Ed Emshwiller

Conquest of Earth

Conquest of EarthConquest 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.

Kor lectures:

“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.

3 stars

Big Planet

Big PlanetI finished Big Planet by Jack Vance tonight.  January is Vintage Science Fiction month – as sponsored and encouraged by Little Red Reviewer on her blog.  This is the second Vance novel I have read.  Big Planet was first published in 1957 by Avalon/Ace.   The novel had some revisions and whatnot and was re-released in 1978.  The copy that I read was the TOR 1989 edition.  I took an actual photo (with my phone) of my two copies – the Ace 1967 and the TOR 1989.  I owned the Ace and then found the TOR for only $2 so decided to use that as my “reading copy.”  The cover art for the Ace is by Ed Emshwiller (very famous) and the TOR art is by David Hardy.  Since it’s Vintage Science Fiction month, I thought I’d read this novel because it’s quite vintage and well known.

Overall, this is a rather ridiculous novel.  It does show it’s age.  There are a couple of interesting moments, but overall it’s nothing fantastic.  I say this having read the novel in 2013.  I don’t know how this read to someone in 1960, let’s say.   The main complaints are as follows:  characters are flat and empty, viewpoint regarding women is decidedly not feminist, and the story reads like an extended Star Trek “away team mission.”

Big Planet – a horribly heavy-handed name which states the obvious – is a planet that absorbed the diaspora of cultures from Earth; cultures that were exiled or unwilling to accept Government Rule.  After hundreds of years, the original “culture groups” that arrived on Big Planet spread out, intermingled, and developed.  Thus, the inhabitants are earth-like cultures, but yet they are scattered and have no singular ruling body governing them.  Instead, there is an Earth Enclave, which is presumably a base of some sort where Earth periodically sends commissions to interact with Big Planet and its cultures.  An embassy of sorts, I suppose.

The novel begins with a commission en route to Big Planet.  We meet the characters rapidly and without any finesse.  The ship is attacked (from within) and brought down far from its destination at Earth Enclave.  The survivors find themselves stranded in a village.  It is estimated that they are at least 40,000 miles from Earth Enclave.  Big Planet has many resources, but metal (ore) is not one of them.  Therefore, at least to start, the survivors are relatively wealthy.  However, without much further ado, they all agree to trek off to Earth Enclave.  This is obviously just to get the story moving forth – but let’s consider this further.  Stranded (after a crash landing) in a primitive culture 40,000 miles away from base, with very little in the way of supplies or implements, this group of eight fellas decides that it is a good idea to head out. And, interestingly, the main character, Claude Glystra just assumes command.  He suddenly becomes the leader of the band and not one of the others really even questions this.  We aren’t even given any background on Glystra to help with this.  Perhaps he is ex-military or something – but we get nothing to assist with the suddenness of his command-taking.

So the group sets off. And right away there is this tag-a-long girl who seems really naive and helpless.  Make that a count of nine.  But then not too long after, adventures begin because this group is attacked. Basically, its all a big plot to take down this commission by some dude named Charley Lysidder.  Lysidder employs armies, spies, and religious-types to help him recapture Glystra.  I highly doubt Glystra is really that big of a threat.  Why go to all this trouble? Even if this guy makes it 40,000 battling the natural and exotic perils, what can he possibly do then besides complain to Earth about Big Planet? Ultimately, Big Planet is really beyond the scope of Earth’s rule, anyway. And what does Glystra care?  A moral code is about the only reason he has to stop Lysidder, at first. Finally, a sense of revenge or personal justice plays in.  Basically, the whole premiss of the novel is a bit forced and stretched.

There is one interesting culture that we meet in the novel.  The Kirstendale city is maintained by an interesting populace.  They keep their wherewithal a secret and it takes Glystra awhile to piece it altogether. Nevertheless, it’s an opulent city full of manufactured intrigue and facade.  Ultimately, it would be interesting to investigate this city and expand this into a series of stories or something.  It’s about the only thing creative in the novel, to be honest.

Anyway, Glystra’s group’s numbers dwindle as they deal with threats and peril. Most of the time they are riding on six-legged beasts called zipangotes.  These are like dinosaur, horse, panther things.  They can be used to ride or as pack-animals.  Generally, the “nomadic” races use them to ride around on and raid and terrorize everyone else on the planet.  The other way the group travels is by monoline.  One of the things Vance does in this novel is periodically give us rather intense descriptions of mechanical things.  He uses fairly technical terms and describes them just as if one were seeing them with one’s own sight. Unfortunately, I was unable to really get a picture of any of these things in my mind. I don’t know if I wasn’t focused or if I just could not get the words sorted out. Anyway, Vance clearly had something in mind and tried to get us to understand these mechanical things, too. The monoline is like a trolley that ports people by sail and gravity by “air” across a huge stretch of land. Traders use it, too, and knowing this, the monoline gets attacked a lot by hostiles.

The ending was predictable and the villain was obnoxious and yucky.  I am glad I read the novel, because I love reading and I love science fiction.  However, there is not a whole lot in here that can be recommended to readers in 2013.  It’s a short read. Not very sweet.

3 stars