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The House of Many Worlds (1951)

by Sam Merwin

Series: The House of Many Worlds (omnibus)

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More science fiction from 1951 and Sam Merwin's The House of many worlds contained a few surprises. Merwin was an American mystery fiction writer who also crossed over into science fiction; The House of Many Worlds is probably his best known book and is an imaginative plot driven story that rattles along to its conclusion.

Elspeth Marriner poetess and journalist is sent along with photographer Mack Fraser to cover mysterious events along the South Carolina coastline. They are directed to a house on an offshore island which proves to be a gateway to several parallel worlds. The master of the house tells them that they must deliver some important information to a rebel leader to stop a major conflict. They discover an America that has developed differently to their own country; there was a divergence in 1814 and the country to which they have been transported is called the Columbian Republic. They are equipped with a car that can power up to become an aeroplane in a country that has missed out on developing an heavier than air flying machine. This is a bargaining chip that should strengthen the hand of the rebels. The adventure begins when they arrive at the beautiful city of Baton Rouge. The story becomes more complex when a third parallel world must be visited in order to gain access to more technology to avert a catastrophe in the Columbian Republic.

Elspeth Marriner and Mack Fraser are an unlikely couple, but their different skill sets make them a good team and they gradually come to realise that they can work together. The book is subtitled an Elspeth Marriner novel and she is the strongest character, unusual in science fiction from this era. The unlikely couple are helped along the way by Juana from the mystery house who acts as an adviser, with links to the other worlds. Mack Fraser's roughneck approach to life is called into question, but he has his uses as a technical expert and muscle when needed. The novel has a more enlightened view towards racial differences, with Juana saying that the biggest problem in all the parallel worlds is the slow movement towards racial equality. Elspeth falls in love with the black general of the rebel army and one wonders if these viewpoints hindered the popularity of the novel. However let's not get too carried away, because it is an adventure story at the end of the day, easy to read, but perhaps more subtle than some. I enjoyed the story and so 3 stars. ( )
  baswood | Mar 6, 2023 |
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Elspeth Marriner fingered the sticky surface of the thick tumbler on the gimpy-legged table and wondered what in hell she was doing in the dingy little restaurant. ("The house of many worlds")
The old man rested his white, blue-veined hands on the top of his magnificent satinwood desk and leaned slightly forward, as if to impress upon Elspeth Marriner the importance of what he had to tell her. ("The three faces of time")
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Along with the title novella "The House of Many Worlds", this book also includes "The Three Faces of Time". Published by Ace Books as ISBN 0-441-34446-1
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