1973’s More Things in Heaven is an expanded version of John Brunner’s The Astronauts Must Not Land.
David Drummond is astonished to see his brother Leon on the Calle Gagarin in Quito. Leon is on board humanity’s first faster-than-light starship, Starventure. As far as David knows, Starventure has not returned from Alpha Centauri. How then can Leon be in Quito?
As it happens, Starventure is back in the Solar System, orbiting near Jupiter. What follows raises more questions rather than answering them.
Millions across Earth are alarmed to see monstrous visages peering down from the sky. In a more primitive time, perhaps these would have been interpreted as gods or demons. In the modern era, categorization proves more difficult.
When the Starventure arrives at Earth, authorities are alarmed by the condition of the crew. Their minds are the same as ever. Not so their bodies. Through means unnoticed by the crew, all of them have been transformed into monstrous, inhuman forms.
The revelation that faster-than-light travel apparently mutates humans into unrecognizable monsters could well negatively impact any future interstellar colonization program. David lends his media skills to avert what could well be a public relations disaster.
Luckily for human ambitions, the star travelers were not hideously transformed by hyperdimensional travel. Less luckily, what happened is even more alarming. Beings from beyond the stars borrowed the original human bodies, considerately storing the original minds in their current hosts. Those human bodies are even now walking the Earth, for what dark purpose authorities (and David) can only speculate.
As you can tell from the terrible title, the original version of this story was published by Ace. The Astronauts Must Not Land was no doubt titled by the endlessly creative Donald Wollheim. The cover was by Ed Valigursky, whose work was previously seen here adorning The Sioux Spaceman.
This is yet another Brunner in which conversation often takes the form of characters angrily correcting each other. At least there is no Chad Mulligan-esque figure, an irritated pundit lecturing the tiny minds around him, in this Brunner novel.
Some plot elements I liked. The subplot about how the UN’s first reaction on discovering the astronaut transformations was to worry about managing the public reaction. Yes, the UN would really like to know what happened, but keeping the public from panicking comes first. This seems all too plausible.
Also, the explanation for the weird phenomena came as a surprise, even though I’ve clearly read the novel before (there was a bookmark). What that explanation is, I won’t spoil, although I will say that it depends on information previously provided (it doesn’t come out of nowhere) and has implications that become more disquieting the longer one thinks about them. Those implications may also explain why Brunner never revisited this setting … though it could have been his usual disinclination to spend time writing sequels.
While the prose is no more than competent and the novel itself a second tier Brunner, I don’t begrudge the time invested in this short novel. I know that may seem like praising with faint damns but, oh well. Even second tier Brunner is entertaining.
I did not find More Things in Heaven at either Apple Books or at Chapters (even though the Kobo ebook should have turned up in a Chapters search).