Book Review: Bring Back Yesterday | The Trouble with Tycho by A. Bertram Chandler and Clifford Simak, respectively.
This is another Ace Double, two short novels printed upside down from each other. Very nostalgic.
Bring Back Yesterday stars John Petersen, a merchant ship’s second mate. Or he was, until he decided to have a night of drugs and sex with one of his former passengers in port. The drugs were more potent than advertised, and he wound up missing his ship. Apparently, there is a surplus of starship crewmembers, as the line promptly fires him under their one-strike rule, and he’s blacklisted from any other respectable starship company.
Which leaves Mr. Petersen stranded on Carinthea. His options are few, as there’s no jobs for starship officers on the planet. He can take a menial, minimum wage job, competing with the local unskilled workers; sign up with the Rim Worlds starship line on the lonely frontier and their deathtrap ships; or wait until a ship goes by heading to Earth so he can be deported back to that dying planet. Carinthea has recently left the Federation, so that might be a while.
None of these sound appealing, but Mr. Petersen meets someone who knows a person who’s looking for someone just like him. Steve Vynalek is a private eye who needs a field operative that knows how to operate in space. Why? It seems there’s a retired starship engineer who may have invented precognition and/or time travel, and he’s living on Wenceslaus, Carinthea’s moon, under a spy-ray-proof dome. The government would very much like to know what’s going on, but their regular spies have been stymied by other circumstances.
It’s off to Wenceslaus then, and Mr. Petersen soon becomes aware that someone doesn’t want him to get there, as the shuttle is sabotaged. His space training really comes in handy. From there, it’s dodging death while trying to discover the truth. But the truth may not set him free, but instead condemn him to eternal imprisonment….
This is in the line of hard-boiled detective stories; our hero does relatively little in the way of mental detection, and a lot in the way of engaging in life or death struggles, including against the deadly Post Office. It’s also got more sex than was common for SF in 1961, in that it mentions sex at all–Mr. Petersen gets it on with two women, and is interrupted in the middle of a third tryst. No gory details of that, though.
There are also a number of improbable coincidences, with an actual reason behind them. The science fiction bits make a certain amount of sense in context, and the action scenes are exciting. Most of the female characters are there to be sex objects for Mr. Petersen or secretaries, but we do have Liz, the hard-bitten proprietor of the Spaceman’s Hostel, who has a bit more personality and gumption.
It’s middling-good science fiction.
The Trouble with Tycho takes place on Earth’s moon. Chris Jackson is a prospector who’s not been doing very well, and is in danger of losing his stake. When he runs across Amelia Thompson, a stranded traveler, he learns that she knows the location of valuable salvage. Just one problem–that location is in Tycho Crater, which no one ever escapes alive. Joined by a scientist who has his own reasons for entering Tycho, they start an expedition to certain doom.
This is more of a straight-up adventure story with survival elements. The deadliness of Luna’s environment is played up, and that’s even before the mysterious dangers of Tycho are added in. It turns out that the secret of Tycho is highly implausible, but Mr. Simak does his best to make it all fit together.
Amelia is depicted as being reasonably competent, but undercuts this by emphasizing that she learned her skills from her brother (who should be the one doing this, but got sick) and giving her a “schoolgirl” appearance. And of course, Chris is far more competent. This was a thing in stories of the Twentieth Century; a female character whose useful skills are due to being related to a man who either taught them to her, or allowed her to follow in his footsteps.
The suspense is good. though, as their resources dwindle and their escape options are cut off.
Overall, not the best work by either author, but a fun read if you happen across it.