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My choice this week is THE 13TH IMMORTAL, Robert Silverberg’s first novel, published originally as part of an Ace Double in the spring of 1957 with James Gunn’s THIS FORTRESS WORLD. This edition came out in 2004.

There is an introduction by Mr. Silverberg that lays a little background on the book. In September of 1956, a recent college graduate with several dozen stories already published and a Hugo for best new writer, he made the decision to be a full time writer of science fiction. He knew that making a living in the field would involve more than writing short stories. As prolific as he was, and with a large field of magazines at the time, he still would need something more.

Ace was the biggest publisher of science fiction at the time and, after submitting an outline and sample chapters, Donald Wollheim gave him a contract. He started on YEARS OF THE FREEZE(his original title) in October and finished in late November.

The world had almost destroyed itself in a nuclear war. In order to recover and rebuild, most of the world froze science and returned to a simpler life. Twelve empires were established and ruled over by twelve immortal Dukes(one result of mutation). A thirteenth on the resurrected continent of Antarctica, now a paradise without ice, had rejected the simpler, non science life, and erected an impenetrable barrier, cutting off the world. That’s how things had stood for over four hundred years. Time had stopped in ninety percent of the world.

Dale Kesley was a farmer in the Iowa province of the North American Empire. He’d came here four years previously from the Kansas province where he’d grown up. He knew this was so, but not how. Because try as he might, he couldn’t remember that childhood.

Hos life changed the day the well dressed stranger came calling. Dryle van Alen, claiming to be from Antarctica, says he’s been looking for him for four years and wants to take him to that far south continent. One other he needs to find, a key, the blind singer Daveen.

They make it all the way into Buenos Aires before they are waylaid by bandits, Dale taken, and van Alen either dead or wounded and gone. Taken before the Duke, he’s convinced to return and murder the Duke of North America. He learns being immortal simply means fast repairing cells in the body. A well placed gunshot or knife would work just as well as normal humans. For this service, he would be given the Duke’s beautiful adopted daughter, Narella. Meeting the fiery young woman, Dale learns her real father is a blind singer named Daveen.

Too coincidental. What’s going on here?

When he returns north, his luck isn’t any better. Attempting to throw in with that Duke, he’s arrested and sentenced to death for attempted assassination. A mutant helps him to escape and he flees, a price on his head on two continents. Where to go? Oceans border both continents.

Somehow he has to get to Antarctica. That’s where the answers lie. Possibly to his forgotten memories as well.

I’ve had this novel for a while and hadn’t read it. I picked it up one morning and read it in one setting. It’s not long. Most Ace double novels were not by design. It’s a nice look at the early work of one of the giants in the field, showing pretty good chops for such a young writer(only twenty-one when he wrote it)

Recommended.

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