Friday, April 08, 2011

Forgotten Books: Stepsons of Terra - Robert Silverberg

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.

13 comments:

Bill Crider said...

I loved the Ace Doubles when I was a kid, particularly the ones by Silverberg and Calvin M. Knox (als Silverberg). He could sure tell a good story.

Steve Lewis said...

Thanks for the reminder, James, that there was a time when Science Fiction was fun to read. There are times when it still is, but not as often as it used to be. This is my kind of book, that's for sure.

Charles Gramlich said...

Yes, just like I like 'em. Somehow I've missed this one.

Walker Martin said...

I used to buy all the Ace Doubles and for that matter, all the SF back in the 1950's. Then it was possible to read and buy everything that was coming out.

As good as early Silverberg was, he went on to become one of the very best SF writers during the 1964-1976 period. His work for GALAXY was excellent and among the best SF ever written for the magazine market.

Ed Gorman said...

What an astonishing career Silverberg has had. Like you, James, I still reread his work from various periods and his Ace Doubles are among my favorites. I'm really looking forward to the volumes Planet Stories is doing of his collected action adventure stories.

George said...

PLANET STORIES is reprinting several early Silverberg SF novels.

Richard R. said...

I think I read this one back in the day, but even with your description I can't recall it. What's on the flip side?

James Reasoner said...

Rick,
The flip side is A MAN CALLED DESTINY by Lan Wright, which I haven't read. Maybe one of these days. I don't think I've ever even heard of Lan Wright.

James Reasoner said...

Walker,
I have Silverberg's HAWKSBILL STATION coming up from the era you mention.

Todd Mason said...

HAWKSBILL STATION, the novel version, was the first Silverberg novel I read, and probably the first Silverberg fiction after "Ishmael in Love"...so, as you can see, I started with the mature Silverberg...

Lan Wright was a British writer who was mostly active in the '50s and early '60s, and seemed to give up altogether by the latter '60s.

bcraig3 said...

The folks over at armchair fiction (part of sinister cinema) have recently done a nice job with their first wave of ace double style SF novels. Very fun, fast reads. Check them out at www.airchairfiction.com or on amazon.

James Reasoner said...

Those Armchair Fiction volumes look great. I'll have to try some of them.

Todd Mason said...

The Jerome Bixby collection is a very good idea...pairing the Leiber YOU'RE ALL ALONE with the liquid monster story, maybe less so. (Naming which stories are in the Bixby and Walton collections would also be a Very Good Idea.)