Alpha Yes, Terra No! by Emil Petaja
Published by Ace Books Inc., 1965. Paperback of 156 page at 45¢.
Note: This is an Ace Double book. It can be flipped over for an additional story, which is The Ballad of Beta-2 by Samuel R. Delany.
The cover: Jack Gaughan is the artist of this frontpiece. The massive head of a violet skinned alien looks at the reader unemotionally. Before it is a desolate alien landscape with a city visible under a glass dome. The very top of this book states THE EARTH WAS ON TRIAL WITH NO ONE TO DEFEND HER — and the the book’s title is in bright red underneath. The title got my attention to pick this up and the cover was enough to push me over the edge to purchase it. Overall grade: A-
The premise: From the first page, “Earth’s space thrust had taken her farther and farther out, grasping for habitable planets to house her overcrowding populations. She had come to the rim of the Alpha Centauri system, where she knew she could find new homes. Only, she would never reach them. The Alphans had been watching Earth for centuries, seeing its technological advances and its moral stagnation. They had erected a barrier against her attempts to enter their system. Finally, they decided that she was a canker on the face of the universe, and they decreed her total destruction! Only a small group dissented, and they sent one Alphan, Thovv, to save all of Earth…” This is a decent summary of what the book’s about, but the focus on Thovv isn’t as strong as one would expect until the last third of the story. I enjoy stories that have Earth trying to prove its value to other, more advanced societies, so I’m looking forward to seeing how Petaja does this. Overall grade: A-
The characters: Thovv is initially the main character of this tale, arriving in San Francisco and frequently changing how he’s perceived by others so as not to upset the natives. He believes Earth should survive, but he’s got to find proof of a spark somewhere in its citizens to show they have value and place in the universe. Frisco at night in the mid-sixties has him encountering bums, preachers, and prostitutes. This leads him to meet Kora, a young lady of the night, but there is something about her that has her standing out from the rest of humanity. She becomes very important not only for what she is but whom she leads Thovv to. Oren Starr takes over as the protagonist of the tale. He’s a singer whose guitar playing, singing, and song lyrics mesmerize whoever hears him perform. Thovv, disguised as lawyer Morris J. Phelps, gets the young man out of jail when the police conduct a raid on the venue he’s at. Starr goes off on his own and adopts a stray dog, Stranger. Together the pair reunite with Kora and meet up with Chauna, a very important man from India. There are a pair of antagonists: Jason Pallent and Morko. Pallent is the wealthiest and morally corrupt man on Earth. He’s in charge of man’s journey into space, not to better itself, but to fatten his pockets. He provides the means for the heroes to get into space. His every appearance creates anxiety. Morko the prosecutor appears in the final location, arguing for Earth to be destroyed to save Alpha from the destruction that follows the corrupt world. Each characters was interesting to read, though Oren and Kora are very much of the time. Overall grade: A-
The settings: San Francisco at night in the mid-sixties is pretty creepy, with people appearing in out of shadows and parties that result in police arriving. Daylight has the city looking much better, with the focus going just beyond the city and into a peaceful wooded area. There’s a cabin that becomes significant, as do the nearby cliffs. Thovv goes around the world scouting for others who may lead to Earth’s salvation and trying to track down Oren’s family tree. These settings are brief, but fun. The book ends at Alpha Centuri, but for the life of me I can’t remember anything of its description except that the humans who are there are overwhelmed by its beauty and perfection. Overall grade: B-
The action: There’s little physical action in this tale, with the tension being created by Pallent’s appearances and goals and the constantly ticking clock that the Alphans will destroy Earth. This terrible fate is always in the reader’s mind as they make their way through the book, but it didn’t increase my pace to continue reading. Overall grade: B-
The conclusion: There’s an out of left field action by a character that’s solved by a surprise ability in another character that was forced. It came across as too much, too late. It overshadows the solution that’s already been presented. Overall grade: D+
The final line: An interesting premise that goes in many directions before leading to a bizarre finale. There are threads of possibilities for interesting occurrences, but not enough for me to recommend it. I did like how song lyrics were important to the story. As the book progressed, I really paid attention to the meaning behind each line. Overall grade: C+
To see the cover of my beat up copy visit my Instagram account: patrickhayesscifipulse
To read the review for the flip book go to https://scifipulse.net/in-retro-review-the-ballad-of-beta-2/