Review: The Planet of the Double Sun by Neil R. Jones

The Planet of the Double Sun by Neil R. Jones
Paperback: Ace, F-420, $0.40, 123pp, 1967

The Planet of the Double Sun is a collection of three novelettes. I’d reviewed the first, “The Jameson Satellite” (Amazing, July 1931), for the latest weekly “Birthday Reviews” post. That introductory story stands more or less by itself. Between stories, the Zoromes and Professor Jameson (who has acquired the Zorome moniker “21MM392”) have had many unspecified adventures before the next two connected stories begin.

The first is the title story (Amazing, February 1932), and involves the Zoromes arriving in a system of an orange sun and a blue sun, and investigating the first planet. There, they find an odd form of life or two, but not much, and also find the bones of thousands of “Tripeds.” The reason for these bones becomes apparent before too long, as the beautiful planet with the orange and blue sun becomes a nightmare world when the orange sun sets and the blue sun is left alone. Ghostly flying creatures making horrible sounds appear and drive the Zoromes to suicidal and/or murderous madness. It is determined that there is some sort of other colored dimension through which the creatures can affect this world (but still can’t be affected by it) when the orange sun is not neutralizing the blue one’s baneful rays. (Spoilers for the second story follow, in order to get to the third.)

After several settings of the orange sun, only a handful of Zoromes make it back to the ship and take off. Even then, all the remainder but one suicidally jump out and the one declares “Death to 21MM392!” and attacks Jameson (whose Earthly brain is immune to the creatures’ influence), forcing him to fight and fling the last Zorome out of the ship. After all this, Jameson is not in top condition and the ship is worse, being badly damaged and circling the planet in a decaying path which would cause it to crash if not for an erupting volcano which hurls the ship up into space, leaving Jameson trapped alone in orbit, perhaps for eternity.

Or perhaps not. In “The Return of the Tripeds” (Amazing, May 1932), Jameson has spent 571 revolutions around the double suns with nothing to do but daydream (Zoromes do not sleep) and observe the second world in the system through the Zoromes’ immensely powerful telescopes. It turns out that there is some seed of hope because that world is the home of the Tripeds and, despite having shown no signs of spaceflight earlier in Jameson’s vigil, they are now heading out into space once again. Indeed, they find Jameson and relate their history of failed colonization of the first planet and descent into barbarism on their home world, and the long climb back up to wreak vengeance on the first world’s interdimensional interlopers. So Jameson and his new friends set off with some interdimensional tech and prepare to wage war on the enemy. After some difficulty with the transfer, they manage to arrive and, as one of two surprises left in their story, find a much stiffer fight awaiting them than they’d expected.

While “The Jameson Satellite” was highly problematic but entertaining, instilling curiosity about the subsequent tales and hopes for improvement, the second tale defines “sophomore slump” as all that was bad in the first story becomes worse and most of what was good is lost. The sketchy writing becomes astonishingly stiff and awkward [1], the traces of psychology are dispensed with as Jameson is untouched by his half-millennium of isolation, and the unscientific “science” becomes ever more fantastic. Worse, a big deal is made of the Zoromes’ practical immortality in the first tale so the very next one proceeds to kill them easily in droves. The lack of plotting in the first tale had been compensated for by the novelty of the concepts but this is an action-adventure tale which just sort of mills around futilely. I can see how a young reader of the early 1930s might have still found a sense of wonder in all this but a current reader, even one capable of being as retro as I can be, will be hard-pressed to find much here, though the volcano-rocket bounce has the sort of free-wheeling preposterousness of the 1930s Flash Gordon serials that is almost as much a virtue as it is a vice. “The Return of the Tripeds” recovers somewhat. It has a similarly flailing plot and bad writing, but the Triped/Zorome interaction is appealing, and the recovery of Jameson and the assault on the enemy at least has a forward momentum. Basically, I’m still willing to carry on with the next volume (perhaps as much to see a crash as to see any successful lap) but can’t encourage others to do so.

As a last note, if you wonder where the mocking stereotypes of “sci-fi” come from, this is one example. While lines like, “Truly, the mental vision of heaven by the early saints of Christendom could not have excelled this world of paradise for the optical senses” and having a Zorome be “greatly impressed by the professor’s impressive conclusions” are, um, impressive, this was my favorite bit:

“Why did you wait seven hundred years before returning?” asked the professor. “Didn’t you use spacecraft during all that time?”

“That is a story in itself,” explained the Triped, whose name the professor later learned was Glrg. “Briefly, it is this: Our expedition to this planet was the second of our initial trips following our conquest of space and a realization of the ability to journey to other planets in our system. Living on the second planet,” (here the Triped gave voice to a name which sounded to the professor like Grvdlen) “we first of all explored our moons and the nearer planets. We found the third planet (Uzblt) devoid of all life. Here upon Trulfk we found, even as you machine men discovered, a beautiful world. We have never been to the fourth and last world of our system, Lkpfud.”


[1] At times I wondered if he was aiming to emulate the style of Greek heroic poetry with fixed epithets (“the machine men of Zorome”) and a sort of “lofty” (stilted) diction as done by 19th century English translators but, if so, he doesn’t hit the target.

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