Ace Double Reviews, 72: Star Ways, by Poul Anderson/City Under the Sea, by Kenneth Bulmer (#D-255, 1957, $0.35)
by Rich Horton

Here is a pairing of two of the most prolific Ace Double writers. Star Ways was Anderson's third novel to be written but only about the sixth to get into print. It's about 50,000 words long. City Under the Sea is probably one of Bulmer's best SF novels. Though Bulmer and Anderson began publishing novels at about the same time (1952), and though Anderson is certainly regarded as prolific, Bulmer was far more prolific, and by the ISFDB's count (probably not quite complete) this was his 16th SF novel. Both writers are now dead (Anderson's dates are 1926-2002, Bulmer's 1921-2005).

Star Ways was first published in 1956 by Avalon Books in hardcover. According to Anderson, his first prospective publisher sat on it for a while, until his agent took it back and placed it with Avalon. The Avalon edition, perhaps for the YA market, trimmed some very tame sex and cut the manuscript to fit a strict word count (50,000 words). Unfortunately Anderson lost his original manuscript so the corrupt text is all we have. It's fairly clear on reading the book that cuts have been made in a couple of places. (Anderson's comments were in a brief forward to the 1978 Ace paperback reprint, where it was retitled The Peregrine. This was done so as to avoid confusion with the just released movie STAR WARS, but I agree with Anderson that the new title is really somewhat better.)

It is one of his Psychotechnic League stories, though it is one of those set far in the future when humans have established a Stellar Union, in which an organization called the Coordination Service, or "Cordys", maintains the law as well as it can. James Nicoll has proposed that the Coordination Service stories are not strictly enough linked to the Psychotechnic League stories to necessarily be in the same series, and also he suggests that the FTL drives used in some clear Psychotechnic League stories are inconsistent with those used in the Cordy stories. That may be so (I can't recall enough details of the FTL drive in Psy League stories to say -- which stories might those be?), but it's pretty clear that Anderson regarded them as part of the same future. He published a chart in the Winter 1955 issue of Startling Stories (which featured "The Snows of Ganymede", one of the more obscure Psychotechnic League stories) that included "Star Ways" as an unpublished story set far in the League's future. Moreover, late stories like "Star Ways" and "The Chapter Ends" make clear references to psychologically based means of ordering society that are thematically consistent with even the earliest-set League stories.

Sandra Miesel prepared a revised version of Anderson's chart for publication in the Tor paperback collection Starship (1982), the third and oddly last in a series of books collecting the Psychotechnic League stories. (I say "oddly" last because there were enough stories to fill another book left unreprinted: "The Snows of Ganymede", "The Acolytes", "The Green Thumb", and The Peregrine. (Not to mention "Entity", an early collaboration with John Gergen which seems potentially linked to the series.) Anderson mostly abandoned this future history after 1957, which saw publication of the novella version of "Virgin Planet" as well "Marius", "Cold Victory", and "Brake". He returned for one more story in 1968, "The Pirate", which is set a few years prior to Star Ways/The Peregrine and features a major character in common.

Star Ways is set mostly on a starship, the Peregrine, of the Nomad people, a gypsy-like group that lives just outside the influence of the Stellar Union. There are a couple of dozen Nomad ships, each of which travels from world to world offering goods in trade, occasionally doing extended stints of work. They have a social organization of their own, with rules such as marriages being forbidden between members of the same ship. The Cordys regard them as a nuisance that ought to be stopped but which they haven't yet had time to deal with. As this novel opens, the captain of the Peregrine proposes an expedition into an unexplored area, where several Nomad ships as well as some alien ships have mysteriously disappeared. It is assumed that a powerful and reclusive alien race dwells there.

As the ship begins to travel into the dangerous area, there are two sources of tension. One is the new, alien, wife of a young man of the ship, who has vague near-telepathic powers. The other is Trevelyan Micah, a Coordination Service agent who has arranged to get himself captured by the Peregrine -- it seems that his assignment is to investigate both this mysterious alien race, and the Nomads' interaction with them. And in due course the Peregrine comes -- almost too easily though to be fair there is an explanation -- to a planet occupied by these aliens. (No prizes for guessing that they have already met one such!) They learn that they aliens are mostly benign but completely unwilling to coexist with humanity -- either humanity will change (more or less in the direction of Isaac Asimov's Galaxia (eccch!), or humanity will pen the aliens up and try to leave them alone. Anderson's sympathies lie pretty much with mine, and against Asimov's (at least as indicated by the way the novels in question turn out -- caveating always that authors don't always agree with their characters), so he comes up with an ambiguously positive ending. And a pretty emotionally effective ending to the personal stories at the center of the book. It's really minor stuff, no surprise for a book written so early in his career, but not without interest.

Bulmer's City Under the Sea is set in a near future in which humanity is farming the sea extensively in order to feed the teeming billions of Earth. There is conflict between the Space department, which wants to have more budget to explore the outer planets, and the Undersea department, which feels it's more important to get all of Earth under control first.

A spaceman, Jeremy Dodge, turns out to have inherited an interest in an undersea farming corporation. He comes to Earth to investigate, falls immediately in love with a beautiful administrative assistant at his corporation, and then is suddenly shanghaied into an undersea work gang. The injustice of this is quite incredible, and oddly readily ignored by people who should know better. Indeed, before long Jeremy is kidnapped again, by a rival corporation, and surgically altered so that he can only live underwater, though he can do so without special equipment.

Meanwhile, the Undersea honchos are concerned with another problem. Deep sea exploration vessels are being taken by some inimical force and drawn into the deepest depths and crushed. This promises to be embarrassing at budget time.

The resolution, naturally, involves the convergence of these two threads: Jeremy, having escaped to an independent colony of water-adapted humans, bumps into the representatives of the government, who are planning to nuke whatever beings (intelligent sea creatures? aliens? specially adapted humans?) are living in the deeps and destroying the ships. Fortunately, Jeremy and other sane minds are able to propose negotiation first. The ending comes rather too rapidly and conveniently, but the novel is still full of rather neat ideas, and it reads well and excitingly. Nothing great, but pretty decent stuff.