Saturday, October 24, 2009

Book Review: 'The Brains of Earth' by Jack Vance


3/5 Stars

‘The Brains of Earth’ (1966, 108 pp) is one-half of Ace Double M-141 (‘The Many Worlds of Magnus Ridolph’ is the other side of the paperback). The cover illustrations are by Jack Gaughan.

Paul Burke, a senior researcher at the think tank ARPA, gets a mysterious parcel which contains a metal disk that is able to float in the air via an unknown anti-grav mechanism. When Burke visist the home of the man who sent him the parcel, he encounters an insectile alien named Pttdu Apiptix (!). Apiptix knocks Burke unconscious and transports him via spaceship to the world of Ixax.

Ixax, and its race of Xaxans, has recently emerged from a civil war which has devastated the entire planet.  Pttdu Apiptix reveals to Burke that the conflict has been triggered by the influence of another race of aliens – the nopal. And Apiptix has given Paul Burke an assignment he can’t refuse: travel to the home world of the nopal and destroy them within 30 days. If Burke can’t accomplish this task, the Earth will be destroyed….

By the standards of mid-60s SF, ‘Brains’ is a reasonably well-written novelette. As with the majority of Vance tales, there is not a great deal of action; indeed, most the story is comprised of lengthy sections of dialogue carried out amongst  a trio of characters. Vance is skilled at dialogue (unlike many other SF authors of the mid-60s period), so these sections are not tiresome to read.

There is a typical Vance problem-solving element to the quasi-Lovecraftian narrative, involving apprehension of alternate dimensions, inhabited by malevolent beings who subtly control human affairs. The plot contains enough twists and revelations to make it an interesting story, all the more so considering its relatively short length. Vance afficionados will want to look for this novelette.

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