Book Review: Masters of the Lamp | A Harvest of Hoodwinks by Robert Lory
This is another Ace Double, two small books combined into one upside-down from each other so they make a fair-sized paperback. In this case, a short novel and several short stories by former ad executive Robert Lory.
Masters of the Lamp is a spy novel set in the far future. Two agents of the Federation’s Intelligence Arm have gone missing, and the Head, an organic supercomputer, suspects a connection. It’s up to Shamryke Odell (named after a long-extinct plant), top agent, to discover what’s up. Though he prefers to work alone, Sham is teamed up with Aleya Nine of the Merchants’ Guild. He’s reminded that she’s an expendable partner.
Soon enough, the agents find themselves bound to Marquette, the planet of religious fanatics. And not just one denomination, but all sorts of religious fanatics. Disguised as pilgrims, Sham and Aleya must discover what’s really going on behind the scenes, who’s responsible and what their ultimate goal is.
The story is James Bond-ish, with gadgets, double agents and people being killed just as they’re about to spill the secret. Sham is alleged to be a ladies’ man, but doesn’t get any until after the story ends. Religious belief is generally treated as a bit silly, but at least one bit of dogma turns out to be a life-saver for the cult that practices it.
A Harvest of Hoodwinks is an anthology of short tales linked by the theme of deception. The most striking of the stories is “Because of Purple Elephants,” in which two small children discover an alien spaceship, with telepathic invaders aboard. The older of the boys must make a decision that could save Earth or mean death. “The Star Party” is interesting for following the notion of a genuine astrologer to a painful conclusion. “Just a God” deals with an abrupt change in theology. And “Debut” is a very short piece that’s almost all twist.
“Snowbird and the Seven Warfs,” about a Cheyenne man mistakenly drafted into an alien game show, demonstrates one of the problems that crops up in Ace Doubles. They were still using rather old-fashioned standards when it came to talking about sex, even in 1970. Thus the last few paragraphs take a very roundabout approach to implying that the man has had his penis enlarged.
This isn’t the best Ace Double I’ve read, but it was bargain priced, and “Debut” really is a gem.