Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, October 18, 2019


Worlds Within by "Rog Phillips" (Roger Phillip Graham) (1950)

Roger Phillip Graham (note there is no "s" at the end of his middle name, despite a popular misconception) was a journeyman science fiction writer who wrote 3 million words under 20 pen names, mainly for the lower-level magazines -- most often those edited by Raymond A. Palmer and Plamer's successors.  His best-known work was published under the "Rog Phillips" pseudonym, including "The Yellow Pill" (Astounding Science Fiction, October 1958), which has been anthologized by Judith Merril, Edmund Crispin, Brian W. Aldiss & Harry Harrison, Joan Kahn, Isaac Asimov, Jean Marie Stine, among others, and has been televised twice.  During his lifetime, Graham published three novels:  one hardcover from Avalon Books (expanded from a story in Fantastic Adventures) and three paperback originals from low-level Chicago publisher Century Books.  Graham was also an active science fiction fan and published a regular column of fanzine reviews and commentary, "The Club House," which appeared in three of Palmer's magazines; Graham's godson, Terry Earl Kemp, collected and published those columns in a 2014 book.  Kemp also published four volumes in The Best of Rog Phillips series (2012-2014).  The quality of Graham's writing was always far better than that typically found in Palmer's magazines and, if much of his work was not consequential, it certainly was not unconsequential.  He could be fun to read.

"Fun to read" describes Worlds With, a strange mash-up of outrageous ideas, pseudo-science, pulp sensibilities, and lack of transitions that borrows from Edgar Rice Burroughs, A. Merritt, and (Godhelpus!) Richard S. Shaver alike.  Let me try to describe it.

Our hero is Lin Carter, which also happens to be the name of a well-known SF fan and burgeoning writer who would go on to be a prolific writer of imitative science fiction and fantasies and the editor of Ballantine Books' influential Adult Fantasy series.  Carter is in his late twenties when the story takes place about 1960, some ten years in the future; he works as an aircraft designer for Lockheed.   As he is getting ready for an important meeting, there's an urgent knock on the door and a beautiful girl rushes in, wearing a very strange belt and a parachute pack.  As she hides a duplicate belt under a davenport pillow, Carter's door smashes in and two thugs enter the apartment.  Carter turns to see the girl -- who has not uttered a word -- sink through his living room floor!  The thugs jump in the ir and they too sink through the floor.  Not your typical way to start the day.

A few seconds later the girl reemerges from the shattered door.  She retrieves the extra belt and hands it to Carter, introducing herself as Edona Morell, the daughter of Carter's professor when he was at college.  She says he must see her father asap, so Carter drives them to a nearby airport where they rent  small plane.  At 14,000 feet, Edona gives Carter a parachute and tells him to push a red button on the strange belt and jump.  Of course he does...and he finds himself on a strange land with no familiar landmarks and, in the sky, a sun that has turned red.  As they walk to their destination, Carter holds Edona's hand and falls in love.  For some unstated reason (this was published in 1950, after all) hand-holding is a sensual act that closely approximates sex, at least to Carter.  (It should be noted that there are only two females in the book, Edona and someone we'll come to soon, and Graham lets us know unequivocally that both have "pointed breasts" -- something good to know.)

Anyway, Carter and Edona soon come to a village inhabited by Indians.  Not your run-of-the-mill Indians, no, these are Incas, or maybe Aztecs.  (There are spots where the two seem interchangable; although the preference seems to be with Incas even though individual Indian names tend to have an Aztec/Mayan/Toltec feel to them.)  And not your run-of-the-mill Incas/Aztecs, either; these are scientifically-advanced Incas/Aztecs and there are both red and white Incas/Aztecs.  Yes, there are white Incas/Aztecs -- a race that is unknown on Carter's (our) earth.  It turns out that Carter is on Earth V, one of seven alternate dimension that abut each other.  Carter's Earth -- our Earth -- is Earth III.  Earth V has a circumference some two miles larger than Earth III, And Earth III has a circumference some two miles larger than Earth II.  Centuries ago, the Aztecs of Earth V conquered space and were able to bridge dimensions through some complicated hopping through gates where the dimensions are hinged.  Got it?  Well, I didn't; the pseudo-science mumbo-jumbo was just too much for me.   Anyway, the secret seems to hinge on something called heavy-iron, which is not like the iron that we know and love, even though it seems to only exist two miles below our (Earth III's) surface and has been secretly mined by the Incas/Aztecs for millennia.  For some mumbo-jumbo reason, for instance, the space-travelling Incas/Aztecs could never reach the opposite side of Earth V, a virtual terra V incognito.  As a matter of fact, the side of Earth V that the Incas/Aztecs live on is inhabited by many unknown tribes which the Incas/Aztecs couldn't be bothered to investigate.  There are actually only about 3 million of the advanced (read:  scientific) Incas/Aztecs and they (tacitly) deny any others to be "real" people.

You see, doom is coming to Earth V in the form of a large renegade meteor that will wipe out all life on the planet and the Incas/Aztecs are thinking of moving (all 3 million of them, and to hell with the lesser races with a population in the billions) to Earth III with its billions of people.  But an Inca/Aztec bad guy, yclept Montakotl, has plans to send the meteor to another plain to wipe out Earth III.  Dr. Morell (Edona's father, remember?) wants Carter to find a way to stop the upcoming cataclysm.  (Because if anyone can do it, Carter can.  Why?  Who knows?)  Also, can Carter protect and take care of Edona?  Morell can't do any of this because he's dying.

Okay.  A little bit of backtracking here.  I mentioned there are gateways to to the various planes/dimensions.  Over the millennia, some people have inadvertently stumbled through these gates.  Five years go, Morell and his fifteen-year-old daughter were stumble-throughers.  They made friends with the Incas/Aztecs, learned their languages, and taught them English.  Now, the ancient Incas/Aztecs of Earth V (the space travelers, remember?) had developed cold weapons, based on the environment of Earth VI.  Now, there is no Earth on the Earth VI plane, it is just a formless void of absolute cold (perhaps even absolute zero, it is hinted); but the Earth VI plane is inhabited by winged snakes made of electricity.  These snakes have a sharp hooked bill they can use to enter their victims bodies and freeze them.  Anyway, the ancient Incas/Aztecs made these weapons utilizing the cold and left them lying around and Dr. Morell decided to investigate them and had gotten cold-zapped and is dying, hence the need to pull Carter from Earth III to save the day and take care of Edona.  Got it?  Don't kick yourself if you haven't been able to keep up.  Things are about to get more confusing.
Now about these winged snakes.  They are openly lifted from A. Merritt's book The Face in the Abyss with the hint that Merritt may have had some knowledge about the various planes/dimensions.  Graham also supposed that this was also the origin of Richard S. Shaver's "Shaver Mystery" tales that were promulgated as based on fact in Palmer's SF magazines.  This was also a probable basis of the concepts of heaven and hell, Carter posits, as well as some of the so-called mystical properties of Mt. Shasta and similar places on Earth.  These winged snakes just love to attack and kill people.  But, wait.  It turns out there are good winged snakes and bad winged snakes and they are at war with each other.  And the winged snakes are intelligent.

Now back to the various Earths.  We've covered Earth V, III, II, and VI.  What about Earth IV?  Well, it doesn't exist -- there is only dust where the Earth should be on that plane, although there are planets that correspondent with those others on our plane.  And Earth I?  It's a small, dust-covered nothing of a planet from which there appears to be no escape.  But there are also the killer winged snakes on Earth I and they chase Carter and Edona back to Earth V and are working on destroying everyone on that plane, and will then presumably move on to eliminate life from Earth II.  (And, yes, I said there was no escape from Earth I, but Carter and Edona manage to do it somehow; I'm not quite clear how, but mumbo-jumbo works amazingly well in this book.)  And what about Earth VII?  The ancient Aztecs knew what lies there,  but no one else does, so Earth VII remains a mystery that might be explained at the end of the book and might not.  Way to keep us in suspense, Mr. Graham.

I mentioned there were two females in the book.  The other female (also with pointed breasts) is Mara, the wife of Jax (one of the Aztecs who befriend Carter at the beginning of the book -- both Jax and Artaxl, the other friendly Aztec, are killed off early in the book, alas).  Mara happens to be the the half-sister of the villain Montakotl and is a spy for her half-brother.  Mara is also a hot-pants vixen who has cast her many lovers away after a brief fling.  She tries to seduce Carter and Carter begins to respond, so rather than submit to her lust, Carter cold-conks her.  Carter compares Edona's pure innocent kisses and hand holding to Mara's unbridled passion and Mara gets the short end of the stick.  Yep, Carter is a noble pulp hero (and probable eternal virgin).

Did I mention the dinosaur-like creatures of Earth V?  They crush everything in their path and are really, really big.  (Their heads alone are the size of automobiles.)

About halfway through the book Carter and Edona join up with Art Gates, an Earth III reporter in search of a scoop.

And let's not forget the runaway meteor that's about to smash either Earth V or Earth III.

Worlds Within is a fast-paced, illogical romp that pretends to take itself seriously.  Abandon your critical thinking and any semblance of logic and you'll have a rip-roaring time with this one.

P.S.:  Kudos should also go to Malcolm Smith who provided the Good Girl Art (pointed breasts included) for the cover of the Century Books paperback.

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