Friday, December 5, 2014

Endless Shadow by John Brunner and The Arsenal of Miracles by Gardner F. Fox

Endless Shadow was an 1964 Ace Double, paired with The Arsenal of Miracles by Gardner F. Fox. Endless Shadow is a tale of two worlds – Azrael and Ipewell – where Jorgen Thorkild, director of the Bridge System that connects forty worlds among the stars, fears that he is losing his hold on sanity. Thorkild’s responsibility not only includes the machines that bridge the interstellar space between planets, but he must prevent any rebellions that might upset the balance of commerce and industry. Factions on Ipewell and Azrael alike are at odds with the bridge system, and most of the book details plot mechanizations and the actions of several characters. The two worlds in conflict, Azrael where murder is commonplace; and Ipewell where motherhood is honored among all things, have distinctively different reasons for rejecting the bridge teleportation device, but I soon realized that perhaps these characters were not that different. Characters with opposing viewpoints often have something in common, although they may be unaware of the similarities. Endless Shadow moves a little quicker than it should, but the characters, such as Alida of Ipewell, are interesting. There is a snake handler who becomes a nuisance, and a society where people lack incentive to go on living, and a murder at the onset. The writing is creative, varying between viewpoints, and occasionally slipping into an omniscient world-view. For example, the books begins in the first person: “There are machines to move, that do move, half a million people a day from world to world as expeditiously as postal packages and with them mill tons of freight like entries in a ledger, balancing, and I am Jorgen Thorkild walking.” However, most of the remainder is written in the third person omniscient viewpoint. The flip side of this Ace Double is The Arsenal of Miracles by Gardner F. Fox. I might never have heard of Fox if not for the by-line he was given on those Flash comics back in the Sixties. Fox wrote some great comic books in his time. The Arsenal of Miracles is Space Opera stuff, and entertaining as hell. Let’s face it, a book that begins with the line: “It was Bran the Wanderer who found death.” has got you hooked. According to legend, Bran Magannon, High Admiral of Space and one of earth’s interstellar hot-shots, suddenly found the empire under attack by the Lyanir, and during these events fell in love with Lyanirn queen, Peganna. Branded a traitor, Bran becomes an outcast; a brooding wanderer. With the return of the silver-haired queen Peganna, he learns of a secret cache of weapons that Peganna wishes to have for her people. The weapons had belonged to the long dead race of the Crenn Lir, and naturally Bran determines to find these weapons. But there’s some duplicity involved, as you might expect, and Bran encounters obstacles and mysteries on his quest for a life. The Arsenal of Miracles is great science fiction and the real highlight of this Ace Double.

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