The Ace Double Novels were one of those curious phenomena in American publishing. I’m sure there must be other examples of similar books from other countries, but I have yet to encounter one in person. Unlike the usual form for anthology volumes, the Ace Double Novels were bound back to back, so that once you finished the first book, you simply flipped it over, et voilà, there was another, completely different book.
Now highly collectible, the Ace Doubles weren’t just science fiction. Ace published westerns, mysteries, and even a few oddities, like the Double Novel edition of two books by P.G. Wodehouse (yes, of course I have a copy). But I always think of them as primarily a source of science fiction, featuring writers like Jack Williamson, A.E. Van Vogt, Clifford D. Simak, Andre Norton, and scores of others.
Although the format occasionally makes a reappearance, I’ve always thought, as an habitual cataloguer, that the biggest problem with the double novel format was this: how in blazes do you shelve it? That, combined with the cheap paper on which they were printed may well consign the Ace Double Novels to the dustbin of history. Should you happen across one, though, and should you have a soft spot for novels from science fiction’s first golden age, consider giving one a whirl. Even if the book falls apart in your hands (as a few have done to me), you may still find it an enjoyable and curiously pleasing experience.
Review: The 100th Millennium by John Brunner
Brunner has crafted an intriguing story set one million years into the human future. Creohan is unusual for his people: he is fascinated by astronomy, and has discovered a new star which, he calculates, will arrive in the vicinity of the Earth in approximately 300 years. This new star will, he can demonstrate, destroy all life on the planet, but he cannot bring the people of his city to care, drugged to a state of near-quiescence by their immersion in ages past. In the depths of his despair he meets Chalyth, a woman fond of communing with sea creatures, who unlike the others is moved by his tale and offers to accompany him. They set out to attempt to find other people like themselves, and hopefully people who have an interest in machines, which they might be able to use to shift the course of the approaching star.
There are so many beautifully fanciful touches in this story that it presents a world which should have been more fully explored and realized: organically grown houses, telepathic fields which transmit whole archive of past history, sentient creatures which provide light to cities, meat which alarmingly and cheerily resembles humans and marches regularly and happily to its death…there are ideas fast and furious here, in the space of a short 110 pages. Brunner has really done little more than tantalize, and I hope to find that he has further explored this world in other works. In the meantime, the satisfying resolution and somewhat conventional quest story will have to do for now. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Edge of Time by David Grinnell
Grinnell’s Edge of Time starts promisingly enough: residents of small towns in upstate New York begin experiencing waking hallucinations: giant saurians emerging from previously unseen swamps, strange villages laying in wait in valleys, flying reptiles. When Warren Alton and Margery McElroy are despatched by People magazine (but, interestingly, not *that* People, as the latter wasn’t founded until 1974, while EOT was published in 1958) to investigate, they quickly discover that the stories emanate from a particular mountain. On investigation of Thunderhook Mountain, they find that a group of scientists have begun a remarkable experiment, and have constructed a contained parallel universe, which they are studying to learn about the future of humanity.
What follows from this promising start is occasionally interesting, but largely dreary. The parallel universe contained within a nuclear-powered magnetic field halfway up a mountain in New York is really the least of the problems. Even insisting that the photographer be called “Marge” (which has surely never, ever been a flattering or attractive name) is nothing. In trying to tell his story, following the high-speed evolution of a micro-universe through some sort of sympathetic resonance between the scientists and people on various worlds in the Microcosm, Grinnell opts for short vignettes almost custom crafted for modern attention spans, but sacrifices any narrative thread other than that of the dull scientists and their ultimate dilemma: what should they do when the universe runs out of time? The ultimate solution, in which “Marge” is a prophetess in the other universe who tells the people to build giant starships is interesting but unsatisfying, and we never find out who the “spies” were who attempted to steal Project Microcosm’s records of future technologies. The latter four-fifths of this book really leave a lot to be desired. Entertaining, but ultimately rushed and weak. 3 out of 5 stars.
Originally reviewed 16 June 2014.
Find your copy of The 100th Millennium / Edge of Time, available from booksellers around the world, at AbeBooks.com (title links directly to search results).