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A mixed pair of Golden Age SF novels

Across Time/Invaders from Earth - Robert Silverberg, David Grinnell, Donald A. Wollheim

Recently while shopping at a used bookstore I found a battered collection of Ace Double science fiction novels from the 1950s in their giveaway bin. While they were published before my time, seeing them brought back fond memories of the cheap mass-market paperback novels I enjoyed as a youth, some of which were reprints of these Ace Doubles split into in single-book format. The combination of availability and nostalgia proved too irresistible to pass up, so I decided to pick them up and indulge in a trip down into the past's future.


I started with this pair of novels. The first one I read was Across Time, which was written by Donald A. Wollheim using his pen name "David Grinnell." It was an appropriate place start for reasons I didn't appreciate until afterward, as Wollheim is the editor who invented the Ace Doubles series. He is regarded as one of the most important, perhaps even the most important, figure in the history of science fiction publishing, and has been recognized for all he did in that area (his daughter credits him as well with kick-starting the modern fantasy field by publishing the first edition of the Lord of the Rings trilogy in paperback, so there's that, too). Wollheim was modest about his skills as an author, though, and (to borrow from Churchill) he has much to be modest about, as his novel is a rather pedestrian tale involving flying saucers and a love triangle between two brothers and a woman. While there are some nifty elements in the book — including a sentient warship that is probably the first of its type in science fiction — overall the outcome was so predictable as to rob the book of narrative tension.


After finishing Wollheim's novel I flipped the book over and started Robert Silverberg's Invaders from Earth. And once I began it, I found myself drawn into a fantastic story in which a 21st century expedition to Ganymede finds both an inhabited world and one with valuable minerals, and an advertising firm is hired to pave the way for exploitation. The plot revolved around one of the men spearheading the campaign, whom the firm sends to Ganymede to give his ideas added verisimilitude, only for him to have a crisis of conscience when he realizes just what he's done. There's a nice Mad Men vibe to the tale (unsurprising for a novel written in 1957 that's set in an ad firm), as well as an anti-imperialist commentary that is unusual for science fiction novels of the time. It was definitely the highlight of the pair, and it left me eager to see what other gems I might find in my newly-acquired trove.