Memory Lane: ‘Master of Life and Death’

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Ah, those were the days! “Two Complete Novels 35 cents”–remember those, the Ace Double Novels?

One of them that I do remember is Master of Life and Death by Robert Silverberg, a 1957 Ace Double Novel that was teamed up with The Secret Visitors by James White, which I don’t remember at all. I find it hard to believe I read this when I was only eight years old, but I don’t think I could have read it any later than 1959.

In this tale, Silverberg imagined a world overpopulation crisis in the year 2232–7 billion people on the planet (which we have already, in 2019, without a crisis) and the United Nations world government has to take really serious action! Otherwise we’re all gonna die, etc. Where have we heard that before? So they set up a Bureau of Population Equalization, complete with euthanasia and forcibly relocating people to less densely-populated areas, etc., and the protagonist becomes head of “Popeek,” as the Bureau is affectionately known, and inherits one helluva mess. Including a crisis on Venus, an embassy from another planet in another solar system, and an awful lot of angry people who want a piece of him.

What I remember most is being appalled, even at such an early age, by the whole idea of any government having this much power. Almost every science fiction novel I’ve ever read presupposes a world government, like it’s carved in stone, totally inevitable, better learn to like it. Now I wonder why. What is it about science fiction that gravitates to world government?

I used to read science fiction for fun, but now, looking back on it, I see it was filled with a lot of ideas that were either creepy, somewhat less than intelligent, or downright preposterous–or some combination of the above.

The Ace Double Novels are history, but we still have plenty of science fiction movies that are every bit as fat-headed as Ace’s very worst efforts.

About leeduigon

I have lived in Metuchen, NJ, all my life. I have been married to my wife Patricia since 1977. I am a former newspaper editor and reporter. I was also the owner-operator of my own small business for several years. I wrote various novels and short stories published during 1980s and 1990s. I am a long-time student of judo and Japanese swordsmanship (kenjutsu). I also play chess, basketball, and military and sports simulations. View all posts by leeduigon

19 responses to “Memory Lane: ‘Master of Life and Death’

  • marlene

    I would have loved to have read these! Futuristic, computer wars, espionage, and spy stories are my favorites.

    Like

    • leeduigon

      You must’ve been too young for Ace Double Novels.

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      • marlene

        I was on Bandstand in 1957.

        Liked by 1 person

        • leeduigon

          Wow! Famous! Too bad you missed the double novels, though–two novels for 35 cents.

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          • marlene

            And worth every penny. Yeah, too bad…since today a dollar is worth even less – and so are most of the comic books.

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          • leeduigon

            Comic books then were 10 cents each, except for the extra-big ones, which were a quarter. Baseball cards were 5 cents. Now they’re $4.00, and you don’t get any bubblegum.

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        • thewhiterabbit2016

          I would like to hear more about that!

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          • leeduigon

            You’ll have to hear it from Marlene. She might get mad if I made up tales about it.

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          • marlene

            LOL – I was on the “Committee” as a “regular” and received fan mail. Met Pat Boone who dropped his glove while getting into a cab. I picked it up, kept it, and wore it to school to show off (I was just a very young teenager who lied about her age to get in). Dick Clark promised me a job at the studio when I graduated school, but I never took him up on it. My Aunt Sue was disappointed that the camera was rarely on me so she came with me to the show several times, made friends with one of the cameramen, and i began to receive more shots. There were the DeCarlo sisters, one of whom made a Hollywood movie; Justine Corellii, Nicky DelFadi, Mickie Miller – can’t remember very many so many years ago; there were 22 of us. The studio was very small & we sat within a few feet from the many music stars who performed there. I met Frankie Stallone, “Rocky’s” brother; Sally Starr & others. I can still see the faces of the bands but can’t remember their names. Won a few dance contests & sometimes sold my boxes of candy prizes to Joe’s around the corner for carfare to get home. Had a great time for the 2 years I was there. The best part was watching the long, long lines going around the block while we “Committee” folks just walked straight in & the yelling and screaming from the crowd was deafening. We felt special, like stars. It was very clean, proper, and the staff was kind, helpful & considerate. Thanks for asking – it was fun just remembering.

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          • leeduigon

            Wow! I’ll bet I saw you on TV and didn’t even know it.

            Like

  • marlene

    “What is it about science fiction that gravitates to world government?” Technology?

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  • unknowable2

    I find it interesting that the dystopian scenarios of science fiction seem to be being embraced by so many people today.

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  • Phoebe

    Popeek? Popeek? Was this a deliberate put-down of the agency in the novel, or was Silverberg unaware of the Yiddish word “puppick” (or “poopik”), meaning “belly button”? How weird.

    Anyway, I do remember the Ace double novels, although I don’t remember this particular novel.

    Like

  • Joachim Boaz

    I described this as the worst SF novel I’ve ever read…. for many of the reasons you lay out, and again, it’s definitely Silverberg’s I “spew stuff out for a paycheck” fiction pre-1966 when his work becomes far more mature…. Try his later stuff (if you haven’t already)!

    SF’s tendency to gravitate towards authoritarian governments is one of my major pet peeves with the genre….

    Liked by 1 person

    • leeduigon

      I’m sure I must have read some of Silverberg’s later works; I just don’t remember them.
      You’re obviously in the know, when it comes to SF. Why do you think it gravitates to overblown authoritarian governments? I mean, really, “galactic empires”–sheesh.

      Like

      • Joachim Boaz

        I’ve been struggling with an answer — I think is definitely context dependent, it doesn’t seem to be the natural scenario to fall back on in the New Wave movement of SF which , obviously, was inspired by counter-culture, challenging authority, etc. However, a lot of pulp works do….

        Check out Silverberg’s Dying Inside (1972), The Man in the Maze (1969), and Hawksbill Station (1968) (among others).

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  • thewhiterabbit2016

    They ran all the Star Wars movies on a cable station on Sunday. The evil dark side rules the intergallactic empire, so the rebels of the good light side who want freedom blow up the death star. So the evil dark side builds another death star and the rebels of the good light side who want freedom blow it up as well. America was built on rebels of the good light side seeking freedom, and boy did it work out great until after WWII. Today, Christians are the rebels seeking to get their freedom back from the dark side, the Democratic Party.

    Like

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