The Other World by J. Harvey Bond
Priory Books, unknown year
Originally published by Avalon Books, 1963
Price I paid: 75¢
George Braderick, a civilian GS-5 Civil Service employee, was also a Sergeant Major in the National Guard. His principal duty was to guard the local armoury. It was as such that he became the target of the sinister Dr. Ludwig Taun—and the victim. Here is a story of a desperate struggle for power in a world out with the dimensions we know.
When I saw this title, I thought for at least a minute that I’d read this book before. I was able to convince myself that I’d read a book called The Outer World. It was just today that I got around to checking on that. It turns out that there is no science fiction work listed either by me or by the Internet Speculative Fiction Database with the name The Outer World. That’s kind of a shame. It’s a pretty solid title. If I had the wherewithal, I’d write a story with that title myself, just so my claim to fame would be snagging that name.
The book I was thinking of was The Outer Fleet. That’s also kind of a shame. Part of me was hoping that this book would have been as fun to read and review as M. Matzkin’s masterpiece. That book stands out as one of my favorite reviews. It was so delightfully bad.
The Other World was not nearly that bad. I’d go so far as to call it competent. It…did a thing. I don’t know if that thing was what the author was trying to do, but it did it. I’m actually not entirely sure what it did, to be honest. Maybe we’ll all discover that as I sum it up. Or not.
What it was not was enjoyable to read. It was boring. Very boring.
George Braderick is a guy who goes by the name Brad. He’s in the American National Guard. This took me by surprise, because I was expecting this book to be British. Priory Books was located in London, at least according to the publisher page in this book. It apparently did its printing in Tel Aviv, which is sort of interesting in its own right. It turned out, though, that this book is a reprint. A reprint that didn’t even tell us when it was reprinted. We get a copyright date of 1963, but even the venerable ISFDB couldn’t tell me when this particular edition with the boring cover art and the boring cover synopsis came from.
You might note the Revco sticker that I left on the cover when I scanned it. Sorry about that. I tried to remove it, but I got a bad feeling about it. Felt like it was going to take part of the cover with it, and so I decided to leave it on there in memory of a time when books were twenty-nine cents.
“J. Harvey Bond” was actually R. R. Winterbotham. He also wrote under some other pseudonyms, and I just noticed one that was familiar. For the love of God…this isn’t the first R.R. Winterbotham book I’ve read. He also wrote Planet Big Zero.
Did I mention that the book is boring? Oh, only about a half a dozen times? Well, in a way that works to our advantage, because so little happened that it’s an easy book to sum up. There’s still a bit to talk about, though, mostly about what makes this book so boring.
To be totally fair, the protagonist wasn’t all that bad. He was also the first-person narrator, and he had a voice. I can say that much. At times he felt like he might actually have been a person worth reading about.
The rest of the book is mainly explaining why any of this is going on, but it’s got a bit of a twist. Instead of our hero inexplicably sitting through tons of exposition while I think violent thoughts about how I don’t care, our hero is often trapped while being given tons of exposition blah blah. Namely, there are things in this book called Etos tubes, and they can paralyze people. Brad gets paralyzed a lot, and then people talk to him. Often it’s bad-guy-gloating, but not always.
Brad gets transported to a world called Naxos. It’s a parallel Earth, and we get a lot of talk about how it exists that doesn’t matter at all. It made me think more about books that have elements that could literally be anything else because they don’t actually enhance the story that much. Why make this a parallel Earth when it could be a regular old planet? Or the future? A hallucination? Anything? I’m sure you could say that about a lot of setups in a lot of books, but it’s just something that’s been bugging me lately.
There’s this big long thing about how Naxos shares two of its dimensions with Earth, but not the last one, or something, and it doesn’t make any sense at all. And it does go on.
The big deal with Naxos is that its run by a supercomputer named Veeh. The history of Naxos was very much like that of Earth until Veeh was created, about three thousand years ago. It was created by a guy also named Veeh. It runs everything. It’s also self-interested in continuing to run things, so one of the things it does is make sure that no government could ever grow strong enough to challenge it. Naxos has something like 43,000 tiny nation-states. They never go to war thanks to Veeh’s influence, but because they never war amongst themselves, they never join together into larger states. This bit came dangerously close to telling us that War is Good.
Brad was sent to Naxos by a group of people who want to overthrow Veeh for some reason or another. See, the folks on Naxos know all about how to teleport between the two worlds. They also have advanced knowledge of things like hypnotism, as well as the aforementioned Etos tubes. But what they don’t have is weaponry. Guns. Missiles. Bombs. They want Brad to help them learn how to use those things.
I felt like this book was supposed to have a bunch of intrigue to it but honestly it all fell pretty flat. Veeh knows what’s going on all the time. Brad was a plan within a plan, I guess, but because I didn’t care about any of the plans, it was hard to feel giddy about it the way I would with, say, Doctor Doom. Part of that was certainly because nothing about this setup was notable or interesting to me. Maybe that was different in 1963, but world computers are just about the most played-out thing in science fiction. Whether they’re malevolent, benevolent but overly-controlling, or whatever, there’s almost always the same moral lesson involved: People Gotta Be Free.
And that’s where Brad comes into play. He gives up on the humans who are trying to make power plays, figuring that they just want to replace the computer with a human equivalent. No, what Brad has in mind is DEMOCRACY.
There’s a lot of pro-democracy talk in here. And that’s okay, to a point. I’ll complain about our government ’til I’m blue in the face, but it’s better than a lot of alternatives. And Brad isn’t super-jingoistic about it. He admits that there are flaws in the system. The problem is that he goes on and on and on, often telling the audience things about its own government that are, like, super basic. Middle school civics class stuff. There’s no insight here.
He argues with Veeh a lot on his way to destroying it, but it’s not anything interesting. If they’d had a reasoned argument about the merits of a computerocracy or whatever, I might have been interested. If the author had felt the need to explore both sides of the issue and have Brad come to a conclusion, whether that conclusion was pro-democracy or not. But no, it’s mostly just Veeh trying to convince Brad that if he cooperates he’ll be made a king or something, with Brad almost absent-mindedly declining.
Sure enough, Brad finds Veeh’s secret weakness and destroys it. And then…we get told the story again.
I say this like it’s some kind of new kind of bad, but I think we’ve all seen it before. There needs to be a name for it. At its heart, it’s where the main character receives some insight into the nature of the plot, stuff that was going on all along. Remember how I said there was some intrigue going on in the book? Basically this part of the book is where the main character realizes what all that intrigue meant, and so we get to hear the whole story again, this time with added commentary. To make up an example:
Steve realized that all along he was just a chess piece in a giant game of Pawn-Move. The Devil’s Archbishop had been using him to spy on the Wards of Galaxo, while the Wards had been positioning him to eradicate the Queen of Eights without lifting a finger themselves.
The first thing he should have noticed was when he was told that the Spire of Ronaldo was the source of the Bona Fide Watchfünd. How stupid he’d been! And then after that…
(Continues for sixteen pages)
…and now that God was dead, Steve the Freedok knew that the game was over. Checkmate.
Maybe that’s not the best example but I had fun writing it.
Anyway, this kind of post-action exposition tells me three things:
- The author doesn’t trust the audience to put the layers of intrigue together themselves.
- The author doesn’t trust the book enough to make people want to re-read it, thus picking up on the layers of intrigue on the next run.
- The author has a required word-count and is desperate for content.
Now that Veeh is dead, Brad goes about setting up a world-wide democracy, thus explaining the concept to people (and us) a few more times.
I guess that’s a happy ending.
So yeah, I guess the whole thing could have been a lot worse, but in the end it just sort of wallowed in its own mediocrity. Winterbotham needed a check to get groceries, and this is what he churned out. I won’t fault him for that.
Did we ever figure out what that thing was? I don’t think so. Oh well.
One Quick Housekeeping Before I Go
Regular readers have probably noticed that my output has been slowing down a little bit recently. I do apologize for that, but the fact of the matter is, after reading this stuff and reporting on it every week for more than five years now, I’ve started to run out of things to say, and as a result, I’ve started to run out of enthusiasm for it. I’m very proud of this thing I’ve done, and I love all of you who read my yammerings. Thank you so much.
What I’m saying is that I’m going to drop down to an every-other-week schedule for a while. I might pick back up if I can get my head back in the game, but I just wanted you to know not to worry about me. I’m still around, at least for a while, and I’m gonna keep you all posted about what kind of garbage I’ve found for as long as that’s feasible.