Ace Doubles are nearly always fun, no matter what the genre. That’s certainly true of this novel. Reading the Stark House edition of Robert Silverberg’s Don Elliott novels GANG GIRL and SEX BUM a couple of weeks ago put me in the mood to read some of his science fiction.
First of all, STEPSONS OF TERRA is a great title. I’m not sure who came up with it, possibly Donald Wollheim, who bought Silverberg’s novel “Shadow on the Stars” (originally published in SCIENCE FICTION ADVENTURES, April 1958) and brought it out as an Ace Double that same year. It sounds to me like a “French Foreign Legion in Outer Space” novel (which would have been fine with me) but that’s not it at all. It’s the story of the Earth colony world Corwin, which is facing destruction from a rampaging horde from beyond the galaxy. (You gotta love those rampaging hordes. I do, anyway.) So the government of Corwin sends an ambassador to Earth to ask for help against the invaders. Unfortunately, Corwin is so far away from Earth that there hasn’t been any contact between them for 500 years. When Baird Ewing, the ambassador from Corwin, arrives on Earth, he doesn’t find what he’s expecting.
From there the book becomes a novel of political intrigue for a while, then takes a surprising turn and evolves into a time travel yarn. Silverberg damns the paradoxes and steams full speed ahead, winding up with an offbeat but entertaining space opera.
As you’d expect, this is a well-written novel with some nice plot twists. One of the things I liked about it is that it tells an exciting, fairly complicated story in about 50,000 words, and it stands alone pretty well, too, although there’s room for a sequel, which as far as I know Silverberg never wrote. No 150,000 word doorstop here, no trilogy that turns into an endless series of bigger and bigger books. Just a good solid SF yarn of the sort that, yes, I know it’s a cliché, they don’t write anymore. I thoroughly enjoyed this one, and I suspect many of you would, too.
UPDATE: Robert Silverberg confirms that STEPSONS OF TERRA was Wollheim's title.
Joseph Wapner, R. I. P.
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