Ace Double Reviews, 68: Land Beyond the Map, by Kenneth Bulmer/Fugitive of the Stars, by Edmond Hamilton (#M-111, 1965, $0.45)
by Rich Horton
Kenneth Bulmer died just recently. He was a very prolific British writer, best known perhaps for his Dray Prescot series for DAW as by "Alan Burt Akers". I've read a few previous Ace Doubles, and found his work competent but uninspiring for the most part. Land Beyond the Map is about 48,000 words long, and seems to be a standalone work. Edmond Hamilton was of course the husband of Leigh Brackett, and a legendary writer of Space Opera, who began publishing in Weird Tales in the mid-20s. He was famous for the scope of his stories. I haven't read a whole lot by him. Fugitive of the Stars is about 40,000 words long, and I suspect it is an expansion of "Fugitive from the Stars", from Imagination, December 1957.
Land Beyond the Map opens with Roland Crane in his study, during a storm. He's a very rich man, a dilettante archaeologist, a map collector. He is visited by a beautiful young woman who is obsessed with a certain map, a map torn in half. He soon learns that she is the cousin of an army friend of his, who has disappeared, after having discovered a map -- the same map, torn in two, that Roland and his family had once possessed, and which led them into a terrifying landscape. The young woman, Polly Gould, is convinced that the map is the key to finding her cousin, and that Roland is her best chance to find the map.
Against his will, Roland finds himself dragged by Polly to Ireland, where the two rummage through flea markets and the like, looking for the map. They learn that another man, a very sinister man, is looking for the same map, and then they see a man snatched from in front of them by a sort of eye in the sky. An old man tracks them down, offering them a map for a very high price -- and he has a tale, of trips to another land, a terrifying land but full of riches. But he's afraid himself to return, especially after his son-in-law was marooned in the other place.
Naturally Roland and Polly decide to take the map and go, and what they find there is pretty much what me might expect. And a little disappointing. The first two thirds or so of the book is probably the best I've ever read from Bulmer: the writing is fresh, the two main characters are believable and have good chemistry, the mystery is at least intriguing. As I said, the resolution is a letdown, but still I'd call this one of Bulmer's better efforts. Incidentally, others have suggested that this novel is peripherally related to Bulmer's long Keys to the Dimensions series, though it is not part of that series's main sequence.
Fugitive of the Stars is the story of Jim Horne, a space pilot. On a trip to the edge of the Federation, where slavers are a problem, and the local planets are reluctant to join, he gets involved in a brawl, which leaves his subordinate pilot injured. They pick up a new pilot, conveniently available on this planet, Skereth, a key non-Federation planet. The chief of the pro-Federation party on Skereth is a passenger, heading to the capitol to negotiate. But on the way back, they run into a meteor storm, and only Horne and a few other survive. He is accused of drunkenness and dereliction of duty, and stripped of his license, despite his pleas that the new pilot must have drugged him and set him up. Clearly he was an opponent of joining the Federation, and wanted to kill the leader of the pro-Fed forces.
Horne escapes justice and heads for Skereth, to try to find the bad guy and clear his name. But Skereth is buttoned up tight, and he ends up in the back country, luckily found by a few rebels, including the beautiful daughter of the late pro-Federation leader. It seems the bad guys, the putative rulers of the planet, have more to lose from joining the Federation than just their influence. They are up to something very sinister, and they are evidently using slaves from other intelligent races in their evil plans.
No point in detailing the rest: of course Horne and the good guys figure out, after much adventure, what's really up, and they manage to stop it. And of course Horne gets the girl. The eventual dark secret is awfully silly, to my mind, and the plot is just too implausible. Some of the scenes, particularly the actions scenes, are very vivid -- Hamilton did have a way with action. But the book is mostly a tired mess.