Sunday, November 22, 2009

V. Ranzetta & Graeme De Timms (a Luan Ranzetta coda)

Thanks to a mate of mine (cheers, Ray), I'm now the proud possessor of The Uncharted Planet by V. Ranzetta, another old Digit Books' SF "classic". I mentioned to Ray that I was looking into Luan Ranzetta and asked if he had a spare of Uncharted Planet. He did. And now I do.

The good news, if you're into bad science fiction, is that it's most definitely by the same writer as the Luan Ranzetta books. I'm still not 100% sure, but my best guess is still T. C. P. Webb. I need one of those computer programmes that analyses texts: why people waste time looking for possible Shakespeare plays when they could be looking into British pulp paperbacks I'll never understand.

However, you don't need much in the way of textual and statistical analysis to spot that the same writer behind Luan Ranzetta is also V. Ranzetta. You just need to read the first couple of paragraphs:
Grant Kirby turned his head sideways. The effort hurt. He persisted, because he had to know what Bob was doing. It was already five hours since the giant rocket-ship had left earth. By that time, they should have re-entered the earth's atmosphere, to receive their final instructions for the more hazardous journey to the Moon's surface.
__Grant knew that somthing must have gone radically wrong; and he was surprised that Bob had not spoken to him for some time on the inter-com.
__He, himself, had gone on sending back messages, at regular intervals, to the earth base, but had received none in return for over two hours. At first, this had not worried him much. Things sometimes go wrong. They were always rectified, sooner or later. There wasn't a thing those boffins down there couldn't do. Nevertheless, it was well past the scheduled time for their next briefing. They had to have a plan. They couldn't stay up there for ever—or could they?
Well, of course they couldn't. Wouldn't be much of a story if they did... so Grant and Bob worry over their dead instrument panels and, suddenly, the rocket takes off through space at incredible speed. And Grant's first worry? That they didn't get a chance to look out of the window.

Take a look at my notes on Luan Ranzetta and you'll see that this has familiar elements to all the other Ranzetta book: from The Maru Invasion: a dead rocket-ship and a burning need to look out the window to see what's happening; from The Yellow Peril, a solid belief in the brain-power of boffins to sort things out; from all four, a lack of any real knowledge of science, space travel or science fiction.

Talking of which...

Graeme De Timms was another Digit writer who never appeared elsewhere. My guess is that it's a pen-name: a Google search will show that De Timms is not a recognisable surname—there's not one "De Timms" born in the UK—and the only hits for Graeme De Timms are from people desperately trying to offload his books.

Three Quarters by Graeme De Timms (Digit R740, (Aug) 1963)
Jelly fish, stewed in the boiling sea, flopped around his head. The sand was red and sizzled; the pebbles burned and a prune walked across his stomach. In his mouth, where the teeth were crumbling lemon pips, where the tongue lay stiff and ragged, his brain poured in. The sky, black and thick, fell.
__His feet screamed and floated away across the steaming water and, still screaming, sank.
__He tried to howl, but between the lipless hole the brain, grey and streamy red, came and clogged his cry.
__Across the sands his hands fled on bloody fingers.
__The sand sank and he lay, pulsating and throbbing, in a wealth of rum.
__He soaked it like a sponge.
__He dissolved in a fleshy vapour.
__And he knew—somehow—that here was Hell.
To quote a brief review from Aussie booksellers JimmyD: "This is quite entertaining, although reading the book for anything other than laughs would surely make your head explode."

Split by Gaeme De Timms (Digit R807, (Dec) 1963)
Either way meant death...
__Demehr stood at the boundaries of the Fringe, the land of the forgotten, the accepted end of the world. Before him lay starvation, madness, almost certain death.
__It was either that or the punishment of the Cosidi.
__The Cosidi, the dreaded secret police of the Imarikons. For a deserter like Demahr, capture meant a slow and horrible death.
Again a quote, this time from Don D'Ammassa, who called the book "one of the most boring after the nuclear war novels I've ever read, and the prose is clunky as well ... Some books deserve the limbo into which they fall."

In fact, both books deserve to be sent to limbo. But only after you've read them and marveled at them.

You have to wonder what "Graeme De Timms" was on when he wrote his novels. They're full of curious phrasing: "He had drifted through these days in a bewilderment amongst assorted reactions"; "Sympathy was disconnected from his feelings as he walked over the Square towards the remnants of a wrecked platform. Obviously it had been the focal point for a mass meeting of religious upholders"; "Not wishing to associate with the recently departed rowdy ones, he turned and went into the opposite direction"; "Ricocheting lead whistled and pierced the breeze"; "Obscene thoughts rattled through his brain. Words of unethical meaning gurgled in his throat ... The terms of life had twisted and whilst it was in his favour he brought the weapon down and smashed the youth's head with the butt, causing him to spin like a dancer with his hands flayed out. He brought the rifle back and shoved it into the youth's body. The body doubled up. Like a piston, the rifle came back and went forward and snapped the neck at the back. The body was propelled to the gravel, where it lay—spent", etc., etc. And these examples are all from a single chapter of Three Quarters.

Split is full of the same curious phrasing and includes one of my favourite bits of De Timms' writing, the Psycho Conscious Self Personality Identify Analysis. Relax. It's not about getting questions right... it's just to test your cerebral reactions:
What is the present predominant colour of your habit?
Which perfume to you use as a surface flesh deodorant?
How young are you in your present body?
Have you attained full ambition relaxation?
Which sex are you?
Which sex do you desire to be at the next eugenetic travesty analysis?
And, just when you're thinking "If only Graeme De Timms had written more novels," it seems that he did! The same confused, laborious style can be found in The Troglodytes, another Digit Book from 1962 and originally published in hardcovers as The Troglodytes; or, Dwellers of the Deep (Ilfracombe, Arthur H. Stockwell, 1961). This one is under the pen-name Nal Rafcam—"Macfarlan" backwards. Is this a clue to the identity of the author? Was he named Macfarlane?

The Troglodytes by Nal Rafcam (Digit Books R587, May 1962)
The speechless ones moved into the camp. Their lethal machines were triggered and like a flash of lightning the whole camp was ablaze. Every living person was killed instantaneously. After a few moments, all that remained of this holocaust of Hell was a pungent odour of burning flesh.
I'm now on the search for more books by the mysterious "Graeme De Timms"... I'll let you know if any turn up.

I've managed to avoid saying what made me grab the De Timms' novels off the shelf in the first place and why I've grouped them with V. Ranzetta. Take a close look at the cover for Three Quarters and now compare it to The Maru Invasion by Luan Ranzetta, which appeared some ten months earlier... it's the same cover with the spaceship removed.

P.S. (23 November): Good to know I'm not the only one reading this crap. David Langford did a mini-review of The Troglodytes for Fantasy & Science Fiction's recently published 60th Anniversary issue (Oct/Nov 2009).


  1. Maybe I can shed some light on this.

    V. Ranzetta is indeed Luan Ranzetta. One and the same.

    However, the V stands for Valerie and Ranzetta is indeed HER (I noticed you referred to Ranzetta as a HE, in a previous post) real surname. One which I share, as V. Ranzetta was infact my Great Grandmother.

    No connection to T.C.P Webb, and as for why she chose Luan as a pen name, we are not really sure...

  2. Matt,

    Many thanks for the information. At least I was the tiniest bit right to say that Luan Ranzetta was a pen-name.

    Perhaps you could drop me a line (my e-mail address can be found just below the photo, top left) as I'd be interested to find out more about your Great Grandmother's career.

  3. Jeeze... I'd grab these off the shelf in a heartbeat. Some of my favorite books are not good... Not good at all. But I love them anyway.

    (E.G. The Day They H-Bombed Los Angeles by Robert Moore Williams)

    I prefer to remain anomalous...

  4. I can't help but wonder if the writer of these articles feels a slight amount of guilt for slagging off an author and having her great grandson come upon it!

    What are the chances!

  5. Hi Anonymous,

    I feel no guilt at all. Knowing who wrote them makes the novels more interesting but no better as works of science fiction. And I'm not "slagging off the author", just airing my opinion that the books aren't very good SF books.

  6. Just for the record de Timms is indeed a pen name.It was his mothers maiden name.I knew him when we both worked for Lockheeds brakes in Leamington Spa over 50 years ago when he was writing "Split".He may not get good book reviews but he was a very nice bloke.Not a literary judgement but I feel protective. Ronnie

  7. Hi Ronnie,

    Perhaps you could drop me a line direct - my e-mail address is below the photo top left.

    You're quite right to feel protective, but I hope you see that my comments about "De Timms'" literary style is no reflection on the author.

    Would "Lockheeds brakes" be Lockheed Hydraulic Brake Co., Leamington Spa, Warwicks.?



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