Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Silent Invaders and Battle on Venus: Review

This is an Ace Double book--so dual novels and dual reviews. Each portion has also been published as a stand-alone book, so I am absolutely counting these as separate steps on Mount TBR and separate entries for my challenges.

Up first is Robert Silverberg's 1963 novella, The Silent Invaders. Welcome to 26th Century Earth! It's a hustling, bustling, over-crowded world where aliens can take on human form and get lost in the masses. And they do. Aar Khiilom is just such an alien. Spruced up as Major Abner Harris, this Daruuiian has been sent to Earth to meet up with fellow under-cover aliens and attempt to win Earthlings over to their side of an intergalactic war with the dreaded Medlins. Every Daruuiian knows what evil creatures Medlins are and it's imperative to have every race on the right side of the battle.

Except....is the Daruuiian side really the right side? When Harris (to make things simple) meets up with an undercover Medlin (who just happens to have taken on the form of a beautiful Earth woman), he begins to have his doubts. And what about the race of super-humans that the Medlins have been encouraging along? Are they set to team up with the Medlins to destroy the Daruuiians? Or is this race the hope of the universe?

This is very early Silverberg and a fairly decent story. Once upon a time I read everything I could my hands on by Silverberg. Then there was a long hiatus from science fiction in general and when I took the genre up again, I read his The Masks of Time--which was an absolute dud (click for review). This one is better. I bought the main story this time. The hook is a good one--aliens among us and all that. I do have a bit of an issue with the super-humans, though. They're supposedly so much better than your average, run-of-the-mill humans (or Medlins or Daruuiians). Beyond all that war and greed and whatnot. And yet...they still think in order to deal with their "enemies" that those enemies should be killed. I'm thinking super-advanced humans ought to be able to come up with a better solution than that. ★★

Battle on Venus (1963) by William F. Temple gives us the first manned mission to Venus. When the crew of the Earth ship break through the thick, poisonous clouds surrounding the planet, they find themselves in the middle of a war that has been going on for years. The war machines are familiar--they look like Earth tanks, planes, and bombs of the past. But the machines are all on auto-pilot. There doesn't seem to be any Venusians running the show.

Their ship is damaged and they need to find a way to repair it before they become real casualties of war. George Starkey (our hero) goes off on an expedition to see if he can find anyone at all who might be in charge, listen to their peaceful pleas, and give them a chance to head back to Earth. What he finds is a beautiful Venusian girl named Mara, an ancient seer who seems to know everything, and a immortal with a nasty sense of humor. Luckily the beautiful Venusian takes a fancy to him and has fantastic thieving abilities which aid him in his cause. But will he be able to stop the war machines long enough get him, Mara, and the rest of the crew off the planet? Or will the immortal practical joker have the last laugh?

This one feels a little more dated than the Silverberg story, probably because we know that humanoid life forms wouldn't be able to survive on the surface of Venus--but it still has a good solid base. George is a good lead character, taking front and center away from the rather weak ship's captain. The most enjoyable portion of the novella is after he sets off on his mission to find those responsible for the war. It also reminds me of a couple of Star Trek episodes: "A Taste of Armageddon" (where two planets have been waging computer war on each other for ceturies) and "The Squire of Gothos" (where an alien child with incredible powers plays deadly games with the Enterprise crew). ★★

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