(Not long ago, A.V. Club editor Keith Phipps purchased a large box containing over 75 vintage science fiction, crime, and adventure paperbacks. He is reading all of them. This is book number 11.)
Hey, first of all, sorry I'm late. It's been busy around here with the launch of the T.V. Club and more of the usual nonsense then usual. (Our Chicago office is moving next week, for starters.) So, sorry. Also, let me apologize in advance for the next announcement: I'm putting the feature on hold for two weeks. Again, sorry. I've got to catch up on a few things, and those things include reading a few books without space aliens and shotgun murders. (If anyone cares, I'm reading Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates at the moment.) But it will be back in two weeks. Promise. And lest anyone think I'm wussing out here, please note that I have no time frame built into the title of this feature, unlike my flops-loving colleague. We'll get to the bottom of the box when we get there, but that might require a couple of breaks along the way.
I laid into Lin Carter a few weeks back when I read a story featuring his highly Conan-ish hero Thongor. The highly readable if a little too easily forgettable The Valley Where Time Stood Still is much better but it still felt like a collection of oft-used ideas repurposed for a new story. That's certainly in line with the prolific Carter's reputation as a writer skilled at appropriating others' creations for his own purposes. I haven't read enough Carter to confirm this. And I know Leigh Brackett, the writer to whom he dedicates The Valley Where Time Stood Still, more for her work as the screenwriter of The Big Sleep and Rio Bravo than her work as a science fiction writer. But I do know that she wrote a bunch of stories set on Mars and that Carter kicked off his own Martian series with this book.
I'll leave it up to someone else to tell me how much it owes to Brackett's Mars mythos. Certainly, Carter certainly seems to have spent a fair amount of time considering the rules of his version of Mars. There's a once-great Martian race that's been scattered and oppressed by Earth settlers. Martians have deeply held religious beliefs and firm social protocols, most related to their most precious commodity: water.
The set-up lends itself to a space Western and in the early chapters, it feels like this is what Carter's going for. Our earth hero, M'Cord, is a frontier drifter who encounters a noble, disgraced, half-dead Martian named Thaklar. (Cowboys and Indians could drop neatly into the same slots.) After a long, distrustful, getting-to-know-you stretch during which they save each other's lives, they become friends despite their differing backgrounds. But first, business: With the promise of a rare jewel, Thaklar enlists M'Cord to accompany him to a secret destination for unclear purposes. Turns out that, in the heat of lust, he let an ancient secret slip to a seductive dancing girl and now must keep her from corrupting one of his people's holiest sites. (And who can't relate to that?)
I wish I had more to say about The Valley Where Time Stood Still. It was well done enough and reading it I felt a few echoes of the original Star Trek series, particularly in the final chapters which take place in the eponymous locale. It's a place where the rivers flow with poetic justice and the skies rain philosophical conclusions. Its only problem was I felt like I'd been there before.
In two weeks: The Long Afternoon Of Earth (a.k.a. Hothouse) by Brian Aldiss
Donovan's Brain, by Curt Siodmak And Then: Moonraker, by Ian Fleming