Wednesday, January 22, 2020

"Something Tells Me That There Must Be a Lot More to This Planet Than Meets the Eye"

CHRISTOPHER ANVIL (not his real name, of course) could be relied upon to produce entertaining SFF, beginning way back in the early '50s. As you can see from the biblio-
graphical data at The Internet Speculative Database (below), Anvil had several long-
running story series: The Federation of Humanity; the Pandora's Planet sequence (a.k.a. 
The Centrans); The War with the Outs; several brief excursions with James Cardan, Ber-
enger Lyell, and Hommel; and finally the Dan Redman series, whose only adventures 
(that we know about) you will find just below . . . .


   "Raveling Porcy's systematized enigma, Dan found himself with a spy's worst break—he was saddled with the guise of a famed man!"

"Advance Agent."
By Christopher Anvil (Harry Christopher Crosby, 1925-2009).

Illustrations by [Virgil] Finlay (1914-71; HERE).
First appearance: Galaxy, February 1957.
Reprints page (HERE).
Novelette (32 pages; 3 illos).
Online at Project Gutenberg (HERE).
     "Galactic wants us to find the answers to three problems. One, how do the Porcyns keep the size of their population down? Two, what is the connection between rejuvenation and 'Vacation Planet'? And three, do the Porcyns have a proper mercantile attitude? Are they likely to make an agreement? Will they keep one they do make?"

Piece of cake, right? The Director of A Section has complete confidence in protean galactic troubleshooter Dan Redman, but Redman can't help but wonder out loud, "And suppose I don't come back?" Well, says the Director, "Galactic probably loses the jump it's got on Trans-Space and you miss out on a big bonus." How encouraging . . .

Major characters:
~ Kielgaard:

  "Dan, what do you know about subspace and null-points?"
~ Dan Redman:
  "Practically nothing."

~ Mr. and Mrs. Milbun and Mavis, their daughter:
  ". . . smiled cheerfully and went back to what they were doing. This consisted of dodging, tricking or outrunning the various contraptions that lunged at them, chased them, tripped them, trailed, stalked and sprang out at them from nearly every place in the room."

Comment: When you have a story where the aliens look and act mostly like us, language isn't a problem, interstellar travel is no big thing, subspace communication across light-years is instantaneous, short-range teleportation is standard, and a culture has somehow gone off the rails and needs straightening out, then you have the Star Trek formula, years before that show premiered—all of which also applies to the next narrative.


   "There was something rotten in the planet named Truth ... rotten enough to call for the intervention of ..."

"A Tourist Named Death."
By Christopher Anvil (Harry Christopher Crosby, 1925-2009).

Illustrations by [Wallace] Wood (1927-81; HERE).
First appearance: Worlds of IF, May 1960.

Reprints page (HERE).
Novelette (32 pages; 2 illos).
Online at Project Gutenberg (HERE).

     "We've got a mess to straighten out."

As far as Galactic is concerned, Dan Redman is the go-to guy when things get snarled, 
and a well-placed agent, given a chance, can create the mother of all snarls—or, like 
Redman, straighten it out . . .

Major characters:
~ Dan Redman:

  "Who's the first agent we set down on this planet?"
~ Kielgaard:
  "You. And you're going to be up against a deadly proposition. Our opponent is established on the planet, and we're going in cold."

Comment: It looks as if, in terms of the over-the-top gadgets made available to our spy, 
the author is foreshadowing some of James Bond's later cinematic adventures; he also anticipates things that MI6 never seems to consider, such as how Bond's mugshot would have been committed to memory by every single one of "the opposition"; however, his solution to the problem is as much of a cheat in its own way as, say, Mission: Impossi-
ble's (those ridiculous masks), and could only exist in the science fictional realm (e.g., 
"The neuro-conditioning lab has recreated in your nervous system the reflexes of one 
of the deadliest agents ever known")—but after all this is science fiction, so let's be kind 
and cut him some slack.


- The capabilities for disguising oneself as showcased in our stories ("The inhabitants look much like us") would seem to conform to the "We Will Not Use Stage Make-Up in the Future" trope (TV Tropes HERE). As for those "subspace jumps" ("subspace being what it is, a mild variation of the starting point can produce an abrupt shift in the place where they come out"), SFF authors have relied upon them for years; see Sten Odenwald's Astronomy Cafe article (HERE). At one point, Redman suggests that they "brain-spy some of the inhabitants," suggesting mind-probing technology exists in his time (TV Tropes HERE). That "remarkably small organo-transceiver" faintly reminds us of Search, an early-'70s TV series (Wikipedia HERE; IMDb HERE); and "a new type of unusually small mataform transceiver" is yet one more example of authorial handwaving (Wikipedia HERE). As far as we know, all of these gizmos were and still remain pure "Unobtainium" (TV Tropes HERE).
- The usual reliable sources have plenty of data about Christopher Anvil: Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE).
- Anvil also had a continuing series character named Richard Verner; see the next posting above for him.
- Out of dozens of other galactic troubleshooters who spring to mind, over time we've really enjoyed Jack Vance's Magnus Ridolph and Miro Hetzel (The Thrilling Detective Web Site HERE and HERE; the ISFDb HERE) and Keith Laumer's Jame Retief (Wikipedia HERE and the ISFDb HERE), some of whose adventures are now available online. Someday we'll visit them.

- Our latest excursion with spies was Murray Leinster's "The Psionic Mousetrap" (HERE).

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