Monday, July 6, 2009

Book Review: 'Assassins From Tomorrow' by Peter Heath

2/5 Stars

‘Assassins From Tomorrow’ (1967; Lancer books) is the second of the ‘Mind Brothers’ adventures, the first volume being ‘The Mind Brothers’ (1967), and the third, ‘Men Who Die Twice’ (1968). 'Peter Heath' (sometimes Peter Heath Fine) is the pseudonym of writer Robert Irvine , who has written several mystery novels featuring a private eye named Harry Lake.

‘Assassins’ is really more of a ‘superspy’ genre novel than a genuine SF adventure, not unusual given that such themes were very popular in 1967. The book’s prose style is very much that of the 60s private eye novel, resolutely clipped and world-weary:

The road north from Houston to Dallas runs long and straight. In fact, it is the Texas version of the superhighway; a four-lane concrete dragstrip for air-conditioned, high-powered cars. Jason had one, too. A rented job from the ‘We Try Harder’ people. He clipped along through the early-morning sunlight at a steady eighty-five miles per hour, listening to a bigot preach the latest word from the radio gospel of true hate. Next to Los Angeles, he decided, the Southwest had more kooks per acre than all the rest of the world combined. Yet most of them weren’t bad people- just out of step with some of the harsh realities of the twentieth century.
After you got used to the heat, the first thing you noticed was the smell of Mexico. A greasy pungence that attacked the nose until its membranes were deadened to the odors of poverty, pain, and human sweat. Then the eyes took over. They showed you the difference between the richest country in the world and one of the poorest. They showed you the clean well-paved calle that ran through the center of the tourist district. They showed you the shops full of straw baskets and badly carved Aztec wooden gods and the neon invitations to bars that specialized in vibrating the libido.
Jason wandered through the narrow empty streets of Puerto Vallarta with the sun cooking his thoughts into a meaningless batter.
Jason walked back to the jeep and sat on the fender. He smoked a cigarette. He smoked another. Then he got inside, started the engine, and turned around. He sat for a long time with the engine running, looking at the sea. It had nothing to say. Nothing at all.

The ‘Mind Brothers’ are a young mathematician named Jason Starr; Adam Cyber, a man from 50,000 years into the future who has time-traveled back to the 60s determined to prevent humanity from making the mistakes that made his original home a wreck; and a young genius (and off-hours folk singer) named Mark Brown. The Mind Brothers operate as a sort of three-man U.N.C.L.E. or IMF; independently wealthy, they have access to their own Learjet, the latest in computing technology, and the means to drop their everyday consulting work in order to pursue cryptic events the world over.

‘Assassins From Tomorrow’ deals with a secretive, technologically advanced organization named 'Sutra' that works to prevent people from asking too many questions about the J. F. Kennedy assassination. When Mark Brown ventures to Dallas to ask precisely those sorts of questions, the Mind Brothers soon tangle with the mysterious enemy. Can Jason, Mark, and Adam Cyber expose the nefarious intentions of Sutra and save the earth ?

‘Assassins’ is cheerfully meant to be a short (160 pp), entertaining, but not very deep, adventure. It succeeds in this goal. The narrative moves along at a fast pace; outlandish events take place within a span of just two or three pages; there are all sorts of plot contrivances that dissolve into silliness if one pays too much attention to them. The writing style will probably provoke some eye-rolling from modern readers, but I imagine those familiar with the Travis McGee novels of the same era will feel right at home. Readers looking for a groovy 60s adventure with some SF trappings will like ‘Assassins’, but those yearning for a more sophisticated entry in the genre will want to look elsewhere.

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