A Literary Memoir


Tom Purdom



Installment Ten: Five Against the Peace Tyrant


For my third Ace Double, I picked up another standard SF theme-- the revolt against a dictator.  I combined it with another story line that had always intrigued me-- the small band of adventurers who embark on a dangerous military campaign.  The Japanese movie Seven Samurai had become one of my all time favorites when it arrived in the United States in the late fifties.  I saw it twice in its first two years.  I had also been stirred by the title of a classic Greek play, Sophocles' Seven Against Thebes.  I had never read the play-- and still haven’t-- but I could imagine the kind of epic it could be.

As I had with my first two Ace Doubles, I started planning the book by asking myself questions and creating the most original answers I could pull out of my head.  Where is this happening?  Who are the adventurers?  What kind of weapons do they use?   What is the dictator’s motivation?


For the setting, I lifted another idea from Planets for Man.  The authors had noted that a planet could be settled by humans even if most of its surface would be considered uninhabitable.  A cold planet, located a long distance from its star, could have a “habitable zone” limited to a band around the equator.  A hot planet, located closer to its star, could have two habitable zones, one around each pole.

I liked the second possibility best.  It felt a little more offbeat.  The human settlement on my imaginary planet would be confined to a semi-tropical region around the north pole.  To simplify things, I assumed there were no important landmasses at the other pole.

My planet received a name soon after I started plotting.  I had heard about the famous vowel shift that linguists like to mention.  I decided I could generate slightly exotic names by assuming something similar happened in the future, and a replaced i in a lot of words and names.  My planet, I decided, had been discovered by an explorer who had named it after a woman he was fond of.  I had also concluded I would be more comfortable writing about five adventurers, rather than seven.  The book acquired a working title, Five Against Arlane, and never gave me any indication it was dissatisfied.


But how did my characters get to this world?  In I Want the Stars, I had cavalierly assumed my characters had a faster-than-light drive, without bothering to mention how it worked.  Faster-than-light (FTL) is one of the controversial subjects in science fiction.  The theory of relativity indicates nothing can go faster than light, and many writers argue FTL should therefore be considered fantasy, not science fiction.

Science fiction writers have, of course, come up with ways to get around Einstein’s bothersome speed limit, the hyperspace drives used in many stories being the commonest dodge.  Many SF stories of the fifties still contained explanations of the hyperspace concept but the idea had become so familiar most writers just threw in a reference to it and went on with their stories.

Damon Knight summed up one of my attitudes toward science fiction: the true subject of the genre is the consequences of an invention, not the invention itself.  It’s reasonable to assume we may find a way around the light speed limitation sometime in the future.  But we really don’t know how we’ll do it.  So let’s just assume it and throw in enough details about the experience to make it seem real to the reader.  In I Want the Stars, for example, my characters see a vague milkiness outside their ship when they exceed light speed.

How will we achieve faster than light travel?  With a faster than light drive, that’s how.

Still, at the time I was writing my Ace Doubles the arguments against a faster than light future seemed almost unanswerable.  I decided, therefore, that I would use relativistic starships-- ships that were subjected to the famous time dilation effect of the theory of relativity.

Einstein called the effect the Twins Paradox but SF writers usually refer to it as time dilation.  Time slows down as you approach the speed of light.  This is an actual physical phenomenon, not a subjective reaction.  At ninety percent of the speed of light, time slows by about fifty percent.  If a starship travels at that speed, it will take over four years to reach the nearest star.  But the crew will only be two years and a few months older when they reach their destination.

As you get closer to the speed of light, the effect increases.  If you keep pouring energy into the system, you can get closer and closer to light speed-- 99 percent, 99.9, 99.99, 99.9999999-- but never pass it.  The time dilation effect increases with every nine.  In theory, with the right kind of starship, you could travel to the center of the galaxy and back in a few weeks of your own time.  But fifty thousand years would have passed on Earth when you got home.

L. Ron Hubbard introduced the effect in a serial called To the Stars, which appeared in two issues of John Campbell’s Astounding in 1949.  I read Hubbard’s opus in some back issues I bought about a year after I started reading SF.  Hubbard produced a flamboyant, emotional saga that played on all the obvious possibilities, including a shanghaied young man who returns to Earth a year or two after he left it, ship time, and finds his old neighborhood is a slum and his beautiful young fiancé has become a gray-haired crone.  

Poul Anderson gave the subject a much deeper treatment in one of my favorite SF novels, Tau Zero, which appeared around the time I started working on Five Against Arlane.  Ursula K. Le Guin has used it routinely, to great effect, in her “Worlds of the Oikumen” stories, which she also started writing around this time.

For my novel, I assumed mankind would spread through the nearby stars, via relativistic starships, over the next few centuries.  Human colonies would be established on a number of planets and tied together by occasional visits from starships.  The crews and passengers on the starships would support themselves by carrying things like books, ideas, and works of art from planet to planet.  You could carry the plans for a device invented on Planet A to other worlds, for example, and sell them to the highest bidder.

I liked the general setup because the individual planets could be as technologically advanced as I wanted to make them and still be isolated, without any control by a higher government.  Many space opera writers postulated an interstellar empire or federation, held together by faster than light starships, then went to great lengths to isolate a planet for story purposes.  They might have to assume, for example, that the planet had been forgotten, or that sections of the empire had sunk into barbarism.  I could achieve the same end without any extra hocus-pocus.

But my vision of the future raised a problem.  My story would have to take place several centuries in the future-- long enough for humans to travel a couple of hundred light years from Earth and develop societies on half a dozen planets.  Could I really imagine the technological developments that will take place over the next seven hundred years?


The short answer is no.  We don’t know what our descendants will be doing seven hundred years from now.  At the current rate of technological progress, almost everything we can imagine will probably become a reality within the next century.

In the 1960s, science fiction writers went through a fruitful intellectual passage.  They came to realize that their real subject isn’t science, but the future.  That may seem obvious in retrospect, but it led to some serious thinking about the nature of realistic, plausible futures.  One of their central conclusions was the recognition that the science fiction of the past had actually been too conservative.

Robert Heinlein had led the way in 1951 with a Galaxy article in which he argued that technology developed exponentially, not arithmetically.  The rate of change was steadily increasing.  You couldn’t assume that the next century would bring the same amount of change as the last, wild as that might seem.  You had to assume it would bring several times as much change.  Arthur Clarke had developed a similar argument in his 1963 book Profiles of the Future.  A writer named Richard Deming had put it into story form in a Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction story, “The Shape of Things That Came”, in which a time traveler from 1900 visits 1950 and encounters the unrelenting skepticism of an editor when he returns to 1900 and describes giant airplanes, hordes of automobiles, and other wonders of the 1950s.  G. Harry Stine had carried the idea to its ultimate conclusion in a 1961 Analog article in which he plotted the curve of progress in different fields, such as transportation, and concluded all the curves would reach infinity around the year 2000.

The intellectual center of this movement, from my viewpoint, was Frederik Pohl’s Galaxy and its companion magazines, If and Worlds of Tomorrow.  In stories by writers like Cordwainer Smith and Jack Vance, Fred’s magazines presented their readers with visions of the future that were stranger, richer, and far more complex than anything earlier writers had envisioned.

Fred summed up this viewpoint in a statement he made at a Philadelphia Science Fiction Conference.  Science fiction could be divided into three phases, he argued.  In the first phase, writers realized technology would change.  In the second phase, they realized culture would change.  In the third phase, they realized people were going to change.  We were no longer writing about people who were completely human, Fred said.

The British chemist J.B.S. Haldane once said that “The Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, it is queerer than we can suppose.”  The science fiction writers who had the most influence on my thinking sometimes offered a modified version and argued that the future will be queerer than we can suppose.

Taking all that into account, I decided I would crowd all the advancements I could think of into my interstellar future.  And ignore the fact that most of them would become realities long before 2666 A.D.

Indefinite lifespans.  I felt this was a more accurate term than immortality.  After all, you won’t know you’re really immortal until you live forever.

In many science fiction stories, immortality is achieved by some kind of once-in-a-lifetime pill or treatment.  I’ve never felt this was believable.  I felt-- and still feel-- that we will achieve lifespans of indefinite length through the general advance of medicine and the life sciences.  Almost anything that can happen to us, short of catastrophic brain damage, will eventually be curable or treatable.

It seemed to me transplant technology would have a particularly critical effect.  If you can grow replacements for any organ that becomes diseased or damaged, then you can cure most conditions by replacing the organ.  If the damage is more widespread--like defective arteries or nerve networks-- the ultimate treatment would be a brand new body, from the head down.  I had read a Scientific American article on the heart-lung machine that made it clear heart transplants were a real possibility.  Kidney transplants had already become a successful innovation but they were still newsworthy events at the time I was planning this story.  We were, in fact, only a year or two away from the moment when Dr. Christian Barnard would perform the first heart transplant.

But this version of immortality had a corollary.  People would be dependent on their access to an advanced medical system.  No one was going to venture very far from a medical center when they could lose centuries of life if something went wrong and they didn’t receive treatment.

It seemed to me the indefinite lifespan could have a major effect on human psychology.  People would become more cautious if they believed death was no longer inevitable.

That’s a more debatable idea.  Most people probably repress their awareness of mortality for most of their lives.  We don’t go around thinking it’s all right to take big risks because we know we’re going to die sooner or later no matter what we do.  But I felt it was a believable possibility that would add important overtones and complications to my story.  I was planning an Ace Double, so my novel would have to be an action-adventure story-- but it would be an action-adventure story in which all the characters would be cowards by our standards.    

Brain operated machinery.  In a letter he wrote to a fanzine, Poul Anderson told how he visited a hot shot R&D facility and they showed him a lot of gee whiz stuff he hadn't thought about. To preserve the honor of the SF guild, he tried to think of something really far out and asked them if they were working on brain operated machinery. And they took him down the hall and introduced him to the guy who was working on that item.

It seemed like a far-fetched idea to me but that was a good reason to include it.  It had been used in a few SF stories and most of them had assumed you would have to have a plug implanted in your skull.  I decided mankind would eventually move past that stage, given seven hundred years to play with.  My characters would use “brain-machine links” they could plop onto their heads like hats.

Weapons.  Again, I wanted to avoid clichés like ray guns.  We may eventually develop laser rifles and pistols, but I think there are strong arguments in favor of missile weapons.  A bullet is a very efficient way to deliver energy to a target.  You can store a lot of energy in a lightweight cartridge

But I didn’t want to write a story in which my characters brandished pistols and rifles several hundred years in the future.  What other developments might take place besides a switch to energy weapons?  How about an increase in accuracy?  Combined with a decrease in the amount of skill and training required?

My first thought was a glove, with a mechanical connection to the arm.  You point the gun toward your target and the computer built into the system takes control of your arm and guides it to a perfect aim.

But why bother with something that cumbersome?  Why not connect the weapon directly to your brain?  You carry it on your head, like a little turret.  You lower the sighting glasses, look at the person you want to shoot, and think the right command.

The “head turret” and the other brain operated machinery added to the outré quality I was reaching for.  In most action stories, characters are constantly assuming aggressive postures.  They point guns.  They lean over steering wheels as they drive vehicles at high speed.  We automatically visualize those postures when we read.  In the world I was imagining, combatants shoot at people by looking at them and race into danger at high speeds with their hands resting on their knees.  Many readers, it seemed to me, would feel vaguely disoriented-- which is just the feeling you should have when you visualize life in a future society.

In his book On Thermonuclear War, Herman Kahn had discussed a possibility he called the “nuclear six gun.”  Certain theoretically possible artificial materials could achieve critical mass when they were compressed by a high-speed impact.  A bullet made of one of these materials would compress when it hit something and set off a small nuclear explosion.  A warhead weighing just a few ounces could be just as powerful as a shell containing several pounds of chemical explosive.  I didn’t go into detail in the text, but merely stated that the combat cars fired “nuclear rifles.”

Air cushion vehicles.  Also known as ground effect vehicles.  Arthur Clarke had discussed their implications in an essay in Profiles of the Future.  Clarke felt they could change the map of the world.  Ships could go directly from the sea to the land, as he saw it, and inland cities might become major ports.  Other writers felt GEV’s could have a major effect on military tactics.  Rivers and lakes would become highways instead of obstacles.  None of that has happened-- so far-- but GEV’s appealed to me.  In the geography I created for my fictional planet, a long north-south lake called Lake Takakema became one of the major transportation routes. 

Gender roles.  For this story, I decided one of the women in the group would be the specialist who repaired and maintained their machinery.  That may seem like a modest bit of gender bending compared to all the hard-bitten female guntoters who prowl through today’s SF, but at the time I felt it countered some common cultural expectations.

Sara once told me that an incident at an SFWA Nebula banquet had made her aware of one of her own stereotypes.  At one of the first banquets a guest speaker was supposed to show a movie and the projector malfunctioned.  (I think the speaker was Carl Sagan but I’m not sure).  Sara said she knew Robert Silverberg’s wife was an electrical engineer and she had no problems thinking about her sitting in an office working on circuit diagrams and solving equations.  But her preconceptions had received a real jolt when she had seen Barbara advancing on the projector with a screwdriver in her hand.

Computerization.  Again, I can point to one of my own efforts as evidence that some science fiction writers did anticipate the miniaturization of computers.  The characters in Five Against Arlane sport computers in their head turrets and work with field computers that contain huge libraries of information.  Their combat vehicles are equipped with computers that work out tactical problems and produce map screens that display the latest information on the positions of the enemy forces.

I have always been fascinated by simulation and that played a big part in the story.  When the hero raids the habitable zone and races back to his camp in the wilderness, the computer in his combat vehicle runs a continuous simulation of the situation and calculates the optimum escape route.

In one of my favorite scenes in the story, the mechanic performs a heart transplant in the field.  She maintains the biological systems of the group, as well as the mechanical and electronic equipment.  A learning program stored in their electronic library guides her hands through the process via special gloves and she practices on a simulator until she is confident she can do the job and handle unexpected developments.

Enhanced IQs.  Like the other elements I was playing with, this had an effect on the plot.  At one point, my hero has to ask an uninvolved citizen for help.  The citizen is a typical super-cautious product of the Age of the Indefinite Lifespan and the help will involve serious risk.  Migel must make a successful plea as fast as he can, before the enemy can swoop down.  I thought about this quite a bit before I came up with a solution.  Migel spends two days creating the shortest, most effective sales pitch he can put together.  He goes up to the prospect’s door, hands him the letter, and the man scans 1200 words in a few seconds and makes a decision.


So why does the dictator take over the planet?  Why would he take that risk, given the general psychology of caution I had assumed?

I decided to add a note of irony to the story-- and bring in an issue that would add a little depth.  The dictator, David Jammet, wants to reshape humanity by eliminating the human capacity for violence.  He has set up laboratories in which researchers are attempting to create humans who are psychologically incapable of engaging in violence.

To most humans this is a horrifying idea.  It’s been tried several times with the same results in every case: our violent, aggressive tendencies are inextricably linked to most of the traits we value.  Jammet has clamped a total dictatorship on the planet because his fellow citizens would never let him pursue his dream if they could stop him.  Five Against Arlane would be an action story in which the lead characters are fighting a man who wants to make violence obsolete.


A few years after WWII, James Mason starred in a romanticized biography of Erwin Rommel called The Desert Fox.  At the end of the movie, a voice over quotes Winston Churchill: “In the somber wars of modern democracy, there is no room for chivalry.”  Churchill’s statement intrigued me because it seems to imply that all the participants in WWII were democracies.

For most of us, a democracy is a country with an elected government.  But the term can be generalized to include any country in which the government must take mass opinion into account.  In that sense, most modern dictatorships are democracies, too.

Louis XIV could ignore the peasants who constituted most of the French population.  Some historians have estimated that he probably only had to think about the opinions of a hundred thousand people.  Modern dictators have to think about everybody.  They can repress, censor, manipulate, and terrify the general populace, but they can’t ignore it.

Public opinion also plays an important role in most theories about guerilla war.  You can’t wage a guerilla campaign, the theory goes, without a minimum level of support from the populace.  If you have that support, the guerillas can hide among the population and move around knowing they won’t be betrayed.

I decided Five Against Arlane would take place in a world in which both sides can ignore public opinion.  The dictator’s primary form of control is a physical device called a brain control.  I thought of this at first as an electronic gadget similar to the brain-machine link.  The dictator could attach it to anyone he needed to control and it would set up auxiliary circuits that would override the victim’s own brain.  Then I decided the device might as well be organic.  You slap it onto someone’s neck and it puts out nerves and places the person in your power.  The dictator can also rely on the caution humans have developed, along with the usual totalitarian control of communications and information.

The guerillas, on the other hand, can set up an independent base in the wilderness, outside the habitable zone, and maintain it indefinitely, with the help of supply raids.  They have a power source that provides them with energy for their air conditioning units, vehicles, and electronic equipment, and they can also provide their own food and medical support.  Four of the Five are adventurers from a starship so they can buy all the equipment they need before they leave the ship, without drawing on the resources of the local society.  The advance of technology has neutralized the effect of public opinion.  The struggle between the dictator and the Five becomes a purely military conflict between a small group of rebels and a ruler who controls all the resources of his society.


I have no detailed memories of the time I worked on the three sample chapters and the outline.  I just remember it as a dark time in my working life.

I had written the proposals for I Want the Stars and The Tree Lord of Imeten in three months or less, and finished both books within the three month period specified in the contract.  I had worked at a two books a year pace, in other words.  The successful commercial writers in the science fiction field could turn out four to six books a year. The fastest could probably complete a saleable Ace Double in a month.  But two books a year was a reasonable pace for a genre writer.  From what I had read, a mystery writer who could turn out two books a year could make a comfortable living.  You couldn’t make a living writing two Ace Doubles a year, but I could hope I would eventually start selling to other publishers and receive bigger advances.

Unfortunately, I spent over a year struggling with the sample chapters and outline for Five Against Arlane.  I’m not sure why I had that problem.  I think it mostly happened because I kept trying unsuccessful ways to introduce the complicated background I had set up.  I have a hazy memory that I eventually decided to start in the middle of an action sequence and bring in the background while the hero engaged in a continuous, violent chase.

The search for a satisfactory ending gave me just as much trouble.  I finally decided Migel would resolve the situation by developing a rage that overcomes all the inhibitions created by the indefinite life span.  Pushed into a corner, he turns into a ruthless fanatic who is willing to risk his own life-- and sacrifice the lives of hundreds of others-- to achieve his goals.

I know I worked on other projects while I was struggling with the proposal for Five Against Arlane.  The situation probably wasn’t as bad as I thought it was.  But it was still demoralizing.  I had started working on the book with some confidence I could turn out an Ace Double in a reasonable amount of time.  I could visualize a future in which I alternated action-adventure books with more serious works, as writers like Poul Anderson did.  I might combine Ace Doubles with the kind of short stories I was writing for the magazine markets, for example.  But I couldn’t do that if I spent a year writing the sample chapters and outline.


Scott Meredith accepted the proposal without any suggestions for revision, Terry Carr bought it for Ace, and I finished it, as I remember it, within the customary three month deadline.  Again, I have no memories of most of the time I spent writing the book.  It moved along at a reasonable pace until I got to the end, with the deadline staring me in my face.  I had written the last scene, the plot had been resolved, but I needed to tie up the package.  I couldn’t just end it at the moment of the hero’s triumph, as I had ended The Tree Lord of Imeten.

Once again, I found myself sinking into despair.  I needed one final touch and I had to come up with it now.

I think I spent a day or two trying to think of a solution.  Then I did something I’ve never done since.  I actually plopped onto the bed on my side, totally focused on the problem, with my hands clutching my knees as if I was quitting heroin cold turkey the way actors do it in the movies. 

Christopher was only two then.  He looked into the bedroom and I heard him asking his mother “What’s wrong with Daddy?”

Oddly enough it worked.  I realized I could use a common science fiction device-- a quotation from an imaginary book.

Science fiction writers frequently summed up the background to a magazine story by preceding the opening with a quote from an imaginary history.  I closed Five Against Arlane with a short final chapter, in italics, that told the reader how the revolt ended, and described what happened to the hero and the dictator.  The italicized pages were attributed to a book called The Tyranny of David Jammet by Hector Fortado, “translated by David Kajeduski” for the edition published on Earth.

I was especially pleased with the final dab my brain coughed up.  I had mentioned several other planets mankind had populated.  The last line of the novel was a publishing history of my imaginary book, listing the planets it had been published on, using the dating system I had established for the story: Arlane, 684; Conalia, 693; Rinaldisworld, 699; Devaworld 712, Earth 920.

For me, the names and the dates evoked a vision of the human species’ slow, epic march across interstellar space.  I could end the project feeling it had concluded on a note I found satisfying.


Jack Gaughan was one of the leading SF illustrators of the day.  I had gotten to know him during my visits to various science fiction events and discovered he was a very pleasant guy.  At a party at Terry Carr’s place in Brooklyn Heights, I had spent some time looking through one of his sketch books.  Jack submitted three thumbnail sketches as proposals for covers on almost all the Ace Doubles.  From what he told me, he actually read every book before he submitted a proposal.

Jack was probably best known for his illustrations for the Galaxy version of The Dragon Masters.  In Jack Vance’s novella-- which later became half of an Ace Double-- humans and their enemies fight it out with different types of genetically modified combat animals.  The humans field “dragons” which are modified versions of their enemies, and the enemies command modified versions of humans.  For the magazine version, Jack had supplied illustrations of the different creatures described in the text.

At a New York convention one year, Jack participated in an illustrator’s panel and complained about illustrations that merely showed things like the faces of the characters.  SF illustrations should help readers visualize space ships and other science fictional elements, Jack argued.

 “How many people here want to look at faces?” Jack asked.

A small number of hands went up, and Jack threw out his arm and said “Tom Purdom!” when he saw I was one of the people who were content with images of faces.  He was still shaking his head when I talked to him after the panel.  I had raised my hand, I said, because I liked illustrations that created a mood.  I could usually visualize the gadgets in science fiction stories by myself.

I mentioned a 1950s Astounding artist named Hubert Rogers who had illustrated stories with dark, moody profiles of the characters and Jack understood what I meant.  But my alleged fascination with faces became a running joke.  Jack promised he would someday illustrate a story with nothing but faces, just for me.

Jack’s cover for Five Against Arlane looked rather plain compared to most Ace covers.  Against a red background, a combat vehicle sped toward the viewer, with two more vehicles in the background, and four small figures firing at the vehicles.  When I saw Jack at the 1967 World Science Fiction Convention in New York, he told me the cover had originally been assigned to another artist who had failed to produce.  He had substituted and created the painting in a weekend.

At one point when I was writing Five Against Arlane, I had realized my characters were maneuvering through a forest in high speed GEVs and some people might find this implausible.  I had therefore exercised my powers as a science fiction writer and decided the combat vehicles were only one meter wide.  It had been a spur of the moment quick fix but it had apparently created problems for the poor guy who had to draw the things.  Jack had turned out a good visualization of the kind of skinny GEV I had specified but we now had another running joke-- a head shaking grumble about writers who packed nuclear weapons, computers, and every other gadget they could think of into a vehicle that was “only three feet wide.”


Ace published Five Against Arlane in November of 1967, paired with Lord of the Green Planet by Emile Petaja, an older writer I wasn’t familiar with.  1967 was actually a good year, by my standards.  My novelette “Reduction in Arms” got top billing as the cover story in the August issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.  One of my best short stories, “Toys”, appeared in the October Analog.

In 1966, furthermore, the Kiwanis magazine published two articles.  “Who Speaks for the Teacher?” in the January issue investigated the issues involved in the conflict between the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.  “The Spread of Nuclear Weapons in the October issue laid out the pros and cons of another thorny subject.  I don’t have the dates I worked on those pieces but the publication dates indicate they were researched and written between the time Ace accepted The Tree Lord of Imeten in July of 65 and I signed the contracts for Five Against Arlane in August of 66.  So I hadn’t been quite as unproductive as I thought at the time.


In March of 2007 I received a long, moving email from a reader named R.A. Palmieri.  Mr. Palmieri had read I Want the Stars over forty years before, when he had been fourteen in 1964.  It had been his “first complete introduction to science fiction”, he wrote, and it had affected him about the same way the Adventures in Time and Space anthology had affected me when I had been fourteen in 1950.  He has actually reread I Want the Stars several times since.  His letter described his response to the book’s “shining vision of free people, of free associations of people, of artists exploring the stars simply for the joy of it, and to satisfy their curiosities and need for adventure.” Jack Vance also gained a reader, since Mr. Palmieri read The Dragon Masters because I mentioned it in the paragraphs Don Wollheim printed as a foreword to I Want the Stars.  (I had written those paragraphs in response to a question on Ace’s PR questionnaire.  I didn’t know I had written a foreword until I opened my copy of the book.)

In the essay on model airplanes I’ve posted on my website, I describe James Blish’s meeting with a young woman who had just received a Ph.D. in psychology because he had piqued her interest, many years before, with a story based on some real psychological research.  If she hadn’t visited the Philadelphia Science Fiction Conference just to meet him, he would never have known he had influenced the whole course of her life.  I will never forget the glow on his face when he told me about it at Philcon, shortly after he met her.  I felt the same way when I received Mr. Palmieri’s email.

I have two regrets about my Ace Doubles.  I wish I had written more and I wish they had been better.  Five Against Arlane, like The Tree Lord of Imeten, could have been the start of a series.  The interstellar background and the social and technological details I had worked out could have taken me through several more books.  I did, in fact, write a short story set in the same background.  It appeared in William F. Nolan’s 1970 original anthology The Future is Now.  But I wanted to move on to more serious books like my next two novels, Reduction in Arms and The Barons of Behavior.

When I say I wish my Ace Doubles had been better, I don’t mean I wish they had been more literary or contained some important message.  For me, an Ace Double was supposed to combine a colorful, well plotted, well written action story with an original, interesting vision of the future.  I tried to do that as well as I could in all three of my doubles.  The doubles were a great publishing idea, well suited to science fiction, and we will never know how many people have been influenced by the memories of Don Wollheim’s innovation they carried in their heads.



Copyright 2008 by Tom Purdom. All rights reserved. This document may be printed out and archived for personal use. All other use is strictly prohibited.

When I was Writing: Installment One

When I was Writing: Installment Two When I was Writing: Installment Three

When I was Writing: Installment Four

When I was Writing: Installment Five

When I was Writing: Installment Six

When I was Writing: Installment Seven

When I was Writing: Installment Eight

When I was Writing: Installment Nine

Grieve for a Man (complete text)

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