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)

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

“Realm of the Alien” by Chester Delray (Dublin, Ireland: Grafton Publications)

Featured as No. 2 in the Blue Star Adventure series is Realm of the Alien by Chester Delray (the alias of Francis G. Rayer). This 64-page novella was published by Grafton Publications (Ireland).

Copies of this original Irish-published science fiction tale are quite scarce. No copies are held by any major UK libraries, according to the COPAC system, and only two in the United States per WorldCat. Dates of publication vary widely, from 1945-1947, whereas United States libraries guess 1950s, which is entirely erroneous.

The blurb on the rear cover suggests a tantalizing read!
GRAFTON Realm Of The Alien
FLYING TO VENUS
Here’s a spellbinding epic of the vast mysterious worlds that science brings nearer day by day. You can go by space-ship to a land of thrills and terror in this gripping vivid panorama of life on Venus. By a brilliant new author of scientific fiction, the opening story makes credible an adventure that even the scientists never dared to dream. Meet, through Chester Delray, a civilization versed
in its own monstrous methods of defence and terror … and fight, with him, the white man’s tense battle against the hidden powers that are more real than ever in the world today.

Too bad the novel hardly attains the level of grandeur presented in the blurb! The blurb is utter rot, however, there are some redeeming values to this novel.

A vast spaceship with perhaps hundreds of crew-members is flying to Venus to explore the planet, ascertain whether it is safe to inhabit, locate the rich ores believed to be buried beneath the planet’s crust, and, learn just what did happen to all of the previous ships that made the same journey. All the ships safely landed, reported back to Earth, but, then, inexplicably, radio silence followed. What was their fates?

The Flight Captain of the Starstream is Hughes, a man quite suited to the ordeal, departs the ship first, to test the air. In reality, we all know the Flight Captain would hardly be the person, among hundreds, to walk off the ship and provide such data. However, they land, he tests the air, discovers it suitable to breathe, then bizarrely enough, begins to head off on his own.

When Henson, leader of the expedition, orders him back, Hughes disregards the direct command and continues merrily on his way. Realizing that something is awry, one would hardly suggest sending out another person…and yet, the entire ship eventually disembarks and follows Hughes into the Venusian jungle, leaving Henson as the sole person aboard.

He eventually steps outside and finds himself under possibly a hypnotic suggestion, and carefree, ambles off into the jungle, too. He’s unsure where the others have gone, but his body seems content to walk in the same general direction…. Eventually, he is captured by sinister-looking creatures with tentacles, and led away and reunited with the rest of the hapless crew.

All captured, the crew are led to a Venusian city, and tossed into a jail. Also thrown in is another Venusian, smaller in stature, and unlike their captors, quite timid. The linguistics expert learns their language in no-time-flat (quite conveniently). This man learns that there are TWO distinct races on the planet, and naturally the sinister ones are “mad” and not right in the head. An electronics tower emits some form of radiation to keep their volatile insanity under control and enables them to capture the Earthlings.

Realizing that they are all to be sacrificed, they make a concerted rush at the door, knock it down, take out and overpower the jailers, and effect their escape. However, those that control the tower suspend their attempts, mentally, and they are re-jailed.

Their last attempt at freedom is when they are led to their deaths. While led out of the jail, they again overthrow the villains, and this time, make for the tower. Oddly and inexplicably enough, whomever controls the tower never flips the switches ON to halt their progress. The crew break into the tower, beat down the only Venusian controlling an array of switches in a second room, but find themselves otherwise trapped. The entire city of Venusians are jointly attacking the tower, using ladders to scale the walls and climb in the windows.

Swarming the tower, they break in, and a mad melee ensues. The humans are rapidly losing ground, and finally, they take notice of the timid alien (whom they rescued and carried along with them). It is suggesting they destroy the apparatus in the first room. Doing so, they learn the first room controlled the madness of the Venusians, and soon, they are brutally fighting among themselves.

The crew make good their escape, return to the ship, discover it is covered with lichen, remove it from the ship, and take off. They are free!

Or, are they? Nope. We’ve only finished half the novel.

The lichen has infiltrated the entire ship, is indestructible, and to add fire to their dilemma, the “pods” that the plant develops actually is the birthing stations for more “mad” Venusians. They burst out, fully developed, and pandemonium ensues on-board the Starstream. Overwhelmed by the aliens, they try to negotiate for their lives. The aliens suggest otherwise. They want to return to Earth, kill off the entire race, and take over the planet, in an expansion effort!

If they return home, the entire planet will be covered in this rapid-growing pink lichen with more aliens hatching in no-time. In an effort to dupe the aliens, they suggest landing on a Neptune moon, but the aliens themselves linguistically learn English! Realizing it is a trick, they negotiate to let the Flight Captain survive, if he takes them to Earth.

Shockingly, he agrees.

The crew, aware of what has transpired, make a mad dash for the flight room, but are repelled, constantly, after repeated attempts. Their own numbers rapidly diminishing, the crew’s apparently only female member commands their attention, informing that she has been experimenting with ways to kill the lichen. (Really? When the hell…?) She injects the serum into herself, and runs out to infect lichen and aliens. The crew is mortified that she has sacrificed herself, and head out to rescue her or die vainly trying.

The aliens shockingly begin screaming “The Great Plague” over and over, and suffer strange rashes. In a mad dash to escape the plague, they open the air-locked doors (in space) and are vacuumed out into the void, to die. The lichen, exposed to the woman’s “plague,” crumbles and deteriorates. The crew escape being sucked out the door by locking themselves in a compartment. But, with that door open, and that they’re speeding recklessly toward the Earth, and the Flight Captain, deprived of oxygen, now dead, who is piloting the ship?

Nobody.

They are all gonna die!!!!

Nope. In eye-rolling fashion, Henson makes his way to the flight cabin, takes control of the vessel, and peels off hitting a city and smoothly sails back into space. (All without being sucked out into space?)

All are saved (drats!)

Hurrah, and thank goodness; I’m done reading this science fiction tragedy. While it reads seemingly like complete rubbish, it’s worthwhile to note that unlike many UK sf pulpy stories, the female protagonist is never portrayed as a sexual object, and performs a heroic task, selflessly exposing herself to danger. And yes, she lives. The plague was only a danger to the aliens, not the humans. Sadly, we are never given to know just how she came to create the toxic cocktail, avoided being sucked out of the airlock, along with various other faults in this novel.

But hell, it is fiction, after all…

“Realm of the Alien” by Chester Delray (Dublin, Ireland: Grafton Publications)