beautiful android women for them.
They do escape, of course, but not without cost. Indeed, the novel's ending is quite dark. The thing as a whole is a bit of an implausible mess, but to a small extent it is redeemed by the unexpectedly bitter conclusion.