The Indestructible by Rolf Garner (1954)

The Indestructible
The Indestructible
by Rolf Garner (alias of Bryan Berry) was published by Hamilton & Co. as Panther Books #104 (1954) with cover art by John Richards. It appeared in paperback and hardcover editions.

The novel belongs to a trilogy involving the fate of Venus aeons after atomic warfare obliterated much of life on Venus and on Earth. This, the third novel — having followed Resurgent Dust (1953) and The Immortals (1953) — may readily be read as a stand-alone novel.

Various citizens on Venus are “hearing” voices in their head, advising them to not make a voyage. But, most of these citizens have no plans to make any sort of voyage. When a fisherman makes a trip to the city to see a doctor about the voices in his head, he is nonplussed to learn that others have likewise heard the same warning! The doctor calls Lord Kennet, ruler of Venus, and the lord himself makes an appearance to discuss the issue with the citizen.

None of the citizens hearing the voices have anything in common, and it’s not long before we discover that his own wife has also heard the same voices! Later we learn that perhaps the message is to stop Lord Kennet from blasting off from Venus…in a newly-constructed spaceship, built with the intention of visiting Earth. But who is sending the message? And, how? Telepathy? Lord Kennet does not care. Nothing will stand in his way to visit Earth…not even the discovery that two of his own flight crew have likewise received that very same message!

Blasting off from Venus, the voices continue to beat at the two onboard the ship until…they abruptly cease. Both are stymied by the silence. However, they are rapidly approaching Earth and must decide where to land, etc. Kennet decides to land the ship in a remote area, seemingly devoid of life. In fact, no real sign of life was apparent, anywhere, save for some animals.

Dropping the ladder, they are shocked to discover muscular beings headed their way, with flamethrowers and swords. Noting that the humans are using their flamethrowers, Kennet unlimbers his atomic pistol, ,returns fire, and kills some of the approaching men. His efforts are in vain as he and his men find themselves telepathically immobilized! A voice in their head proclaims that they are prisoners and forces them to drop their weapons. Kennet, realizing that someone has invaded their thoughts, forces himself to think of anything…anything…but the fact that he is immortal.

What? Oh yes, I forgot to mention, earlier in the novel, the author rehashes the prior novel’s and notes that another being, an immortal, had passed on to Kennet and his wife immortality and the ability to heal themselves. Kennet is certain that such knowledge in the wrong hands would be devastating. Even the citizens of his own planet are entirely unaware of the “gift” that was bestowed upon the Venusian lords.

The Venusian crew are telepathically forced to march through the marshes and into an elevator shaft. Eventually, they arrive at the villain’s fortress, are jailed, and left to rot in their assorted cells, when, remarkably, another telepathic voice visits Kennet. This new voice must convince Kennet that he is NOT in the employ of the villain’s telepathic crew. He is the last telepath among the rebels. The remnants of the local rebel faction, that is. Most of the rebels were murdered while sending out their warnings across space to Venus, trying to warn them to not make the trip to Earth. The villain’s telepaths picked up the mental transmissions and sent out their killbirds to annihilate the rebels.

The killbirds are large, electronic machines that hover forever above the ground, perhaps by some anti-gravitational means, and are highly weaponized. They also seem to possess some form of intelligence guiding system, and are operated by a remote control device wielded solely by the main villain, simply referred to as the Overlord. From the descriptions of the killbirds, they sound like modern-day killer drones. Apparently, after the atomic wars, these killbirds remained forever in existence, perpetually stationary around the earth, never moving. That is, not until the Overlord’s minions discovered a secret computer room and got everything operational. Discerning their purpose and abilities, the Overlord quickly assumed control of the entire planet. (Side note: why any of the assorted good-or-bad telepaths didn’t simply freeze the Overlord and then take the remote is beyond me.)

Returning to the rebel telepath, whose name is Grant, they work together to effect the Venusian’s escape. Faking having been poisoned by Earth-foods, the guards worry that they may die and bring in the doctor…however, the regular doctor is not who arrives, but someone else. Turns out this is Grant, the telepath. Upon entering the jail, he rapidly immobilizes the jailers, frees the Venusians, and quickly they make their escape, slaying anyone in their way.

Once out of the city, Grant leads them to another secreted rebel, who takes them to a functional submarine. The Venusians are informed that telepathy does not work under the deep depths of water. Grant remains behind, to throw off the Overlord’s minions and confuse the two telepaths. Satisfied that he has pulled off his task, Grant dons diving suit hardware and meets the submarine. There, Kennet and Grant privately devise a means to retaliate, destroy the killbirds, and eliminate the Overlord.

But, how can they pull this off, when the killbirds assassinate everything before humans can get in distance to cause them potential destruction? Returning to the surface, they put their mission into action.

Utilizing his immortality and ability to rapidly heal, Kennet walks boldly out into the open where his spaceship is heavily guarded and proclaims that he is unkillable, because his God (Ata) has gifted him.

They try. They fail.

The killbirds are sent in and shoot him with what must be lasers. Kennet rapidly reconstructs himself. All the while, Grant protects his brain against attempts by the evil telepaths from seizing control of him. While all are shocked and distracted, Kennet whips out his atomic pistol from behind his back and shoots down the pair of killbirds. Then the game is on! Why? When one killbird falls, the next nearest killbird on the planet will abandon its post to investigate and fulfill the prior’s mission, against the commands of the Overlord’s remote control device! Kennet stands his ground time after time as each killbird eventually appears and fires at him. In the end, he is surrounded by great heaping piles of slagged killer machines.

The Overlord himself is dead, having been slain by the rebels; the telepaths are both dead; the army is on the run or slaughtered. Kennet is all for killing everyone in the city, but Grant convinces Lord Kennet that once the city realizes the Overlord and top minions no longer exist to instill fear, that one by one they will be quite elated to throw down their arms and return to peaceful means….

The first half of the novel was sluggish, with a strong desire to build a firm foundation for the rest of the novel’s plot, but, really began to pick up the pace once the Venusians landed on Earth and were captured by the Overlord. Overall, the novel receives a passing grade and I can’t wait to one day go backwards and read the preceding novels in the trilogy.

The Indestructible by Rolf Garner (1954)

“Same Song, Next Verse” by Max Steeber and Richard Bernstein (1953)

PANTHER 91 Same Song, Next Verse
Same Song, Next Verse by Max Steeber and Richard Bernstein Panther Books 91, 1953

In 1953, UK publisher Hamilton & Co., via their mass market paperback line Panther Books, published two books within the same month, co-authored by Max Steeber and Richard Bernstein.

Those books:
Same Song, Next Verse – Panther # 91
One If by Night – Panther # 93

Both writers are Americans from the Hollywood film industry, and both books are likely rejected film scripts that they reformatted into novels, which only found an available print market in England.

Richard Bernstein was born August 8, 1922 in Rochester, New York and died October 29, 1983, in North Hollywood, California. During the late 1940s-1970s, he was a screenplay and film writer along with producer on various films.

Max Steeber is the alias of Maximilian Petrus Ribbers; he was born on January 10, 1919 and died on February 22, 2011 in Van Nuys, Los Angeles, California.

Jointly, the two also worked on the film The Gun Hawk.

The cover art to Same Song, Next Verse is by John Richards, and features an iconic dangerous blonde in yellow attire; in the background, a hulk-like brute. Reading the yellow strip at the top of the cover, you know immediately the brutish fellow with the Three Stooges-esque “Moe” haircut is a boxer.

The story opens with boxer Tony Alvarez mentally drifting back in time over the sequence of events that landed him in a car with two strange fellows: his promoter and a hanger-on, essentially.

Tony only knows how to fight. That’s his occupation, and he means to get to the top of the game and be rich. But he is always in hock to his promoter, throughout the novel. Snatches of his memories flit by quickly and without any real consistency or warning to leave any reader confused. We know in one moment Tony finds his father dying from a knife-wound, and learning the killer’s identity; he finds the slayer and despite knowing he’s up against a professional killer, wades into the knife-man; bloodied, Tony eventually disarms and kills him. The knife-man was already a wanted man for Tony’s father’s murder, and now Tony has added his own name to the role-call of wanted men by the local police. With his promoter’s aid, they flee the city. (Despite later in the novel returning to his hometown, no further mention of this murder is made, nor is he arrested.)

The rest of the novel is a succession of boxing fights, all wins, and his promoter taking a swing at a beloved New York boxer. Tony is supposed to lose, but instead, he wins and they rake in the moola. Naturally, the mob aren’t happy. We all know you don’t mess with the mob.

Through it all, Tony wants this night singer and stripper named Connie (the canary on the book’s front cover) to be his wife. He eventually strong-arms her into marrying him, crushing her hands until they bleed into his own meaty palms. Once the ceremony is complete, she hauls off and slaps him and disappears. He’s deeply angered but his promoter convinces him to ignore her (he can’t) and move along, that she will come back…only things take a turn…

The mob. They want their money. The promoter refuses to have Tony take the fall, because he can’t convince Tony to do any such thing. It’s not in his genetics. So, they beat the promoter viciously (no details given) and suddenly he placates them, that he will find a way.

So, he over-trains Tony, and keeps him drinking too much. Add fuel to the fire, he knows that Connie is sour over the marriage. Visiting her privately, he convinces her to join him in ruining Tony before the big fight. The mob stands to win BIG if Tony falls.

Enter Tony, going to Connie’s pad; she liquors him up and he discovers something wrong with the firewater. When the phone rings, he beats Connie to the phone and hears his promoter’s voice on the other end asking to know if the plan went through without a hitch. Realizing he’s been slipped a mickey, he departs without even dealing Connie any harm! Fast-forward, Tony is in the ring, his promoter missing, and getting out-boxed. He can’t seem to connect, deliver a solid blow, he’s too sluggish, and despite all this, refuses to throw in the towel. Eventually, he is K.O.’d

His fast fall from grace, his promoter fleeing town with his wife, and penniless, he attempts to abandon the squared ring and obtain a normal slob’s job. No go. Every job he takes, he destroys. He can’t even drive a simple route without destroying 3 trucks! Some years pass, he’s absolutely destitute, and makes one last try at the ring. He survives his bout, wins, but the cost is he loses vision in one eye.

Despite his eyesight loss, he determines to head West for another scheduled fight, but plays chicken with an approaching train, which he is certain he can beat. He is speeding recklessly across the terrain. He’s crossing the tracks at an angle in which he can finally turn his good eye along the rails and the bright head-beam of the locomotive obliterates Tony…

Naturally, the heavy-weight champion of the rails wins. It always does.

“Same Song, Next Verse” by Max Steeber and Richard Bernstein (1953)

Dimension of Horror by Sydney J. Bounds

HAMILTON Dimension Of Horror

Dimension of Horror was published in 1953 by Hamilton & Co., being No. 70 in the Panther Books series. The story begins on Page 5 and ends on Page 160. The cover sports an enticing illustration by Richards, featuring a female with green hair. The blurb atop the cover reads:

“ALIEN thought-waves strike FEAR into the heart of Man”

Perhaps so, but Bounds adroitly dodges that assertion by gifting readers initially with what feels like a casual space-adventure novel. Novelist Alexander Black is an undercover secret agent sent from Earth to investigate tensions on Venus. At all costs, war is wished to be avoided. Venus in the end would lose, as the colonists all live under a dome, but for some bizarre reason, Venusians bear evidence of hatred towards the people of Earth.

The story opens with Black in a Venus bar watching a woman with bright green hair. Soon they get to talking together over a drink and he discerns that Sadie Lubinski is a Venus secret agent. She knows too much about who he is…

Worse yet, a brute in the bar is hollering anti-Earth banter and calls Black out in front of the crowd. Black adroitly dodges the confrontation by informing the brute that everything he has said about Earth is 100% accurate. This befuddles the brute. But enough on that…Sadie and Black depart and board a Venus taxi.

Black sees a strange grey-suited pale-featured person watching them from another vehicle. Having the girl wait, he circles the vicinity, to confront the individual, and…discovers the vehicle empty! Where did he go? He couldn’t possibly have disappeared into thin air. Could he?

Black returns to Sadie’s taxi, disturbed, and while riding, they banter; eventually she is deposited at her abode, and she requests he call on her tomorrow. Leaving her, he departs and the Venus driver drops him off in an unsavory part of town, refusing to drive any further for fear of being injured by a growing mob surrounding the vehicle.

Black exits but soon finds himself the deadly focus of an insane mob, bent on murdering him. Running for his life, Black outdistances the unruly maniacs and leaping acrobatically up upon a beam, secretes his body into the shadows while the frenzied, bloody-thirsty mob mindlessly hurries by in pursuit of a person that no longer exists before them.

The next day, Black calls on Sadie, but she is not taking calls. Perhaps she is out. Perhaps she set him up to die and thinks “mission accomplished.” Black is irked by the self-admission that he is very much interested in Sadie, on a romantic level.

Either way, Black isn’t waiting. He decides to explore further afield. Outside the domed zone, he discovers that Venus has prehistoric creatures that are very much alive. Some attack his transport, but his driver has access to powerful weapons that slay every creature… Arriving at a mining facility, he is blocked from accessing the grounds, despite possessing the equivalent of a press pass granting him full access.

Returning to the city, he is brought before a Venusian official and informed that for his own safety he needs to return to Earth. Certainly he can’t accept the forced offer, and declines, taking his own chances. It’s not long after that he is picked up and meets with a Venus agent named Lingstrom who is not what he seems. Black finds the man to be some form of telepath. Lingstrom invades his mind, bent to obtaining Black’s mission, etc. Black attempts to steer his thoughts in other directions. All attempts fail…until Black focuses his attention on the sexy Sadie Lubinski and the love he feels for her. Lingstrom is immediately repulsed by what he sees.

But his mental accomplishment is short-lived as Lingstrom beats him down. Realizing he is mentally doomed, Black removes a secreted special pill from the hollow of one of his teeth. It enables enhanced strength and abilities…for a very short while. Agent Black snaps the cords binding him, punches one captor, takes out another and leaps out a window. The stimulant wears off and…Black takes off, running as quickly as possible. The hunt is on, and the villains are in hot pursuit, when inexplicably, the little grey-suited man pulls alongside and offers Black a lift!

Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, Black accepts the ride and the pair speed away, escaping pursuit, enter a hideaway, and descend underground. Herewith we are introduced to Yzz-Five, who turns out to be an alien from another dimension, assuming a nondescript humanoid form. Truth being, his form is so hideous that for humanity to actually see him in his true form would cause instantaneous insanity! Yzz-Five possesses the power of telepathy and the body Black sees is actually fictionally impressed upon his senses, as with anyone else that sees him.

The alien telepathically teleports Sadie to the hideout, and Yzz-Five explains that he (or ‘it’ since it does not represent either ‘sex’) has watched Agent Black and Sadie Lubinski closely. Because of their affinity for each other, and, being from soon-to-be-warring planets, he has chosen them to enlist against the true war: the invasion of their worlds by his Emperor. In his dimension, the Emperor creates chaos on other worlds and dimensions, conquering and bending their will to his. The war between Venus and Earth is actually a mentally-impressed action by the Emperor’s underlings, other beings from Yzz-Five’s world.

Not quite convinced, Black and Lubinski are jointly sent hurling through the dimensional realm to land on Yzz-Five’s world, to be enlightened by other rebels. Unfortunately, the Emperor captures and rapes their minds; thankfully, the rebels rescue the pair and because of their mental exposure to the Emperor, their really isn’t much convincing required. Enlightened of the situation, they are sent back to Yzz-Five to plan a rebellion on Venus against the Emperor’s forces.

All plans go sideways when the Emperor preemptively instructs his forces to release an atomic bomb at the ore mining facility. The destruction is massive, the dome is cracked in places, life is in mass peril. Using their telepathic abilities, they take to the air and inform the Venusians that Earth has launched an assault on Venus and that Earthman Alexander Black, a secret agent under the guise of an author, and Venusian Sadie Lubinski, a traitor, are to be caught and killed.

The finale comes with the realization that the only way to stop the insanity is to fight insanity with more insanity. Yzz-Five and his few local fellow telepaths mentally assault a false general and bombard him until his false image fails. The Venusian’s, unable to comprehend or take in what they are seeing, rip and rend the exposed alien to pieces. The war on Venus is ended before it could begin, but Earth must be stopped from dropping their bombs!

Black is transferred to the radio station and he contacts the Earth fleet, aborts the attack, and the fleet lands to assist the colonists, what small percentage that remains alive and sane.

The villainous aliens remove themselves back to the home planet, now that they have been exposed, and the Emperor’s plot is foiled. Yzz-Five informs Black that he must leave, for the rebels will continue their fight for other worlds in other dimensions.

Black and Lubinski marry on Mercury, but she can’t remain away from her fellow people. Informing Black of this, he realizes he can’t stop her, so the pair jointly return to Venus, to assist and rebuild…

An unusually fun science fiction romp. Personally, I’m not an avid science fiction reader, and have never been properly exposed to one of Bounds longer works. I strongly recommend fans of vintage science fiction to seek out and read Dimension of Horror

I suspected that such a book might have been reprinted, so I checked with Bounds’ agent, Phil Harbottle. He told me:

Dimension of Horror was first reprinted as a Wildside POD paperback some 20 years ago. The text was a facsimile of the Panther edition, but they used a new cover (awful minimalist design) and stupidly misspelt the author’s name as ‘Sidney J. Bounds’. Its licence expired after seven years and it was withdrawn and went out of print (leaving me stuck with a pile of copies I’d bought and had signed by the author). It has been reprinted twice since, retitled and revised by me as The Vanishing Man. First as a Linford Mystery Large Print paperback (2010) and by Endeavour (now Lume Books) in their Venture Science Fiction series (2017) in both paperback and eBook.

 

“It is important to note that as an agent I faced a difficult challenge in selling all my clients’ (Bounds, Fearn, Glasby, Tubb and others) 1950s SF novels to Linford’s editors as MYSTERIES, where they had to be adjudged acceptable to MODERN READERS who would have no experience in reading SF at all. The novels HAD to be tweaked to remove ANYTHING that was flatly impossible or plain wrong, in the light of modern-day knowledge. They had to be set either clearly in the future, or taking place today or in the NEAR future.  There could be no alien flora or fauna existing in the solar system. No Martians or Venusians, no breathable air on Mars or Venus, and so on.

“By hard work and careful editing, I managed to sell SCORES of 1950s SF books to Linford as mysteries.  Some, because of the authors’ skill and foresight, were virtually unchanged; others varied from very little (e.g. Tubb’s The Stellar Legion) to extensive (Fearn’s Man of Two Worlds) rewrites. I used a range of devices, such as alien protagonists coming from another solar system, or from another dimension.  To sell The Vanishing Man, I moved the action from Venus to Mars, where the events takes place under a pressurised dome, and the Martians are colonists descended from Earth. The alien menace from another dimension was able to remain unchanged.  I contrived to keep nearly all of  Bounds’ wording and actions: Black still left the city is his transporter, but instead of being attacked by dinosaurs in a jungle he was attacked in a desert by a Martian DUST STORM. The action narrative flow and events were unchanged.

Endeavour’s attractive POD paperback edition is still in print, and an absolute bargain at just £4.99. The earlier Thorpe edition used to be even cheaper when Amazon were offering ex-library copies from a pound or so, plus £2.50 postage, but be warned! These cheapo Thorpe editions (contractually out of print and withdrawn from sale after five years) are rapidly disappearing and being replaced by prices of £20 and up, or simply vanishing altogether. I haven’t checked the status on The Vanishing Man or other books for some time. Your blog readers may need to check Abe and eBay as well as Amazon to find these editions. And with the Linford Mystery series closing down after April this year, the few non-library copies are set to become high-priced collectors’ items—especially the many posthumous titles that are actually world first editions, such as Tubb’s To Dream Again (2011).”

For those interested in acquiring the first revised edition of The Vanishing Man, copies of the Thorpe edition can be found on eBay accompanied by the following blurb:

Popular novelist and secret agent Alec Black is on an undercover mission on Mars.
The Martian colonists are preparing for a major offensive against earth and someone is stirring up war-fever. Black must try to prevent it, or the whole system will be engulfed in atomic war. When Black finds himself shadowed by a man who, when confronted, vanishes into thin air, his investigation turns into his strangest case and very soon he’s plunged into a dimension of horror…

Prefer an original, vintage copy from 1953? Two copies currently are available on ABEbooks.com but…the cheaper of the pair is an exlibris hardcover (US $15) and the more expensive copy is the paperback edition (US $30). Both are Good condition and both are likewise only available in Australia! Otherwise, no other editions are currently available for sale online.

Dimension of Horror by Sydney J. Bounds