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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Paperback Cover Cavalcade 8

Into the Darkness by A. G. C. Clarke (Digit Books R550, 1961)
One very hot day, we had had a bathe in the harbour to cool ourselves. As we were dressing, on the concrete hard, an unusual sound from the sky made us both look up.
__At first it was difficult to see anything. Then I noticed a small, brilliant silver flash, then another, and yet another, and the humming sound which had first attracted us became louder.
__The heavens seemed to be filling with bright silver discs, rather like the old "half crowns" in my father's collection. They grew larger as we watched, and their numbers rapidly multiplied.
__The men coming in from the wheat-fields stared up in amazement. Then, as the flying discs descended, they ran in all directions, shouting to us: "Take cover! It's an invasion."
Erroneously credited to A. G. C. Clarke on the cover and title page, the brief introduction by the author is signed Alfred C. G. Clarke (note the middle initials changing place). Such a combination of names and initials should be unique, one would think, but there were two A. C. G. Clarke's born two years apart in 1912 and 1914.

I believe our author is Alfred Charles George Clarke, born in Southampton on 6 March 1912. Through the phone book I've traced various addresses: 22 Cobbett Road, Bitterne Park, Southampton [1960/72], 60a Pentire Avenue, Shirley, Southampton [1975/81], then 25 Kenson Gardens, Sholing, Southampton [1982]. He was married to Margaret Campbell in 1934 and his death registered in Winchester, Hampshire, in June 2002.

The only clue the book above offers is that the introduction claims that the story came to the author when he was lying in a hospital bed in Tripoli, North Africa, during the latter part of 1944. Perhaps it is only part of the story, but it has the ring of autobiography to it. It's also worth noting that the introduction is dated January 1957, yet the novel was not published until 1961. A second SF novel, The Mind Master, followed from Digit in 1962. Beyond the Grave (Chard, Somerset, Avon Books), a 32-page booklet is Clarke's only other known work. He would appear to have been a part-time writer, his main occupation was as a road haulage contractor, being a Director of Clarke Bros. (Southampton) Ltd., a business he ran with his brother, Frederick J. Clarke until 1969; he was subsequently Secretary of the G. P. Trailer and Engineering Company Ltd. until 1975.

Martian Enterprise by Clifford C. Reed (Digit R638, 1963)
A violent group of renegade convicts escape from Earth's penal colony and capture a space-ship. They land by chance on a distant planet and found a new life there.
__A hundred and thirty years soon pass and their descendants fight their last battle against each other for the chance to once again ride the star lanes back to Earth.
__A gripping and action-packed novel, full of the ingredients we expect from modern science-fiction.
...and actually not such a bad book in comparison with many Digit titles from British authors. Like Ken Bulmer, F. G. Rayer and Lan Wright, Clifford C. Reed was a regular contributor to New Worlds, Science Fantasy and Science Fiction Adventures, with 15 stories between 1958 and 1965, although his first appearance was in Authentic SF in November 1954 with "Jean—Gene—Jeanne" and another early sale was to Nebula.

Clifford Cecil Reed was born in Durban, South Africa, on 13 May 1911 and worked in a variety of jobs: civil servant, brush salesman, storekeeper, school teacher and cashier. He served with the South African artillery in World War 2 and immigrated to the UK with his wife (Dorothy Mary) and son (Jeremy Clifford) in 1950. Here he worked for an engineering firm. His interest in science fiction was fed by Wells, Doyle, Kipling, classical mythology and American pulps, and he sold stories to South Africa, the UK and USA.

The above novel was based on three long, connected stories—"Children of the Stars", "Forgotten Knowledge" and "The Road Back"—that appeared originally in Science Fiction Adventures in 1959-60.

The Forgotten Race by Julius P. Newton (Digit Books R747, 1963)
A button was pressed. A whole fleet of intercontinental ballistic missiles, armed with the biggest, latest and best thermonuclear warheads, left their underground silos and rose higher and faster, higher and faster. They speared their way towards the upper atmosphere and towards their targets on the earth beneath...
__This was it. The "impossible" war had been possible after all. The "absolutely unthinkable" had been so easily thinkable after all. For now, oddly enough, this was the only thinkable thing—the only course of action to take; insane and hopeless though it all seemed.
Scientists from the planet Llamchys (which, we are told in a footnote, is pronounced Klamchys) mount an expedition to the red planet Kampa, convinced they will find intelligent life; the expedition becomes a colony and, years later, the Martians (as they are now) try to help Earth, revealing to a Terran expedition that Llamchys, once the fifth planet of our solar system, had destroyed itself in nuclear war—the fragments of the planet were now the asteroid belt. The book has a twist in the tail, in that the head of the Earth expedition to Mars questions the veracity of what the Martians tell him: perhaps it is simply a story to frighten Earthmen back from the brink of their own nuclear war.

The Forgotten Race tries hard—a little too hard—to be a worthy novel, and ends up too earnest for its own good. At least the science is a little more plausible (staged rockets, for starters) than in the books of Ranzetta, De Timms & Co. who clogged up Digit's SF list. Although it wouldn't win any prizes, The Forgotten Race did manage a hardcover edition, from Arcadia House in the USA in 1967, and a further paperback edition from Ambassador in Canada. I've no idea whether Julius P. Newton is the author's real name or a pen-name.

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