Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore’s 1949 Beyond Earth’s Gates is a standalone SF novel1.
Eddie Burton is a rising actor with a promising career ahead of him. Would-be actress Lorna Maxwell would like to have a promising career ahead of her as well. Convinced without proof that Eddie can provide her promising career, Lorna is carrying out a campaign to attach herself to Eddie with all the determination of a school of piranhas surrounding a succulent child. No man of action, Eddie’s countermeasures are limited to hiding in his apartment with the lights off whenever Lorna comes to call.
When Lorna vanishes, Eddie is the logical suspect.
Eddie might tell the cops what happened to Lorna, if only he understood it himself. Lorna bullied her way into the apartment Eddie inherited from his uncle Jim … and … suddenly there was an eerie shimmer into which Lorna disappeared, leaving only a damning scream to mark her disappearance.
The scream is enough for others to alert the police, and Lorna’s absence enough to convince the cops something shady is up. Without a body, Eddie is a free man, at least for the moment. The affair does his career no favours.
Some time later it’s Eddie’s turn to vanish. The same shimmer carries him from New York to an otherworldly city, a trip that turns out to be courtesy of an overcurious functionary tampering with machinery best left alone. Eddie manages to elude the man who inadvertently abducted him, then slips away into the city.
By rights, Eddie should be trapped without knowledge of local language or customs. As it happens, however, he speaks the language — Malescan — courtesy of his uncle Jim. Uncle Jim spun many thrilling tales about Malesco and the malevolent priests who run it. It seems the tales were based not on imagination but on Jim’s personal experience.
An absolute theocracy, Malesco is just the sort of town crying out to be liberated by a two-fisted he-man adventurer from another world (the very world which, for convoluted reasons, Malescans believe is paradise). Unfortunately, what Malesco has acquired is an actor whose previous experience includes cowering in the dark and hoping an annoying actress would not hear him moving.
And what of poor Lorna? It takes Eddie very little time to discover that while Lorna might not have wanted to travel to Malesco, she knew an opportunity when she saw it. Thus, her new role as Clia, whom all devout Malescans adore.
This also appeared under the alternate title The Portal in the Picture . Kuttner is sometimes credited as Lewis Padgett, a penname for Kuttner and Moore. The original publication did not mention Moore at all.
Readers first encountering the tale in the September 1949 Startling Stories may have been led to expect a more Edgar Rice Burroughsian story than they actually got.
Presumably the Earle Bergey cover depicts a scene from Arthur K. Barnes’ Hothouse Planet. It certainly does not have anything to do with the Kuttner & Moore. Eddie is as far as one can get from a man of action (although he does have a dab hand at running away and hiding). Other people in his position might want to liberate the oppressed masses. Eddie just wants to stay alive and get home.
Consequently, while there is a plot to overthrow the theocracy, Eddie is only aware of it from the perspective of a pawn the schemers and reformers want to exploit (while we don’t get her perspective, ambitious Lorna is in a similar position). Events have to back Eddie into a corner before he acts and when he does act, it’s with an eye to cutting whatever deal gets him back to New York in one piece. It is a more cynical, pragmatic take on “Trapped in World He Never Made!” than was par for the era.
Beyond Earth’s Gate is competently written but comparatively slight. It’s probably just as well the authors had a good grasp of how far their passive, timid protagonist could take them and didn’t prolong the story beyond Eddie’s limits.
Beyond Earth’s Gates is available here (Amazon UK)but not at any of the other booksellers to which I usually link.
1: Which I encountered as half of an Ace Double, along with Andre Norton’s Daybreak — 2250 A.D.