This ACE Double novel from 1964 contains a collection of three delightful SF stories by the legendary A.E. Van Vogt while the flip side is an engrossing SF mystery novella by Calvin M. Knox, a pseudonym often used by veteran writer Robert Silverberg.
One of Our Asteroids is Missing by Knox/Silverberg details the adventures of asteroid prospector Johnny Storm who risks his life, career, and future marriage to travel to the asteroid belt beyond Mars in the hopes of striking it rich on rare metals. This he does after two years of searching. After documenting his find, Storm heads to Mars to file his claim. He then sells his ship and takes a passenger liner back to Earth—only to find both his claim and his identity erased from all computer records. It takes two days of haggling with bureaucrats to restore Storm’s identity. He then flies back to his asteroid to determine exactly who jumped his claim and why… only to discover that there is more inside this hunk of rock than precious metals.
Silverberg delivers a perfectly paced space adventure with enough mystery and suspense to keep those pages turning.
Flipping the book over brings us to the A.E. Van Vogt side with three delightful stories:
“The Twisted Men” – In an effort to preserve the human race before the destruction of its sun, a ship called Hope of Man was sent to the Alpha Centauri star system ten years ago with a few hundred of the best and brightest aboard. To the shock of wealthy scientist, ship builder, and predictor of doom, Averill Hewitt, the vessel returns—and crashes through the Earth like a fist through tissue paper. Hewitt hires another vessel to take him to the speeding ship and after a herculean effort, manages to board the Hope of Man. There, he discovers its crew out of phase with normal space and time, having nearly reached the speed of light. In fact, to Hewitt, they appear physically flattened and twisted. Can Hewitt stop the ship before it turns in its orbit and obliterates the Earth?
“The Star Saint” – Aboard the Colonist 12 starship, engineer and leader-elect of the human colonists, Leonard Hanley is charged with investigating the inexplicable destruction of the human colony on a planet called Ariel. Assisting him in this matter is the enigmatic explorer known as Mark Rogan, an alien capable of traversing the galaxy without need of a vessel. Viewing Rogan as competition, Hanley insists on being the first to solve the mystery of the dead Ariel colony only to find himself in a near fatal battle of Man versus Nature.
“The Earth Killers” – While piloting an experimental plane, Robert Morlake is called back to base when a salvo of atomic missiles are launched against the United States. One such bomb narrowly misses Morlake’s plane and from the pilot’s perspective, it had dropped straight down from somewhere above him. Morlake fails in an attempt to use his plane to divert the bomb now headed directly for Chicago. After safely returning to base and filing his report of the incident, Morlake is promptly imprisoned and court-martialed for lying about the trajectory of the bomb. To claim that it came straight down from above would be impossible… unless it was launched from either the moon or a spaceship. Morlake manages to escape custody, steal back the plane, and fly off on a mission to find out.
All three stories were thoroughly enjoyable although in “The Earth Killers,” the arrest and court-martial of Morlake was, to me, an extreme and unbelievable reaction to his report. Simply because he saw the bomb as having dropped straight down from above, rather than at an angle (as if launched by another country), was a ridiculous reason to put him on trial.