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The Rim Worlds

... out on the Galactic Rim things are very iffy and if you fart really hard your're liable to blow yourself on to an Alternate Time Track.

A Bertram Chandler.

The Mentor

Grimesish Grumberlings, Better a Bad Review Than None At All - Perhaps

Now and again I am asked to do a book review. The Literary Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald is very good at farming out reviewing work to specialists in various fields. For example, Dr. Tony Vinson did a piece of the notorious Jack Abbott’s In The Belly of The Beast. Jack Abbott, you will recall, was the convict who became a protégé of Norman Mailer, which famous writer used his influence to get him paroled and then persuaded his own agent, Scott Meredith, to handle Abbott’s masterpiece. Abbott did not stay long out of prison as he blotted his copybook again with a rather nasty murder. Mr. Vinson, reviewing Abbott’s book, was obliged to admit that Abbott was a criminal but, Dr. Vinson being Dr. Vinson, managed to convince himself (but not all of this readers) that the poor, dear boy never had a chance and that It Was All Society’s Fault.

When we were last in New York Susan and I were entertained to dinner by the Scott Meredith Literary Agency. Unfortunately Scott was ill at the time but instructed Henry Dunow, who is my personal groom in the SMLA stable, to play host. During the mealtime conversation I played with an amusing idea. “Wouldn’t it be fun,” I said, “if Scott had a banquet for all the writers whom he represents? The late P.S. Wodehouse, Spiro Agnew, A. Bertram Chandler, Norman Mailer, Jack Abbott...”

Here Henry broke in.

“We dropped him!” he snapped indignantly.

So far I have had three book reviewing assignments from SMH. The first was one of those boring academic works about science fiction. It was hard work reading the book. It was even harder work writing about it. As I recall, I sort of damned it with faint praise. The next one was the excellent Passenger Liners Of Australia And New Zealand. That review wrote itself. The third one I had to turn down, as the Literary Editor wanted a review only if I could say something good about the book. It is a great pity that she made that stipulation.

I should thoroughly have enjoyed writing a real stinker, It was, I kid you not, no more (or less) than an exhumation of the better-left buried “Shaver Mystery”. Secret subterranean kingdoms populated by superpersons, and all presented as fact, not fiction.

And now Ron has followed the example of SMH and sent me a book that he thinks that I am qualified to review. This is John Baxter’s The Black Yacht. I did not find it at all hard to read. It could be classed as borderline SF. There are fairly frequent dollops of kinky sex - but who am I to be censorious? And Baxter seems to have done his homework regarding a subculture that is even weirder than any of the science fiction subcultures. (Science fiction itself I regard as a culture.) The subculture dealt with in The Black Yacht is The America’s Cup subculture. (When The America’s Cup first started, at about the turn of the century, it was no more - and no less! - than deepwater yachting, superb sail seamanship, as today’s Sydney to Hobart race is. But now it has fallen into the hands of the very rich and, more and more, the yachts are becoming intricate electronic toys with computer-designed hulls and sail plans. When science, that sort of science, comes in at the door, art flies out of the window.) (I seem to have gotten mounted on one of my pet hobby horses. I was brought up in the good old days when it was said that both gunnery and navigation were arts rather than sciences. The modern passion for electronics has taken the fun out of both of them.)

But back to The Black Yacht. John Baxter has achieved the almost impossible. He has made an America’s Cup race - once described as being almost as exciting as watching grass grow - exciting. In matters of seamanship and maritime general knowledge outside yachting technicalities there are one or two small errors but of a sort apparent only to a professional seaman.

And that is my review.

There was a review that I read recently, in The Sydney Morning Herald, that turned me green with envy. It was by Kingsley Amis of the second John Gardiner attempt at resurrecting James Bond. Some years ago Mr. Amis, writing under a nom de plume, did a resurrection job on the late Mr. Fleming’s hero. This was Colonel Sun. It was a good novel, Amis rather then Fleming, but Bond was still the essential Bond. Amis - see his The James Bond Dossier - was a James Bond fan. He knew James Bond almost as well as Fleming did. The book was a labour of love. When I met Mr. Amis at Seacon in Brighton, England I asked him if he planned to do a Colonel Sun follow up. His answer was very noncommital.

When we were in the U.S.A. for Chicon the first Gardiner version of James Bond, License Renewed, was among the paperbacks purchased for in flight reading. Neither Susan nor I thought much of it. We didn’t bother to bring it back but left it in some hotel some place. Having read Mr. Amis on the second book we most certainly shall not bother to get it, even if at no expense from the library.
Nevertheless I am wondering why Mr. Gardener was unable to bring James Bond back to life when Mr. Amis was so successful. After all, his own series character, Boysie Oakes - The Liquidator et seq although not quite in the same class as James Bond had a life of his own.

I think I have the answer. I could be wrong, but it makes sense to me, at least. Perhaps Mr. Gardiner was never a James Bond fan, as Mr, Amis most certainly was. Perhaps he was offered a large sum of money to do the exhumation. Perhaps he needed the money - and don’t we all? - but his heart wasn’t really in the job. But he ploughed on regardless and delivered the manuscript of the first novel on time, and then the manuscript of the second novel on time. Will there be a third one? For many (printed word) James Bond fans like Susan and myself (and Mr. Amis) the first was one too many.

It ties in with my own experience.

Many years ago there was as SF(?) writer called John Russell Fearn, sometimes referred to as The Man With A Thousand Pseudonyms. He made a very nice living by mass producing crap. Among his creations - under his own name - was a horrid character - with even more horrid friends - called The Golden Amazon, Well, Mr, Fearn died. The readers of the Toronto Star Weekly, in which periodical the Golden Amazon series had been running for some time, were heart-broken and begged the Literary Editor to, somehow, keep the series running. Miss Cowling approached Scott Meredith. I don’t know how many of the writers in Scott’s stable were asked to do an exhumation job but I was one of them, Not being a Fearn fan I asked Don Tuck, in Hobart, for the loan of some old Amazings in which Golden Amazon stories had appeared. This version of the Golden Amazon was a sort of female Tarzan, reared by the things of the Venusian swamplands. I decided that I certainly couldn’t do anything with her - and certainly not with the human family and friends that she had acquired over the years - and that the only way to do it involved tinkering with Time so that I could catch her young and bring her up properly. Miss Cowling received the manuscript and said, “But this isn’t my Golden Amazon!” She sent me some copies of’ the Toronto Star Weekly. From these I learned that Golden Amazon II was the result of a genetic experiment carried out by a Mad Scientist during World War II. She was immortal and, over the years, had acquired all sorts of’ impossible cobbers - Venusians, Jovians, Saturnians; and The Odd Gods Of The Galaxy alone know what.

So I did a First Chapter and a Synopsis. In the first chapter I killed off all Violet Ray’s (yes, that was her name) friends and in the synopsis made it clear that she was to be thoroughly brain-wiped and started again from scratch.

Miss Cowling said nastily, “I don’t think that Mr. Chandler likes Mr. Fearn.”

Perhaps if she’d offered me the same money as Mr. Gardiner’s publishers offered him I might have persisted.

Originally Published in The Mentor No: 42 - Feb 1983