Monday, February 06, 2012
Planetary Agent X, by Mack Reynolds
(pb; 1965: this novella originally appeared in Analog Science Fiction and Fact magazine in two parts under the titles Ultima Thule and Pistolero)
From the front page:
"Newly accepted as a Special Agent of the star-spanning United Planets organization, Ronny Bronston found that his first assignment was one which had taken the lives of dozens of agents before him: he was to track down a man named Tommy Paine.
"'We've been trying to catch him for twenty years,' said Ronny's section chief. 'How long before that he was active, we have no way of knowing. It was some time before we became aware that half the revolts, coups d'états and assassinations that occur in the United Planets have his dirty finger stirring around in them.'
" 'But what motivates him?' Ronny asked. 'What's he get out of all the war and killing he stirs up?'
"'Nobody seems to know. But the best guess is that he's insane - a homicidal maniac on an intergalactic scale. He's dangerous, Ronny, and you've got to get him!' "
Fun, clever science fiction adventure novella with interesting, succinctly sketched characters; this novella is split into two storylines. The first: Ronny Bronston is sent out on his first mission as a United Planets agent, a mission that inspires more questions than answers; the second: Bronston's manhunt for a young, sharp assassin with impressive skills and a big vendetta takes on a whole new dimension when Bronston gets sneaky.
Planetary Agent X is an entertaining and fast-moving read that was much better than I thought it would be.
Worth owning, if you enjoy Sixties science fiction that's mildly provocative and wastes no words.
Planetary Agent X is packaged as a reverse-bound "Ace Double" novel, which means that if readers flip the book upside down and over, there is another science fiction novel, penned by another author, on the other side. (Considering that these books sold for 45 cents a pop, this seems like a great deal, even back in that less-expensive, Sixties economy.)
The cover for the flipside novel, Behold the Stars, by Kenneth Bulmer, follows this sentence.