Tentatively, Convenience's Reviews > Nebula Alert / The Rival Rigelians

Nebula Alert / The Rival Rigelians by A. Bertram Chandler
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review of
A. Bertram Chandler's Nebula Alert
& Mack Reynolds's The Rival Rigelians
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - June 16, 2016

I started reading Chandler novels in April of 2016 w/ The Anarch Lords. I didn't have any compelling reason for reading something by him, he was just a new author to check out. I liked it (see my review here: “Taking the “Lords”.. ..out of Anarchy”: https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/... ). Then I read his The Rim of Space. I liked that too (see my review here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... ). Now I'm 'hooked', I might very well read everything by him. I've already read 5 more, I'm in the midst of a 6th, I've got a pile more awaiting my attn.

Even tho this was published in 1967 it appeared to've never been previously cracked open 49 yrs later. This is a cheaply printed Ace Double &, yet, it's still in good shape. All hail competent printers & book binders!

Remember "The Man from U.N.C.L.E."? A spy tv show? Remember "The Man from GLAD"? A character in an advertisement for a brand of kitchen product?

"She remarked, her intonation sardonic, "Our Mr. Smith. The man from GLASS." She smiled briefly. "No doubt he has something for us. And I can't trust my everloving husband to handle ship's business by himself, even though he is on the Register as Master. . . . Will you carry on here, Mr. Bronheim, while I see what's cooking?"

"Ignoring the ladder, she slid down one of the uprights of the scaffolding to the ground. The wind behind her, she advanced to meet the representative of the Galactic League for the Abolition of Suppression and Slavery." - p 6

I, at least, wd hope that humanity has left slavery behind. Alas, I don't really expect that to ever happen. In fact, once one species encounters another one sufficiently alien to be discriminately stereotyped slavery will no doubt appear. Some people are naive enuf to think that in this day & age hatred based on minor differences like skin color are a thing of the unfortunate past. Think again, here's a bonehead on Mars: https://youtu.be/maDogJyQg6Q .

Most of these Chandler bks seem to have recurring details. That might rub me the wrong way if I were in the mood for expecting each bk by a particular author to be filled w/ all new ideas. In the case of Chandler, I'm enjoying the seriality of it all.

"Metzenther, the gangling, wispy bearded Psionic Communications Officer, at Susanna. "Have any of you people any ideas on the subject?" she demanded.

"There was a long silence.

""Mr. Metzenther!" snapped Irene. "You knew that Mr. Smith came on board. Didn't you, er, find anything out while he was here?"

""I did not, madam." The telepath's voice was righteously smug. "You know that we are under oath never to pry into another's mind with out his consent."" - p 11

The Rim of Space had a Psionic Communications Officer as has probably every other space travel novel of Chandler's that I've read so far. Another recurring detail is the psionic amplifier:

"Bronheim. from his engineroom, reported readiness, as did Metzenther from his cabin—although all that the telepath had to do was to ensure that his psionic amplifier, the living dog's brain culture in its tank of nutrient fluid, was physically secure and psychologically prepared." - p 18

Chandler's ongoing enthusiasm for referencing things-Australian is another endearing factor for me given that I spent 3 mnths in Aus in 2000. Raw footage from that trip made w/ my collaborator Warren Burt can be witnessed here: https://youtu.be/TiCYlcBm5nM .

""Twenty-four Iralians," Trafford stated. "Presumably twelve male and twelve female—not that it matters all that much, as long as they're not all the same sex. A majority of females would, in fact, be advantageous. Twenty-four fertile Iralians, psychologically and physiologically capable of living and breeding anywhere. How many rabbits were ancestors to the hordes that became a serious menace to the Australian economy?"" - p 14

The history of those rabbits (& of the cane toads & of the disease bioengineered to kill the rabbits) is fascinating to me. I also think of the highly recommended movie "Rabbit-Proof Fence" but that's a different story. One way or t'other, there're lessons to be learned.

""Read your history, Benjamin," Irene told him. "Read your Terran history. There's ample precedent. For anything and everything. If there's anything dirty to be done for a large profit, somebody has always done it."" - p 39

""But it wasn't revenge, madam, that was making them tick. It was patriotism."

""Patriotism!" Desinka Kankoran made it sound like a dirty word. "To capture and to sell your own people into slavery!"

""Yes, patriotism. Crude—but isn't it that all too often?["]" - p 40

Stress increases the likelihood of conflict between people - but what about the stress of extraordinary physics?:

""The I will explain—or try to explain. You know, of course, that conditions inside the nebula play hell with the laws of physics. And they do, too, with those of psychology. But, as far as they are concerned, the main effect has been one of . . . amplification? Or aggravation. As long as there is more than one sex there is a natural hostility between the sexes.["]" - p 53

Chandler's recurring character, Grimes, doesn't put in an appearance until p 68:

""I wish to talk to your Captain."

""You are doing so, madam. Commodore Grimes, Rim Confederacy Naval Reserve, at your service."

""RIm Confederacy? There is no such nation. And the Rim Worlds have no navy. Please identify yourself."" - p 68

Chandler was a ship captain so his bks reflect this. Sometimes I find the way that they do particularly interesting:

""Specialized ships?" echoed Trafford.

""Yes. Double-ended ferry steamers, to be specific. A single engine, and a single shaft running the length of the vessel, and a screw at each end, one pusher and one puller. No difference between stem and stern, and a bridge and wheelhouse at each end. The big advantage, of course, was that no time was lost maneuvering to berth or unberth at either end of the run.["]" - p 93

Interesting. I'd never thought about that before. All in all, I enjoyed reading this. I haven't spoiled the bk for you either. On the flip side of this Ace Double is Mack Reynolds's The Rival Rigelians. Somehow, I seem to've had a bad impression of Reynolds. Vaguely, I thought he might've written trashy spy novels. I find on Wikipedia that "Reynolds was the first author to write an original novel based upon the 1966-1969 NBC television series Star Trek." That's a big turn-off for me but I don't think I knew that. Apparently he didn't write spy novels. I must be confusing him w/ another author. I was probably confusing him w/ Mack Bolan, alias The Executioner, a fictional character who's been serialized in over 600 novels according to Wikipedia.

Instead, to quote Wikipedia again, "His work is noteworthy for its focus on socioeconomic speculation, usually expressed in thought-provoking explorations of Utopian societies from a radical, sometime satiric, perspective." ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mack_Re... ) & that's what I refreshingly found in this bk.

The Rival Rigelians is based on a simple premise of political basis paralleling world conflict: planets have been seeded w/ humans & left to develop on their own for a thousand yrs. Then, a group of 'experts' from Earth are sent to 2 planets that're nearby each other to check on their progress & to bring them up to contemporary levels. It's decided that the team will split into 2 groups, one for each planet, to use different strategies for this process: essentially, one planet will be stimulated by communism & t'other by capitalism. These 2 groups will then compete to prove wch system works best.

Before the teams get to the planets, the reader is told that on the space voyage no sex is allowed as a way of avoiding conflict:

"The inspection was rewarding. Isobel Sanchez had the lushness of her Iberian heritage. Her hair black, her complexion olive, her teeth unbelievably white behind equally unbelievably red, full lips. Considering her educational background, she was a remarkably beautiful woman, though in her face there was something not quite there. A something once called breeding.

"Chessman growled sourly, "You better get back into your coveralls, Doctor Sanchez. Showing off that body of yours isn't going to help that ruling of Mayer and Plekhanov about the relations between members of the crew while we're in space."" - p 12

En route, the 2 leaders of the expedition argue about wch system is best before they decide to try their experiment of each taking a planet:

"Joe Chessman had been following Plekhanov's argument. He said dourly, "But finally the group conquers its environment to the point where a minimum of leisure is available again. Not for everybody, of course. The majority still have to spend their time from dawn till night plowing the fields or watching the herds."

"Amschel Mayer bounced back into the discussion. "And then, enter the priest, enter the war lord. Enter the smart operator who talks or fights himself into a position where he's free from drudgery. In short, enter the class-divided society, the rulers and the ruled."

"Joe Chessman said reasonably, "If you don't have the man with leisure, society stagnates. Somebody has to have time off for thinking, if the whole group is to advance."

""Admittedly!" Mayer said. "I'd be the last to contend that an upper class is necessarily parasitic."" - p 16

Then comes the turning point that leads to their experiment:

"Mayer went on enthusiastically. "Up until now, in our debates, we've had two basic suggestions on procedure. I have advocated a system of free competition; my learned colleague has been of the opinion that a strong state and a planned, not to say totalitarian economy, would be the quicker." He paused dramatically. "Very well, I am in favor of trying them both!"" - p 18

I've never encountered the building of the pyramids discussed in such a prosaic way before:

""Pyramids," Plekhanov rumbled. "I've always been of the opinion that such projects as pyramids, whether they be in Yucatan or Egypt, are make-work affairs. A priesthood or other evolving ruling clique, keeping its people busy and out of mischief."

"Chessman adjusted a speed lever and settled back. "I can see their point, keep the yokes busy and they don't have time to wonder why they, who do all the hard work, don't have the living standard of their betters."

""But I don't agree with it," Plekhanov said ponderously. "A society that builds pyramids is a static one. Both the Mayans and Egyptians are classic examples; for centuries, neither changed its basic culture. For that matter, any society that resorts to make-work projects to busy its citizenry has something basically wrong, and that includes the New Deal in the Twentieth Century."" - p 23

"Of all of Roosevelt’s New Deal programs, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) is the most famous, because it affected so many people’s lives. Roosevelt’s vision of a work-relief program employed more than 8.5 million people. For an average salary of $41.57 a month, WPA employees built bridges, roads, public buildings, public parks and airports." - http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexper...

People still benefit from the WPA 73 yrs after it ended. When I go to the local park there're walls, steps, & bridges made under the WPA. That "$41.57 a month" is $682.80 a month in today's money - more than I get from Social Security.

Reynolds uses this novel to explore a little history too:

"Chessman said absently, as he stared out at the primitive city, "When the Spanish got to Mexico, they didn't understand what they saw, being musclemen rather than scholars. And before competent witnesses came on the scene, Aztec society was destroyed. The conquistadores who did attempt to describe Tenochtitlan, misinterpreted it. They were from a feudalistic world and tried to portray the Aztecs in such terms. For instance, the large Indian community houses they thought were palaces. Actually, Montezuma was a democratically elected war-chief of a confederation of three tribes which dominated the Mexican valley. There was no empire because Indian society, being based on the clan, had no method of assimilating newcomers.["]" - p 25

Regardless of wch system is tried on wch planet the Earthlings bring new levels of strife:

""Indeed," Plekhanov rumbled. "As a soldier you will be interested to know that our first step will involve the uniting of all the nations and tribes of this planet. Not a small task. There should be opportunity for you."

"Taller said, "Surely you speak in jest. The people have been at war for as long as scribes have records and never have we been stronger than today, never larger. But to conquer the world! Surely you jest,"" - p 30

"Taller arose from the squat stool upon which he had beeen seated. He was no coward. "I have listened and I do not like what you have said. I am Khan of all the People. Now leave in peace or I shall order my warriors . . ."

""Joe," Plekhanov said flatly. "Watson!"

Joe Chessman took his heavy handgun from its holster and triggered it twice. The roar of the explosions reverberated thunderously in the confined space, deafening all, and terrifying the Tulans. Bright red colored the robes the Khan wore, colored them without beauty. Bright red splattered the floor." - pp 32-33

Meanwhile, on another planet:

"Amschel Mayer turned to still another, "And your town is noted for its fine textiles." He looked to his assistants. "Jerry, you and Gunther bring in those models of the power loom and the spinning jenny."" - p 39

The choice of these 2 devices was no doubt not coincidental on Reynolds's part considering that "The Luddites were 19th-century English textile workers (or self-employed weavers who feared the end of their trade) who protested against newly developed labour-economizing technologies, primarily between 1811 and 1816. The stocking frames, spinning frames and power looms introduced during the Industrial Revolution threatened to replace them with less-skilled, low-wage labourers, leaving them without work." ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luddite )

The proposed innovations aren't met w/ enthusiasm by the beneficiaries of the status quo:

"The baron said coldly, "Why? I do not like to be told I must do something. I am an important figure in the world as I know it. Radical change may upset this. If we loose these devices upon the world—Genoa, as you call it—who can say who will fall from the heights, and who will climb up from below? The status quo is always safest for those on top."" - p 42

Ain't it the truth.

"Mayer wrapped it up. "Honorables, modernize or go under. It's each man for himself and the devil take the hindmost, if you'll allow a saying from another era."

"Kennedy added, grinning, "Sometimes known as free enterprise."" - p 42

"Mayer was shaking his head. "No, no. As the barons lose power, each of your cities will strengthen and possibly expand to become nations. Perhaps some will unite. But largely you will compete against each other and against the nations of the other continents. In such competition you'll have to show your mettle, or go under. Man develops at his fastest when pushed by such circumstances."

"The Earthling looked off, unseeing, into a far corner of the room. "At least, so is my contention. Far away from here,a colleague is attempting to prove me wrong. We shall see."" - p 44

Is it any wonder that people are so tradition-bound? Any system that provides security, a place to live & food, is bound to seem more attractive than the uncertainty of revolutionary projections. &, as usual, in this novel "anarchy" is presented by one of the characters in a negative light:

""I didn't ask for this job, Terry. But if this planet is ever going to become united, we've got to have a military to do it. It's anarchy now. Mynor and his rebels want only one thing: to turn the wheels backward to the old days."" - p 49

Maybe the people are united in Anarchy?

An interesting historical sidenote is the presentation of the church controlling booze:

""Perhaps you are aware of the fact that my position involves the holy product of the vine, that I administer the holy production and distribution of this gift of the Supreme."" - p 80

"Christian views on alcohol are varied. Throughout the first 1,800 years of church history, Christians consumed alcoholic beverages as a common part of everyday life and used "the fruit of the vine" in their central rite—the Eucharist or Lord's Supper. They held that both the Bible and Christian tradition taught that alcohol is a gift from God that makes life more joyous, but that over-indulgence leading to drunkenness is sinful or at least a vice. The Bible indicates wine as a symbol of joy while "strong drink" is a euphemism for drunkenness." - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christi...

According to the church, many things are ok as long as the church profits from it & controls it.

Anyway, the best part of this novel for me was how the conflicts were eventually resolved - but I'm not going to give that part away. I don't find Reynolds writing, per se, to be very advanced but the philosophies explored are thought-provoking enuf to make checking out more by him worthwhile.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
June 1, 2016 – Finished Reading
June 16, 2016 – Shelved
June 16, 2016 – Shelved as: sf

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