I have on the desk in front of me a book, Ace Double D-449, which was previously owned by Mrs. Elffa E. Philbrick (address redacted) of Urbana, Illinois. I don’t know her. I have never met her, and I don’t know if she is still living. At some point, she placed a return address sticker on the first page – an ordinary person’s version of the ex libris stickers used by fancy people. You don’t see ex libris stickers in Ace Doubles.
I presume Mrs. Philbrick was the first owner of the book. It was published in 1960 and the sticker has no zip code (zip codes came out in 1963). The sticker and the book are equally age-yellowed. That’s all the detective work I could accomplish. There is no way to know how many people owned the book after her, but before I bought it at a local used book store.
One of the minor pleasures of buying used books is occasionally seeing the metaphorical fingerprints of previous owners. They always leave me speculating on how they lived their lives. Was Elffa, perhaps, a suburban housewife with six kids, laundry, PTA, and all the rest, who led a secret life of the mind by traveling, via novel, to distant worlds?
She might also have been a pioneer female engineer working in a local defense plant after a childhood of reading Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs. But in 1960, which was more likely?
Ace doubles are paired short novels, printed back to back. They are important in the history of science fiction, and will get a post of their own later. This one has The Genetic General on the front, with Time to Teleport on the flip side, both by Gordon R. Dickson.
The Genetic General is part of Dickson’s multi-book Child cycle, AKA the Dorsai books. They include some of my favorites novels and a few that were, in a family phrase, half a bubble off of plumb. Someday I will do a full treatment of them, for the sake of any SF fans – if there are any – who have not already become addicted. Today I’m going to concentrate on Time to Teleport, which is quite a lot better than its title and cover suggest.
(Aside: One of the nicest things about Ace Doubles is that they have two covers, which leaves no space for lying back blurbs.)
Brief summary, sans spoilers: The world has progressed beyond war, by rearranging its allegiances. Territorial states no longer exist. The Groups which replaced nations are global in scope, and defined by function, such as Communications, Transportation, or Underseas. As the story opens, Groups have been in place for eighty years and have served mankind well, but times have changed and a crisis impends.
The story centers on Eli Johnstone, former head of the Underseas Group. Eli has a secret, deeply buried, that holds the key to the future of mankind.
I bought this book because I realized that, although Ace Doubles had been a staple of my reading during the sixties, I didn’t have one in my library. I chose one which had a proven winner on the front. Since I don’t always like Dickson’s non-Dorsai work, I had small expectations for Time to Teleport, but I was pleasantly surprised. It was a refreshing dip into the-way-things-used-to-be.
It was also a preview of things to come in Dickson’s work. Eli has a bad knee (as did Cletus Grahame), used a cane in the beginning (as did Walter Blunt), and teleportation is a key element. By the second chapter I was expecting an early version of a key scene from Necromancer, but that didn’t happen.
What did happen was a story that tasted like vintage Dickson, and a little like Heinlein’s Lost Legacy (see 148. Lost Legacy). Eli, as the genetically superior man who saves mankind, reminded me of every other science fiction story from the sixties and seventies. So did the heavy reliance on psi forces.
Time to Teleport had an almost naive hopefulness about mankind’s future which I haven’t seen in science fiction lately, and which I miss.