Quest of the Golden Ape
By Randall Garrett and Milton Lesser (as Ivar Jorgensen and Adam Chase)
Published by LibriVox
Read by Mark Nelson
I downloaded this one because the listed author was Randall Garrett, I found out later that he had a co-author so I am listing them both and their noms de plume above. Sadly, it did not live up to my expectations, but to be honest it could have been much, much worse.
The story is a bit of a hodgepodge of fantasy clichés, but it was first published in Amazing Stories in 1957 so perhaps it was not as cliché then as it seems now. It certainly is a more sophisticated story than the movie adaptations of Tarzan of that era or most science fiction films then too, but it is no Lord of the Rings (written much earlier) either.
Here’s the description from Project Gutenberg: “How could this man awaken with no past—no childhood—no recollection except of a vague world of terror from which his mother cried out for vengeance and the slaughter of his own people stood as a monument of infamy?” Several sites, including Amazon.com have copied that without even bothering to note that it’s not even particularly well written. I suspect whoever composed it changed their mind how it should read mid-way through writing it and never got a chance to correct it. I’ve done that a few times in my own writing, but usually I catch and correct it before anyone else can read it.
We have a main hero-character who decided to call himself Bram Forest simply because he doesn’t like simply calling himself Bram, who appears in another world, with only a few vague memories, on a day on which a god was prophesied to return. This happens on Tarth, a twin planet to Earth (see the name similarity???) that lies beyond the Sun. Some comic books would have called it “Counter Earth” and I recall, as a kid, being told that there was no way (at that time) to prove whether there was another world directly opposite us from the Sun since the Sun was in the way and you could not see it. Even as a kid it seemed to me we should have been able to detect the gravitational effects on other objects (like comets and asteroids) that drifted that way, but I guess I was the only one who thought of that in the early 60’s (at least those who did not have an advanced education in astrophysics, which no one I knew before I went to college did)
Anyway, Bram Forest, who turns out to be the son of the slain Queen Evalia of Ofrid, has a device that allows him to travel between Earth and Tarth, although why he does I’m not sure because Earth plays no essential part in the story and even when briefly stranded on Earth, Bram finds he can get back to Tarth without it. Well, there are a dozen more complications but if I go into them I will have told the entire story. However, I will add that I was disappointed by what the nature of the Golden Ape(s) turned out to be. Somehow I was expecting something less literal, maybe.
My discontent stems from the fact that the authors failed to adequately develop those facets that might have made this quite exceptional. The best example, I have already mentioned, Bram’s ability to travel between Tarth and Earth. Earth serves only to act as a “prison without bars.” This is alluded to in a prophetic poem Bram remembers. In fact, the authors seem to be using that poem as a checklist (and to their credit, they do manage to check each point off) but often do so at the expense of the story’s flow. Anyway, he only stays on Earth for a very short time and manages to get back to Tarth through the power of love (or so it seems). So what might have been an intriguing story turns out to be a bit flat and confusing.
I never expect a bad performance out of Mark Nelson and this reading was no exception. He read the book evenly and without resorting to funny voices to delineate the character. The story, sadly was mediocre – not up to the standard I might have expected, given the authors, but the reading was well-executed and in a manner any book should be read.
So, to sum it up, the story is strange, but really less intriguing than confusing. Still I have read much worse and with Mark Nelson reading it, it was not a painful experience at all.