William F. Temple is another early British SF author who’s fallen through the cracks of history. He showed up on the British SF scene early, shared a flat with Arther C. Clarke, and was an involved member of the British Interplanetary Society promoting SF fandom before he got started writing. Ace Books, in its constant need of new material, often outsourced to British authors—their work was already in English, had never appeared in the U.S., and could be attained on the cheap-and-quick. Temple produced at least three Ace Double halves in his lifetime, one of which is Battle on Venus.
Mankind’s first expedition to Venus is led by Captain Jonah, believing himself ill-fated due to his name. As his (bad) luck would have it, the Terrans’ rocket touches down in the middle of a Venusian battlefield; they are attacked by razor-sharp discs and tanks and mobile HQs which double as anti-tank torpedoes, “like those devices used on Earth in the uncivilized wars of the 20th century.” These knock the rocket over, then stop; when opposing tanks show up, they fight back, defending the toppled rocket. The perplexed humans find out that the Venusian tanks are powered by remote control, and send someone out to go scouting. And that’s just the first few chapters alone.
Our protagonist isn’t Captain Jonah, but George Starkey (I didn’t realize until now that his last name could be “star key;” I’d always figured it was “stark-ee”). George is the unlucky sap who gets to pilot the recon helicopter, which is shot down, and he lands by convenience next to our lead female role. The native Venusian girl is a thief fleeing from a life of feeding her gluttonous and immobile elders, pursued by a bored telepath. She has no knowledge of the war or Venus’ history; luckily, they bump into an immortal Venusian who holds all the answers and could stop the war… if he felt like it.
The cover is pretty cool: some giant-sized computer mainframe disks running down some rather large earthmen. That’s a direct scene from the book, more or less. I do find it interesting that instead of the lush jungle-based Venus of the pulps, we have a drab wasteland, obscured by a cloud-layer based on all the chemical and nuclear weapons used in the war. Probably not the best of Edward Valigursky’s output, but I like it for the hilarious death-disks. Science fiction needs more comically oversized killer death-disks. I decree it.
Despite its great title, the cover, setup, and immediate war and mystery plots, Battle on Venus didn’t do anything for me. The plot and its developments are dull and predictable: men land on Venus, George goes exploring, meets girl, mysteries are answered, happy ending, roll credits. Its formulaic nature would be acceptable if the individual pieces themselves didn’t need work. While the titular “battle” takes up a few chapters, and is okay, there’s only the one long battle scene. (I think the cover oversells the “battle” by psyching up my imagination.) The obligatory “hero and local hot chick” romance isn’t believable in the slightest, appearing out of the ether after they’ve been traveling together for a couple chapters.
Temple’s writing is competent, but he lacks compelling prose; I found myself bored with the book around halfway through, and while it got more interesting near the end, it never engaged me. There were a number of too-convenient plot devices; not just the romantic subplot, but things like George’s translation device, and the immortal dude’s crazy-complicated death trap maze that is negated by the Venusian telepath who’s just hanging around. Also: future-Man has foregone war to the point that the most sophisticated future-weapon they bring along is a single bazooka. And these brave future-explorers have no contact with Earth, no backup, and consists of no military support: it’s Jonah, George, and 1d6 redshirts. Sigh.
Battle on Venus is another forgettable Ace Double entry. I didn’t have high hopes for it, just a fun adventure yarn of Venusian conflict, but it still managed to fall short. It’s a very standard, very predictable, very by-the-numbers novel. At times it’s so over the top as to be comic without managing to be funny or engaging. I don’t have much more to say about the book because there’s not a whole lot there, and what is there is pretty slapdash. I’d rate it below average, even for the pulpiest Ace Doubles. Not something to go looking for, but it wasn’t burn it with fire terrible.
Besides, its double was The Silent Invaders by Robert Silverberg, which was pretty damn enjoyable. For me, Battle on Venus was going to be the b-side from the start.