So at Illogicon back in January I picked up one of the old Ace double books — two books in one, each upside down relative to the other. Unfortunately, just as the B-movie in an old double bill was often cheap and forgettable, such was the case here. THE COMMUNIPATHS by Suzette Haden Elgin was the A-movie, a good though rather downbeat novel in her Coyote Jones series. Communipaths are powerful psis drafted as the only source of fast cross-space communication, but things get pretty crazy when Jones has to collect a psi that turns out to be a year-old baby. Very good, and interesting to see how Elgin works with multiple POVs throughut the story.
THE NOBLEST EXPERIMENT IN THE GALAXY by Louis Trimble was the B-movie, in which agents for various galactic powers investigate why a Sinister Conspiracy would set up a pseudo-Victorian town on one planet. Obviously it’s a scheme of some kind, but what? Unfortunately this bogs down with talk, and then more talk. After Frank Belknap Long’s Survival Planet, I wonder just how talky books could get during the late sixties/early seventies.
POSEIDONIS (cover by Gervasio Gallardo, all rights reside with current holder) is the weakest of Ballantine Adult Fantasy’s Clark Ashton Smith collections. The stories of Poseidonis, the last surviving remnant of Atlantis, are all good, but Smith didn’t include many of them. As a result, editor Lin Carter has to pad them out with less entertaining stuff, including lots of unsatisfying modern stories — Smith has done some good work set in the contemporary world, but these read like either weak HP Lovecraft or weak A. Merritt stuff (the only real stand-out is the off-the-wall Symposium of the Gorgon). And I really dislike Carter’s efforts to classify as many stories of Smith’s as possible as “story cycles” like his Zothique or Poseidonis tales — one story does not count as even the start of a cycle.
I picked up THE RIDDLE OF CHUNG LING SOO, CHINESE CONJURER by Will Dexter because I dimly remember reading in my teens about the legendary Chinese conjurer who died when a bullet-catching trick went off the rails (though either I misremembered all the details or it was one of the accounts Dexter describes that got the story wrong). Chung Ling Soo was actually a talented New York white conjurer, Bill Robinson, who got into yellowface after seeing how well a real Chinese stage magician did at drawing a crowd (so this would be an early example of cultural appropriation). Dexter does a good job covering Robinson’s act and his career, the printed legends about him (such as the possibility his “accident” was suicide, which Dexter dismisses) and just how many performers died in some version of the bullet-catching trick. Interesting.