Visions of Paradise

Saturday, June 09, 2007

John Grimes: Survey Captain

I tend to read science fiction which is on the more serious side, emphasizing characterization and thoughtfulness, moreso than simplistic adventures. That is why I prefer the “new space opera” rather than the old-fashioned type of shoot ‘em ups in space. But there are still times when I enjoy some lighter entertainment. I subscribed to Worlds of IF from 1963 through its demise in the mid-70s, and it was usually pleasant reading, a light-hearted counterpart to the more serious Galaxy.

One of the stalwarts of IF was A. Bertram Chandler with his John Grimes space adventures. Having not read any of those stories for 40 years, my memory of them was not particularly flattering: simplistic plots with stereotypical characters engaging in Ludlum-like adventures. But recently the Science Fiction Book Club released all the Grimes stories in a series of 6 volumes. These were accompanied by some rave reviews by assistant editor Andrew Wheeler who is one of the underrated editors working in the sf field. He has created quite a few outstanding compilations of classic f&sf, such as the Fritz Leiber Fahfrd and the Grey Mouser stories, collections of all the Heinlein juveniles, as well as a collection of all the Heinlein non-Future History short fiction. Wheeler also created a series of anthologies containing all original novellas on broad-based themes, written by the top writers in the field. Unfortunately, Wheeler seems to have lost his job recently in the midst of all the changes undergone by the book clubs as one of their parent company’s money-saving moves. Hopefully he will pop up somewhere else in the sf-publishing world.

Wheeler’s raves about A. Bertram Chandler’s John Grimes stories encouraged me to reread one of them. I dug out two 1966 issues of IF containing Chandler’s serial Edge of Night, which was more interesting than I had expected. Grimes and his crew accidentally slip into an alternate universe where mutated rats have formed a society which endangers all human life in the settled galaxy. True, the characterization was thin, but the plot was both logical and enjoyable, and there was genuine thoughtfulness beneath it all.

Thus encouraged, I bought one of the SFBC compilations entitled John Grimes: Survey Captain. The first novel The Broken Cycle did not appeal to me much. It was mostly a case of not much happening of interest. But the second novel The Big Black Mark was much better indeed. Grimes is given the captaincy of a ship of malcontents who have always been thorns in the side of the military, and who have been grouped together to hopefully keep them out of trouble. Obviously that is not the case as they end up mutinying against Grimes’ leadership so they can emigrate to a world of free spirits more to their liking. The characterization is still thin, with only Flannery the telepath showing much growth as a person, but the story is interesting and non-clichéd, and there are some moments of real drama and pathos.

I liked The Big Black Mark enough to anticipate the last two novels in Survey Captain and to consider buying more Grimes compilations. Good, fun stuff.


  • Envy! This is one of the books I've been meaning to read. Now, even more so.

    By Blogger John, At 1:40 PM  

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