Conquest of Earth by Manly Banister was originally published in Amazing Stories in 1956. I read the Airmont Books edition from 1964. This edition sports famous Ed Emshwiller’s artwork, which I like. It has that blessed vintage flavor to it. Banister is largely considered an “amateur”publisher/writer. Personally, I think this is a bit obnoxious to continue to say in 2016. Nevertheless, although he wrote a pile of short fiction, this is his only novel that was published.
Overall, I can see why this novel would be treated as “second-rate” by a lot of readers and critics. On the other hand, I have read the first novels of a lot of authors and debut novels often have that rough-edged feel to them. I wish more authors would learn from the experience and then develop beyond it. In any case, Banister’s Conquest of Earth is not going to be on any “Best Of” lists, though I will probably treat it a bit more kindly than other readers.
Without reservation, I really enjoyed pages 1-79, or Chapters 1 – 12. Something about the character and the writing was appealing and fun. Kor Danay, the main character, is something like a pseudo-Tibetan monk combined with some of Marvel’s X-Men mutants. We meet him as he is undergoing a sort of final exam at his Institute (monastery?). It is a do-or-die Examination for Kor and he displays some interesting and powerful skills.
Kor is then assigned to a position outside of the Institute. He is to go to No-Ka-si, which is a human settlement outside of the larger Ka-si. The position that Kor is taking was recently vacated. Throughout these chapters, the reader is given to understand there is a basic “us versus them” scenario on Earth. The planet is a wasteland, dried and overheated, the population in service (knowingly or not) to the conquering alien race referred to as the Trisz. Little is known of this mysterious race; contact between Trisz and humans is done through a tiered society, which includes the Triszmen – humans loyal to the Trisz. There are the People – which I guess are the general populace of Earth – and there are the Brotherhoods, religious groups.
Honestly, this is one of Banister’s major flaws. He uses some of the groupings of humans interchangeably. Man (with the capital-M) is meaningful because it refers to a “meta-human” person. Many of these are Sages (they wear scarlet robes) and are not to be confused with the Blue Brotherhood (blue robes, folks), the members of which were the ones not fit to continue training in the Institute. And then there are Trisz, Triszmen, etc. Banister needed to lock down these terms with a bit more consistency.
Anyway, my favorite parts of this novel are Kor’s first experiences outside of the Institute. This includes his travel to Ka-si and his introduction to the “city.” I really liked all the intrigue and events of these chapters. If this novel kept to these areas, this would be a very respectable, solid novel. But in chapter thirteen, Banister decides to take this stuff Underground. The female character, who had been mysterious and shifty, turns into a stereotype. All of a sudden all of the specialized training and lifestyle that Kor lived in the Institute seems to fall away and he is ruled by emotions. Also, characters who were connected to the Institute show up suddenly as if they are some sort of spy agents. It gets messy. Chapter 13 begins a mess.
The mess continues for the rest of the novel – increasing in disaster levels as Kor heads off planet. Kor, in his spaceship, goes to the far reaches of the galaxy where he encounters primitive peoples. Naturally, they treat him as a hero/god-figure. There are events. Things get worse. Storylines get lost. Eventually, there is a rescue and a wrap-up conclusion. The final bit is just ridiculous, let’s not discuss it…..hide your eyes.
In chapter 19, there is a big explanatory section that attempts to delve into some epistemological territory and provides a nice pile of nonsense. Or pseudo-nonsense, as it were. Banister really wants to explain and develop these powers and skills that the meta-human Men possess. I guess I should not fault him for being explanatory, but really, it turns into a babbling stink.
“Deductive reasoning is our first order of rationalization. It is most highly exemplified in the field of mathematics. Mathematics, however, deals entirely with exact premises and exactness exists nowhere in our Universe. Mathematics, as a means of reasoning, therefore, can express only ideal conclusions.
Inductive reasoning is the second order of rationalization. Isolated facts are brought together, and from their behavior, a general law is induced to explain them.
….largely discredited functions of the human mind that the first Men received what they thought to be hints of the existence of a third order of logic – that method of rationalization which transcends both deduction and induction and is the survival factor which works toward the preservation of the individual when all other methods of conscious reasoning fail. The form of third-order rationalization cannot be consciously detected as a function. The function is inferred by analyzing its results.”
If this so-called “third-order” method seems to you like intuition or instinct, and it should, that’s only because, Kor tells us, mankind has just not really explored this process.
Somehow, no matter how much instinct to survive we have, I do not see us breaking the time-space continuum and/or shuffling molecules around at will using our “third-order” powers. On the other side: Hey, Marvel! Here’s your Mutants! Give Banister a couple of bucks for the ideas!
Anyway, I emphasize, again, that I thought highly of the first chunk of the book – and wish that part had been extended. I would love to have this novel re-written and we keep the first part and ditch all the off planet rubbish.